Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by Montagu Evans (TAB 19)

  Montagu Evans are the planning advisors to the Heron Corporation. Heron submitted a planning application to the Corporation of London on 8 September 2000 for a 183m tower on land bounded by Bishopsgate, Camomile Street, Outwich Street and Houndsditch. This building would be the third tallest building in London after the Canary Wharf complex and Tower 42, closely followed by the 180m Swiss Re building at the Baltic Exchange, which is currently under construction. The Corporation of London resolved to grant planning permission for the Heron Tower on 1 February 2001 and our client's proposals were also supported by the Greater London Authority and the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment amongst others. The planning application was called in by the Secretary of State for a Public Inquiry (held between 23 October and 30 November 2001) primarily because of concerns raised by English Heritage.

  As a result of our client's detailed involvement in the promotion of this tall building proposal from pre-application stage through to the Public Inquiry they feel that they are well placed to assist in the Urban Affairs Sub-Committee Inquiry on the subject, especially in relation to London. In particular, our client would like to address issues associated with the restrictions placed upon the location of tall buildings, planning policy constraints, whether tall buildings should be allowed to block existing views, whether they should be clustered and whether the decision makers are sufficiently accountable to the public.


  The Heron Tower would provide 56,355 sqm of offices and 1,336 sqm of retail on a site which is currently occupied by two buildings which provide in total 13,551 sqm of offices and 969 sqm of retail. This demonstrates the point that a tall building can, in itself significantly enhance the densities of commercial floorspace that can be achieved on a site. In the case of our client's proposal the building would dramatically transform the quality of its context. The uplift in floorspace on the site allowed the architects (the world renowned practice—Kohn Pedersen Fox) to design a building of the highest architectural quality as well as drawing back the footprint from the site perimeter and broadening the existing pavements to accommodate pedestrian flows from nearby Liverpool Street. The set back along the southern edge of the site also allows an additional lane of traffic on Camomile Street, which in turn permits the closure of Houndsditch to vehicles to create a new public landscape plaza. This approach could be adopted more widely when considering tall buildings proposals in order to ensure that the public realm is improved as a result of tall buildings proposals, rather than being compromised.

  Whilst tall buildings have the ability to enhance their local environment, they also have the ability to enhance the beauty of our cities through the consolidation of existing clusters of tall buildings. This is particularly relevant to developments within the City of London where established clusters of tall buildings already exist. The issues associated with clustering are dealt with in more detail below in our commentary on the Corporation of London's planning policies.


  Our clients consider that sufficient planning policy exists to determine the appropriate height, location and architectural quality of tall buildings proposals. This is especially the case in London where the London Planning Advisory Committee (LPAC) amongst others, have been involved in the preparation of London-wide advice on the planning issues associated with tall buildings, and where the Mayor of London has started to play more of a strategic role.

  Any planning application (for a tall building or otherwise) falls to be considered having regard to the development plan and other material considerations in accordance with the requirements of Section 54A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. The other material considerations include national and regional policy guidance, particularly that relevant to tall buildings such as the LPAC report (Supplementary Planning Advice on High Buildings and Strategic Views in London ) published in 1999 and adopted by Government in November 1999, the recent guidance on tall buildings prepared by English Heritage and CABE entitled "Guidance on Tall Buildings" produced as a consultation document on 12 June 2001, and the Mayor of London's Interim Strategic Planning Guidance on Tall Buildings, Strategic Views and the Skyline in London published in October 2001.


  In London there are two specific "heights" policies which set fixed maximum building heights for proposed new buildings. These policies relate to the protection of St Paul's Cathedral and the Palace of Westminster and are known as Strategic View policies. Strategic Guidance, Supplementary Guidance for London on the Protection of Strategic Views, and the Government Directions (RPG3 1996 Paragraph 8.18, RPG3, Annex A, 1991 and DOE Directions 22.5.92) require planning authorities to protect and enhance the "strategic views" and setting of St Paul's Cathedral. The strategic views are from Greenwich Park, Blackheath Point, Alexandra Palace, Kenwood, Parliament Hill, Primrose Hill, Westminster Pier and King Henry's Mound in Richmond Park. Within these viewing corridors development will normally be refused where it exceeds the defined development plane. The development plane is normally defined by the sight line between the strategic view point and the base of the Cathedral's lower drum and it applies to the whole of the viewing corridor between the Cathedral and the view point.

  The most important local views of St Paul's Cathedral, from the South Bank or Thames Bridges and certain points to the west and north have also been protected since 1938 by a code known as "St Paul's Heights". St Paul's Heights was devised to preserve views of the dome, western towers and to retain a sense of the entire length of the Cathedral from the south. It operates by defining a series of inclined planes between the view points and the Cathedral which form a ceiling, above which no building can be allowed to rise. These inclined planes are expressed as a series of maximum building spot heights forming a grid.

  Protection of the views relies on strict compliance with the controls. This is rigorously enforced by the Corporation of London.


  Whilst the protection of the Strategic Views of St Paul's is controlled by Regional Planning Guidance, other controls on the impact of development upon listed buildings, conservation areas and the quality of new development is set out in the Planning (Listed Building and Conservation Areas) Act 1990, PPG15 and PPG1. Section 66(1) of Planning (LBCA) Act 1990 states that "in considering whether to grant planning permission for development which affects a listed building or its setting, the local planning authority or, as the case may be, the Secretary of State shall have special regard to the desirability of preserving the building or its setting or any features of special architectural or historic interest which it possesses."

  Paragraph 2.16 of PPG15 notes that the Act requires authorities considering applications for planning permission or listed buildings consent for works which affect a listed building to have special regard to certain matters, including the desirability of preserving the setting of the (listed) building. The PPG also notes in Paragraph 2.17 that "where a listed building forms an important visual element in a street, it would probably be right to regard any development in the street as being within the setting of the building. A proposed high or bulky building might also affect the setting of a listed building some distance away, or alter views of a historic skyline."

  With regard to conservation areas, Section 69 of the Planning (LBCA) Act 1990 imposes a duty on the local planning authorities to designate as conservation areas any area of special architectural or historic interest the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance.

  Paragraph 4.14 of PPG15 refers to Section 72 of the Act where it states that "special attention shall be paid in the exercise of planning functions to the desirability of preserving or enhancing the character or appearance of a conservation area."

  The impact of new developments on the surrounding historic built environment has also been emphasised by the Government in its general guidance on design in Paragraphs 13-20 of PPG1: General Policy and Principles (February 1997). This Guidance notes that poor designs may include "those inappropriate to their context, for example those clearly out of scale or incompatible with their surroundings."


  Moving away from general guidance associated with the impact of development upon listed buildings in conservation areas, specific guidance on tall buildings has recently emerged in the form of a number of publications. These were referred to above and are as follows:

    —  The London Planning Advisory Committee Report "Supplementary Planning Advice on High Buildings and Strategic Views in London" published in March 1999 and adopted by the Government in November 1999.

    —  The Mayor of London's Interim Strategic Planning Guidance on Tall Buildings, Strategic Views and the Skyline in London (October 2001).

    —  English Heritage and the Commission for Architecture and The Built Environment's Guidance on Tall Buildings Consultation Paper (June 2001). NB: This document is not London-centric.

  These documents set out in greater detail the level of analysis that is required when considering a proposal for a tall building and the policy constraints which will identify an appropriate location, scale and design.


  This advice sets out planning policies for high buildings and strategic views in London. The advice was intended to supplement and where appropriate, supersede existing Guidance in Chapter 8 and Annex A of Strategic Guidance for London Planning Authorities (RPG3). It builds upon the report London's Skylines and High Buildings, prepared in 1989 by the London Research Centre and Greater London Consultants for the LAC, Department of Environment and English Heritage, and the report High Buildings and Strategic Views in London, prepared for LPAC, the Government Office for London, English Heritage et al in 1998 by Building Design Partnership and the Property Research, London Research Centre and Ziona Strelitz Associates.

  On 10 November 1999 the DETR issued a press release stating that this new LPAC planning guideline was welcomed by Planning Minister, Nick Raynsford. "He commended the balanced approach of the guidelines, which he felt would help ensure that London's needs could be met without compromising its unique character and urban quality and would help direct proposals for new high buildings to the most appropriate locations." In answer to a Parliamentary Question from Gareth R Jones MP (Harrow West) Mr Raynsford said; "the Government welcomes this advice, which will provide an important input to the development of the Mayor for London Spatial Development Strategy, under the proposed new arrangements for strategic planning in the Capital. The Government does not propose to issue supplementary planning guidance in the meantime, but will take account of the advice in exercising its planning responsibilities in the Capital. Planning authorities in London should also take account of the advice in the interim in preparing or reviewing their Unitary Development Plans early in the exercise of their development control functions." "The advice provides a useful assessment of the role, value and impact of high buildings in London. It also provides helpful and detailed policy advice on the assessment of high buildings, which should help to ensure that future decisions on such proposals are better informed."

  "The Government therefore broadly endorses the principles set out in LPAC's advice, and considers in particular that local planning authorities in London should;

    —  consult the Mayor, adjacent authorities and others in all applications for new buildings above thresholds set out in the advice.

    —  identify in their Unitary Development Plans any areas or locations that are considered particularly suitable for high buildings, taking account of the local context (including clustering of high buildings, potential impacts on particularly sensitive areas or views, and sustainable development objectives such as the need to ensure high levels of public transport accessibility).

    —  potential impacts on particularly sensitive areas or views, and sustainable development objectives such as the need to ensure high levels of public transport accessibility.

    —  indicate in UDP's the criteria against which they will assess any proposal for high buildings in these areas.

    —  take account of the criteria set out in the advice when assessing proposals for new high buildings, including the potential impact of particularly sensitive areas and views, and in particular require that:

    —  they contribute positively to a point of civic or visual significance (including a cluster)

    —  they are of outstanding architectural quality

    —  applications are accompanied by a design statement and analysis of the urban design context

    —  the Government believes that LPAC's advice represents a balanced and pragmatic approach to the issue of high buildings in the capital which should help to ensure that London's needs can be met without compromising its unique character and urban quality... it should assist planning authorities and developers alike in ensuring that any new high buildings are directed to the most appropriate locations and are of the highest possible design quality."

  The LPAC advice is very detailed in its approach to considering planning applications for tall buildings. The development criteria that they set out for considering tall buildings proposals are incorporated in Appendix A.


  Until the Mayor publishes his draft policy proposals on tall buildings in 2002, he will judge proposals in the context of the 10 strategic views designated by the Government in 1991 and the Strategic Planning Advice agreed by LPAC in May 1999. The Mayor recognises that the aforementioned LPAC advice is adequate for most purposes but does not always reflect the Mayor's thinking on the subject. In order to give greater certainty to those concerns, the Mayor has issued Interim Strategic Planning Guidance for use in a development control process up to the publication of the draft London Plan in 2002. The Mayor believes that any misunderstandings that may have emerged as a result of the LPAC document in connection with consultation height thresholds, the impact on important landmarks, the importance of backdrops to strategic views, and the significance of important local views, panoramas and prospects will be removed by the publication of the London Plan. The Guidance notes that the Mayor supports existing clusters in the City of London, Croydon Town Centre and Canary Wharf. Subject to the results of a study being carried out by DEGW for the Mayor, consideration will also be given to the appropriateness of other locations for new clusters such as Paddington, Waterloo, Victoria and London Bridge. The Mayor also identifies a City cluster, within the context of the LPAC location criteria and will support the policy of the City Corporation to allow and encourage tall buildings within an area to the north and east of the Royal Exchange, bound approximately (but not precisely) by Old Broad Street, Houndsditch, Aldgate and Fenchurch Street. This area has been identified so as to afford the necessary protection for the setting of St Paul's Cathedral and the Tower of London.

  The Mayor also supports a criteria based approach to the assessment of planning applications for tall buildings and for the time being he will use the LPAC criteria, but may develop additional criteria relating to the possible benefits of a tall building. These additional criteria are set out in Appendix B.


  The final element of up to date guidance on tall buildings is set out within the joint English Heritage and the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) document "Guidance on Tall Buildings—Consultation Paper" (June 2001). This document is not London-centric and therefore will assist in the determination of planning applications for tall buildings nation-wide.

  As the national bodies charged, respectively, with promoting high standards in architecture and urban design and with the conservation and enhancement of the historic environment, both CABE and English Heritage have an important role to play in evaluating tall buildings projects. As a result, they have sought to identify the key criteria for evaluating planning applications for tall buildings. CABE and English Heritage differ on one point however. English Heritage believe that the overriding consideration will be whether their location is suitable for a tall building in terms of its effect on the historic environment. If not, then no tall building will be acceptable, however good the design. Conversely, CABE believe that the overarching principle will be that any new tall building should be of first class design quality in its own right and should enhance the quality of its immediate location and wider setting.

  The nine criteria which English Heritage/CABE have identified for evaluating tall buildings are set out in Appendix C. The majority of these criteria are identified in other previously mentioned guidance/advice, however this English Heritage/CABE advice provides the latest and most detailed criteria for tall building evaluation.


  All planning applications fall to be considered having regard to the Development Plan and other material considerations in accordance with the requirements of Section 54A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Heron's particular experience concerning development plan policy and tall building proposals is in the City of London and as a result we have chosen to use the Corporation of London Unitary Development Plan as an example of how all of the aforementioned forms of guidance and advice on tall buildings (and wider issues) are incorporated within the Unitary Development Plan to formulate an appropriate tall buildings policy. Thereby demonstrating that sufficient planning policy exists to determine proposals for tall buildings in London. This is already evident in practice, by the Corporation's resolution to grant planning permission for our client's proposal, but also the granting of planning permission for the Swiss Re proposal that is currently under construction.

  The Corporation of London have incorporated planning policies on tall buildings since the first City of London Local Plan was adopted in 1989. The 1989 Plan conformed with the strategic guidance within the Greater London Development Plan (1976) by stating that proposals for high buildings would normally be refused in areas defined as being inappropriate for them, and normally permitted where they would not adversely affect the character or amenities of their settings or the City's environment. In 1994 the City of London UDP was adopted, superseding both the GLDP and the 1989 Local Plan. The UDP carried forward the high buildings policy of the Local Plan and provided more detailed considerations to be taken into account. Other key policies within the UDP sought to encourage development to visually enhance the City, with particular reference to the relationship of proposals to their surroundings as well as seeking to protect or enhance strategic views of buildings, townscape and skylines. The UDP also defines tall buildings in a similar manner to the aforementioned guidance and advice "as those which significantly exceed the height of their general surroundings". It also states that high buildings have a considerable effect on the City's townscape, the skyline and the Corporation, and considers that the construction of further high buildings needs to be carefully controlled. As a result high buildings would only be acceptable in the City where they would not conflict with the character and scale of the surrounding townscape or intrude on important views of skylines.

  As St Paul's Cathedral is widely recognised as being the most notable building in the City of London it demands special consideration. As a result, the UDP contains a policy which ensures that development which affects views of St Paul's Cathedral does not detract from its setting, local views or its impact on the wider skyline. The UDP also provides for the control of redevelopment within the more local area to St Paul's within its St Paul's Heights Policy as referred to above.

  The City of London placed its Unitary Development Plan Review 2000 on Deposit in January 2000.

  The Review was consistent with the approach to high buildings established in earlier policy documents produced by the City and others, but also took into consideration the contents of the Supplementary Planning Advice on High Buildings and Strategic Views in London prepared by LPAC, (as recommended in the Advice). The new policies also drew reference from all aspects of national and regional planning policy guidance concerning tall buildings. As a result, the UDP Review identified areas that were inappropriate for tall buildings, namely conservation areas, local view areas as defined by the policies on the St Paul's Heights and Monument views, within strategic viewing corridors of St Paul's, and where new high buildings would adversely affect the views and settings of the Tower of London World Heritage Site. All other areas of the City were regarded as being sensitive to the development of tall buildings.

  You will note that the Corporation of London could have gone further and identified areas which could be considered as being appropriate for tall buildings (as recommended by the LPAC advice), however they chose not to adopt LPAC's advice in this instance, and that approach was endorsed by the Inquiry Inspector. Other Borough's may find it useful to follow LPAC's advice on identifying appropriate areas as it will introduce greater certainty into the planning process.

  Other considerations within the Corporation of London's UDP Review regarded as being particularly relevant to the applications for high buildings included: the prominence of tall buildings, the general scale of their locality, the manner in which they meet the ground, conservation areas and their settings, listed buildings and their settings, the setting of the Tower of London World Heritage Site, the Thames Policy Area, Strategic and Local Views and the City Skyline, radio interference, infrastructure, sunlighting and daylighting, and wind turbulence.

  The Review UDP went on to note that a group of high buildings already exist in the eastern part of the City, clustered around the building known as Tower 42. The UDP noted that "to be visually successful, proposals for new high buildings should have regard to this grouping of existing and approved buildings (within the cluster). The appearance of the skyline as seen in a range of longer distance views should retain a clear focus on the existing cluster with surrounding buildings falling away in height."

  As you will be aware, any member of the public, interest group, other organisation, or the Secretary of State can make representations in connection with the emerging policies of the UDP, which are subsequently considered by the Inspector at the development plan inquiry. The Inspector subsequently makes his own recommendations based upon the information in front of him concerning the contents of the UDP and the precise wording of its policies and proposals.

  In the specific case of the Corporation of London's Unitary Development Plan Review. A number of groups made comments upon the Corporation's proposed tall buildings policy including English Heritage. These representations were weighed up by the Corporation and the Plan Inquiry Inspector in the context of the specific circumstances of the City of London. On this basis the Inspector makes his recommendations. For example, English Heritage made representations to the Unitary Development Plan Inquiry that additional restrictions should be applied to the protection of views of St Paul's. In this instance the Inspector considered English Heritage's position and concluded that "views of it (St Paul's) rightly deserve protection but not in the way English Heritage considers. The UDP has the right approach in my view ... (and) ... I am satisfied that UDP policies strike the right balance between conservation of the best of, and encouragement to changes to, the fabric of the City." He then went on to express his general views on high buildings based upon the evidence heard at the Inquiry "the City must be allowed to continue to adapt to changing needs but in a way that respects and enhances the best from the present and the past... High buildings in the City can be advantageous. They help to maximise the benefits of working and living in a location with excellent public transport links and can accommodate a mix of uses, thereby contributing to a sustainable environment. In addition, high buildings proposals may be an opportunity to achieve townscape benefits by supplementing the two existing clusters of such buildings in the City. . . Of all parts of the City, it seems to me that the two clusters offer the most scope for further high buildings."

  This recommendation is based upon the views of the Corporation, the views of supporters and objectors to tall buildings, and all relevant national and regional planning guidance.

  When the soon to be adopted Unitary Development Plan for the Corporation of London is itself subject to review in years to come, this will need to take into account not only national and regional planning guidance but also the contents of the Spatial Development Strategy (The London Plan) which will be in place. Thereby ensuring that the UDP continues to be the primary development control document and is informed by the latest guidance and strategic thought, which up until the point of adoption of the UDP, are material considerations in the decision making process.


  In a similar way that the Unitary Development Plan is subject to public scrutiny at Inquiry; planning applications are also subject to public consultation through the notification procedure initiated by the relevant local planning authority. Any proposal for a tall building in a sensitive location is also likely to require the preparation of an Environmental Statement. An Environmental Statement should be prepared in accordance with the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) (England and Wales) Regulations 1999. As part of this process, the applicants consult with the local authority on the scope of the contents of the Environmental Statement. This scoping application is then referred to the wider consultees, including interested/affected members of the public, adjoining boroughs, relevant heritage groups etc. These consultees then make representations to the planning authority on what they believe should be incorporated within the Environmental Statement. In the case of the Heron planning application, certain heritage groups (including English Heritage) requested that various additional visual assessments of the proposal were carried out (over and above what the developers regard as being sufficient to illustrate the impact of the redevelopment) in order to address the consultees' particular areas of interest, namely certain additional local, middle distance and long distance views. This process ensured that the content of the Environmental Statement addressed the interests of the wider public as well as any interest group or the determining authority. On the basis of all of this information, the planning authority had all necessary information to consider the planning application and appraise the concerns raised by objectors. In turn the application will ultimately be referred to the Mayor of London who will also be fully appraised, through the preparation of the Environmental Statement (and the assessment of the planning authority) as to the key issues and to whether the development warrants his intervention. The same would apply to any referral to the Secretary of State and request for call in.


  To conclude, our clients believe that the subject of tall buildings is subject to more planning policy constraints and considerations than any other form of development. The matrix of policies contained within regional planning guidance, planning policy guidance, LPAC advice, adopted and emerging unitary development plans and ultimately the Spatial Development Strategy for London sets detailed criteria against which any planning application will need to be considered. Only if a planning application accords with these detailed criteria could it be approved. As a result any development will have to be regarded as being in the appropriate location, at an appropriate scale and of the highest architecture without harming established heritage interests and cherished views to satisfy these criteria. Therefore Heron do not believe that any additional planning policy is required in this area. The process of achieving planning permission for a tall building is also already subject to the widest form of public consultation possible (involved in the formulation of RPG 3, PPG 1, PPG 15, LPAC advice, EH/CABE guidance, Mayor's Interim Guidance, and UDP policy). As a result, once more, we do not feel that the level of public consultation and therefore public accountability could be wider.

  We trust that you find our client's representations on this matter to be of assistance in your Inquiry.

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