Memorandum by Michael R Jackson (TAB 08)
Tall is a relative word. A four-storey apartment
block may appear tall amongst bungalows. A 10-storey apartment
block appears tall in the average town, but would be un-noticed
in a city centre. Thus I shall try to use "tall" to
refer to something that is at least twice as high as the average
height of most adjacent buildings.
1.1 For this study, residents might usefully
be split into adults with a pre-16 child and, those without children,
or without children under 16. The retired form a sub-group of
the latter. This division crudely affects the relevance of considerations
The requirement for ready access
to safe play-areas.
The apartment size needed.
The affordability of the price.
The importance of private outdoor
The depressive effects of isolation.
The importance of casual and controllable
contact with neighbours.
1.2 Research on the failures of the 1960s
will give insight into analysis based on such division and considerations.
My pragmatic view is that high apartments are best suited to adults
under 70, either before they have children or, when the family
has or soon will have no teenagers. This will include a lot of
To the extent that such people wish to live
in apartments, being able to get more floor area for their money,
and being free of the chores of garden and house maintenance,
they are appropriate.
1.3 But, especially when such tall apartments
are situated in towns, there is a planning myth that such occupiers
of apartments will not need a car each. Except in the largest
cities, most couples will both be working and often require a
car for work. Insufficient parking provision creates a nuisance
for occupants of nearby streets. Unless this problem is addressed,
it would be sufficient grounds to oppose tall residential buildings.
1.4 Another concern, arising from the proposition
in 1.2, is the extent to which such residential development provision
addresses the socio-economic characteristics of housing need.
Given that an increasing proportion of those needing housing is
in minimum-wage or part-time employment, it is not clear that
developers of tall apartments will choose to meet such incomes.
Their needs are likely to be met with the properties from which
those preferring tall apartments are likely to move. Whether this
will meet social need requires careful analysis.
1.5 Thus if tall apartments are inhabited
by those who choose them, rather than those for whom there is
no other choice, these tall apartments may not give rise to the
problems with the high-rise housing of the 1960s. But they are
unlikely to be chosen without adequate parking being available,
except in the heart of those of our biggest cities where public
transport is plentiful.
Tall office buildings are suitable for offices
if there is adequate public transport for employees. New York
has plenty of tall offices and is building more. But a weekly
ticket for the whole of the vast New York bus and subway system
costs only £13 a week! The ancient subway creaksbut
it delivers! The buses are mainly very new.
Buchanan was ignored in the UK in the 1960s.
Only when the government puts £s, instead of words only,
behind affordable integrated public transport can we accommodate
more dense office space.
A city of over one million is hardly a city
without a tall building. Otherwise it is a sprawl. But tall buildings
only enhance a city if a competent team of planners, architects
and engineers designs and builds them. Again, New York is an example
of such good design.
Unfortunately the UK planning control system
is so sloppy, clubby and under-resourced that even simple commercial
buildings are seldom ever built in accordance with the appearance
shown in the drawings and elevations presented at the approval
stage. "Unforeseen problems" and "adjustments to
keep within budget" seem to be passed on the nod by cosy
developer/planner meetings in city halls.
Until the government tackles this situation,
it would be aesthetically dangerous to approve any new tall buildings
in the UK.
Tall buildings should be located near the hubs
and nodes of effective and cheap, area-wide and integrated public
Surprisingly, tall buildings can enhance rather
than dwarf older buildings such as churchesprovided the
architect is skilled. Indeed, they need to be close to other buildings
to achieve their uplifting impactjust like the spires of
Restrictions should be placed mainly in consideration
of the capacity of public transport systems in the location.
I prefer cities where there are two or three
clusters of the highest buildings. This necessarily means that
additions to a cluster will block some views from other buildings.
Consultation in the UK planning process as a
whole is only a token process. For example, there is no realistic
appeal against a granted permission, however great the suspicion
of insider deals. Whilst whole towns may suffer for decades as
the result of a bad or devious planning decision, no individual
can usually show the resultant loss that might support court action.
The ombudsman keeps clear of this tricky area.
There is no reason to think tall building applications
will be handled any more justly in this country.
The experience-based ideals that led to the
structure planning legislation of the early 1970s were watered
down in the long Conservative government of the 1980s. Planners
now juggle with population targets and brownfield bonuses to maximise
support grants. Overall conceptual planning of towns and cities
is constrained by these goals and constraints, and by the need
to sell and develop local authority owned land to generate capital.
A policy on tall buildings alone would only
become another constraint to be circumvented. It would only be
meaningful in the context of a thorough investigation of the effectiveness
of the present regional, structural and local planning hierarchy.
The disasters created by badly placed and crudely designed tall
buildings are not likely to be any worse than those that arise
from other bad planning decisions.