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


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 580-599)

SIR NEIL COSSONS, MR PHILIP DAVIES, MR JON ROUSE AND MR PAUL FINCH LORD FALCONER OF THOROTON, QC AND MR PETER ELLIS

TUESDAY 12 FEBRUARY 2002

Chris Grayling

  580. Do you think, Lord Falconer, that the role of tall buildings is largely symbolic, particularly outside London? Is it just a question of status?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think it would depend upon each individual application. There could be a place for tall buildings that increase density, for example, in relation to housing, but I would like to make it clear that I am not urging a return to the tower block.

Chairman

  581. Why not?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Because I think the tower block carries with it a large sense of failure, for example, in relation to the design of those tower blocks and in relation to the construction of those tower blocks. I also think that in certain places tower blocks would be a disastrous way to house, for example, families. People, rightly, look at the tower block era as one that was not successful in relation to provisions for accommodation. In answer to your question, I am saying there may well be a case for a tall building that is more than symbolic—for example, in relation to the densities that it provides.

Chris Grayling

  582. In reality, surely, the problem with tower blocks was that they were designed for the wrong audience. They were built as council blocks for families. Earlier on we were hearing about the Barbican, and that where you build a tower block with flats aimed at younger, professional people they are highly in demand.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The words "tower block" conjure up, for me, the Ronan Point type of development, which was poorly designed, poorly constructed, with families unsuitably housed. That is why I am saying I do not want to go back to the tower block era. However, I am saying that in some cases the value of a tall building will not just be its symbolism (which is what your question was about, Mr Grayling) but in fact the utility that it produces, because it can get greater density in a particular case than other places. There are issues about that.

Sir Paul Beresford

  583. Would it be wrong if it was built, in part, as a symbol?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, I do not think it would necessarily. There would have to be a sustainable case for it, it would have to be in the right place for transport infrastructure, for design, etc.

Chris Grayling

  584. We have taken evidence from witnesses who say that in reality tower blocks are not necessarily the best way to generate density.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Indeed.

  585. In Kensington & Chelsea, for example, they have the highest possible density of anywhere in the country, yet that is a very exclusive area.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Indeed, the Ardent St George developers have done some interesting research in connection with Kings Cross which says that when you get above ten storeys, because of the need for lifts and staircases, you tend you start making quite little gains in terms of density. Would it not depend upon the particular circumstances, as to whether going upwards gives you more density than going along or dealing with it in different ways? I am always told that the Georgian terraces in Liverpool or London produce very high levels of density - much, much higher levels of density than those that are produced by the sorts of housing development that took place in the 60s and 70s. They are producing densities of above 40 or 50 per hectare, whereas the developments in the 60s and 70s were producing densities of about 20 per hectare. That seems to me to demonstrate that tallness does not necessarily mean density, but it can in particular cases.

Christine Russell

  586. Lord Falconer, other witnesses have told us that they would like to see more certainty under the planning system. If you think this is desirable, how can we do it?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There is no national planning guidance on tall buildings of any sort, at the moment, but there is national planning guidance on things like good design, transport infrastructure, etc. My inclination is not to have specific planning guidance on tall buildings because I think in each individual case a case has to be made out for the particular building. So, subject obviously to considering what is said in your report, my inclination would be no, because I think you can have too much national guidance. I think I said that the last time I was here.

Chairman

  587. You wanted more certainty the last time you were here.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) As I hope I made clear, Chairman, the way to do that is not to have pages and pages and pages of national planning guidance.

Christine Russell

  588. Do you think, then, local authorities will have adequate powers to resist inappropriate applications? We have heard very strong calls, particularly from historic cities, for instance, where they feel tall buildings are not appropriate but they are under immense development pressure.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think in the drawing up of the local development framework, which is what the new planning green paper suggested, or in drawing up the development plan now, it is for the local authority to have a process by which they consult the community and form a view about whether or not they want a tall building in their district. I do not think they need central planning guidance to provide, necessarily, the means to either resist or accept such buildings.

Mrs Ellman

  589. Local authorities tell us that they are concerned that the absence of guidance makes it difficult for them to defend tall buildings policies that they might want to put in their plans. Would you have any comments on that?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The basic point I am making is that if the tall building is well-designed and meets the other national policies about transport, sustainability, density, etc, then there is a case for a tall building. If it does not meet those principles then there would not be case for a tall building. I do not think that there is a bright line answer to where there should be a tall building. It will depend upon the sort of issues that I have identified.

Mrs Dunwoody

  590. What is a "bright line answer"?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Is there a yes or no answer to whether or not there should be a tall building in a particular place.

Mrs Ellman

  591. PPGs 6 and 13 do recommend where development should take place, such as town centres. Should there be some equivalent PPG for tall buildings?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think so. PPG 13, particularly, will obviously have relevance in relation to tall buildings. As I say, my present inclination is you are not going to add much to the process by saying "Let us have a separate national policy on tall buildings".

  592. We heard evidence earlier this morning from CABE, who suggested there should be government guidance in relation to Section 106 agreements, and what sorts of agreements were advisable. Would you agree that government should be involved?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There is already some guidance out there, for example on affordable housing, in relation to Section 106. Yes, I do think that the Government should issue guidance in relation to Section 106 agreements because without guidance there is great uncertainty about what local authorities should ask for. In the documents that accompany the planning green paper we propose a tariff system in relation to planning gain from Section 106 agreements. That issue about planning gain would apply just as much to tall buildings as it would to any other development that was proposed.

Sir Paul Beresford

  593. That was a betterment tax—the same sort of thing they had in the 60s—and it did not work then.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is not a betterment tax, it is trying to identify with some degree of clarity what contribution to development in the community should be made by a developer. It is trying to get away from all of the current uncertainties that surround what sort of contribution the developer is expected to make—whether it is the building of more affordable houses or whether it is identification of a sum, does not seem to me to make much difference.

  Sir Paul Beresford: I will resist following it up.

  Chairman: I am just wondering whether we should not call it a "worserment tax.

Mrs Ellman

  594. What is the precise status of the CABE/English Heritage guidance?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is guidance on tall buildings, a consultation paper. Plainly, it will be referred to in, for example, planning inquiries. The consultation process, I think, has been completed, and I think they have to make up their minds whether they are going to publish it as a final document. It is plainly of some relevance in determining whether or not a tall building should go ahead.

  595. Will it have the mark of Government approval?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Looking at it, it—

Sir Paul Beresford

  596. Before you answer that, before commenting on the actual application, they came together to produce this guidance and then fell apart about Heron—
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I heard, yes. You have just had them in front of you, and presumably they did not reach agreement in relation to it.

  Sir Paul Beresford: No, they did not even reach agreement on quite how they voted on it.

  Mrs Dunwoody: The question still remains the one that Mrs Ellman asked.

Mrs Ellman

  597. Does it have the mark of Government approval?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It seems to us to make very good sense.

  598. Does that mean yes?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I have no quarrel with any of it.

  599. Does that mean yes?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think it does mean yes, yes. As Mr Ellis is whispering in my ear, quite rightly, it is still in draft, so it may change.


 
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