The Tulip London – why this project failed to blossom

23.12.2021 5 min read

The Tulip 

At Temple, we recognise the crucial importance of understanding sustainability in the planning and development management process. We can help identify the links between the social, economic, and environmental components of sustainability. This allows our clients to have the knowledge and understanding of the wider intricacies of the development cycle, allowing for a smoother and cost-effective process.

Following recent discussions at COP26 and the UK’s pledge to become net-zero by 2050, minimising the impacts of climate change will now be a key consideration in design, planning, construction, and the entire life cycle of development. Planning decisions in the last few weeks, most notably ‘The Tulip’ (A 305-metre observation tower proposed to be constructed on the land adjacent to 20 Bury Street, City of London) highlight the direction of travel of the planning system whereby design quality and sustainability measures are being scrutinised more so than ever, now having considerable weight in the planning balance.

The refusal of The Tulip is a warning for developers to consider the carbon emissions for the whole life-cycle of development from inception to planning and design, as well as through to construction and in operation. The demolition of the existing building at Bury Street was completed in 2003 representing a significant cost in terms of embodied carbon. It is important to note the relevance of this still being referred to almost 20 years after the demolition of the original building because it is an important lesson to take forward when thinking ahead to the future lifespan of proposed developments.

Photo Credit: DBOX for Architects Foster and Partners

Changes in Planning Policy

The Tulip was a scheme that was determined under two Development Plans over the course of its project lifetime. We understand that constant updates in planning policy can prove difficult for developers, especially as policies that revolve around design and sustainability have not, until recently, been progressive. There have been great strides in policy during recent years. The updated publication of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) earlier this year saw revised language, especially around design quality in Paragraph 134 (b) making clear what planning’s role is in creating high quality, outstanding, and innovative but sustainable designs.

Regionally, the New London Plan requires Whole Life-Cycle Carbon Assessments to be submitted as part of applications that are referable to the Mayor of London. This requirement promotes thinking about the reduction of carbon and sustainability earlier in the design and development process. Additionally, Policy SI 7 Reducing Waste and Circular Economy requires developers to demonstrate awareness of the economic system including ensuring that materials are kept at the highest use value until it is no longer possible prior to being recycled or reused; reducing the amount of waste at all stages of development. This was lacking in of the application for The Tulip where there was no consideration of how the building would function over the course of its lifetime nor after its demolition.

The Tulip would have been one of the few ‘top-heavy’ buildings to be built. Despite the applicant dealing with sustainability measures including targeting BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ and the use of zero-carbon technologies, the Secretary of State agreed with the Planning Inspector that these would not outweigh the profoundly unsustainable concept of using vast quantities of reinforced concrete for the foundations and lift shaft. Although lower carbon concretes are becoming available, it still has limited recycling possibilities (e.g. as aggregate) in comparison to steel for example, and higher embodied carbon than other emerging materials such as cross-laminated timber (CLT).

We understand the importance of early environmental design and management goals at the outset. Building a consensus with the local community and statutory bodies as far as is practicable makes the planning and consenting process more efficient, saves costs and time which often consumes projects that have to keep being redesigned. It also improves the chances of a successful and more sustainable planning and business outcome.

Weighing the Planning Balance

There is lively debate surrounding the future cities of tomorrow and how this can be done innovatively and inclusively. With regard to The Tulip, the Inspector gave little weight to the planning argument of the contribution to economic recovery and educational benefits in comparison to the harm on heritage, design, and environmental grounds. This is particularly important as other proposals including for Westferry Printworks (235, Westferry Road, London) have been refused on similar heritage grounds despite the planning argument of the provision of affordable housing in that case.

World Heritage Sites are huge drivers for the UK’s economy, tourism, education, and culture. After a UNESCO committee found developments threatened the value of  Liverpool’s waterfront, the city was stripped of its World Heritage Status in July and is testimony to the difficulty in balancing new development with harm to the historic environment. The removal of this prestigious title could result in a reduction in tourists to Liverpool, as well as the funding available for the restoration and preservation of the area.

How can Temple help?

Temple understands that social value and engagement can vary from project to project. We believe that investigating the links between social, economic, and environmental impacts arising from a particular scheme will help clients understand and articulate its impacts. It also assists in promoting the benefits of development and assists our client’s understanding and knowledge of the wider intricacies of development programmes, allowing for a smoother and cost-effective process.

Temple can:

  • Provide a Planning and Environmental offering, having a clear understanding of new Planning policies and environmental effects;
  • Assist clients and developers with sustainable thinking, offering expert advice on requirements for various technical assessments such as Whole Life Carbon;
  • Assist developers to propose and manage suitable strategies with regards to Construction and Environmental Management; and
  • Provide a Social Value and Engagement offering, allowing our clients to incorporate additional benefits to their developments.

Key Contacts

Mark Furlonger Senior Director - Planning & Design
Jenny Massingham Associate Director - Planning
Aira Temporal Consultant Town Planner
Temple