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English Heritage: ‘Wall of development’ threat to London

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English Heritage’s planning and conservation director has hit out at the ‘weakened planning framework’

Nigel Barker, ‎planning and conservation director at English Heritage has warned of a ‘wall of development, from Vauxhall to Southwark’ that risked damaging London’s identity. Barker spoke of how a planning system that developed to deal with tall buildings as ‘individual entities’ was unsuitable for a time when tall buildings were more commonplace.

Barker said: ‘The approach we developed to tall buildings was in the context of understanding them at the turn of the century as individual entities. We are now looking at 200-odd applications for tall buildings across London. They are not individual entities anymore, they are a building typology that is almost default.’

Speaking at a press conference organised by the NLA to launch an exhibition focusing on how London’s skyline will change over the next 20 years, Barker said that the idea that placing towers in clusters to reduce their impact meant that clusters were accepted as a given, without consideration for the impact they had.

‘The building typology and the idea of clusters is becoming self-referential. If you look at Vauxhall and Nine Elms, once you establish in the policy wording “an area appropriate for tall buildings”, whatever caveats you put in there, [such as] subject to environmental quality, subject to design… the phrase that is picked out is “appropriate for tall buildings”.

He added: ‘Once you have accepted that, you have to deal with one tall building, then clusters [are seen as] automatically good, and then cluster itself becomes the object of interest, and the wider context disappears.’

‘We will see a wall of development, across from Vauxhall through to Southwark, with perhaps a dip around the Southbank. That will be the result, not of planning, but of individual applications being dealt with in a weakened planning framework.’

Barker also spoke of how international investors were driving much of the high rise development. ‘For international investors who don’t have any emotional attachment to the capital they see them as investments, they want their return as quickly as possible.’

Also speaking at the event was Graham Stirk, senior director at Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners who said that development for international investors meant that house prices in London never decreased, despite the high density of the developments being proposed.

Stirk said: ‘The irony of development in London is that the cost of purchasing doesn’t seem to decrease with density. You would think that by creating high density, the returns you would get from that would make things more affordable [but] it doesn’t work that way.’

‘Values seem fixed which is why they attract a lot of foreign investment, which then becomes an investment model. Is that really solving the problem? I have doubts.’

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