Memorandum by Tony Tugnutt, Bloomsbury
Conservation Area Advisory Committee (TAB 56)
I have pleasure in enclosing my memoranda for
consideration by the Select Committee. While I have produced this
evidence on my own behalf, I have also been authorised to also
submit it on behalf of the Bloomsbury Conservation Area Advisory
Committee in my capacity as the current chair.
Please let me know if I can be of any further
1. One of the real difficulties in considering
such buildings is that there is no definition of what constitutes
a "tall" building. High buildings have been defined
as buildings, which significantly exceed the height of their surroundings.
This lack of clarity and avoidance of defining tall buildings
by a given measure is being exploited.
2. At present, there is a policy vacuum,
certainly in London, regarding tall buildings. The Mayor has been
accused of trying to pre-empt his development strategy by his
interim decisions. He has certainly gone out of his way to support
the Heron Tower in the most vociferous way, Yet his role is essentially
strategic. Olympia and York, the developers of Canary Wharf had
to cough up some £98 million to assist the Jubilee Line extension.
Whereas, the developer of the Heron tower, for instance, would
contribute nothing to the additional costs that it would impose
on our transportation system. How responsible is it, in terms
of public safety, never mind anything else, to contemplate a whole
series of further extremely high density developments in the City
area, in addition to the vast amount of space already committed
via planning consents? Yet the Mayor would have us believe that
he is genuinely interested in the safety of London Underground.
3. There is a clear potential danger of
this. While it could be said that in the 1960s, high buildings
genuinely reflected the spirit and aspirations of that age, the
same cannot be said today. We are not quite so naïve as to
be seduced by the allure of the "space-age". Although
the Mayor appears to have fallen hook, line and sinker for the
high level views and the "sky bar" offered by the Heron
Tower, for instance.
4. The wholesale destruction caused by comprehensive
developments in our town and cities led directly to the conservation
movement and to the 1967 Civic Amenities Act, a Private Members
Bill. This in turn assisted the evolution of our conservation
area approach to development control. This covers much of central
London and our other historic urban centres. This was very much
a bottom/up, rather than top/down reaction to the destruction
of the 60s and early 70s. Today, the settings of listed buildings
is also given much greater weight and central government guidance
contained in PPG1 and PPG15 is highly relevant.
5. These documents embody the underlying,
hard-won conservation principles and priorities. These policy
documents rightly reflect public opinion, rather than the financial
aspirations of developers and their architects; egthe existing
floorspace content on the Heron Tower site would be quadrupled!
These longstanding government policies would have to be cancelled
if any general relaxation in favour of high buildings was to be
6. Therefore, the circumstances today are
quite different compared with the 1960's. We have had a brief
and generally disastrous affair with the modernistic future characterised
by "Americana". The act of wiping the slate clean envisaged
in the 60s is no longer tenable, unless we are prepared to contemplate
the destruction our remaining architectural and historic legacy
of much loved buildings and areas. Covent Garden is a classic
example of an area, once under threat of wholesale redevelopment,
which today people enjoy walking around because of the comfortable
scale of the streets and buildings and the range of uses. I consider
that high buildings are inimical to such established areas because
of their visual dominance they belittle their surroundings as
well as their localised effects of wind and the overshadowing
7. In the 1960s there was an infatuation
with everything American. High buildings were regarded as signs
of progress and modernisation. In North American cities, groupings
of high buildings are an accepted and expected part of their urban
environment. High buildings inevitably define "down town"
areas. Our experience and practice could not be more different.
I consider that the form of our urban centres should remain soundly
based in the tradition of European culture. Our city centres are
not defined or signalled by high buildings. Their historic plan
forms, the scale of streets and general development renders them
wholly unsuited to very high buildings.
8. The Mayor of London has taken a very
strong line on high buildings. He has decided not to consult members
of the Greater London Assembly. He is the Greater London Authority
and it consists a Committee of one. Given this his staements take
on a aprticular importance. During the Mayors oral question time
at the Assembly meeting on 28 February this year, The Mayor stated:
Once Londoners realise, by the time of next election,
that the mayor is a crucial factor in determining the way in which
the look of London evolves this will be much more of a factor
in the debates in the next and subsequent mayoral elections I
think that that is right. Londoners will have a chance to decided
on their Mayor on the basis of what the Mayor is likely to do
to their skyline and to their built environment. Londoners will
increasingly, I think, judge their Mayor on the quality of buildings
built during their mayoralty.
9. The problem with this approach is the
time it takes to get approval and complete the construction of
very large buildings is not within one or even two mayoral terms,
by which time it would be too late! It is clear that the Mayor
does see the Heron Tower as forming a precedent for other towers
. In his latest Independent article (22.11.01): "The
only way is up," The Mayor stated: "It is my hope that
if this tower is approved a precedent will be set, that high-quality
design and appropriateness of location should be the basis on
which proposed buildings are judged."
10. While the Mayor has negative powers,
it is the production of his spatial development strategy, which
is de facto regional planning guidance, where his real power and
influence lies. The Mayor states: "In due course, I will
publish my draft London Plan, which will contain detailed draft
policy. For this purpose, I have engaged the services of DEGW
to carry out research and advise me of policy choices. My team
and I will be conducting further consultation with stakeholders
as part of this policy development in the coming months."
And yet he felt able to give his full hearted support to the Heron
Tower, even before he took office!
11. The Mayor's draft tall buildings policy
will be set out in the Draft London Plan early next year. It will
be subject to public consultation and will be examined in public
by a Government appointed panel late in 2002. It is clear that
there is an attempt by the Greater London Authority and others,
to pre-empt and predetermine the future plan.
12. Perhaps, it is relevant to note that
Greater London Assembly Members, including the distinguished present
Chairman, Sally Hamwee, were unanimously opposed to the Mayor's
attitude to the Heron application. The following resolution was
"This Assembly regrets that the Mayor
has refused the request of the planning Committee to contribute
to his decision making on development control matters. It calls
upon him to reconsider his decision and permit other London-wide
representatives to review planning applications which concern
London. This Assembly affirms that, had it been asked, it would
have advised the Mayor to direct refusal of the application for
the proposed heron Bishopsgate Tower. In any event it now resolves
that the application be referred to the Secretary of State for
the environment so that he may consider calling it in for his
A number of Assembly members are also opposed
in principle to very high buildings in such an historic area.
They are concerned at the precedent that this case could present
and its prematurity in relation to the production of the Spatial
13. Cabe has produced guidance on high buildings
with English Heritage. However, their pact has fallen at the first
fence. Cabe gave strong backing to the Heron tower at the inquiry
which closed on the 17 December, a development strongly attached
by EH and described by its Chairman as being "unthinkable".
The Chairman of Cabe, Sir Stuart Lipton, on the other hand is
a keen advocate of high buildings, including Heron and has involvement
in property development in London. The original role of chairman
was also to chair the design review committee. However, it is
clear that the present Chairman could not perform this role as
he would have to declare so many conflicts of interest. As the
architects on the DRC are also active in property development,
they should be required to declare interests in the same way as
members of parliament are required to do and these should be available
for public inspection.
14. Cabe meetings are not open to the public
and local communities are not able to voice their opinions, and
its Design Review Committee can hardly be regarded as providing
a balanced view in the context of current policies as set out
in PPGs 1 and 15. I do not consider that Cabe can be relied upon
to provide objective advice regarding the acceptability of tall
buildings, especially in an historic setting. It simply does not
possess the necessary expertise, nor is it publicly accountable,
except via the sponsoring government department.
15. The Commission is advised by the London
Advisory Committee so far as developments in London are concerned.
This committee originally held its meetings in public until one
of the architect members, considered that there was a difficulty
for him to be seen to criticise the work of other members of his
professional institute. Since then, the LAC Committee agendas,
reports and minutes have been confidential.
16. While I understand this is being looked
into, it is essential that its deliberations must be undertaken
in public in order to ensure the essential scrutiny that this
would provide. For instance, it is clear in the case of the Baltic
Exchange (Swiss Ré) tower in the City, that a small faction
high-jacked the LAC and it reached what is regarded as an errant
decision. Fortunately the decision reached on the Heron Tower
and the firm stand taken by the new chairman, it would appear
that EH is once again in safe hands. However, as with Cabe, the
interests of members of the LAC and Commissioners should be declared
and available for public inspection. The public is entitled to
be able to satisfy itself that everything is above board.
17. While practise varies, it is evident,
despite the move towards the "cabinet" model, that so
long as development control remains in the hands of elected committees,
there is still adequate accountability. Some authorities, such
as Camden, have long provided the public with the opportunity
to speak at planning meetings against proposals recommended for
approval. In London, the one exception of course is the Corporation
of London, which is overwhelmingly based on the business vote.
This is especially worrying given that it is in the City where
the demand for very high buildings is especially intense.
18. The Corporation witness to the Heron
Inquiry informed us that there were up to ten similar towers in
the pipeline. In view of the close collaboration between the Mayor
and his opposite number in the City, Ms Mayhew, it is very fortunate
that the Secretary of State retained his call-in powers in London
and is prepared to use them.
19. There are existing statements of policy
in contained in and generally, it should be left to local communities
to decide. and it should be for central government to set criteria
by which development is to be judged and then to police decisions
via the Secretary of State's call-in powers. These criteria should
encompass a range of factors, including adequacy of transport
provision, sustainability and so on. I also consider that given
the visual and other impacts that very high buildings have, the
Secretary of State's "call-in" policy should give greater
recognition of this and be applied more liberally so far as developments
for tall buildings are concerned.
20. Consideration should be given to measures
that would enable local authorities to impose a general height
limit on developments specific to their area, where the character
of the settlement justifies it. Obvious candidates would be historic
cities such as Bath, Chester, York and in London, the Cities of
London and Westminster.
21. The current regime of Environmental
Impact Assessments needs review. Ideally these should be undertaken
on a more objective basis. Some appear to be regarded more as
promotional exercises for the developments they are intended to
evaluate, rather than an objective critique. In particular, the
government should give guidance on the visual assessment and how
the information is presented, This should always form part of
the approval in order to ensure that every effort is taken to
produce accurate visual images at the planning stage. There have
been to many examples of misleading images being provided. While
photomontages can be of great assistance these need to produced
by a consistent technical methodology
22. At the moment, authorities are reluctant
to rule out high buildings in principle, while the language of
policies is generally one of constraint. For instance, even in
the City of London, no area or individual site is identified as
being appropriate for high buildings in its shortly to be adopted
plan. This means that developers will look for loop holes wherever
there is ambiguity as to the true direction and intention of planning
policy. This tends to lead to planning by "stealth".
It encourages developers to have a go and who can blame them?
23. Local authorities should be required
to identify sites suitable for high buildings where they consider
they are appropriate and these should be open to public scrutiny
via the development plan process.