Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Annex C

Memorandum by The Civic Trust (TAB 11)


  What qualifies as a "tall building"? Is it a relative or absolute term? A six-storey building looks tall in a street of two storey terraces and a ten-storey building built next to Canary Wharf looks small. The following statement is about buildings over 50 metres high. Some of the principles may be relevant to smaller buildings, depending upon their location.

  Economic good times generate tall buildings. This is a national phenomenon, although most are in London. Their merits and problems are being debated fiercely amid belated efforts to devise policies to deal with them. Planning policies, informed by the views of local people, are needed quickly and should cover an entire city.

  Large companies often prefer to locate their corporate headquarters in tall buildings to convey prestige and to accommodate all their operations within one building. Cities that seek to attract investment from such companies need to be able to provide appropriate sites after careful research and agreement by the planning authority, not decided under pressure from the developer and his agents.

  Decisions taken now will affect our cities for decades. Random pepperpotting of tall office and residential buildings across London and other cities in the 60s and 70s wrought severe damage. The difficulty of demolishing tall buildings on tight sites that have come to the end of their useful life should also be considered. In the light of this experience, a sceptical approach and rigorous analysis are needed.

  Good decisions cannot be made without comprehensive information. Each application must be accompanied by illustrations from multiple viewpoints and an urban design assessment. These should provide a very clear picture of the visual impact of the building and its relationship to pedestrian routes, transport infrastructure and neighbouring buildings.


The prestige of tall buildings

  Municipal authorities and developers often argue that tall buildings confer prestige and ensure economic competitiveness. This may be true for New York and Chicago, pioneers of this form of building and famous for it. London cannot and should not try to emulate them. Tourists bring in huge amounts of money; they visit London to admire its Georgian squares and grand Victorian institutions, not its skyscrapers. Attempting to mimic Hong Kong would erode the unique qualities or our cities and could even damage them economically.

Large footprint office buildings as an alternative to high rise

  Office space is required to accommodate business but it need not be created in tall buildings. Increasing density does not necessarily entail an increase in height. Building shorter, larger footprint buildings, which can be more easily adapted for changing IT requirements, can help meet demand. Shopping arcades cutting through the heart of large footprint buildings can provide new pedestrian routes, attract more business and allow multiple uses on the site.

Respecting architectural context

  The location of new tall buildings is crucial. A tall building should not be a fetish object judged in isolation from its surroundings. If it would violate an area with a distinct historic or architectural character then it should not be built, however fine the building.

Protecting views

  Views of certain landmarks also need protection. For example, in London there is a need to protect the prominence of St. Paul's and the Houses of Parliament as London's defining buildings, and as symbols of church and state power.

Enhancing skylines

  Tall buildings can enhance skylines, particularly if their tops are designed with flair—perhaps thrillingly slender or strikingly patterned. They mark the centre of a city and provide a point of orientation that is visible from far away.

Topography and microclimates

  The appropriateness of a location is affected by topography. Microclimatic conditions such as wind tunnel effects and overshadowing require careful consideration. For example, the undulating landscape of central Birmingham affects the impact of a building, a factor acknowledged by Birmingham City Council's planning policies.

Transport infrastructure

  A tall building may contain thousands of people. It must therefore be well served by public transport. Transport interchanges are thus ideal locations for intensive development. If the system lacks the capacity to cope with the new passengers, the enhanced land value created by the grant of planning permission can be used to pay for an improved service through section 106 agreements. If sufficient capacity cannot be created then the location is unsuitable.

Windfall profits

  If this windfall value is not required to pay for improvements to public transport, it should fund a variety of things, such as training schemes for local people who could secure construction jobs on the project or high quality landscaping.

Mixing uses and lively ground floors

  Tall buildings should have active, publicly accessible ground floor uses to enliven the street frontage. Shops are ideal. In addition to ground floor retail, a tall building can also contain homes and offices, with a caf

 or restaurant at the top providing a public vantage point. The space beneath tall builds can be used for parking, trains and facilities for residents.


  Planners and politicians should demand that proposals for tall buildings:

    —  are sympathetic to the character of the area on which it will have an impact and will contribute to the street scene rather than dominate and overwhelm;

    —  are part of an existing cluster of tall buildings or, exceptionally, part of a planned new cluster;

    —  have tops and bases that are strikingly designed;

    —  would not spoil the views to, and from, important landmarks and open spaces;

    —  will not create adverse microclimatic problems, nor dense shade in nearby areas;

    —  are well served by public transport;

    —  will have invested in community assets a substantial part of any increase in land value created by the development;

    —  incorporate a vertical mixture of uses; and

    —  are energy efficient, preferably energy neutral.

  If these exacting criteria are strictly followed a few very fine buildings should result, which may in the future be regarded as a built heritage deserving conservation.


  Local government should quickly establish policy frameworks, based on the criteria offered in this statement, which will determine where different types of tall buildings can be constructed.

  Private sector developers and their advisors should devise proposals for tall buildings that fulfil these criteria or choose another building type.

  Civic societies should keep an open mind towards proposals for tall buildings, urge their local authority to devise appropriate criteria and lobby developers to adhere to them.

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