Former City of London planning head says residents could abandon apartments because of upkeep costs

Peter Rees IMG_2241

Peter Rees

London’s skyline is in danger of being dominated by a forest of derelict residential towers in 100 years’ time if apartment owners are unable to fund essential refurbishment work, a former leading planner warned this week.

Peter Rees, previously chief planning officer for the City of London, said there was a danger funds set aside within apartment service charges for major renovation work on the new breed of private residential blocks would be insufficient to cover what was required.

“If future refurbishment cycles cannot be funded by the apartment owners, their investments will become unsellable long before the expiry of their 125-year lease,” Rees said. “In 80, 90, 100 years’ time, I fear we’ll have the Thames lined with derelict towers.”

But a spokesperson for the Home Builders Federation said modern blocks are built in such a way that major repairs can be carried out floor by floor without having to decant all residents.

He added: “The vast majority of properties are run by professional companies that take a long-term view of buildings. It’s in their interests to make sure the building runs effectively and is maintained for the length of its life.”

Rees (pictured) also warned that with the capital short of land “it seems crazy to have wasted that much of central London land on a product which will not only be under-used but for which there will be no maintenance mechanism. It’s bad land use.”

Accusing politicians of destroying building control and laying the ground for disasters like Grenfell, Rees said he wanted to see the planning system overhauled to focus on land use and an expansion of use classes, which would allow local councils to distinguish between rental and sale homes, investment properties, starter homes, student and retirement housing.

Rees also called the government’s beauty-oriented approach, as evidenced in its Building Beautiful, Building Better commission, an “irrelevance”. He said: “You can have a wonderful place with very little beauty, provided people have the activities and spaces they need.”

Rees left the City of London in 2014 after 29 years as head of planning. He is now a professor of planning at UCL’s Bartlett School of Architecture.

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You can hear Peter Rees in conversation on this week’s Building podcast - out this Friday at or via your preferred podcasts app