City skyscraper era comes to an end

Square Mile's chief planner says current cluster of tall buildings will give way to large scale refurbishment of existing offices
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The Independent Online

The man behind a quarter of a century of City skyscrapers has declared that the next wave of tall towers will be the last in the Square Mile.

Twenty-five years on from the Big Bang, Peter Rees, the City of London's chief planning officer, said: "It will be an end of an era. The development is moving toward refurbishments of older buildings and, after the current cluster of skyscrapers, we will not see new ones planned.

"Since the Big Bang, London, like many other world cities, has wanted to replicate Manhattan with tall buildings. Here, in the City of London, we felt it better to cluster the tall buildings in one area and that is what has happened. But we are now entering a new phase, a new era."

The Lord Mayor of the City of London, Alderman Michael Bear, agrees and points to a new age of City offices. He said: "The new phase is refurbishment. But it is refurbishment with attitude – the stripping of an old building to its core and creating a brand new, economically relevant building.

"From 1986 onwards, the buildings have perfectly good floor plates and allow for complete redevelopment into modern, sustainable offices."

The current group of skyscrapers planned for the City over the next five years is expected to be the last for decades to come. The list comprises the recently completed Heron Tower, British Land's "Cheesegrater" (122 Leadenhall Street), Land Securities' "Walkie Talkie" tower at 20 Fenchurch Street, to be completed by 2014, Arab Investments' Pinnacle, to follow shortly after, and Great Portland Estates and Brookfield Properties' 100 Bishopsgate, to be built by 2016.

After this cluster, the City will see a series of large-scale refurbishments. One example is the planned redevelopment by giant US pension fund TIAA-CREF at One Angel Court – which will increase the available floor space by more than 50 per cent, to 300,000 sq ft.

Mr Rees, who has worked in the City of London's planning team for more than 26 years, added: "We have had 25 years of rapid redevelopment in the City – development that was necessary to replace the quickly built 1960s post-war buildings. Since Big Bang, we have seen a huge change from cellular offices to open plan. But we are now in a much better position, in that the buildings from the 1980s and 1990s are much more adaptable to today's office requirements than those from the 1950s, Sixties and Seventies."

Outside the City, after the Shard at London Bridge is completed next year, there could also be a lack of skyscrapers in the future.

Lack of finance and available new land are two of the reasons behind the reduction in large-scale construction. Rob Noel, Land Securities' managing director of the London portfolio, said: "Tower buildings take a very long time to plan and build, and all developers operate in a cyclical market. The current group were planned in the boom. I would say, never say never, but after this current period of planned towers, we will not see tall towers for a long time."

James Beckham, the international director in City investment at property agents Jones Lang LaSalle, agrees: "There is an increasing trend for large-scale refurbishment of buildings in the City. However, in special circumstances, particularly close to Bishopgate's tower cluster, we may still see new towers built in the longer term."