Added on: 30 July 2015 at 12:48:53
Examination in Public Submission: Tall Builidngs
Policy DMS4 – Tall buildings
This policy on tall buildings resulted from extensive discussions between the planning authority and amenity societies and analyses then carried out by the Planning Service (2.49-2.50), following the controversy created by a planning application for 32-storey towers at Clapham Junction station. That application was subsequently withdrawn. There is widespread dissatisfaction, however, with the way this policy has operated in practice.
Section b of policy DMS4 lists criteria which will be applied to applications for tall buildings. The accompanying text (2.49) says that tall buildings may be appropriate in certain specified areas of the borough ‘providing they can justify themselves in terms of the benefits they can bring …’, by implication therefore provided that they can satisfy the criteria in part b of policy DMS4. The specified areas are listed in the first section of table 2.1. The second, third and fourth sections of table 2.1 together list the remaining areas of the borough, which are grouped together as ‘locations where tall buildings are likely to be inappropriate’.
Paragraph 2.49 acknowledges (reflecting in this respect Core Strategy policy IS3d) that, even in the areas in which the Plan says tall buildings may be appropriate, some locations will be sensitive to, or inappropriate for, tall buildings. In other words, applications for tall buildings in ‘may be appropriate’ area will have to show that they meet the criteria in part b of policy DMS4.
Whereas policy DMS4 is eloquent about the circumstances in which a particular tall building may not be acceptable even in areas of the borough in which in general tall buildings may be appropriate, it does not say anything explicitly, or even implicitly, about the circumstances in which a tall building might be acceptable in the areas of the borough which are described as areas in which tall buildings are likely to be inappropriate.
In the absence of guidance in the Plan about the circumstances in which a tall building might exceptionally be permitted planning officers have dealt with applications for tall buildings in ‘not likely to be appropriate’ areas by considering the extent to which the application meets the criteria in part b of policy DMS4. Of course, the Plan requires them to do that for any application for a tall building. But an analysis in terms of the criteria in part b of policy DMS4 does not answer the basic question whether a proposed tall building is acceptable exceptionally in a ‘likely to be inappropriate’ area.
The Plan goes into some detail about the heights at which buildings in different areas of the borough will be considered as ‘tall’, but that does not in itself provide any guidance about the circumstances in which a tall building would exceptionally be acceptable in a ‘likely to be inappropriate’ area. More specific guidance about height of buildings is given for some sites in the Site Specific Allocations Document and/or in Area Spatial Strategies contained in that document. But in our experience of cases in Battersea even that very specific guidance is often disregarded when planning applications are considered. The policies on height in the Plan are treated simply as triggers for the planning authority to construct a case for special treatment. In at least one case justification for a tall building has been offered by proposing that a locality should be designated retrospectively as a ‘focal point of activity’ so bringing it within the area of the borough in which tall buildings may be appropriate.
The extent to which the policy on tall buildings is disregarded in practice has adverse effects much more widely. It gives rise to expectations mong developers that they will be allowed to construct more profitable developments than would seem likely on the basis of ostensible planning policies, and therefore encourages them to pay higher prices for land. This risks generating a vicious upward spiral of land prices and sabotaging efforts to increase the supply of affordable housing.
In considering applications for tall buildings inadequate weight is given to the effects of tall buildings on the character and amenities of the surrounding area and on the skyline. Over and above the effects an individual tall building will have, its construction will handicap any attempts to object to further tall buildings on grounds of harm to the character of the area. The Design Review Panels convened by the planning authority might appear to provide a safeguard but, made up mainly of local architects, they tend to concern themselves with the architectural merit of the building in question. In our experience they pay relatively little attention to planning policies or whether a building would fit into and enhance the urban fabric. We are not aware of any case in which a Design Review Panel has recommended a reduction in the height of a proposed building, but we are aware of cases in which Panels have recommended an increase in the height of a proposed building.
We believe policy DMS4 needs to be made more effective and logical by amending the wording ‘Locations where tall buildings are likely to be inappropriate’ to ‘Locations where tall buildings will not be permitted’.
Consideration should also be given to replacing numbers of storeys in table 2.1 with actual heights.