9 May 2022

London’s Tall Buildings: The Survey, The Plan and The Master Brewer – Victoria Du Croz writes for NLA

Head of Planning, Victoria Du Croz, writes for New London Architecture, following publication of the 2022 NLA Tall Buildings Survey, providing insight into the changing planning landscape underpinning the development of tall buildings in London.

The article, entitled 'London’s Tall Buildings: The Survey, The Plan and The Master Brewer' was first published in New London Weekly and on the NLA website (3 May 2022) and can be read in full below.

Despite a myriad of potentially frustrating factors in recent years ranging from supply chain problems to commodity prices, development of tall buildings in London in 2022 continues apace, with planning applications approved in record numbers last year (2021) according to the 2022 NLA London Tall Buildings Survey, published 26 April and in partnership with Knight Frank.

2021 also saw welcome clarification, via judicial review, of former Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick’s direction of December 2019 concerning planning policy D9 of the London Plan. Jenrick’s intervention was a response to objections about circumstances where it was felt that tall buildings fail to reflect the character of the areas in which they were being proposed. The proposed solution was to attempt to confine tall buildings to “clearly defined areas within the local plan”.

Whilst the Government’s intervention in the wording of policy D9 was welcomed by bodies such as Historic England, many developers were concerned as to how policy D9 would be applied and if it would prevent tall buildings coming forward unless the site is allocated as such in the local plan. The knock-on effect could have been serious delays to the delivery of tall buildings in the capital.

Further clarity on the interpretation of D9 was obtained in December 2021 in London Borough of Hillingdon, R (On the Application Of) v Mayor of London [2021] EWHC 3387 (Admin), better known as the Master Brewer case, where the High Court found, contrary to widespread fears, that it’s entirely possible for a tall building to come forward even if the site is not allocated as such in the local plan. Planning applications nevertheless must still comply with D9 requirements to consider visual impact on a short, medium and long-range basis; functional impact including regard for local services and transport capacity; and environmental impact, including wind, daylight and sunlight penetration, among other considerations. In light of the original direction, many feared that the court would adopt a stricter interpretation.

Greater certainty is also assisted by Historic England, who have issued multiple advice notes on tall buildings, the latest of which, published 2022, cites the London Plan and policy D9 as a good example of a development plan that sets out a clear strategy for the development of tall buildings. The advice note aims to support local planning authorities and other stakeholders by setting out clear guidance on all aspects of the planning framework for delivering tall buildings. It offers guidance on identifying sites suitable for tall buildings in local plans, and a supporting documentation checklist for tall building planning applications. It is understood that Historic England remain concerned about the application of policy D9 given the Master Brewer case and continue to closely monitor planning applications for tall buildings in London.

Whilst widespread concern amongst developers about a strict interpretation of policy D9 has been removed by Master Brewer, planning for tall buildings in London is far from straightforward and seldom achieved quickly.

New London Architecture (NLA) is the world’s leading centre for excellence for the built environment. Their purpose is to improve the quality of people’s lives by making London a better place to live, work and visit.

The NLA Tall Buildings Survey is an annual publication, developed with research partner Knight Frank, delivering up-to-date figures and analysis of the London tall buildings pipeline.

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