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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 640-659)



Mrs Ellman

  640. Will you be advising the Secretary of State to reject the London Plan?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No. I think the right thing to do is to wait for the whole process to be gone through, and see what the plan is.

  641. In what circumstances would the Secretary of State consider rejecting the Plan?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) He would consider rejecting it if it was inconsistent with national planning policy in a material respect.

  642. Would he take into account what public opinion was thought to be, or the views of the boroughs?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) He would obviously take into account what the consultation had produced, but if there was a clear conflict between national policy guidance and that which was in the regional spatial strategy that the Mayor had produced, then he would direct that the relevant spatial strategy be changed.

  643. If there was a conflict between the regional strategy and the local strategies, what would the Secretary of State do?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) He would have to form a view in relation to it, but if the elected body had concluded this was the right course and it was not inconsistent with national policy, then that body, which has been charged with producing the regional spatial strategy, should decide.

  644. Most of our witnesses prefer clusters of tall buildings rather than pepper-potting. What is your preference?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Whether clusters is the right course or whether singleton tall buildings is the right course will depend upon the circumstances in each individual case.

  645. There were also suggestions that tall buildings should be developed in Croydon or in Docklands. Do you have any views on where tall buildings should be located?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not have a view in relation to that. If a case can be made out for that and the usual requirements that I have referred to, about good design, sustainability, transport etc, are met, then there is no reason in principle why a case should not be made for tall buildings there.

  Christine Russell: English Heritage, who gave evidence this morning, have listed a number of what one can only describe as exceedingly unpopular buildings, like Centre Point. Does this undermine your confidence in English Heritage?

Sir Paul Beresford

  646. For example, it is said that some of the unique buildings that English Heritage have listed are unique because no one would build them again, because they are a disaster!
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am quite loath to be drawn on my personal opinion on particular buildings.


  647. That is not fair. The Mayor told us how much he had enjoyed the sitting in Centre Point when it was built and now how much he admired the building. Would you not like to tempt your views on Centre Point?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, I would not, if you do not mind. The question was, does it undermine one's confidence in English Heritage that they, as it were, support buildings like Centre Point, which have been so unpopular. English Heritage have got to express their views about what they think is a good building, what a building worth preserving is or what they think about new buildings that are not yet built but are proposed to be built. They are advisers on the heritage. We can either take their advice or not, as the case may be.

Mrs Dunwoody

  648. Anyway, we quite often will not know what their advice is, will we?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Subject to what the further consultation is and what I am allowed to say subsequently, I hope we do find out.

Christine Russell

  649. Can I elicit your views on architects? Of course, many of the horrors of the 60s were pushed through at the time as being superb examples of avant garde architecture.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes. People now are much, much more conscious of the quality of design. People want to live in houses that they feel much more comfortable in than houses that were built in the 60s and 70s. Much higher standards of design and architecture are, I think, expected by the people who actually use these buildings, whether they be public buildings, office buildings, or residencies.

  650. So you are saying we will not get 21st century monstrosities because the level and involvement of the public is far greater now? You have faith in the public.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think people are much more conscious of these issues than they have been in the past. I certainly cannot say that we will not get monstrosities in the future, but I think people are much, much more conscious of what buildings look like and how they affect their lives.

  651. Can we move on to the safety requirements for tall buildings. You did mention at the outset that this review is now in process. Can you perhaps tell the Committee a little bit more about it and what time-scale you are working to?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There is material coming from the States about what they are discovering about the events of 11 September, which are obviously important. I do not know what the time-scale is in relation to that. There is the group chaired by the Institute of Structural Engineers which has got representation from central Government on it. I do not what their time-span is, but they are both looking at the issues, as it were, off their own bat and also seeking to take account of what they learn from America. So we are, in a sense, waiting for them to produce. I cannot tell you what the time-span is. I think you have heard from Mr Roberts, who is the Chairman of the group, last week, and we would envisage, basically, acting as soon as is reasonable upon the views that they take. One has got to act with reasonable expedition, but it is something that needs quite considerable thought.

  There is also one other group, the Building Disaster Assessment Group chaired by Her Majesty's Fire Inspectorate, which is looking at issues such as evacuation procedures and whether there should be different evacuation procedures and evacuation requirements depending on whether you are higher than 30 metres or even more than that.

  652. But could you not do something about that now without having to wait for the American research because, yes, we were told I think perhaps by Mr Roberts, that the evacuation criteria, if that is what it is called, for instance for sports stadiums, are far more stringent than for tall buildings where you have to get everyone out of Old Trafford within eight minutes? Could we not act?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think there are certain things that would not depend on information from the United States of America. We have got to decide whether we do need to act pretty quickly in relation to those. We want proper advice, we want to consider the ramifications before we act on it.

Mrs Dunwoody

  653. Could we ask you about fire and buildings regulations. Why are you not asking for the EC Construction Products Directive, which proposes introducing a requirement that "products used in the construction of buildings, for the protection of occupants of the buildings from fire, should not smoke excessively"?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Why are we not asking the Products Directive?

  654. You are not asking that these extra things should be built in although the EC Construction Products Directive is something you are going to have to deal with?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We are certainly in touch with the people responsible for the development of the design codes, including both the British Standards Institution and those involved in Europe in the development of Euro Codes in relation to those sorts of issues. If there are particular bodies that we are not in touch with obviously we should get in touch with them as quickly as possible.

  655. Various European countries have apparently issued national standards and you are not proposing to do so.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Presumably because there are already British standards that apply, although they may not be legally enforceable, and in some cases there are Euro standards that apply. The overall answer to your question is if there are particular codes or standards that we should be considering that we are not then obviously we should get on to that. If there are particular cases please let me know and we shall write.

  Mrs Dunwoody: I shall be delighted to do so. I apologise.

Christine Russell

  656. Can I ask your opinion on whether or not you feel tall buildings should be required, as indeed sports stadia are, to have annual safety inspections?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) One of the things that needs to be looked at is the regularity of safety inspections. I do not know whether annual is the right period and I do not know whether or not it should be different depending on the particular height and size of the building. Equally, I am not sure whether one should just be focusing on tall buildings or on any buildings where there are great conflagrations of people, for example sports stadia, for example exhibition centres.


  657. But the point is that sports stadia are clearly covered by regulations which specify an annual inspection. As we understand it, tall buildings have to be approved in terms of safety by the fire people when they are built but not after that. Is it not logical that at least at some point there should be further checks to see that modification or, as Mrs Dunwoody has just pointed out, materials that are brought into the buildings do not change the fire safety case?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am not sure what the answer to that is because I do not know whether the Fire Inspectorate or the Health & Safety Executive would say the right course is to inspect as and when they think there might be an issue.

  Mrs Dunwoody: You have not laid down even to the standards that other European—I rarely find myself in the situation of quoting other European nations—

  Chairman: I was a little puzzled!

  Mrs Dunwoody: But the situation is that apparently we are not issuing national requirements to conform even with the limits set in the EC fire test for the generation of smoke and fumes. It is terribly important.


  658. Would you like to let us have a note on this in due course?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Could I? I have only got to the stage where there is a group looking at this. I am not sure what the right answer to it is.

Mrs Dunwoody

  659. If I could put to you a series of questions. We are concerned about the timing of these things. It is nice to have fire groups set up looking at them but, frankly, it would be helpful if the Committee could put to you a series of questions.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That is fine. Mr Ellis has passed me a note. Buildings are the subject of routine inspections by fire brigades, but I do not know the regularity of that. I do not know whether it would differ from place to place and I do not know whether or not pressures on individual fire services—

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