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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 574-579)




  574. Can I welcome you to our final session on tall buildings. Can I ask you to identify yourself and your team?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am Lord Falconer, Minister of Housing, Planning and Regeneration, and this is Peter Ellis from the Planning Department from the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions.

  575. Do you want to say anything by way of introduction?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Could I, very briefly, make a few remarks? I welcome the opportunity to discuss tall buildings with you. The proposals for tall buildings cause passionate debate, and there is an edge on the debate in the evidence that you have heard on the issue. This looks to lump people into highly polarised camps: you are either for tall buildings or you are against them. The Government's policy on tall buildings is to get the right decision out of the planning system. We have a policy to promote good design, we want to see buildings that look good, but good design is more than that, we want the right development in the right place; development that respects its context and development that is supported by the right transport infrastructure. Nothing I say today should be taken as an implied comment on any of the live planning applications. I am for buildings—tall or not—if they demonstrate design excellence. As I have just said, that means that they should be in the right place and sustainable. Preferably, they should be in locations identified by sound forward planning and clear development plans, drawn up through effective engagement with local communities. People want to shape the future of the places where they live and work. The Government expects the planning system to deliver good design, sensitive to people's needs and aspirations. We also want safe buildings. I understand why the tragic events of September 11 has led to public concern about the safety of tall buildings. Whilst we believe that building regulations in the United Kingdom are already more stringent than those in the United States of America, we do not rule out improvements. Once the United States authorities have completed their studies into the World Trade Centre collapse we will consider carefully any implications for the United Kingdom and will listen to the advice of professional bodies such as the committee set up under the chairmanship of the Institution of Structural Engineers, from whom I believe you heard last week.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.

Christine Russell

  576. Lord Falconer, how would you define a tall building?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Tallness has got to be by reference to where it is. So what might be tall in once place would not be tall in another place. You have to be quite careful about looking at that issue in relation to its context. So ten storeys or above could be very tall in some places but not in others. You will know what the requirements for consultation with the Mayor are, at which level beside the river and elsewhere in the City, and that is an indication of the sort of levels in London that represent tallness.

  577. Do you support that, in general?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In general yes, I do.

  578. Can I ask for your opinion on whether or not you consider that we do have an economic need—obviously, firstly, in London but secondly outside London—for tall buildings?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The tall building will very frequently be doing that which the not-tall building is doing. So the question is, is there an economic case for the particular building? You have got developments in London like Broadgate, which are not tall. They, presumably, could have been done tall. Whether it be tall or not tall, what you have got to ascertain is, is there an economic case for that particular building? Is the place they want to put it the right place for a tall building? Is the transport infrastructure right for that proposal?

  579. Do you feel you can ever make an economic case? We have heard such differing views, with people saying "Yes, there is an economic case" but other people saying "Well, actually, you can get the same amount of density from a much smaller building". Who is right? We have heard from both sets of experts. Who do you consider is right?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I envisage that you can make a case for a tall building in the appropriate case, but the issues will be the same issues as they are about any buildings. Is the design right? Is it economically sustainable? Is the transport infrastructure right? Is the location right? So I do not rule out the possibility of making a case for a tall building.

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