With this week’s axing of Grimshaw’s Minerva tower project in London’s City district, questions are being asked whether any of the post-Gherkin crop of tall buildings will actually proceed to site. Foster’s Swiss-Re building, dubbed the Gherkin (itself up for sale) was the first tall building in the City for some 17 years but struggled to find tenants. Some will be happy about the Minerva news as fears have been expressed about whether the Gherkin’s approval in such a sensitive zone, near the historic St Pauls Cathedral, would open the floodgates for a rash of “lesser quality” towers. Indeed a number of proposals from the giants of architecture subsequently landed on planners’ desks and London’s pro-tall mayor, Ken Livingstone further fuelled the fears by personally driving through a raft of high rise permissions, often overriding his own Strategic View Management Framework guidelines in the process.
However, commerce, the great leveller, has overtaken politics and the sluggish letting of the 40 story Gherkin building has sent shivers through the London property market with most, if not all of the tower proposals remaining “in-the-pipeline”.
One of the first “post Gherkin” projects to receive planning was KPF’s 42 storey Heron Tower which received the green light back in 2002 but so far no date has been fixed for a start on site. Possibly the most spectacular of the schemes, Renzo Piano’s dramatic Shard of Glass proposal for flamboyant developer Irvine Sellar at London Bridge Station had been waiting for a substantial pre-let before progressing. The Shard was flagged to be the tallest building in Europe, however, even now that it has two confirmed tenants, the latter being Ken Livingstone’s (surprise) Transport for London (TFL) this project remains firmly on the drawing board.
Richard Roger’s 48 storey tower at 122 Leadenhall Street was forecast to start in 2005 but is still reported to be at scheme design stage this week. Projects are still piling into the holding bay with Rafael Vinoly’s so-called “Walkie Talkie” building for Land Securities at 20 Fenchurch Street which has been cropped from 46 to 39 floors during the planning process. The only tallish project to get out of the ground in the City is Foster’s 29 storey Willis Building on the site of the former Lloyds building opposite Richard Roger’s iconic new Lloyds Building.
A recent poll of Londoners showed that 54% disapproved of the Mayor overriding local objections in planning matters and did want his powers to be further increased as proposed by the Government. Livingtone, in his classic confrontational style hit back saying he would intervene only in a “small number of large strategic applications” to increase the provision of new housing.
London’s skyline may have stabilised for the moment but in reality this is probably only a delay of the inevitable.
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