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Old March 14th, 2006, 03:20 AM   #1
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CAA signs the death knell for Brum skyscrapers

Sorry for the negative news but it looks as though Birmingham, primarily due to its topography won't have any towers higher than the 574 ft of Arena Central any time soon. Bloody CAA.

Flying into danger

Developers want to build towers that rise into protected airspace, but airports have serious concerns over passenger safety.

By Mark Jansen

A clash of titans is taking place above the cities of Britain. On one side are the developers of the tall buildings. Driven and ambitious, they are determined to leave their mark by erecting the tallest British towers in history, rising more than a thousand feet into the sky.

On the other side are the city airports, backed by the watchful eye of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Sometimes the proposed towers will extend into restricted airspace, the flight corridors used by airplanes on their way in and out of city airports. A tall building with the wrong design can also distort the radio signals that are critical to an aircraft’s navigation systems.

The airports, which face having their operating licenses removed by the CAA if they do not enforce the rules, will strongly oppose tall buildings if they perceive a threat to passenger safety. Such is their power that they can ask the secretary of state to call in the application if local council planners decide to overrule their advice.

The problem is not a new one, but the trend for tall buildings has led to a slew of face-offs between developers and airports.

In the City of London, plans by German fund DIFA to build the 1,007 ft (307 m) Bishopsgate Tower have met with objections from both the baa, which owns Heathrow, and the London City airport, six miles east of the City. It seems likely that DIFA will be forced to shorten its tower.

‘We are a statutory consultee in the planning process,’ says Gary Hodges, director of operations, policy and planning at London City airport. ‘We’ve said that the planned height [of DIFA’s Bishopsgate Tower] is too big. What can you do about it?’

Birmingham International airport is scrutinising plans by developer Richardson Cordwell for a 443 ft (135 m) tower on Broad Street in the city centre. It also wants to re-examine plans by Miller Developments and its partner Bridgehouse Capital to build Arena Central, a mixed-use development with outline permission for a tower of up to 574 ft (175 m).

Safety first

‘Ultimately this is all about the safe operation of aircraft,’ says John Baggott, land use planning manager at Birmingham International airport. ‘If we have concerns, we’d have no hesitation in recommending that an application be refused.’

History shows that while there may be room for negotiation in these disputes, the developer often has to back down. In 2001 the Beetham Organization agreed to scale back its Birmingham tower by five storeys following objections by the airport. Now almost finished, the final height of the building will be 427 ft (130 m). It will open next month.

Beetham chairman Hugh Frost says the developer originally had the support of the city council in pursuing a taller building that extended into restricted airspace. But in aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Beetham and the council accepted the demands of the aviation authorities.

‘It was a very sensitive time and it would have been totally unreasonable to ignore CAA advice,’ says Frost. He adds that Beetham has not had any airspace problems in relation to its plans to build a 740 ft (226.5 m) tower in Southwark, south London, which were lodged with the council in July.

Hodges refuses to reveal details of DIFA’s discussions with London City airport and BAA, although he stresses: ‘We receive many applications that are ambitious and a solution is always found. In many cases there is a modification to the development – ‘we’re not particularly restrictive’.

Malcolm Kerr, director of planning consultant DP9, which is representing DIFA, refused to comment.

But Peter Rees, City planning officer at the Corporation of London, which is processing DIFA’s application and which must pass on details to the airports, says: ‘I’m pretty sure they’ll have to reduce the height.’

A spokesman for the CAA explains the complexities of flying into airports in London. Two streams of air traffic pass over the capital, one heading in and out of London City airport, the other heading to and from Heathrow.

These are arranged in two layers: the top layer comprises Heathrow traffic, while London City traffic flies below. The two layers need to be separated by a safe margin of airspace. In addition, the bottom layer needs to be kept a safe distance above London’s tallest buildings.

To stop towers from protruding into this protected space, the CAA says no building in the heart of London should be any higher than 1007 ft (307m) above sea level. This ceiling was agreed during planning negotiations for the London Bridge Tower, a development by CLS Holdings, Sellar Property Group and private investor Simon Halabi.

Although DIFA’s Bishopsgate Tower is no taller than the London Bridge Tower, the site is more than 50 ft (15 m) above sea level. It would therefore rise 1,062 ft (324 m), breaching the CAA limit. If the CAA sticks to its ruling, DIFA will have to trim its tower.

“We’ve said the planned height [of DIFA’s tower] is
too big. what can you do about it?

Gary Hodges, London City Airport

Rees says the dispute between DIFA and the airports is likely to be a one-off, because the Corporation of London’s planning policies have provided for just one tower at around 1,000 ft, which will act as the focal point for a number of shorter towers in the City. ‘If everyone wanted to build at 300 metres, it just wouldn’t work.

It wouldn’t be allowed,’ says Rees.

By contrast, in Birmingham there has been a string of disputes between the airport and developers, caused partly by the geography of the city. John Baggott explains that the airport lies in a bowl, while the city centre area, where tall buildings are encouraged, is located on a ridge 148 ft (45 m) higher than the airport. Under CAA guidelines, buildings in Birmingham should be no higher than 492 ft (150 m) above the airfield, which means towers on the ridge are limited to 344 ft (105 m).

Richardson Cordwell’s proposed tower would rise 476 ft (145 m) above ground level and penetrate the restricted airspace by 125 ft (38 m). The developer has submitted an aviation assessment to show how the effects can be mitigated. Baggott stresses that negotiations are continuing and no decisions have been taken: ‘We’re looking to see if we could continue to operate without our licence [from the CAA] being affected,’ he says.

Lee Richardson, director of Richardson Cordwell, says an order to reduce the height ‘could affect the viability [of the tower]’.

‘It’s with our professionals and we’re going through the process,’ he adds.

High flyers

The Arena Central development already has outline planning permission for a tower of up to 574 ft (175 m). The developer is pushing to be allowed to build to this maximum but the airport has yet to be convinced. Baggott says a tower of this height would penetrate the restricted airspace by 207 ft (63 m).

He is waiting to scrutinise the detailed application, which has yet to be submitted. ‘We’ll expect an aviation assessment, which should identify any mitigation measures,’ says Baggott. ‘I can’t say what the outcome will be or how long it will take.’

Steve Evans, director of Miller Developments, is in no doubt that he wants a 574 ft (175 m) tower. ‘We want to go to the full height of our consent,’ he says, although he adds, ‘we are in the consultation process. Aviation safety is of paramount importance’.

Faced with possible objections from airports, some developers are using consultants, such as Chris Chalk, head of aviation at Mott McDonald. Chalk has worked on several applications for towers, including the London Bridge Tower and the 787 ft (240 m) Columbus Tower in London’s Docklands, which won planning permission last year despite smashing the local ceiling of 443 ft (135 m) set by London City airport.

According to Chalk, the secret is to negotiate before the planning application goes in. ‘You’ve got to show, using risk models, that there’s a very, very tiny possibility of a collision, or effectively, no increase in the risk,’ he says.

‘If you just ask, “Can we build higher?”, the answer will be no. If you say, “We would like to build higher and here is the reason why we believe it would be possible,” you may get a discussion.’ The technical analysis and negotiations can take months, he says.

‘At the end of the day, they are the guardians of safety and they have to be sure they are happy.’

But in some cases height reductions are unavoidable, warns Chalk. ‘Some of the developers have unrealistic expectations of how tall they can build. They always want something that’s bigger than their competitors and the developer will always want to push the envelope.’

In addition to the height issue, it may be the cladding on the proposed building, or an expanse of flat surfaces, that prompts objections. These can distort the navigation signals that pass between aircraft and the airport during bad weather, when visibility is poor. ‘Large surfaces of aluminium-faced curtain walling cause the biggest problems,’ says Chalk. He believes demand for his advice can only increase. He says: ‘Urbanisation grows around airports and airports themselves are economic attractors.’

Stephen Brown, head of planning at GVA Grimley, agrees. ‘My feeling is this issue will arise more often, certainly as higher-density schemes start to arrive. Each case is often resolved on its own merits,’ he says.

DIFA, Miller and Richardson Cordwell will be keeping their fingers crossed.
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Old March 14th, 2006, 10:25 AM   #2
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dont worry dom, death nell aint exactly the right words......175m is a skyscraper under anyones ruling and im happy with it....

and anyway, thi report was published 4 months ago and miller has not been defeated yet...... and it shows the airpost is willing to negotiate....which IS ANYTHING OTHER THAN A DEATH NELL!
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Old March 14th, 2006, 01:26 PM   #3
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The Iranian airliner coming into Birmingham at just 177 feet over Balsall Common last month wouldn't have helped either. If this aircraft had been coming in over Birmingham City Centre, god only knows what might have happened!!
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Old March 14th, 2006, 01:32 PM   #4
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wel u could say that but the CAA guidelines wouldnt have helped on bit!
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Old March 14th, 2006, 01:44 PM   #5
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I was mooching through the part of this website that has the little diagrams of the Skyscrpaers around the world, it seems to me every other country in the world has buildings that would dwarf anything in the UK, why are we been held back by this stupid ideas?
I'm not being funny, I don't know how to be.
It's unfashionable, and that's not me
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Old March 14th, 2006, 01:53 PM   #6
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I really don't see what the problem is for the CAA. The city centre is only overflown by aircraft circling round to get on to a northern approach before descending to BIA.
Surely it is not a problem to fly round in a slightly bigger arc i.e. 2 or 3 miles further west? Aircraft have to avoid the Sutton transmitter mast don't they?
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Old March 14th, 2006, 02:03 PM   #7
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Aircraft decending into Birmingham have to fit in with flight paths of other aircraft passing over our region, & also into East Midlands, Bristol & Manchester. Civil aircraft landing at Birmingham "hug" the motorway systems & built up areas because these areas aren't overflown by military aircraft. Just a few miles to the south of the city in Worcestershire, the skys are used for jet fighter manoevers between Wales, Oxfordshire & across to Lincolnshire & East Anglia.
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