Examination of Witnesses (Questions 210-229)|
TUESDAY 29 JANUARY 2002
210. So you would have it down?
(Mr Le Lay) I am afraid we would, yes. To clarify,
I think there seems to be emerging a general consensus that because
there are existing tall buildings in what I would call the three
Cs, the City of London, Canary Wharf and Croydon, tall buildings
could go in those locations, subject of course to the preserved
views of St Paul's. I think that is something that we could support.
As a general rule, we are against tall buildings but, where they
have been established in definite clusters in those three locations,
they could be permitted. In other words, what we are looking for
is a clear policy that says where tall buildings will be acceptable
and where they will not, but we would like there to be a presumption
211. Are there any particular problems that
tall buildings create for the local environment?
(Mr Le Lay) Yes, they do. There is obviously overlooking
and overshadowing. All buildings have a presence, all buildings
overshadow, but where you have buildings all of a general height,
the effect of overshadowing and overlooking is sort of fragmented
and minimised. Where you have very tall buildings which are surrounded
by a much lower development, you do have grave problems of overlooking
and of people on the ground feeling threatened by others looking
down on them. There is one building which I know is very dear
to Sir Paul's heart which is the Montivetro building next to Battersea
Church and there you haveit has been createda public
park but it could be somebody's private garden. As it happens,
it is a public park. You have wall to wall glazing of exactly
100 living rooms overlooking this park and you can see absolutely
everything that is going on inside and the worst thing is that
they can see you. So, in a way, tall buildings are threatening.
Sir Paul Beresford
212. You have picked the one tall building that
I can think of immediately that actually enhances the church and
was designed to do so.
(Mr Le Lay) That is a matter of opinion!
213. It has been suggested to us that the faults
of the 1960s would not be repeated in the design of tall buildings
if they were to happen again. Do you have any views on that?
(Mr Tugnutt) I do because when the first rash of tall
buildings were erected in London and certainly in the city, they
were erected under plot ratio controls and therefore that meant
that there was a limit set and that limit was set not only in
terms of controlling bulk and height but also controlling employment
and that clearly goes to the concerns that have already been expressed
about the implications for the transportation infrastructure.
So, in a way, they were ahead of where we appear to be now, but
that was actually a factor that was taken into account. One of
the benefits is that that resulted in not having full site cover.
For instance, there is a current application with the City Corporation
on Draper's Gardens which the Mayor refers to in his interim strategic
guidance and that building is being significantly lowered. The
impact which it has on St Paul's will be entirely repaired. Yet,
the developer is being able to get more space on a site in a lower
building than he has at the moment, and I think Mr Powell made
the same point about the Marsham Street Towers in evidence last
week. Virtually all the towers constructed of that time have the
ability because they do not have full site cover to actually reform
the floor space in an economically viable way because clearly
you cannot go to a property developer and say, "We do not
like your building, we want it lower and, by the way, you are
going to lose floor content." That is not going to be attractive.
However, if you can say that you are going to have new higher
specification floor space in a different format which conforms
to modern requirements and at the same time we can achieve that
reduction in height, that is how we can repair some of the damage
of those badly sited towers.
(Mr Le Lay) If I might add, in all the various memoranda
that have been placed before you, it is said in many of those
instances that, if we are to achieve the high densities that are
needed, in order to preserve the countryside, in our cities, we
can only do it by building tall. I would ask you to ruthlessly
strike out every statement that is made along those lines because
it is a lie. All the research that has ever been done shows that
the most economical way of achieving high densities is by means
of streets and squares as you find in London. In fact, this is
demonstrated by the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea
which is built to the highest residential densities of anywhere
in the country and it has very few tall buildings. It is made
up of seven storey mansion blocks, streets of houses and squares
which I would say is in a way more egalitarian because one of
the troubles with tall buildings is that it makes some people
important. Even the elegant squares of Kensington and Chelsea
have a certain egalitarian atmosphere to them.
214. You will have difficulty convincing us
of that! It is an interesting thought.
(Mr Le Lay) All the houses are the same.
Mrs Ellman: I do not think our remit today is
to question you on that one!
Sir Paul Beresford
215. Your description is such that there are
some of us who would feel that it needs one or two tall buildings
to sit off the others.
(Mr Le Lay) To lower the tone, do you mean?
Mrs Dunwoody: Luckily, we do not take Sir Paul's
judgment on taste!
216. What you seem to be saying is, "It
might be all right in certain circumstances, but not in our area".
(Mr Tugnutt) I think that is right but I think it
is very important that it should be a conscious decision rather
than identifying view corridors and have generally worded guidance
because, if people can see a loophole or the circumstances are
favourable politically, then they will see a chink and go for
it and I do not blame them for doing that and I think that is
where we can end up with errant decisions. For instance, I think
that the Baltic Exchange decision could be regarded as such a
case where people saw an opening and they went for it, and so
we are going to get the erotic gherkin. I do not think that is
in the interest of good planning or in the interest of London
as a whole.
217. Can I pick up on this issue of guides?
We have measured already the need for some government intervention.
Is that because you think there should be national guidance for
the whole country, or you think there should be a national guidance
because London needs it as the capital city, or because you do
not like the mayor and would rather someone else gave the guidance?
(Mr Tugnutt) I think there are urban areas in the
countryand I have identified some of them in my memorandumlike
Bath and Chester and other very important historic areas where
we should be able to say with confidence that tall buildings will
not be acceptable, and I think a statement of that kind probably
needs to come from central government so that it does have that
authority. People put in planning applications and they subsequently
appeal decision refusals, and I think it is important that the
government does have that national role. Clearly there is a local
role as well but, because of the impact of high buildings and
the sense in which they can become irreversible for generations,
I think it is a broader issue than more locally-based decisions
Sir Paul Beresford
218. Do you not think that is a rather disparaging
criticism of local government? The way you are talking, these
particular local authorities might be local but not government,
and there is the safeguard of English Heritage, et cetera. What
you are effectively doing is centralising decisions, and not allowing
the local people to elect their local councils to make the local
(Mr Tugnutt) If I can take up the point about English
Heritage, they have come in for a lot of criticism regarding their
intervention in the Heron case, but at the inquiry they were putting
forward the problems with transport and overcrowding as well as
their historic building remit; you did not hear that evidence
from the City Corporation or the Mayor of London.
(Mr Le Lay) I am interested to hear that Sir Paul
thinks that English Heritage is a sort of bastion of preserving
219. I have distinct opinions on English Heritage,
and that is not one of them!
(Mr Le Lay) There is, for example, a proposed new
development right on the Chelsea riverside, opposite to Montivetro,
it having set a precedent, for buildings of 25 and 39 storeys,
right on the river, Chelsea Reach, the famous view that inspired
so many of Turner's paintings, and English Heritage have given
it their approval.
220. On transport, one of the arguments you
use is that the problem of transport capacity is a reason for
not having tall buildings, yet in a way in Chelsea you have just
argued that you have very high levels of density at lower height
levels. Does that not really contradict the argument that tall
buildings are difficult because they will concentrate more people
in an area and, therefore, create more transport difficulties?
(Mr Le Lay) I think Mr Tugnutt was referring to the
1960s rather than the present day. If we are going to have higher
densities in our cities, which I think is generally agreed, what
has to go with that is better public transport. That goes without
221. But that is not an argument against tall
(Mr Le Lay) No.
(Mr Tugnutt) In London Underground's memorandum they
talk about the lead-in time for improvements, up to ten years,
and then they are talking about having a fixed idea about the
demand they are going to have to meet. Given the overcrowding
that already exists and which those of us who use the system experience,
the idea that you are going to then add another ten million square
feet of office space in the City, at the very heart of the network,
is hardly a safe, or sustainable course of action for the longer-term.
Mr Betts: That is an argument against more people
in a given area, not necessarily against tall buildings. You could
have the same argument about higher density lower level buildings.
Sir Paul Beresford
222. It is also an argument against the quality
that is claimed for London Transport. In other words, London Transport
could be better and overcome the problem. It is not an argument
against a tall building.
(Mr Tugnutt) But it is going to take a considerable
amount of time before we get the necessary improvements in the
capacity of the tube system to begin to cope with current levels
of overcrowding, never mind a massive increase in passengers that
would result from the tenfifty or sixty storey towers,
actively promoted by Judith Mayhew in the City.
223. So you can have tall buildings but not
tomorrow. It has to be in ten years' time, when you build the
(Mr Le Lay) Yes, but our view is that you do not need
tall buildings to achieve high densities.
Chairman : I accept that.
224. Could I move you on to the accountability
issue, because certainly Bloomsbury has mentioned and criticised
the Mayor's perceived failure to consult with the GLA. Would you
like to comment on whether or not you think that the consultation
which has to go on over the London Plan will not overcome your
fears or reservations about lack of public accountability and
lack of consultation?
(Mr Tugnutt) In the recently issued Green Paper the
government talks about regional government being the appropriate
body to produce plans because they are democratically accountable.
I am not sure that the procedures for scrutinising the Mayor's
plan are going to be the same as for a development plan. I do
not believe there is going to be a full public inquiry. There
is going to be an examination in public but not a full public
225. So do you feel the people are not going
to have a legitimate voice and an opportunity to have their say?
Are you critical of the examination in public procedures?
(Mr Tugnutt) I am not sure of the details but I believe
that there must be a rolethere is not at the moment but
there really should be a rolefor the Assembly because otherwise
at the moment we have a situation where the Greater London Authorityand
there is confusion between that and the Greater London Assemblyis
a committee of one and I do not believe that is terribly democratic,
albeit that the Mayor was directly elected.
226. So who should decide?
(Mr Tugnutt) I believe that really it should be for
the Assembly members to have the final say, rather than having
a scrutiny role. I believe they should finally approve the plan
rather than the Mayor, who has obviously this very close relationship
with the City Corporation, particularly in regard to the issue
of high buildings, because I do not think any of us who may have
voted for the Mayor envisaged that he would take that stance.
We are getting the situation in London now where a local authority
in response to objections from local residents has sought to achieve
a reduction in the height of a tall building, and the Mayor is
threatening that authority with a direction to refuse because
of the reduction in height, and I do not believe that is a correct
use of the Mayor's planning powers where he attempts to override
local opposition. Whether new space is provided in the form of
tall buildings or groundscrapers can hardly be a strategic matter.
227. Can you tell us which one this is?
(Mr Tugnutt) I believe it is a case in Westminster,
228. You cannot give us the exact location?
(Mr Tugnutt) No.
Chairman: If you can give us a note afterwards,
that would be helpful.
Sir Paul Beresford
229. Your position really is a form of nimbyism
on mayors. If you like the mayor and he suits what you are willing
to say, that is fine. If he does not, you do not like the mayor.
(Mr Le Lay) But one could take the view that the present
situation we have shows a flaw in the system we have adopted that
we have time to rectify, which is what we are asking you to do.