Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

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 oppressive.

  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, safe evacuation.


  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 buildings—similar 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 transport requirements.

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