Opponents to the increasing number of towers on the London skyline have received a boost from an unlikely source – masterplanner Sir Terry Farrell.
Farrell has put his weight firmly behind those opposing the proposed Renzo Piano tower for a site next to Paddington station, which was submitted to Westminster planners in December. In a 1,500 word letter of objection sent to the council, he says the 72 storey block, already nicknamed the Paddington Pole, is too piecemeal and opportunistic. Instead, he favours a lower level masterplan, of the type his own practice has already worked up.
Farrell’s comments feed a campaign against tall buildings that is already on the offensive in areas including the Bishopsgate goods yard, and Vauxhall.
And new tower schemes in the capital submitted to planners at the end of last year include a 38 storey apartment tower at Paddington Green, which developer Berkeley has put before Westminster City Council, and Eric Parry’s replacement for the Aviva Tower, which City planners will decide on shortly.
Architect Barbara Weiss, who is leading the Skyline Campaign against the spread of towers in London, told the Standard: “Boroughs are waking up to how much money they can make from these huge developments. But residents are up in arms because they feel it is a totally undemocratic way of transforming their neighbourhoods.”
At Berkeley, an unrepentant Angus Michie said that the new tower, part of the West End Green development, “allows us to increase the amount of public space at ground level by 30%.”
According to figures pulled together by London Residential Research, there were 20 planning applications for towers of 20 storeys or more last year, up from nine the previous year and four in 2013. One hot spot is North Acton, where 10 tower schemes went before planners in 2015.
In the City, Parry’s design for 1 Undershaft is 73 storeys and will be the same height as the Shard, with its height limited by restrictions imposed from the Civil Aviation Authority. The project is backed by the Singaporean owners of the site, Aroland Holdings.
In Paddington, Farrell’s comments come off the back of a long association with the area where his office is located. He completed a masterplan for Paddington Basin in the 1990s and delivered The Point, the first building there. More recently, he worked with Sellar, promoter of the new tower, on a wider masterplan that would have delivered more housing, a better station and all in blocks no higher than 18 storeys.
In his letter to Westminster planners Farrell notes: “I genuinely believe in tall towers in the right place and have done them successfully, which has been recognised by others. I am convinced we have proven that there is a fully workable mid-rise solution to Paddington Station site without building a super high rise tower. I have always been committed to thoughtful urban design and planning as the basis for good architecture, which this planning application is not.”
LPA Perspective: Densification is accepted by many planners as a necessary element as London looks to accommodate more people, in no more space. While there is less justification in planning terms for tall towers offering luxury apartments with views of the river, there is plenty of sense in creating more office and living space at key transport nodes. Towers have come to be accepted, but they also need keeping in check.
Farrell’s intervention at Paddington could be dismissed as sour grapes, as he is no longer working with Sellar, who has now moved his allegiance to the tower project. But to do so would be to dismiss a serious amount of groundwork that Farrell has done on a wider, more comprehensive redevelopment that the area is crying out for. The area around Paddington basin and the station is a nightmare for pedestrians to traverse, and could do with a massive shake-up.
No one has said why the Farrell scheme did not advance, but the suspicion has to be site assembly. Unlike Victoria, where Land Securities has amassed ownerships that enabled a comprehensive scheme to go ahead, it appears Paddington landowners are at loggerheads. Perhaps the rumination over the Paddington Pole will help focus minds on what could be achieved – and on the opportunity for a much broader scheme that could be lost, should the new proposal be approved.