London to be ‘Manhattan on Thames’ as 583 towers planned

London is set to become a Manhattan on Thames as nearly 600 additional towers will dramatically change the city’s skyline in the next decade, according to a report just published by New London Architecture (NLA).

What the London skyline, seen from across the river in Greenwich, could look like in 2034

The 583 tall buildings in the pipeline, all over 20 storeys high, are more than double the 270 towers that have been built in the past decade, NLA said in its Growing Up: A Decade of Building Tall report. Tower Hamlets is the London borough that holds the record of new towers, with 71 built in the last decade alone.

Such rapid change to the capital’s skyline “has been fuelled by burgeoning demand for office and residential space, overseas investment and a supportive planning environment”, the report states.

The building boom started with Ken Livingstone, the first Mayor of London, and continued with his successors, Boris Johnson and now Sadiq Khan, who has just been re-elected for a record third mandate. They have all argued that, as land is scarce and London’s population continues to grow – it is expected to rise to 10 million before the end of the decade – building towers is the only solution.

“Tall buildings have changed the face of London substantially over the past twenty years and will continue to do so”, said Peter Murray, NLA’s co-founder and one of the authors of the report. “The pipeline we have tracked means there is at least ten years’ supply that has already been defined.”

The City of London is set to become even more densely built

Among the projects that have already received planning permission are three towers in Blackfriars Road that, according to Southwark Council which gave them the green light, will create a new cluster near Bankside.

In the City the number of applications submitted and approved has risen by 25% year-on-year, mainly driven by the demand for ESG-compliant grade-A offices as more workers choose to return to work after the pandemic but demand better quality space.

Many applications are also for PBSA, as there is a trend for high rise student accommodation that caters mainly for growing numbers of international students. Demand for residential towers, on the other hand, has declined with the rise in interest rates and the economic slowdown.

The NLA report shows that the Shard, the distinctive tower designed by Renzo Piano, has replaced the Gherkin as Londoners’ favourite skyscraper. However, one in two of the capital’s residents believe there are too many towers in the city now, compared to 32% ten years ago, when the first NLA report was published.

“What has happened to London over the last 20 years, as we have had to cater for nearly three million more people in the city, is that we have built higher-density, taller buildings in clusters,”Murray said. “’It’s not just about not building on green space – London is surrounded by a green belt that the Mayor is determined to protect. So if you can’t build out, you have to build up.”