The march of the tall building continues, despite the pandemic, with more high-rise schemes in the pipeline than in 2019, according to the latest London Tall Buildings 2021 report published today by New London Architecture.
But the future for high-rise in London remains uncertain, with questions around economic recovery and the return to the office, the continuing impact of Brexit and tighter planning rules, according to the authoritative annual survey.
Covid-19 has had a predictable impact on building in the city, the report says, with a slowdown in planning applications for tall buildings in 2020, defined as being of 20 storeys or higher, as well as fewer towers actually started and finished.
Seventy-eight applications came forward during the year – 27 per cent down on 2019 and 36 per cent down on 2018 – while just 24 schemes started on site, down from 44 in 2019, with 35 being completed.
However, numbers in the pipeline, including applications made, permissions granted or pending and buildings under construction, were up overall by 7.9 per cent, to 587. Nine out of 10 schemes are residential, with 45 per cent of the total in east London, including the Isle of Dogs.
And with a spate of new planning applications submitted in the second half of last year, construction sites back on track, and City Corporation chief planner Gwyn Richards reporting his department had “never been busier”, the survey suggests 2021 could be a “bumper year” for new additions to the capital’s skyline, with hotspots in Tower Hamlets, Southwark and Greenwich.
Three recent schemes given the green light in the Square Mile have underlined what the survey suggests is a “remarkably positive” outlook for new office buildings in Central London, while the recently completed 22 Bishopsgate, now the tallest building in the City, is highlighted as a user-friendly “trailblazer” for the sort of office space some commentators predict we may see more of, rather than less.
With the number of residential schemes holding up compared to 2019, and a continuing shift towards building upwards in Outer London, suburban battles over high-rise proposals seem set to continue. There are 216 schemes in the Outer London pipeline, up 10 per cent from 2019. They make up 37 per cent of the total pipeline for the capital.
Outer London hotspots are emerging in Ealing, Brent and Barnet, as well as elsewhere, with boroughs as well as developers looking at higher density schemes, particularly around transport hubs. Almost half of all the new schemes in London are sited next to transport links, the report notes.
The high-rise pipeline has the potential to deliver 91,578 new homes, highlighting the role of tall buildings in meeting demand and hitting home-building targets. They would amount to almost two-years’ worth of the annual supply targets in Sadiq Khan’s new London Plan,
Tighter rules imposed on City Hall by Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick in the final skirmishes over sign-off of the Plan – the planning blueprint for the capital – could have a “significant impact” on future development, the report warns.
Khan had effectively left boroughs a free hand to define building heights and acceptable locations, while promoting higher density development overall in the face of continuing failure to hit new homes targets. But Jenrick redefined “tall” as anything above six storeys, and strengthened borough powers to reject proposals outside designated areas and deemed to be in conflict with “gentle density” guidelines.
While reflecting some “genuine worries” about high-rises “foisted” on unwilling communities, Jenrick’s intervention, coming ahead of the mayoral election, had also been seen as “a highly political tactic to appeal to Conservative voters in the leafier suburbs”, the report says.
“Boroughs also have to take into account the numbers of homes they have to deliver, and while gentle density can deliver similar numbers of units on large sites, on complex urban sites tall buildings can be more efficient,” it argues. “Equally, if the Mayor is to successfully deliver the 15-minute city for all Londoners, tall buildings will surely be an important part of the mix.”
Image from New London Architecture.
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