Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea: policy on tall buildings

Author: Cyril Richert

It is very interesting to read the policy on tall buildings proposed in The Draft Core Strategy for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea:

Introduction

4.1 English Heritage and CABE’s ‘Guidance on tall buildings’ encourages local planning authorities to include specific policies for tall buildings in development plans clearly identifying, in map-based form, areas which are appropriate, sensitive or inappropriate for tall buildings (para. 2.4 and 2.6). The London Plan also states that boroughs may wish to identify defined areas of specific character that could be sensitive to tall buildings within their development plans (Policy 4B.9).

4.2 The London Plan indicates that boroughs should explain what aspects of local character tall buildings could affect and ‘not impose unsubstantiated borough-wide height restrictions’ (Policy 4B.9). Furthermore, English Heritage and CABE’s Guidance on tall buildings recommends that local authorities should carry out a detailed urban design study when assigning appropriate and inappropriate areas for tall buildings. The urban design study should identify the elements that create local character, such as streetscape, scale, height, urban grain, natural topography as well as significant views.

4.3 In line with the London Plan and English Heritage and CABE’s joint guidance this analysis identifies appropriate, sensitive or inappropriate areas for tall buildings based on a detailed urban design and character study. This has been done through two converging approaches:

  • a sieve analysis designed to protect sensitive areas and views, and
  • a proactive assessment of where tall buildings could benefit the locality, improve sustainability and enhance the city image.

Summary

Identification of inappropriate, sensitive and appropriate areas for tall buildings

5.1 This supplementary planning document provides policy guidance on the planning and development of tall buildings within the Royal Borough. It is in direct response to the considerable importance placed by this Council, the Greater London Authority and central government on delivering sustainable development, and to the role that high quality design plays in a borough widely renowned for its superb historic built environment. Tall buildings represent only one model for high-density development.

5.2 It is not enough that tall building proposals demonstrate that they simply do not harm matters of planning importance, but that they contribute positively to the character, appearance and quality of the Royal Borough. They must stand up to scrutiny in terms of appropriate location, architectural quality in their own right and their contribution to urban design. Based on the sieve and proactive analyses, this document identifies six categories of area: three inappropriate, two highly sensitive and one possible area for the development of tall buildings.

5.3 Inappropriate areas for tall buildings

1. Conservation areas
TB1 Within the Royal Borough’s conservation areas historic environment considerations are of such significance that tall buildings will normally be refused.

2. Protected metropolitan view corridor
TB5 In accordance with wider national and metropolitan guidance tall buildings should normally be refused within the strategic viewing corridor of King Henry’s Mound to St. Paul’s Cathedral.

3. Areas outside major transport nodes and corridors
TB7 Outside the 400m (0.25mi) walkbands of major transport nodes, the development of tall buildings should generally be refused due to insufficient accessibility unless it is instrumental in bringing about significant public transport improvements.

5.4 Highly sensitive areas for tall buildings

4. Buffer zones of conservation areas
TB2 Tall buildings will normally be refused within the buffer zones surrounding conservation areas and at greater distances where the building would have an adverse effect on a focal or axial view from within a conservation area.

5. Backdrops of London panoramas and river prospect and landmark viewing corridors
TB6 New tall buildings will normally be refused within a landmark viewing corridor or a London panorama or river prospect backdrop.

5.5 Possible areas for tall buildings

6. Gateways and non sensitive areas
TB19 Areas around Latimer Road Station and Westbourne Park Station, along with gateway areas along the western border of the borough are designated as areas where tall buildings may be appropriate, subject to detailed planning and design considerations. Outside of these areas proposals for tall buildings will not be accepted.

5.6 Other key considerations
TB13 ‘Metropolitan landmarks’ should not be developed in the borough, since Kensington and Chelsea is a predominantly residential borough without opportunity areas as set out in the London Plan.

TB18 Tall buildings should only be located where there is a strong argument for sustainability, accessibility and improvement of the city image.

TB20 Tall buildings should be of outstanding architectural, sustainable and urban design qualities.

We can compare those guidelines with the ones proposed by Wandsworth Borough Council. In the Draft Stage One Urban Design Statement June 2009, we can read (page 18):

4.5 Revised Policy wording: It is recommended that Policy IS3 d – Tall buildings, is amended to read:

Tall buildings, that is those which significantly exceed the prevailing height of surrounding buildings, may be appropriate in locations which  are well served by public transport, such as the town centres and Nine Elms near Vauxhall, or at other defined focal points of activity, taking account of the existing historic context, providing they can justify themselves in terms of the benefits they bring for regeneration,  townscape and public realm. Tall buildings are likely to be inappropriate in other areas.

As we wrote previously, WBC’s core strategy document submitted to the Secretary of States is looking favourably to the expansion of taller buildings in Wandsworth borough:

  • Policy PL 12 (p69) “WandsworthHigher buildings reflecting the status of the town centre while respecting existing landmark buildings may be appropriate on some sites, such as at the northern end of the Ram Brewery site.
  • Policy PL 13 (p73) “Clapham Junction Taller buildings could not only help deliver significant regeneration benefits but also give a visual focus to the town centre
  • Policy PL 14 (p78) “PutneyDevelopments are likely to be at a higher density than existing buildings” [including] “proposals for tall buildings“.

To encourage “landmark buildings” and “visual focus” in town centres is translated as “tall” by developers (and planning officers?). However, it does not necessarily mean “tall”, as the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea specifies (Core Strategy – p103):

Exceptional architectural and design quality will complement a significantly strengthened revitalised retail offer, drawing on innovative and modern approaches to create ‘iconic’ buildings and open space. Iconic does not necessarily mean tall, as Barkers in Kensington High Street demonstrates. Building heights will need to respect the character and appearance of adjoining conservation areas.

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