Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340
TUESDAY 5 FEBRUARY 2002
340. But is planning not a question of balance,
and you have to weigh the strength of the two arguments? Surely
the economic argument is you have to weigh up how important that
(Mr McKee) Indeed it is, and I totally share your
view, but what I think has happened in the planning system over
the last thirty years is that that judgment of where the preponderance
of social welfare rests has been lost. I think one of the reasons
why most recently the Treasury has shown such an interest in the
planning system is because the needs of economic growth has fallen
away over the years against the requirements of the heritage lobby.
It is a balance: my view is the balance has swung too far against
economic growth and economic welfare.
341. Is it not a failure of organisations like
yours to put the case?
(Mr McKee) I certainly think the property industry
has a good way to go to make the case for its economic importance,
but that does not mean that it is not economically important
342. Sticking with the BPF, you have said that
the protection of views should be reconciled with economic loss.
How do you do that?
(Mr McKee) Planning policy over the years has done
it: it has defined which are the strategic views in London which
should be protected. From the earliest days of the GLC policy
back in the middle 1960s that has been a feature of London planning
policy, right through to the Mayor's current policy, and those
are the areas where the planning policy says, when you make that
balance between economic need and the protection of the historic
environment, the historic environment is the most important. To
that extent planning policy does define the balance between the
343. What do you think the balance should be?
Do you think we should be willing to sacrifice historical views
for economic necessity?
(Mr McKee) For the most important historical views,
my view would be no.
344. Are there any examples outside London that
we could draw on?
(Mr McKee) Where?
345. Where we could draw on the experience of
the balance between achieving protection of historical views and
economic necessity? Where do you think the right balance has been
(Mr McKee) If you look at some of the most important
historic townsBath, Chester, Canterbury, towns like thatthen
the kind of commercial development which one sees in other cities,
not just London but Birmingham, Manchester and other places, has
been on the whole restricted by the planning system because of
the undeniable quality of those environments.
346. Would you want to see tall buildings in
(Mr McKee) Personally I think that would be a mistake
in a town of the kind I have just described.
Sir Paul Beresford
347. Do you think there is a scenario where
a tall building can enhance, pick out, frame, set up, set out,
historic buildings or historic interests?
(Dr Damesick) If I may, I think there are cases which
one can find in London and in other cities where the presence
of a tall building has added something to an urban skyline which
may have both historic elements and also modern elements in it.
348. Which one did you have in mind?
(Dr Damesick) I would say in the case of the City
of London, and we are venturing here into the realms of personal
opinion and subjective taste, that while the Nat West Tower may
not objectively be the most beautiful building in the world
349. No, it may not!
(Dr Damesick)I think nonetheless its position
from certain views within the City skyline juxtaposed with the
views of St Paul's mean that it has become very much a landmark
which signifies the City and in juxtaposition with St Paul's also
you have there the historic connection, but I can think of a not
very tall building in Cardiff which used to be called the Pearl
Tower, located not very far away from the Castle and the civic
centre there, where there seems quite a harmonious balance between
the traditional and the new, represented by that mixture. But,
as I say, these are matters of subjective taste. If I may return
to your point about the importance of balance here, I think achieving
the balance of views is very important. I fear, however, the debate
has become polarised where from one quarter, represented mainly
by the opponents of tall buildings, the view seems to be no more
than, "We do not like them; we do not want them; youthe
occupiersdo not need them; and, if they have to be built
at all, they should be put where we cannot see them".
350. It sounds like a perfectly reasonable attitude
(Dr Damesick) But not one I think, Chairman, which
one could regard as a balanced view. I think balance is important
in this case. Also, in the analysis of economic loss versus the
preservation of strategic views, some very simplistic analysis
has been applied here which I think is nonsensical. The criteria
seems to be that, if we cannot find any evidence that London,
for example, is losing major financial institutions to Frankfurt
because of the lack of tall buildings, then clearly the policy
of restricting tall buildings is not causing any harm. Would we
use the same criteria, for example, with respect to the state
of London's transport system? Where is the hard evidence that
any company has left London and gone to Frankfurt because of the
state of the Tube? I would argue you would have trouble finding
that. Do we, therefore, conclude that the state of London's transport
is fine? This is a very high, very restricted, very simple sort
of standard. Economics does not work like that; it erodes competitiveness
and productivity and efficiency at the margin if you do not have
an adequate and appropriate range of choice for office occupiers.
351. Do you believe there should be, particularly
in areas where there is historic sensitivity, a framework set
out by government?
(Mr McKee) I think it would be very difficult to set
out a national policy framework for tall buildings. It is entirely
possible, and has been for the last 30-40 years in planning policy,
to set out clear guidelines in local development plans.
352. Does not though a certain vagueness in
planning policy effectively open a door for more development rather
(Mr McKee) Not in my experience.
(Dr Damesick) If I could add to that, I think a certain
vagueness in planning policy, in fact, creates huge uncertainty
and potential problems for those putting forward proposals for
development. If there was to be any additional government guidance
with respect to policy for tall buildings, one would hope that
what it would do is set out a clear set of criteria for the guidance
of local authorities in their assessment of proposals for tall
buildings. There are great difficulties created for developers
where the planning framework is so vague than one really does
not know whether a particular proposal is likely to be acceptablenot
just at the first stage of achieving planning consent but also
via the appeal process and so forth. Developers and occupiers
would like more certainty and more clarity.
Sir Paul Beresford
353. Would you not say there is another argument
that some vagueness, as you put it, or we put it, allows an opportunity
for innovation, for different thinking, for new ideas, and for
us to "progress"?
(Dr Damesick) "Vagueness" I think is not
perhaps the right term. What I think you are referring to is flexibility,
but I think it might be the case that in any planning guidance
there could be provision for local authorities to take a flexible
and welcoming view towards innovation, but to try and clarify
the criteria by which these proposals will be judged. I think
that would be very helpful to the development industry in general
and also occupiers, who at the end of the day want to know whether
the building they would like to occupy can be delivered.
Sir Paul Beresford: Do you think there is a
high risk of being, like the Chelsea Society, stuck in the 1920s,
because the greater the flexibility the less the restrictions
certainly become, and discussion between potential developments
and the planning authority would overcome some of the certainty
problems in that they could discuss their prospects with the planning
authority at a very early stage, which is what has been encouraged
by this government and the previous one?
Mrs Dunwoody: Discuss!
354. Do not discuss; just say "Yes"
or "No" because we are tight for time!
(Dr Damesick) Yes, I think there should be flexibility.
It is an argument for keeping the criteria under review and letting
355. Can I ask you about the conclusions of
the London Planning Advisory Committee only about three years
ago, when they said there was no economic need for tall buildings
in London. Has anything changed since then?
(Dr Damesick) Yes.
(Dr Damesick) It is easy to have the benefit of hindsight
but I think, even if one went back to the conclusions of that
study and looked at the evidence that it considered, including
the background economic implications working paper, which provided
a lot of the evidence, it would have been possible at that time
to draw a different conclusion and a conclusion that there was,
in fact, an economic need. There is an inconsistency, I believe,
in the LPAC report that where, on the one hand, it is accepted
that a building like the Citicorp Tower in Canary Wharf is a state
of the art building for those major international occupiers who
want to consolidate their activities in London, it is not perceived
as a problem that there might be a restricted supply of such state
of the art buildings. It is accepted that tower offices for small
occupiers have been enduringly popular and achieved premium rents;
that is not interpreted as indicating clear demand and an excess
of demand over supply. The report in general was insufficiently
forward-looking: it did not anticipate what we have seen in the
last four years in terms of a whole series of major acquisitions
of office space in tower buildings which have occurred in London.
Basically the evidence in that report and the evidence behind
that report could have been used to reach a different conclusion.
(Mr McKee) Just briefly, it did not look particularly
either at the change in structure of the nature of white collar
jobs in the City, and the impact that has on the kind of occupiers
and the kind of demand for space coming forward.
357. But we are also told in evidence that office
accommodation costs are falling in London. Does that not prove
the argument that it is supply rather than demand-led?
(Dr Damesick) At the present time, against the background
of a global economic downturn, the collapse of the TMT sectors
which were a very important driver of demand up to a year or so
ago and the events of 9/11, we are seeing at this present moment
in the London office market some easing in the pace of demand.
358. So you are saying that, because of the
events of 11 September, the demand for tall buildings, the interest,
(Dr Damesick) No. I am not saying that; I categorically
am not saying that. I am saying that the events of 9/11 crystallised
to some degree weaknesses in the economy and in the demand for
office space which were being driven by general economic trends.
I do not think we can identify any specific effect of 9/11 on
the demand for office space in tall buildings.
359. So are you then saying that it is the historic
trends triggering the demand for tall buildings, ie when the economy
is booming you get the demand for tall buildings, and then a waning
(Dr Damesick) No, I am not saying that either. The
demand for tall buildings and for large units of space in tall
buildings by single occupiers is being driven by structural changes
in the organisation of business producing, by merger and acquisition
and organic growth, very large organisations some of whom want
to consolidate their activities in a single building, for which
a tower office building can provide the most efficient form of