Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 270-289)



  270. But you do not think it is likely?
  (Mr Livingstone) No, not terribly likely. There might be some improvement when we get the East London line built which will be an extension of the East London line from its present area all the way down to Croydon.

Chris Grayling

  271. That project is a mile away. My understanding is that the extension to Dalston Junction will be done by 2006 but there are no dates in the immediate short term prospect, and the rest of it happening, is there?
  (Mr Livingstone) We anticipate any day now the government's decision to proceed with this and we would hope that—you are talking about up-grading existing track, not constructing new—we would see this completed by about 2007, if we get the government decision shortly.

Mr Betts

  272. On the quality of these highrise buildings, the reality is that buildings like the Hilton Tower which may be derided today were seen as examples of good architecture at the time. You will no doubt be telling us that you would not make those same mistakes and people will not be saying, "Look what the Mayor approved back then, is it not awful?"
  (Mr Livingstone) A lot of these are personal decisions. Some members of the Greater London Assembly do not like tall buildings—

Mrs Dunwoody

  273. But they do not have the society role so it does not really matter, does it?
  (Mr Livingstone) I think what does matter is this: creating a directly elected Mayor who takes these decisions I think empowers Londoners to determine how the City develops. The decisions I have made could be a major feature of the next election.

  274. I see. So after Haussmann, you see yourself as Napoleon, is that it?
  (Mr Livingstone) No. I have no military ambitions.

  275. I think that will come as a relief!
  (Mr Livingstone) The reality is that Londoners at the moment have no real say; they are not part of the planning process; the fiasco of the Terminal 5—

  276. But in you they will have in the future?
  (Mr Livingstone) No. They will have the ability to remove me. If Londoners do not want tall buildings, they will get themselves another Mayor, therefore I think the mayoral system does mean the way in which the City is developing becomes part of the active popular debate and will feature at the next election. They may very well elect a mayor committed to saying, "I am going to put a direct refusal on the lot".

Mr Betts

  277. In the meantime, you may be in favour of quality tall buildings. Could you give us three examples in London of quality tall buildings which fit in well with their surroundings?
  (Mr Livingstone) I think Centrepoint, though I do not think at the base it fits in well with its surroundings.

Mrs Dunwoody

  278. As an example of what?
  (Mr Livingstone) As an example of a building which I find attractive.

  Mrs Dunwoody: I think we have a problem with your taste.


  279. It is pretty grotty underneath, is it not?
  (Mr Livingstone) That is the problem. The London County Council accepted an absolutely pathetic planning gain in exchange for that; nowadays we get substantially more. I would say Millbank Tower. Whereas I would reject—

Mrs Dunwoody

  280. Another masterpiece of architectural delight!
  (Mr Livingstone) But these are matters of personal taste.

  281. Yes. When one person has the final say, they are.
  (Mr Livingstone) This is one of the reasons I was opposed to a directly elected mayor initially, but I have warmed to it since I have been the person!

  Mr Betts: Can you give me a good example?

Mrs Dunwoody

  282. You are doing well. Think of a third one.
  (Mr Livingstone) If you take the Post Office Tower, all three of those have now been listed. I do think the Renzo Piano Tower in terms of what I have initially seen, and I have yet to make a determination on that when it comes up, will be a similar landmark building, the Swiss Re Tower, the Heron Tower—all of these add value both to the skyline and to the City. On views, when I look down from Primrose Hill or Hampstead, my eye is not drawn to St Paul's or the House of Commons, which usually is barely distinguishable in the murk, but to the tall buildings; to Canary Wharf and the Post Office Tower.

  Mrs Dunwoody: You should try standing in some of the other boroughs, looking up.

Mr Betts

  283. On the examples you have given us, you said earlier if we built at lower density we would remove all the open space, but if you look at the open space around Millbank or Centrepoint, it is derelict. It is overshadowed, windy, there are major servicing areas—you cannot get away from these problems with tall build, However well you design them to appear from a distance.
  (Mr Livingstone) That was the downside of those buildings. There was very little planning gain for the community; it was a time when developers had a field day, did not put back much, and in terms of what we now get from the proposal for Heron Tower, you open up the area at the base, the public have access, it will provide shopping in an area where there are not very good shopping facilities and there is the openness also. In virtually all of these buildings we now require a viewing platform for the public so they get to enjoy the views as well in a way that is not the case Centrepoint or Millbank or the Post Office Tower. The public lost that right.

  284. You believe you can create friendly public areas around the base of these tall buildings that will enhance people's enjoyment of the environment?
  (Mr Livingstone) I believe that is what we are doing. If you look at the planning gain we are now getting, the most recent example is not a tall building though it does push at the height restrictions of Islington council development which is the Arsenal development, where something like 15 per cent of the value of the scheme is going back into the community in terms of range of support for child care, health facilities and open space and so on. If we had 15 per cent of the profit of Centrepoint or Millbank Tower ploughed into the surrounding areas, they would be very different schemes.

Chris Grayling

  285. If you look at Canary Wharf and some of the most successful tall buildings in the United States, they tend not to have open space underneath. Is there a danger that the desire to promote inclusion politically will mean that the attraction of creating a public open space underneath which is available to all might outweigh the fact that there is a danger that those areas become derelict in the way others have done, and you might be better off with a totally enclosed building down to ground level like Canary Wharf or the United States?
  (Mr Livingstone) Well, the base of Heron Tower is enclosed and, when you went to Canary Wharf at the beginning, it was unbelievably bleak. Clearly Canary Wharf is now at that point of critical mass where there are enough people working and shopping there; it had a setback on September 11 because a lot of people went straight home but, as Canary Wharf moves from its present 47,000 employees to 100,000 at the end of the decade, it will be alive and bustling; there will be new housing to be built at Stratford, there will be a much closer commuting zone in the sense that Stratford will be a shopping and housing centre for the people who work at Canary Wharf so it is coming together. It was very badly planned. In America nobody would conceive of starting a project like Canary Wharf before they put the Underground in. They would not come along afterwards.

Mrs Ellman

  286. You told Mrs Dunwoody that people would judge you on tall building at the next mayoral election. Are you seriously saying to us that the next mayoral election will be a referendum on tall buildings?
  (Mr Livingstone) I rather hope it will be a referendum on the government's policy on the Underground myself, but I suspect that Simon Jenkins and many of my critics will make sure it will be an issue, but it will not be the only one. It will be the first time Londoners at the ballot box can affect the way these things happen. All the rest of it has been done in private, in planning committees, more recently they have been open to the public but the public have no real influence on these major decisions. They will now, and I am certain that some of my opponents in the next election will run on a clear commitment to end this policy and that means that Londoners will make a choice themselves that will listen to the economic case. In the same sense that Gwyneth said it is a matter of individual taste, it will be a matter for 7 million Londoners' individual taste about what they want in the City.

  287. It has been suggested that you are being influenced on this policy by people who have their own interest in tall buildings, whether they be developers or architects. What would you say to such criticisms?
  (Mr Livingstone) I would say that one of the reasons it was felt I would be an unsuitable Labour candidate was that I was not controllable, and I followed my own views on far too many things. That is exactly what I have done here. I was born and brought up in this City; I love it and its diversity; I like high buildings. The influence—

Mrs Dunwoody

  288. You like Centrepoint. You have a problem.
  (Mr Livingstone) I was one of those who helped to occupy it 25 years ago when it was left empty—

  289. There you are. You have a real problem!
  (Mr Livingstone) I think it is an attractive landmark building in central London, but these are matters of taste. It is not just taste; there is an economic case. If we set ourselves against this, some of these firms will not come here. London will survive but in a city where you have half a million people virtually permanently out of work, the prospect of half a million new jobs coming in business services, providing we can re-skill people to take these job opportunities, is a huge temptation.

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