Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda


Memorandum by SAVE Britain's Heritage (SAVE) (TAB 02)

THE ROLE OF TALL BUILDINGS IN ACHIEVING HIGH DENSITIES IN RESIDENTIAL AREAS; THE PROVISION OF OFFICER FOR CERTAIN TYPES OF GLOBAL COMPANIES; AND AS A MEANS OF ENHANCING THE BEAUTY OF OUR CITIES

  There are three very separate issues encapsulated in this point which the Sub Committee wishes to examine.

  1.  Tall buildings and high densities in residential areas. High density does not necessarily equate with high-rise. Some of the densest residential areas in London are not to be found where high-rise buildings are commonplace, but in the Georgian and Victorian terraces which typify so much of London. These vary from three to five storeys, and are capable of sub division into high-density flats. The low-rise nature of these areas is in itself something highly appreciated by residents—the sky which they can see from their streets is not closed off by tall buildings.

  It ought be noted that where high rise residential buildings have been constructed in the past, the lack of communal space within the buildings has been compensated for by creating open space around the base of the buildings. While this may be desirable, it has not been successful in creating a community spirit within these buildings—verticle living has in fact resulted in precisely the opposite—the break up of traditional communities and patterns of life.

  Where high rise residential buildings have been built and maintained by the public sector they have almost invariably failed through the shortage of funds that typifies so many housing authorities. It is much more expensive to maintain a high rise building than it is to maintain a low rise terrace, and so from a best value stand point, if not a community stand point, high rise is far from ideal for residential.

  In the few cases where tall residential buildings have been built or refurbished and maintained by the private sector, they have been successful, albeit very expensive—as maintenance charges demonstrate.

  2.  The role of tall buildings in the provision of offices for certain types of global companies.

  By their very nature, the occupants of this type of building will want to be located close to other large business buildings. If there really is a clear need for a high building as opposed to a ground hugging building, then there needs to be a clear set national policy stating where these buildings can and cannot go. At present there are a whole series of policies relating to tall buildings, but not actually addressing the issue head on. Such a policy must say where such buildings can go, and what heights they can be built. The recent Heron Tower Inquiry showed what an utter absence of policy there is, as well as highlighting how in the past policies had been ignored by Government. If a policy is to be set up (which is essential), it is of the utmost importance that it is adhered to by all.

  3.  The role of tall buildings in enhancing the beauty of our cities.

  The cities of the UK are essentially low rise, with the occasional high rise building dating from the 1960s or 70s. Other buildings which break the scale and rhythm or our cities are usually public buildings, such as town halls, churches and cathedrals. While America's cities were growing tall in the 1930s the UK resisted the urge, and indeed this is recognised later in the century in the planning of "new towns" of the UK—Milton Keynes, for example, is remarkable for its low lying nature.

  It is quite hard to see from previous attempts at building high in the UK how tall buildings can enhance the beauty of our towns. The morphology of our cities is entirely different from many of those in the USA which have tall buildings—the uniform grid pattern which is found in New York, for example, means that none of the tall buildings there have the effect of closing off the streets, whereas the irregular, tight knit street patterns found in UK cities mean that tall buildings often have the effect of closing off the sky at the end of streets.

THE SUSTAINABILITY OF TALL BUILDINGS

  Tall buildings represent an enormous increase in resource use on one site, as well as a massive increase in land values for the owners of the site. Everything should be done to ensure that tall buildings give as much back to the environment as is possible, be it through the use of photovoltaic cells, or by collecting rainwater for recycling etc. There must also be provision of some form of public amenity at ground level.

WHERE TALL BUILDINGS SHOULD BE LOCATED

  Once the issue of whether a tall building is really needed by its developers/users has been resolved, this issue is of vital importance. Pepperpotting must not be allowed. The effect that scattered towers have had on the townscape of London and other cities in the UK has been disastrous, and must not be repeated. Well planned clusters are the only real alternative—these required good planning and a lot of foresight on the part of the planners, and areas in which they are planned should be subject to rigorous masterplanning.

  While we do not accept that the case for high rise buildings has been made, the only clearly acceptable places for additional high rise buildings in London are within the City of London, but not at the expense of historic buildings which contribute to townscape; and secondly at Canary Wharf.

  No clusters should be designated without: i. extensive consultations with locals, resulting in their acceptance of high rise; ii. The agreement of the buyer concerned.

  Planning policy is essentially a function of London's Boroughs. We consider that over the last 15 years since the abolition of the GLC boroughs have usually shown a greater sensitivity than the old GLC, for while the GLC played an important role in winning and providing protection for historic buildings and historic areas, it also had a record of drawing up damaging schemes for comprehensive redevelopment, for example, the six lane road parallel to the Strand which it proposed should run through the central market area in Covent Garden.

  Building which are recognised by the Government to be of historic or architectural importance through their inclusion of the Statutory list must be treated with the utmost care and diligence. A high building close to a listed building can interfere and in case destroy the setting of that building, detracting from its value. This would be contrary to Government policy concerning the historic environment.

  High rise buildings must not be allowed to interfere with views of national or local significance—from historically important views of St Paul from London's river bridges, to the view from urban parks, which provide in many towns a pleasant escape from the reality of city life, to cherished local views, be they of the church or of the local pub. Far too views have, in our opinion, been protected.

  There needs to be, therefore the strongest guidance as to where such buildings can be built, if indeed they need to be built at all.

Are we in danger of repeating the mistakes of the 1960s?

  As yet, there has been little to indicate that developers, architects (and those advising the Mayor of London) have learned the lessons from the 1960s. The present rash of towers planned for London Shows this all to well—pepperpotted from Battersea to London Bridge with little or no regard to their surroundings or how they relate to one another. Again, this highlights the desperate need for a clear, coherent policy on tall buildings. The policy that has been offered up by the Mayor of London as interim guidance on tall buildings in London is entirely insufficient, and amounts to little more than a free for all.

Are those making the decisions sufficiently accountable to the public?

  There are certain aspects of current decision making regime that are worrying, and more so in London than anywhere else. In the recent Heron Towner Inquiry, we have seen how the Mayor, the Corporation of London, big business and architects have a relationship which can only be described as cosy. The Mayor's advisor on urban issues, Lord Rogers, has tall buildings in the pipeline for London, while the Mayor's decisions are not accountable to any committee scrutiny. There is potentially a conflict of interests in this situation which would work to the benefit of business and to the detriment of the environment in which we live.

Should the Government have a more explicit policy on the subject?

  SAVE believes that the Government does need a policy governing the issue of tall buildings, which should be strictly adhered to.


 
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Prepared 22 January 2002