Victorian Society urges Mayor to reject Brixton’s Hondo Tower on environmental grounds

After the Mayor of London reopens his decision, the Victorian Society urges him to stop the tower being built, highlighting its environmental impact.

The Victorian Society is highlighting research from UCL that high rise buildings can have double the environmental impact and urging the Mayor of London to reject a Texan billionaire's plans for a 20-storey tower in the centre of low-rise Brixton on environmental as well as conservation grounds. Following a public outcry when the plans were approved, The Victorian Society sent the Mayor a copy of its objections. The Mayor recently announced that he is to reconsider his approval of the controversial Hondo Tower plans – as he did not receive the full details of the objections. The Society hopes that the environmental evidence could alter the balance in favour of the community campaign to stop the tower.

University College London’s authoritative research on the environmental performance of taller buildings highlights the rapidly increasing rates of energy use and CO2 emission per sq.m, as buildings rise from an optimum of compact development at 6 floors, virtually doubling by the time buildings get to 20 storeys. Lambeth Council proudly claim to be the first borough to have declared a climate emergency but it does not seem to have adequately considered the high-rise development’s environmental impact. Raising the question of whether they are serious about meeting their climate change targets.

Professor Philip Steadman, Emeritus Professor of Urban and Built Form Studies at UCL, said, ‘A recent study at the Energy Institute, University College London, has shown that office and residential buildings use more energy in operation, per square metre of floor area, the taller they are. If office buildings on 20-storeys and above (‘high-rise’) are compared with offices on 6-storeys and below (‘low-rise’), electricity use in high-rise, per square metre of floor area, is found to be nearly two and a half times that in low-rise. Gas use also increases with height, by around 40%, going from low-rise to high-rise. As a result, total carbon emissions from the two fuels together are twice as great in the high-rise buildings. At 20-storeys, the Hondo tower rises well above surrounding buildings, and will be exposed to the strong winds and more sunshine that seem to cause these energy effects. It is also highly glazed, which will exacerbate the problems.’

Stephen Hill, Director of C2O futureplanners and a sustainable planning advocate, asks, ‘Are we serious about the Climate Emergency and sustainable development, or not? What possible justification can there being for designing, let alone approving tall buildings, when Prof. Steadman’s evidence shows how environmentally damaging and wasteful they are? Going ahead with any new tall building means building something that may well be environmentally obsolete from Day 1, and will simply make it harder to reach the zero carbon goals of the future, without further expensive investment. And who will pay for that, and how? It’s no excuse to say that we have done this before, or others are still doing it. One more tall building is a step in the wrong direction.’

The Society’s objection focuses on the development’s towering height which would overshadow nearby historic buildings, and the danger of this scheme setting a precedent for further tall buildings in the area - risking completely eroding Brixton’s special character over time. However, this new research also adds a new environmental aspect to the decision.

Save Nour, the local campaign group fighting against the tower, said ‘This tower is not wanted by the people of Brixton. Economic development here should be about investing in people - our young people need access to high quality affordable social housing, safe and fully funded community and youth spaces, not a giant monument to their exclusion from the changes happening in Brixton. Sadiq Khan must use his powers to stand with us and say no to the Hondo Tower’

Olivia Stockdale, Conservation Adviser for the Victorian Society said, ‘This area of Brixton retains its character as a predominantly Victorian town centre. Building a 20-storey tower next to this Conservation Area demonstrates a total failure to understand and respond to the context of the area. Buildings of this height may be appropriate elsewhere in London, but not here. The proposals would overshadow the surrounding buildings, including the historic Electric Avenue which, when built in the 1880s, was the first market street lit by electric lights. This new environmental evidence should be the final straw which results in the Mayor rejecting the plans. In any event, it is unclear if there will ever be sufficient office demand in Brixton post COVID-19 to fill this huge tower.’

Image is from the planning application.

08/02/2021


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