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Tall buildings are to be welcomed

If they are designed in line with London Plan principles, writes Paul Finch

London’s annual Festival of Architecture kicked off this week, with a headline debate held at the LSE on whether or not London needs ‘many more’ tall buildings.
As I was proposing the motion, I reminded myself about the mayor’s policy on height, by referring to section 7.7 of the London Plan, which has been with us for five years now. It runs as follows:

‘Applications for tall or large buildings should include an urban design analysis that demonstrates the proposal is part of a strategy that will meet the criteria below.
(They) should:

  • Generally be limited to sites in the Central Activity Zone, opportunity areas, areas of intensification or town centres that have good access to public transport
  • Only be considered in areas whose character would not be affected adversely by the scale, mass or bulk of a tall or large buildings
  • Relate well to the form, proportion, composition, scale and character of surrounding buildings, urban grain and public realm (including landscape features), particularly at street level
  • Individually, or as a group, improve the legibility of an area, by emphasising a point of civic or visual significance where appropriate, and enhance the skyline and image of London
  • Incorporate the highest standards of architecture and materials, including sustainable design and construction practices
  • Have ground floor activities that provide a positive relationship to the surrounding streets
  • Contribute to improving the permeability of the site and wider area, where possible
  • Incorporate publicly accessible areas on the upper floors, where appropriate
  • Make a significant contribution to local regeneration.

Tall buildings:

  • Should not affect their surroundings adversely in terms of microclimate, wind turbulence, overshadowing, noise, reflected glare, aviation, navigation and telecommunication interference
  • Should not impact on local or strategic views adversely.

The impact of tall buildings proposed in sensitive locations should be given particular consideration. Such areas might include conservation areas, listed buildings and their settings, registered historic parks and gardens, scheduled monuments, battlefields, the edge of the Green Belt or Metropolitan Open Land, World Heritage Sites or other areas designated by boroughs as being sensitive or inappropriate for tall buildings.

London Development Framework preparation:

Boroughs should work with the mayor to consider which areas are appropriate, sensitive or inappropriate for tall and large buildings and identify them in their Local Development Frameworks. These areas should be consistent with the criteria above and the place shaping and heritage policies of this Plan.’

Most of the several hundred people present at the debate, me included, were sceptical that this policy is working in the way the wording implies that it should.

However, the debate was not about the implementation of a policy or strategy, but about quantum. My argument in favour of ‘many more’ tall buildings was based on the desirability of attracting international businesses of every sort to key locations, a good example being the insurance companies moving to new towers in the City of London; the desirability of intensifying development in areas close to significant transport to combat urban sprawl into the green belt; the need for huge quantities of new housing, some of which can be provided in towers; and an understanding that vertical living is becoming the equivalent of the Georgian terrace, and should be welcomed - if it is designed in line with the principles of the London Plan.

In the event, our side won the debate but, comparing votes taken before the event and at the end, we lost a big chunk of supporters on the way. London may have a decent tall buildings policy, but many people don’t seem to think it is working.

Or perhaps it just needs putting properly into effect.

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