Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by Bristol Visual & Environmental Group (TAB 43)


  1.  Many Green Field sites could take tall buildings, provided the development was planned as a whole: but planning adequate transport infra-structure would be expensive. Even if mixed use were to be required, workers cannot be compelled to live within walking distance of their work, and traffic generation is always huge within any dense development. Many landscapes are protected, and many towns could not erupt into tall buildings on their periphery, without severe distortion to their image and opposition by existing residents.

  2.  It is self evident that tall blocks of Council flats have been a totally unsatisfactory investment, as they are unsuitable for raising families,, need concierge-type supervision and very carefully designed surroundings. They are far more expensive than low rise development, which has no need to be low density. (See enclosure from our 1978 publication), and which suits all age groups, so why waste money?

  3.  There has recently been an architect led drive to have far more high rise office buildings but it is plain that these are generally ridiculous in any country with sustainability policies. They are costly and demand huge infrastructure investment in addition to building costs (see Times cutting of 14.12.01), money which would generally have to come from the Taxpayer. In addition, we now have the convenient target made by high buildings for terrorists and arsonists demonstrated in America and elsewhere. Additional cost of security against this would be prohibitive.

  4.  However, we are particularly concerned about the possible effect of high and out of scale buildings which might be built in the centre of towns and cities, where there is an existing rhythm and scale easily disrupted by any out of scale building and where a Conservation Area can be completely destroyed if these are allowed. Below we set out our arguments—and significance to our economy—of tall and out of scale buildings in the heart of our towns and cities (including London):

  Conservation areas are at the heart of most towns, cities and villages. There have been few completely new settlements since Saxon times. The townscape is created not just by historic buildings but by the spaces in between and the views out to hillsides and countryside. Historic areas have a rhythm and scale which, along with traditional materials, creates something harmonious and this has been in part protected for the last 30 years by designation of Conservation Areas, where the planning authority has a duty to preserve and enhance the historic character and the setting of the buildings, so that discordant and over-sized buildings have been discouraged. Years ago, technology limited the size of window panes, material had to be found locally, paving and boundary walls were generally of local stone particularly in the West Country. The siting of buildings often reflected the pattern of development many centuries ago. If new buildings are far bulkier than the generality of the old, the whole character of the Conservation Area will be destroyed in a short space of time. Tall buildings beyond the area will diminish the impact of traditional spires and towers. If changes to the doors and widows and roofs are made, with plastic and aluminium introduced in unlisted buildings, this gradually destroys the setting of nearby listed buildings and the harmony of the place falls apart; it loses the character and charm which draws the discriminating resident and tourists in large numbers. Currently, because of inadequate protection, Conservation Areas are being destroyed incrementally by small alterations. Large new buildings nearby would make this much worse.

  Economic significance of tourism: Tourism is this region's—and indeed the country's—largest industry and negative tourism inflicts a high cost on the UK's balance of payments. The greatest factor in UK tourism is environmental quality: people come for the landscape and topography in the rural areas and the historic interest of the built environment created before the age of mass production and concrete. Government statistics and the English Tourist Monitor adequately quantify the UK dependence on tourism (and the cost of people who go abroad). Tourism creates a lot of jobs as manufacturing jobs decline. We cannot afford to destroy the factors which nurture tourism and which attract people and investment: new development has got to fit in with this and must not damage the very valuable heritage we have.

  Regeneration and density: Regeneration cannot be allowed to destroy the character of adjacent historic areas by out of scale, Lego-like tower blocks, metal roofs and plastic cladding. The mistakes of the 60's with crude tower blocks, many of which have been prematurely demolished, should not be repeated, nor the overcrowding of the 19th century. The centres of settlements are generally dense enough; it is the 20th century suburbs which need extra density to support shops and services, public transport and to provide work opportunities. These suburbs can handle extra traffic whereas town centres are highly congested. Many suburban council estates are due for replanning and infill and here is a great opportunity.

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