Examination of Witnesses (Questions 580-599)|
THOROTON, QC AND
TUESDAY 12 FEBRUARY 2002
580. Do you think, Lord Falconer, that the role
of tall buildings is largely symbolic, particularly outside London?
Is it just a question of status?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think it would depend
upon each individual application. There could be a place for tall
buildings that increase density, for example, in relation to housing,
but I would like to make it clear that I am not urging a return
to the tower block.
581. Why not?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Because I think the tower
block carries with it a large sense of failure, for example, in
relation to the design of those tower blocks and in relation to
the construction of those tower blocks. I also think that in certain
places tower blocks would be a disastrous way to house, for example,
families. People, rightly, look at the tower block era as one
that was not successful in relation to provisions for accommodation.
In answer to your question, I am saying there may well be a case
for a tall building that is more than symbolicfor example,
in relation to the densities that it provides.
582. In reality, surely, the problem with tower
blocks was that they were designed for the wrong audience. They
were built as council blocks for families. Earlier on we were
hearing about the Barbican, and that where you build a tower block
with flats aimed at younger, professional people they are highly
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The words "tower
block" conjure up, for me, the Ronan Point type of development,
which was poorly designed, poorly constructed, with families unsuitably
housed. That is why I am saying I do not want to go back to the
tower block era. However, I am saying that in some cases the value
of a tall building will not just be its symbolism (which is what
your question was about, Mr Grayling) but in fact the utility
that it produces, because it can get greater density in a particular
case than other places. There are issues about that.
Sir Paul Beresford
583. Would it be wrong if it was built, in part,
as a symbol?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, I do not think it
would necessarily. There would have to be a sustainable case for
it, it would have to be in the right place for transport infrastructure,
for design, etc.
584. We have taken evidence from witnesses who
say that in reality tower blocks are not necessarily the best
way to generate density.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Indeed.
585. In Kensington & Chelsea, for example,
they have the highest possible density of anywhere in the country,
yet that is a very exclusive area.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Indeed, the Ardent St
George developers have done some interesting research in connection
with Kings Cross which says that when you get above ten storeys,
because of the need for lifts and staircases, you tend you start
making quite little gains in terms of density. Would it not depend
upon the particular circumstances, as to whether going upwards
gives you more density than going along or dealing with it in
different ways? I am always told that the Georgian terraces in
Liverpool or London produce very high levels of density - much,
much higher levels of density than those that are produced by
the sorts of housing development that took place in the 60s and
70s. They are producing densities of above 40 or 50 per hectare,
whereas the developments in the 60s and 70s were producing densities
of about 20 per hectare. That seems to me to demonstrate that
tallness does not necessarily mean density, but it can in particular
586. Lord Falconer, other witnesses have told
us that they would like to see more certainty under the planning
system. If you think this is desirable, how can we do it?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There is no national planning
guidance on tall buildings of any sort, at the moment, but there
is national planning guidance on things like good design, transport
infrastructure, etc. My inclination is not to have specific planning
guidance on tall buildings because I think in each individual
case a case has to be made out for the particular building. So,
subject obviously to considering what is said in your report,
my inclination would be no, because I think you can have too much
national guidance. I think I said that the last time I was here.
587. You wanted more certainty the last time
you were here.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) As I hope I made clear,
Chairman, the way to do that is not to have pages and pages and
pages of national planning guidance.
588. Do you think, then, local authorities will
have adequate powers to resist inappropriate applications? We
have heard very strong calls, particularly from historic cities,
for instance, where they feel tall buildings are not appropriate
but they are under immense development pressure.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think in the drawing
up of the local development framework, which is what the new planning
green paper suggested, or in drawing up the development plan now,
it is for the local authority to have a process by which they
consult the community and form a view about whether or not they
want a tall building in their district. I do not think they need
central planning guidance to provide, necessarily, the means to
either resist or accept such buildings.
589. Local authorities tell us that they are
concerned that the absence of guidance makes it difficult for
them to defend tall buildings policies that they might want to
put in their plans. Would you have any comments on that?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The basic point I am making
is that if the tall building is well-designed and meets the other
national policies about transport, sustainability, density, etc,
then there is a case for a tall building. If it does not meet
those principles then there would not be case for a tall building.
I do not think that there is a bright line answer to where there
should be a tall building. It will depend upon the sort of issues
that I have identified.
590. What is a "bright line answer"?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Is there a yes or no answer
to whether or not there should be a tall building in a particular
591. PPGs 6 and 13 do recommend where development
should take place, such as town centres. Should there be some
equivalent PPG for tall buildings?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think so. PPG
13, particularly, will obviously have relevance in relation to
tall buildings. As I say, my present inclination is you are not
going to add much to the process by saying "Let us have a
separate national policy on tall buildings".
592. We heard evidence earlier this morning
from CABE, who suggested there should be government guidance in
relation to Section 106 agreements, and what sorts of agreements
were advisable. Would you agree that government should be involved?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There is already some
guidance out there, for example on affordable housing, in relation
to Section 106. Yes, I do think that the Government should issue
guidance in relation to Section 106 agreements because without
guidance there is great uncertainty about what local authorities
should ask for. In the documents that accompany the planning green
paper we propose a tariff system in relation to planning gain
from Section 106 agreements. That issue about planning gain would
apply just as much to tall buildings as it would to any other
development that was proposed.
Sir Paul Beresford
593. That was a betterment taxthe same
sort of thing they had in the 60sand it did not work then.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is not a betterment
tax, it is trying to identify with some degree of clarity what
contribution to development in the community should be made by
a developer. It is trying to get away from all of the current
uncertainties that surround what sort of contribution the developer
is expected to makewhether it is the building of more affordable
houses or whether it is identification of a sum, does not seem
to me to make much difference.
Sir Paul Beresford: I will resist following
Chairman: I am just wondering whether we should
not call it a "worserment tax.
594. What is the precise status of the CABE/English
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is guidance on tall
buildings, a consultation paper. Plainly, it will be referred
to in, for example, planning inquiries. The consultation process,
I think, has been completed, and I think they have to make up
their minds whether they are going to publish it as a final document.
It is plainly of some relevance in determining whether or not
a tall building should go ahead.
595. Will it have the mark of Government approval?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Looking at it, it
Sir Paul Beresford
596. Before you answer that, before commenting
on the actual application, they came together to produce this
guidance and then fell apart about Heron
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I heard, yes. You have
just had them in front of you, and presumably they did not reach
agreement in relation to it.
Sir Paul Beresford: No, they did not even reach
agreement on quite how they voted on it.
Mrs Dunwoody: The question still remains the
one that Mrs Ellman asked.
597. Does it have the mark of Government approval?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It seems to us to make
very good sense.
598. Does that mean yes?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I have no quarrel with
any of it.
599. Does that mean yes?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think it does mean yes,
yes. As Mr Ellis is whispering in my ear, quite rightly, it is
still in draft, so it may change.