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Could Sadiq Khan's election as London mayor spell the end of a golden era for tall buildings?


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Could Sadiq Khan's election as London mayor spell the end of a golden era for tall buildings?

OutgoingMayor of London Boris Johnson has left his mark on the capital in many ways,but nowhere as obviously as on the London skyline.

Duringhis time in office, Johnson has been a great supporter of high-rise developmentand large-scale commercial developments in inner London. A record 436 tallbuildings were either in planning, proposed or under construction as of Marchthis year, according to NewLondon Architecture. A total of 233 have planning approval. In what couldbe another sign of Johnson's influence on attitudes to urbanism, planningapplications for tall residential towers have increased 853% between 2008 andthe end of 2015according to research from EstatesGazette, 2008 being the year that Johnson was elected. This is quite a turnaroundfor a politician who saidin 2007 in the run-up to the mayoral election that he was against the "drab,featureless and phallocratic" towers that his predecessor Ken Livingstonehad permitted (including Renzo Piano's iconic Shard). Johnson has personallycalled in numerous schemes during his time in office in order to move themforward, including British LandCo. Plc's NortonFolgate redevelopment in Tower Hamlets, which the local authorityhad chosen to block before his intervention.

Itcould easily be said that the big British REITs have had a champion in the formof Johnson when it comes to getting large, contentious inner-city schemes andtall towers through planning. But what approach will his successor, Labour'sSadiq Khan take? While Khan has laid out some clear targets for the housingsector, such as a pledgein his "Charter for Good Development" that 50% of all new housingbuilt on public land should be affordable, his position on commercialdevelopment is less explicit. Khan states in his manifesto that he wants to bethe most "pro-business" mayor that London has ever had, but there arefew specifics on office, retail and logistics space in the same way that thereare for housing.

Alitmus test for Khan could be the outcome on Hammerson Plc's Bishopsgate Goodsyard development. Thismuch-disputed high-rise development in East London was initially called in byJohnson so that he could make a decision on its future himself, but in asurprising twist to the tale in April, Johnson a hearing that would havedecided the fate of the scheme, leaving it to his successor to resolve.

ChrisLewis, head of occupiers at Deloitte Real Estate, did not perceive Khan to beanti-development in any way:

"Londonis building for business, and I don't think that the mayor would do anything toget in the way of that," he said in an interview.

However,Khan could have a more inclusive view of commercial property development thanhis predecessor, according to Mark Cleverly, partner at Arcadis LLP:

"Sadiqhas said that he will introduce a Charter for Good Development as part of theplanning process in London. This would be a positive step and could restore thepublic's faith in the fairness of the development process for Londoners,getting back to a feeling that 'we are all in this together,'" he said inan interview.

Oneof the criticisms of schemes such as Bishopsgate Goodsyard from campaign groupshas been that it does not feature adequate social housing or communityamenities.

JeremyCastle, director in the planning team at Deloitte Real Estate, points out thatwhile Khan's manifesto includes a major push for new homes in the capital,affordable commercial space will also be a challenge:

"Itwill be fascinating to see how he balances the number of homes that he wants todeliver with providing commercial space," he said in an interview.

Thebig planning decisions of Sadiq's term in office are likely to center on morechallenging "opportunity areas" of London such as Old Oak Common,Croydon and parts of Battersea, rather than the inner city sites that we haveheard so much about recent years, Castle said.

Accordingto Ghislaine Halpenny, director of communications at lobby group BritishProperty Federation, it's too early to tell how Khan will approach bigmixed-use developments.

"Allwe have to go on is his manifesto," she said in an interview.

Khanhas been making "positive noises" on build-to-rent, but somedevelopers could be spooked by his insistence that 50% of housing on publicland should be affordable, she added.

Giventhe scale of the challenge that Khan faces in providing both affordable housingand the right kind of commercial space, it's perhaps no surprise that he'schosen to ration his words on commercial property development for the timebeing. But a golden era for tall towers and iconic central London developmentscould be drawing to a close now that the flamboyant Boris Johnson is no longerin city hall.