Tall storeys

Friday 31 March 2017

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Tall buildings annual update event 2017 © Agnese Sanvito

The NLA has welcomed news that the GLA is looking at creating a virtual three-dimensional London-wide model to inform developers, architects and communities about the tall buildings they can expect to see. And the new London Plan provides a key moment to commission this. But the city stands on the cusp of a ‘paradigm shift’ in how they can contribute to the housing crisis through providing more rented rather than bought apartments.

Those were just two of the messages to emerge from a breakfast talk at NLA last week organised to discuss the findings of the latest NLA Tall Buildings Survey 2017.

Now in its fourth year, the survey provides an annual overview of the pipeline of tall buildings in London that the NLA and research partner GL Hearn launched for the first time in 2014, and with data now provided by EG - London Residential Research.

The statistics, said chair of proceedings Robert Gordon Clark, provide an important bellwether for the health of the property industry, especially so given the UK’s prospects over Brexit. Mayor Sadiq Khan should be ‘encouraged’ to develop a 3D model, said NLA chairman Peter Murray, which City Hall is making good progress towards, so developers, planners and communities can see what the impact of proposals is. ‘It is vital one is delivered for all of London now’, he said. It was not so much about having tall buildings as about ‘doing them properly and getting them right’, he added.

Nigel Evans, Head of London Residential Research, EG took the audience through the main findings of the report, including the headline figure of 455 tall buildings in the pipeline compared to 436 last year, a record breaking year for starts, and that, out of all the 26 buildings completed last year, 24 are residential towers. One tower is – effectively – coming out of the ground every week, said Evans. Some 100,000 new homes – two years of housing need – could be provided across the entire pipeline, and 30 per cent of the 65,000 homes currently under construction in London are in tall buildings. We may be on the cusp of a ‘paradigm shift’ to a rental dominated market in tall buildings, he said, away from tall buildings being the preserve of high end residential – its opposite. And yet, said GL Hearn’s Stewart Murray, although most are in Tower Hamlets with the ‘dramatic’ changes in South Quay, the outer boroughs are starting to come forward in places like Ealing, but nine London boroughs do not yet have a tall building. But they are starting to make a key contribution across 24 boroughs to both housing and jobs, Murray added. ‘That is a bit of a shift – where we once saw them as exceptions, are they now becoming mainstream?’ While in areas like Vauxhall Nine Elms the pace of change has been ‘absolutely phenomenal’, said Lambeth’s Sandra Roebuck, there are also notes of caution being struck around London’s approach to height.

Tall buildings are as divisive a subject as Brexit has been in his own family, said Egret West’s David West, whose firm is building at height in Barking and Millharbour to a good reaction relative to the negativity that the firm experienced with a proposal, now rejected, in a ‘horrible environment’ in Chiswick. Indeed, said the City’s Gwyn Richards, ‘the sky belongs to everyone; it’s a public asset’. ‘London is beginning to destroy itself by having so many tall buildings in a random policy that it’s starting to erode the very character that we like about the place’, said Rab Bennetts, as cities around the world lose their distinctiveness. A ‘character policy’ for the whole of London was needed, he added. Protecting cherished views was important, said Historic England’s Emily Gee, and the city has its own ‘specific DNA which only allows for a very small number of tall buildings as exceptions’, added the Skyline campaign’s Barbara Weiss. But, said Mount Anvil’s Andy Reid, not everyone is so concerned. Location and price come above whether a building is tall for his firm’s customers. ‘There is no standard purchaser’, he said.

Summing up, Peter Murray said this is a key time for the study to come out with the new London Plan being drafted later this year. ‘Everyone’s input is really important’, he said. ‘Stay involved in the debate.’

David Taylor
New London Quarterly

Read the full report here

Part of the NLA Tall Buildings Programme 

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