Examination of Witnesses (Questions 480-499)|
TUESDAY 12 FEBRUARY 2002
480. So it is becoming more of an issue. How
well do you think local authorities are actually handling these
applications? Is there a consistency about it? Are you concerned
about their approach in general?Sir Paul Beresford
(Sir Neil Cossons) Not many have come through the
system yet and I think that one of the issues facing local authorities
is that they lack national guidelines within which they can consider
these issues as I think has been demonstrated in evidence presented
to you earlier, particularly by Bristol and Birmingham for example.
One of the arguments which lay behind CABE and ourselves coming
together to try and provide some common guidance was the increased
flow of proposals for tall buildings and our hope that there could
be a national framework within which they could be properly considered.
481. Would you not consider that to be difficult
for many local authorities because of the variation? Bath, for
example, is totally different from Croydon.
(Sir Neil Cossons) Yes, I would. Clearly there are
different circumstances that will be applied in different circumstances
by local authorities.
482. But you still want national guidelines
that will squeeze the local authorities and inhibit any originality?
(Sir Neil Cossons) I would not say that that was the
purpose of national guidelines. National guidelines are to provide
a framework within which intelligent, decision-making sets of
proposals can take place.
483. Do you think there is a danger that that
(Sir Neil Cossons) We do not think so, no.
484. It will be interesting to see.
(Mr Finch) We think there is a danger of having portmanteau
blanket guidelines which imply on the one hand that people must
have tall buildings or on the other hand that they should not
have them. We think that, by and large, this is a matter for the
democratically elected local authorities.
485. Democratically elected? In other words,
you would not expect to have any set of criteria to work from?
(Mr Finch) Local authorities themselves consult English
Heritage and ourselves which is why we have produced a document
on tall buildings. I think that, in the end, they are the elected
planning authorities and one has to be careful about imposing
the rules from above when they may be perfectly capable of deciding
for themselves what it is that they think they need. Frequently
where there is a lack of experience in dealing with tall buildings
as planning objects, if you like, they will seek advice from people
with a little more experience.
Sir Paul Beresford
486. What do you call a tall building?
(Mr Finch) In London, I call it
(Mr Finch) Twelve/15 storeys, something like that.
It is perhaps where you could see across the city.
488 That is relative to the site?
(Mr Finch) Absolutely.
489. Even if you have deemed that guidance is
inappropriate and it is not sufficient at present and we recognise
that local authorities are going to make those decisions, do you
think that at present they are getting it wrong with certain common
failings in the way that they are approaching proposals for tall
(Sir Neil Cossons) I do not think so.
490. Why do they need guidance?
(Sir Neil Cossons) They themselves are saying that
they would welcome guidance but if you consider the very thoughtful
approaches being pursued by Birmingham and Bristol, they are firstly
recognising that there is an issue and recognising that the historic
environment is one of the important components to be taken into
account when tall buildings are being considered and would, I
believe, welcome some form of guidance which need not be prescriptive
or inhibiting but which would at least provide a framework within
which, if issues like this get as far as the Secretary of State,
these issues can be taken into account.
491. Can I ask you, Sir Neil and Mr Finch, about
guidance. Are you actually saying that you produced the consultation
paper following calls from local authorities rather than in order
to try to address the concerns and the needs of developers? Would
you expand on why you both felt that it was necessary to produce
(Sir Neil Cossons) I do not think we did it in response
to calls from local authorities although we were aware that there
were anxieties being expressed by local authorities. I think it
was in response to the increasing number of proposals for tall
buildings that were coming forward.
492. Although you have said that you do not
expect the findings to be concluded until the spring of next year
. . . Is that right?
(Mr Davies) That is likely. It is quite a detailed
study that we are looking at: the social, economic and environmental
issues and issues to do with sustainability. I think that will
take some time to deliver.
493. Are you prepared today to share with the
Committee some of the early responses that you have had?
(Sir Neil Cossons) If I might. We put the proposal
together last summer and I had written to the participants in
early September. After 11 September, we decided that it would
not be appropriate or sensible to try and bring together a group
of people to have a rational view about tall buildings in the
immediate aftermath of the New York/Washington tragedies. I wrote
to the same parties again last week to revive the process and
we hope to have our first meeting within the next couple of weeks.
494. In a sense, you put together the joint
consultation paper between the two organisations and, having done
that, you are now doing the research to see whether it is justified.
(Sir Neil Cossons) No. I think that it is a different
area of research. I think that part of the experience that we
have hadand it may be the case with CABE as wellis
that, when we are engaged in debates about tall buildings, the
issues to do with the social, economic and environmental criteria
that apply to them are debated with very, very thin information
and evidence. In a sense, it is a paucity of data that has become
apparent since the joint document came out and we are very anxious
to equip ourselves and others with more quantitative information
about tall buildings.
(Mr Finch) I think it is worth saying that the responses
to the guidance document have been largely positive and constructive
and we do not think there is any need to change anything significant
in that document as it stands and that is intended to be useful
to applicants and to planning authorities themselves. I think
that existing policy guidance says that significant buildings,
significant through size or difference, should be sent to CABE
and English Heritage where relevant for advice and comment, no
more and no less than that. Therefore, we already have a duty
to make comments on individual proposals and it seemed to us that,
if we were doing that, then we ought to set down how we habitually
assess tall buildings so that people have some idea of what our
procedures are; so we are trying to be transparent.
495. Is what you are actually saying to the
Committee that jointly you already have a view as to what form
the guidance will take and it will be remarkably similar to this?
(Mr Finch) Yes, that is right. If as many are at the
moment coming in for a comment from us on tall buildings, the
criteria set out in that document are the ones by which we will
make our comment.
(Mr Rouse) I think it is worth saying in terms of
the consultation response that we had about 75 serious responses
of which about 60 were broadly positive. I think that there are
two or three issues that we need to pick up on and look at again.
One was a comment from a number of parties that perhaps CABE and
English Heritage should not be looking at the viability of tall
building proposals, that that was not our remit. That causes us
some qualms because one of the matters we are concerned about
is ensuring that what has been put forward is actually going to
be built in the way that it is designed, and the only way that
you can really test that is to look at the viability of the proposal.
I think that because that is a significant comment that has come
back through the consultation process, we will have to look at
it quite seriously.
Sir Paul Beresford
496. Do you think that the Government ought
to endorse the joint guidance to give it a little more emphasis
in the system?
(Sir Neil Cossons) Yes, I think so. After the consultation
process and after we have been able to build any sort of modifications
that Jon Rouse has just referred to.
(Mr Finch) I think it is worth saying that this document
should be seen in the context of other documents. You might say
that the only difference between tall buildings and other buildings
is that they are in fact tall. In other words, height is just
one of the factors that one would use to judge their quality or
otherwise. For example, how they meet the street, whether they
are accessible, and what the circulation is like. Those things
would apply to other buildings and there is guidance which is
endorsed by government, the DTLR obviously in particular, and
I think this really would be useful if that were seen in that
sort of light.
(Mr Rouse) That is the companion guide to PPG1 which
deals with urban design principles.
497. Do you think that your joint disagreement
over the Heron Tower rather dents the joint guidance?
(Sir Neil Cossons) I do not. I think that we have
criteria on which we come together and that that is encapsulated
in the document, but each of us has our own locus and English
Heritage's role to protect and nurture the historic environment
leads us to consider very strongly the location of tall buildings
whereas CABE, which I am sure can speak for itself, is perhaps
more concerned with the specific architecture and form of those
498. Just before it does, I have been looking
at some of the minutes of your Advisory Committee for English
Heritage meetings and, to put it mildly, I was confused. For example,
on 28 April 2000, the staff recommendation was that because the
Secretary of State asked for an EIA for the Swiss Re building,
perhaps you should for the Heron building, and the minutes of
the meeting say that there was a lengthy discussion and that the
members were divided; it is not that clear which way they were
divided. Then, on 17 May, three weeks later, the actual Commission
reported that the London Advisory Committee majority had been
of the view that the Heron building effect on views did not warrant
refusal and that the Regional Director, Mr Davies here, actually
said that the EIA was unlikely to add anything of significance
to the decision, which is completely contrary to the previous
situation. Then the Advisory Committee, on 26 May, recorded that
the minutes of 28 April were wrong and that the majority view
was that the impact of the Heron building did not warrant a Committee
refusal and then, at the end of the day as I understand it, you
recommended refusal. There is an Australian saying, "You
don't know if you're Arthur or Martha!" Where are you? What
is the explanation?
(Mr Davies) May I respond to that? The application
was reported to the London Advisory Committee. The recommendation
from the London Advisory Committee was that consent should not
be granted for the Heron scheme until there was a London-wide
strategy for tall buildings. At that particular point in time
at pre-application stage, one was giving a steer on the proposals.
The recommendation to the Commission was that consent should not
be forthcoming until that wider study had taken place. There was
then a discussion about whether or not the scheme was sufficiently
damaging so as to warrant a call in. The majority view of the
LAC was that it probably was not sufficiently damaging to warrant
a call in at that particular point in time. That was reported
to the Commission. The Commission is the decision making body.
The Commission very clearly took the view that their view and
English Heritage's view was that it was sufficiently damaging
to warrant call in.
499. Even though they did not on 17 May? The
minutes on 17 May said that it did not warrant refusal.
(Mr Davies) I am sorry, the London Advisory Committee