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Boris rejects Assembly calls for more scrutiny over tall buildings


The Mayor of London has overruled London Assembly members and insisted the capital does not need a new body to assess the design quality and viability of scores of new skyscrapers

In March, the chair of the London Assembly’s all-party planning committee wrote to the Mayor, Boris Johnson, demanding the creation of a Skyline Commission to ensure tall buildings were only permitted ‘in the right place’ and where they did not have an ‘irreversible impact’ on the city’s skyline (see story below).

The request came from committee chair Nicky Gavron following a motion passed by the whole assembly last year.

But Johnson rejected the calls (see attached letter), dismissing the idea of a separate review body which was put forward as part of the AJ/Observer’s much-publicised Skyline Campaign.

Johnson said he believed his London Plan document provided a ‘sufficiently robust’ framework for ensuring that new tall buildings were constructed in appropriate locations, including the capital’s Central Activities Zone (CAZ), opportunity areas, town centres, and areas with good transport links.

‘Recent research from GL Hearn shows that the majority of tall buildings permitted in London are located within these areas, which illustrates the effectiveness of this policy and the clarity it provides to developers,’ he said.

‘In that sense, the formalisation of clustering is already happening.

‘There is already a high level of scrutiny of any tall building proposal in London, including from Design Council/CABE [and] English Heritage, where a high benchmark has to be passed in order to get planning permission.

‘I do not think a Skyline Commission is either desirable or necessary because London already possess[es] the requisite plans and means to implement them effectively.’

Architect Barbara Weiss, who came up with the initial Skyline idea and has since taken over running the campaign, said she was disappointed ,but not surprised, by Johnson’s response.

‘These towers are absolutely ruining London,’ she said.

‘The fact that [Johnson] can say they’re all in the right place and that the London Plan is an adequate safeguard is not credible. Nothing in the plan has teeth; it’s much too generic.

London is being trashed and he’s washing his hands of it

‘He can get people building whatever they want because there’s no certainty. And the result is that London is being totally trashed and he’s washing his hands of it.

‘We’re getting to the point where the results of his strategy are beginning to be visible to everybody, and it’s a disaster.’

Johnson did, however, offer support for the London Assembly’s proposal for the creation of a fully-interactive 3D model of London that could be used to assess the impact of proposals.

Tower Bridge view

View of the Walkie Talkie from the Shad Thames area of south-east London


Previous story (AJ 10.03.2015)

London Assembly demands ‘new and improved’ tall building policy

All high-rise residential schemes in London must be tested against alternative forms of development which achieve the same goals and densities, the cross-party planning committee of the London Assembly has said

In a major boost for the Skyline Campaign, the committee yesterday wrote to mayor Boris Johnson to demand ‘new and improved’ policies to regulate tall buildings in the capital.

In her letter to Johnson, committee chair Nicky Gavron wrote: ‘When you announced your revised housing strategy, in 2013, you went on record as saying that “we’ve got to build 42,000 new houses every year, but it won’t mean towers are ‘popping up all over London”. 

‘However, an increasing number of proposals for tall buildings are being submitted to you for approval.  It is estimated that around 600 strategic applications for tall buildings have been referred to you since 2008.

‘Tall buildings can make a positive contribution to city life and the skyline, but only if they’re in the right places, meet the right needs, and interact well with the character and identity of the immediate and surrounding area.’

Following the launch of the campaign - championed last year by AJ and the Observer - the committee met last June and heard from experts including Bartlett professor Peter Rees and former RIBA president Sunand Prasad.

Gavron said such experts had concluded that ‘London runs the risk that the cumulative impact of these developments is going to have an irreversible negative impact on the city.’

She said that the committee backed the wider London Assembly’s unanimous call last November for new key policies including the ‘crucial’ demand - first made by Prasad - that ‘alternatives to building upwards need to be presented before a final design approach is given permission.’

Co-founder of the Skyline Campaign Barbara Weiss said: ‘This is exactly what we have been asking for.

‘We are obviously delighted that there is more and more organised dissent and that our points are being taken hugely seriously by very senior people.’

The Mayor of London has been contacted for comment.


Readers' comments (2)

  • Michael Bach

    There is a major democratic deficit here. Only The GLA's Planning Decisions Unit have any idea what is coming down the pipeline, let alone the cumulative effect of all these tall buildings. There appears to be no democratic control over this issue.

    We do not need tall buildings - high density does not necessarily mean high-rise buildings. London Boroughs - not developers or the Mayor - should be able to shape the character of the development and their area, whilst producing developments within the appropriate density range in the London Plan's Residential Quality Matrix.

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  • Friary Green Residents' Association in Acton W3 is fighting Ealing Council about proposals for a 20 to 29 storey "landmark building" in a suburban, semi-detached part of Acton, where currently the tallest building is 4 storeys. Ealing Council blame Boris. Easy target and surely, with the Local Plan and the Localism Act, Councils do and should have more say. Having said that, Boris has given Councils the power to abuse their areas. It's a great excuse to let developers run riot with money making projects, which don't actually serve the area, community or provide more social housing.

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