With all the empty office space available in Central London I am concerned about all the new build. The Dubaiification of London. And I am fed up with all the unnecessary competition between cities around the world to have the tallest "iconic" building. In most cases the measured height is, to me rather daft as it includes the aerials on the top. If I wear a stovepipe hat does that mean I am 6ft 2?!
A couple of weeks ago there was an article in The Times (Saturday July 6th) reporting that the Shard is failing in its attempt to sell the space within it. The Times reports that the 25 floors of office space are as empty as they were 12 months ago with only 10% being leased. The location is being cited as a reason; London Bridge is not The City, where other big buildings with silly names situtaed in the Square Mile are managing to sell their space.
The article goes on to quote Irvine Sellar, the Shard's developer, who seems to be cherry-picking his tenants. He cites this as a reason for the empty floors and rationalises, "...we are taking our time... we don't want to fill the Shard up with accountants or lawyers". He goes on, "...we are going to have asset managers, energy companies, lawyers and many more. We want a broad mix".
I very much doubt that is the reason at all. Location probably does play a part, but I think the lack of uptake is mostly down to the fantastically high maintenance charges; the window cleaning alone is estimated at £150,000 a year, plus rates on the empty offices need to be paid for before they are leased, and electricity has to be block-purchased in advance. Cleaning and security for the building could cost as much as £9million a year once it is fully let.
So, they must have thought long and hard about how to bring in big dosh for little outlay.... hmmm... let's think... Yes! viewing platforms. Incidentally, I don't like the word "platforms" in this instance. Bad word. Why not galleries, floors or levels?
They call it "The View" and on Saturday 13th July I went to see it for myself. My very generous friend paid £24.99 each for four of us. TWENTY FIVE QUID!!! That's the pre-booking price. If you buy your ticket on the day it goes up to £29.99.
OK here goes... hold on to your hat... this is what you get for £25...
- On arriving we were informed that there are no toilets on the viewing levels and were directed to the ones adjacent to the booking hall; an area that is awash with CGI on large screens and colourful technology. Opening the door to the Ladies we entered a service corridor with whitewashed breeze block walls. There were loose wires and duct-taped pipes. Inside it was obvious that this was usually used by staff or gym users as we saw lockers in there. A temporary sign on A4 copy paper apologised, explaining that new toilets are currently being built for Guest use. This building has been open to the public for almost a year now and they haven't made the toilets? Is £25 a reduced rate due to this? Or, will the price go up when the toilets are finally open?
- So, why are there no toilets on or near the viewing levels? What happens if someone is taken short or feels dizzy/sick? Are people expected to get in the lift again, go all the way through the gift shop, past the booking desks and relieve themselves only to find that they (probably) aren't allowed back up again? I am sure there must be toilet facilities on the restaurant floors but viewing-only plebs aren't allowed to mix with high-paying foodies.
- There is nowhere to sit on the viewing platforms. Not everyone is happy standing, or sitting on the floor. Many people, especially those who are tired, dizzy, disabled, old or infirm would benefit from some simple benches where they can rest for 5 minutes as in art galleries. There is ample space all around the inner wood-panelled wall where these could be added. I believe there are two reasons for their non-existence: 1) it stops people staying up there too long, and, 2) the Shard was never designed to have viewing platforms in the first instance or they would have designed it better.
- So it ought to go without saying that there are no refreshment opportunities up there either.
- Why no glass floors? A huge opportunity has been missed here. Especially as the building is clad in glass. There are perfect places in recessed areas where glass-floored panels could have been included (such as in Auckland's Sky Tower in and many others). But, again, I think this is for the same reasons as the lack of seating.
- Don't look up because the ceilings of the viewing platforms are an ugly mess. There are hanging wires and pipes clad in silver foil with stickers on them, plus metal fixings and plates that I think ought not to be seen. It looks so out of place with the simplicity of the wooden floors and walls.
- When we were there we commented how daft it was that the only way to identify the buildings in the distance was to use one of the computerised viewing machines. We wondered why they hadn't put information about the major landmarks onto the windows or on a rail in front of us. It wasn't until I got home and looked at my photos that I noticed that there is a legend there, but it is situated above everyone's heads!! How utterly daft. You have to step back from the glass to see it. Another afterthought?
- On the ground floor, on the way in between security checks and the lift you can have your photo taken against a simulated image of the Shard. As per The London DUNG-eon and all other rip-off tourist attractions of this kind, the prints are an extra charge. Did I mention the tickets for The View at Shard are £25?
- The lifts are rather disappointing. Considering they are being touted for their high speed you don't get a visual sense of this at all. You stand there in a dark blue box looking up at some computer generated whizzy lines on the ceiling. Couldn't they have filmed the journey to the top of the Shard from the roof of the lift and put that up on the ceiling so we had the feeling of heading skyward? This seems too obvious a trick to have missed.
The exorbitant minimum ticket price of £24.99 for what is just a trip in two lifts with a view at the top and not a lot else, is to help with those cleaning bills.
Mind you, I suppose comparing time:money it does work out cheaper than a trip on the London Eye (£17.28 for half an hour) because you can stay up in the Shard as long as you want. I am not sure if you can take your own food and drink up there, but don't take too much because the toilets are 69/72 floors away (they include the landings on the stairs as two floors!)
Oh, one more thing that nags at me; the location is called London Bridge Quarter. A quarter of what? Does the Shard take up 25% of the whole of the whole London Bridge area? What are the other three quarters called? Answers here please.
"This article has been written to recognise the author's contribution to travel and tourism by Avis Car Hire on the A-List Awards 2013".