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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 323 - 339)




  323. Can I welcome you this morning to the third of our sessions on tall buildings and ask you to identify yourselves for the record, please?

  (Mr McKee) I am from the British Property Federation. I am the director general.
  (Dr Damesick) I am the head of research at Insignia Richard Ellis.

  324. Do either of you want to say anything by way of introduction, or are you happy for us to go straight to questions?
  (Dr Damesick) I think questions, Chairman, other than to say that the memorandum of evidence that I submitted was really seeking to highlight the issues surrounding the market demand for office space in tall buildings and the needs of occupiers, and I think that is a very important issue which the sub-committee, I hope, will be giving full attention to in the inquiry.

  Chairman: That is one of the reasons why we wanted to pursue the issues with you in oral session as well. May I ask you to speak up, because the acoustics in this room are very bad.

Mrs Ellman

  325. Mr McKee, would you say the demand for tall buildings outside London is due to economic reasons or image?
  (Mr McKee) I think for tall buildings the answer lies in both. If there is an occupier who wishes to relocate in a city outside of central London who normally seeks that kind of occupation, and here we are talking mainly about international corporates in the finance or business services sector, they are looking for buildings of a particular size, a particular characteristic, and also for an image. If they find that they require that in a centre outside London, then I think you will find the demand will go to those centres.

  326. How many applications are there for tall buildings outside of London?
  (Mr McKee) I cannot answer that question.
  (Dr Damesick) I cannot either.

  327. Could you give me any examples of where a tall building has brought regeneration to a wider area than where the building itself is?
  (Dr Damesick) Canary Wharf.


  328. Has that really regenerated the area as opposed to almost devastating some of the traditional housing around it?
  (Dr Damesick) If you look at the totality of the problems faced by the Dockland area and its economic decline because of the restructuring of the docks industry and all the ancillary industries that were also located in that area, and if you look at what were the alternative viable strategies for regeneration, what has happened there must, on balance, be counted as a major success story.

Mrs Dunwoody

  329. For the people living there or for others?
  (Dr Damesick) I think in the longer term for both.

  330. On what do you base that?
  (Dr Damesick) In the absence of the regeneration that has taken place at Canary Wharf—and, indeed, in other parts of Docklands, including other types of development—I find it difficult to see what would have been a radically different alternative that would have brought as much new investment, as much new development and overall as many new jobs into that area.

  331. Were there new jobs for people in the area or new jobs for people who came in from outside?
  (Dr Damesick) They were a mixture, I am sure, of both.

  332. What percentage are we talking about? 85?
  (Dr Damesick) I think it is difficult to specify the precise proportions but, clearly, now that Canary Wharf is reaching the fuller stages of development, as well as the direct office-based occupations, the operation of the office complex will require larger numbers of support workers in ancillary functions from cleaners, messengers, security people, transport workers; now that it also has developed a substantial amount of retail development, I would imagine that is also providing jobs.

  333. So if anything else had been built there, there would not have been the same numbers of jobs for shopworkers and cleaners and drivers and platform workers?
  (Dr Damesick) I think probably not.

Ms King

  334. I think that is the question: it is not whether local people have benefited in the early years because it is considered they did not—latterly they have more but not as much as most people would expect. The question is, if they had not built the tall towers and instead had done it as they have the rest of the development, would it have worked? This inquiry is into tall buildings so we would like your views on, if those tall buildings were not there, would it not have been the magnet for other developments around it?
  (Dr Damesick) If the tall buildings were not there, it would not have developed in the way it has as a major office centre. It could have been developed, I suppose, as an intra urban, low density, office park, perhaps. Whether such a development would have succeeded in that location I think is open to question.

  335. But I still do not understand why the tall buildings enabled that to happen?
  (Mr McKee) Perhaps I could offer an explanation. I think it is unlikely it would have developed to the same extent without the tall buildings. London Docklands was the largest area of dereliction and, indeed, of regeneration probably in the country. In order for it to take off, it needed a major economic boost at the beginning. The circumstances of Canary Wharf were that it was able to meet the needs of very large occupiers who could not find space of the kind and quantum and at the price they wanted in the City of London, and this was available at a nearby site. That would not have happened in my judgment had a different kind of development taken place. You needed that economic prerequisite for the whole of Docklands to take off and, but for Canary Wharf, built as it is. I suspect you would be looking at a very different regeneration across Docklands as a whole now.


  336. Can you give us another example of regeneration, or is Docklands unique as far as UK is concerned?
  (Dr Damesick) I think the Paddington area, with the developments going ahead there now, I would regard as another example of regeneration of what was a run-down area on the fringe of central London. Now, the maximum height of building that is going to be permitted there is not on the scale of Canary Wharf but, by the standards of London and particularly the West End, there are going to be some so-called tall buildings there.

Christine Russell

  337. Mr McKee, in your memorandum you imply that the planning system is not really there to make judgments about the commercial viability of buildings. Could you expand on that?
  (Mr McKee) My view on that is born of thirty years in local government—ten as a London borough chief executive and twenty before that as a London chief planning officer—I am absolutely convinced that local authorities do not understand the commercial property market. None of their officers work day-by-day in the business environment doing the latest deals, understanding where occupier requirements are going to, what the latest financial requirements are from funders; I am absolutely convinced that local authorities are not equipped to have a view on the commercial viability of buildings.

  338. So should there therefore not be any democratic accountability at all? Who, if not local authorities, is going to make these very difficult decisions in weighing up the commercial viability arguments, on the one hand, and the importance of the historic precedent and national development, on the other?
  (Mr McKee) These are difficult decisions and I would have thought, certainly of all the range of local authority services, the one which has the highest degree of public accountability is the planning system, far more so than other local authorities services. Local authorities are at their strongest when they are looking at the land use implications of development; at the impacts in terms of transport, noise, micro climates, daylighting—those kinds of issues—and they should satisfy themselves that a building proposed of a certain size with a certain impact meets the requirements of planning policies. Once they are satisfied with that, the question of whether it is commercially viable they are neither competent, nor should they in my view be required, to determine. They should be satisfied that it is sustainable; it is not causing other planning difficulties; it meets the other planning policies of the authority or national guidance; does not, for example, to choose perhaps an obvious example, block out a principal view of a major historic site —

  339. So you believe those should be retained?
  (Mr McKee) Yes. I think you will find that the prevalent view amongst the property industry is that there is a proven economic need for tall buildings which is essential if the economy of this country is to continue to prosper, but that it should be subjected to a proper set of planning policies and regulations.

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