Expert Insights

Expert Insights

Tall Buildings In London: Challenges and Opportunities

The London skyline is set for continued change over years to come. Lydia O’Hagan looks at the opportunities and challenges ahead following adoption of the new London Plan.

In early 2021 the City of London Corporation has continued to grant planning permissions for tall buildings in the City, including for a 30 storey development at 55 Gracechurch Street, a 33 storey “green” tower at 70 Gracechurch Street and a 38 storey eco-friendly office scheme at 2 Finsbury Avenue. The decision of the Secretary of State on the appeal against the Mayor’s refusal of the proposed Tulip building, which if built would be the tallest building in the City at 305 metres, is eagerly awaited.

Demand to build skyscrapers in certain locations therefore continues. They may deliver more floorspace with less footprint – particularly relevant in areas where there is pressure for growth coupled with a lack of available land. According to industry expert Gavin Eustace in our Skyscraper vs Groundscraper report, tall buildings will be part of the response to England’s housing crisis.They add to city life, through the commercial and residential accommodation and associated facilities they provide. They can also make a positive contribution to skyline, with well-liked examples including the Shard and the Gherkin.

Buildings in the pipeline like 50 Fenchurch Street and 70 Gracechurch Street are helping pave the way to a greener City by incorporating urban greening measures on a large scale such as living roofs and green walls which help mitigate air and noise pollution, reduce rainwater run-off, absorb carbon and improve biodiversity. The proposed tower at 2 Finsbury Avenue is aiming for net-zero carbon in construction and operation.

Tall buildings are not universally popular however, and getting planning permission to develop a tall building can be a challenge for many reasons – financing (although the financing of the 755 ft tall 110 Bishopsgate in London suggests that banks are willing to engage with the opportunity to finance tall buildings – see comments from Nick Lawson in our Skyscraper v Groundscaper report), local opposition, protected views and rights to light to name a few. Adaptability and future-proofing can also be challenge – as Bradley Baker has noted in our latest report Skyscraper vs Groundscaper. The recent adoption of the new London Plan, and the proposed “Gateway 2 Developer Levy” are likely to present new challenges.

Policy D9 of the London Plan is an evolution of the tall building policy in the 2016 London Plan, with some key differences.

  • The onus is on the Boroughs to define what is considered to be a tall building for specific localities (provided that a tall building will not be less than 6 storeys or 18 metres measured from ground to the floor level of the uppermost storey).
  • Boroughs must determine if there are locations where tall buildings may be an appropriate form of development and should engage with neighbouring Boroughs that may be affected. Locations appropriate for tall buildings of specified heights should be identified on maps in development plans and tall buildings should only be developed in those allocated locations.

Within London, it is likely to become more difficult therefore to promote a taller building without a specific site allocation and it is critical for developers, landowners and investors to engage with the local plan process and provide justification for their preferred building typology in a location.

It should also be noted that the changes proposed to the NPPF, if adopted, may make the application process more difficult beyond London (see our article here).  Again, those seeking to build tall may need to ensure they engage with the production of relevant local design guidance. Whilst “outstanding or innovative designs” can attract significant weight where they promote high levels of sustainability or raise the standards of design, they must also “fit in” with the overall form or layout of their surroundings.

Finally, the Government has also recently announced plans to introduce a new “Gateway 2 Levy” next year on developers seeking planning permission for certain high-rise residential buildings as part of its plan to fund the removal of unsafe cladding. There is currently very little information on how the levy will work in practice details are expected as part of the consultation paper in due course.

Want to hear more? See our latest market intelligence report “Skyscraper vs Groundscraper” to hear from industry experts about the opportunities and complexities that tall buildings can bring from funding through to design and construction.

For more information, please contact Lydia O'Hagan or your usual Charles Russell Speechlys contact in our Real Estate Planning team.

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