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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)




  40. But you do not want more residential accommodation, do you?
  (Ms Mayhew) No, we do not, because that would kill the golden goose, and I think the rest of London might squeal if it did not get our rates.
  (Mr Rees) And because of the building site activity, because you need to put people into residential environments that are good-quality environments, if you have got a world centre which may well be a 24-hour centre in the not too distant future, it is not a very pleasant place to live, immediately juxtaposed.

Mrs Ellman

  41. Do you agree with the guidance issued by CABE and English Heritage on tall buildings?
  (Ms Mayhew) We agreed with the initial guidance, yes; we work very closely and well with CABE. Sometimes we have problems with English Heritage, but those are probably well documented.
  (Mr Rees) As far as it goes; there are only three pages, there is not a lot to get your teeth into.

  42. Does that mean you agree with it, or you do not?
  (Mr Rees) There is not a lot to disagree with, yet. I suspect, if it were worked up, there probably would be quite a lot we would disagree with. As the Chairman has said, we have very fruitful discussions with CABE, and we often have discussions that are fruitful with English Heritage, but not always so; we do have a different agenda.

  43. Most of the evidence you have given us this morning, in support of tall buildings, or what you call medium buildings, is based on economic arguments, yet CABE and English Heritage look at impact on the built environment, as what they call the sole criterion; do you have a problem with that?
  (Ms Mayhew) We have a problem with it if they choose to ignore the economic imperative and do not weigh it up in their considerations, but we have found CABE very sympathetic to economic arguments as well. Someone has to keep the economy of this country going, it is quite an important responsibility, and that is partly our responsibility, to produce wealth for the rest of the country to enjoy; someone has got to do it, and it happens to be our job. And, as we are competing with, I have to say, very tough people from New York, we have got to hold our own in this market, but we have got to do it bearing in mind we have got some of the most important conservation zones in the country, and we balance that. So, yes, we want top-quality buildings, we look at the environmental impact, we want sustainable development, we want lots of public transport, but we have to produce the income for this country to live, it is our responsibility.

  44. Is the interim advice issued by the Mayor satisfactory?
  (Ms Mayhew) Yes; we are quite happy with that, in fact. Except there is one area where they said we could have tall buildings in one of our conservation areas, and we are not quite so happy about that; in fact, if anything, we would restrict that. But, apart from that, yes, we are very happy.

Sir Paul Beresford

  45. Can I go back half a step; you mentioned English Heritage and their response on the economic aspects of buildings and their designs. They have no requirement to look at that; would it be appropriate that they should?
  (Ms Mayhew) Only if they had a lot of economists, surveyors and other professionals seconded to them, because they do not have that expertise in-house. And I do not think it is their role to second-guess what we are doing, because we are talking to people who want buildings, who want to come into our markets, all the time.

  Sir Paul Beresford: But there are occasions when one wonders whether commonsense, rather than slightly economic commonsense, might have changed the mind of English Heritage—

  Mrs Dunwoody: Come now, Sir Paul, you do not equate commonsense with economists?

Sir Paul Beresford

  46. Sometimes; sometimes. And I am not equating it with economists and English Heritage, and some of the English Heritage decisions as well.
  (Ms Mayhew) We have just replied to the brief that was sent by the Government, the consultation document, and English Heritage, and we do feel they should be part of a wider planning process. It is very important that you look at the historical context, that you look at the quality of buildings, but it must be done in the overall context of planning; and I think you get problems once you detach organisations from overall planning decisions, I think it should be a totality, not detached.

Mr Betts

  47. You talked previously about public transport and the situation of the City and it being ideal for that purpose; but is not the reality that public transport is just about at breaking point, at present, and if your intention is to put all these extra offices in this concentrated area, and all the extra people that are going to work there, with no possibility of improving the public transport in the meantime, that is actually going to create worse problems, in terms of overcrowding?
  (Ms Mayhew) Perhaps it is better though to turn the argument round and say, as London is growing by 100,000 a year, and most of that is by immigration, rather than natural growth, and we have to recognise that London is the largest urban area in Europe, then we have to say that it would be best to have them where at least there is some transport infrastructure, rather than no transport infrastructure, because we do not want people getting into cars, we do not like congestion. What we would say is, that is why we have been so strong in pressurising for upgrading of public transport and the development of new lines, because if we are going to have eight million people by 2015 in London we do need more public transport to transport those people. And that is why we have been very strongly supportive of the East London Line, which is a small and inexpensive scheme which we think will do a lot for the East End, but also highly supportive of Crossrail, because we do think we need another east/west crossing in London, particularly linking Paddington, taking the pressure off the Central Line, through to Liverpool Street and out to Stratford, which is a huge, potential new area of development, with very good railway links.

  48. But these are aspirations, are they not, and the reality is you are talking about this planned increase in the growth of accommodation, in a fairly concentrated part of the City, over a ten-year period, and there is not any prospect of significantly improving capacity in public transport in that period, is there?
  (Mr Rees) There are two factors in that. First of all, the problem that has developed in public transport, apart from lack of maintenance, in London is that, as jobs have decentralised, over the last ten or 15 years, from the centre, so people's travel patterns have changed, to the point where fewer people now travel by one mode of transport from home to their work, and a lot more people pass through central London every day on the way to their job. Now that causes congestion at the interchange stations in central London, and that is where the numbers are at breaking point. So the more you can actually concentrate in the centre the less you have to disperse, the simpler the travel pattern becomes, and there is actually very good evidence that you can improve the passenger-carrying of London Underground by nearly 20 per cent by running fewer trains, at the moment. Because they have taken their eye completely off the ball and they are not managing the system, they are running more trains than the system can manage, the signals and the points will not cope in their present state with the numbers that are being run. If you can run slightly fewer trains more regularly, so that they do not bunch together, you can actually improve the flow and improve the capacity.

  49. So the solution to London's traffic problems then is to have more people going into the City and fewer trains taking them there?
  (Ms Mayhew) More regularly, to stop the bunching.
  (Mr Rees) More regularly; and that is the way that the New York Subway was improved, they started by reducing the number of trains to the level that the system could cope with. And that is the first step. I am not saying it is, obviously, the main solution, but it is actually a way of getting onto the ball and getting something going.

  50. Are you completely convinced, therefore, that there is capacity in the public transport system to take to work, in reasonable comfort, with reasonable efficiency, all the extra people that you are going to be providing office accommodation for by this planned growth of tall buildings?
  (Mr Rees) Yes, we are absolutely convinced, provided those people are located in central locations.
  (Ms Mayhew) If we cannot do it, no-one else can, because no-one has got the transport nodes that we have. And we cannot stop people coming to London to work, we cannot say to international immigrants, "You can't come here;" they are going to come here, so we need to accommodate them and we need to accommodate them close to the transport modes. No-one else has got seven main-line stations and 13 Underground stations, with eight different Underground lines; so it makes sense to build on success.

  51. Can I just move on and talk about the residential community; effectively, you have abandoned that now, have you not, you say that you are going to have an area which is just offices, full stop?
  (Ms Mayhew) No, I would dispute that, speaking as a City resident and actually as an elected member that represents residents. We have a resident population of 7,000, that is actually, in one area, the most densely-populated residential area in the country, and that is the Barbican Estate, which I believe is very well run and managed. I look nervously.

  52. But that is it, is it not, you have got what you have got and there is nothing more that you are going to go on for?
  (Ms Mayhew) We have got that; we have got four residential districts in the City. We have our East End residential district, which borders and goes into Tower Hamlets, we have got a group of residents down on the river, where I live, just south of St Paul's, there is a small residential development, and then there is a residential development in the Temples and up in that area, and then the large residential developments in the Barbican and Golden Lane.

  53. But what about affordable housing, for the caretakers, the cleaners, the maintenance people, people who have to do jobs, often with very unsocial hours?
  (Ms Mayhew) We have council estates in the City, both Golden Lane and the Mansell Street Estates; we also have—

  54. But what about more development, you know, a bit of a spin-off from this?
  (Ms Mayhew) We have, if you would let me finish; we do actually have affordable housing in seven other boroughs, and we have done an enormous amount with bodies such as Peabody and other boroughs and other housing associations, including the East London Housing Association, where not only have we built affordable council housing but also currently we are exploring key worker housing, not just key worker housing for public sector workers but key worker housing for private sector, low-paid, private sector. And I think you will see, in the next year or so, some very interesting and imaginative schemes coming out of the City of London to locate key workers in and around the City fringe area.

  55. Do you not see any mixed-use possibilities for any of these tall buildings that we are talking about?
  (Ms Mayhew) I think it is difficult to have mixed use in tall buildings, simply because the City does work 24 hours a day, my law firm works 24 hours a day, routinely the banks work 24 hours a day. It is very difficult to have, in the same building, or even in close proximity, residents who want to enjoy a good night's sleep and offices that are working 24 hours a day; you get noise of deliveries, you get generation noise, you get just noise of people coming and going; people should not be subjected to that. So, in a sense, we are quite lucky that the core of the City has very little residential development. So it means if we do need to dig up the streets we can do it at night, if we want to, without disturbing residents, but without disturbing business people during the day; it does make sense. But we are not, in any way, turning our back on affordable housing or key worker housing, we regard that as hugely important for London's success, but we will work with other agencies to do that in the fringe.


  56. Do you feel that the people who want to put up these tall buildings are actually paying for all the infrastructure that is needed, all the improvements to public transport, and if they were really paying for all the things that were needed they would not want to build at all?
  (Ms Mayhew) No. Certainly, up until now, the City has always used concepts of planning gain to enhance environmental aspects, particularly to make sure that the buildings look nice and are made of high-quality materials. We do pride ourselves on our open spaces, although some of them are quite restricted, and many of the occupiers have been asked to make environmental improvements both to the street scene, to retail development and also to open spaces. But recently we have moved to a point where we are prepared to ask for planning gain from developers to contribute to the development of stations, the enhancement of open spaces, and the like, and, indeed, many developers have gone further; and most of our planning gain is actually spent in the surrounding district, on work traineeship schemes for disadvantaged people nearby, most of the gain should be spent in the surrounding district, that is the appropriate thing.

  57. Now across the country all sorts of industries have sort of reached their peak and built a whole series of buildings which actually have turned out to be obsolete; you do not think that the changing nature of the electronic world means that office space is not going to be needed in anything like the volume, so that you are not just at the end of a great boom and we are going to get a lot of empty buildings?
  (Ms Mayhew) We have been here for a thousand years; we intend to continue for another thousand. I think what is interesting about the City is the redevelopment, that we do get a third of the City rebuilt since 1980, so our obsolescence does not last long, because the value is such that people do redevelop, albeit in sustainable ways.

  58. Seventy-five per cent of the Wren churches are now obsolete?
  (Ms Mayhew) I think, as a Christian, I would dispute that.
  (Mr Rees) And, of course, were tall buildings in their day.
  (Ms Mayhew) They were very tall buildings in their day, if you look at some of the early pictures of London. But they have been put to quite imaginative uses. And I think that is part of our heritage, and we owe it to them to maintain them and look after them; and they are used, they are used for concerts, they are used for a lot of other activities. They are wonderful spaces for people to be able to go to.

  59. So you think these tall buildings that you are so keen on might have a future not as office space?
  (Ms Mayhew) No, I think they will have a future as office space, but they will be redeveloped.

  Chairman: On that note, can I thank you very much for your evidence. Thank you.

Examination of Witness

SIMON JENKINS, Columnist, examined.

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