Examination of Witnesses (Questions 540-559)|
TUESDAY 12 FEBRUARY 2002
540. That is all well and good but can you really
say that a piece of research like this can give you a true and
accurate picture of what the public at large really think? Is
it not down to a subjective judgment of an individual question
and how you interpret that however you want to into the findings
depending on how you read these structured questions?
(Mr Rouse) I totally agree with that and it was English
Heritage who commissioned it.
541. Do you want to defend yourselves, briefly?
(Sir Neil Cossons) We wanted to try and get a handle
on what people thought. The questions were worked out and agreed
with MORI who themselves of course advise the client in some detail
as to how those questions are framed, whether it is political
or any other form of gathering of information, in order to try
and clarify public views and, in that, you have a wide variety
of views. MORI polls are both strong and weak because of that,
but you can read out of that a number of things and you can get
a number of views which provide at least some reflection on what
the public think. I do not think it is any more than that.
542. I asked you the questions about the poll
because I was leading on to the question of the accountability
of the two organisations. Neither of the organisations is really
accountable to anyone expect the people on it.
(Mr Finch) That is not quite right; we are both responsible
543. You do not want us to know what it is you
are discussing with them.
(Mr Finch) Everything that we say in our design review
committees for schemes in the public realm are published on our
website as a matter of transparency from our perspective and one
of the reasons why we produced a joint document was that it seemed
that having two organisations, one with statutory responsibilities
and one with non-statutory responsibilities, was a kind of replication
in parallel when we are both responsible to the same department
which would not be useful either to applicants or to local authorities.
That it why we tried to work together, honestly acknowledging
that there are one or two points where we have a different philosophical
position on tall buildings. What we try to do is behave like grown-ups
and in fact we anticipated our own disagreement at the Heron inquiry
in our own document setting out quite precisely where we had a
difference. Of course in a perfect worldit would not be
that perfectwe would all agree about everything. We have
acknowledged that we have a disagreement there. By and large,
I think that our views on tall buildings have been pretty coincident
though occasionally they are not.
544. The Mayor really questions your legitimacy,
does he not? He says that he was elected and that part of his
election campaign in London was that he was going to have tall
buildings, so let him get on with it.
(Mr Finch) CABE is not a statutory body in this sense.
We do not have a power to approve or refuse applications. What
we do is I hope give a disinterested view on whether what is being
proposed is, to coin a phrase, any good or not. It is up to the
Mayor and indeed any local planning authority to accept that advice
in the spirit in which it is offered and to take it or reject
it. We hope they take it but, if they reject it, that is up to
(Sir Neil Cossons) In the case of English Heritage,
our advice goes to ministers, it is through ministers, and therefore
the democratic process, that that advice can stand or fall.
Sir Paul Beresford
545. It is very difficult for a minister to
say, "no". If you request that the Heron plan was called
in, it is very difficult for them to say "no" even if
it is a decision which the London Advisory Committee says it should
not be and you um and ah and go around without a vote, just a
bit of a head count . . . Should there be a clear vote and, if
so, in a case like this, should there be a solid majority because
the costI do not know what it isis £10 million
for that particular inquiry plus the delay. It is outrageous.
(Sir Neil Cossons) It is not outrageous if a proper
debate has taken place
546. It is outrageous.
(Sir Neil Cossons) . . . and if the view of the meeting
is broadly together.
547. Could we have one person speaking at a
time. What do you think of the Mayor's interim strategy for tall
buildings? Is it any good?
(Sir Neil Cossons) It is a first step but it is only
an interim strategy. We want to see that unfurled as something
much more substantive in due course.
(Mr Finch) I think our view about that, if I may,
is that it is a very clearly written document and possibly for
the first time we have absolute clarity about where the GLA stands
on this and I think we would support that because it is not treating
tall buildings as though they are the pariahs of the built environment.
They are only pariahs if they are poorly designed and antisocial
in their effect. We will continue to support good quality higher
buildings and we work closely
548. What is a good quality higher building?
(Mr Finch) It is a building where
549. Which one? I am not clever. Could you tell
me one that you think is a good quality building.
(Mr Finch) I give two examples of ones that English
Heritage has listed. The Millbank Tower, not very far from here,
I think is an absolutely splendid example of a building which
reflects the scale of its context, ie the width of The Thames
and, if you compare that tower with the buildings along the Albert
Embankment opposite, which I suppose we might call groundscrapers,
one has character and distinction and elegance and the ones opposite
are dull, dull, dull.
Mrs Dunwoody: Could we try a second one and
see if you and I could arrive at the same area of agreement? What
is the second one?
550. I should try the Barbican if I were you!
(Mr Finch) Let us take a view from Tate Modern. We
are looking across to the dome of St Paul's and, from the second
floor viewing gallary, you will see one of the Barbican towers
apparently growing out of the side of the dome. English Heritage
has listed the Barbican towers and, contrary to one of the great
lies of the built environment which is that the British hate living
in tall buildings, the queue to get flats in the Barbican never
ceases to diminish.
551. I do not think anyone will say that is
because of its architectural ability?
(Mr Finch) People like living in towers, that would
be my proposition, and I think the Barbican is one example that
proves that point.
Chairman: Can I just remind the Committee that
we have quite a few questions to get through, so can we have short
questions and short answers.
552. Can I take you back to strategic views
and I am looking particularly at English Heritage because, in
your memoranda, you highlighted the importance of strategic views
and identified ten. With or without cutting down trees, would
you like to see more strategic views identified in London for
(Mr Davies) Not just in London. I think for other
cities throughout the country. I think the whole mechanism of
having strategic views as important landmark buildings is one
that did receive overwhelming support in the MORI poll. It is
a very valid mechanism for protecting key landmark buildings and
it is an important part, as a development control mechanism, of
the wider character analysis that you need to carry out to underpin
a plan-led approach to these issues.
553. So would you like to stick your head out
for the benefit of all of us and identify a few more.
(Mr Davies) Thirty-five in London were identified
in the consultants' work for LPAC. Ten were eventually designated.
I think it is right that the views that should be protected should
come out of the plan-led process, either at a local level or at
a regional level with the Mayor's emerging London plan. There
may be a case in certain circumstances for the Secretary of State
to designate views where those are of national significance, perhaps
for some world heritage sites, not just in London but outside.
I think the Royal Parks are also an area of particular sensitivity.
I think the comments in the Mayor's interim guidance were dismissive
and rather unhelpful in terms of recognising what it is about
those parks that are actually significant and very precious to
London as a world city.
554. You feel passionate about the River Tyne
and its views.
(Mr Davies) Indeed.
Sir Paul Beresford
555. Do you agree that there is some validity
for the argument that some people feel that a good looking, well-designed
tall building can actually frame the view?
(Mr Rouse) I agree absolutely.
(Mr Finch) Can I make the point first that we thought
that the Mayor's comments on views was a good one, not least because
he is asking for more discussion and consultation. I think our
concern about the discussion of views is that it is almost a state
of mind which says that any addition to what you see must by definition
be bad and I think that thinking litters discussion of tall buildings.
We were very careful in our joint document by and large to use
the word "effect" rather than "impact" because
impact always sounds like a car crash and people use it in a pejorative
term. The idea that adding one tall building to a skyline, of
course it has impact in the ordinary sense of the word but it
may improve it and we think that often discussion of views starts
off from a mind set which says that any addition is going to make
things worse. We reject that view completely.
556. Can we move on then from strategic views
to tall buildings integrating with their local environment. Do
you have any views on that? Would you give us some examples of
how a tall building has successfully integrated with the local
environment and maybe give examples of ones that have not and
how important is it that they do.
(Mr Finch) I think as popular icons, a tall building
may of course not connect very well at its base and actually probably
would not get planning permission today. For example, Centrepoint:
a rather elegant tower from almost any angle that you care to
view it from but what a mess at ground level. One of the constituent
features of a well-designed tall building is that it works properly
at ground level. I can say exactly the same thing about a shorter
building but we think it is particularly important that a tall
one works at ground level because almost of the impact of that
great structure meeting the pavement. This is a matter of design.
It can be done well or badly.
557. Would you give us an example of one that
you think is done well. You have given us an example of one, Centrepoint,
where you think it does not integrate very well. Can you give
us one that you think does.
(Mr Finch) I would say that Canary Wharf Tower works
well in its context; it has a terrific scale; you can walk into
it; it is not a fortress at ground level. I think that a number
of proposals we are seeing, including, I may say, the Heron Tower,
work extremely well at ground level not least because the new
breed of tall building tends to try to animate its ground level,
either by shopping or by having access in or through and by its
scale. In other words, you do not have a kind of mean-minded set
of proportions, you have something rather grander. The best examples
of this, I think it must be said, tend to be in America. Our own
experience of major commercial high-rise towers is quite limited.
I think that is going to change and that the designs we are seeing
give some cause for optimism.
558. Do you think that a component of the integration
ought to be economic too and that a tall building should in fact
have a significance for the regeneration of the area? That is
a criticism of Canary Wharf. You say, OK, it integrates with its
immediate surroundings but what has the benefit been for the neighbouring
community and should that be a factor in a tall building in that
there should be a wider sphere?
(Mr Finch) I think that, in any city, there is more
than one context. You have the street context, you have almost
the Cartier context and then you have the whole city context.
559. The what context?
(Mr Finch) The cartier, its local quarter. If you
take the context of Canary Wharf, is the context Tower Hamlets
or is it in fact London as a financial centre including the tall
buildings in the City and, as a business centre, is its context
in fact from Heathrow out as far east as you want to go? The importance
of seeing tall buildings not in a narrow sense but in a variety
of contexts I think is very important.