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Tower Hamlets mayor: 'There's a kick-back against Isle of Dogs skyscrapers'


The mayor of Tower Hamlets says there is growing resistance to tall buildings on the Isle of Dogs in east London

Speaking following the refusal of the 48-storey, 225 Marsh Wall scheme by Make, mayor John Biggs told the AJ that only high-rise projects with ‘superb architecture’ would be granted planning approval, and that skyscrapers in the area were facing a backlash from residents, who are opposed to the ‘sheer intensity’ of developments there.

Make’s project became the latest skyscraper scheme proposed in London’s Docklands to receive a major planning blow, despite being reduced in height last year in a bid to overcome concerns of over-development, when councillors said they were ‘minded to refuse’ the project last month (see AJ 01.09.17). An earlier attempt to build a 56-storey tower on the same site had been withdrawn by developer Cubitt Property Holdings last summer after being recommended for refusal by planning officers.

Biggs said: ’Unless [proposed tall buildings] are really superb architecture, it’s going to be more of a struggle [to get planning approval]. There is a bit of a kick-back locally against the sheer intensity of development and on the Isle of Dogs and height is seen as a symbol of that.

‘There’s always going to be a tussle between the principal on the island that if you start at One Canada Square and go downwards then the slope of that gradient will be a matter of opinion between different people. The planning committee was saying it should be steeper than the developers would like.’

Controversy has surrounded a number of high rise buildings in the burgeoning east London district, in particular a raft of major proposals south of Canary Wharf.

In late 2014, KPF’s 68-storey Quay House project in Marsh Wall was refused by Tower Hamlets council due to concerns of over-development.

In November, a planning application for a 43-storey scheme in 30 Marsh Wall, designed by 21st Architecture, was withdrawn after a recommendation for refusal. 

A 65-storey development at Alpha Square by Pilbrow & Partners was rejected by Tower Hamlets’ planning committee last year, – though this was later approved by former mayor Boris Johnson. 

Commenting on the 225 Marsh Wall scheme specifically, Biggs said: ‘As I understand it – the planning committee is independent of me – it was primarily about height. Affordable housing is always an issue as well. But what then happens of course is you reduce the height, they will argue on viability grounds that the affordable offer can be reduced proportionally as well. So we need to find a sweet spot that keeps everybody happy.’

Barbara Weiss, director of Barbara Weiss Architects and co-founder of the Skyline Campaign, told the AJ she was ’delighted to hear that John Biggs is focusing on height as a major issue – locals on the Isle of Dogs are becoming increasingly concerned by over-development’.

However she said that London mayor Sadiq Khan and London deputy mayor for planning, regeneration and skills Jules Pipe were ‘continuing in the same way’ as former mayor Boris Johnson in their approach to tall buildings, adding that the noises from the GLA were ‘really worrying’.  

Although a number of high-rise schemes on the Isle of Dogs have struggled throguh planning, others have been more successful, notably a 42-storey tower at Millharbour by Rolfe Judd (2015); a 68-storey tower by Foster + Partners (2014); and SimpsonHaugh and Partners’ 31-storey Dollar Bay (2012).




Readers' comments (5)

  • Chris Rogers

    On even a fleeting examination of the Island recently, compared to a dozen years ago when I knew it far better, it's hard to believe ANY planning controls are being applied. It's ironic that the LDDC saw far less built, and rather sad in a way to see the very earliest generation of buildings there used as sales pavilions for their replacements. On the other hand, the trees planted thirty years ago are far more mature and often obscure much of that era.

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  • MacKenzie Architects

    " ... really superb architecture ... "
    I don't think you could get half a dozen architects to agree on what was really superb architecture.
    I don't think you could get the professors of any of the design schools to agree what was really superb architecture, and I suspect you couldn't get any group of people on the Clapham omnibus to do so either.


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  • And how would Tin Gods like John Biggs and his planning department know anything about "superb architecture"? Taschen coffee table books? Home study course? Talking to Barbara Weiss or Jules Pipe? Old copies of House and Garden?

    Having spent time working in Tower Hamlets, I was always curious as to what they were spending the enormous rates accrued from Canary Wharf on. It certainly wasn't the built environment, or improving the housing stock or community facilities.

    The LDDC did a good job back in the day. It's a different world in the East End now.

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  • For Chris Rogers: On the question of the application of planning controls - or lack thereof - it's all too easy in some parts of London to wonder whether the other meaning of the phrase 'kick-back' would be more appropriate.

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  • Geoff Williams

    The danger of fire in high rise structures is always imminent although we like to think they are a rare occurrence. Fighting fire in congested City locations and fighting fires internally above 7 floors is a distinct hazard. Maintenance of the electrical supply is paramount. Experts in Germany maintain that up to 40% of fires Worldwide have an electrical cable origin. The use of a 2hour fire rated cable, preferably MICC, should be mandatory.

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