Is London Losing Its Views?



For me, one of the most unspoilt old views of London is one of its least visited – the churchyard of St Pancras Old Church, a site associated with the sons of Bach and Benjamin Franklin, John Polidori, Mary Wollstonecraft, Dickens, Hardy, Byron, Shelley and Gilbert Scott. It may well be the oldest site of Christian worship in Europe, and maintained an unbroken vista of woodland and water.

Or it did until recently. Now, that graceful vista has been shattered by a great looming row of FutureSlums™ – sorry, ‘luxury loft lifestyle apartments’ – that look like stacked garden sheds, built along the north side of the Regent Canal. Nobody seems to have mentioned this anywhere.

It’s the latest view to lose its, er, view, and certainly won’t be the last. Photoshopped pictures show what a wonderful lifestyle everyone will have. I’m particularly fond of the above ‘photo’ that makes North London look like the Six Senses, Thailand.

It’s a fabulous piece of marketing trickery, foreshortening wide vistas to make them look more spacious and photographing new developments at dusk with the lights on, giving them a spacious natural feel. Try seeing them on a wet Saturday morning when the sky is the colour of an unemptied bowl three months after the goldfish has died. Properties like these are usually offered off-plan in Singapore; developers know their market.

London is not alone in having ‘protected views’ – San Francisco has them too. They’re to preserve the view of a specific place or historic building from another location. The effect is to limit the height of new buildings within or adjacent to the sightline between the two places so as to preserve the ability to see the landmark as a focus of the view. The protection may also cover the area behind the place or building concerned.

But St Paul’s protected view, with its key sightlines, has been clearly compromised by the Shard and several other new buildings around it. From where I sit typing this, the dome is lost among blocks of grey concrete. It wasn’t a year ago. When you blow up the image, you can see the dome is lost.


For centuries Tower Green in the Tower of London, where Anne Boleyn lost her head, was a perfect view, uninterrupted in any direction. It had become accidentally protected because it sat lower in the ground than the surrounding pavements and buildings, which had risen around it, but not high enough to break the skyline. That was before Tower 42 stuck its ugly blank face into the shot, photobombing London’s best historical selfie.

O Death, O Death, rock me asleepe,
Bring me to quiet rest;
Let pass my weary guiltless ghost
Out of my careful breast.’

The bottom line? Views don’t make money. Buildings do.

4 comments on “Is London Losing Its Views?”

  1. Jo W says:

    Love that description of the sky the colour of an unemptied bowl three months after the goldfish has died! Looked very like that around here this morning. 🙂

  2. Vivienne says:

    Just beginning a fight to stop a proposed 32 storey building bang on the Chiswick roundabout. So polluted that the windows won,t be openable. The view from Kew Gardens will be ruined and it may thus lose its World Heritage status. Found out that the Thames at that point is called The Arcadian Thames: hoping it remains so.

  3. Helen Martin says:

    This is worse than sad. There are buildings that -are- London and St. Paul’s is certainly one. It’s all very well to see it close up, impressive and classic and all that, but seeing it across the city, misted perhaps (probably), holding its place in history as well as geography, provides a sense of continuity and stability. Perhaps it means that now London will not continue and is no longer stable?

  4. Joel says:

    This is a political-economic-social issue. While we need a(n) unique London, we also have to home a lot of people who either already live here and want to stay (me!), or who think they can live here (‘them’!). I love my protected views (mine of Victoria Park from my front window might sound trite but it brightens up the lousiest unemptied goldfish bowl days), but with Mayors like Johnson ready to destroy Spitalfields it is a big battle, 200 (?) skyscrapers may be coming to London in the next decade if we let them. Forgive this rant but if we Londoners don’t keep making our feelings known to those who make these decisions (and to those who inform those decision-makers) and that we aren’t NIMBYists, we will only have ourselves to blame when trees are only in photos or etched on to concrete building sides to remind us of what they once were.

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