Members present:

Andrew Bennett, in the Chair
Sir Paul Beresford
Mr Clive Betts
Mrs Gwyneth Dunwoody
Mrs Louise Ellman
Chris Grayling
Ms Oona King
Miss Anne McIntosh
Christine Russell


Examination of Witnesses

LORD FALCONER OF THOROTON QC, Minister for Housing, Planning and Regeneration, MR PETER ELLIS, Head of Planning Policies Division, Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, examined.


  1. Can I welcome you to our final session on tall buildings. Can I ask you to identify yourself and your team?
  2. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am Lord Falconer, Minister of Housing, Planning and Regeneration, and this is Peter Ellis from the Planning Department from the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions.

  3. Do you want to say anything by way of introduction?
  4. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Could I, very briefly, make a few remarks? I welcome the opportunity to discuss tall buildings with you. The proposals for tall buildings cause passionate debate, and there is an edge on the debate in the evidence that you have heard on the issue. This looks to lump people into highly polarised camps: you are either for tall buildings or you are against them. The Government's policy on tall buildings is to get the right decision out of the planning system. We have a policy to promote good design, we want to see buildings that look good, but good design is more than that, we want the right development in the right place; development that respects its context and development that is supported by the right transport infrastructure. Nothing I say today should be taken as an implied comment on any of the live planning applications. I am for buildings - tall or not - if they demonstrate design excellence. As I have just said, that means that they should be in the right place and sustainable. Preferably, they should be in locations identified by sound forward planning and clear development plans, drawn up through effective engagement with local communities. People want to shape the future of the places where they live and work. The Government expects the planning system to deliver good design, sensitive to people's needs and aspirations. We also want safe buildings. I understand why the tragic events of September 11 has led to public concern about the safety of tall buildings. Whilst we believe that building regulations in the United Kingdom are already more stringent than those in the United States of America, we do not rule out improvements. Once the United States authorities have completed their studies into the World Trade Centre collapse we will consider carefully any implications for the United Kingdom and will listen to the advice of professional bodies such as the committee set up under the chairmanship of the Institution of Structural Engineers, from whom I believe you heard last week.

    Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.

    Christine Russell

  5. Lord Falconer, how would you define a tall building?
  6. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Tallness has got to be by reference to where it is. So what might be tall in once place would not be tall in another place. You have to be quite careful about looking at that issue in relation to its context. So ten storeys or above could be very tall in some places but not in others. You will know what the requirements for consultation with the Mayor are, at which level beside the river and elsewhere in the City, and that is an indication of the sort of levels in London that represent tallness.

  7. Do you support that, in general?
  8. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In general yes, I do.

  9. Can I ask for your opinion on whether or not you consider that we do have an economic need - obviously, firstly, in London but secondly outside London - for tall buildings?
  10. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The tall building will very frequently be doing that which the not-tall building is doing. So the question is, is there an economic case for the particular building? You have got developments in London like Broadgate, which are not tall. They, presumably, could have been done tall. Whether it be tall or not tall, what you have got to ascertain is, is there an economic case for that particular building? Is the place they want to put it the right place for a tall building? Is the transport infrastructure right for that proposal?

  11. Do you feel you can ever make an economic case? We have heard such differing views , with people saying "Yes, there is an economic case" but other people saying "Well, actually, you can get the same amount of density from a much smaller building". Who is right? We have heard from both sets of experts. Who do you consider is right?
  12. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I envisage that you can make a case for a tall building in the appropriate case, but the issues will be the same issues as they are about any buildings. Is the design right? Is it economically sustainable? Is the transport infrastructure right? Is the location right? So I do not rule out the possibility of making a case for a tall building.

    Chris Grayling

  13. Do you think, Lord Falconer, that the role of tall buildings is largely symbolic, particularly outside London? Is it just a question of status?
  14. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think it would depend upon each individual application. There could be a place for tall buildings that increase density, for example, in relation to housing, but I would like to make it clear that I am not urging a return to the tower block.


  15. Why not?
  16. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Because I think the tower block carries with it a large sense of failure, for example, in relation to the design of those tower blocks and in relation to the construction of those tower blocks. I also think that in certain places tower blocks would be a disastrous way to house, for example, families. People, rightly, look at the tower block era as one that was not successful in relation to provisions for accommodation. In answer to your question, I am saying there may well be a case for a tall building that is more than symbolic - for example, in relation to the densities that it provides.

    Chris Grayling

  17. In reality, surely, the problem with tower blocks was that they were designed for the wrong audience. They were built as council blocks for families. Earlier on we were hearing about the Barbican, and that where you build a tower block with flats aimed at younger, professional people they are highly in demand.
  18. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The words "tower block" conjure up, for me, the Ronan Point type of development, which was poorly designed, poorly constructed, with families unsuitably housed. That is why I am saying I do not want to go back to the tower block era. However, I am saying that in some cases the value of a tall building will not just be its symbolism (which is what your question was about, Mr Grayling) but in fact the utility that it produces, because it can get greater density in a particular case than other places. There are issues about that.

    Sir Paul Beresford

  19. Would it be wrong if it was built, in part, as a symbol?
  20. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, I do not think it would necessarily. There would have to be a sustainable case for it, it would have to be in the right place for transport infrastructure, for design, etc.

    Chris Grayling

  21. We have taken evidence from witnesses who say that in reality tower blocks are not necessarily the best way to generate density.
  22. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Indeed.

  23. In Kensington & Chelsea, for example, they have the highest possible density of anywhere in the country, yet that is a very exclusive area.
  24. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Indeed, the Ardent and George (?) developers have done some interesting research in connection with Kings Cross which says that when you get above ten storeys, because of the need for lifts and staircases, you tend you start making quite little gains in terms of density. Would it not depend upon the particular circumstances, as to whether going upwards gives you more density than going along or dealing with it in different ways? I am always told that the Georgian terraces in Liverpool or London produce very high levels of density - much, much higher levels of density than those that are produced by the sorts of housing development that took place in the 60s and 70s. They are producing densities of above 40 or 50 per hectare, whereas the developments in the 60s and 70s were producing densities of about 20 per hectare. That seems to me to demonstrate that tallness does not necessarily mean density, but it can in particular cases.

    Christine Russell

  25. Lord Falconer, other witnesses have told us that they would like to see more certainty under the planning system. If you think this is desirable, how can we do it?
  26. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There is no national planning guidance on tall buildings of any sort, at the moment, but there is national planning guidance on things like good design, transport infrastructure, etc. My inclination is not to have specific planning guidance on tall buildings because I think in each individual case a case has to be made out for the particular building. So, subject obviously to considering what is said in your report, my inclination would be no, because I think you can have too much national guidance. I think I said that the last time I was here.


  27. You wanted more certainty the last time you were here.
  28. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) As I hope I made clear, Chairman, the way to do that is not to have pages and pages and pages of national planning guidance.

    Christine Russell

  29. Do you think, then, local authorities will have adequate powers to resist inappropriate applications? We have heard very strong calls, particularly from historic cities, for instance, where they feel tall buildings are not appropriate but they are under immense development pressure.
  30. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think in the drawing up of the local development framework, which is what the new planning green paper suggested, or in drawing up the development plan now, it is for the local authority to have a process by which they consult the community and form a view about whether or not they want a tall building in their district. I do not think they need central planning guidance to provide, necessarily, the means to either resist or accept such buildings.

    Mrs Ellman

  31. Local authorities tell us that they are concerned that the absence of guidance makes it difficult for them to defend tall buildings policies that they might want to put in their plans. Would you have any comments on that?
  32. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The basic point I am making is that if the tall building is well-designed and meets the other national policies about transport, sustainability, density, etc, then there is a case for a tall building. If it does not meet those principles then there would not be case for a tall building. I do not think that there is a bright line answer to where there should be a tall building. It will depend upon the sort of issues that I have identified.

    Mrs Dunwoody

  33. What is a "bright line answer"?
  34. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Is there a yes or no answer to whether or not there should be a tall building in a particular place.

    Mrs Ellman

  35. PPGs 6 and 13 do recommend where development should take place, such as town centres. Should there be some equivalent PPG for tall buildings?
  36. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think so. PPG 13, particularly, will obviously have relevance in relation to tall buildings. As I say, my present inclination is you are not going to add much to the process by saying "Let us have a separate national policy on tall buildings".

  37. We heard evidence earlier this morning from CABE, who suggested there should be government guidance in relation to Section 106 agreements, and what sorts of agreements were advisable. Would you agree that government should be involved?
  38. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There is already some guidance out there, for example on affordable housing, in relation to Section 106. Yes, I do think that the Government should issue guidance in relation to Section 106 agreements because without guidance there is great uncertainty about what local authorities should ask for. In the documents that accompany the planning green paper we propose a tariff system in relation to planning gain from Section 106 agreements. That issue about planning gain would apply just as much to tall buildings as it would to any other development that was proposed.

    Sir Paul Beresford

  39. That was a betterment tax - the same sort of thing they had in the 60s - and it did not work then.
  40. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is not a betterment tax, it is trying to identify with some degree of clarity what contribution to development in the community should be made by a developer. It is trying to get away from all of the current uncertainties that surround what sort of contribution the developer is expected to make - whether it is the building of more affordable houses or whether it is identification of a sum, does not seem to me to make much difference.

    Sir Paul Beresford: I will resist following it up.

    Chairman: I am just wondering whether we should not call it a "worserment tax".

    Mrs Ellman

  41. What is the precise status of the CABE/English Heritage guidance?
  42. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is guidance on tall buildings, a consultation paper. Plainly, it will be referred to in, for example, planning inquiries. The consultation process, I think, has been completed, and I think they have to make up their minds whether they are going to publish it as a final document. It is plainly of some relevance in determining whether or not a tall building should go ahead.

  43. Will it have the mark of Government approval?
  44. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Looking at it, it ----

    Sir Paul Beresford

  45. Before you answer that, before commenting on the actual application, they came together to produce this guidance and then fell apart about Heron ----
  46. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I heard, yes. You have just had them in front of you, and presumably they did not reach agreement in relation to it.

    Sir Paul Beresford: No, they did not even reach agreement on quite how they voted on it.

    Mrs Dunwoody: The question still remains the one that Mrs Ellman asked.

    Mrs Ellman

  47. Does it have the mark of Government approval?
  48. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It seems to us to make very good sense.

  49. Does that mean yes?
  50. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I have no quarrel with any of it.

  51. Does that mean yes?
  52. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think it does mean yes, yes. As Mr Ellis is whispering in my ear, quite rightly, it is still in draft, so it may change.

  53. So it might not have Government's approval?
  54. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) What I am saying is I agree with the content of the consultation paper.


  55. So what is there is all right. What is missing?
  56. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not want to make any suggestions as to what is missing. It seems to me to be very, very sensible, but I keep coming back to the issue: in relation to each individual tall building a case has got to be made out in accordance with the principles that apply in relation to -----

    Mrs Dunwoody

  57. Would it be helpful to publish the minutes of the meetings that you have with them, so we can judge which bits were left out?
  58. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I have not had any meetings about tall buildings.

  59. When you take their advice, do you think it would be a good idea if all of that advice was published?
  60. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) All the advice they gave me about tall buildings?

  61. Yes, all the advice that they gave you. They are two advisory bodies for the price of one.
  62. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It would be sensible for there to be published all of the advice that they think is sensible.

    Mrs Dunwoody: No, no, no.


  63. Earlier this morning, we got from English Heritage, a view that they would like to have public meetings or, certainly, to publish the minutes of their meetings.
  64. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) With whom?

  65. When they are making decisions to advise government. They suggested to us that it was government who was suggesting that it would be better if they continued to have their proceedings in secret.
  66. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Are you talking about individual cases or are you talking about general guidance?

  67. English Heritage have their regular meetings and at those meetings they look at both general guidance and at individual cases. It seemed to the Committee that if those were transparent events in which the public knew what was going on, it would be helpful. We got the impression, I think, from Sir Neil that he liked the idea of it being in public, but told us that government ministers preferred to have it done in secret.
  68. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The note that has been passed to me says "DCMS".

  69. We have a seamless government, I understood. Joined up government.
  70. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We do, we do. All that Mr Ellis is saying to me is do not express your own view without making it clear that I would obviously have to consult with DCMS. In principle, we think it would be appropriate that guidance from English Heritage or CABE about individual buildings or about the generality should be published, as long as there is not too much of it.

    Mrs Dunwoody

  71. As long as it is not too plain?
  72. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, no, no, no.

  73. As long as we do not understand what they say, there is no problem.
  74. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) As long as it does not lead to a lack of clarity.

  75. You, my Lord, may say whatever you like. I am endeavouring to work out what you are saying.
  76. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I hope I am making it clear what I say.


  77. You will have some further discussions with your colleagues?
  78. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Indeed. In answer to your question, in principle I can see real value in publishing the advice given both by CABE and English Heritage, both in relation to specific cases and in relation to the generality of it.

    Mrs Dunwoody: That is very helpful, and Mr Ellis will tell you off when you get outside.


  79. We will look with interest to see how far you can persuade your ministerial colleagues.
  80. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Could I write to you about that?

    Chairman: By all means.

    Christine Russell

  81. Do you feel that land use and transport planning is sufficiently well-linked together? Do the planners talk enough to the highway engineers?
  82. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am not sure that they do.

  83. Last week or, maybe, the week before, we were given evidence from London Underground, in particular, that seemed to question the actual capacity to cope with a huge influx of additional passengers arising from a new high-density tall building.
  84. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am not sure that land use planners and transport planners do talk enough to each other. I think one of the goals of the green paper proposals is that, particularly in relation to transport but in relation to other aspects of policy as well, there should be a greater connection between land use and other strategies. That particularly applies to transport.

    Chris Grayling

  85. When the department you are part of produced the 10-year plan for transport, was there a detailed internal discussion with those in the department involved in the planning and forecasting of planning to assess the impact of things like tall building developments on the likely future transport needs?
  86. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) You keep treating tall buildings as a special sort of transport demand. On Christine's point about can transport cope with the new activity coming from a particular tall building, if there are, as it were, jobs and activity that required the same number of people - whether it not it is through a tall building or whether it is in some other way - that will have transport implications.

  87. Up to a point, except that if you put a couple of very substantial buildings in the City of London, you can add thousands of people to the daily flow in and out of the City of London, in a relatively small geographical area. That can have a massive impact on the transport infrastructure. The point of my question is to understand, when you did the planning work for the 10-year transport plan, did you as a department sit down and look and say "Okay, what are the likely increases in intense development in city centres as well as other trends" before you established what the priorities for the 10-year transport plan should be?
  88. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In preparing the 10-year plan, of course, the implications for it beyond transport were considered. I cannot tell you the extent to which there was a detailed consideration in each case of the planning implications, because on much of the 10-year plan there are still sites and detail to be worked out. It is at that stage that the planning implications would be considered.

    Chairman: Oona, since it is right on the edge of your constituency, do you want to come in on this?

    Ms King

  89. I just want to ask if you envisage any high-density planning applications (which, obviously, could be tall buildings) which might have to be turned down because there is not adequate transport infrastructure to sustain those applications?
  90. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Making it clear that I am not talking about any individual case, if the transport infrastructure was not adequate to meet whatever demand the tall buildings make, that would be a perfectly sensible reason for turning down the application.

  91. Is that not a bit of a problem? For example, London Underground are telling us that in 15 years' time the Central Line will still be overcrowded (it is over-crowded now and in 15 years' time it will just be very overcrowded). What are the implications for all the buildings, when basically the transport infrastructure is London Underground?
  92. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) What is the implication for the growth of employment in various parts of London, in the light of what you have said? It is not just a question restricted to tall buildings. In relation to individual applications for tall buildings, transport infrastructure is a vital consideration to take into account. You know there is a public inquiry going on in relation to the Heron building. They have obviously got to consider those issues; the effect of the public inquiry is that they will be aired in detail there. I am being careful not to comment at all about it or to give any indication of what my view in relation to that should be, because of my role in the planning system.

    Sir Paul Beresford

  93. There are two ways of looking at that. You can either look at it from a restrictive point of view or you can look at it from a more positive angle and do something about the transport. I am talking about in general.
  94. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That is obviously right. You can conclude, let us improve the transport infrastructure to a particular place for economic activity to take place so you can develop in a particular way. It would not necessarily involve tall buildings; it would involve any development that would bring jobs and economic activity. You are right.

    Christine Russell

  95. I will not ask you about individual applications, but in general would you like to see more Section 106 contributions going towards increasing transport capacity?
  96. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Where appropriate, yes, I would, particularly if the particular development - tall building or not - has a real impact on transport infrastructure. However, each (I am sorry to say it again) individual case must be looked at on its merits.


  97. Without going into specific things, do you not find it a bit odd that Canary Wharf put up 90 million for the Jubilee Line (not much, really, considering the cost of that line) yet the proposals for the Heron are not putting up any money at all?
  98. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not want to go there, if you do not mind, because it is impossible to answer that question without expressing a view on what offers have been made by the developers.

    Mrs Dunwoody

  99. Let us put it another way, my Lord. If an application for a tall building was made, would you expect, routinely, that the contribution from that tall building should be towards improving the transport infrastructure?
  100. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Depending on what pressures it put on the transport infrastructure.

  101. In an area where there is already considerable pressure on the transport infrastructure, would you expect a Section 106 to make a considerable contribution to the transport system, if the effect of the planning application was to bring in large numbers of people? I hope that is clear.
  102. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That is very clear, but that is a question designed to put the facts in relation to the Heron Tower to me without saying so.

  103. No. With the greatest respect, this is actually a point of principle. If there is to be an expansion, say around the City of London in all directions, of buildings that will bring in large numbers of extra people (and I am not talking about 20 extra people) to an area where the infrastructure is already not only creaking but close to collapse, would you then expect as part of that application that there should be a demand for funds for the transport infrastructure?
  104. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The appropriate demand made by the local authority should be that which is necessary in relation to the transport infrastructure and appropriate. I am sorry to give such a general answer, but I am trying to avoid expressing a view.


  105. I understand why you are trying to avoid that, and it would help if we could give you a different example to the Heron.
  106. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The extent to which I am trying to go is to say that I can quite envisage circumstances where contributions to the transport infrastructure would be entirely appropriate as far as the developer is concerned.

  107. Am I right, totally hypothetically, that if you are considering a particular application you can demand extra 106 as part of the Secretary of State's approval of the scheme?
  108. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The Secretary of State is entitled to say "I will not approve this because there is an insufficient 106 contribution."

    Mrs Dunwoody: So the answer is yes.

    Christine Russell

  109. Whilst we are still on this issue of planning gain and 106s, based on transport infrastructure, what about affordable housing, because we have been given, by some of our expert witnesses, the reason that a number of firms may pull out of the City of London or central London is the lack of affordable housing. How do you weigh those together - transport and housing?
  110. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It should be a judgment made by the relevant local authority as to what its priorities are.

  111. Should you not be giving them some guidance?
  112. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) What is the priority for the City of London? What is the priority for Tower Hamlets? What is the priority for Liverpool? They will differ. It is not, I think, for central Government to say the priority everywhere is affordable housing or the priority everywhere is transport. Manifestly, that is not right. The problem of an absence of affordable housing in London and the South East and other parts of the country as well are not reflected in yet other parts of the country. There has to be an element, and a very significant element, of local choice in relation to what priorities are.


  113. Does there not have to be some government interference in this area? The City of London pretty clearly told us they wanted the office jobs and they wanted the affordable housing in Tower Hamlets. Is it not legitimate for Tower Hamlets to say they want the office jobs and perhaps not have the affordable housing?
  114. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes, and there would most certainly be scope for a national view in relation to that, but one would hope that at stage one there would be discussion between the City and the boroughs that surround it, as to what the appropriate mix was.

  115. Are you satisfied that those discussions have taken place?
  116. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Not entirely, no.

    Mrs Ellman

  117. What is the status of the Mayor's Interim Strategic Guidance on tall buildings?
  118. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is a document that has been published on behalf of the Mayor, it has not yet been consulted upon, therefore it is not a final document.

  119. Does it have any status?
  120. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think it is a document that could be referred to in planning applications. It would be something that, in considering the position, central Government would pay some regard to, but until it is a document that has been consulted upon its weight is obviously much less than it would otherwise be.

  121. The Mayor told us, when he gave evidence here, that people did not agree with tall buildings and they would deal with that by the way they vote at the next Mayoral election. Do you look forward to a Mayoral election fought on tall buildings?
  122. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not know whether or not the next Mayoral election will be fought on tall buildings. That is really up to the Mayor, as to whether he makes it a big issue. Our position in relation to it is pretty clear: I think, ultimately, it is a matter for seeing is there is a case for the particular building?

  123. Will the Mayor's London Plan be able to override the policy on tall buildings of Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea and Islington?
  124. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The London Boroughs' Unitary Development Plans should be consistent with the Mayor's Spatial Strategy, in relation to his policy. That should include his policy on tall buildings. We have not yet got to a point where ----

    Mrs Dunwoody

  125. Consistent with?
  126. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Consistent with, yes.


  127. Except if they are prepared before his plan came along.
  128. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Indeed. Once his spatial strategy is adopted, pursuant to all the procedures that have got to be gone through, thereafter the boroughs' plans should become consistent with it.

    Mrs Dunwoody

  129. So if they say "We don't want tall buildings" and he says "You do want tall buildings" how do the boroughs make their plans consistent?
  130. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) They should, in effect, make changes to their plans which reflect the regional strategy of the Mayor in his spatial strategy.

  131. So his plans will override theirs?
  132. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Normally that is correct, yes. That is the hierarchy of the plan.

    Mrs Ellman

  133. Will you be advising the Secretary of State to reject the London Plan?
  134. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No. I think the right thing to do is to wait for the whole process to be gone through, and see what the plan is.

  135. In what circumstances would the Secretary of State consider rejecting the Plan?
  136. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) He would consider rejecting it if it was inconsistent with national planning policy in a material respect.

  137. Would he take into account what public opinion was thought to be, or the views of the boroughs?
  138. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) He would obviously take into account what the consultation had produced, but if there was a clear conflict between national policy guidance and that which was in the regional spatial strategy that the Mayor had produced, then he would direct that the relevant spatial strategy be changed.

  139. If there was a conflict between the regional strategy and the local strategies, what would the Secretary of State do?
  140. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) He would have to form a view in relation to it, but if the elected body had concluded this was the right course and it was not inconsistent with national policy, then that body, which has been charged with producing the regional spatial strategy, should decide.

  141. Most of our witnesses prefer clusters of tall buildings rather than pepper-potting. What is your preference?
  142. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Whether clusters is the right course or whether singleton tall buildings is the right course will depend upon the circumstances in each individual case.

  143. There were also suggestions that tall buildings should be developed in Croydon or in Docklands. Do you have any views on where tall buildings should be located?
  144. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not have a view in relation to that. If a case can be made out for that and the usual requirements that I have referred to, about good design, sustainability, transport etc, are met, then there is no reason in principle why a case should not be made for tall buildings there.

    Christine Russell: English Heritage, who gave evidence this morning, have listed a number of what one can only describe as exceedingly unpopular buildings, like Centre Point. Does this undermine your confidence in English Heritage?

    Sir Paul Beresford

  145. For example, it is said that some of the unique buildings that English Heritage have listed are unique because no one would build them again, because they are a disaster!
  146. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am quite loath to be drawn on my personal opinion on particular buildings.


  147. That is not fair. The Mayor told us how much he had enjoyed the sitting in Centre Point when it was built and now how much he admired the building. Would you not like to tempt your views on Centre Point?
  148. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, I would not, if you do not mind. The question was, does it undermine one's confidence in English Heritage that they, as it were, support buildings like Centre Point, which have been so unpopular. English Heritage have got to express their views about what they think is a good building, what a building worth preserving is or what they think about new buildings that are not yet built but are proposed to be built. They are advisers on the heritage. We can either take their advice or not, as the case may be.

    Mrs Dunwoody

  149. Anyway, we quite often will not know what their advice is, will we?
  150. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Subject to what the further consultation is and what I am allowed to say subsequently, I hope we do find out.

    Christine Russell

  151. Can I elicit your views on architects? Of course, many of the horrors of the 60s were pushed through at the time as being superb examples of avant garde architecture.
  152. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes. People now are much, much more conscious of the quality of design. People want to live in houses that they feel much more comfortable in than houses that were built in the 60s and 70s. Much higher standards of design and architecture are, I think, expected by the people who actually use these buildings, whether they be public buildings, office buildings, or residencies.

  153. So you are saying we will not get 21st century monstrosities because the level and involvement of the public is far greater now? You have faith in the public.
  154. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think people are much more conscious of these issues than they have been in the past. I certainly cannot say that we will not get monstrosities in the future, but I think people are much, much more conscious of what buildings look like and how they affect their lives.

  155. Can we move on to the safety requirements for tall buildings. You did mention at the outset that this review is now in process. Can you perhaps tell the Committee a little bit more about it and what time-scale you are working to?
  156. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There is material coming from the States about what they are discovering about the events of 11 September, which are obviously important. I do not know what the time-scale is in relation to that. There is the group chaired by the Institute of Structural Engineers which has got representation from central Government on it. I do not what their time-span is, but they are both looking at the issues, as it were, off their own bat and also seeking to take account of what they learn from America. So we are, in a sense, waiting for them to produce. I cannot tell you what the time-span is. I think you have heard from Mr Roberts, who is the Chairman of the group, last week, and we would envisage, basically, acting as soon as is reasonable upon the views that they take. One has got to act with reasonable expedition, but it is something that needs quite considerable thought.

    There is also one other group, the Building Disaster Assessment Group chaired by Her Majesty's Fire Inspectorate, which is looking at issues such as evacuation procedures and whether there should be different evacuation procedures and evacuation requirements depending on whether you are higher than 30 metres or even more than that.

  157. But could you not do something about that now without having to wait for the American research because, yes, we were told I think perhaps by Mr Roberts, that the evacuation criteria, if that is what it is called, for instance for sports stadiums, are far more stringent than for tall buildings where you have to get everyone out of Old Trafford within eight minutes? Could we not act?
  158. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think there are certain things that would not depend on information from the United States of America. We have got to decide whether we do need to act pretty quickly in relation to those. We want proper advice, we want to consider the ramifications before we act on it.

    Mrs Dunwoody

  159. Could we ask you about fire and buildings regulations. Why are you not asking for the EC Construction Products Directive, which proposes introducing a requirement that "products used in the construction of buildings, for the protection of occupants of the buildings from fire, should not smoke excessively"?
  160. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Why are we not asking the Products Directive?

  161. You are not asking that these extra things should be built in although the EC Construction Products Directive is something you are going to have to deal with?
  162. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We are certainly in touch with the people responsible for the development of the design codes, including both the British Standards Institution and those involved in Europe in the development of Euro Codes in relation to those sorts of issues. If there are particular bodies that we are not in touch with obviously we should get in touch with them as quickly as possible.

  163. Various European countries have apparently issued national standards and you are not proposing to do so.
  164. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Presumably because there are already British standards that apply, although they may not be legally enforceable, and in some cases there are Euro standards that apply. The overall answer to your question is if there are particular codes or standards that we should be considering that we are not then obviously we should get on to that. If there are particular cases please let me know and we shall write.

    Mrs Dunwoody: I shall be delighted to do so. I apologise.

    Christine Russell

  165. Can I ask your opinion on whether or not you feel tall buildings should be required, as indeed sports stadia are, to have annual safety inspections?
  166. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) One of the things that needs to be looked at is the regularity of safety inspections. I do not know whether annual is the right period and I do not know whether or not it should be different depending on the particular height and size of the building. Equally, I am not sure whether one should just be focusing on tall buildings or on any buildings where there are great conflagrations of people, for example sports stadia, for example exhibition centres.


  167. But the point is that sports stadia are clearly covered by regulations which specify an annual inspection. As we understand it, tall buildings have to be approved in terms of safety by the fire people when they are built but not after that. Is it not logical that at least at some point there should be further checks to see that modification or, as Mrs Dunwoody has just pointed out, materials that are brought into the buildings do not change the fire safety case?
  168. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am not sure what the answer to that is because I do not know whether the Fire Inspectorate or the Health & Safety Executive would say the right course is to inspect as and when they think there might be an issue.

    Mrs Dunwoody: You have not laid down even to the standards that other European --- I rarely find myself in the situation of quoting other European nations ---

    Chairman: I was a little puzzled!

    Mrs Dunwoody: But the situation is that apparently we are not issuing national requirements to conform even with the limits set in the EC fire test for the generation of smoke and fumes. It is terribly important.


  169. Would you like to let us have a note on this in due course?
  170. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Could I? I have only got to the stage where there is a group looking at this. I am not sure what the right answer to it is.

    Mrs Dunwoody

  171. If I could put to you a series of questions. We are concerned about the timing of these things. It is nice to have fire groups set up looking at them but, frankly, it would be helpful if the Committee could put to you a series of questions.
  172. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That is fine. Mr Ellis has passed me a note. Buildings are the subject of routine inspections by fire brigades, but I do not know the regularity of that. I do not know whether it would differ from place to place and I do not know whether or not pressures on individual fire services ---

  173. But you will tell us, my Lord.
  174. (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

  175. 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.
  176. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Material from the Americans.

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

  179. Will you be considering future design of tall buildings in this country to make sure that that design feature will be taken on board?
  180. (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.

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

    Christine Russell

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

  185. The Government view is that if something is well-designed then it is acceptable. Do you agree with that?
  186. (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.

  187. 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?
  188. (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

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

  191. But the view is part of this surely?
  192. (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.

  193. 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?
  194. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think that the legal structure is fine.

    Christine Russell

  195. 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?
  196. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) If that happened it would be a massive failure of the planning system.


  197. Who should decide the economic case for a tall building, the market or should it be the Government?
  198. (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

  199. 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.
  200. (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

  201. 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?
  202. (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.

  203. The main role is for the man with the cheque.
  204. (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.


  205. Do you see tall buildings as being part of a driver for regeneration?
  206. (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

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


  209. 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?
  210. (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

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

  213. 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.