HC Deb 31 October 1956 vol 558 cc1573-84
Mr. F. Beswick (Uxbridge)


It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Heath.]

Mr. Beswick

It is rather difficult to wrench oneself away from the problems of war and peace to the question of housing in the urban district of Yiewsley and West Drayton. Nevertheless, despite all that the Government have done, I hope it is going to be possible in the future still to give some attention to the problem of housing.

This evening I want to call attention to the special problems of housing around London Airport, and especially as it affects the urban district of Yiewsley and West Drayton. The authority of this area has a very fine record of housing, one of the finest in the country, and one which stretches back many years. Today it still wishes to discharge its responsibilities and to meet the acute general housing need, but it faces almost complete frustration.

I am not now thinking of the discouragement of the Government's national housing policy, of the increased rates of interest on loans or of the reduced housing subsidies. I am thinking of special local difficulties. These difficulties are caused by the planning imposed on the area. The last thing I want to do is to try to be clever at the expense of planners. I know how easy it is to do that. Moreover, I believe in the national planning of our limited resources.

I want to consider for a few minutes the effect on this part of the county of Middlesex of the county development plans already approved or in course of approval. The general effect is that the building land available is reduced to a minimum and the need increased to a maximum. The reduction has been made by declaring so much of the land green belt and by sterilising it for housing purposes. The increased demand is created by permitting industrial development and, indeed, by deliberately planning industrial development in the case of London airport.

We have estimated that in this one local area the industrial floor space has increased by 100 per cent. since 1945 and for an area which has already been declared over-developed this seems very curious planning for a start. If the Parliamentary Secretary were here he might say that I have myself tried to get planning consent in individual cases. In part, I have done so because of the manifest unfairness as between one applicant and another.

It has been a matter of very considerable local comment that several American concerns or subsidiaries of American concerns have received consent for extensions much more readily than smaller indigenous companies. One American undertaking is said to have threatened to move to the Continent unless it received its planning consent, the kind of blackmail about which we heard on the Finance Bill when tax concessions to some United States citizens was considered.

However, for whatever reason, the demand for labour and the consequent demand for housing in the area has increased, and it is on these developments that we have had superimposed the enormous growth of London Airport. Of course, we welcome this growth as nationally essential, but it has led to an aggravation of the housing problem in the area. It is a special problem and has been regarded as such. I asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation in November last year what was going to be done to help meet it. He told me that a conference would be held of the housing authorities around the Airport and that his right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government and himself would be represented. The conference was held. The local authorities understood that after the discussion the Minister would be making some proposal.

Nothing at all was heard for some months, and I put a Question on 5th June of this year and was told by the Parliamentary Secretary that his right hon. Friend and the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation : have not yet completed their study of this question."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 5th June, 1956; Vol. 553, c 41.] The weeks passed by and still no word came from the Department. I put another question on 24th July. I asked if the Minister was now in a position to make a statement following the conference held last January. The Minister replied : At the meeting in January, it was made clear that the problem of housing London Airport employees is primarily one for the local authorities and the Airport Staff Housing Associations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th July, 1956 ; Vol. 557. c. 18.] I have great respect for many of the qualities of the present Minister, but I cannot say that this reply reflects great credit upon his frankness. He has since sent me another reply marked "Personal," but what I am asking for is a fuller and more detailed reply which can be read by all those who are properly concerned with this problem. Why have not they had the communication which they expected after the conference and which indeed they were promised again in the Minister's Answer of 5th June?

Of course, the local authorities know what their responsibilities are. Their trouble is that they cannot discharge their responsibilities unless they are permitted access to rather more building land. I can state briefly, in terms of figures, the position of the housing authority for which I now speak. It is building 200 houses and it has 90 more planned, but almost all of those, certainly nine-tenths of the whole, are wanted for rehousing families displaced by slum clearance schemes. Beyond these houses there remains, in the whole district, under the present development plans imposed by the Ministry, only 30 more acres available for housing. That is the extent to which the Council can go, but we have already on the waiting list 550 applicants, and that does not represent any where near the number of people in the area who actually want houses.

In fact, it is almost as difficult to get on the waiting list in this urban district as it is to get a house elsewhere. There is now a ten-year residential qualification ; at one time it was three years, now it is ten. Also, there is a separate list of Airport workers who have applied for houses, and this too amounts to about 500. The majority of these people stand very little chance, in the present circumstances, of any house, let alone the hundreds of families who are not on any list at all.

I know that to some extent this problem is repeated in many parts of the country and in the London area and in the County of London itself, but here in this part of Middlesex the problem is not simply that there is not the land but that the land is not available for housing.

I am asking tonight for some revision of the county plan for this part of Middlesex. I know that the Parliamentary Secretary and the Department generally are sensible and civilised in their attitude to those matters of town planning. I appreciate their insistence on a proper development of our limited space, but there are special reasons in this area why we should look at the plan again.

The first reason is the fact of London Airport. There are now upwards of 22,000 people working there at an airport which did not exist when the original plan was drawn up. B.E.A. tell me in a letter which I received today that they are expecting an increase of about 2,000 people at their engineering base on the airport, and there can be little doubt that the large proportion of the skilled workers will have to be attracted to the area and this means that they will require housing accommodation. Although provision, I know, was made for the Airport in the original plan, I do not think that sufficient allowance was made for its growth and for the consequent distortion of the area.

The second reason why I feel that there should be some reconsideration of the plan in this area is that, at one time, the Airport was to have had a third parallel runway. That extension has now been abandoned. That area which would have been concreted over is now available for replanning. About 100 acres of it within the urban district of Yiewsley and West Drayton is suitable for housing. The Minister, I understand, is now looking at the proposal which has been submitted to him with regard to this area. I understand the proposal is that the area should be left to all intents and purposes as it now is, but I am asking that we should consider re-zoning a proportion of this released area for housing.

I ask the Minister to take into account two further reasons when he makes his decision about this portion of land. Had the Airport been extended, Greater London Plan or not, about 600 families would have been displaced and would have needed rehousing. A fairly high proportion of them would have been rehoused in the Yiewsley and West Drayton area. It was practically agreed, indeed, as to which part of the green belt should be used for this purpose. Why cannot there still be some re-zoning to meet the problem which remains?

The other reason is this. If the Minister will look at a map of this area he will find examples of most unfortunate pre-war housing development. The village of Sipson has been described to me as being not so much a community as a collection of dead-ends and incompleted streets. If planning permission was granted, with sensible siting and a proper degree of infilling, the area could be given a reasonable shape as a "live" community. At the moment, it seems that not even this infilling is to be allowed.

Finally, I want to put this point. Under the Greater London Plan, the Yiewsley and West Drayton urban district was to be an exporting area. The population was to be reduced. Industrial concerns were to be encouraged to move out to new towns—and to the area of Swindon, for some reason. This certainly fitted in with the green belt policy and the sterilising of land for housing purposes. But what happens in practice?

Apart from the industrial extensions to which I have referred, if a firm does move out from the area and moves to a new town the vacated factory is not closed down. Instead, another firm will move in, more than likely bringing other employees into the district. If a family leaves a house in the district, the house is filled again, and in some cases, if the house is for sale, with a family from outside the district. I understand that of the new houses built since the war more than half have been sold to families which have come in from outside this urban district, the population of which, under the Plan, was to have been reduced. This is surely an odd way of reducing the population. It is surely unfair on those families which are now waiting for a council house and which now have to wait ten years before getting on to the waiting list. If we are going to plan the development of the area, it seems to me that we should try to plan it properly.

To sum up. This local authority does face an urgent housing problem. It has been magnified in scope by the industrial development, and especially by the growth of London Airport. There is absolutely no possibility of meeting the housing need there unless more land is made available. Because of the decision not to extend London Airport, there is now an opportunity to look again at the zoning in this area. If permission was given for some sensible infilling it would be possible to round off some of the pre-war housing strips into a reasonable community.

I hope, therefore, that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to indicate that the Minister is looking at this problem sympathetically, and that he can give some assurance to the council that sufficient land will be made available to it to meet the undoubted housing needs there are in this developing area.

10.15 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Skeffington (Hayes and Harlington)

I am sure that the people and local authorities of west Middlesex will be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) for having raised this very important problem, even after today's exciting and memorable debate. I should like briefly to follow and support his plea that there ought to be a re-examination of the Greater London Plan in so far as it affects that part of Middlesex.

My constituency, as the House will realise, is adjacent to that of my hon. Friend, and many of our problems are common ones. The Hayes and Harlington Council faces precisely the same sort of difficulties which have been so well enumerated by my hon. Friend. We have virtually no further building land, or very little, and we have at the same time a long list of housing applicants, all of whom have been vetted and every one of whom, so far as I know from my fortnightly interviews in the constituency, desperately need accommodation. This housing need is made worse by housing demands from the ever-increasing labour force at London Airport.

I want to make it quite clear that the local council and, I think, the people living there attach great importance to the preservation of a proper balance between housing development and public open spaces—for example, the regional open spaces which have already been defined. Nobody wants to reduce or spoil these or in any way to affect the general conception of the green belt. But, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, we are faced with the fact that now there is to be no development of the airport north of the Bath Road, there is quite a large area of land which might be reconsidered again. In my constituency this forms part of a district known as Harlington.

Again I want to emphasise that my local authority and the people of the district are proud of the rural character of the area and they will do everything possible to preserve its sylvan atmosphere. Indeed, one can walk about in parts of Harlington and imagine that one is really deep in the heart of the country, and one wants to preserve all that. But it is a fact that some development has taken place ; and some took place between the two wars. Some of it was very bad indeed.

It seems to us that a good deal of filling in could be done without spoiling the very attractive rustic characteristics of this village community. If that were done, the amount of open space still remaining would be very large indeed. In fact, the local council has asked for permission to develop some fifty acres. That, in the case of Hayes and Harlington, is the amount of land at issue. I gather that it has been suggested by the county council that fourteen acres might be developed. Out of the hundred acres which will now become permanent open space within the district, this amount of land seems very small.

I have myself seen where possible development could take place, and from my own knowledge of the district I can testify that such development would be possible without in any way spoiling the charm of the district of which we are all proud.

The re-examination of the development plan for this area would bring some hope to the many hundreds in our housing list who are in a very desperate position unless some leniency and flexibility can be made in the plan. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will feel that this is a subject which certainly needs re-examination, even if he cannot go any further than that.

10.19 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. J. Enoch Powell)

I am obliged to the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) for the detailed indication which he was good enough to give me of the points which he intended to raise and has raised in this Adjournment debate.

I am sorry that the impression should at any time have been created that the meeting last January with the Local Authorities' Airport Committee would be followed by a formal reply from the Minister. As that Committee will no doubt be aware, since its Chairman is a member of the Standing Consultative Committee, there have since been meetings of the latter Committee at which this subject has been discussed. When I referred to further study by my right hon. Friend with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport in my Answer of 5th June, I was referring to that clarification of the question of demand and supply, the need and the means to meet it in this area, which I think my answer will indicate has taken place since that date.

Both hon. Members who have spoken have referred to the abandoned plan for the use of a hundred acres north of the Bath Road for the London Airport. Proposals by the Middlesex County Council for that area are, I understand, on the way to my right hon. Friend, though they have not yet reached him. It seems clear that in a matter of such importance a public inquiry will be necessary before he can come to a decision upon the proposals, and the intention would be to arrange that as soon as reasonably practicable. Hon. Members will therefore understand that I cannot tonight prejudge the matter, but clearly it will come up for public discussion and decision in the fairly near future.

Mr. Beswick

May I ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he has any time scale in mind for this?

Mr. Powell

I do not know exactly when the proposals themselves are going to reach my right hon. Friend, and without knowing that it is difficult to make further forecasts.

My right hon. Friend is not only seized of the importance of preserving green belt areas in this part of Middlesex, but also of the particular importance in Middlesex of keeping a due balance between industry and housing. It is to be noted that in approving the Middlesex Development Plan in June this year, he reduced by something like one-third the area which was allocated for industrial development ; and he encouraged local authorities to consider buying up vacated industrial premises in order further to reduce the total amount of land available for industrial purposes, particularly in areas where it is mis-sited. So I feel that on general approach there is nothing at issue between us.

As regards the narrower issue of demand and supply of housing both in the Yiewsley and West Drayton Urban District and also in relation to London Airport, if I may take first the position in the urban district to which the hon. Member for Uxbridge referred, the council's waiting list, as he said, numbers at present about 550, and of those 150 are, I understand, in the urgent category. There is then a slum clearance programme with 185 families to be dealt with in the first five-year phase, and some seventy families living in caravans apart from those on the municipal site which will be available at least until 1962. There is thus a clear need for about 400 additional houses to be provided by the local authority in the comparatively near future.

To offset against that, there are about 120 houses under construction. When the hon. Member for Uxbridge referred to 200, I think he was including private enterprise houses as well. I understand that the total number under construction is about 200, but 120 is the figure for those under construction by the local authority. That will leave sites for between 300 and 350 houses, without counting the slum clearance sites, which are capable of redevelopment, though clearly one will not get anything like the same number of houses on those sites.

Mr. Beswick

I did make the point that out of those houses which are now being built about nine-tenths are required or set aside for rehousing families moved from slum properties.

Mr. Powell

Quite so, and I have included those in my list of needs. But what I am pointing out is that there are at any rate sufficient sites available to the local authority already for their immediate urgent housing needs under those three heads : the urgent waiting list, the slum clearance programme, and the caravan dwellings—and that is without praying in aid the slum clearance sites, which will be a certain addition.

Turning from that picture, which relates only to the Yiewsley and West Drayton urban district, to the more general question, which affects about nine county districts, of the housing of airport employees, the situation does indeed appear to be, as the hon. Member said, that during the next few years there is intended a recruitment of about 2,000 employees. The major transfers to London Airport are already at an end. Indeed, it seems likely, as was indicated by a reply in regard to Gatwick by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation a few days ago, that further transfers are more likely to be away from London Airport than to it.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that hitherto, so I am advised, there have been no difficulties of recruitment which can be directly related to housing shortage and difficulty of housing accommodation. If one considers the area round the Airport more widely, the situation is not too unfavourable. The Middlesex County Planning Officer told the meeting in January, to which the hon. Member referred, that within three miles of the Airport there were sites for some 7,000 houses, and he has since given detailed information of those sites to the local authorities. In the nine districts around the Airport, private enterprise building is going on at the rate of about 2,000 houses a year.

There is also another feature which is particularly relevant to the employees of London Airport and of the airlines. In the districts around the Airport, an exceptionally large number of existing houses are changing hands at comparatively low prices. For example, I am advised that in the nine districts round the Airport 1,000 houses a year are changing hands at below £2,500 and several thousand above that level. That is quite interesting when one remembers that the British European Airways Corporation has a scheme by which it covers the advance of 95 per cent. of the purchase price of a house to its employees.

Furthermore, there is, as the hon. Member will be aware, a certain anxiety among some of the residents in the district, for understandable reasons, to move elsewhere ; so that there will probably continue to be a fairly high rate of buying and selling of houses which should afford considerable flexibility and opportunity for employees at the Airport, with the assistance of the Corporations, to find accommodation.

I would feel, therefore, that when one takes both the more definite and narrow needs of the urban district to which the hon. Member referred, and the prospects at London Airport itself, as we can see them over the next three or four years, there is every reason to expect that the demand can be balanced by the supply of houses and sites. That, however, I would like to end by emphasising, is without prejudice to the decisions which my right hon. Friend will have to take in regard to the abandoned extension site upon the proposals which will shortly come before him.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes past Ten o'clock.