§ 3.42 p.m.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE, DEPARTMENT OF THE ENVIRONMENT (LORD SANDFORD)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Bill deals with three separate aspects of controls exercised under the Town and Country Planning Acts, now 761 consolidated in the Town and Country Planning Act 1971. Clauses 1 to 4 amend the procedures under which development plans are to be prepared. Your Lordships will know that in this respect we are in a period of transition from the old system to a new one. Under the 1947 Act development plans were prepared and used to control the development of land. By the mid-1960s it had become clear that the time had come for a review. Long delays occurred while plans submitted to the Minister awaited his approval. This meant that the public were deprived for long periods of firm development policies for their towns. The delay was attributed to two factors: first, the fact that development plans such as these involved the Minister in the examination of too much detail; and secondly, the fact that the plans were often the subject of long drawn-out public inquiries into objections many of which were directed to this detail.
The Town and Country Planning Act 1968 provided for a new development plan system which would disengage the Minister and central Government from the detail, and hence speed up the preparation and maintenance of up-to-date local plans by local government. The Act of 1968 did this in three ways: first, the development plan process was split into two stages—the structure plan, setting out the broad strategic proposals, and the local plan containing the detailed plans underlying the strategies. Secondly, the development plan system was given a broader scope. Not only are planning authorities now required to combine transport planning with land use planning, but they are also to take account of such matters as the economic and social implications of their proposals and the relationship they bear to national and regional policies. Thirdly, both the structure and local plans were to be subjected to a statutory process of public participation so that there may be adequate opportunities for people to play a part in the choice of the strategies and the proposals ultimately incorporated in the development plans. The new development plan system is thus different in these three aspects from its predecessors.
Your Lordships will be aware that the Greater London Council's Develop 762 ment Plan was submitted to the then Minister of Housing and Local Government in 1969 and is currently the subject of an inquiry. That plan illustrates some of the features of the old type of development plan in the fact that it was not subject to the new statutory processes of public participation. On the other hand, many of its features are broad and strategic in character and are thus representative of the type of new proposals which will in future appear in the structure plan under the new system. In its finally approved form the G.L.D.P. will become the new style statutory structure plan for the G.L.C. area.
Another feature of the G.L.D.P. which is relevant to our consideration of this Bill is the fact that the noble Lord who was then Minister of Housing and Local Government, together with his colleagues, concluded—rightly, if I may say so—that the traditional public inquiry into objections would not provide the most appropriate means of examining the issues which he was, and now my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is, called upon to consider before approving such a plan. As noble Lords will know, a panel was therefore appointed under the chairmanship of Mr. Frank Layfield, Q.C., to hold a new type of inquiry into the plan and to report in due course to the Secretary of State.
Experience in this inquiry has been one of the factors leading to the formulation and introduction of Clause 3 of the Bill. Clause 3 amends the arrangements under which the Secretary of State is required to hold a public inquiry on a submitted structure plan. The effect of the new clause is to maintain the duty on my right honourable friend to consider any objections to the plan, but it adds a duty to hold an examination in public of such matters affecting his consideration of the plan as he considers ought to be so examined. The proceedings are thus designed to put more emphasis on a broad examination of strategic issues while not excluding the consideration of detailed objections.
May I briefly explain the reasons for this proposed change in procedure. As I have already indicated, the structure plan is to be concerned with policy and broad strategic issues over a wide area; the detailed application of those issues will 763 be worked out in the local plan. Whatever the merits of this new two-tier process, one of the more obvious dangers is that the broad proposals included in structure plans may well cause serious and extensive blight until their detailed effect has been precisely settled at the local plan stage. To reduce this risk so far as is practicable we need to concentrate and expedite the attention, time and efforts of all concerned—the local planning authority and the public—on the key strategic issues which the Secretary of State must consider before approving the structure plan, in order that the local planning authority may get ahead with all due despatch with the local plans, and thus shorten both the period and the extent of blight. This is how we intend that it will be done. From the report which the local planning authority is required to make on the outcome of the statutory stage of public participation, from the results of his own examination of the plan, and from the content of the objections received to the plan my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will identify the key issues which he considers should be examined in greater depth in public.
The Bill itself makes no detailed provisions relating to this examination in public. Our intention is to shape the new procedure in consultation with those representing the interests mainly concerned. The relevant professional bodies have contributions to make; so have the local authority associations; so have the Council on Tribunals, with whom we have already had some discussion, and so have the bodies representing amenity societies, from whom we have invited comment. We have also sent a consultation document to all those bodies. Further, my right honourable friend will want to take careful account of the suggestions made in Parliament during the course of the passage of this Bill on how this new procedure can best be shaped to achieve the dual purposes of securing a thorough and efficient examination of the main issues raised in structure plans, while giving proper scope to the legitimate rights of objectors to the plan. The present intention is that the fruit of all these consultations, discussions and debates will initially be embodied in a simple code of practice.
764 I now turn to Clauses 1 and 2, which deal with the mechanics of structure planning. At present the law requires a separate structure plan to be submitted for each local planning authority area. Already, however, it is clear that this does not always make sense in planning terms. For example, in South Hampshire the three local planning authorities concerned—Hampshire, Southampton and Portsmouth—have already come to the view that only a structure plan which crossed their boundaries would make planning sense; and this is likely to be the pattern in other places as well in the future. Therefore Clause 1 provides that authorities may work together to produce a single structure plan for a combined area consisting of all or part of the areas of such co-operating authorities. For smooth and successful working the joint preparation of plans must clearly be a voluntary arrangement, and my right honourable friend does not propose to take power to require combined working. Moreover, authorities should not be deterred from embarking on joint working through a fear of being unable to disengage if at some stage they find it impossible to continue their co-operative work. Clause 2 of the Bill is therefore intended to allay fears of authorities that they might become irrevocably committed to a joint plan, by providing for the withdrawal of submitted structure plans, whether for a single or for a combined area, at any time before approval by the Secretary of State. The provisions also ensure that work done in the preparation of a plan is not wasted but can be taken into account, so far as it is still relevant, when a fresh plan is submitted. In particular, authorities will not have to repeat unnecessarily any public participation phase that they might have previously carried out.
I now turn to Clause 4 and to Schedule 1, which is associated with it. These deal with the development plan-making system in Greater London. The Greater London Development Plan, when approved, will be treated as the new style structure plan for Greater London. Thereafter, under the 1968 legislation each of the 32 London boroughs, including the City of London, would have had to prepare a separate structure plan for their own area. These plans would be 765 open to objection and require the approval of the Secretary of State before coming into force, and only after the approval of the borough's own structure plan would the borough be able to start to adopt its own local plans for the area.
The processing of the Greater London Development Plan, followed by the processing of the individual borough structure plans, followed by the processing of the individual borough local plans, would inevitably be an extremely lengthy process. The G.L.D.P. itself has already been with us since 1969, and the inquiry which opened well over a year ago is likely to continue until the spring of 1972. Thus there is no chance of a final decision by my right honourable friend on the Plan before 1973, at the earliest, and it could be later. The processing of the borough structure plans would not, of course, take as long as that of the Greater London Development Plan; but even if the new arrangements which I have already described were applied to them, it would be a considerable time before the last structure plan had been approved and the local plans adopted, and by then the G.L.D.P. itself would no doubt stand in need of amendment and the laborious process would start all over again. In the Government's view, this interminable business was not justified and has to be amended. Clause 4 and Schedule 1 therefore eliminate the necessity for separate borough structure plans and enable the London boroughs to go straight to the stage of preparing their own local plan. This will make for a much more expeditious system of planning in London and one likely to be more convenient both to the planning authorities and to the public.
The local plans, which will of course need to conform to the strategy set out in the Greater London Development Plan, as approved, will be sufficiently flexible to cater for planning at borough level. A local plan may cover the whole of a borough's area or part of it, as the borough may wish, and may well include borough policy statements. The other main provision in Schedule 1 enables the London boroughs to prepare joint local plans. The reason for this provision is broadly the same as that for enabling joint structure plans to be prepared outside Greater London. There may well be circumstances where an area straddling 766 one or more borough boundaries can more conveniently be planned by the authorities concerned working together. Not only does Schedule 1 provide for two or more boroughs to be able to prepare joint plans; it will provide also for the G.L.C. and for adjacent planning authorities outside Greater London to work jointly with the London boroughs. My Lords, so much for structure plans and local plans.
The second matter dealt with in the Bill is the control of office development. Your Lordships may recall that when this was first introduced in 1965 it was envisaged by everyone as a temporary measure, and its life was fixed initially at seven years from the date on which the legislation came into force. Unless specific action was taken to extend it, as things now stand the power to control office development would expire on August 5, 1972. The Government have considered carefully whether these particular powers should be allowed to lapse or whether there is advantage in keeping them in force. Although powers to control office development can still be applied anywhere in the country, and although they were at one time in force in East Anglia and in the Midlands, they are at present in use only in the South-East of England. The powers are in use in conjunction with other means of guiding the movement of office work together with other employment out of London, and in particular out of the congested central area. This initiative has been pursued by restricting new office building in the capital; that is to say, offices other than those to replace out-of-date premises and offices other than those needed to provide modern accommodation for concerns whose business keeps them in the capital. There are many parts of the country which are in need of additional office jobs, and the Government's policy remains that of encouraging office work which is not tied to the South-East to move to the areas that need these jobs.
In due course, the structure plans of the local planning authorities in the South-East, based upon the recently approved South-East Joint Planning Study, and the local plans based on those structure plans will, taken together, provide a framework for getting office jobs in the South East as a whole into the right places. But at present the Government 767 have thought it right to retain the specific powers to guide and to control office development in the South East. We have no wish to make them permanent, and Clause 5(1) extends the powers only for a maximum of five more years. At the same time, we believe that there should be power to shorten this period if circumstances allow it. The clause therefore provides for the fixing of an earlier date for the ending of the control by Order in Council. The remaining provisions in Clause 5 and Clause 6 are consequential on the main provisions extending the term of the legislation.
Finally, I come to the third and last main topic in the Bill, the provisions which would enable local planning authorities to control the demolition of selected buildings in conservation areas. Under Section 1 of the Civic Amenities Act 1967 local planning authorities are required to determine which parts of their area are areas of special architectural and historic interest whose character and appearance it is desirable to preserve or enhance, and to designate such areas as conservation areas. I am glad to say that nearly 1,500 have been designated in England. They normally contain a number of buildings, the demolition of which is controlled under Part V of the 1968 Town and Country Planning Act. However, the character and appearance of conservation areas as a whole depends, as often as not, on their overall composition and on some buildings which are not in themselves of sufficient special interest or merit to be statutorily listed. There is at present no effective way of bringing the demolition of these buildings under control.
I doubt whether anyone would argue that the character of our historic areas —our conservation areas—should not be protected against uncontrolled change. Yet this is the position in many such areas at present. For instance, the character of a conservation area may depend largely on pleasant Victorian villas built about the middle of the last century. There are many such villas around London and they do not reach the standard necessary for inclusion in the statutory list. But in a conservation area, grouped perhaps around one or two other outstanding listed buildings, they are more important than they might be 768 elsewhere, since the character of the area depends on their continued existence. If the character of the conservation area is to be safeguarded—and that is what Section 1 of the Civic Amenities Act is about—then it should be made possible for the demolition of buildings such as these, which are so important to the conservation area, to be brought within control. This Bill seeks to do this, and I am sure noble Lords on both sides of the House will welcome these proposals.
Conservation areas are designated by local planning authorities without the need for Ministerial consent. What we propose in this Bill is that, having designated a conservation area, a local planning authority should be able to specify, in a direction, those buildings in it the demolition of which should be brought within control in the interests of the character and appearance of the area. The direction will not become effective until it has been confirmed by the Secretary of State, except in cases of emergency, in which case it becomes effective immediately it is made by the authority but must be confirmed by the Secretary of State within six months. Noble Lords will no doubt observe the close similarity between this procedure and that already existing where a local planning authority may serve a building preservation notice on the owner of an unlisted building which is threatened. Such a notice is in effect a request to the Secretary of State to add the building to the statutory list for all purposes. The proposals in this Bill do not go so far. The buildings would not be added to the statutory list and only their demolition would be controlled.
My Lords, it is not the intention of the Bill that buildings protected by the provisions should be safeguarded against all change, any more indeed than listing a building as of special architectural or historic interest determines irrevocably its whole future. What it does mean is that any proposal to demolish one of these buildings would be weighed against its value to the character of the area—the whole conservation area. This would be an exceedingly important consideration, particularly when proposals for redevelopment are being considered at the same time. The Bill provides that once a direction becomes effective in respect of a building, that building cannot lawfully 769 be demolished without the consent of the local planning authority or the Secretary of State; and the normal rights of appeal will apply. Indeed, most of the safeguards which exist for owners under the listed building provisions will apply under these provisions.
The provisions of the Bill also apply to Scotland, and a separate clause and Schedule are necessary because of slight variations in the legislation and because of references to Acts not consolidated. Finally, I should like to make it clear that these provisions do not impose any additional duty on planning authorities but rather give them a discretionary power which they may exercise when they wish.
My Lords, I apologise for taking rather a long time to expound a quite short Bill, but I think your Lordships will agree that these are provisions which need to be expounded with some care. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª. —(Lord Sandford.)
§ 4.6 p.m.
§ LORD GREENWOOD OF ROSSENDALE
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, has given his usual clear and considerate explanation of the Bill and all of us in the House are even more than usually grateful to him because the need to study the Housing (Finance) Bill, the Local Government Bill, the Field Monuments Bill and the Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Bill in the course of a few days has made heavy demands on all of us, and it must have made even heavier demands on the dedicated staff who serve the noble Lord in the Department of the Environment. One of my fears is that this heavy concentration of environmental Bills may mean that some of us may have missed some of the important points, or possibly misunderstood others. Of all the subjects dealt with by the Department of the Environment, planning is almost certainly the most esoteric and the most incomprehensible.
One of the most difficult problems in that field is the problem of office control, and I am not yet sure whether we have quite the right balance. I should like to feel that the Government, before taking 770 the decision to abandon office control during the next five years, would institute a real review which would enable us more effectively to assess the effects of office control. This is a matter that I know my noble friend Lord Silkin will be speaking about, and I shall listen with interest to what he has to say.
Perhaps your Lordships will forgive me if I take the points I want to make in a rather different order from that in which they were taken by the noble Lord. I want first to talk about joint structure plans between planning authorities. It is clear from what the noble Lord has said that apparently there was a gap in the 1968 Act. I introduced that Act, so I suppose I am responsible for the omission, but certainly anyone who looks at this question in the context of our debates in both Houses at that time, and at the reports of the Planning Advisory Group, and at the many discussions in the planning world which were held at that time, will know that one of the things we wanted most was to get co-operation between local planning authorities, and joint plans. I believe nobody in their senses could conceive of there being any doubt as to whether it is legal for local authorities to do together what it is perfectly legal for them to do separately. The case of South Hampshire, to which the noble Lord referred, is of course one of the outstanding examples of the fruitful results that co-operation between local planning authorities can have. This has happened on a fairly wide scale, I think, since the 1968 Act came into operation.
I confess that to me Clause 1 of the Bill has come as something of a surprise. Admitting that we were perhaps wrong in the 1968 Act, I wonder whether the Government are not making rather heavy weather of the way that they are proposing to get over this. I should have thought that it would be much better to have what one might call a "for avoidance of doubt" clause, which would say that the local authorities shall be deemed always to have had powers to join in work of this kind, and the Secretary of State shall be deemed to have had power to approve joint submissions. That, I should have thought, would be a much simpler way of dealing with the problem.
If I may turn to Clause 3 and the question of structure plan inquiries, I must 771 confess that I am not at all happy about the proposal the Government are making. I would, if I may, remind your Lordships what it is that we are discussing. It is in a way a misnomer, I think, to talk about structure plans. They are not really plans at all. They are statements of policy which show trends and tendencies and they indicate the broad basic pattern of future development. There is the written statement of the local planning authority's aims, and it is accompanied by diagrams and illustrations, but there is no map. One of the important things is that the local planning authority has to give "adequate publicity" before putting the structure plan to the Secretary of State. When the plan goes to the Secretary of State he can reject it, or he can approve it, in whole or in part. If he rejects it out-right, there is no need to cover the objections to the proposal. If he does not reject it and accepts it, he must do three things.
May I quote from An Outline of Planning Law by Sir Desmond Heap, who always makes Acts of Parliament so much more intelligible than Parliamentary draftsmen seem able to do? In that excellent book he reminds us of the three things the Minister must do:If he does not decide to reject it outright then, before determining whether or not to approve it, he must:I think, admittedly with some pride of paternity, that these are reasonable safeguards to give members of the public who may be affected by structure plans.
- (a) consider any objections made in accordance with regulations under Part I of the 1968 Act;
- (b) afford any persons whose objections so made are not withdrawn an opportunity of appearing before and being heard by an Inspector appointed by him for the purpose; and
- (c) if a local inquiry or other hearing is held, also afford the like opportunity to the local planning authority and such other persons as he thinks fit."
I do not think any of us would question that when we get something as vast as the Greater London Development Plan the procedure is almost inevitably going to be slow and cumbersome, even if there is a special procedure for an inquiry of that kind. Indeed, I notice to-day that the National Federation of Building Trades Employers has questioned whether 772 the Report of the Layfield Committee will still be relevant when it finally appears. But we really have to come to terms with the fact that slowness is almost inevitable—and it is almost inevitable because the future of millions of people can be at stake, great profits are to be made, and great damage can be sustained, not least because of the problem of blight.
I should like to hear from the noble Lord, when he speaks again by leave of your Lordships' House, a little more about the consultations that have taken place with the local authority associations. I was not quite clear from what he said whether the usual local authority associations have been consulted, or whether the London Boroughs Association have expressed a point of view. I find it difficult to believe that this is not a subject upon which they would feel very strongly indeed, and I think that they would feel with me that even slow and cumbersome inquiries may be better than running the risk of perpetrating an injustice. I have an unhappy feeling that if some of the proposals of the G.L.C. had simply been left to the G.L.C. and the Minister of Transport we should have been saddled with the motorway box before you could say "knife".
It interests me that the County Councils Association, the Association of Municipal Corporations and the Urban District Councils Association are all critical of Clause 3, while they accent the desirability of speeding up the procedure. The Urban District Councils Association, for example, say:Any streamlining of the procedure has to be reconciled with the need properly to safeguard the rights of objectors".The Association of Municipal Corporations say:The Association fully shares the Secretary of State's view that the uncertainty period while structure plans are being prepared should be minimised, the blighting effect caused by uncertainty reduced, and structure plans brought into being as quickly as possible. But all this must not be done at the expense of a democratic process …The County Councils Association take a rather different point of view: they doubt whether the Government's proposals will make any significant or sufficient impact on the problem of the time scale. And I have at the back of my mind the rather uneasy feeling, that the 773 new procedure in respect of the structure plans may well mean that there are far more objections to the local plans, and that in the long run a great deal more time will be taken up. I am not satisfied, from what I heard from the Under-Secretary this afternoon, that all these dangers have been fully apprehended by the Government in bringing this Bill before your Lordships' House. I personally, as a Parliamentarian, as a planner and, I hope, as a practical man, am doubtful about Clause 3, and I suggest that the Department of the Environment should have very early talks with the local authority associations on the problems involved and the doubts they have expressed.
If I may turn to Clause 7, I think that the proposals it makes for conservation areas are very desirable indeed, and I certainly warmly welcome the intention behind the clause. The present procedure, I think, is good, so far as it goes, but we do need additional powers to save buildings the loss of which, although they are not listed buildings, in the sense that they are not of special historical or architectural importance, would damage an area. Their disappearance from an area, particularly without any firm knowledge of what was going to replace them, could do immense damage. Therefore, I think, we need to give the local authorities much greater powers in this respect. Listing and spot listing are a great help, but a conservation area does not necessarily have in it any listed buildings, and it seems to me that Clause 7 will help to stop demolition in the conservation areas. I think it right to mention, however, that the Association of Municipal Corporations believe that a simpler procedure would be equally effective. I will not take up the time of your Lordships' House by going into the details of their proposals, but there again I think that much fuller consultation is clearly desirable.
To sum up, my Lords, perhaps I may make these points. First of all, I am in favour of Clause 1, although I think the Government are making terribly heavy weather of it. Secondly, I sympathise with the Government's aim in Clause 3, but I am strongly of the opinion that efficiency and speed should not be achieved at the expense of civil rights. I am, in any event, doubtful whether 774 the present clause will achieve greater speed. Thirdly, I welcome the provisions about conservation areas, though I believe that the Government would be well advised to give more thought to them during the next few weeks. I am sorry that the Bill is, in my view, a little narrow. Like the Field Monuments Bill, this is a measure which your Lordships' House is outstandingly well qualified to consider and to improve—within, of course, the constraints that the House rightly accepts and respects. But I am disappointed, for example, that we do not find in the Bill provision for the local authorities to be given power to repair neglected listed buildings and to charge the owner, as the Preservation Policy Group recommended—with, of course, the right of appeal to the court.
I should have liked, too, to see the Bill carrying out the Preservation Policy Group recomtnendation—and my noble friend Lord Kennet played a most notable part in the work of the Preservation Policy Group—that the Ministry should pay 50 per cent. of any sum spent by local authorities on the preservation of individual buildings under the 1962 Act. I should like especially—and I hope that the noble Lord will be able to give me the assurance this afternoon—to know that the Government will accept and implement, as the last Government had agreed to do, the Preservation Policy Group's proposals for historic towns, which would have involved expenditure of £3 million a year by 1974. Therefore, my welcome for the Bill is a qualified welcome; a welcome which is tempered by downright disapproval of some of the proposals, and by scepticism about others; and also by disappointment that the Government have not been prepared to think in rather wider and more generous terms.
§ 4.22 p.m.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, I should like, if I may, to touch on only two matters in this Bill, both of which have already been discussed by previous speakers. The first of them concerns Clause 7, which has just been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale. I think that noble Lords ought to consider the constraint which is currently being placed upon development, redevelopment and the I use of buildings, by the current craze, if 775 I can put so strong a word on it, for conservation and for listed buildings. I do not say that this is necessarily a bad thing, but it can be taken too far, and in the hands of some local planning authorities I think it is. The result of taking these things too far is that you impose monstrous delays, and sometimes you end up with buildings which are really of no use for anything at all. I hope that it will not be considered to be a Philistine attitude to point that counter proposition at the all too enthusiastic welcome for conservation and for preservation of listed buildings. It does not always work out very practically.
Having said that, I wonder whether my noble friend would just consider one small point on Clause 7, because if he is attempting to bring in the provisions relating to listed buildings as near as maybe to those covered by the procedure mentioned in this clause, I think he is going to fall into the same difficulties in the small details that overtook those who dealt with listed buildings under the legislation preceding the 1968 Act. First of all, so far as I can see, the Bill and its Schedules do not attract the protection to the externals—the lion on the gates, the lamp on the wall, and the other things that attach to the front of the building, and which so often give it character but which are not actually part of the building itself. If you want to attract those, you have to invoke Section 54(9) of the 1971 Act.
Another point is that, so far as I can see, the noble Lord is not dealing with the very practical problem which has overtaken listed buildings (at any rate ever since I knew them until the 1968 Act was passed), of those mysterious vanishings of the lead off the roof while the appeal was pending, and the astonishing growth of fungus on all known pieces of wood inside before the appeal was finally determined. The result of this, of course, was that they fell down. There was no question about demolition. They were simply fit for nothing else. I think, with great respect to what has been said, that either you do not have Clause 7 or you make it a little stronger, and you learn from some of the lessons on listed buildings that were in fact incorporated in Lord Greenwood's 1968 Act. 776 I think we have neither one thing nor the other.
The main thing I want to mention to your Lordships this afternoon concerns Clause 3(1), which deals with structure plans. On this I am afraid I most earnestly disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood. I am sorry to have to do so, and I am sorry to have to criticise legislation which was passed so recently as three years ago. I wonder whether I could take your Lordships back for a moment to the days in office of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and the original development plans under the 1947 Act. In those days one had a procedure where-by there was for a county or a county borough, a very detailed land use plan prepared on an ordnance basis. You looked at the plan (which was not particularly easy, but you could do it). and you could find on it your own property and you could see what was its proposed land use for, as you hoped and as the Act said, the next five years, after which a review had to take place. That was all very well, but it set an atmosphere; it brought into the whole examination of development plans the question of proprietory interest. Not only was a member of the public who looked at these plans interested in the major bypass which was going to go round the town and go through his farm, but he was also very interested indeed in the proposition that his house was to be incorporated in an area allocated for industrial purposes, or the other way round. Therefore, traditionally now for the best part of 25 years development plan inquiries have been based on the property of the individual, and that is what the objections, broadly speaking, have been about until recent years when some of the amenity societies have brought a rather wider aspect into the whole matter.
To some extent that was all very well in those days, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, will not think I am criticising his brain child. In those days I think it was fine. One of the major difficulties that has occurred since is the advent of the computer, the advent of more complicated and more sophisticated methods of cost benefit analysis, the improvement of algebra, and various dreadful developments of this sort which some of us find truly alarming. A 777 development plan nowadays really does not involve the question of whether the land behind "something" Street shall be allocated for a sports field or for a factory. We are interested very much more, as I understand it, in the question whether a bypass going to the East of the town would be better than a bypass going to the West of the town, or whether either of them would be better than no bypass at all. In going into that sort of matter, one has to advance some extremely complicated arguments indeed. The more complicated they are, the more people who get involved, proprietorially speaking, in the various possibilities for this road, or the possibilities of having no road at all, the more objections you get; the more experts you get; the more counsel you get, and the longer it takes. In addition and incidentally, I would suggest to your Lordships, the more intolerable it is for any individual inspector from the Department of the Environment to understand what the arguments are about, let alone to be able to make any sensible report which will resolve the esoteric arguments he has heard. I say that with the very greatest respect to those inspectors, because I know that they are competent and diligent men; but I believe that the subject matter is very difficult indeed.
Inquiries on a big geographical scale like structure plans (and we have, after all, some fairly large structure plans for the conurbations to come. What about Birmingham, what about Manchester, what about Merseyside, what about New-castle, let alone the country districts?) or major inquiries into single projects like the Third London Airport, have altered altogether in kind from what used to happen under the 1947 Act of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin.
The other thing that has occurred is this. What is being talked about in terms of structure plans—in the old days, development plans—is the positive side of planning. There is of course the negative side of planning, which is development control, and this is the control exercised by local planning authorities over what may or may not be built. In exercising that control, they are required to pay attention to the development plan or, in future, the structure plan. What is the use of telling them to do that when the development plan which is currently in force was approved in 1955, was pre- 778 sented in 1952 and was based upon survey material carried out between 1949 and 1951? That is not an exaggeration: there are development plans in this country which are in exactly that state; and negative control is supposed to be exercised on that basis now. Whv have they not been revised? For one thing, everybody knows that it takes an extremely long time to do it. There is a monumental inquiry, and anybody who has taken part in some of the first reviews of the county development plans in the Home Counties knows that they go on for months and months. Then it is very difficult for the Secretary of State to make a decision on these individual points and, for all I know—this has recently happened in one of them—the whole matter is then challenged in the courts. So that that cannot be relied on until it has been decided by the High Court. The result is that you are miles out-of-date.
The proposals put forward in Clause 3(1) of the Bill, which was explained by my noble friend this afternoon, seem to me—and I hope that the House will to some extent agree—to make sense and to be up-to-date. What they do, I suggest to the House, is to draw the proper comparison. We are no longer talking about an Ordnance Survey-based development plan, as the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, said; nor, on the other hand, are we talking about the regional strategy dealt with by one of the Regional Economic Councils or Development Councils and produced in the form of a Government Paper, which is subject to no inquiry at all. We are dealing with something in between. Therefore, I believe that we should re-think our procedure, and it is chiefly on procedure that this matter sticks.
My noble friend has not said a great deal about procedure today. I do not blame him, because it is a very difficult matter. But I believe that when one starts to consider this question of procedure, one has to do it against the sort of background that I have just been talking about. When one talks about rights to object, one is not talking now about rights to object to the allocation put on a plan in relation to an individual property. One is talking about objections to a strategy and it is that strategy which requires examination, and not necessarily, at this stage, its impact upon 779 any individual property. It may never happen, and therefore to consider what would be the result of the severance of the front half of my factory from the back part, by a motorway going past, which is the sort of point raised on development plans now, is wholly irrelevant. You therefore want some halfway stage.
If that is right, then I believe it must also be correct that the Secretary of State should have some power to see whether or not the objections which are sent in to him are relevant to that sort of matter. I think he must be allowed to exclude those which are based solely upon the effect of a plan upon an individual piece of land, because, first, as there is no Ordnance-based map, you cannot even tell whether it will happen in that way; secondly, there is always the opportunity to come again at the local plan and deal with that particular and specified matter later on. Therefore, what I believe is proposed is a balance which will save time.
Those who have taken part in these large inquiries on the Greater London Development Plan will know what a major project it is; the proposed procedure will save money, because a long time spent at a major inquiry of this sort is very expensive indeed, and the more expensive for those who are not local authorities or big business, but who are the private citizens who band together—whether as an amenity society or in some other way—to protect the character of the neighbourhood in which they live—not a proprietary interest. It becomes intolerable for them if they have to go on taking an interest and taking advice in this question for years, as is sometimes the case. Therefore, I hope that as this Bill progresses my noble friend may be able to tell us a little more about the procedure. I do not want to go into it now, but he has outlined only in very general terms the sort of things that he would expect.
A paragraph in subsection (1) refers to regulations. I very much hope that we shall have no regulations about procedure at the moment. My noble friend talked about a code of practice and I believe that must be right. If you are going to have an inquiry which is concerned, among other things, with a traffic model based upon 14 pages of algebra, 780 multiple progression analyses, calibration processes and things of that sort, you need a different kind of inspector from one who would be able to deal with land drainage; and you probably need different experts and different methods of dealing with the whole inquiry. If this is the sort of thing that we are going to do, and if it is going to be acceptable to the public, then I believe that the Department must have at its disposal the maximum flexibility in the carrying out of these examinations. I believe that the Department is working on the right lines and it should be thoroughly supported.
There are wide misconceptions. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, had some representations from the local government associations. I have a paper from the National Farmers' Union. They talk about full participation and say that the policy of the Bill is against this. I do not believe it is. I believe that the sort of procedure in Clause 3(1) will work only after participation has taken place. But how many people in this country understand what participation consists of? In his Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, introduced it statutorily, but very few people have tried it yet and very few people are aware of the implications of public exhibitions and public plans, and of how to make sensible comments upon them if they see them, if they take the trouble to visit them. It will be some time before the fruits of this legislation exercised in the 1968 Act are felt. But the procedure in Clause 3(1) is not against them; it is dependent upon them, and it is dependent upon their implementation not only by local authorities, but by the public.
There is the point, again mentioned in this paper, that at the local plan stage the pass will be sold if you are not allowed to object to the structure plan. This is, I believe, the type of point which the Secretary of State must have in mind when he selects his objections. He must be able to see which objections are of strategic importance, which will run as the main pattern of the local plan and which, if approved, will set that pattern so that it cannot satisfactorily be challenged. It is on those that I am sure he will allow objections to be heard. It is when it comes to the use of my back garden that he is going to say, "No. Go 781 to the local plan and complain about it there." All those questions and complaints about the allocation of individual pieces of land arc, I believe, the result of a misconception of the relation of this matter to the old development plan, Ordnance based, as opposed to the new structure plan, which is diagrammatic and, in fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, said, essentially a written statement and not a pictorial one.
As for the fundamental right to object, I do not understand that this Bill takes it away. It is there. What is taken away is the fundamental right inevitably to be heard, at whatever length and at whatever cost to all those concerned, as the result of your objection—and that, I think, is what needs pruning, with care, with discrimination and, if necessary, with an opportunity further to consider the list of people who are allowed to object after the initial selection has been made, so as to allow people who may make a good case later on to be heard, to have their names included after all, and to be allowed to turn up at the structure plan inquiry. But there is no restriction of the right to object: it is merely the stage and the scope of objection which is limited.
Then the Union says that legal inquiry is more proper to a structure plan because it ensures the proper presentation of all issues. If it is a matter of algebra, I doubt whether a legal inquiry is necessarily the right way to do it, because it may well be that I shall find some of my lawyer colleagues are not wholly versed in some of the modern computer techniques and the algebraic equations which go with them. I think we must be more ready to experiment with novel forms of conversation between experts, and other methods of examination, than the old form of legal opposition, antagonism, litigation techniques and things of that sort.
Finally, my Lords, they mention the Greater London Development Plan Inquiry, which they say is in a totally different category. I wish I thought they were right. My noble friend Lord Sandford said that this Bill is based to some extent upon the lessons learned from that. I am glad that the Government have learned lessons from it. If we had to go through that exercise in 782 every one of the old counties, let alone the new counties under the Local Government Bill, we should have no basis upon which to plan within the foreseeable future, no foundation for the planning system to work up and down this country, no certainty for anybody as to what might happen to their land. In those circumstances, what does it matter if you have had a right to be heard at a public inquiry, if you get absolutely no results for years and years to come and you are working on an out-of-date process? There is a balance, I believe, behind the Government's proposals, and 1 should like to hear them further developed at a subsequent stage of the Bill; hut at this stage, my Lords, I hope they will be given approval.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, I should first like to associate myself with my noble friend in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, for the clear and precise way in which he explained the Bill. He apologised for the length of his speech, but I can assure him that he could very well have spoken for much longer. because although this is a short Bill it is a very difficult Bill to follow, especially for laymen. it is going to be a difficult Bill, even for practitioners and for local government officials and others who have to study it, and so I hope that the noble Lord will not feel the need to apologise any further in his reply, because, judging by the comments which have been made so far, he has a good deal to reply to.
I am beginning to feel that we are getting too much legislation on town and country planning, and every measure we get tends to complicate the subject more and more. What we have done by the institution of structure plans and local plans is to make it much more complicated than it was. I should like to assure the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, that I have no feeling that the 1947 Act is an Act which should be inviolable. Even my children need to grow up and to adapt themselves from time to time to modern ways, and I am quite sure that in many respects the 1947 Act requires modernisation. But does it require modernisation with a view to making it more and more complicated? What we have done so far—my noble friend is responsible for it—is to constitute two inquiries instead of one. A 783 person who feels that he has a large stake in a particular part of an area which is being deal with will certainly want to take part in the inquiry on the structure plan; but when the Minister has made his decision, the man may well want to appear again at the inquiry on the local plan. What we have done to him is to give him two inquiries—and the cost of them—instead of one.
The noble Viscount, Lord Colville, referred to cost. I wonder also whether this procedure is going to be less or more costly than an adaptation of the former procedure under the 1947 Act. One of the things which we are doing is giving the Minister power to look at the objections and to hear those that he thinks require to be heard. There is no reason why that should not have been done by a modification of the 1947 procedure. It could quite well have been done. I agree that everybody who thinks that his particular house is likely to be affected puts in an objection, but there is no reason why the Minister should not be able to deal with that in the same way as he is being empowered to deal with the structure plans.
Having said that, I believe that my noble friend is right and that not enough consideration has been given to the amendments that we are making. Of course, we are considering the 1968 Act in conjunction with this one, because they go together; but the fact is that, while recognising that the procedure under the 1947 Act requires amendment, we want to be sure that what we are putting forward is an improvement from the points of view that the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, set out, and is not an additional complication. I am very much afraid that events will prove that it is a further complication; that we are putting inquiry upon inquiry and that we are imposing more and more delay. The noble Viscount, Lord Colville, is quite right: some of the development plans which are being used by local authorities were initiated in 1952, and perhaps earlier. But are we quite sure that under this procedure we shall not get exactly the same thing? So I beg the Government to give serious thought to this matter and see whether something much simpler and much more expeditious from the point of view of development plans can be devised.
784 I do not want to say any more, because I think my noble friend Lord Greenwood has said everything that needs to be said on this subject, apart from the root question as to whether we are really improving on matters or not. Nor do I want to say very much about the listing of buildings. I agree that the extension to buildings which are not of definite architectural value is an improvement in respect of areas where these buildings create an atmosphere and give it a better appearance. The only question that I should like to ask is this: why is this limited to conservation areas? It is even more necessary to preserve certain neighbourhoods in other areas than it is in conservation areas. I can think of a good many areas in London and in the large cities where the one outstanding thing of interest—I will not say of architectural merit, but something of interest which creates an atmosphere —would be the kind of building that we are talking about—a case where we want to control demolition. I should have thought this control even more necessary outside conservation areas than inside them; although I agree that it is of value in both. Perhaps the noble Lord can explain why we are not going a stage further and making it of general application.
Finally, I want to say a word about the control of office development. Here, I am afraid, I am a heretic and I hope that I will not get into trouble with my colleagues for disagreeing with them. But I strongly disagree with the whole conception of office control. It was imposed in 1965, I suppose in the enthusiasm and heat of having got into Office, and there was a case for it. There was the fear that the large towns were developing rapidly and creating traffic and transport problems and that something had to be done about it; and that a quick way of doing it was to restrict the development of offices. But was any thought given to the disadvantages of doing this? One of the disadvantages has been that it has created a terrible shortage of office accommodation in London and in most of the large provincial towns. So the people who want to start in a profession or business find it virtually impossible to get accommodation. I am referring to the smaller type of accommodation, that of less than, say, 785 2,000 square feet. As to the larger type accommodation, there is plenty of that. I do not understand how it comes about that wherever you go you see large blocks of office buildings going up. People seem to be able to get an office development permit without much difficulty. I know that many of them are let long before the actual building has begun and that they are let to firms who require offices for prestige purposes. Apparently that is something of which the Ministry approve. There are many of them in Westminster, in the City of London and in Paddington. I am not objecting to that, but I find it difficult to understand why we are putting this artificial restriction on people who want to start up an office in the larger towns and who are restricted in the neighbourhood in which they can put it up. For instance, I know that the legal profession consider that they must have offices within reasonable access of their clients. If a firm has clients in Westminster, it is no good them being sent to, say. Harrow or some place on the outskirts of London.
In the last few months rents have gone up by something like 30 per cent. and during the time that the office development restriction has been in operation they have gone up something like four or five times; so today, if you want an office in Westminster, in the City of London or in one of the surrounding neighbourhoods, you must pay as much as £7.50 a square foot. If you need an office in London of, say, 1,500 sq. ft., which is really a small office giving you perhaps four or five rooms, you must pay well over £10,000 a year. What chance has a young practitioner, solicitor, accountant or architect, of being able to pay that amount? In the City of London the rents are even higher; they have gone up to £10 a square foot or more. Therefore, I beg the Government to consider very carefully the termination of this control at an early date. I realise that they cannot do this to coincide with the ending of the original Act and that they need some time for making preparations for the termination; but I hope that they will not wait for a further five years. Even more do I hope that they will not introduce another measure to run for another five years. In the meantime, it is really crippling business for those firms not able to pay the kind of rents that are being 786 demanded and which are going up month by month.
My Lords, that is all I meant to say on this Bill. I think it is well intentioned and I think that the Government are doing their best with the difficult problem of structure plans; but I want to express my grave doubt as to whether they have simplified rather than made more complicated the procedure for approving development plans. About these buildings in conservation areas, I want to ask whether this policy cannot be extended to all areas where I think they are even more needed. Finally, I beg the Government to bring this iniquitous restriction on office building to an end at the earliest possible moment.
§ 5.0 p.m.
My Lords, I want to make, quite shortly, a point which has not so far been made. I do not know about the London boroughs, but I should have thought that all the associations of local authorities would welcome this Bill, so far as it goes. But if it is intended to meet one line of criticism which has been made and is being made in another place now, I do not think that at any rate the County Councils' Association will consider that it has gone anything like far enough. I have no doubt that it would be wrong for me to speak at any length about a Bill which is not before the House, but I hope that it may be considered relevant if I mention, as it were, the headlines of the objections made by the County Councils' Association to the Government's decision to depart from their original White Paper and now to split the responsibility for the making of plans, the structure plan being made by the higher authority and the local plan by the districts. Also, my Lords, the Government have gone back on their original decision to have a unified staff.
The first of these points is that the number of planning authorities will rise from the present figure of 140 to 420, whereas the criticism has hitherto been made that already existing town planning authorities are too small. The second point is that this fragmentation will lead to an acute problem regarding trained and qualified staff. The third point is that the separation of roads and other means of transportation from planning, as will happen in these local plans, does not make much sense. The fourth point 787 is that if there is a head-on collision between a county and a district the difficulty can be solved only by the Minister himself, which will cause delay. My noble friend Lord Sandford made a great point about the desirability of shortening the proceeding and I entirely agree, but if the Minister has to intervene between the authorities it will not make for expedition.
It is, of course, perfectly true that if counties and districts desire to be reason-able and cooperative this Bill provides admirable machinery to enable them to do so, but certainly the County Councils' Association feel that we should not presume, we have no right to presume, that this will always be the case. If local authorities were always reasonable, just as if individuals were always reasonable, our Statute Book would be much smaller than it is to-day. I have been a member of the County Councils' Association for a considerable number of years and I have never known such strong feeling or such unanimity about any matter connected with planning as I have experienced in connection with this proposition to split the responsibility for plan making; and I thought that in those circumstances I ought to inform your Lordships of it.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ LORD ILFORD
My Lords, this is a very complicated little Bill and I do not propose to invite your Lordships to enter into the intricacies of it now. I should like to make a few observations about the broader considerations which the novel proposals in the Bill envisage. First, it makes it possible for two planning authorities to join in the preparation of a structure plan, in carrying out the planning and acting on it afterwards. I confess that I was rather surprised to see that in the Bill. I had always assumed that local planning authorities had power to plan jointly and to submit their plans jointly, but apparently I was wrong about that. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, was not so much in error as he thought he was when the 1968 measure was being enacted. At any rate, my Lords, there it is; and it is a good thing that if there is any doubt about this it should be incorporated in the Bill and made quite positive. I think this and other proposals in the Bill will reduce delay 788 in obtaining planning decisions, and correct some of the imperfections which accompany those decisions today.
The next major modification which the Bill will make refers to structure plans. The old type of local inquiry will disappear altogether. The inquiry will be based on the entirely novel principle that the Minister will select those areas which he desires to see publicly examined before he gives his decision. I think there is a good deal to be said for that. Almost inevitably it will reduce delay in obtaining a decision in planning matters and that is an essential and desirable purpose. I hope that it will also relieve some of the other disadvantages of the present arrangements. For example, my Lords, there is the blight on buildings which causes property owners serious losses. This proposal will assist in bringing much nearer a decision in relation to this policy. The noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, was a little apprehensive about this proposal. He thought that what we were doing would take away rights to which the public was entitled. I feel a certain sympathy with that point of view, and I think that we shall have to examine this part of the Bill closely during the Committee stage to ascertain whether we are justified in depriving some objectors of the right that at present they enjoy to contest proposals in a structure plan.
My Lords, may I now come to what seems to me the most outstanding departure from the present situation in the whole of the provisions in the Bill. I think it a provision which may prove more popular than anything else that planning authorities are going to do. It is the proposal to extend control to buildings which are not listed buildings in the sense that they are listed as having architectural or historical interest, but are buildings which contribute to the character and nature of their surroundings. That is a great change, and it will, I think, get over some of the criticisms of many people who criticise planning on the ground that it does not stop enough demolitions. The difficulty is exactly the difficulty which arises here. It is the difficulty, in the absence of powers, to check the demolition of buildings—not important in themselves, but possibly important to the local landscape. People 789 very much resent these buildings being destroyed. I think this part of the Bill can prevent that from happening. It will be open to the local authority to extend their discretion and their powers to control this if the buildings contribute to the character and nature of the districts in which they stand. This, I think and hope. will be regarded by the public as an attempt to protect the beauty of our old English towns. That, I am sure, is a subject which is at the hearts of all your Lordships.
I hope that this Bill will make a major contribution to the defence of old Eng-land, which so many English people love and regret to see passing away. This, I think, is a good and useful Bill, which I believe will be accepted by the local authorities, and I hope that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ LORD SEGAL
My Lords, I, too, should like to acknowledge the clear way in which the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, introduced this Bill, and to reecho the comment of my noble friend Lord Silkin, that he might have gone on at even greater length to expound some of its more complicated clauses. I would also associate myself with the remarks of my noble friend Lord Greenwood and express the hope that when this Bill goes through its Committee stage we on this side of the House may be enabled to table some Amendments and widen, if possible, the scope of the Bill, certainly in connection with the recommendations of the Preservation Policy Group.
I wish to deal with only one clause in the Bill, as so many other speakers have done; namely, Clause 7, which empowers the local planning authorities to control the demolition of unlisted buildings in conservation areas. I am glad that this clause is able to command such a wide approval on all sides of the House. Perhaps I may be allowed to indulge in a layman's prerogative and wander somewhat widely during the course of this Second Reading. We have seen in many parts of the country destruction of whole areas whose character ought to have been preserved. Again and again we have seen the erection in the heart of the Cities of London and Westminster of huge, ugly buildings which have com- 790 pletely altered the character of the London that we knew and used to love. All around Hyde Park we now have towering structures that dominate and disfigure the landscape and detract from the natural beauty of London's finest open space. In Paris they have regulated things much better. In the centre of that city the height of buildings has been strictly controlled, and the ugly sky-scrapers have been relegated to the suburbs. Wherever development in the centre was necessary, it has been driven underground, as in the case of the UNESCO building, with very successful results. The essential character of the centre of Paris has been preserved.
The city of Tokyo, where many parts in the centre have been engulfed by hideous flyovers which blot out the essential character of the buildings, is a grim warning of over-development.
In London, fortunately, we have not yet reached this stage of over-development; but Bloomsbury has already lost many of its fine old houses, with blocks of buildings more reminiscent of a foot-ball stadium than of the gracious squares that we used to know. The fine Portman Square is now completely gone, and London is much the poorer for its demolition. Centre Point, in St. Giles' Circus, in contradistinction to what my noble friend Lord Silkin said about the shortage of office accommodation, still remains empty, a monumental miscalculation of London's need of office premises.
In contrast to all this, we have in the nick of time the imaginative scheme of the Grosvenor Estate to preserve the character and charm of Cubitt's Belgravia, with its Regency Squares in the heart of the City of Westminster. Belgrave Square, Eaton Square and Chester Square are now to be preserved for all lime, in good company with the Nash Terraces of Regent's Park, which were saved by being Crown property. If only we could have had the imagination to save Hyde Park before it was too late! There remain, however, many unlisted houses in this part of London which require careful control by the local authorities and by the Minister to prevent their demolition. It is hoped that this clause will prove effective in preventing still further ugly development in this area before it is too late. 791 There are scars in many of our provincial cities which could also have been prevented. Fortunately, Bath, Chester, Chichester and York are now to escape development vandalism, but many parts of other provincial cities could also have been saved. A good example of a beautiful area now destroyed is Eldon Square, in Newcastle-on-Tyne, now left derelict through the excessively high cost of its redevelopment. Perhaps other cities might well have been added to the five now designated by the Minister. Another point that I should like to raise with the Minister is to encourage the local planning authorities to launch more village conservation committees, and especially to uphold them once they have been created. In my own county of Berkshire we have, I believe, 22 such village conservation committees. But my own village society, on which the C.P.R.E. and the Oxford Preservation Trust were actively represented, was dissolved, quite arbitrarily and without any warning, by a whim of the county planning officer on the grounds of its expense, which anyhow was quite trivial. This has created a feeling of intense local indignation and resentment, which still persists to this day.
The Report of the Preservation Policy Group made many suggestions which perhaps may not be raised so easily during the Second Reading of this Bill but which ought to be incorporated later on in Amendments during the Committee stage. I wonder whether the Minister, in his reply, could confirm his determination to implement many of the proposals contained in Clause 7 of the Bill by giving some indication of whether the Government arc prepared to accept the additional financial commitment which will be necessary if the recommendations made by the Preservation Policy Group are to be carried through. I accept that on the Government Benches there is ample good will towards conservation, but on these issues good will on its own is not enough. What is also needed is conservation zeal, the necessary enthusiasm and the determination to see this job through, whatever may be the lifetime of the present Government. They have inherited a great legacy from their predecssors, but we are all in this together. Let us use our imagination and vision to preserve the 792 beauty of our historic city centres; otherwise we stand to be condemned by future generations.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
My Lords, I shall not follow the noble Lord, Lord Segal, in his interesting and appealing words on the subject of the preservation of the beauties of our cities, because I want to deal briefly with two points: first, the structure plans, on which we have already had a good deal of comment, and, secondly, office development and control.
I should like first to congratulate my noble friend Lord Sandford—and here I join the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. I thought that my noble friend dealt with this extremely complex subject lucidly and by no means at too great a length. I must declare an interest in structure planning. I am chairman of the Standing Conference for London and the South-East Region, and there I am in constant contact with all the local authorities concerned and am very much aware of their feelings about this baffling problem of development plans. It is both baffling and fascinating, and I feel that the short debate which we have had today may have been helpful in throwing some light on the problem. I especially enjoyed the speech of my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross. I must apologise for the speeches I missed while I went out to attend an administration committee.
I should like to begin by giving credit to the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rosscndale, who is not in his place, for introducing the 1968 Act. This seemed to me a perfectly sensible concept—to try to differentiate the concept of development planning into a broad brush concept on the one hand and a local planning concept on the other. With respect to the noble Lord. Lord Silkin, I must say that the 1947 Act, excellent though it was and well though it had served, was indeed breaking down. I agree with my noble friend Lord Colville that the development plans were getting further and further out of date, and the prospect of revising them was so appalling that this was simply not being done. There-fore, the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, was fully justified in his attempt, in the 1968 Act, to make the amendment that 793 he did. Unhappily, this has not succeeded either. My friends, the members of the Standing Conference (that is, the local authorities in the South-East) have given a great deal of study to this in our technical committee which was set up for the purpose; and their estimate is that the 1968 procedure, the structure planning procedure, would take about ten years to complete—say five to seven years to complete the structure plan, and another two or three years to complete the local plan processes. In other words, by the time the whole development concept had been completed some eight to ten years will have elapsed, and of course by that time the development plans once again would be out of date.
Nobody could hope to forecast in a development plan for more than 10 years ahead, and you only do so with some apprehension. It is a fairly long time to look ahead in a very fast-moving world. Therefore, the furthest you can reasonably look ahead and predict the sort of conditions we shall be living in is 10 years. This does mean that the process of structure planning which the 1968 Act gives us has to be amended. This justifies my noble friend in bringing the Bill before us to-day.
There is one further point which I think has not been made during the course of the debate; that it, that we in the South-East have very grave doubts as to whether there would be enough expert planners to carry out all this planning. The demands on the expert planners for, first, the preparation, which is enormous, and then the participation, which is very considerable, and then the public inquiry, is really tremendous. I really do not believe that there are enough such experts in existence.
Reference has been made to the Greater London Development Plan. I am bound to say that I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross. I do not think that the Greater London Development Plan, although by its size exceptional, will prove to be exceptional in kind. I am afraid that something similar to the appalling apparatus of the inquiry which is now going on across the river here will happen in every one of these structure plans. I took out some of the figures of what is happening in the G.L.D.P. Public Inquiry. It started 794 in August of last year, so it has now been going about 16 months, and it is probably about two-thirds through. I should think that, with luck, it will probably finish next summer, so it will then have been going for about a couple of years. It has had 21,000 objections, and so far there have been 11 million words of transcript; and two or three times as many words as that have been submitted in the evidence of supporting documents. I would defy anybody, my Lords, even the brilliant Mr. Layfield, successfully to comprehend this vast mass of material, to summarise it effectively and put it into a report which will be of real help to the Minister in deciding what to do with the proposals of the Greater London Council.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, would my noble friend allow me to interrupt for one moment? Would he not agree that it is almost unthinkable that one would be able to empanel a series of Mr. Layfields, and the unbelievably brilliant assessors whom he has with him, over and over again to do this process throughout eternity in the rest of the country?
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
My Lords, I am quite sure that it will not happen: such people simply do not exist. This, to my mind, is really the example which justifies my noble friend and his right honourable friend the Secretary of State in making the proposals that are contained in Clause 3 of this Bill. He has here set out to cut the Gordian knot by giving the Minister powers to limit the matters which can be considered at a public inquiry in the structure plan—in other words, I suppose, the matters which his inspector would be prepared to receive representations on.
I listened with great interest to the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, who said that he objected to this because, in his opinion, it was seeking to gain speed at the expense of civil rights. And he quoted from the National Farmers' Union brief, which of course took up this very point, that the public inquiry on the structure plan would in fact sell the pass for the local plans and the local plan inquiries. This is a dilemma that really crystallises the problem. Either we 795 have a procedure in which everyone can make representations about everything with the result that the duration is so long that the plan emerges too late to be of use to anyone, or we have the procedure in which the matters on which representations can be made are deliberately limited by the Minister to ensure that the plan is settled in time to be useful, in which case the interested parties are not satisfied that they have had a chance to be heard. This is the dilemma, my Lords, and those of us who work in this field realise that, somehow, we have to solve it. I believe that we in this House are particularly well equipped to discuss such a matter. We can do so without any feelings of Party considerations, or indeed of constituents who are shouting their heads off about particular issues behind us. Somehow this problem has to be solved.
Turning to the Bill to see just what my noble friend has put before us, I commend the courage of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in trying to solve the problem by his proposals in Clause 3. Undoubtedly he is going to be criticised on the lines that the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, criticised him. I am not as sanguine as my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross that this will provide a solution, but for rather different reasons. I am rather doubtful whether the Minister, having defined the matters on which he is prepared to hear representations, and then the public inquiry having been held, will find it possible in practice to hold the line. I am sure my noble friend Lord Colville will understand this far better than I do. The pertinacity and ingenuity of counsel, backed up by hordes of experts behind them, with all their computers and so forth, is such that they will go in such depth into the matters where they are allowed to make representations and objections, that by the time they have completed their inquiries I would guess that they will have opened up the whole of the subject. I hope that this Bill will succeed—and I ant certainly going to support my noble friend. When this Bill is on the Statute Book we shall see what happens, but I fear that what I have said will occur.
We are told that regulations are to be made, and that my noble friend is pro 796 posing to consult local authorities and other interested bodies to try and get the regulations right with regard to procedure. I can assure him that we in the Standing Conference will give all the co-operation we can to try to make these regulations as good as we possibly can. A doubt re-mains as to whether even this will hold the line when it comes to the point. The line has to be held because if inquiries and the whole process go to the present lengths then we are defeated because, by the time the development plans come out, it will be too late to be of any use. I fear that I have been a little destructive about this matter, but we live with these problems. If this works then nobody will be better pleased than I; but I think we shall find that these inquiries will he as long as ever. Do not let us forget that the preparation that the planners have to engage in for these inquiries probably takes a couple of years because the planners have to arm themselves with every-thing. They will still have to do this in case the front that the Minister has put up is penetrated. The preparation will take just as long; the participation will take just as long; all we are hoping to limit is the length of the inquiry itself. I doubt if we shall succeed in doing that, but I wish my noble friend luck with it.
Supposing it does not succeed, let me offer this thought which I suggest is worth considering: would it be possible to make structure plans non-statutory? I offer two major points in support of this. The structure plans would still be published; there would be the participatory procedures and then there would be no public inquiry. The great difficulty with structure plans, the major problem in bringing them to a public inquiry, is that if they are statutory they have to be comprehensive and precise. This raises impossible problems of the kind that my noble friend Lord Colville so lucidly described, of length of time in trying to defend yourself against everything, and in trying to summarise the whole matter and produce a result which is intelligible to the public. It cannot be done without an enormous length of time being spent on the matter. If you make the structure plans nonstatutory then immediately you are out of that difficulty. You publish the plans and then the result will be tested by the processes of public inquiry and examination at the local plan level when it is being turned into practice.
797 I offer two thoughts to support this idea: the first one has already been referred to. Most of the development plans in the country now are out of date anyhow, but they are serving quite a useful purpose. They define the planning policy of the local authority concerned, and the various public inquiries on specific points are dealt with in the light of these defined policies. This is not working too bady, but one does not want it to go on working for ever be-cause these policies need to be renewed. This gives us an indication, to which I hope my noble friend will give some thought. that you do not need to have a statutory development plan behind you; you could have a non-statutory development plan, and it still would have a quite valuable influence.
The second point in support of this idea is that the recently published Strategic Plan for the South-East,a regional plan composed by the joint planning team of central Government and local government together, is already having its influence. It is studied by all local authorities and interested parties, and will undoubtedly determine the broad strategy of development in the South-East over the next 10 years and, possibly, over the next 20 years. But this is not statutory. It has a very powerful influence because it has been composed by central Government and local government together. It has brought together the combined knowledge and judgment of the most expert minds that can be produced and therefore their prediction is probably about right. But is this not again an illustration that you can have a non-statutory development plan which can serve a useful purpose without its going through the whole statutory process. If you pursue this thought, then you do what we shall certainly do in the South-East with the regional plan. It is flexible and we have cast it ahead until the end of the century. We are fairly certain about what will happen in the next 10 years. The 10-year period after that, however, is uncertain, and the 10 years after that is extremely uncertain. You can be absolutely sure that whatever development plan you make for human nature they will always do something different, so your plan has to be flexible. We shall roll forward our regional plan for the South-East, and as events change 798 and develop we shall modify it in order to make the best we can of the development of the region. That is what we want to do with the structure plan for the individual local authorities. I put that thought forward because it is a possibility. I hope that this scheme will work, but if it does not it may be worth considering having a non-statutory structure plan.
I should like, very briefly, to add some-thing about office development control. I was interested to hear the noble Lord. Lord Silkin, speaking so cogently against the control. In principle, I agree with him. I have another interest to declare in that I am President of the National Association of Property Owners. They like the central Government control and would prefer that to local government control. However, that is not my view. My view is that it is better for Government to get out of this and leave control to the local authorities according to ordinary planning considerations. Therefore, I welcome my noble friend's assertion that he intends to use this five years in order to achieve a definition of Government policy with regard to office development. I am sure that this needs to be done. The major criticism of the previous Administration, of which the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, was a part, was that the office control machinery had been used almost entirely negatively in order to suit other planning policies—quite proper ones—about movements of population, avoiding excessive commuting and so on. Office employment is such an important part of our national economy that it deserves to be considered in its own right. The figures in the South-East will give noble Lords an indication of how enormously important it is. In 1951, 22 per cent. of all employment was in offices; in 1961 the figure was 26 per cent. By 1981 we estimate that over a third of all the employment in the South-East will be in offices.
What are they doing? Look at the City of London. The City of London is responsible for the greater part of our invisible exports, making a vital contribution to the economic life of this country—banking and commerce of all sorts and kinds. There is the whole range of the service industries. These are things which we are very good at in this country and which we want to encourage; and, going into the Common 799 Market, we shall have even better opportunities. Therefore it is of basic importance that we should have a positive policy about office development; that Government should put their minds to it and define their policy, and then leave the local authorities to locate offices and allow office development as they think fit.
I am sure my noble friend will bear in mind that it is very helpful to have a chunk of major office development in some major urban development schemes where the financial profits of the office development will help to finance development of a good deal of residential property at the same time, for low and medium price residential buildings. This, again, is a particularly important factor of the London scene, where we are tending to get two extremes—houses for the very rich and houses for the very poor—and if that continues it will have a most unfortunate effect on the whole character of London. My Lords, there is much more that I should like to say about the problems of office control, but I hope I have made the point to my noble friends. What we should like to see, what London would like to sec, and certainly what I should like to see, is Government, as soon as they can, define a national policy for office development, and then leave local authorities to develop these things themselves.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, I could hardly have wished for a more helpful and useful debate. It has indeed been very helpful to have with us, taking, part in this debate, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, whom I am sure we can regard as the author of our planning legislation, although he modestly describes himself as a layman in these matters. We have the author of the 1968 legislation. We have also had the views of my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross, who is constantly practising in this field, and of my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford, who speaks with all the authority of the Chairman of the Standing Conference on London and South East Regional Planning. I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, that we are already very conscious of the demands which are being made on us and on our energies in 800 the environmental field; but, after all, we have to play ourselves in, in preparation for an even busier season in the coming summer. That is the reason why I shall have to repeat on this Bill what I said on the Field Monuments Bill on Tuesday: that of course we have, as the Party opposite has, no end of useful and desirable suggestions which we should like to see in this legislation, but because of the total load we shall have to resist at a number of points—and this Bill is one of them—some of the suggestions we should be happy to see on the Statute Book but which are unlikely to find a place in our heavy programme.
It has been especially valuable to have the views of my noble friend Lord Colville on the detailed ways in which he sees the provisions under Clause 3 working out in practice. I would take this opportunity of correcting an impression I fear I created in the mind of my noble friend Lord Nugent, if he thinks, despite what I said, that we are going to make regulations governing the conduct of the examination of a structure plan. I said in my opening speech that that was not our present intention and that, following consultations, we hope that their initial fruit would be something much more flexible, simple and capable of amendment; namely, a code of practice. Subsequently there might be a set of regulations, 'but we think this would be not the right approach at the beginning.
I will not, if he will excuse me, follow my noble friend Lord Gage into the question of planning staff under local goverment reform. That subject is something we shall certainly be going into in due course on another Bill. I was glad of the welcome given by several noble Lords—my noble friend Lord Ilford and the noble Lord, Lord Segal—to the provisions we have put in Clause 7 for England and Wales, and in Clause 8 for Scotland. To run briefly through the clauses of the Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, thinks that under Clause 1 we have chosen a method which is unduly cumbersome for securing the production of joint structure plans. I am advised that at the moment what is in the Bill is indeed necessary to bring about the desired results, and I was glad of the welcome of my noble friend Lord Ilford for what we are proposing here. But we can certainly go into the question of 801 whether the objective could be achieved in any simpler way when we reach that point in Committee.
As I expected, your Lordships have directed most of your attention, as indeed I hoped you would, to Clause 3. There is a mixture of scepticism and moderate optimism as to how this is going to work. I have no doubt at all that it is going to be extremely difficult to arrive at exactly the right balance in order to secure that the issues arc thoroughly discussed and that the objectors do not feel that they are having their rights curtailed. That is why we are embarking—and we have already begun—on consultations with a wide number of bodies based on a consultation paper. It would avoid wearying the whole House if, rather than respond to Lord Greenwood's request for more in-formation about this, I were to write to him and let him have the names of all the authorities we are consulting. I can also let him have the consultation paper. We can, of course, come back to the point on Committee. All I would do at this stage is confirm that we do intend to consult very fully with a wide range of bodies whose opinions on these matters will be vital in coming to the conclusions.
The fact of the matter is that in order to get this examination right we have to steer a course between the Scylla of speed and simplicity—and the arguments could not have been put more cogently and eloquently than they were by my noble friend Lord Nugent—and the Charybdis of curtailing unduly the civil rights of the individual and the proper participation of the public. We must find a method and procedure which will steer the right course between those two dangers.
May I now turn to Clauses 5 and 6 and say how welcome, but how unexpected, was the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in this particular field of office development control. We of course agree with him that this is not a control which we liked at the time it was introduced, or want to continue longer than is necessary, but, as I explained, the framework in the South-East at the moment is not such as would easily bear the burden of operating the kind of controls which we are operating 802 from the Department at the moment. But I would confirm that we are not at the moment exercising any control anywhere on proposals for anything below 10,000 square feet. To that extent we have already relaxed control.
My Lords, turning to Clauses 7 and 8, concerning the conservation areas, here I think we have to be cautious in regard to over-enthusiasm about conservation, which can so easily get the whole cause a bad name and which formed the content of the first remarks of my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross; on the other hand I do not think there is any doubt that this particular gap which Clause 7 and Clause 8 seek to close is one which is now generally recognised as being very urgent and important if conservation areas are to play the role we all want them to play.
Taking conservation generally, there is the difficulty of choosing between this particular measure which we think is important and urgent, and more important and urgent than any other measure. and a number of other desirable proposals which were devised by the Preservation Policy Group chaired by my predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and which we have adopted in principle but at the moment do not feel able to find a place for in our legislation. That, again, is something to which per-haps we can return.
My Lords, I am conscious that I have not dealt fully with all the points that have been raised by noble Lords. I hope I have dealt with them adequately for this stage of the Bill. I am most grateful, as I am sure my right honourable friend the Minister for Local Government and Development will be, for the constructive and helpful suggestions that this debate has brought forth, and I look forward very much to the Committee stage.
§ LORD GREENWOOD OF ROSSEN-DALE
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down I wonder whether he would be very kind and enlighten us a little more about the code of practice. I was not quite sure what subjects the code of practice would cover, with whom the necessary consultations would take place, or what force there would be behind this code. If the noble Lord 803 could clear up these matters I believe it would help both the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, and myself on this occasion.
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, I do not think I can do it at all thoroughly without being rather tedious and wearisome. I wonder whether I may repeat my offer to let the noble Lord have the whole consultation paper, with a full list of all the bodies we are consulting, and if then he would still like something further from me I would gladly give it to him before the next stage of the Bill. If again he feels that there is more to be said (as undoubtedly there will be) we canembark: on it then.
§ On Question, Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.