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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 250-269)



  250. What is the actual evidence that more office space of the type you are talking about needed in central London has to be provided by tall buildings? Where is the evidence for that, rather than anecdotal comments?
  (Mr Livingstone) It is a mixture. As I said, we will have something of the order of 15-20 tall buildings over the next 15 years and, if they are a million square feet each, we are talking 15-20 million square feet of office space. We are talking just in the Thames Gateway contained within London of 65 million square feet of developable space over the next 15 years, so it is part of it. Most of what comes will be medium rise or low rise and we will consciously try and encourage the development of other centres such as Croydon, where we can at places like Harrow and individual small clusters of offices around London, but there is a clear, driven-by-economic-forces desire that these firms locate towards the centre and for many of them what they want to see, with that million square feet of space, is a concentration of all their entire headquarters facilities in one place on the globe. I am glad they are coming here. The City Corporation is in discussions with, I think, half a dozen or more firms that are thinking of re-locating over the coming years.

  251. The research that the Greater London Authority has commissioned, and we have a report in front of us of the research as it is at the moment, does draw attention to the impact of globalisation and talks about whole sectors—information technology in particular—possibly moving away from London to India and to other places. Would that have any impact on your plans?
  (Mr Livingstone) It will, clearly. Some work currently being done in London will eventually move to places like India. What has happened, and this is where globalisation has transformed London, is that over the last 15 years New York and London and Tokyo emerged as the three great financial centres and my fear would be, if, say, you had a Mayor who was going to have a blanket ban on rejecting all of these buildings, they will eventually locate somewhere else in Europe. Clearly, in this third of the world, London, in this band of time zones, is the financial centre but Frankfurt, Paris and perhaps Berlin would all be quite happy to take that off us with devastating consequences—not just for London but for the whole national economy.

  252. How tall is a tall building?
  (Mr Livingstone) Well, I would have been quite happy if Renzo Piano's tower which is under consideration for London Bridge had been the original 90 storeys. Because of flightpaths over London, I do not think you get much over about 65. That is the restriction but, if there is the capacity to build to that height and it fits the site and adds to the overall benefit of London, I would not have a restriction, but effectively, whereas up until now the tallest office building has been of the order of the Nat West Tower, 42 storeys, you could easily go up to 60 without problems.

  253. Are tall buildings the only way to find the provide the space that you think is required?
  (Mr Livingstone) I think you could clearly provide this accommodation in medium rise and low rise buildings. The real problem then of being able to do that in the area where clearly these firms wish to locate, either Canary Wharf or the north east corner of the City Corporation, is there is a limit to how much ground-hugging building you can get in any one place without completely removing any available open space for the local community and our problem is, and it is a problem vis-a-vis our major competitors, that the total occupancy cost of office space in London is twice that of New York: it is twice to three times that of our major European rivals; and, therefore, what we clearly have got in London is a problem of supply. Far be it from me to argue the realities of the market but, if we have the problem of cost, we need to increase the supply.


  254. It might be expensive to supply it so it might not bring the cost down.
  (Mr Livingstone) Where we are talking about tall buildings, very often we are talking about a statement for a particular corporation. In the same way that many—

  255. Wait a minute, you were telling us it was the economic cost and it was too expensive and you needed to bring the market down. That is a very different argument to the argument that they want a prestige building and will pay anything for it?
  (Mr Livingstone) But there are two factors here. We have to provide an increase in office space to accommodate half a million new jobs over the next 15 years. The vast majority of that will not be high rise buildings and it is a decision by the board of a corporation whether they want to spend the extra and have a good quality architect produce a landmark building which will go high, whereas they might get something cheaper, and certainly would get it cheaper if they located it in Croydon.

Mrs Ellman

  256. I am still not clear what is really motivating you. Is it to do with needing more space and believing it can only be done by tall buildings, or is it to do with one of the other reasons you cite in your list, what you believe are the advantages that clusters can bring to London skyline?
  (Mr Livingstone) Whilst you can have an individual landmark building over something like a major rail termini that can stand alone providing the architecture justifies it, what we clearly are seeing market forces drive us towards is a cluster of tall buildings in the north east corner of the city around Bishopsgate and Liverpool Street, and the firms that will locate there will largely be headquarters firms for great international corporations: they seem to want to be able to cluster together. Part of my strategy is, through the creation of the Crossrail project, you will create a rail link between that and Canary Wharf which means it is five minutes from one cluster to another, so you do not get the problem of post-war New York of mid-town Manhattan and Wall Street being seen as rivals—if one is going up, the other is going down. It is driven by the demand of those corporations, therefore. If we take Swiss Re Tower, if the City Corporation had refused that I think Swiss Re would have gone to another European city to build in. It would not have come back with a low rise development.

  257. What is the evidence for that?
  (Mr Livingstone) Well, the fact that the City Corporation is in negotiation with firms that want to come here and want to locate. There would be some speculative building—Heron Tower is speculative in that sense—but most of these developments have a client identified from the beginning.

Christine Russell

  258. I am still quite confused because you started off by applauding the good work done by Lord Rogers and your task force, and one of the key findings of that group was that tall buildings are not necessary in order to meet high density. So my question to you really is this: why are you not getting that message over to these inward financial potential investors saying, "Look at Kensington; look at the density of those wonderful Victorian, Georgian terraces and squares; look at Paris, you can have an attractive headquarters here in London, built to a very high density"? Are you doing that or saying that?
  (Mr Livingstone) No. The position is you could not get the concentration of office accommodation in that sector around Liverpool Street and Bishopsgate by low-rise developments.

  259. But I think we were told last week that that is what is happening at Paddington. They have lowered the buildings and, in fact, the density is going to be just as great.
  (Mr Livingstone) The Paddington development pre-dates my arrival on the screen but Mr Dolphin was the predecessor organisation, LPAC.
  (Mr Dolphin) The Paddington building designed by Lord Rogers in his private capacity has been reduced in height at Westminster City Council's insistence. It has resulted in a scheme with roughly the same amount of floor space but laid out differently. I think it probably lacks the spaciousness that the taller building allowed. You gain and you lose if you raise or lower the height. In terms of densities generally, can I make a comment on Paris? Paris certainly has high residential densities, vastly higher in the core of Paris than anything in London, but in terms of commercial density Paris has had to almost export its office development out to the periphery, to places like La Defense where they build tall. They cannot build and get the density they want in ground-hugging buildings so, even in Paris, they have to build skyscrapers, which many people claim to be disfiguring the famous view along the Champs Elysees but that is Paris' problem. London is different from Paris; it is much more flexible; and the view the Mayor has taken is that London is able to accommodate tall buildings in certain places without damaging the character of London.

  260. So what you are saying is we have to accept tall buildings for commercial use but not for residential?
  (Mr Livingstone) I would be quite happy to consider tall buildings for residential use but my experience as chair and vice chairman of various housing committees in London in the 1970s is that, unless you put in the management support and build for real quality, they turn out to be a disaster. You cannot go for the cheapest lift if you are putting in a residential block. You have to have a concierge at the bottom; you have to have skilled housing management to make sure you do not put a concentration of families with particular needs that makes the project become very unattractive very rapidly, so you could do it. Certainly when I move around Paris or Madrid, I do not get a feeling of oppression. You get these incredibly dense areas in terms of occupation but they have got it right, and the residential developments we had in the 1960s and 1970s did not.

Mr Betts

  261. You were arguing the case for headquarters of major companies and if they want to go higher and have a prestige building we have to accommodate them or they go elsewhere, but that is not the argument for developments the city were arguing for last week where there are multi-occupiers of high rise buildings. In these circumstances would you be slightly more reserved about your support for a high rise?
  (Mr Livingstone) There are differences between myself and the City Corporation. They have set their face against mixed use developments of residential and office which I think works particularly well in New York and I regret that, but I am in a position where I can direct refusal a project that comes up. I cannot grant permission for one that the borough or the council or the City Corporation does not want.


  262. You have a few powers of negotiation, have you not?
  (Mr Livingstone) What is tending to happen is developers are coming to Giles' team at an early stage, often before they have gone to the initial authority, to get a strategic steer and to see the way that their development might fit into our overall strategic plans for London.

  263. But surely, if you wanted to use your veto and told the City of London they have got to put some residential into their blocks, they would take a bit of notice, would they not?
  (Mr Livingstone) Broadly I try not to interfere in what the lower tier planning authorities are doing. I think I have seen 350 schemes and have directed refusal in about ten, largely where green belt is being taken. I aim to try and negotiate, and we have had some success in getting improved affordable housing in a lot of developments but the city has created a pattern which, frankly, it is most probably too late to change. I would be delighted if some of the towers coming forward in the Bishopsgate/Liverpool Street area had a residential element, but I am not in a position to insist on that.

Mr Betts

  264. Are you going to look less favourably on high rise developments which are there for multioccupied use, and are not about a large corporation going to another city somewhere else if London does not accommodate them?
  (Mr Livingstone) My job is to ensure we secure our premier position in this third of the world as a financial centre and not endanger that. I have to say as well that it seems that, when a developer is coming forward with a tall building, they have a good architect. If I was being more free with my directions to refuse it would be for medium and low-rise proposals, which seems to have been built with less imagination. I think any architect or developer, knowing they are going to be talking 40 to 60 storeys, knows they have to have a damn fine scheme or it is going to be rejected. I wish the same thinking was there with those people coming up with groundhuggers.

  265. The interim guidance that you have put forward on tall buildings seems to conflict again with what the City were arguing for last week. They were arguing for clusters which I think you support, but you also go on to argue that there may be a case for pepperpotting, single individual tall buildings around the place, which the City said they thought clusters were meant to avoid. Can you justify that? We can see the argument for clusters, but why pepperpotting?
  (Mr Livingstone) The City Corporation is there to fight for City Corporation. My job is to take a broader, London-wide view, and therefore I want maximum development across London, and I would like to spread it a bit farther than around the City Corporation. I have, therefore, been particularly keen to encourage developments at Canary Wharf and will do so at Stratford and at Elephant & Castle where it comes along. Those are all clusters but it does seem to me, where you have a major rail terminus so that people can get to their work by public transport, then that justifies a building providing it is of sufficient quality.

  266. So is it just rail termini?
  (Mr Livingstone) Bus termini do not get the sort of turnaround that would allow that. Paddington could have sustained a higher density; Victoria, where I think height impacts on the historic areas around, militates against too high a building. I think the proposals for Victoria Station mostly come in at about 20 storeys. It depends on where you are in London. If I was the Mayor of Paris and had inherited a city designed by one person, Haussmann, clearly fitting a pattern, one would have to say that tall buildings were out, but that is not the city we have. We have a city that has developed much more organically and unplanned, and it has diversity. To have a cluster of tall buildings in the middle of Westminster would be totally unacceptable. I look forward to the demolition of the Marsham Street Towers which are horrendous and totally destroy the view of Parliament from the South Bank and the Thames.

Mrs Dunwoody

  267. Before you leave that topic, some of the evidence you have been getting is that your office space calculations are based largely on financial services, and there is a warning notice that if anything goes wrong with them we are in trouble. They have also got rather dismissive comments about the decisions of financial firms to move; you say they like the cluster but you also have evidence from the people working for you that there are other problems—they do not want to be in areas like Croydon, about which there are some cruel comments, and there are other difficulties. Are you really saying that, firstly, you are convinced that you are going to need all this extra office space and, secondly, that the densities cannot be achieved in the places which still have space including, according to you, "Smithfields . . . City & General . . . total residential space . . . over 9 million spare feet which could generate a gain in the order of 6 million square feet". Now, before you tell me that there is a caveat in here saying, "Do not believe a word of it because it is not finished", this is the evidence on which presumably you are taking decisions?
  (Mr Livingstone) Well, I would be delighted if there was a desire in the business community not to cluster—

  268. No. Are you taking all your decisions only on the basis of financial services?
  (Mr Livingstone) Financial and business services. The reality I have had to accept is that the London economy has been transformed in 25 years. Manufacturing has gone and, if I was to stop the development of business services, nothing else would be in its place.

  269. I think which have heard that, Ken. Are you also saying that Canary Wharf and the City are not going to work together and that, for example, the site at Bishopsgate goods yard will not be suitable because financial services firms have reservations about being close to deprived wards in London?
  (Mr Livingstone) I am certain that Bishopsgate will produce a landmark building and it is sufficiently close to Liverpool Street to be part of that Liverpool Street cluster. I would like it if a lot of firms wished to relocate to Croydon so you reduce the pressure on people travelling into central London—

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