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: Java Developer - Birmingham - Jewellery Quarter

£20000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is in the serviced...

Recruitment Genius: Front End Developer - Ember JS - Birmingham

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is in the serviced...

Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Purchaser

£12000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: his is a unique opportunity to ...

Recruitment Genius: Accountant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Summarises financial status by ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Rachel Hollis posted a photo of herself in a bikini on holiday online with the caption 'I'm proud of this body and every mark on it'  

At last there’s a new ‘bikini body’ ideal – and it’s one with stretch marks

Victoria Richards
Ed Miliband contends with difficult questions from Jeremy Paxman  

Battle for Number 10: Miliband survives a rough ride but Cameron takes the edge in first TV battle

John Curtice
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss