Developers Scale Back Tall Building Construction In London


The number of planning applications to build tall towers in London has dropped by more than 13% in the last year, reports Abode2 as the overall development pipeline for high-rise buildings in the capital contracted by 1% year-on-year in 2021.

Property developers submitted 72 applications for buildings of 20 storeys or more last year, 13.3% fewer than in 2020. The number has been in decline since 2018, when questions over building safety hit the headlines following the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire.

Construction works started on 29 tall buildings across Greater London last year – the second lowest total since 2013, after the largely locked-down 2020.

This according to the ninth annual London Tall Buildings Survey by New London Architecture (NLA) and Knight Frank, which tracks planning and construction activity for towers above 20 storeys in the capital.

“There are signs of a slowdown of tall buildings in London,” concludes the report. Although a record number of towers were given planning approval last year; 98 projects were given the green light, over a quarter more than in 2020.

“This year’s figures should not be interpreted as the end of tall building in London. Quite the contrary,” comments Stuart Baillie, Head of Planning at Knight Frank. “The survey points to a record level of permissions being granted last year, up 26% on 2020, and the number of completed projects was robust. Context is essential; the future pipeline may have contracted slightly, but it remains significant. In total, there are 583 tall buildings which are proposed or approved with 109 of those currently under construction, 28% and 19% higher than back in 2016 respectively.”

Tighter building safety regulation, escalating build costs, and of course the pandemic have all had significant effects on the development landscape.

“Signs of a slowdown in this year’s results is not entirely unexpected,” explains Peter Murray, Curator in Chief at New London Architecture. “A combination of the uncertainties created by the pandemic, rising build costs, new safety measures, environmental regulations and increased affordable housing obligations in recent years have imposed greater scrutiny on high-rise development and it has had a knock-on effect.”

Outer boroughs (Zones 3, 4 and 5) now lead the skyscraper-building sector in both planning and construction terms. Well over half (56%) of new tower permissions were in outer boroughs in 2021.

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