Panoramic view towards the City of London with high rise buildings

View towards the City of London © Historic England DP183306
View towards the City of London © Historic England DP183306

Historic England Opens Consultation on Tall Buildings Advice

Historic England has today published an updated draft Advice Note to guide the planning and design of tall buildings, which is now out for public consultation before the final version is published this summer.

The Advice Note, which was originally published in 2007 and was last updated in 2015, states that whilst tall buildings can make a positive contribution to city life, by virtue of their size and widespread visibility they can also seriously harm the historic character of places. It highlights the importance of carefully considering historic context and protecting the historic environment and the need for high-quality design, as well as the need for sustainable development.

Views of Greenwich in 1960s and the skyline today
View of Greenwich. Above: 1960s. Below: 2017 © Historic England AA001160 and DP264586

Historic England has updated the Advice Note in response to recent changes in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and recent good practice. It offers useful guidance to those involved with the planning and design of tall buildings.

Well-designed tall buildings can be positive additions to towns and cities when thought is given to their location, but we see many ill-considered proposals that would harm their surroundings. With London and major towns and cities throughout the UK receiving large numbers of applications every year, we have updated our advice on planning for tall buildings so it reflects our recent experience and restates the need for new buildings to offer a meaningful response to the history and character of our cities.

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive, Historic England
General view of tower block
Point Royal, Rectory Lane, Easthampstead, Bracknell, Berkshire © Historic England DP137908

The Advice Note addresses:

  • Assessing appropriate locations for tall buildings in local plans
  • Using local plans to take a managed approach to development
  • Identifying the elements that create local character
  • Discussing proposals before making a planning application
  • Considering alternative approaches
  • Considering the cumulative effect of other tall building proposals
  • Setting high standards of design
  • Giving consideration to a tall building’s public realm and facilities
Church of St Andrew Undershaft with the Gherkin towering over it behind
Church of St Andrew Undershaft, St Mary Axe, City of London © Historic England

The 2020 updates include:

  • Much greater emphasis on the importance of a plan-led approach;
  • Updated references to the National Planning Policy Framework, the Planning Practice Guidance and the National Design Guide throughout, especially regarding design, place-making and the efficient use of land;
  • Acknowledgement of the changing technologies and tools that are available and can be used to provide evidence when considering tall building proposals. This includes a checklist of useful evidence types including 3D Modelling, Urban Design, Townscape analysis and ‘views studies’. The Advice also mentions the use of new technologies such as virtual reality headsets, which can be beneficial on-site to illustrate and test the impacts of complex development proposals;
  • The integration of case studies to make the advice clear and accessible. For example, the Advice Note includes reference to Cambridge and Oxford when describing a context-led approach to planning tall buildings. It describes how Cambridge City Council defines the definition of a tall building in a way that means, in practice, ‘tall buildings’ can vary substantially depending on the area of the city.
View of the Shard, London dwarfing the surrounding buildings
View of the Shard, London in 2013 © Historic England DP177954

Examples of tall buildings which have been developed in a sensitive way ensuring development alongside protection of the historic environment include 122 Leadenhall Street (“the Cheesegrater”), which was part of a planned cluster in the City of London and specifically designed to defer to St. Paul’s Cathedral in important views from Fleet Street. St Alban’s Place in Leeds was also part of a planned cluster, stepped down towards its historic neighbours and clad in ceramic in a woven pattern to reference local Burmantofts tiles and the importance of the textile industry.

View of tower blocks
View of St Alban's Place on the right hand side in Leeds © Historic England / Emily Sharpe

However, Historic England has also objected to past tall building applications, including the recent Chiswick Curve because of the impact on views from the Kew Gardens World Heritage Site. Many people now also agree that the bulk and height of London’s 20 Fenchurch Street (the “Walkie Talkie” building) are far too dominant in its context. Objections include the original plans for two towers in Manchester’s Jackson Row, which would have harmed the view from Albert Square and had a cumulative impact on a number of nearby highly listed buildings, including Manchester’s spectacular Town Hall.

View of Tower Bridge with the "Walkie Talkie" building visible behind it
View of Tower Bridge dominated by the "Walkie Talkie" © Historic England

As part of the public consultation, the public and sector are encouraged to submit their views by Sunday 26 April 2020.

Read the consultation draft

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