Skip to main content

Tall Buildings


A submission to the enquiry of the Urban Affairs Sub-committee



Author:  Henry Law


Q1   . . . the role of tall buildings in achieving high densities in residential areas; the provision of offices for certain types of global companies; and as a means of enhancing the beauty of our cities;

In general, the construction of tall buildings is uneconomic, since additional costs are incurred, for example, through the need for more sophisticated foundations, lifts, and design generally. There are also higher running costs, for example, the need to maintain lifts, higher costs for maintaining the external fabric of the building and additional costs of heating due to the greater exposure of external walls. Tall buildings would, in the normal way of things, only be constructed where land values were so high that these additional costs were justified. It is noteworthy that substantial extra subsidies were required to encourage local authorities to build high in the 1960s. In that the pattern of land development in Britain as a whole is distorted, with excessive pressure in London and the South East and lack of demand in much of the rest of the country, the commercial pressure for the erection of tall buildings is largely artificial and would not occur if the economy was better balanced over the country as a whole.

Tall buildings are in general not necessary to achieve high densities in residential areas. Very high densities are possible even in two-storey developments; residential areas in the centre of Brighton, for example, consist of narrow fronted terrace houses constructed on plots of 65 square metres, ie 155 per hectare, and approximately 600 habitable rooms per hectare, in no more than two storeys plus basements. Even higher residential densities occur in the centres of cities such as Paris, in no more than four storeys plus basement and Mansard storeys.

Global companies may wish to erect tall buildings for reasons of prestige; religious bodies have always done so! The domination of city skylines by prestige buildings puts across a certain message about the values of the community. The nature of that message is a matter for the community to decide.

Whether tall buildings enhance the beauty of cities is not a matter the Campaign wishes to comment upon, considering it to be outside its self-imposed remit.

Q2a    where tall buildings should be located, including: . . .

Tall residential, office and commercial buildings will inevitably be located where land values are highest; there would be no point in putting them anywhere else. They will also need to be placed where the transport infrastructure can provide the necessary access. Such infrastructure is both a response to pressures of location value and a cause of further rises as improved facilities attract people and businesses.

Q2b    what restrictions, if any, should be placed on the location of tall buildings, and how far they should be allowed to block existing views; and whether they should be clustered or dotted; . . .

The Campaign has no view on the visual effect of tall buildings. Tall buildings do, however, have a significant environmental impact, for example, through overlooking, the adverse effect on the microclimate due to wind funnelling, and the way in which such buildings generate pedestrian and vehicular traffic at ground level. This in turn has an effect on local land values. As a generalisation, tall buildings which are perceived as attractive by people on the whole, and by neighbouring businesses and residents in particular, will add to location values, whilst eyesores will have a negative impact.

Q3    whether in the present movement to erect new tall buildings we are in danger of repeating the mistakes of the 1960s; . . .

Yes. The Campaign has no formal view but it is not difficult to argue that high density residential developments are only suitable for people who are aware of, and accept, the need to conduct themselves responsibly and with due consideration for others in close proximity. This will only happen if those people who live in such accommodation are there from choice and not because they have been allocated housing there. With regulations for new developments to include a proportion of “affordable housing” (ie allocated accommodation), there is a serious risk that disruptive people could be housed unsuitably, to the detriment of others in the neighbourhood.

Q4   whether those making decisions are sufficiently accountable to the public; . . .

The Campaign is not in a position to comment upon this matter, except to note that all economic activity is ultimately reflected in land values, so that scrutiny of movements in those values is itself a means of gauging performance.

Q5   whether the Government should have a more explicit policy on the subject.

Yes. Where planning regulations permit higher densities of development, and there is a demand for that development to take place, then the land value released should automatically be collected for the community through a land value tax system and not, as at present, on an unsatisfactory hit-and-miss, one-shot basis, through section 106 agreements.



[All submissions include “explanatory comments” dealing with the Aims of the Land Value Taxation Campaign and defining certain terms. To avoid repetition these have been extracted to a separate page. Click here to read ]


2.1    LVT, provided that it was levied at a sufficiently high rate and accompanied by corresponding abatement of existing taxes, would promote rational decision making regarding the location and use of tall buildings, because the tax would greatly alleviate the problem of imbalance both between and within regions, by, in effect, creating tax havens where they were most needed. This would remove the artificial pressure for high density development in currrently favoured locations.

2.2    By imposing a cost on land holding, LVT would encourage land owners to develop derelict inner-city areas themselves, or to pass them on to somebody else who would do so. If undeveloped or underdeveloped inner-city land were fully used, the pressures for constructing tall buildings would be greatly reduced.

2.3    The current system of local government finance, based on the UBR and the Council Tax, penalises high quality development and rewards withholding and under-use. Land as such has no “carrying charge” and is the ideal subject for speculation, being non-reproducible, non-transportable and therefore “price inelastic”. The present fiscal régime encourages mis-use of valuable land, making it artificially scarce and dear. This forces developers who decide to develop to seek to recoup their outlay on site acquisition by building upwards or, in the case of housing, cramming in as many dwellings as possible with tiny rooms in minuscule plots in order to maximise the amount of number of habitable rooms. The tendency today is thus, perversely, to have over-development side by side with underdevelopment. LVT, properly implemented, promotes rational development.

2.4    LVT would provide an equitable means of paying for infrastructure since it would automatically capture external (ie non-farebox) benefits. Thus, infrastructure enhancements carried out in areas where there was a policy in favour of high buildings would lead to increases in the tax base.

2.5    To promote rational decisions regarding the location and use of tall buildings, the Campaign therefore urges that all land in the United Kingdom should be valued frequently and accurately, in accordance with its optimum use within the current planning regulations, and made subject to an ad valorem land value tax, with existing taxes being phased out as quickly as practicable.





[All submissions include “explanatory comments” dealing with the Aims of the Land Value Taxation Campaign, defining certain terms and giving background information. To avoid repetition section 3, 4 and 5 have been extracted to a separate page. Click here to read ]