HC Deb 09 October 1944 vol 403 cc1435-43

  1. (1) Any authorisation of the compulsory purchase of land outside the area of a local planning authority which under the preceding provisions of this Act could be given to that authority may, in lieu of being given to that authority be given, in the like manner and subject to the like conditions, to the local planning authority in whose area the land is situated.
  2. (2) Without prejudice to any other power in that behalf, a local planning authority may, with the consent of the Minister, acquire by agreement any land which they could be authorised under this Section to purchase compulsorily.—[Mr. W. S. Morrison.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. W. S. Morrison

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

It gives power to authorise purchase by a local planning authority in an area where land is held by another authority. The short point here is that, while the Bill gives wide powers to local authorities to purchase land outside their own area, often the case may arise where it is more convenient for the authority of the area to which the people are going, to be the local authority holding the land, and this gives them that power.

Earl Winterton

I want to put a point to my right hon. Friend. I suppose this is not in conflict with, and in no way makes an inroad into, Private Bill legislation? Could the Minister given an assurance?

Mr. Morrison

I can give my Noble Friend that assurance.

Mr. Douglas (Battersea, North)

I should be very much obliged if the Minister will explain a little more clearly what the purpose of this Clause is. On the face of it, it seems to mean this. Local Authority A wants to purchase a piece of land and the Minister says "No, you cannot purchase it, but Local Authority B shall purchase it." That does not seem to provide for the needs of local authorities, but to put a fifth wheel upon the coach. Here is a local authority dealing with the replanning of its area, and it is given power to purchase land outside that area. Then, the Minister is proposing to take powers himself to prevent the local authority from exercising the power he has already given to it, and transferring that power to some other local authority, which has nothing to do with the planning scheme. Surely, the Minister can make the purpose of this Clause clear, if it has a good purpose?

Mr. Morrison

There is no sinister intention behind this proposal. As power is given to planning authorities to purchase land, without reference to whether it is inside their area or not, it may often be convenient that the authority holding the land in the overspill area, should not always be the authority exporting the population, but the authority in whose area the land is situated. That is the sole purpose of this Clause, and I think it will be a good and useful thing in many cases.

Mr. Douglas

Would the Minister explain this further point? My right hon. Friend says it may be desirable for the authority in the external area to hold the land. Does that mean that that authority is going to build the necessary houses and that the planning authority will be relieved of that obligation? If so, how is that result to be brought about? Or does it mean that the one authority is going to own the land, and the other authority is going to build the houses upon the land, in the area of a different authority? If so, it is a very curious position, and, so far as I know, not in line with any legislation we have ever had.

Mr. Morrison

The intention is, that in the case of two authorities applying for land, the circumstances of each case would be taken into account, and, if they agreed that the course provided in this Bill should be followed, the order would then make that possible.

Mr. John Wilmot (Kennington)

There may be a number of areas where this Clause will be applicable. Let us assume that Authority A desires to acquire land in the area of Authority B. Both Authority A and Authority B have development schemes. What we want to be quite clear about is that, where Authority A is empowered in this Clause to develop an area of land in the region of Authority B, it will be ensured that the development will be in accordance with the rest of the development in the area of Authority B. We do not want an enclave of disharmonious development inside the area of a planning authority.

Mr. Morrison

The desirable result which my hon. Friend asks about would be achieved by the giving consent in the appropriate case. Far from creating disharmony, this may be a very potent means for creating harmony, resolving suspicion and avoiding dividing and overlapping authority.

Mr. Wilmot

I take it that my right hon. Friend's answer really is that the Minister would take these considerations into account before exercising the powers in this Clause?

Mr. Morrison

Exactly, and I anticipate that there will be very few cases where this power shall not be exercised by the Minister, at the request of both authorities concerned.

Mr. Craven-Ellis

Reference has been made to Authority A buying land in an area adjacent to its borough. Personally, I do not like the Clause. I can see the possibility of a great deal of friction. There are certain boroughs which are fully developed. Does the Clause admit of any borough in London acquiring land, say 20, 30 or 40 miles away, and, if that is so, what is the inducement for a London borough to buy land in such a position that they would be erecting property for the benefit of another area? I feel that this Clause needs to be more clearly defined on the point of exactly how far local authorities may go, because it does not say that the land shall be acquired by agreement. It might be that a local authority was buying land in an adjacent area, and meant it for the purposes of ultimately extending its area. What is the safeguard against that possibility?

Captain Cobb

I should like to ask the Minister for some assurance that these powers granted to a planning authority would be used sparingly, because I can visualise possibilities in the unlimited granting of these powers. Planning authorities may produce a great deal of undesirable urbanisation of the open country, and the effect will, inevitably, be to remove the town population further and further away from the country, in which they are accustomed to take their leisure. I understand that a majority of authorities very much dislike the idea of "building up," but a great many people in London have become accustomed to living in blocks of fiats, without, so far as one is aware, any unfortunate effect upon their health. Anybody who has seen these blocks of flats would surely agree that the open spaces made available to the people there have been a very great advantage. I want to feel sure that the best possible use is made by the local authority of the land within their area, and I should like an assurance that this is not going to persuade local authorities to make themselves responsible for a great deal of undesirable development in the countryside.

Mr. McEntee (Walthamstow, West)

A planning authority may purchase land away from its own area. I wonder what is going to happen in the case of a development area in London, and I have in mind, and particularly, what is called the Green Belt. I am wondering if, in the exercise of the powers that no doubt will be given to them, these authoriites could go from London beyond the Green Belt for the purpose of purchasing land to house their own people. If they can, I should, personally, be very glad, because, frankly, I cannot see the possibility of the people in many of the congested London districts finding any possible housing accommodation, without creating other congestion. The authorities have every desire to avoid that congestion, and are determined to move their population out, if they can, into the Green Belt area, but, unless they have the power to go beyond that Green Belt area, obviously, they will be in very great difficulty. I was glad the point was raised by the hon. Member for Southampton (Mr. Craven-Ellis), and I would like to know, as a matter of information, whether, in fact, we, who live in the London area, and have to consider the housing of our very congested population, knowing that we cannot help this congestion unless we can find outside land, may visualise the probability of going beyond the Green Belt.

Mr. Morrison

I would like to make it quite clear that what is proposed in this Clause does not confer any additional powers of purchase upon a local authority. We have granted the powers already, under Clause 2, Clause 9 which deals with obsolete areas and Clause 10 which gives powers to purchase land for general planning purposes. All that this new Clause does is that, the powers having been settled, it gives an option as to which planning authority should exercise them. In reply to the case put by the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. McEntee), it certainly is possible for a planning authority to purchase land on the far side of the Green Belt, and I think the Committee would agree that such power is necessary if we are not to have the congestion repeating itself. In reply to the hon. Member for Southampton (Mr. Craven-Ellis), this confers no new powers of public purchase. It only gives discretion as to which authority shall exercise them. On the matter of borough boundaries, my hon. Friend will be aware that there is a new Clause on the Order Paper, and I will deal with the point when we come to it. The hon. and gallant Member for Preston (Captain Cobb) brought before us certain general planning considerations, and I will bear in mind what he said, but, of course, they arise on the consideration of what is good planning and what is not. I hope I have explained the matter.

3.30 p.m.

Mr. Hore-Belisha (Devonport)

May I ask a question? Shortly, another Clause is to be moved by the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey). The Clause which he is to move is to give planning authorities the power to initiate a procedure under which planning authorities may extend their areas. This Clause deals with the point of a housing estate being bought outside the boundary, and I want to understand the effect of it on the other Clause which is to be moved. Does it mean, for instance, that, if Sunderland or Plymouth wishes to extend its boundaries, and there is no right procedure to that end, my right hon. Friend, under this Clause, can authorise a neighbouring authority to acquire a housing estate which normally would be administered by Sunderland or Plymouth? If so, that is a very derogatory provision.

Mr. Douglas

May I ask the Minister to make the case a little clearer? He said that the Clause confers no additional power of purchase, but this is how I understand it. Authority A, a war-damaged area, requires to build outside its own boundary in the area of Authority B, in order to provide for replacements. This Clause, apparently, confers upon Authority B the power to buy land from Authority A. That is an entirely new power which Authority B would not have had, except for this new Clause. I want to know the meaning of the words, "in the like manner and subject to the like conditions." Does that mean that Authority B will have to provide the accommodation which is necessary for the replacement upon the land which is so acquired; that it will take over the liability of Authority A to provide the houses, make the drains and do the other things which are required? If it does not mean that, what is the respective position of the two local authorities?

Lieut.-Commander Joynson - Hicks (Chichester)

I have had great difficulty in understanding the object of the Clause. The marginal note is completely incomprehensible. I should like to ask the Minister, further arising out of the question of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha), if there is any connection between this Clause, apart from its necessity, and the subsequent Clause which is to be moved?

Mr. Wilmot

May I ask the Minister if, in answer to the Debate, he will deal with a concrete case? The London County Council have hitherto purchased considerable areas of land outside the County of London for the purpose of housing the people who could not be housed in the county. Hitherto, the County Council has bought the land and built the estates and owned and managed them. Would there be any alteration under these powers? Would the authority pass to anyone else in that particular regard?

Mr. W. S. Morrison

The question of my hon. Friend the Member for Kennington (Mr. Wilmot) seems to be the problem which has been expressed in various ways by hon. Members. It may be that as we go on with the task of reconstructing, say, the London region, a very good purpose might be served, if some of the population, now being displaced, were made part of a smaller town and administered by it; and it might be convenient, both for London and for the town, that the land, even though London were going there, should be owned by the town itself. There is nothing beyond that in this Clause. It would only be desired, as I say, where it was convenient to everybody. I do not think myself that the Committee would like the Bill to pass from it with this sort of situation imposed upon authorities—that is to say, that if it is found desirable to take over land near a growing community for the purpose of accommodating some of London's surplus people, that London would necessarily want to own the land, perhaps in or near the borough boundaries of, say, Colchester, or some town of that sort. It might be for everybody's convenience that the authority providing the services and collecting the rateable value should own the land and that a clear job should be made of the whole proceeding. I hope that that will answer the point of my hon. Friend.

Mr. Douglas

Who builds the houses?

Mr. Morrison

The housing authority.

Mr. Douglas

Which one?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

We ought to be clear about the meaning of the Clause. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chichester (Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks) pointed out, the marginal note is completely incomprehensible, when it says: Power to authorise purchase by local planning authority for area where land is in lieu of by another authority. Particularly in view of that marginal note, we ought to understand where we are. I only intervened because my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey) has a most important Amendment coming on, and I do not want this Clause, if the Committee carries it, to be used an an answer to that Amendment. Let us be clear what we are doing. Sunderland, for example, has a planning scheme which involves the over-spilling of its population into a neighbouring area. It would like a procedure whereby it could extend its boundary, but, owing to the obstinacy of my right hon. Friend, that position is refused, so it does the next best thing—

The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Charles Williams)

We must not go into anything that has to do with boundaries here, otherwise we shall be cutting out the discussion on a later proposed new Clause.

Mr. Hore-Belisha

I am saying that it does the next best thing, and it purchases land outside its boundaries, which is what this Clause authorises.

Mr. W. S. Morrison

It only authorises in certain cases.

Mr. Hore-Belisha

It says that any authority can be authorised to purchase land. It does the next best thing and buys land outside its authority and establishes a housing estate there. My right hon. Friend says "I will give permission," but the other authority over the boundary says that the administration of the estate may be in the hands of a less enlightened authority. I want to know the purpose of this Clause. If Sunderland is forward enough to create a housing estate outside its own area, why should my right hon. Friend refuse his permission and then give permission to another authority to house the previous inhabitants of Sunderland? If the drafting of the Clause is wrong—and certainly the marginal note is wrong—perhaps my right hon. Friend will give me an assurance on that point, because I do not want the further new Clause which is to be moved to be rejected on the ground that my right hon. Friend has taken some power here.

Mr. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)

I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman addressed his mind to the specific point put by my hon. Friend the Member for North Battersea (Mr. Douglas). We all know that this Clause gives power for Authority B to purchase land in their area to house people from area A and all my hon. Friend asks is: Who is going to do the development? It is true that Authority B will own the land but is Authority A to develop the land, and, therefore, on what sort of tenure is Authority A to build houses on the land of Authority B? Is Authority B to give a lease to Authority A so that it can develop the houses? That is precisely the point my hon. Friend has put and the right hon. Gentleman has so far not answered it.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning (Mr. Henry Strauss)

I do not know if I can make the matter any clearer but the position is as follows. I apologise for the punctuation of the marginal note and I agree that it has a high measure of incomprehensibility but the marginal note is not part of the Bill. To come to the New Clause, the first Sub-section gives no powers of acquisition whatsoever. They are already given by Clauses 2, 9 and 10 of the Bill, but where it is desirable that a particular area shall be acquired say for over-spill—that is a horrible expression and I can assure the Committee I did not invent it—under these Clauses the question is which is the authority that shall do the purchasing? Very often that is conveniently done by the exporting authority. There may be a case, however, where the land to be acquired is on the edge of an existing community which it is desirable to expand, and in that case it is clear that the more convenient authority may be the authority of that area. It is to meet that case that this Clause is necessary. My hon. Friend then mentioned development. The position here is that development follows ownership and, therefore, if the other authority—what I may call the importing authority—does the acquisition, it would also do the development. I hope that I have made the position clear as it will be under this Clause. The second Subsection is merely to enable the local planning authority to acquire by consent what it can acquire compulsorily. I do not know if that has answered the question in the minds of hon. Members but I hope that they will give us the New Clause.

Mr. Douglas

That just leaves one question that I should like to put to the Parliamentary Secretary. How do we secure that the overcrowded population of area A get the houses which are built by Authority B and not some other people who do not need the accommodation so urgently?

Mr. Craven-Ellis

There is one point which I think has been overlooked. Assume that locality A buys land and builds houses in locality B. The borrowing powers of local authorities are based their rateable value. Will the rateable value of this property that Authority A has built in district B, be brought into the rateable value of area A, for the purposes of borrowing powers?

The Deputy-Chairman

That is too wide.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

3.45 p.m.