London’s planners have approved an additional 119 tall buildings in the last year, growing the pipeline of skyscrapers to 436.
And in the last year the number of tall buildings under construction has risen from 70 to 89, according to figures from New London Architecture, GL Hearn and EGi London Residential Research. Their annually updated research into buildings of 20 storeys or more, found 233 tall buildings have been consented but not yet started, while a further 114 towers are either in the planning system or at pre-application stage.
“We believe that well designed tall buildings in the right place, and well coordinated clusters, are acceptable,” said Peter Murray, chairman of New London Architecture. “It is increasingly important that the planning and development community improves the way it communicates with the wider public. We continue to press for the mayor to prepare a three-dimensional computer model of the whole of London to better assess the impact of these buildings. The 436 tall buildings in the pipeline is a significant number.
“However, with the much publicized softening of the housing market, it remains to be seen how quickly they are delivered.”
The last year has seen 94 tall buildings put before planners, up from 72 the previous year. Of these, 43 were approved in the same year, three were refused and the remainder are in the planning system. The changes in the last year were skewed by on major scheme, the Greenwich Peninsula development, which accounted for 32 of the 43 tall buildings approved during the year; these were, largely, towers previously identified and approved in outline.
“The two most striking findings for us were about the number of applications for tall buildings submitted and approved over the course of the year and construction activity,” said James Cook, planning director for GL Hearn. “The planning system demonstrated how efficient it can be with 43 applications for tall buildings gaining permission having being submitted during the year – whilst the majority of these towers were in one very large scheme, this nevertheless demonstrates the benefit of London’s strategic approach to tall buildings.”
Tower Hamlets is the capital’s tall buildings hotspot, with 93 towers proposed in the borough and either in planning or at pre-application stage. Second to Tower Hamlets is Greenwich, largely due to the peninsula development. Among the outer boroughs, Barnet has 23 tall buildings proposed, and Croydon is reviewing 18.
The last year has seen the City of London underlining its towering ambitions, with Eric Parry’s designs for One Undershaft becoming the new tallest proposal for the Square Mile, with 73 storeys; while a fresh proposal for the former Pinnacle site at 22 Bishopsgate has won approval.
“The other very notable trend is that whilst the overall numbers increase, the level of construction activity remains relatively flat,” added Cook. “We attribute this to the significant development and investment risk required to commit to construct tall buildings. Overall it is clear that delivery is a long way behind the pipeline and the planning system needs to continue to ensure any scheme that comes forward is carefully designed with architecture of the highest quality.”
The survey, which records all towers of 20 storeys or more, notes that 60% of the projects in the current pipeline are between 20 and 29 storeys, and just 6% aim to go higher than 50 floors. Residential use accounts for 73% of the schemes, with pure office projects just 4% and much of the balance being mixed use projects.
Sir Edward Lister, deputy mayor of planning, argued that tall buildings must play their part in London’s growth: “London is in the middle of a population boom that shows no sign of slowing down and it’s important we look at a range of options to achieve both the housing and work space need. Tall buildings can play a role in meeting some of that demand and the mayor has ordered a strategic approach to securing the world-class architecture of the capital’s skyline to ensure they sit well in their surroundings and are of the highest standards possible.”
“Tall buildings are positioned in the right areas of London in planned clusters which work well together and ensure they make a positive contribution in delivering much-needed homes, affordable housing and jobs.”
Murray has called on the new mayor to improve planning tools: “We still need to improve the quality of planning information so we can better assess the benefits and problems of towers as groups of buildings rather than individual icons and to clarify their group impact on the city in advance. The Corporation of London is using a 3D-computer model to shape the City cluster in a much more effective way than was previously possible. The whole of the capital needs these tools – which can be used by architects, planners and communities alike.”
LPA Perspective: The UK has never favoured tall buildings in the same way as they are celebrated in US cities. But, with ever higher land prices, and the demand for more density, has come a creeping push towards building higher.
Aside from the clusters in the City and at Canary Wharf, most of the proposed towers are for residential development. Yet few have actually been built, and those now under construction are heading into a market that most analysts say is heading for a decline, as demand from well-heeled foreign buyers weakens. The high costs of construction have been underwritten by the expected high sale prices of apartments. Will we ultimately see shorter buildings constructed in their place? There are plenty of advocates for building dense residential in the city, without the need to build so tall.
The flip side of this excitement in the residential market, is the rational response from the office developers. The Pinnacle development in the City failed to get built, because its architecturally beautiful form was simply going to be too expensive to construct, compared with the rentals that its office accommodation would deliver. The new additions proposed to the City’s tall building cluster will get built only if their promoters feel confident that office space will get rented, and at prices that deliver an economic return for their efforts in building tall.
Planners have, quite rightly, been largely clear in advance about where they feel tall buildings will work. And often, that has been by putting them together in clusters, or by encouraging them around transport nodes to maximise the sustainability of building tall.
Murray’s point about better modelling is a key one. Too often, little attention is paid to modelling the important consequences of tall buildings, such as the impact at ground level as wind tunnels are created. While the Walkie Talkie tower in the City grabbed the headlines for its temporary ability to melt pavements nearby, there are also complaints that, in certain windy weather conditions, areas close to the building’s base become problematic for pedestrians. And planners do not have a robust way of interrogating proposals, or demanding a study that has any clear set of standards to follow.