§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.6 a.m.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This is not the first occasion that I have introduced a Private Member's Bill. On the previous occasion, in the last Parliament, the House was kind enough to pass the Fatal Accidents Act, but on that occasion, owing to illness and other factors, and the fact that it was a legal Bill about which I knew very little, I took no part in the proceedings. I hope the fact that today I do take part in these proceedings will not mitigate against the success of the Measure.
The Bill has the support of right hon., hon. and learned Members in all parts of the House, and I should like to begin by thanking all those who have put their names to the Bill for all their work and advice. The Measure's aim is to carry one stage further the long series of Acts that aim to protect and preserve buildings of historic or architectural interest. Although the title of the Bill is "Historic Buildings Bill" it should be taken to embody also buildings of architectural interest. The architectural side is perhaps our principal concern, and when I use the word "historic" I mean to imply also architectural interest.
My introductory remarks will be but an outline, because several of my right hon. and hon. Friends are far more knowledgeable and have much more experience of the subject than I and will be able to deal in a much detailed way with other aspects. I am only sorry that on this occasion my hon. Friend 772 the Member for Cambridge (Sir H. Kerr), whose expert knowledge of this subject is well known to the House, is not here to embellish the landscape. However, he has sent his wholehearted support, as also has my noble Friend the hon. Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel), who has put his name to the Bill. A number of other hon. Members have sent me messages. I also see a number of my hon. Friends who perhaps on this occasion will not be as friendly as they usually are, because I know that there are objections to the Bill, although I hope to be able to deal with some of those objections in advance.
The Bill aims, amongst other things, to help to preserve and protect buildings in their landscape. It is not a Bill aimed to help individuals, or, indeed, as I shall seek to explain, to give any striking new rights to individuals. Nor do I think that it will help those few bad owners of historic buildings to frustrate necessary development. It will be purely incidental if any benefit does accrue to individuals, and it is the case, I think, with people who live in historic buildings that any benefit they may get from living there is far outweighed by the expense and inconvenience to which they are put in keeping those buildings as going concerns. The rigours of the recent winter will surely have brought this home to most hon. Members.
I regard the owner or occupier of an historic building as being the trustee of that building for the future. It may be asked, why are we asking for more legislation; are not the existing Town and Country Planning Acts sufficient? Some hon. Members may think so, but from my personal experience in a comparatively short lifetime I do not think so. I think there is need for further legislation. I must begin by declaring a personal interest in that I live in but do not own an historic building of some merit. I have served on a local authority and had experience of this type of work in three counties in the West Country. I have written a book on architectural subjects connected with this Bill and I have travelled widely and visited many buildings. I have had the good fortune in this House to collaborate with a number of hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite who are interested in this subject.
773 I believe there is too little regard for the amenities and the environment of historic buildings. We do quite a lot to protect the fabric but often very little to protect the amenities which, in my view, are just as important. I feel that there is a serious gap in the planning law. This is the one point I want to emphasise above all others that we are trying to deal with in this Bill. Permission can be asked for development of a piece of land adjoining an historic building and in separate ownership from that building. The owner of that piece of land can ask for permission to develop it and the local planning authority can grant permission which may do serious damage to the amenities of the historic building, whose owner or occupier may know nothing about it until some form of construction begins to take place on that land. This omission, above all, we seek to remedy.
It might be argued that all owners are in this position and that this will apply to people living in new houses with land adjoining them, but historic buildings are already recognised by a number of Acts as something apart from ordinary buildings. I hope that this Bill will help to give further protection. It seems reasonable that they should be further protected. After all, if it is public policy to preserve the fabric of an Elizabethan house, surely it should also be public policy to ensure by every possible means that planning permission is not given for a filling station to be built at its gates.
I recognise that this Bill in its present form is perhaps over-ambitious in that it contains new principles which are not entirely acceptable to the House, although in other countries where there is more concern for the preservation of historic buildings there are much stricter laws than we have. Much more concern is shown about the problem. I have a letter from a county planning officer calling for legislation of the French type for the preservation of sites, that is, the surroundings, of historic places.
To come to the provisions of the Bill, Clause l contains an important provision about notification to owners and for consultation with owners in making decisions. That, as I have already said, I think a reasonable suggestion. It is on Clause 2 that objections have been 774 sent to me. I can understand that the appeal provisions and third party rights mentioned there may well be objectionable. Indeed, it is the fundamental criticism of the Association of Municipal Corporations who came to see me last week and whose letter setting out its thought arrived this morning. The letter says that the Association sympathises with the objects of the Bill but it regards it as an administrative burden. Its fundamental criticism is of the creation of the third party right of appeal. The Association is not able to make any suggestion which would not create a considerable burden.
I can see the objections, and I would not wish to adhere so closely to the provisions of Clause 2 as to lose the Bill altogether. I can speak for my sponsors in saying that we are prepared to take amendment of a considerable nature on that point. Although the Association of Municipal Corporations has written a critical letter, my city council, with whom I am in close touch and from whom I receive communications almost weekly, has not thought fit to write objecting to the Bill, although the Bill has received wide publicity in Bristol.
I come to Clause 4, which has been a stumbling block to hon. Members opposite in another context. I hope that on this occasion in this Bill we may not find too many difficulties, although I am open to suggestions for amendment, on the scope of the Clause, should the Bill reach Committee. It had been our original intention to deal only with the very best buildings and to deal with the countryside, but we found it difficult to differentiate in view of the fact that the statutory list produced by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government does not contain the grades which appear on provisional lists. If some way could be found for making a list which contained the best of the grades, that obviously would be a satisfactory way of restricting the scope.
I appreciate, also, that this Bill would be difficult to apply in towns some of which are very well provided with historic buildings. I see present my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Temple). His town is full of historic buildings. I can conceive a case where he might want to see a new tower built in the middle of the city. It could be argued that it could be seen by, and 775 he could see from the tower, every historic building in the city. That would make a nonsense of this provision, and I hope that we can restrict the scope to deal with that point. The word "owner" is defined, and there has been some difficulty about defining ownership. Perhaps the word "occupier" could be also included, because that would make notification much easier for a local planning authority.
I wish to proceed briefly with the argument in favour of the principle of the Bill and to cite a number of cases which could have been prevented if legislation of this sort had been in force. I have with me a number of photographs, four of which have been supplied to me by Aerofilms Limited. They were taken from a very low altitude so as to give an idea of whole estates surrounding historic buildings. The first is a picture of Montacute House, a most celebrated Elizabethan house in the west of England, built, Mr. Speaker, by one of your predecessors, Mr. Speaker Phelips, and completed in the year 1603. It was unaltered except for a minor addition in the late eighteenth century.
It was actually brought from another Elizabethan house, so that it can hardly be distinguished from the original work. It has been unaltered to this day, and yet, as one stands in the porch in company with the thousands of other visitors who go to see this place, which now belongs to the National Trust, and looks down the great avenue, what does one see at the end of the avenue but a pair of red brick houses. It so happens that one can see that these two houses are in the only place in a wide open landscape where they could have done any damage to the amenities of Montacute House. If they had been put fifty feet to the right of the picture they could not have been seen down the avenue. That sort of thing could be prevented with better planning, consultation and less hasty decisions.
The second example—and I hope the House will forgive my pronunciation, for I know that there are others—is St. Osyth's Priory in Essex. Opposite this magnificent example of East Anglian architecture, across the road from the gatehouse, is a mean crescent of modern concrete and tile semi-detached villas 776 standing in an open cornfield and placed in the only part of that landscape where they can have any effect on the amenities of this historic building. This is another building which is enjoyed by vast numbers of people every summer when it is open to the public.
I have another picture of a castle in Northumberland, called Prudhoe Castle, which is dominated by an industrial undertaking twice its size. There is nothing else in the landscape except a slag heap placed there by the industrial undertaking, and a delightful river. It would not seem that there was much pressure for that industrial undertaking to be just exactly where it is.
I have a picture of a place called Reculver in Kent. This historic building is surrounded by a thousand caravans glinting in the sunshine, complete with sanitary blocks and sewage farm. The sea is on one side and the open countryside on the other. Surely that site could have been put somewhere else to the advantage of everyone.
I do not want to weary the House with examples, but briefly I wish to give an indication that in less than a morning's search I was able to find a large number of examples, and if a survey were made one would have a whole bookfull.
Bradford-on-Avon is another example. The tithe barn is preserved by the National Trust. Public money is spent on it. There is a Gothic bridge. A local club building is being erected with breeze-blocks, where there are masses of Bath stone available and the whole building could have been produced in a harmonious way. Permission should never have been given for a building of that type.
Clevedon Court in Somerset has been given £15,000 by the Ministry of Public Building and Works. It is a place of great historic value. Here is Castlewood Hall, in Thackeray's "Henry Esmond". Yet the landscape is dominated by an expanding cake factory across the road. Another example is Tintern Abbey, the approaches to which are dominated by a petrol-filling station. The photograph is supplied by the National Buildings Record. I could go on with countless examples. The National Buildings Record also supplied me with a photograph of a 777 delightful church dominated by a building with the word "Gaumont" on the outside, now no doubt a bingo hall.
I will not weary the House with a further catalogue, but I hope I have substantiated my point that there are gaps in the law, or that the law as it at present exists is not being applied. I have had about fifty letters in support of the objects of this Bill and none against from private individuals.
I have already mentioned the municipal corporations. No doubt, their dissent will be adequately voiced in the House by hon. Members who are more closely associated with them than I. I have had enthusiastic support from the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. That body wishes to go even further than the most stringent provisions in the Bill. I would not wish to follow it in that respect, because I realise that one must be realistic about what is possible to achieve.
The Institute of Landscape Architects called for more consultation. It feels that far too short a view is taken by planning authorities, and the Institute sent me a report from U.N.E.S.C.O. which backs up this point of view. It says there is far too little consultation and that far too little use is made of the voluntary panels of architects who are able to advise planning committees should they be asked to do so.
I have a letter from the Church Commissioners making a Committee point about ownership. I think it is significant that they do not attack the objects of the Bill. The Parish Councils Association of Britain has helped with enthusiasm, and so has the Faversham Society which makes a point about the necessity to preserve groups of buildings and says that buildings which are scheduled should be marked so that all shall know and so that there shall be no mistake about it.
I think this Bill could achieve much and, given the good will of the House and a Second Reading, it will not be beyond the scope and ingenuity of my hon. Friends and others—with the help of the Government, no doubt—to make it a workable Measure in Committee. A number of Bills come before this House in a form in which no one imagines they will finally be enacted. 778 The Government themselves are introducing a Bill on Monday, the Television Bill, Clause 7 of which will have to be considerably amended before it could ever become an Act.
The private Members who with myself have produced this Bill have done the best we can with the best draftsmen that we could afford. I hope the House will give the Bill a Second Reading. Some may say that it would be too difficult to put the Bill in order, but I think that we should at least try because in so doing we shall be trying to preserve a little more of the beauty that is still left to us for the enjoyment of this and future generations.
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdonshire)
Can my hon. Friend say why the interest of the Minister of Public Building and Works in this Bill is not displayed by the presence on the Front Bench this morning of the Parliamentary Secretary to that Ministry?
§ 11.28 a.m.
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) first on his good fortune in the Ballot, and secondly for putting before us a Bill which is concerned essentially with amenity. We had a number of Bills concerned with amenity last year, and there are many of us in the House these days who find that these are proper subjects for consideration as Private Members' Bills.
The hon. Member for Bristol, West introduced his Bill very modestly with definite reservations, and he made it clear that he recognises that there may be some objections to it as it stands. I thought he was very fair when he said that he would accept considerable changes in the Bill in Committee. Therefore, it seems to me that we shall be very much in the hands of the Parliamentary Secretary when he gives us his advice and tells us what he proposes to do and whether he can do what we are asking him to do.
779 The intention behind the Bill is clear, and I believe that everyone will support it. It is expressed quite simply in Clause 3. A local planning authority, or the Minister, if it be the Minister,shall have regard to the desirability of preserving the amenities of historic buildings and their environment, and shall take into account any effect which the development would have on such amenities and environment.That is impeccable so far as it goes, but the hon. Gentleman himself said that he recognises that the Bill may be regarded as somewhat over-ambitious, and it is to Clause 2 in particular that objections may be raised.
By Clause 1 an obligation is laid upon local planning authorities, and this obligation falls into three parts. First, the planning authority must consult the owner of every historic building. Second, the planning authority must take into account representations made by the owner. Third, the planning authority should give notice of its decision to the owner. Those are, I think, the three short points of Clause 1, and they are contingent upon the local planning authority being of opinion that the land which is to be developed is so near that the development might adversely affect the amenities of the historic building.
The hon. Gentleman touched on Clause 4 and the definition of the word "owner" I wonder whether he agrees that we shall have to look at this very carefully in Committee, because, as it stands, it seems very wide and liable to create confusion.
In Clause 2, we deal with the right of appeal against a decision of the planning authority, and here we must go carefully. There are two parts to this provision. The owner may be given notice or, on the other hand, he may not be given notice but may feel that he should have received notice. It seems a little difficult to make this provision properly workable as it stands. I wholeheartedly support the intention of the Bill, but there are several straightforward Committee points which we can, I believe, deal with and rectify in due course. One such point is raised by the word "development," because there are developments for which no sanction is required, for instance, garage buildings, agricultural buildings, and so 780 forth. We shall have to look at this very carefully. It is, I feel, a Committee point that notice cannot very well be given if the development does not require sanction.
Before I come to the question of principle in Clause 2, I wonder whether the hon. Member for Bristol, West has noted that no time limit is prescribed for the making of representations by the owner to whom notice of an application has been given. We shall have to see to this as well. There must be a time limit. Normally, the local authorities are given only two months in which to decide whether they will give consent to an application, unless there is agreement between the applicant and the authority for an extension. Within these two months there is not much time for manoeuvre, and we shall, therefore, have to consider the time factor carefully in Committee.
I turn now to the matter of principle. The Association of Municipal Corporations is disturbed by what is proposed, and it takes the view—I think that I must say it plainly—that the Bill creates such a breach of principle that it cannot be properly amended.
§ Mr. Renton
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that the principle contained in the Bill is one which is written into the electricity Acts for application when electrical development is to take place?
§ Dr. Stross
I am very glad to hear that. The right hon. and learned Member has made a very helpful intervention, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will deal with that point fully. I am sure that he will be compelled to take it into consideration in offering the House his views.
As the hon. Member for Bristol, West, frankly said, we are dealing here with a third party right of appeal, and this seems to be something new in our planning machinery. Having created a third party right of appeal, however, we have not in the Bill as at present drafted provided the machinery for dealing with the confusion which could arise therefrom. I feel that I should quote one rather long paragraph in a letter which I have received from the Association of Municipal Corporations which deals with difficulties which might arise. I am not 781 sure that the hon. Member for Bristol, West received this letter. This is what is said:If the local planning authority have granted a planning permission in spite of the representations of the owner of the building or without having consulted him because they do not think that the amenities of the building would be adversely affected, the applicant for planning permission is perfectly properly entitled by law to carry out the development Even assuming a successful appeal by the owner of the historic building to the Minister, revocation procedure would have to be followed in relation to the planning permission, and this means the making of an order, of which notice must be given, then a hearing by the Minister, then confirmation of the order and the payment of compensation for abortive expenditure. In certain circumstances it could lead also to the service of a purchase notice on the local planning authority and the authority's being required to buy the land or the building on or in which development has been prevented from being carried out.I wish to know whether this is the Ministry's view. If this view be correct, we could create great confusion and a cluttering up of the machinery of planning and development which would be a very great burden on local authorities.
There is this further point in regard to the administrative difficulties which some local authorities would face. Chester was mentioned. There are, of course, other places such as Bath, Oxford, Salisbury and many more where similar problems would arise. Should we have to make a list of these and exempt them all? In some streets in various towns throughout the country there are whole rows of buildings where, although they are admittedly listed as Grade II buildings, nearly every building is of merit and of historical interest. Although we should find some way of carrying out the intentions of the Bill, we must, as I am sure the hon. Member for Bristol, West did, face the fact that we are in difficulty.
I plead with the Parliamentary Secretary to give us the type of assistance which is more extensively needed on this Bill than on the average Bill which can be fairly easily amended with good will in Committee. The intention behind the Bill is impeccable, and if it is turned down out of hand without the Parliamentary Secretary making a real effort to assist us we shall not take a very good view of the matter. It may be that the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us that he is prepared to go into consultation with the hon. Member for Bristol, West and to 782 help him reframe the Bill in Committee in such a way that we shall all be content.
§ 11.41 a.m.
§ Mr. John M. Temple (City of Chester)
I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) on bringing forward the Bill. I am sure that all hon. Members very much agree with the sentiments which he expressed. I noted particularly the very moderate way that he proposed the Bill, and his most conciliatory speech will have allayed many of the fears which a few of us harboured about many of the technical provisions in the Bill.
Having the honour to represent the historic City of Chester, I have naturally given the Bill very careful consideration. I have also had a conference with the chief planning officer of Chester. Not only Chester but, as the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) said, other cities of historic interest which are of tremendous value to this country as tourist attractions are covered by the scope of the Bill.
We must remember the importance which the British Travel and Holidays Association attaches to our historic buildings. It attaches similar importance to our ancient monuments, When I read the Bill, I wondered why it did not include a reference to ancient monuments. This is a matter which my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West might consider, because sometimes ancient monuments are situated in cities and in the countryside where they may be injuriously affected by contiguous development which—
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend so early in his speech, but I wish to point out to him that ancient monuments are already covered by special legislation.
§ Mr. Temple
I thank my hon. Friend. Possibly that is why he has not included ancient monuments within the purview of the Bill.
§ Mr. Renton
It will be of benefit to the House if I remind my hon. Friend that under the Town and Country Planning Act "building" includes "any structure or erection", and that includes monuments. Therefore, the Bill applies to monuments.
§ Mr. Temple
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his assistance. I 783 am glad to hear that the Bill includes ancient monuments, because when I was talking to the chief planning officer of Chester it was not clear to him or to the town clerk that ancient monuments were covered by the Bill.
I have had occasion to give the Bill very careful study in view of my special interest both in historic buildings, which I wish to see preserved, and in our planning legislation. I have asked myself two questions. First, has our planning failed? I think that one has to answer that question in the affirmative first, before one can wholeheartedly support the Bill. Secondly, if it can be proved that our planning system has failed, is this Measure the right way to rectify the position?
I was glad that my hon Friend the Member for Bristol, West gave a few examples. They were examples that had the sympathy of the House, but I noticed that the bulk of them were evidence from the countryside, and, as I develop my speech, I shall show that I think that the Bill has been drafted mainly with a view to the preservation of historic buildings in the countryside.
We should make no mistake about the content of the Bill. It is a Bill which vitally affects planning. One sees from its Title that it is confined to historic buildings—and, now I am told, ancient monuments—but it is a Bill which impinges on some of the fundamental provisions of our planning law. I pay tribute to the planning authorities of this country and to those who sit on planning committees, because theirs is no easy task to weigh up all the considerations which other people may have about certain aspects not only of historic buildings but of other developments in a district and to produce a solution which is reasonably satisfactory to all concerned.
Sometimes we have to go outside our own country in order to appreciate some of the benefits which we have from our detailed, comprehensive legislation. A few months ago I made a tour of the United States, and I had the good fortune to be received by the planning commissions of New York, Boston and San Francisco. The highest possible regard was held in all those cities for our town and country planning legislation. I 784 found that we had the tightest code of planning legislation in the world.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West mentioned the position in France. I am not conversant with town and country planning legislation there, but I have visited Tokio and been received by the Director of Capital City Development in Tokio and have talked to him about planning legislation. He said, in addition to the confirmation which I had had in the United States and Canada, that we had one of the finest codes of planning legislation in the world and, without doubt, the most detailed.
Comparatively recently, when I was in Vancouver. I was known to be interested in planning legislation, and a professor of planning at the University of British Columbia sought an interview with me. He had fairly recently come from Manchester University. He said that when he left England he had his doubts about the comprehensiveness of our planning legislation, but, now that he had been able to study planning legislation in the United States and Canada, he was satisfied that British standards were extremely high. From afar he had an even higher regard for what we sought to achieve and were achieving in England than when he was lecturing at Manchester University.
I think that I can answer my first central question as to whether planning has failed in Britain by saying that do not think so. We have not very much evidence to show that planning in its main concept has failed, and, therefore, we must be extraordinarily careful before we seek to add further complications to our town and country planning legislation.
I now deal with the present position concerning the safeguarding of historic buildings. I remind the House that the statutory list—that is, the main list which comprises grades 1 and 2 as they were called under the 1947 Act—sets out about 80,000 historic buildings in England and Wales.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government has shown that he is conscious of the value which he attaches to historic buildings by a recent Ministerial circular. I shall quote from that circular, No. 68 of 1962, dated 18th December, 1962, and sent 785 out to all planning authorities in England and Wales. It said:As the Council are aware, the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act 1947, enable local authorities to control or prevent proposed works which would seriously affect the character of buildings of special architectural or historic interest. … The planning powers will continue to be important in preventing avoidable harm to historic buildings.The Minister showed in that circular that he was seized of the importance of historic buildings and also that he wanted to draw the attention of all the planning authorities of England and Wales to the powers which already existed, and he expressed the hope that those powers would be used.
Again, there is a reference—my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West did not mention this—in Section 32 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1962. I will read out the relevant passage—Section 32—because it is very important and lists the buildings of special architectural or historic interest. Section 32 (1) reads:With a view to the guidance of local planning authorities in the performance of their functions under this Act in relation to buildings of special architectural or historic interest, the Minister shall compile lists of such buildings …That, of course, has been done. There are two lists, one the statutory list and the other the supplemental list. The important words in the Statute are:With a view to the guidance of local planning authorities. …Thus, the planning authorities have to act within the purview of the present town and country planning legislation. They have already had their attention drawn to just the factors my hon. Friend has incorporated in the Bill.
A related point concerns owners. I know that my hon. Friend 'said that he did not claim that owners were necessarily the best judges of what developments should take place locally. I suggest that in many instances they are not. But he wants to set up procedure under which these "owners" shall be consulted. It is the custom of many local planning authorities, my own among them, to consult such authoritative bodies as the Royal Fine Art Commission, the Civic Trust and the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, when they think that any historic building might be injuriously affected by some planning permission which they are thinking of giving.
786 My hon. Friend mentioned a panel of architects. I am sure that many planning authorities consult experts, but one does not always get exactly the same view from all the experts one consults. Therefore, it is no built-in solution to consult a panel of architects because they may have widely differing views.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
Will not my hon. Friend agree that no person can have a more intimate knowledge of a building than the person who owns it or lives in it, even if his technical knowledge may not be considerable?
§ Mr. Temple
I do not claim that an owner would not have knowledge of his own building. But I do claim that the owner of an historic building would not necessarily be a good judge of development of surrounding properties. If my hon. Friend thinks about that, he will realise that it is a very different point from the one he was putting forward.
Like the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central, I am a vice-president of the Association of Municipal Corporations. I have consulted its general secretary and have received a letter from him. One central observation from that letter will, I think, make clear where the A.M.C. stands on this matter. He said that he had seen the promoter of the Bill last week and had told him that the Association would have every sympathy with its objects but that it was very concerned about the way in which the administration proposed in the Bill would work. It had come to the conclusion that the Clauses would, in fact, be administratively unworkable.
I have also had consultations with the Rural District Councils Association, which takes exactly the same view, I am a vice-president of that Association as well and I am authorised by it to say this. It has consulted its Law Cornmittee which takes exactly the same view as that of the Association of Municipal Corporations.
I am also a member of the executive and a member of the council of the Town and Country Planning Association. Only yesterday I consulted the director. It has not been easy for any of these associations to form a balanced judgment of this Bill because it was published only some eight days ago. It is not easy to study these things and arrive 787 at a balanced conclusion and certainly not easy to consult the executives of these various associations in that time. Nevertheless, the director of the Town and Country Planning Association made his views clear to me. He said that he was sympathetic with the intention of the Bill but considered its mechanism unwieldy and unworkable, that it would slow down development and that it might open the door to abuses. That was a pretty categoric condemnation of the administrative procedures recommended in the Bill.
I shall not go into great detail on the Bill itself, but without doubt Clauses 1 and 2 must be read together. I want to give the A.M.C.'s considered view on Clauses 1 and 2 read together. I believe that these Clauses are indivisible, but while my hon. Friend said that he would consider Amendments to Clause 2 he did not say that he would withdraw it. The A.M.C. writes:… the Association has always been loth to see any suggestion of the creation of third-party rights of appeal against planning permission, and the incorporation of such a right in this particular Bill can only be regarded as a fundamental change in planning legislation likely to have the most widespread repercussions.So the A.M.C., whose view is authoritative, is quite categorical about this fundamental change. And if that view were insufficient I could turn to the view of the Franks Committee which considered this matter closely. In its Report the Franks Committee—officially called the Committee on Administrative Tribunals and Enquiries—wrote, in chapter 28, paragraph 387:The importance of the general public interest in planning has also been reflected in the suggestion that provision should be made for enabling third parties to appeal against a grant of planning permission, either in all cases or in special cases.The Franks Committee went on:We agree that there is a legitimate third party interest in many planning applications but we consider it impracticable to provide for third party appeals either generally or in defined classes of case.The Franks Committee considered this matter most closely, and unanimously rejected the principle of third party appeals, and it is significant that it rejected it in all and in special cases.
Now I turn to the provisions within the Local Authorities (Historic Build- 788 ings) Act, 1962, which, of course, is an Act entirely devoted to historic buildings. Section 1 of that Act incorporates the definition of an historic building and I would ask hon. Members just to glance at that Section which speaks of theupkeep of any garden occupied with the building and contiguous or adjacent thereto.It is significant that in this Bill a different interpretation of historic building has been taken because not only are the gardens included but we have the park lands as well. I do not know whether there is a good explanation for this, but it seems to me unwise to go very much further than the definition which is already accepted of historic buildings.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
I was a Member of the Committee which dealt with that Measure and it was pointed out that the word "garden" had been omitted. It was a point that was put right in Committee. The Committee also sought to include park lands, but it was not dealt with. It is because it was not dealt with that it is included in my Bill.
§ Mr. Temple
I cannot find my hon. Friend's explanation a very good one, because, evidently, on that occasion the provision for park lands was discussed but it was not inserted. Therefore, I cannot understand why on this occasion my hon. Friend has sought to widen the definition.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
I did not make myself quite clear. The reason why that provision was not included in the previous Measure was that the Title to that Bill as published did not allow it. The Committee was willing to go into it, but it could not be done.
§ Mr. Temple
I am glad to have that explanation. I must say that I have had a good many interruptions already and if I have more it will tend to make my speech rather longer than I intended it should be, and I know that other hon. Members want to speak in this debate.
I have studied the definition of land, because this is a point of some considerable significance, and my hon. Friend takes his definition of land from Section 221 of the 1962 Act, and "land" by the 1962 Act meansany corporeal hereditament, including a building.789 So this definition in the Bill is a very definite widening of the scope of the Bill as compared with the 1962 Act.
My hon. Friend mentioned the fact that on one estate in which he was interested a filling station had been put up at the gates of the castle or mansion. This is really the heart of the point which I am now seeking to make, that by the widening of this definition of historic building he is in fact including the whole of the estate of the owner. Not just one historic building and garden, be it the residence or a scheduled barn, but everything which is contiguous to the whole of the estate will have to be considered by the local authority. Therefore, the outlook from the lodge at the gates, if it is overlooking any village, will have to be taken into consideration. This is the very point my hon. Friend made, that some kind of injury had been done to the estate owner because a filling station had been given planning permission at the gates.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend again, but he is being a little unfair to what I said. I specially made the point that it was the amenities of the buildings we were trying to protect, and the question of owners, individual people, really did not come into it. The question of the filling station at the gates was a general point. I did not tie it to any particular example.
§ Mr. Temple
I appreciate that point, but by the inclusion of "park lands" the whole scope of this Bill goes very much wider than anything we have considered hitherto.
I share the concern of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central and that if the Association of Municipal Corporations regarding the definition of "owner". I can see whence the definition has been obtained. It is obtained from Section 16 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1962—Section 16 of that Act and the succeeding Section, to which this special definition applies is, subject to correction, the Section which describes owners and agricultural tenants.
So it seems to me that by adopting this particular definition of an owner it has been in the mind of my hon. Friend that this Bill should be mainly applicable to the countryside. I cannot understand —I hope an explanation will be forthcoming—why the ordinary definition of 790 owner in Section 221 of the Act of 1962, which is much more restrictive, has not been used, as opposed to this special definition which is used specifically to cover developments in the countryside.
I notice another practical difficulty with regard to this question of owners. I can only assume that my hon. Friend has used this definition with some specific purpose in mind, and the definition he has used in fact incorporates lessees who have unexpired leases of over 10 years to run. There is, as far as I know, no list in existence in the hands of any authorities of lessees of a tenancy of over 10 years to run. It will be difficult enough for the local authority to establish the ownership of particular land and buildings without having to search round to find which particular hereditaments have unexpired leases of over 10 years to run. I would regard this, quite frankly, as almost an administrative impossibility.
I must refer now to the very special position of the City of Chester. The City of Chester is not unique. When I say it is not unique, of course it is unique, but there are other cities which equally have a great number of listed historic buildings within their boundaries. I have had a word with my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Sir J. Pitman). I know he is hoping to come here, but I have his permission to make reference to the situation in Bath; but I will deal firstly, as I have a special interest in Chester, with the position in Chester, because I think it typifies the position which will obtain in other cities, with historic buildings, which are of a very similar character.
I quote from a letter which I received from the Town Clerk of Chester:Historic towns are always in a difficulty in dealing with matters of this sort because they are always open to the jibe that they do not really care about their own heritage. In fact, as you know, we do care very much indeed. Nevertheless, we have to live with the twentieth century and its needs.I consider that a very reasonable statement, and I pay a warm tribute not only to the Town Clerk of Chester, who takes a tremendous interest in these matters, but to the City of Chester Planning Committee.
The position is that under the 1947 Act, which was consolidated into the 1962 Act, there were three grades of historic building. Grades 1 and 2 were consolidated into the statutory list and Grade 3 now 791 comprises what is called the supplemental list. I have taken advice on this matter, and am advised that, as drafted, Section 4 (1, a) includes the supplemental list because it was the list compiled by the Minister. In Section 4 (1, a) we have the words "compiled or approved". Therefore, when looking at the Bill we are considering the positions of both the statutory list and the supplemental list.
In the City of Chester we have 300 buildings on the statutory list in an area of about 150 acres. We have a further supplemental list of 300 buildings, again more Or less in the same area of land in the centre of the city.
The City of Bath is very much more affected by the Measure. The City of Chester is affected in that it has four historic buildings to the acre in the centre of the city, but the City of Bath has 2,000 buildings on the statutory list and 1,000 on the supplemental list. I have seen a letter from the Town Clerk of Bath giving these figures.
So cities of this historic nature would be faced with an almost insuperable difficulty if the Bill were to go forward in the form in which it has been produced. Indeed, the Town Clerk of Chester takes the view that the Bill is unamendable.
I have studied the planning applications which have just come before the City of Chester. Out of 59 applications at present before the city council, 28 would fall to be dealt with under this procedure. One can say, therefore, that nearly 50 per cent. of the applications would fall to be dealt with under a procedure which would complicate matters enormously and mean increased staff, increased delays and increased expenses all round.
I have with me the statutory list of historic buildings in the City of Chester. It is a lengthy document, naturally, and very comprehensive. It comprises many buildings which are extremely extensive in character. I should like to give the House just one or two examples because I feel that practical examples are important in this matter.
The first item mentioned is the city walls and towers. It was from King Charles' Tower that the King saw the Battle of Rowton Moor, some five miles away. Therefore, anything which can 792 be seen from it can, conversely, be said to be the subject of an appeal by the owners of the city walls—the corporation. However, I think it is known that the Ministry of Public Building and Works takes a very big interest in the walls of Chester because they are scheduled as an ancient monument and historic building, and everything that is done to them is subject to consultation with that Ministry.
Then we have the cathedral, which is in the ownership of the dean and chapter. But, possibly almost more serious than these two large hereditaments of historic interest, we have all the buildings in Abbey Square, buildings on both sides of Bridge Street which are in various ownerships and have various tenants. We have such items as the Music Hall Cinema, which is owned by the Gaumont British Corporation of London. I cannot think that consultation with that corporation in London would add very much to the advice which Chester Corporation normally gets from such responsible bodies as the Civic Trust when considering these matters.
Then we have other buildings which are in the hands of trustees, such as the Unitarian chapel, or buildings which are in the hands of executors. I give these merely as examples. I think this will give hon. Members some idea of the complexities that we should be facing if we were to deal with all the historic buildings in an historic city under the mechanism of the Bill.
I was fortunate enough on Saturday to be able to have a quick conference with the chief planning officer of Chester. He made several points with regard to the Bill. He said that the words "take into account" in Clause 1 might mean almost anything or nothing. He said that the planning committee was already faced with difficulties because it had to take into account very many factors, and if it had to take into account the views of scores of owners of historic buildings as well it would be in an extraordinarily difficult position.
He also drew attention to the words "in such proximity", which are rather central to the Bill, but which, in his view, are very much too vague. I think I remember having a conversation with 793 my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West, some time ago when he was considering the main provisions of the Bill, and at that time he mentioned to me—I do not think he will mind my quoting this—that he had some idea of limiting the scope of the Bill by reference to a distance. But there is no reference whatever to distance in the Bill. All we have is the rather loose words "in such proximity".
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
I thank my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene again. We found that it was probably inadvisable to include a specific distance, because it might be too long in some cases and too short in others. That is why my hon. Friend will see, if he studies the wording, that we have in certain parts of it given the local planning authority wide discretion about what it should take into account. I also made it clear to my hon. Friend that we are prepared to take out the provisions applying to towns if we can find a way of doing it.
§ Mr. Temple
I thank my hon. Friend. I appreciate that the distance factor is a difficulty. I always anticipated that it would be a grave difficulty. I also think it will be found impracticable to take large towns out of this Bill.
The last point the chief planning officer of Chester made to me was that such phrases as:might adversely affect the amenitieswere just the sort which the Minister was discouraging planning authorities from using. He thought that that, again, was much much to vague.
§ Mr. R. W. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
My hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple), with his wide experience of these matters, will appreciate that today one of the major issues which arise in almost all these cases with the objections from planning authorities is those very words. Planning authorities usually object and say, "You cannot have industry here. You can have only residences here. Otherwise it would adversely affect the amenities of the neighbourhood." I appreciate the criticisms which my hon. Friend is making, but could he use his ability to 794 consider whether we could in some way, get a protection for historic buildings against this adverse effect on amenity, because this would go a long way towards achieving the purposes of the Bill?
§ Mr. Temple
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I was just coming to a positive suggestion. I do not think I have ever spoken in the House without trying to offer some positive solution, certainly on a matter which is extraordinarily close to my heart, such as the preservation of historic buildings. I more than appreciate the great difficulties of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West. The framing of the Bill would have been entirely beyond me as an amateur draftsman. However, I have one positive suggestion to make to him. It is contained within Section 15 of the 1962 Act. I have said throughout that I believe that the planning mechanisms in this country are sufficient at the present time. If hon. Members will turn to Section 15 of the 1962 Act headed Publication of notices of applications for planning permission", I will read out the appropriate parts:An application … shall not be entertained by the local planning authority unless it is accompanied by a copy of a notice of the application … and by such evidence as may be so prescribed that the notice has been published in a local newspaper circulating in the locality in which the land to which the application relates is situated;It would I believe, need legislation to bring historic buildings within the ambit of that Section, because the normal use of that Section is to advertise, say, a planning application for a sewage farm or a fish and chip shop, etc.
In this particular instance, I suggest that if a planning application is, to use my hon. Friend's words, "in proximity" to an historic building, then it may be necessary to bring in this advertising procedure. Then it could be held that the owners of the historic building, indeed, the lessee as well, would be put on notice that an intention was there to develop this land in a particular way. I believe that is a practical solution which is worth examination. I do not say that it is the whole solution, but I believe that it is something which will stand up to a close examination and which might achieve the objects which we all desire.
795 I have been doubtful all along whether legislation on this subject of a comprehensive nature is necessary. I think that it is significant that the Association of Municipal Corporations, the Rural District Councils Association, and the director of the Town and Country Planning Association all consider this Measure to be administratively unworkable. I believe that we must all work to preserve amenities consonant with the progress in our country, and I shall listen with the greatest possible interest to what my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has to say on this matter.
I think that we are fortunate in having present a Minister who not only is a past colleague of mine on the executive of the Town and Country Planning Association, but who has written books on this subject, and who was also associated with me in the publication of a pamphlet entitled "Change and Challenge", which was particularly directed to town and country planning matters and which was published by the Conservative Political Centre.
I feel that we can have great confidence in the advice tendered to us by the Government and I shall look forward myself with the greatest possible interest to hearing the Government's views on this matter. From what I have already heard today, I am not convinced of the need for this Bill, certainly not in its present form.
§ 12.25 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
With the exception of Clause 2, I welcome the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) has described circumstances in which the existence of some Measure of this kind might well have prevented action which has brought no considerable public good and might have inflicted a measure of public harm.
I should like the House to consider not only the merits of the Measure but its potential hazards before finally making up its mind. I am referring to the Bill as it is rather than to what it should be in my judgment. I should be perfectly happy with the Bill with Clause 2 deleted. If Clause 2 is not deleted the Bill might have the effect that the owner of a scheduled property, a property within the scope of this Bill, adja- 796 cent to whose property development which may be perfectly necessary is to take place or which may even be commercially desirable, is then in a position to extort from the would-be developer a price bearing no relation to the intrinsic merit of the property merely to avoid an objection. It is the owner or lessor of ten years of the property who has the right of objection. It is not the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, or whatever the appropriate body may be, such as the National Trust, which can protect the public interest in this case. So if the would-be developer purchases the property concerned the safeguards contained in the Bill are, of course, null and void and the developer, having got planning permission, could then sell the property again.
The Bill has two potential defects. One could be easily eliminated by getting rid of Clause 2. This ill-effect would certainly not result merely from notification it would result only from the powers contained in Clause 2. The other ill-effect, where the Bill is not strong enough, could probably be remedied by adding to the potential people who must be notified some body such as the National Trust, which could go beyond the existing scope where the protection offered was inadequate. As I have described it, a person or body wishing to develop land adjacent could avoid the provisions of the Bill merely by purchasing the property concerned and then getting rid of it. if the object of the Bill is, as I take it to be, to preserve the amenities of certain classes of structure and environment, I do not think that that object is entirely fulfilled by limiting the necessity to give information that application for planning permission has been made to the owner or lessor.
I do not oppose the Second Reading of the Bill because I hope that during the Committee stage it will be amended by the deletion of Clause 2. I hope that it will emerge from the Committee stage as a Measure which does not invent new third party rights but merely extends the right which many people feel that the owners of all property should enjoy rather than that it should be specifically restricted to historic buildings. I welcome the Bill but express the firm hope that it will be so amended.
§ 12.30 p.m.
§ Mr. John E. Talbot (Brierley Hill)
Most of the hon. Members who have taken part in this debate have either supported the Bill personally or made representations on behalf of corporate interests which hold rather strong beliefs about IL I am not among their number. Today I wish to speak for the victims. If it is proposed to refuse planning permission to someone on the grounds contained in this Bill, and nod on general planning grounds under the present law, I think that a case may be made—I intend to try to make it—that something which does not appear in the Bill ought to be included, namely, a provision regarding compensation.
The first point to which we should refer is the very wide scope of the Bill. Figure's have been given by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Temple). It is my experience that the list of houses originally compiled was simply according to what the Ministry thought. I complained about the inclusion in the list of a house which I then owned—I do not own it now—and I asked whether there was any appeal against the Ministry's decision. I was told that there was not and so, willy-nilly, that house is in the list, although in my opinion its architecture is entirely bogus and it is not worthy of all the safeguards that this Bill seeks to provide.
§ Mr. Talbot
Certainly. It is Great Witley Manor.
We must realise that by accepting the provisions of this Bill we impose a liability which would not relate only to cathedrals and historic buildings, such as exist in the centre of Chester, but to quite modest buildings which are included in the list merely because some officer of the Ministry—probably a junior one—has seen a couple of Doric columns and a Palladian triangle and thinks that that is something which, prima facie, ought to be preserved.
In Clause 4 there is a reference to the inclusion ofgardens and park lands occupied therein.What about a 400-acre park containing an historic mansion? Does this mean that 798 if someone seeks to build a couple of cottages opposite the lodge gates of such an estate, when the mansion may be half-a-mile away, the owner of the estate could object? I think this means that he could. I consider that that is taking planning control much too far. Rightly or wrongly, we have decided that the rights enjoyed by an owner in fee simple should be so whittled away that he cannot do what he would with his own. In other words, an Englishman may own a castle but he cannot build one without, the consent of a large number of people. We must face the fact that every year Parliament—I include hon. Members on both sides of the House—seeks to add more and more burdens to a man who desires to do what he will with his own. This is just one more burden.
Dealing with the point which I am making my principal point, that of compensation, I wish to ask whether the sponsors of the Bill are ready to say how they propose to deal with this matter. Do they hold the view that hardship should be imposed on a person whose planning application is refused on account of the provisions in this Bill and not on account of the general planning law and that there should be no compensation? Do they hold the view that the existing law relating to compensation is adequate? Do they hold the view that compensation—if compensation is to be provided—should be paid by the owner of the historic building and not by the ratepayers? Or are they prepared to leave this matter in a sort of void?
I will put to the House a positive case which might occur. Let us suppose that in a certain village there is a Tudor manor house and that on the other side the road there is an old cottage which has been in the occupation of the same family for many years. The cottage has become derelict and it is sought to pull it down in order to erect a small, square, modern bungalow which would be within the financial capacity of a person who would own that type of property. Are we to have it said that because public interest—we can refer to nothing else but the public interest—requires the preservation of that site, a modern building, which some may call ugly, cannot be erected there, and that the person concerned should be refused permission to execute the development in the interests of the public, and, incidentally, in the interests 799 of the person who owns the historic building? If so, that is a roundabout way of confirming something which the law of England has always refused to confirm.
On the whole, property law has been pretty generous to those who claim decisions and rights over the property of other people. But it has never allowed any man to claim a prospect or a view. The only way in which he can establish his right to a prospect or a view is by obtaining the ownership of the land over which the view exists. The law, generally, is that an owner must accept such limitations as proceed from the land adjoining his ownership.
If we seek to allow the "squire", if I may use that term, to put a "block" on a piece of building land or on the cottage of the village grocer, I think that we should approach it as a House of Commons anxious to protect as well as to control and restrict. If the planning law and its administration—but for the provisions in this Bill—would allow a man to do what he sought to do, and if, in the public interest, and not that of the adjacent property-owner—I leave that aside as an argument, although inferentially it happens—it is worth while to prevent the development, I say that the public should accept squarely the liability of compensating that man for the loss of benefit from what he would otherwise be able to do under the planning law.
Perhaps the sponsors of this Bill have overlooked this point. It is a difficult point and probably one which cannot be settled without the assistance of the Government. But I have no hesitation in saying that in my view it exists and it is the duty of this House not merely to have regard to the high public purposes which it is sought to protect by this Bill, but also to consider the interests which would be injured if its provisions became law—and make no doubt about it, the implementation of those provisions would injure some interests.
I think that we should give a Second Reading to the Bill, and I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) on introducing it and on his very lucid explanation of it. At the same time, I feel that a matter of this sort, despite the eminent legal assistance which my hon. Friend can command, is beyond the scope 800 of a Private Member's Bill. I regard the Measure as of value in posing some questions, or points of view, which the Government may deal with if they can find time to do so. I offer my support and I should like to feel that what I have said will be considered. I think that hon. Members, on this side of the House at any rate, should not lose sight of the fact that ownership confers rights, and if those rights are to be taken away in the public interest, then proper compensation should be paid.
§ 12.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Jasper More (Ludlow)
I wish to add my congratulations to those extended to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) on introducing this Bill. Despite the criticisms which have been voiced, every hon. Member who has taken part in the debate has welcomed the spirit and the intention behind the Bill. I listened with interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Talbot) and I should like to deal immediately with the very important and fundamental point regarding compensation which he raised.
I do not want to deal with the Bill in detail, or with its remoter legal implications, but as one of the sponsors of the Bill I want to declare an attitude. I say at once that if the Bill is put forward in the public interest, I would recognise that in principle there should be a right of compensation for those whom my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill justifiably described as its victims.
I would be the first to agree from my limited knowledge of the legislation about town and country planning which is already on the Statute Book that the last thing we want is more legislation. What originally inspired my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West to bring forward the Bill was the feeling that even such a comprehensive Measure as that of 1962 was still open-ended in this respect.
We have considered the Bill from two points of view this morning, the aesthetic and the financial. I am not certain that we have sufficiently stressed the financial. We are coming increasingly to realise, whether we have aesthetic feelings about our historic buildings or not, that they are a financial asset to the country and that we have a heritage of beauty with which no other country 801 can compare, and that it is in the public and national interest to preserve it, even at a cost to the nation which can sometimes he considerable. As we are all aware, for years the Government have been donating very large sums to the preservation of some of our most beautiful and historic buildings, both in town and country. It would be an intolerable situation which we would have to face if more and more situations arose in which expenditures of this kind turned out to have been wasted or misplaced merely on account of something which happened subsequently. It was in order to prevent that that the Bill was introduced.
I listened with great interest and great admiration to the very cogent criticisms of my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple). I claim a certain community of interest with him because, like him, I represent a historical and beautiful city, that of Ludlow. I am the first to realise the difficulty that a Bill of this kind would entail for historic towns. However, much as we may dislike the prospect of further legislation of this kind, he and I, representing towns of this character, have to look in the not far future to some further type of legislation which will deal with this problem not in the terms of the individual historic building, but in terms of the historic town, or collection, or group of buildings. That is not a subject on which I wish to embark today, and I am certain that it is not one upon which the Parliamentary Secretary would wish the Government to embark, but it is something which will face us sooner or later.
However, having listened to my hon. Friend's arguments and criticisms with great interest, I was left in doubt about his conclusions. I was not certain whether his conclusion was that this subject was already so completely covered by legislation that no more was required, or whether this legislation was impracticable. My own view from my limited knowledge of the subject is that it is not completely covered by existing legislation, but I am sure that if my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary could convince us that it was, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West would be more than willing to withdraw the Bill in toto.
This is not a question which can be dismissed as unimportant or irrelevant. 802 The Bill has been criticised from two sides and I should like to add my little emphasis to that mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop). There are certain respects in which the Bill might not be strong enough. My hon. Friend pointed out the weakness of relying purely on the owner or lessee.
There are other weaknesses in our planning legislation. I speak as one who is a member of a county planning committee and I realise only too well the limitations which all of us on those committees necessarily have. We do not all possess the same standards and it does not follow that when discretion is given to us we carry out equally well the considerations which Parliament has laid upon us. I mention those two things in order to emphasise the financial aspects which we cannot afford to forget. If Parliament is authorising large expenditures on these buildings in the national interest, it may be necessary for Parliament itself to have a stronger power of decision and direction about how and when these historic buildings and structures need to be preserved.
I again congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West, who has introduced the Bill. I am the first to appreciate that there are Amendments which may have to be, and which could usefully be, made in Committee, but I appeal to my hon. Friends who have been critical of the Bill to use their profound knowledge of the problems which face us in a constructive sense, because I am convinced that there is a need for legislation of this kind and that if we can do something positive by a Bill of this sort, it is in the national interest that we should do so.
§ 12.47 p.m.
§ Mr. F. P. Bishop (Harrow, Central)
I share the sympathy which has been expressed by every speaker for the purposes behind the Bill, but I must say immediately that I doubt whether I can respond to the appeal of my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. More) and my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Talbot) that we ought to give the Bill a Second Reading and hope to make it a viable proposition in Committee.
803 In a speech strongly supporting the Bill, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) nevertheless drew attention to strong objections to it, on the grounds both of principle and of practical difficulties in operation. I rather share the view that it would be wrong in principle to give this right of third party appeal in these planning cases and to give it only to one very limited part of the community.
I do not see how Parliament could face that position, because the problems which arise with historic buildings arise just as much for the owners and occupiers of many other houses which are not so distinguished, but whose owners nevertheless have an equal interest in their amenities. I am not at all sure that I can see how my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) would be able to deal with that situation as a Committee point if the Bill were allowed to go to Committee.
I am perhaps more concerned about the practical difficulties that might arise from the operation of the Bill if it becomes law. A good deal has been said about these practical difficulties, but I should like to mention one aspect which has not been touched on, and that is the difficulty from the point of view not so much of the local authorities concerned, but of those people who are applying for planning permission for a building or an operation of one kind of another.
Already the channels are getting hopelessly clogged with these appeals. I have had some recent correspondence with my hon. Friend on this subject, and it appears that the number of appeals coming to the Minister has already topped the 12,000 a year mark, which is almost an impossible proposition. I understand—in fact I think this has been published in a pamphlet issued by the Ministry—that the average time for dealing with one of these appeals has now extended to as much as eight months, which is a very heavy burden not only on the individual who wants to get on with the job, but on the economy as a whole. If one multiplies 12,000 appeals by eight months' delay in each case, it really is a serious problem which must be faced.
Can my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary give the House any indication what might be the effect of this Bill in 804 adding to the number of appeals, in adding to the period of delay in cases in which the local authority has to follow this procedure of giving notice to the owner of a historic building of its decision, considering his views, and, finally, if the owner in question has this right of third party appeal?
I think that that might be the really decisive objection to the Bill, and one which I feel would be almost impossible to remedy in Committee. I have no prejudice or strong views against the Bill, I sympathise with the motives behind it, and I am open to conviction if there is a way of achieving what my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West is seeking to achieve without creating greater disadvantages and difficulties, and that I hope to hear, but in the meantime I remain unconvinced.
§ Mr. Renton
Is my hon. Friend saying that he will vote against the Bill because he is against Clause 2, and merely because of that, bearing in mind that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) has said that he has on open mind on this Clause?
§ Mr. Bishop
I am saying that I should want to feel that there was some reasonable possibility that Clause 2 could be so amended as to get rid of the difficulties that one sees there now. Clause 2 is essential to the Bill. Without it there is very little left, except the other objectionable feature that the owner of a public building is put in a privileged position compared with other people.
§ 12.54 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
The object of the Bill is excellent and cannot but command the warmest support from both sides of the House, but I cannot say the same of the methods by which it proceeds. I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke), or the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) who supported him, were acting quite fairly, or, indeed, constitutionally, in saying that they had doubts about the mechanism of the Bill, but as its object was so good they, so to speak, threw it on the Table of the House and left it to the Government to work out something. They might as well say that crime is a 805 bad thing, introduce a Bill for the prevention of all crime, and then say that although the Bill is obviously desirable, they cannot suggest the methods for dealing with the problem, and this the Government must be left to do. That really was the attitude of my hon. Friend, because there is very little indeed to be said for the mechanism of the Bill.
I follow what my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Bishop) said about the general delay which the introduction of a Measure such as this would bring to the whole planning machine. There is already a grave shortage of qualified staff, and no one in the House who has any experience in this matter will doubt that. Indeed, the shortage is so grave that there are already complaints. If this Bill is to be effective in any way, it must add a further considerable burden on that staff and the only and inevitable result will be further delay in the consideration of all planning questions. However meritorious may be the case for which my hon. Friend has so eloquently pleaded, I think he will agree that at this juncture in our affairs the last thing we want to do is to delay the economic development of this country.
Apart from the delay in dealing with planning questions, there is a further disadvantage, and a very serious one, which the Bill would bring about. This is the inevitable time lag which there would have to be between the granting of permission to develop under the planning machinery and the actual start of the development. All permissions to develop would be subject to appeal under the machinery of the Bill by all the owners of historic buildings within the neighbourhood—and by within the neighbourhood I mean within possible sight, and possibly even further afield.
It is true that under Clause 1 the planning authority will have to consult the owner of every historic building, the amenities of which, in the authority's opinion, may be adversely affected by the proposed development. Planning authorities are not necessarily deliberate vandals. They do not do these things because they wish to injure the buildings, or even in the knowledge that they are injuring the buildings. In so far as outrages are perpetrated, they are 806 perpetrated through inadvertence and ignorance and things of that kind.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
My hon. Friend nods his head in agreement. In other words, it is because the planning authority has not recognised that what is proposed may adversely affect a particular building. Therefore, almost by definition, Clause 1 will be wholly defective, because in those cases where there is a serious chance of damage to what is in effect a public interest in this connection there will already be consultation under the law as it stands.
On the other hand, the important power—and I agree it is important and essential if the Bill is to work at all— of giving the owners of such property who have not been consulted the power to intervene would mean that although planning permission had been given, such permission would be vulnerable for an indefinite period, and at the present time the Bill lays down no time limit of any kind. I see why the promoters of the Bill have not laid down such a time limit—it would be physically impossible to do so. Whatever period were laid down would, in effect, stultify the provisions of the Bill.
That takes one on to consider the next difficulty to which this sort of mechanism inevitably gives rise. The Bill makes no provision whatever for the payment of compensation. If one is to employ some such mechanism as the Bill as a whole contemplates one would necessarily find that, although planning permission was given by the planning authority in the first place, such permission could be taken away as the result of appeal. One cannot, by whatever cunning device one inserts, avoid the trouble of setting a definite time limit for the period between the giving of the permission and the possibility of it being taken away.
After all, developers are all anxious to start their development. If the time limit is short, then the development will start and the machinery of the Bill will be ineffective. If one says that the time limit should be long, then possible development will be put off. I see no means how one can avoid that dilemma and, for that reason, I do not believe that the machinery proposed by the Bill could work.
807 The Bill applies to historical buildings and there has been some discussion about how wide that is. One thing is certain; it is limited, in effect, to historic buildings and monuments in the broad sense of the term. But why limit it in that way? Our heritage in Britain is by no means limited to this class of thing. I live in a part of England—when I get away from London—which enjoys many beautiful landscapes. They have existed since the time William the Conqueror made the New Forest and they can easily be spoilt by some development.
Why should not such landscapes equally be protected by the machinery of the Bill? If it is effective for one Purpose, equally it may be effective for another. Why cannot the Bill be employed to protect the green belt around London and many other things of equal importance and concern? If one introduces this sort of machinery in the one case, there would be such a demand for its extension in other directions that one could never hold the fort. Far that reason, I do not believe that a Measure such as this could be made to work. For that reason I would vote against it.
That does not mean that the present law is completely adequate. It does a great deal but I do not think that it is wholly effective and I agree that horrible atrocities are and can be perpetrated under it. However, those atrocities arise not primarily because the law is ineffective but because defective human beings are not always concerned to see that our heritage is protected. I do not believe that amending the law will necessarily change that state of affairs. Whatever the law, atrocities will be committed as long as people perpetrate them.
The debate has served a useful purpose because it will do something towards telling the public of the necessity to protect our heritage. The right way to proceed is to ensure that the machinery we already have is better worked. That is preferable to trying to alter it in a way which will be ineffective in its purpose and can do great damage in other directions.
§ 1.5 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
I regret that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) intimated his possible 808 intention to oppose the Second Reading of the Bill. I would like to see it read a second time, although, of course, it is fairly clear that substantial amendment of it may be required in Committee.
I would like to debate some of the points my hon. Friend raised. I do not share his view that there is any analogy to be drawn between the green belt and landscape and matters of high scenic amenity. In the course of many planning appeals with which I have been concerned, I have had occasion to note that there are always very jealously guarded by the planning authorities matters where there is an application for permission in an area of high landscape value. These matters are always carefully considered because it is of the essence of an application for planning permission anywhere that one must consider the amenities of the district in terms of the beauty of the surroundings.
Thus one finds that the planning authority gives adequate and careful consideration to the beauties of the countryside. It is equally true that if we are to have any of the pleasures of the countryside in areas of high scenic beauty we must intrude upon them with certain buildings in order that we may enjoy that countryside. In turn, it is necessary that one should extend into Exmoor and similar places with a certain amount of development so that people may enjoy what nature gives us.
Another important factor must be borne in mind. This country is not the only one with areas of great landscape value. Almost all countries have such areas; green belts around their towns and cities and, in certain cases, they enjoy the privileges of beautiful parks. However, no other country, with the possible exception of Italy, enjoys the great heritage of the historic buildings and homes of Britain.
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) had in mind in moving the Bill —and I regret not having been here to hear his opening speech and that of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross)—not so much the buildings under the control of the Ministry of Public Building and Works or those which can be defended by the great cities—places like Canterbury Cathedral, Chester and other cathedrals—but the 809 rights and privileges which attach to the historic homes; residential buildings, and only those. It is those types of buildings one wants to see protected in some way.
What is the weakness in the present planning legislation? I have been concerned, with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Renton) and others, over many years to see that there were proper rules and regulations laid down for planning control. These have been reasonably brought up to date and are very much improved.
One of the bases of the whole matter is to ensure that those people who ought to have an opportunity to object may object, and should, for that purpose, be given adequate notice. Clause 1 imposes a duty to consult. It may be that a duty to consult goes too far and that all we need here is a duty to give notice to the owner of every historic building of his right so that, having received notice to that effect, he may make representations. As it is, I have had in my constituency, and have known elsewhere, many cases in which, unfortunately, the owners of property have not had a proposed development brought to their notice.
I should like to see a notice planted upon the site as well as the notice in a newspaper, and as well as the duty upon a local authority to bring to the attention of those who ought to have the opportunity their right to object, so that those people may fairly know that they can make representations. All I really want to see in this part is provision to make sure that any owner of any historic building, whether the owner be the National Trust or a private owner, has brought to his notice the intention to undertake some development. In Section 15 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1962—
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
Surely, in so far as what he has just said is valid at all, it is equally valid for all property owners who may be affected. They all have that right.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
It is true that in all cases one would want to see a notice on the site next door, but it is particularly so in the case of those who have these historic homes because their 810 amenity can be affected in a way that ordinary houses would not be affected.
In an area in which a certain density of housing has been decided upon, one could not reasonably oppose the building of, say, bungalows or a council housing estate in fairly close proximity to what I might call ordinary housing, but in the case of a fine historic home surrounded, perhaps, with weavers' cottages of the 15th century, it might be very serious indeed to put a council building in modern design in close proximity.
An example of this type of historic home is in the minds of many of us at the moment. Friends of many hon. Members have had a terrible burglary at Chilham House. I know that many people are acquainted with that magnificent Inigo Jones building and know that outside its gates is an exquisite village containing weavers' cottages. Nothing would be easier than for the local authority to decide that council houses should be installed there—and nothing could be a greater act of vandalism.
I want to be sure that in such cases notice is given to the owner of any historic home. I therefore want to see Clause 3 stand as it is so that:In considering any application for planning permission for development a local planning authority or … the Minister shall have regard to the desirability of preserving the amenities of historic buildings and their environment, and shall take into account any effect which the development would have on such amenities and environment.Where I am at issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) is that I am arguing that the setting, the amenity and the environment of historic homes require a control which the modern house does not comparably require. For that reason I should like this Bill to go to the Standing Committee, where we can try to provide a rather stronger protection for what is a great heritage of our arts and amenities and—let us face it—one of our great tourist attractions. Let us be honest about that. In great areas like Wales, with places like Harlech and Ludlow—or in Canterbury, where I am glad to say that I am a great critic of some of the things that are taking place there—the tourist attraction is very important.
811 In considering modern development, a person with a historic home may object to a council house in red brick, but object not at all to someone who, in the Cotswolds, intends to build in appropriate stone. It may be a question of controlling the colour, or the materials that are to be used in the development. It is true in certain cases that if we were to ask a developer to use a particular stone—Cotswold stone, in that area, or flint in East Kent—the developer might say, "Yes, I am willing to build in flint or in stone, but it will make the job more costly." If the question of compensation arises, as it can in such circumstances, I confess that I am on the side of the historic home. The fact is that if anybody wants to develop in an area where there are already fine historic buildings, he goes there at his own peril, and must conform with the regulations in that neighbourhood.
The Bill gives an opportunity to consider what happens in Italy—to change the venue. There is the little fishing port of Portofino, a tiny place not far from Genoa and a very well known tourist resort in Italy. Nobody in Portofino is allowed to colour his house except in accordance with planned control, because the whole of the attraction of that tiny fishing port is not so much that the buildings are anything to write home about—they are really very ordinary—but the picturesque setting and connotation of the buildings. The colour control imposed by the Italians maintains a most attractive setting which brings millions of pounds a year to Italy. Therefore, if we are to consider this aspect, I hope that from planning authorities invited to consider development in the immediate environment of a fine historic home, we may get a rather more aesthetic approach not only to the type of building to be erected, but to the colour, design, siting and materials to be used.
It is said that this may delay matters, but I am not sure that it will. Planning authorities are very rapid and, in the main, tend in any event to give consideration to the aesthetic aspect, and I do not think that the mere fact that they will have to give notice will lead to delay. As I say, I do not seek to support Clause 2 as it stands, but I do 812 support Clause 1, subject to certain Amendments, and Clause 3. I think that in this way we would be able to strengthen the present position, and see that planning authorities set a fair standard.
We are at the moment in the infancy of setting out what are the appropriate homes. Unfortunately, under, I think, Section 31, the list of buildings is really too wide, while the definition in the Bill is really too narrow. That provides a difficulty of amendment, but I would hope that, one way or the other, we could so prune the list, or cause it to be pruned, that all the residential homes and, perhaps certain other homes could be covered, so that the owners had notice of their right to make representation and be given an answer, and without any other right of appeal, so that, by those representations the Minister, if he thought fit, would have the opportunity to intervene in such matters.
I appreciate that this is not the sort of Bill which is very easy for the Minister. It goes somewhat further and is a little outside the ambit of the ordinary line of Ministry approach. I do not expect that he will wholly welcome it, but I hope that we can deal with it, even after the heavy criticisms it received from my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Temple). I hope that we shall go ahead and try to make something constructive out of it in Committee in order to show the will of this House to radiate down to the planning authorities that we expect from them a yet higher standard in future of aesthetic appreciation in the nature of siting and colour control of buildings than we have hitherto had.
§ 1.21 p.m.
§ Sir Richard Nugent (Guildford)
I listened with interest to the second part of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) and especially to his reference to visits to Italy, to Portofino in particular. I recollect that a few months ago we had the advantage in the Arts and Amenities Committee of hearing the principal official of a body in Italy which is concerned to preserve the arts there. There is no comparable body here, but it is something like our Royal Fine Art Commission, I suppose.
That gentleman was concerned to tell up how much better he thought we 813 arranged our affairs here in the preservation of amenities than they did. Thinking of a particular parallel in relation to this effort of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) to preserve the amenities of particularly valuable buildings, I think of a recent trip I took down the Brenta canal from Venice to Padua. One of the disappointing aspects was to find that the environment of practically every building there has been ruined and there seems to be no means of protecting them. So, although I could not agree more with my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Thanet about the aesthetic values of places visited in Italy, I could not see that he was right in suggesting that they protect them more than we do.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
I too held office in the Committee to which my right hon. Friend has referred. Does he recall the occasion—perhaps he was not an officer then—in the last Parliament when we had a French cultural attaché to tell us about the legislation in France, which is more powerful than the Italian legislation? If he had been here at the beginning of my speech he would have heard that the county planning officer of Bedfordshire had written to my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley) saying that he hoped that the French legislation would become effective here.
§ Sir R. Nugent
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. While I regret that I was not here in time to hear his introductory speech, I am grateful to him for making up for that by this intervention. I am sorry that I did not hear all his speech. I wish to congratulate him on his good fortune in winning this place in the Ballot and bringing before the House this interesting Bill on a very important topic. Heaven knows, I agree with him in the objective of the Bill to preserve the beauty of historic buildings, which I think are generally acknowledged now to be a national heritage in which we are all interested. The Gowers Committee, on the inspiration of the late Sir Stafford Cripps, put forward the idea of giving grants of public money to the most important of them. Sir Ernest Gowers is a very old friend of mine and a neighbour 814 of mine in the country. This is a topic which we often discuss together.
On the method of the Bill I am afraid I am going to be critical because I see some serious objections to it both in principle and in practice. In principle there are two serious objections. The first is a particular political objection. We all recognise today that these historic buildings are a national heritage. They are something which we can all see. We can visit most of them. We can enjoy them, and more particularly enjoy them if they are occupied by their traditional owners. Public money is now provided in order to preserve them and they serve as a most valuable attraction to the tourist trade. Large numbers of people, especially Americans, visit this country in the summer for no other reason than to make a tour of our great country houses, and very much they enjoy them. This is a most valuable export trade for our country.
In every way the concept has grown up of the great value of these houses to the whole community, a pleasure to us to visit them ourselves and an economic value to the tourist trade. The first difficulty in principle which I see in the Bill is that it puts on the very wide definition of "owner" a statutory right to object to development in the vicinity. That would be granting a privilege which would be most objectionable to the rest of the community. Take the simple example of my village, which could be repeated thousands of times in the country. There are several buildings on the list in my village. None of them is of very great importance. They include the cottage in which I live. To the owners of those different houses or cottages we would give the right to object to the development of a very large part of the few remaining places in the village which can be built on.
Suppose the local council acquired a piece of land to build council houses, or that a private developer acquired a piece of land to build houses for sale. In this part of south-east England where the demand for land is terrific to a degree, to think that one person could protect the amenity of his own house by objecting to such a development seems most preposterous.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
If my right hon. Friend had heard my introductory speech, and I regret very much that he did not, he would have known that I said we were perhaps over-ambitious in Clause 2 and we are prepared to go a very long way to amend it and to take out the objectionable qualities from that Clause. Other hon. Members have stressed that point. Will my right hon. Friend take it from me that the one object of the Bill is to protect buildings, not individuals? The last point he made about individuals would not arise because it is the buildings we are trying to protect.
§ Sir R. Nugent
I am grateful to my hon. Friend who has given me a little more of his speech which I missed. The Bill does give a right to the individual. While I am quite sure that most individuals occupying these houses would use their rights responsibly, there is no reason in the world why they should not be used selfishly as well. To confer a privilege of this kind is most objectionable in principle and most objectionable for the final effect it would have, which would be quite the reverse of what my hon. Friend is seeking.
What would happen in effect would be that if the owner of such a building had made his objection and been successful on appeal to the Minister and the development was prevented, the whole of the neighbourhood, to put it mildly, would be livid with rage. In a neighbourhood where the housing demand is acute, that this development should have been prevented in order to meet the wishes of one occupier of a house, however beautiful it may be, would be most invidious and objectionable.
There could be only one outcome, namely, that whereas at the present time these buildings are regarded, as I said, as a national heritage which we all wish to preserve and are glad that small sums of money are spent on them, we would have quite the reverse of such a happy situation and the majority of people would feel that these buildings were simply the symbols of out-dated privilege, which ought to be removed. My hon. Friend could not do a greater disservice to the cause which he is seeking to serve than by introducing a privilege of this kind. Nothing could be worse than to arouse that kind of feeling, which to some extent used to exist in the past, 816 perhaps 50 years ago or even 30 or 40 years ago. Today, with the happy development of affairs, we have a nice harmonious feeling about these matters. I think that this is a very substantial objection, and I ask my hon. Friend to take note of it.
The second objection in principle—I dare say it has been mentioned already, but I should like to say a few words about it—is the innovation of a third party having the right to appeal against planning permission. This has always been refused. The precedent would inevitably have very far-reaching implications. I am not going to delay the House by discussing them now, but one only has to consider what would happen if such a right were granted on amenity grounds. There are in this country many other societies for the preservation of amenities which, in equity, would have just as good a case to have a stake in this right. I have no doubt they would raise their voices, and it would be difficult for the Minister to refuse them all. It would have very far-reaching implications indeed.
I am speaking, I know, in the best possible company. The Franks Committee, when it reviewed the whole of this situation, rejected as impracticable the proposal to grant the right of appeal to a third party in planning matters. I urge upon my hon. Friend that these are two very substantial objections in principle.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
Would my hon. Friend agree with this? I go along with him about the objections to the third party right of appeal, but will he not agree that if we did not give a third party the right of independent objection which is contained in Clause 2, and if that were withdrawn, it would become all the more important that in a neighbourhood where this environment of historic homes exists, we should give a fair and proper opportunity to such people to make representations to the planning authority?
§ Sir R. Nugent
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet, but they already have that right. At a public inquiry they can appear and give evidence now.
§ Mr. Cooke
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend again, but I made this point in my speech. There are cases where permission to develop can be requested and granted by the planning authority, and no notice is given to anyone until the permission is granted. Development can actually start and the owner of the building can see the construction taking place, and there is nothing that he can do about it. That is the one point that I should like to be dealt with.
§ Sir R. Nugent
I concede that if there were no public inquiry—although normally there would be one—the matter could go forward without the owner of the house having an opportunity to object in public, but I think it would be very unlikely that that would happen. I should like to say a word about the objection in practice—
§ Mr. More
Before my hon. Friend leaves the question of principle, if he looks at Clause 3 he will see that the principle of the Bill is in no way related to the owner. The owner comes in as a matter of machinery of the Bill. The principle of the Bill is not to protect owners; it is to protect buildings.
§ Sir R. Nugent
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention but, as the building cannot speak for itself, inevitably it will be the owner who will make the objection. The objections that I raise go very far indeed. Nothing would be more damaging than a provision of this kind to the whole concept of keeping these buildings permanently in occupation by the resident owner.
I should now like to deal with one or two of the major objections to the Bill that I see in practice. First, let me deal with the point of delay to which my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet referred. The question of delay in these planning matters is important. Already delay is very serious and there have been many complaints about it. It may involve large sums of money and all kinds of practical problems. There is no doubt that if this Bill or anything like it were to go on the Statute Book, bringing the whole of the 80,000 houses on the list into this picture, with the right to 818 appeal, the number of additional delays with which the Minister would have to deal would be out of this world. I should think that his appeal machinery would probably break down altogether. It would aggravate the lengthy delays which already occur in planning appeals.
If an owner has a right of appeal, there must be a time lag after a consent has been given, in order to give the owner sufficient time in which to make his appeal. It might be one month or two months, but, in any event, it would be another significant addition to the delay that occurs in practice before development can take place. I think these two points are important.
The third point is that of compensation to which my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet has referred. This is very important. If a developer has been given a consent by the planning authority and, following an appeal by the owner of the historic house, the Minister revokes the planning consent, what is to happen to the developer? His piece of land which potentially was immensely valuable now becomes practically worthless. He is just as much entitled to compensation as anyone else who had a planning consent revoked after it had already been given. Somebody has got to compensate him. Is it to be the taxpayer through the Minister, or the ratepayer through the local authority?
One has only to pose the problem to see how objectionable it would be for either of those bodies to have to pay considerable sums of money in compensation. It would not be a reasonable demand to make. Unless one follows the logic of this proposal through to what could happen where the Minister thought that it was a good case and that therefore compensation was payable, there is no sense in the Bill at all.
No doubt, there are other objections which could be made. The only other general matter to which I refer is the major problem, which has been before the House on several occasions, of central area redevelopment and urban renewal generally. Everyone who studies this problem knows that it is very urgent and that it is, in addition, extremely complex. It is a very difficult process to set going satisfactorily. All too few of our towns and cities are now successfully undertaking major urban redevelopment schemes. Such schemes are 819 extremely difficult to handle, for a number of reasons, particularly the problem of ownership and leasehold rights which have to be brought together in a large enough area to give control and enable an area to be developed all in one piece. This redevelopment, of course, is not only needed to replace out-dated buildings but desperately needed in order to provide for modern traffic needs, produce suitably redesigned roads, and so on.
If, in addition to all the complex different factors we have already—which are almost too difficult to manage now—we add a further one that, where there is an historic building in such an area, the owner has the right to object to the kind of development which is to happen nearby, we really add Pelion on Ossa and handicap something which everyone agrees is urgently necessary. I suggest that, however one envisages the application of such a provision, it bristles with practical difficulties, of which the one I have just mentioned seems to me to be particularly acute.
Although I thank my hon. Friend for giving us a chance to discuss this interesting topic, I hope that he will be persuaded by the arguments which other hon. Members and I have put before the House that this is not the best way to do what he wants to do. I sympathise with my hon. Friend because I made a similar attempt myself, under the Land Drainage Act, to extend the powers of river boards to object to development in the flood plain. I was defeated for much the same reason, that, although the arguments are excellent that the river boards should have a standing in the matter, one is up against the imponderables of town planning and it is most undesirable to give a third party, so to speak, a status in it.
I had to be content, as, I suppose, many others before me have been, and as others will have to be, with a circular from the Ministry sent out to all local authorities calling their attention, most cogently, I hope, to the importance of the matter I had raised, that it was undesirable to build houses in the flood plains without consultation with the river boards. I am reasonably satisfied that this met the particular practical problem with which I was trying to deal.
I suggest that this matter is susceptible to the same treatment. The problem 820 of legislating to give to a third party statutory standing in a statutory process in order to achieve what my hon. Friend wishes to do here is really so great both in practice and in principle that I believe that he would be wiser, in serving the very interests he wishes to serve, to accept the alternative course as the best and, in the long run, the most effective from every point of view, rather than press on with the Bill, however well intentioned.
§ 1.44 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) to those which have already been given—in my case for providing such an interesting and wide divergence of views on the benches opposite. It does not surprise me. This, obviously, is the kind of matter upon which people may have different opinions and yet remain within the same political party. Indeed, there are other similar matters apart from that which we are discussing now. In the circumstances, I seem to have heard almost every possible argument for and against the Bill. It has been a very educational experience for me.
I feel that I owe it to the House, after all that, to come down on one side or the other. I agree, I think, with every word which the right hon. Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) has just said about the practical application of the Bill, if it were passed, even with modifications, and I agree with the objections which the hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) put on slightly different grounds.
There is no doubt that the Association of Municipal Corporations, although, even under a weak Government, it does not necessarily govern the country, has views which are well worth hearing on a matter of this sort. Equally, there is no doubt that the A.M.C. is, to put it bluntly, dead against the Bill. The Franks Committee, also, must attract some attention. This is just the sort of matter which fell within its general purview. The Franks Committee did, in fact, pronounce a perfectly clear opinion about it, and I think that any hon. Members opposite who were minded to take the responsibility of pressing the Bill to a conclusion would 821 have to realise that they did so against the considered opinion of as authoritative a tribunal of matters of this sort as we have had in this country for a long time. Therefore, I feel no difficulty about what is right in the matter.
The Bill provides for two things. The first is obligatory consultation. The second is a most remarkable right of appeal—and the more one looks at it the odder it appears. I have looked at it carefully. I start with consultation. One hon. Member quoted a circular from the Ministry about historic buildings. It was not quite on this point. I agree with the right hon. Member for Guildford, that this part of the Bill is really material for a Ministry circular, and I think that there is room for one, unless I have missed it in going through the circulars. I think that the matter can reasonably be drawn to the attention of planning authorities, but I should not go beyond that. I cannot accept that any case has been made out for this rather remarkable form of consultation.
We have heard of quite enough cases to realise that the application of this part of the Bill would vary very widely in different parts of the country, varying, for instance, between a historic city, on the one hand, and some magnificent but isolated mansion in the country, on the other. I do not want to go into it in detail, but I should have thought that the real answer was the responsibility of the planning authority itself. At the end of the day, someone or other has to decide the broad questions which arise under our town and country planning legislation. They are very broad and varied. They concern the amenities of the countryside, the preservation of trees, the preservation of historic buildings, the general look of a village or something of that kind.
We all know of cases—we must have had them in our own constituencies—where a planning authority has intervened to decide how far one should go in building along the side of the road going out of a village, how much ribbon development—to use the old name—one ought to have in that part of the world. The question of the sheer incongruity of some building or other with the whole character of the countryside is considered by the planning authority. My limited experience of planning authorities is that 822 they do do these things, and not only in the City of Chester. I think that the people who live in pleasant countryside with nice buildings in it or in a beautiful old town like Chester naturally consider these things as a matter of course. This is one of the jobs which the elected authority has to do, and the moment we start trying to put it on to somebody else and oblige them to do it in this way or that we are getting on rather dangerous ground.
I am not convinced that there is any broad fault with the planning machinery other than that it is complicated, perhaps necessarily complicated, and therefore there are delays which can be serious. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will say that the planning authorities do very well in the circumstances, or something of that sort, which is all that he can say about the question of delay. We have been given the number of appeals which go through every year. To add a new set of complications to this already necessarily complicated machinery is very dangerous. It will slow down the whole course of business in connection with functions which affect the whole State. I therefore start with very considerable suspicion about the Bill.
I accept entirely what has been said by hon. Members opposite. There is no case of anyone other than the person who has been refused permission or who has had conditions put upon him being able to appeal. Once we start on this, we can all play the game of devising one instance after another which would follow. The planning machinery depends on the conflict such as there is in an ordinary law court between two people, with the planning authority, charged with public responsibilities, on the one side, and the individual aggrieved by the decision on the other. The moment we bring in anyone else, we are derogating from the functions and duties of the planning authority and greatly complicating the machinery. I will not go on to develop the point, but there would be a multiplicity of appeals, and although we might start with sense, we would end in a morass of nonsense if this right were allowed.
The substance of Clause 2 is wrong, but the language of it is a bit quaint, with respect to the hon. Member for 823 Bristol, West and to my right hon. and hon. Friends who have put their names to the Bill. The Clause begins by saying:Where an application for planning permission for development to which the preceding section applies"—that is, when the planning authority thinks that the amenities may be affected by the proposed development—or an application for planning permission for development which in the opinion of the owner of an historic building is an application to which the preceding section ought to apply"—that is throwing the net rather wide; I have never come across quite this form of words or this extensive scope in a Clause before—any owner of an historic building who has been consulted in accordance with the provisions of the preceding section"—that is, if the local authority thinks that there may be some conflict—or any such owner of an historic building as is referred to in paragraph (b) of this section"—may appeal—in other words, when a person thinks that, although the local authority did not think it mattered, he thinks that it ought to have thought it mattered. This is a dictatorial power to give to owners of historic buildings. I think, if I may respectfully say so, that the point about time is not right, because when one looks at Section 23 of the Town and Country Planning Act. 1962, one finds that a timetable would be imported and there is a limit there.
No one could accept Clause 2. It is not a case of amending it. Whatever else happens to the Bill, Clause 2 obviously ought to go by the board. If it does go by the board, only the question of consultation is left.
We then come to the matter of what the local planning authority and the Minister are to consider. My trouble about this is that I cannot conceive that they are not considering it already. What I have said about the planning authorities surely goes for the Minister. In all these cases we must remember the Minister's power to call in the application, which is important. Any Minister hates doing it, but in a proper case he no doubt should do it just to ensure that the matter is dealt with properly. If he has sent a circular to planning authorities telling them to be careful about this 824 matter and then finds that something has gone wrong in a certain case on information from the owner or the local authority or from the local newspaper then no doubt he might have to call in the application.
I hope that the hon. Member for Bristol, West will not think me arrogant in any way, but I enjoy reading Private Members' Bills so much. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman must have enjoyed working on this one and I hope that he feels that he has provoked a really good discussion on this matter. We have had a very interesting debate, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be content with that. I do not think we can make anything out of the Bill. It does not do anything. At the most, the only sensible part of it is the request for consultation which, in practice, already happens.
§ Lord John Hope
I think that it was two years ago, in a speech in the House as Minister of Works on the appropriate Estimates, that I reminded hon. Members that as a community local authorities were notoriously bad and slack about anything to do with beauty which came within their jurisdiction. We knew of two in the whole country then which were co-operative and ready to help. Otherwise, the thing was a laughing stock, and still is.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I cannot reconcile that with my experience or with the experience related by the hon. Member for the City of Chester. Perhaps Chester and Northamptonshire are the only two authorities which behave themselves. That is always a possibility. But even the high authority of the office which the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Lord John Hope) formerly held fails to convince me that people living in historic cities do not care a bit about the place in which they live and do not take steps to ensure that the amenities of their city are preserved.
I agree with what has been said by the right hon. Member for Guildford. I think that I can put the matter in this way. In considering questions of development in a beautiful city or in the countryside, we must consider the area as a whole and not just one particular historic house or row of historic houses or beautiful cottages. That is a right and proper thing to be considered in the development of a city, just as it is in 825 considering permission to build in the countryside, and the right people to consider it are the planning authorities. By all means let us have a circular. If the right hon. Member for Pentlands is correct, the need for a circular is very urgent. Since the right hon. Gentleman is here, may I call attention to one other defect in the Bill? If it is a good Bill, why does it not apply to Scotland?
§ 2.0 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. F. V. Corfield)
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) for initiating this interesting discussion, but he will not be entirely surprised if I come down rather heavily in support of my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) and the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). I am sure that there are very few among those who think about these things who would disagree with, or fail to applaud, the motives behind the Bill. Of course we all agree that these houses and other buildings which appear on the lists, whether they be ancient houses or castles, Georgian homes or even more humble buildings, are part of the heritage which it is our duty to pass on to posterity.
But I agree so much with my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) that this is not our heritage in tota There are stretches of beautiful countryside. We have villages many of which with no single building listed in them, which are, nevertheless, something which it is important to preserve as a complete concept. All this is part of the same heritage, as these historic buildings, and I do not think that we can divorce the one from the other.
If we are to give special rights and powers to third parties in the one case, there is no possible justification for saying that there should be no third party rights in the other. It is perfectly true that the building cannot speak and that the Bill would have to make the owner the man to be consulted. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West says that he is not trying to make a privileged class. I accept that statement, but, of course, in practice, he would do so with this Bill. It could not be avoided.
826 It is just as justifiable to say that a man who, like myself, lives in a very attractive cottage with a very lovely view knows more about how the amenities of that view will be affected than someone who will visit it from County Hall. And so it can go on. This is a wholly unjustifiable proposal.
Many of these other types of amenity are a great deal more vulnerable to inappropriate development even than the listed buildings. There is many a town in my constituency, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. More), and elsewhere, in which the buildings are not particularly remarkable individually but in which the whole setup of the High Street provides a complete entity. This is true also of many villages and hamlets. As is the case with the open countryside, a single bad building can spoil things over a much wider area than can even the petrol pump in the park of a stately home.
One cannot look at this purely from the point of view of listed buildings, however large one makes the list. If one did so, it might give the impression to the planning authorities and to the public generally that these other things were of lesser value. That would be both dangerous and a pity. I say ail this not because I want to criticise the scope of the Bill, but because I also want to illustrate its defects and the immense difficulty of amending it, despite the co-operative and conciliatory attitude my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West has adopted.
It would not be honest of me to say that I thought that a useful purpose would be served in taking this Bill to Committee. Of course, as my hon. Friend said, many Government Bills are drastically amended in Committee, but we do not normally try to re-write the whole Bill. I suggest that Clause 1 of this Bill is the only part which is at all acceptable and that even so it is something better achieved by means of a circular.
I will certainly not only consider this; I will promise to issue a circular on these lines. I have with me a draft of such a circular, which I am only too willing to show my hon. Friend and discuss with him. I must point out, however, that the responsibility for the final draft lies with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government.
As hon. Members have pointed out, this Bill goes much further even than 827 planning law. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Talbot) said, it is something wholly outside the concept of the common law as to the rights of property. Basically speaking, the owner of a property has the right to do what he wills with his own, subject to planning control. Planning control is basically control in the interest of the public. The approach surely is, then, that the owner still does what he likes unless what he proposes is against the interest of the public. Of course, a collection of private interests at some stage becomes a local public opinion, but that is something quite different from giving a single individual or even a group of individuals sole right to their view or their prospect so as to give them a veto, or even a delaying power, on development of neighbouring land.
The whole basis of planning is the public interest, and it is surely right and inevitable that the only body that can make a decision must be a public body, and the only parties that really have a right to appeal are the applicant and a public body. Although I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West that the owners of these properties are, for the time being, in a sense the trustees, it has to be remembered, as other hon. Members have pointed out, that they are not always the best trustees for posterity. That is why we have the weapon of the preservation order which can be used where an owner cannot be trusted to look after things in the public interest. I am not suggesting, of course, that this applies to all owners, but it does show that the Bill's provisions would not necessarily be a complete safeguard even for what my hon. Friend wants to do.
We have under the present system the initial decision taken by the local planning authority, which will be either the county council or the county borough council. As hon. Members have pointed out, we have an appeal against refusal and no appeal against consent. To introduce an appeal against consent would mean a really major departure from the law of planning, and in connection with the common law it would be a major departure from the basis of our land law.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West says that in effect he will 828 drop Clause 2. We must then consider what would be left. Clause 2 seems to be the crucial provision in so far as the Bill has any teeth. If it is taken out, it seems to me that all that is left is a statement of desirable principle which, as the hon. and learned Member for Kettering said, is a more suitable subject for a circular than for legislation.
One of the problems we have to face, as with so many other planning matters, is that these things in the last resort rest on opinion. Once one has this sort of drafting in a Bill—I am not criticising my hon. Friend for this, because I believe there was no alternative—one is taking the teeth from it. If a Measure has no teeth, is it not more honest simply to issue a circular instead, bearing in mind that it is an enlightened public opinion which will in the end preserve our castles and other buildings? Is it not better to encourage that public opinion from the start?
I hope that my hon. Friend and the hon. Gentlemen who have supported the Bill will try to visualise the magnitude of the administrative problems that would arise under the Bill. At the moment, the appeals coming to my Department total about 14,000 a year. They represent only 3 per cent. of the total number of planning applications throughout the country. I have not worked the sum backwards, but any hon. Member with paper and pencil will see that the total comes to well over 500,000 applications a year.
But this Bill is not essentially concerned with applications in respect of the actual building. It is concerned with applications for land which may be quite a distance away and cover quite a large acreage, and any one house, one castle, whatever it may be, could give rise to a very large number of applications, if not at the same time, certainly in a year. But even if we assume that each of these buildings gave rise to only one extra appeal per annum this would increase the burden of appeals in the Ministry by 57 per cent. Hon. Members have called attention to the very serious delays which we already suffer. These are now running at 34 weeks from the receipt of the appeal to decision, and this is rather better than we have been doing in the past. From the date of inquiry to the date of decision the delay is 11 weeks.
829 In many cases this means that valuable, and economically important, developments are held up; it also means a great deal of frustration in the private field where people have a perfectly natural and justified desire to build houses. We do our best to cut down these delays, but one of our limiting factors is cost.
This sort of increase would mean a lot more inspectors, and if we have more inspectors we will also require more administrative staff to do the very thorough supporting work which my Department does. But the point is that this is not a skill which is in very great surplus supply. We are constantly up against this problem of recruitment. We certainly would like to improve it, but there is not a surplus of this type of skill available to do this type of job. There is a large number of other employers in the market other than the Government. Every planning authority is looking for the same sort of skill and there is an enormous amount of private enterprise—architects' offices, and so on—all in the field for something for which the demand is increasing and the supply is not increasing proportionately. This would be a very serious administrative burden. I think at a guess it could easily double the present delay or even treble it, and this cannot be a good thing for planning or for the cause my hon. Friend has at heart.
I do agree so very much with my right hon. Friend when he says that if we get the whole planning system appearing to grind so slowly as to cause real hardship and frustration, and it appears that the cause of that is the necessity to consult owners about preservation of historic buildings, there could be nothing worse for the status of historic buildings in the whole field of planning, or for the cause of preservation. I really do believe that this is very important. One of the difficulties one knows so well from the position I am now in is to get planning as a whole accepted as something sensible, fair and desirable. It is so easy, if one or two cases do go wrong, for them to be held up as a reason for bringing the whole of planning into disrepute, and this is exactly the sort of field in which I can foresee that happening.
830 My hon. Friend drew attention to the French system. This does not appeal to me from this point of view at all. I know that I am going to be able to give only a very brief observation on this because, unlike him, I did not attend that meeting and I have to rely on secondhand evidence. My hon. Friend did not really enlighten us. All I can do is to say that I understand it provides for the protection of the setting of scheduled and listed buildings.
Any building or land within 500 metres of either class of building may be scheduled, and any building or land within sight may be listed. The Minister and local authorities have powers of compulsory purchase over any building or land which forms an essential part of the setting of a protected building; and they must approve any development within sight of a scheduled or listed building. I am bound to say, as the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering will understand, that I do not find that appreciably more attractive from the administrative point of view than the proposals which my hon. Friend has put forward. As I say, I think that there is a danger of weakening the very weapon on which my hon. Friends are relying.
The second main object to which my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Bishop) drew attention is again one which has been touched on elsewhere, and that is, where do we go from there? Where do we stop allowing these third party rights of appeal?
Finally on this point, there is the question which I think my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South raised and also the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross)—the question of compensation. From the moment, as my hon. Friend pointed out, the owner's planning permission is granted, he has the right to start work, and if it is subsequently taken away, even if it is the next day, he is entitled to compensation. If this procedure were followed we should have a long delay, first of all of the two months' period incurred by reference to Section 19 of the Town and Country Planning Act; then there would be an appeal lodged, and then time for an inquiry, and at the end, when the Minister made his decision, there would be a situation in which a building might perfectly legitimately have been put up, but would 831 then be in effect subject to a revocation order involving heavy compensation. If we alter the law of compensation so that it would not, in fact, bite till that late stage, we should have to have provisional planning permission up to that stage, and there would be very strong claims from private owners, not fortunate enough to own stately homes, for compensation for the delay and expense and inconvenience which this had caused.
I really do not agree with my hon. Friend that the benefits of living in a stately home are outweighed by the cold and responsibilities. I had the great advantage of being brought up in an admittedly very small one in which my family had lived for several centuries. There are bigger ones, but I do not agree at all that one has no benefit out of the business of being a trustee for the future.
§ Mr. Corfield
Fortunately, none of my ancestors made money in the meantime, so the house remained as small as it was in the time of the first Elizabeth.
There is another defect in the Bill, but this, I admit, is one which could be put right by a fairly simple Amendment. As I understand it, the right of appeal arises as soon as planning permission is granted even if an applicant is granted permission by the Minister on appeal, so even if an applicant is granted permission by the Minister on appeal, as soon as that planing permission is granted there will still be a third-party right of appeal against the Minister's decision. That is how I read the Bill. But this, as I say, is a minor matter because I do not think the House seriously thinks we can accept the third party right of appeal in any case.
I hope my hon. Friend will not be too disappointed when I repeat once more that I really cannot recommend on behalf of the Government—nor, indeed, would I do so if I were on the back benches—that the House accept this particular provision for a third party right of appeal. As I say, it goes very wide of many of the very fundamentals of planning and the ordinary common law in relation to land.
There is also the difficulty to which my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) drew attention. It 832 arises from the definition in Clause 1. Who is the owner? Who is to be notified? Although I do not want to make too much of this, it is a genuine difficulty, because it is not always easy for local authorities to find out who is the owner in the terms of the definition, and even if we substitute the occupier, it is not always apparent that the occupier is the right person for the purposes which my hon. Friend has in mind. The occupier may be a tenant of a very transitory nature with no real interest in the property. It might even be a defect if he was there because if it were he who received notice, that might prevent notice or advertisement getting to the person who really had an interest. It is difficult to determine how one should define the person one ought to notify—if, indeed, this is desirable.
My hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) drew particular attention to Clause 3, which seems to me to be a good short summary of what already happens. I can assure him that these matters are taken into account by the Minister. I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman opposite that that happens also with the majority of local authorities, because, basically, the decision on a planning application must take into account amenities over a very wide sphere, not only the countryside, but architecture, the proximity of ancient buildings, and so on.
The hon. Gentleman will no doubt remember that the introductory words of the Section which empowers my right hon. Friend to make the list specifically state that it is with a view to assisting authorities in carrying out their functions under the Act. One of their most important functions under the Act is consideration of planning applications, and there is also the function, one stage before that, of the creation of development plans, all of which are very relevant to this matter. Let us remember that, at any rate in the smaller towns, the town map and the development plan generally provide a fairly good safeguard against the possibility of inappropriate development around a stately home. At the very least it should put the owners and others concerned on warning.
Before I return to Clause 1, I want to remind the House of some of the 833 things which we have done and which the authorities are doing. My hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester quoted from last December's circular. I would just remind the House that we included those passages to draw attention to this problem. In July last year we sent out our first planning bulletin, in which there were a number of references to this matter, and there will be further reference in future bulletins. I need not read them out, but a number of points are made in the first bulletin about the necessity of safeguarding traditional buildings in town centres, both individually and as regards their environment. I will willingly send my hon. Friend a copy of the bulletin. As I have said, I am very willing to discuss with him possible wording for a circular.
My hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet suggested the Section 15 mechanism. That occurred to me when this matter first arose, and I thought I would look into it. But when I looked into it I found that one is up against a problem in making an Order under this section, for it depends entirely on the opinion of the applicant as to whether it will have a disadvantageous effect on the building. I do not think my hon. Friends would regard that necessarily as the safeguard for which they are looking, although a parallel type of machinery could no doubt be devised. But, here again, one is up against the problem of somebody having to form an opinion, and this makes any type of enforcement extremely difficult.
I now turn back to Clause 1. There is something here which I should like to look at. I would emphasise to my hon. Friend that this is not a criticism of the drafting. I certainly have no constructive suggestions about how one could put this type of idea in better form. Some of these words are, of course, used in statutes—generally with rather disastrous results in the way of cost of litigation.
In Clause 1 (1), and particularly paragraph (a), we are up against a great problem of words which by their nature, and by the nature of the idea which they seek to express, cannot in any way be precise. We have to "consult". Hardly a fortnight passes without questions across the Floor of the House about whether some right hon. Friend of mine 834 has "consulted" and whether the conversations amounted to "consultations". It is not a word which encourages one to believe it will lead to a great deal of precision or would enable one to enforce some failure to carry out a duty. If one were relying on this sort of provision in an Act, I cannot conceive of a position in which it would be possible to go to the High Court and say, "The whole of this planning permission is null and void because there was no consultation". Almost anything will do as "consultation" provided that there is some evidence of discussion. So there is the weakness that if there has been some contact with the owner one would have very great difficulty in upsetting a planning decision on its merits.
§ Mr. Mitchison
It is rather like the question that arose about the Prime Minister's "consultation" with Dominion Premiers.
§ Mr. Corfield
I was not actually alluding to that, but I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman has many other matters in mind. However, I am sure he will agree that, whatever my right hon. Friend's "consultations" may or may not have been, they would not have been a suitable matter for the Lord Chief Justice. That is what I am getting at.
Then we have the question of the amenities "in their opinion". Provided that the authority form an opinion or advert to the subject at all, it seems to me that they fulfil the obligations of this Measure. Here again, the powers of enforcement seem to be so weak as to be virtually meaningless.
Then, the authority have to "take into account". That is another phrase, I would think, of great wealth to the lawyers. Where does one stop "taking into account" and where does one start to "take note"? Does one simply, after reading this, say "All right, we decide that way"? Again, this is not something to which one can give very much in the way of teeth. I hope that my hon. Friend will not take that criticism as being destructive. All these words are used in Acts, and all of them, particularly where they appear together, are truly subject to these weaknesses.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
Perhaps I might put forward some suggestions. If "consult" came out and "give notice" went in and "in their opinion" came out 835 and "consider" went in instead of "take into account", then one would have a position which would approach what one wants. One would be giving notice to the owner of every historic building where he was adversely affected by proposed development, and giving him an opportunity to make representations.
§ Mr. Corfield
I was coming to that, but the question of giving notice, so to speak, is a slightly different one. I believe that, basically, there is room for more publicity about planning applications, before decisions on them are taken. As the House knows, we have had a drive on this, and the situation is very much better than it used to be.
I again assure the House that if we put forward this circular—if my hon. Friend agrees that it is a sensible alternative—we shall particularly tie this in with the general need for publicity, making this a specific type of case which we consider ought to be notified not only to owners but to people generally. After all, in an average town which has a stately home, the people as a whole are proud of it and do not want it spoiled any more than the owner does. I think that this would be a better way of going about it.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
Would not my hon. Friend agree that there is room for a great deal more publicity about buildings other than those with which we are now concerned in the Bill? Will he try to make this a much wider provision altogether?
§ Mr. Corfield
I take that point. Most local authorities are developing a much more sensible attitude, and most of them are dealing with this matter very satisfactorily. But there are always laggards.
The hon. Gentleman no doubt has in mind that there is anyhow a statutory provision for advertisement in the local newspaper, though it does not follow that everybody reads it.
§ Mr. Corfield
What I think is necessary is that local authorities should take into account any case which they think may upset the amenities of the area, whether it is a row of nice cottages at Bibury, a stately home, or ancient castle, 836 or whether it is a view over Dartmoor or Stretton Hills. This seems to be the real crux of the matter, and this I am undertaking to do. I think that it would be thoroughly dishonest of me to say to my hon. Friend that this is a Bill that we could really put teeth into in Committee without grave objections absolutely undermining the administration of planning. If he will accept a circular, as an alternative, then we will certainly co-operate with him in every way that we can in covering the points that he has made and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North.
Of course, we do not maintain that this is all perfect. I think that the older one gets the more one realises that all problems have not necessarily a perfect solution. I believe that this is very much so in planning, where the more one goes into it, the more it is borne in upon one that it is largely a question of holding the balance. If one upsets the balance, if one brings it too much in favour of the sort of idea that my hon. Friend has in mind and as a result of that introduces grave administrative problems which bring the whole machine into disrepute, that does everybody harm and not least the people whom we are trying to protect.
I must, therefore, say to the House that I cannot possibly recommend—I believe this is the sense of the House—a third party right of appeal, and if that is taken out, I do not think that there is enough in the rest of the Bill to justify legislation, or which, indeed, is suitable far legislation. I do however grant that something needs to be done. I believe that the best way of doing it is by circular. That I will undertake to do and to discuss it with my hon. Friend.
§ 2.33 p.m.
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdonshire)
I believe that it is customary in this House, when the purpose of a Bill is generally accepted and the need for it is proved, that then, unless there are very strong objections in principle to the method which it proposes, the Bill should be given a Second Reading.
This afternoon we have heard a great deal of talk about the Bill being wrong in principle. I was very surprised to hear that, for reasons which I shall give to the House. I was surprised because it 837 so happens that a considerable part of our town and country planning law is contained in the Electricity Acts. As I shall show in a little detail, but not enough to weary the House, in the Electricity Acts some of the matters which are described as objections in principle to the Bill are matters which, when I was Parliamentary Secretary and with the present Chancellor of the Exchequer piloting the Electricity Act, 1957, we had to have written into the Act under pressure from both sides of both Houses.
The foundation of this is the Electric Lighting Act, 1909, which says in effect that when someone wishes to build a power station he must inform not only the Minister, who in those very early days of planning had to give consent to the building of a power station, but also inform every owner and lessee within 300 yards of the perimeter of the site of the proposed power station.
As a matter of fact, as the years went on and power stations became bigger it seemed to the then Ministry of Fuel and Power and to the electricity developers that it would be a good thing to give notice to a wider field of owners and occupiers, and that was done in practice. That practice was recognised in the Electricity Act, 1957, under which the Minister of Power may prescribe classes of persons who shall be notified of any kind of application either for the building of a power station or for the erection of overhead lines and so on. It is rather interesting that Section 37 of the Electricity Act goes very far in placing upon the electricity boards and the Minister and the Electricity Council the duty, in formulating or considering any proposals relating to the functions of the Generating Board, that these various people shallhaving regard to the desirability of preserving natural beauty, on conserving flora, fauna and geological or physiographical features of special interest, and of protecting buildings and other objects of architectural or historical interest, shall each take into account any effect which the proposals would have on the natural beauty of the countryside or on any flora, fauna, features, buildings or objects.It is most material to the interesting discussion that we have had, the whole of which I have listened to, to bear in mind that each of the owners or occupiers within the are of a power station or over a section of the country over which over- 838 head lines would pass, has the right to make representations to the Minister of Power, who decides the planning matters in these cases.
§ Mr. Corfield
I should remind the House that the reason for this is that the electricity boards are developers and they do not come under planning control. Planning control is exercised by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power who is responsible for the industrial side rather than the amenity side, although, of course, there is an advisory link when there is disagreement. I think that there is a difference here when we get a developer who is in effect the Crown.
§ Mr. Renton
With great respect to my hon. Friend, I did in fact state that here the Minister of Power exercised the planning functions. What my hon. Friend is now saying is that because the developer happens to be the electricity board, the principle which I am discussing of the third party being brought in is somewhat different. I do not see how it can possibly be different.
The Franks Committee said that third party rights should not be made the subject of a right of appeal but the Electricity Act, which was after the Franks Committee, said that third parties would have the right to make representations, as in fact they have been ever since the Act of 1909, although that right was widened regarding the people affected. I think that I may say with great respect to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) and all those who have criticised even Clause 1 of the Bill, that there is a clear misunderstanding in their minds when they say that there is anything wrong in principle. If the Bill in Clause 1 is wrong in principle, so are the Electricity Acts, and I do not believe that they are. Bearing in mind that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) has said that he is willing to strike out Clause 2, I should have thought that the proper and fair thing would be to give this Bill a Second Reading.
As we have heard so much about principle, I hope that the House will bear with me if I talk about it a little more. The principle that ancient buildings should be protected is clearly stated in Sections 30 and 32 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1962. Surely the siting of an 839 ancient building may be such an important part of its charm and interest that one cannot protect the building if the site is allowed to be desecrated. We are asking that the owner shall be allowed to make representations, and surely that is not giving him an overweaning right compared with the right of the developer which is a right to desecrate.
If this be a question of principle, can there be any doubt about what is right in deciding where is the principle? On this question of principle I am talking about public interest in preserving ancient buildings, even those privately owned. It has been written into the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act—and, by the way, large sums of public money are paid out to private owners in fulfilment of that public interest. Is not it ridiculous that public money should be spent in that way, and that we should go to all the trouble of listing and preserving historic monuments, if the whole exercise can be frustrated by shoddy development?
§ Mr. Temple
I do not think that my right hon. and learned Friend would wish to mislead the House, but I understood him to say that public money had been expended on these historic buildings. I think that he should qualify that remark by saying that it has been spent on certain of the buildings. There are 80,000 of them in the country as scheduled, and I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend would not wish to convey the impression that the preservation of a high proportion of those buildings had been assisted by public money.
§ Mr. Renton
No, I never for one moment said so. And if anyone thought I did, I must apologise for not expressing myself clearly. I thought I made it clear that I was referring to public money paid out under the provisions of the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act.
Reference has been made to the question of compensation and that again was raised as a matter of principle. The subject was referred to as though there were a general right to compensation whenever planning permission was refused. But there is no general right of that kind. Normally, no compensation 840 is payable at ail upon refusal of planning permission, and it is never payable in the case of a material change of use which would mean an ordinary case of new development. Broadly speaking, it is paid only when there is a depreciation of the existing value of the land. That point would fall immediately if my hon. Friend is willing to omit Clause 2 from the Bill. Although a lot has been said about it and the matter has been rather over-stressed, I do not think that there is anything in the point about compensation, once Clause 2 is removed from the Bill.
It is rarely that I take upon myself the burden of asking my friends to change their minds about anything. But on this occasion I go so far as to ask some of my hon. Friends, who have said that they do not think the Bill should have a Second Reading—even with the undertaking to remove Clause 2—whether they are right. We must bear in mind that there is a potential danger of our heritage being desecrated and a possibility that sometimes local planning authorities may tend not to pay sufficient regard to these matters.
Some glaring cases were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West, and I was shocked about what was said about Reculver. I remember that as a boy I visited the seaside in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies). I saw Reculver, a most interesting place, with a wonderful site, overlooking the Thames Estuary, surrounded by beautiful fields. My hon. Friend says that he has a photograph of it as it is now, surrounded by hundreds of glistening caravans, and there is a sewage farm and so on. If that sort of thing can happen, surely this Bill should be given a Second Reading in order that we may do something to prevent it in future. I should have thought that this was so plain that there was no need to emphasise it.
With respect to my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford, my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Temple) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth), who have given great thought to this matter, I think that they may well have overlooked some factors which may have affected their judgment before they addressed the House. We 841 should bear in mind that no harm can come from giving this Bill a Second Reading and that it might provide an opportunity for the Government to have second thoughts. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West has done such a great service to the community and the things for which so many of us