Survey finds London skyscraper completions at new high but points to uncertainty ahead

London saw a record number of tall buildings completed last year but completions may fall in 2020 due in part to the coronavirus pandemic and ministerial intervention in the London Plan, according to a new report.

London: 60 tall buildings completed in 2019. Image: Flickr / Peter Toporowski
London: 60 tall buildings completed in 2019. Image: Flickr / Peter Toporowski

The latest London Tall Buildings Survey, published by built environment body New London Architecture and consultancies Knight Frank and GL Hearn, reports that 60 tall buildings were completed in the 2019 calendar year, up from 25 the year before.

Tall buildings are defined by the survey compilers as those comprising 20 storeys or more.

According to the survey, the number of planning permissions granted in 2019 rose to 77, a seven per cent increase on the 72 granted permission in 2018 and repesenting a second consecutive year of growth. 

The report attributes the trend to “an increasing willingness of planning committees to approve tall building proposals, either as standalone schemes or as part of a larger masterplan”. 

Planning applications for tall buildings also increased by 1.3 per cent. However, while the survey found that completions hit “the largest annual figure on record”, the number of starts on site fell by more than a quarter and the number of schemes at pre-application stage fell by 3.7 per cent.

Overall, the report identifies 525 tall building projects in the development pipeline, down three per cent on 2018, of which 308 have been granted planning permission but are not yet under construction.

While almost twice as many tall buildings are planned in inner London as in outer London, the number of proposed high-rise schemes fell in inner boroughs while rising six per cent in outer boroughs, continuing a trend identified in last year’s survey.

Peter Murray, curator in chief at New London Architecture, said housing secretary Robert Jenrick’s recent intervention in the London Plan process is one of a number of uncertainties faced by developers in the year ahead.

“The closure of sites because of Covid-19 will reduce the numbers of completions and developers will hesitate to push the button on new projects,” Murray added. 

“Add to that the impact of the Grenfell fire and new building controls, changes to the planning system and calls for "gentle density" by Jenrick, and this year may mark the first drop in the growth of the development of tall buildings in London for a decade."

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