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High buildings policy in search of sites

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Months of work by the London Planning Advisory Committee and its consultants on a strategic policy for high buildings in the capital have defined the problems and opportunities - all that is missing is some lines on the map.


A second symposium on the draft proposals, held appropriately in the old NatWest Tower in the City of London last week, was able to take a more objective view of the consultants’ findings than shock horror headlines suggesting that businesses do not want high-rise.


Ziona Strelitz of zza, Geoff Marsh of LPR and Peter Drummond of bdp presented their findings and conclusions about an aspect of planning policy which has aroused more controversy than most. Among their conclusions were:


Businesses are not opposed to high buildings, but there is no evidence that height restrictions have affected London’s status as a ‘world city’.


The public generally likes the existing skyline, but is not averse to the idea of medium-rise towers if they are clustered and located close to public transport.


Boroughs have differing views compared with the City of London.


Main concerns about towers are how they meet the street and how they connect with services, including transport.


There is a strong need for some high residential blocks, but not for family social housing.


Office supply needs to take into account the fact that 50 per cent of City lettings are to international companies, who may view high-rise much more favourably than uk companies.


The difficult question about assessment of high-rise proposals was given context by Geoff Marsh’s definitions of different types of high-rise, which sounded like Trevor Bailey’s definitions of West Indian fast bowlers. There are the low and fat (car-based); infill (up to nine storeys); mid- rise and fat (up to 12 storeys); high and thin (NatWest Tower); and high and fat ;(Canary Wharf).


bdp’s Peter Drummond stressed the need for a three-dimensional model of London to put any high scheme in context. He wanted a three-part test of any proposal: would it ‘surpass the functional and aesthetic expectations of its users and those affected by it’? (this seemed ambitions); would it respect the positive characteristics and physical assets of the place (Borough)?; and would it contribute to the aspirations of the community (Borough residents)?


These tests emphasised the problem of developing a strategic London, as opposed to tactical borough, policy. Intriguingly, the old Greater London Development Plan, it emerged, had addressed this dilemma, and had identified four categories of area into which high-rises might be proposed, ranging from never through to positive encouragement.


lpac’s task, assuming it accepts the case for high-rise offices, apartments or hotels, will be to identify those areas … and wait for the flak to fly.

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