London Skyline & Landscape Policy Statement
The context has been set out by Simon Jenkins. He asks: Who let this Gulf on Thames scar London's Southbank? and he states that I can find no public document indicating where towers should be thought appropriate or inappropriate in London. (Evening Standard 11 July 2013). More from Simon Jenkins on the need for London to have a skyline policy.
The scenic quality of cities is a significant public good. It impacts upon the welfare of citizens and the city’s attractiveness to residents, tourists and investors. Scenic quality results from the presence of natural features, including rivers, beaches, hills and forests, and in part from the way in which man-made structures are composed in relation to these features. In London the River Thames is a central landscape feature. Riverside buildings enhance the river when well composed and detract from its quality when badly composed. London’s best example of a large-scale scenic composition is the ‘processional route’ which links St James’s Park to Regent’s Park, via Regent Street, Piccadilly Circus and Portland Place. This composition resulted from the picturesque landscape ideas of the eighteenth century and the early nineteenth century.
- Protection of St Paul's Cathedral from the west should be maintained, and similar policies adopted for London's other World Heritage Sites, as required by UNESCO. The sites are The Tower of London, The Palace of Westminster, Kew Gardens and Greenwich.
- London’s floorspace requirements can be met without high buildings. But an ongoing demand for high buildings is expected - for branding and other reasons. Positive and negative impacts of high buildings on the public landscape should be assessed, and taken account of in the planning and design process.
- Other parts of London in need of protection from high buildings should be identified and mapped as part of a London Roofscape Plan. Both residential and commercial towers should be scenically composed. The cluster at Canary Wharf, for example, is better than the 'pepper-potting' of tall buildings in other parts of London, and The Shard benefits from being 250m from the Thames foreshore.
- High buildings and skyline policies should be integrated with wider landscape policies for pedestrian circulation, scenic composition, the social use of outdoor space and the use of vegetation on roofs, on walls and at street level.
- London needs Skyline Studies, along the lines of the City of Edinburgh Skyline Study (Colvin & Moggridge, 2010). A study for the Thames Policy Area would be a good starting point.
- The public should have access to a digital model of the existing city and of projects which have been granted planning permission. New proposals should be placed in the model and used to generate accurate eye-level perspectives from many viewpoints.
- London needs local skyline studies for supplementary planning guidance and for the preparation of site-specific planning and development briefs. Special attention should be given to the social, economic and visual impact of high buildings on adjoining streets.
Instead of making London yet another ‘city of towers’, the London Branch of the Landscape Institute recommends a policy of High-Density Low-Rise, Green-Roof, Green-Street (HD-LR-GR-GS) development with infrequent use of towers as composed focal points in a new urban landscape. A study for the Thames Policy Area would be a step towards an all-London skyline policy integrated with a landscape policy.