Reform is on the agenda this week … of both politics and tall buildings

Any proposal for fundamental political reform is inevitably followed by the tricky detail, the backlash, and the u-turn(s), accompanied by no little embarrassment. Take the Localism Bill, for example: over the past few months there has been a litany of small but significant revisions to this radical departure from the UK’s crumbling planning process. Before the opposition ran the rule over the finer detail of the bill, there was a ridiculous clause that would have enabled tiny groups of neighbouring residents to put a stake in the ground and heavily influence local development. Equally contentious, before one wise owl stepped in the London mayor could have found himself with over-arching development powers in the capital. And it’s only a matter of time before the “presumption in favour” of development policy, as detailed this week, is subject to legal challenge and we finally get clarity on this issue.

This week the spotlight has fallen on the even more contentious Health and Social Care Bill. This time around, and following a timely “pause” by health secretary Andrew Lansley, it’s finally been decided that it’s probably best GPs do not take sole responsibility for regional and local budgets, commissioning rights and capital expenditure. So how will the proposed revisions to the bill affect on your average company attempting to tender for this estimated £4.4bn worth of work over the next four years? The health department, of course, plays down the changes and impact on the procurement process, this week reiterating that Procure 21+ and Lift are to remain in place and that the newly formed clinical commissioning groups will refer work to these specific frameworks. But with the primary care trusts, strategic health authorities and the other expertise that has been built up over the past decade still to be scrapped or hived off, it’s difficult to find anybody who knows what’s coming next or what the rules of engagement are to be to deliver new work.

It’s time for the policy wonks to get their acts together and appreciate that what is mere detail to them is actually an industry’s lifeline.

High stakes

Stuart Lipton’s quest to cut the price of all commercial skyscrapers in London by 50% is, in theory, a sensible one. In austere times, cost-cutting measures are to be welcomed, especially those that could potentially slash costs by half. But when it comes to exactly how this will be achieved, what the resulting structures would look like and what it will mean for the role of those designing and delivering them, the challenge raises some serious questions. For example, does quality have to be expensive? Can simple, rectangular buildings be beautiful? Do iconic developments have to be characterised by shape? We speak to the four companies, led by Davis Langdon, that are behind the research into how precisely this colossal sum of money could be saved from future office developments in the capital. No quest is complete without encountering obstacles along the way and this radical piece of research should certainly give all those involved with tall buildings in London something to think about.

Tom Broughton is Building’s brand director