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Farrell, towers and the power of knowledge

The launch of the Observer/ AJ campaign on London’s towers the day before the publication of the Farrell Review can scarcely have been planned, but it was fortuitous.

The launch of the Observer/ AJ campaign on London’s towers the day before the publication of the Farrell Review can scarcely have been planned, but it was fortuitous. 

Farrell didn’t make reference to it at the launch but when he talked about the revolution in planning that he wanted, he did mention the Shard, saying ‘Who knew we would get a Shard?’ He wasn’t criticising the building, just saying that nobody had thought of this as the site for Europe’s tallest building.

Farrell’s point is that as long as our planning system is reactive and not proactive, every proposal has to be considered on its own, with developers pushing for as much as they can get on a single site, and a host of issues to consider. We know that we are short of planners and have to import them (one questioner said that ‘New Zealand wants its planners back’). Their job is tough and thankless.

I like Farrell’s idea that if we had a more dirigiste planning system the job would be both simpler and more interesting. Deciding what we want and then seeing whether proposals fit the bill would make each planning application easier to process, not to mention letting planners actually … plan. It does require a culture change though, and I am not ensurely that we will get one.

It is not just planning that suffers from a lack of centralisation. We could do with some centralised knowledge as well. The revelation of just how many towers are planned for parts of London came about because the NLA (New London Architecture) gathered the data. It was in the public domain, but had not been collated, to the extent that high up people in the Greater London Authority at first couldn’t believe it.

Knowledge is power, and we should worry when those in power don’t have it.

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