Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)|
TUESDAY 22 JANUARY 2002
60. Can I welcome you to the second session
this morning. Can I ask you to introduce yourself, for the record,
(Mr Jenkins) I am Simon Jenkins.
61. Do you want to say anything by way of introduction,
or are you happy for us to go straight to questions?
(Mr Jenkins) All I might say, by way of contrast to
what we have been hearing so far, is that I have lived in London
all my life, I think I have seen almost all the tall buildings
in London go up over that period of time, they have always been
a source of fascination and concern to me, and they continue to
be that. I believe very strongly in planning, not as an offence
against the free market but as a regulator of the free market,
and I think that most of the tall buildings that I have seen go
up in London, in my time, have been offences against most good
planning; most of them are sad, most of them we regret, and I
think we should be very, very careful about doing it ever again.
Chairman: So are you really opposed to all tall
buildings or just the ones that you have seen in London?
Sir Paul Beresford
62. Or, conversely, are there any buildings
(Mr Jenkins) I think there is something about the
fabric of London and the appearance of London, the texture of
London, that is inimical to these very, very large structures.
I also think that they find it, in any city, very difficult to
fit into a streetscape. If you look at the ones that have gone
up in London, almost none of them are street-friendly, they are
surrounded by a blighted area caused by their servicing ducts
and bays, they are not nice places to be round or to live next
to, they are difficult parts of the City, and people, on the whole,
do not like congregating to them, and you do not see people casually
strolling round the outskirts of the Barbican, or Centrepoint,
or Euston Tower, or Stag Place. So, on the whole, I am, I have
to admit, rather opposed to tall buildings, yes.
63. And you do not think they work in other
parts of the world; if you looked at somewhere like Chicago, or
Boston, or New York, are there not some nice examples of tall
buildings, reflecting the smaller ones around them?
(Mr Jenkins) I think there is a distinction to be
drawn between what might be called the aesthetic of distance;
if you see tall buildings across Hudson River, or across Lake
Michigan, or across the harbour in Hong Kong, yes, you feel a
sense of excitement and drama. We all remember Ken Livingstone
coming back from what appeared to be his first visit to Manhattan
and wanting it in London. I think that that sense of aesthetic
thrill is quite different from whether we really want to live
with these buildings; they are difficult things to live with.
Yes, they have been put up in places where they have been very
carefully planned, as a whole. I think the central square of Canary
Wharf could be regarded as a case in point, although even that
I do not find a very friendly environment. But the idea that you
can simply locate individual tall buildings more or less at random
round a city like London and then expect them to fit in is a fallacy.
Sir Paul Beresford
64. How do you define a tall building?
(Mr Jenkins) To my mind, a tall building, and I suppose
there are about 2,000 of them in London, is a building that can
be seen from a far distance away, in other words, it is not simply
a part of its street architecture, and a building that finds,
because of the servicing requirements, that it needs a large area
of street space round it simply to service it.
65. So somewhere like Canary Wharf is alright,
because it is down there rather than up here?
(Mr Jenkins) It is not very popular with the people
in Poplar. No, I know very few people who want to live next to
a tall building, rather like a wind turbine; most of the architects
of them do not live in them or near them. These are buildings
that are justified, as we have heard this morning, almost entirely
on economic grounds, or occasionally on the aesthetic grounds
that, so to speak, visitors to the City from abroad are excited
by; but the building in itself, I think, is often a very difficult
thing to handle.
Sir Paul Beresford
66. So, from your concerns, the Corporation
of London would be a special case, because it has so few residents;
you were saying people do not like living there?
(Mr Jenkins) The Corporation of London, I think, I
do not want to say has a problem, because the buildings that it
has allowed to go up, over the past 40, 50 years, are, on the
whole, unattractive buildings. I would point out that I think,
this year, or maybe even last year for the first time, average
rents of offices in Westminster have overtaken those in the City,
because I think a lot of people prefer to work and live, but work,
in an environment like the City of Westminster, which is heavily
conserved, and which has been hostile to tall buildings, rather
than in the City, which is filled, now, with an increasing number
of large caverns, which are not attractive places to be in your
67. Is the problem about scale rather than height,
is there not a problem with the groundscrapers as well, now, in
terms of servicing requirements, that you mentioned?
(Mr Jenkins) The only way one can answer these questions
is to go and walk round the buildings. Broadgate is quite a success.
I think the Merrill Lynch building is a success. I do think that
it is easier to handle, in the sense of appreciate, when you are
walking through a street, which is what we are discussing, a lower
building than a higher building. There comes a point when the
sheer scale of a structure is overpowering, it is crushing, it
makes you feel "I don't want to be here;" you may want
to be inside it, if you happen to work there, or maybe live in
it, but as a feature of the street architecture it is hostile.
And I feel the same aboutand here we are coming on to the
planning of themthe way in which they have been allowed
to arise over the London skyline. I do not go up on Primrose Hill,
or Parliament Hill Fields, and look across London and feel any
sense of pride in the planning of London; they have not been clustered.
Where they are clustered, and from a distance, they look less
offensive, to my eye, than they do where they are dotted, as pepperpots.
I still would not like to live near one.
68. Do you reject the economic case that we
have just heard about, when we have just been told that the economy
is booming, the only way we can maintain and improve on that is
by having tall buildings?
(Mr Jenkins) I have to say, I wondered which city
I was living in, this morning; it was as if the City of London
was on a different planet from the rest of the conurbation. If
we are discussing this in any sensible terms at all, we are discussing
the planning of tall buildings, and they should be planned, surely,
on a London-wide basis, not purely for the interests of the City
in its ferocious battle with Canary Wharf. I think that the important
thing about planning these buildings is to say to what extent
does a building of, let us say, for the sake of the argument,
more than 12 to 20 storeys genuinely contribute to the economy
of the City; you asked the question this morning, I did not think
you got a very satisfactory reply. Ken Livingstone talks about
no more than 12 to 15 towers, as he calls them; the idea that
that is going to have any impact at all on average rents for office
accommodation across the metropolis is absurd. I have been to
Frankfurt, I have asked people in Frankfurt why it is all their
young people want to come and work in London. Not one of them
says, "Oh, well, we hope you're going to have some tall buildings;"
they speak about the quality of life in London, the enjoyment
of London's night-life, the extent to which the City has got attractive
neighbourhoods that they want to spend their time in, these are
the reasons why they want to come to London. It is one reason
why I think the City has difficulties over its long-term future
as an office centre, because it has ignored the importance of
conservation and has allowed Westminster to steal its thunder.
69. It is fine when people from Frankfurt want
to come and live in London because of all the other reasons, but
they also want a job, and if the case were made for saying that
the only way we can provide more office accommodation in London
is by building upwards, would you still oppose it?
(Mr Jenkins) Yes. I am sorry, I would not accept the
argument in the first place. It is ridiculous to think that a
few towers, on the eastern fringes of the City, are going to transform
the economy of London. Apart from that, I have to say, this theory
that London is running out of land for offices is absurd; even
on the City fringes there are acres of sites available to be developed.
Even if you were to accept the absurd argument that we must concentrate
ever more workers in the City, ten million more square feet of
space in the City, given, as you said earlier, the transportation
problems of London, is reckless planning, to my mind.
Sir Paul Beresford
70. So you do not accept the argument that this
is a specialist situation, with a specialist type of business;
we are not talking of bureaucracy, as we would find around Whitehall,
we are talking of a financial centre, it is quite specific, and
the people that would come there would be coming there to work
but to enjoy the City elsewhere? In other words, in addition to
those points, going to a planned system that is applied right
across London would be an enormous mistake, I think you and I
would agree on that, if not on much else, because the people that
would be coming from Frankfurt, or wherever, would be coming to
work in that area but to enjoy the other aspects of London, which
Clive Betts was touching on, elsewhere?
(Mr Jenkins) Why do more of them want to come to Westminster
Sir Paul Beresford: I think it is probably becauseyou
should be answering that yourselfbut, if I were to take
words from the previous witness, my suspicion would be, the point
that she was making, that specific types of businesses want to
go into the City; those that go into Westminster may not be those
specific types of businesses.
71. They get a special deal on housing, too?
(Mr Jenkins) Absolutely. I am sorry, I asked the questionI
beg your pardonwhich was rhetorical.
Sir Paul Beresford
72. That is alright; have you got an answer?
(Mr Jenkins) I believe in the free market. I think
that the free market should operate within the constraints of
planning. At the moment, the free market is directing office demand,
if price per square foot is any indication, towards Westminster
and away from the City; there must be a reason for that, and it
cannot be that the City has not got any tall buildings.
73. So you are arguing then for extra office
development, where, in Westminster, instead of the City?
(Mr Jenkins) I would be arguing for extra office development
outside the inner ring, I really do think that, quite strongly.
Also, I have to say, I think that we are seeing the last gasp
of these large floor-plate office booms, as someone indicated
earlier. Canary Wharf is beginning to empty, it is not the case
that Herongate is pre-let, there is, pretty certainly, something
of a slump about to take place in office property in London. I
have always predicted that part of Canary Wharf will end up being
completely empty; maybe I will be wrong. All I know is that the
office towers that went up in London in the sixties and seventies
ended up being let to the Government; they were let to the Government
because the speculators could not let them to anybody else.
74. Should we worry too much though about what
the City themselves are going to do, because will not the economic
factors take care of themselves and the buildings will not go
up because there will not be a demand for them?
(Mr Jenkins) I have to say, of all the tall building
issues that I think one can encounter in London, the City is one
of, to my mind, the less critical ones, because it is, indeed,
an office concentration already, it has got some high buildings
in it already, it is, I suppose, in the high building sense, already
a goner. But I just hate to hear arguments that the City needs
ever more economic development, by definition, at the expense
of other parts of London, and that high buildings should be allowed,
as the Mayor would like to see, more or less at random across
the whole of inner London, frankly, because he likes them.
75. Yes, but the difficulty about that argument,
having to be devil's advocate for a minute, is, if you look at
areas like Hammersmith, which originally had a very scaled, sensible
housing and shopping complex and then was invaded by the odd large
building, and then another odd large building, what it did was
it destroyed the working-class homogeneity of the area but it
did not put anything back?
(Mr Jenkins) It is interesting that almost all those
nodes, like King Street in Hammersmith, or Tolworth Tower, Kingston,
or the Euston Centre, or Archway Tower, somehow one got away,
at some point in the sixties or seventies, a very large building
went up, usually designed by Colonel Seifert, and all of us regret
them, we just regret them.
76. Being built by Mr Seifert, not designed?
(Mr Jenkins) No, he designed them, actually, to be
fair to him.
77. (Just ?) to make use of the English language.
(Mr Jenkins) Alright. But these were unplanned, there
was no sense in which somebody said, "What is the most attractive
way of redoing the centre of Archway; though I think we need a
large office block?".
78. But then I am saying to you, if we have
a concentration of ugliness, should it not be in one place?
(Mr Jenkins) I think I would say yes, to that.
79. But then surely you are actually arguing
against what you have said about the City?
(Mr Jenkins) Possibly; but I think the job of planning
is to avoid concentrations of anything of ugliness, and it would
be a pity to have it in the City or anywhere else.
Sir Paul Beresford: Would you accept that your
comment on there being ugliness is actually an opinion, but there
are people of opposite opinions?
Mrs Dunwoody: No, that was my opinion, not his.