Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a further sum, not exceeding £30, be granted to His Majesty towards defraying the charges for the following services connected with Town and Country Planning for the year ending on 31st March, 1951, namely:
|Class V., Vote 12, Ministry of Town and Country Planning||10|
|Class V., Vote 14, Department of Health for Scotland||10|
|Class V., Vote 13, Central Land Board||10|
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley (Angus North and Mearns)
In asking the Committee to turn its eyes from problems of Empire emigration inwards to our own land, and to consider the problems which arise in the administration of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, and the corresponding Scottish Act of the same year, I think I am right in stating that this is the first occasion on which we have debated the administration of these Acts. There have been two Debates in another place on the administration of the Town and Country Planning Acts, and, in this House, we have on various occasions discussed certain of the regulations which were issued as a result of the Acts themselves.
This is the first occasion upon which we have considered, as a whole, the administration of the Town and Country Planning Acts in this country, which is rather surprising, because the Act itself was never fully considered in this House. Owing to the operation of the Guillotine, which fell upon this Measure and also upon the Transport Act, over 50 of the 120 Clauses of the Act and six out of the 11 Schedules were not discussed at all, either in Committee or upon the Floor of the House. It is the more surprising since certain aspects of this administration, notably the development charge procedure laid down in Part VII of the Act, have given rise to the greatest dissatisfaction in the country and to the widespread desire that these provisions, at any rate, should be speedily and drastically amended.
Let me say, at the outset, that I recognise with some regret that the rules of order prevent us this evening from discussing Amendments to the Act itself, 107 and on that point I would say only this. The Government have shown themselves by more than one recent decision to be alive to the wishes of the electorate and sensitive to the suggestions of the Opposition. We had only to give notice that we wanted to debate the direction of labour and the offending Order was quickly withdrawn. The food points followed, and, shortly after that, the "irresponsible suggestion" which was made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, that petrol should be taken off the ration, was accepted by the Government. We have, indeed, entered upon a phase which seems likely to be recognised as Government by the Opposition.
Few announcements would give greater satisfaction in the country today than that the Government intend to amend the Town and Country Planning Act. No one can tell how long this Government will last, and, if it should survive to face a second Session, I am quite certain that support will be forthcoming from every quarter of the House for a Bill directed principally to the correction of anomalies and injustices which have shown themselves since 1948, and, in particular, the injustices and anomalies contained in Parts VI and VII of the English Act and the corresponding Scottish provisions. But I recognise that we must confine ourselves to questions of administration under the Act, and, for my part, I prefer to devote what I have to say to four principal suggestions, all of which could be carried out by means of regulations under the Act.
During the passage of the Bill through the House, after the weeks and months spent in Standing Committee on the Bill upstairs, those of us who took part will remember the Debates which we had on Report and Third Reading. They will remember how often it was suggested that the Act would impose a variable development charge, and the suggestion, made in the Uthwatt Report and in the White Paper of 1944, that some incentive to develop should be left in the hands of the developer, which gave rise to the further suggestion, not least by the then Minister of Town and Country Planning, that this was a useful possibility of encouraging positive planning by imposing a lower development charge in 108 respect of developments which were in the national interest, together with the encouragement of development where we wanted development to take place.
These possibilities, which seemed so desirable to many of us and were welcomed by so many on this side of the Committee, were later rendered abortive by the introduction of regulations which imposed a flat 100 per cent. development charge. This fixed the development charge at the whole of the difference between what is now called consent value—the value of the property with consent to develop it in the way proposed—and refusal value, which, broadly speaking, is its value for existing use. It seemed to many of us then—and I remember saying so in Debate—that this failure to provide for the kind of incentive which the Uthwatt Committee and which the White Paper of 1944 had advocated, this failure to provide even I per cent. of inducement to prospective development, would result, as it has, in fact, resulted, in a lack of incentive to develop. The extent of this tendency is somewhat masked at present by restrictions upon capital investment, but it exists nevertheless, as every surveyor knows.
I am not going to say anything tonight which I cannot substantiate by practical illustration. As a chartered surveyor there come to my notice, both in my own practice and in the practice of some of my friends, many examples which I could bring to the attention of the Committee. Let me say at once that I am not bringing forward these examples tonight simply because I want the Government to take them up individually, but because they are typical of many that I could give to substantiate the statements that I make in this Debate. I will give a few examples of the deterrent effect upon desirable development of the imposition of the 100 per cent. development charge.
The first is the case of the former Turkish Baths in Northumberland Avenue, not very far from this House and known, no doubt, to some hon. Members. It was proposed to convert those baths into offices, and the development charge suggested was in the neighbourhood of £40,000. That figure was reduced, after discussion, to £24,000, and, at that stage, the developers considered that the scheme was not worth proceeding with and 109 abandoned it. Then there was the case of a large Victorian house in a business area in Nottingham. The occupier of that house proposed to release the ground floor for use as four consulting rooms—a very desirable project in the public interest. The development charge proposed in respect of this change of use was £4,000, and the development was abandoned.
Another Nottingham case was in respect of staff and stock room accommodation over a row of shops. The proposal there was to change the use and to turn the accommodation into offices. The development charge proposed was £7,000, and, again, the proposal was abandoned. Another case was that of a commercial property in Bristol which it was proposed to redevelop by the erection of buildings for milk distribution. The value of the site was not increased by more than about £5,500, which was the estimated cost of building, and, therefore, the development charge ought, in fact, to have been nil or, at any rate, purely nominal. But, in fact, a charge of £1,150 was proposed, and the redevelopment was abandoned in consequence.
Just one further example which concerns a laundry at Bexley, in Kent, with land opposite upon which the owner proposed to erect a workers' canteen. Though the proposed development charge was only £250—in this case there was no quarrel with the amount, which was very reasonable and which was thought by the owner's advisers to be very reasonable—the owner abandoned the project on principle as he considered that provision for the welfare of his workers, which would in any case cost him several thousand pounds, from which he would derive no direct benefit, ought not to be further penalised by the assessment of a development charge.
Personally, I should like to see development charges restricted to 75 per cent., as proposed in the Uthwatt Report, which would give intending developers an incentive to carry through projects which accord with the needs of the day and the requirements of the development plan. In addition, I should like to see provision made for the charge to be reduced still further by ministerial regulation in the case of specified classes of development in particular areas, thus enabling the Minister to give practical encouragement to 110 positive development which, from time to time, accords with the national needs.
I am quite certain that it is important that not only should justice be done, but that it should appear to be done. However willing district valuers may be to discuss with applicants the amounts of the determinations which they make on behalf of the Central Land Board—and they are very willing indeed to discuss those determinations—there ought to be some impartial tribunal to whom an appeal might be made in the case of failure to agree. This, I am certain, is the more important since it is becoming clearer with every month that passes that the development charge procedure is resulting in what it was doubtless intended to be, a new method of levying indirect taxation. Lest it should be said that the giving of a right of appeal would impose further delays to those which I shall shortly describe, I would add that the development should be allowed to proceed in the case of appeal subject to the developer giving security for the amount claimed by the Central Land Board pending the result of the appeal.
My first point is, therefore, the undesirability of a 100 per cent. development charge, and my second concerns what are called "changes of use." I think it is very generally agreed that control over the changes of the use to which properties are put is unnecessarily detailed, and that rigidity in this respect is hampering development which, in many cases, is in the public interest. Once a development plan has been approved, it ought not to be necessary for owners to obtain planning permission to change the present use to which their land is put to any other use which accords with the zoning of the development plan. Until the plan is approved, planning consent may be necessary, and probably will be necessary, in the interest of good planning.
In few cases, if in any, ought it to be necessary to levy a development charge upon these changes of use. Personally, I would do away altogether with charges for change of use. We live in a world of change and to fine a man—for that is what it amounts to—for performing a public service by changing the use of his lands or his buildings to a purpose which accords with the needs of the day is neither good sense nor good planning.
111 But since the Act requires the levying of some charge for changes of use I must confine myself, for debating purposes, to the plea that the Regulations which, in this respect, impose far too detailed and complex a control, be amended in ways which I shall presently suggest. During the long Committee stage on the English Bill and the corresponding Scottish Bill I formed the fairly strong impression that the party opposite felt sincerely and strongly that a man ought not to be allowed to reap any benefit from increased values which he himself had done nothing to create. It seems to me that the converse has not been squarely faced.
Let us take the case of a country house, the kind of house that until comparatively recently, and by that I mean within the present century, was worth a large amount for private occupation. Now, owing to changes of needs, owing to changed requirements, changing social conditions and owing, above all, to the high rate of taxation and to the incidence of Death Duties, these houses are what is commonly called a drug on the market. Owners are rendering themselves liable to what again I must call a heavy fine by the imposition of development charges if they attempt to recover some small part of the loss they have sustained by selling their houses for some purpose which accords with present day needs. I wonder if the Committee realises that, apart altogether from industrial uses, there are under the existing regulations, no fewer than nine different classes of use to which a house of the size and type to which I am referring might be put. Each one of these uses requires a separate determination of the development charge.
I know that the Minister has, and I believe that many hon. Members have, the most admirable memorandum on the Town and Country Planning Act published in May, 1950, by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. May I say, in parentheses, that the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has 17,000 members, including myself, and that it appointed a committee of 24 members who sat for six months examining in detail the administration of this Act. It was a most representative cross-section of private practitioners and public servants, including county planning officers, eminent planning consultants and experts in planning law.
112 Their recommendations on this question of changes of use are contained in Chapter 7 of their report. They should be summarised because I advocate that these be adopted by an amendment of Statutory Instrument No. 955 of 1948 and corresponding amendments to another regulation. There it is suggested that the classes should be very widely amalgamated. At present, for example, Class 1, broadly speaking, deals with shops and Class 2, broadly speaking, with offices. It is suggested that these should form one use class and that there should be no development charges if one changed the use of premises from offices to shops and vice versa.
It is suggested that Class B should consist of industrial buildings. Light industrial building are at present in Class 3, general industrial buildings in Class 4 and warehouses and depositories in Classes 10 and 11. It is suggested that all these should be included in one sort of light industrial class and that the third category should be all those premises which are used for special industrial purposes and which are at present covered by Classes 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 of the present regulations.
I could elaborate on this, but I do not propose to weary the Commitee. It is all set out in the proposals made by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, with the additions of one extra class which would cover all residential purposes. They will thus make, in all, six categories, instead of the present 22. That would be a very desirable amendment. Although it is not strictly relevant to the argument I am advocating, every simplification which can be made on these lines will reduce the claims on the global £300 million fund. It will help to lessen the injustices which will arise if that fund is distributed in the way at present proposed.
Let me pass to the third point I want to make, about delay—the time taken by planning authorities to give decisions upon applications for planning permission. The one to two months laid down as a maximum tend to become a minimum. In London, the practice seems to have grown up, immediately upon receipt of an application for planning permission, of requesting an extension of time from one to two months. Theoretically an applicant who is unwilling to agree to an extension of time may appeal to the Minister. In practice, the appeals to the Minister are 113 not dealt with in less than three or four months, so the right of appeal is of little practical use. A particular irritating form of delay is that experienced when application is made during the normal holiday months, because for a period of two or three months the committees seem to go into a state of suspended animation and nothing gets considered at all. I hope the Minister will look into this.
I should like to give one or two examples. One was at Sanderstead. Application for development of an estate was made in November, 1948. Notice of refusal was issued by the planning authority in April, 1949. An appeal was lodged in May, and the Minister fixed a hearing for 4th November, 1949. It so happened that the professional adviser to the owner was quite unable to manage that date of 4th November. He informed the Ministry and the only other date they seemed able to give him was 20th January this year. The hearing of the appeal was held up from the beginning of November to 20th January, and no decision has yet been given, although over 18 months have elapsed since the original planning application was made.
Let me give an example from Central London. A bombed site which was formerly occupied by warehouses and offices was to be used temporarily, pending a licence to rebuild, for the erection of wooden huts for which permission had been given for use as offices and storage. Negotiations over the liability for development charge dragged on for nearly two years. The first assessment was £300, the second assessment was £100, the third £940, and the final assessment was nil. There is a further example from Westminster. Application for consent to change the use of land was made on 2nd November, 1949. It was refused on 10th December. An appeal was entered on 9th January this year. The hearing was on 21st April and an official intimation has been given in the last few days that the appeal will not be allowed. There has been a delay of seven months since the making of the original appeal.
I am sure that one of the chief causes of delay is the number of consents that are required under the Act. For example, in the case of a proposed industrial development it is necessary first of all to get an industrial certificate from the President of the Board of Trade under 114 Section 14 (4) of the Act as regards the location of the proposed expansion. One has to get an application for a building licence, an application for bylaw consent, an application for planning permission and an application for determination of development charge.
In the case of industrial development, until it is known whether one is to get an industrial certificate from the Board of Trade and whether one will get the application for a building licence, there is no point in going to the trouble and expense of putting in all the other applications, requiring, as they do, drawings and plans, which it would be a complete waste of time and money to make until one knows whether those first two points are to be met. In Scotland, I am glad to say, the decision is given very much more speedily. There, we have a combined form of application for planning permission, by-law consent, and determination of development charge. I recommend the Minister to have a look at that and see whether that can be applied to England and Wales as well.
My fourth and final point deals with the way in which development charges are assessed. We all know of examples of the wide disparity that has been made between the original assessment by district valuers and the amount finally agreed. I heard this morning of a case in Faringdon Road in London. A site was being developed for the use of an American Press organisation. The development charge quoted was £25,000, and after negotiations it was settled at £4,000. I do not cite that example as being particularly wrong. I think the district valuers have an immensely difficult task, and that they are doing it as well as they possibly can. I think these wide disparities are often due to the fact that district valuers are pressed to give an assessment of what a development charge is likely to be without being given full information. When they meet the proposed developer face to face, as, I am glad to say, they do so often, and discuss the matter with him over the table, they often find that when they get fresh information the development charge ought not to be so much.
I am not blaming the district valuers one bit. I think they are doing a very difficult job as well as it can be done. At the same time, I must say that the 115 high amounts asked lead in many cases not only to the abandonment of desirable schemes of development, examples of which I have already given the Committee, but they make it difficult for the man of moderate means who does not employ and cannot afford professional help to undertake development. This is hitting the poor man hardest and I think the Minister ought to consider that point. It is very hard on the man who does not employ a professional adviser to represent him before the district valuer.
I think there is a remedy for this. I would not have mentioned these things unless I had thought there was a remedy. I think a remedy can be imposed by regulation or by direction from the Minister. The remedy is for the Minister to lay down by regulation some statutory basis of valuation. Under Section 61 of the Act there is laid down in some detail the basis to be adopted in ascertaining development values. Similar provision should be made by regulation in respect of valuations for development charges. The statutory basis for development charges should be as definite as possible and it should be set out plainly in terms somewhat similar to those used in the Second Schedule of the War Damage Act, 1943.
I feel that Government action has destroyed the market by creating a monopoly value. It is the more important that the principles upon which valuers are to base their valuations should be clearly stated. The levying of a development charge is a taxing device, and we ought to be told the basis upon which the tax is to be levied. I am well aware that this is a highly technical problem, and I think it will be sufficient if I refer the Minister to the memorandum to which I have referred, issued by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, where the basis suggested is set out in Chapter 7 The essential thing, in my view, is that the basis of valuation under Parts VI and VII of the Act should be the same.
Let me give an example. I was tempted to allude to it at Question time today, if there had been time, on Question No. 2 which was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor). This is the last case that I shall quote. There was brought to my notice a case of a row of 116 houses at Woodford Green in Essex, which were thought suitable for conversion to shops. A claim for loss of development rights was submitted, but the optional part of Form S.1 was not completed as the agents were in communication with the district valuer for a preliminary assessment of development charge in respect of one of those five houses which it was proposed to convert into a shop at once.
Last March the agents were served with Form L.39 in respect of the properties, on the grounds that since further development was not likely to add more than one-tenth to the restricted value, the owner was not thought to qualify for compensation. The Minister knows that it is stated on that form that if the owner objects the Central Land Board will require to know the development proposed and the additional value which will attach to the properties in respect of this. The Central Land Board are pressing for this information and have stated that unless it is provided by 28th June this year no consideration can be given to the claim. Meanwhile, the district valuer has said that the development charge on the house which is at once to be converted into a shop will be £400, which is greatly in excess of the 10 per cent. increase on the present value of the house.
I remember Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve saying to us upstairs, and telling chartered surveyors and others—I used to go round listening to him—"What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander." If we have one basis for valuations under Part VI of the Act and another basis for valuations under Part VII, we do not achieve that. There must be the same basis for both valuations. Why should the district valuer whack in a charge of well over 10 per cent. in respect of one development when, for exactly the same development, the Central Land Board say that it is well under 10 per cent. and adds, "We will not allow anything; we will wipe out your claim under Part VI of the Act."
I have taken too long and I apologise to the Committee for having done so. Let me summarise. A Government spokesman in another place said recently that the Minister had called for a report from the Central Land Board on improvements which might be made in the administration of the Act. Has the Minister received that report? I understand 117 that he will reply at the end of this Debate and I hope that he will then tell the Committee whether he has received that report and, if he has, whether he is ready to announce some more "experiments in freedom." I hope very much that he is. Above all, I hope he will give us some hope of an amending Act, should this Parliament last to another Session.
Short of that, I urge upon him the four points I have tried to make today. First, that he should create incentives for development which accords with development plans by reducing the rate of charge to 75 per cent. or, at most, 80 per cent. Second, that he should simplify the regulations for payment of charges on change of use. Third, that he should continue the efforts which I know he is making to reduce to the minimum the causes of delay. Fourth, that he should lay down, in agreement with the representatives of the surveying profession, the basis to be adopted in the assessment of development charges and ensure that this is on all fours with the statutory basis of valuation for the loss of development rights.
If he would do those things and make other concessions of a minor nature—such as, for example, increasing the tolerance for permitted additions to small dwelling houses—he would give great encouragement to those of us who believe that the planning provisions of the Act are on sound lines and who are genuinely anxious that its financial provisions and its administration should be brought into line.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Mrs. Castle (Blackburn, East)
On a lovely evening such as this it is natural that the thoughts of the Committee should turn to green fields and cool mountain streams and to the fresh air of the hill-tops. I propose to indulge the Committee this evening, for I shall not follow the hon. Member for Angus, North and Mearns (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) into the arid realms of development charges but will turn to more pleasant fields of the Minister's activities, as set out in the Estimates we are discussing today—activities such as access to mountains, the creation of our great proposed system of National Parks and earmarking of areas of outstanding natural beauty.
118 The hon. Member for Angus, North, flattered himself that we have reached in this House today something like a situation of Government by Opposition. But these activities to which I shall refer are entirely the initiation and creation of this Government. Indeed, they are very important fields of immense value to thousands of people living in our teeming industrial areas, people who have lived their airless and hopeless days there through many a long summer of Tory rule. They are fields in which previous Conservative Governments completely missed the bus but in which, I am glad to say, this Government have lost no time in acting—and not merely in placing legislation on the Statute Book for, barely was the ink dry on that Act, when the Minister's predecessor and now our present Minister began following the Act with action.
This is the first opportunity we have had of discussing the application of the National Parks and Access to Mountains Act since it became law and for discussing the financial provisions which have been made in the current Estimates for carrying it out. I believe that the rapid application of this Act is one of the most important steps for the health and happiness of thousands of our people at this time and I want this evening, having caught your eye, Mr. Mathers, to have a look at the situation and to find out what progress we are making.
Those of us who are concerned with this very warm and colourful human problem were delighted that the National Parks Commission, set up so quickly by my right hon. Friend's predecessor, announced that this year they would designate three areas as national parks—the Peak District, the Lake District and Snowdonia; and that, in addition, they would proceed to the establishment of the first long distance route in the Pennine Way. That is pretty good going, as far as it goes; it is a good year's activity. It is also a very good augury for the future work of the National Parks Commission that they should have chosen, as the first National Park, not the Lake District, as some of us might perhaps have thought they would, but the Peak District.
That seems to me to show that the National Parks Commission have the right approach; that they will not be a 119 body of aesthetes concerned merely with preserving the existing beauties which are enjoyed by the privileged few but will look at the problem from the point of view of liberating thousands of urban dwellers and giving them access to the country as rapidly as possible. At the time of the Second Reading of the National Parks Bill, when he was Chancellor of the Duchy, my right hon. Friend the present Minister of Town and Country Planning stressed the importance of the Peak District and pointed out that half the population of England lives within 60 miles of Buxton. He said thatfrom the point of view of access of great numbers of urban populations the Peak is by far the most important, more important even than the Lake District, of all the proposed National Parks areas."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st April, 1949; Vol. 403, c. 1592.]I am very glad that his emphasis on the importance of the Peak District has been taken up by the National Parks Commission. I think anyone who has been in London Road Station, Manchester, in the summer, on a Sunday evening, and has seen the "hikers' special" come in from the Peak District, laden from stem to stern with healthy, happy people—not only youngsters but old people as well—who have escaped for the day into the fresh air of that lovely area, would appreciate how vitally important it is to people around Manchester and in areas like that which I represent to escape into the country, and to be helped to escape by this Act and by this House.
I want this evening to ask my right hon. Friend some questions. Perhaps I am rather greedy. I am glad that we have had his recent announcement on the question of designation, but I want to ask him whether he has anything more to tell us. After all, he made that announcement in March. Some four months have passed and we know that he and his Department are a Minister and a Department of rapid action. Has he any more information to give us tonight about the progress in carrying out this National Parks scheme? We have read in the newspapers that the National Parks Commission have been busy in the past few weeks visiting the Peak District and Lake District in order to consult the local authorities in demarcating the boundaries of the National Parks. I should like 120 to ask my right hon. Friend if he has had a report yet, and whether any agreement has been reached. Perhaps he could tell us tonight that the boundaries of the Peak District Park have, in fact, already been established, and that we can go ahead.
I want to urge him to take all possible action to stimulate the National Parks Commission in this matter, because there is no time to lose. The summer days are slipping by. I think any hon. Member of this Committee who represents a congested industrial constituency and who spent some, at any rate, of the Whitsuntide Recess in visiting that constituency during those hot days must have been struck once again by the airlessness of those back streets, by the way the heat strikes up from the cobbled stones in the gardenless areas of industrial development, where there is not a flower to give colour or a tree to give shade; and I think he must have come back impassioned by a sense of the urgency of doing everything possible to enable the people who live there to escape into our beautiful English countryside.
This job of stimulation in this field could not be in better hands than those of my right hon. Friend. I know he does not only talk access to mountains: he practises it. I have had the great pleasure in the past three years of accompanying him, along with some of my other Parliamentary colleagues, in his explorations of the great mountain areas of this country. We have filled our lungs together on the heights of the Pennine Way and the Lake District, and in the very beautiful Cheviots, and we have had the experience of walking all day in those remote and lovely areas, and of striving up the hills, and of resting in the valleys; and we have many pleasant memories of visiting farmhouses where the good local people, far from being hostile to the strange ramblers, welcomed us with open arms and regaled us with our great national beverage—I refer, of course, to tea.
I want my right hon. Friend, who, I know, loves those open spaces himself, to have a real sense of urgency—and to make the National Parks Commission have a real sense of urgency—about getting on with this job. Because the designation of a National Park is only the beginning of a quite long process. Even when the boundaries have been decided 121 we are, in fact, no nearer to the practical enjoyment of that park on. the lines foreseen in the Act, because after the boundaries have been decided the Minister has then to set up his local planning committees and then the local planning committees have got to sit down and draw up development plans; and if it is going to take six months for each process, we shall not only not have action this summer, but we shall not have action this year. I hope we shall have some practical results not only this year but this summer. If we are to have another glorious summer as we had last year, or even only occasional weeks of summery weather, let us for the good of our people in the industrial towns obtain some practical results as our gift to them under the Act this summer.
In particular I have in mind one aspect of the problem which is going to take rather a time to get down to, but which, in my view, is crucial to the whole question of the enjoyment of our National Parks, and that is the question of increased facilities for accommodation in those areas. (I stressed this point right through our discussions on the Measure, on Second Reading and in Committee. I have never believed that the only, or, indeed, that necessarily the primary, purpose of setting up National Parks was to preserve existing beauty and to sterilise the status quo. I wanted to see the extension of the enjoyment of those parks to a greater number of people and in a greater variety of ways.
The Hobhouse Committee, which was set up to examine this problem, also spot lighted this point very emphatically in their Report. On page 43 they state that, in their surveys of proposed National Park Areas, they were impressed by one thing—. … the general inadequacy in quantity and quality of accommodation for visitors.They went on to say:This deficiency must clearly be remedied by the provision of a wide variety of accommodation to cater for the needs of all age and income groups if the potential value of the parks is to be fully realised.They went on to suggest what needed to be done—the development of controlled camping sites and caravaning sites, quiet hostels for elderly people, holiday camps or guest houses for whole families, camps and hostels for younger people, and the extension and development of the very 122 important Youth Hostels Movement. They made one thing quite clear—A considerable amount of new accommodation will have to be constructed and maintained on a non-profit making basis, or even at a loss.if we are to make these parks accessible to the thousands of people who otherwise will not be able to share in our national heritage.
I see in the Estimates that £10,000 is set aside this year for development of certain aspects of the National Park question. I assume that accommodation, refreshment facilities, recreational facilities, and other similar developments, are included in this estimate. That is not a great deal of money, and certainly it will not be enough to make a great impression on the problem, but unless the National Parks Commission really gets going—and gets going quickly—we shall not spend even that money this year. I know the matter wants careful consideration. We are determined to throw open those areas without destroying their natural beauty. Nobody wants to do that. However, I hope that the need for careful consideration will not be made an excuse for unnecessarily protracted consideration.
I was also going to ask my right hon. Friend this question. The same considerations about accommodation as apply in the National Park Areas may also, we may find, as we come to examine the question, apply to some of the long distance routes. My right hon. Friend will remember that we were walking on the northern end of the Pennine Way only a week ago, and that we found we were up on some pretty lonely heights, and that the small villages, where ramblers could stay, were nestling in the valleys far below, a long trek down. Apart from anything else, there may be many a rambler wanting to traverse the backbone of England in an uninterrupted march who may not wish to go down to the valleys to find accommodation for the night. A suggestion was made to my right hon. Friend—and I should like to repeat it now—that we might establish some refuges on the Pennine Way, up on the hills themselves, where rough but adequate accommodation for a night could be got by the long-distance rambler.
123 I am wondering whether the financial provisions of the Act and of this Estimate would cover the provision of refuges of that kind, and whether Section 98 of the Act, under which the Minister may defray expenses incurred by local authorities "for the purposes of approved proposals relating to long distance routes," would also cover proposals with regard to the provision of the sort of refuges I have mentioned.
There is another question I want to ask my right hon. Friend. I have studied the Act again, and I am not quite sure on this point, whether or not the National Parks Commission has power to provide accommodation in areas of outstanding beauty. There are many congested industrial areas in this country which may be more conveniently and regularly served by some of the areas of outstanding natural beauty than by some of the distant National Parks. I am thinking of Lancashire at this moment. I know that on a sunny Sunday or a Whit week-end thousands of the cotton workers from my town stream out by bicycle, bus, or any way they can, into the Ribble Valley, the Forest of Bewland or Pendle Hill. They might not have the time or the money to get into the Lake District, but having got into these areas of outstanding natural beauty they want refreshment, and they might want accommodation for the night. Is it possible under the Act for the National Parks Commission to give grants for this purpose, to use the money in this Estimate for helping to meet this problem?
Finally, I want to thank my right hon. Friend for being a worthy St. George in the battle against the dragons of the Service Departments. In the Second Reading Debate on that Measure some of us were a little alarmed because we felt that the National Parks Commission had not enough powers; that it was not given enough authority to stand up to the Service Departments when they wanted to make encroachments upon the land we wanted for access purposes. I must say, though, that the Minister, far from waiting to be referred to as a court of appeal in these cases—we were told that he would always be there to be appealed to—has acted for himself and has taken the initiative. I 124 have already had one very satisfactory answer to a question I put to him about the Warcop Range, which was cutting across the long-distance route to the Pennine Way.
Mr. Vane (Westmorland)
Does the hon. Lady realise that the mere existence of the Warcop Range is an eyesore in itself, and that the mere modification of the proposed extension is no solution? The Warcop Range is still there.
§ Mrs. Castle
I am sure the hon. Gentleman would be the first to appreciate that we have taken a very big step forward already, and there is nothing to prevent that being followed up. Perhaps he will join me in bringing a little pressure to bear on the Minister in due course.
§ Mrs. Castle
Having myself experienced only a week ago some of the dangers of traversing an artillery range in full action, I greatly appreciate the fact that at least it is now possible to walk with physical security along the Pennine Way so far as the Warcop Range is concerned. That is a consideration of no small merit, and I am asking my right hon. Friend whether in relation to the northern end of the Pennine Way and the Redesdale artillery range, he will work with the War Department and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War the same magic that he has worked for the Warcop Range. As a beginning, at any rate, the ramblers of the area would be very satisfied with that.
§ Mrs. Castle
I quite appreciate that. We would all be extremely happy were these training grounds unnecessary and the Service Departments completely removed from the mountain tops. Of course, that would be the long-term ideal. But surely as a practical Member the hon. Gentleman must appreciate that, as we must have Service Departments and training grounds, the best thing we can do is to concentrate our efforts on seeing that those grounds and those artillery ranges do not conflict with the great long distance routes which our Act is designed to set up. That is my limited purpose tonight.
I ask my right hon. Friend: Will he continue the good work he has so 125 encouragingly begun? Will he see that the National Parks Commission is not allowed to rest, and that the Service Departments are not allowed to encroach upon our great national parks? If he will continue as he has begun we shall see great benefits this year, and indeed this summer, for our penned up peoples in the industrial towns.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Black (Wimbledon)
I am very glad to have the opportunity of taking part in this Debate, because it gives me the opportunity of following the admirable opening speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Angus, North and Mearns (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley). That is a particular pleasure to me, not only because he opened the Debate in a most admirable way, if I may be permitted to say so, but because I happen to be a member of the profession to which he belongs, and also one of the 17,000 members of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, to which reference has already been made.
I associate myself with what my hon. Friend said about the need at no far distant date for a general discussion on the whole of the principles underlying the Town and Country Planning Act. For the moment we are confined to administrative matters which arise under the Act, and it is on three or four matters of administration that I want to address the Committee this evening in the hope that the Minister may see his way in regard to certain matters of grievance, as I believe them to be, to seek, within the scope of such administrative action as is possible, to remedy certain defects which have become obvious as a result of three years' experience of the Act.
My hon. Friend referred to the necessity for certain relaxations in the control of use, and the very strong case which exists for a simplification in the various categories under the Act and its regulations. On that I wish to associate myself with all that has been said. In that connection, I would particularly ask the Minister to look at one class of case which has been caught up by the Act but which, I cannot help feeling, it was not intended should be so caught up. I refer to properties purchased by charities of one kind and another and devoted wholly or mainly to use for charitable purposes.
126 At present a great many of the larger private residences, which in modern conditions are no longer suitable for occupation by a single private family, are being purchased by one or other of the many charities which are concerned with the welfare of such classes of the community as ex-Service men and old people. These houses are being used as clubs, recreational centres, or hostels for occupation by these types of people. I feel certain that every hon. Member will agree that that is a type of user which should be encouraged and not discouraged. If I may borrow a phrase used by my hon. Friend, of all types of case that type is the least suitable for the imposition of a fine or a penalty upon the charity which is desirous of using the property for such a purpose.
It is a fact that the position of charities is safeguarded under the Act as far as properties or lands purchased prior to the coming into force of the Act are concerned. What I am asking the Minister to do is to look very carefully at the position of properties purchased for charitable purposes since the coming into operation of the Act to see whether it is possible to meet what is at present widely regarded as a very real grievance.
Let me by way of illustration give one example from my own constituency which is symptomatic of many hundreds, if not many thousands, of similar cases which have occurred throughout the country. In my constituency a charitable body which has carried on most admirable work for many years past in the service of the community, purchased a private residence for use partly as a club for old age pensioners and partly as offices for the local youth council and the local community association. It would be difficult, I think, to imagine any clearer case of a property no longer suitable for the purpose for which it was originally erected, and being used for three public purposes of which every man and woman of goodwill must approve—a club for old age pensioners, the headquarters of the local youth council and the headquarters of the local community association.
The charitable body that purchased this property was straight away faced with a demand for the payment of a development charge of £750. I had to do with the negotiations which took place 127 with the district valuer, and after the matter had been discussed in the most friendly and considerate manner by the district valuer, the figure of £750 was reduced to £150. But what I am asking the Minister to look at is whether that kind of case is appropriate at all for the imposition of a development charge, and I most strongly suggest that by administrative action it should be possible to exempt from development charge cases of that kind where the use of the property is to be entirely or mainly charitable.
Second, I want to refer to a particular type of case about which there seems to be a difference of opinion among legal authorities and a difference of practice between local authorities. I have in mind the case of the marriage of units by the opening of holes or doors in the party walls separating two separate but immediately adjacent houses. May I take a case to illustrate clearly the point that I have in mind? Suppose that we have a pair of semi-detached houses of four storeys each completely separated from each other by a party wall. I think that it is quite clear that under the Act it is possible to convert both of these houses separately into two maisonettes each, consisting of two storeys each, without the question of a development charge arising.
That is the kind of case about which there is no difficulty; but it may very well be that it is more convenient and a better form of conversion, and, therefore, a type of conversion which it is in the public interest to encourage, for these two houses to be treated for conversion purposes as one unit, for openings to be made in the party wall between the two and for there to be formed four flats dividing the houses horizontally instead of maintaining the existing vertical division which is represented by the party wall.
Some legal experts apparently take the view that the opening of the party wall and the marriage of two separate units into one unit needs planning permission and raises the question of the levying of a development charge, while other legal authorities take the other view, and there are cases which I could quote to the Committee of different authorities taking different views on precisely the same set of facts. I am quite certain that the Minister will agree that that is eminently the type of case where it is desirable that 128 the true position should be correctly understood both by the legal authorities, by the property owners and by the public at large.
I would, furthermore, suggest that if it is the case that the opening of holes in the party wall does of itself create the necessity for planning permission and also raises the question of a development charge, it is contrary to reason that the conversion of the houses into multiple dwellings in one form should have that effect, whereas the conversion of the houses into multiple dwellings in a slightly different form should not have that effect. I feel quite certain that there are many people who have had to deal with this problem who would be grateful if it could be finally resolved by a clear decision by the Minister.
Third, I want to make the point that it should be the normal practice for planning permission to be given permanently and not for a limited period only, because it is impossible to secure stability in the property market and in the field of property development if planning permission is to be given only for a limited period. I think that it may truly be said that the case for that submission is much stronger at present than it would be at a time when development was able to be undertaken freely and without the necessity of obtaining a building licence, because in existing circumstances it is quite possible to obtain planning permission which is limited in its term and then find oneself unable to obtain the necessary licence to carry out the work within the period for which the planning permission holds good. Quite obviously, that uncertainty is bad.
I will, of course, concede that there are cases where a limited planning permission is perfectly reasonable and proper. I would say that in the case of a temporary building it would obviously be right to give limited planning permission only, and, again, in the case of some development which might be urgently necessary to meet some requirement of accommodation in the district but which was contrary to long-term planning considerations. In such a case as that, planning permission for a limited period could, I think, be properly justified, but I submit for the consideration of the Ministry that permanent planning permission should be the rule applied in the widest range of 129 cases possible and that planning permission for a limited period only should be the exception confined to the smallest number of cases practicable.
Finally, I should like to ask the Minister to look into the question of improving the procedure in respect of public inquiries held under the Town and Country Planning Act. In another connection, the phrase has been used in the course of this Debate that it is not only necessary that justice should be done but also that justice should appear to be done. The fact that justice is being done should be apparent to all whose interests may be involved in the course of a town planning public inquiry.
It is a fact, which I want to bring to the notice of the Committee, that there have been very grave complaints, both in the Press and by local authorities and professional men of the legal and surveying professions, that certain aspects of public inquiries in connection with town planning matters have left a very great deal to be desired, for the reason that it is obviously the case justice has not seemed to have been done. I have in mind particularly the case of clearances given by Government Departments before the public inquiry comes on for hearing.
I can give many illustrations, but I will confine myself to only one case, and that is a case in which the Ministry of Agriculture gave a clearance decision in respect of a particular site before the public inquiry was held. When the public inquiry was held, statements were made that this clearance decision had been given prior to the hearing by the Ministry of Agriculture. The Ministry of Agriculture refused to be represented at the hearing, from which it follows that the Ministry refused to submit evidence at the inquiry as to the reasons for their decision, and refused to submit a representative of the Ministry to be cross-examined.
I ask the Minister to consider the point I am seeking to make, that that kind of proceeding is bound to create resentment and a feeling of injustice on the part of individuals or local authorities whose interests may be very greatly affected as a result of a public inquiry. I feel quite certain that the Minister, by an overhaul of the procedure relating to public inquiries, could quite easily remove a great deal of the misunderstanding and 130 suspicion that exists at present. I hope that something may be done in this field.
I realise that this question of the procedure which should be adopted at public inquiries of this kind may very well have to be made the subject of legislation on some future occasion, but, in the meantime, I am quite certain that there is much the Minister could do in this field by administrative action, and by exercising his very great and undoubted powers of persuasion upon some of his colleagues who have not been as frank as they might have been in dealing with public inquiries in the past in the judgment of many of us.
There are a great many matters to which reference could be made as a result of experience, during the past three years of the Act, and I have no doubt that subsequent speakers will deal with other aspects of the matter. I have endeavoured to approach this matter in a constructive and not in a critical spirit. I feel quite certain that the Minister, who, I know, has no disinclination to listen to reasonable representations on this matter, will carefully consider whether it is not possible to do something to remedy some of these matters to which reference has been made.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Donnelly (Pembroke)
I hope the Committee will excuse me if I do not attempt to follow the two Opposition speakers in the various intricacies of administration of the 1947 Act they have raised, if only for the reason that, having listened to both, I feel rather like the Member of another place who, having heard a great deal of the discussion about near ripe land and dead ripe land, felt that the argument was getting rather over-ripe and thoroughly rotten. I feel that we should take the Debate back to the principles which actuated the 1947 Act, the National Parks Act and the New Towns Act, and which are the important aspects upon which the judgment of history will be based.
I hope Members opposite will realise that the compensation and development charges provisions of the 1947 Act are not there purely as a punitive measure against the landlords, but are there for a specific reason. Under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1932, for which the party opposite was largely responsible, any local authority which had a planning 131 scheme had to pay compensation out of the local rates to landlords whose property was adversely affected. Hundreds of thousands of pounds were paid out. At the same time, it was theoretically possible to collect a betterment charge, but I think that the files of the Ministry of Health, which was the Department responsible before the war, will show that there were only three or four cases where a betterment charge was collected.
The compensation and betterment provisions of that Act completely failed, because frequently the local authorities most in need of replanning could not afford it. I know of one planning officer of a local authority which desired a green belt but which had not the money to obtain it. He went round to all the old ladies in the large houses on the edge of the town and after many cups of tea and considerable persuasion was able to get them to enter into restrictive covenants, as a result of which a green belt was preserved around the town. That is not the function of a planning officer, nor is it a desirable way to go about it.
The Royal Commission set up in 1938 by the Chamberlain Government—one of the only good things that they did—stated in their Report, which was published in 1940, that there had to be some solution to this problem before we could get effective town planning. As a result, the Uthwatt Committee was set up. We must, therefore, realise that unless there is some solution to this problem, there cannot be any effective town planning control. If we have no planning control, what will happen to the desirable agricultural land which might well be taken over for industrial purposes? We all know that the farmer is at an economic disadvantage when it comes to competing for land required for industrial and housing purposes.
I earnestly urge hon. Members opposite to remember that some form of compensation and development charge solution is essential if town planning legislation is to work. It is perfectly true that there have been some difficulties and I hope that when my right hon. Friend replies he will be able to clear away many growing pains of the Act.
Perhaps I may with great diffidence direct the attention of the Committee to the real problems of town and country 132 planning which now face us. These are the problems of planning control and of the kind of development plans that we shall have in 1951, when the Town and Country Planning Act development plans have to be ready and be presented to the Minister. The judgment of history will be upon whether or not we, in the middle of the twentieth century, have been able to check the bad trends of industrial development, which our generation has been able to see only too clearly prevalent in the last period of the industrial revolution.
Among the great problems which are to be faced today are the problems of over-population of big cities, the increasing growth of London, Birmingham and Manchester, and, at the same time, the increasing depopulation of the rural areas, the Highlands of Scotland, and the mountains of Wales. Upon whether or not we can settle the problem of decentralising people and industry from the big cities and taking them back to the Highlands, to the mountains of Wales and to the countryside of Britain, depends our success or failure in the effective replanning of our towns and cities.
There are two main ways of effecting decentralisation. First, there is the new towns proposal as envisaged in the 1946 New Towns Act. That great venture, on which the last Government and my right hon. Friend's predecessor embarked, has been described by town planners all over the world as one of the outstanding contributions of this country to the whole history of urban development. The second way, which, I suggest, might be considered and investigated, is that throughout the length and breadth of Britain there are a great many small towns which, without large-scale capital expenditure could take a few factories, and, say, three or four thousand people. This would be of considerable advantage to these towns and considerable benefit to the people who would leave the big cities and go with the industries into the country towns.
My right hon. Friend, during his very distinguished tenure of office at the Board of Trade, was responsible in its early stages, I believe, for a very important Measure, the Distribution of Industry Act, which did a great deal for the Development Areas. Under the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act it is also possible to 133 decentralise industry from the big cities to the country towns.
It is perfectly true that some special financial assistance may be necessary to the local authorities of these towns to embark on any immediate capital expenditure in the way of roads, sewers, and so on, but a committee of the Town and Country Planning Association went into this matter in considerable detail two or three years ago and made proposals to the Ministry. Evidence was heard from several hundred small local authorities of rural and urban districts, whose proposals, suggesting financial assistance to country towns embarking upon small scale expansions of this nature, may well be investigated with considerable advantage. An immediate decentralisation drive could foe brought into force. This is the kind of decentralisation on which work could start at once without any extensive capital expenditure.
Seen from the other end—from the viewpoint of people living in the country towns—we find that most of these country towns are market towns and almost exclusively distribution centres. There is little or no productive industry in most of them. Among the scores of them which exist are places like Sudbury and Bridgnorth, and Haverfordwest, in my own constituency. The greatest problem which faces social and economic life in these towns is that there are very few jobs for young people. The noble Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George), in an eloquent plea on the Second Reading of the Distribution of Industry Bill, a few weeks ago, referred to the way in which young people had been driven from their homes and their native land by force of economic circumstances. That is a very real social problem for the countryside of Britain.
Year after year one sees families going to the railway stations to see a young member off to a job in Cardiff, Swansea, Birmingham, Manchester, or London. There they are, full of high hopes, with all their chattels packed in their bags and away they go from their home towns, probably never to return. If these country towns could be built up, new industry brought in and more money spent in them as a result of those developments, they would be much more satisfactory economic units and would provide 134 a better social life for the people in the immediate surrounding country. I earnestly urge on my right hon. Friend the needs of the country towns of Britain, which constitute a very serious problem at the moment.
My right hon. Friend has given a lead during his short period of office in cutting through any unnecessary red tape as far as the administration of planning control is concerned. He has gone a long way in the field of planning control to meet a great many of the objections resulting from the teething troubles of the 1947 Act. I hope he will be able to do something similar in regard to Parts VI and VII, the development charge and compensation Sections. He has done enough to show that once town planning is appreciated as a means to an end and not as an end in itself, a great deal can be done to help people in carrying out desirable developments.
Not only is speed necessary in the administration of planning control, but it is also necessary in the preparation of development plans. A great deal too much nonsense has been talked of social research. There is no obscure abracadabra as far as planning schemes are concerned; it is only common sense. We like a town or we do not, we have specific reasons for liking or disliking a place. It is the job of the professional planners and administrators to meet the likes and avoid the dislikes of the general public. The towns we live in to a great extent dictate the happiness we get out of life, because they govern the kind of lives we lead. I think it was Aristotle who said that the reason for towns was to enable men to live and that the only justification for them was that they enable men to live well.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)
We have had only one deviation from the main theme of the Debate and that was from the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn, East (Mrs. Castle) who recounted some of the pleasures and perils of some long hikes she had undertaken with her right hon. Friend the Minister. I do not propose to follow the hon. Lady in her reminiscences, but, before coming to the theme of development charges, I should like to adopt and endorse one point made in an excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member 135 for Wimbledon (Mr. Black). That is in regard to the procedure at town planning inquiries, in which I have had some professional experience.
I think my hon. Friend was quite right in saying that there is a feeling that full justice cannot be done in town planning inquiries under the present procedure. I would say at once that, at any rate as far as I am concerned, I have certainly never found anything to complain about in the conduct of inquiries by the officials in charge. From my experience they are excellent in the task they have to do. The two main points I commend to the Minister in this regard are these: first, the parties should have access to the report of the inspector who holds the inquiry. In my view that is vital in order that it may be seen how nearly the decision of the Minister accords with the report of the man who actually heard the argument, saw the witnesses and heard the cross-examination. I think it was the decision of Arlidge versus the Local Government Board, in 1915, which established that there was no right in the parties to see the report, but, like so many war-time legal precedents, it was an unhappy one and there will be a bouquet for the Minister who puts that right.
The second point is that which has already been referred to by my hon. Friend, namely, the "clearances" of other interested Government Departments. There should be no behind-the-door clearances. A Government Department should send a witness to the inquiry to give his evidence and submit himself to the test of cross-examination. That is the only proper way for these things to be done. I hope that the Minister will see his way to effect that improvement, which is merely a matter of administrative action.
I turn to the question of development charges. The task of anyone speaking about them has been greatly eased by the wholly admirable speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Angus, North (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley), who opened the Debate. He put the case most clearly and showed exactly where the shoe pinches in regard to development charges. In this Debate we are not concerned with whether or not there should be development charges because they are a matter of statute under the 1947 Act. We are 136 concerned solely with their administration and the effect of their operation. The main question is that which my hon. Friend put first in his speech, that is to say, whether development charges as at present operating, with their 100 per cent. levy, are a deterrent to desirable and necessary development. It is abundantly clear that that is so, and it must be so. There are, of course, a large number of instances of prohibitive development charges, especially in cases of small development.
My hon. Friend quoted some cases. Many cases have been quoted in Debates in another place by Lord Llewellin and others. But those instances, numerous as they are, are not nearly as numerous as they would be but for the fact that the primary deterrent to development today is the necessity of obtaining a licence because of the control of Building Operations effected by the Defence Regulation 56A. Were that necessity removed we should find far more instances to show the deterrent effect of a 100 per cent. development charge. Practical examples are scarcely necessary to prove what must be so obvious a proposition—that a 100 per cent. development charge must act as a deterrent to desirable development. One can give obvious examples of that. The most obvious of all is that of the owner of grazing land which is ripe for development. If there is to be a 100 per cent. development charge there is no incentive for him to make the land available for development, because, other things being equal, it is more pleasant to keep one's land in an immobilised state than to have it covered with bricks and mortar.
Another obvious instance is in regard to decaying property. With a 100 per cent. development charge in respect of any re-development more than that of simple re-instatement of the decayed proportions, plus 10 per cent., it is obviously less trouble to go on enjoying what revenues there may be from the decaying properties rather than to face the risks of re-development with a 100 per cent. development charge. The difficulty is that the 1947 Act takes away from the owner his right to develop but vests in nobody the duty to develop. Development needs a joint interest and a joint incentive. Instead, we have a divided interest and a reduced incentive. It is rather like tearing a pound note in two. 137 Put together the pieces are worth 20 shillings, but either half is valueless by itself.
Under the 100 per cent. development charge the Central Land Board may only sell the right to develop for the full 20s. Therefore, it follows that there can be no development unless the owner is willing to sell his part for nothing, that is to say, to sell at the existing use value without anything for development value at all. In practice, as we all know, that does not work; and may I say to the Minister that the fact that it does not work is made all the more clear by the pathetic efforts to use Section 43 of the Act as a disciplinary measure? The efforts to establish compulsory purchase at existing use value by the Central Land Board have had the minimum of effect combined with the maximum of irritation, and I hope that the Minister will announce tonight that we shall have no more of that.
What I think the Committee must realise is that for development to take place it must be possible to do something more than just break even. After all, development is an investment in competition with other possible forms of investment. If it is not to be an attractive investment then, of course, the development will not take place. That is becoming increasingly recognised, and had I more time I would have quoted from an admirable article in the "Estates Gazette" showing an economist's view of the incidence of development charges. I shall merely summarise it by saying that, taking into account the fact that development charges have either to be paid or secured before development is begun any system which at best only makes the proposition break even is one which is necessarily lagging behind alternative forms of investment.
In regard to the 100 per cent. development charge I hope that the Minister will tell us—because it has never yet been explained in this House—why the 100 per cent. development charge was ever instituted at all. I will tell him why I think it was; and that is because the advisers of the then Minister and the Central Land Board thought at that time that 100 per cent. was going to be paid under Part VI, and they went on thinking so almost up to 30th June, 1949 Their argument was, "If you are going to pay our 100 per 138 cent. under Part VI you must draw in 100 per cent. under Part VII."
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning (Mr. Lindgren) indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
The Parliamentary Secretary shakes his head, but with great respect, he was not in his present office at that time, and I do not remember that in the last Parliament we ever had the benefit of his guidance on these technical questions of town planning.
If what I have just said is so, the 100 per cent. levy is based on a misconception and a misapprehension, and the sooner it is done away with the better. If the 100 per cent. development charge is to be amended it can be done in one of three ways. We can either retain fixed charges, but on a lower percentage, such as the 75 per cent. suggested in the Uthwatt Report; or there can be a system of variable charges, which was the Government policy at the time when this Act was actually being debated in this House; or the third possibility is to retain a fixed development charge but at differential rates as between developed and undeveloped parts of the country. That last proposition has this advantage, that it enables the development charge to be used as an instrument for safeguarding the green land of this country for the vital task of food production. That consideration, however, perhaps is going too wide for this Debate tonight.
So far as variable charges are concerned they are open to the grave objection that it does mean that each case has to be treated as an act of policy, because the Central Land Board can merely assess what is the development value and it would then become a Departmental act of policy in each case to discriminate between different development. That, of course, is open to obvious objections. I think the Committee will come to the conclusion that my hon. Friend is right and that we should revert to the principle put forward both by the Uthwatt Committee and the Coalition White Paper, though in somewhat different figures, that there should be a fixed development charge, if there is to be a development charge at all, at a figure less than 100 per cent.—at, say, about 75 per cent.
139 I should like to make two brief points about valuation. In the Town and Country Planning Act there is no definition of value or of the normal processes of valuation, though both terms are used. But, as if to make up for the parsimony of not defining value the Act lays down three different definitions, in Parts V, VI and VII of the Act respectively, of existing use value, restricted value and refusal value. I endorse what my hon. Friend has said and what is said in the most informed and valuable memorandum of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, that there should be an effort to assimilate the methods of calculating value prescribed in the Act.
In particular, in computing consent value for the purposes of assessing development charges, there is a tendency for district valuers to take into account the special value to a particular user. As the Committee knows. Section 2 of the 1919 Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act specifically excludes from that assessment special value to a particular purchaser. It would be right that the procedure of consent value should be assimilated with that procedure.
My other valuation point concerns change of use. Again, I endorse my hon. Friend's support of the Royal Institution's suggestion for the grouping of certain use classes so as to facilitate interchange without planning permission or development charge. I should also like to support him in what he said, and what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon about development charges on change of use. There is no doubt that many changes of use are made not so much to enhance development value as to prevent a depreciation of development value. Where that takes place it seems to me that there should be no development charge if, on the long-term view, the change of use is merely keeping a mean market value for those premises. Similarly, where a certain house or property is merely being brought into line with the predominant use in the neighbourhood, there should be no development charge.
Perhaps I just have time to illustrate how onerously a development charge can work in that respect. There is a house at Blackheath which, in former times, was 140 a private family residence. It then became a shop, then a small factory, fourthly a storehouse, and now once again, it is being used for residential purposes. All those changes of use took place before the Act, but if they had taken place after the Act, the Treasury would have taken a levy by way of development charge four times before the house could be put back to its first use. That shows that there should not be an automatic levy of development charge merely because a change of use has taken place.
Lastly, there should be no small development charges at all. Valuation is an art and not a science. A margin of 5 per cent. between skilled valuers is very reasonable. Therefore, to read of small development charges, as one does repeatedly, shows that a wrong principle is being applied. The Treasury and the Ministry are keen enough to apply the principle of de minimis when it suits them. I invite them to apply it when it is of some aid to the developer.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. McAllister (Rutherglen)
The last Parliament was, from the Town and Country Planning point of view, a Parliament of great legislative achievement. It produced a body of town planning legislation which will stand for the second half of the 20th century and which will produce fairer towns and a better countryside. It is important in a Debate like this that we should recall the basic aims of planning. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) and the hon. Member for Angus, North (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) to deal at such length, in such detail and with such lucidity—the hon. Member for Angus, North spoke for 45 minutes—with the question of development charges, when all that they wanted to say could have been said in one sentence to the effect that it was all charge and no development.
That is a point of view with which I have some sympathy, and I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Town and Country Planning, who has great gifts for cutting through red tape wherever he finds it, will manage to simplify a great deal of the work being done and make it easier for ordinary members of the general public, as well as of the Chartered Surveyors' Institution, to understand exactly the principles on which the Central Land Board is working.
141 The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) referred to the Barlow Report, which is the basic document of all the town planning legislation which was one of the features of the last Parliament and which was designed to give to our people a better and happier life. If there were to be a new Barlow Commission set up today to produce another Barlow Report, what would that Report say about the condition of our cities and our countryside after all that spate of legislation? It would, no doubt, pay a great tribute to the last Parliament and to the then Minister of Town and Country Planning, whose elevation was welcomed on both sides of this House, but it would also have to record the fact that, when it comes down to the vital question of the problem which that legislation was intended to solve, we have made much less progress than we might have hoped for.
The basic theme of the Barlow Commission was that we should decentralise our great swollen cities, decentralise both population and industry. The present Minister of Town and Country Planning, when he was President of the Board of Trade, initiated all that great programme of decentralisation of industry to the former depressed areas, now known as development areas. I do not think any praise can be too high for what has been achieved in Lanarkshire, the West of Scotland, in Dundee, on Tyneside, in Durham and in South Wales as the result of his bold and imaginative Act. I think the Minister himself would be the first person to concede, however, that it was an imperfect Act, and that it was necessarily a middle-of-the-road Act. It did not go far enough, and it did not have the powers of industrial location that are necessary if we are to have proper town and country planning in this country.
The hon. Member for Pembroke made a plea for the country towns as well as the new towns, and I would endorse that. I was a little sorry that, in the formidable array of National Liberals which graced our proceedings at one point, the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay), was not in his place, because he has been making that plea for the development of our country towns for a very long time.
In spite of all these excellent developments, decentralisation of population and industry is not, in the net result, an accom- 142 plished fact. On the contrary, swollen London is still more swollen, and we still have the tedious journeys to and from their work which have to be endured by men who enter a hole in the ground in a place where they do not want to live and get out of another hole in the ground in another place where they do not want to work. These people still have to make longer and longer strap-hanging journeys.
The Trade Union Congress today dealt with the impact on the cost of living of the increase in local passenger transport fares in the London area. They suggested to the Government that if something was not done by way of subsidy there would be an immediate call for an increase in wages. That is one way of tackling that problem, but are we really tackling this problem of London's over growth and the problem of swollen Glasgow, Manchester and Birmingham?
I wonder whether my right hon. Friend has read that fascinating document, the London Travel Survey of 1949, published by the London Transport Executive, together with the address of Lord Latham to the Institute of Transport on the social aspect of travel. It is a very interesting document and shows that the number of passenger miles travelled in public transport in the London Transport Executive area has increased by 45 per cent. compared with pre-war. It also shows that the average Londoner is making 510 journeys a year as against 436 in 1937, and that the journeys are longer. The journey to work costs the Londoner 4s. 1d. a week and it takes him 42 minutes door-to-door each way.
It is fascinating to see how the Londoner travels about in this swollen Metropolis. We find that 58 per cent. of the workers use public transport, 14 per cent. go by bicycle, 5 per cent. use cars or motor cycles, 17 per cent. walk, and 5 per cent. work at home. If we add up all those figures we find that there is 1 per cent. missing. What happens to the residual 1 per cent., I do not know. One is left to imagine that they travel by flying saucer, a form of transport which has not yet come under the London Transport Executive which serves a population of 8,710,000 people, all of whom are making these longer and increasingly tedious and expensive journeys to and from work.
143 That was one of the major facts which the Barlow Commission brought out in spite of the plea of the late Mr. Frank Pick that London must increase its population to 12 million in order that the London Transport Board might pay its maximum permitted dividend. But we are still carrying on in that way today. The families with £8 a week and more live, in the main, outside the London County Council area. The families with £4 10s. a week and less live in the London County Council area. What does that prove? It proves what common sense would suggest, that people who have the means refuse to live in our intolerably penned up cities and seek what they regard as their birthright, a cottage and a garden with some reasonable access to the countryside. But what a terrible price they have to pay for what they regard as a birthright. They spend 82 minutes a day in travelling; they add 17 per cent. to their working day, and every year they use up 800 million man hours in the London area alone. And, what is true of London is proportionately true of Manchester and Glasgow.
If we are looking for increased industrial production, then there is the possibility of a great increase through the release of such manpower. But, of course, progress has also to be recorded. I am sure we are all glad to know that if one travels by Tube from Bond Street to Green Park one will do the journey in 23 seconds less than before the war. But, against that, if one does not go by Tube and travels by private car, one will find that around Covent Garden no fewer than 27 additional streets have been declared one-way streets. I think it is the common experience of all of us that since petrol was de-rationed the streets of London and the roads round London have become almost intolerable from the human point of view. Yet Lord Latham, echoing Frank Pick, says he looks forward to an increase in travel in the London Transport Executive area.
That is precisely the wrong way to look at planning, but it does suggest that the Government ought to be more strongly behind the development of new towns than the Estimates now before us would suggest that they are. I do not doubt for one second the desire of my right hon. Friend to push on with new towns as 144 rapidly as possible. He ought to persuade his colleagues to give up more of the £50 million which, after all, he set aside when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer for the immediate development of the new towns. The building of new towns should not be regarded as a slowly moving process, the subject of all sorts of abacadabra and of town planning mysticism which is at present impeding it.
Are we building at lower densities than before the war? Are we building fewer flats than before the war? I am sorry to say we are building more flats and at higher densities and at enormous expense. In New York, which is probably the most packed city in the western world, they are building a great new skyscraper town on land costing £60,000 an acre and each flat costs £2,500. The rent of each flat is £150 to £265 a year. But in London we are building in Holborn, at Tybold's Close, flats on land costing £60,000 an acre, at a density of 80 to the acre, let at £55 to £92 a year because they are getting a subsidy from the Government and local authority of from £2,750 to £3,000 per flat.
That is housing economics and town planning policy gone "haywire." It is the absolute opposite of Barlow, Uthwatt or Scott, the opposite of everything my right hon. Friend stands for. I want to see us going ahead with new towns, not planning congestion, not prefabricating slums; not abolishing slums to replace them with super slums, but abolishing slums to replace them with houses and gardens in convenient relation to work, recreation, churches, schools and hospitals, which is the whole basis and generic idea of the new towns movement. I am sure my right hon. Friend agrees with me.
I agree with what the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn, East (Mrs. Castle) said about national parks, but it did cross my mind when she was speaking and telling us of the wonderful crowds of young people gathered on Manchester Station on Sunday evening that national parks as a substitute for drink as the quickest road out of Manchester was not quite the right conception of national parks. What we want are decent houses, with gardens, related to work and to leisure, nothing that would need behind it the whole weight of the Royal Institute of British Architects or the Royal Institution of 145 Chartered Surveyors and the House-builders Registration Council, but just the application of plain common sense, the application of a policy of housing and industrial location side by side, adding to them the necessary equipment of a town and surrounding all that with a green belt.
Since it was from the green belt idea that the whole public momentum came for the levying of a development charge, I think it is also to be added with regret that we are eating more into the green belts of our great cities today than we were before the war. It has got to stop. We have got to stop all these mistakes; we have got to go ahead and see these new towns coming into being and not being delayed by too many fancy theories or by too tight a grip by His Majesty's Treasury. We want to see the towns going up, and we want to see the people living in them. Even if we make mistakes in the building of these new towns, we shall give so much joy and happiness to so many hundreds and thousands of people in the new towns and we shall give so much light and air to the people in our congested cities that we shall all agree that it is really worth while.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)
This Debate has dealt with three main subjects, each of which comes within the purview of the Department of the right hon. Gentleman. The hon. Members for Rutherglen (Mr. McAllister) and for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) have both urged the need, with which I agree, to decentralise our industrial populations. I would remind the hon. Member for Rutherglen that a solution of that matter was not started by a Socialist Government. It was started, and with some success, in the years before the war, by the National Government with their Trading Estates in what were then called "the Distressed Areas" and by various other measures in which private enterprise has taken some part. I would further remind the hon. Member that there is a very grave danger that the decentralisation to which he looks forward will be frustrated if the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, does not work better than it is doing now.
The hon. Lady the Member for Black-bum, East (Mrs. Castle), who, at the moment, is not in her place, made a plea 146 for health and beauty which stirred us all. I must say that I was not sure which she found the bigger thrill—braving the perils of an artillery range in action or going hiking with the right hon. Gentleman. I wish to invite the attention of the Committee to the perhaps more arid, but, I suggest, even more important, points which were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Angus, North (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley), and which were fortified by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) with his unrivalled professional experience of the subject, and by the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black) who has also professional experience, but of a different kind.
It is perhaps also right that I should point out that the Debate is now being wound up by another lawyer, who knows far less than most lawyers do about this subject. But lawyers are the people who like the Town and Country Planning Act, not because we understand it, but because we do not understand it, and therefore it is good for business.
I well remember wondering, over 20 years ago, when by a strange coincidence the hon. Member for Hertford and myself were members of the committee of the Oxford Liberal Association, why the Liberal zeal for the taxation of land values had never been translated into practice when we had a Liberal Government in power. Perhaps the answer is that the ideas were ahead of their time. Perhaps it was because other important reforms had priority. But I think that the most likely reason of all is that, however desirable theoretically those ideas may have been, they were thought to be unworkable in practice.
Liberal Governments of those days differed from the Socialist Government of today in that they did not do things which were unworkable. The Socialists in the last Parliament decided "to go the whole hog" in this matter, with complete control of even the smallest development, with the 100 per cent. development charge based on merely notional changes of value, with a development charge procedure which I saw described the other day as "sheer delirium," and with detailed planning down to the most minute descriptions of changes of use.
What we have to consider tonight in this Committee is, I suggest, whether, in 147 the light of the experience so far gained of the working of the Act, we must come to the conclusion that some of it is, perhaps, an excess of zeal. I do not think we can go further than that. We have to consider whether all the paraphernalia is worth while, or whether we cannot perfectly well dispense with some of it without doing away with the main objectives, about which both sides of the Committee are agreed.
Last month the new Minister of Town and Country Planning announced the abolition of 40 per cent. of the controls. As we all know, he called it an "experiment in freedom." I should like to remind him that the controls which he abolished were an experiment in Socialism and an experiment in detailed planning, which very quickly failed, as he had the sense to see—and we congratulate him on seeing it. I will grant that the present phase of town and country planning may be said to be in the laboratory stage; but let us take advantage of the fact that it is in the laboratory stage. It is in that stage because capital expenditure is limited by economic policy and because of the limitation of housing development, especially development by private enterprise.
In any event, therefore, planning development would take place rather slowly at present compared with pre-war and certainly compared with the rapid rate of great expansion which one day we hope may take place. At present we are just "marking time"; but the day will come when our economy will have to expand and the people will then insist that the Government should give the order, "Quick march." It will probably be, "By the right, quick march." Meanwhile, however, we have to seize the opportunity of making sure that our development procedure works smoothly, fairly and with encouragement to development, instead of being, as my hon. Friends pointed out, dilatory, unjust and discouraging.
I shall be brief because I am limited in time; I wish to give the right hon. Gentleman the time he requires. Perhaps I may, therefore, deal briefly with the four main points which have been mentioned on the strictly planning side. In dealing with these four points may I mention, for the benefit of the right 148 hon. Gentleman, that I am stressing the matters with which I hope he will find time to deal in his reply.
First of all, there is the amount and incidence of the 100 per cent. development charge. It has been pointed out, beyond a shadow of doubt, that the 100 per cent. charge is acting as a disincentive and it has been suggested, with ample reason, that some incentive should be given to the developer. With great courage, my hon. Friend the Member for Angus, North, took the bull by the horns and suggested a definite percentage—75 per cent. In making that suggestion he had, at any rate, the authority of the Uthwatt Report; and I should like to know what the right hon. Gentleman has to say about it. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford put forward a query as to why the 100 per cent. development charge had ever been introduced. I should like to carry that a stage further. I should like to ask whether it is to be continued and, if so, why?—bearing in mind the disadvantages which have been pointed out in relation to it.
I wish to add one argument of my own to those which have been made. Perhaps it is more an amplification of a suggestion made earlier, and it is this. At present, as I understand it, the development charge is not likely to produce more than about £2 million in the current financial year; but once the expansion of industry and of building, to which I have referred, takes place, then development charges may yield enormous sums; and we must be very careful not to let them assume fiscal importance and great revenue producing capacity, until we have made up our minds that they are sound in principle. The Chancellor of the Exchequer on Second reading of the Finance Bill said that Purchase Tax now produces £300 million a year, and he added this:Whoever wants to take off the Purchase Tax will have to find another way of raising that money before he does so."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th May, 1950; Vol. 475, c. 1158.]We all know that Purchase Tax was not intended originally to produce revenue, and yet we find the Chancellor of the Exchequer saying that. For goodness' sake let us make sure we do not have a final blow to development through allowing development charges to become something upon which the Treasury relies.
149 The second point is the change-of-use provisions. The right hon. Gentleman, who has great powers under the Act, could easily amend the regulations of 1948, and he could simplify them as has been suggested. In doing so, I hope he will bear in mind the point made by my hon. Friends the Members for Angus, North, and Wimbledon, that large private houses are a potential asset to the community, and that owners should not be discouraged by penal charges from having them converted.
With regard to delay in giving planning permission, there is very little that I need say, except to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, bearing in mind the numerous different kinds of consent that are required, he will use his great position to ensure some kind of co-ordination. After all, the Minister of Town and Country Planning ought to some extent to be a minister of co-ordination of the planning work of other Ministries, and we urge him to use his position in the Cabinet, and his power, to do that. In regard to development charge procedure, can he not put into it some logic and justice, so that we have the same basis for valuation, both for compensation for loss of development under Part VI and also for development charges under Part-VII? Will he tell us what has happened to the Report from the Central Land Board?
The sum total of these arguments which have been put forward, and which I have had to summarise all too rapidly, seems to me to be this, that one day the nation will want to have a high rate of development; but development can only take place, if what I may call, using an old-fashioned word, the adventurers have confidence in their prospects and reasonable certainty in the factors on which their calculations are based. They must have those two things; otherwise, they cannot make their plans, and they will not go on with their development. The present system is creating uncertainty with regard to those factors, and is destroying confidence. This is the time to review the matter. It would be lamentable if it were reviewed too late when the flood of development which we hope will come had been spent; and the Minister has responsibility for reviewing it.
Let me say that I am glad he is now able to justify his seat in the Cabinet 150 by holding this very important position as Minister of Town and Country Planning. His predecessor is no longer with us. He was one of the few people who really understood his own Act. The life of a Socialist politician has, of course, its ups and downs. A kick on the posterior from the electorate is quickly consoled for, by a seat for posterity in another place. The present Minister, however, has great powers for good or evil—powers to enhance or lower his own considerable reputation. We hope that what we shall hear from him tonight will indicate a step in the right direction.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ The Minister of Town and Country Planning (Mr. Dalton)
I am sorry—and so, I am sure, are many hon. Members—that we have only been able to have a part of a Supply Day for this discussion on the Department for which I am now responsible. There are many other hon. Members on both sides of the Committee who would have liked to speak, and many other aspects of the work of this Department which might with great interest have been raised. None the less, even though it is only half a Supply Day, I am told it is the first time that the Ministry of Town and Country Planning Vote has ever been considered in Supply, and I take that to be some evidence of the wide interest in what we are trying to do.
As has been made clear from the speeches that have been made today, there are three separate Acts of Parliament in respect of which our administration may be examined tonight: the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act, the New Towns Act, and the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act. Most of the discussion, though not all of it, has fallen on the 1947 Act, and in particular on development charges. I shall seek to deal with a number of the points that have been raised, and before I sit down I shall make a detailed announcement regarding certain administrative changes which I have decided to make, and which I hope the Committee will agree with me should be made. Perhaps, I may come to that a little later, after I have dealt with some of the preliminary points.
We have been in a little difficulty throughout this Debate—indeed, because the subject is very technical a greater speech by my hon. Friend the Member 151 for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) has said—in drawing the line between what it is permissible to discuss in respect of administration, and what it is not permissible to discuss so far as it would involve legislation. It has been very difficult for that line to be sharply drawn, and that must be so in a discussion of this sort. I have, of course, considered this problem with close attention since I came to my present Department. I have considered, with particularly close attention, the distinction between what it is possible to do administratively and what it is only possible to do legislatively, because it has seemed to me that in this rather abnormal Parliamentary situation, the duration of which none can foretell, it is better to concentrate upon administrative improvements, when they can be made quickly, rather than to embark upon distant projects of legislation, which might not come to pass.
Quite frankly, as I have already said both inside and outside this House, I have concentrated my principal attention on what can be done administratively, and certain of the proposals that have been raised tonight could not, I am advised, be done administratively, and I think that strictly speaking, discussion of them would not be in order on this occasion. I shall therefore touch on them in passing without developing the argument.
First of all, with regard to the amount of the development charge. Some hon. Members have argued that the development charge should be uniformly reduced. Two proposals have been made—one, that it should be uniformly reduced to some percentage less than 100, and 75 has been suggested. I am advised that that would require legislation, and I therefore say no more about it now. I have been careful to seek advice on this subject, and that is what I am advised. On the other hand, I am advised that a differential arrangement for the development charge would not require legislation, and the arguments for or against that can therefore properly be deployed on this occasion. The hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) did use, I think, some very telling arguments against the differential arrangement. He said—and I quote one of the phrases he used—that if the differentiation arrangement were applied to each particular de- 152 termination of development charge that would in itself be an act of administration, and evidently that is true.
§ Mr. Renton
I understand that the 100 per cent. development charge was fixed by regulation in 1948. What is there, therefore, to prevent a 75 per cent. development charge being fixed by regulation in 1950?
§ Mr. Dalton
We are in the hands of our legal advisors in this, as in many other matters, and that is the best advice that I have been able to get. That being what I am advised, I do not think that it would be proper for me to develop an argument of that point, although on another occasion, other than in Committee of Supply, discussion of it would be possible.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson (Southport)
Surely, with all respect, Sir Charles, the Act merely laid down that there was to be a development charge, and it was made 100 per cent. by virtue of regulation. It would surely have been open to the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, instead of inserting the figure 100 in the original regulation, to have inserted the figure 90 or 70 or whatever figure it might be, other than 100. If it was open to him to do that, then quite clearly it must be open equally to his successor to revoke that regulation and issue a new regulation with a different figure?
§ Mr. Dalton
That is what I might have thought before I took legal advice, but I am told that it requires legislation, and I do not think that I can carry it further.
§ Mr. Molson (The High Peak)
I think that the Minister could explain to us what the legal argument is. It is perfectly plain, and I remember it extremely clearly, that we understood that it was going to be a variable charge until the last Minister came down with the regulation, and that was the first thing that the House knew about 100 per cent. charge being obligatory. With the utmost respect, Sir Charles, I suggest that the Minister might explain the argument to us because I cannot feel that he has just accepted the advice of his legal advisers without even seeking to understand their argument.
§ Mr. Dalton
I am very anxious to oblige the Committee to the best of my 153 powers. On the other hand, I wish to reply to other points which have been made. The Central Land Board, as I have stated, have made a report at my request in which I ask them to distinguish clearly between possible changes which could be made administratively, and changes which would require legislation, and in their view, in addition to the view of other legal advisers, this proposal to have a uniform lower charge would require legislation. I repeat that I am prepared to discuss the matter on another occasion, but with respect I put myself, Sir Charles, in your hands, and I judge that it would not be appropriate for me to develop that point further.
§ The Deputy-Chairman(Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)
I should not like to express an opinion myself, but if variations had been allowed before by regulation there appears to be no reason why they should not be discussed now.
§ Mr. Hudson
I know perfectly well from experience of the right hon. Gentleman that he is the last person who would wish us to back out, but if he maintains his present attitude of saying that this requires legislation he will incur the suspicion that he is endeavouring to burke the argument. Surely, it would be in order for him to say why his advisers think that what appears on the face of it to be an unreasonable interpretation is the right one.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I have said that if it had been done by regulation before it can be discussed now.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
If it be a fact that the Act prescribes the development charge, but that the actual method of levying it, which comes to 100 per cent., is prescribed only in the regulation, would it be in order, Sir Charles, to discuss a matter which would require amending regulation although not an amending Act?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I am not prepared to give an answer to such a complicated question. If it has been done before by regulation, then in my view it can be discussed now.
§ Mr. Dalton
In that case, not wishing to take too long on this one point, I am prepared now not to continue to argue whether it would require legislation, but 154 to give reasons why, since the Chair has ruled it would not be out of order, I do not propose to vary the 100 per cent. I do not accept, in the broad way in which it has been put by hon. Members, the argument that a development charge at 100 per cent. is having a deterrent effect on development. It may be, as the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) has said, that at some future date, when the total volume of development is substantially greater, that that may be so, but at the present moment our labour force is fully employed, and therefore there can be no deterrence on development in the aggregate. All that can happen, as a result of the charge, is that some development takes place and other development does not. The development which takes place is, on the whole, development fostered by Government policy, with regard to housing, repair of existing habitations, new towns, industrial building and so on.
Therefore, I do not accept the view that 100 a per cent. development charge discourages the aggregate of development at this time. I do not consider that the reduction in the revenue accruing to the Exchequer, which would be the result of reducing the 100 per cent. charge, and from the Exchequer point of view would be unfortunate, would be balanced by any additional total development taking place. That is the short argument, and, whether legislation is required or not, I do not propose at this stage to take steps to reduce the charge.
There is, I think, a good deal to be said for the view that control over changes of use is too detailed. I wish to associate myself with what has been said by several Members as to the value of the Chartered Surveyors' Report, which I have been reading and find suggests a number of proposals that I would be very glad to be able to adopt, not perhaps all at once, but in due course. It is a valuable document, written objectively and with knowledge.
Complaint was also made of the delay by the planning authority in dealing with applications for permission, and I was asked whether I could not do something about it. I have been trying to do something about that in what I called an "Experiment in Freedom." This is a phrase I used to local authority representatives who were very doubtful as to 155 whether I was not being too rash in lifting some requirements for planning permission. That was the context of the observation I made, but I make no complaint of particular sentences being picked out of their context and misused, because few politicians have not done that to their opponents at some time or another.
Since this has been done in my case, not for the first time, I should like to quote what I really said on the subject of lifting requirements for planning permission. I said this at a Press conference. I am quoting from a newspaper which I am sure hon. Members in all parts of the Committee will agree is well known, widely read and authoritative, the "Morning Advertiser." It gives a very good report of what I said, much better than most of the other newspapers—Some local authorities are rather hesitant about this experiment in freedom. I have told them that it is an experiment. Some local authority associations have seen me. Their representatives came to see me to tell me that they were apprehensive about it, and I have told them that if they can show it is widely and appreciably abused, the question of retracing the step will be considered.I went on to say that I did not think it would be abused, either in regard to farm buildings, dwelling-houses or industrial establishments. This experiment in freedom rather frightened some of the local authorities, including—and here I am not drawing any political distinction—Conservative and Labour authorities, who were equally timid. Their officials persuade them very often to be timid in withdrawing any controls which the officials have ever at any time operated. That, no doubt, is human nature.
§ Mr. Dalton
At any rate, the right hon. Gentleman is not disagreeing with what I am saying. We both have experience of some of these matters, and these sort of people.
I hope that the result of this withdrawal of the requirement of planning permission, as a result of which 40 per cent. of the applications previously made will no longer need to be made, will have 156 the effect of diminishing the delays by the local planning authorities by giving them less to do in this field, and enabling them to do quicker what is left.
I notice that Scots are quicker on the ball than Englishmen, according to what one hon. Member said, and I am quite prepared to consult the hon. Lady the Joint Under-Secretary of State as to why that is so. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary tells me that it is because there are fewer appeals. If there is anything we can learn in speed of action from Scotland, I shall be most happy to learn it, and to apply it in practical administration.
I should like to conclude this part of what I am saying by remarking that the primary responsibility rests upon the popularly elected authorities, and that there is a limit to what it is proper for a Department in Whitehall to do in bringing pressure upon local authorities to alter their methods of working or their mode of holding their committee meetings, or dealing with detailed administrative matters which come before them. Subject to that, however, I will certainly do my best to see whether we cannot still further reduce delays.
The next point, which was raised by the hon. Member, was whether we could not have some kind of statutory code with regard to valuation arrangements. That, again, at first sight seemed a reasonable proposition, and I should like to think about it. I have already had some discussions about it with my advisers. There is of course a danger that if we were to translate the present practice into a statutory code, we might get something rather more rigid than we have now, and we would not necessarily get a lower general level of development charges. It is, perhaps, a little rash to assume that the mere creation of a statutory code would help in this regard, but I will continue to examine this matter in the light of what the hon. Member and others have said.
Those, I think, were the principal points which were raised by the hon. Member in opening the discussion, and the same points were dealt with further by other speakers. Perhaps I may turn aside at this stage, and mention some of the other matters that were put to me, returning to the question of development charges in a moment.
157 Something was said about the new towns. I welcome the opportunity of saying a word about them. Since I became Minister, I have made it my duty to visit as many of the new towns as possible. There is only one, or at the most two, which I have not visited, and I should like to say, particularly to my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen (Mr. McAllister), that the progress is undoubtedly accelerating. Two of the new towns in particular, Crawley and Harlow, which I visited recently, are hoping to have something very good to show in time for the Festival of Britain—they both told me that—in 1951, and when we get visitors from overseas, from the United States and from our own Commonwealth countries and so on, I believe that they will find a great stimulus and interest in seeing how far our new towns experiment has then gone.
The production of houses, road works, sewerage and so on, all the preliminaries are going well ahead in nearly all the new towns. They have reached different stages, because some of the new towns are older than others, some of them have been at it longer than others, and some have more difficult problems in terms of terrain, but all are on a very definite upward curve in the building of roads, sewers and houses. I also say to my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen that I have an arrangement with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health whereby we shall not be held up in regard to housing allocations, but have a global housing allocation in respect of the new towns. It will be allocated to the new towns in accordance with their capacity to get on with the building, and if any of them can build more houses they will get authority to build more within the total national allocation.
I must not say more now, but I would like an occasion to say more in detail about the work of these new town corporations. I am very favourably impressed by what I have seen and by the competence, spirit and keen interest taken in their work by the new town corporation members, their officers and the labour force, whom I have seen at work. I would add only a further point; at each new town I have visited, I have made a point of calling on some of the houses already occupied, and not merely on tenants who were prepared for the call 158 I have called at various times and, generally speaking, during the working hours of the day so that usually I have seen the lady of the house—[Laughter]—with witnesses present—and on each occasion I have asked her whether she liked her house. Invariably she has said, "Yes," I have asked her whether she wanted to go back from where she came, and invariably she said, with great emphasis, "No." Although in many cases the rents are higher than they paid before, the value they are getting for the rents means that there will be no stronger supporters of the new town idea than those families who were fortunate enough to be the first to go and live in them.
National Parks were discussed by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, East (Mrs. Castle), whom some of us find a most charming companion when we go exploring unknown areas, and who recently greatly brightened our three sunny days in the Cheviots. She asked whether I was stimulating the National Parks Commission. I think the Commission consists of a number of very keen and active people, appointed by my predecessor in office, and he chose very well. I am keeping in constant touch with them, and I have indicated to them that I want to have, between them and me, the relationship of a very active two-way traffic in bright ideas, positive proposals and eager prodding, if there should be any evidence of slow movement on either side. They are doing well, they are moving about, they have already visited the Peak District, and have met all the local authorities there, and also other people interested in public amenities and so on. They have delineated the boundaries of the Peak National Park, which are now being discussed with the various local authorities concerned, to get their agreement, which, I hope, will be got very soon and, as soon as it is got, we shall be able to set up the first planning authority in the Peak.
§ Mr. Dalton
So far they are only being sent to the various local authorities concerned, Derbyshire County Council and the others, for their observations, but they will be published at an early date. I think I know the answer to the question the hon. Member was going to ask. If 159 there is any objection it will be possible to have a public inquiry.
§ Mr. Molson
Could the amenities societies also have an early opportunity to have a look at the plan which has been given to the local authorities?
§ Mr. Dalton
They surely shall. All the legitimately interested parties in the area surely shall. I gather the boundaries of the National Park in the Lake District have been pretty well agreed already with the local authorities. Next month the Commission is visiting the North Wales area, sometimes called the Snowdonia National Park. With regard to other possible National Parks, they have a subcommittee now considering the question of the Broads. I will not speak of that in detail, or go beyond saying that there is a great need for something to be done to prevent the silting up of the Broads. That is being actively examined by a subcommittee of the National Parks Commission.
They have another sub-committee considering the question of these long distance routes which have been mentioned. The Pennine Way has been indicated as probably the first, but they are also very much interested in the question of the possibility of the Thames Footpath, a matter about which I myself today saw Sir Jocelyn Bray of the Thames Conservancy. We are considering what can be done there. There are questions of cost, of erosion of the banks, etc., to be considered, but I shall be disappointed if we do not get something done in regard to the three National Parks, the Broads, and at least two of these long distance routes.
I thought it right to give that report on the activities of the National Parks Commission. Perhaps, I might just say to the Committee that I first met the Commission within a few days of my becoming Minister. I said to them, "I will never be indignant with you for going too fast but I reserve the right to be impatient if I think you are going too slowly." So far, I have had no cause to be impatient. They are doing their job very well.
With regard to the Service Departments' land requirements, we must be sensible and not imagine we can have modern and up to date Armed Forces in 160 this little island without having to surrender considerable areas in the total for the use of the Services. It does no good to talk as do some of the extreme exponents of the National Park idea, and say that within a National Park there should be no military exercises at all. That is nonsense. The National Parks will take up too big a proportion of the total area for that to be so. I have made it clear to my right hon. Friends, who are in charge of the Service Departments, that my approach will be that I begin by recognising the claims of the Service Departments to substantial areas in the aggregate, and I hope that they, in turn, will recognise my right to say that, here and there, a relatively small area should not be included in their requirements. On that basis of common sense, an arrangement can be reached between those responsible for planning and other non-military interests and those responsible for the training of the forces. So far, we have got along pretty well. A number of outstanding cases are now being discussed between myself and the Service Ministers, and we shall make announcements from time to time.
I do not feel that I can deny the Services all the Warcop Range. I thought I had done a fairly good deal in getting the northern boundary of the danger area re-drawn southwards—the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) knows this area very well—so as to clear that very remarkable bit of country which he and I well know, running from Cauldron Snout in my constituency to High Cup Nick, which is in his. That was of great advantage to large numbers of people in that area. I did not think it reasonable to say that they should not have any of the Warcop Range area for the tank firing range which they wanted.
With regard to the Redesdale Range, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, East, will agree with me that the guns were not really firing very near to us, and that a very minor adjustment at the boundary of the Redesdale target area should enable the Pennine Way at its northern end to run completely clear of the outermost danger area drawn by the most prudent general. I am speaking to the Secretary of State for War about that, and I hope that we shall be able to make an adjustment.
161 May I turn to the question of development charges and the report I have had from the Central Land Board. I asked Sir Thomas Phillips, the Chairman of the Board, and his colleagues, to put up to me a study of all the possible administrative improvements which would not require legislation. He did so, and put up a number of suggestions. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who of course is the Minister of Town and Country Planning north of the Border, and myself, are proposing, as a result of this, to lay before Parliament in the near future, new regulations, which will exempt certain classes of development from liability to development charge.
In the first place, these regulations will provide for exempting from charge the enlargement of a dwelling-house by 10 per cent. or 7,500 cubic feet, whichever is the greater. That is an extension from the present figure of 1,750 cubic feet. The same will apply to the rebuilding of a dwelling-house with simultaneous enlargement within the limit I have indicated.
In the second place, and this was the point raised by the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black), the new Regulations will exempt from charge the lateral conversion into flats of not more than three adjoining dwelling-houses, provided they were in existence on 1st July, 1948. This concession will also extend to war-destroyed houses in respect of which there is an entitlement to a cost of works payment. Vertical conversion, as the hon. Gentleman said, of a single dwelling-house into flats is already exempt from charge, and we shall lateralise the vertical concession. That concession was asked for by the Georgian Group, who take a keen and aesthetic interest in Georgian and other architecture, and I am very glad to be able to agree to it. It will still be necessary to get planning permission in order to carry through these lateral conversions, but given permission, no development charge will lie.
The Central Land Board have been authorised by me to waive the collection of development charge in all such oases as I have mentioned, arising after today. Further, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I are proposing to meet the well-known case of difficulty, which will be familiar to all 162 hon. Members who have studied the matter, where a man proposes to carry on his own small business in the house where he lives. We propose to exempt from development charge the use for business purposes of a part of a dwelling-house. This will need rather careful drafting, but I can indicate the lines on which we are moving. This concession is intended particularly to help the small man, and I am considering the best practical means of doing this. The rateable value of the premises is obviously one standard to be taken into account, and the amount of space in the house to be given over to business use is another standard. Furthermore, it should, I think, be a condition that there should be no material change in the external appearance of the building We are working out the details of that now, and it will be embodied in regulations very soon.
This concession does not mean that shops may now be opened in the front rooms of dwelling-houses without getting planning permission. That, I am sure, would be wrong, and it would be very objectionable and unsightly in many cases. The introduction of a business use into a house must remain a material change of use, and must receive the permission of the local planning authority, as at present. The alteration which we are to make will be that the development charge will not be payable in cases which will be covered by that concession once planning permission has been granted.
Finally, my right hon. Friend and I are considering whether some further easement can be made by amendment of the Use Classes Order. The effect of this change would be that certain less important changes of use would no longer rank as development, or alternatively, that certain uses, now classified as separate, would cease to be so classified, which is another way of stating the same thing; and consequently, they would no longer require permission from the planning authority, or incur liability to development charge.
This is a rather tricky matter, and I must ask for a little more time, but it is the intention of my right hon. Friend and myself to insert a concession of this sort also in the new regulations. This is a further little "experiment in freedom", and I hope it will be accepted as 163 the next step towards the simplification of our planning arrangements and the removal of certain restrictions and certain development charges, which we do not think at this stage justify their continuance.
§ It being Ten o'Clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow