Tories blast Livingstone over skyscraper frenzy
Cameron’s policy group accuses architects of pandering to the ‘vulgarity of bigness’
The politician formulating Tory policy on the built environment has launched an unprecedented attack on tall buildings, claiming the London mayor is putting the capital’s heritage at risk and conspiring in the “vulgarity of bigness”.
John Gummer, the chairman of David Cameron’s quality of life group which is formulating party policy on architecture, compared Ken Livingstone’s support for tall buildings to that of Mussolini or Stalin and warned London’s world heritage sites are under threat.
Unesco’s world heritage committee is expected this month to rule on whether Westminster and the Tower of London should be placed on its heritage in danger list.
Gummer’s remarks, which were backed by the Liberal Democrats, is the strongest attack yet on tall buildings following criticism from the chief executive of English Heritage Simon Thurley and shadow minister for culture Ed Vaizey, who recently claimed Livingstone and the government were “in thrall to the skyscraper”.
“We mustn’t create a situation where mega-buildings threaten people,” Gummer said. “Mr Livingstone is a very old-fashioned man, and he’s been converted to the vulgarity of bigness. I rather suspect some architects support the vulgarity of bigness — it is what affected the totalitarian buildings of Mussolini and Stalin.
“Unesco was right when it criticised us about the way we treat the placing of great buildings.”
Liberal Democrat president Simon Hughes also attacked Livingstone’s record, a move which suggests the two parties are keen to capitalise on growing public unease over skyscrapers. “The mayor is determined and pushy in trying to make suburban areas urban, and risking heritage sites,” he said.
But a spokeswoman for the mayor insisted tall buildings in the capital were a crucial response to the lack of affordable housing.
“The mayor’s policies pay specific attention to our valuable heritage,” she added. “They will only ever be approved where they are well designed and appropriate.”
Emerging policy from the tories
- Abolish Arb, possibly by giving the RIBA responsibility to register architects
- Scrap Building Regulations, replacing them with a set of standards to improve energy efficiency
- Reduce red tape, so planning is not needed for alterations to non-listed, non-conservation area houses built since 1945
- Oppose the introduction of any “land tax” such as the planning gain supplement
- Tighten tall buildings rules and introduce heritage “buffer zones” as Unesco advises