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Government organizations have a bad attitude to tall buildings

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I have written here before in disparaging vein about the English propensity for erecting a series of inquiries, hearings, panels, committees, regulators, watchdogs and sleeping policemen in front of every enterprise put forward by persons of ambition. Clearly the object of this obstructionist behaviour is, first, to ensure that the largest possible number of pairs of feet can be got under the tables set out for the great and good, (aka the inert and craven); and second to make certain that every project laid before these inquiries, panels, committees, regulators etc, gets such a going over by them that not one iota of economic advantage remains in it by the time they have finished.

Of course, those intimately involved in the operation of these committees would not agree with this analysis. On the contrary, they would insist that the matters they deal with are of such crucial importance to civilization as we know it that the utmost vigilance is required to ensure that only projects of the very highest quality pass muster.

Surprising, then, that so many inferior projects do appear to 'slip through the net' (as they say). But that is the path of progress in England and, hey, that is the opportunity for another committee in itself! If not, there are still enough influential people around who wish Canary Wharf had never happened to form a panel to discuss getting rid of it at the drop of a hat.

Come to mention it, ever since patriotism went out of style, promoting tall buildings seems to have taken its place as the last refuge of the scoundrel.

As a result, the best and most rollicking committees you can ever hope to be on are those that profess an intense respect for remote views of Saint Paul's, expatiate loudly on the non-necessity of building high, dismiss all arguments to the contrary, and get a good laugh out of references to the size of sexual organs. This indeed is the new Dunkirk spirit at work.The foolishness that ensured the tremendous opportunity of Canary Wharf went to Docklands instead of being outbid by the City of London, and 10 years later made sure that the London Millennium Tower never got a chance to land its 160,000 square metres of state-of-the-art office floor space in Saint Mary Axe, less than 10 minutes walk from six underground stations.

Great 'saving' operations like these (what was saved and for whom? We can see what was lost and who lost it), betray a woeful ignorance of the real politics and economics of building high for big business. In this country government departments, local politicians, planners, conservationists, influential commentators and their hangers-on like to pretend that their job is to decide whether to permit tall buildings or not, when their real responsibility - as opposed to their job - is to ensure that the high rateable value and concentrated employment prospects embodied in any well-found high-rise office tower project are not lost to some other municipality altogether.

As in so many architectural matters, the contrast with America is palpable, and just one example makes it clear. Two months ago the chairman of the Boeing Aircraft Corporation, the world's largest plane manufacturer, announced that the firm was going to relocate its 500-strong corporate headquarters away from Seattle to a city nearer New York, the world's foremost financial centre. Immediately three cities - Chicago, Dallas and Denver - pulled out all the stops to try to attract the firm.Last week the decision was made. In return for being chosen by Boeing, Chicago is to hand over US$25 million in incentives and tax allowances.

That is the correct relationship between a big city and its big spenders.

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