Examination of Witnesses (Questions 560-573)|
TUESDAY 12 FEBRUARY 2002
560. Would you accept that tall buildings are
not suitable for mixed use?
(Mr Finch) No, I would not accept that. I think there
has been a reluctance, for reasons of institutional funding, for
having more than one use in a building. That is not true in other
cities and in other countries and I think it is ceasing to be
true here as well. It is slightly more complicated from a funding
point of view and I should say that we try not to second-guess
commercial markets. It is an aside but it is often said that nobody
wants these tall buildings. I give you the Canary Wharf complex.
The buildings are all let and they are building a lot more. We
do not think it is our business to second-guess demand which is
561. It was a bit of a struggle to let the original
tower, was it not?
(Mr Finch) Property development is a struggle, it
is a risky business, but the fact is that they proved it and nobody
can deny it and they are building some more. For anybody to say
that they should not be building more or that nobody will occupy
those buildings I think is trying to secondguess the market. It
is a very foolish activity. The market will decide whether those
buildings are needed or not and, in the case of Canary Wharf
562. So we do not really need your views anyway.
(Mr Finch) It depends if you want the buildings to
be well designed.
563. No, it does not. You just set out to us
very clearly that you are quite happy to have mixed use but in
fact there is no mixed use; you feel that it does not matter so
much what the view is because people never look up; and, as far
as you are concerned, you are not going to secondguess the market
anyway. So, with the greatest of respect, why are you there?
(Mr Finch) Let me give you an example of a high-rise
building that we supported which was perhaps the first one we
had seen which had significant variety of mixed use. This was
a tower complex out of Paddington by Richard Rogers Partnership
which had substantial public facilities and uses at ground floor
level, not just at the base of the building but around it; it
had offices in it; it had a hotel in it; it had a public bar and
restaurant at the top; and it had associated housing next door.
We supported this proposal; it was opposed by others and was withdrawn
in favour of a scheme which is less mixed use. It still has some
mixed use. So, there are people wanting to do this and we do support
mixed use but we accept that, in that case, Westminister, the
local planning authority, did not like it so it is not happening.
(Sir Neil Cossons) It is important that market forces
are played out within the context of a planned approach in which
there is a strategic view which the local authority can have,
can declare and which gives the sort of clarity that developers
want but also is the subject or has been the subject of consultation
so that the views of the community have been properly reflected
in that plan. So, unmediated market forces, it seems to me, is
a recipe for disaster. Market forces that can be played out within
the framework of a clear local plan provides an opportunity for
something which is worthwhile and which provides a variety of
benefits to the community at a variety of different levels.
564. You also accept that tall buildings drive
forward innovation with new technology. Do you stand by that or
is it not rather risky looking at the Lloyds Building and the
(Mr Finch) No, not at all. Innovation inherently carries
some risk, as in the case of the Millennium Bridge horizontal
rather than vertical, but the fact is you learn from your mistakes.
The new breeds of tall buildings coming through nowto give
one examplehave been investigating for some while how it
is that you can ventilate without the need for sealed air-conditioned
boxes, as one might say. The buildings services engineers and
the techniques that they are exploring of how to use natural ventilation
and a variety of other systems, is pushing the boundaries of what
we know about the behaviour of air in such buildings and, indeed,
in response to the people living and working in them.
565. Can I play devil's advocate with English
Heritage? There are those who would say that you have listed Centre
Point and the Trellick Tower, you have supported the Swiss Re
Tower and opposed Heron Tower. What actually do you really think?
(Sir Neil Cossons) Can I just say this about listing,
to begin with? The London we have is the London we love, warts
and all, and what we do in recommending to the Secretary of State
in listing is to consider buildings in terms of their architecture,
but also in terms of their historical and cultural significance.
We have recommended the listing, for example, of Cold War bunkers,
not because we regard them as architectural masterpieces but because
they are a part of the events of history, part of the unwritten
record that people in future will be able to read and understand
about what life was like in this country in the post-war period.
The listing of Centre Point, for example, is in that context.
We have listed 17 buildings over 12 storeys in the whole of England:
nine in London and eight outside London. So it is a very tiny
sample indeed. It is a sample which, we believe, will be reflective
of that period and which people can understand in the future.
It is also worth remembering that listing is not preservation,
listing is really a call for pause for thought before alteration
or demolition takes place. Similarly, with our listing what we
have done has been to pinpoint some aspects of that period in
the 50s, 60s and 70s which we believe are worth pinpointing, no
more than that.
(Mr Davies) Can I deal with the second part of the
question, which was the differences between Swiss Re and Heron?
They are completely different cases. Swiss Re was acceptable to
us because it stood within the centre of an established group
of buildings in the City and it did not have a significant impact
on St Pauls and the classic views from the westWestminster
and Waterloo Bridge. That was a view shared by others, not just
usthe Dean of St Pauls included. It had very local impacts
within the City, the most significant local impact was on the
St Helens conservation area, which is already surrounded by tall
buildings like the Commercial Union Tower, as part of its character
and context. So we have taken an absolutely consistent approach
to both these cases. In the case of Heron, the City Planning Officer
himself accepted that was to the north of the established cluster
of buildings in the City, it had a major, we thought, adverse
impact on the setting of St Pauls, which is a building of world
significance, and it had a much greater impact on the local environment
of the City, particularly the Middlesex Street conservation area
and right opposite the Grade II* listed St Botolph's Church. They
are two different cases, and it comes back to the point that I
started from, that what is important here is to look in every
case at the character, context and location. Those are the crucial
considerations. They are different cases and we dealt with them
in a very discriminating way and highlighted those issues at the
inquiry. I do not think I have said anything there that is not
before the Secretary of State at the moment.
Sir Paul Beresford
566. I thought you asked at one of your early
meetings for a EIA because there was such similarity between the
two buildings or the two proposals.
(Mr Davies) It is for the City Corporation to decide
whether or not they wish to
567. The suggestion was made to your LAC, even
though you changed your mind later on.
(Mr Davies) I am sorry, I missed your question.
568. We were comparing the two different buildings.
I understood your recommendation or your staff recommendation
to the LAC, back in April (and I cannot remember the actual date)
was that there should be an EIA before the Heron building because
of the similarity between the Heron building and the Swiss Re
building. Later on you changed your mind.
(Mr Davies) No, we did not change our mind.
569. You recommended, did you not, that the
Commission should not take regard because you thought than an
EIA would not actually show any difference to the opinion you
(Mr Davies) I think when the Commission took its view
on the scheme the advice that they were given was that it was
very unlikely that an EIA would add anything significantly extra
to the issues that they had already discussed. They have already
made it very clear that they were concerned about the impact of
the Heron Tower on St Pauls and on the wider environment of the
City. I think an EIA would not have added anything that would
have diminished that impact.
570. So the Committee can be seen to be fair
to both sets of witnesses, is it fair to say that CABE is really
a sort of fan club for modern architects?
(Mr Finch) We are supportive of good contemporary
design, yes, we are, but we are not a fan club for architects.
We are the supporters of architecture and we criticise or applaud
as we find. In particular respect of tall buildings, we are just
suspicious of attempting to pre-judge tall building applications;
we think that they ought to be seen in the round. We agree with
English Heritage that location is, of course, extremely important;
we do not think that location is the be-all and end-all. I suppose
the reason that we think that is because there are too many examples
from history of things that would certainly not get planning permission
today, for 101 reasons, which in fact are widely admired and,
in many cases, listed. I think from a philosophical point of view
the proposition that it is okay to list yesterday's warts because
they are yesterday's is a dangerous starting point for making
propositions about the future. I suppose, quite properly, English
Heritage is concerned in part with its statutory duty. We are
more concerned with the future because we see our duty in respect
of proposals that are being made, which by definition is about
the future. We feel confident and optimistic about the future,
provided that the people who are going to design it are paying
due care and attention to all the factors that have been mentioned.
571. Is there not a temptation for architects
to want to go for tall buildings because more people will see
them than for putting good design into ground scrapers, or ground
huggerswhatever you want to call them?
(Mr Finch) Architects work for clients. I do not deny
that no doubt architects in their dreams have ideas of designing
the tallest building ever made. Some of the great architects have
done it from Frank Lloyd Wright to Norman Foster, but the reality
is, on the ground, one might say, tall buildings only emerge if
somebody wants to propose them, to pay for them and to build them.
These are very, very difficult things to do. They take years to
do. This is not some frivolous, aesthetic exercise, this is massive
investment in time and resources and technology, and we think
that that is the spirit in which these things should be judged,
not as a kind of "What is the measure of the diameter of
the dot on the bow tie?"
572. Sir Neil, do you want a very brief last
(Sir Neil Cossons) In listing, what has happened,
I think, is a proper process for which English Heritage is the
Government's lead adviser. By listing, I do not think there is
any supposition that that restricts our ability to create better
things for tomorrow. On the contrary, it seems to me that the
process of listing, which, as I said before, is one of signalling
what is relevant and important to us, is a means by which we can
think about and plan the future and ensure that there is good
architecture, and that there are good buildings in the right place.
Clearly, in the right circumstances, tall buildings can have inspirational
qualities and values that add to city-scapes. Equally, one takes
Ken Livingstone's evidence to you that the large proportion of
applications that come to him are not tall buildings300
plus of themand the quality of the architecture in most
cases is abysmal. So it seems to me that if CABE is going to be
the champion of tall buildingsand there is nothing wrong
in that, as long as the debate about where those are built is
properly played outthere is a desperate need to ensure
that what will be the large majority of buildings that come forward
in London and other cities in the future are well-designed.
Mrs Dunwoody: We should start by planning a
new group of architects?
573. You never thought you would get the last
word! Can I thank you very much indeed.
(Mr Finch) Thank you.