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More skyscrapers? But how will we get to them?


Remember 'predict and provide' - the rationale behind the old Department of Transport's new roads planning? Roads were built to cope with a calculated increase in traffic and almost invariably reached capacity well ahead of the predicted date.

What the DoT, and most other transport experts of the time, failed to consider was the amount of traffic that these new roads could create. It took until 1995 for the government's Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment to concede that new roads did actually encourage people to make car journeys that they would not otherwise have made.

So I listened to the enthusiastic supporters of office megatowers at last week's tall buildings conference in London with several reservations.

On the face of it, the basic arithmetic made a compelling case for more huge skyscrapers in London. The City alone, it was claimed, will need at least 50,000 more workers over the next decade, and require another 1M. m 2of office space.

And this space will also be different. Ten years ago the maximum accommodation demanded by prospective tenants rarely topped 30,000m 2. Today, a smaller number of bigger players are said to seek up to 100,000m 2in one location.

Premium tenants are said to prefer towers, partly because it is felt that people moving vertically between offices do so more effectively than those who have to move horizontally.

But crucially, says the megatower lobby, if London fails to provide the offices that global financial giants demand, they will go elsewhere, taking the business on which so many in the country depend with them.

Well, perhaps. This smacks of the sort of reasoning that justifies seven figure salaries for chief executives. After all, when it comes to choosing a workspace, it is not the existence of megatowers that finally tips the balance on a company's relocation plans. It is the transport infrastructure.

Simply dropping two or three 80 storey buildings into the City will not, alone, provide London with a solution to meet the predicted demand for office space.

Public transport links into central London are already over subscribed. Unless investment is committed to enhance these services there will be no way for the extra workers to reach their new megatower offices, Canary Wharf's current success is a prime example. Its rejuvenation - and latest building boom - was sparked by the construction of the Jubilee Line Extension. By taking the pressure off the over-capacity Docklands Light Railway, the new, part privately funded, Tube line now allows people to get to work in a guaranteed, realistic time.

However, plans for the City suggest that only the proposed developments at London Bridge station to have the essential link between megatower and new transport infrastructure that is working so well in the Docklands and cities like Hong Kong.

But unless developers focus on such vital transport enhancements in their megatower plans, they will end up providing office space to meet predicted demand, only to find they were as misguided as the old DoT planners - only this time the projected demand never happens.

Dave Parker is technical editor of NCE.

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