Too many skyscrapers are a threat to London’s identity

The rising skyline doesn't take into account the needs of the people who live here

 

London’s skyline has transformed beyond imagination in recent years. Despite a pressing need for family housing across the capital, developers have seemed more interested in building luxury flats in skyscrapers that seem to grow higher and higher each year.

Research from New London Architecture earlier this year identified that 263 buildings, each of 20 storeys or more, were in the development process. 70 are already under construction, a rise of nearly 60 per cent from last year.

Whilst it is exciting to see our city grow, we need to make sure this kind of development is actually serving the needs of Londoners. Operating on the assumption that growth of this kind is automatically beneficial to London would be doing our capital a great disservice.

Tall buildings frequently have the potential to make a positive contribution to our city and to our skyline. But in order to do so they must be in the right location, meet the needs of the population, and complement London’s unique character and identity.

Innovative structures, such as the Shard and the ‘Cheese Grater’ demand our awe and attention and make a clear contribution to London’s character. By contrast, a proliferation of bland and regurgitated designs can pose a serious threat to London’s magnificent heritage and architectural distinctiveness.

Our capital is a historical city. It has architectural culture in bounds and it is this which attracts many tourists to London. If we are not to lose this we must refocus our approach to developing London’s skyline. A holistic approach is needed, with proposals for new structures measured against their impact on our city’s skyline as a whole.

Without reform, bland new developments and a presumption in favour of ever greater high rises will continue to pose a significant risk to London’s identity. That’s why I, and many of my colleagues across the political spectrum, have been calling on the mayor to revisit his policies to better protect the capital from rampant high rise development.

It’s the mayor of London’s role to set out the policies which guide the development and construction of tall buildings in the capital. Sadly, the policy we’ve seen under Boris Johnson is neither comprehensive, nor suitably robust. The official policy in the London Plan is that skyscrapers should ‘only be considered in areas whose character would not be affected adversely by the scale, mass or bulk of a tall building’. You need only look around you to note that such a stipulation is often not adhered to.

While we must protect our envy-inducing views of World Heritage sites and other locations close to the heart of Londoners, there’s also an argument about the type of housing we get from high rises.

Obviously the mayor has to prioritise measures to alleviate London’s growing housing crisis. Interestingly, whilst 89 per cent of the 72 towers submitted for planning approval over the past 12 months are to include residential dwellings, most of these will be luxury flats far out of the reach of ordinary Londoners.

Boris Johnson’s focus on building luxury flats is great for overtly-wealthy investors able to afford the sky-high price tags; but it’s completely out of sync with the concerns of millions of Londoners unable to get a foot on the property ladder. It begs the question of why, when they blatantly offer little benefit to the London’s wider population, these buildings pop up on our horizon so frequently.

Concern has grown so muchin recent years that the United Nations body responsible for world heritage sites was forced to warn that London’s designated heritage sites are at risk.

London’s evolving skyline is a global advert for the success, dynamism and heritage of the capital. While there is an important place for tall buildings, we don’t want a glut of monotonous monstrosities dominating our skyline, particularly when these kinds of buildings often do so little to provide the affordable homes London is desperate for.

Navin Shah is the Labour Assembly member for Brent and Harrow. He is on the Planning Committee.

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