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Cllr Andrew Wood represents the Canary Wharf Ward on Tower Hamlets Council

At the heart of national planning policy is the idea of sustainable development as expressed by the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). In the ministerial foreword, the Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, then Minister for Planning, wrote:

“Sustainable means ensuring that better lives for ourselves don’t mean worse lives for future generations… Sustainable development is about change for the better…Our standards of design can be so much higher. We are a nation renowned worldwide for creative excellence, yet, at home, confidence in development itself has been eroded by the too frequent experience of mediocrity.”

But we are not living up to those ideals in my part of London, Tower Hamlets, and in my ward, Canary Wharf, in particular.

We are delivering the housing and office growth that this country needs and which are also at the heart of the NPPF but at the expense of quality of life for current and future residents.

For example, in the last few months the following developments have started demolition or construction in my ward;

  • Hertsmere House, 67 storeys high with 861 apartments.
  • City Pride, 75 storeys high with 984 apartments and
  • South Quay Plaza 68 storeys with 888 apartments.

These are potentially the three tallest residential buildings in the European Union. By 2025 or 2030 the Isle of Dogs will be large enough to form a Parliamentary Constituency as the population goes from 40,251 in 2011 to 105,000 people!

We will also have some of London’s largest new office buildings; Canary Wharf Group are due to build One & Ten Bank Street, North Quay, Park Place and Wood Wharf which over time should provide space for another 110,000 workers in Canary Wharf.

But those developments have not been sustainable.  I estimate that the Isle of Dogs needs another nine primary schools; we only have three new schools approved. We need thirty-seven extra GP’s in three new buildings; we only have nine in one new GP surgery in the pipeline.

The skyline is basically a repeat of Hong Kong, Dubai, Shanghai or Singapore; the magic of London is gone. This is what happens when a Local Authority, most Councillors and our former Mayor, Lutfur Rahman, are so focused on delivering new homes that all other considerations are ignored. The density of the last thirteen planning applications was around 900 homes per hectare versus a London Plan maximum recommendation of 405 homes per hectare. Nowhere in Europe will be as dense.

But the current Mayor of London risks repeating the mistakes that our former Mayor, Lutfur Rahman, made. Focusing on quantity to the exclusion of quality. Boris has called in the Bishopsgate Goods Yard development and has recently approved the Norton Folgate application. Having watched the Tower Hamlets planning committee I for once agreed with their decision to reject the Bishopsgate Goods Yard proposal.

The Conservative Councillor who sat on the committee also voted to reject it. The Mayor has also called in the Westferry Print Works development in my ward. It is a good development that I largely support except for one problem. The new buildings will interrupt the wind flow onto the docks where one of London’s most important sail training centres is located, Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre.

The London Docklands Development Corporation built the sailing centre and ensured that the new surrounding buildings would not block wind onto the dock. As a result the centre has helped train some of Britain’s best sailors and is the only sports centre of national importance in the area. But Southampton University’s Wolfson Unit reports an ‘adverse effect on sailing quality’ based on the current development design in parts of the dock.

Yet it is a big site and it should not be impossible to deliver the 722 new homes and a new secondary school, and not materially impact wind flows onto the dock.  However, again we are too focused on delivering quantities of new homes and not the supporting infrastructure. Unlike the ports of Hamburg, Oslo, Vancouver, Seattle, San Diego and San Francisco we do not even require cruise ships at Enderby Wharf to use onshore power supplies. Instead they will use their diesel engines all day every day next to people’s homes. The gap between developer and independent analysis of schemes’ viability also brings the whole concept of viability in the NPPF into dis-repute.

But Conservatives in East London are not against growth. Having grown up in Singapore I personally quite like tall buildings and living in Tower Hamlets is to accept the kind of change that few other places in Europe are experiencing.

In  Canary Wharf, and the neighbouring ward of Blackwall and Cubitt Town, we are due to deliver over 30,000 new homes in the next 10-15 years. Can anybody else in the UK deliver as much as that in such a small area?

But we want what the NPPF says in its introduction “Planning must be a creative exercise in finding ways to enhance and improve the places in which we live our lives.” It should not be an exercise in how dense and tall we can make developments. It should be about how we can deliver the new homes that London desperately needs at higher levels of density but in a way that also delivers quality of life rather then putting at risk scarce public infrastructure like the sailing centre.  Are we British incapable of delivering creative excellence?

At risk is not just London’s future as a great city but the next Mayoral election. We risk the Conservative brand in London becoming associated with planning mediocrity.

The loudest cheer at a recent Conservative meeting in the area was when Zac Goldsmith name-dropped Create Streets – an organisation dedicated to the creation of more and better urban homes with terraced streets of houses and apartments rather than complex multi-storey buildings. I therefore urge Boris to focus as much on quality as he does on quantity and ask him to ask developers to go back, re-work their plans using great British architects and re-submit them when we can be proud of what London will look like with them in our skyline.

18 comments for: Andrew Wood: In demanding ever taller buildings Boris is forgetting about quality of life

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