City of London planning officer has seen growth in applications to refurbish office blocks

London’s skyscraper boom is coming to an end, according to City of London planning officer Peter Rees.

Rees, who has overseen planning for towers from the Gherkin to the Pinnacle, told Building he expects to see fewer towers built in the City and more applications to refurbish existing buildings. His comments come after a number of architects, including Make’s Ken Shuttleworth, have signalled the end of the age of iconic towers.

Rees added he was already seeing a growth in applications to overhaul ageing office blocks.

Property agent Savills estimates 13.5 million ft2 of leases will expire in the City in the next few years, prompting a construction push. Rees said he was not opposed to tower developments, but expected more occupants to opt to refurbish their buildings and overhaul their facades rather than go for new-build offices.

Rees said: “My prognosis is there will be fewer towers and that’s no bad thing. There’s a lot of late-eighties buildings we shouldn’t be throwing away.
“There’s a lot to recommend refurbishment. It’s a more sustainable solution, can be cheaper and leads to less arguments with planning.”

A number of skyscraper schemes are set to complete in the City by 2014, including the 37-storey Walkie Talkie tower and 47-storey Cheesegrater.

Rees said he expected these to be among the last batch of towers in the Square Mile.

“If a client has a particular requirement and they want to build tall I’m open to that. There’s maybe room for a couple more towers in the cluster, but we’ve probably built enough for the forseeable future,” he said.

His comments follow work led by Broadgate developer Sir Stuart Lipton to find ways of building skyscrapers at half the cost.

Rees’ planning department came under fire in April for awarding permission to a “groundscraper” scheme at Lipton’s Broadgate Circus for UBS, which will require the demolition of existing eighties buildings designed by Peter Foggo.

Rees defended the decision to award planning and said the case for each new scheme would be addressed on its merits.