Scarcity of land could force London to become a city of high rise living unless planning laws are changed, an academic at London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) has argued. Dr Gabriel Ahlfeldt, associate professor of urban economics and land development at LSE said that as long as outward growth is prevented by policies such as the green belt, the city will need to grow vertically as the population increases.
“A significant proportion of land in London is within dedicated conservation areas so much of the architectural heritage will be preserved, but outside these areas there are increasing pressures to build denser and taller buildings, which will inevitably alter London’s skyline,” he said. Ahlfeldt’s remarks followed the publication of a paper he has co-authored analysing 150 years of construction of tall buildings in Chicago, a city which has parallels to London.
Ahlfeldt continued: “We found three elements which are all powerful forces leading developers to construct taller buildings: the price of land, nice views and a competition element among developers vying for the ‘tallest’ prize.
“In Chicago, there is evidence of overbuilding beyond an economically justifiable height. Architects, developers and planners seem intent on winning the prize for the highest build. This prize often comes in the form of a scenic view, which is particularly relevant in the residential market.”
The same pattern is evident in London, he added. Ahlfeldt said the 309m-high Shard, at first glance, is an ‘obvious candidate’ for an overbuild, explaining, “Built on the south side of the Thames – not a traditional location for skyscrapers – it vastly exceeds any other structure in proximity, as if it was built to pre-empt rivals constructing a taller structure.”
He said similar examples include the 43-story Strata SE1 at Southwark and the planned 68-storey South Quay Plaza residential development, but added, “It is important to note, however, that planners in London have much stronger controls over height than their peers in Chicago.”
Ahlfeldt’s research suggests London will in future see a combination of relatively strong concentrations of tall commercial buildings in clusters such as the City and Canary Wharf, and solitary residential towers scattered across the cityscape.
He added: “It is time to think about whether this is the desired outcome from a planning perspective. Either way, we need to allow for some type of vertical growth or horizontal growth, otherwise London will become even more unaffordable than it already is.”