Memorandum by Regeneration Practice (TAB
TALL BUILDINGS: THE CHOICES WE FACE
The importance of the choices we have to make
and whether in the present movement to erect new tall buildings
we are in danger of repeating the mistakes of the 1960's.
Pressure from the office market for tall buildings,
particularly in London, is the result of a progressive reduction
in available development space in a crowded island. The issues
under examination by the Committee in this Inquiry raise fundamental
questions about the operation of an expanding market economy in
a democracy where the demands on space are increasingly in competition
with public demands to protect views, daylight, civic character,
the environment and affordable homes.
The choices we face require us to find sustainable
solutions to retaining our international competitiveness without
the unacceptable by-products of growth; unsustainable demands
on mobility, environmental or micro-climatic damage, overshadowing,
the destruction of the civic quality of place or the obliteration
of important views. Solutions to tall buildings are likely to
be highly contentious because we still fail to find solutions
for the public goods required to service existing growth. For
example, the structural deficit in affordable homes in London
for key workers. The Government must face up to this by major
planning reform to deliver the public goods and design quality
required to sustain growth alongside solutions for tall buildings.
The alternative is to risk our future competitiveness because
growth in tall buildings may become almost impossible in future
if this issue is not addressed, due to the public outcry against
politically unacceptable levels of damage to the public realm.
We should learn from the evidence of unpopularity of the poor
town centre developments of the 1960's which stripped many of
our towns and cities of civic quality and delight.
Who should lead the process of making choices?
Whether those making decisions are sufficiently accountable to
the public and how far tall buildings should be allowed to block
Market-led growth in tall buildings is essential
to our future competitiveness, but the choices we face can no
longer be led by a market regulated by a weak and reactive planning
system. The market priority in the development control process
is already responsible for urban abandonment and growth at low
density in the suburbs which has driven unsustainable demands
for mobility, and placed Britain in the slow lane in transport
The European Convention on Human Rights requires
third party representation in the planning process. But while
representations from special interest groups must be heard and
taken into account in any adjudication process on tall buildings,
it would be equally wrong to allow special interest groups to
lead the timing or the result. This would place accountability
above quality of choice at the expense of economic competitiveness,
as we have seen at Terminal 5.
The potential impact of high rise structures
as a solution to market growth is far greater than in medium rise
development, therefore a very high level of skills is required
to make the quality choices we need to make. The skills required
should be gathered into expert urban panels comprising urban design,
architecture, historic and civic interests.
Historically, urban design and architecture
are celebrations of growth. These interests are an essential part
of any adjudication process on tall buildings to ensure a sufficiently
high standard of design and siting. However, celebrating growth
is a visionary quality which places value in the city of the future,
potentially at the expense of valuing the city of the past and
present. Conversely, historic and civic interest groups must be
taken account of in any adjudication to ensure choices on tall
buildings do not destroy the vitality of civic place, or obliterate
important views. Equally, historic and civic interests will place
high value on the city of the past and present, with the potential
of stopping growth in its tracks.
Therefore, the urban panels must share three
no one interest should dominate within
the urban panels and they must be beyond reproach;
they must take full account of all
third party objections, and to state how they have done this in
any decision in a demonstrably democratic way and;
the process of adjudication must
be framed within strict timescales to protect our economic competitiveness.
The wider impact of tall buildings upon public
goods should be refined into impact fees, determined outside the
process of spatial adjudication, within local neighbourhood hearings
in a reformed planning system. This will offer certainty, equity
and speed to the process.
The role of Tall Buildings in achieving high densities
in residential areas; the provision of offices for certain types
of global companies; and as a means of contributing to the civic
realm of our cities;
Where tall buildings should be located:
There is a need to stimulate "polycentric"
growth around suburban transport interchanges to begin the process
of a more sustainable pattern of urban development, reducing mobility
demands into the city core to sustainable levels. Tall buildings
of the highest design quality, constructed at these interchanges,
would signify a new civic age in urban growth. However, site assembly
is likely to be complex, development to raise strong objections
and delivery to be slow. Fiscal measures are required to draw
the market to such locations. This has proved successful in the
Enterprise Zones where the market has brought major investment
to our derelict docklands by skewing the fiscal environment to
stimulate growth. Without a bold vision of a more sustainable
city, backed by Government, the process of urban strangulation
caused by market-led growth driving unsustainable mobility demands
is set to continue.
Implementation of new development centres in
the suburbs is likely to take decades. In the short and medium
term, tall buildings will need to be allowed within the city core.
They can enhance the beauty of our cities providing visual delight,
a counterpoint in urban scale and exhilaration. But equally, without
wider reforms in the planning system they are likely to be regarded
by many, simply as symbols of an unattainable lifestyle, the destruction
of public place or civic values, or the steady erosion of the
quality of urban life.
Masterplans of acceptable locations for tall
buildings in the city core are not required for several reasons:
(a) Such plans reflect the views of a single
design office or architect. Why exclude the "quirks of the
market" from our consideration. An unlimited amount of human
creativity is surely preferable to the views of a few, albeit
notable creative urban designers. We should not repeat the mistakes
of the plan-led development control system which has become an
inflexible and reactive burden upon growth. The development of
the unplanned medieval city demonstrates the essentially human
quality which delights, informs and enriches our enjoyment of
the civic realm.
(b) Such plans, being demand-led, will inevitably
propose clusters of tall buildings, whereas, individual beacons
spread around the city will have a reduced negative impact on
the environment, daylighting and in reducing concentrations of
demand for mobility. Conversely, individual spires offer the best
chance of complementing the scale of the surrounding civic realm,
avoiding obliteration of special views, providing focal points
for sustainable growth centres and navigation aides for the pedestrian.
(c) Such plans will inevitably become visual
tools to skew opinion towards market-led choices. There would
be more justification for "civic masterplans" to assist
in deciding on the location of tall buildings, recording the delights
of special views, street markets, public squares, river and canalways,
cultural and ethnic centres, bus, and rail stops and important
historic buildings and places.
Whether the Government should have a more explicit
policy on the subject.
A blue print for sustainable growth in the suburbs
backed by fiscal incentives and major reforms to the planning
system are essential elements of a comprehensive planning and
regeneration strategy which the Government should adopt. Planning
reforms should include a regional planning mechanism to adjudicate
on tall buildings. As part of this, Government guidance is needed
to define the effects on micro-climate and ecology of tall building
design, views of special civic importance, guidance on safe escape
and daylighting, standards of construction, criteria for access
to public transport and other matters.