HC Deb 23 February 1961 vol 635 cc1052-8

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

4.37 a.m.

Mr. Fergus Montgomery (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)

I bring to the attention of the House the case of Mr. Bullock, a constituent of mine, because it is bound up with the larger issue of the proposed wastage of land by Newcastle City Council. I should like to outline the case of Mr. Bullock because I think it shows that with a little more thought and a little less obstinacy by the city council land which could be used for other purposes such as children's playgrounds or places for the recreation of the elderly is likely to be misused.

Some time ago Mr. Bullock wrote to Newcastle Town Hall submitting a plan to erect a garage in the garden of his house. Mr. Bullock is a council house tenant. After submitting his plan to the town hall, Mr. Bullock was given a tracing of the area in which he lived and was told to have it enlarged two and a half times, which would allow him to show clearly the exact position of the proposed garage. This Mr. Bullock did, and on 25th November, 1959, he received an official document stating that the plans deposited by him to erect a semi-permanent type of garage had been permitted under the building byelaws. Mr. Bullock unfortunately took this to mean that he could go ahead and erect his garage. He felt that if there were any snags then the town hall would inform him accordingly.

His view was strengthened by an article which appeared in the Evening Chronicle and which was written by the then municipal correspondent, which stated categorically that car owning council house tenants in Newcastle would be allowed to build their own garages. To emphasise the point more, the article then quoted Councillor J. Burton, the Chairman of Newcastle's Housing Management Committee, as follows: We want to get rid of the untidiness of some estates where cars are left parked in the streets overnight or on any piece of open land. This new freedom to tenants will not solve the problem but will make a very useful contribution towards a solution. More important still, it gives people a chance to do something for themselves. Therefore, hon. Members can imagine the shock Mr. Bullock had when he received a letter from the Housing Management Committee telling him that as he had not bad permission from that department to erect the garage he must remove the structure forthwith.

Naturally, Mr. Bullock was upset about this and contacted the Chairman of Newcastle Housing Management Committee. I have here the actual letter from the Chairman to Mr. Bullock, and I should like to quote one section of it: The Housing Manager informs we that what you did get was planning permission to erect a garage as shown on the plans submitted by you to the City Engineer, and they, and the Planning Committee, assumed that you had obtained the necessary permission from your landlord, which is the Housing Management Committee". In passing, may I say what a sad reflection it is that there is so little co-ordination between two committees of the same council, and that by this my constituent, Mr. Bullock, has suffered a great deal of inconvenience and worry.

The snag in respect of the Housing Management Committee is that the council as landlords of council houses in the City do not as a matter of policy permit garages where the tenant does not have rear access. This, I think, is an iniquitous restriction. I served for eight years on a local authority, and the ruling there was that council tenants who wanted to erect a garage in their garden could do so provided that they had sufficient space and easy access and that the proposed garage was of a satisfactory standard.

I can see the point of Newcastle City Council endeavouring to keep their council estates attractive and not allowing any ramshackle buildings in the gardens, but surely the Planning Committee could ensure that no unsuitable garages were built. By their policy of allowing only those council house tenants who have rear access to build garages, I believe that Newcastle's Housing Management Committee are not only guilty of making things more difficult for their tenants but are also guilty of wasting land—and I will return to that point in a minute, because I believe that this is something for which there is Ministerial responsibility.

Since it was announced in the local papers that I intended to raise this matter on the Adjournment, Councillor Dan Smith, who is the Chairman of both the Planning and Housing Committees in Newcastle, has made a statement in the Evening Chronicle of Monday, 6th February, which reads as follows: As with a tenant in a private house, if he wants to build a garage he should apply to the owner". He said that the council was soon starting work on 700 garages for its tenants on special sites, adding, We feel that allowing garages to be built in gardens restricts the re-letting to a car owner and that is surely wrong". That is a piece of nonsense, because if other local authorities can allow their tenants to build garages in their gardens without demanding rear access and do not have trouble with reletting these houses, why should Newcastle have trouble? In any case, Councillor Smith's statement is entirely without logic, because as the City Council allow some tenants with rear access to build their own garages, there must he some council houses in Newcastle which have garages attached to them, and I have never heard of any problem of these houses being difficult to re-let.

To sum up, in any urban area such as Newcastle where building land is so very difficult to obtain. I think that it is scandalous that the City Council should be planning to use land to build garages for council house tenants, many of whom have the necessary space and easy access and are only too anxious to build their own garages in their gardens. If my hon. Friend's Ministry, therefore, can make Newcastle City Council see sense on this matter, I believe that some of the land which it is now proposed should be used for these garages could be used for other purposes, and many council house tenants would be extremely grateful for being given the opportunity of having the convenience of a garage at their home.

4.44 a.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Sir Keith Joseph)

My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Montgomery), who is always assiduous in the attention which he gives to his constituents, has raised the case of Mr. Bullock, and no one who heard his description of what happened could withhold his sympathy from Mr. Bullock for the frustration and irritation which must have been caused him. I must straight away confess to my hon. Friend, however, that my right hon. Friend has no power whatever to intervene in what is essentially an estate management affair of a local authority. This is quite outside the scope of the powers or discretion given by Parliament to my right hon. Friend. Of course my right hon. Friend can discuss this sort of thing with a local authority, but probably any need to do that any further will have been saved by the discussion that my hon. Friend has launched today.

My hon. Friend therefore will not expect from me much detailed comment on what he has said, but I should like to refer briefly to several complaints or allegations that he has made about Newcastle Council. First, he commented on the Council's way of conducting its affairs with particular reference to the fact that Mr. Bullock was given the green light—if I may use the phrase—by I think the fourth department of the Council, only to find a very firm red light shone by the fifth department.

As my hon. Friend will realise, the fifth department, the Housing Management Committee, was exercising its powers as landlord, while the other four departments responsible for granting him planning permission, for by-law approval, for seeing that the garage concerned was rated, and for arranging for the run-in to the garage to be built at Mr. Bullock's expense, were all operating as local authority departments rather than as owners or landlords.

Nevertheless one cannot but agree with my hon. Friend in thinking that, at least at first sight of the evidence, one would gather from what has happened that one department is not quite in the picture about what another department is doing. One knows very little more about this case than my hon. Friend has said and there may be some good reason not known to him or me why it is that the four departments of a local authority should assume that a particular process may go ahead while it should have been apparent to them according to the normal rules and regulations that the fifth department would not allow that development.

There is the criticism that a housing authority's housing management committee should forbid any private garage being built by a council tenant at his own expense on the site of his council house unless that garage has access to the rear, which of course would require a back road of some sort to serve that access. No other council I know of applies this rule but that is no reason why Newcastle should not stick to its regulation if it wishes.

It is true, as far as I can see, that this regulation makes it practically impossible on an existing council estate, where there are no back lanes or other means of rear service, for council tenants to have a garage of their own. In that case it must lead, in what I hope will be more and more a car-owning democracy, to extensive street parking. This is all the more so where there are no longer any odd bits of land for groups of garages to be built. But this is entirely within the council's discretion and my right hon. Friend has no power to intervene even if he wished to do so, and there may be a good reason for the Newcastle regulation. I hope that as a result of this debate those concerned may look at their regulations again but that is as far as I can go.

My hon. Friend thinks that here there is possibly some waste of housing land and as my right hon. Friend is known to be anxious to increase the amount of land available for housing he might be able to intervene on that count. But I must point out that we are here dealing with an existing estate and Mr. Bullock is not concerned with a new plot on a new housing estate where there might be some case for discussing whether the lay-out provided, if it were to provide for garages which had to be served by a rear access, was wasteful. But that is not the position which we are discussing. We are discussing existing housing estates where there is no room for groups of garages and where the housing plots may well have been rather larger in the past than they are now. There may well be sites by each house, or by many houses, for a garage and for a garage to be built if the tenant so wished and could get permission if there were not this regulation about rear access.

But we are not here in a position to discuss Newcastle's arrangements in its new housing estates. I understand that the Newcastle authorities propose with their new housing sites to build groups of garages and those groups of garages may be on land which is not suitable for housing. If my hon. Friend says that a group of garages will waste more housing land than if tenants were allowed to build their own private garages within their own curtilage, I must point out that perhaps the curtilages on new housing estates will not be as lavish as with the old housing estates and there might therefore not be room for building garages, but that is not under discussion, because in his case it is an existing housing estate which is being discussed.

My right hon. Friend is naturally sorry for Mr. Bullock, but this is entirely a local authority affair and all I can say is to hope that the local authority will look again at its arrangements. More than that, my right hon. Friend cannot do in this case.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at eight minutes to Five o'clock a.m.