Memorandum by Bristol City Council (TAB
1. Bristol, a major historic city, is currently
reviewing its policies and assessment procedures for tall buildings
proposals in the light of recent pressures for development within
its historic core areas.
2. Without a tall buildings strategy in
the 1960's, and without the benefit of high quality design or
sustainable objectives, the City suffered erosion of the historic
skyline and degradation of the environment.
3. The 1960's legacy of poorly designed
tall buildings in the city has resulted in strong public antipathy
to further similar development.
4. A clear and accountable assessment and
evaluation of tall building proposals is essential if a credible
process is to be evolved which will gain the backing of the population
and allow the sustainability and land use benefits of tall buildings
to be clarified.
5. In relation to very tall buildings a
specific process may be appropriate which could contain the following
central government guidance on the
merits and advantages of a balanced approach to tall development,
giving weight to a range of criteria based on sustainability and
local context, where architectural merit will be one of a basket
of issues to be considered;
clear guidance on the assessment
process as indicated by English Heritage and CABE;
topographical and environmental assessment
of potential impact on historic or otherwise sensitive contexts
by local authorities, indicating potential areas of acceptability;
demonstrable commitment by developers
to high quality development, matching the public aspiration to
see architectural landmarks comparable to the best examples elsewhere
in the world.
6. Generating certainty and promoting creative
excellence should be the watchwords of any new high buildings
policy, but these need to be set against consideration of impact
on a valued local setting. Bristol's experience is what goes up
tends to stay there so it must aspire to be the best quality that
contemporary architecture can achieve, and then only if the context
1.1 Bristol is experiencing an urban regeneration
programme unparalleled for over an hundred years, bringing positive
investment in buildings in the City through private and public
initiatives. Such is the scale of the current activity, the word
"renaissance" springs readily to use.
2.1 New investment in community facilities,
schools, hospitals, new homes and businesses is the life blood
of urban regeneration and gives the potential for a new quality
of urban living. In the case of central Bristol it has been focussed
around the rebirth of the old harbour and the historic city and
in its Victorian suburbs. More development in the outer suburbs
is contemplated as investment radiates outward.
2.2 Bristol has a strong tradition of urban
quality backed by a wealth of investment in the Georgian, Victorian
and Edwardian periods. It is recognised, both by its community
and by national assessors as an outstanding legacy of architecture
and built townscape based on a topography of hills, river valleys
and gorges, giving scenic views and framed landscapes.
3. Consensus with the community
3.1 The city has developed a consistent
approach since the disaster of mass clearance and illiterate development
of the 1960's. That approach has been one of respecting its urban
past, restoring its historic fabric and rebuilding its urban architecture
to re-establish a city of traditional streets and squares, re-emphasising
the importance of the pedestrian and the reflection of human scale
in a modern urban context.
3.2 A greater part of the past 30 years
has been spent re-engaging with the people of Bristol, establishing
public/private partnerships, seeking consensus and encouraging
new ways to invest to create jobs, build new communities and provide
services. Linked with this has been widening agenda of traffic
calming, pedestrianisation and investment in public transport
3.3 Bristol stands today as a progressive
urban authority moving forward with major new investment based
on a renewed experience of a community working together to a shared
4. Tall buildings: a changing agenda?
4.1 There is nothing more evocative of 1960's
urban planning than tower blocks and high-rise buildings. Although
partially cleared of their social stigmas in the area of housing,
they remain a matter where few examples of quality and merit exist
in this country and arguably most of those lie within the London
4.2 This then, is the context for revisiting
this debate, at least for Bristol and its decision makers. The
few existing tall buildings in this city are unloved, of low commercial
value, and are mediocre in quality. Most date from the 1960's
and are coming to the end of their natural lifespan.
4.3 In view of the recent renewed interest
in tall buildings, there is a need for central government to give
clear advice on the assessment of such proposals and their potential
to fulfil sustainability objectives and to provide an urban focus
in the built environment,
4.4 In Bristol the private sector has reassessed
the potential of tall buildings and two schemes to remodel existing
structures have come forward in the central area. A further scheme
has been contemplated for a new tall building adjacent to I K
Brunel's unique railway terminus at Temple Meads (listed grade
1) and a study by URBED has proposed three prominent landmark
buildings on the edge of the Floating Harbour at Temple Back.
5. Assessing tall buildings
5.1 Given the strong public concern generated
by tall buildings in this country there need to be very clear
criteria for assessment which are accountable and transparent
and which identify clearly public benefits and disbenefits. Without
that basis the public will not be kept informed and involved in
the decision-making process and it will be difficult to focus
the debate on our changing goals as an urban society.
5.2 Both English Heritage and CABE as guardians
of our heritage and urban environment have responded intelligently
to the challenge in their draft guidance issued in June 2001.
This needs further definition at the following two levels:
At the central government levelthere
should be Planning Policy Guidance on the role of tall buildings
in meeting density, sustainability, transport and environmental
objectives, stemming from government policy and backed by objective
At the local government levelthere
needs to be an assessment of the impact on local contexts, including
an appropriate urban and historic environment assessment, and
a clarification of local sustainability objectives, all carried
out by independent, suitably qualified consultants.
5.3 This approach would enable the process
of close scrutiny and high standards proposed by English Heritage
and CABE to be applied.
6. Bristol City Council's approach
6.1 In the case of Bristol, a highly sensitive
historic city where the built environment is a major public concern,
planning policy is enshrined within the Bristol Local Plan 1997.
In this document there are 22 policies which aim "to recognise
the quality and special character of different parts of Bristol
and welcome new development that improves the existing environment
through good urban design" .
6.2 Bristol's built environment policies
especially focus on the regard which should be taken of local
context and on determining whether or not development proposals
"cause unacceptable harm to the character and/or appearance
of an area, or to the visual impact of historic buildings, views
6.3 This specifically takes into account
"the existing landforms and natural features" and the
premise that "the creation of townscape features should be
considered in relation to their surroundings".
6.4 Bristol is thus well positioned environmentally
to assess tall buildings, given effective Government Guidance
on strategic issues and guidance tests on acceptability. It should
be borne in mind that this is one amongst a range of issues the
local plan would require to be included in a formal assessment.
7. Impact on the Skyline or Significant Public
7.1 Bristol, like Bath, has been recognised
as needing a skyline and topographical study to define areas of
important or sensitive historic environment or landscape features
which will need to have protected vistas or corridors established
to ensure retention of the unique character of its built environment.
7.2 Such a topographical study is under
discussion and is hoped to proceed next year supported by CABE
and English Heritage. If acceptable to the community, the findings
could be adopted as supplementary planning guidance and give developers
a steer as to where tall buildings could be acceptable subject
to central and local government policies. The CABE and English
Heritage paper is a step in the right direction, and this approach,
if given backing by central government guidance could create a
clear process for assessment, public endorsement and involvement.
8.1 If the spectres of the 1960's are to
be finally laid to rest, then there does need to be clear advice
to developers and local authorities on the environmental benefits
and costs of tall buildings and to how they should be assessed
in the local context. Any scheme needs to address the tests of
quality, sustainability, viability and impact on the urban environment
if it is to gain the support of the community.
8.2 Given evidence of the past in relation
to tall buildings, an approach which recognises the special character
of the built environment of our historic towns needs to be evolved
which enables the best of the past not to be prejudiced by hasty
decisions on development form. The guidance by English Heritage
and CABE on tall buildings demonstrates an 'evaluative process'
which draws out the key issues for assessment. This guidance "could
either be adopted in whole or form the basis for local planning
8.3 However, it needs to be recognised that
a local planning context is relevant to planning decisions. This
would set a clear framework within which tall buildings proposals
could be successfully evaluated, with the support of a clear government