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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 150-169)



  150. What about Birmingham?
  (Mr Brown) It is fairly similar. We have been going through quite a renaissance of bringing people back to live in our city centre. There is an awful lot of new housing development going on which has been encouraged by the success of the breaking down or our Ring Road and expanding our city centre. We already have quite a number of very tall buildings with people living in them very close to the city centre, some of which are very successful, and they do not actually at the moment include very significant amounts of parking and therefore do not generate traffic particularly. We have new housing developments right at the core of the city which have no parking provision whatsoever and they are very popular with people working right in the city centre. Again, the business of discouraging car use by limiting parking provision and by locating housing close to public transport nodes and well supplied routes is part of our general policy anyway and the same would apply with tall housing blocks if they were proposed. We have at the moment a new housing block going through the planning process which will be a fairly tall building with fairly limited parking arrangements. It is located very handily to the main station in New Street.

Sir Paul Beresford

  151. How tall? You said anything from seven to 15 storeys.
  (Mr Brown) Yes. The Holloway Circus Tower: it is proposed at the moment at 192 metres. To answer your question about the Arena Central Tower, that is 232 metres.


  152. Which is how many storeys?
  (Mr Brown) That bit I do not have written down here! One of the things that we have to deal with in Birmingham is that we have a height limitation ceiling which is imposed by the West Midlands Airport. Therefore, in some respects, it is easier to take the height in metres because one has to relate to that.

Mrs Ellman

  153. Do you see tall residential blocks in the city central area as a good thing in revitalising the cities as being positive?
  (Mr Brown) The problem with residential use, if you can call it a problem, is that I guess it is aimed at a certain sort of market.

  154. What sort of market?
  (Mr Brown) It is not really family housing so much as for younger or professional or singles or couples, that sort of thing, and for older people who are through the childhood age. We actually have a number of tall buildings which are very popular on that basis. It is really a question of how extensive the demand will actually be. There is plenty of provision on the way at the moment in other sorts of less tall buildings. Certainly there is a demand that is met by these tall buildings. They are popular. People living in them now like them. I think that they are a specific part of the community rather than being popular with everybody.

  155. Can I ask Bristol, what is your view of English Heritage?
  (Mr Brook) That is a big question! We have, over a number of years, been very supportive of English Heritage because, in the 1970s and 1980s, they put a lot of money into restoring Bristol's historic buildings. Bristol had a very bad record in the early 1970s for demolishing vast swathes of the city and one of the reasons that I joined the city was to try and reverse that and actually look at the focus of the quality of the city and what there was there which people valued. We have been working with the community with English Heritage for a long time restoring significant buildings in the city centre, and that is a very popular policy and a policy which our members continue to support. We are very supportive of their approach on most occasions. I have to say that the particular issue of tall buildings is an area where there are bound to be tensions between us and English Heritage in the same way that there are tensions between CABE and English Heritage. We are looking at, for example, in the city centre, the possible replacement of the big tower: we have two big towers but the Bristol and West tower which is now redundant, a 1960s tower. They are of the view that it spoils certain views of Queen Square, our big Georgian square, whereas CABE are of the view that actually to have a quality building is something which is acceptable. So the authority will have to decide between the two what the right solution will be. There is a planning application under consideration now. There are tensions there. I am sure that we will work with English Heritage. We do not see that there should be a zero sum approach in the city centre. We think there is a role for tall buildings in historic cities, but we have to be very careful about where they go and how they should be analysed. One of the things that we do welcome is the CABE/English Heritage draft report on tall buildings and the analysis there. Our concerns are as to whether that will be actually finalised or whether there will be government advice on that because we see that as a way forward between the obvious tensions of the architectural side of the analysis and the historic building side of the analysis.

  156. Does that mean you think that is a good report that should be followed?
  (Mr Brook) Yes, we do think that the principles CABE lay down for analysis and assessment, which is very important so that there is a general platform about which tall buildings are analysed throughout the country, is an excellent list and that it should be adopted, whatever way Government wishes to adopt it.


  157. Do you have a different view on that or are you happy with the CABE document?
  (Mr Brown) I think we really are happy with the CABE document; it ties up very closely with our own views about the sort of things you should be looking at when you are considering a tall building and, as I think I said, we are producing our own new tall buildings policy updating the one that is in our current Birmingham Urban Design Study and it will have pretty much parallel requirements in it. So, yes, we are happy.

Mr Betts

  158. In your memorandum, you give the impression that regeneration of the City of Bristol historically is actually more important than tall buildings. Would that be a fair summary?
  (Mr Brook) Yes, simplistically. I think what we would say is that the city is interested in attracting investment, like all good cities are. We are in a boom period, and I think I put that in my evidence. We have had £1 billion invested over the last two years and we expect another £2 billion over the next two years coming. So there is a great deal of discussion about very large scale developments. Some of that development is up into the seven, eight, nine storeys within the historic context. So we are looking at the impact of that sort of development as we consider that to be in some cases a serious change in terms of the historic character of the areas, especially around the waterfront and the castle. We are concerned about high density and we are concerned that some parts of the development industry have interpreted "high" as meaning going much higher than the traditional fabric and that is a concern to us. In terms of tall buildings, we feel that those are very much a question of mood in Bristol. We had a run of those in the 1960s and 1970s. We do now have a number of tall buildings on the stocks and there was one in the newspaper last week for 43 storeys right in the centre of Bristol next to Temple Meads Railway Station. We will have to be very much more attuned to the way in which we assess those forms of buildings.

Mrs Dunwoody

  159. How can you get attuned to 43 storeys? Forgive me if I am missing something.
  (Mr Brook) No, you are not missing it. When I said "attuned", it was shorthand for the way in which we will actually analyse/assess those forms of buildings.

  160. Is there anything else at 43 storeys around Temple Meads?
  (Mr Brook) No but, in terms of the assessment of those sorts of buildings, we are going to have to look very carefully now at the impact, but it will be based on the assessment of the historic background; it will be based on advice from English Heritage on the impact on heritage sites and Temple Meads. So we are interested in strengthening some of the planning concepts such as the impacts of views.


  161. What you are tactfully telling us is that you do not want to.
  (Mr Brook) What we are tactfully telling you is that we certainly do not want it there when we have been trying to open up the view from the city centre to the railway station which was always a problem of Brunel's original location and we need those links between the railway station and the city centre. What we do not want is for those links to be fractured even further by a large building sitting right across the middle of those access ways.

Sir Paul Beresford

  162. Your comments about commuters and so forth would mean that it would be a logical place for such a building.
  (Mr Brook) That is absolutely right. We are working on the other side of Temple Meads which is less visible on a scheme which is a big mixed-use scheme which will have three tall buildings by Bristol standards, up to 14 storeys, but they are behind the railway station and they will not be obtrusive on the historic scene. It is very much a question of analysing each site in context.

  163. Fourteen and 45 is distinctly different. Where you have 14, would you extend to 45 on that particular site?
  (Mr Brook) No. The Bristol analysis: we asked developers to provide a 360 degree analysis of the impact of their buildings on views from all parts of the city in order that we can see through computer analysis what the impacts of high buildings are. In the case of Temple Meads, we have looked at the impacts of the buildings to the north of that and the developer has adjusted those buildings in order that they will not be seen from the historic approach to the railway station or from the approach from Victoria Street. In the case of a 43 storey building—and we have not done the analysis because it is not a formal application—we suspect that will have a significant impact on pretty well every much loved part of the heritage, so there will be a much stronger reason for refusal. Our concern really is, will that be backed up by the Inspectorate and are the Planning Acts sufficiently tough to give enough weight to the views and impacts of these buildings because traditionally PPG1 does not express those forms of reasons for refusal very strongly?

  164. I thought that earlier in your evidence you were saying that you see a role for tall buildings, that they are striking and that they can actually add to the scenery regardless of what English Heritage may think.
  (Mr Brook) We think that, in certain areas of the city[1]1.

  165. A striking building on the horizon is of benefit even if it is in  (Mr Brook) I think we would have to carry the community with us. I am planning as very much a community based activity. I think if you said that, most Bristonians would be quite worried about that statement. They live in a city which is four, five, six storeys high from which they can see the surrounding hills and that is very much a tradition of Bristol.

Mrs Dunwoody

  166. So you would like it somewhere near like Birmingham?
  (Mr Brook) No. As I say, there are areas in the city to the east which we are looking at for regeneration where we think buildings of about 10 to 14 storeys may be applicable.

Sir Paul Beresford

  167. And you cannot see the hills.
  (Mr Brook) Whether they impact on the skyline. I do not know how well you know Bristol, sir. My apologies if I am telling you something that you know already.

  168. I know your regeneration area fairly well.
  (Mr Brook) The views over to Clifton of the Terraces and the sweeping views along the north-side and the views south which is to the Dundry Hills to the south side of the city, those are the things which people value very highly and they will be very careful, or our members will be, when they look at these sort of schemes to assess that form of impact.

Mr Betts

  169. May I just ask about the powers you have to put this vision area in place. You were speaking about whether the Planning Inspectorate would back you if you make a decision. Do you think that there should be greater guidance from government on the issue of tall buildings and, if so, what should it be, and should it give you stronger statutory powers to actually reject tall buildings where you think they are inappropriate?
  (Mr Brook) I think the possibility of the review of the planning process and the fact that minsters are stating that PPG1 will be rewritten offers an opportunity to revisit some of these issues. I certainly think that, under the present circumstances, the accent on long-term and short-term views are a very thorny issue in terms of planning law and it is something which we have ignored in the past and, if we are going to move forward with saying, "What is the degree of harm which is acceptable in a view?" or "What is the degree of harm that is not acceptable in a view?", then I think some form of central government advice and guidance in the generality of an approach would be appropriate. I think in terms of the analysis—and I am sure Birmingham agrees—that really is a matter for local authorities to have done their homework in terms of assessing what are the actual very valuable and sensitive parts of their areas and which are the areas which are actually more flexible and where you could actually envisage tall buildings occurring. I do think there is a need for some form of government advice and I say that not to disparage[2]2.

1   1 They could give identity to regeneration areas where they do not detrimentally affect historic and topographical context and, of course, subject to community consultation through the planning process. Back

2   2 and I say that not to disparage the work done already by CABE and English Heritage but to add weight to their work through recognised formal advisory guidance. Back

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