The Crystal, in Newham, London, opened in 2012.
Pawel Libera | LightRocket | Getty Images
The Greater London Authority (GLA) is set to swap its riverside headquarters in the middle of the U.K. capital for a development that boasts a range of sustainable design features and connected technologies.
Also known as City Hall, the GLA is made up of a directly elected mayor, an elected assembly with powers of scrutiny over the mayor, and associated supporting staff.
The decision to move to The Crystal building, in Newham, east London, is expected to save £61 million ($79.75 million) across five years and £126 million over 10 years, according to a statement issued Tuesday from the press office of Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London.
Commissioned by Siemens, The Crystal opened back in 2012. The industrial giant sold it to a subsidiary of the Greater London Authority in 2016.
The building has a striking, angular appearance and incorporates a number of sustainable design features. These include triple-glazed windows, rainwater harvesting, and roof-mounted solar panels which generate 20% of its electricity.
A building management system developed by Siemens is used to control all of the site’s mechanical and electrical systems, while the building has been designed in such a way that nearly all its spaces have access to natural light, which in turn reduces the need for artificial sources.
According to a document outlining the building’s sustainable credentials, an “advanced control system” from Siemens is used to automatically adjust “every individual lamp to provide comfortable brightness levels without wasting electricity.”
The location of the building — which has remained nearly empty after Siemens left it last year and will need to be repurposed before City Hall moves there — is also notable.
It was built on brownfield land and is within walking distance of the London Underground, the Docklands Light Railway and a cable car system that crosses the River Thames. In addition, 15 charging points for electric vehicles and 66 spaces for bicycles are also on site.
Change afoot as finances feel pinch
The plan to switch locations comes at a time when London’s finances are under pressure.
In its statement, the mayor’s office said the GLA Group — which includes organizations such as Transport for London, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime and the London Fire Commissioner — was “facing a £500m financial black hole this year and next due to Covid-19.”
It added that income from tax was “expected to be lower for several years to come” and said savings from the switch would be used to protect front-line public services as well as “invest in London’s economic recovery.”
The mayor’s office described the current headquarters as a “very expensive building,” noting that rent there was set to increase to £9.6 million per year. This figure is topped up by other costs including business rates, maintenance, running costs and utility bills. The mayor is making use of a break clause that allows City Hall to leave its current location in December 2021.
“Even taking into account a counter-offer from the landlord that would reduce the cost of staying at City Hall, the financial case for moving to The Crystal — a building that is already owned by the GLA — is impossible to ignore,” Tuesday’s statement said.
A planning application is set to be submitted to Newham Council in order to get the go ahead for changes required to The Crystal before the move is made.
Reacting to the news, Susan Hall, who leads the Conservative Party in the GLA, said Khan had “chosen a flawed plan to move.”
“We will doubtlessly see costs spiral and fewer savings than he promises,” she added.