Investing in Southwark On Location Conference

Monday 23 July 2012

© Agnese Sanvito

Southwark is to put tall buildings high up on its agenda as it seeks to regenerate and build on the success of schemes like The Shard.

The council’s leader Cllr Peter John made clear at a special On Location conference organised by the NLA on 19 July at the Unicorn Theatre on Tooley Street that tall buildings were a ‘necessity’ if the authority’s vision to provide jobs and businesses is to succeed.  An ‘unashamed advocate of the Shard’, John said he was a fan of the ‘amazingly beautiful and elegant’ building and the way it had acted as a catalyst for new employment and investment in the area and changed people’s understanding of the geography of the city. This was increasingly important given the recent census, which showed Southwark’s population up 43,000 in 10 years to 290,000, equivalent to absorbing a town the size of Stockport or Welwyn Garden City, with £30m less in its budget than a decade ago. ‘An increased population means that it’s more important to deliver our vision for housing, jobs and retail across the borough and it is important to make the best use of the limited space we have for development’, he said. ‘That’s why we will have to go higher. Yes, I am a fan of tall and super-tall building but there’s a practical need for tall buildings in our borough as much as it is an aesthetic choice to support them.’

Over 20 such projects are either completed, approved, or currently being supported by the authority in the planning process, he added. John said he was keen on clusters of tall buildings extending even to areas like Peckham, adding that he would welcome more proposals of ‘exemplary design’ from developers keen on building tall in Southwark.

The conference heard of a number of tall schemes in development. Southwark’s director of regeneration Steve Platts pointed to Blackfriars Road as ‘the big story’ over the next 18 months, with St George’s Judith Salomon detailing the 1 Blackfriars scheme it hopes to get the go-ahead for in a few months’ time. The developer is retaining Ian Simpson on the 170m tall project, but has shifted a viewing gallery to the 32nd floor and included a new public piazza alongside the 274 apartments, moving a hotel and retail into a podium. Salomon said she hoped to make a start on construction this time next year, and the scheme will take four years to build. Then there was the AHMM-designed 240 Blackfriars Road, a 19 storey scheme which development manager of Great Portland Estates Warwick Hunter said would figure as part of the area’s appeal to TMT sector tenants and others moving on after lease events, scared away from West End rents and attracted by an emerging, well located part of London.

The conference also heard from Southwark’s progress on a number of other projects, such as Elephant and Castle, now being revitalised by Lend Lease. The company’s development director Rob Deck said it was a ‘challenge’ to overturn perceptions of the area from one where people go ‘because they have to’ to a place that may be home for 3000 homes, but is one which is ‘do-able.’ Plans for estates such as the Heygate are focused on regeneration without driving out the existing community, in order to re-establish the wider area as ‘one of London’s flourishing urban quarters.’

Transport for London’s director of borough partnerships Alex Williams made the point that resolving the area’s transport problems will go a long way in helping to regenerate the Elephant & Castle, something which needed ‘whites of the eyes’ discussions from all interested parties. But he was hopeful that the borough’s proactive approach here and elsewhere would be a boon: ‘You can’t fail to be impressed by how much is going on in Southwark’, he said. ‘Most boroughs would be green with envy about the amount of development and investment that is going on.’

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

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