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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 290-309)



  290. How many of the people from the boroughs around work in Canary Wharf?
  (Mr Livingstone) Of course they do not and this is the failure of the past. The task I have set my London Development Agency is that over this next decade—what can we do between the government social exclusion unit and the local boroughs, the further and higher education—that core of people in the inner city who virtually drift in and out of casual work at best can get training and skills that allow them to work in these new jobs that are coming. If we can do that we solve a huge social problem. Twenty years ago, when the Labour GLC was elected, it was on the basis of reversing the decline in manufacturing. This is not where I would have started from; it is the world I live in. My task as Mayor is to get the best benefit I can for Londoners out of the huge globalisation forces that are sweeping through the world economy.

  291. How tall would a tall building be to provide a million square feet of office space?
  (Mr Livingstone) You can easily get that in about 40/45 storeys.
  (Mr Dolphin) Yes. It all depends on the floor plates. The original Canary Wharf building is about a million square feet, that sort of order, so you can get it in buildings of that height.

  292. So how many storeys?
  (Mr Dolphin) I cannot remember how many. It is about 800 feet tall.


  293. How far did the Heron inquiry distort your process for producing guidance?
  (Mr Livingstone) We would not have rushed to make the initial statement if we had not had the Heron inquiry.

  294. So you did rush?
  (Mr Livingstone) We had to; this was the problem. There were only ten weeks between the Mayoral election and the GLA having formal legal existence. Normally a local government reorganisation organisation has been eleven months or so. A lot of things had to be rushed and then we found the Heron decision bearing right down on us so it was one of the first I had to take. I had no objection to the building; my only comment to the developer was it seemed to me there could be several more storeys on it.

  295. So what is now the status of this interim guidance? A rushed document and you are hoping to replace it fairly soon?
  (Mr Livingstone) Not rushed in the sense that it is inadequate but we needed to make a statement of what my emerging strategy is in terms of high buildings, both because of the Heron inquiry and because, as I say, we have several other tall buildings coming along which will be up for planning permission before the spatial development strategy has legal force at the end of next year.

Christine Russell

  296. You were talking about democratic accountability. Am I right in assuming that the London boroughs in their local plans have to reflect your London Plan?
  (Mr Livingstone) Yes. Their strategies will have to be brought into accord with mine.

  297. So potentially could that mean that your taste for tall buildings will be imposed on reluctant boroughs like Westminster, who we have taken evidence from?
  (Mr Livingstone) It cannot be imposed because I have no power to grant permission. I can only direct refusal. For example, the Arsenal stadium is absolutely at the limit, which is 30 ms, for a building in Islington. Islington's policy is you cannot build anything over 30 ms anywhere in the borough. The result has been they have created a football stadium where they have had to reverse the roof, so instead of it being a dome it is concave. That means £5 million extra has had to be spent to pump the rainwater that will fall on to it up and out. That is £5 million that could have been spent in the community, or even been extra profit for the developer. To remove that blanket restriction, therefore, will allow some flexibility to Islington in the future but not force them to accept a building they do not like.

  298. No, but will there be pressure that they will have to get rid of this blanket ruling that they have?
  (Mr Livingstone) That would be what I anticipate. I have to say I do not understand the planning logic that says, within artificially drawn political boundaries based on the medieval church boundaries, that is the best way of determining height in a particular part of London.

  299. It is called local accountability, usually. Can I ask you about an issue that was raised by Judith Mayhew last week which is that there may be a difference of view between yourself and the Corporation over the building of tall buildings in conservation areas?
  (Mr Livingstone) I genuinely do not understand the point she was making. We would be very reluctant to build tall buildings in conservation areas.

  300. She did seem to be expressing some reservation.
  (Mr Dolphin) I did not hear what Judith Mayhew said and I am not aware of her point. On the whole it would be difficult to put a tall building in a conservation area but I do not think it would be sensible to have a blanket ban. It may be possible to have a tall building; one judges it on its merits.

Mr Betts

  301. You may not grant planning permission, but there is a way, by forcing a borough to remove its blanket ban on building over a certain height, that could lead to planning permission being granted because, if that ban is not in place, it gets an individual planning application; it then has not got an overall policy which it can apply; and is it not more likely that, if the developer chooses to appeal, the planning inspectorate will grant that planning permission because the borough is operating on an individual position rather than a coherent policy. Is that not one way in which you can influence it?
  (Mr Livingstone) They would then have to provide a justification for refusing it on the fact that there was a blanket ban but this is the point, after a 15 year absence, of having a unified government for London. We could have each borough with its own height restriction. Over a period of time, this would create a most bizarre city where you had buildings drop down or up several storeys as you cross the street. It is much better that there was an overall underlying strategy. My broad view is you should look at each site on its merits. It would be wrong to have a series of specific height restrictions across London just as in one particular borough. Some things will be acceptable on one site, depending on the nature and history of a site and its social composition, that would be different on another site.
  (Mr Dolphin) The London Plan will not just remove a blanket ban; it will put in its place a series of very sophisticated and detailed criteria for judging planning applications and proposals.

Christine Russell

  302. On Victoria, there are different views about whether or not there should be support for clustering tall building around Victoria station?
  (Mr Livingstone) I have not seen any planning application. I know only what I pick up on the grapevine. I think what we are anticipating is a single building.
  (Mr Dolphin) We are not sure yet. There is a single building likely to come forward on Railtrack property. I have not yet seen proposals for other developments of height.

Mrs Dunwoody

  303. Railtrack are quoted in your evidence in TAB 55(ii). There is a big piece about Railtrack controlling—and we all know, of course, about this poor incompetent company—large sums and large amounts of office space in London.
  (Mr Dolphin) Yes, but any planning application for a tall building would have to be judged in the context of the impact that that building might have, for instance, on the world heritage site here.

  304. So you are not telling Mrs Russell that suddenly Victoria Station would spout a very tall building which would have an impact on the buildings around?
  (Mr Dolphin) No. In discussions I have had so far with Railtrack and their architects I have asked them to test this to show what the impact might be, so that the Mayor and Westminster City Council can judge that. We are working very closely with the City Council on that. There are other redevelopment schemes in the pipeline in the area, in Victoria Street, for instance, which are ground-hugging because the site demands that.

  305. But you would accept that Victoria Street and its masterpieces of modern architecture are not necessarily representative of the areas around Victoria Station. There are still some very nice streets around Victoria Station.
  (Mr Dolphin) Absolutely.
  (Mr Livingstone) It is my view that no new building should impinge on that. It is not an area where I would consider a 40 storey building would be acceptable. It is a question of what height will be acceptable and that will be largely influenced by design. If anybody is worried about suddenly having a 60 storey building appear above Victoria Station, that will not happen. It would be a devastating impact on the whole quality and nature of building in the area and visible for miles around.


  306. Would you like to extend your views on English Heritage?
  (Mr Livingstone) English Heritage it seemed to me was once a part of the Greater London Council and I think it was right that their advice influenced planning decisions. I regretted that, on the instance of the Heron Tower, they did not come to me and give me their advice. They ignored the new government of London and appealed directly to government on the grounds, I thought rather spurious, that this was a national strategic issue whereas, in actual fact, we were talking about a slight change in the view from Waterloo and a slight change from the terrace at Somerset House once you hung of the end of it and once they chopped down the trees already blocking the view, and I think there is a real problem. If you create an organisation whose sole job is to list things they will carry on until they list everything. If you wait long enough, buildings they objected to, a generation on, they will come back and list. Also, if you have three teams operating inside English Heritage for London you will get a different decision depending on which team you go to, so I would be quite happy to absorb them.

  307. You would like to get rid of these protected views?
  (Mr Livingstone) Giles has corrected me: English Heritage did give me my advice. They then went to the government when they did not like the fact I rejected it.

  308. Historic views. You would get rid of those?
  (Mr Livingstone) No. We will keep historic views. We are now going to debate exactly what they should be. I am thinking of an extension of historic views. All the historic views at the moment are these long corridors, long narrow triangles whereas, if you stand at Primrose Hill or Hampstead, what has a real impact on your view is what will be there half a mile or a mile away, so I am thinking of a quite restricted approach in the immediate foreground to a historic view. I also intend to go down to Richmond Park to see whether, without my glasses on, I can distinguish St Paul's or the Palace of Westminster. I suspect you would need 20/20 eyesight to appreciate that view.

  Mrs Dunwoody: You would, however, be able to distinguish quite clearly some of the hideous blocks between Richmond Park and Big Ben.

Sir Paul Beresford

  309. And they have probably been listed.
  (Mr Livingstone) Many of them are totally unacceptable but, in the debate about tall buildings being seen from inside the Royal Parks, when I walk through Hyde Park or Regent's Park, what impinges on the quality of that experience is not the fact that you can see a tall building but the background noise of traffic and over-flying aircraft. If you said to Londoners, "Which of these is the major problem", the actual view or the tall building peaking over the trees is not the real problem. We should not persuade ourselves that walking through Regent's Park is a wilderness experience. If you want that you go to the Cairngorms. It is a major urban park and there will be buildings visible. I would much rather tackle the traffic and aircraft noise which is a real disbenefit to being in our parks.

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