§ SERVICE OF BUILDING PRESERVATION NOTICES IN CASES OF URGENCY
§ '(1) Section 58 of the Act of 1971 shall be amended by adding at the end the following subsection:—
§ "(6) If it appears to the local planning authority to be urgent that a building preservation notice should come into force, they may, instead of serving the notice on the owner and occupier of the building to which it relates, affix the notice conspicuously to some object on the building; and this shall be treated for all the purposes of this section and of Schedule 11 to this Act as service of the said notice, in relation to which subsection (1)(b) of this section shall be taken to include a reference to this subsection".
§ "(6) If it appears to the local planning authority to be urgent that a building preservation notice should come into force, they may, instead of serving the notice on the owner, lessee and occupier of the building to which it relates, affix the notice conspicuously to some object on the building; and this shall be treated for all the purposes of this section and of Schedule 4 to this Act as service of the said notice, in relation to which subsection (1)(b) of this section shall be taken to include a reference to this subsection"'.—[Mr. Sydney Chapman.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Mr. Sydney Chapman (Birmingham, Hands worth)
I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)
It would be convenient to consider at the same time Amendment No. 15, in Title, line 4, at end insert:'the service of building preservation notices and for'.also standing in the name of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hands worth (Mr. Sydney Chapman):
§ 6 a.m.
§ Mr. Chapman
New Clause 10 and Amendment No. 15, which is consequential, have to do with the service of a building preservation notice in cases of urgency. The new Clause seeks to close 347 a loophole or what has come to light as a flagrant abuse of the serving of notice of building preservation orders. At present, generally it is not necessary to get planning permission to demolish a building. There are basically two exceptions. The first is under Section 58 of the 1971 Act if the building is a listed building; the second will be under Clause 7(2) of this Bill which gives the local planning authority the right to insist on permission before demolition of any building in a conservation area. When the building preservation orders were first introduced there was necessarily a proper though lengthy procedure for their service, giving time for owners to make representations to the Minister, as a result of which it was possible for an owner to pull down a building before the order had been confirmed by the Minister. That led to legislation giving power to the local planning authority to put an instant preservation order on a building pending the Minister's confirmation.
It has been realised that that procedure is insufficient to deal with a particular problem, which has been highlighted by a most disgraceful case in Wheat Hampstead, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) in May of this year. The building was the Town Farm, a fifteenth century farmhouse with outbuildings. The St. Albans Rural District Council, with delegated powers from the local planning authority, the Hertfordshire County Council, wanted to put an instant preservation notice on the building. It attempted to serve the notice but the notice was not received. Incidentally, this might now be the stage for me to pay a tribute to my hon. Friend for the steps he tried to take to stop the building being demolished. Were he not a Government Whip, he himself might well have been advocating the Clause, or one similar to it, instead of myself.
The point is that it was tried to serve the notice on 7th May at the latest to what was regarded as the correct address of the persons who owned the farm, but as there was no registered office at the address the postman could not deliver it.
It was perhaps more than a coincidence that early next morning a demolition team arrived on the site no later than 348 8.30 a.m. I am told that nearby residents saw what was about to happen and immediately had the presence of mind to get in touch with the chairman of the rural district council who, with the deputy clerk arrived on the site, as did my hon. Friend. It is also more than coincidental perhaps, that the builder on the site in charge of the demolition work was a Mr. Brian Colwell, of Well gate Road, Luton, and that the owner of the site was the Maltglade Development Company, one of the directors of which is a Mrs. Margaret Colwell, of Well gate Road, Luton.
Mr. Brian Colwell, having heard of the representations made by the residents, and having been informed that the local planning authority had served a preservation notice, and, I understand, shown the actual notice, telephoned for instructions, and then proceeded to get on with the demolition. He and his team bulldozed the farm in haste, and the guarantee of that is that my hon. Friend has told me that when he arrived on the site the demolition was in progress with water gushing from a severed main pipe connection. When the building was demolished, the timbers were put in a bonfire pile and set alight so close to the weather boarded outbuilding that they too, caught fire and burned down, as did a mature tree.
There seems to be little doubt—there is certainly no doubt in my mind—that this was a deliberately organised act of vandalism. Incidentally, my right hon. Friend will know that the owners of that site are now awaiting planning permission for dwelling house development.
Because of this loophole, what happened at Wheat Hampstead could happen elsewhere because of the inability of the local planning authority satisfactorily to serve notice. I understand that the law is—and this came out in the subsequent court case—that the notice must be served by sending it by recorded delivery service to the last known place of abode, or by delivery, or by addressing it to the company secretary or clerk at the registered office.
I also understand from this court case in the Queen's Bench Division that this interpretation has to be read in conjunction with Section 26 of the Interpretation Act, 1889. I gather, and I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D 349 Walker-Smith) would confirm, that the point of law turned on whether the notice was served when it was sent, which I understand it to have been, provided that it would have been received or was received before the offence was committed. I gather that on that very narrow definition the court decided that it was not received before the offence was committed.
The point is simply that this development company got away with it by acting quickly and there is certainly no doubt in my mind that it perfectly well knew that it was sought to serve a preservation notice. New Clause 10 seeks to prevent this scandalous event from happening again by giving power to the local planning authority to affix a notice conspicuously to some object on the building if it is felt urgent that a building preservation notice should come into force.
Since I first drafted the Clause, my right hon. Friend has suggested Amendments to it to cover Scotland. Naturally, I have accepted those suggestions and the Clause as it now appears is amended to take account of them. I commend the new Clause and I hope that my right hon. Friend will feel able to accept it.
If the new Clause is accepted, in one sense the credit should go to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans, but I am sure that he would be the first to agree that in another important sense it should go to those people of Wheat Hampstead who, unfortunately, on the occasion of 8th May stood by, frustrated by this development company which was not obeying the spirit of the law, even if, as the court subsequently decided, it fulfilled the letter of the law. It may bring comfort to the people of Wheat Hampstead to know that their protest has not gone unheard.
§ Mr. Graham Page
As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hands-worth (Mr. Sydney Chapman) explained, where a local planning authority considers that an unlisted building is in danger of demolition or alteration in a way that would affect its character as a listed building should it be included in the list, a building preservation notice may be served on the owner and other persons interested in the property, and a copy sent to the Secretary of State. The 350 effect of the notice is to give the building all the protection of a listed building for a period of a maximum of six months while the Secretary of State considers whether he should add the building permanently to the list.
This is an important provision and a crucial part is the service of the notice on the owner and on other interested persons, as the six-months' protection does not begin until the notice has been served. On the other hand, the notice may not be served unless the authority has reason to believe that the building is in danger of demolition or alteration. There is the difficulty that a conscientious local authority will wait until the danger is looming and then there will be a short period during which to serve the notice and prevent the demolition or alteration of the building. If the authority has any difficulty in discovering the whereabouts of the owner, the building may be lost while it is attempting to serve the notice.
This Clause has two things in its favour—it is simple and quick. Where it is urgently necessary to bring a building preservation notice into force the authority may, under the Clause, affix it to the holding, and once the notice has been affixed the building will immediately have the protection enjoyed by a listed building.
I have many times in the past complained in the House and in Committee about notices being served on owners and occupiers of property by being pinned to some door or a tree or fence on the property. My complaints have always been directed to the cases in which that was sufficient service to start a process of depriving the owner or occupier of the property. In this case it is just the reverse. Here we are trying to preserve a property, and I would not complain about this form of service. I would not expect a local planning authority to use this means of service except where it is urgently necessary to bring a notice into effect and when it anticipates difficulty in serving it on the owner personally.
I am sure that if a local authority knew the whereabouts of the owner and knew that it could serve him it would not perversely stick the notice on the property and wait for the owner to find it; it would serve him personally. With that reservation, I am pleased to advise the 351 House to accept the Clause and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for moving it.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.