Tall buildings and planning policy – Martin Linton

Author: Cyril Richert

As I reported a few days ago, Battersea MP Martin Linton has called a debate in Parliament to discuss the issue of tall buildings.

The debate was recorded on Parliament TV, in Westminster Hall, Wednesday 29 April, 4pm and you can watch it below.

In his speech he is reminding the number of tall building applications in Wandsworth borough. You can refer to our articles on similar subjects:

Westminster Hall – Tall buildings and planning policy – Part 1

Westminster Hall – Tall buildings and planning policy – Part 2

The full text is available on the Parliament website (careful: not user friendly report). The debate is also available (in a much nicer presentation) on this website.

I will highlight a few quotes:

Martin Linton about Wandsworth Council:

Wandsworth planning committee passed the Young’s brewery scheme although 71 of the 90 public responses were opposed to it. I cannot think what possessed it to do so. English Heritage was against it, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment was against it, and both said that there should be a tall buildings strategy for the whole of Wandsworth, which there is not. All the local amenity societies were against it. The Wandsworth Society brought a deputation to the committee to argue against it. The society, which comprises sensitive, thoughtful and civic-minded people, believes that, at least in the Wandsworth context, any building over five or six storeys should be considered tall and that there should be a presumption against its construction. However, the seven Conservative members of the committee all supported the scheme and only my two Labour colleagues opposed it.

Martin Linton about the campaign against the twin towers in Clapham Junction:

A huge campaign is under way to stop the towers at Clapham Junction. People feel that they would look completely out of place in a Victorian town centre, where all the buildings have between four and seven storeys. The Clapham Junction Action Group has been set up and is fighting a spirited campaign. The theme of the campaign is that we want to keep our town centre on a human scale. We have 614 objectors on the planning department website so far and we are aiming for 1,000.

Martin Linton about the wider issue of tall buildings and planning policy:

  • if there are no height and density guidelines, how does a developer know how much to pay for a site? He does not even know how many flats he will be allowed to build. He has to second-guess the decision of the planning committee
  • developers should be told exactly where tall buildings will and will not be allowed. If the policy is to confine tower blocks to clusters, which I would support, they should be told exactly where they are. If the policy is to allow landmark buildings, they should be told where those landmarks can be. We must not leave every developer to argue that his building is a landmark, because believe you me, they all will.
  • I say bring back the height guidelines. That will give developers the certainty that they need to plan; it will give architects the discipline that they need to flourish; and it will give the public the reassurance of knowing that their local planning committee will not allow a 42-storey tower to be built around the corner from their house.

Mark Field (Conservatives MP for Cities of London and Westminster) on the Mayor of London:

I share some of his concerns, particularly about a 42-storey building in an area such as Clapham Junction. […] we hope that the Mayor of London, of whatever colour, will use his powers and work closely with the local boroughs to maintain some of the brilliance of London, without having a huge number of tall buildings.

Ian Wright (Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government) on guidelines:

Within that broad strategic confine, on every single individual planning application, the views of local people must be invited and given serious consideration.

The Government strongly endorse the messages in the revised guidance, which the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment and English Heritage issued together in 2007, called “Guidance on tall buildings“. The guidance should be given serious and careful attention by all those designing tall buildings and considering their location. It is a vital complement to national planning guidance, and is likely to be an important—I stress the word important—material consideration for local planning authorities or planning inspectors in cases that involve tall buildings.

Martin Linton ask whether Clapham Junction can be protected from tall buildings:

I appreciate the importance of world heritage sites in planning. But there are many areas—Clapham junction being a good example—which have a Victorian town centre that is not historic, but nevertheless has a coherence and is loved by people who live in it. It would be just as badly affected by an inappropriate tower block as a world heritage site. Is the system not capable of looking beyond world heritage sites at town centres that have a particular character?

The answer of the Minister was short (time out): “Yes, this is part of policy guidance 15“.

So, what does say Policy Guidance 15, that the Minister couldn’t explain as time was out for the debate? Here it is and is indeed appropriate to Clapham Junction area:

PPG15 underlines that major new transport infrastructure developments can have an especially wide-ranging impact on the historic environment, not just visually and physically, but indirectly, for example, by altering patterns of movement or commerce and generating new development pressures or opportunities in historic areas. Local highway and planning authorities should take great care to avoid or minimise impacts on the various elements of the historic environment and their settings (para. 5.2).

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