Examination of Witnesses (Questions 520-539)|
TUESDAY 12 FEBRUARY 2002
520. I notice that you were talking about people
walking round streets; what about the people sitting at pavement
cafés? A lot of effort has been made to encourage people
to sit out. Once you sit down at a pavement cafe«, you are
going to be looking at the whole of the building in front of you.
(Mr Finch) Again, I think the angle at which you look
at things when you are sitting in a cafe«, from personal
experience, is that most people look at what is on the table or
the person you are sitting with. I think one of the kind of over-hyped
arguments about tall buildings
521. You have given us a new definition of focused
(Mr Finch) We are social creatures, but I think the
522. Focused creatures with blinkers on!
(Mr Finch) The idea that the tall building immediately
means that everybody spends all their time staring at it is fanciful
and sometimesand I think that the inquiry into the Heron
Tower was a good exampleyou would think that there were
only two things to look at on the entire London skyline which
is the Dome of St Pauls and a tall building and, what is more,
there would only be one conceivable place where you would ever
want to look at those tall buildings which was on the steps of
the terrace of Somerset House and, what is more, having got there,
you would be stuck there and that is all you could look at and
you would be upset all day long. That is not how we experience
523. You are misleading the Committee because
we know that that terrace actually has trees blocking the view
at the present moment. We are not quite sure who is responsible
for either cutting down the trees or putting a preservation order
on the trees.
(Mr Finch) I can enlighten you because it was English
Heritage and Westminster Council who were responsible for chopping
the trees down thereby creating new views which supposedly are
now being interfered with.
(Sir Neil Cossons) Chairman, if your question about
cafe«s, if I might interpret it in a slightly different manner,
is about livability of towns and cities, then I think there are
some real issues which go beyond viewpoints and that really lay
at the heart of my first opening remark that this debate is about
the quality of great cities as places in which people can live
and work and I believe that tall buildings are an important component
within that definition of quality and the way in which we think
about those futures. In other words, there are wider social, economic
and environmental factors to be taken into account. We do not
fully understand them yet but we are determined to do so.
Sir Paul Beresford
524. I understood that English Heritage was
not supposed to be looking at economic aspects. If they did, some
of the decisions might be reversed.
(Sir Neil Cossons) The document which was presented
to Government a year ago, "Power of Place", which English
Heritage and some 25 other organisations with an interest in the
historic environment, identified, partly as a result of widespread
consultation but also as a result of a MORI poll, the way in which
people understand and see places. In other words, buildings are
parts of wider contexts and it seems to me that the way in which
we consider historic environments particularly in urban settings
is in context. Buildings are a part of that but there are wider
environmental, social and economic issues that we have to take
525. Are local authorities good at handling
(Mr Finch) Section 106 applications. Yes. It is commonplace
that, when a planning authority sees a tall buildings applications,
its thoughts turn to what it may get out of it and I think that
is not at all surprising, and why should they not? I think our
perception of that would be that because it is just a haphazard
and unstructured arrangement which varies widely from authority
to authority on the basis of the size of the proposal, on the
value of the land and on the local planning authorities, that
this is not entirely satisfactory and we think that there would
be a case for perhaps more clarity for both the applicant and
in respect of the local authorities' policies as to what is legitimate
and reasonable benefit to expect from the developer of a tall
building and what is kind of stretching them out on a rack and
which encourage local authorities to grant inappropriate permissions
in order to get more planning going. So, there is a balance to
be struck there.
Sir Paul Beresford
526. So the planning gain should relate in some
way to the building itself?
(Mr Finch) We think there is a danger that if it does
and if you say, as an extreme case, "We will give you a permission
and the more square feet we allow and the taller your building
goes, the bigger the cheque you will give us and we will spend
it on something else three miles down the road", we think
there is a strong case to say
527. That is just a straight bribe for planning
(Mr Finch) It is a sort of legalised bribe and I am
not saying that it is commonplace but I think there is a tendency
and I think we have seen examples where perhaps permissions have
been given which are not entirely appropriate and one of the factors
is the amount of betterment for the local authority which, let
us face it, can always use the resources, usually for good purposes,
and that may sway their view.
Sir Paul Beresford
528. What do you think of the Government's idea
in the planning papers for a betterment tax?
(Mr Rouse) There are three things we are looking for
from a planning obligations system. One is greater certainty for
the developer: they know upfront what it is going to cost them
rather than protracted year long negotiations that go on after
the planning permission has effectively been given. One is greater
transparency. This is a more open process; it is not some sort
of secret deal done behind closed doors. The third one is greater
speed which relates back to my first point. Given that, we think
there is quite a lot to be said for the tariff proposal which
the Government has come up with in the Green Paper. It seems to
us that it does potentially provide us with those three things.
However, we would also need very clear national guidance to avoid
local authorities using additional opportunity for charging what
could be a very high tax rate on development. The other point
about tariffs is that they are regressive, ie the wealthier the
area, the more you actually gain in terms of revenue and that
would have to be dealt with somehow through some sort of equalisation
529. It is effectively going to be a stealth
tax. The Government can balance it out or take it into account
by taking it off the allowance that each local authority gains
from central taxation each year and effectively reduce it from
those areas that have gained, so that we then have a stealth tax.
(Mr Rouse) I would not use your words but it is a
charge, it is a form of betterment and it is regressive and I
think I will leave it at that.
530. Do English Heritage have any comments?
(Mr Davies) I echo many of the points that Jon Rouse
has made but would like to add that planning permissions are not
for sale and should not be for sale. I think it is right that
a developer should plough back some of the development revenue
and profit into the immediate surrounding area around the development
and I think it is right that it is now pretty much common practice
that, when schemes come forward, the advantages, if you like,
should be secured to the public realm around a building. That
seems to be straightforward. I think it is more difficult if the
advantage is separate or discrete from the building.
531. Do either of you have any evidence or documentation
on how individual local authorities approach this and which are
effective in policing the agreements and which make reasonable
agreements and unreasonable ones? Do you have any information
on individual local authority bases?
(Mr Rouse) We do not but I know that DTLR did some
research on this about three years ago and I think they are coming
on next and, if so, I think it would be a good idea to ask them.
(Mr Davies) We do not have any detail. I know, for
example, that Westminster City Council in London has set up a
community chest for the development of the area around Paddington
Station and that has been subject to very extensive local consultation
so that any advantages arising from that scheme are ploughed back
into the community based on what the community identifies as being
532. In your consultation documents, you do
put special emphasis on the importance of Section 106 agreements
and, if you think that is important, you are going to have to
address the policy of the individual local authority, are you
(Mr Finch) I think that is a very good point. By coincidence,
we had a meeting of various local authority planners yesterday
thinking about our response to the Green Paper on planning and,
anecdotally, the arrangements by which Section 106 agreements
are drawn up and then monitored, not just by the people who draw
them up at the time but in many future yearssome of these
agreements may go on for decadesis not a matter where there
is commonality amongst authorities and we think that it does need
533. Could I turn to the role of Government
on tall buildings in all these issues. What are the areas where
there should be clear Government guidance? Mr Rouse mentioned
one issue a moment ago.
(Mr Davies) Can I just pick that question up because
I think it comes back to this question of methodology and building
on best practice that I think is encapsulated in the joint English
Heritage/CABE guidelines, and that is to have Government national
guidance that makes it clear that tall buildings should really
only come forward in the context of a plan-led approach where
there has been a full analysis of the character and context of
an area. Identifying areas that are appropriate and inappropriate
for tall buildings. That enables public consultation to be carried
out at an early stage in the process. Having identified areas
that are appropriate, then perhaps to model the impact of tall
buildings on that area, either computer modelling or other forms,
and to have a clearer idea of the impact on the public realm,
transport links, permeability, all of the issues that one would
want to assure oneself were being addressed when one is looking
at place making and to have a clear, logical methodology set out
by Government based on the English Heritage/ CABE guidelines would
be enormously helpful and provide some clarity for local authorities.
534. Do you think that should be guidance from
(Sir Neil Cossons) If it is guidance from the centre,
it would not necessarily be prescriptive but it could set out
the methodology that Government would advise local authorities
to pursue when considering these issues.
535. Do you think that local authorities should
be clearer and more specific about which areas they would agree
to have tall buildings in and which they would not?
(Mr Finch) I think they should have thought about
it and I think that the opportunity to do that exists in the review
of local plans and I know they themselves have been the subject
of discussion in the Green Paper. The mechanism certainly exists
for all local authorities to have an attitude of some description,
even if it is to say, "We will look at each case on its merits."
That also exists; so I think that, yes, it would be useful to
have some loose guidance in national documentation but I think
to get too prescriptive and too tight for local authorities would
be a mistake. They have their own situations and, as has been
pointed out, Bath may not be the same as Central Birmingham.
536. My question is to CABE: Do you think that
the English Heritage MORI poll was valid?
(Mr Rouse) Do you have a copy of it?
537. We do not have the full details of it.
(Mr Rouse) Perhaps I could hand it over. It is very
interesting how statistics are presented and I thought I would
just give you a slightly different take on the MORI poll if you
will allow me to. One statement was, "There are too many
tall buildings in British cities today." A majority of people
disagreed to that statement; they presumably thought there should
be more tall buildings, that there are not enough. What was very
interesting was the disparity in the poll between the views of
young and old people. Amongst young people, 64 per cent disagreed
with that statement that there were too many tall buildings in
British cities nowadays.
538. With respect, to ask, "Are there too
many buildings?" to which people say, "No" does
not mean to say that there should be many more tall buildings.
(Mr Rouse) I am not drawing that inference. All I
am saying is that there are two ways of presenting the same statistic.
Another question was, "Tall buildings should not be allowed
in city centres." Only 22 per cent of people agreed with
that particular statement. The one that intrigued me the most
was when young people were asked which criteria should be applied
in deciding whether a tall building should go ahead. The highest
percentage, which was 69 per cent, said that it depended on the
number of jobs that were created. I thought that was very, very
intriguing. The lowest was the effect on the skyline which was
28 per cent.
539. So you are not doing a very good job educating
people into the importance of the built environment.
(Mr Rouse) I would actually agree with that, but I
think that this is an astounding insight into how young people
actually think about our built environment.