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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 210-229)



  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 against them.

Mrs Ellman

  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 have—it has been created—a 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!

Mrs Ellman

  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.

Mrs Dunwoody

  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!

Mr Betts

  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 country—and I have identified some of them in my memorandum—like 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 decisions.
  (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 our environment—

  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.

Mr Betts

  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 saying.

  221. But that is not an argument against tall buildings necessarily.
  (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 ten—fifty 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 tubes?
  (Mr Le Lay) Yes, but our view is that you do not need tall buildings to achieve high densities.

  Chairman : I accept that.

Christine Russell

  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 inquiry.

  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 role—there is not at the moment but there really should be a role—for the Assembly because otherwise at the moment we have a situation where the Greater London Authority—and there is confusion between that and the Greater London Assembly—is 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, Chairman.

  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.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 28 February 2002