Last week, Knight Frank and New London Architecture launched the annual Tall Buildings Survey, which provided an excellent snapshot of London’s evolving skyline of 20-storey-plus buildings.


Source: Shutterstock / ZGPhotography

This year’s survey shows a further reduction in the number of new schemes entering the pipeline (down 13% year on year) and a continued slowdown of construction starts (down 15% year on year). Yet planning permissions are at their highest on record, and it has been another bumper year for completions.

However, the pipeline has not quite delivered on projections made in previous years, which forecast significantly more starts and completions in 2020 and 2021. Of course, some of this delay in moving from ‘planning’ to ‘construction’ is related to wider economic and political tailwinds from Brexit and Covid.

The record number of permissions not only suggests that planning authorities continue to be receptive to tall-building schemes, but also that the 2021 London Plan was not the deterrent to skyscrapers that many planners speculated it would be. There is some truth in this; 2021 saw 72 new applications submitted with 12 securing planning the same year. Of the 98 permissions in 2021, many would have been schemes conceived in 2018-19 but would still have been subject to assessment against the policies of the latest London Plan.

Perhaps of more importance to the future supply of tall buildings in London are statistics relating to a decline in new schemes and a slow move from planning to construction start. These stats suggest investors and developers may have lost confidence in tall buildings, at least temporarily.

With 583 tall buildings in the pipeline, there remains a lot still to deliver. It seems there could be a plateauing of the pipeline, but 2020 and 2021 may yet prove to be anomalies due to wider economic factors influencing construction.

Stuart Baillie, head of planning, Knight Frank, and a tall-buildings expert