London’s skyline for sale

paddingtonpoleWITH up to 260 proposals for towers in London it’s important more than ever to highlight the impact on the skyline to Londoners from proposals like that at Paddington.

Not since the Westway went crashing through the heart of Paddington in the 1960s has a proposal like the Paddington Tower, a 72-storey residential tower designed by Renzo Piano, otherwise know to local people as the Pole, cast such a shadow over the area.

With the disparaging remarks about Paddington itself made by the developers, as a place people only pass through or go to the hospital, we all knew the soul of Paddington was at stake and that’s why it been fought, tooth and nail since.

So immediately in the new year, I set down and wrote my letter of objection to the planners at the council and set about finding out the involvement of the Mayor of London with the developers of the Paddington Pole.

The initial programming lent itself to a mayoral call-in – before his departure – even if the council had thrown it out at its planning meeting in early March.

Indeed this is precisely what the mayor is going to do with another major development proposal in Bishopgate’s Goodyard, E2 where it has been turned down by the local councils but called in.

And, so far, most of those schemes that he has called in have been passed by him. So you can see the danger here quite clearly of the powers vested in an executive Mayor of London, particular one like Boris Johnson willing to curry favour with global property developers.

In my objection letter, I stated the proposal represented poor urban design, will have a negative impact on light and shadow in neighbourhoods near it, and fails to take advantage of potential transport connectivity and public spaces. I was particularly exercised by how the skyline in Paddington had already been dealt with poorly if you look at the towers around the Marylebone flyover and critically needed oversight for such an important location. It is, after all, the western gateway into central London.

In the first set of responses to my written questions I wrote to the mayor, the responses told me that his office had meetings with the developers of the Pole but not the council, while being very cagey about whether it had met with government officials about the Pole. Given the intrigue of the involvement of Downing Street in Uber’s expansion into London’s taxi business, it certainly gave us food for thought about how London government actual works.

Of the many hundreds of letters of objection, I thought that our local visionary architect for London, Sir Terry Farrell’s was particularly devastating for the developers. Tall buildings often provide lower densities than alternative forms of design. This is because the high prices fetched for these units dictate that they are extraordinarily spacious, meaning the number of actual homes in a given tower is surprisingly low. The Paddington Pole proposal offered 330 flats in 72 storeys, that is around 4.5 flats per floor. Whereas the alternative and previous scheme for the site by Farrell Associates offered a low-rise development of 10 to 18 storeys, high-density development delivering 600-700 flats. So, in short, you do not need to build up to achieve higher densities.

The skyline of London has become a major issue for this year’s GLA election in May and the Paddington Pole shows other Londoners that you don’t need to “build-up”.

It illustrates well how tall buildings often provide lower densities than alternative forms of design. It also shows how the community, through residents’ associations and organisations such as the South East Bayswater Residents’ Association can work towards making sure local views are heard loud and clear by the planners.

I am sure that when the council heard that 26,000 leaflets objecting to the proposal were about to hit the streets of west London, they realised well the storm that was brewing. Not surprisingly soon after hearing of it, the proposal had been withdrawn by the developers.

We, of course, cannot drop our guard with the counter proposals for a shorter Paddington Pole by the developers and other tower proposals along the Edgware Road yet to get planning approval. Such monuments to speculative super luxury residential developments just won’t do. As we all know Paddington deserves much better.

This blog was published in the West End Extra recently.




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