There has been some fuss made recently about the number of tall buildings planned for London. Over 200 buildings over 20 stories are planned on sites in the city. Many are residential, some are mixed use but all of them are tall. The suggestion is that this amount of development will change London’s skyline for ever and London will not be the city it once was, or something along those lines. All of which is true. All of which is fine by me.
To decide that London’s skyline needs to stay as it is, is to decide that London is finished growing or changing as a city. Some Londoners love it so much they want to keep it just as it is, or mainly as it is. Of course everyone would like more cycle lanes, cleaner air, better buses, more tube trains, etc, just don’t give them any tall buildings please, this isn’t Manhattan!
London isn’t Manhattan, but it is a sprawling, disconnected, land-hungry mass of poor quality housing, some of which is rather nice and a lot of which is rather awful. Much of it is in disconnected, low quality, low-rise suburbs full of increasingly poor people. There is huge demand for housing which is not being met now and doesn’t look like being met any time soon. What new housing is being provided is largely in poor quality sites on post-industrial land. The density of new housing on larger sites is often kept down by a combination of GLA and Local Authority requirements and nimbyism.
None of the above says that we need towers on these 200 sites, but the market does. The amount of investment flowing into London at present is enormous, coming from all over the world in search of financial returns. Empty buildings in London are making a better return for investors than full factories in the far East, or most of the worlds banking institutions. So what should happen? The authors of the article suggest that we need a plan for London that dictates what good towers look like and where they should go. I would say that we already have a planning system including a London Authority and its enough already.
The towers on their own will not be enough to solve London’s housing problem, and the reason most of them are towers is because there are not many large sites on the market. Vacant land in London with good transport links is non-existent. The only way for a developer to maximise the returns on a small site is to go up. Developers know that towers are not the cheapest form of development, and they are not doing to to massage their ego’s. While towers are not an ideal form for many uses, developers have to make the most of the opportunities they are presented with. What the towers will do in the short term is make money for developers, contractors, architects and the construction trades that London needs. It will ensure that the skills this generation needs to develop and build low energy and highly sustainable buildings are retained in London and trained for the future.
None of the firms who are busy developing, designing and building those towers are on this list of signatories calling for tighter controls. Having experienced the deepest and longest recession in memory and only now seeing their balance sheets return to something approaching health, the last thing any one in the construction industry in London needs is another set of controls on development that will deter investment, slow down the progress of the planning system and curtail the delivery of much needed housing in London.