Examination of Witnesses (Questions 170-189)|
TUESDAY 29 JANUARY 2002
170. Advice which gives you a statutory power
once you have done that analysis?
(Mr Brook) Yes, a framework in which we can very clearly
assess whether something is acceptable or whether it is not acceptable.
Even if we come to a decision which may be right or wrong, it
is quite likely to be challenged at some stage or another along
the line and it is very important that your Inspectorate knows
as much as we do about the way in which government is thinking
on tall buildings.
Sir Paul Beresford
171. But do you not think that, if the Government
come up with guidelines, they become restrictive? The interesting
point about the evidence this morning is that to compare your
two cities is a case of contrast.
(Mr Brook) I think that danger is always there and
a good authority will remain flexible on all these issues like
a good government. However, I do think there has to be a decision
where, if various codes of conduct, if you like, are broken, then
there must be an ability for the community to say that things
are not acceptable.
172. Or are acceptable?
(Mr Brook) Or are acceptable, indeed.
173. Do you have a similar view?
(Mr Brown) It is very clear, as you have just pointed
out, that our situations are very different. I think that is one
of the fundamental difficulties in terms of having an overall
policy, in that it is very good to have a policy that says, this
is how you should judge proposals and these key things are important
and are factors that must be given due weight, such as key views
and that sort of thing. In Birmingham, our situation is one of
having a place where we think tall buildings are appropriate and
it is just the way that our topography works. Bristol's is very
different; the city is in a sort of bowl shape and a complicated
one; the centre of Birmingham is located on a ridge and has clearly
and obviously been the place to put tall buildings right from
the time when it was first built. We are only simply building
on that natural process by having that at the base of our policy.
It would clearly be very useful to have government backing for
the approach but leave the actual detail of where you should and
where you should not put tall buildings in a local context down
to us to analyse and have it enshrined in our local policies.
174. Before we move off this point, can I just
clarify that Bristol are saying that a PPG would be useful on
tall buildings and Birmingham are saying a contrary view. Is that
(Mr Brown) No, not really. I do not think we are saying
that. I suppose that, on the one hand, Birmingham is always keen
to be an independent thinker and player and all the rest of it
and we like to have our own policies.
175. That comes as a surprise!
(Mr Brown) But, on the other hand, as you will know,
the current government guidelines on good urban design are something
which we are supporting; it is very much in line and is built
on some of our work in the process of them being put together.
I am sure that, if the guidelines are in the same sort of spirit,
we would be very happy to see those.
176. Do you mean the sort of spirit in which
you could totally ignore them if you wanted?
(Mr Brown) No.
177. Can I ask you about whether or not you
feel it is appropriate in the current guidance to identify the
zones where tall buildings could be constructed. Would you support
(Mr Brown) It would not be a problem to us in Birmingham
but it might be to somebody else. There are going to be a few
occasions. For example, maybe you have a big and important institution
like a university where having a tall building or a structure
is a part of that university. It might be a very good thing because
it marks that important organisation.
178. It costs Birmingham University a great
deal to maintain the tower, does it not?
(Mr Brown) Yes, that may be true. It is actually not
the only tall building that the university has. There is always
going to be an exception that fights the rule if you look out
for zoning issues. I think you have to have a certain element
of leeway to take things on their merits, but you have to have
very firm guidelines about how you judge those proposals and it
is very much on those people who are putting forward those proposals
to justify that they are of benefit and that it is not simply
a money making exercise or whatever.
179. Mr Brook, can I ask you to talk about the
Bristol view because you seemed to be saying earlier that you
did not want to have tall buildings obliterating the view from
the posh houses in Clifton and overlooking Dundry, but you seemed
to be saying that you were quite happy to have them in Brislington
or that area in eastern Bristol.
(Mr Brook) I think our members would say that the
basis of planning is equal for all people within the planning
authority and I would certainly back that. When I talk about the
views of Dundry, a number of those views are across the south
of Bristol, so it would impact right across the community. I think
our approach is somewhat different. We do not like zonal planning
very much; we tend to very much measure things on a site by site
basis under an umbrella of policies. In terms of the way we would
approach tall buildings, we would look at those areas where there
are sensitive parts of the city where views that tall buildings
would block would actually be unacceptable to us, so that we would
start from the principles of, what are the major aspects of the
city? You must remember that Bristol is a tourist city; we are
the biggest growing tourist city outside of London. We have a
commercial interest in maintaining the current policy as we see
it in the history environment. We would look for those areas which
we do not want to have tall buildings in and then, within those
other areas, we would look at a policy of a site by site assessment
on the impact of those. Our particular issue is creating links,
what we call legibility in the city, and it may well be that some
tall buildings in certain areas of the east and south could help
create identity and, in those areas, it will be up to the developer
or the master planner to identify whether those will help or hinder
the identity of the scheme they are creating.
180. Could you perhaps help us by identifying
an existing tall buildingit might not be a very tall buildingthat,
in your considered view, already has a negative impact in Bristol
and maybe Birmingham could be thinking of the same.
(Mr Brook) There is an area around our big shopping
area which is part of the old castle; there was a tall building
built there at the end of the 1970s called Castle Meads which
isand this is a public hearinga pretty disgraceful
building. We would dearly like to see it demolished.
Sir Paul Beresford
181. Is it English Heritage listed yet?
(Mr Brook) English Heritage share our view on this.
Our view there is that, when these buildings come to the end of
their lifeand this one is one of those purple concrete
jobs with bronze claddingwe would seek to try to encourage
the developer to look at a high density. It could be replaced
with similar densities which again could actually make an economic
argument, but it would reduce the impact of this particular development
against the skyline of the ancient castle site of Bristol.
182. What about Birmingham? Do you have any
aesthetically unpleasing buildings that you would like to identify?
(Mr Brown) Quite a few, yes. I suppose the most obvious
one is that we have a tall building that belongs to the National
Westminster Bank right in the heart of the city centre which is
generally thought to be a fairly poor building in terms of the
way it looks and it is not a particularly good building in the
way that it works for the bank. We have been having discussions
with them about demolishing it and replacing it with a very different
building which would not actually be particularly tall.
183. Can I go on to ask you about public consultation.
Mr Brook, you have spoken about your members being unhappy with
certain things. What about the people of Bristol? Have you gone
out and done any consultation with the people of Bristol as to
what their views are on tall buildings? For instance, I am not
sure at what stage the planning application for Temple Meads is
but has it progressed far enough for the public to be able to
have their say already on it?
(Mr Brook) I have not been involved in that particular
application; I have been involved more on the western side of
the city at Harbourside which is one of my responsibilities. Members
are very keen on consultation over a broad range especially for
major development sites. Our policy is to request that consultation
is carried out by the developer initially but that is validated
as being by respected professionals and that that view will be
presented as part of a planning application when it is submitted.
Obviously within a planning application there is the statutory
consultation which occurs and it is a question of the length and
the breadth of that consultation that is necessary and we do encourage
developers to either have models on display or to have displays
which they can take around to the city; so that it is not just
looking at a particular area but there is a broad breadth of views
that are gathered across the whole of the city. I think the difficulty
with modern design, however you perceive itand we encourage
creativity and innovation and we want to see changeis that
you still have to evaluate people's responses to that change and
unfortunately people do not like to see things change and really
the members have to take a view about what the community is saying
and take a view about what potential there is for investing in
the city and come to a view on it and often that is difficult.
184. I think your colleague would like to add
(Mr Torkildsen) Last summer, we conducted a city-wide
consultation exercise to inform alterations to our development
plan and some interesting comments were thrown out during that
period. In particular, there was a fear about tall buildings and
the proposals coming forward and inquiries for quite dramatic
scale buildings in the city. The feeling was that there was concern
that there was a lack of clarity in terms of local policy and
national guidance on tall buildings. I think that is quite a relevant
point in this respect. We feel locally that we have the criteria
to be able to judge the suitability of the buildings in terms
of height. However, out there in the wider concern, there is a
concern and a real concern about that. We had to do something
about that locally, perhaps making our guidance somewhat more
explicit, providing that reassurance, but I think likewise there
is the opportunity for government to give that clarity as well.
185. It is a question of consultation. How far
do you give any votes to the people who might be in the new building?
(Mr Torkildsen) To the people who occupy the building?
(Mr Torkildsen) A difficult one.
187. The trouble with consultation is that it
is geared to the people who object in a sense rather than the
people who might benefit from it because you cannot identify at
the particular time you are consulting the people who would benefit
(Mr Torkildsen) Not necessarily. We do have partnership
arrangements with the business community within the city to ensure
that their views are taken on board about opportunities that they
perhaps missed. So it is not purely a reactionary consultation
exercise; we do look very positively about the opportunity for
the city. We have as well conducted research and then we look
at the surveys that are conducted about how occupants of tall
buildings perceive that accommodation and how they feel about
working or living in those buildings. Going back to comments made
earlier about who would be the appropriate occupants of the building,
I think if people have the choice and they can decide whether
they want to live in a tall building or not, it makes a great
deal of difference about whether they want to be there or not.
Sir Paul Beresford
188. Have you done any research to see if there
had been an attitude change? I can think of Battersea Power Station
where there was an absolute uproar about a big build and now,
if you try to take a brick out of it, there is a scream.
(Mr Torkildsen) I think you are right, there has been
a change in attitude towards tall buildings.
189. A positive one?
(Mr Torkildsen) Yes, I think so. There have been certain
people who have always enjoyed living in tall buildings, for example
down at the Barbican, and I can think of other examples as well
across the country.