Mayor tightens policy on tall buildings like Popes Road tower

Computer generated image of the tower seen from outside Lambeth town hall on Brixton Hill

The Architect’s Journal, the trade publication for the profession, has drawn attention to policy developments in London that could have a bearing on plans for a 20-storey tower in the centre of Brixton.

The AJ said today [paywall] (15 January) that London mayor Sadiq Khan has tightened the city’s policy on tall buildings after an intervention by Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Jenrick last month directed the mayor to strengthen the tall buildings policy in the draft London Plan to ensure such developments “are only brought forward in appropriate and clearly defined areas”.

Lambeth council has approved a planning application from the Amsterdam-based company AG Hondo Popes Road BV for a large development on Popes Road and Brixton Station Road that includes a 20-storey tower.

In the course of the application the council’s planners accepted that the site is not part of an area earmarked for tall buildings and that it would have an adverse effect on the nearby Brixton conservation area.

Jenrick’s letter to Khan said that while there is “a place” for tall buildings in London, there are some areas “where tall buildings don’t reflect the local character”.

The AJ said architect Barbara Weiss, co-founder of the Skyline Campaign against the development of unsuitable tall buildings in the capital, described the minister’s intervention as “a little plaster on a gaping wound”.

Mayor Khan modified the draft London Plan following Jenrick’s intervention, specifying that tall buildings should be developed only in locations “identified as suitable” in local developments plans.

protest rally
Opponents if the tower protest outside Lambeth town hall in Brixton

The AJ says the updated document adds: “Proposals will still need to be assessed in the context of other planning policies, by the boroughs in the usual way, to ensure that they are appropriate for their location and do not lead to unacceptable impacts on the local area.”

It adds that townscape expert Peter Stewart, of the Peter Stewart Consultancy, said the addition of only a few words to the London Plan could mean “potentially quite a significant change”.

He suggested that, if boroughs did their work, the new approach could lead to “fewer opportunistic schemes” with tall buildings.

“On any individual site it may be bad news for some developers … but for the system in general it’s probably a better approach,” he told the AJ.

Stewart said the policy could “flip the balance of power” in determining where tall buildings go. 

Weiss said it was “very worrying” that the policy largely depended on “cash-strapped” boroughs – which could gain financially from granting developments – “doing the right thing”.

The government has until 1 February to respond to the mayor’s changes ahead of final publication of the London Plan.

The AJ highlights extracts from the amended London Plan, December 2020, The Spatial Development Strategy for Greater London:

  • Boroughs should determine if there are locations where tall buildings may be an appropriate form of development, subject to meeting the other requirements of the Plan.
  • Any such locations and appropriate tall building heights should be identified on maps in development plans.
  • Tall buildings should only be developed in locations that are identified as suitable in development plans.