Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by London First (TAB 07)

  London First is a not-for-profit business membership organisation, set up in 1992 with the specific aim of improving and promoting London. London First has over 300 business members, plus NHS Trusts, Universities, and Further Education Colleges.

  London First members take an active role in the formulation and implementation of policy that affects the capital and its economic success. Our key activities include: campaigning for a world-class transport system, promoting London's wealth-generating sectors, encouraging sustainable investment, promoting London's cultural diversity and building on the skills base. London First also lobbies the Mayor and central government on a variety of issues, including influencing the Mayor's spatial development, economic development and transport strategies, and calling for planning reform.

  London First Centre, a wholly owned subsidiary of London First, is the inward investment agency for London. Over 500 companies from 32 countries have now been helped to invest in London, leading to the creation or safeguarding of 30,000 jobs.

  London First's evidence is based on the views of its members and the requirements of the inward investors which London First Centre deals with.

  The role of tall buildings in achieving high densities in residential areas; the provision of offices for certain types of global companies and as a means of enhancing the beauty of our cities.

  The provision of offices for certain types of global companies is of paramount importance in ensuring London's and the UK's long-term prosperity. To compete globally, London and its built environment must be able to adapt quickly and effectively.

  The recent rapid growth caused by globalisation, merger and acquisition and shifts in the market place has had a marked effect on demand. In particular, there is a trend towards consolidation of financial and business services and professional firms in order to create big enough units to compete internationally. As a result, there is a demand for large buildings to enable staff in a number of locations to be brought together. The recent development of the HSBC and Citigroup towers at Canary Wharf, and the Swiss Re building at Bishopsgate are cases in point. The decision of Barclays to move to Canary Wharf is another example of the changing needs of business.

  There is also a need for flexible space to allow smaller businesses the freedom to grow and adapt without having to constantly uproot themselves. Larger buildings make this more practical. Given the limited space available in locations where demand from investors is greatest, the only way to expand the supply of office space is to increase height.

Tall buildings can play a role in achieving high densities in urban areas:

  London's population is expanding rapidly, and is forecast by the GLA to reach 8.1m by 2016. Demand for housing is massively outstripping supply already, and we are nowhere near meeting the forecast amount of housing needed. New and innovative solutions to the problem must be found, and building high-rise residential blocks can be part of this.

  City-centre living can play a huge part in alleviating the strain on London's transport infrastructure. High-rise building is a practical and desirable means of achieving this. Tall buildings in or near city centres can also help improve urban life if some of the accommodation is reserved for employees who keep vital services running.

  Many of the problems associated with residential high-rise stem from inappropriate use. High-rise living is not suitable for families with young children or older people. However, new, mixed-use developments could be very attractive to young single people or couples. For a sense of community to flourish, the residents must be happy to be there, not desperate to move out. The rejuvenation and current popularity of the Trellick Tower in North Kensington is one example of this. However, the high cost of managing tall buildings means a high service charge, and this must be taken into account.

Enhancing the beauty of our cities:

  Well-designed tall buildings can enhance the urban environment and have a place in the diverse landscapes of cities. Appropriate and innovative landmark buildings are an essential part of a city's fabric and can contribute valuable space to the public realm. The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), found that good urban design, "adds economic, social and environmental value". Good design produces high return on investments, responds to occupier demand and raises the prestige of the area. Well connected, inclusive and accessible new places with a broad range of facilities open to all boost civic pride and enhance civic image.

The sustainability of tall buildings, in particular in terms of construction, transport and long term flexibility of use

  The Mayor's, "London Plan" states as a key principle that "high density trip generating development and redevelopment should be focused at locations accessible by public transport". Maximising public transport use can best be achieved by locating as much development as possible at major transport hubs. Tall buildings in accessible locations are guaranteed sustained use. This can be achieved most effectively by locating tall buildings where there are plans to increase public transport capacity—such as at Paddington Basin or Liverpool Street, which will be connected by CrossRail.

  Mixed-use developments allow varied space and flexibility. Tower 42 and the proposed Heron Tower at Bishopsgate allow for perspective and existing tenants changing space requirements. Single-use towers can quite easily be converted into multi-occupancy. The high cost of demolishing tall buildings is one means of guaranteeing their long term survival. Several former office blocks across London have been converted into desirable residential accommodation.

  Architects and developers use modern, efficient construction methods and recycled materials. Most architects now routinely follow the basic principles of energy conservation in buildings—using high-tech ventilating systems to heat and move the air around. Power generation from solar panels, such as on the proposed Heron Tower at Bishopsgate also show how tall buildings have became environmentally viable. Tall buildings can often leave a smaller "ecological footprint" than conventional housing or office space, and residents and businesses can share facilities, using less energy and producing less waste.

Where tall building should be located, including:

What restrictions, if any, should be placed on the location of tall buildings, and how far they should be allowed to block existing views; and whether they should be clustered or dotted

  Clusters tend to look more attractive than single buildings, and make more sense from a business perspective. However, single buildings can work if they are "landmarks" in city centres. The obvious mistakes of the past have been mostly single buildings at outlying locations, which are incongruous, unattractive and problematic to access.

  From a business perspective, clusters work, and are less obtrusive, and government planning policy should support and nurture this. The clustering of tall buildings also makes practical sense when high-density development is located in areas accessible by public transport.

  There is no question that protected views, such as that from St Paul's Cathedral, should be safeguarded. It must be accepted that tall buildings do change the skyline, and will effect familiar perspectives. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing.

Are we in danger of repeating the mistakes of the 1960's?

  Town planners and property developers alike have learnt much from the mistakes of the sixties. The importance of integrating tall buildings into the urban fabric at ground level, and not creating dead space around them, is now fully recognised. However, it was not the high-rise nature of the developments which were the problem, it was the design and management of the buildings. We have not stopped building shopping centres, because of some of the mistakes made in the 1960's. In the same way, we should not rule out tall buildings per se. The mistakes of the 60's lie in poor quality design and construction materials, hurried construction and unsuitable usage—it is this which we must avoid.

Should the decision-makers be more accountable?

  The current planning process is lengthy and subject to public inquiries and appeals, which delay developments enormously. Ultimately, many innovative and exciting projects are rendered unviable due to the costs of enormous delays. For decision-makers to be accountable, they have to take decisions.

  In London, both the Mayor and the Secretary of State have powers over planning decisions. In London at least, there should be only the one power, and, given the responsibilities which have already been conveyed on him, that should be the Mayor. His policy will be subject to public examination following publication of the London plan.

Should the government have a particular policy in relation to tall buildings?

  As noted above, policy in London should be for the Mayor to determine. If the government were to set down guidelines, they should be about high quality of design, construction materials and sustainable usage, and this role is carried out by CABE already. Dictating maximum height, for example, is a very narrow approach.


  Well designed tall buildings can respond to the demands of businesses and residents, whilst enhancing the urban environment. Mistakes of the past should not be allowed to prevent the development of the future. Tall buildings can be stunning landmarks, demonstrating energy and dynamism, and can contribute space to the public realm. Diversity and choice is central to the UK's and London's appeal, and tall buildings form an integral part of a modern city.

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Prepared 22 January 2002