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The South Bank is being blighted by high-rise development

Duncan wilson
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Historic England’s chief executive Duncan Wilson says plans for a raft of skyscrapers along the Thames will create an impenetrable channel which jeopardises London’s global standing

If you woke up in London and looked out of the window at one of its historic streets, you would know you were in London

The city’s historic character gives depth and integrity to its identity.

It’s a city that is literally layered in history, a place with built heritage that drives tourism and cultivates creativity. It’s a city that needs to be kept special and that deserves well-considered planning and development.

Ill-considered development without a proper strategic context can have an effect that is unexpected and harmful. The historic character of London and its neighbourhoods is a very important factor in our success as a place in which to live, work and visit. It deserves a sensitive response.

Like other cities, London needs to increase in density, but this does not necessarily require very tall buildings and it certainly shouldn’t lead to generic new buildings. London has a long architectural tradition of high-density, low-rise developments – we can look to this legacy to deliver capacity and retain character in new developments.

We recognise that tall buildings in the right places can make positive contributions to city life. But they should be planned-for strategically, sensitively and for the whole of London.

For example, very tall buildings at the centre of a cluster can improve the focus of a group. London has some great tall buildings.

But it also has some which many acknowledge to have been mistakes, and are very clumsily located. Some areas such as the south bank of the Thames in Vauxhall are – I would argue – already blighted by piecemeal high-rise development. With over two hundred consented tall buildings in London in the pipeline, the face of the city is already set to change.

’The Thames is an important, breathable and ancient space for Londoners’

A number of these towers that have already received planning permission line the Thames, meaning our oldest and arguably most important public space could be cut off from Londoners. The river Thames has been fundamental to London’s existence and development over two millennia.

Visualhouse and photographer Dan Lowe   View From St Pauls towards Blackfriars   PROPOSED

Visualhouse and photographer Dan Lowe View From St Pauls towards Blackfriars PROPOSED

It is an important, breathable and ancient space for Londoners. It is at risk of becoming an impenetrable channel through London, cutting through towers of private space. And there have been suggestions that the river itself can be a ‘free’ development site for floating structures. This should be viewed critically.

Historic England’s vision for London is of a dynamic city that understands and is proud of its rich heritage.

Peppering the capital’s skyline and the Thames with designs that look attractive on paper but make little meaningful response to London’s history or character, and in some cases actually harm it, not only puts this vision at risk but jeopardises London’s place at the top of the global table of places to be.

Duncan Wilson, chief executive, Historic England

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