Examination of Witnesses (Questions 500-519)|
TUESDAY 12 FEBRUARY 2002
500. Perhaps I misread it. As I read the minutes,
it said it did not warrant refusal. When did the Commission decide
to ask for a refusal or a call in?
(Mr Davies) When the matter came to the Commission
on the basis of the LAC minutes.
501. So that was 17 May?
(Mr Davies) I can give you the dates, perhaps afterwards.
502. Was that a majority decision?
(Mr Davies) Of the Commission?
(Mr Davies) My recollection was that the Chairman
who chaired the meeting went round and asked every member of the
Commission their view on the particular proposals, both on the
nature of the new building and on the impact on historic environment.
Everyone was asked for their view and it was a clear majority
view that it was sufficiently damaging to warrant call in.
(Sir Neil Cossons) I was particularly anxious that
each member was asked specifically at the end of that debate.
504. I thought what I heard was that the majority
was a majority of one.
(Sir Neil Cossons) No. There were certainly anxieties
expressed by commissioners which was why I was very anxious at
the end of the debate to go round the table and ask each commissioner
individually and there was no strong dissent against the proposal
for call in.
505. So what was the majority?
(Sir Neil Cossons) I cannot remember.
(Mr Davies) A vote was not taken. The Chairman simply
summarised the views that were then expressed at that meeting.
506. At the inquiry, I thought you said there
was a majority vote.
(Mr Davies) No. I think you are confusing the London
Advisory Committee and the Commission. At the London Advisory
Committee there was clearly a vote and a majority of members of
that committee, which advises the Commission and staff, did vote.
At the Commission, there was no vote.
507. At the end of the day, there seems to have
been considerable to-ing and fro-ing and see-sawing on the whole
thing that has ultimately cost £10 million.
(Mr Davies) Not at all. The Commission is the decision
making body for all schemes that we look at; they take into account
the views of the London Advisory Committee and the views of staff
and, in this case, they came to the clear view that it was sufficiently
damaging as to warrant call in. It is no different to any other
scheme in that respect.
508. Since this is all a matter of public interest,
why are those meetings not held in public so that people can hear
the arguments put?
(Sir Neil Cossons) One of the primary reasons is that
English Heritage advise ministers and we have been engaged in
a debate with DCMS, our sponsor department, over recent months
about the extent to which discussions and decision making processes
should be transparent and we have opened doors to enable that
to happen in part. The current state of affairs is that because
we are presenting advice to ministers, we do not need to nor is
there departmental support for open public access to either the
Advisory Committees or the Commission meetings.
Mrs Dunwoody: Open government, in other words.
509. That must mean that the Department does
not want them to be open.
(Sir Neil Cossons) It was at my initiative that we
took the recent moves towards increased transparency three months
510. Is that "yes"?
(Sir Neil Cossons) And what we have agreed is that
we will see how this works for six months and we will consider
later this spring how we are getting on and we will open up the
debate again with the Department. What we want to try and do is
take this a step at a time and I think that to have taken an immediate
decision to total openness, supposing we had had support for that,
would have been difficult for us operationally. What we certainly
can do, I believeand that is what we are doing nowis
be more open than we have been and, at the end of the six month
experimental period, we will see how that is working.
511. You really mean, you said "yes",
they said "no" and more or less you lost.
(Sir Neil Cossons) No, I do not think that is the
case. What I am saying is that we had a discussion on increased
openness in English Heritage led by me.
512. I think we heard that.
(Sir Neil Cossons) And I was keen to see more openness
because I believe in openness. I accept too that there are issues
particularly in terms of the confidentiality of some of the cases
that come before us and the fact that confidential advice needs
to go to ministers where openness may not be appropriate. So what
we are doing is taking it in two stages.
Chairman: You are on the side of the angels,
but the Minister has to be converted yet.
513. Can I return to your guidance paper. I
think in your earlier responses you both indicated that you believe
that the Government should also be coming up with some help. Is
(Mr Rouse) From CABE's perspective, we think there
may be a case for embedding some basic criteria, some of the basic
principles within an existing PPG. That could be done in the context
of the revision of PPG1, it could be done through a number of
appropriate PPGs which are 15; there are a number of them due
to be revised over the next 18 months which would be appropriate.
However, we do not think it should go into a great deal of detail
because, at the end of the day, it should be for local authorities
through their local development plans to set the locational criteria
and the design criteria for the tall buildings in their area.
514. Does the fact that we have already had
evidence from authorities like Bath and Bristol mean that the
existing planning system is not working effectively in applications
for tall buildings?
(Mr Finch) The planning system is a whole area all
of its own. The planning system is perfectly capable of dealing
with tall buildings in the sense that there are the mechanisms
and the procedures and indeed some criteria laid down in the local
plans for instance as to whether tall buildings would be generally
desirable. I think what we have found and why we get so many references
from local authorities is that the experience of dealing with
tall buildings simply does not exist. For most local authorities,
their legacy of tall buildings were the often unsatisfactory product
of a pure supply-side product, ie 1960s and 1970s system built,
concrete frame, high-rise local authority flats. Most of the proposals
that we see coming through now are not of that sort. There is
a lack of experience. That is why we are there to help and I think
anything that can promote the fact that design quality applies
to tall buildings as much as to anything else and that tall buildings
are not some strange ogre where you need special kind of protective
gloves to handle them because they are completely different to
any other sort of building . . . They are not completely different
to any other sort of building at all.
515. If they are ugly, there are a lot more
(Mr Finch) I do not think there are a lot more of
them because almost
516. I mean in each individual case. If you
do not like the design, there is a lot more of it.
(Mr Finch) One of the things about cities is that,
by taking a few steps or looking in a different direction, you
do not have to look at anything that you do not like.
517. So we can walk round with our eyes closed
and then we will not have to worry about the quality of the built
environment at all.
(Mr Finch) If you are walking down Oxford Street,
you cannot avoid Selfridges yet it is not a very tall building.
I think it is a myth that tall buildings have more impact on somebody
walking along the street. Most people walking along the street
are not looking upwards, or not for very long because they bump
into things. It is a banal enough point but it is true. In fact,
research on people's behaviour when walking round the streets
shows that they are more likely to look down than up and I think
that actually puts
518. So the pavements are more important than
the tall buildings?
(Mr Finch) It depends what is on them, Chairman!
(Sir Neil Cossons) This might be an area where we
perhaps have a different perspective than CABE, Chairman. Coming
back to Jon Rouse's earlier point about the need for guidance
in response to your question, we would agree with that in every
519. And you think that mechanism would be through
a revised PPG?
(Sir Neil Cossons) Yes and I think to in particular
establish the methodologies that need to be pursued when considering
(Mr Davies) I think there is a clear methodology that
could be developed and set out in a PPG which would allow for
a clear and rational plan-led approach to the process of identifying
areas which are appropriate for tall buildings and those that
are inappropriate. If that were set out in national policy guidance,
then I think local authorities would adopt that as part of their
plan making process.