Memorandum by London Forum of Amenity
and Civic Societies (TAB 51)
The Mayor of London has expressed a wish to
see more tall buildings being built.
The guidelines that he issued on 18 October
on this subject were not fully scrutinised by the Assembly members.
Community groups feel that there is potential for unwise tall
developments in London in the period up to the incorporation of
the Mayor's policies on tall buildings, when they are approved,
into The London Plan. In the meantime the legal status of this
"policy" is uncertain, since there is no evidence of
analysis of the issues, there has been no public consultation
and it has not yet been scrutinised at an examination in public
into the plan.
The London Forum accepts that there is an important
role for tall buildings in a capital city of the twenty first
century, and it certainly accepts the view that any new tall-building
policy should be London-wide and therefore initiated by the Mayor.
But the Forum also believes strongly that, for tall buildings
to have a positive impact on our townscape, they have to be carefully
sited: generally to emphasise the importance of existing centres,
where this can be done without introducing them to an historic
area of character for the first time nor causing an adverse effect
upon the historic environment on a capital-wide basis.
The striking New York skyline, the almost as
striking view of the City of London from Waterloo Bridge, and
even the distant view of Croydon's town centre, appeal to our
eye because they stand out clearly as points of focus, and give
us a feeling of knowing where we are. By contrast the GLC planners
of the 1960s encouraged an even spread of tower blocks ("which
punctuate the skyline") throughout most of inner London.
Fortunately, this trend came to an end with the demise of tower-block
housing. If it hadn't, London would by now have been saddled with
a monotonous skyline completely lacking in variety: something
that the Forum does not want to see overtaking us belatedly in
the twenty first century. In particular, the Forum would not want
to see the reinstatement of the 1960s policy (or lack of it) for
the West End: which allowed, amongst other horrors, the building
of the Hyde Park Hilton and Knightsbridge barracks, the height
of which destroyed the park's illusion of endlessness. These buildings
were not bad by 1960s standards; and now, 40 years on, there are
signs that we are returning to the old attitude, which is included
to allow a tall building anywhere, provided that it is well designed.
Planners in Paris have been much more positive:
allocating areas for tall buildings and banning them completely
from the central area. The result is a flourishing city, admired
both for its beauty and for its economic vitality.
There is no reason why different, but equally
strong policies should not be applied to our own capital city.
But until they are, and a tall-building policy for London has
been consulted-on with the boroughs and then adopted, the London
Forum calls on the Government and the GLA Mayor to announce a
presumption against new tall buildings anywhere other than at
centres where a cluster of such tall buildings already exists.
Some tall buildings that are inappropriate in
their current locations should not be taken as a reason to create
a cluster of high structures there. Tall or unattractive buildings
in the wrong places should be considered for planned demolition.
The London Forum supports the Government and
Mayoral policies for halting the drift from our cities to the
surrounding countryside; and we support a return to more compact
communities better served by public transport. But this does not
require a return to tower-block housing. It will entail inner
London's return to densities that are "urban" rather
than "suburban". But that implies no more than a return
to the modern equivalent of our popular four or five storey Georgian
housing with squares; and, even with that proviso, it cannot be
a "blanket" policy that covers the whole of London.
There are some historic low-density townscapes, and some suburban
areas, which provide a high quality environment as they are.
Tall buildings certainly have their uses at
focal points of the urban environment; but there are many centres
in outer London, and historic centres in inner London, where they
would not be appropriate. Even important railway stations, where
Railtrack see an opportunity for making good their losses, are
usually inappropriate sites for tall buildings. Some, like East
Croydon, are in an areas where such buildings abound, but the
majority are not.
In London, as in Paris, tall buildings are not
necessary as a universal means for revitalising the capital city.
The most recent research advised that there is no economic case
for tall buildings to sustain London's role as a world city.
London is a collection of "villages".
The emphasis upon sustainable development, affordable housing
and community planning will reinforce that urban town focus. In
those locations, tall buildings can often be out of scale and
Town plans and community plans should be part
of the UDP of each borough, agreed by adjacent LPAs so that there
is a planning brief for each area that would allow or deny new
buildings of defined height and usage. A 10 storey building can
be too high for some suburban areas but would appear to be small
in Canary Wharf.
The very considerable changes in their area
in the movement of goods and people that large buildings cause
must be taken into account. This can be significant if they are
not located very close to public transport nodes and even then
the capacity for passengers per hour on the services must be able
to be upgraded to the required degree.
Tall buildings can cast long shadows over people's
homes and spoil the skyline that residents have spent years developing
with their own garden planting of trees and shrubs to complement
tree lines nearby. Tall buildings can lead to over-looking of
residential homes and gardens and create a microclimate that can
be unpleasant near to their base. They can cause shadowing of
nearby buildings and reduce their natural light. They may be oppressive
to those working in adjacent office blocks. For these reasons
the location of high towers or large, bulky buildings must be
carefully controlled. The quality of the urban and street environment
is important for quality of life for Londoners and in attracting
visitors and high calibre staff.
The views of St Pauls cathedral and other historic
buildings and areas must be protected. The same considerations
apply to the views from conservation areas, Royal Parks, public
gardens and commons and in the Thames and Waterways Policy Area.
Tall buildings along the River Thames and other
waterways block the open space and views from areas in the hinterland.
They are also oppressive when seen from the opposite bank, the
land behind them and, particularly, from the waterways themselves.
The spaciousness and "blue/green lung" benefits of the
wider waterways can be lost. Tall buildings near to waterways
can produce a "canyon" effect and no building of any
type should be allowed within 50 metres of the banks of the Thames.
The City of London should be considered in conjunction
with Canary Wharf and the Thames Gateway where tall buildings
exist and more could be positioned, rather than harm the qualities
that attract people and visitors to Central and Inner London and
the West End. Similarly the addition of tall buildings in residential
West London is inappropriate when there are opportunities to add
more to those already in the Golden Mile along the A4.
Any proposed tall building should be subjected
to an analysis of its energy consumption and efficiency, emission
levels and facilities for the emergency services and for fast,
The present ad hoc high buildings policy rushed
out for the Heron Building public inquiry is not an appropriate
policy for London. We need a new high buildings policy:
based on a new London-wide assessment to identify
appropriate locations for tall buildings taking into consideration:
the likely impact on sensitive areas;
the likely impact on strategic views; and
the likely physical impact on the locality
which adopts appropriate policies for different
parts of London based on their ability to take tall buildingssimilar
to the policy in the Greater London Development Plan.
We also need a new policy for the density of
development based on strategic considerations, in particular the
likely capacity of the public transport system to handle the additional