Why high-rises are bad for Staines

12 reasons why high-rises are bad for Staines.

There are at least a dozen good reasons why building high-rise residential blocks in town centres is a bad idea. In the centre of a small town such as Staines-upon-Thames, with restricted road access on three sides and a river boundary on the fourth, such a massing of residential building makes even less sense.
Such developments create social, environmental and sustainability problems for the communities in which they are built, and these problems have for long been documented in professional and academic publications and the mainstream press. Here are some of the main problems:

1.High-rise buildings create wind effects at ground level that can vary from blowing dust and grit into the faces of people at ground level to blowing pedestrians and cyclists off pavements and cycle routes and into the road.1 This makes the day-to-day environment at street level much more unpleasant for residents, workers, and visitors than it needs to be and can be a safety issue, especially for children and the elderly. The taller the building, the worse the problem.

2. They create issues of shading, denying surrounding buildings and people their right to light. Visitors to the town will have a worse experience if they are in permanent shade or lacking visibility because of high-rise developments, as will residents who will have to live with this every day.

3.Their scale is not of a human level. Pedestrians and other people at ground level cannot perceive space above a certain level (max. 5 storeys high) and feel boxed in.2 This creates a dehumanising environment and can lead to antisocial behaviour: one reason why crime rates are higher in cities comprised of many high-rise buildings.3

4.High-rise residential units create accommodation silos, which reduce propinquity4 and chance encounter.5 They separate their residents from the street below and the local social fabric is damaged by high-rise residential silos, whose residents are cut off from the spaces around them.6

5.This is especially the case when the buildings incorporate social, shopping, and leisure facilities, such as gyms, cafes, etc.

6.High-rise residential blocks do nothing to increase affordable accommodation. They are generally built for wealthier buyers. In short: high-rise = gentrification, whereas low-rise = affordability.7 Expect developers of high-rises to pay the council a sum of money in lieu of actually providing affordable accommodation within these high-rise developments. This will exacerbate the problem of the lack of affordable housing in the area as valuable building space for affordable homes will be lost to high-rises.

  1. Guardian Newspaper 20/08/2019
    Smart Cities Dive: “7 Reasons Why High-Rises Kill Livability” 2017
  2. New York Times 1972 Housing Study: High Rise =High Crime
  3. Wikipedia describes propinquity as follows: Propinquity is “one of the main factors leading to interpersonal attraction. It refers to the physical or psychological proximity between people. Propinquity can mean physical proximity, a kinship between people, or a similarity in nature between things.”
  4. Smart Cities Dive: “7 Reasons Why High-Rises Kill Livability” 2017
  5. Smart Cities Dive: “7 Reasons Why High-Rises Kill Livability” 2017
  6. Smart Cities Dive: “7 Reasons Why High-Rises Kill Livability” 2017

7.High-rises waste space since they create vertical sprawl8 with void units peppered throughout the buildings, which cannot be used for anything else. Ground area is not used more effectively, since large tracts of empty space surrounding the building must be kept free because of the shading and loss of light issues. Studies show that the same number of accommodation units can be provided by low-rise or terraced houses on the same amount of land when this factor is taken into consideration.9

8.So-called common green space around the building becomes a breeding ground for antisocial behaviour. Individual residents do not “own” parts of this land, it is not used regularly since that requires residents to travel up and down many flights of stairs or use lifts to access the area, the land is not a private space, and such land is not as secure as a garden for storing items for use in the green space. Consequently, such land tends to be taken over by less sympathetic users, falls into decline and becomes a host for antisocial behaviour10.

9.High-rises foster anonymity. Residents do not know who belongs in the building. Without dedicated security, such as a concierge service or porter, safety becomes an issue, and this element of anonymity fosters crime and antisocial behaviour in and around the building.11

10.High-rises are generally less suitable for families and therefore reshape the demographics of the local community and drive out families.12

11.High-rises are less sustainable than low-rise. They are virtually impossible to reconfigure, expensive to maintain and, often, energy-inefficient due the materials used in their construction.13 Witness the complaints of residents of high-rises during recent lockdowns who were unable to cool their homes sufficiently in the warm summer weather.

12.Finally, in terms of Staines-upon-Thames in particular:

a. The massing of new residential units in the town centre is unsustainable because the local transport infrastructure cannot cope and cannot be reconfigured to cope. Three bottlenecks are the only road access into the town centre and cannot be redesigned (Bridge Street, the Iron Bridge, and the railway bridge at the junction of Laleham Road and Thames Street).14

b. Council plans for Staines should be to maximise the appeal of its riverside location, encourage visitors, and preserve its historic buildings. Filling the town with high-rises goes completely against these aims and against the recommendations of the Council’s own advisors.15

Howard Williams


8/Smart Cities Dive: “7 Reasons Why High-Rises Kill Livability” 2017
9/CapX “The trouble with tower blocks”
10/Guardian Newspaper 18/01/2002 “Ups and downs of high-rise living” and Create Streets Not just multi-storey estates 2013 Nicholas Boys Smith Alex Morton/Policy Exchange
11/Guardian Newspaper 18/01/2002 “Ups and downs of high-rise living”
12/Guardian Newspaper 18/01/2002 “Ups and downs of high-rise living” and CapX “The trouble with tower blocks” and Create Streets Not just multi-storey estates Nicholas Boys Smith Alex Morton
13/Guardian Newspaper 18/01/2002 “Ups and downs of high-rise living”
14/David Locke Associates for Spelthorne Borough Council 12/08/2020 Staines Upon Thames Analysis And Review Report
15/David Locke Associates for Spelthorne Borough Council 12/08/2020 Staines Upon Thames Analysis And Review Report