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Saturday26 July 2014

Tories blast Livingstone over skyscraper frenzy

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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

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Readers' comments (2)

  • I recently engaged in a debate via email with Vaizey, sufficient to say his arguments fell apart pretty quickly, and he was unable to provide proof for his arguments, and after a short while in which he seemed to become increasingly more frustrated(excesive use of exclamation marks for example), he ceased replying. I must say, It is quite bad when a politician is unable to hold an argument against a 16 year old boy. His arguments, and those of English Heritage, UNESCO and the Conservatives are so poor that they will never stand in a proper debate with anyone who actually knows anything about the current situation of tall buildings in London. I have still seen NO proof to back them up. I enjoyed and applaud your recent article 'Stuck in the old buffer zone', we need more positive articles regarding this situation. The attacking parties need to realise they are not speakin for the majority of people of London, or this country.

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  • Interesting to see the Liberal Democrats backing John Gummer in his declaration of war on tall buildings in the name of the Conservative Party - but hark! Tis only London of which they speak! As the Liberal Democrats voted in favour of the very tall building by Frank Gehry for the Hove seafront at King Alfred, I assume they only object to tall buildings in London. Or are the Brighton & Hove Liberal Democrats a renegade lot who need some help from central office to get themselves on-message?

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