Programme director Helen Fisher says ‘brilliant architects’ have been hired, as GLA hears evidence on tall buildings policy

Nine Elms

The programme director behind the mammoth Nine Elms development in south London has defended the design quality of the scheme’s planned tower cluster.

Helen Fisher, programme director for Nine Elms, told Building there was “more heat than light” in the debate over the fast-changing shape of London’s skyline and insisted developers at Nine Elms had hired “brilliant architects” for upcoming tall schemes.

Eight towers over 120 metres are either planned or under construction near Vauxhall station to the north of the Nine Elms scheme, by architects including Allies and Morrison, KPF and Cary Jones.

A ninth, Broadway Malyan-designed 48-storey St George Wharf, is already complete.

The planned Nine Elms cluster has been at the centre of a row over the design quality of 250 towers planned across London, which has sparked calls for a Mayoral commission to review tall building policy.

Fisher said the Nine Elms partnership, which comprises the London boroughs of Wandsworth and Lambeth, the Greater London Assembly, Transport for London and 16 private developers, took design quality “hugely seriously”.

She said all Nine Elms schemes will be subject to Cabe or local design reviews and the partnership was open to co-ordinating more closely with the Greater London Authority (GLA) on tall building policy.

Fisher said the partnership was focussing on making sure there are “active ground floor uses” for all of the towers and on public realm improvements – such as new town squares and a linear garden linking the cluster to Battersea Power Station to the south – to give the area a “buzzy” feel.

The area around Vauxhall station was identified as a potential location for a tall building cluster by the GLA and the London boroughs of Wandsworth and Lambeth in 2008, and the Nine Elms partnership was set up in part to deliver this in 2010.

The news came as the GLA’s planning committee heard evidence from architect Sunand Prasad, developer Tony Pidgley and former City of London planner Peter Rees on tall building policy.

Prasad told the committee: “It is not true that we need to build tall to accommodate people. There are many, many models that can fulfil density requirements without going over 20 stories.”

Pidgley argued public demand was driving developers to build tall, but Rees warned: “While 27% of people might want to live in tall buildings, 100% of Londoners have to look at them.”

Nigel Baker, planning and conservation director for English Heritage, also told the committee: “The GLA should be taking a clearer lead on how we are going to balance up the need for growth, the need for development, with the protection of our historic environment.”

The planning committee will consider the points and make policy recommendations to the Mayor and GLA.