Duncan Wilson calls for beefed-up capital-wide approach to protecting built heritage
London needs a more coordinated approach to regulating high-rise development to give residents greater input and ensure the capital’s architectural treasures and views are not lost forever, the chief executive of Historic England has said.
Duncan Wilson acknowledged proposals from the City of London Corporation to introduce more prescriptive rules about acceptable locations for high-rise development and wider use of three-dimensional modelling as part of the planning process.
But the boss of the government’s heritage-advisory body said those plans did not go far enough and that a “pan-London” approach to prevent further harm to the capital’s skyline was required.
Wilson’s comments came in a letter to the Evening Standard newspaper that saw him directly reference Herzog & de Meuron’s recently-lodged plans for a 15-storey tower above Liverpool Street Station as “misguided”.
Wilson, who was a leading opponent of Foster & Partners’ Tulip tourist tower proposals, said some tall buildings were “undeniably well-designed and elegant”. But he said Londoners needed to be more alive to the danger posed by high-rise development, even after a decade of “radical change”.
“London is still largely low-rise and each tower exerts a powerful, wide-reaching impact,” he said. “Among those proposed for the City is one above the grade II-listed Liverpool Street Station, which would not only impact one of London’s finest Victorian stations but its sheer bulk means it would encroach on views of landmarks such as St Paul’s Cathedral.
“With misguided schemes like this on the horizon, surely it is time to take a more considered approach?”
Wilson said he recognised the capital would continue evolving, but insisted change should not come at the expense of its “special” characteristics.
“Tall buildings, if in the wrong places and poorly designed, can seriously harm our city,” he said.
“While you can put a price on each tower, both our skyline and our streetscapes are treasured and priceless. London deserves better.”
The Historic England boss said the “cumulative effect” of towers should be planned for “properly”, rather than being considered separately.
“The City of London Corporation is adapting its planning policies to identify the right areas for tall buildings but we should go further,” Wilson said.
“Consultation about tall buildings is too narrow, so we stand for a pan-London approach, with Londoners being better informed and involved, through accessible 3D modelling and more.”
He added that the carbon impacts of constructing new towers, set against the greener option of retrofitting existing buildings to provide new office space, ought to be given proper consideration – particularly in light of changes to working practices ushered in by the coronavirus pandemic.
The City of London is due to publish its draft City Plan proposals, featuring its new approach to high-rise building, early next year. Determination of the Herzog & de Meuron proposals – which were drawn up for Shard developer Sellar Property Group, Network Rail and MTR – is also not expected until next year.