Tall buildings ‘increasingly accepted’ in London, says annual survey

London is increasingly building up, and tall building is increasingly spreading from the centre to the outer boroughs, according to the latest annual London Tall Buildings survey.

The authoritative report, produced by the New London Architecture centre, shows a record 76 tall buildings planned for completion in 2019, three times as many as last year, with a total of 541 more schemes in the pipeline.

“We can finally declare 2019 as the Year of the Tall Building,” said NLA chair Peter Murray, launching the survey. “Tall buildings are becoming increasingly accepted as a necessary form of urban development, not just in commercial centres like the City or Canary Wharf, but to provide much needed new homes right across the capital.”

While tall buildings, defined by NLA as being of 20 storeys or more, continue to proliferate in Central London, the survey found a noticeable increase in parts of Outer London, with more active growth there now than in Inner London. While seven outer boroughs still have no tall buildings in their pipelines, 13 have 175 in progress between, with the majority in six boroughs – Barking & Dagenham, Barnet, Brent, Croydon, Ealing and Newham.

Significant schemes include Barnet’s Brent Cross development, with 18 high-rise blocks, and Newham developments at the Olympic Park, Westfield Stratford and the nine tower Parcelforce site in West Ham.

The tall building pipeline could eventually provide more than 110,000 new homes, approaching two years-worth of supply as set out in Sadiq Khan’s draft new London Plan target of 66,000 homes a year.

Mayor Khan’s targets are themselves a factor in the high-rise boom, the report says, with lower land values and improved transport connections also fuelling higher density development outside the centre.

“It is apparent that the intensification of density in some areas of suburban London has already begun,” the report notes. “Outer London is likely to continue to grow upwards…most boroughs will see significant development of new tall buildings.”

Enfield Council’s draft Local Plan, currently out to consultation, is highlighted as an example of the new positive approach. “If tall buildings were rejected outright,” it states, “the borough would struggle to meet its objectively assessed housing need, particularly for affordable housing, and the targets contained in the London Plan”.

Growing enthusiasm for tall buildings is reflected in planning permission data, with the permission rate up to 291 in 2018 with only eight refusals. And a wider mood change is also noted. “The NLA’s annual stats do not generate the cries of protest they once did,” NLA chair Murray writes in the survey’s introduction. “Tall buildings are normal.”

City Hall supports the upward trend. “The Mayor and I are clear that, when located in the right place and designed with their surroundings firmly in mind, tall buildings have a role to play in meeting the needs of our rapidly expanding city,” deputy mayor for planning Jules Pipe said.

The high-rise debate is not over, though. Mayor Khan’s London Plan still needs to clear its public inquiry hurdle, with sessions currently underway, and a robust challenge from the London Assembly.

“The Assembly does not believe that tall residential buildings are the answer to London’s housing needs and should not be encouraged outside of a few designated and carefully managed areas of London,” it says in evidence to the inquiry. “High densities can be achieved by approaches that are more suitable for families, more in keeping with London’s traditional form and less intrusive on the skyline.”

Citing concerns around sustainability, tenure “monoculture” and social and community impacts, the Assembly calls for more rigorous masterplanning and a “skyline commission” to advise on the “design impact of tall buildings”.

An NLA exhibition, London Tall Buildings 2019, showcasing 100 recent high-rise projects completed or underway, runs until 30 April.

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Categories: Analysis

1 Comment

  1. Jacob Secker says:

    I am sure property developers love tall buildings as they can maximise profit from the often fairly small amounts of land that are available in London. However, people generally hate them. They worry about fire risk and not enough is being done to address these fears. Also, people just plain prefer houses or low rise anyway. I am not sure what is ‘progressive’ about promoting tall buildings. The huge Mayor of London housing targets were devised when everyone was in a panic about rising house prices. As many said at the time, rising house prices are just part of the economic cycle, depending crucially on monetary policy. London’s housing problems need to be solved by ensuring the proportion of social housing built is adequate. Packing in loads of private and ‘intermediate’ units in car-free, child unfriendly mega developments is just going to mean building a lot of flats that are going to rapidly lose their value as the market goes down. This will cause the familiar syndrome of lenders getting more aggressive about debt, defaults, bankruptcies and the knock-on effects for the rest of the economy.

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