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Tall buildings 'are not the answer'

A parliamentary select committee has criticised tall buildings, claiming they are not essential to either an urban renaissance or to meet the capital's development needs.

The report, published yesterday by the Urban Affairs Subcommittee, reviews a range of criticisms levelled at tall buildings, from bad design and the pressures they place on transportation systems to safety issues arising since 11 September.

It concludes that high-density developments can be achieved without building tall and that 'tall buildings are often more about power, prestige, status and aesthetics than efficient development.'

Both CABE and English Heritage also come in for heavy criticism.

The committee, advised by David Lunts, a former adviser to Prince Charles, suggests that CABE is seen as being 'too closely identified with the Modernist architectural establishment'.

CABE's commissioners are also criticised for representing too small a range of developer interests.

Meanwhile, English Heritage is accused of inconsistency in its approach to tall buildings - listing 'eyesores' such as Seifert's Centrepoint, while opposing new buildings such as KPF's Heron Tower. The committee reports an accusation that EH's London Advisory Committee was 'hijacked' by an 'architecturally interested faction' when it supported Foster's Swiss Re tower. And it recommends that EH be more careful about listing 20th century towers and exercise greater transparency in its decision making.

Both bodies are criticised for being 'too adversarial' and blamed for 'expensive, time-consuming' public inquiries when discussions break down.

However CABE disputed the accusations.

Deputy chair Paul Finch said the committee had been critical of schemes by some of the country's best known 'Modernist' architects.

'We are far from automatic supporters of tall buildings, we support projects that are good in the round, and criticise those that are not, ' he said, adding that commissioners are chosen by the DCMS from a range of professions and expected to declare their interest towards particular schemes.

English Heritage also defended its policy, saying it recommended protection for only a 'handful of the best tall buildings of the '60s and '70s'.

And the Corporation of London's head of planning, Peter Rees, disputed the conclusion that towers were not needed to attract investment into the city.

However, CABE welcomed calls for the government to formally endorse the joint guidelines on tall buildings produced with EH last year.

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