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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-139)



Christine Russell

  120. But, speaking as a professional planner, if a few rogue planning decisions got through for tall buildings, would you prefer them to be pepperpotted or in clusters?
  (Mr Powell) I think that depends upon which part of London you are talking about. Clearly, if one is looking at the north-east corner of the City Corporation for London then you have a concentration where clustering is appropriate, Docklands is a cluster location, and I think Croydon was mentioned earlier as a cluster location. Clustering in areas such as Richmond or Westminster, or areas which do not, in fact, have that type of more modernistic urban fabric, would be inappropriate. So, for us, in Westminster, which is not what we would advocate for everybody else in London, we are more likely to see an isolated form of development as opposed to a cluster form of development.

  121. What about Bath? I think, in your memorandum, obviously, you did not want either; but, again, if you have to accept them, what would be appropriate in Bath's case?
  (Ms Wilkinson) If we are talking about 20 storeys plus, I would have thought the City infrastructure probably could handle only one of those.

  122. If you were more modest in Bath, if it were six to ten storeys, what would you do with them, would you put them in a cluster or dot them around the City?
  (Ms Wilkinson) I think they would have to be in a group, as distinct from a cluster; and then I think it is very much down to, going back to the point made previously, the precise characteristics of the site that we are dealing with. And this goes back to a proper contextual analysis, at day one, by the design team, which I have also set down in my submission to you; the design team should include a number of professionals, looking at all aspects of the way the group relate to their immediate neighbours, their medium-distance neighbours and from further afield. And I think they will be grouped by the very nature and availability of land in Bath, the only two developments sites left in the City will force them into a group; it is then a question of how that is actually elevated, in design terms. And currently we are discussing a very large riverside development site with the very aim in mind, to look at the appropriate grouping of buildings.


  123. With the appropriate grouping, but how tall?
  (Ms Wilkinson) At the moment, the proposal is for nothing higher than eight storeys; that is still subject to debate, and it is over a large site, and we are looking at views and vistas, in a smaller way but in exactly the same way as the urban conurbations.

Christine Russell

  124. Mr Powell, can I move you on to transport, because a number of the submissions have dwelt on transport factors, but I do not think there is much in your memorandum about transport. So the question I would like to ask you is, what has been your experience of large-scale developments vis-a"-vis public transport capacity?
  (Mr Powell) Public transport is absolutely essential to any significant increase in density, as far as commercial or residential development in the urban context, and, for us, in Westminster, we have extensive first-hand experience. At Paddington, where we have three million square feet of offices coming out of the ground, that is very closely linked to redevelopment of Paddington Station and its relationship with the rest of the Thames Valley; we are moving on to looking at the development opportunities for the Victoria Station area. And, similarly, the experience in both of those cases is that creating an integrated transport exchange, which, notwithstanding the apparent consolidation of transport thinking under TfL, still has not been delivered, buses do not talk to the Underground, which does not talk to the railways, in a collegiate way, so the role of the local authority, in terms of playing matchmaker, becomes absolutely crucial in that, has meant that often we end up spending more time working with co-ordinating the transport solutions to major office development opportunities than actually determining the office development application itself. So they are indivisible, inextricably linked.

  125. So you are saying, in your view, that high-density, new office concentrations, and residential, too, should be focused on and around transport interchanges?
  (Mr Powell) In the urban fabric, yes, we believe that is the case.

  126. What about Oxford Circus, with the Underground exchange; is there scope there?
  (Mr Powell) No, because the Oxford Circus area, which, of course, is heavily retail at the moment, we would not see as a high buildings location, in fact, it does not lend itself to that, for a variety of reasons.
  (Ms MacQueen) If I could just add, it takes you back to the context issue. It is a risky venture to say that just because there is a transport interchange that means there should be a tall building, if you take out the context aspect of the argument. Because, clearly, almost every Underground station, quite a few in Westminster have got cross points there, Bond Street would be another, Marble Arch would be another, and these would not be locations for tall buildings because most of them are in conservation areas surrounded by listed buildings, and there is a scale issue there.


  127. But, presumably, there is also an issue about how many people you can squeeze through a tube station, in that sort of coming to work two hours and going home two hours, is there not?
  (Ms MacQueen) Absolutely; that is part of the benefit of the Paddington scheme, that part of the planning obligation, the gains that are being wrought from that, specifically are being fed into transport improvements, which will arrive before the bulk of the commuters arrive.

  128. And you are confident that enough people can be squeezed through the tube at Paddington for redevelopment?
  (Mr Powell) We certainly would not describe enhanced integrated transport as squeezing travellers; in fact, that is exactly what we would not want to do.

  129. It feels a bit like being squeezed, does it not?
  (Mr Powell) It may well do, at the moment, and that is why we are planning to produce an integrated policy which avoids squeezing for the future.

  130. Very quickly; how far should tall buildings make a contribution to residential accommodation? If we are actually going to have a much better, joined-up, urban environment, is it not better for a lot of people to walk to work? Now, given the amount of office accommodation there is in Westminster, is there not an argument for some tall or some medium-size buildings for residential accommodation in Westminster?
  (Mr Powell) Our experience is that the density argument behind tall buildings does not, in fact, certainly in the Westminster case, bear scrutiny; that, with low-rise, dense development, we are able to achieve the same densities that high-rise may achieve, given the specific design considerations that you have. So, whilst, yes, we support 100 per cent the increase in repopulation, the urban renaissance concept of increasing residential population, and, as we said in our evidence, we have been the most successful London borough in doing that, and, depending upon how you measure it, we are certainly in the top two, if not the leader, in terms of affordable housing for central London, but that is not dependent upon tall buildings, we have done it over the last decade and we have done it without tall buildings.

Christine Russell

  131. Could I just ask something on that. You obviously heard the evidence earlier from the City of London; so you have no experiences in Westminster of that conflict that we were being told about by Judith Mayhew, of 24-hour working and everyone wanting to dig up the streets and repair the buildings late at night?
  (Mr Powell) I think we are dealing with a different urban fabric, clearly; there is a limited area within the square mile which Judith Mayhew was referring to. We have extensive experience of the problems of the 24-hour city, particularly with regard to the interface between residential and entertainment industry, for the West End; and so there are tremendous tensions that do need to be resolved, but they can be resolved through design, and high-rise is not a panacea to solve those problems.


  132. If there is so much demand for new office accommodation within Westminster, why has it taken so long to get rid of Marsham towers?
  (Mr Powell) I think you will have to ask your colleagues in Government; that is a Government development. But I am reminded of the old Samuel Pepys quote, when he was working at Deptford, in the victualling yards, `There are none that pay so much for their ships as the King;' it always takes Government much longer to do things.

  Mrs Dunwoody: Mind you, he was one of the contributory factors.


  133. Should it be easier to knock down tall buildings?
  (Mr Powell) Certainly, at Marsham Street, we have consented the demolition, and, certainly, as far as possible, we have given `God speed' to having that fall down; interestingly enough, with a greater density in the redevelopment than the towers that will disappear.

  134. And, the redevelopment, will that be a tall building?
  (Mr Powell) It will not be a tall building, in fact, it is a lower building with a greater density on the site.

  135. A groundscraper?
  (Mr Powell) Yes, a groundscraper.

  136. Now what about this question of protecting views? Westminster have got two protected views, is it? Is it a good idea to have, in a development plan, protected views?
  (Mr Powell) We believe protected views are a good idea for London. If one reflects back on the planning history of the original introduction of the ten primary protected views in London, of course, at that time, we were anticipating the expansion of protected views and that this would be part of a rolling programme and moving forward, and that, indeed, there will be compensation issues.

  137. That is really what I am trying to find out; were they something that was a lot more trouble than they were worth?
  (Mr Powell) We believe that they have not been more trouble than they are worth; certainly, our experience, and I think that we have—

  138. But you have not got an expansion of them?
  (Mr Powell) That is true. We have demonstrated, through the development successes of the last decade, that you can work within the constraints of the protected views, and that those protected views do safeguard the quality of heritage and enrich the fabric. And so, therefore, by having the protected lines, actually it strengthens the commercial demand for coming to those areas[2].

  139. Should Bath have protected views?
  (Ms Wilkinson) Bath has got protected views; it is inherent in the way we approach all our planning applications, from great and small, and it is a contextually-based methodology. Any large development requires an environmental impact analysis, that is under the regulations.

2   2 Westminster also has Metropolitan and local views which the UDP policies set out to protect. Such views are and continue to be defined in our Conservation Are Audits. Back

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