'Spike' heralds new wave of skyscrapers

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The Independent Online

London's skyline may undergo a dramatic transformation in the next 12 months, as up to 20 skyscrapers are planned for the city. The tallest will be the "shard of glass", the 1,016ft London Bridge Tower which won planning approval from Southwark council last week.

Despite 11 September and the collapse of the World Trade Centre's twin towers, architects, builders and developers remain convinced that people still want to occupy tall buildings.

But the towers' backers are at odds with Britain's leading conservation body, English Heritage, which has opposed several plans for new towers. Its chairman, Sir Neil Cossons, has described London Bridge Tower, designed by Renzo Piano, one of the world's leading architects, as a "spike through the heart of London".

Now, the Corporation of London, the body responsible for the Square Mile, has attacked English Heritage's approach and urged the Government to stop consulting it over the merits and failings of proposed new buildings. It says that English Heritage should be stripped of several of its roles, and not remain a consultee on plans for tall buildings in London.

Its spokesman, John Logie, stressed that the towers proposed for London – most of them in the City – were vital to the capital's future as Europe's leading financial centre.

He said: "We can't keep financial businesses here if we don't have the buildings. Companies will go elsewhere in Europe. Although employers were wary about towers after 11 September, what they want most is their staff in one building. The best way to do that where there is a shortage of space is to build upwards."

English Heritage is unpersuaded. As well as London Bridge Tower it has attacked plans for Railtrack's proposed 23-storey tower in Hackney, on the City's borders. Last year it criticised plans for the proposed Heron Tower at Broadgate in the City, which was the subject of a public inquiry.

Sir Neil Cossons has argued before the Commons committee on transport, environment and the regions that people must be put first when planners decide whether to give the go-ahead for a skyscraper. "Wrong buildings in the wrong places will blight people's lives and landscapes for many decades and are simply not sustainable," he said.

English Heritage believes it has public support in its stand. A poll conducted on its behalf by MORI showed that two-thirds of people thought that a building should fit in with its surroundings and 62 per cent did not want to see any more tall buildings in London.

"We do not disapprove of every tower," said Philip Davies, its regional director London , "but we feel strongly that tall buildings must be in context; 15 storeys might be OK in the City but not in the suburbs. There are also protected views of St Paul's and the position of the London Bridge Tower affects those. London Bridge Tower is an artefact in a vacuum and will make a very poor contribution that will dwarf the wider area."

Last night London Bridge Tower's developer, Irvine Sellar, defended Renzo Piano's design, which has won accolades from the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment and Southwark council's planners.

Mr Sellar, who made his first millions with fashion stores, said: "This tower is a very delicate design, and it is perfectly possible for ancient and modern to live comfortably side by side in London."