The boom in tall towers in London is being driven by overseas demand for “glitzy high-rise towers”, rather than the housing shortage in the capital, former City planning officer Peter Rees claimed today.

Speaking before the planning committee of the London Assembly, Rees said towers were unnecessary to meet the density required to house London’s booming population.

He argued for “doughnut” shapes of low-rise buildings which he said would appeal to the UK market rather than the “international investment market”.

Rees, who himself lives in the Heron Tower in the City of London, said high-rise living was for the rich, rather than those on low incomes because of the lack of community in a tower.

He pointed to Chelsea as the highest density area in London, arguing towers waste space around the base.

Sunand Prasad, architect at Penoyre and Prasad Architects, dismissed the argument that building up is an answer to housing need.

“The argument you have to build tall just doesn’t wash. It’s demonstrably untrue,” he said.

He said viability was driving the need to build higher because of the prices achieved at the top of a skyscraper.

But Tony Pidgley, chairman of the Berkeley group, said towers were “good for London and good for the economy”.

He highlighted the company’s residential towers in Croydon, where he said flats were being snapped up by young Londoners buying their first home.

He said the housebuilder’s proposed 73-storey tower in South Quay, south of Canary Wharf, would also likely be sold to young professionals if it wins planning.

Pidgley said families in London are now aspiring to live in towers, and said a survey showed 80% of Berkeley’s tower residents are happy with their home.

Edward Lister, deputy mayor for planning and policy, said foreign buyers have traditionally bought around 3% of London’s housing stock, which shot up post-2008 with the lack of mortgage availability, but was expected to return to the lower rate.