Examination of Witnesses (Questions 640-659)|
THOROTON, QC AND
TUESDAY 12 FEBRUARY 2002
640. Will you be advising the Secretary of State
to reject the London Plan?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No. I think the right
thing to do is to wait for the whole process to be gone through,
and see what the plan is.
641. In what circumstances would the Secretary
of State consider rejecting the Plan?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) He would consider rejecting
it if it was inconsistent with national planning policy in a material
642. Would he take into account what public
opinion was thought to be, or the views of the boroughs?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) He would obviously take
into account what the consultation had produced, but if there
was a clear conflict between national policy guidance and that
which was in the regional spatial strategy that the Mayor had
produced, then he would direct that the relevant spatial strategy
643. If there was a conflict between the regional
strategy and the local strategies, what would the Secretary of
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) He would have to form
a view in relation to it, but if the elected body had concluded
this was the right course and it was not inconsistent with national
policy, then that body, which has been charged with producing
the regional spatial strategy, should decide.
644. Most of our witnesses prefer clusters of
tall buildings rather than pepper-potting. What is your preference?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Whether clusters is the
right course or whether singleton tall buildings is the right
course will depend upon the circumstances in each individual case.
645. There were also suggestions that tall buildings
should be developed in Croydon or in Docklands. Do you have any
views on where tall buildings should be located?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not have a view in
relation to that. If a case can be made out for that and the usual
requirements that I have referred to, about good design, sustainability,
transport etc, are met, then there is no reason in principle why
a case should not be made for tall buildings there.
Christine Russell: English Heritage, who gave
evidence this morning, have listed a number of what one can only
describe as exceedingly unpopular buildings, like Centre Point.
Does this undermine your confidence in English Heritage?
Sir Paul Beresford
646. For example, it is said that some of the
unique buildings that English Heritage have listed are unique
because no one would build them again, because they are a disaster!
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am quite loath to be
drawn on my personal opinion on particular buildings.
647. That is not fair. The Mayor told us how
much he had enjoyed the sitting in Centre Point when it was built
and now how much he admired the building. Would you not like to
tempt your views on Centre Point?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, I would not, if you
do not mind. The question was, does it undermine one's confidence
in English Heritage that they, as it were, support buildings like
Centre Point, which have been so unpopular. English Heritage have
got to express their views about what they think is a good building,
what a building worth preserving is or what they think about new
buildings that are not yet built but are proposed to be built.
They are advisers on the heritage. We can either take their advice
or not, as the case may be.
648. Anyway, we quite often will not know what
their advice is, will we?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Subject to what the further
consultation is and what I am allowed to say subsequently, I hope
we do find out.
649. Can I elicit your views on architects?
Of course, many of the horrors of the 60s were pushed through
at the time as being superb examples of avant garde architecture.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes. People now are much,
much more conscious of the quality of design. People want to live
in houses that they feel much more comfortable in than houses
that were built in the 60s and 70s. Much higher standards of design
and architecture are, I think, expected by the people who actually
use these buildings, whether they be public buildings, office
buildings, or residencies.
650. So you are saying we will not get 21st
century monstrosities because the level and involvement of the
public is far greater now? You have faith in the public.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think people are much
more conscious of these issues than they have been in the past.
I certainly cannot say that we will not get monstrosities in the
future, but I think people are much, much more conscious of what
buildings look like and how they affect their lives.
651. Can we move on to the safety requirements
for tall buildings. You did mention at the outset that this review
is now in process. Can you perhaps tell the Committee a little
bit more about it and what time-scale you are working to?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There is material coming
from the States about what they are discovering about the events
of 11 September, which are obviously important. I do not know
what the time-scale is in relation to that. There is the group
chaired by the Institute of Structural Engineers which has got
representation from central Government on it. I do not what their
time-span is, but they are both looking at the issues, as it were,
off their own bat and also seeking to take account of what they
learn from America. So we are, in a sense, waiting for them to
produce. I cannot tell you what the time-span is. I think you
have heard from Mr Roberts, who is the Chairman of the group,
last week, and we would envisage, basically, acting as soon as
is reasonable upon the views that they take. One has got to act
with reasonable expedition, but it is something that needs quite
There is also one other group, the Building
Disaster Assessment Group chaired by Her Majesty's Fire Inspectorate,
which is looking at issues such as evacuation procedures and whether
there should be different evacuation procedures and evacuation
requirements depending on whether you are higher than 30 metres
or even more than that.
652. But could you not do something about that
now without having to wait for the American research because,
yes, we were told I think perhaps by Mr Roberts, that the evacuation
criteria, if that is what it is called, for instance for sports
stadiums, are far more stringent than for tall buildings where
you have to get everyone out of Old Trafford within eight minutes?
Could we not act?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think there are certain
things that would not depend on information from the United States
of America. We have got to decide whether we do need to act pretty
quickly in relation to those. We want proper advice, we want to
consider the ramifications before we act on it.
653. Could we ask you about fire and buildings
regulations. Why are you not asking for the EC Construction Products
Directive, which proposes introducing a requirement that "products
used in the construction of buildings, for the protection of occupants
of the buildings from fire, should not smoke excessively"?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Why are we not asking
the Products Directive?
654. You are not asking that these extra things
should be built in although the EC Construction Products Directive
is something you are going to have to deal with?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We are certainly in touch
with the people responsible for the development of the design
codes, including both the British Standards Institution and those
involved in Europe in the development of Euro Codes in relation
to those sorts of issues. If there are particular bodies that
we are not in touch with obviously we should get in touch with
them as quickly as possible.
655. Various European countries have apparently
issued national standards and you are not proposing to do so.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Presumably because there
are already British standards that apply, although they may not
be legally enforceable, and in some cases there are Euro standards
that apply. The overall answer to your question is if there are
particular codes or standards that we should be considering that
we are not then obviously we should get on to that. If there are
particular cases please let me know and we shall write.
Mrs Dunwoody: I shall be delighted to do so.
656. Can I ask your opinion on whether or not
you feel tall buildings should be required, as indeed sports stadia
are, to have annual safety inspections?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) One of the things that
needs to be looked at is the regularity of safety inspections.
I do not know whether annual is the right period and I do not
know whether or not it should be different depending on the particular
height and size of the building. Equally, I am not sure whether
one should just be focusing on tall buildings or on any buildings
where there are great conflagrations of people, for example sports
stadia, for example exhibition centres.
657. But the point is that sports stadia are
clearly covered by regulations which specify an annual inspection.
As we understand it, tall buildings have to be approved in terms
of safety by the fire people when they are built but not after
that. Is it not logical that at least at some point there should
be further checks to see that modification or, as Mrs Dunwoody
has just pointed out, materials that are brought into the buildings
do not change the fire safety case?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am not sure what the
answer to that is because I do not know whether the Fire Inspectorate
or the Health & Safety Executive would say the right course
is to inspect as and when they think there might be an issue.
Mrs Dunwoody: You have not laid down even to
the standards that other EuropeanI rarely find myself in
the situation of quoting other European nations
Chairman: I was a little puzzled!
Mrs Dunwoody: But the situation is that apparently
we are not issuing national requirements to conform even with
the limits set in the EC fire test for the generation of smoke
and fumes. It is terribly important.
658. Would you like to let us have a note on
this in due course?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Could I? I have only got
to the stage where there is a group looking at this. I am not
sure what the right answer to it is.
659. If I could put to you a series of questions.
We are concerned about the timing of these things. It is nice
to have fire groups set up looking at them but, frankly, it would
be helpful if the Committee could put to you a series of questions.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That is fine. Mr Ellis
has passed me a note. Buildings are the subject of routine inspections
by fire brigades, but I do not know the regularity of that. I
do not know whether it would differ from place to place and I
do not know whether or not pressures on individual fire services