London Assembly calls on Mayor to rethink approach to tall buildings

The London Assembly today unanimously supported a motion calling for the Mayor to establish a Skyline Commission to tackle the proliferation of tall buildings dramatically altering London’s skyline.

Ken Livingstone was famously fond of tall buildings and gave permission for about 20 in 8 years. Boris has already approved 200.

Research by New London Architect earlier this year found more than 230 in the pipeline.

These are super-tall buildings over 20 storeys.

This isn’t just a central London issue. NLA found 20 in Barnet, 16 in Newham, and 11 in Wandsworth. And there will be more to come.

The horses have bolted but the stable door is still wide open.

And the public didn’t know.

Helix

What does it matter?

 There’s nothing wrong with tall buildings if they’re in the right places, meeting the right needs, and respect the character of their local areas. Everyone can think of a favourite tall building – from the Gherkin to the Shard – but do we really want London to become Shanghai-on-Thames?

One problem is that many of these towers don’t interact well with the street. There’s even one proposed in Canary Wharf which will sit atop a drive-thru McDonalds.

London’s unique selling point is its heritage, but the Mayor is approving proposals which dwarf iconic buildings and dominate iconic views. The result is a situation where UNESCO threatens to remove Westminster’s World Heritage status because of the impact of skyscrapers towering over it in the distance.

All of that is bad enough, but the worst part is that these lofty “units” aren’t even providing homes. They’re only creating a market for overseas investors who want to buy luxury flats in skyscrapers to treat as safety deposit boxes. Even though they’re not contributing to solving the housing crisis, the Mayor includes them in the completions he boasts about.

We don’t need to build high to get the housing we need anyway. We can achieve high densities in people-sized developments, like Kings Cross.

So what do we do about it?

We already have a raft of good policies in place in the London Plan, such as Policy 7.7. But they’re not being implemented properly, and we need some new ones too. Above all these proposals need much greater scrutiny and there must transparency and accountability.

The Mayor needs to rethink his approach. And fast.

He should establish a ‘skyline commission’ made up of design experts from a variety of fields to offer advice on commissioning, have an enabling role and carry out design reviews.

There are other approaches and policies he should also consider, many of which have been suggested by the Skyline campaign. The Mayor should develop more detailed and rigorous masterplanning processes, including engagement of local residents and stakeholders, especially within Opportunity Areas, and implement a clusters policy. There should be a review of existing protected views with the intention of adding new viewing corridors, as well as a recognition that views from all angles – even if not within a protected corridor – should be a planning consideration. The GLA should support the development of a fully interactive 3D computer model of London’s emerging skyline in order to allow development proposals to be visualised within the context of their contribution to the London skyline. Finally, the Mayor should require all developers with proposals for tall buildings to consider other building configurations.

Today, the London Assembly unanimously called on Boris to do exactly this. Let’s hope he heeds our direction.

The full text of the motion:

 This Assembly notes with concern the revelation earlier this year by New London Architecture that over 230 tall buildings are in the pipeline for development. The cumulative impact of these developments on London’s skyline is not being thoroughly considered, with the resultant often bland design and irreversible negative impact posing a threat to London’s heritage, character and architectural distinctiveness. 80% of these buildings are residential, mostly luxury flats which will do little to alleviate the housing crisis.

 Tall buildings can make a positive contribution to city life and the skyline, but only if they’re in the right places, meet the right needs, and respect the character and identity of the surrounding area. However, the flaws of ill-considered tall buildings have been well demonstrated by the skyline campaign.

 The London Plan includes policies on tall buildings, but these are not being properly implemented in planning decisions. There are also examples where height limits established by Opportunity Area Planning Frameworks have been ignored.

 This Assembly therefore calls on the Mayor to rethink his approach to tall buildings in London. To protect London’s skyline and arrive at well considered appropriate high rise buildings the Mayor should establish a ‘skyline commission’ made up of design experts from a variety of fields to offer advice on commissioning, have an enabling role and carry out design reviews.

 The Mayor should also develop more detailed and rigorous masterplanning processes, including engagement of local residents and stakeholders, especially within Opportunity Areas, and implement a clusters policy. There should be a review of existing protected views with the intention of adding new viewing corridors, as well as a recognition that views from all angles – even if not within a protected corridor – should be a planning consideration. The GLA should support the development of a fully interactive 3D computer model of London’s emerging skyline in order to allow development proposals to be visualised within the context of their contribution to the London skyline. Finally, the Mayor should require all developers with proposals for tall buildings to consider other building configurations.

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About nickygavron

Former Deputy Mayor for London, London Assembly Member, Chair of Planning Committee, and Labour Spokesperson for Planning
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One Response to London Assembly calls on Mayor to rethink approach to tall buildings

  1. Pingback: Assembly calls on Mayor to stop ignoring tall buildings issue | Nicky Gavron AM

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