Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)

JUDITH MAYHEW, PETER REES AND PETER BENNETT

TUESDAY 22 JANUARY 2002

  20. And then what; is that projected on to the future?
  (Mr Rees) As far as one can see at the moment; it depends. There must come a point, a cut-off, at which you cannot cope with getting the number of people in. I do not know when that would be, but I can say that, before the war, with steam engines pulling the trains and men pulling levers to operate the points, half a million people a day came to and from the City of London; it is now just over 300,000. So there is considerable capacity in the system, albeit it needs a fair amount of maintenance, as we are all aware.

  21. But, in terms of the actual buildings, have you projected a limit, even if we go to sort of 50 floors, or then there is a growth and future demand and we go to 75, 100?
  (Mr Bennett) We have predicted that over the next 15 years not only can the City accommodate all known requirements but also City fringe areas, neighbouring boroughs, as well, right on the boundary.

  22. But that is all now, is it not; we have just been talking about the growth carrying on, and the further growth now for the next ten years, that was not needed ten years ago, so in ten years' time, just as you are now saying we have got to go to 50 floors, surely the logic of that is you come back and say it must be 75 floors, it has got to be 100 floors, to keep on growing?
  (Mr Rees) No, not necessarily, because technology changes, because the way jobs are done changes. It may well be that in ten to 15 years' time we have the City operating 24 hours a day, because it makes logical sense not to have three world financial centres but to have one and to have it working around the clock, rather than passing the business on round the world.

  23. So if we wait ten years then there is no need for these tall buildings?
  (Mr Rees) The problem is, you cannot wait ten years, because you have lost it by then because they have all gone elsewhere.
  (Ms Mayhew) I think we do have to continue to give what the international financial centres want.

  24. So it is demand-led then, purely demand-led?
  (Ms Mayhew) It is demand-led, but it is in the context of the protection of St Paul's and the conservation areas. But I think what is important is to recognise that over about 60 storeys the buildings get less economic, because you require more staircases, more service areas, and so, at the moment, 50 to 60 storeys is the maximum height which is economic for developers to build in London, and we are not looking at anything bigger than that.

Christine Russell

  25. Can I ask you, does not the destruction of the `twin towers' in New York inevitably mean that construction costs and maintenance costs of tall buildings will increase substantially, in order to comply with probably increased safety requirements that will come in?
  (Ms Mayhew) Just initially to answer that, before I turn to the experts. We have always had much tougher building regulations in the United Kingdom than in the United States, we have always had much more detailed evacuation procedures, much wider staircases, more provision, we build in a different way; but post Ronan Point our building regulations were tightened up very, very considerably, so we are not comparing like with like. Although a lot of work is being done by both American and English engineers to look at this, at this point we do not see costs rising substantially here, because we are meeting a far higher standard, quite rightly, already.
  (Mr Rees) And I think we need to go back to the area of scale. The World Trade Center accommodated, I think, getting on for 100,000 people, in those two buildings; we are talking about buildings of fewer than 10,000 people, absolutely maximum, that is going up to 60 storeys on the sort of floor plates that we are talking about. These are wholly different buildings, but with greater amounts of servicing, as has been said. Firemen do not have to go up the staircases in this country as the people are coming down, which probably was a sight that amazed you in the World Trade Center. The central cores are fully fire-proofed, in concrete structures, in the buildings we are talking about; that was not the case in the World Trade Center, it was a core that had been built afterwards, within the building. They are very different kinds of structures. And, again, I think we should point out that there have been threatened gas attacks on underground railway systems; we are not talking about abandoning our Underground.

  26. Do you believe that the existing fire regulations are stringent enough, in the light of what happened to the `twin towers'?
  (Mr Rees) There is a lot to be learned. It would be wrong to be complacent, that there is nothing to learn; of course, there is something to learn from every disaster. In fact, a firm of British engineers, Arup Partnership, are leading the research in the States, looking into how these buildings are constructed and how you evacuate them. A number of other British engineering consultancies are leading the way, in gleaning the evidence that can be gleaned from what happened, to improve safety yet further. But, as I say, the scale is very different, the regulations are already much tighter in this country; but, of course, there is scope for improvement.

Mrs Ellman

  27. Earlier, in giving your evidence to us today, you rejected the recommendations from the London Planning Advisory Committee, on the grounds that they were based on evidence which was, I think you said, four years old. Now, suppose the economic situation, in terms of growth, changed in the next four years, or six years, or eight years, what does that mean for a policy of going ahead with tall buildings today?
  (Ms Mayhew) Quite obviously, it is demand-led; if people decided that buildings were not economic, for whatever reason, they would not build them. But I think we are in an unusual position; being an international financial centre, we are involved not just in domestic British finance but we are actually the world's biggest international financial centre, a third of the world's foreign exchange dealing is done in London every day. So that we are in a growth area, because there is a huge growth in capital flows worldwide, and as long as we can remain pre-eminent and offer people what they need, and that is choice, we are not complacent but we are fighting our corner to maintain our position as the world's greatest financial centre, and therefore we hope that we will be the place of first choice. And we are, in world terms, less expensive than some of our competitors, it is less expensive to operate in London than it is in New York and in Frankfurt and in Tokyo; so we are fighting very hard to keep that business for the UK economy.

  28. But does that automatically mean that we need more and more tall buildings to attract that business?
  (Ms Mayhew) Certainly, in the City it means that, in the area in which we can build them, we need to have some, if people want them; but it may be that they want groundscrapers or campus developments. What you have to give people is choice, that you do not say, "You must go into this building;" it does not work like that.

  29. But does that mean then that you need tall buildings which do not have an end user?
  (Ms Mayhew) You do, certainly, if you want to offer multi-lets to groups of small companies that are going to move out into bigger buildings, because they tend to want to share facilities to keep their costs down, and that is important, and when they get a bit bigger they move out. You will find in the City that virtually all the big buildings that are solo occupied are pre-let before they are built.
  (Mr Bennett) Could I just add as well that, in fact, the whole economic life of buildings is getting shorter and shorter, particularly in the City, where, this changing demand, this developing demand, probably ten years ago the floor plate needs of some of the big traders was maybe 20,000 square feet, we have now seen it growing over that period to 60,000 square feet. It is not saying it is going to go on growing, because probably it has now got to the point where it is the maximum size, in terms of modern needs; but it may change. What we see in the City is a third of the buildings having been redeveloped in the last ten years, and a need to recycle buildings and sites on an ongoing basis; so that tall buildings may well be recycled in the future, who knows. But it does mean that there is an active market, in terms both of demand and investment, because investment is needed to do these buildings, which will actually produce this continuing product, this building product.

Chairman

  30. So the attraction of the City is that it is a building site for ever?
  (Ms Mayhew) No.
  (Mr Rees) Yes; and, therefore, that the rest of London does not have to be, and that is important.

  31. Let us get it on the record; yes and no, is that right?
  (Mr Bennett) And it is all for sale.

Mrs Ellman

  32. What form does the recycling take, that, Mr Bennett, you have just spoken about? You just said that it might be that tall buildings need to be recycled; what do you mean?
  (Mr Bennett) I think that one of the interesting things about modern tall buildings is the need to look at the environmental impact and the sustainability issue; and certainly some of the more modern proposals are looking at not only how the building is built but how it can be demolished and how it can be reused, and materials reused and recycled. And that is sort of a very different approach today than perhaps ten, 15, 20 years ago.

  33. When you say reused, do you mean redeveloped for other uses, or do you mean demolished; as we build them, are we planning for demolition?
  (Mr Rees) That goes back to the Chairman's point, in fact; it is yes and no, because—

  34. Which is the `yes' bit?
  (Mr Rees) Because on the last ten-year cycle we have been seeing buildings coming down that had been up for only 20 or 30 years; now that is not very sustainable. What we have seen is, with the taller buildings, these buildings are more capable of adaptation, either, as in the case of the NatWest Tower, into a different kind of pattern of office use, or, in terms of City Point, taking off the outside and the core out of the middle, keeping the structure, which is a very valuable resource, and recladding the building and reservicing the building to provide for modern office accommodation. Now that has avoided those buildings having to come down completely. So the answer, in yes and no, is indeed in that sense.
  (Ms Mayhew) Because, you see, as you get new technology, you need greater floor and ceiling height to deal with the cabling; but one day we will all be digital and we will not need that.

Chairman

  35. You will not need the City at all then, presumably?
  (Ms Mayhew) No, no; you will always need top centres to manage people, because you always need to bring your top people together to manage them and to control them, because people are gregarious, they like working together, and they like brainstorming.
  (Mr Rees) It is like the House of Commons, you know, people like to come together.

Mrs Ellman

  36. Should this reuse then be part of the planning brief and the design brief when a new building is thought up?
  (Ms Mayhew) I think that might well be too constraining; but what we are finding, on the environmental impact assessments, is that people are really taking this seriously. Sustainable development is a serious issue for the City of London, and we do look at it seriously.

Mr Betts

  37. We were talking about the demand being there for these tall buildings, and the fact that there has to be a choice for developers and people who are going to occupy them. What about the choice for people who live in London to have their historic landscape preserved; perhaps some of them do not actually want to see it destroyed?
  (Ms Mayhew) We do not destroy our historic landscape. The vast majority of the City is actually a conservation area, and we do protect St Paul's heights. And, I think, if you looked at the way in which we have adapted some of the historic buildings to modern use, you would be very proud of them. If we look particularly at the Merrill Lynch building, which is a groundscraper, that has preserved wonderfully the old Edwardian Post Office and other parts, an 18th century part of the building as well; and the way in which that has been done, and created pedestrian space and open space as well, has been hugely sympathetic. So I think we are able to do that. We do respect our conservation areas. But we do have one triangle that is not a conservation area, that does not have a medieval street pattern.
  (Mr Rees) And I think it is important to differentiate; there are those, principally architects, who would like the commissions, I have no doubt, that would suggest dotting high buildings all over London, wherever the opportunity arises. The City does not perceive the need for high buildings as landmarks, identifiers, or architectural icons.

Chairman

  38. What you mean is that you want them but no-one else should have them?
  (Mr Rees) Not at all, no. What we believe is, they should be in a limited number of clusters, that Croydon has just as good a claim, as an important satellite, Canary Wharf has just as good a claim, as an important satellite, but you need to group them rather than scattering them all over, and, as you say, having a negative impact on people's residential environments.
  (Ms Mayhew) The unusual thing is that we have got two of the tallest residential towers in the country, and because they are well maintained and well looked after I think—

Mrs Dunwoody

  39. Three?
  (Ms Mayhew) Three; then people are not unhappy about them.

  Mrs Dunwoody: Yes; well, we live in them, we do not have to look at them, we just sit inside and look out.


 
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