GLA Investigation concludes tall buildings are not the answer to London’s housing needs

In an investigation into Covid-19, Tall buildings and density, the GLA Committee Planning and Regeneration Committee’s key finding is that the Committee does not believe that tall buildings are the answer to London’s housing needs and should not be encouraged outside of a few designated and carefully managed areas.

Their investigation also formed the basis of their response to the ‘Good Quality Homes for All Londoners’ Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG) public consultation which closed in January 2021, in which they focused on the ‘tower’ housing type.

The costs of tall buildings
During the Committee investigation, they heard about the relationship between high building density and building and maintenance costs, including how the whole life-cycle costs of tall buildings are not always fully considered at the development stage. Servicing tall buildings can be costly and this often results in high service charges to residents. High management costs and service charges often preclude affordable tenures, and well-designed family homes are harder to achieve as they are remote from shared amenity space. Jo McCafferty, Director at Levitt Bernstein, told the committee that there is a direct relationship between density, but specifically tall buildings and high cost. Drawing on the Tower Hamlets experience, Michael Ritchie, Place Shaping Team Leader at the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, reflected that tall buildings are a “system and they need constant maintenance and they need to be efficiently run”.

Professor Philip Steadman, from the UCL Energy Institute, told the committee about a study conducted by UCL1 a couple of years ago into tall office buildings, mostly in London that found the increase in storeys from six storeys to 20 doubles the energy intensity per square metre. As set out in the Committee’s subsequent SPG consultation response, energy use is higher in tall buildings, with electricity use twice as high due to increased solar gain, as well as other conditions prevalent at higher altitudes, including more wind and colder temperatures. The taller the building, the higher the amount of embodied energy required per useable square metre as low-carbon materials such as timber are not viable. Tall buildings also suffer more from heat loss for the same amount of insulation as lower buildings because of the higher wind speeds.

You can read the report and a letter to London Councils from the committee here.

The proposals for tall buildings at Convoys Wharf are not sustainable in this time of environmental crisis. Deptford needs low rise, human scale accommodation.

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