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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 138-149)




  138. Can I welcome everyone to the second session of the Urban Affairs Select Committee inquiring into Tall Buildings. Could I ask the witnesses to identify yourselves, please.
  (Mr Brown) I am Martin Brown from Birmingham City Council Planning Department.
  (Mr Brook) I am Alastair Brook, Head of Urban Design from Bristol City Council.

  (Mr Torkildsen) I am Rohan Torkildsen, Citywide Policy Project Manager and I work with Alastair in the Strategic and City Wide Policy Team of Bristol City Council.

  139. We have your evidence but do you want to say anything by way of introduction before we start questioning you?
  (Mr Brown) I do not think I would. I am quite happy to go straight to the questions.
  (Mr Brook) Sir, we do have the policy of the Bristol City Council here which we may draw reference to. We do have copies for the Committee; I did ask the Committee Clerk whether it would be possible to give you all a copy of it.

  140. Thank you. Do you want to say anything more than that or are you happy that we start with the questions?
  (Mr Brook) That is fine, sir.

  Ms King: I want to begin by asking you what you think the main role of tall buildings is and why we need them. Is it for economic reasons, symbolic reasons, spatial density reasons or for any other reason?

Sir Paul Beresford

  141. Before you answer that, could you tell us what you define as a tall building, particularly a tall building in relation to your city.
  (Mr Brown) In Birmingham at the moment, we are revising our tall building policy but the one that is in place which was created in around 1990 defined a tall building as anything over 15 storeys. I am not quite sure why it chose 15 storeys but I think the basic reason was that the city centre in Birmingham generally has a base level of about seven, eight or nine storeys and 15 storeys is roughly twice that. I think we may perhaps move more towards the CABE/English Heritage version which is anything that sticks out a lot from its surroundings, which seemed perhaps to be a more sensible approach.

  142. It could still be 15 storeys.
  (Mr Brown) It could still be 15 storeys. It could be seven storeys in an area where it was only a two storey neighbourhood.
  (Mr Brook) Sir, may I reply? Bristol is a historic city, very much one of the ancient Cities of the Realm. We have 33 conservation areas and over 4,000 listed buildings. They cover about one-third of the City and, over the last 20 years, we have been recovering from the 1960s: demolition and large tall buildings being put in places which actually block views or areas of townscape significance. So, we are very much more cautious than Birmingham about what we would define as a tall building. Generally, our scale in the centre of the city, which is part of its demise, is the Georgian scale of around four/five storeys. Later on, with the Victorian period, it rose to eight/nine storeys. So, if we looked at the CABE analysis, we would define tall buildings as about 10 storeys. Above that level, it is beginning to make a significant impact on the historic environment of the area. In that respect, all cities are different; all areas are different. Obviously, if you went out towards the radius of the city, we would be talking about the housing areas where again two or three storeys is relevant; so you have to look at the context.

Ms King

  143. Could your address yourselves to the question of the role of tall buildings.
  (Mr Brook) There are obviously economic roles which I do not want to go into and I am sure you will hear evidence from developers relating to how they would see tall buildings. In terms of the city, we have not promoted tall buildings as a specific policy. In fact, we have not had many applications for tall buildings until the last year when we have had the Government advice about higher densities, and maybe the word "higher" is something which we feel was perhaps giving too much encouragement. We do see a role for tall buildings as being icons of the city, as being standards of excellence, and many cities do this around the world. So we think there is a role and we think there is also a role for buildings as creators of identity through regeneration, acting as a focus within a master plan, which is something we are doing in number of sites in Bristol. So, yes, we do see a role for tall buildings but, in terms of the way they are interpreted in context, we think it is much more important in the 21st century that we look at them extremely carefully which we did not do in the 1960s and 1970s.

  144. Could I direct a question to Birmingham for Mr Brown. You have expressed concerns that too many tall buildings would be counter to your urban generation agenda. Could you explain that, please. Could you also tell us if it would matter very much if you did not build any more tall buildings.
  (Mr Brown) I will try and answer your question. I realise that what we wrote is perhaps not as clear as it might be. What we are trying to say here is that we believe that, in terms of quantum of business activity within the city, within a given area, there is probably only so much that we can stand before you get that unwanted effect of draining activity from other areas and draining life and vitality. You need to keep a balance. Too many tall buildings too densely built in the centre of an area might have an adverse effect on the other business areas. We want to see everything regenerated equally; so that the quality of the whole of the city is uplifted.

  145. Why do you support the Arena Central Tower proposals? Are you building high because of lack of space in Birmingham or is it for other reasons that Mr Brook alluded to?
  (Mr Brown) It is many things actually. Yes, we are short of space. Every piece of land that becomes available is a development opportunity that is eagerly awaited. The business of the Arena Central Tower and how it relates to our existing tall buildings policy is clearly one that fits very comfortably within the area where we would like to see tall buildings if people are proposing them.


  146. How tall is the Arena building going to be?
  (Mr Brown) I do know that but I cannot remember it precisely. If I could have a moment to look it up, I will tell you later.
  (Mr Torkildsen) May I just respond to your questions from a Bristol perspective. The issue of tall buildings is not necessarily justified in terms of a need in the city. We are very aware of the density issues and the need to use land efficiently. We are saying that there is plenty of opportunity out there for slightly more reserved architecture and design. It is not necessarily justified on the basis of a lack of opportunity for development in the city. That is just a point that I wanted to make.

Mrs Ellman

  147. Would you say that centrally located residential tall buildings have a role to play in the community?
  (Mr Brook) Speaking from Bristol's point of view, we are trying to recreate identity in the centre of our city. We are looking to promoting seven neighbourhoods and you will see on pages 7 and 8 of the documents those areas which we are hoping to reintegrate. Within those areas, we would like to have a mixed use of the balanced community, but Bristol is very much wedded to the idea of recreating a traditional city of squares and spaces and streets. Therefore, within those areas, what we are promoting is a greater density insofar as there will be more residential but we do not see tall buildings being an essential part of that. If tall buildings were to be proposed in those areas, we would be concerned about the impacts on other parts of the historic city. Therefore, we are very concerned that an assessment procedure was actually established which would enable us to understand how tall buildings would impact on those residential areas. We do not see them as essential to re-establishing those residential areas.

  148. What impact do you think they would have on travelling patterns in the community?
  (Mr Brook) On traffic issues?

  149. You have referred to the problem you have in relation to the historic environment.
  (Mr Brook) Indeed. In terms of increasing densities, all of the city blocks that we are re-establishing will have impact on traffic movement. Bristol's policy is to encourage and, hopefully within the next three to four years, improve public services; so the access to those areas will be able to take more people and get people away from the motor car. We have a very strong policy for that. Therefore, it would not matter whether it was a tall building project or whether it was a high density urban environment project. The answer would be the same. What we would hope to do is to restrict car parking in order that in fact we are encouraging developers to look at other modes of transport through our green transportation plan in order that, whatever the proposals that actually occur, there would be a restriction in terms of trying to push people away from the motor car and onto public transport.

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