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English Heritage and RIBA cross swords over towers. . .

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The tall buildings debate has now driven a wedge between English Heritage and the RIBA, with both sides disagreeing over the economic and social impact of multi-storey developments.

Giving evidence to members of the Greater London Authority's spatial development strategy investigative committee last week, the institute pressed the point that tall buildings were pivotal to London's status as a financial and economic hub.

Furthermore, it insisted that quality should be the key criterion for deciding whether a high structure wins planning consent.

'The RIBA's agenda for tall buildings is to attract new business to London. The capital needs to show the world a commercial face. The issue is about how we perceive our city rather than how we get more people into dense areas, ' said Simon Foxell, chairman of the RIBA London region.

But English Heritage insisted that tall buildings were not pivotal to London's status as an economic centre. Neither were they a panacea for future housing needs. 'There is no firm evidence to suggest London needs tall buildings to maintain its position as a world city and the economic dynamo of the Continent. Tall buildings have a negative impact on the city's historical environment and high-density structures can be designed without building upwards, ' said English Heritage regional planner Alan Byrne.

He added: 'No matter how well a building is designed, if it is in the wrong place it will have a detrimental impact on the historical environment - what we call an attractive and valuable city. For us it has to be location first, then design quality.'

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