Britain and Ireland are twins in many respects and never more than over what skyscrapers are doing to the historic centres of our capital cities. Simon Jenkins, the newly appointed chair of the National Trust and champion of sensitive planning everywhere is scathing about the threat to World Heritage sites like Westminster from the “fetishistic obsession with skyscrapers. A high rise similar to the Shard at London Bridge is planned to cast a shadow over Westminster from the South Bank and the area around the 1000 year old Tower of London is shrinking every year, as City high rises eat up the space. The random development of skyscrapers is wrecking the traditional context of one of the worlds most famous aspects on the banks of the Thames. The same goes for the notorious U2 tower in the old Dublin docklands and at the Sean Dunne tower at Ballsbridge. Irelands rough equivalent of Simon Jenkins as a leading commentator of architecture and planning Frank McDonald bemoans the planning disasters of Dublins bursting sprawl (Virginia Co Cavan is now within the commuter belt!) but even he has to admit that most unusually, 87 of the 127 appeals are in support of the high-rise scheme (at Ballsbridge). Behind the aesthetic questions two tycoons Dunne and Dermot Desmond are locking horns on what seems to be a typical Dublin brawl over high finance. High rises, often touted as solutions to urban sprawl, tend to increase congestion and gridlock in the city centres. To their fans, skyscrapers are big machismo. They can make a terrific impact in great sculptural clusters like Manhattan. Over here, with the odd tower halfheartedly dotted about here and there, they are environmental monsters. London and Dublin are starting to resemble old men with only a few teeth left.
An Taisce has plans to table a strongly worded objection. These proposals threaten to destroy one of the last great low-rise European city centres,
The idea that every rich city must have a tower is absurd. As Davis wrote of Westminster – which became the richest city in Europe by eschewing skyscrapers – this is “a stale cliche”, echoing a mid-20th century obsession with architectural virility.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London