§ 11.3 a.m.
§ Mr. Wilson Harris (Cambridge University)
In rising to appeal most earnestly to the Government to give further consideration to their decision to permit the construction of the Bankside power station, I realise that I can add little to what has already been said or written. All I can hope to do is to underline certain factors which seem to me to deserve the further careful attention of the Government. The outstanding feature of this whole discussion has been the force and universality of the reaction which the proposal to create this station has evoked. The Bankside power station, if it is erected, will supply first and foremost the immediate neighbourhood of the Borough of Southwark. The Southwark Borough Council, with its Labour majority, is whole-heartedly opposed to the project. It will also supply the whole area of Greater London, and it is well known that the London County Council, with its Labour majority, is equally solidly opposed to this project. The Corporation of the City of London, which also would use electricity from Bankside, is, I think, unanimously opposed to this project As hon. Members know, the voice of every kind of relevant society—the Institute of British Architects, the Royal Society of Arts, the London Society, and the whole of the London Press, with one inconsiderable exception—is raised in opposition to this scheme. We have in office a democratic Government, democratically elected, claiming, quite justly, to enjoy a mandate from the electorate.
I would ask the spokesman of the Government what heed they propose to pay to these impressive democratic voices. It is possible to say, "We know what you want, but you are not going to get it; you are going to get what we want you to have." Such words are familiar. They have been used constantly by Hitler and by Stalin, but they are the antithesis of everything that is democratic. Alternatively—and as I hope—the Government, who have showed once that they know how to yield gracefully to a minority, may on this occasion heed the voice of a great majority and give further consideration to this project which they have provisionally approved. As to the 2689 attitude of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Town and Country Planning, we know exactly where he stands. He has summed up the opposition to t his project as consisting of "a few highbrows who probably saw St. Paul's Cathedral only once or twice a year, and who possibly would not know a power station if they saw one." All I will say about one of these highbrows, the Lord Mayor of the City of London, is that he must lead a strangely cloistered existence if, domiciled as he is in the Mansion House, he only sees St. Paul 's Cathedral twice a year. However, this pronouncement was uttered in a moment of postprandial exuberance, and no one demands meticulous accuracy on such an occasion.
The real difference between us and the Minister of Town and Country Planning is that while he is concerned about electricity we are concerned about town planning, to which the consummation of this project would deal a shattering blow—because if once you have a fine plan prepared and the moment anyone desires to drive a coach and horses through it a coach and horses are driven through it with the approval of the Government, then you take the heart out of all planning and no great planner is going to put his pencil to paper again. Why should he? Because if it happens once there is no reason why it should not happen twice and much more than twice. We have in office a Government who are devotees of planning, and in this, as in so much else, I count myself their humble follower. One can no doubt have too much planning. Equally, one can have too little, and when it is a question of the construction or reconstruction of our cities planning is essential. In the great plan for the City of London we have something finer and more imaginative than has ever been produced before in our history.
Hon. Members are roughly familiar with what the County of London Plan involves so far as concerns the river Thames particularly. The outstanding feature is the treatment of the South bank of the Thames, and the outstanding feature of the South bank is the treatment of the Bankside area. The conception is that from Lambeth Palace, almost opposite here, right down to Southwark Cathedral by London Bridge, there shall be a new and embellished South bank of the Thames containing the old London 2690 County Hall, a range of Government buildings, a national theatre, a cultural centre, colleges, open gardens and road-side walks. As regards Bankside in particular, there is the fine endeavour to make it what it was in Elizabethan days—the days of Shakespeare, Jonson, and Richard Burbage—a great cultural and recreational centre in London. We had it then, with its Paris Gardens, the Globe Theatre, the Rose Theatre and the Palace of the Bishop of Winchester with its gardens. To return to that is a great and imaginative conception which we ought not lightly to jeopardise.
In that connection I would add one point. It is known that King's College is prepared to move from the Strand to the Bankside site if that site is developed in accordance with the plan drawn up by Abercrombie and Forshaw, but it is quite certain that King's College is riot prepared to be a good neighbour—as the Minister would put it—to a power station. The matter goes a little further than that. I have spoken only of King's College, but we know that within the next 10 years there is to be an immense educational development in London and elsewhere. The university facilities in London must be increased twofold. Can one imagine a better site for educational development, perhaps with the establishment of a new university, let us say the University of Southwark, with a Silkin College—how much better to be remembered by than by "Silkin's folly"—as its chief constituent, there on the banks of the Thames at Bankside? That is, perhaps, imaginative. No one knows whether such a development will take place, but—and this is the point—I appeal to the Government not to take action which will make it impossible for that ever to take place—as would unquestionably be the case if the power station were erected where it is projected.
I do not, of course, suggest for a moment—and no opponent of the scheme has suggested—that a power station need necessarily be unsightly. I know nothing finer—in its situation—than the power station at Battersea, which seems to me to typify impressively all that is finest and most vigorous in industry. But industry is the one thing which it is desired to keep out of this Bankside site because part of the conception—and a very proper part—is that this area shall 2691 be kept for residential, recreational, educational and cultural purposes, and industry left to the great area below London Bridge. We have been told that a power station can, in its way, be as beautiful as a cathedral, and I do not challenge that. A hyena can be as melodious in its way as a nightingale, but we do not like the way, and we prefer the nightingale, and while I admire Battersea power station intensely where it is I should he very sorry to see it transplanted to Bankside. We have had a very interesting model of the projected power station in the tea-room and I know that it has impressed some hon. Members. But I think we ought to approach these models with a little mistrust. They look so nice and white and clean and, after all, in the model the projected power station is only about 8 inches long and 5 inches high. That could do no harm to anyone. But, if we want to imagine what the power station will really be let us speak in terms of feet and yards. As projected it would be nine-tenths of the length of St. Paul's, and its chimney is to rise as high in one case as 300 ft.—that 'is as high as the summit of the topmost tower of Big Ben—or, alternatively, a little higher than the clock face of Big Ben.
I am not concerned with the question whether a structure so designed would dominate St. Paul's—I think that that argument has been a little overworked—but I am very much concerned with the question of its dominating Bankside, because to place it there would destroy the whole character which has been assigned to Bankside in the London Plan, and it will invest it with a character which it was never intended to wear. That would be a disaster which the Government ought never to countenance. Why in fact is it suggested that this station should be put in this particular place at all? I am not qualified to discuss the technical questions, but it is quite certain that the reason the power station is to be put there is because the experts say that it must be there and nowhere else.
I have a great respect for experts; they are invaluable and indispensable, which is why the Chancellor of the Exchequer gives the universities so much money to produce them. But the function of the expert is to serve the community and not to dominate it, and there is some danger today of our being ruled a great 2692 deal too much by experts. The successful Minister in Whitehall is the man who uses his experts wisely, hearing all they have to say in their particular sphere, puts their conclusions into a larger setting, relating them to other considerations winch are not the concern of experts, and then makes his own decisions accordingly. The experts themselves have an invariable technique. They say a particular thing must be in a particular place, and they buttress their contention with arguments which are quite unanswerable—except by other experts, who are always available. What they mean is that that is the most convenient spot, and I do not doubt for one moment that Bankside would probably be the most convenient spot for this projected power station. But what happens? We have had an example at Durham. There was only one spot there where a power station could be placed. It would destroy a historic view, but that did not matter. But when my right hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury and Cirencester (Mr. W. S. Morrison)—it will be strange if history has to tell of a Conservative Minister saving Durham and a Labour Minister refusing to save Bankside—when my right hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury refused to allow that station to be built there it was moved somewhere else and no one was any the worse.
We had the same thing the other day, White Horse Hill. They were going to erect a television station on the top of it. But the Postmaster-General, with a public spirit which I hope will spread rapidly along the Treasury Bench, went down to White Horse Hill and said that the projected television station should not be put there; it is being erected somewhere else and the operation of television in the United Kingdom will go on unimpaired. For these reasons I am impressed only to a very limited degree by the contention of the experts that the power station must be on Bankside and nowhere else. I cannot believe that the resources of civilisation in the field of electricity will be exhausted if Bankside is ruled out, or that, with the two banks of the Thames from London Bridge to Tilbury on the North and London Bridge to Gravesend on the South available, there are no other sites where an alternative station can be erected.
2693 But let us assume for a moment that the station is erected at Bankside. The Minister of Town and Country Planning, by a decision which we all applauded, has decided that if it is erected it is to be fuelled with oil and not with coal. As I understand it—and again I speak with no technical knowledge—in that decision we are very much making a leap into the dark. There is no example of a power station of anything like this magnitude being fuelled with oil. We do not know what the results may be. We do not know what kind of noxious fumes are going to come out of that vast chimney. The experts assure us that there will be no noxious fumes. If there are none, the experts will be proved to be right; if noxious fumes do emerge, well, then the experts will be proved to be wrong.
But if there is much that we do not know about an oil-fuelled station there is one thing we do know definitely—on the authority of the Minister of Fuel and Power himself, who gave an answer to the House only yesterday to the effect that the change from coal to oil will increase the cost of production by between £400,000 and £500,000 a year. If we capitalise that sum at 2½ per cent. the station is going to be increased by either £16 million or £20 million, which is substantially more than double what the cost of erection would have been in the first instance. And what are we going to gain by it? We are told that we are going to gain two vital years. If that is true we have to balance it against other considerations, because no one is going to suggest that all the considerations are on one side, Are we going to take the short or the long view? Are we going to be concerned only with our own immediate needs? After all, when this power station is constructed and when it is in full production it will be producing—what? It will be producing rather less than 5 per cent. of the whole consumption of the London area. We are not unaccustomed in these days to shortages. What commodity is there about which we would not say that to have 95 per cent. of it would be, in Dr. Johnson's words:riches beyond the dreams of avarice.Moreover, let us remember we are legislating in this matter for posterity. It is possible for the Government to say, "Posterity! What do we care about 2694 posterity? We cannot be always facing the future. Let us consider our own needs and our own material advantages in these years immediately before us?" That is an unworthy and ignoble attitude, which I am convinced would not be endorsed by the Prime Minister or by many of his colleagues whom I could mention. This is not a conflict between good and evil; it is a conflict—and such conflicts are often much more difficult—between good and better. We have to decide whether we are legislating for the immediate or for a distant future, for a finer future than anything we enjoy in the present. It is not a question of selling our birthright for a mess of pottage; it is selling our children's heritage for a trifling percentage of kilowatts in the years immediately ahead. That is the choice before the Government, and I by no means abandon hope that their decision will be the right one. If they do decide to choose the lesser good the verdict of history on them will be justly stern.
§ 11.25 a.m.
§ Mr. Skeffington-Lodge (Bedford)
I am glad that I caught your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, so early in this Debate, and I am going to make no excuse to the House for following my notes rather closely, because, firstly, I have a closely knit argument to put to the House; and, secondly, I know that a large number of other Members wish to speak. I think I can claim to be as loyal a supporter of this Government as anyone on this side of the House and this, I believe, is the first time that I have felt myself obliged to challenge and oppose a decision taken by the Government at Cabinet level. I recognise the good faith of those who have made that decision. I would even go so far as to say that I believe the promoters and especially my right hon. Friend the Minister of Town and Country Planning have acted with a cue if somewhat panicky sense of responsibility. A cast-iron case, we are all agreed, can be made out for expanding the production of electric power, but a temporary and rather dramatic fuel crisis has, I feel, led to a judgment which appears to be principally based on the shaky premise that some 12 months would be gained in providing a comparatively small extra amount of electricity at a very great extra cost if a generating plant were to be put down on Bankside rather than on some other site.
§ Mr. Skeffington-Lodge
I am coming to that question in a few minutes. I ask the House to believe that I have made a close and conscientious study throughout this controversy of both sides of the case. As is inevitable when feelings are aroused, there has been some exaggeration all round, and on some aspects of the pros and cons we, who have remained opponents throughout, recognise that the argument one way or the other is fairly evenly balanced. For instance, to insist that the power station may dwarf St. Paul's is a mistake. I have visited the site three times so as to check my facts on this and all other aspects of the question
What are the considerations which have led me to hold the view that the Government are wrong in their case? They are three. Firstly, the erection of a large power station at Bankside will have a decisive effect on the planning of the South bank. Those in favour of the scheme and those against it will, I think, equally agree to that proposition. I personally think that this station on Bankside will have an adverse effect on the South bank and on its whole vicinity. The model we have seen, as the hon. Gentleman the junior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Wilson Harris) has just pointed out, is persuasive enough. I admit that it would indeed be an abuse of language to call the austerely elegant temple of electricity shown to us in model form a mere power station. But we would do well to remember that no amount of Cubist beauty, silver bricks or architectural genius can make up for a vast building on a wrong site.
The presence of a huge power station as the central feature of a redeveloped South bank opposite St. Paul's involves, in my opinion, an anti-climax there, in what otherwise should be the harmonious continuity of one vista embracing both sides of the river and having as its focal point Wren's great cathedral. An inevitable and incongruous duality is here involved, and the architectural unity of an all-embracing scheme will be completely shattered. Its siting on Bankside without a specific guarantee regarding the emission of sulphur and other fumes would, I think, be an act of folly unless the promoters want to kill and blight the area stone dead before they start.
2696 May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that when he was Chairman of the Housing and Health Committee of the L.C.C. he received serious complaints about sulphur fumes from the power station at Battersea and that, despite the installation of a gas washing plant, the nuisance has never been fully eliminated? Battersea, I would point out, is a coal-fired plant. The sulphur content of oil is very much greater than that of coal, and in murky, muggy and foggy weather it is not difficult to imagine what might happen at Bankside. Would such a development encourage trees, flowers and shrubs to flourish in the gardens we have been promised; would it benefit the fabric of St. Paul's and other buildings, or would it he likely to attract the high-class commercial developers and flat dwellers, who, we are assured, will scramble to live and work under the shadow of this great station? In any case, I am one who believes that to site the station on Bankside, will industrialise an area which the Abercrombie plan asserts should be solely for cultural, recreational, educational, commercial and residential uses. The argument that if this plant is not put down on Bankside, nothing else will be, is a singularly weak one, and it seems an odd thing for my right hon. Friend publicly to have stated that he is not interested in what happens 30 years from now, when the very essence of planning is to look several generations ahead. I have always thought, during the 20 years I have belonged to the Labour Party, that one of its main political beliefs was to protect the long-term objectives from the encroachments of opportunist, parochial and panic decisions.
My second point has been most ably dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Wilson Harris). Do we or do we not believe in democracy in local government, and in bowing, where it is well-informed and strong, to public opinion? The local authorities, speaking for the people of South London, the leading architects, town planners, all the amenities societies and countless individuals, including many Members of this House representative of all parts of the British Isles, are against this scheme. Is their judgment to be over-ridden, because it is decreed that what is only a mere four or five per cent. of the total output of the electrical energy 2697 we need in the London area must come from Bankside, and can come from nowhere else? Thirdly, I want my right hon. Friend to tell the House what alternatives have been considered, and why they are unsuitable. I know that after first regarding Rotherhithe as an alternative to Bankside, the promoters, following Questions in this House, suddenly changed their tune and asserted that they wanted both these sites. But what about Poplar, and what about Woolwich? Have these been vetted? I should also like to know whether the possibility of putting the station underground, here or elsewhere, has been explored and examined. Has it even been thought of? It is quite easy to construct an underground railway; why not a power station? I am credibly informed that at a comparatively small extra cost this could easily be done, and that gas turbines could be used for generating the power. The security angle is specially relevant here.
These are all points upon which we are justified in asking for enlightenment. Before I sit down, I should like to ask the Minister to confirm that the whole scheme, before it is proceeded with, will be subject to the approval of the Royal Fine Arts Commission. I mention this because I have a feeling in my bones that this last hurdle, if he reaches it, may not he a very easy one to surmount. In all friendliness, and with a full share of responsibility, I ask my right hon. Friend to take back this scheme to the Cabinet, and to say, "I will not have it." If he will do that, posterity will bless him. If he will not, then I prophesy that the central feature of the proposed new power station will come to be regarded as a gargantuan monolith, erected to celebrate the negation of genuine and far-sighted Socialist planning.
§ 11.36 a.m
§ Mr. Henry Strauss (Combined English Universities)
I shall detain the House only for a few minutes, because I know that many Members are anxious to speak on this subject. I wish to support the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Wilson Harris), to whom the House is indebted for raising this topic today. Let me say at once that there is one argument, raised against the Government's project, which I certainly do not support. I do not suggest for one moment that there is any 2698 aesthetic objection to a power station as such. A power station can be an extremely good building, and there is no reason to think that the power station in this case would not be an excellent building. The objection, which I believe is an overwhelming objection to the Government's present proposal, is on planning grounds—it is the wrong use of these particular acres. It is not a small area. It is an area of eight acres, and if it is devoted to this use, it cannot be devoted to the use which all the local authorities concerned, all the planning authorities and all the technicians in this sphere say is the right use of this site.
I was sorry in a way that my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University spoke about the experts as if the experts were against us. There is such a thing as an expert technician in town planning, and in this particular case the body of expert opinion against the Government's scheme is quite overwhelming. I am not going to say very much about the plan of Professor Abercrombie and Mr. Forshaw. I should certainly not lightly disregard a plan upon which so much work has been done, and upon which so many hopes have been placed. Here I would refer the House to a letter by Professor Abercrombie which appeared in the "Times" this morning. I would, however, ask the House to remember a more recent plan, known to many Members only since yesterday, namely, the plan produced by Dr. Holden and Professor Holford for the City of London, which is bound up with the development of Bankside. The closest consultations took place between those experts and those responsible for the London Plan, and their scheme is one which the House, unless it is mad, would not wish to disregard. Let me say, in defence of the right hon. Gentleman, that I think he has been misrepresented when it is said that he expressed the opinion that he did not care what happened 30 years hence. I do not think that is what he said, and I am certain it is not what he intended to say. I think he was addressing himself simply to a financial argument, and not a very good one. In the matter of town planning, it is our duty to take the long view. Town planning has no meaning at all unless we take a long view. If you take the long view then I ask the House to remember that Dr. Holden, who has given his views publicly in "The 2699 Times," is not likely to say that his plan will be ruined if his fear is purely fanciful, and exists purely in his imagination. He and the co-author of the plan have thought out these matters quite as thoroughly as the right hon. Gentleman. Lord Latham's views, given in another place, and elsewhere, are well known. He is not a mere amateur, coming to this matter for the first time. He, also, has given great thought to this topic. You have, here, the nearest thing to unanimity among all planners who have devoted their mind to this subject that I can remember in any case of the kind.
Finally, I want to say this: admittedly, this power station will, apart from everything else, be an inefficient power station. The figures have been given by the Minister of Fuel and Power, I think, and certainly by the Lord Chancellor in another place. There is a great extra cost if the Government persist in this project. I concede to the right hon. Gentleman everything he asks about the possibility of this station being admirable in design and aesthetically right. But I say that this is a wrong use of these acres, and that, if the Minister considers town planning to be the science or art of the right use of land, he is using this important piece of land wrongly. I support the opposition which has been raised to this project.
§ 11.43 a.m.
§ Mr. Braddock (Mitcham)
I regard this dispute, which has, unfortunately, come up so early in considering town planning in relation to this area, as being of a somewhat symbolic character. We have, here, the challenge of the new world to the old. We are now testing the possibility of bringing into being new ideas, new methods, and new demands in relation to those which are existing. That is symbolic of what, at any rate, my party in the House are trying to do, and this scheme is a challenge as to whether that is possible or not. It is not without significance that the main opposition to this scheme comes from those who are imbued with, and put their faith in, old ideas.
§ Mr. Braddock
The opposition are basing their opinions and points of view, on the advice of people who are bound up with old ideas. Let me draw the attention 2700 of the House to the London County Council plan, which was published two years ago, and which said:The reconstruction of industrial premises, particularly on the river-front, must offer great opportunities for a modern treatment, expressive in form and silhouetting the character and importance of their function and their service.Those words are illustrated by a photograph of the Battersea power station. Do those words mean what they say?
§ Mr. Braddock
It has been admitted by previous speakers that there is no aesthetic objection to this project. I suggest that this matter has been dealt with in a rather unfortunate way, which has induced certain opponents to rush into opposition without fully appreciating what the scheme is, and what it entails. It is a great pity that when the announcement of this scheme was made all those drawings we have had in "The Times," and models were not immediately available for examination by everybody concerned If that had been the case I believe that a great deal of this uninformed criticism, based on lack of knowledge of what was actually intended, would not have been forthcoming.
I must agree—and I hope that this will be a lesson for the future—that it is particularly unfortunate that much more discussion did not take place between the authorities concerned. Had the London County Council been prepared to adapt their plan in accordance with requirements they could have made it obvious that good development, embracing this scheme, was possible on the South bank of the Thames. But no opportunity was given to them of seeing what were the possibilities We have got that only at the last minute. The approach of the Government and the Ministry of Town and Country Planning to this proposal has been wrong. They are placating the opposition. This scheme must be right or wrong. To discuss this power station as if it were to be a sort of public library, with a campanile is entirely wrong. Why not put a clock on the campanile, why not a peal of bells? Alternatively, why not have a crematorium there, so that the smoke which went up would not be distinguishable from the smoke coming from the power station itself? The opposition in attempting to disguise this building as something which it is not—
§ Sir Arthur Salter (Oxford University)
Does the hon. Gentleman include among the opposition the London County Council, and the Southwark Council? Are they among the opposition whom it would be a crime to appease?
§ Mr. Braddock
The people who opposed this scheme before they understood what the implications were had not been given an opportunity of studying the project sufficiently. Had they studied the plans and models that are now available we should have not had this great burst of opposition at the present time. I hope that the Government will reconsider their proposals, and having decided that a power station can be properly erected, will make it a real power station. I deprecate this attempt to disguise a building and to make it something which it is not. I suggest that two chimneys as originally planned would not depreciate the building. In fact tall chimneys in that position would be a good thing. When Sir Christopher Wren designed St. Paul's, he designed the City churches with tall steeples in order to provide a contrast to the dome of St. Paul's. There is no reason why chimneys should not do what Wr[...]n would have been glad to do if he had had this opportunity.
I ask the Government, and the promoters of this scheme, to have the courage of their convictions. The plans and details which we have had show that there is no aesthetic objection to a power station on this site. The question of whether a power station is necessary here or not, is a matter for the technicians, and I do not pretend to judge on the technicalities of the matter, and I do not think other hon. Members can do so. But, as far as town planning and the possibility of erecting a power station on this site are concerned, I stand by the Government, and hope that they will have the courage of their convictions. I hope they will see that the best possible power station is built there, and that they do not attempt to disguise it as a clock tower, or anything other than what it is.
§ 11.52 a.m.
§ Mr. Bossom (Maidstone)
Having heard the speech of the hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. Braddock) the Minister must be saying "God save me from my friends." If we take the hon. Member's words seriously I think it is only fair to remember the funny story which was 2702 heard during the war about a fond mother watching her boy marching with other soldiers and saying "Everybody's out of step except our Silky."
This is no party matter, it is simply a matter of judgment, taste and knowledge. Who are those in favour of this proposal? They are first the Minister, the firm responsible for the building and the architect. The architect is one of the greatest men in the profession and he will certainly make the best of a bad job but if he were asked whether he would like to put the power station on that site or on some other one we know what answer he would give. Who are those against the proposal? I will not go into a brig description of why they are against it but I will itemise a few of the leading opponents. There are the London County Council—all the members except two who abstained, but did not oppose—Southwark Borough Council, the Corporation of the City of London, the London Plan, the Royal Institute of British Architects, the London Society, the Royal Society of Arts, the Joint Parliamentary Amenities Group and the South-Eastern Board of Architects. Those are some of the larger societies and organisations which have officially recorded their point of view. Then there are the experts who include Professor Sir Charles Reilly, of Liverpool University, who trained a great number of practising architects of today, and Professor A. E. Richardson, R.A., of London University, another great instructor of the younger architects. These professors are two of the best men in the country who are definitely against the proposal. I think that if there were a free vote in this House the House would be against it. We have to face the fact that practically all informed people are opposed to this scheme, and most are informed for it has been fully described in the Press and there is a model seen by all those speaking, so it cannot be said that people are not informed about it.
Is this an example of how the new Town and Country Planning Measure is to work? Is the Minister to turn into a dictator one who if he endorses this scheme may well be known as a dictator for bad taste—because that is what he will be called if he insists upon this being carried out? If he were going to build a college or cultural building would he 2703 want to put it beside a power station irrespective of what is on the outside of the power station? The Minister and I were both members of the London County Council at the same time and then he was very sound and never did funny things like this. Why do the Government and the Minister advocate this scheme? It is primarily because they think it would be approximately two years quicker than to use the alternative proposed site at Rotherhithe. But is that a fact? I doubt it. Let me cite an example of what has been done elsewhere and if it can be done elsewhere it can be done here. In 1911 the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway built a headquarters in Richmond, Virginia, which was a building of 20 storeys, and the builders had to go down 80 feet for foundations. They did it in nine months. If they could do that in America we could do it.—[Interruption]—I know I was the architect.
Wherever the power station is built the same bricks, steel, concrete and other materials will be used and it is only a matter of organising the construction properly to get this building completed with great speed. The real difficulty is going to be in getting the plant made and put into the power station. Is the time saved to be due to the acquisition of the site? Has not the Minister all the power he needs for the acquisition of the land needed now under the Town and Country Planning Acts? He has had vast experience of such things in the course of his life. I do not think there is any need for two years' delay; the building can be built and the land acquired on either site with great speed if necessary. Why do the public object to this proposal? A power station is very much like a purgative pill. Put as much sugar on the outside as you wish but it is still a pill inside and it is no good putting fat boys and bulbous ladies on the outside of the building, it will still be a power station.
Years ago the London County Council considered cutting a main highway from the end of Vauxhall Bridge to the end of London Bridge and it was found that the rates on the South side of the river were about one-eighth as much as those on the North side. Putting a power station on the South side in this position would jeopardise improvements. A building of this type cannot be put in the middle of an area of 2704 that kind without drawing other buildings of the same sort around it and we would never get a cultural group of buildings like the London University group built there beside the power station—[Interruption.] Do not let us be funny about it; we are all grown-up people, and we must be real. A power station attracts factories, not fine buildings for cultural or semi-cultural purposes. What is the good of a plan if we are not going to carry it out? The best men obtainable make the plan. In regard to the question of oil, it has not been possible to deal with the fumes successfully in other places. They have tried washing the fumes and all kinds of things have been attempted but have not by any means been always satisfactory. There is no certainty that fumes can be thoroughly cleaned yet. It may be done in the future, but no one as yet has thoroughly and invariably succeeded. Again electricity from Bankside is going to cost a third more if made from oil than if it were produced from coal.
The Minister is Minister of Town and Country Planning, but he cannot plan the Gulf Stream. It is the Gulf Stream that gives us our damp, heavy climate, and whether we like it or not, we are always going to have a damp climate. The dampness in the atmosphere and the fumes will hang together in the air. So, although we should like to avoid this, we cannot do it if the fumes are emitted. Those of us who have been in this House a long time have seen how the fumes come across the river from the other side, and how the front of this building, of this Palace of Westminster, has had to he repaired and restored to a very large extent. It has cost more to repair and restore it and change it than the face stonework of the building cost originally to build. We do not want to have a similar trouble to arise from a new power station on the face of St. Paul's Cathedral. The ground under St. Paul's is over 40 ft. higher above sea level than that under the power station. The damp in the air will keep the fumes down. They will waft across the river. The Bankside site and St. Paul's are near the river level—at the bottom of the surface of London as a matter of fact where the bad and vitiated air settles down and so affects the stonework to the utmost. A spotty appearance for this building—the Palace of Westminster—is not vital. We could put new stones in a Gothic building without much 2705 damage. But in a classical building like St. Paul's we must keep the harmony in its appearance uniform in the colour and tone of the stones, and were we continually to replace damaged old ones with new stones it would ruin the appearance of the cathedral and that would be one of the greatest needless sacrifices we could make. It would be most regrettably sad.
I do not think the Minister has asked the Royal Fine Art Commission whether they believe in this site. He says he will ask about the building, but what about the site? That is the thing to which we object. We are not objecting to the building. The building for such a purpose may indeed be a very good building, quite functional and in good taste. But not the site. That is indeed incongruous. Let us be truthful. The Minister has made a bad decision. He knows it; I feel sure that in his soul he knows it himself. He is stubborn and fights hard and we respect him for that. But why should he not be wise and correct this undesirable decision? For we must never forget that once this building is built in the wrong place it cannot be removed and if a failure it will be the Minister's memorial for as long as he lives—and for, well, all time.
§ 12.3 p.m.
§ Dr. Santo Jeger (St. Pancras, South-East)
The hon. Members who have opposed the scheme have expressed the view that the argument was well balanced on both sides and that it was difficult to decide on which side they would come down. They finally decided that the weight was on the side of the opposition to the Government's proposal. Let us look at the County of London's plan for the scheme. It says that there should be a riverside walk of about 150 feet in width, that there should be gardens, that there should be trees, and that further from the river than 150 feet there should be buildings of educational, residential, cultural, and commercial value. But at the particular point that we are discussing, at Bankside, there is proposed the erection of blocks of offices and flats. These blocks are to be, in accordance with the County of London plan, 100 feet high if they are offices, and 80 feet high if they are residential buildings. Incidentally, we should remember that Faraday House, on the other side of the river, is 120 feet high.
§ Dr. Jeger
The present Government cannot be blamed for that. Behind these blocks of offices and flats we are going to get, according to the County of London plan, light industry. As Lord Latham said a few days ago, speaking on this subject in another place, nothing could be more fatal to good planning than rigidity in detail.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)
The hon. Member may not quote a speech made in another place.
§ Dr. Jeger
I was only paraphrasing. This scheme, as put forward by the Minister, in contrast with the 150 feet wide walk along the river, gives a walk of about 230 feet wide. The power station, apart from its chimney, is going to be 87 feet high. That is not so high as Faraday House, and is below the maximum limit allowed by the County of London plan. It is going to have a chimney, but we will talk about the chimney in a moment or two. Its total length and width will take up the space of two or three blocks of warehouses or flats, which does not seem extensive.
Across the river we have St. Paul's. St. Paul's is 370 feet high. It stands on an eminence in the City that is 42 feet high, so that it will be, in total height, more than 100 feet above the top of the proposed power station chimney. St. Paul's is more than half a mile away from the proposed power station.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member must not question my accuracy. Furthermore I have not made any statement.
§ Dr. Jeger
I got the figure from the experts, and I do know something about London. St. Paul's is half a mile away. It is separated from the proposed power station by gardens, by the river, and by the stretch of the City which lies between the river and St. Paul's. St. Paul's is surrounded at the moment by a mass of half-derelict property, where there is a great deal of squalor, a great deal of poverty, a great deal of dirt, and a great deal of decay. It is true we are going to have a new City scheme, but the new City scheme is not going to be a very great improvement upon what we have 2707 had in the past. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I know that hon. Members opposite and some hon. Members on this side regard the new City scheme as the last word in planning; I know that nearly all the newspapers regard it as the acme of planning; but it is based upon nothing beyond a miserable, commercial outlook, which is characteristic of the City in the past and is characteristic of the City today. The possible floor space available in the City is something like 80 million square feet. There is going to be a vista opening up St. Paul's; there are to be steps up from the river to St. Paul's; there are to be circuses, there are to be roundabouts, there are to be open-air spaces where people can have their lunches. In spite of all that, the total reduction in the available floor space is going down only by 5 million square feet to 75 million.
§ Mr. Wilson Harris
Will the hon. Member allow me? I am very interested in the Bankside scheme. I do want to understand the relation between St. Paul's and the Bankside power station.
§ Dr. Jeger
I will try to elucidate. There is going to be a great deal of opposition by the City interests to the Bankside scheme. The replanning of the City is going to involve very little reduction in floor space, and that reduction in floor space is more than accounted for by the increased amenities of the City. So that the eyesore one sees when one looks along the river on the North side will not be improved by the kind of City replanning suggested with such a flourish of trumpets today. The real danger to London amenities lies there and not in the Bankside scheme at all. The hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) enumerated long lists of experts who, he said, were opposed to the Government plan. He accepted the word of those experts, but when the Minister tells us that the new Bankside scheme will not produce any noise, smoke, grit, smell or sulphurous fumes, he then says, "But your experts are wrong. I will accept the experts who tell me that I am right, but I will not accept your experts."
§ Mr. Skeffington-Lodge
Can my hon. Friend produce clear-cut evidence that anyone has stated categorically, that there 2708 will be no fumes whatever from this new power station?
§ Dr. Jeger
I understand that the Minister has definitely stated that he has received advice from his experts that the arrangements for filtering and washing the gas and fumes will eliminate the smell—[HON. MEMBERS: "May."] The Minister has not said "may"; he has said "will." In a speech in another place recently the Lord Chancellor gave the same opinion.
§ Dr. Jeger
I have read the speech very carefully, and I am prepared to accept the views which he gave rather than the views of my interrupters. Then there is the question of oil versus coal. I agree that oil is to be used and that it is a more expensive fuel than coal, but there is one thing to be said for it. It will not drain our coal supplies, neither will it drain the lifeblood of our miners. We shall be using a more expensive fuel but it will be one which is more in accordance with the industrial needs of the community. Recently we have had a crisis in which we were short of power and warmth. The total percentage of the shortage of fuel production compared with what we are able to produce was small. The four per cent. of our total energy output which we shall get by the use of this new station, will make a great deal of difference to the comfort of our people and the efficiency of our industries if we get it within the next two years. I know that there is criticism of the experts who say that the station will be working and that we shall get our power supply two years sooner, if we have this scheme than if we do not have it. Two years is not a lifetime. It is a very small time in the history of our people, but two winters of cold give quite an appreciable time in which to acquire a sense of beauty. I do not think we ought to ask people who are cold, and unable to switch on their lights, to admire the beauty of St. Paul's, when they are unable to keep themselves warm and unable to keep their industries working efficiently.
I now come to some of the artistic aspects of this question. It has been admitted on all sides that a power station need not be ugly. Indeed, Professor Abercrombie said so in his letter to "The Times" today. I do not think any hon. Member would say that a power station 2709 need necessarily be more ugly than a block of flats or offices. The alternative to the power station is blocks of flats or offices. People standing on the promenade on the South bank, when the power station is erected, will see blocks of warehouses on the other side of the river below St. Paul's. People standing below St. Paul's and looking towards Bankside will see beside the power station blocks of flats and offices. It seems to me that the beauty of the vista will not be adversely affected in either case. The opponents of this scheme have no monopoly of artistic taste. The hon. Member for Maidstone accused the Minister of bad taste. I should like to point out to him that he possesses no monopoly of knowledge of what is good or bad taste in artistic matters.
§ Mr. Bossom
I did not accuse the Minister of bad taste. I said that if he carried out this scheme he would be looked upon as the dictator of bad taste.
§ Dr. Jeger
That is a matter of opinion with which some of us cannot agree. Art is a matter of opinion. It depends on when one happens to be born, it depends upon historical and geographical factors and, almost entirely, upon the sort of influences to which one has been subjected. One's opinions on art are determined by one's environment. The last word has not been said either on the artistic or on the architectural aspect of this subject. Wren was not the last great architect, and neither is St. Paul's the supreme last word in beauty.
§ Dr. Jeger
No one denies it, but I dare say that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), who has recently achieved eminence in a new sphere of activity, would, in discussing this and cognate matters, point out that the beauty of the picture that one sees from some point of vantage in London, would depend upon the kind of contrast one got and upon the balance of the various masses at which one was looking and, to some degree, upon the perspective. There is no place that I know, apart from the heights of Hampstead, or immediately behind the proposed South bank site, from which one could see both these buildings at one and the same time.
§ Mr. Skeffington-Lodge
What about the large traffic on the river of people in 2710 pleasure craft who will be able to see both these buildings at the same time as they approach this point?
§ Mr. Sidney Marshall (Sutton and Cheam)
Surely, people on London Bridge will be able to see both at once
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I would remand the hon. Member for St. Pancras (Dr. Jeger) that time is limited and other hon. Members want to speak.
§ Dr. Jeger
I have nearly finished. Even as people approach this spot they will love to look first at one side and then at the other. St. Paul's achieves a great deal of its artistic eminence by a certain amount of deceit. On all sides when one looks at St. Paul's one gets an impression of two complete storeys. As everybody knows, there are not two complete storeys. There are rows of windows which are pure dummies hiding empty air above the aisles. If Wren could that kind of architecture, I see no reason why the people who design the Bankside power station should not use campaniles, and other methods of disguising some of the defects, if they exist, in their scheme. The hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. Braddock) does not like campaniles. He wants a building to appear to be what in fact it is. He wants functional architecture. I also want functional architecture, and that is one of my objections to some aspects of St. Paul's. When the arguments of both sides are carefully weighed, there is a great deal to be said against the scheme, but I feel there is a lot more to be said for the scheme, and I would say more, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if you would allow me to. However, I ask the Government not to withdraw their plan and not to yield to the clamour of so-called aesthetes when the vast majority of the people of London say that this is a storm in a teacup, that they want warmth and light and energy and that they do not believe that this is destroying the beauty of London. I hope the Government will go ahead with their scheme. I have talked with a great many of the ordinary citizens of London and have not heard a single objection. I assure the Minister that his determination to proceed with his plans will earn the blessings of all Londoners.
§ 12.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Brendan Bracken (Bournemouth)
The House will be grateful to the junior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Wilson Harris) for raising this important issue. So far there have only been two defenders of Bankside, the hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. Braddock), who wants to beautify London by building bigger and bigger chimneys, and the hon. Member for South East St. Pancras (Dr. Jeger), who feels qualified to criticise Sir Christopher Wren's quality as an architect.
§ Mr. Bracken
Surely that is a laughable concession. We have just listened to a speech by the hon. Member for St. Pancras in which he jeered at Sir Christopher Wren, called St. Paul's a disputed building, whatever that may be, and, generally speaking, posed the view that we should have no nonsense about aesthetics.
§ Mr. Bracken
No party issues divide us today, nor really is it required of us to give up much time to the utilitarian arguments for this Bankside scheme. They have been demolished, not to say atomised, in another place, in the Press and in some of the speeches we have heard today. Unconvincing indeed are these utilitarian arguments. The most fervent advocates of the Bankside power station admit that it could make only a comparatively small contribution to our needs—I think the Minister will admit that. They also admit that the cost would be fantastic because of a harassed Government's penultimate decision to substitute oil for coal. What a fatuous but futile way of appeasement. None of the utilitarian arguments advanced by the promoters can convert a considering person to support this Bankside scheme. A much better utilitarian argument can be put up by any hon. Member of this House who follows what the Government say about the great tourist traffic they expect in the future. We have all read the announcements of the plan to bring such a number of tourists to these islands that we shall actually earn a revenue of, I think, £100 million a year in scarce currencies, or much of it in scarce currencies. I aver that 20 2712 power stations bigger than the transformed Bankside station could not create half such a revenue, and therefore I say that on utilitarian grounds alone, it is a pretty poor argument to advance, that this scheme should attract men of practical minds.
I have something to say today about a matter of far greater importance than mere utilitarian considerations. If we diminish what is left of our inheritance of beauty we shall attract few tourists to these islands, and that we are in danger of doing, as I shall try to show in the few remarks I make today, even though I limit myself to places in sight of St. Paul's. London was once a city of great beauty. One is sick at heart when comparing the London painted by Canaletto and Samuel Scott with the London of 1939. If one looks at the drawings of Paul Sandby or Boys of the beautiful buildings demolished or spoilt by the Victorians or by this generation how can we resist the accusation of being a nation of vandals? Our home-bred vandals have done much more harm to London than the Luftwaffe. We boast of the incomparable Sir Christopher Wren and our reverence of his work. "Incomparable" is a word of double meaning. Certainly twenty of Sir Christopher Wren's churches were "incomparable" long before the German air raids on London for they were pulled down by English vandals and utilitarians. The vandals who destroyed so much of Sir Christopher Wren's works were no less active in pulling down or spoiling noble buildings by Inigo Jones. Chambers, the brothers Adam, Soane, and Nash.
I think it may be said that we have an unerring eye for demolishing or spoiling the work of architects of genius, and I furthermore say that the best way of describing our approach to architecture is to quote from Swift, who said:When a true genius appears in the world you may know him by the sign that the dunces are always in confederacy against him.I ask the House to compare London's attitude to fine buildings with the attitude shown by Paris or Rome. In those cities the vandals have long since been curbed. It is impossible for utilitarians like the Minister to destroy good buildings in France or Italy. Does anyone believe that the French would allow any vista of Notre Dame to be interfered with 2713 by a vast power station, and what would the Romans say or do if St. Peter's were threatened by such a building? Does anyone believe that the people of Rome would tolerate the erection of this power station in the shadow of St. Peter's? Of course not.
§ Mr. Bracken
In the United States of America where they have not got many old buildings of great merit they show the greatest care for preserving anything of historic interest or of architectural merit. I believe that in this country we are now getting conscious—slowly conscious—of the harm done by our vandals and utilitarians. If I am right, let us prove it by rejecting this Bankside scheme and by giving eager support to the plan for redeeming the South bank of the Thames. The present litter of building horrors is unworthy of a second-rate mining camp, and instead of the maze of ugly or dilapidated buildings, let us have, as so many hon. Members have said today, fine public and residential buildings and gardens and long paths by the Thames. We were all greatly attracted by the description given by the junior Burgess for Cambridge University of a Thames where one could go from Southwark to Waterloo Bridge and see nothing but noble buildings and then carry on right up the river to this House of Commons. It is a fine concept, and it can be accomplished provided that we do not now destroy the foundations of the two great plans for improving both banks of the Thames
Furthermore, the Minister must consider the many opportunities that these two plans will give to the many good but unadvertised architects who are now under-employed. I hope very much that travellers from New Zealand or elsewhere will never have an opportunity of sketching the ruins of St. Paul's, but I trust that they will see St. Paul's from a South bank graced by good buildings and gardens green, and I hope that if they have the time, they will go to Rotherhithe or Poplar to see a great power station designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. So long as they go to Poplar and Rotherhithe to see it, I hope they will, in great numbers, visit a building which in some ways, I suppose, will serve as a 2714 monument to his talent and versatility, but which could never be fitted in to the plan for redeeming the South bank of the Thames. I am sure that the Minister, in his heart of hearts, must admit that. He has been a great supporter of the scheme for replanning London and I do not believe he can really support the placing of this power station on Bankside. I think he is behaving like a good and loyal colleague and bearing the burdens of some of his fellow ministers. Nobody can tell me that a Minister so long connected with planning and architecture, could possibly support this Bankside project.
These are but a few of the arguments that could be advanced against this ill-contrived Bankside scheme. I do not wish to take up too much of our precious unguillotined time today, and so I shall say no more save this: I beg the Minister to remember that he is the Parliamentary guardian of what is left of the amenities of Britain. That is one of his most important functions, if not his most important one. He should never have drifted, or been pushed, into the position of being an actual champion of this Bankside plan for, as we have been reminded today, it is opposed by the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Corporation of London, the London County Council, the civil authorities of Southwark, the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's—to mention but a few of the representative bodies against it.
I want to ask the Minister a question. How does he think he can persuade the owners of ugly factories now situated near the South bank to depart when he himself is sponsoring a vast industrial building there? It would be unreasonable for the Minister to say to the proprietors affected, "We cannot have any industrial buildings in this area," because they will turn to him and say, "But what about your own?" So I say to the right hon. Gentleman that, if he persists in championing his Bankside scheme, he will dishearten the many civic bodies which are now anxious to preserve and increase the amenities of our country. Worse stir, he will not have a shred of authority in restraining the dunces or the vandals or the utilitarians who threaten our countryside and towns—and, believe me, the vandals will be very busy in the next 10 years if I know anything about their plans and movements. We want the 2715 Ministry of Town and Country Planning to succeed, and more especially to succeed in dealing with this most important matter of preserving our inheritance of beauty. So we beg the right hon. Gentleman not to set the worst of precedents by forcing this deplorable Bankside scheme upon London.
§ 12.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Gibson (Kennington)
I promise the House not to speak very long, although there is a good deal I would like to say in an effort to persuade the Minister to change the decision on the Bankside proposal. It is true that the London County Council and the other local authorities immediately concerned with that area are opposed to it. I confess that I was very surprised when I first heard that the Minister had decided in favour of the scheme because I was vice-chairman when he was chairman of the London Town Planning Committee when the London Plan was first introduced. One of the many aspects of that plan, of which we were both proud, was the effort to try to recreate the South bank of the Thames. When I saw the mode) in the Tea-room, it only confirmed my opposition to the proposal to go on with the building of that power station I could say one or two things about that model, which I think is incorrect, but it seems quite clear, even on the basis of the model, that you cannot expect this area, which is full of British history incidentally, to be other than a strictly industrial area if a huge building such as the proposed power station is allowed to be put up there.
May I put in a plea for the people of Lambeth and Southwark who live in that area of London? I have spent my whole political life in South London and I know that the ordinary person who does not normally get excited about politics was enthusiastic at the idea that we would one day recreate the South bank, bring back the gardens and the promenades along the river, and give the people of Southwark and North Lambeth a chance to see the river again and to enjoy the health-giving breezes that blow there. In spite of the very pretty gardens indicated in front of the model, and the very false lawns indicated at the back of it, if this monstrosity is allowed to be put up there, inevitably we shall lose the chance of 2716 that great sweep along the river which is envisaged in the County of London Plan. I know that as far as the County Council and the Southwark Borough Council are concerned, they are anxious that nothing should be done to prevent that development. I do not profess to be in any way a technical expert on these electrical power matters, but I am impressed by the fact that there are quite a number of technical people who say that it is not necessary to put the power station there. So keen were the county council on getting this power station off that site, that they were prepared to spend upwards of a million pounds in order to provide an alternative site somewhere else. I think the Minister must bear that in mind as evidence of the strength of feeling there is against the proposal. I hope, therefore, that the Government will change their mind, and will tell the City of London Power Company to build their station on one of the many other sites which could be suggested
§ 12.40 p.m.
§ The Minister of Town and Country Planning (Mr. Silkin)
I am sure the House will feel that the discussion this morning has been worth while. I think all hon. Members, from whichever side they have spoken, have been agreed upon two things: that we want to preserve the amenities of London, and that we want to do nothing which will damage the redevelopment of the South bank. I should like those who are opposing the Bankside scheme, and the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken), who made such an admirable speech, to believe, that those of us who think it is right that there should be a power station at Bankside are just as keen as he and his associates on the two objects that I have stated. In the time at my disposal I want to try to establish to the House that those two objectives will not be interfered with. I think that is probably what the House would wish me to do. First, I should like to make one or two general observations. The hon. Member the junior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Wilson Harris) referred to democracy, presumably assuming that the majority of people were against this scheme.
§ Mr. Wilson Harris
By "democracy" I meant the elected members of the London County Council, the elected mem- 2717 bers of the Southwark Borough Council, and the elected members of the City Corporation.
§ Mr. Silkin
Of course, out democracy is a very complex system, and it imposes duties and responsibilities upon elected bodies, individuals, Parliament and so on. In this particular case the duty is imposed upon the Minister of Town and Country Planning to make a decision on this most difficult matter after having heard evidence from all sides. There has been a public inquiry, which lasted a considerable number of days, in the course of which the case was fully argued. All sides of the case were presented, and it rested upon me to come to a conclusion from the arguments so presented. I have read every word of that evidence, not once but twice, and in the result I came to she conclusion that, with the safeguards that have been incorporated in that decision, it is in the interests of London that a power station should be built at Bankside. I think it fair to say that I regarded this decision as so important that I thought I ought to. get the support of my colleagues, and I have done so.
Now, why did I come to that conclusion? I think a great deal of hysterical talk has taken place in the course of the discussions about the kind of building that was to be put up. Except for one he n. Member who referred to it as a monstrosity, I do not think we have had that sort of talk today. It has been generally accepted that a power station can be an attractive building. I do not intend to enter the argument whether it should be functional or otherwise. I believe, in fact, the model indicates that the power station is functional. I see no unnecessary lines or excrescences, it is a purely functional building, and to me it looks attractive. However, there may be differences of opinion about that. At any rate, it is not argued here this morning on the basis that the power station is an unattractive building; nor has it been seriously argued that it is wrong in relation to St. Paul's.
We have heard a good deal of talk in the Press about the dwarfing of St. Paul's, and the overshadowing of St. Paul's. In fact, it has not been seriously contended today that this power station will overshadow St. Paul's, or rival it in any way. I should like to say a few words about 2718 this overshadowing of St. Paul's and what it means. Is it seriously contended that it would be bad planning to have industrial buildings of any kind within sight of St. Paul's? After all, the view of St. Paul's extends over many miles. I can understand the contention that St. Paul's, this noble edifice in this historic land, should be in splendid isolation; that nothing should be near it at all, and that it should stand out as a memorial to the ages, and so on. I can understand that concern. But nobody is seriously putting that forward. The conception of St. Paul's is that it should stand in the midst of the life of the City, surrounded by all forms of activity, by shops, warehouses, wharfs—and why not by a power station? At any rate the argument has not been seriously contended today that in relation to St. Paul's a power station is bad. I thought the main argument put forward today was that this would prevent the redevelopment of the South bank, and it is to that argument that f propose to devote myself.
§ Sir A. Salter
Before leaving the question of St. Paul's, would the Minister address himself to what appears to me a much stronger point? Would he promise, before he allows the scheme to go forward, to publish authoritative expert evidence to show that the sulphur fumes, in conjunction with the damp atmosphere, can and will be dealt with in such a way as not to give rise to the dangers described by the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom)?
§ Mr. Silkin
I certainly give an assurance that I will satisfy myself on that print before the scheme goes forward, naturally.
§ Mr. Bracken
It is not merely a question of satisfying the Minister, but of satisfying the public. If, in fact, St. Paul's Cathedral is to be subjected to the acid fumes created by the sulphuric acid, it might easily destroy the cathedral. Therefore, the public have every reason to wish to read the evidence that in no circumstances will the fears of the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) be fulfilled, and that, in fact, the fumes will do no harm whatever to the structure of St. Paul's.
§ Mr. Binns (Gillingham)
As far as smoke is concerned, the Minister will take into account the fact that there is already a 2719 power station on the site emitting smoke and grit in greater quantity than will be the case in the future project. But—and this is a new point—is it in the interests of the district of Southwark that, say, one month's supply of oil, about six million gallons, should be stored there available to be bombed or set on fire?
§ Mr. Silkin
These are additional points that have been raised and thrust at me. I appreciate the point raised by the hon. Member. I think there ought to be general satisfaction on the question that the sulphur fumes will not destroy St. Paul's I am proceeding on the basis that there is a satisfactory solution to the sulphur problem, and that, in fact, there will be no injurious effect to the structure of St. Paul's. I ask the House to deal with the proposal on that assumption If that assumption is wrong, then I freely admit that the case goes.
There is one other thing I wish to say before getting on to the effect on the South bank, namely, that this discussion is very reminiscent of one which took place some years ago about the Battersea power station. I remember the same sort of objections were raised; not identical, but the same sort of objections, including even objections from learned ecclesiastics, to the erection of a power station at Battersea. Today one hears only that the building is an admirable one, and one hears nothing about any nuisance caused to the neighbourhood That is very interesting
What is going to be the effect of the new station on the redevelopment of the South bank?
§ Mr. H. Strauss rose—
§ Mr. Silkin
I am sorry, I cannot give way, I am eating into other people's time. What is to be the effect on the redevelopment of the South bank? It is said, and with great force, about which I do not complain at all, that once you have an industrial building fronting the river—set back 110 feet, but still fronting the river—it will be impossible to prevent other industrial buildings going there. It is said also that the type of building which the County of London Plan contemplates as suitable, blocks of flats and offices, will not go there 'because there is a power station. Incidentally, I should like to correct the hon. Member for Cambridge 2720 University, who made a very moderate speech. It is not correct that the County of London Plan provides in this area for a national theatre, for colleges and educational institutions.
§ Mr. Wilson Harris rose—
§ Mr. Silkin
This is a length of 1¾ miles, and we are dealing with the particular area between the two bridges.
§ Mr. Silkin
But nobody is going to interfere with the rest of the area. The rest of the area beyond Blackfriars Bridge is not concerned. We are dealing with the portion between Blackfriars and Southwark Bridges, and the hon. Gentleman's remarks are not relevant to that part. The hon. Gentleman is not the only one who has fallen into the error. Others have said the same thing. They have said that this has been zoned as a cultural centre for colleges. educational mstitutions—
§ Mr. Silkin
The fact remains that the County of London Plan provides for offices and flats, with light industrial buildings behind. Let us have a word about the County of London Plan. This is a document which was prepared by that most eminent man Sir Patrick Abercrombie with the help of Mr. Forshaw as an indication to the London County Council of how London might be developed in the future. It was not intended to be anything more than that. Here I speak with some knowledge and authority. I was the Chairman of the Town Planning Committee at the time, and I had many discussions right into the early hours of the morning with Sir Patrick Abercrombie this matter, and I know exactly what his point of view about this plan was. It was never intended to be something which could be taken absolutely literally. It was a 50-year plan, and this particular part of the South bank was to be dealt with in the last of the three stages he had in mind. That is to say, he had in mind that roughly in 30 years or so that part of the South bank would be redeveloped.
So far, the London County Council has not committed itself in any way to what is to happen to this part of the South 2721 bank. It is committed to the redevelopment between Westminster Bridge and Waterloo Bridge, and has actually acquired the land under a private Act which was got through some years before the war, but it has not committed itself at all to the nature of the development beyond Waterloo Bridge. Quite rightly so, because it has so many other urgent priorities that it would be a mistake to deal with this particular redevelopment in the very near future. That, I suggest to the House, indicates that it does not in the least follow that when the time comes for considering the redevelopment of this part of the South bank, perhaps in 30 years' time, the London County Council will take the same view as Abercrombie took two or three years ago. It might well be that the Council will take an entirely different view of the proper form of development in this area. But suppose they still adhere to the view that Abercrombie put forward. Then I ask the House to consider very seriously, and without prejudice, what is the objection to a power station which is admittedly well designed and attractive, which does not emit fumes—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Surely hon. Gentlemen—
§ Mr. Silkin
What is the objection to a power station which does not emit fumes, or smoke, or grit, or make a noise? I ask the House, because nobody has suggested—this is a rhetorical question which I am entitled to put—I ask the House, on that assumption, because nobody has established that these things will happen—
§ Mr. Silkin
The case was not based on that assumption at all. The case against the power station was not based on the assumption that there would be grit or noise, or smoke, or fumes, it was based upon the contention that, because it was a power station, because it was an industrial building and for that reason alone, it would interfere with the redevelopment of the South bank.
§ Mr. Bossom rose—
§ Mr. Silkin
I am not giving way I ask the House to apply its mind to that What is the objection. on those assumptions? I will admit, as I admitted about sulphur, 2722 that a power station on this site would be objectionable if it were going to be noisy, or smoky, or otherwise a nuisance. Obviously, were that so, I agree at once that it would have the effect of industrialising the whole area, and I admit that it would follow for that reason, and only for that reason, that the Plan could not be carried out. But nobody has attempted this line of argument. The hon. Member for Cambridge University did not base his argument on the contention that the power station would be noisy, smoky. or otherwise a nuisance. The argument has been put forward merely on the ground that it is a power station.
§ Mr. Silkin
Yes, that it is inappropriate. I therefore ask hon. Members, why is a building which is not injurious. or a nuisance in any way inappropriate or incongruous in any area? I am not asking for an answer; this is a purely rhetorical question. I fail to see how a building of this kind, which I repeat is attractive in its design and which is not a nuisance in any way, which does not overshadow St. Paul's and which provides amenities such as gardens and so on, can be incongruous or offensive in any way.
§ Mr. Silkin
if it were an attractive gaol and not a nuisance, why should I? We must clear our minds of a great many prejudices of this kind. In the past we have taken the view that all industry must be segregated in one part of the town, all buildings which are single family dwellings segregated in another, and flat buildings in another. That is not town planning. It is all based on the assumption that industry is undesirable, and at the back of their minds hon. Gentlemen who oppose this, in spite of the fact that they have not been able and have not attempted to establish that the power station is in itself undesirable, still have a feeling that there is something wrong in having a power station—that it is all very well to send it to Poplar or Rotherhithe or ether areas that do not matter; but that it should not be put in the centre of London. I submit to the House, therefore, that there is no reason whatever why the kind of buildings contemplated in the County of London Plan should not be accommodated next door to the power station. I believe 2723 that they will come. I could take hon. Members to a high-class block of flats, the front of which overlooks Lord's cricket ground while the back overlooks a power station built in 1891.
§ Mr. Silkin
These flats were put up after a power station had been erected, and they are fully let.—[Laughter.] They always have been, and they are very fine premises. I am dealing with the argument that no one will put blocks of flats in the neighbourhood of a power station and I am entitled to say that they have been put up in circumstances which will not arise in the case of Bankside. There is no knowing what private enterprise will do.
There are other controls. After all, town planning is progressing as a result of the Town and Country Planning Bill, and it will be possible to prevent industrial buildings going up in such a way as to frustrate the County of London Plan. It will be possible to prevent any kind of undesirable building there, and if the fear is that there will be other undesirable types of buildings, then town planning can control those effectively too. It is entirely in the hands of the London County Council. Furthermore, the London County Council can themselves, if they so desire, acquire land on which to put up flats. They have done that in the past. They have put up flats in other parts of London, and they can put up flats here; it would be very desirable.
I am convinced, after the most serious consideration, that the erection of a power station on this site, under the circumstances and with the conditions that are attached to it, will not in any way injure the amenities of the area and will not prevent the proper redevelopment of the South bank. I ask the House, further, to consider this proposal in the light of the electricity situation. One cannot ignore that. I do not object to the right hon. Gentleman saying that I am being utilitarian, but if I thought that any real damage would be done to the redevelopment of the South bank, I have that cause too much at heart to be a party to any step that would prejudice it.
Having said that, I ask the House to consider the utilitarian aspect. We need a vastly increased quantity of electricity 2724 in the coming years. Up to 1951, we shall require an increase of 67 per cent. on the existing quantity of electricity. Between 1951 and 1960, we shall have to double our output again. That must involve the erection of power stations. Certain conditions have to be satisfied in getting those stations. I know that it can very easily be suggested in this Chamber that we can put up power stations anywhere, but that has not been borne out by the advice which I have received. I have been advised that power stations have to be by the side of a river—that there has to be a plentiful supply of water. There are about eight acres of land or thereabouts needed, and the number of alternative sites within the vicinity of Bankside or miles of it is strictly limited. If it were a question of getting one site in the place of Bankside, that might be possible, but a large number of additional sites will be required in the next few years, and every available one will be needed for this purpose. Whether you use Rotherhithe or not, Bankside will still be needed, unless this country is to be short of electricity within the Greater London area.
§ Mr. Silkin
It is a fact that if we cannot use this site, the Greater London area will be short of electricity. [HON. MEMBERS: No."] If it is 240,000 kilowatts, they will be short of 240,000 kilowatts, and that must mean that very frequently electricity will be shut off and some people will not have electricity when they need it. It must also mean that some industries will go without the electricity they require. We have to weight all these things against what I regard as the academic objections—
§ Mr. Silkin
—and the out-of-date objections which have been put forward in discussion. I believe that this House as a whole—and I am convinced that the country as a whole—are in favour of this decision. I am convinced that if the issue were fairly put to the general public they 2725 would be definitely in favour of the decision which the Government have made in this matter.
§ Mr. Silkin
There is no possibility of that. It so happens that responsibility is put upon me after a public inquiry. If we want to change the law and to allow decisions on the allocation of power stations to be carried by a free vote of the House, that is one way of doing business, but it seems to me that it would be a rather stupid and inefficient way.
§ Mr. Silkin
The Government have taken into account all the views that have been expressed from time to time but I am bound to tell the House that having reconsidered the whole matter in the light of the discussions that are taking place, both publicly and in another place, the Government feel obliged to adhere to their decision, and I propose to give consent to the erection of this power station subject to the conditions which I have laid down.