Ten new towers planned for City of London skyline

Photo by Julia Solonina on Unsplash

Ten new skyscrapers are being planned for London’s financial centre in a major sign of long-term economic confidence in the capital, the Standard can reveal.

Developers behind eight of the tower blocks are in confidential “pre application” discussions with the City of London Corporation while two others have recently submitted formal applications.

Shravan Joshi, chairman of the City’s planning and transportation committee, told the Standard: “They are all substantial buildings that will change the skyline of the City once more – or add to it.”

The applications that have been made public are for a 63-storey development at 55 Bishopsgate – which at 285m (935ft) above sea level would be one of the tallest in the Square Mile – and a 32-storey tower at 85 Gracechurch Street, beside Leadenhall Market.

The City’s aim is to ensure that schemes “are not just for vanity” but deliver positive benefits to London and the wider UK.

But the 55 Bishopsgate scheme, which includes an adjacent 22 storey tower, has already sparked formal objections from Historic England and Westminster council due to its potential impact on protected views of St Paul’s Cathedral and the wider city skyline.

Most of the proposed tower blocks are in the City’s “eastern cluster”, which already has the Gherkin at 30 St Mary Axe, “Walkie Talkie” at 20 Fenchurch Street, “Cheesegrater” at 122 Leadenhall Street and “Scalpel” at 52 Lime Street among its landmarks.

All new proposals are at least 75m tall (almost 250ft), thus meeting the City’s definition of a “tall building”.

Mr Joshi said the number of applications this year exceeded both those made in 2020 and 2021 and was an encouraging sign of the Square Mile’s post-pandemic resilience.

“They are continuing regardless of the macroeconomic threats that are out there,” he said. “That is a point of confidence, not just in the current state of economic affairs but in the longer term state that the City and London provide a secure base for property development.”

He said demand was being driven for “grade-A, really high quality office space” – and not just from financial services firms normally found in the City. New industries being attracted to the Square Mile included technology, creative arts, media and education firms, he said. Many of the proposed towers also had secured “anchor” tenants.

Mr Joshi declined to say whether the eight included the controversial scheme for a 16-storey tower block on top of Liverpool Street station.

This is proposed by Sellar, whose Shard at London Bridge remains the capital’s tallest building at 310m (1,017ft).

55 Bishopsgate would be 10m (33ft) shorter than 22 Bishopsgate, which was completed two years ago and is currently the tallest building in the Square Mile.

Other tower blocks already in construction include One Leadenhall, a 35-storey tower north of Leadenhall Market.

A 33-storey tower was approved for 70 Gracechurch Street last year, a 150m (492ft) tower at 50 Fenchurch Street also has approval and another is proposed near the Walkie Talkie.

Historic England wants the height of the proposed tower block at 55 Bishopsgate to be reduced. It says the current scheme “would harm both the City’s historic environment and the wider London skyline”, in particular views of St Paul’s from Waterloo Bridge and of Whitehall when viewed across the St James’ Park lake.

Mr Joshi said the City Corporation, in determining planning applications, would safeguard historic buildings while seeking to ensure the provision of the most modern work spaces.

“We have got to get a balance in the Square Mile,” he said. “We are not Manhattan, in the sense we have a Roman history to preserve; we have heritage buildings to look after.

“We have a responsibility to maintain that historical and cultural fabric that makes the Square Mile what it is.”

Asked about the scale of demand for new office space, he said Bloomberg’s “Pret index”, which uses the sandwich shop’s sales figures to compare global cities, showed London’s economy had “come back harder and stronger” than rivals such as New York and Tokyo.

This was backed up by Transport for London passenger data showing journeys were about 80 per cent of normal, though fewer workers came into the office on Mondays and Fridays.

The City Corporation now requires developers to consider whether office buildings can be retro-fitted before it will allow proposals that seek to demolish tower blocks to be considered.

“I think this is probably the biggest agenda item we are going to have to tackle in planning terms in the commercial real estate world,” Mr Joshi said.

“We expect developers to come to us primarily with a retrofit argument. You have got to have a good argument to explain why that building cannot be retrofitted and you cannot use the existing embodied carbon to recover that building to a commercial state.

“They have to cross that hurdle before we get into any sort of pre-application discussion on development schemes.”

Peter Murray, co-founder of New London Architecture, said the new developments were “good news” and countered perceptions that “everything had stopped dead” due to the pandemic and economic downturn.

He said: “There are a number of reasons for this. One is the ‘flight to quality’ – firms whose leases are coming up are looking to move into the latest offices and improve [staff] wellbeing.

“This means there will be second-hand office space, which is slightly more problematic. But there is a feeling among [property] agents in the City that when these new buildings come to completion in five years, there will be a shortage of office space rather than a glut.

“Firms in Canary Wharf, such as HSBC, are reviewing their location and looking for something smaller. Maybe the City of London becomes more appealing as a location for larger corporates.”

He said the 300th anniversary of the death of Sir Christopher Wren next year would bring visitors from around the world to London.

“The City of London is very different to most European ‘old town’ areas, such as Madrid, Rome and Paris, which are kept in aspic and hardly touched,” Mr Murray said. “The City of London has always been responsive to the needs of business.”

Article by Ross Lydall for the Evening Standard

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