Two leading London galleries in row over new roof ‘that would obscure view from restaurant’

Two of the capital’s most illustrious galleries are embroiled in a row over building plans that one says will obscure a view of the capital — by a few feet.

The scheme proposed by the National Gallery as part of its long-awaited expansion plan hit a snag after the neighbouring National Portrait Gallery objected, saying it will ruin the view of diners in its restaurant.

The NPG is dwarfed by its more imposing neighbour, which last year attracted  6.2 million visitors.

The smaller gallery welcomed 1.9 million but is reported to be preparing to appoint a heavyweight new chairwoman to help transform its fortunes.

Among its patrons is the Duchess of Cambridge, who rubbed shoulders with Alexa Chung and Sophie Ellis-Bextor at its annual fundraising gala in March.


Planning battle: The existing view from the restaurant window

The NPG objects to the National Gallery’s plan to convert two lightwells into offices and a cafe for staff. This would free up room next door in St Vincent House, which could eventually become new gallery space, allowing more of the institution’s treasures to go on show.

Its proposal, which will be considered by councillors on Westminster’s planning applications sub-committee on Tuesday, would transform what council officers describe as “unsightly” and “underused” parts of the building. 

The scheme is supported by groups including Historic England. It said the plans were “logical” and central to the gallery’s “long-term viable and appropriate use”.

The only objection came from the NPG, which said its Portrait Restaurant’s view, which “stretches from Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square down Whitehall to the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and the London Eye”, would be “harmed” by the work which will leave one of the new structures jutting one storey above the existing roof.

Planning officers admitted the extension would be visible from the restaurant but added: “Whilst the enjoyment of this view is important to the restaurant, it is considered a private view because it can only be enjoyed by patrons of the restaurant. The planning system offers little scope to protect it. 

“Notwithstanding this, the proposals would not obscure the main landmarks of interest from the restaurant, and images provided by the applicant demonstrate that Nelson’s Column and other important landmarks would remain unobstructed.”

Their report recommended members of the committee approve the work. The National Gallery, which was set up in 1824, opened its first new gallery space in 26 years last March. The NPG, established in 1856, moved to its current home 40 years later.

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