§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Sir Keith Joseph)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The House will be aware that since the war there has been a considerable growth of offices in Central London. In fact, whereas before the war there were about 87 million square feet of office space in Central London of which 9½ million square feet were lost by war damage, the war damage loss has been much more than replaced in the years since the war. Of course, it was necessary to make good the loss by war damage because the offices that serve the commerce, insurance and banking of this country have in many cases to be in reach of, or in, London and they serve not only London but the national prosperity. The new offices have been provided mainly by new construction, although to some extent by change of user, on a scale which far exceeded the war damage loss and by 1962 there was in Central London one-third more office space than in 1939.
I should perhaps interpolate here that as the community grows more prosperous and its productive processes grow more sophisticated there is a natural, and, on the whole, desirable, trend for there to be less need of workers on the factory floor and more need of them in the processes of distribution and of office work and of services; but this does not mean, of course, that all that office work has to be done in the same place. As a result of this new building and change of use, office employment in Central London has been steadily rising to the tune of about 150,000 new jobs during the last ten years.
If nothing were done about it, this trend could be expected to continue for at least some years. In the middle of last year 18 million square feet of office floor space was either under construction, or had received planning permission and fresh applications are coming along all the time.
1185 I scarcely need to emphasise to the House the implications for housing and transport of this growth of employment in a small central area. Finding land for housing within London or even within reach of London without violating the green belt is difficult enough, even for the amount of employment already there. When there is extra employment the task becomes harder, imposing strains not only upon land but upon the transport which brings people in to work from the periphery outside London and also on the transport in the centre of London which distributes people once they have arrived at the railway termini. Nor do I think that there can be any doubt that the proper target for any attempt to reduce the rate of increase of jobs in Central London must be in offices rather than in other forms of employment.
Office work takes up well over half the total of jobs in the central area. No other single employment produces this figure. For example, factories in Central London account for 12 per cent., communications for 7 per cent. and shops, despite the obviousness of their omnipresence, account for only 4 per cent. of the employment in Central London. Office work gives the highest employment density of all land uses. It is increasing at a much faster rate than any other use in Central London and much office work, unlike many other forms of central area employment, can be carried out elsewhere at lower cost, without real loss of efficiency, and in very much pleasanter conditions.
The Government have made it clear, particularly in the White Paper, London—Employment: Housing: Land, issued a couple of weeks ago, that they do not intend to stop all further office growth in Central London. What they intend to do is to reduce the rate of growth and to get the growth as a whole better distributed outside as well as inside London. The Bill we are debating is one—and only one—of a balanced series of measures which the Government are taking.
The purpose of the Bill is to make planning control more effective. Planning permission is needed to redevelop or to add to the size of office building. The local planning authority may refuse permission, but if it does so it faces in some cases a risk of paying heavy compensation, 1186 and in others the certainty of doing so. The root of the trouble lies in the Third Schedule to the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, now consolidated in the Town and Country Planning Act, 1962. This Schedule settled what should be regarded for valuation and compensation purposes as falling within the "existing use rights" of land.
Development included in the Third Schedule could be carried out without paying development charge and the possibility of such development was ignored in assessing claims against the £300 million fund. But the inclusion of a particular kind of development in the Third Schedule did not remove the obligation to obtain planning permission.
These existing use rights include certain margins of tolerance. They gave owners of property a tittle elbow room within the system and made it unnecessary to collect development charge for trivial operations or to assess large numbers of claims on the £300 million fund based on the possibility of minor changes. Examples of these tolerances are the notional right to add 10 per cent. to the cubic capacity of a building where a site is redeveloped and to add 10 per cent. to the cubic capacity of a standing building. These two provisions have caused trouble in different ways.
The first with which I shall deal is in rebuilding. The intention of the.original legislation, which was passed in the times of Socialist Government, was to provide a 10 per cent. tolerance, but it was expressed in terms of cubic capacity, not floor space. When it comes to redeveloping an office block or a site with office user rights, it is this reference to cubic capacity which enables the developer to drive a coach and horses through the original intention. With modern building methods, a 10 per cent. increase in the cube can be turned into a 40 per cent. increase in the floor space, and it is floor space that determines employment potential. The present law makes it difficult to see what would happen if the local planning authority tried to prevent an increase of this order.
There is no direct claim to compensation if development within Part I of the Third Schedule is refused, but the owner may, perhaps after clearing his site of buildings, serve a purchase notice, which, 1187 if confirmed, will require the local authority to acquire his land at a price which assumes that he would be allowed to redevelop to 110 per cent. of the cube.
Many complications spring from the service of a purchase notice. The essential point is that the L.C.C., the planning authority concerned with the Central London problem, has felt that it stood in serious risk of paying heavy compensation in certain cases and has consequently felt unable to give decisions which would prevent this massive floor space increase on redevelopment.
The Bill puts this situation right by making it clear that the planning authority will not run the risk of compensation where it restricts the increase in office floor space to 10 per cent. where an office site is redeveloped. The notional right to increase the cubic capacity by 10 per cent. remains, but any floor space exceeding 110 per cent. of that in the original building will have to be put to a use approved by the local planning authority. So much for the redevelopment of buildings.
I turn to the enlargement of existing buildings. The right to add 10 per cent. to the cube of a standing building falls within Part II of the Third Schedule. If permission is refused, there is a direct right to claim compensation. This right originally attached to buildings erected before the new planning system came into effect in 1948 but was extended by the Town and Country Planning Act, 1954, to new buildings also. As a consequence, a developer who has negotiated a detailed planning permission, perhaps for a high building, with a local planning authority and who perhaps has had a decision on appeal from the Minister, can, as soon as the building has been put up, claim the right to add 10 per cent. to its bulk or receive compensation. This makes nonsense of planning control.
The Bill accordingly removes this right for buildings erected after the appointed day for the 1947 Act—that is to say, for buildings the size of which has been settled under the new planning code. The right to add 10 per cent, to the cube of pre-1948 buildings is retained, but this is made subject to the limitation that the local planning authority may, without compensation, limit its increase in floor space devoted to a particular use. None 1188 of these changes affects development for which permission has already been granted.
These are the main provisions of the Bill. Minor consequential effects, some of which are complicated, are probably best dealt with in Committee. However, questions may be asked about the effect of the Bill on compulsory purchase values. Under Section 15 (3) of the Land Compensation Act, 1961, it is laid down that, where land is being acquired on compulsory terms, one of the assumptions for valuation is that permission would be granted for any Third Schedule development. Since the effect of the Bill is to limit the extent of such development, the result will be to reduce the compensation payable if, and only if, this particular assumption is the crucial one for the valuation and the changes made to the Third Schedule are relevant to the land in question.
In the great majority of cases, the Bill will have no effect on compulsory purchase values. In many cases, the value of the property will be set at a higher figure because of a development plan allocation, a planning permission, or a certificate of appropriate alternative development. In others, the Third Schedule changes will be quite irrelevant—for instance, in the case of undeveloped land. Obviously, there would be a difference if a public authority were to acquire compulsorily an office block in Central London which is ripe for redevelopment.
Although the Bill has as its object the tackling of the rate of growth of offices in Central London, it is of general application and extends to the whole of the United Kingdom. This is because the Third Schedule is a king-pin of the planning code, and it would be very cumbersome to have different bases of valuation for different types of property and for property falling on different sides of a boundary line. Moreover, trouble might arise anywhere through abuse of the provision which allows additions to be made to existing buildings under threat of compensation.
It is, nevertheless, the case that the office problem is primarily a London problem. In areas where the congestion associated with the Metropolis is not present, developers may expect to find 1189 planning authorities very willing to co-operate in finding a mutually acceptable scale of office development. My hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) asked about this question earlier.
Scottish law, though not consolidated, runs parallel to the English legislation, except in one respect, which the Bill now brings into line, and corresponding changes are made.
The general effect of the Bill financially will be to reduce local authority expenditure of a kind which may attract grant, but Clause 3 is necessary to cover the theoretical possibility that there may be an increase in rate-deficiency grant—Exchequer equalisation grant in Scotland—because of an increase in the amount of compensation payable on revocation orders.
The main provisions of the Bill are deemed to operate from the date of introduction, 25th February. This is necessary to forestall possible attempts to evade its effect while it is going through Parliament.
It may be argued that the Bill is a purely restrictive Measure which will not solve the problem of office growth. However, the Bill is only one part of a balanced policy which consists of reducing the demand in the centre by dispersal of Government offices and by encouraging movement of office staff, if not of whole offices, outside Central London, preferably outside London as a whole. Another part of the same policy is to encourage the creation and expansion of attractive office centres away from the heart of London, where facilities for housing and transport and for living a reasonable life are much more readily available, and to this end discussions with local planning authorities will start at once. The Bill therefore takes its part in the overall policy I have indicated by giving local planning authorities the ability to prevent undue office growth in the wrong places.
It is clearly understood by the Government that a policy of restriction by itself is useless, impracticable and contrary to our economic interests as a nation. But by holding back over-development of the centre and encouraging the provision of offices in the right places outside, legitimate commercial needs will be met.
1190 A good deal of routine work will, the Government hope, be transferred to places where it can be done as well, and more cheaply, and room will be left for those whose work requires them to be at the heart of things. It is with the intention of securing that this happens that the Government have introduced the Bill; are opening discussions with local planning authorities outside London; are reviewing the location of Government offices; and are just about to set up the Location of Offices Bureau.
As a result of this policy, of which the Bill is a vital part, staff will enjoy better working conditions; and, although very difficult problems of housing and transport will remain to be solved, they will be easier to manage than if the Government had failed to act.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
We on this side of the House shall be glad to see the Bill passed into law, though we cannot regard it as meriting more than one or one and a half cheers as a solution to the whole problem with which it is concerned. We see the Government timidly dipping their toe into the cold bath of planning into which they will have to immerse themselves if the basic problem is ever to be solved.
I will begin by referring to the legal complexities which the mere text of the Bill seeks to unravel. As I understand the matter, the present position is that development is not regarded in law as new development if, when a building is rebuilt or enlarged, its cubic content is not increased by more than 10 per cent. If it fulfils that condition it is not regarded in law as new development.
The Minister referred to that as "a notional right" to increase the cubic content by 10 per cent. but I am not quite clear what is meant by "notional" in that context—any more than I am clear what it means in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the Bill, for I would have thought that the right to increase one's building by 10 per cent. in cubic content under the present law was a perfectly clear legal right and I do not see what is added to common sense by calling it a notional right. Similarly, let us consider the lesser right given in the Bill. I cannot see what is meant by referring to it as a notional right or 1191 condition. I mention this point in case there is some hidden meaning in the word which has escaped me, but I do not think that there is.
Difficulties arise from the fact that when a developer exercised this right to increase the cubic content of the building by 10 per cent. in the process of rebuilding, enlargement or alteration, he could increase the number of different floors in the building so that the 10 per cent. increase in cubic content could mean as much as a 40 per cent. increase in floor space and a corresponding increase in the number of employees. All that, therefore, would be added to this problem of the growth of office jobs in Central London, which is what the whole argument is concerned with.
It was difficult for the planning authority—in this case, the London County Council—to deal with the matter because if it refused permission it was liable either to have to pay compensation, or to be faced with certain other financial embarrassments. That planning authority has found through experience certain ways of dealing with this problem—which I will touch on later—but it was always in some difficulty in certain circumstances. Its power to prevent the growth of office employment in Central London was always somewhat hampered while the Third Schedule was part of the law. I appreciate that it was sensible to make the Third Schedule a part of the law in 1947 when there was a great deal of war damage and a lot of rebuilding to be done and when it would have been wrong to have restricted that process.
We are now in a totally different situation and the present position has been developing over the past sixteen years. If I understand the Bill aright—and I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong—the alteration it makes in the law is this. Regarding buildings erected since 1948—since the appointed day of the 1947 Act—there will be no right to increase the cubic content for either enlargement or rebuilding; certainly not as I read the Bill for enlargement, although I am not quite clear on the question of rebuilding—that is, whether or not if one rebuilds a post-1948 building one can enlarge the cubic content by 10 per cent.
1192 I do not think that the Minister made that clear in his speech and, for his benefit, the point I am raising is this. If one rebuilds a post-1948 building does one have even the qualified right under the Bill or no right at all to increase the cubic content by 10 per cent.? I know that if one enlarges such a building one has no right at all, but I am not clear on the other point and I do not think that even the Minister is.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I think that one has a right to the unused balance, but is the hon. Member talking about the law as it stands now or as it will be under the Bill? Under the Bill the answer is "No", but under the law as it is now one has a right to the unused balance. I hope that the hon. Member will agree that this is more a Committee point.
§ Mr. Stewart
I want to know just what will be the position if we pass the Bill. If one is rebuilding and not enlarging a post-1948 building, has one any right to increase its cubic content? If one enlarges a building one certainly does not, but if one rebuilds one may or may not, and this is the point on which I would like the Minister's help.
§ Sir K. Joseph
On rebuilding one has a right to a 10 per cent. increase on the cube, subject to not extending without permission by more than 10 per cent. the existing floor space.
§ Mr. Stewart
Now we have it clear. On enlargement of a post-1948 building one has no right, while on rebuilding of a post-1948 building one has the qualified right conferred by the Bill; and the nature of the qualified right is that one can still increase the cubic content by 10 per cent, provided that one does not increase the amount of floor space devoted to each particular use in the building by more than 10 per cent. If we have succeeded in translating, so to speak, the Bill thus far, I now want to make two important criticisms of the Measure.
First, I doubt whether it is wise to preserve a right to increase 10 per cent. of the cubic content. If one does that and successively new buildings go up with this increased cubic content—which will usually mean increased height—one will get daylighting problems and, in some cases, an encircling of parks and open spaces and a sort of wall of bulky buildings. Secondly, one must consider the 1193 extra cubic space. What will it be used for?
At present, we have a building of a certain cubic content with a certain floor space divided among certain uses. One is then allowed, under the Bill, to rebuild so that is has 10 per cent. more cubic content. One cannot, however, increase the amount of floor space allocated to any use in the new building by more that 10 per cent. If one has used one's right to increase the cubic content by 10 per cent., and then increases all the floor space by 10 per cent., what will be the result? I understand that the planning authority can say "Yes" or "No" to what one proposes to do and it is here that legal difficulties may arise.
Can the planning authority prevent one from using that extra space for storage purposes; storing, perhaps, merchandise which might otherwise be on display? If one does that one would have more room on the other floors in which to place employees and thus our real problem is to prevent the excessive growth of this. What other uses might be made of this additional space?
Mr. F. J. Ballenger (Bassetlaw)
Perhaps for garages?
§ Mr. Stewart
That would not be objectionable, because it would not give rise to any real difficulties in regard to the matter under discussion and, in any case, the more garage space we can get in London without damaging other interests, the better, so that suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) should be kept in mind. The right hon. Gentleman should look carefully at the law to see that the existence of this extra space does not give rise to a multiplication of employees.
Another difficulty is this. Suppose that under the Bill, when it becomes law, one rebuilds one's building with an increased 10 per cent. cubic content and one does not increase the floor space by more than 10 per cent. What is to prevent one from later altering the building inside and increasing the floor space, because I understand that for internal works one does not require planning consent? One might, when one first carries through the job, have to comply with the regulations—that the floor space should not be increased by 1194 more than 10 per cent.—but for how long can that position be legally held? These are matters which we will need to look at in detail before we will be satisfied that the permission to increase the cubic content by 10 per cent. is a desirable provision in the law.
I now question whether it is desirable to give even a 10 per cent. increase in the floor space that is available. I question this for two reasons. I mentioned earlier that the London County Council had found some way of mitigating its difficulties under the present law. I am informed that in recent times it has not been at all uncommon for the L.C.C., when faced with an application for rebuilding or enlargement, to negotiate successfully with the owner to such effect that he agrees to put up a new building in which the floor space is not increased. I believe that one of the levers with which that result can be obtained is that if the owner will not agree to do that, then, theoretically at least, the L.C.C. can stick out and refuse consent.
The owner might then be put to the expedient of, first of all, demolishing the building so that there is no beneficial use to him and then apply with the threat of getting compensation. But rather than put himself to that trouble he agrees in the first place to rebuild or enlarge in a way that does not increase the floor space at all. Now, under the Bill, with a clear right to increase the floor space, the result may be in some cases that actually more floor space will come into existence as a consequence of this Measure. I therefore question whether it is desirable to allow this 10 per cent. increase of floor space at all.
I have another reason for questioning it. We know that allowing a 10 per cent. increase in cubic content can mean a 40 per cent, increase in floor space, but we now discover that a 10 per cent. increase in floor space can mean a 20 per cent. increase in numbers employed. A skilful architect faced with the opportunity of increasing floor space by 10 per cent. by a different layout of the offices and a bigger use of communal rooms, instead of small separate rooms, can increase the number of persons who can be employed by more than 10 per cent., and perhaps by as much as 20 per cent.
This, if it is not driving a coach and horses through the law in the way the 1195 Minister said was done at present, is at least getting a bicycle or a motor-cycle through it. And all the time all that we are concerned with is to prevent an undue increase in the number of workers in Central London. I am, therefore, very doubtful whether it is desirable to permit the tolerance either in cubic content or in floor space. I should have preferred to see a Bill which did away with the tolerance allowed in the Third Schedule of the 1947 Act.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
Would the hon. Member not agree with another matter to which he has not referred? The modern layout and the need to get rid of these very tall rooms or to reduce their height inevitably, in modern architecture, will provide greater floor space in redevelopment and will achieve the objects the hon. Member wants. At the same time, surely, we do not want to prevent improved designs and standards which will naturally flow from rebuilding in modern design.
§ Mr. Stewart
Granted that we want to see a building rebuilt in modern design, that means that if we allow people to rebuild with no increase in floor space they can still rebuild in modern design to their own advantage but with only a limited increase in the number of employees. If we allow them to rebuild with a 10 per cent. increase in floor space to begin with, and then add the effects of modern design to that, we may have a 20 per cent. increase in the number of employees. This is what we want to watch. I say that we can have a modern and more satisfactory building without permitting this 10 per cent. increase in floor space.
I have tried to speak of the contents of the Bill as I understand them and of a major criticism I have of the Bill. I want now to look at the effect of the Bill on office space and on employment in the next twenty years. I shall follow the Minister's cue and relate the argument, in the main, to London. I agree that the Bill covers the whole of Great Britain, but we are concerned chiefly with the metropolitan problem.
In round figures there are at the moment 115 million square feet of office space in London. We may expect over the next twenty years, as a result of planning consents already given and of related 1196 matters, another 20 million square feet to be added to that, whether or not the Bill is passed. If we then ask what further addition there will be as a result of rebuilding or extensions, first, under the present law and, secondly, if the Bill is passed, I believe that the answers are something like this. Under the present law we should have in the next twenty years as a result of rebuilding and extension a further 20 million square feet of office space in London.
Under the Bill, even with the most optimistic expectation of what it will do, we shall have an extra 5 million square feet. The effect of the Bill, therefore, in twenty years' time will be roughly that instead of 150 million square feet of office space in Central London there will be about 135 million square feet. It is a reduction twenty years from now of about 10 per cent. of the office space.
Even so, the Bill by itself, if it stands as it is now and is not altered in the way I suggested earlier, will be responsible for a further 5 million square feet of office floor space in London. That may well mean 50,000 more office employees. And when we speak of employees we have to think of the effect of that on our transport system. Over the last ten years the number of commuters, of people travelling from the outer parts of London to the centre during working days, between seven o'clock and ten o'clock in the morning, has been going up by about 15,000 every year. Even with the Bill passed, that rate of increase is likely to go on and probably to be exceeded
We have here, therefore, quite a serious problem even if the Bill is passed. It seems to me that when we discuss this problem of commuters it is brought home to us that it is quite wrong to suppose that arguments about planning, arguments in which we have to think in millions of square feet and in millions of people, and arguments which are full of statistics are arguments which are inhuman in their contents. What we are discussing is the real misery imposed on large numbers of people in having to do a normal day's work and having hours added to their day in acute discomfort at each end in getting to and from work. This problem of untold human discomfort and vexation is only remediable if we are prepared to think 1197 in planning terms and to weigh arguments which involve millions of people and millions of square feet of office space.
§ Sir K. Joseph
The hon. Gentleman is being most thorough and cogent about the Bill, but he will remember that it is only part of the policy. Although he is right in his analysis of the probable effect over twenty years of the Bill taken by itself, the Government intend to reduce the demand in Central London by other means as well. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will understand that the Bill is not the whole of the Government's policy, although it is an essential part of it.
§ Mr. Stewart
I was coining to that point later. What worries me is that the Bill is the only real thing in the policy. The rest comprises persuasion, hopes, the setting up of studies and the holding of inquiries. Here in the Bill we have an ounce of fact, and what is disappointing is that it is not much more than an ounce.
I have argued that on an optimistic view the Bill may cause the total amount of office space in London to be 15 million square feet less than it otherwise would be in twenty years from now, but one thing that could wreck all that would be for the Government to consent to some of the ideas now being considered by British Railways. If British railways' proposals for office building on their land are allowed to go ahead, the whole of that gain of 15 million square feet can be swept away. That is a very acute and immediate danger. I do not, of course, say that there are not parts of the country—there may well be many parts—in which it would be thoroughly sensible for the railways to have offices built on their land—it would meet a need for offices and it would help finance the railways—but, quite certainly, London is not one of those places.
If there is to be building on railway land in London it should be the building of dwellings, not of office buildings; it should be residential. It would be quite absurd to wreck the whole purpose of the Bill and drive a great wedge into the Government's claim of a coherent policy on office employment in Central London merely to reduce the railway deficit by £1 million. That would also be an absurd form of accounting, because the long- 1198 term effects of allowing the multiplication of office development in Central London is to cost individuals far more than will be saved to railway finances.
Judging from reports we have seen in the newspapers, it may come to some kind of conflict in this matter between the railways and the London County Council as planning authority. I hope that the Minister will not be a party to exercising any kind of pressure on the planning authority to consent to these deplorable proposals. Indeed, he should make it quite clear that the whole weight of his influence is the other way round.
I recently asked the Minister whether, under the present law, the railways could be prevented from going ahead with this proposal. He replied that they could, and that there was no need for fresh legislation. He has the powers; I hope that he will use them, and make quite sure that we do not get an enormous addition to the amount of office accommodation in Central London as a result of railway policy. Do not let him be led away by any siren suggestion from the railways that if they are allowed to run up a great deal of office accommodation they will, in return, let out a bit of land on which to build houses. If the railways have land available for that purpose it should, in any case, be let out for that purpose. There should be no bargain about it.
I can now refer to some of the surrounding circumstances of the Bill. Fortunately, as we are on Second Reading, we can refer not only to what is in the Bill, but to the general circumstances surrounding it. I am glad of that, because by the time it has been dealt with in Committee and has come to its Third Reading I have no doubt that, though it will be very necessary, it will not be very interesting to restrict ourselves to exactly what is in the Bill.
We come now to what the Minister referred to in a recent interjection—the other items of policy that the Government have, of which this Bill is simply part. Much of that policy, as far as it affects London, has been outlined in the White Paper, London—Employment: Housing: Land. There are reasons for some disquiet about that. For instance, page 6 of the White Paper contains the Government's views about better distribution of offices. Paragraph 26 envisages 1199 more offices at such places as Croydon, Watford, Surbiton and Ilford, which, they feel, would be filled, not by people who were commuting into Central London but by people who were working in those places.
Has the Minister any certainty at all that that will happen? Has he studied what is happening with regard to new office accommodation in areas such as those? I think that he will find that some of that accommodation is being occupied, not by firms which, as the White Paper says, must remain within a short distance of Central London but by firms that have actually moved southwards from other parts of the kingdom; and that, far from providing relief from Central London, these are, again, merely part of the magnet drawing office accommodation from other parts of the country.
One is the more disquieted by that when one looks at some of the things the Government themselves have been doing. Here we have the Government saying in the White Paper that it would be an excellent thing to have offices at such places as Croydon, Watford, Surbiton and Ilford that will be filled by people living near, and not commuting, but what are the Government themselves doing meanwhile? They are taking enormously expensive leases of offices bang in the centre of London and, in some cases, filling them with Government employees who were previously working at Pinner. That is moving in exactly the opposite direction from what paragraph 26 of the White Paper envisages.
We have never had in the House, although the subject has been raised often, any justification for the policy pursued in regard to State House, Holborn. Here, a great block of office buildings was put up, apparently, to begin with, with precious few customers for it, and then the Government came to the rescue of those who were putting it up and took a lease of the building, thus not only increasing the number of Central London employees but giving future creators of new office blocks the comfortable feeling that they can run the stuff up and that, if they cannot find anyone else to take it off their hands, sooner or later the Government will do so—exactly the opposite impression 1200 from that which the Government should have created.
What is really needed? In the Bill, strike out the tolerances altogether. Do not allow the increase either in the cubic content or the floor space. Elsewhere than in the Bill—in the surrounding parts of policy—the Government should proceed on certain lines. I shall now make one or two suggestions, not all of which I should expect the Government to adopt—to some extent they are alternative to each other—but all of which I think the Government should look at.
The Government should consider whether they should not have a firm limit on the total of new office building to be allowed in London for some considerable period into the future, and, broadly speaking, they should not do much more than allow the replacement of what we already have. It is very good to replace an out-of-date office, unattractive to work in, by one of modern design, but we must find a way of allowing that to be done in London without all the time increasing the total number of office workers. There is nothing in the Government's present policy to produce that result.
Next, the Government might consider whether they ought to imitate the action of the French Government in zoning certain parts of Paris, with levies that have to be paid to the Government by those who insist on putting up buildings of a certain kind in some of those zones; that is to say, a scheme of financial incentives and disincentives to prevent the over-concentration of building in areas where one does not want too much of it. The Government might also look at the possibility of a payroll tax that would not operate equally over the country as a whole, but so designed as to vary from one area to another, again to prevent the over-concentration of employment in certain areas. In Greater London, instead of thinking in terms, as the White Paper does, of allocations for new office use in places like Croydon, Watford, Surbiton or Ilford, they should look further out and ensure that, where new allocations are made, they are made right the other side of the green belt, and free of the London conurbation altogether.
The Minister might also look at the state in which his unhappy London Government Bill is at present, because if we are to get all this right there must be 1201 firm planning control in Central London and that, I think, under the set-up of the new Bill, means control by the Greater London Council. In the present state of the London Government Bill it really is not clear what will be the comparative powers of the Greater London Council and of the separate boroughs.
I think that I have given the Minister enough to go on with and in case, in view of what I have said, he may have forgotten it, I say again that we on this side of the House would like to see this Bill passed into law.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Sir Richard Nugent (Guildford)
I should like to say a word of welcome for my right hon. Friend's Bill. May I say of the speech of the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) that I was much interested in the analysis in the earlier part of it and find myself in agreement with the hon. Gentleman in wondering why my right hon. Friend did not, so to speak, go the whole hog and remove the whole of the 10 per cent. tolerance. I do not think that I need say more about the hon. Gentleman's interesting speech. The House, I am sure, enjoyed it.
I should like to say something on the surrounding circumstances in my opening remarks, because I shall say it from the point of view of a recently formed body which is struggling with the planning problems of the London region, namely, the Standing Planning Conference for the London region, which was formed at the end of last year.
The London County Council have come together with the surrounding County Councils of Middlesex, Surrey, Kent, Essex, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire—I hope that I have not forgotten any of them—and the county boroughs within this area to form this standing conference on planning to try to get a common approach to their development plans. This is a most enterprising and admirable development which, I am sure, my right hon. Friend will welcome. I take no credit for it myself, only that I was asked to be chairman of the body. The good will and impetus that these county councils have behind them in what they have done augers well, I think, for the future of what they might do. I need hardly say that these new powers, which my right hon. Friend is asking the House 1202 to give in the Bill, will give a measure of control over office development and will be very welcome indeed to this conference of planning authorities in the job which they are trying to do.
I should say that they are setting about their work by setting up panels of planning officers and clerks to study the facts so that they may get a common understanding of these interlocking problems which affect London in the centre and all the surrounding counties inevitably with the great commuting problems to which the hon. Member for Fulham referred. I expect that these factual studies will, when they are finally completed, throw up a picture on which the county councils will, I hope, reach agreed conclusions. This will be a most valuable basis for their development plans, harmonising together, to reach planning sense in the London region, which quite evidently we have not reached up-to-date, and, I am sure that it will be a great help to my right hon. Friend in the planning that he has for the South-Eastern region.
As has been implied by previous speeches, the key to the whole of the planning problem of the London region is employment—jobs. It is as simple as that. The Barlow Committee recognises this in its Report in 1940 which led to the Location of Industry Act, which gave effective control of industry but not of offices. The result has been, as my right hon. Friend said, particularly in the postwar years, the huge uncontrolled growth of offices in the London region and particularly in Central London.
My figures are about the same as my right hon. Friend's. In the London region itself, places of employment in offices from 1951 to 1961 increased from 1.32 million to 1.62 million-300,000 jobs and two-thirds of these in the London County Council's district. All the signs seen in the last two years indicate that the increase is surging forward and becoming even more rapid. Nothing could more completely justify the action my right hon. Friend is taking in this Bill. Of course, this uncontrolled increase in jobs plays complete havoc with the development plans of all the local authorities concerned—housing, education, transport, the whole lot. It just makes no sense at all.
1203 To repeat what I said at the beginning of my speech, I rather wondered why my right hon. Friend had not gone the whole hog and removed the 10 per cent. tolerance altogether, even with the qualification of limiting it to floor space. To do so does not mean that new development cannot have an increase in space; it simply means that it must Le subject to the best judgment of the planning authority. I would have thought that where the planning situation is already so tight it might well have been wise for my right hon. Friend to consider going that extra step. Of course, even with these powers the planning authority has no right to stop the rebuilding of an office building even if it thinks that it should not be rebuilt there. It will still have to be rebuilt there, and the authority has no power to steer it somewhere else if it thinks that that would be an improvement.
There is compensation, but the compensation is very heavy. I make the point advisedly. I do not suggest that my right hon. Friend should go as far as that, but I make the point that the planning authority is still left with a formidable problem to try to achieve the right balance in this difficult matter. What I am sure my right hon. Friend will do is to watch this matter very closely as it develops over the coming years to make sure that even with the Bill the planning authority will have the necessary degree of control. London's importance, both nationally and internationally, is based on its commerce, finance and banking, and all these things need offices. To restrict that natural growth of London's commercial and financial life would be eventually to kill its tremendous international importance.
I was very glad to hear my right hon. Friend make the remarks he did about his intentions to avoid such restrictions. Equally, if this office development is to continue unabated at the present rate it will mean running into the danger of killing London by congestion, because it will be strangled. This is the dilemma. My right hon. Friend is to be congratulated on taking this step forward to try to deal with it. I am very glad to hear my right hon. Friend's intentions and I am sure that whoever has these powers they will be used wisely and not restric- 1204 tively, wisely to get the right balance so that the life of this great City may continue to prosper.
In this context, I add this comment about my right hon. Friend's other intention about the Location of Offices Bureau. As the hon. Member for Fulham rightly said, this can be no more than a piece of machinery for persuasion. But, of course, it can be very effective, especially over a period of time, in bringing about the right climate of opinion to persuade people to go with their offices outside Central London, not only, as the hon. Member for Fulham said, this side of the green belt but beyond the green belt where, undoubtedly, some of them could go.
I wait with interest to see how my right hon. Friend develops his plan for the bureau and how he will proceed with it. It is, I think, a very important part of his whole strategy in trying to achieve the right balance of office building in London, with a healthy life for the Londoner, not imposing strains upon the commuter yet not restricting the essential commercial life of the City. I hope that my right hon. Friend will go forward with this plan soon. I am quite sure that the local authorities in the London Regional Planning Council will be only too happy to co-operate in his plans in this direction. I am sure that the extra power he promises to give them will be a valuable asset in the difficult job that they are setting out to do.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
I can echo practically everything said by the right hon. Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) and by the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart). It is worthy of note that the three parties are unanimous in their attitude to the Bill. That attitude could be summed up as one of qualified and rather tepid approval.
The hon. Member for Fulham said that he would have preferred the compensation provisions to be removed from the Bill altogether. Here I quote from a report issued last year by the Liberal Party's Housing Committee. Speaking of the Third Schedule to the 1947 Act, we said:This Schedule should be amended in such a way as to remove liability for compensation when permission is refused for any increase in the existing floorspace of offices.1205 I emphasise that the reference is to the existing floor space of offices, not to the cubic capacity of offices. My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) said exactly the same in the House on 4th February this year. I quote that report only because some hon. Members opposite think that the Liberal Party has no policy. It may do them good to be reminded that in most matters we anticipate them.
It has been said that, even if there were no growth in the floor space of offices, there could still be some growth in office employment in Central London. The hon. Member for Fulham calculates that, with the provisions in the Bill, 5 million sq. ft. will be added to the floor space of offices in Central London over the next twenty years as a result of alterations and rebuilding, whereas, without the Bill, there would have been another 20 million sq. ft.
This does not necessarily give us the correct picture as regards the growth of employment. We cannot say that rebuilding and alterations will result in one quarter of the increase in employment which would have come if we had not had the Bill. This is why, although the figures seem to indicate such a drastic reduction in the increase of floor space which will take place over the next twenty years, I still think that we ought to take wider powers to curb the increase and we should have removed altogether from the local authorities the liability to compensation.
Without teeth, the Location of Offices Bureau will be quite useless. I do not understand the Government's argument for refusing to subject office development to the same procedures as operate at present in respect of industrial development. The argument in paragraph 18 of the White Paper can be summed up in this way: one cannot apply the same procedures to offices because one does not know who will be the ultimate occupier. The developer will put up offices "on spec" and he will subsequently let them to tenants. The person who undertakes industrial development, on the other hand, knows who will ultimately occupy the building. In many cases, of course, he will himself be the occupier.
Is it not logical to assume that, if we took the step of subjecting office develop- 1206 ment to the I.D.C. procedure, would-be developers would be forced into producing the names of their prospective tenants so that the Board of Trade could then see whether the development was justified or not? If this made it more difficult for people to put up extra office space, it would be all to the good.
The hon. Member for Fulham spoke of the impact of the growth of office employment in Central London on the transport services. This is a closely relevant point. In paragraph 15 of the White Paper we read:Even allowing for all the improvements that have taken place or are now planned, the capacity which can be provided on the existing railway lines, short of major and extremely expensive new capital works, will be exhausted in a few years if the present rate of increase in employment in Central London continues.That is a masterly understatement, and I wish that the writer could be forced to travel on the 8.36 a.m. from Orpington to Cannon Street every day for a week. We are having to put up with the effect of increased employment in Central London, which the Bill will not halt but merely stem, and we are told in the White Paper, by implication, that the transport facilities available to us are still satisfactory for the next few years. This is simply not true.
In an intervention during the speech of the hon. Member for Fulham, the Minister hinted that there were other measures which he was prepared to take to curb the growth of office development. At least, that is what I understood him to say. It would be a great advantage if we could have an idea of what is in his mind. It is wrong to look at the Bill just in isolation.
In conclusion, I say, as did the hon. Member for Fulham, that, although I am not satisfied that the provisions of the Bill go far enough, I still give it a limited welcome.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Sir Colin Thornton-Kemsley (North Angus and Mearns)
I am glad that I have been able to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, because I was disappointed to be prevented by indisposition from being in my place a fortnight ago when the House debated the subject of town and country planning on my right hon. Friend's presentation of the White Paper.
1207 With the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart), I am one of the few Members now—unfortunately, increasingly few—who for weeks and weeks and months and months sat in the Standing Committee on the Town and Country Planning Bill of 1947. I looked up the proceedings on that Bill the other day. My right hon. Friend the Member for Dorking (Sir G. Touche) was the Chairman of the Committee. In addition to the hon. Member for Fulham, the membership of the Committee included my right hon. Friend the Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Hare), who is now Minister of Labour, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith), who was Minister of Health, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth), who was formerly Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. Those in another place who were present were the present Lord Chancellor, the late lamented Speaker and the noble Lords, Lord Silkin, who was the Minister in charge of the Bill, Lord Conesford and Lord Molson.
As the hon. Member for Fulham has reminded us, the background at that time was one of ageing buildings much in need of reconstruction and modernisation. The purpose of the Third Schedule of the 1947 Act was to allow owners a margin for improvement without having to pay a development charge. In Committee, everyone recognised—and Member after Member on both sides spoke about this—that the provisions in the Bill would result, as the Minister said, in the erection of better, more efficient and more valuable buildings. Naturally, we on this side, who were then in opposition, urged that the 10 per cent. tolerance was not enough.
We pointed out that when a man sets out to modernise a building the requirements of health, sanitation and amenity make it desirable in many instances that more than one-tenth should be added. At the same time, we were by no means convinced that cubic content was the right basis to adopt. I was interested to see that the present Lord Chancellor, who was then the Member for Daventry, moved an Amendment which would have had the effect of substituting "lettable 1208 floor space" for "cubic capacity". With the benefit of hindsight, we can see what advantages this change would have had if it had been accepted.
In supporting the Bill, I want to say two things which may not be entirely palatable to my right hon. Friend. First, I do not think that anything is to be gained by pretending that we are not in this legislation withdrawing what is, in effect, a proprietary right, which, in certain cases, could be of considerable monetary value to property owners. I think that that is absolutely undeniable, and I see no point in brushing that fact aside.
Secondly, it is idle to deny that the effect of this legislation will not be to push office rentals in the central area of London to still higher levels. I have seen it reported in the Press that my right hon. Friend the Minister claimed at a Press conference on the Bill on 25th February that the policy of restricting office accommodation in the central area should not force up office rents. With the greatest respect, I say that that is complete nonsense. Any restriction of an article already in great demand has the effect of inflating the price, and London office rentals are no exception to that general rule.
If the Bill will result, in some cases, in a withdrawal without compensation of a substantial proprietary right, and, moreover, if it will inevitably lead to a further increase in office rentals in London, why do I support it? The reason is this. It was pointed out in an admirable booklet produced last year by the Town and Country Planning Association and called "Paper Metropolis" and in Appendix 2 to the White Paper, Cmnd. 1952 of 1963, that the effect, in practice, of rebuilding an old-fashioned office or block of offices which had high ceilings, wide corridors and stairways, thick dividing walls and a number of small rooms, taken in conjunction with the 10 per cent. permitted addition to the cubic content of the former building, sometimes resulted in spectacular increases in the floor area. The White Paper says that the increase might beof the order of 40 per cent. in some cases"."Paper Metropolis refers to an increase of employment capacity of about 40 per cent. and perhaps even more.
1209 With London becoming more and more congested with office accommodation and, the problem of commuting daily increasing, the time has come, and, indeed, is overdue, when everything possible should be done to discourage further office building in London and to encourage the dispersal of offices out of London by every legitimate means. If a few people are hurt in this process, it is unfortunate, but, in my view, it will be a small price to pay for the better balance which will be achieved by the spread of office accommodation over a much wider area and for a reduction in what the hon. Member for Fulham called the human discomfort in daily commutting of which the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) has first-hand and recent experience.
In passing, I agree with the hon. Member for Fulham about the need to prevent office development over railway land. I happen to be dealing professionally at the moment with one large railway development scheme in which we propose to provide a lot of garage space and some commercial space for shops on the ground and first floors, but to make a very considerable addition to the residential capacity of the site by building a large number of flats and no offices. I am sure that this is the right development of railway land. It is all right to use the land for shops on the first and ground floors and multi-storey garages and flats, but not for offices. There are enough offices in London without using land for that purpose.
Since I have been goaded by the hon. Member for Fulham, I wish to say a few words about State House, Holborn. I do this out of a sense of fairness, because, like other hon. Members, I have made a personal investigation into what appeared at first sight to be a rather considerable scandal which should be very much deprecated. I am satisfied as a result of my investigations that the Ministry of Public Building and Works had an urgent need about two or three years ago for office space in Central London, first, for the regional offices of the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance north of the Thames, and, secondly, for a branch of the Patent Office, which had to be near Whitehall.
The Ministry was offered and was on the point of taking a large office building 1210 in Tottenham Court Road for that purpose, but at the last moment the transaction fell through. It was then unexpectedly offered a lease, on extremely favourable terms, of State House, Holborn, at a rent which then was favourable, but which undoubtedly now would be a bargain. That enabled the Ministry to put in people who needed to be in that part of London and also other tenants to fill up the whole building who will be moved out in due course when other people, who, again, have to be in Central London, will be brought in.
There is no doubt that State House is a bargain for the Ministry of Public Building and Works. The Ministry could sub-let at a large profit rental any accommodation that was surplus to its requirement. After investigation, I am sure that the Department's attitude has been perfectly correct and is thoroughly defensible. Indeed, the Ministry has a particularly good record in persuading Government Departments to move out of London. I am sure that the good work which it has already done in this matter will be strengthened by the review which Sir Gilbert Flemming is to undertake into headquarters Civil Service staffs in London.
I have only one other point to make. The evil which the Government seek to remedy arises only in respect of office development and redevelopment, yet to put this right owners of all types of property—houses, flats, warehouses and shops—are to be penalised. I wonder whether this is wise in the case of residential property. I have in mind particularly the former residential properties in Mayfair and in parts of Belgravia which are now the subject of temporary licences for office purposes granted by the London County Council. This is a peculiarly difficult problem, but it must be solved if we are to achieve as much decentralisation of offices from London as we would wish.
Briefly, the position is that a very large number of former palatial residences—the residences, if one may use the term, of the moneyed, leisure classes—in Mayfair and in parts of Belgravia are now quite incapable of being used for residential purposes. They cannot be broken up into flats. They have large wide halls, they are extremely lofty, they have imposing staircases and lofty reception rooms and they are appointed in a 1211 way which makes it quite impossible for them to be divided up into flats and used for residential purposes. The London County Council did the only possible thing in saying that it would treat this as a special problem and would allow licences for a period of years for these residential properties to be used for office purposes.
If we are to do our job properly, we must ensure that in due course when those properties come back for redevelopment, they will be re-developed for residential and not for office purposes. Unless we do this, our policy will fail. It is a large problem, but we must do it.
Therefore, if we are to restore a proper balance between residential and office use in the West End, we should be firm in resisting appeals for the extension of office licences and we should facilitate rebuilding for residential purposes when these buildings come up for redevelopment. Yet the present floor space plus a 10 per cent. tolerance will result in the uneconomic development of this type of property. I hope that my right hon. Friend will look particularly at this special aspect of a problem which is a very baffling one.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)
I do not often find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley)—
§ Mr. Willis
—hut on this occasion have a large measure of agreement with a great many of the things he has said. I agree, for example, with the hon. Member's remarks about the necessity for developing residential rather than office accommodation in certain areas. There can be no doubt that the balance is completely wrong. This brings about an enormous number of undesirable social consequences. Anything that can be done to correct this state of affairs is desirable.
I recognise the difficulty that the hon. Member mentioned when the limitation of 10 per cent. is an overall limitation rather than a limitation upon office building. This is part of the whole difficulty of 1212 dealing with the problem of the immense office development which has taken place in London in recent years. We on this side of the House tried to do something about this in the Local Employment Bill with an Amendment which would have placed office development in the same category as industrial building and would have made the development of office building subject to industrial development certificates.
I recognise, of course, the difficulties which that would entail. I introduced a Ten-Minute Rule Bill last Session for precisely the same purpose. I cannot help feeling that much more than is now suggested must be done if we are to get the spread of office building which is desirable. Nobody can have any doubt as to its desirability.
I do not have figures with me, but speaking from memory I believe that during the past 10 years something like 15,000 new office jobs have been created each year in London alone. When I compare this with the fact that last year, in Scotland, we obtained only 9,000 new jobs, I am worried. One of our difficulties in Scotland occurs when firms are taken over. A shoe firm in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) was taken over by a large combine, with the result that the whole of the offices of that establishment were transferred to London, with a consequent loss of employment in my hon. Friend's area and an increase in London. This trend is going on all the time.
I do not think that the Bill will remedy this state of affairs, but to the extent that it contributes to the solution of the problem, we welcome it. We must, however, do much more. A great deal of nonsense is talked about the desirability of certain offices being in London. This applies to certain Government offices as well as to private offices.
We always hear the argument that we need higher executives working in London. I wonder how true that is, with the telephone and other modern facilities available today, together with rapid means of transport. Certain firms I know which have had the courage to put their head offices in the Provinces have not suffered. I frequently visit Norwich and there the Norwich Union has recently rebuilt its head office accommodation, which is a good thing to have 1213 done. But it will not suffer from that in any way. Indeed, the growth of this organisation in recent years shows precisely the opposite.
A large number of other organisations could do this. Always we are told that certain people must be in London, and there is a certain amount of truth in it. But very often the argument is put forward, both by the Government and by private firms, as an excuse because people like to live in London and do not want to uproot themselves and go elsewhere. That feeling might be quite understandable and we are bound to have a certain sympathy with it, hut, of course, the social consequences flowing from it are disastrous.
It makes much of the effort we have devised to try to spread industry more evenly much more difficult to achieve, and to that extent we ought to be doing far more. Certainly the Government will probably find that they must do more. They could set a better example. It is true that the Post Office, for instance, is transferring some 2,000 to 3,000 employees out of London to Durham and Chesterfield during the next three or four years, but this sort of thing could surely be done on a larger scale.
Why, when the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research needs new offices, should it go to High Holborn? Surely it could go further away? We could give the Department a fine site in Scotland and I am sure that the atmosphere there would be more conducive to its well-being and to its high thought. Repeatedly we come across Government Departments being transferred for the sake of obtaining better and larger accommodation—but they are not transferred out of the London conurbation. Why not?
There must be a conscious, determined effort to spread office employment much more widely. It should be taken into those areas where there are difficulties in finding the type of employment offered by offices. There are areas in Scotland—and I presume that this applies to the north of England as well—which badly need office employment. Thus, while I welcome the Bill I believe that we must go much further than the Government are going if we are to tackle the problem adequately.
1214 I see that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is sitting on the Government Front Bench, so I take this opportunity to say that it is time that the Scottish Department got down to the job of consolidating all the town and country planning Acts. We have raised this matter before. There is all sorts of legislation dealing with town and country planning. Some of it is in purely Scottish Acts. Other parts of it are buried in obscure United Kingdom Acts or are tagged on at the end of Sections of other Acts. The last United Kingdom Act had a subsection dealing with Scotland at the end of almost every Section.
§ Mr. Willis
But, in the first place, the Scottish provisions were buried at the end of the Sections. Nevertheless, we still have all these various pieces of legislation and it is time they were consolidated. The job should be done so that people can find their way through this intricate and technical legislation much more easily.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
One of the advantages of speaking late in a debate is that one can throw away a great many of one's notes because the points they cover have been admirably dealt with by someone else. This is particularly so in this debate, in which there has been a great unanimity of political thinking. For instance, the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) made five suggestions. I marked down four of them in my notes as those with which I agreed. I did not agree with the fifth. I do not like the idea of a payroll tax by area. I should certainly like to see the other four points he made come within the ambit of the Bill, or at least in some other Measure which I hope the Government will pursue.
I agree that there should be some overriding limit on office building over the next decade, that we must look further out, beyond the green belt, and that we should look at the French system—and, indeed, other systems—to see whether there might be a financial disincentive in a particular zone like Central London. I should like to see office development certificates similar to industrial development certificates. Such a certificate 1215 would be required if a developer wanted to build offices within the Metropolis, or within any other area designated as an area of high congestion.
We are concerned with three aspects of this Bill on Second Reading. These are the precise terms of the Bill, what might be added to it in Committee, and the surrounding circumstances to show how the Bill fits into the pattern of what is clearly a new era in planning legislation for London.
About 20 years ago Professor Abercrombie produced his great plan for London. Those of us who have dealt with town and country planning professionally are greatly indebted to him. It was compulsory reading for us. It is worth bearing in mind that fully 20 years ago we were being told by Professor Abercrombie to do what the Government are beginning to do today.
We should also pay tribute to the fact that it was the Lord Chancellor who sought to apply the right criteria to redevelopment or rebuilding, the test now laid down in the Bill, namely, floor space. After all, it is floor space which is sold and floor space which is the criterion with which one is concerned when one is letting any building, office or shop. It is interesting some 15 years later to see how right he was and how much time could have been saved.
There has been only one matter on which there has been any difference of opinion among those who have spoken. I am inclined to the view that the Government are right to accept the additional tolerance, although I hold very strongly to the view that dispersement and diffusion of offices are necessary. I do not want to see anything which may tend to discourage modern designs and modern improvements by architects and developers in the course of their work. Having regard to the amenities which additionally have to be provided today, lavatories and rest rooms and all the other facilities, on the whole it is probably right to keep the tolerance of 10 per cent. in the event of rebuilding when changing from the test of cubic feet to that of floor space. It is quite clear that rooms are very much lower than they were and that lay-out is far more cleverly executed by the modern developer. Walls are thinner and there are many other aspects which 1216 enable modern developers to use space in ways which in the past they did not have to seek.
Although we have these advantages in modern design, I should not want to see the height of buildings decreased in the areas with which we are concerned. It is important to add that there is nothing to prevent a planning authority from giving its own additional permission to further development either upwards or outwards, or additional permission in respect of floor space not covered by the existing permit.
Having said that about the Bill itself, I am not sure about the extent to which we will be able to amend it to carry into effect the suggestions which I now want to make, or whether it would require other and different legislation. I put this purely for the consideration of the Parliamentary Secretary in the absence of the Minister, who was good enough to say that he had to be elsewhere on other important matters relating to the Ministry of Housing. However, his most admirable deputy will no doubt be able to convey these matters to him.
The most obvious areas which would make first-class areas for office development include my own constituency, which is extremely anxious to have development of this kind, Folkestone and Brighton and the south and south-east coast resorts round to Whitstable and Herne Bay. Why are they so suitable? First, they are areas in which people want to live. This is witnessed by the fact that large numbers of people choose to go and live there when they retire. We always have difficulties of unemployment because as soon as we get over one difficulty, another is created by more people coming into the area regardless of whether they have a job because they want to live in this delightful part of the country. The climate is excellent; communications are first class; there is plenty of land available for office and housing development; and the employment position is such that the young people now have to go away to take office jobs in London, so that there is an availability of labour in the area. Furthermore, these are mainly areas where the sort of people who work in offices would like to live, the ordinary staff.
While that might not be true of boards of directors, in these areas there are many 1217 delightful country houses where what I might call the senior executives and directors would live. It is to be noted that in the last year or so a different attitude has been developing among those who are really senior executives. Only two or three years ago, managing directors wanted to live in London and there was a gravitation towards London. Boards of directors were horrified by the idea of having offices outside London, for that was inconvenient for them. This is an important issue because it is they who have to decide the question. However, today these men are becoming far more the country squire and are willing to live in country houses outside town, and many of them are rapidly so doing.
The sort of towns I have mentioned, Margate and similar towns in East Kent and Sussex, and inland towns such as Reading, areas beyond the green belt, are ideally suited to the development of offices and the work which the Location of Offices Bureau could rapidly put in hand with the strong support of almost all the local and planning authorities concerned. These are areas in which it would be known that office staffs would like to live and work. This is the true creation of planning, because work would be brought to the area which was most suitable to the people.
How can the Bill help this process a stage further? I should have thought that it would be possible within the terms of the Bill to carry into effect, by analogy, what was so successfully done by the Government in the Local Employment Act, 1960. It will be remembered that constituencies such as mine, areas of high unemployment, were given priority in attracting new industry. Industrial development certificates were easily granted for these areas while they became extremely difficult for others.
Will the Government consider whether it would not be right and practicable to amend the Bill so that office development certificates are granted by the Government, that is to say, by the Minister and not by the local authority, for areas intended to become areas of office development? Could the Bill contain provisions to attract office development to certain areas, by grant in suitable circumstances, because even if the grant were small, the purpose would be the spirit behind it? Following the lines of 1218 the Local Employment Act, certain areas would be scheduled to be given priority specifically to encourage office development.
I have had to indicate to my own constituency, I think rightly, that the southeast of England cannot expect to have any priorities with industrial development, and I do not think that it wants to have them. The Government are looking to the North-East and Scotland and other areas as meriting priority for industrial development. However, I am not sure that it has been fully appreciated how much unemployment there has been in areas such as Thanet, where, in numbers and in many other ways, it has been even greater than in areas further to the north.
Problems such as that were special problems which had to be met by a vigorous and imaginative approach, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend and his Parliamentary Secretary on the imaginative approach which they are bringing to these problems at present. It is really only since they came to office that we have been getting an imaginative approach to some of these problems which might well have been dealt with some time ago.
To conclude my comments on that aspect of the matter, this Bill may or may not be the right vehicle. The Government have made a start. They have indicated that there will be other measures. I am not clear whether that involves any other statutory measures. If they are not to be statutory measures, they must be more than purely persuasive to achieve the objective. If they are persuasive only, I do not think that they will have the really powerful effect which is necessary.
I turn now to say a word about the attitude of employers. What consultations have there been, and will there be, with the British Employers' Confederation, the British Institute of Directors, and other similar bodies on this subject? I ask this because it is predominantly the employers who must be encouraged and persuaded to look outside London for their future offices. For example, has any member in the Ministry discussed with the Prudential Assurance Company and the Pearl Assurance Company the possibility of having offices other than in London?
1219 Look at that perfectly appalling mausoleum which the "Pru" has in Holborn. I am sure that two-thirds of the staff employed there would like to live further outside London. I am not suggesting that these big insurance companies should not have headquarters in London, but they could probably be housed in buildings one-eighth of the size of the present buildings. I am sure that a large number of people concerned with certain aspects of the work do not need to come to London to do their work, and would rather not do so.
It seems to me, therefore, that there ought to be consultations with the big insurance companies, and what I might call the industrial aspects, companies like Shell and so on, to get their views about having offices outside London. I think it would be found that many of these people are not anxious to live in the fringe areas of Wimbledon, Surbiton, Malden, and so on, and come in to London every day. Indeed, they would find that living further out enabled them to lead much happier lives. They would find it far better to live in the attractive seaside towns where they would find magnificent education for their children and all the facilities for family life which are more expensive and not so easy to obtain in London. To consider a woman's point of view—and I do this as there are no hon. Ladies present—my wife tells me that the price of vegetables is double in London what it is in Thanet.
These are important factors which the hoard of a company takes into consideration when deciding questions of this kind, because it has to pay higher salaries. In London the price of a secretary is very nearly double the price of one in a seaside town. These are all factors which affect the cost of industry to a marked degree, and it seems to me that these are all matters which can properly be taken into consideration.
One question which my hon. Friend raised, and on which I share his conclusion, concerns these offices on temporary permits. I do not go all the way with the earlier part of what my hon. Friend said, but it is true that many of these offices in the Charles Street and Mayfair areas are very fine, and, indeed, often scheduled, historic buildings with magnificent rooms. It seems to me that 1220 almost all these buildings in Mayfair and Westminster could be returned to residential life.
I do not go the whole way with my hon. Friend, because I think that there are a lot of people of considerable wealth who would be prepared to undertake to live in the greater part of many of these houses. The offices in Catherine Place provide just one example. Many of these offices are used by architects, and I understand that in some cases they not only use them as offices, but live there. If a person is living in a house, he might be permitted to use it for offices as well. By this means we could retain quite a number of buildings which would revert to residential use, but provided they were in such use they could also be used by the occupier for the pursuit of his business.
I hope that we shall recover for Central London a great part of the residential accommodation which it has lost. I strongly support the Bill as far as it goes. I hope that more teeth will be put into it in Standing Committee, if it can be done within the rules of order. If it cannot, I hope that the Government will consider very carefully whether they need any further statutory measures to achieve what is clearly their aim, which is to secure that this policy is carried out. I think that they are entitled to pursue this policy with great vigour, because in town planning it is right to appreciate that there is a rather non-party approach to a large part of the problem.
Both the Labour Party and the Liberal Party are supporting the Government's approach in this matter. Where that is the case, I think that one is entitled to pay some regard to the continuity of policy for some years ahead. If that is so, my right hon. Friend is entitled to take the view that, as the Labour and Liberal Parties agree with this Measure, we shall look 10 to 20 years ahead and see whether we can ensure that there is proper control over office building, because nobody can then complain if the House now decides to accept measures which plan for many years ahead. I hope that my right hon. Friend and the Parliamentary Secretary will have a careful look at what is said during this debate and will be encouraged to continue the path they are so ably following at the moment.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
This is proving to be a very agreeable session. Indeed, everyone is agreeing with everyone else. I have listened with pleasure to speeches made by colleagues on the other side of the House with whom I usually differ, and I am in the unusual position of having to agree with the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley) for the second time today. I hope that he will keep it up. Unfortunately, I gather that he is in his last term of Parliamentary life. He should have started this a long time ago, but I will leave that.
I congratulate the Government on Clause 4 (1). It says:This Act may be cited as the Town and Country Planning Act 1963.Those are about the only words in the Bill which anyone can understand. I defy anyone to read the rest of the Bill and realise that what we are talking about is office building, and particularly office building in London.
The Schedule must have been written by somebody else. The draftsman who dealt with the main body of the Bill probably gave up the ghost when he reached Clause 4 (1) and handed the job over, probably to a Scotsman, who said, "We must get into the Bill something that means something to anybody who reads it". I am no stranger to the mysteries of town and country planning. No doubt the Parliamentary Secretary will remember the sessions that we had in the last Parliament on the Town and Country Planning Bill, 1958. He will also remember that he was then burdened by having to listen to many Scottish speeches—because although the Bill was said to have no real application to Scotland, at the end of every Clause there was a Scottish application. Two persistent Scottish Labour Members were so determined to find out what the Bill meant that by the time we had finished we had made the Government produce a new Bill that was comprehensible to Scottish lawyers.
The interesting fact is that that Bill was one of the most important town and country planning Measures ever passed by the House, and to it can be traced to a considerable extent the widening of scope for the racket of land speculation.
1222 When we asked why the Bill was made to apply to Scotland we were told that it really was not needed in Scotland. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will remember the explanation given by his right hon. Friend—now the Minister of Pensions and National insurance—that its application to Scotland was purely academic. If he knew the way in which land prices are rising in Scotland today he would realise that this Measure has not been merely academic in its effect upon Scotland.
Why is this Bill made to apply to Scotland? As far as I can gather, it deals with a restriction that is desirable in terms of the congestion of office accommodation and the ever-increasing demand for new accommodation—not in Scotland but in London. Was it essential that we should place the same planning restriction on Scotland or, indeed, on any other part of Britain outside London? I find it difficult to understand why the Bill is framed in this way.
I hope that no one is going to say that its application to Scotland is merely academic, or theoretical. If that is the case, I can visualise my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) having long sessions in Committee explaining exactly how foolish the Scottish Office has been, once again, in allowing Scotland to be dragged at the heels of the English planners.
To the extent that the Bill deals with the important problem of office accommodation in London, I welcome it, just as I welcome the remarks of the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies), who asked whether we could put some teeth into the Bill, and deal with this question in the same way as we deal with similar industrial questions by way of industrial certificates. We gave him the opportunity of helping us in this respect when the Local Employment Bill was going through the House, and when Members representing Scotland, the North-East Coast and Wales tried to do exactly the same thing. We moved new Clauses to this effect, but I do not remember the hon. Member being in the Lobby. He is waking up to the importance of this matter very late, just as the Government are.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
I do not recollect any Amendment or new Clause dealing with the question of offices. I was in the Chamber during the greater part of the debate on the Bill, and I strongly supported it. I have, found that it meets its purposes admirably.
§ Mr. Ross
We put down new Clauses relating to office building, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East will remember, and we were in the Chamber for every minute. If the hon. Member studies the Report of the debate he will see that Members tried to put teeth into the Bill—so much so that some of them incurred the considerable displeasure of the then Chief, Whip.
We are now waking up to the importance of this matter both socially and from the point of view of employment. No one can see the morning march and the evening rush of the army of white-collar workers into and out of the centre of this city without feeling some concern about it. This congestion is self-created. Everybody blames everyone else, and everybody wants everyone else to take the first step. If the Government are concerned about the problem I hope that they will follow up by a greater dispersal of Ministries. I see no reason why the Admiralty should be in London. If Rosyth is to be used for refitting the new Fleet, why should not the headquarters of the Admiralty be situated in central Scotland? Most of the admirals seem to be Scottish anyway, and it would be a good thing to bring them home before they retire, and allow them to reap the benefit of the commonsense that prevails in that part of the world. I am not confining the possibility even to that part of the country.
Something was done in this matter between 1945 and 1950, but the tendency is now the other way, having been accelerated by the action of the Government in the earlier part of the decade. We then saw research stations moved down to the south of England from areas which depended upon them for stable employment.
§ Mr. Ross
Dollis Hill was always there. It has been shifted, but not very far. The Government are in no position to criticise private or nationalised industry; they have been doing the same thing in respect of the establishments that they control. I am glad that they have now done some rethinking, and I hope that they will follow this up by a considerable amount of dispersal.
My hon. Friend spoke about what happened in Kilmarnock, in connection with the Saxone take-over, and the retail aspect of the business. There was a measure of centralisation, and that again was in the South. This has been happening in recent years all over the country. Hon. Members opposite recently put out a pamphlet called You Are Entitled To Know. I am entitled to know who owns the industries in Kilmarnock. More and more we find—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir William Anstruther-Gray)
Order. I do not want to interrupt the hon. Member, but there must be some limit to the distance that we travel from the Bill.
§ Mr. Ross
The trouble is that the distance travelled from Kilmarnock by people who used to work in the offices of the Saxone Company there is now very much greater, because of that centralisation. The move south to new office accommodation has been effected in respect of many other industries. There are countless examples of holding companies setting up new offices in London.
We have ignored this development for years, and we are now taking some kind of action. Everyone is agreed that the action is right, but has followed up by saying, "But I do not think that the Bill goes far enough". The present situation has been the inevitable result of the process of thinking on the part of hon. Members opposite, in the past, that no action should be taken and that we certainly do not want to enter into the sphere of controlling this and that.
It was the President of the Board of Trade who, in one of his patronising speeches—the annual patronising speech we get from some Ministers, I do not know whose turn it will be this year 1225 to speak in the debate on Scottish industry—declared three years ago that instead of talking only about Scottish industry, hon. Members who represent Scottish constituencies should look to the potentiality and possibility of office accommodation and office building in Scotland to provide new jobs. Now that the right hon. Gentleman is President of the Board of Trade, and has in his hands a considerable amount of power to do this—for instance, by amending the Local Employment Act, with the help of his hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet—he seems rather reluctant to act. The right hon. Gentleman said that it was just as easy to lift the telephone and to speak to people in Scotland or the North-East, and there was no reason why office accommodation should be concentrated in this part of the world.
We are looking forward to action along these lines, if not in the provisions of this Bill, in those of some other. I sincerely hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary w11 give us some idea of what the action will be. The Secretary of State for Scotland has become the "silent man" of Scotland—it has come to that when the most silent man in this House, the Government Chief Whip, has to make a speech in Scotland. It would not be a bad thing if it were the other way round and the Government Chief Whip would allow the Secretary of State far Scotland to make a speech in this House. But I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will tell us what is the importance of this Measure for Scotland and what further plans the Minister has for dealing with this position. I give the Bill a tepid welcome. I congratulate the Government on having wakened up, albeit about 10 or 11 years too late, and I hope that, now they have their eyes open, they will walk the right road.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)
The point I wish to make has been made before, but I desire to underline it. I am interested to know why the provisions in this Bill should apply to Scotland. As I understand, because of the very great growth of office building in London, and the constant crowding into London of more and more office workers, it has been found that the measure of control over building, and office building particularly, is inadequate.
1226 Because of the new forms of building and the fact that now the distance between floor and ceiling need not be so great, it is possible to provide more floor space within a given cubic area. Instead of a 10 per cent. cubic capacity being taken as the measure, the accommodation will be calculated on the amount of floor space.
This will be a much more effective way of controlling building and the number of people which an office building can accommodate. If this is the manner in which the influx of office workers into London is to be controlled, I should have thought that the provisions in the Bill ought to be selective and apply to London in such a way as to discourage office building there, compared with other parts of the country. But the provisions of the Bill will apply over the whole country, including Scotland, so I consider that they fail to serve the purpose for which the Bill was introduced. It seems to me that there will be no advantage for those areas which have failed to attract office building, and that is something about which an explanation is required.
It may be that there are other features in the Bill which I have not observed. But since the provisions seem to point in the direction of the Schedule I wish to know, like my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), why it is that they should apply to the whole country, and not only to London where it is desired to discourage overcrowding in offices.
During the last two or three weeks about half-a-dozen cases have been brought to my notice involving young people, boys and girls, almost within the circle of my own acquaintances, who applied for jobs in the Civil Service and found that to obtain such employment they would have to come to London. On making inquiries, I found that there was an over-abundance of applicants for Civil Service jobs in other parts of the country. But in London there were more jobs than applicants to fill them, so these youngsters find themselves being driven to work in London, despite the fact that their parents might be aggrieved about it.
Only last week my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) asked the Secretary of State for Air how many people were employed at the Air Ministry in London and the 1227 answer was 7,000. This is adding to the overcrowding in London. Office building and the number of office workers who are pouring into London, are matters which must be controlled and I doubt whether the provisions in the Bill will achieve that. I do not condemn the Measure. But if one of the objects of its introduction is to control office building in London, it seems to me that that object will be defeated because its provisions are to apply throughout the whole of the country.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
Before this debate I followed my usual practice and obtained a copy of the Bill. I found that it is presented by the Minister of Housing and Local Government, supported by the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Attorney-General and also the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Memoer for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) that the limitation of office building, not only in the City of London but in a large area of London apart from the City, is highly desirable, but from a reading of the Bill it seems that it applies also to a restriction on office building in Scotland.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. F. V. Corfield)
I should perhaps set the hon. Member's mind at rest. The Bill does not do anything of the sort. It gives power to the Scots, if they wish, to use planning powers, without threat of having to pay compensation, not to give planning permission which otherwise they would be forced to give. The Bill does not in any way lessen that control.
§ Mr. Corfield
It is entirely universal. The whole principle of the Bill is to enable local planning authorities, or the Minister, if the applications come to him, to confine increases to 10 per cent. of the floor space instead of 10 per cent. of the cube without incurring compensation if the authority does not give that permission. It is still open to a local planning authority, if there is an open site, to 1228 allow a block of offices to be built and to give 200 per cent. or 300 per cent. if the authority thinks it suitable for that land. It merely means that the authority will not incur a bill if it uses ordinary planning criteria in deciding the issue.
§ Mr. Bence
Then I take it that the Bill does not in effect restrict the expansion of office building in London. It enables developers in the City and in Greater London to go on with office development. Planning permission can be given and there is no limitation at all on what can be done in the County of London. I had understood from what I heard in the debate that this was a Measure to restrict office building in London, but the hon. Gentleman now assures me that that is not so.
I hope that we shall have on the record a clear exposition of what is meant by applying the Bill to Scotland because, from what I have heard from my hon. Friends, there seems to be a danger that it will be restrictive on office development there.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)
I am sure that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will be able to clear up the difficulties which arise in the minds of my hon. Friends representing Scottish constituencies. I very much sympathise with them. They have not had much help from the Scottish Office in discussion of this Bill. It is confusing to have a Bill which ostensibly applies to Scotland, but which is said to have a diametrically opposite effect in Scotland from what it purports to have in England. This is one of the subtleties of planning legislation. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to set the minds of my hon. Friends at rest on this.
In general, we all agree that the Bill is desirable. The criticism which has been made from both sides of the House is that it has appeared too late. There is no reason why we should not have had it years ago. We have had a whole series of Town and Country Planning Acts, going back to 1954. Some of them were long Acts, dealing in a comprehensive way with the whole problem, yet no one bothered about this matter. Now, at this late date, we have to have a special Measure to deal with it. It 1229 does not merely mean that we have lost an opportunity for dealing with it earlier; it means that in the interim between the early stages when we might have tackled it and when this Bill comes into operation there has been and is all the extra amount of office building in London.
The problem is not just a question of marking time until something is done. The position has deteriorated substantially, as the White Paper issued the other day has shown. It seems that there is a very good case for tightening up the Bill. Although the Joint Parliamentary Secretary agreed that there did not seem much point in keeping the 10 per cent. tolerance, it seems that we should consider very carefully whether we ought not to accept the principle that there is not now any need at all for this particular tolerance in the Bill.
The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley) was pleasantly reminiscent about the origins of the 1947 Act. He told us something about what went on in Committee when that Bill was going through the House. If I may digress for a moment, it was interesting to learn that my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) was a member of that Committee. What is more remarkable is to think that all through those months —1 do not know how many—that the Bill was going through Committee I do not think that my hon. Friend spoke on it once. The thought of my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham sitting in a Committee and not speaking is something one can toy with as a very happy thought.
§ Mr. MacColl
It is happy to think of what the Committee was avoiding in the way of ruthless analysis of the Bill's efforts.
I do not think that the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns, who is wrestling with his conscience about whether or not he could depart from the attitude he then adopted over this matter, need worry very much, for surely the fundamental difference between the present situation and the situation then is that the 1947 Act rested on the financial Section and development charges. The Third Schedule deals, not with permitting development—not 1230 even with compensation—but the whole point of what people have to pay development charge.
It was a liberalising Measure brought in to stop people having unnecessarily to pay development charge When they were rebuilding substantially the same building as before. Once development charges had gone, the main point for keeping the Schedule had also gone. That is why I do not see why we need to bother now about the 10 per cent. tolerance. I think that this is one of the confusions which my hon. Friends representing Scottish constituencies have found. The Bill is not dealing with the question of what one can or cannot build, but, as the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said in an interjection, it deals with compensation. It is a Bill dealing with compensation and the circumstances in which it is to be paid and circumstances in which it is not to be paid.
The only effect of tightening the tolerance and of saying that it is not 'limited to 10 per cent. but to the present areas would be that if the planning authority said, "All right, for the purposes of improving your amenities you can build a little beyond this" there would be no difficulty. If the authority said, "No, because of the tremendously excessive office accommodation in London we do not want this development" and took that decision quite regardless of the tolerance and on the general planning ground that the authority did not want new office building or bigger office building, the effect, if we tightened the Bill, would be that the authority would not have to pay compensation in cases in which it would now have to pay. That is what the Bill is about.
I cannot understand the case for having this expansion of conditions under which compensation has to be paid as compared with the commonsense idea that one does not get compensation provided one has got something which is workable and which one can use. There is a point about which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary can help me—and I do not say this by way of criticism but perhaps from my misunderstanding of this complicated legislation.
The Minister was trying to explain—trying in the sense that he did not succeed in getting it into my thick head 1231 —how it was that, although the Schedule starts with development for which there is no compensation, that means that compensation has to be paid. The Minister said, as I understood him, that the reason was that, if somebody was refused permission to rebuild with the 10 per cent. increase, he could serve a purchase notice on the planning authority and get his compensation by the indirect means of the purchase notice.
I did not quite understand that, because I thought that a purchase notice could be served only where there was no permission which enabled one to get reasonable beneficial use of the site. I do not understand why someone who builds something which is 10 per cent. smaller does not get beneficial use out of it, because, clearly, he has a nice little office block which can be let. I cannot understand how such a person can be entitled to compensation under existing law. I am not attempting to, argue the law. I am merely trying to get this cleared up, because I am extraordinarily confused.
A number of hon. Members have pointed out that in 1960, if the Government had been sufficiently tough, some legislation could have been got through to restrict office development by some kind of expansion or development certificates. As the Government are ingenious enough to be able to work out these proposals, I have no doubt that they could, if they had set their mind to it, have worked out a proposal for dealing with office expansion by means of development certificates. If they had done so, again, as with this Bill, we would have saved a great deal of time and we would have been able to stop development much more quickly. These three years have been wasted, and there is no excuse for it.
The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns asked what effect the Bill would have on rents. He disagreed with the Minister. The hon. Member thought that the effect of this must be to increase office rents. I do not know if he goes on from that point to argue that this ought therefore to be a means of rationing by price—in other words, that because rents were up there would, therefore, be a limitation to the use of office accom- 1232 modation in London. I wonder whether that is so.
The hon. Member is an expert; he is professionally engaged in the property market. I know nothing about it. With prestige office building, the effect is almost the reverse. The higher the rents, the more likely people are to want to move into that area. If a mammoth insurance company has an enormous block which everybody knows is exceedingly expensive, its deadly rivals must also move in and have an even bigger block and an even more expensive site.
The fantastic nature of the whole operation in property speculation is that the effect probably is to make sites more attractive, because the price mechanism does not work in the sense that people are trying to get cheaper accommodation. If they want cheaper and efficient accommodation, they can move to.Kilmarnock. Because they have the fantastic idea that they must have an enormous building in the middle of London for the sake of prestige in order to keep up with the Joneses, the effect is to make the sites a more succulent prestige symbol, if that is an appropriate metaphor, and there is a consequential effect on rents.
We on this side do not like the present tolerance, and in Committee we shall try to get rid of it. We should certainly like to see something put in in the way of development certificates, as the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) suggested. I should have thought that it would be difficult to get it within the terms of the Bill. It is a pity that the right hon. Gentleman has drawn the Bill so narrowly. The Short Title is very narrow. It will require a good deal of drafting ingenuity to be able to apply the whole operation of controlling office development by means of manipulating the Third Schedule.
I hope that this is a precursor of a number of pieces of legislation which will come to us as part of this operation. The right hon. Gentleman told us that he had many ideas in his head about what he was going to do to keep down the office population in London and bring about some dispersal, but I was not clear whether he simply meant that the White Paper included many things which were not purely legislation, which 1233 is true, or whether what he has in mind is that there will be other Bills coming before us later which will deal with other aspects of the problem. I hope that we shall have a very vigorous drive.
I repeat that it is too late. A tremendous amount of ground has been lost. There is already an almost insoluble traffic problem which the Bill will not solve. The Bill will merely prevent it getting worse. Obviously, for what it is worth, the Bill is a step in the right direction and, therefore, my hon. Friends and I will support its Second Reading.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. F. V. Corfield)
It is fair to say that all hon. Members have given a welcome to the Bill, even though some of them have been careful to qualify it and, as the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) said, give it only one and a half cheers. Nevertheless, it is a Bill for which the L.C.C., especially, has found a very substantial need over the last two or three years, particularly since the rebuilding following the war led to a replacement of pre-war office space and the problem of an increase over and above that has arisen.
The L.C.C. has found the provisions of the Third Schedule as at present drafted a very real handicap in using its planning powers and applying to planning decisions the ordinary planning criteria without having to have on its shoulder the threat of a claim for compensation, which in many cases it has felt has forced it to make a planning decision which was not justified by ordinary planning criteria.
My right hon. Friend mentioned the extreme case where a building could be approved in all its details and then, almost before the roof was on, a planning application could come forward for an extra 10 per cent., which, if refused, would give rise, or might give rise—there is some doubt in the law—to a claim for compensation. As my right hon. Friend said, that clearly makes nonsense of planning control.
I should have thought—this is perhaps sticking my neck out, for though I did at least serve in the Highland Division, I have never been a Scotsman—that where we have found a defect in the plan- 1234 ning laws it would be advantageous to put the matter right throughout the whole country rather than purely on a selective basis. I must emphasise that this simply does not mean that throughout the whole country we are suddenly going to ask planning authorities to clamp down on any extension of a building, whether offices or otherwise, let alone to say that any replacement of a building cannot be larger than the building it replaces. It merely means that where it is desirable for planning purposes, planning authorities should be able to do so without the threat of compensation.
The hon. Member for Fulham began his speech by referring to the legal complexities, so as to get on the record exactly what the Bill does. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) drew particular attention to Clause 4 (1) as the only one, apart from the Schedule, which appears to be in plain English. I have some sympathy with this view, because there is no doubt that from glancing at the Bill, without a knowledge of planning law and the Schedule and its workings, which the Bill seeks to amend, it is not exactly evident what it is about; and it is still less evident that it has a connection with the control of offices in London. I apologise to hon. Members for this complication and have sympathy with the difficulties they have experienced.
In short, what it amounts to at the moment is that where there is to be an enlargement of a pre-1948 building, the Bill keeps the right to add 10 per cent. to the existing cube, but with the new limitation that there shall be not more than 10 per cent. increase in the floor space applied to a particular use. For a post-1948 building, the right to add I0 per cent. to the cube is lost; and the right to extend uses, which is covered by paragraph 7 of the original Third Schedule, is also lost.
For rebuilding, when there is a first rebuilding of the original building, within the definition, the right is kept to add 10 per cent. to the cube, but there is no right to add more than 10 per cent. of the floor space for each particular use in the building. Where there are mixed uses, the increase is pro rata. Where there is a second or subsequent rebuilding the floor space is not to exceed the amount in the building that is replaced by that particular operation. I hope that 1235 that puts what the Bill does as clearly as it can be done.
The hon. Member for Fulham asked why the word "notional" was being used. The reason is—and the hon. Member has probably realised the answer during the course of the debate—simply that in many cases this is a "right" which cannot be exercised because all these "rights" are subject to planning control. These "rights" generally arise in calculating compensation where there can be no question of exercising the "right" because there has been an absence of planning permission. It is because of that absence that the compensation arises. I realise that that is somewhat complicated, but I think that it is necessary to qualify the word "right" otherwise it gives the impression that someone has an absolute right to carry out the work irrespective of obtaining planning permission.
The hon. Member for Fulham also referred to the difficulties that could arise, even under the Bill, where a building could be designed to the requirements of the local planning authority and thereafter be altered internally so that the floor space—and, therefore, the employment—could be increased. It is fair to say that it would not be difficult to devise conditions to be attached to the original planning permission to ensure that the floor space within should not be altered without further planning permission. Or, perhaps, the conditions could be made absolute. I cannot think that this would be a difficult operation from a legal point of view and I am advised that it could be done perfectly easily under the planning law as it stands.
The hon. Member for Fulham then referred to certain means by which the London County Council occasionally managed to get round this problem by making agreements—I think that they are normally made under Section 25 of the Act and are known as "Section 25 agreements"—in which the L.C.C. says, in effect, to the prospective developer, "No, but if you will agree to so-and-so, or such-and-such, then yes".
This is perfectly all right, I understand, where one gets a genuine voluntary agreement, but I am told that there is considerable doubt whether the statutory obligations of the planning Acts can 1236 properly be used in law as in any sense a bargaining factor to get round the rights of the Third Schedule, for there is always the threat of the purchase notice. The hon. Member for Widnes (Mr MacColl) raised this point and, here again, I cannot but sympathise with him in not seeing the immediate connection between the two.
I have looked up the proceedings when the 1947 Act was going through the House in which a plea was made from the Conservative Opposition benches to put paragraph 1 of the Schedule on the same footing as the rest of the Schedule for the purpose of Section 20 compensation, which is compensation for refusal of planning permission included in the existing use in the Schedule. The answer given on that occasion was to the effect that the whole purpose of making this distinction was to make the applicant operate through the Section 19 purchase notice so that he would have to delay his claim for compensation until such time as his building was worn out and had to be replaced.
I suppose that it is always easier to be wise with hindsight than with foresight. Section 19 was constructed to prevent the applicant from demolishing the building, applying for planning permission, being refused and then saying, "It is the failure to get that permission that has deprived my land of its beneficial use" but there is this entry to the compensation world through the purchase notice procedure.
The hon. Member for Fulham then asked why the local planning authority or the Minister could not say to a developer, "You cannot develop to the extent of your original cube plus 10 per cent., but you can do so without the 10 per cent." regarding the erecting of a block of flats or offices. That arises under Section 20 (3) of the Act, which makes it clear that where a less valuable permission is granted the developer is entitled to compensation equal to the difference between the value with the full 10 per cent. tolerance and the value with the planning permission which has been granted. There is a qualification here worth remembering concerning Section 20 (5) and on this topic I disagree with the views of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis).
I am, of course, referring to the 1947 Act for the simple reason that I cannot 1237 remember which Sections are the relevant ones in the consolidation Act. These relevant Sections are probably more familiar to some hon. Members than they are to me. However, Section 20 (5) of that Act provides that where the value of the land for these purposes is reduced by the imposition of a condition regarding either the design or the appearance of the building or the size or height of it or the number of buildings on the land, the Minister may, if it appears to him reasonable to do so in a particular case in relation to the local conditions, direct that such conditions should be disregarded in the assessment of compensation. I have paraphrased the Section, but that is the gist of the provision.
There has always been considerable doubt whether a reduction in height imposed by a planning decision would give the compensation to which we have been referring. The difficulty has been that no local planning authority has felt justified in taking the risk of relying on that sort of direction and being taken to the High Court; by which time, if the case went against it, the authority would have no alternative but to pay the full compensation—usually very heavy—which, in its view, would not be worth the slight saving which it had been enabled to effect.
Having translated the Bill thus far—as the hon. Member for Fulham said earlier—I will now refer to certain other suggestions made about the Location of Offices Bureau. This matter was raised by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent). I would expect that one of the first operations of this Bureau would be to find out the answers to the sort of questions which the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East raised. They are questions as to how many of these firms which allege that they have to be in London do, in fact, have to be in the middle and the sort of reasons which impel people to insist upon having their offices in what must be one of the most expensive parts of the world.
Another objective of the Bureau will undoubtedly be to obtain the maximum information about the alternatives and the sort of social or economic information which is so important to office owners or employers who are contemplating a move out. It would be infor- 1238 mation about the housing position in the area, the employment position, the local authorities concerned with planning, and all those sorts of things as well as economic comparisons of rents and rates in the area.
I am told that it is calculated that the rents in Central London are about three times the rents in Croydon. I agree with the hon. Member for Fulham that it is highly desirable that we should look beyond the green belt, as my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) also said, to other towns, such as Folkestone, Brighton, Reading and Guildford. This, indeed, will be a function of the Location of Offices Bureau.
I hope that it will be appreciated that, nevertheless, the peripheral areas of London, the Croydons, can also play their part in providing offices away from the centre. Here again, the hon. Member for Fulham asked whether they were attracting people in across the green belt or out from the centre. Frankly, this is something which we do not yet know, but this operation will add to our knowledge.
We have looked at the French experiments and so far we do not think that they are immensely effective. The tax in London would probably have to be even higher than it is in Paris, where it is about 30s. a sq. ft. In London, it is clear that the enormous difference between costs in Central London and outside is not a sufficient deterrent up to date. Therefore, it might have to be a considerable tax to be effective. The hon. Member for Widnes took the contrary view that the higher one puts the honey the more the bees run round the pot. I should not like to pronounce on that until I had seen it happen and had had the advantage of hindsight rather than foresight. However that may be, I do not think it is as effective a weapon as it is often thought to be.
I should like to welcome the planning conference, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford mentioned, as a useful step towards co-ordination of the planning problems of the Greater London metropolitan area. When we have our regional study in a more advanced stage, the initiative will still lie with the local planning authorities and it is clearly of advantage if we have the maximum co-operation with them.
1239 Several hon. Members, and particularly the hon. Member for Orpington and my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet, raised the whole question of industrial development certificates as applied to offices. I do not want to bore the House by referring to the paragraphs in the White Paper, but there are several considerations to be borne in mind. Here, I have refreshed my memory by looking up some of the proceedings on the 1947 Bill as it then was. It is clear that the certificates were put in that Bill specifically to bring in the Board of Trade as the Ministry mainly responsible for the distribution of industry and to buttress its powers under the Distribution of Industry Act, 1945. This emphasises to some extent the difference between the two problems with which we are dealing.
It is clear that in most cases a manufacturing industry occupies a factory which is more or less tailor-made. Even if it moves into an existing factory or one provided by the Government it soon moves in equipment which adapts the factory for its own use and it moves in generally with the intention of staying there for a relatively long time. But where there is office user we are likely to have a large number of different firms, and, indeed, different individuals in the same office block. There are usually a large number of offices occupied by professional people and it would be difficult for the Board of Trade to pronounce on whether they should be in the centre of London or outside.
There is also a tendency to let these office blocks on pretty long leases, of 60 years or 90 years and more. It would be almost impossible to keep control of successive occupiers of premises by a sort of office certificate procedure, when the certificate would really be a certificate of individuals in the office rather than a certificate of the actual building. There are much greater difficulties in this than are suspected by those who take the parallel of the I.D.C. system and try to apply it to offices.
Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet raised a number of points which, I feel, are more of an administrative than a statutory nature. I certainly do not think that the Bill is a vehicle for grants, or anything of that sort. I would feel that the sort of problems which my hon. Friend has in mind 1240 were very much within the sphere of the Location of Offices Bureau and I assure him that it is not our intention to confine the draw-off of offices from Central London merely to the periphery of the built-up area.
I hope that I have answered most of the questions put in the debate. We do not pretend for one moment that the Bill is a major sledgehammer which would cure the whole problem of offices, but it is part of an overall policy designed to help and to strengthen the planning machine and to make it more effective in controlling offices and other buildings. I should point out to my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley) that the 10 per cent. tolerance does not bear hardly on the house owner, for the alternative of a maximum of 1,750 sq. ft. will protect him in most cases. Although the Bill is not a complete weapon, we think that it is a valuable and essential weapon in the armoury which will have to be used to solve our planning problems in the next decade.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order, No. 38 (Committal of Bills).