Tall buildings pose threat to character of place

Historic England updates advice to guide planning of tall buildings amid a surge in proposals

Historic England has published advice to guide the planning and design of tall buildings. The public body formally known as English Heritage) warns that tall buildings can seriously harm places, citing examples of tall buildings that have had a lasting, adverse impact on the historic environment.

The guidance comes amid a surge in new applications for tall buildings, which need Historic England’s advice at the planning application stage.

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, said the aim of the planning system was to deliver economic success while reinforcing local distinctiveness, which could be achieved if tall buildings were both beautifully designed and developed in the right place. With 230 tall buildings planned just in London, Wilson said the capital was “at risk of being badly and irrevocably damaged”.

The advice is a new edition (last published in 2007) reflecting the National Planning Policy Framework which recognises the importance of protecting the historic environment and the need for high-quality design, as well as a need for sustainable development.

Historic England recommends that the following steps are taken when planning for tall buildings:

  • Assess appropriate locations for tall buildings in the local plan.
    Through consultation with the local community local plans identify which areas, if any, are appropriate for the development of tall buildings. These plans should also be drawn up with advice from relevant bodies such as Historic England so they maintain the protection of the historic environment and the qualities that make the area special. In London, local authorities need to also take into account the policies in the London Plan and protected views.
  • Use the local plan to take a managed approach to development. Tall buildings should reflect a positive, managed approach to development, rather than being the result of speculative applications for development. The advantages of including tall buildings policies in local plans include identifying the role and areas appropriate for tall buildings as part of an overall vision for a place and protecting the historic places that make an area special.
  • Identify the elements that create local character. A successful urban design framework identifies the roles and characters of different areas, including their historic interest such as scale and height, landmark buildings and their settings, including important local views and panoramas.
  • Discuss proposals before making a planning application. Before making a planning application it is good practice to discuss proposals with the local planning authority and other relevant parties such as Historic England in order to identify where the proposed building will be seen from, and which protected historic places might be affected.
  • Consider the cumulative effect of other concurrent tall building. Where a proposal is part of a cluster it should have a positive relationship within the cluster. Modelling and visuals should be used to assess the impact of the proposed building on the surrounding area.
  • Set high standards of design. Because of their scale, mass and likely longevity, tall buildings need to show exemplary design qualities. Good design takes the opportunity to improve the character and quality of an area and responds to local character and history.
  • Give consideration to the building’s public space and facilities. Consider internal and external public space as part of a well-designed public realm. Consideration of the effect on the local environment is also important, such as overshadowing, light pollution and the micro-climate around the base of buildings.
Image: 20 Fenchurch Street, London (‘Walkie Talkie’) seen through Tower Bridge, London © Historic England

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