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London should grow up says new report on tall buildings

To remain a competitive world city London needs to radically rethink it planning policies and accept more tall buildings says a report, Tall Buildings: vision of the future or victims of the past, published today by the London School of Economics and Political Science for Development Securities PLC.

The capital is set for dramatic growth over the next two decades. As households and jobs growth soar, London will need to accommodate a population the size of Liverpool by 2016 within its existing boundaries. It will also require five to seven times the amount of extra office space currently provided at Canary Wharf over the next 25 years.

To cope with such expansion, the report argues that higher density development is needed and that tall buildings offer one solution to achieving this. In the office market, alternatives, such as large hanger-style buildings, is a far worse option say the authors, while in residential districts they suggest capitalising on London's policy of relatively low-rise, higher-density developments, in areas such as Notting Hill and Lancaster Gate, by increasing building size.

The report calls for a new generation of tall buildings to be located in inner London near major transport hubs, which would help to unburden the chronically overloaded Tube and commuter networks. That the demand is there is clear say the authors, as developers are consistently able to fill their towers with tenants and command high premiums.

To realise this vision, the report suggests that UK planners and policymakers need to have a more positive, coherent approach to tall buildings. It points out that London has long suffered from a negative and erratic approach to planning, which has resulted in the capital's messy skyline. The authors also observe that tall buildings have suffered from the shadow cast over their reputation by the poorly designed tower blocks of the 1960s.

However the report argues that London should learn from other major world cities. It analyses the approach taken to tall buildings in New York Paris, Frankfurt and Berlin and notes that they all have a clear pro-active policy defining where tall buildings can be sited. London is alone among the cities studied in having a purely reactive policy, simply spelling out where tall buildings cannot be situated.

Finally, the report says that how taller buildings meet the ground is as important as how they meet the sky. If they are to play an important role in the denser development of the capital, they must integrate better into the city's fabric at both street and sky level. If done, say the authors, this will allow a more efficient and visually coherent London to grow within its boundaries and renew its capacity to compete with its global peers.

Hugh Jenkins CBE, chairman of Development Securities PLC said: "We are very pleased with the scope of the research. The report is considered and wide-ranging and I am impressed with the case studies that have been compiled on other major world cities and the thought provoking key findings provided. I think that the insights in this report it make a significant contribution to the current debate on tall buildings in the UK."

Richard Burdett of LSE commented: "London is an organic city that can adapt to change. It has suffered from a lack of vision and coherence in its policy towards tall buildings in the past and that needs to change. I believe that tall buildings could play a much greater role in London's future if properly designed and located near major transport hubs, as part of a clear strategy of intensification, especially around large areas of brownfield inner city land."


For further information please contact:

  • Dan de Belder or Richard Evans, The Communication Group, on 020 7630 1411
  • Jessica Winterstein, LSE Press Office, on 020 7955 7060.

Notes to Editors:

For information please see the LSE Cities Programme| web pages. 

Summary of the Report's Findings:

  • 'Accommodate or die': To remain a major 'world city' London must accommodate significant growth within its existing boundaries.
  • A victim of history - London should grow up: The cautious attitude to tall buildings in London is due to haphazard development and negative attitudes prompted by the dismal high-rises of the 1960s.
  • Transport system going nowhere: Capacity constraints on London's transport system have prompted some development and regeneration in the capital. Without more there could be an exodus of companies and residents from London.
  • London can take it: London can accommodate greater densities of population within existing boundaries. There are ways to allow people to live and work closer together.
  • 'They wouldn't build 'em if they couldn't fill 'em': Probably the most compelling evidence in favour of tall buildings is that developers are able consistently to fill their towers with tenants and command high premiums.
  • Europeans and Americans do it better: Of the cities considered in the US and Europe, London is alone in having a reactive policy that determines where tall buildings cannot be built.
  • Where should we put them? Well-designed tall buildings should be located in strategic clusters and well served by public transport in London.
  • Coming out of the shadows: An effective tall buildings policy for London should take into account their impact on people and places - not only how they affect the skyline. How tall buildings meet the ground is as important as how they meet the sky.

24 June 2002