Tall buildings in London: NLA survey results

New London Architecture (NLA) with research partner GL Hearn and data provided by EG London Residential Research has announced the results of their latest review of London’s changing skyline.

Now in its fourth year, the London Tall Buildings Survey provides the only comprehensive review of all towers over 20 storeys proposed, in planning or under construction, providing key information to inform the debate about the changing shape of London. The findings were debated at an oversubscribed free public debate at NLA today.

There are now 455 towers in the pipeline and despite a tumultuous year with high levels of uncertainty and market disruption due to Brexit, the capital saw construction start on almost one tall building a week. Construction began on 48 tall buildings in 2016, an increase of 68 per cent on the 29 that started in 2015.

Tall buildings are being completed at a significant rate too – there was a 150 per cent increase from 2015 (26 compared to 10), far above any level London has seen before. There are currently close to 100 tall buildings under construction many of which are at late stages of construction – 28 are expected to complete in 2017 and 40 in 2018. Since the survey began four years ago 60 tall buildings have been completed.

The Survey suggests the pipeline in terms of new applications also remains strong. While the number of tall buildings submitted for planning is down 30 per cent from 2015 (there were 83 tall buildings submitted in 2016 compared to the historic high of 119 submitted in 2015) this was in large part a result of over 40 tall buildings submitted in Greenwich Peninsula alone. Take that anomaly away and the 2016 figure is remarkably similar to every year going back to 2013.

However, what the future will look like is less clear. The survey identifies 31 tall buildings which received a resolution to grant planning permission five or more years ago but have not started development. With average commencement time of two and half years, some of these tall buildings may not come forward at all. And while the Survey shows no immediate impact of recent market disruption on the overall tall building pipeline, the long timeframes involved in bringing tall buildings forward suggest any effects would likely manifest in coming years.

NLA has called for a London-wide interactive digital model of London since the first London Tall Buildings Survey was undertaken in 2014 – a vital tool to help communities, the Mayor and planners envisage the full impact of tall buildings on London’s skyline and at ground level. The GLA has confirmed they are now pursuing this, supporting the process of redrafting the new London Plan and helping to identify areas of growth potential and how more housing can be delivered.

Chairman of New London Architecture, Peter Murray said:

“This is fourth year of the Survey and we’re starting to get a fascinating cumulative picture of how many tall buildings are coming forward, the rate at which they are being delivered and their contribution to meeting London’s housing need.

“The news that the GLA is looking to create a virtual three-dimensional London-wide model is something we welcome and the new London Plan provides a key moment to commission this. There is much progress to be made to ensure this is a practical tool that local communities and those in the development sector can use but this is a step in the right direction. It is vital one is delivered for all of London now.”

The Survey findings also demonstrate that tall buildings continue to play a hugely significant role in addressing London’s housing need.

  • Out of the 26 tall buildings completed last year 24 are residential towers
  • It is estimated 100,000 new homes could be provided across the entire pipeline, or two years’ worth of housing need based on GLA requirements of 50,000 new dwellings per year
  • There are an estimated 65,000 homes currently under construction in London – of those approximately 30 per cent are in tall buildings

These homes aren’t just being delivered in central London either; there has been a small but steady increase (5 per cent) in tall building development in outer London, supported by the promotion of Opportunity Areas and better transport connections.

In order to better plan for tall buildings in London, NLA has set out key recommendations for the next London Plan including;

  • The widespread use of digital 3D modelling to assist in placeshaping, as well as in the delivery of smarter methods of planning, including the management of protected views.
  • A requirement that areas of densification are subject to placeshaping strategies and that propositional plans are prepared by local planning authorities, if necessary with the assistance of the GLA’s London Place Agency team.
  • Greater use of ongoing quality and design review panels, which provide support throughout the planning process.

Deputy Mayor for Planning, Regeneration and Skills, Jules Pipe, said: “The Mayor is the guardian of London’s skyline and is committed to ensuring new developments are of the highest possible design standard. Sadiq and I want to ensure new developments make a positive impact on their communities and on the capital as a whole.

“Without doubt, tall buildings have a role to play in London and the forthcoming London Plan will include clear guidelines to help ensure they are built in suitable areas, make a significant contribution to the skyline and, where they include new homes, help ease the capital’s housing crisis.”

James Cook, Planning Director – Head of Residential Planning, GL Hearn, said:

“It is very encouraging to see that London remains a leading city for tall buildings. The strong pipeline for housing will help meet the city’s demanding housing need and deliver real value back into the economy – and allied to wider policy aspirations for increasing density and preventing urban sprawl, tall building development is here to stay.

“The picture that this Survey presents is a wholly positive one given recent market disruption. The time it takes to bring forward tall buildings however means that any impacts on planned investments may not be seen immediately and the markets’ response during the course of this year will be fascinating.”

EG’s Paul Wellman said:

“EG Data reveals tall buildings continue to come through the planning system, at a staggeringly high level, especially relative to just 5 to 10 years ago. If Londoners haven’t noticed the activity of tall buildings around them, they soon will. That’s because more and more are getting off the drawing board and are coming out of the ground. Although transactions at the top end of the market may be waning, values remain stubbornly high for the average Londoner. Tall buildings more focused on the rental market and further out in to the suburbs is a feature we are likely to see more of in the coming years.”