HC Deb 09 October 1944 vol 403 cc1511-8

  1. (1) The power of a local authority under Section seventeen of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1932, to prohibit the demolition of any building of special architectural or historic interest shall include power to make an order directing that without the consent of the authority the building shall not in any way prohibited by the order, be altered or extended.
  2. (2) In accordance with the preceding Subsection the power of a local authority to vary an order under the said Section seventeen shall include power as respects any order made under that Section (whether before or after the commencement of this Act) by a subsequent order thereunder to vary the order by adding thereto such a direction as is mentioned in the preceding Sub-section; and Sub-section (3) of the said Section seventeen (which provides for an appeal to the Minister in certain cases) shall have effect as if the reference to the demolition of a building included a reference to the alteration and to the extension thereof.
  3. (3) If any owner of a building executes, or causes or permits to be executed any work for the purpose demolishing, altering or extending the building in contravention of an order in force under the said Section seventeen, he shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds, and the court by whom he is convicted may in addition order him to pay such sums as the court think just for the purpose of restoring the building, so far as may be, to its former state.
  4. (4) Where an order under the said Section seventeen has come into operation as respects any building, the authority by whom the order was made may at any time serve notice of the order on any person not being an owner of the building and, where such notice has been served, the provisions of the last preceding Subsection shall apply in relation to the person on whom it was served as if he were an owner of the building.
  5. (5) A local authority having power to make an order under the said Section seventeen as respects any building—
    1. (a) may, with the consent of the Minister, acquire by agreement the building and any land comprising or contiguous or adjacent to it which appears to the authority and the Minister to be required for maintaining it or the amenities thereof, or for affording access thereto, or for the proper control or management thereof;
    2. (b) if an order under the said Section seventeen is in force as respects the building and it appears to the authority and the Minister that it is not being properly maintained, may be authorised to purchase the building and any such land as aforesaid compulsorily, by means of an order made by the authority and submitted to the Minister and confirmed by him in accordance with the provisions of Part 1 of the First Schedule to this Act.
  6. (6) A local authority shall have power, as respects any land acquired by them under this Section, to repair, maintain and insure any buildings or works on the land and generally 1512 to deal therewith in a proper course of management, and may with the consent of the Minister dispose of any land so acquired in any manner expedient for, or consistent with, securing the object for which the land was acquired.
which apears to the authority and the Minister Sub-sections (8) to (10) of Section fifteen of this Act shall apply in relation to the disposal of land under this Section as they apply in relation to the disposal of land under that Section.—[Major Studholme.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Major Studholme (Tavistock)

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

This new Clause, which stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) and other hon. Members, seeks to extend Section 17 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1932. That Section gives local authorities the power to forbid the demolition of any building of historical or architectural interest. In practice, however, the Section proved ineffective, and less than 30 buildings have, I understand, actually received protection under it. The new Clause will remove some of the difficulties which hamper the operation of the present law. May I, briefly, summarise this new Clause? Sub-section (1) gives a local authority power to prohibit any alteration or extension unless made with its approval. Notwithstanding an order forbidding demolition, the beauty of a building might be destroyed by ill-advised alterations or additions. Subsection (2) empowers a local authority to add to an Order forbidding demolition a further direction forbidding alterations and extensions. The owner is given the same right of appeal against such a direction that he enjoys when he is forbidden to demolish. Sub-section (3) provides a penalty for infringement but it does not preclude the old remedy of an injunction. The court is also given power to order payment of the cost of restoration. Subsection (4) enables a local authority to serve a notice on a person other than the owner. Thus, a builder may be stopped from proceeding with a demolition or an alteration. Sub-section (5) empowers a local authority to acquire by agreement the building and any land needed for maintenance or amenities, access or management. It also gives powers of compulsory purchase where a building is not being properly maintained. Subsection (6) gives a local authority power to maintain, repair and manage any such buildings acquired. It also gives the authority power of disposal. In order to preserve a building, the authority could thus transfer the building to the National Trust or to one of the amenity societies. These bodies, I would like to point out, on a very small income and, with no aid from the State, have done splendid work for the protection of beautiful and historic buildings. Knowing the Parliamentary Secretary's sympathy with the purpose of this Clause, I hope that we are pushing at an open door, and that he will accept it.

Mr. Wilmot

I think all of us will agree with the proposal in this new Clause, and I rise only to draw attention to what I think is a weakness in it that has been overlooked. It would be possible, even under the extended powers of the 1932 Act here set down, for an owner to take action to despoil or demolish one of these buildings which it is sought to preserve, between the time when the matter is considered and the time when the local authority obtains the order. I think it would be wise for the Minister, between now and the next stage, to consider dealing with that question. Perhaps there might be something in the nature of a requirement to owners to give the authority reasonable notice of intention to demolish or alter a building on these lists or, alternatively, the authority might be empowered to give notice to an owner that it proposes to apply for an Order and that, during the tenure of that notice, no alteration could be made. If the Minister would look at that point between now and Report stage, I am sure the mover of this very valuable Clause would be the first to agree with it.

Will the new Clause enable the authority to protect not only a particular building from demolition or alteration, but the ruin of that building by the erection of unsuitable surroundings, or the demolition of part of a street? The replacement of one side of Bedford Row, for example, would completely ruin the street. We have seen some of this in London. The awful Babylonian monstrosity in Mornington Crescent did not demolish Mornington Crescent, but it ruined it so much that we almost wish it were dead, and I think it is just as important to protect what is left to us of historic beauty from ruin by unsuitable neighbours, as it is to prevent untimely death by demolition. I know that in the Minister—and I say so despite an ancient controversy about Waterloo Bridge which we had when I first came to this House—we have one who has these causes very close to his heart, and with the Parliamentary Secretary I have the honour to share the membership of societies devoted to these causes, and so I am sure they will do their best to comply.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)

I hope the Minister will be able to accept this new Clause, because it is entirely in line with what he himself wants and Parliament and the country generally want. It is important that local authorities should be encouraged and supported in every way in looking after these old buildings because they do not always appreciate their value. There have been instances where, in a particular locality, they have disregarded something which to them may be an everyday affair, but to people from a distance is of great historic importance. Any enactment which goes to enhance the importance of matters of this kind will help to maintain these buildings for all time.

I am glad to see Sub-section (6) in the Clause, because that enables the local authority to pass over those buildings to bodies like the National Trust. It is important to bring in experts who have devoted the whole of their lives to studying the best way of maintaining buildings of this kind. Bodies like the National Trust have acted purely in the public interest, and they are naturally more fitted to act as caretakers, as it were, than bodies like local authorities who have had no such experience. I would like to know whether Sub-section (6) would enable the Office of Works—which has maintained some ancient buildings very well indeed—to come in and act as a manager in a suitable case. Subject to that, I think it would be a most valuable advance to have this Clause in the Bill.

Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)

It is clear that the whole Committee is in sympathy with the objects of this new Clause, and I feel very confident that the Minister will be able to accept it. If in doing so he is able still further to strengthen it, along the lines suggested by the hon. Member for Kennington (Mr. Wilmot) many of us who are keenly desirous of achieving the objects of this Clause will be very glad indeed. I would, however, like to see some means for strengthening the process for cases not provided for in the Clause, where a local authority is in different and does not care about issuing an Order which a good authority would not hesitate to issue. Is there any way by which the Minister can stimulate a backward authority to do its duty in that way, or even in some cases to act in default of the authority? There have been cases in the past where local authorities have been wilfully negligent of noble historic monuments, and we want to prevent that in future. I should like to support what was said by the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) with regard to Sub-section (6) which is very valuable, and the safeguard it contains that the authority and the Minister must be satisfied that it is consistent with securing the object for which the land is acquired would prevent it from being used for disposal in any other than the right way. Not only the National Trust and the Office of Works, but local antiquarian societies or similar societies might be suitable trustees. The Yorkshire Philosophical Society is the owner of St. Mary's Abbey, of the priceless Roman remains in the gardens around, and of the multangular tower; and it has shown itself a very enlightened custodian. No doubt there will be other cases where local societies, run not for private profit but in the public interest, might be suitable custodians.

Mr. H. Strauss

I am very glad to be able to inform the Committee that the Government accept this new Clause. It only remains for me to answer one or two of the points that have been made. First, I should like to make it quite clear that the acceptance of this Clause in no way affects the undertaking that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) that on the Report stage we should introduce still a further new Clause. The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kennington (Mr. Wilmot), as to possible notice by the owners, is more associated, I think, with the conception of lists than with this Clause. I am inclined to think that, if his suggestion is possible at all, it is more likely to be possible in connection with the new Clause that we contemplate than with this one. But I shall certainly have the point examined. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. Harvey) I would point out that this Clause does not contain any power to compel the local authority to act. There is no such power in the Clause which it amends, and I must be frank and say that this Clause does not give that power. But the hon. Member will not be unaware of the body of legislation under which the Minister of Works can act.

Mr. Mander

But the Ministry of Works is one of the bodies to whom it could be transferred?

Mr. Strauss

I think that such a building could be transferred to the Ministry of Works, either under this Clause or under their own legislation. There is one other point, which is not unimportant. I am convinced that both this Clause and the new Clause which we shall be introducing will be quite insufficient by themselves to preserve many of the things that we wish to preserve. It is vitally important that the local authorities should take every care of local amenities, and should preserve such things as Queen Anne's Gate and Bedford Square for all time. Whatever we provide in the Bill will not he sufficient unless the local authorities take the necessary steps.

Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)

I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary on the acceptance of this Clause. I wish to support what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities {Mr. Harvey) about powers being put in the hands of the Minister to force local authorities to take greater care in preserving these old places. The county of Warwickshire, for instance, abounds in places of great interest and great beauty, and some of the local authorities are quite indifferent to the obligation which rests upon them. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will regard this subject as of great importance, and that the Minister of Works will, in the near future, have sufficient powers to compel local authorities to discharge what is the obvious duty of safeguarding places of great national interest.

Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks

I am very sorry, at this hour, to be raising a voice in the wilderness, but I do not like this Clause as it is drawn. I am very much in sympathy with its objects: the expressed intention is very good; but I should not like to see Sub-section (5), as I read it, incorporated in an Act of Parliament. Nothing raises more warmth in this Committee than the plea that somebody is being turned out of his home. One hears and reads of terrible cases of hardship caused by people having their homes taken away from them. That is exactly what will happen under this Clause. So far as I can understand it, if, as nowadays may easily occur, a person has as his home one of these scheduled buildings, and, for any of a wide variety of reasons, is unable to maintain that home in the way the local authority consider it should be maintained, they have power to take that home away from him. We know that at present there is an order in force that one may not spend more than £10 a year on a house. How can anyone maintain property of this description on £10 a year? That is an extreme case; but if, in ordinary cases, a person is financially embarrassed for a time, and is not maintaining his home as the local authority consider he should, if they take it over and put it right they then have the power of reselling it. I agree with the remark that was made that it would be a very good thing that they should be able to sell it to the National Trust. But they can sell it to anyone who, in their opinion, will see that it is maintained in such a way as to secure the objects for which the land was acquired. I sincerely hope that the vast majority of houseowners and landowners throughout the country would fulfil that condition. But would any hon. Member care to see his home acquired in such circumstances, and sold over his head, under this Bill? I think that safeguards are required. While I am certainly in favour of the object of the Clause, I think there is a loophole by which people might be put into very serious difficulties.

Mr. Wilmot

Will my hon. Friend, in drafting the new Clause which he promised, take care to insert safeguards against spoliation by neighbourhood development?

Sir John Mellor (Tamworth)

I take exception to the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon) that the local authorities in Warwickshire were careless of the antiquities and works of art in their areas. Representing a good many of those local authorities, I must say that my experience has been that they have taken great care of those many antiquities that are worth preserving.

7.45 P. m

Mr. H. Strauss

I want to reassure my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chichester (Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks), who was the only one to criticise the Clause, on one point. I cannot conceive, as a lawyer or, indeed, as an administrator, that any Minister would take the view that property was not being properly maintained, within the meaning of this Sub-section, so as to make a compulsory acquisition appropriate, if the only reason were the impossibility of getting building materials and so forth. I will have the words examined but that is certainly not the intention. On the other hand, this power of public acquisition in the last resort is necessary, because otherwise a building of really historic importance might fall into decay with no remedy whatever. As regards the immediate surroundings of the building, that is provided for in Sub-section (5, a). As regards the preservation of streets, crescents and squares, I will have that borne in mind in drafting the new Clause. In my opinion, in the long run these things must depend on the Ministry and the local authority having the right ideas of what is the essential duty of town planning and in what the beauty of the town consists and you cannot secure them by mere drafting.

Sir P. Hannon

When I spoke of historic buildings, my criticism of local authorities applied generally and not particularly to Warwickshire.

Question put, and agreed to.

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