Boris Johnson’s U-turn

2 mins read

Is Boris Johnson betraying those who voted for him and currently approving all schemes comprising huge towers? That’s what Simon Jenkins is writing in his letter to the Evening Standard, published on 24th February.

Johnson was apparently against these towers being “pepper-potted” across London. He was supported in this approach by the former leader of Westminster council, Sir Simon Milton, now his planning chief. He even encouraged the Standard to list the developments that would be doomed under his regime.

In petto: the article that the ES was encouraged to publish by Johnson, according to Jenkins, is called: The towers that Boris could stop being built (May 2008)

Within a year of arriving in his office, Johnson has not only allowed the South Bank tower and wall of glass but has decided to let through a 25-storey tower by Lord Foster in an Ealing conservation area, another 42-storey job in Wandsworth and the Beetham tower in Blackfriars, expected to rise to the height of Canary Wharf. A truly colossal structure is now proposed for Battersea, which will loom over views as far away as Hyde Park,
There appears to be no curb, other than the depth of the property recession, on builders coming forward with towers wherever in London takes their fancy. If Ealing and Wandsworth are considered appropriate it is hard to imagine where is not. All an architect has to do is suggest a truly ridiculous height and then “concede” a few storeys to get permission.

As we have already commented here, last November, the Mayor’s office issued a planning report to Wandsworth Council giving a barely qualified green light to the Clapham Junction Scheme. The Mayor approved the design of the towers finding them “attractive city elements contributing positively to the London skyline (since then, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (Cabe) said that the buildings would appear “ungainly in medium and long range views of the buildings and unsettling when experienced up close” and the station entrance was also “under-played” architecturally). We were astonished by the comments, coming from the man who, before his election, vowed to put a stop to Ken’s ‘phallocratic towers’ and claimed that the previous Mayor was intent on ‘wrecking London’s skyline’.

A complete U-turn indeed

According to Michael Ball, Waterloo Community Development Group, he specifically promised to stop seven separate towers during his campaign, but has failed in every one and now actively supports three.
No wonder why a lot of people in Battersea feel betrayed (including Simon Jenkins apparently): residents are clearly opposed to tall buildings “pepper-potted” across London (you can see a record of objections for the Wandsworth’s schemes) and it seems we live in extraordinary times when it takes a government minister rather than the Mayor for London to insist that national planning guidelines should be adhered to.

Section 106

One of the reason (maybe the main one) why local and central government are so accommodating to developers is not specifically a tendency for skyscrapers and high buildings, but the rack-off from development profits they can get. This is called section 106 agreement and means basically that in exchange of building whatever they want, they will pay for some Council’s duty (roadwork, affordable houses, etc). No wonder to see that after the Communities Secretary called for an inquiry into the Ram Brewery redevelopment voted by the Council in December. Edward Lister, leader of Wandsworth Council was so infuriated: all his plan for the one way system in Wandsworth Town to be redesigned and delivered free of cost for the Council by the developers is put in limbo.

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CJI editor and Clapham Junction Action Group co-founder and coordinator since 2008, Cyril has lived in Clapham Junction since 2001.
He is also funder and CEO of Habilis-Digital Ltd, a digital agency creating and managing websites and Internet solutions.