HC Deb 12 July 1872 vol 212 cc1041-2

asked the First Commissioner of Works, Whether the Government will interfere to prevent the erection of any building on the plot of ground adjoining the Metropolitan Station as may be injurious to the beauty of the Embankment and destroy the view of the Houses of Parliament?


Before the right hon. Gentleman answers the Question, I should like to ask him whether the Government has any power to interfere with property that does not belong to them?


Perhaps, Sir, the House will allow me to explain what has really taken place in reference to this piece of land, as to which there seems to be some misapprehension, in consequence of the answer the other day of the Chairman of the Metropolitan Board of Works. This land was vested formerly in Her Majesty's Commissioners of Public Works and Buildings, as belonging to the trust for Westminster Bridge. On the 22nd May, 1868, a contract was entered into by the Commissioners, and the Hon. G. Noel and Mr. H. Whitmore (two Commissioners of the Treasury), and the Metropolitan District Railway Company, by which this land was sold to that Company for the sum of £50,525, and vested in them as their property absolutely, with one qualification. That contract was scheduled to an Act of Parliament passed in 1868, and was thereby confirmed. The qualification is, that the Commissioners, or the First Commissioner—I forget exactly which—shall be at liberty, or shall be required, to exercise the right of approving of the elevation of any building which might be constructed on that land; but the contract equally assumes that the Company, having paid such a large sum for the land, is entitled to prescribe the plan on which the building shall be erected, namely—as I understand it—the area which it shall cover. The elevation was submitted to me some time ago of the building proposed to be erected. It was extremely lofty, and appeared to me to eclipse the Houses of Parliament by its imposing nature. The question then arose as to the nature and extent of my powers. The Company insisted that my powers were nominal, and were confined to the right of criticizing the beauty of the front of the elevation; so that, if I did not think it beautiful enough, I might prescribe that more ornaments should be introduced. I objected to that view of my powers in the matter. The architect insisted that I should come down and contemplate the beauty of his design, as he felt sure that if I did so I should be satisfied with it. Well, I came down, and I argued the matter with the architect, and I believe I succeeded in convincing him that, as a mere question of architecture, he had better withdraw the plan for the reasons which I stated. That being so, I believe that those who are interested in the matter have undertaken to revise the elevation in point of height, and probably, also, in point of decoration; but I rather eschew for myself the function of regulating the decoration of the building. I thought the "elevation" also meant the height of a building; and that what I had to do was to see that the building did not eclipse the Houses of Parliament. I will venture to say this much—that I will consent to no building being erected which would be higher than the Houses of Parliament. The legal advisers of the Company deny that I have the right to do so much; but I have told them I shall be happy to facilitate their going into a Court of Law to try that point if necessary. I believe that the owners of the property in question have proposed a new elevation, and when I have received the designs I shall give them the best consideration in my power. Further than that I am afraid I have no authority to interfere. I need hardly say that I have received no instructions from the Government to re-purchase the land.