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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 660-680)



  660. But you will tell us, my Lord.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Indeed I will. You merely have to ask and I will immediately supply all that you wish.

  Mrs Dunwoody: At least it always expands my vocabulary when I talk to you, my Lord.

Miss McIntosh

  661. I would like to declare an interest in that my husband works for an American airline company but we have not actually discussed this. I was very taken by what you said, my Lord, that you are awaiting evidence from the Americans.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Material from the Americans.

  662. Was there a particular design fault with the World Trade Centre buildings that they collapsed so quickly?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not know.

  663. Will you be considering future design of tall buildings in this country to make sure that that design feature will be taken on board?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not know what the position in relation to that is. I am being told, and this seems sensible, that material will emerge from what happened on 11 September and we obviously need to be informed by that as far as it is relevant to what we do about safety in tall buildings here.

  664. Are you aware of any buildings in this country that would collapse in the same way?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am not aware of any such buildings, no.

Christine Russell

  665. Some of our witnesses have indicated that, in their view, your view—
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In their view, my view?

  666. The Government view is that if something is well-designed then it is acceptable. Do you agree with that?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No. Good design plainly could not of itself be sufficient. You would be quite wrong to build a well-designed building for which there was, for example, no economically sustainable future or, for example, no transport infrastructure that could sustain it. It is much, much more than issues about design.

  667. Going back to what we were discussing earlier, do you consider there is a need for greater protection to historic towns and cities or even conservation areas within cities to protect historic views, etcetera?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There are already protections in place, the listing system, etcetera. English Heritage is, as it were, the guardian of the historic heritage. I think the protection that is currently in place is sufficient.

Mrs Dunwoody

  668. So you would not agree with the Vice Chairman of CABE who informed us that most people walk along looking down at the pavements?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think it is a different question as to whether there needs to be protection of the historic environment.

  669. But the view is part of this surely?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Not enough interest in the historic environment? I do not think that that would necessarily be increased by greater protection for it. There may be things that people can do to draw attention more to the historic environment but I do not think any legal changes are required it protect it.

  670. So you think that all local authorities, if they are in historic towns and villages, faced with a demand to build a very tall building on the outskirts, have sufficient protection in your existing rules? Is that what you are telling us?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think that the legal structure is fine.

Christine Russell

  671. Are you confident that we are not about to repeat the mistakes of the 1960s by building tall buildings in the wrong places which by the time they are actually completed there will be no takers for them anyhow, which is what happened with a number of buildings in the 1960s?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) If that happened it would be a massive failure of the planning system.


  672. Who should decide the economic case for a tall building, the market or should it be the Government?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is for the local authority to decide whether or not there is an economic case for the particular tall building. That will depend inevitably on how it is to be supported and if it depends upon market take-up of places in the tall building then the market will, in effect, be the determinant.

  Chairman: The British Property Federation put to us fairly firmly that they did not think local authorities had the skills to judge the economic case and that it was much better to leave it to the market.

Mrs Dunwoody

  673. And if the local authority around Canary Wharf had decided there was an economic case for filling that up, they would have had to have waited ten years for that to happen.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The local authority, the planning authority must have some role in this. It cannot just be a situation where it is said, "Although all the indications are that nobody wants to work in this particular building (taking a hypothetical building) nevertheless we will just let you build it." That cannot be the way we deal with it.

Sir Paul Beresford

  674. Could it not work the other way round? They could say, "Sure it is going to be filled", etcetera, etcetera, and then it is not? Is that not making them slightly liable as part of the backing of that building and its not being let, and it being vulnerable to an ambitious lawyer?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Obviously mistakes will be made and judgments will be wrong without people acting badly, but there needs to be for any building, tall or otherwise, some justification that it is a sustainable development, whether it be a tall building, whether it be Broadgate, whether it be a housing development, and the local authority as the planning authority plainly have got a role.

  675. The main role is for the man with the cheque.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The man with the cheque believes, presumably, that there is some sustainable future for it. I do not believe it is right for a local authority to say if there is a man with a cheque prepared to build a building, that is fine by me. They have got to look to see whether there is a sustainable future for this building and that will involve from time to time looking at the economics of the sustainability of the building.


  676. Do you see tall buildings as being part of a driver for regeneration?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Well-designed buildings in the right place, with the right transport infrastructure, whether tall or not, can most certainly be a driver.

Mrs Dunwoody

  677. Congratulations, my Lord, I think that must the longest number of subjunctive clauses in one sentence we have heard this morning.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think there was one subjunctive clause.


  678. We are not going to argue about English grammar. Can you give us an example of anywhere else other than Canary Wharf where it can be argued that tall buildings have made a significant contribution to urban regeneration?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) You mean areas that were economically deprived and have now become economically regenerated? Not areas where there is already existing economic activity like for example the City of London?

Mrs Dunwoody

  679. Could you give us one?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Not at this particular moment I cannot, no.

  680. You would love to write to us?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) "Love" may be overstating it!

  Chairman: On that note can I thank you very much for your evidence. I should have asked for the Committee's approval at the beginning that the uncorrected transcript should go on the Internet as soon as possible.

  Mrs Dunwoody: Where it will be quite clear for all the public to read.

  Chairman: Thank you.

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