Navin Shah: 'The rash of tall buildings popping up across London must stop'
It’s a cruel irony to see skyscrapers being built which Londoners cannot afford, says architect and London Assembly Labour member Navin Shah
Everyone knows that house prices and rents are rising out of the reach of ordinary Londoners because there just isn’t enough supply. That’s why it’s a cruel irony to look across the capital’s skyline and see it littered with cranes busily constructing skyscrapers with flats that the vast majority of Londoners will never be able to afford.
The insatiable demand for luxury housing is barely putting a dent in London’s housing crisis
Mayor Johnson is quick to point out that the 200 planning applications for tall buildings he’s allowed could provide around 35,000 homes. But when sales prices range from £420,000 for a studio flat in Croydon’s Saffron Square to £3.25 million for a three-bed in St Georges Wharf, it’s clear that very few of these homes will help to meet London’s desperate housing need. Instead, they will be safety deposit boxes for investors, many of whom will never even set foot in these properties. The insatiable demand for luxury housing is barely putting a dent in London’s housing crisis.
Others argue that contributions from developers are worth the vandalism of London’s skyline. But the reality is that developers are getting away with paltry sums. The 58- and 42-storey towers that the Mayor waved through last month, for example, were part of the £700 million One Nine Elms project – despite including a 5* hotel and luxury flats, the developer claimed they could only afford around 11 per cent affordable housing and a minor contribution off-site.
The Mayor’s designation of suburban areas only increases the threat of excessively high buildings
The problem isn’t confined to central London alone. In my constituency of Brent and Harrow, neighbourhoods’ well-established and historic suburban characters have not been given a second thought by developers rushing to put up monstrosities like the Hendon Waterside development that will tower over the previously pristine SSSI status Welsh Harp site. The Mayor’s designation of traditionally suburban areas like Harrow and Bromley as Opportunity Areas only increases the threat of excessively high buildings due to very high densities required to meet the housing targets. My experience of Outer London shows the local communities tend to reject out of hand tall buildings (anything over ten to fifteen stories) due to the concerns about loss of local views and detriment to the suburban character.
The rash of tall buildings popping up over the capital, including in Outer London, must stop. They are not sustainable, have unacceptable impact on local character and views, and are not fit for purpose as they are unaffordable and fail to meet London’s housing need. That’s why I’m pleased the London Assembly Planning Committee, on which I sit, has begun an investigation into how London should respond to this trend. The Skyline campaign doesn’t offer all the answers, but at least it’s got the conversation started.