Examination of Witnesses (Questions 323
TUESDAY 5 FEBRUARY 2002
323. Can I welcome you this morning to the third
of our sessions on tall buildings and ask you to identify yourselves
for the record, please?
(Mr McKee) I am from the British Property
Federation. I am the director general.
(Dr Damesick) I am the head of research at Insignia
324. Do either of you want to say anything by
way of introduction, or are you happy for us to go straight to
(Dr Damesick) I think questions, Chairman, other than
to say that the memorandum of evidence that I submitted was really
seeking to highlight the issues surrounding the market demand
for office space in tall buildings and the needs of occupiers,
and I think that is a very important issue which the sub-committee,
I hope, will be giving full attention to in the inquiry.
Chairman: That is one of the reasons why we
wanted to pursue the issues with you in oral session as well.
May I ask you to speak up, because the acoustics in this room
are very bad.
325. Mr McKee, would you say the demand for
tall buildings outside London is due to economic reasons or image?
(Mr McKee) I think for tall buildings the answer lies
in both. If there is an occupier who wishes to relocate in a city
outside of central London who normally seeks that kind of occupation,
and here we are talking mainly about international corporates
in the finance or business services sector, they are looking for
buildings of a particular size, a particular characteristic, and
also for an image. If they find that they require that in a centre
outside London, then I think you will find the demand will go
to those centres.
326. How many applications are there for tall
buildings outside of London?
(Mr McKee) I cannot answer that question.
(Dr Damesick) I cannot either.
327. Could you give me any examples of where
a tall building has brought regeneration to a wider area than
where the building itself is?
(Dr Damesick) Canary Wharf.
328. Has that really regenerated the area as
opposed to almost devastating some of the traditional housing
(Dr Damesick) If you look at the totality of the problems
faced by the Dockland area and its economic decline because of
the restructuring of the docks industry and all the ancillary
industries that were also located in that area, and if you look
at what were the alternative viable strategies for regeneration,
what has happened there must, on balance, be counted as a major
329. For the people living there or for others?
(Dr Damesick) I think in the longer term for both.
330. On what do you base that?
(Dr Damesick) In the absence of the regeneration that
has taken place at Canary Wharfand, indeed, in other parts
of Docklands, including other types of developmentI find
it difficult to see what would have been a radically different
alternative that would have brought as much new investment, as
much new development and overall as many new jobs into that area.
331. Were there new jobs for people in the area
or new jobs for people who came in from outside?
(Dr Damesick) They were a mixture, I am sure, of both.
332. What percentage are we talking about? 85?
(Dr Damesick) I think it is difficult to specify the
precise proportions but, clearly, now that Canary Wharf is reaching
the fuller stages of development, as well as the direct office-based
occupations, the operation of the office complex will require
larger numbers of support workers in ancillary functions from
cleaners, messengers, security people, transport workers; now
that it also has developed a substantial amount of retail development,
I would imagine that is also providing jobs.
333. So if anything else had been built there,
there would not have been the same numbers of jobs for shopworkers
and cleaners and drivers and platform workers?
(Dr Damesick) I think probably not.
334. I think that is the question: it is not
whether local people have benefited in the early years because
it is considered they did notlatterly they have more but
not as much as most people would expect. The question is, if they
had not built the tall towers and instead had done it as they
have the rest of the development, would it have worked? This inquiry
is into tall buildings so we would like your views on, if those
tall buildings were not there, would it not have been the magnet
for other developments around it?
(Dr Damesick) If the tall buildings were not there,
it would not have developed in the way it has as a major office
centre. It could have been developed, I suppose, as an intra urban,
low density, office park, perhaps. Whether such a development
would have succeeded in that location I think is open to question.
335. But I still do not understand why the tall
buildings enabled that to happen?
(Mr McKee) Perhaps I could offer an explanation. I
think it is unlikely it would have developed to the same extent
without the tall buildings. London Docklands was the largest area
of dereliction and, indeed, of regeneration probably in the country.
In order for it to take off, it needed a major economic boost
at the beginning. The circumstances of Canary Wharf were that
it was able to meet the needs of very large occupiers who could
not find space of the kind and quantum and at the price they wanted
in the City of London, and this was available at a nearby site.
That would not have happened in my judgment had a different kind
of development taken place. You needed that economic prerequisite
for the whole of Docklands to take off and, but for Canary Wharf,
built as it is. I suspect you would be looking at a very different
regeneration across Docklands as a whole now.
336. Can you give us another example of regeneration,
or is Docklands unique as far as UK is concerned?
(Dr Damesick) I think the Paddington area, with the
developments going ahead there now, I would regard as another
example of regeneration of what was a run-down area on the fringe
of central London. Now, the maximum height of building that is
going to be permitted there is not on the scale of Canary Wharf
but, by the standards of London and particularly the West End,
there are going to be some so-called tall buildings there.
337. Mr McKee, in your memorandum you imply
that the planning system is not really there to make judgments
about the commercial viability of buildings. Could you expand
(Mr McKee) My view on that is born of thirty years
in local governmentten as a London borough chief executive
and twenty before that as a London chief planning officerI
am absolutely convinced that local authorities do not understand
the commercial property market. None of their officers work day-by-day
in the business environment doing the latest deals, understanding
where occupier requirements are going to, what the latest financial
requirements are from funders; I am absolutely convinced that
local authorities are not equipped to have a view on the commercial
viability of buildings.
338. So should there therefore not be any democratic
accountability at all? Who, if not local authorities, is going
to make these very difficult decisions in weighing up the commercial
viability arguments, on the one hand, and the importance of the
historic precedent and national development, on the other?
(Mr McKee) These are difficult decisions and I would
have thought, certainly of all the range of local authority services,
the one which has the highest degree of public accountability
is the planning system, far more so than other local authorities
services. Local authorities are at their strongest when they are
looking at the land use implications of development; at the impacts
in terms of transport, noise, micro climates, daylightingthose
kinds of issuesand they should satisfy themselves that
a building proposed of a certain size with a certain impact meets
the requirements of planning policies. Once they are satisfied
with that, the question of whether it is commercially viable they
are neither competent, nor should they in my view be required,
to determine. They should be satisfied that it is sustainable;
it is not causing other planning difficulties; it meets the other
planning policies of the authority or national guidance; does
not, for example, to choose perhaps an obvious example, block
out a principal view of a major historic site
339. So you believe those should be retained?
(Mr McKee) Yes. I think you will find that the prevalent
view amongst the property industry is that there is a proven economic
need for tall buildings which is essential if the economy of this
country is to continue to prosper, but that it should be subjected
to a proper set of planning policies and regulations.