The great garden swindle: how developers are hiding behind shrubbery

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The great garden swindle: how developers are hiding behind shrubbery
A High Line for London? What the Braithwaite viaduct in Shoreditch might look like. // Photograph © Bishopsgate Goodsyard

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From trees on bridges to magical parks, London’s most damaging developments are using green garnish as a decoy to distract from what’s really going on

The great garden swindle: how developers are hiding behind shrubbery
A High Line for London? What the Braithwaite viaduct in Shoreditch might look like. // Photograph © Bishopsgate Goodsyard

Spring has sprung and developers are getting green-fingered. Across London, their planning applications are sprouting leaves and bursting into bloom. They’re promising trees on bridges and jungles in the clouds, sky-gardens and life-giving linear parks, along with a whole network of green ribbons weaving through town.

Who could say no to this fecund vision for London? What mean-spirited planning committee would stand in the way of this pastoral dream? Very few can resist the lure of a good garden. That is precisely the problem.

Developers have got wise to the power of a few plants in easing their bloated schemes through the planning system. They’ve realised that a little green garnish can mask a multitude of sins. A clutch of 40-storey luxury apartment towers in a conservation area, you say? But check out that lovely lawn! A bridge-shaped tourist attraction for a stretch of the Thames that doesn’t need another crossing, to be built at vast expense to the taxpayer? But what nice shrubs it has! The word “garden” has never been misused as such a damaging decoy.

If ever evidence were needed that the promised planting of a CGI mirage might not be as good in reality, it can be found 150 metres up in the air at No 20 Fenchurch Street. The 37-storey Walkie-Talkie tower was given planning permission in an area never intended for tall buildings – way outside the City’s planned “cluster” – on the sole basis that it would come with a majestic “sky garden”. []

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