1. Built environment
February 28, 2019

“Gleaming skyscrapers built alongside medieval churches”

By Chris Hayward

The Corporation of London’s chair of planning, on the future of the City.

The capital faces a turbulent few weeks as the long-running Brexit saga plays out in Westminster and Brussels.  But amid this political drama, it’s important to not lose sight of how London is transforming itself for life beyond Brexit.

The City of London embodies this process, with gleaming skyscrapers being built alongside medieval churches.  Our draft local plan – which is open for public consultation until later this week – sets out proposals designed to deliver the next stage of the Square Mile’s evolution.

The City’s planning policy has not only historically led the capital’s agenda but the nation’s. In the 1930s, we were the first to protect the cherished views of St Paul’s Cathedral, London followed. In the 1950s, we were the first to introduce a smokeless zone after the great smog, with the City’s Clean Air Act followed by a national Act.

Today, the City of London is already home to the most sustainable office building in the world, Bloomberg’s European headquarters. But as a business district with a pipeline of more than a dozen office skyscrapers approved for construction, some of which can house up to 12,000 workers at a time, we know that there is more that can be done to enable development that is environmentally sustainable.

We started at the top. With limited space available at ground level, we’ve actively encouraged green roofs for decades. There are over 70 across the Square Mile and just over a week ago reaching new heights with The Garden at 120, a project that has been in the works since 2006.

Of course, great cities are not made from great buildings alone. Our proposed urban greening policy reflects that. It requires – for the first time – that all new developments include a greening element, but this extends not just to roofs, but to the ground level spaces around buildings, and, to the buildings themselves.

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With 513,000 workers commuting in and out of the City every day, and tens of thousands more expected on the completion of the Elizabeth Line, part of the challenge for this great city is space. Businesses and residents frequently raise the issue of overcrowding on our medieval streets.

We have made significant progress when it comes to making the City a better environment for pedestrians. For example, the 1960s Aldgate gyratory is now home to drinking fountains, trees, flowing traffic and cycling facilities at Aldgate Square, one of the largest public spaces in the Square Mile.

The City’s local plan proposals take this pursuit of space even further, so that walking routes will be available through and under new buildings – similar to the existing routes through One New Change, Bloomberg and Fen Court and the future 100 Leadenhall Street building, and the space under buildings such as the Cheesegrater and the approved 1 Undershaft. This will enable the workers that pour out of their office buildings at lunch time, to use convenient and direct routes between the incredible examples of architecture that line our City streets. You won’t see this on such a scale anywhere else in London.

These are some of the most uncertain times that we’ve lived through, and our draft local plan is designed to ensure that the City and wider London remains attractive to investment, talent and business well beyond 29 March.

Chris Hayward is planning chairman at the City of London Corporation.

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