Tall buildings and low flying do not mix

The helicopter accident in London is a warning

Share
Related Topics

When I heard that a helicopter had just crashed into a crane in central London, I guessed at once which crane was being talked about, and rushed to the window. One possible cause was immediately apparent: the top third of the 44-storey tower, destined to be Europe's highest housing complex, was completely hidden by fog.

The tower beside the Thames at Vauxhall, known as 1 St George's Wharf, has been a preoccupation of mine since it first nudged above the skyline. It was almost a relief when its tapering crown appeared – proof that it would not be rising higher. At night it is illuminated, like a layered, monster candle. The lights on the tower, though, still shine far more brightly than those of the skeletal, even taller, crane.

The investigation into the crash is expected to take six months. But I fear that the mercifully small number of fatalities – the helicopter pilot and a pedestrian – and central government's fear of appearing too London-centric mean that it is already being treated as an isolated, albeit spectacular, accident from which no wider conclusions need be drawn. That would be dangerously complacent.

It is true that this is the first such accident since records of helicopter flights over central London began in 1976. But consider: the stricken craft narrowly avoided not only the still unoccupied tower, but numerous blocks of flats and offices, a big supermarket with a petrol station, Vauxhall bus and railway stations and the Tube. And scarcely a day has passed when at least one of my fellow bus passengers has not mentioned Skyfall, saying they thought that what they heard was an assault on MI6.

This accident needs to be treated as a salutary warning. Planning permission for the tower was opposed both by Lambeth council, in whose territory it sits, and – in a rare act of co-operation – by Westminster on the other side of the river, too. They were overruled by the then Environment Secretary, John Prescott. The chief objections were aesthetic, relating to style and height.

I do not have any objection in principle to distinctive skyscrapers for London. My greater concern is the trend for councils to allow standard height and bulk regulations to be breached under pressure from construction companies. In fact, as seen from my seventh floor window, the new tower has the great merit of making the truly execrable St George's Wharf development beside it look smaller.

But its proximity to the Battersea heliport and its Thames flight path should surely have clinched the argument that Vauxhall is not big enough for the both of them. If planning permission depended more on context and safety, not just on the aesthetics of the intended building, the decision might have been different. In my experience, council planners rarely co-ordinate the wider implications of planning applications even when they relate to adjacent sites. This is a failing.

One option should be the closure of the heliport, which would be hard, given its influential constituencies in the police and the super-rich. The heliport, though, is not the only problem. The crash should highlight the danger of so many flights being permitted over such densely populated areas. From my windows I can also count the aircraft on their approach to Heathrow. Huge numbers of people are disturbed; they are also at risk.

The proliferation of very high buildings close to the river and the frequent over-flights of helicopters are a recipe for catastrophe. As long as the Thames remains the route-finder for commercial aircraft of all kinds, the danger remains.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Zoe Sugg, aka Zoella, with her boyfriend, fellow vlogger Alfie Deyes  

If children are obese then blame food manufacturers, not Zoella

Jane Merrick
Amos Yee arrives with his father at the State courts in Singapore on March 31  

Singapore's arrest of a 16-year-old YouTuber is all you need to know about Lee Kuan Yew's legacy

Noah Sin
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat