London's skyline continues to grow upwards, tall buildings survey reveals

17 March 2015

An update to last year’s survey on proposed tall buildings in London has found a significant increase in the number of towers in the pipeline, with 263 either under construction, with planning permission or awaiting a decision – up from 236 a year ago. 

It found that 70 tall buildings over 20 storeys are under construction (compared to 45 last year), 117 have planning permission and are waiting to go on site (113 last year), 72 are awaiting a decision and 4 have been refused.

The steady increase in construction starts suggests that tall buildings in the capital are now an “established trend”, according to Peter Murray, chairman of New London Architecture, which commissioned the study.

Murray, who is also a member of the mayor’s Design Advisory Group, told Construction Manager: “We always imagined there was a 10-year pipeline, and now there seems to be a steady flow of new projects entering the pipeline, which will continue as long as there is invesment demand.”

While he said that the NLA supports the idea of tall buildings in appropriate locations, it wanted to see good quality design on the skyline and at ground level, and supported the idea of a virtual 3D model of London to help informing policy makers. 

Murray said: “I certainly think that we need to look at the overall impact on London, especially the major areas affected, around Southbanks, Nine Elms and Old Oak Common for instance. The important thing is to get them right from a design point of view, and the way they hit the ground is the key issue.”

The report shows that 62 of the 70 towers under construction are residential, as are 80% of the pipeline as a whole. But based on an average of 30 storeys and 8 flats per floor, the 62 survey under construction will account for just 14,800 new homes. 

Meanwhile, it’s estimated that London needs to build at least 50,000 homes a year to accommodate its growing population, which currently stands at an all-time high of 8.6 million.

“The towers are a relatively small propotion of what's required – it’s hard to see how we can build the sort of numbers required,” Murray noted.

The London Tall Buildings survey was compiled by property consultancy GL Hearn. It also found that 153 of the towers are 20-29 storeys tall, while 25 are 50 storeys and above. 

Towers gaining planning permission in the last 12 months include Renzo Piano’s Fielden House, next to the Shard; 40 Leadenhall Street, a 36-storey office tower in the City by Make Architects; Taberner House, a 32-storey residential block in Croydon, also designed by Make; a series of residential and mixed-use towers in the Nine Elms Vauxhall opportunity area by Allies & Morrison and KPF, plus nine on the New Covent Garden Market site by SOM and BDP.

But only six towers reached practical completion in the past year: the Walkie Talkie and Leadenhall Building; 240 Blackfriars Road in Southwark; One Commercial Street in Tower Hamlets; The Tower, One St George Wharf in Lambeth; and Unite Stratford in Newham. On average these towers reached completion six years after planning permission was granted.

East, central and south London will see the biggest rise in tall buildings, with 93% of all towers under construction and 96% of this year’s planning applications. Tower Hamlets was at the heart of the tower boom last year and continues to see the most activity, with 18 tall buildings under construction, 27 with planning approval and 14 in planning.

Other boroughs with a high concentration of towers under construction are Lambeth (11), Southwark (7) and Newham (7). The areas that have seen the most planning applications over the last 12-months, after Tower Hamlets, are Wandsworth (11), Greenwich (8) and Lambeth (10).

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