The housing policy reform promised in the Government’s housing white paper is long overdue. A need to increase housing supply, coupled with a shortage of politically palatable land for development is likely to see the Communities and Local Government Secretary state that residential buildings will rise in height in order to deliver the housing that the country needs. With the need particularly great in the capital, and as the effects of tall buildings on the London skyline continue to be debated, how can this be successfully delivered?

Perhaps the first stage is by working with the people who know an area best – existing residents. The inclusion of the local community means building relationships early in the lifecycle of a development to understand what a community wants to see. The impact and threat of tall buildings is often a source of concern for people who see their views altered and daily lives disrupted by construction traffic. ‘Changes to planning policy mean it’s OK’ is not an argument that will wash with concerned neighbours. Precedent is an additional concern seen frequently in the planning system – will this tall building mean that the next one approved is even higher? Thus there is a need for transparency and to address misunderstandings around policy, to make clear why height is needed and the guidelines in which this is placed.

The successful delivery of tall residential buildings shouldn’t prohibit flexibility in design. To allow the local community to have an input, early designs need to remain flexible, with room to change and meet community wishes without sacrificing viability. However, London sites are tight; heights cannot always change. In those cases, appearance is the element that is likely to alter, particularly in outer London areas where tall buildings are not yet as common.

The planning system plays a crucial role in the delivery of developments. As apprehensions about a changing London skyline continue to grow, reassurance is needed that the planning system will work to protect those views most cherished, or of the greatest historical significance. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, wants more views to be protected, extending the protection to more outer London boroughs. Guaranteeing certain views may be one way to reassure those concerned about the changing view of London’s skyline.

However housing policy reform progresses, the fact remains that more housing is needed, and that cities going up is the obvious solution if they are not to go out. Going underground should also be considered, although this comes with its own building and social issues. Whatever the outcome, the skyline will continue to change – but the extent to which local communities and planning policy will be brought on the journey remains unclear. At Redwood, we specialise in helping communities and developers to work towards a shared vision for our cities, towns and villages. If we can help you with this, don’t hesitate to get in touch.