Examination of Witnesses (Questions 138-149)|
TUESDAY 29 JANUARY 2002
138. Can I welcome everyone to the second session
of the Urban Affairs Select Committee inquiring into Tall Buildings.
Could I ask the witnesses to identify yourselves, please.
(Mr Brown) I am Martin Brown from Birmingham City
Council Planning Department.
(Mr Brook) I am Alastair Brook, Head of Urban Design
from Bristol City Council.
(Mr Torkildsen) I am Rohan Torkildsen,
Citywide Policy Project Manager and I work with Alastair in the
Strategic and City Wide Policy Team of Bristol City Council.
139. We have your evidence but do you want to
say anything by way of introduction before we start questioning
(Mr Brown) I do not think I would. I am quite happy
to go straight to the questions.
(Mr Brook) Sir, we do have the policy of the Bristol
City Council here which we may draw reference to. We do have copies
for the Committee; I did ask the Committee Clerk whether it would
be possible to give you all a copy of it.
140. Thank you. Do you want to say anything
more than that or are you happy that we start with the questions?
(Mr Brook) That is fine, sir.
Ms King: I want to begin by asking you what
you think the main role of tall buildings is and why we need them.
Is it for economic reasons, symbolic reasons, spatial density
reasons or for any other reason?
Sir Paul Beresford
141. Before you answer that, could you tell
us what you define as a tall building, particularly a tall building
in relation to your city.
(Mr Brown) In Birmingham at the moment, we are revising
our tall building policy but the one that is in place which was
created in around 1990 defined a tall building as anything over
15 storeys. I am not quite sure why it chose 15 storeys but I
think the basic reason was that the city centre in Birmingham
generally has a base level of about seven, eight or nine storeys
and 15 storeys is roughly twice that. I think we may perhaps move
more towards the CABE/English Heritage version which is anything
that sticks out a lot from its surroundings, which seemed perhaps
to be a more sensible approach.
142. It could still be 15 storeys.
(Mr Brown) It could still be 15 storeys. It could
be seven storeys in an area where it was only a two storey neighbourhood.
(Mr Brook) Sir, may I reply? Bristol is a historic
city, very much one of the ancient Cities of the Realm. We have
33 conservation areas and over 4,000 listed buildings. They cover
about one-third of the City and, over the last 20 years, we have
been recovering from the 1960s: demolition and large tall buildings
being put in places which actually block views or areas of townscape
significance. So, we are very much more cautious than Birmingham
about what we would define as a tall building. Generally, our
scale in the centre of the city, which is part of its demise,
is the Georgian scale of around four/five storeys. Later on, with
the Victorian period, it rose to eight/nine storeys. So, if we
looked at the CABE analysis, we would define tall buildings as
about 10 storeys. Above that level, it is beginning to make a
significant impact on the historic environment of the area. In
that respect, all cities are different; all areas are different.
Obviously, if you went out towards the radius of the city, we
would be talking about the housing areas where again two or three
storeys is relevant; so you have to look at the context.
143. Could your address yourselves to the question
of the role of tall buildings.
(Mr Brook) There are obviously economic roles which
I do not want to go into and I am sure you will hear evidence
from developers relating to how they would see tall buildings.
In terms of the city, we have not promoted tall buildings as a
specific policy. In fact, we have not had many applications for
tall buildings until the last year when we have had the Government
advice about higher densities, and maybe the word "higher"
is something which we feel was perhaps giving too much encouragement.
We do see a role for tall buildings as being icons of the city,
as being standards of excellence, and many cities do this around
the world. So we think there is a role and we think there is also
a role for buildings as creators of identity through regeneration,
acting as a focus within a master plan, which is something we
are doing in number of sites in Bristol. So, yes, we do see a
role for tall buildings but, in terms of the way they are interpreted
in context, we think it is much more important in the 21st century
that we look at them extremely carefully which we did not do in
the 1960s and 1970s.
144. Could I direct a question to Birmingham
for Mr Brown. You have expressed concerns that too many tall buildings
would be counter to your urban generation agenda. Could you explain
that, please. Could you also tell us if it would matter very much
if you did not build any more tall buildings.
(Mr Brown) I will try and answer your question. I
realise that what we wrote is perhaps not as clear as it might
be. What we are trying to say here is that we believe that, in
terms of quantum of business activity within the city, within
a given area, there is probably only so much that we can stand
before you get that unwanted effect of draining activity from
other areas and draining life and vitality. You need to keep a
balance. Too many tall buildings too densely built in the centre
of an area might have an adverse effect on the other business
areas. We want to see everything regenerated equally; so that
the quality of the whole of the city is uplifted.
145. Why do you support the Arena Central Tower
proposals? Are you building high because of lack of space in Birmingham
or is it for other reasons that Mr Brook alluded to?
(Mr Brown) It is many things actually. Yes, we are
short of space. Every piece of land that becomes available is
a development opportunity that is eagerly awaited. The business
of the Arena Central Tower and how it relates to our existing
tall buildings policy is clearly one that fits very comfortably
within the area where we would like to see tall buildings if people
are proposing them.
146. How tall is the Arena building going to
(Mr Brown) I do know that but I cannot remember it
precisely. If I could have a moment to look it up, I will tell
(Mr Torkildsen) May I just respond to your questions
from a Bristol perspective. The issue of tall buildings is not
necessarily justified in terms of a need in the city. We are very
aware of the density issues and the need to use land efficiently.
We are saying that there is plenty of opportunity out there for
slightly more reserved architecture and design. It is not necessarily
justified on the basis of a lack of opportunity for development
in the city. That is just a point that I wanted to make.
147. Would you say that centrally located residential
tall buildings have a role to play in the community?
(Mr Brook) Speaking from Bristol's point of view,
we are trying to recreate identity in the centre of our city.
We are looking to promoting seven neighbourhoods and you will
see on pages 7 and 8 of the documents those areas which we are
hoping to reintegrate. Within those areas, we would like to have
a mixed use of the balanced community, but Bristol is very much
wedded to the idea of recreating a traditional city of squares
and spaces and streets. Therefore, within those areas, what we
are promoting is a greater density insofar as there will be more
residential but we do not see tall buildings being an essential
part of that. If tall buildings were to be proposed in those areas,
we would be concerned about the impacts on other parts of the
historic city. Therefore, we are very concerned that an assessment
procedure was actually established which would enable us to understand
how tall buildings would impact on those residential areas. We
do not see them as essential to re-establishing those residential
148. What impact do you think they would have
on travelling patterns in the community?
(Mr Brook) On traffic issues?
149. You have referred to the problem you have
in relation to the historic environment.
(Mr Brook) Indeed. In terms of increasing densities,
all of the city blocks that we are re-establishing will have impact
on traffic movement. Bristol's policy is to encourage and, hopefully
within the next three to four years, improve public services;
so the access to those areas will be able to take more people
and get people away from the motor car. We have a very strong
policy for that. Therefore, it would not matter whether it was
a tall building project or whether it was a high density urban
environment project. The answer would be the same. What we would
hope to do is to restrict car parking in order that in fact we
are encouraging developers to look at other modes of transport
through our green transportation plan in order that, whatever
the proposals that actually occur, there would be a restriction
in terms of trying to push people away from the motor car and
onto public transport.