§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)
I beg to move,That this House, recognising how much of the £2,500 million being spent annually on construction will go to rebuilding city centres and urban renewal, including the replacement of a large stock of obsolete houses, and believing that the way in which this work is done will have profound social consequences, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to view urban central redevelopment on a national scale; to consider at once making available to local authorities engaged in the work more guidance and advice, particularly on long-term traffic needs and ways of bringing private enterprise and public authorities into closer partnership; to devise ways of giving more financial encouragement where large sums are at stake; to take stock of professional skills available to local authorities for this kind of work with a view to stimulating recruiting and training of them if necessary; and to examine the possibilities of closer co-ordination between the Ministries concerned.I do not think that I need waste much of the time of the House, or of my right hon. Friend, whose presence here this morning I should like very warmly to acknowledge, in explaining why this subject seems to me to be important.
Four-fifths of our population now live in towns and cities. Nineteen million live in the great seven conurbations of the country. Their lives are conditioned by urban environment; their skyline is somebody else's roof. Yet it is widely acknowledged that the quality of urban life is in many places sadly deteriorating. Indeed, in some places it is disintegrating.
Much of our urban regions today are suffering from two diseases—obsolescence and congestion. It is broadly in 1646 the North and the Midlands, which were once the hub of the first major Industrial Revolution, that we find most of the obsolescence. In the South and South-East, which is the focal point of the second cycle of the Industrial Revolution, we find most of the congestion. Both ills, the first of which might be associated with low economic blood pressure and the second more with high economic blood pressure, have created the strong urge to set about our urban renewal on a serious scale. That is what I want to talk about and that is what this Motion is about—its progress and its problems.
It is, of course, not a finite task. Urban renewal goes on all the time. But it has now entered one of those phases when it is quickening, and, heaven knows, there is need for it. Nor are we dealing with a static situation. In the urban development of the last decade more than one phenomenon has been noted. Unexpectedly, the populations of the great conurbations have actually fallen by 2 per cent. in the last ten years, and this is explained by what America calls the "exploding metropolis"—the city region—which will very shortly give Greater London, or something that we have not yet found a word for, a span of about 100 miles across.
We witness, in this outward sprawl of buildings and people, linked with a transport revolution, the commuter and the advent of about 10 million motor cars, a social development well termed "beyond the fringe". None of this is entirely new development. It has been going on since the First World War. It is one of the factors which has stimulated the urge to have a fresh look at the centres of some of our cities and towns.
We have two distinct problems. First, the reshaping or reforming of these central areas, principally to meet the inexorable demands of traffic, and, secondly, the renewal of the great areas of property, commercial and domestic, which are outworn. Together, they represent a most formidable social task, and also, in my view, a very great opportunity.
We cannot, alas—perhaps it is just as well—accomplish it in the dramatic manner in which the Emperor Napoleon and Haussmann set about the city of 1647 Paris a century ago, dismissing all their committees and working entirely pragmatically. Today, we see the result of their work. We cannot work in their way, but it is quite certain that the degree of our success in these twin tasks will depend upon the scale of our vision and the scale of our strategy. In terms of human welfare the stakes are very high.
There is a lot one would like to say about the first of these problems, the reshaping of our cities, about skylines, about high buildings, about Piccadilly Circus, about amenities and about pedestrian precincts, but I shall deliberately exercise restraint. I have bored hon. Members before with my views about environment.
There are, I think, two practical and compelling reasons for getting this process of reshaping right. The first is that our towns and cities must either master the motor vehicle, the limit of which is nowhere in sight, or they will be overwhelmed by it. This will demand a radical approach to layout, to methods and to master plans which, I think, is not everywhere envisaged, let alone being practised. We may well be approaching the point when the master plan for new city centres will have to be laid down by road engineers, not by architects, and be approved, possibly, by the Minister of Transport, not my right hon. Friend.
I await with great interest the findings of Mr. Colin Buchanan who is exploring London with this sort of thing in mind. I believe that the day is not far off when we shall, in fact, keep traffic outside the centres of many great towns and cities—and we might make a start with Oxford, though I do not wish to enter upon any controversial theme in that connection. On the general problem, I pay full tribute to the imaginative outlook of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport. I believe that he really does know what is afoot; but when I look for a reflection of his view elsewhere in the country I find the evidence, or lack of it, alarming.
The short point I make here is that road engineers and architects can no longer work apart, and neither can their respective guiding forces in Whitehall. I shall have a word to say about that later.
1648 The second compelling reason for taking the reshaping of our cities and towns seriously is a social one. Increasingly, urban life, by which I mean life in a city or town, not on the outskirts, is becoming something which few enjoy and from which most wish to escape. Looking at some of our cities, one can hardly be surprised, and, looking at the outskirts, one can see the results.
I am quite realistic about this. I do not think that we shall see any of our cities reformed on an Athenian scale. That is not characteristic of our age. Nevertheless, we must for compelling reasons, seek to restore some kind of social balance here. I cannot accept as inevitable that all urban centres shall ultimately become, virtually, commercial workshops, gleaming false teeth surrounded by decay, to and from which all must travel daily over increasing distances, as, I think, 1½ million now do in and out of London. I suggest to the House that the commuting habit will run into mounting difficulties. As this will be part of my later argument, I shall explain what I mean here.
In London pre-eminently, but also in other cities, the weight of morning and evening travel in reaching the limits of present capacity. The next phase will demand a huge outlay on new capital equipment, particularly on the inner railways, that is to say, those approaching the city centres. In London, for example, there is the demand for new underground railways and for the rebuilding of London Bridge Station at the cost of about £20 million. People talk hopefully about great urban motorways based on the pattern of the giant American through-ways. I am not very optimistic about seeing these great roads run through some of our cities, although I know that in one or two places a start has been made.
In my view, the commuter of the future will depend more, not less, on public rail transport to and from his work. We all saw, one day last January, what happened in London when it stopped. The city practically choked itself to death within two hours. I invite the House to accept that, on the present scale, commuting is approaching its limit and to take note of what the cost would be for further capital equipment.
1649 I turn now to the possibility of making our urban centres places where more people want to live and can live. Here, we move from the problem of congestion to obsolescence, which is really the nub of what I want to say. The central human problem today is not Victorian town halls, old warehouses, shabby offices or shops, although they are there in numbers and they comprise about half the total load of obsolescence, but our 2½ million houses which are over one hundred years old and the 3½ million which will be over one hundred years old in 1980. About 500,000 of them, I think, are unfit and 2 million of them are without a fixed bath.
In human terms, here is the biggest single aspect of urban renewal and redevelopment in many town centres, because most of this housing is near the heart of the city or town. This is the challenge. Although there is very much I should like to say about great architectural concepts in the rebuilding of some of our cities and towns, I wish to focus on this aspect of the problem.
The architectural concept can be disposed of by a little passage taken from something Sir William Holford wrote recently:No city centre worthy of the name is merely a combination of utility and advertisement. … One can so easily imagine Sir Christopher Wren being cross-examined by counsel at an Inquiry:'You say this steeple of yours is 150 ft. high. Will you tell us what accommodation it contains and what rent it is likely to command?—No rent at all. I had thought of hanging some bells at the top of the tower.'Bells, Sir Christopher? Surely, that would be adding a common nuisance to an already ungainly and useless object?'.Sir William adds that this fantasy is by no means far-fetched. I shall leave the subject of grand architecture with that story.
I return to the major human problem. Unless we can find a formula for bringing the great mass of housing into our plans for renewal, much of our urban central redevelopment, however glossily it is presented, will be a sham and a farce. I know that many hon. Members deplore the unbalance in many places created by excessive office building, and this view is supported by many neutral observers at present. I think that they are right to consider the growth of speculative office building, for reasons 1650 which we all know, disproportionate, to put it mildly.
In London, during 1960, about 2.7 million sq. ft. of existing office space was pulled down and 5.4 million sq. ft. was put up in its place. Quite apart from, in many places, exacerbating the congestion, this development, which now amounts to 104 million sq. ft., is not, as we know quite well, always related to need, but often merely to opportunity.
However, this is not the only aspect of the unbalance. It is socially absurd that a woman should spend her working day in a new skyscraper office building with silent express lifts, in sound-proof workrooms, the latest automation, space heating and every modern convenience, only to return in the evening to a house built in 1860, with no bath and a lavatory at the bottom of the garden. The gap between our modern offices and our homes is getting too wide. It reminds me of the lines in the Red Flag:They shall be simple in their livesAnd splended in their public ways.But the lives are getting too simple and the public ways too grand.
The problem of obsolescent housing—and I am not telling my right hon. Friend anything that he does not know-is the toughest of the nuts to crack. It is much the most difficult aspect of central redevelopment, but, in my view, it will not be solved by a combination of home ownership and slum clearance by public authorities.
Let me give some indication of the scale of the problem. In 1960, the value of housing built in this country was about £753 million, of which £274 million worth was built by public authorities and £479 million worth by private enterprise. Building contractors did about £620 million worth of that building and the rest was done by direct labour. To replace, supposing that we wished to do so, or could do so, 3½ million obsolescent houses in the next twenty years, would cost £500 million a year. That is two-thirds of the present sum spent on all housing. That would represent a replacement of about 175,000 houses a year. The present rate of replacement is about 60,000 houses a year—in other words, one-third of the rate needed—and all, I think, by local authorities.
1651 There is more to it than that, because replacement of these houses would mean considerable displacement of the occupants, most of whom are in the central congested areas, the streets of which will have to be rapidly overhauled. It must be accepted that a proportion of the population will have to be housed elsewhere—in new towns, by overspill, and so on. I believe that the Ministry of Housing and Local Government's estimate of such overspill in the next twenty years is 2 million. The replacement of 175,000 houses a year would raise it to 4 million over twenty years or, doing a quick sum, 75,000 houses a year. In reality, the new towns and town development schemes today are dealing with about 15,000 new houses a year.
The figures which I have given—I apologise for giving so many statistics—indicate the nature of the task and the distance that we are from achieving its fulfilment. I am compelled to conclude that it will not be approached by present methods. We must consider a new approach, what a technical journal has recently described as "strategic house building". Unless it be suspected that this theme is a phantasmagoria of the hon. Member for Ashford, may I quote from this technical document, "Official Architecture and Planning," which puts my thoughts in a couple of sentences:In spite of all that is being said and written about urban renewal, no one seems prepared to face the full implications of the central and inescapable fact, which is that housing—housing within the means of all income groups—is the key to the whole problem. … Make a central or inner suburban area pleasant to live in, and provide houses which can be afforded by people who are neither expense-account businessmen nor subsidised beneficiaries of the housing lists, and the problem of urban renewal has solved itself—and solved a few other problems at the same time.That may be an over-simplification, but there are the makings of a thought there. It cannot be a coincidence that not only this journal, but a whole range of organisations, have been turning their minds to a consideration of this central, major problem in recent months. I think that I can claim to have studied, even if I have not understood, all the documents which have been issued on this subject—the Bow Group's "Let Our Cities Live," "Spur 1960 Report: A 1652 Framework for Urban Renewal," the Labour Party's "Signposts for the Sixties," the Socialist Commentary's "Face of Britain"—I have been very catholic in my reading—the Town Planing Review's major work, "Land Use in an Urban Environment," the Conservative Party's "Change and Challenge"—I may be forgiven for advertising that—the Town and Country Planning Association's "Paper Metropolis," and more than one document from the Civic Trust, the principal one of which, from which I have taken some references, not yet published.
I have listed those because they indicate the astonishing consensus of informed opinion that this matter represents a great social task. Their approach varies, but all concern themselves with this central problem—the creation of a new agency capable of putting urban renewal into a new high gear; and implicit within this renewal is the replacement of the 3½ million outworn houses.
I acknowledge at once that no doubt the Ministry of Housing and Local Government has done more thinking on this problem than any of the groups that I have mentioned. I know, which perhaps not all hon. Members know, the nature of my right hon. Friend's problem. First, his Ministry seldom has a great reserve of horse-power for fresh endeavours on an heroic scale. That is entirely to its credit. It is a very overworked Ministry. Secondly, and more important than that, it bears in mind that it is not a Ministry of construction in an autocracy. It is a Ministry of Housing and Local Government in a democracy. There is the world of difference between those two things, something for which hon. Members ought to be grateful. It cannot order other people's bulldozers about. It can propose, but cannot dispose.
There are many local authorities already which resent anything which they regard as stepping over the line by the Ministry. I acknowledge to my right hon. Friend that it is very much easier to stand here and talk big than it is to act in conjunction with all local authorities. I accept that. But it does not change the inescapable fact that this is a national task in which we have a duty to encourage, to inform, and, if 1653 possible, to inspire those who have to take it on. I say "we" because I am convinced, subject to what hon. Members may say, that any fresh approach that we devise must be broadly bipartisan, not merely because central strategy will need continuity, but because we are dealing with local authorities which have Labour and Conservative majorities and, for all I know, Liberal majorities, which does not disturb my theme in the least.
I do not think that a bipartisan approach is difficult, because such study as I have made concerning approaches to urban redevelopment shows how much common ground there is in this matter. People will readily compromise if we show ourselves ready and willing to get a move on. I hope that we shall not bedevil this with cries about the Rent Act, home ownership and municipalisation, because that will handicap the people who have to get on with the job—and they are not us.
I do not propose to analyse the professional solutions offered to us, but I wish to make one or two remarks on the common elements which are accepted. First, it is widely accepted that private enterprise and public authority effort must be harmonised. That is the central point. It is striking how many people favour something like a new town development corporation for what in reality are new towns in old cities. There is nothing to scare anybody ideologically there.
I do not hesitate to say that I put new towns in the forefront of the Labour Government's domestic achievements in their years of office. I should like we on this side to do the same in our term of office for urban renewal. The only reservation that I have about the new town development corporation idea is not a political one, but a democratic one. Urban renewal will involve the displacement of many people and of much property, and it is very important that grievances should have redress and that that redress should be open to all electors in the usual way.
Any sort of development corporation for urban redevelopment, whether seen as an agency or anything else, should be considered more as a committee whose decisions must be finally ratified by the city council. That is a principle to bear in mind. Subject to that, 1654 the object surely is to combine the public authority, which has powers of acquisition, with private enterprise, which has means of raising money, "know how", and the tools. Only by harmonising those two elements will we get renewal on a sufficiently comprehensive scale.
When I say "comprehensive", I am thinking in terms of 20 acres at a time in some cities and not in penny packets. It must be acknowledged that we already have some distinguished pathfinders in the field. Cities like Newcastle and Birmingham and the Barbican scheme in the City show what can be done. It would, however, be accepted that in most places these great engines of public and private power are not in harmony. They are not working to a common aim, but are operating in separate and sometimes, although not always, conflicting spheres.
Many of the ideas now current, which hon. Members will have seen, point fairly well in the same direction. First, there should be a three-dimensional plan prepared by one source, not a committee, but one man. Secondly, there should be a consortium of interests, public, private and professional, to draw up the design and lay-out in detail. Thirdly, the local authorities should retain all powers of compulsory purchase, but those powers could be turned to use on behalf of other interests. The amenities should remain a public responsibility and the cost be deducted from the total value of the area in question. The local authority would recoup itself by the sale or lease of the area to different interests for redevelopment on a prescribed pattern.
There are many variants to that which I shall not describe in detail. Naturally, the Labour Party inclines to public control. Others think that land compulsorily acquired should remain in the hands of the local authorities throughout and only be leased. Yet others consider that local authorities should leave all speculative enterprise to private development. Some local authorities will have a predisposition to grow rich and others to look beautiful. Some will wish to make money and some will be ready to accept the transformation of their city as the price of the whole thing.
1655 There is no lack of ideas, and I am not arguing the merits now, but I suggest to my right hon. Friend that it is time that the Ministry took stock of all these ideas and issued general guidance, particularly to small local authorities who have neither the staff nor the capacity to plan on the largest scale. I do not think that, even in relation to what I have already said, such guidance would exceed the Ministry's duty. Let it be flexible and recognise diversity, but let it be given soon before too many blueprints are committed, and not all of them good ones.
The crucial question in this combined effort is how to finance not the profitable commercial areas, which are an easy matter, but the obsolete housing, known sometimes as twilight areas. I cannot believe that it is beyond our wit to devise a formula which would attract private capital to this work and bring the huge resources of the construction companies into play.
I know that those resources are fully stretched, but productivity in the building industry is rising by about 5 per cent. a year. What is more, the power of the elbow of the building operative is rising even more sharply. Delivery last year of plant and machinery to contractors topped the £100 million mark. Expenditure on new housing will fall and it is certain that expenditure on office building ought to fall.
If we take those factors together with a possible financial formula for including obsolete housing in the programme, we can get a long way. One opening is that local authorities might well say to private developers buying a site, "We will take into account in the sale or the lease of the site the value of the housing on it and the cost of replacing it." With that taken into account, the private developer, under condition to replace the housing, would know where he was.
When it comes to the redevelopment of housing, we must think in terms of flats, as much of this building will be, and of houses to let, and to let at a wide range of rents. I want to see, as, I am sure, do hon. Members opposite, mixed social development in the central areas and nut what the late Aneurin Bevan once described as furled brollies and 1656 bowler hats at one end of the estate and cloth caps at the other. This could be indirectly a work of social integration and not unimportant on that account. I should not be frightened of paying a price for it. To achieve the aim, I would be witting to consider, if necessary, rent allowances in certain circumstances. I would bring into the economic equation the rising cost of fares to the commuter. I do not think that there is a serious limit to what we can do except in the scale on which we are ready to think and plan.
Capital will, of course, be a great problem. We found it for the new towns. At the Dispatch Box one afternoon, some years ago, I raised £100 million for the new towns in about three-quarters of an hour. That is more than one can get at Sotheby's. The same sum and more could be raised for this sort of work. Interest-free loans for five years would be a great help.
This is, however, something not in the nature of subsidy, but of investment. In referring to investment, I refer my right hon. Friend back to my earlier remarks about the commuter and the huge gathering of public cost per head of dealing with him. It is far better to think in terms of £1,000 million for central urban redevelopment than of another £1,000 million to British Railways for the redevelopment of their central city services.
A man lives in a house for half of the 24 hours. He travels on the commuter railway for, say, 3½ out of every 24 hours. That is the wasteful thing about capital investment on the railways, because the service has to be stretched at full length for about four hours at most out of every 24. In terms of the continuation of the present trends in traffic and the commuter services and public transport, the Government must take an imaginative view of what they can afford to do on the central urban redevelopment idea.
Part of my argument is that the cost of sprawl ultimately can be lopped off. There is a lot of detail to be cleared up, but I shall not deal with it now. If we do this work, we should have technical and professional skills available. I hope that others of my hon. Friends will speak of this aspect. A survey would 1657 help to discover whether those skills were available.
In the short term, the Government should do something about office building. I do not make it a bull point, but either by amending the Third Schedule, with the implicit right to extend cubic capacity by 10 per cent., or some sort of zone tax to discourage building the largest blocks in the most congested places, I hope that something will be done. I hope it will be accepted that a fiscal solution is better than a physical one.
I will not again ride my hobby horse about Ministerial co-ordination. I have suggested a joint planning staff for this work. The Cabinet includes three former Ministers of Housing. There must be closer co-operation between the Departments of Housing, Transport, Works, Trade and Labour. A regional organisation would help, but I do not stress it. We might have a national urban renewal development agency, from which the advice would be good.
I will conclude in a couple of minutes by saying just this to my right hon. Friend. We have a tremendous chance to change for the better, not only the appearance of our cities, which is important, but the lives of a lot of people who occupy them. Guided with imagination, we have a prospect which could rouse most of the public authorities and professions and the great construction companies to give of their very best. Although characteristically we ignore it, there is a lot of latent genius in these directions and I believe that it would rise to a challenge of this sort in a manner that would astonish everyone.
It would be no small thing, either, to give a lit of people, not in slums, about which it is easy to be dogmatic, but in a lot of outworn houses, a new home. That would have repercussions on our national capacity far outside this sphere, not least socially. England must learn to face this new age without an East End and without a West End, but with something in between.
A new approach to this renewal, if we dressed it up and made it sound what it ought to sound, would be seen not only here, but abroad, as some sort of reflection of our mood of a determination to bestir ourselves. This is not a nation living in semi-retirement 1658 in outworn houses, and the sooner we can make clear to our new-found friends in Europe that that is true, the better. I do not want to speak of this in any political terms; but it may well be that our people are looking—not only to this side of the House—for a sign of a purpose and objective which they can grasp and understand. Where can we get closer to the heart of human life than in this particular field? It should not be regarded as a fresh burden on the shoulders of the city fathers. Rather it can and should become a source of civic inspiration.
My last word is this. We are about to enter Europe because, it is said, man has got to learn to live in new dimensions. I earnestly urge on my right hon. Friends in the Government to apply these new dimensions to this task at home.
§ 11.41 a.m.
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
The hon. Member for Ash-ford (Mr. Deedes) has put us all in his debt, not only by the choice of subject but by the way he presented his case this morning. He is not an easy man to follow. I have had to do this once or twice, but for me, unfortunately, he displays such a wide knowledge of his subject that I find myself embarrassed, and I remember, of course, that he did serve for quite a time as a Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry and he knows the inside as well as the outside of this subject.
I was particularly touched by his emphasis of what he called the major human problem we are dealing with, namely, the rehousing of the people who live in homes which are unfit to live in. As he spoke I could throw back my mind to my own experience as a medical man in Stoke-on-Trent. I remember the first major attempt at slum clearance. The people affected were, nearly all of them, patients of my own. The streets were quite dreadful, and the houses in them, too, and they were strangely named, named after universities, Durham, Oxford, Cambridge, and the others were called the "Royal" streets.
They must have been built at the time of George IV. They were very cheap when they were built; there were no damp-proof courses, and I lived in them more than I lived in my own home, 1659 inevitably, as the result of my work. If I wanted air for a pneumonia case I had to break a window pane, for the windows did not open, although it is true that there were vast draughts from under the doors. There was usually one tap between two houses, outside in the yard. Of course, in winter this was frozen.
When those houses were destroyed I was extremely pleased, for it made my own life very much easier. When people lived in those homes they called me out in the night frequently; they certainly never paid my bills. Why should they?
In a street nearby there was an attractive public house. I remember it so well, the polished brass spittoons, the roaring fire, the sanded floor, the air of conviviality; and it was there the men and women went, of course, because it was so much more attractive than to sit in their own dreadful homes. There they spent their money, and quite inevitably there was nothing for furniture, nothing for clothing, there was nothing for their children.
They were moved—and this was the fascinating thing which the hon. Member for Ashford, I know, will be interested in—they were moved, and I followed them, on to a housing estate not very far away; built on bad land, and in a very polluted atmosphere, but none the less they managed to get soil to build their gardens. And then came the transformation. It was not very long, a very few years, before all the houses, thanks to hire purchase, were filled with excellent furniture and furnishings, including gramophones and radios, and the people no longer went out for their conviviality, they entertained one another in their own homes, and they were able, I noted, not only to meet all their obligations, to bring up their children quite differently, but they became differently dressed, and even the poor medical man who served them found that his bills were regularly paid.
This was the sort of thing I noted. Therefore, I am compelled to agree with the hon. Member for Ashford that this is a great human problem, and if we solve it we shall have done something rather more than our duty: we shall have given ourselves personally very great pleasure.
1660 In deploying his case the hon. Member covered ground which I, too, would like to touch on as I move along in the argument, following him. I agree that there is a disparity in our country. There are parts of our country, like Scotland, Wales, the North, and reaching downwards and including Lancashire and certainly the North Riding of Yorkshire, where the population is declining or moving out and where the problem is decay; and then we have the Midland conurbation and, of course, the Greater London area where we are running the risk of choking ourselves to death, for everyone is coming there, and they come in their motor cars.
I note that 94,000 more people are travelling to work to come into the City and West End of London today than six years ago—94,000 more. Those who travel by bus are fewer by 20 per cent.; those who travel by car have increased in numbers by 56 per cent. These are the only figures I propose to give, but they do show the problem we are faced with.
The hon. Member for Ashford spoke about commuters. One who commutes should not do so sitting alone in a large car. After all, those of us who live in London and pay rates in London have a prior right to a motor car and to park it in the street or somewhere nearby, a right prior to that of someone who comes in from outside and pays no rates in London. This would seem elementary justice. There is no room for both of us, and what the hon. Member for Ashford has said is bound to happen sooner or later—we shall have to legislate to keep cars from coming inside.
I think myself there are four major objectives which we have got to think of over the next twenty years if we are to plan at all. Firstly and most importantly, as the hon. Member has so well put it, we have to think in terms of the 3½ million houses which will be obsolete within 20 years. We should think also of the factories which are slum as well as the houses which are slum and need renewing. Thirdly, there is the reshaping, as the hon. Member put it, of our city and town centres. Fourthly, I would say that we have to plan for the building of other large new towns or the increasing of small cities and towns to make them large and comprehensive, to 1661 act as magnets so that people are not drawn away down here into the South or into the Midlands. If we can achieve in the next twenty years some-thing of this we shall have performed the major part of our task.
It is, therefore, natural that we should insist on a national planning apparatus, and I entirely support the hon. Member for Ashford. Planning cannot be left now only to individual organisations, only to private enterprise, or only to local authorities. There must be an overall plan and this requires an administrative change in three ways. I would go further than the hon. Member for Ashford and say that it is time we had a Ministry of Town and Country Planning. This would absorb the planning functions of the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the Ministry of Transport. It has been put to me in this way—that if a man wants to build a house he does not bring in two builders, one to build the rooms and the other to build the passages and staircases to give access to those rooms. The hon. Member for Ashford put that point more gracefully than I have done, but it is an important one.
It would not be a bad thing, therefore, if we were to go all the way and declare that ideally we should have a Ministry to take over this function from the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, and the Ministry of Transport. In the long run, if we want to redistribute the population it is not where we put people that matters but where we put the factories. If the factories are built in the proper places and are the right kind of factories it is easier to make the housing follow.
The President of the Board of Trade and his Department have not shown complete awareness of the need to build factories in those parts of the country where they are now needed. It is true that some action is taken and that a certificate is required. We in Stoke-on-Trent lost a large extension of the Michelin factory to Burnley. We recognised that Burnley is losing its cotton industry. Although the Michelin works wished to expand on its own site, where it had a large area of land adjacent to the existing factory, we recognised that 1662 it was better for Burnley to have the new factory to employ its people. The Board of Trade has not gone far enough and sometimes factories are directed to the wrong places without consultation with the Ministry of Housing and the Ministry of Transport. The expansion of the motor car industry on Merseyside has been criticised because it will cause a good deal of chaos by reason of congestion and transport problems.
If we cannot have a Ministry, and I am sure that this will not be the first thing that will happen, surely we have the right to plead, as the hon. Member for Ashford did this morning, that there should be much closer co-operation between the three Departments. I am happy to see the Minister of Housing and Local Government in his place to reply to the debate. I put it to him that although the system of overlordship seems to have failed in the past and been discarded, it would not be a bad thing to have a senior Cabinet Minister in charge of a sub-committee of the Cabinet with a suitable secretariat and other assistance to oversee this type of cooperation between the three Departments.
There is another point on administration which I should like to mention. We do not want all the local authorities rushing to Whitehall for advice. We must decentralise as well. We must see to it that regional advice is available and that the staffs at regional offices are such that only rarely would there be need for local authority representatives to come to Whitehall.
I should also like to see some legislation in the form of a 1962 New Towns Act. The hon. Member for Ashford again touched on this point and I am beginning to think that he and I must have dreamed of the same sort of argument point by point. This legislation would enable the poor local authorities, which have neither the ability nor the money to get rid of obsolescence, to ask for a development corporation if they so wished. The development corporation would work side by side with the elected representatives and carry out what they felt they had not been able to do for themselves.
The action that we must ask for, therefore, is partly from Government 1663 and partly from local authorities, and I would put five points briefly. Firstly, the Government must control not only the location of factories, as they can do now, but of commercial premises and offices. I see no reason why a proposed new office block should not require a certificate, just as a new factory requires one. Medical men are subject to this kind of control. The Minister knows better than I do how we have achieved much better distribution of medical men throughout the country, both in general practice and in the consultant service, by naming areas which are already full and where they cannot settle. This has been of great value. I know that there has been criticism, because very often medical men when they are a little elderly would like to leave the north and come south and do less work in a smaller practice. But the benefit which the community has gained by this kind of indirect direction has been considerable, and I think that everyone accepts it.
I should also like to ask that assistance be given to local authorities so that when business premises are vacated in an area like London and the employer moves out to build a modern factory elsewhere the local authority should have power to prevent someone else coming in and occupying the old premises. We shall never get rid of congestion unless this is done. Birmingham has had considerable experience in this respect. The authority there has had to move large numbers of factories out of the city and build modern factories elsewhere and it has declared that in the main the owners are content. The smaller firms, it is said, have been able to double their productivity without increasing the number of workers because their employees were working in a new environment and in new factories. Therefore, we should encourage businesses to go out of the centres where there is too much congestion. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer were here I would ask him to consider a pay-roll tax, not as an economic regulator but to regulate the type of strangulation which we are now discussing.
I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Ashford that the Third Schedule to the 1947 Act must be looked at. There has been a great mistake over this. 1664 When the 10 per cent. increase in cubic content was mentioned there it was never intended to be used in connection with the rebuilding of offices. But it has been so used. This gives point to the figures I gave earlier about the increasing number of people pouring into the West End and into the City each day in their cars.
The former Minister of Housing and Local Government, now the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, made it clear that he would defend the green belts. I hope we shall hear from the Minister today that, whatever else happens, we shall keep the green belts inviolate and shall allow no tampering with them and no protruding fingers into them at all. The former Minister once said that those who had bought up land hoping for a weakening of resolve had burnt their fingers. So they should. No one will cry about that.
The right hon. Gentleman has in his Ministry a recently established urban redevelopment section. I am not sure how long it has been developed and how well it is yet working. Perhaps he will tell us. I would urge that it is just what is required and that it should be strengthened and enlarged so as to give the kind of assistance that local authorities badly need. Some of them are often desperately disturbed because they do not know where to seek advice.
The fifth point which the Government must consider if they are to solve the problem is the financial aspect. Local authorities vary, but even the richest one, London, finds itself in difficulty over planning and redevelopment. We found this out when we had the difficulty with reference to the redevelopment of Piccadilly Circus. It seems that London has in all an income of about £35 million a year for planning purposes, but it has much to do with this. There are social priorities such as housing, schools and welfare services generally which have to be met before it can redevelop large central areas.
I want to quote from the views expressed by Councilor R. C. Edmonds, then chairman of the L.C.C. Town Planning Committee, on Friday, 15th July, 1960, at a conference on the rebuilding on the city centres organised by the Civic Trust. He spoke of the Notting Hill improvement and said that it was 1665 not bad at all. As to the Elephant and Castle scheme, he said that ithad proved that in an area of 'blitz and blight', where the financial pressures were not too heavy, a local authority could still do a really wonderful job.This is the part I wish to emphasise:'But where do we go from there?' he asked. 'You see I have been skulking about on the outskirts of the true central area, the true problem. … Now, greatly daring, I am going to come a few yards further into London, to the crossing of the Edgware Road and the Harrow Road: you see, I am scared of dead centre and what it throws up'. The Ministry of Transport grant for the flyover across Edgware Road would not enable the Planning Committee to deal with the ragged edges that would be left at the four corners. … The L.C.C.'s Finance Committee had put up another £100,000 of rate-payers' money, but this was £700,000 short of what was needed; and there were thirty-three more intersections of that character to be tackled under the council's road improvement plan.This is what happens in the richest city in the country and the Commonwealth. It happens also in Wigan, Stoke-on-Trent, and Salford; and obviously the problem is greater in those places. "Therefore, under the heading of financial assistance what the right hon. Gentleman should consider are grants of a weighted nature to enable local authorities to redevelop, particularly the poorer ones, because when a local authority redevelops it is compelled by way of road improvement and the provision of open space and so on to provide amenity, and, therefore, it loses money.
The most classical example of this—one which I have given before, but I do not apologise for mentioning it again—is Piccadilly Circus. What is to happen when the Pavilion site is thrown in by the L.C.C. for road widening? When it does that, it will cost the L.C.C. about £1 million. It will open up back land. What is today a back street will become a front street; it will become the most expensive frontage in the Commonwealth. The £1 million which the London ratepayers will have given for the sake of road improvement will then go automatically to those who are today in the back streets; they have not asked for it, but it will be foisted on them because we have no way of regaining betterment for the community as the law now stands. Consequently, the right hon. Gentleman should use the term "net planning loss." There 1666 is often, and there should be, net planning loss if one is to make a site attractive when one redevelops and there should be some help for those who are poor and cannot do it themselves.
I believe that the expenditure in 1962–63 in the general grant for the acquisition, clearing and development of obsolete areas will be about £2 million. This is not a very significant sum with which to assist the whole country. The Minister will remember that two or three months ago he gave me a partially favourable answer to a Question which I addressed to him. I asked whether it would be possible to provide that when borrowing money for redevelopment and a comprehensive development scheme local authorities should not have to service the loan in the first few years when there is no income. The right hon. Gentleman then gave me a not unfavourable answer, and I wonder whether he has had time to consider this further and will mention it today. Many of us who have thought about this realise that it would help local authorities if they did not have to service their scheme, pay interest or repay principal, during the formative years until they could get income back.
Local authorities should use their powers of compulsory purchase wherever necessary in order to unify land and have a sufficient area of land available for good schemes. In nearly every case one finds that private individuals have bought up land in the area. This is certainly so in Stoke-on-Trent. There seems to me, therefore, to be all the more reason why the local authority should make one large parcel of the land for whoever is going to do the actual redevelopment, and very often it will be a private development company. Then it will have the whole of the land in order to provide an effective scheme. I would be very averse to local authorities selling land after having bought it by compulsory purchase. They should hold it for the community.
Help should also be given to local authorities by their being given enough time in which to prepare their plans. Three dimensional plans cannot be prepared in two months. A local authority should be given two years' grace once it has declared an area as a C.D.A. area. 1667 Within that period, it should not be pressed and forced to take action or have to pay compensation if it refuses the plans of any private developer.
Lastly, I urge that we review, throughout our country, where the talent lies in planning. I would like to see in our regions, and attached to the universities, research work being conducted and an organisation built around that research to service the local authorities where redevelopment is taking place. Good planners are thought not to be plentiful, but we have not given them very much opportunity so far to show what they can do.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consider all the points raised in this debate, in particular the question of decentralisation so that we do not have to have everyone coming to him and to Whitehall generally for advice. I sit down by reminding the House that it is true that what we are talking about is as important as anything we ever deal with. We are dealing with the future of our people, and I hope that we make a reasonably good job of it.
§ 12.12 p.m.
§ Sir Richard Nugent (Guildford)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) on his Motion and on the interesting and helpful terms in which he moved it. I also thank him for the opportunity it gives us to debate this very interesting and important subject. I am glad to be following the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North—
§ Sir R. Nugent
—Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross). The problems of Stoke-on-Trent are probably the same, whether Central or North. I know well the hon. Gentleman's deep interest in this matter and I listened to him with attention. I shall not follow all the points he made, although I agreed with a great many of them.
The hon. Gentleman asked my right hon. Friend to look at the Ministerial level of the land use problem. Some hon. Friends of mine, assisted by some very able outside experts, considered the whole field of planning and land use in a study which was published, as my hon. 1668 Friend has said, in the pamphlet "Change and Challenge." We spent about two years studying this fascinating problem. We felt that what was needed was a kind of "chiefs of staff council" at Cabinet level, presided over by my right hon. Friend and including other Ministers, such as the President of the Board of Trade and the Ministers of Transport and Aviation, who are inevitably closely connected with this problem but all to often are not brought in until perhaps far too late to do the things that should be done. I hope that my right hon. Friend gives thought to that plan.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will not follow the suggestion, tentatively made by the hon. Gentleman, for an over-lord structure. I have memories of that system working in the 1951 Parliament—it would be more accurate to say "not working." The difficulties far outweigh the advantages. In "Change and Challenge," we traversed the town planning problem, and I want to refer to one particular aspect today, and that is the problem of central urban redevelopment starting from the centre. If one can get a start right in the middle of a city or town, then, with any luck, other development will follow on. But far the most serious problems are in the middle of our towns.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford said, many of our buildings are due for redevelopment either because of age or because shopping and living habits are changing rapidly under the impact of what we call the affluent society. The standard of accommodation required by offices is also changing. There is thus a considerable impulse now for rebuilding. But what is happening in all too many towns is the worst thing of all—piecemeal rebuilding, where one building is rebuilt in modern style in the middle of a whole lot of old ones. Nothing could look worse, or be worse, from the point of view of getting the right kind of scheme.
What is needed, as my hon. Friend suggested, is a comprehensive development scheme starting in the middle of a town and gradually spreading outwards. I agree with the figure he mentioned. He suggested perhaps 20 acres. I would have said that ten to 15 acres would constitute a large enough 1669 area for a start to comprehensive redevelopment, including a proper traffic system.
It is possible to plan on a single theme, such as Regent Street, where the whole street was designed by one genius. There are also the beautiful crescents and terraces in Bath. These are architectural beauties enjoyed both by those who live there and by the community at large. But all too few of our towns have such pleasures to delight us. When one criticises architects for putting up hideous offices, and one attacks modern architecture in general, one should remember that, if architects are given a chance in a large enough area to use modern styles, materials and engineering, they can not only achieve excellent modern accommodation but the beauty of exciting lines, freshness and something which puts character into the life of a town. But the first essential is that they be given a large enough area in which to do it.
I come now to modern traffic needs. Our street system was laid out, as we tend to forget too easily, before the invention of the motor car, in the days of the horse and cart and the stage coach, when pedestrians could walk without danger of being knocked over. If a horse and a pedestrian met, they would stop by a sort of mutual agreement. That is not the case now. One cannot argue with the horses under the bonnet of a car and we get appalling accidents. About three quarters of our accidents take place in built-up areas.
Thus we get dreadful mixture in our towns—waiting vehicles loading and unloading, parked vehicles, moving vehicles, and pedestrians mixed up with them. Even the pavements have their share of congestion. People jostle each other into the road and there is danger, noise and smell—all of which reduces human life from pleasure and peaceful-ness to a noisy, smelly hurly-burly.
What is needed basically in the redevelopment of our towns is, first of all, the segregation of the pedestrian from the vehicular traffic, and that cannot be done unless we can completely redesign the street system. If we can take an area of 10 or 20 acres, it is possible to achieve a design which will cater for the four necessities. These are keeping the pedestrians away from the vehicles, either by systems like that in Coventry, 1670 which has a very delightful shopping precinct in the middle of the town with a road running round it, or the two level solution, like that of Birmingham. There is genius in that system there, and a wonderful architectural lay-out as well, and there are all kinds of variations of this. Or there is the system which is to be tried in the City of a pedestrian walk-way at first-floor level to get the pedestrians above the motorists. There are all kinds of ways of doing it, but the basic principle should be to get the pedestrians away from the motorists so that they can move around in safety and in peace.
At the same time, we must make provision for loading and unloading in places where it will not interfere with the movement of traffic. Again, we must make provision for car parks, either multi-storeyed car parks or underground car parks, or some such other means and these car parks must charge an economic rent, because that is the regulator which will prevent those who do not need their cars with them from coming in by car, so that the majority of people, as my hon. Friend so rightly said, will use public transport, which is the only way of being able to move vehicles freely in the centre of a city.
There are many methods of doing this, but the basic thing, and I hope my right hon. Friend will listen to this, is that when town and city authorities are working out schemes of this kind, they should get a good architect to design them, but they must also bring in traffic engineering to assist them with street design and with providing accommodation for both vehicles and pedestrians. In the days when I was at the Ministry of Transport, I found extraordinary ignorance, amounting almost to indifference, in the great majority of local authorities about the use of traffic engineers at all. The highway engineers thought that they knew all about traffic engineering and that nothing more was needed, but they did not even know what it meant, with certain distinguished exceptions, particularly that of Sir Herbert Manzoni in Birmingham, which stands out, with the result that they are achieving a lay-out which is going to be delightful in the centre of the city for, probably a century to come.
The first necessity is for an origin and destination survey to find out what both 1671 vehicles and pedestrians are trying to do, to make provision for it, and to get the right lay-out, which seems to be plain common-sense. These are the two factors that I want to put to my right hon. Friend. The third one is that in redevelopment some buildings should be built high so that we can get more open spaces and may even get a patch of grass or even a few trees, and what a difference that makes to a town. It costs very little to put in trees, but costs a lot to get open spaces, but with higher buildings these can be worked in, and the result would be to provide a space in the centre of the city which the people are able to enjoy. Shopping is made more safe, and the whole effect is that it is more interesting and exciting and also adds something to the life of the city.
There are three problems with which we have to deal, and to which my hon. Friend referred—the acquisition of the property, the single theme of the design and finance. These are problems which my hon. Friends and I considered at length in a study to which I was glad to hear my hon. Friend refer and which proposed the solution which we felt was the right one. First, as to acquisition of the property. I think that we can probably acquire a good deal of the property interests by agreement, but inevitably there will be some which we cannot acquire, and we came to the conclusion that there is no way of promoting this large-scale central redevelopment except by the local authority doing it and, in the last resort, using its compulsory powers, with the district valuer settling the values on market prices and the local authority acquiring the whole site. There is no other way of doing it. Some people may feel that it is a pity that the local authorities should have to acquire the whole of the site, but the choice is between getting a worth-while development in that way and just not getting it at all. I have no doubt where I come down on that question—the local authority should do it.
The local authority then acquires the whole of the defined area and engages, or has already engaged, a professional, who will be assisted by his team of experts, including consultations with traffic engineers, to produce a master design in three dimensions, so that they 1672 get a clear idea of what is being proposed. Our thought was that the local authority should then set up an advisory committee, which would be composed of representatives of the local authority and the planning authority, if that was not the local authority itself, and that there should also be on this body officials of the authorities and professional men as well—a sort of consortium group. This advisory committee, which would be free to work with the consultants, would then invite the prospective developers interested in this development in the town to make suggestions and representations on what features they thought were desirable.
These consultations would go on for perhaps two or three months, so that the Advisory Committee would then get the benefit of all the ideas which private enterprise could bring in from the prospective developers, and some of these ideas it would incorporate, while others would be dropped. At the end of the day, it would get the benefit of all the best ideas of the local authority itself, combined with all the best ideas that private enterprise could produce, and these would then be incorporated in the final three-dimensional plan which the consultants would produce.
It would be on that basis that the local authority would then go to tender, specifying the standard in the tender, the latter being for the ground rent of the area, with the condition that the developer is to construct the whole of the project and the local authority provide the amenity aspects, roads and so on. The thought in our minds here was that the alternative system of inviting competitive tenders for a whole redevelopment scheme, although it might throw up some interesting ideas on design and lay-out of the area, it ran the risk inevitably that the most competitive tender probably being one with too big a density, cutting down the amenities, so that we should not get the best design for the life of the city. We felt that this was the best way of getting the best development and the advantages of both public authority and private enterprise. To the tenders would be attached the various obligations on rehousing, and on the leases of shopkeepers and others who were losing their premises, and this obligation would fall upon the developer. For a very 1673 big scheme, there might be an opportunity for more than one developer to come in; on the other hand, one developer may take over the whole thing, according to its size. The conditions of the tender would provide for periodic revaluation of the site so that the local authority could share in the developing value of the site as rentals rose over the ensuing years. We felt that in this way we would get a proposition which could be attractive to private enterprise and at the same time safeguard the public interest.
We gave a great deal of thought to finance. It is a most difficult problem. The strong public authorities, the strong towns and cities, would be able to finance these developments themselves, but the twilight areas, which were mentioned both by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ash-ford, remain a problem. My own local authority, Guildford Borough, one of the strong authorities, is contemplating a very interesting scheme of central redevelopment. The scheme is very attractive. It rightly segregates pedestrians from traffic and will also include a certain amount of residential building, flats, which it is right to include in the middle of towns along with other development.
Loan charges during the period of development are a problem, but I think that the strong local authorities could cope with them by increasing their capital sum on borrowing by 25 per cent. or 30 per cent., or whatever was necessary to give them the extra cash needed to service the loan until they began to get their revenue coming in. I agree that something must be done to avoid loan charges falling direct on the ratepayers from the moment that the acquisition starts, and I think that the strong local authorities could carry it in that way.
The twilight areas are a serious problem and make the great argument for the ideas which have come from the Civic Trust and from hon. Members opposite for a national finance corporation which would finance all these developments, both the good and the less good so that the one would balance the other. We thought about this proposition, and some of us thought that 1674 it was acceptable, although I am bound to say that I did not. I feel that in the course of time, not a very long time, this corporation would acquire an enormous amount of property and would be a tremendous property holder. It would be undesirably large as a kind of independent body not responsible to Parliament, to local authorities, or to anybody, but owning this enormous amount of property which would have to be held for some years until the local authorities were able to take over the servicing of their loans. I felt, and I think that the majority of my colleagues felt, that this was not a desirable solution.
I now put the ball back into my right hon. Friend's court. Here is a problem of the twilight areas where local authorities will not be able to finance the propositions themselves because the time in which they may pay off is likely to be so long that commercial finance would not be available. For these areas I suggest that something on the lines of a loan at very low rates of interest, or probably a straight grant, would be necessary. It would take care of what might be called the unremunerative factor so that the local authority would finance part of the proposition and, in so far as it was assessed as partially unremunerative, my right hon. Friend would come in with a special system of finance.
This problem must be faced. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford was perfectly right to say that it is in the twilight areas where conditions are worst and where redevelopment is most badly needed. We can all think of towns in different parts of the country, particularly in the Midlands and in the North and in industrial areas, where redevelopment is desperately badly needed but where the private developer simply will not come in and where the local authority is simply unable to start these schemes. This is the problem to which my right hon. Friend must put his mind.
There are two thoughts which I should like to leave with my right hon. Friend—the problem of finding the means to help the local authorities in the twilight areas to get their redevelopment schemes started, and the general problem of stimulating local authorities to take an interest in the matter. The 1675 bold, imaginative local authorities are doing so, but they are all too few. The great majority are simply allowing rebuilding to take place building by building, piecemeal, without any bold scheme. There must be some way of getting it into the heads of local authorities that they now have a tremendous opportunity and that if they would be bold and imaginative and would see what other people were doing, they would then see what they could do in their own towns or cities to redevelop on a bold scale in a way which would add enormously to the life and richness and character of a city. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to tell us how he is to meet this tremendous challenge and this tremendous opportunity which we now find before us.
§ 12.36 p.m.
§ Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington North)
Before I came to the House this morning I already envied the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) his fortune in the Ballot and his choice of subject, and I admired and entirely agreed with the terms of his Motion. I was certain that he would make a speech which I should have liked to have been able to have made myself if only I had had his experience and his intimate knowledge.
Certainly, I do not want now to make a speech which distracts in any way from the structure of his proposals, particularly because it sometimes happens on these occasions on Fridays that we have what seems to be a nice, cosy, civilised chat about progressive ideas with which we might all agree, but that under a tacit arrangement by which some of the more important issues, the more important obstacles to be got out of the way, are not mentioned, or tackled with sufficient vigour, we get a friendly reply from the Minister and it is quite clear that nothing is to be done.
In the course of his speech the hon. Member for Ashford did not flinch from the greatest difficulties which stand in the way of the implementation of his ideas, and I hope, from this side of the House, to give him some encouragement about one or two of them. For instance, he spoke as though it would be necessary forcibly to underline the need for local authorities to have complete compulsory purchase powers. Perhaps his 1676 party as a whole has a little more softening-up work to do with public opinion. He might possibly start by avoiding the phrase "compulsory purchase" which might raise antagonism among some sections of the public. What he is really advocating is a change of user by democratic consent.
The Minister may have something to say about title to land, because the party to which he used to belong, and perhaps still does, in its own programme, in its own time, went very near to nationalising land. All the parties have attempted to face the problem of "acquiring betterment", as my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) put it, or "acquiring the unearned increment" as Lloyd George used to put it. They have all failed through trying the wrong device, or through retreating from vested interests, or because they have been afraid that public opinion was not ready. It may be that it is in the womb of destiny that it will eventually be the Conservative Party which will nationalise the land.
Although they have been the party of the landowner, the party of the vested interests in the past, they have never abandoned the legal and philosophic conception that land is held on grant from the Crown. They have never said that there was such a thing as absolute ownership. They have said that there has been a free holding and that the land was granted free to the freeholder and his successors, but they have never destroyed the possibility of reinstating the notion that the land was granted for a certain purpose, namely, the purpose for which it was used at the time or is being used now.
The door is open for the simplest possible kind of legislative change by which the freeholder may seek the permission of the original grantor, the Crown, for a change of user which may be freely granted, or granted on the repayment of the value to the community of what it has put into the land. It may be that one day Black Rod will beat on the door into this Chamber and that we shall be invited to go along the corridor to hear a Clerk in wig and gown announcing, in the traditional cockney Norman French accent, that the Queen wishes that there should be this revival of the grant of freeholding of land on certain conditions.
1677 That may happen because the Conservative Party is very good at coming to terms with changes in society. It will happen, however, only when two things have been achieved, when the vested interests of the landowner have been changed—first when, because of the mounting pressure and discontent of public opinion, the situation in which the public has to buy back its own improvement from the landowner is met. In little ways, a capital gains tax here and there, the notion is taking hold again that this somehow is wrong. If that advantage is removed from the landowner, and in the second place his power to control the economic life of the community through owning the land is eroded by progressive purposeful use of planning powers democratically, there will be no basis for these vested interests of private landlords. Then the party opposite will say, "We have been of this opinion all along" and Conservatives will say that they thought of it first, as invariably they do with such improvements.
It struck me that the hon. Member for Ashford was a little diffident when he said that it ought to be possible to devise a formula to attract private capital. I thought that he was a little unnecessarily pessimistic. I do not know why that worried him at all. Surely some of the most sensationally successful fortunes in the property world and the property market during the last few years have been made out of leasehold property. I do not think that there is any lack of willingness, or any lack of experience, of private capital going in on a leasehold basis for development.
I am sure that I am right in that. The Minister will correct me if he thinks I am wrong, but certainly, in some London developments, the aggressive and energetic developers have come to terms with the Duke of X. If they could come to terms with the Duke of X on a basis which enables them to allow for the amortisation of the capital to be put into the project, surely there should be no difficulty in coming to terms with the Crown on a leasehold basis.
I now wish to drag in a constituency point which, I think, is a perfect example of the way in which the hon. Member's ideas could be worked out. It is true that I said a few words about this rather 1678 late at night when we were discussing the British Transport Commission Bill not long ago. There seemed to be an opportunity then to invite some comments, but I did not get any response. I may get some from the Minister today, because the right hon. Gentleman has been dropping suggestions in speeches in the country recently that there are a large number of plots of railway land which might be used in London as the basis of comprehensive development. There is certainly one piece of that kind of land in my constituency, in Padding-ton. We have discussed this locally on so many occasions that one is no longer sure which ideas are one's own and which have developed in the course of public debate.
The proposition I wish to put stands as follows. On each side of the railway in Paddington there is a more than twilight area—a midnight area—of sleazy decay awaiting redevelopment which cannot be redeveloped unless, first, a large number of people are rehoused elsewhere. In between are about 10 acres of railway land which could be used straight away through diversion of coalyard facilities, or by the construction of a podium roofing it over. There could be no doubt that if the Transport Commission went into negotiations as the owner of 10 acres of land in central London it would not be without bargaining powers and resources. It would be in a position to make very good terms with whoever would be willing—and there must be many who would be willing—to develop such a site.
The terms it would make would provide some profit for itself in view of its own difficulties. One could not begrudge the Commission that, but I hope that under the principles which the hon. Member has enunciated in his Motion the Commission would be able to lay down, by agreement with the Minister and local authorities, a number of conditions as to the sort of development it wanted to take place there. That could be a very good example of the way in which mixed user could extract from the development scheme the increased value which the community has put into that area.
As we have seen on many occasions, potential sites for housing become so costly that they cannot be developed by 1679 local authorities, but if this supposed cost could be recovered by the use at ground level for the first storey or two for commercial purposes, it would repay this potential value. Then, with the use of modern building techniques, the developer could get the fresh air and a site for nothing on which to build the types of flats and other residential accommodation wanted.
I am entirely in agreement with the hon. Member that we would like to see a mixed community, but what we see at present in London is an erosion into the traditional dwelling accommodation of the ordinary wage-earning servicers of London. It is not so much by the easily identifiable small "spivs" and elderly widows who cannot afford to do repairs and that sort of thing as by the large developers, who, naturally, tend to recondition houses which subsequently will be let at rents which attract people who are tired of commuting, but which are quite beyond the ordinary wage-earner.
If the kind of development which we have been discussing were to take place on this site, it could be part of the condition of the lease that such dwelling accommodation was made available. But hon. Members opposite will agree that we cannot just say that we shall house the workers in great vertical towers with powerful lifts to take people to the top of the building where they live out of the way of the rest of the community. We cannot plan it on that basis. We must plan on the basis of all the amenities which are required to raise a family.
No one in the world has yet had sufficient experience to know whether it is possible to maintain a stable community which can have children and rear them, get them employed in the area, and get them married and having children of their own, while living on the fourteenth floor of a block of flats. We have yet to learn whether that is possible. I therefore hope that we shall be more than generous in providing the kind of amenities which are needed to safeguard against certain dangers which threaten the younger generation.
The hon. Member spoke movingly in the closing passages of his speech to the effect that the objective of all this was 1680 to improve the lives of the people. Certainly, the most important aspect is to improve the lives of the children. It seems to me that children of people who live in the central areas must be given three things—and I refer to the preschool-age children, aged 18 months to 5 years. First, they must have an opportunity to take legitimate risks, which is an essential part of self-education. A child can learn something by falling out of a tree, but he cannot learn by being the victim of a traffic accident in London. One of the natural processes of education is not available in the big cities.
A child needs the opportunity to taste and to feel things which mother says ought never to be tasted—but they have to be tasted because that is the way to learn about things in a natural environment. There is a need for the opportunity to learn by poking with a stick—to learn which end of a living creature is more likely to bite. These are normal things for children, but they cannot do them in big blocks of fiats with someone screeching at them that they are doing something from which they are likely to lose their lives.
The first of the three points, then, is the ability to take a legitimate risk and the second is the ability to satisfy a legitimate curiosity. Third, and most important, is the opportunity which little children have lost of watching older people at work and gaining a respect for the craftsman—the opportunity to watch the blacksmith, the wheelwright or the watchmaker. This is a very serious lack in our big cities. The man bringing home the money is never seen at work. He is just the one who produces the money, and the sense of values which arises out of the work, the sense of value of the work itself, tends to be lost. It is only the person who earns money in a more easy-going way who can be seen at work.
It may be that it will turn out to be one of the greatest disasters of mankind that between James Watt's kettle and Franklin's kite, steam was developed first. If we had developed electricity first we might never have lost the cottage loom or known the ugliness and noise associated with an Industrial Revolution which had to bring the machines to the driving shaft, whereas the cable could 1681 have brought the power nearer home. There is room for thinking again about the zoning of areas for residential and industrial work.
These had better be my last words, because the hon. Member said that he would not ride his hobby horse of coordination between the Ministries, and perhaps I should follow his good example. But I am as certain as he is that the problem cannot be solved without the closest co-ordination among the Ministries of Transport, Trade and Housing. It is one of the anomalies of life in London that with the advantages of our wonderful educational system and technical training system, with part-time evening courses and the rest, when it comes to getting an apprenticeship or a job for some of the skills it is not available.
There will never be another Fords or another big industry anwhere near London. The new industries are pushed into starting elsewhere, and when the old industries want new equipment they are talked into going to the new towns. A kind of Gresham's Law tends to operate over industrial activities in London. Instead of getting fewer, we tend to get more semi-skilled and unskilled operations involved in what we ought to call the slum factories in some areas.
I am sure that that kind of semiskilled and unskilled work ought to be squeezed out of the urban areas in order to get the balance of employment which we want, because enough of that kind of work is available in the servicing of the cities without bringing it into the factories too. We want opportunities for highly-skilled craftsman to work in the urban areas, and we want an environment which finds skilled work for the sons and daughters of those who come in to do the unskilled work in the first place, and who have accepted the difficulties of overcrowding and the conditions of their lives on the assumption that it might be better for their children.
It is only through the implementation of ideas such as the hon. Member put forward today that there is any hope of those aspirations, shared by those who chose to come here to live and to have their children, being realised. The hon. Member has brought before us a 1682 Motion which goes right to the heart of the task of keeping society alive, dynamic and healthy in the urban areas and of overcoming the big problem of the twilight areas, as they are called. In my constituency the problem is not so much poverty as defeat in the face of the complicated restrictions of normal healthy development by which people are surrounded.
The hon. Member has touched on something which is already appealing to the younger generation throughout the country. He has put forward an imaginative approach. Provided that the Minister, in reply, is prepared to take him up in tackling these difficulties, especally those of ownership and planning, then this will be an important day in the history of our debates.
§ 12.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)
Like others, I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) on choosing this subject for his Motion and on the invigorating way in which he moved it. I am not sure that he does not rival the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) in the enormous number of words which he succeeds in compressing into a short time. His speech was a great tonic and a great provider of thought.
Hon. Members have referred to what are called the twilight areas. My hon Friend pointed out that there were 2½ million houses over one hundred years old, of which half-a-million were unfit. I entirely agree that vast numbers of them urgently need replacing.
I want to issue one word of warning. I hope that the idea will not grow that a house is obsolete and useless merely because it is old. I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that there are many old houses in almost every city—the older the better, perhaps—which are neither obsolete nor unfit. They probably have many years of useful life left if they are kept in a good state of repair. I refer mainly to the Georgian houses, which do not abound, but of which there are happily a great number in various parts of the country. I live in St. John's Wood, Where many of the old houses were probably built between 150 and 100 years ago, at the same time as this building was going up. They are not obsolete. 1683 by any means. Many of them are very attractive. Yet some people apparently have no respect for beauty ox for anything antique and would presumably replace all such areas with huge blocks of flats, the designs of many of which, if not ugly, are completely out of character. We must watch that point.
We are all glad that the façade of the Nash Terraces in Regent's Park is being preserved, although behind it the interiors are being reconstructed on modern lines. In the constituency of Holborn and St. Pancras, South there is a square called Fitzroy Square, which most hon. Members will know. It is a square of Georgian houses on three sides and of Georgian houses mostly on the fourth side, but that side, which I think is the north one, is ruined by one building, completed I think in 1912, which, although it is not ugly in itself, is entirely out of keeping with the rest of the square. In those days the local authority probably did not have the planning powers to prevent that action. Probably it now has such powers. This is a good example of what my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford meant by large-scale development instead of piecemeal work. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. G. Johnson Smith) will forgive me for mentioning that square, but it is a very good example.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
I will certainly forgive my hon. Friend for mentioning that point. It is a valid point. I assure my hon. Friend that there have been tremendous improvements since then and that the Borough Council of St. Pancras is very conscious of its architectural heritage and does its very best to preserve it. It does so remarkably well.
§ Mr. Russell
I am grateful to my hon Friend for his intervention.
Compulsory purchase powers have been mentioned. Before compulsory purchase is used I hope that efforts will be made to reach agreement. A problem of redevelopment exists in my constituency at the moment, although most of it was built in the 1920s and 1930s. There are very few streets of houses which can be called twilight areas in my constituency. 1684 There is one instance where two roads run roughly parallel, although they are a good way apart, and all the houses have long gardens. An attempt is now being made by a developer to buy up part of every garden to create quite a large space for redevelopment, presumably with blocks of flats. This is a very laudable idea, but all the owners of the houses concerned are being called together with the idea of trying to reach an agreement. I hope that this method will always be used rather than compulsory purchase to promote such development If one house owner stands out and is awkward, compulsory purchase might be completely justified. The greatest possible effort should be made to reach agreement rather than resorting to the use of drastic powers of compulsory purchase.
My hon. Friend referred to mastering the motor vehicle. At the moment the motor vehicle has almost mastered us. A great deal needs to be done in a comparatively short time if we are to regain mastery over the motor vehicle. I entirely agree that we should do what we can to keep traffic outside the centres of our great cities. By that I mean that we should still allow vehicles inside for delivery purposes, but it will have to be done by a system of urban motorways. It is a great joy, even for people who like motoring, to be able to walk in precincts and shopping centres in places like Rotterdam or in some of our new towns without the worry of having to watch for traffic. A fortnight ago I spent a couple of days in Venice where, as most hon. Members know, there are no roads and no traffic on the main islands of the city itself. It was a treat not to see a car for about thirty-six hours.
However, there is the problem of delivering goods and getting people near to the areas themselves. I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent), who said that we must have urban motorways if we are to deal with the traffic problem. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross), who is not now in his place, made the point which hon. Members opposite are fond of making, namely, that we shall have to legislate to stop cars coming right inside our busy cities. That raises problems for 1685 people who already live there. Presumably they will have to have their cars inside the cities. Then there is the question of the members of his own profession and Members of Parliament. Are we to be stopped from bringing cars into the centre of London? Are doctors to be stopped from having cars here? Where is the line to be drawn? Any such prohibition would create far more jealousies and annoyance than any good it would do. I hope that we can regulate the traffic without drastic prohibitions.
It is very difficult to understand how those who commute day by day by car in the peak hours can continually bear the strain and irritation of what I call bumper to bumper driving for an hour or even half an hour every day. Many of us in the House do so, but not in the peak hours. We do it when it is nothing like as bad.
The present Minister of Defence when he was Minister of Transport did his best, as the present Minister of Transport is doing, to encourage people, without prohibiting them, to leave their cars on the outskirts of towns and complete their journeys by rail or underground. This is a way of solving the commuter problem, certainly from places outside. I hope that every possible encouragement will be given to commuters to do that and to local authorities to provide the necessary car parks
The redevelopment of large areas provides the opportunity for putting roads underground. I believe that the new idea for Piccadilly Circus is to take the pedestrians one floor up. This is a very good way of solving the problem. I wonder whether the depth which many developers now dig when they build new buildings—for instance, the one going up along Victoria Street not far from here—in order presumably to provide deep basements or underground car parks, does not provide an opportunity to carry out a certain amount of road tunnelling at the same time. If they go down that depth for basements or car parks, they do not have to go down much further, if any further, to make a road. The more we can put our roads underground, the less property we shall have to destroy and the less space we shall have to take up for urban motorways. Therefore, a great saving will be made.
1686 I hope that before long we shall be able to use the land over the railways, particularly in large cities, for building. There must be many acres of land which are wasted from the point of view of anything but railway space. It should be possible, certainly over many main lines going out of the City—not so much perhaps over sidings, where there is a good deal of shunting—to build over the lines and use valuable space which is now wasted, except for the movement of trains. I hope that some of these plans will materialise. This problem should be tackled with some urgency, otherwise it will get worse and worse. There is certainly urgency over the traffic problem. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government will consider most carefully all that my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford has said today, and I hope also that his remarks will be conveyed to the Minister of Transport who is concerned equally with my right hon. Friend.
§ 1.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), in his impressive speech, pointed out that the growing demand for urban renewal is a response to the two distinct problems of congestion and obsolescence—congestion being the problem of the expanding and growing city, and obsolescence the problem of the decaying city.
I want to say at the outset that one thing we must do if we are to solve this problem is to decide what we can do to see that we have fewer decaying cities and fewer cities expanding at a rate with which the social agencies simply cannot keep up. That is a problem not of what can be done in each city by urban renewal. It is a regional or nation-wide problem of what can be done about the location of industry. That is why I think that a number of hon. Members have referred to the need for co-ordination of policies of the Ministries of Transport, Housing and Local Government and the Board of Trade, and indeed of all those that have power to determine where shops shall be and where towns shall grow.
The hon. Member for Ashford himself refers in his Motion to the need for such 1687 co-ordination, though by a kind of self-denying ordinance he forbade himself to expand on it unduly. I do not want to say more about it than that I think the case for it is now overwhelming. It is clear that we have here a national problem and we have not the political machinery to deal with it. The decisions of the Board of Trade and of the Ministry of Transport do not at present move in harmony with one another.
I do not believe that the answer to that is a super-Minister. I think that it lies more in the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross), for a subcommittee of the Cabinet—I used the phrase myself in an earlier debate—a sub-committee of scarcely less importance than the Cabinet itself, which would have to consider the problem of where industries are to be and how the land is to be used.
I want to put one or two questions to the Minister of Housing and Local Government. First, does he intend to tell us this time that the Government are to take some steps in this direction, or do they really think that the present degree of co-ordination, such as it is, between these various Ministries is adequate to the problem? If they do think that, then they are in a rapidly dwindling minority.
Now I want to turn to the problem inside the cities—the problem of redeveloping their centres. What are the objectives that we have in mind when we talk about urban renewal? First, there is the problem so much emphasised by the hon. Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell), the attempt to restore human mastery over traffic. I think that most of us will accept that we cannot solve the problem by trying to ban the motor vehicle from a wide area round the centre of a city On the other hand, there are certain small areas from which the motor vehicle ought to be banned, such as, for example, the shopping precinct.
I have here the Conservative Party's recent pamphlet "Change and Challenge". It has an attractive picture of the segregation of shopping pedestrians and road traffic in the centre of Crawley New Town. It is always gratifying and, as the hon. Member for Ashford would say, bipartisan, to see a Conservative 1688 Party pamphlet profusely illustrating the achievements of the Labour Government.
This example to which I am referring is not the only one. On that problem of the separation of different kinds of road user, such as one gets in the shopping precinct, it is interesting to see what was said by a member of a development corporation of another new town. In the report of the famous discussion held by the Civic Trust on this Matter, Mrs. Dennington, a member of the Stevenage New Town Development Corporation, said:… had we not had the ownership of the land we should not have achieved an all-pedestrian town centre. Developers without exception had advised the corporation that it would not get adequate rents for its shops if it did not have cars driving up to their front doors. But we had this advantage of ownership, and we were therefore able to hold to our conception. That conception is in being today. It is a huge success, and our rents are very satisfactory, thank you.I emphasise this point, because I think that it is one illustration of the fact that if we are to solve those problems correctly we have got to have the area that is to be renewed in a unified ownership, and in effect that means public ownership.
This point to which Mrs. Dennington refers is one illustration of how there is a serious conflict between the ultimate interests of everybody and the private interests of particular persons. The individual shopkeeper might think that it would be attractive for him if motor cars could drive up to the front door of his shop. He can only realise that advantage fully, of course, if motor cars can drive up to the front of his shop but not to the front of everybody else's shop, and that is, of course, an impossible proposition. In the end, he will benefit better from a properly-developed shopping precinct. In the long run, that will benefit him, his fellow shopkeepers and the public at large.
I mention that point as an illustration of the fact that when we talk about urban renewal we are all the time up against a conflict between the short-term immediate interest of each individual taken by himself, and the longer-term welfare of the lot of them considered collectively. It is because of that conflict that urban renewal is a field for collective action. We might notice this point, 1689 too, about working to deal with the traffic problems. Some of that work—the actual construction of roads, improved crossings, roundabouts and the rest of it—is unprofitable work in itself; but, once done, it enormously increases the profitability of the buildings standing round about.
That draws our attention to another central aspect of this problem of urban renewal, namely, that the whole process of urban renewal consists of some work which is not profitable and some work which is highly profitable. That, again, is why one has got to think of it in terms of unified ownership, so that, to put it simply, the profitable can be made to pay for the unprofitable.
If traffic control is one of our objectives, the next one is a proper balance in the sector of work and housing, and different kinds of work and housing. I would certainly accept the picture which the hon. Member for Ashford painted. He did not want the urban centre to consist simply of shops and offices where people work, because he saw that if we thought of it in these terms we would simply multiply the number of commuters. It had got to be a place also in which people would live, and people of very varying ranges of income. He mentioned both houses and flats.
I found myself in a good deal of sympathy with what my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) was saying. We should not think that we must solve the problem of necessity by relying on putting people with limited incomes into taller and taller flats. The long-term social disadvantages and the immediate disadvantages to many of them are far too serious for us to think that that is the obvious simple answer.
There again, if we want to develop an urban centre where there are some shops, some offices and places of work, and houses of various types and levels of rent, obviously the provision of some of that will be highly profitable, but some of it will not be profitable. I do not believe that we shall get the social integration, which I am glad the hon. Member stressed, without recognising that some of that work will be unprofitable.
1690 I am leading up, therefore, to the proposition that to do this job properly we have to start with the concept of a considerable centre to be redeveloped under a unified ownership. The work of redeveloping it has to be linked with the wider conceptions of town and country planning. If one is to redevelop an area of a particular city, one needs to have some idea of what will happen in the coming years to the flow of traffic into and out of that city. That involves a knowledge of what decisions are likely to be taken about industry and housing in the whole surrounding region. The authority, therefore, under which the unified ownership must come must be in touch with the planning decisions taken over a much wider area.
I believe that our third objective—if that is not considered to be too high-falutin' a word—is that the resulting appearance of the city should be beautiful. It is quite idle, I think, for Governments to strive deliberately after producing beauty. It is like an individual striving deliberately after happiness. It will defeat its own end. I think that if we are not too dogmatic, looking back on history we can observe that there are certain things that Governments can do which are more likely to result in human energies being directed in the way that produces beauty.
There are certain basic conditions that a Government can lay down. One of them is the principle of unified ownership. The monstrosities with which we have been threatened in some cities illustrate what happens. If we assume Chat any person who can get hold of a piece of land anywhere in a city centre may develop it as he pleases, subject only to the existing planning legislation and without regard to what subsequent developers will do on either side of him, we shall almost certainly have an ugly result in the end.
Some of the most beautiful parts of London are those parts which were in the past, and in some cases still are, under a large unified ownership; where the owner was interested in seeing that the appearance of the whole was beautiful. Within the unified ownership, I think that we could have a variety of development by different persons, provided that somebody started with the idea of seeing what the whole thing 1691 would look like when completed and the work of the various developers proceeded with that central idea in mind.
I do not think that there need be—as at one point the hon. Member for Ashford seemed to suggest—a conflict between beautiful development and profitable development. It is sometimes necessary to turn down certain projects on the ground that, although they would yield a handsome profit to somebody, they would rule out for ever any possibility of making the centre of the city beautiful. Although that happens sometimes, I do not believe that the two are always in conflict.
Part of the work of urban renewal is bound to be very profitable indeed. If, in the end, we can produce a city in which traffic runs smoothly, and in which there is room for both homes and for work in the centre, so that the city is not choked with streams of people flowing this way and that at the beginning and at the end of the working day, and if we can produce a city beautiful to look at, this will increase the number of people who are likely to be interested in the welfare of that city and who want to live and conduct their business in it. In that case, it will be in the long run a very profitable investment. That is one way in which we ought to look at this matter.
For carrying through this large-scale, long-term investment whose dividends are not only in actual profit but in dignity and beauty for the community, what are the instruments that we now have? I think it follows from what I have said about the need for unified ownership that our main instrument for this purpose must be the local authority. I do not think that the idea, which has been played about with in some quarters, of trying to persuade all the owners of property in a city centre to pool ownership and to make some kind of holding company will work. It would be an immensely laborious task to persuade them and we should have no means of determining that the area that we were to develop in the end would coincide with the area that it would be wise to develop to get a proper result.
We must take the local authority as our instrument, and it has certain advantages. If it has the centre under its 1692 unified ownership it can combine the positive guiding powers of the landlord with the negative powers which it now possesses as a planning authority, and it can balance the profitable with the unprofitable. As things stand now there are serious drawbacks which make it difficult for a local authority to do the work that needs to be done in this respect. One of these drawbacks is the amount of money that in some circumstances is required.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central mentioned the London County Council's capital budget for this purpose of £35 million. The L.C.C. has been doing good work in this direction. Anyone who sees what is arising around the Elephant and Castle will notice that. Indeed, it might even cause to be true that highly improbable line which Shakespeare put into the mouth of one of the characters in Twelfth Night:In the south suburbs, at the Elephant.Is best to lodge:This is not a remark which would have occurred to any dweller in London looking at that area in the 1920s. However, £35 million is a far smaller sum than is needed for the kind of work that needs to be done in London and in city after city.
The right hon. Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) rather rebuked local authorities for not being aware of the opportunities for the great work that lies before them. I am sure that he will realise the financial enormity of the problem for many of them. We must notice in that in the 1958 Local Government Act the special grant for doing this kind of comprehensive redevelopment work disappeared and was supposed theoretically to be swallowed up in the block grant. What does that mean? It is the essence of the block grant that if any local authority steps out of line and tries to be a pioneer and to do a bit better than its fellows, the whole of the extra cost must fall on the ratepayers. That is one of the evils of the block grant system. It is illustrated in this matter of comprehensive redevelopment.
More serious than the actual amount is the period of time over which we have to look if we are to talk seriously about urban renewal. We might well be able 1693 to demonstrate to local authorities that, if somehow or other they could get the money, in time this would produce a profitable investment. But how much time? Every speaker who has referred to the financial aspects of the matter has said that we could not expect a local authority to bear the burden of interest which would have to be paid in the first years of an urban renewal scheme. We must, therefore, think of a system of finance different from that which now prevails for the local authorities.
Another drawback for local authorities is that, very often, with the best will in the world, they have only a limited knowledge and a limited staff of the right kind. This applies particularly to some of the smaller authorities. There is a reference to this in the Motion. The answer is that we must seek more to pool the available staff and knowledge which we have and make more economical use of it.
A small authority wanting to deal with this kind of problem should be able to have access to what help the county, for instance, can give it. I think that we shall, in the end, in order to solve our planning problems correctly, have to create regional planning authorities, one of the functions of which would be the economical use of the skilled staff required for this kind of work, with the Government themselves doing all they can to see that the best use is made of such people as we have who can give competent advice.
The case I have been arguing is that the job of urban renewal is, on every ground, economic, aesthetic and civic, well worth doing, but it must be done, basically, through unified ownership in the hands of local authorities. Local authorities at present suffer from serious drawbacks of powers, knowledge and finance if they are to do the job.
I conclude from that that our policy must follow these lines. A local authority should have both the power and the duty, wherever it is faced with this kind of problem, to designate the areas in which it will carry out comprehensive redevelopment and to present the outline of a scheme to the Ministry. The Ministry, on approval, should see that the necessary finance is available to help the local authority. One instrument 1694 for this purpose is the co-called land finance corporation. The land commission which we have proposed from this side of the House would have the job of that proposed land finance corporation as one of its functions.
However, whatever the machinery used, the principle is that the central Government should take off the local authority the burden of the original cost of the proposals, which, frankly, it cannot bear. The financial job must be done by some organ of the central Government. In the interests of local democracy, the local authority can retain the right to make the actual plans, and let us hope that it will get hold of someone first-class to do that and give him a free hand in the doing of it.
When we have the plan, how is the actual building to be done? Here, I think that we can be bipartisan. In my view, the answer must be that some of it will be done by the public authority itself and much of it will be done by private developers. However, whatever form of lease is granted to the private developer, ultimate ownership of the land ought to remain with the public authority.
One of the lessons of this century is how very rapidly things change and how totally unexpected problems come upon us. We might triumphantly solve the problem of urban renewal and be happy with that solution for the next sixty years, but then find that it flared up in a totally new form thereafter. If, in the meantime, we had allowed the ownership of the city centres to be fragmented again, we should have thrown away a valuable weapon for keeping the problem permanently solved.
We were discussing in the House a month or two ago the problem of relieving local authorities of the burden of rates and possible alternative sources of revenue for them. Some of this work will be very profitable and the receipt of rents from redeveloped central areas will. I hope, form an increasing proportion of the revenues of local authorities.
Those seem to me to be the lines on which we should proceed. What I hope to hear from the Minister is what the Government propose to do now. We 1695 have talked often enough round the edge of this subject in previous debates. Now, the Minister has from his hon. Friends, as well as from this side of the House, the direct question: what definite proposals for dealing with this problem have the Government in mind? At present, our politics have fallen hopelessly behind our scientific development and the development of traffic. We have not the administrative set-up capable of solving the problem. We could have one, and it is the Minister's job to help to provide it.
The hon. Member for Ashford said that he did not think that we could have redevelopment on an Athenian scale because we did not live in that kind of age. Perhaps not. But it is not only people whose spirit has risen so high as that of the people of ancient Athens who have managed to solve these difficulties. A few years ago, when on holiday, I was sitting in the Piazza della Signoria, in Verona. Verona has its assured place in history, but it is not one of the very great cities of the world. It is a town of quite moderate size, and there are plenty to be compared with it.
Sitting in that square, I reflected that we here go to immense labour, planning and precautions in an effort to ensure that we do not do something positively ugly, while people there, acting, apparently, quite casually, putting a public building here, a commercial building there, and a statue there, have produced a result which is part of the permanent heritage of the human race, giving dignity, gaiety and delight to everyone who goes there. How is it done?
I think that it is done partly by people really believing in their city and wanting to do it. One of the evils of this age—I do not hold the party opposite entirely guiltless here—is that we have so diligently spread the idea that, so long as one can prove that in itself an activity will put money into the pocket of the person who does it, that is a sufficient justification for it. If we believe that, if we think that the affairs of the city, beauty, justice and the rest, will look after themselves, we shall not produce beautiful things. We have a remedy, of course, but that would be a longer story 1696 which would, I fear, take me outside the terms of the Motion. I hope that the Minister will tell us something about what the Government propose to do.
§ 1.39 p.m.
§ Mr. R. W. Elliott (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North)
I join with those who have congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) on his choice of subject and on his very able speech which we all so much enjoyed. My hon. Friend paid a tribute to two local authorities which have been extremely progressive in the past ten years in their planning, one being my own local authority of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. I thank him for his tribute. Newcastle is progressive. It has done a great deal, especially in dealing with the twilight areas to which hon. Members have referred. We are very proud in Newcastle also of the great amount of slum clearance we have managed to achieve.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) spoke of high buildings and their disadvantages and advantages. In Newcastle, our high buildings and enormous blocks of flats have meant that green spaces were possible in between. I agree with my right hon. Friend when he says that green space is very important.
The hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) made a deep and thoughtful speech. In answer to one of his points, I hope that a formula can be evolved for the mass benefit of the majority without public ownership of the centre of cities. As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, these are rapidly changing times. We must attempt to determine the future relationship of traffic, people and buildings. I shall say a little more about that later.
I agree with the hon. Member for Fulham that the question of beauty must be borne in mind and that there must be a plan which will be not only efficient in terms of commerce but will retain a certain beauty in the centre of our cities. That is something which affects the lives of all who live and work in the cities.
I differ from what the hon. Gentleman said about the block grant. I feel very strongly that we must have local autonomy in our local authorities. If by chance the block grant, by a reason 1697 of local desire, is exceeded, let the local people realise this through their representatives on the local authorities and, if need be, allow them to pay more in rates for better buildings, roads or more beauty.
Urban congestion has become a major problem in our time. It is almost becoming, in our city centres particularly, the greatest problem of the moment. I stress the important influence which traffic must inevitably have on urban planning. By 1970, there will be 17 million vehicles on our roads; by 1980, 25 million; and by the end of the century, 36 million.
The problem of traffic is much more than one of new car parks and new roads. It is a question of a new environment for living. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley South (Mr. Russell) said, vehicles are undermining the civilised values of our communities. They are threatening the very traditions of urban living. We have been slow to realise that the traditional organisation of buildings and streets is very much outdated. Buildings and traffic have a very close relationship.
I wish to examine possible answers to the present congestion threat, which is throttling the economic life of our country. I do not think that many people can doubt that. It is high time that we began to balance the cost of doing something about it against the daily cost of traffic delay, which is mounting.
There are, of course, easy answers to this threat, and the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) mentioned one of them. We could abolish the motor car. We could tax it out of existence or prevent it from coming into the centre of cities. I do not think that we can easily prevent it from coming into the centre of cities. The motor car has many advantages. A much easier answer is to make the car owner pay an economic rate for car parking which we must undoubtedly restrict in our city centres. If an economic rate for parking is charged, it will make the commuter think twice about using his own car in preference to using public transport.
A second possibility is to disperse our city centres. We could widen our busi- 1698 ness and entertainment centres. I suggest, however, that the dispersal of city centres will repeat what happened some years ago in the United States on an unfortunately large scale. We will head for the "universal drive-in" and ribbon development of the worst kind. This sort of widening of the centre of our cities and towns will undoubtedly lead to urban sprawl which will break up community life.
I do not think that we should give up town and city life as easily as that. A busy shopping centre is a pleasant place. Bond Street on a spring morning like today is enjoyed by all those who are there. People like to shop where many other people are shopping. When we go to the theatre, we do not want it to be on the outskirts of town or standing on its own in a rural area. We want the hustle and bustle which goes with a visit to the theatre. It adds to the night's entertainment, just as the bustle of the shopping centre adds to shopping pleasure.
A certain amount has been done about the problem of congestion in the postwar period. Most local authorities insist on a parking plot for every 500 square feet of factory or office space, a very sensible provision, a parking plot or garage for every new house built in urban areas.
However, little is known of the way in which buildings of different kinds generate traffic. This, I believe, is the key to the answer to urban congestion. We need more origin and destination surveys. These have been used for quite a long time in the United States. They undoubtedly present an image of the traffic problem in the area concerned. In the United States—and we should consider the United States because it faced urban congestion rather sooner than we did—it has been found that the data from the origin and destination survey is insufficient to establish future traffic requirements.
Here. I come back to the sensible point made by the hon. Member for Fulham, He said, rightly, that we must relate the building of new factories and the question of where they should be built to future traffic needs. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport should be congratulated—and I do congratulate him—on initiating the London two-year 1699 survey. Its deficiency is that it is limited to an origin and destination survey. Like any origin and destination survey, it should be linked to land use. Of course, when one suggests such things as surveys in connection with any sort of development, automatically two things are considered, whether it be by the Government in Whitehall or by the local council in the town hall—the cost of the survey and, eventually, the cost of the development. The cost of the development is always so frightening and the costs of surveys are inclined to be cut down. This may be our greatest mistake. We always pause in the face of cost. There is no better week for mentioning the pauses in which we must indulge in face of costs than Budget week.
I believe that the first phase of the London plan, which is a good plan, should cost more. It is to cost about £425,000. It is estimated that urban motorway construction in Capetown has brought an economic saving of £400,000 a year. In addition, it has halved fatal accidents and reduced all accidents by 30 per cent. As the London survey progresses, it is essential that those responsible for it should realise the importance of looking to the second phase, even if that means considerable increases in costs, and that the necessary information on land use, which can be obtained by intelligent research, and its progressive influence on transportation can be studied at the same time that the data on the first phase of the origin and destination survey is being considered.
In Detroit, Chicago and San Diego surveys have been completed. It has been decided in all these places that, the surveys having been completed, there should be established as a permanent feature of these towns traffic engineering units whose terms of reference include keeping abreast with modern conditions. That is what we badly need in this country. We are having a two-year origin and destination survey in London, but what about surveys elsewhere in the country? I know that we have had them in one or two places. I was stopped last autumn in Newcastle by a policeman and two students of King's College. I make no criticism of the use of students during vacation, but on answering the questions that were put to me, I felt that they were not quite 1700 the right ones and that the survey did not go far enough. The answer probably was that it was not costing quite enough. In the name of progress and of efficient industry, we need to spend more on such surveys. I suggest that we need traffic engineering units in the very near future in our main cities and towns.
In December, 1960, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport sent a memorandum to all local highway authorities advising them on the contributions which traffic engineering can make to solving the congestion problem. He suggested at the end of the memorandum that trained staff should be attached to all local authorities. At the same time, my right hon. Friend reviewed facilities in universities and technical colleges for the training of traffic engineers.
The existing possibilities for the training of traffic engineers are more or less as follows. We have one chair, and one alone, in a university for traffic engineering as such. That is at the University of Birmingham, which is to be congratulated on having it. At the Universities of Durham and Leeds, an engineering degree automatically means that the graduate has passed through a traffic engineering department in the obtaining of his degree. At London University, however, only a student who passes through University College or King's College touches traffic engineering. We need more traffic engineers, and local authorities should be given the maximum encouragement to set up traffic engineering units.
Congestion is the social problem of our time. In an age when our economic survival as we move towards Europe may well depend upon an answer to the traffic problem, a progressive, speedy and coordinated national approach becomes daily more vital.
§ 1.54 p.m.
§ Mrs. Joyce Butler (Wood Green)
The fact that we are having this debate today underlines a welcome development in our national thinking in the last few years concerning planning and urban renewal. Until quite recently there was little interest in the problem outside the ranks of the few enthusiasts and cranks. Today, we recognise its importance.
If it is unfortunately still true that at no period have we ever caught up with the need to get rid of obsolete houses 1701 and urban decay and that that ugliness and decay have moved faster than we have done in our vain attempts to overcome them, nevertheless we now have the technical resources with which to tackle these problems. This debate, so ably initiated by the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), asks the Government to provide the machinery, the will and the enthusiasm to use our available knowledge to speed up the solution of the problem in a way which we have not achieved before.
The longer we postpone tackling the centres of our towns and the outlying centres, the more expensive the task becomes. We can hardily imagine what those who served on local authorities a couple of generations ago would say if they had to pay today's price for land. The phenomenally large sums that we have to pay for land can be a crippling burden upon a local authority. Faced with the prospect of this burden, it is not surprising that many local authorities feel that they are not justified in taking on the job of urban redevelopment. While, in the long run, the ratepayers undoubtedly benefit from the expenditure, it is often difficult to put aside the immediate claims of slum clearance and other jobs of that nature to ask local residents to finance more comprehensive and forward-looking schemes.
While the emphasis in today's debate has been entirely on the importance of the local authority taking the initiative, nevertheless I wish to underline some of the difficulties which face local authorities. A couple of years ago, the Royal Institute of British Architects drew attention to the importance of local authorities drawing up plans in good time for comprehensive development and to secure basic planning principles that concerned the public. These principles included the kind and quantity of uses, the circulation of vehicles and pedestrians, the three-dimensional form and character, open spaces and other public amenities, and the need for sufficient flexibility to meet the varying interests of the development. Before we ever get to that point, however, a number of factors have to be taken into consideration.
Many of the local authorities which, quite rightly, we are asking to undertake this task are the smaller local authorities. Mention has been made today of 1702 London, and we have had reference to Bond Street, Paddington and Piccadilly. London and Greater London, however, are a group of many smaller communities. In my own locality, we have Enfield, Edmonton, Tottenham and Wood Green, and there has been reference today to Wembley and Willesden. All these are urban centres surrounding the central area of London, and they all need urban redevelopment.
Those smaller local authorities have to tackle the problem with much fewer resources than are at the disposal of the London County Council, and yet for the well-being of our national community it is necessary that in all the urban areas which are over-ripe for development, development should be undertaken.
Before anything can be done by way of preparing a plan for redevelopment, a traffic survey has to be carried out. Some hon. Members have spoken as though such a survey comes later, but it does not; it comes at the very beginning. It is necessary to know the traffic movement before any kind of plan can be prepared. This is one direction in which local authorities lack skilled advice.
I would have hoped that the Ministry of Transport would give advice to local authorities, because it is that Department which covers the whole country and knows the problems. It is carrying out the traffic survey of London, and it should use the results from it to help local authorities in the area when undertaking their own traffic surveys.
A local authority which wants to redevelop its central area is given no advice centrally about whether it would be better to take the roads beneath the central area, above it or round it, or exactly how they should be planned. Central information on this kind of problem should be collated and made available to local authorities so that they may have made available to them quickly and easily the latest technical knowledge, in addition to making their own traffic surveys.
Then, of course, a shopping survey ought to be undertaken. Very few local authorities have the facilities to undertake a shopping survey, and they have to bring in an outside specialist firm to do that. This has to be done before any kind of master plan is thought about. Then, of course, there are local problems and local needs.
1703 I think that it is this stage which is the appropriate time to do what so far I believe has not bean mentioned this morning, and that is to bring in the people of the locality and ask them what they would like to see in their central area, to bring them in before any master plan is brought out and to try to get their co-operation, because although we say local authorities should have the power and the resources to buy up the central areas, they are not going to be given that power locally by the ratepayers unless they can bring the local ratepayers in and say to them, "This is your problem, this is your plan, we are all in this together". If they are going to ask the local ratepayers to find the money, or some of it. they should bring them in at this stage.
All this takes time—to have an adequate traffic survey, to collate all the material. It can take up to a year, as I know from experience among local authorities like my own. Then, after that, the master plan has to be drawn up by a competent architect. Here again, smaller authorities lack that kind of assistance. Emphasis has been laid on the importance of getting a good plan, but a good plan has to be paid for. This, again, is a great difficulty.
I stress these points because I think that, impressed as we are by the need, and having a sense of vision of what could be achieved, we do sometimes overlook the practical difficulties which face local authorities who are undertaking this kind of work. It is not surprising that, faced with all this—the time and the money and the lack of technical knowledge—local authorities do what so many of them do when a firm comes along and says, "We will do the whole job for you". They hand over the problem to the firm in a form of package deal. We all know the disadvantages and the bad results which can follow from that kind of approach, but it is not surprising that it happens, and this explains why smaller local authorities do hand responsibility over to outside firms, it explains piecemeal development, it explains why so often they do not get on with the job hon. Members have been saying they should. It is because the difficulties are so great 1704 that they willingly, and with a sigh of relief, hand over the problem to somebody else.
That is what we have to try to avoid, and we have got to try to encourage local authorities to do the job themselves, and to give them the necessary sinews of war to get on with the job, because, great as the problem is, it is a problem which increases the longer we leave it, and that makes it even more difficult for the local authorities to do the job.
So often all that remains to the local authority, even when it has done all the things it should and has produced a master plan, is a kind of negative planning control over the private developers coming into the area and doing the actual building. If the local authority does not own the land it has only this negative control, and very often by the time the local authority has gone through all this machinery it finds that a very large part of the area which it wishes to redevelop has been bought up by one developer in the area who has really the whip hand over future development.
This is the reality of the situation which I do beg the Minister to face. There is very often—in fact, I would think almost always—in the problem of urban renewal a conflict between the kind of amenity which is wanted, open spaces, fountains, all the gracious part of the development, and the commercial interests. We have to look to the Minister to help us in this respect. I would say to the Minister that not only has he not helped local authorities in this problem but many times he has hindered them.
Last week in the Borough of Wood Green Sir Basil Spence laid the foundation stone of a scheme of redevelopment of a twilight area—not the central development area—which will take fifteen years to come to completion. A great deal of delay was experienced in getting that scheme under way because of the change in the Minister's policy with regard to grant for twilight areas. It necessitated very long discussions with the county council over the change in the application of the grant from a percentage grant to a general grant. It meant months—in fact years—of delay in that scheme. This kind of thing adds 1705 to the cost, adds to the difficulty, adds to the reluctance of local authorities to undertake this kind of work. There has been the further blow now that, although the scheme is started, in two or three years the local authority may be absorbed with other local authorities in the local government organisation. Nobody knows what will happen to the scheme. We can only hope that the new local authority will carry it on, but this kind of environment does not encourage local authorities to undertake long-term development, and it must be long-term if it is to be effective.
I would ask the Minister whether he considers it a good thing that representatives of the Ministry should leave the Ministry and go to private firms to give their advice, and that local authorities should have to go to those private firms to get technical advice when the Ministry itself should be doing the job of giving it. It seems to me a very strange development, but at the present time that is what is happening. I ask the Minister if he will really look seriously at this problem of making the kind of technical advice which exists in his Ministry available to the local authorities when they go to him, making the Ministry a kind of clearing house for that kind of technical information, as I suggested earlier the Ministry of Transport should be on the transport side.
On the question of finance, I believe that for the twilight areas themselves—and they are not all attached to the central areas of redevelopment—the Ministry should make a direct grant, because there is very little commercial development available in the twilight areas to be offset against the high cost of housing. Only this morning a headline hit me when I picked up the paper. It said that the cost of somewhere to live had gone up 385 per cent. since 1939. Quite clearly, if the twilight areas are to be redeveloped on the new kind of basis on which we want to see them developed, there should be some more financial assistance from the Ministry. I would ask the Minister to look again at the grant formula and to reconsider the paying of a proportion in the form of grant to the local authorities developing twilight areas.
As for the central areas, I would remind the Minister that under the new Housing Act the Ministry has made £25 1706 million available to housing associations. As I understand that machinery, the housing associations, when formed, will buy the land, will put up the buildings, will get the whole thing under way, with the Minister advancing money to them at each stage, and only when the buildings are completed and income is beginning to come back, in the form of rents, to these non-profit-making associations will the Minister say, "Here is the bill; this is what you have to pay back." That is why some of my hon. Friends and I are asking the Minister to consider, in relation to central redevelopment, making sums available in a similar way, advancing them as necessary at each stage, and only when income begins to come in giving the bill to the local authority, when it has some resources coming in to enable it to pay the bill. I would stress the point made by my hon. Friends that we ask the Minister to say something about this now. Will he indicate now whether he accepts it or not?
I suggest also that the Ministry should consider the possibility of some kind of combination of local authorities to tackle the problem of development without their having to rely too much on private enterprise. If the Ministry cannot make the technical resources available, will it consider whether, by some form of grouping of local authorities, this problem can be tackled in that way? Why should there not be a syndicate of local authorities on the one side and a co-operative of professional men, including surveyors and architects, on the other, which would bring a new vitality and a creative imagination to the task of redevelopment in urban areas?
In addition to bringing the people who live in the area into the preparation of the scheme for central redevelopment, we should bear in mind the people who have shops and various buildings in the central area as well. It often happens that a firm comes in to develop the central area and all the local shopkeepers, including the co-operative shop, and the people who have built their businesses in the area and who have contributed a great deal to the local community by charitable and other efforts, are squeezed out of that area. The developer looks at the central area and he gets the multiple shops in first, automatically, so as to attract other shopping interests, and the small local 1707 firms are squeezed out. This has several bad results. We are in danger of having a megalomaniac repetition of a pattern all over the country of towns where a few multiple shops dominate the central area.
This is part of the answer to what my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) said about the natural way in which some countries embody beauty in the creation of an urban environment. Because it means that unless we have local people engaged in the job and in the plan we shall lose that feeling for the town itself. We shall have the developer developing a centre which might just as easily have been developed in the town next door or even the other side of the country, with no feeling about the beauty or the local characteristics, and with a completely faceless approach to the problem.
It seems to me very important that we should not make conditions so difficult for local authorities that they hand this business over to this kind of impersonal development which completely ignores those who live in the area and those who built it up and have such a strong interest in it that they would not permit any kind of ugliness or cheapness to creep into what should be the centre of the life of that community. If we can keep this interest, we shall go a long way towards solving the problem of how to make our urban centres gracious, attractive and of lasting beauty, which is the wish of all of us here.
§ 2.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Jasper More (Ludlow)
I should like to add my congratulations to those already accorded to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) on introducing the Motion and on the effective way in which he has brought it before us. As a member of a local authority, I agree very much with what has been said by the hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) about the problem of negative control, but I cannot go as far as to agree with her that the situation can be met only by municipal ownership. The local authorities can be greatly assisted by the Minister of Housing and Local Government, and I shall hope to conclude with a few suggestions on how that might be done.
1708 The Motion has been discussed as if it dealt with a single problem, but the problem is different according to the size of the towns and cities with which we have to deal. London is a case in point. What we all want to avoid in London is the type of stupidity quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell), when he spoke about Fitzroy Square. Unfortunately, many of us could give comparable or even worse instances which have happened since 1912.
When it comes to the great industrial cities like Liverpool, or Birmingham, which I know well, the solution is that put before us by my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent), which is to begin at the centre. A wonderful example of what can be done can be seen by anyone who visits Birmingham and looks at that great area near New Street Station where a wonderful development is well under way. In the smaller county towns, the problem is different. If we started by redeveloping the centres of those towns, we could do a great deal of harm. I am sure that we all agree that we want to preserve the character of our towns—and, nearly always, the character of our county towns resides in their centres. We are faced in those cases, therefore, with a more difficult and delicate operation, and it is often on the periphery or on the immediate surroundings of the centre that we need to focus.
I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) mention railway land, because it is from areas of railway land that a large contribution can be obtained for the development of our county towns. In Shrewsbury, for example, vast areas were taken over by the railways. If these could be released, great improvements in planning and lay-out could be procured.
There is a different problem again in the small towns such as are to be found in my constituency. The problems in Bridgnorth and Ludlow, for example, are of a fundamentally different type. We are not dealing there with valuable sites. The private owner, even if he wished, would not be able to buy up land and speculate in the central areas, because the financial opportunities are not there. The problem there is how to preserve the character of the town while, at the 1709 same time, ensuring that its life has a viable continuity. The smaller the towns the more assistance the local authorities require.
I had the honour, not long ago, of attending a conference with councillors of one of the small towns in my constituency where problems of this kind were discussed. We had the advantage of the attendance of representatives from a Ministry in considering how these problems might be tackled. I am glad that these problems were recognised in London. I am sure that the basic requirement for a satisfactory result is that when my right hon. Friend advises our local authorities he should say to them, "Resist the small decisions; face the big decisions; and, above all, be bold."
§ 2.20 p.m.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Clapham)
The hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) made a relevant point when she said that we could not consider this matter in isolation, and that traffic surveys were necessary. Possibly the two things should be done together. In this respect, I am sure that the whole House is grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North (Mr. R. W. Elliott), who dealt in his speech with his Motion on the Order Paper, which unfortunately we are unlikely to reach today. It was of great value to the House that his Motion should be drawn on the same day as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes).
All hon. Members will agree that we are today discussing one of the greatest social problems in our urban areas. It is agreed that everyone is entitled to a reasonable house in which to live. After all, in most societies one spends 40 to 50 per cent. of one's life in one's house. It is not unreasonable that society should should give one reasonable accommodation to house one when one is not in the office.
I was struck by what my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford said, that the disparity in house quality is particularly brought out now in the urban areas, where many people work in the most wonderful office conditions, with central heating and all possible facilities and luxuries, only to return home to rather sordid surroundings.
1710 The problem involves not only housing, but amenities, transport and—something about which little has been said—education. We ought to have a central authority capable of co-ordinating these things. I would quote an example from Paris. The Paris authorities have initiated a survey, which is being carried out by M. Delouvrier, who used to have a more exciting job as Delegate-General in Algeria. He is co-ordinating the many services and social functions in the city of Paris. This has relationship not so much to the immediate problems, but to the long-term problems which will face Paris.
Life in any city today is very different from what it used to be. Those of us who lived our early days in the central areas of London are especially aware of the frightful conditions and slums of today. But it must be admitted that, with cans, television sets and wireless sets, the lives of the people are quite different from what they were twenty years ago, and that they will be improving as time goes on. In planning for the future we must have in mind garages and play spaces. When developing our buildings, let us have flat roofs and play spaces where children can play.
This century we are endeavouring to have a property-owning democracy. I do not see why even in a city we should not have a system whereby people can purchase their own flats in high blocks and become just as much property-owning democrats as those who own small houses.
We have been wasting a considerable amount of money on the conversion of old property. Millions of pounds are spent on lateral conversions. It is true that very nice homes may result, but are we really spending our money in the right way? Rather than convert a house at a cost of £1,000 or £2,000 per unit, would it not be better in many cases to pull the whole lot down, and build something really modern and in keeping with the twentieth century? However much we try, it is difficult to bring old properties up to standards which will survive the next sixty years. We ace really converting property which will have a life of twenty, thirty or forty years, when we could build something to last very much longer.
1711 It has often been said that elderly people who no longer work in cities should live in the countryside. I do not subscribe to that point of view. It is our duty to provide accommodation for old people so that they can spend the rest of their lives in the areas where they have lived for years. This is a human problem. In the long run this is more economical, because their relations are there to look after them so that they will not be compelled to draw on the social services.
That brings me to a point which I have stressed many times. If we are to develop our cities we must not only have a big, bold plan, but must alter the density figure to which the London County Council adheres. We cannot possibly provide the necessary playgrounds, sportsgrounds and other amenities that we require unless we are prepared to build up and, at the same time, conserve large areas to provide the amenities that we require.
The London County Council sticks to the present density figure. The effect is that as a result of redeveloping an area we have to house fewer people than were there originally. This is aggravating our problem. There are many sites in London—I have one in my constituency—where high blocks could be built without endangering the amenities of the surrounding areas. One site that I know looks right out over the Thames, and there could be a very good development there. Instead, buildings of five or six storeys have been erected, and I feel that the area is being wasted. Great stress has been laid on the use of railway land, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend will deal with that point.
I should like to see mixed development, as has been suggested by many hon. Members, in which local authorities and commercial enterprises combine to produce more accommodation. But I should be very reluctant to let any private developer benefit from a compulsory purchase order made by a local authority. There we are in danger of a private person benefiting financially from an act of compulsory purchase carried out by a local authority.
I have one new point to put to my right hon. Friend. Is it not possible that we might be able to develop as a long- 1712 term policy the building of flats which could be owned by individuals? In other words, I am suggesting that mortages could be advanced for the purchase in cities of flat units, just as is done in the case of small houses, the money being paid back over sixty years. I do not think that it matters whether this is done through partly municipal and partly private means, but what is important is that the financing of the project would be eased by the deposits paid by those wishing to purchase properties, and at the end of the set period they would find themselves with their own properties.
One of the great advantages would be that we should not then be left with great areas owned by either a local authority or a central authority. These areas would then be owned by the people who lived in them. This would help also in securing the property-owning democracy which many hon. Members, even on the other side of the House, would like to see. Our financial burden would be very greatly eased in that this would enable people not only to buy their own houses, but to pay for them as they went along. In other words, over sixty years there could be some amortisation of the property so that the mortgage could be paid off just like that for an ordinary house.
Any development on which we embark must take into account transport facilities. It is no use our putting up high blocks unless there is rail transport to bring the people into the centre of the city. In many areas there is adequate transport, but one of the difficulties in south London is the Underground. There are not enough underground railways. I appreciate that this represents a very costly business, but I emphasise that one of the difficulties about rebuilding in those areas is that there are insufficient underground railways to bring the people into the centre of the city. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will consider that point.
The more one goes about London, the more one realises that the day is rapidly passing when a person could have his small house and little bit of garden within 5 miles of the centre. What we must do is to look at those areas where there are perhaps 200 or so small houses and where better use of the space could be made by redevelopment.
1713 It will be extremely difficult to decide what authority shall develop these areas. Perhaps it might be a central authority, co-ordinating, as has been suggested, both transport and redevelopment. I should hate to see the whole of the inner London ring completely owned by some form of municipal corporation. I want to see the area developed in high blocks, with each resident purchasing a small unit.
We have a great opportunity. Part of it has largely been lost. After the war, fragmentation was allowed. Bits of bombed areas were redeveloped without there being a plan. Yet we still have enormous areas of houses which have been referred to as "twilight". They are now becoming very much worse than the areas that we used to call slums, because of overcrowding and bad conversions. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will take advantage of the opportunity not only to make the best use of sites, but to make sure that we build high and have sufficient space in which to provide the many amenities which modern life demands.
Finally, I hope that education will be taken into account. Whatever we do in the future, however we redevelop London, we must consider education. Whether we have a central authority or a number of independent boroughs, we must consider the benefits which our children must get. Many of the final decisions will rest on how we redevelop the centre of London, and, in particular, the areas in the inner London ring, where we have this great opportunity—perhaps the last for half a century—for the redevelopment which will make it worth while for the people of our capital.
§ 2.33 p.m.
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Dr. Charles Hill)
On both sides of the House we are indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) for initiating this debate on a subject of great importance and interest. We are under a special debt to him for his speech, which was comprehensive, stimulating and distinguished. This is a wide-ranging subject and the debate has ranged wide. I hope that I shall not be thought to be irrelevant if I concentrate my remarks on the Motion.
1714 My hon. Friend based his speech—and this is accepted both by the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) and myself—on the two main issues of obsolescence and congestion, although I did not accept my hon. Friend's illustration of these themes in relation to the cardio-vascular system. The hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) with whom I do not always agree, and whose speech I did not hear, used words about there being a spirit of defeat often underlying failure to grapple with this problem. I have some sympathy with that view.
I accept the purpose mentioned by my hon. Friend—that of reshaping and renewal—and the emphasis which he put on vision and strategy. I shall seek to separate the two aspects of this matter, with which he dealt in a comprehensive way. They are the aspect of central renewal and the aspect of twilight area residential property renewal. Although they often overlap, there are clear distinctions between the two. I agree that, in any solution of this problem, we must seek harmonisation of both public and private efforts. I agree with those hon. Members who have stressed that, where necessary, the powers of compulsory purchase of the local authority should be used when attempts to reach private agreement have failed to achieve a sufficient area for comprehensive redevelopment.
As the hon. Member for Fulham proceeded with his constant reiteration of the need for continuous ownership by local authorities, I felt suspicious of his purpose and began again and again to think that he was inspired more by a general political purpose than by the particular need to solve this problem. But on the matter of compulsory powers being available where necessary, there is no dispute between us. However, the body which uses, in the special circumstances, the powers of compulsory purchase need not be the body which subsequently develops, and need not, in my view, be the body which continues to own.
A great deal of hard thinking is being done. More needs to be done in relation to both these allied problems of central renewal and twilight area renewal. The hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) referred to one of many 1715 such problems. It was that of the position of traders, particularly small traders, in central renewal areas. Town and country planning legislation places an obligation both on the local authority and upon me, in the areas shown on the current development plans as areas of comprehensive development, to ensure, as far as is practicable, that reasonable alternative accommodation is offered to displaced traders on terms which have due regard to the price at which their land was acquired.
Before I give consent to the disposal of land to developers, I do my utmost to ensure that proper consideration has been given to this question by the authority concerned. It is, of course, true that many clearances are against the will of those whose premises are to be cleared. This is a tough and difficult problem in its application.
In the renewal of twilight areas, too, many questions have to be answered. We must face the fact that there are people who have no desire to do this collective, comprehensive thing. They like living in these areas. They still want to live in the old and obsolescent—if not obsolete—houses. We must also face the fact that the main purpose should be to secure that they go to other accommodation by agreement, and that the powers of compulsory purchase should be the powers of last resort.
Many difficulties are involved. There is the difficulty concerning on whom the obligation should rest for rehousing. After all, we accept without demur the obligation of a local authority to rehouse where property is cleared because it is useless. Even more is it necessary that the obligation should be assumed—by someone—for the rehousing of those who are moved from houses which still have some life in them. I am giving a great deal of thought to this. We must work out a basis for the relationship between the local authority and the developer—a basis satisfactory to the local authority and which will not incur the local authority in greater expenditure for rehousing than would otherwise have been incurred.
There are many elements in this, but I agree that we have to find our way through the difficulties to a solution of this problem of the twilight areas. In 1716 relation to these we must begin in those circumstances in which there is such under-development of the land as to yield on redevelopment an increased amount of housing. In parenthesis, may I say that we have talked throughout the debate today, rightly and properly, about urban renewal and twilight areas, but the first priority on our resources is the clearance of the slum and of the property that is absolutely worn out. It must come even before this problem of the clearance of the nearly-worn-out. Having said that, I accept the case that has been put for a determined effort to solve the problem, and I will deal with certain other aspects of it as I go along.
I look, first, at central renewal, separating it for convenience from the so-called renewal of twilight areas. Less than justice has been done to what is being done today, and I thought that my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) used some words which perhaps under-rated it. I put this information before the House in no air of complacency; much more needs to be done, but if we take what is going on at the moment we find that local authorities have shown a very great deal of initiative in this matter.
May I tell the House, in summary, what is going on now? There are 345 towns and cities in England and Wales which have schemes—I am speaking now of central renewal—in progress or proposed, and, also, we find that there have been 170 schemes for central renewal approved since 1951. That is apart from redevelopment by private interests; I am referring to local authority schemes. They come in steadily, and we can reasonably expect a good number in the next few years.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
These figures which my right hon. Friend has just given are most interesting, but could he publish the names of the towns, so that they might be given a fillip by being mentioned in this way?
§ Dr. Hill
I will give consideration to what my hon. Friend has said, with the permission of the authorities concerned, but I shall a little later give some sample towns, and, following his suggestion, I will name them, with a summary of the schemes which they have adopted.
1717 Therefore, there is a good deal going on, and it can be said, to refer to the words of the Motion, that this is an activity of national significance by its size today. Many of the schemes come to me for approval under the comprehensive development area schemes under the Planning Acts. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) referred, and I am glad he did, to the Urban Planning Group set up by my Ministry a year ago, and I will refer again to it a little later. It is maintaining a national record of all these development schemes, their features and their progress, and that information is available to local authorities seeking to learn what others have done.
Having said that, I must emphasise the view I hold that, despite the national importance of this matter, these schemes are essentially local and must be so regarded. Each scheme has to be related to what a particular town needs, what its people want, and what its circumstances justify. Though it is a combination of public and private interests, it is a local matter and essentially one for local government. The problems are varied and ticklish. I have referred to some. Disturbance of established interests, the phasing of work, negotiations with owners, developers and tenants, provision for the pedestrian, the driver, and so on. And a great deal of complex and technical "know-how" is involved. I recognise that my Department has a heavy responsibility here to stimulate, to advise and to inform local authorities as best it can, bearing in mind that the ultimate responsibility for what is undertaken is essentially local.
The Urban Planning Group is an ideas group, composed of people within the Department who are not too preoccupied with the routine administration, people who are given time to browse and to think about these problems. There is also the steady service of informal technical advice which my Department's professional planning officers are giving in the formative stages of schemes. I know how some people refer somewhat critically to planning bureaucrats, but all I can say is that the services of the planners of my Department are not only available to the local authorities, but that the local 1718 authorities are making generous use of them.
At present, we have for advice in the Department about 250 schemes, and this means that each town that is planning a scheme can draw, through the Department, on the latest developments and experience in other towns. Further, and this is now beginning to emerge from the work of the group, we are preparing a new series of planning bulletins for the guidance of local authorities. The first of them is to be published quite soon. It is shortly to go to the printers, and it will be published by my Department and the Ministry of Transport jointly. It will be on the very subject of today's debate on town centre renewal.
It will, I believe, clarify the main issues and the main objectives and will afford considerable help on the methods of reaching them. Special reference is made in this document to ways of catering for traffic problems, though, as the House will appreciate, there will be further guidance on the traffic aspect later, when the long-term traffic study group, appointed by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and under the general direction of Sir Geoffrey Crowther, has completed its work.
I want now to say a word or two about collaboration between public and private interests in relation to central renewal. In my view, the partnership works best, first, when the local authority knows at the outset what it wants and has set it out in a dear and realistic plan, and, secondly, when developers co-operate by buying land by agreement, and, where appropriate—and it usually is—by providing some of it for the local authority for public use as open spaces, access roads and the rest.
While still on the subject of central renewal, I would point out that much that has been said about the difficulty of finance today does not refer to central renewal. In general, there is no difficulty in securing through the developers the resources needed for central renewal. Indeed, I heard the other day that, in a relatively small town, 20 developers are competing for the opportunity to undertake the work.
Developers—I state it as a fact—can find the resources for this. It seems that 1719 central renewal is regarded by those who put up money for long-team investment as a good investment. Of course, redevelopment has its unprofitable as well as its profitable elements. There are plenty of the latter and that is one of the reasons—and it is a very good reason—why private enterprise is as keen as it is. On the costly side, the cost of acquisition, clearance, compensation, roads, car parks and open spaces come into the bill.
In our experience, private developers in central renewal appear to find their funds. In fact, in a growing number of schemes they are willing to put their cash down in advance to finance local authority costs in land acquisition and so forth against the assurance of a ground lease. The House may find it difficult to believe, but it can happen that the developer acquires the land and conveys the freehold to the local authority in return for a long lease, giving the local authority the ground rent, a share in the equity.
At this stage, I must say something about the help which is given by Exchequer grants. A good deal has been said today about the need for further Exchequer help, especially in twilight areas, but let us not forget what is available. Where it is still a question of the redevelopment of a war-damaged area, there is a specific grant of 50 per cent. of the annual loan charges on acquisition, clearing and preliminary development of the land, less the capital values which are realised in its new use.
As has been said, there is a similar element in the general grant. Schemes may well include new classified roads which attract Exchequer grant of up to 75 per cent. Over the present five years about £150 million of Exchequer grant has been made available in respect of classified roads.
There are subsidies for housing and for expensive sites and high flats. The extent of these subsidies is sometimes forgotten, especially the expensive site subsidy for housing. The cost of the site has to exceed £4,000 an acre as developed before subsidy starts, but if it costs between £4,000 and £5,000 an acre, there is a subsidy of £60 per acre per year and that is increased by £34 per acre for each £1,000 above £5,000 to an upper limit of £10,000 an acre.
1720 Also, when taking into account what is available by way of contribution, do not let us forget the rate deficiency grant. Where a local authority is in receipt of rate difficiency grant, and incurs charges for interest in servicing of loans, that comes into the account and is substantially met by the rate deficiency grant by the application of the formula which obtains in that respect. But I have listened with great interest to much of what has been said today and we are prepared to listen to and to consider new ideas.
§ Mr. Parkin
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of Exchequer grants, will he at least consider, if not answer, this question? He has mentioned the very substantial Exchequer grant of 75 per cent. for new roads. Has his attention been drawn to, or has he given any thought to, the phenomenon which is very easily clarified in the example which I can give when a number of people had to be rehoused to allow for the road widening for the Cromwell Road extension?
That number almost exactly equalled the housing waiting list in my constituency. These people had to be rehoused and I suppose that housing had to be provided for them in priority over slum clearance and everything else; but it got a very much lower Exchequer grant than that available for transport. Is it possible that the Minister of Transport has done better with the Chancellor of the Exchequer than the right hon. Gentleman? Will he try to get at least as much for rehousing in these conditions as for the building of the road itself?
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
It may be within my right hon. Friend's recollection that quite a number of people who were displaced as a result of the road widening in connection with the Cromwell Road extension received a cash grant in order to find their own accommodation privately. I think that a number took advantage of that so that they did not displace those on the waiting list to whom the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) referred.
§ Dr. Hill
I will not get further involved in the discussion of this interesting point.
I was about to say that we shall be prepared to look at any detailed proposals, for example, those which may emerge from the Civic Trust's current study of ideas for a land finance corporation, although, to be frank with the House, it would be wrong to pretend that at present the Government are convinced of the need for any step of this kind.
I want to comment on the suggestion, which has been made in the most general terms today, for the use of the new towns method, in central renewal or twilight area redevelopment, for securing what we all have in mind. This would mean the coming into an area of an independent organisation, not responsible to the local authority, to do this work. My instinct is not to accept such a proposal unless there is an overwhelming case for it.
I much prefer what some hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Wood Green referred to, a consortium of local authorities grouped together for this purpose as for slum clearance or indeed other forms of housing building. I do not feel that the bringing in of this external body for the purpose should be accepted without the most powerful arguments—including the belief that local authorities generally cannot of themselves, alone or in combination, undertake this work.
On the question of loan finance, I listened with interest to my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford and I inclined to agree with What the said. On the specific point of the difficulty of the local authority in meeting the interest in the early unremunerative years, the hon. Member for Ashford will recall that in an answer he was given the broadest of hints indicating our attitude. I think that a good case has been made for enabling local authorities carrying out redevelopment schemes to defer repayment for an initial unremunerative period. This means legislation, and I can give no undertaking when that will be possible, but I accept the principle of being able to do this in this field as it can be done in certain other fields.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford raised a point which others have raised and which, perhaps, is one of the 1722 most important elements. That is the shortage of skilled professional personnel. Whatever else may be done and whatever resources are made available, progress will ultimately depend on there being enough skilled personnel to do the job. The Town Planning Institute is very conscious of the fact that, even with its 1,300 new members and associates in recent years, its profession is too small. It is at present studying the needs and possibilities of wider recruitment of town planners. As one of the employers, as it were, of town planners, I warmly appreciate the work which the Institute is doing. This is an urgent problem. The Ministry of Transport is studying the availability of traffic engineers, which is increasingly important in this field.
I shall not follow my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford in discussing whether or not a new Cabinet committee or sub-committee would be appropriate. Even if I thought so, that is not a subject which is publicly discussed, but I accept the tremendous importance of collaboration. Do not let us assume that collaboration is achieved by the creation of a committee for collaboration, be it of Ministers or officials. That may play a part. I realise the tremendous importance of collaboration, particularly with the Ministry of Transport. There is a great deal to do and if there were further detailed suggestions for collaboration I should be happy to hear of them. I will give an example of collaboration in regard to transport, as this subject represents the area of contact between our two Ministries.
The Minister of Transport is at present considering guidance to be given to local authorities about traffic surveys to help them in their redevelopment planning and about the latest development in the engineering and designing of roads in built-up areas. To deal with this subject of collaboration, liaison and consultation between my Ministry and the Ministry of Transport, there is a routine consultation between senior officers of the two Departments on the planning, traffic and highway problems of each region. The planning officers and road engineers have a system of close liaison and systems of maps and records which are common to both Departments. Officers of both Departments attend the so-called conurbation road committees.
1723 My Department is consulted on all classified road programmes and priorities and a number of inter-departmental groups are studying traffic and land use with the help of the Road Research Laboratory of the D.S.I.R. Although I do not claim perfection—I realise that this technique of collaboration needs to be constantly watched and improved—both for the handling of individual schemes and the framing of policies, the two Departments have developed lively and close co-operation.
Looking at the national picture, we see that a very great deal is going on under the one heading of central renewal. There are 345 schemes engaging the interests of local authorities. I do not pretend that we have yet got to grips with the problem of twilight area renewal. There are many problems there yet to be resolved, but a great deal of thought is now being given to them.
I say perfectly plainly that the clearance of the obsolete comes before the replacement of the obsolescent. So far as there have to be priorities in this world, the priority at present is for the clearance of slums in the older industrial towns of the Midlands and the North. No talk, even of the beauties of Verona or Piccadilly Circus, will divert me from that main emphasis at present. At the same time, this is a form of development, bearing in mind that virgin land gets rarer and rarer in many parts of the country, upon which, in future, much of our rehousing—with increased density of land occupation—will depend.
We shall continue to give advice and guidance through bulletins expressing the work of the new Urban Planning Group. I have spoken of the financial arrangements under one heading of urban development, and I have referred to sources of finance in relation to twilight areas. I give no promise of any change in the financial position, but I shall watch most carefully what is happening and keep my mind open to what can be done.
This is an ideal subject for a debate in the House. I want to hear more and more ideas and contributions on this subject. Although it is true that town centre development is becoming something of a booming activity, we do 1724 not know all the answers and we have not yet seen clearly all the ways in which there can be collaboration between public and private developers, particularly in relation to twilight areas, although I will, if I may, refer to some of the examples of partnership between local authorities and private enterprise in central area development—Bradford, Shipley, Birmingham, Swindon, Jarrow, Barrow, Feltham and Hull.
The typical features of these schemes—not necessarily present in them all, but a summary of the features found there—are six in number. The first is land acquisition by the local authority and/or the developer. Second, the redevelopment plan is agreed between the developer and the local authority; third, the local authority retains the freehold and agrees basic ground rents with the developer with a rent review at a later period; fourth, the developer raises the necessary finance and carries out the development; and, fifth, the developer arranges the rack renting of completed buildings and the local authority may nominate some tenants, for example displaced traders. Finally, the whole scheme is carried out under the joint supervision of the local authority and the developer, and often a joint redevelopment committee is set up with equal membership from both sides.
It seems to me that we are getting to a reasonable and sensible collaboration between public authority and private developer in the area of central renewal. We have a good deal more hard thinking to do before we can see more clearly the kind of relationship in the twilight areas, but I can promise the House that a good deal of thought is going to that matter and that discussion is going on. I hope soon to see my way much more clearly to a solution of the problem.
That is another reason why I welcome today's debate with its new suggestions and its new ideas, and I express once more my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford for opening so important a subject in so excellent a way today.
§ 3.8 p.m.
§ Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)
I do not want to strain the patience of the House by launching into a long, detailed 1725 lecture on the subject of the redevelopment of central areas, or to cover much of the ground which has been explored with great skill and interest by many previous speakers. All I shall try to do is to footnote one or two points which the Minister has made and to ask him to think again—that is as strong as I would put it—on points which I thought he skimmed over a little too lightly.
I was very glad that at the end of his speech the right hon. Gentleman produced a catalogue of the six criteria of these schemes which were proving successful. It is important to remember that this is not only a problem of the great cities and certainly not only a problem of Greater London; that is one of the difficulties which arises over leaving these operations entirely to local authorities.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he would be rather shocked at the idea of bringing in an external body to undertake this work. If there are cases where a rich and powerful local authority with fully equipped professional advisers is able to undertake the work on its own, nobody would want to challenge its right to do it, but a sense of proportion must be maintained. These problems can be acute, as the right hon. Gentleman said, in quite a number of industrial areas which are quite small and where the local authority has difficulty in obtaining adequate advice to enable it to ensure that it does not get into a mess and that such a situation does not develop in its area that not only the local authority but many other authorities are frightened of this work in the future. The right hon. Gentleman must be quick to assume the responsibility of giving advice and ensuring that local authorities have the necessary facilities.
That leads me to say something about collaboration between the Departments. One of the difficulties facing local authorities is that it is so hard to get a clear decision out of Government Departments. Looking at it from the Minister's chair, it may seem that on the whole inter-communication and collaboration between Departments is working smoothly. Looking at it from, as it were, the base of the pyramid, where a local authority has to try to get decisions on the ground, most local 1726 authorities which are undertaking any work Which requires considerable consultation with the Ministries of Education and Transport, with the Board of Trade on the movement of factories, and with the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry, find that it is a frustrating business to try to do this and get a coherent decision out of all the different Departments. That is one reason why many local authorities find it very difficult to get on quickly.
Another difficulty is the financial one. The effect of the general grant is to make it always easier to do nothing than to do something. I will take an example quoted by the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North (Mr. R. W. Elliott), who possibly infringed a little on the rules of anticipation. He referred to traffic engineers conducting proper traffic surveys. A local authority may be faced with this decision, "Shall we employ some traffic engineers and have a proper, complicated, well worked out traffic survey, or not?"
The effect of the general grant is to make the local authority decide not to have such a survey, because the same general grant is obtained whether the survey is carried out or not. A local authority would be better off playing for safety and not getting involved in anything. The difficulty which arises in this field is the lack of specific grants, not for housing particularly, but for the general problems of development.
The right hon. Gentleman twice—once at the beginning and once at the end of his speech, so he attaches great importance to it—said, "The first priority must be the slum". On the face of it, that statement is impeccable The difficulty about it is that it assumes that the definition of a slum is adequate and effective. One of the complaints made—this is not new; this battle has been fought over many years in housing legislation—is that there is a concentration on the purely health definition of unfit property. In the old days, the old subsidy was tied specifically to slum clearance and not to general redevelopment.
The right hon. Gentleman, as an old deputy medical officer of health, may rise to this bait. The definition places too much importance on the test 1727 of medical or physical unfitness for habitation and not enough importance on bad arrangement, bad communications, long streets with no proper breaks, overcrowding, which the Minister mentioned, and all the factors which contribute to an area of blight. The effect of concentrating too much on slums is a tendency to knock down the pink areas which are not big enough to be redeveloped effectively, to cut out the grey areas because adequate financial assistance will not be available, and in the result the emphasis is all on demolition and not on rebuilding.
The danger of the right hon. Gentleman making these statements about the necessity to give priority to slum clearance is that we shall get too much demolition and not enough rebuilding. If we are to get the areas built again, we have to take a wider definition of area for the purpose, and that means that we cannot rely too much on the old, historic definition of unfitness for human habitation of property which cannot be made so fit at a reasonable cost. It is a narrow, local authority definition, a public health inspector's definition. It is not an architect's or planner's definition. It does not give sufficient opportunity for constructive redevelopment. Therefore, I was a little dismayed at the right hon. Gentleman's attaching so much importance to it.
Another point on which I rise to defend my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) is this. I thought for a moment that the right hon. Gentleman intended to forget the vow of peaceful and good behaviour which he has obviously taken since he went to this Department. I thought that he would overstep the mark when he shook his head at my hon. Friend and said that my hon. Friend was inspired by a general political purpose when he talked of the importance of retaining freedom. The right hon. Gentleman said that it was common ground that the compulsory powers of a local authority should be used to acquire the land, but that it was not common ground that the local authority should necessarily continue to own the land.
I do not think that my hon. Friend would want to shelter behind the façade of being a political neophyte in any 1728 sense. I do not think that he would want anyone to believe that he had strayed on to the Front Bench by accident. But I do not think that this is a matter of being obsessed by a party political approach. It is a matter of logic. How, otherwise, are we to safeguard the rights of the community for the future in the very long run? I imagine that it is fairly safe to say, certainly now, that any public authority which acquired land, say just after the war or within the last ten years or so, and had made what it was advised and what the district valuer would have accepted as being a reasonable price for selling that land back to a private developer, had made a very bad bargain because so remarkable has been the increase in the price of land during the last five or six years.
I am looking at this not from an ethical point of view, but from a financial point of view, because I want to meet the right hon. Gentleman on his own ground. I do not see how a local authority which acquires the centre of a city by compulsory powers, displacing private people—that is one side of the picture, interfering with the rights of private property for the sake of the common good—can safely sell back the property to private developers on such financial terms that one can be sure that in a hundred years' time one will not have betrayed the citizens of the city, because one has handed over to private development a juicy morsel which ought to have remained with the community on whose behalf the compulsory purchase was made.
After all, compulsory purchase means putting the welfare of the community before the welfare of private interests. If that is the basis of the compulsory purchase order, there is surely a duty to see that the reversion should remain with the community. I do not think that that is a matter on which Socialists would disagree with anybody else. I should have thought that it was a point of common financial prudence.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned that finance could usually be found for this kind of work from a private developer. He said that that applied in the central area. Is that reconcilable with what has been said before about the importance of mixed development? We want to get away from the idea that there is a central area labelled commercially 1729 profitable; something that can be handed over to private capital.
On the other hand, there are schools, open spaces, cheap houses and the rest of the non-remunerative provisions of the area which are to be regarded as a charge on public funds. I would have thought that once we had extended the requirements so much that the private developer found that he was expected to provide these other needs in the area, it would not be so easy to get private capital.
Is there not the danger that if one is entirely dependent on private capital for development one's bargaining power becomes very much limited? If the piper is to pay, we must be allowed to call the tune. We cannot say to him, "Provide the capital, and I will tell you precisely how to develop the area". I would have thought that that was the difficulty.
Finally, I should like to say a word about density of development. The hon. Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn), whose speech I almost entirely agreed with, I thought strayed off into a rather dangerous and not well-thought-out argument when he raised the problem in the terms that we should develop at greater density to avoid displacing people.
The hon. Gentleman blamed the London County Council. After all, a whole succession of Ministers, the right hon. Gentleman's predecessors, have upheld the L.C.C.'s decisions on this matter. I do not think that these are rival questions. I think that we must have a certain amount of displacement. If we are to deal with the problems of rehousing overspill in the great conurbations, we must try to build up in areas where we can do it and carry a reasonable number of people. These are not rival problems. We must do both and see that they fit together. Is it desirable, much as we want to avoid long journeys to work, when we are launching on a big system of trying to recreate a new healthy and wise community to cram them in at high densities of perhaps 200 persons per acre, which can only be done by building very large and expensive buildings? These big buildings are not only unpleasant to live in, but are also very expensive.
§ Dr. Glyn
I stressed that it was important that they should only be built 1730 where there were transport facilities available. One could, so to speak, put one's high development where there were good transport facilities and this might mean reducing the density a little further away where transport facilities were not so good.
§ Mr MacColl
I see the hon. Gentleman's point. All I am saying is that to create the impression, which I think there is a danger of some people creating, that we can solve this problem by building 30-storey blocks, and that then there is no problem left, is a mistake. That misleads people, and I am glad that the hon. Member agrees with me that that is so.
As I have said, I have purposely made some rather jerky, unconnected comments on the right hon. Gentleman's speech because we have had very many valuable and interesting coherent speeches and I wanted to underline some of the points which the right hon. Gentleman made in his very helpful contribution. I hope that he will think about this a good deal more and keep the House informed of what is happening, and that he will not shut his mind from any of those possibilities from which at present he has recoiled. We rely on the right hon. Gentleman to show that he is sufficiently broadminded not to be afraid to tackle things in an unconventional way where the logic of the situation demands it.
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) for his excellent, detailed and comprehensive Motion, which was excelled only by the brilliance of his speech in introducing it.
I am conscious of the fact that, although I have sat here throughout the debate and have now the opportunity to address the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) also has sat here throughout the debate and has yet to make a contribution. My remarks, therefore, must be as unconnected as the remarks of the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl). I must scrap about half of my notes and be brief, because I know that my hon. Friend wishes to speak.
1731 I imagine that my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford will think it appropriate that I should support him in his excellent Motion because, in a sense, his constituency and mine have polarised certain very important aspects of the problem of central urban redevelopment. His constituency is connected with an expanding town development scheme under the London County Council which we all hope will be carried out and take from London some of our people who suffer bad housing conditions. We regard that scheme in a welcoming frame of mind, looking to it to rehouse those who are displaced and also provide them with the necessary jobs.
In Holborn and St. Pancras, on the other hand, we have people not as well housed as they might be and, one might say, a superfluity of jobs available, particularly office jobs. In the middle of Holborn itself, in that part of my constituency which is given over at night to cats, caretakers and a handful of residents, there stands the most misconceived, misplaced and mishandled folly that it has ever been the misfortune of this country to possess. It is dignified by the misnomer "State House". It serves as a dreadful monument to the over-concentration of office development in Central London.
There seems little doubt that the trend in office development, if it is allowed to continue, will only exacerbate the terrible situation which now confronts us in London. The residential population is declining and the number of jobs is increasing. The two trends are in conflict. I will not weary the House with statistics to support that statement. I imagine that there is no hon. Member unaware of the fact that there is this conflict between the growing number of jobs and the declining number of residents, with the accompanying awful problem of finding space for people to live.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford said that he favoured mixed development and thought that it was possible for both people with the bowler hat and people with the cloth cap to live in the central urban areas. I could not agree more. This is particularly important in a part of London like Holborn and St. Pancras where there are 1732 the hospitals to service, the entertainment industry to service, the Post Office to service and a whole lot of important public services which need labour, and, be it noted, labour which has to work at awkward hours. The workpeople for these services cannot be drawn in from the environs of the town because the railways do not provide the services they need. To do their job properly, they must live on the doorstep.
There have been changes of policy and shifts of emphasis on the part of the London County Council and changes in policy on the part of successive Ministers of Housing and Local Government, but I beg leave to doubt that, in themselves, these changes of policy or emphasis will be sufficient to accelerate the decentralisation of office accommodation which is vitally needed. All the trends so far seem to indicate that they are not enough.
Will my right hon. Friend consider introducing legislation to amend the Third Schedule to the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, and remove from it the provision which enables those who redevelop for offices to have that little 10 per cent. bonus of cubic capacity which is responsible for the monstrous size of the new office blocks which take up so much of the valuable land in Central London which I and many of my hon. Friends think might well be used for housing purposes?
He might also consider whether it would be advisable to introduce some form of zoning tax. Should not those who feel, for prestige reasons, that it is necessary to have a spanking office block in the centre of London be asked to pay a little extra money for it? A system of tax based on the office block's proximity to the centre of London might act as a powerful inducement to people contemplating the use of such office space to move further out of London. I should have thought that, in view of the conspicuous lack of success in the decentralising of office accommodation, my right hon. Friend should be giving close consideration to this point.
Another aspect which arises under my hon. Friend's Motion in which he refers to the question ofmaking available to local authorities engaged in the work1733 of central urban developmentmore guidance and advice particularly on long-term traffic needsis this. The other day, I was surprised to come across in a booklet issued by the Institute of Office Management some figures about the number of firms which have staggered their hours. One of the interesting points in this report was that over 80 per cent. of the establishments which were interviewed have a regular starting and finishing time, from 8.30 to 9 a.m. and from 5 to 5.30 p.m. The sample which was taken covered about 700 office establishments representing over 300 different undertakings and a working force of about 8 per cent. of the clerical and administrative staffs in this country. It was found that less than 20 per cent. had received an official request to stagger their office hours, but that the number of concerns which were approached reached a peak in Central London, as one might expect where 60 per cent. of the concerns in the City and 47 per cent. of the concerns in the West End were approached.
I find this monstrous. I thought that a special committee had been appointed to go into this problem and to urge firms to stagger office hours and to relieve the dreadful inconvenience caused during certain hours of travel in the Central London area. This problem is not unique to London. I raise that point because I gather that the purpose of my hon. Friend's Motion is to make life more habitable, more pleasant and more efficient in our big cities.
There is another aspect to which I alluded when I suggested that it was appropriate that the Member for a constituency like mine should support the Motion. This concerns the question of local authorities being ready and willing to receive people and businesses from the congested central areas of our big cities. I do not wish to make too much of this, but I think that a letter written by a senior executive of the south London store Cheesemans Ltd. to The Times on 10th April contains a general truth. He pointed out that for the last one and a half years and for an average of four to five hours a week he inspected premises or met officers of local authorities with a view to obtaining suitable office accommodation away from London and near to one of the smaller towns 1734 in Kent. This was a very praiseworthy thing to do.
My right hon. Friend and his predecessor have exhorted people like that senior executive to do just that. Here, I quote from his letter:… but every time I make application I am told that planning permission to change the user from residential to offices will not be granted.This experience is not unique. The responsibility surely also lies with the local authorities within the 40- or 50-mile radius of London to accept the challenge of improving the general amenities of the huge London region, which extends 100 miles from west to east. If they do not do it, they are very short-sighted.
I know that my right hon. Friend has no direct control over the local authorities. If a local authority wants to behave in a short-sighted manner like that, it is difficult for my right hon. Friend's policy to be successful. I wonder, however, whether he might consider issuing a circular reminding local authorities of their obligations in this respect, so that senior executives such as the one to whom I have referred will not find that kind of lack of co-operation.
Those are my three points. I apologise to the House if I have delivered them in a way which the hon. Member for Widnes might describe as being unconnected with my speech, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe will be able to join in the debate.
§ 3.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
The House will have heard with interest what the Minister had to say this afternoon about the 345 schemes which, apparently, are being considered or might be implemented in relation to central renewal. In all the features to which the Minister referred in connection with this central renewal, there was, as my hon. Friend for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) has pointed out, no evidence of dealing with the problem of mixed development in central areas.
It is true that in some cases there is the rack rent of shop premises. In some cases, the private developer was letting the local authority have the freehold and then the local authority leased to private developers, presumably for office or business purposes. In none of those 1735 cases to which the Minister referred, however—I am sure that he would have spoken of it had it been the case—was any reference made to the necessity in central renewal of hawing mixed development and not limiting it solely to businesses, shops and office premises.
The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. G. Johnson Smith) will probably find himself on this side of the House if he goes on like this much longer. He complained about State House, in Holborn, a monstrous office block. It was put up because certain people thought that money was to be made from it. State House might have been a white elephant but for the fact that the Government rented a considerable part of the premises and thus saved the private developer from having to "carry the can". The time has come when private developers of office building should be made to bear the full impact of the Government's economic policy and lose money as a result of putting up office blocks of that kind.
§ Mr. G. Johnson Smith
For obvious reasons, I did not go into historical detail about how the situation arose concerning State House and the other office blocks. Looking at the problem objectively, it would seem that responsibility lies in all kinds of directions. The hon. Member should bear in mind that it was the London County Council which gave planning permission.
§ Mr. Lipton
The system which makes it necessary or desirable for a local authority, whether the London County Council or any other, to give planning permission is altogether wrong. I am the last person to suggest that because the London County Council happens to have a Labour majority, which I hope will long continue, everything that it has to do within the orbit of existing legislation is right. It is no good trying to "pass the buck". Responsibility rests with us in this House.
In this debate so many hon. Members have edged away from the fundamental difference between the Government and the Opposition, but it is no good trying to blur the issue. We cannot have a satisfactory solution of any of the problems to which the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) and others have referred without some form of 1736 central planning. Even the Minister, in his speech, prided himself on the fact that there were about 250 planners in his Department, which represents a very considerable advance on anything which has happened before. He himself admits the need for central planning.
In my humble submission—it may sound very old-fashioned to say so—central planning in relation to the problems contained in the Motion before the House cannot be put into effect without a very considerable extension of public ownership. It is no use trying to dodge that issue. I would recommend the right hon. Gentleman to examine the extent to which progressive local authorities are now in effect bringing about land nationalisation within their own areas by buying whatever properties come into the market and by taking over semi-derelict property and that sort of thing.
I am sure that it would come as a shock to hon. Members supporting the Government if investigations, say, in the L.C.C. area, were carried out and they found out to what an extent Labour-controlled local authorities, anyhow, to meet their responsibilities, are having to buy up whenever they possibly can. It is no good holding up one's hands in horror about land nationalisation. The process is going on at present. Even hon. Members opposite and the Minister himself are praising those central renewal schemes where the private developers, for a variety of reasons, are handing over freeholds to local authorities. Long may that continue. And that is the position to which the Government will inevitably be driven whether they like it or not.
What is the use of having what are described as living communities—with dead hearts? That is what is happening at present. There is no reason at all why the private developer should go in for mixed development in a central urban area, because obviously he will have to pay the cost out of his own pocket, and it will not be done. Unless the local authorities or the Government, or a combination of the two, go in for schemes of mixed development of the central urban areas we shall merely get a continuation of the process to which most enlightened people object, and that is, having in the centres of our 1737 towns places which are very active during the day-time and which are completely dead at night.
That used not to be. I can remember my own boyhood days when, in the central area of the town where I was brought up, there was still some activity at night. One had only to go just round the corner from the main street to find people living in houses within a minute or two's walk of what could be described as the central shopping area. It was a living community in that way. We did not have places which were dead for a part of the 24 hours and then coming to life again at the end of that period.
Now we have got the position in reverse. We can go into an urban residential area—I am sure that hon. Members have had this experience during election time—an ordinary residential street, to do a bit of can-vassing during the day-time only to find the street completely dead. Mothers are out at work; children are at school. One or two old people who are too ill or too feeble to get out are the only people left in that street during the daytime.
Completely cock-eyed development is going on which is destroying the unity and the liveliness of the communities of days gone by. That is why I am convinced that the unanswerable logic of events will force the Minister to embark upon more and more schemes which will entail the extension of public ownership of land in these central areas. I know that the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr Costain) wants to contribute to the debate. I shall listen with interest to what he has to say, because I should like him to deal with this point. He has important and very honourable associations with the building industry. If he should have the job of developing a central urban area, a twilight area in decay, will he say whether he is prepared to put up houses or blocks of flats in that area to ensure a mixed development?
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
I am glad to take up the challenge of the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton). In case the hon. Member should think that he has persuaded me by his illogical argument, I 1738 would refer him to a debate on 18th July, 1960, when, talking about comprehensive development, I said:… they insist in certain parts that if a developer wants to build a number of houses he shall also build a factory to go with them. I see the possibility in our larger towns of comprehensive development being a help. I quote the instance … of the number of offices being built on the South Bank. Slum property is being demolished there and offices are being built. Then there is the instance of Battersea "—I wish now that I had referred to Brixton—There is a great amount of small property in Battersea which I believe could be developed as a co-ordinated area, a small town inside a town, provided that the land could be released on the basis of putting up x number of houses and building offices to go with them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th July, 1960 Vol. 627, c. 105–6.]If that is not a complete reply to the hon. Member two years before he thought of it, I cannot think what is.
§ Mr. Costain
On the last occasion when we debated this matter I challenged hon. Members opposite on it. The hon. Member for Brixton was in the Chamber during the earlier part of the discussion, but not at the end. I declared my interest as a builder and speculator, and I said that we builders and speculators would be only too delighted to take over these twilight areas and build houses. It has always been our tradition to do so. All I asked hon. Members opposite to do was to give an assurance that if they ever returned to power they would not bring in controls to prevent an investor from taking up all sorts of property.
The trend towards building offices and shops is not because of the desire of the speculator or investor to build that sort of property. It is because it is the only type of property on which he has not been caught napping and on which controls have not been applied. Controls have not been applied to that type of property because there is no political advantage in doing so. My own company used to build 3,000 flats a year, but we were caught out under the Rent Acts and that put a stop to it. I had a direct answer from the Front Bench 1739 opposite in the debate to which I have referred. When I asked for that assurance the answer was "No". But this is not what I came here to speak about today and perhaps in the short time at my disposal I may be allowed to return to what I intended to say before the hon. Member for Brixton challenged me.
We are today considering the replacement of properties of the type that were built during the Industrial Revolution. My hon. Friend the Member for Ash-ford (Mr. Deedes), who moved the Motion, as he always does, so well, gave the background history. I should like to fill in a few of the practical problems as I see them as a builder and also refer to some of the problems which my constituency has.
When it comes to the redevelopment of an internal part of a city, town or village, there are two things basically that one can do. One can be a dictator, as happened in the case to which my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford, referred, and bulldoze through and pull the lot down. That happened in Paris in Napoleonic times. For his own glory, Napoleon produced the wonderful Paris boulevards. They stand as a monument to him to this day. Unfortunately for the citizens of Paris, he did not clear away all the slums at the same time. Alternatively, one can equally well, if one has sufficient money and resources, buy everybody out and go ahead and rebuild the area.
Only a fortnight ago I spent a weekend in Kuwait. That is probably one of the richest places in the world in income per head of population. In Kuwait during the last three years the authorities have bulldozed thousands of houses and constructed boulevards and modern accommodation. But we are not a dictator State, thank goodness, and we have not untold wealth per head of population to carry out such proposals. We have, therefore, in our usual good old British way, to find a happy compromise.
I think that the happy compromise is a marriage between the local authorities, who, after all, have powers of compulsory purchase, the professions and the building industry, which has the ex- 1740 perience. The hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) regretted that technical staff were leaving local authorities and joining professional firms. She said that the professional firms were carrying out work for local authorities, and she seemed to think that that was quite wrong. I am sorry that she is not at the moment here to contradict that if she wishes to do so.
Many technicians, particularly younger ones, feel that they are limited in scope if they are with a local authority. Indeed, they must be limited in their scope. Also, some do not like municipal life, having to attend council meetings and often committees at night, particularly in smaller areas. Therefore, having had some experience, they join professional firms, and they take their experience with them.
Another factor of great national interest is that, unlike local authorities, such professional firms can carry out work overseas. One of our greatest assets is our "know-how", and these professional firms have prepared designs for a number of developments overseas and are thus producing greater export advantages for us.
It would be wrong if the debate closed without reference to the position of people who are living in or have bought houses which are subject to compulsory purchase. The Minister referred to the fact that some people were quite happy with the house and the area in which they were living. Perhaps my right hon. Friend knows of the case of one of my constituents. I wrote to his predecessor about her on a number of occasions. This lady bought a house in an area scheduled for demolition. Before she bought it, her solicitor wrote to the local authority and was informed that the house would shortly be pulled down Nothing daunted—she is a lady from the north of England and was not used to local authorities telling her what to do—she went ahead with the purchase. She lived in the house, improved it and made it, from her point of view, a very happy little residence.
Alas, she was in the middle of an area which necessarily had to be demolished. Along came the local council and advised her accordingly. The council, quite rightly, offered to pay her fair market compensation. Here, I must say 1741 that it was on a very different scale under the Conservative Government than it would have been under the Labour Government, when she would have received only site value. Nevertheless, she was offered about £600, which made it quite impossible for her to purchase another house of similar accommodation.
She wanted to know why she was deprived of owning her own house. I had to tell her that, in my view, she had been well warned and well treated. Nevertheless, as my right hon. Friend has shown such enthusiasm to get on with improvements in these twilight areas, it would be a good thing to send out a message from this debate warning people that they should not enter into the purchase of houses which are likely to be compulsorily acquired or pulled down. Otherwise, they might be misled and that would not be fair, because these are the type of people who have the least experience in these matters.
Time is running out to the end of this very interesting debate. But before sitting down, I wish to make some reference to the green belts. I support the green belts, but I think that it is necessary for my right hon. Friend to make the national view completely clear about them. I believe that they should be areas of national beauty. They should be areas of national recreation. Hyde Park and Wimbledon Common would have been green belts many years ago. They all had public access.
I do not, however, see the necessity for the present state of smallholdings in the green belts. They should be made better use of. They are becoming 1742 derelict. I cannot see how such places can be of real value to the community or to the owners. I know some in Carshalton where the present buildings should be pulled down and proper houses built, with large gardens. The public would have as much amenity and the property would be put to better use. There could be cultivated gardens instead of the derelict chicken farms started by officers retiring after the end of the First World War. That type of property in the green belts should be looked at to see if it can be converted to the greater benefit of the public.
I again congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford on the way in which he introduced his Motion, and I also thank my right hon. Friend for his enthusiastic response. He gave a clear indication of his willingness to help in this situation.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House, recognising how much of the £2,500 million being spent annually on construction will go to rebuilding city centres and urban renewal, including the replacement of a large stock of obsolete houses, and believing that the way in which this work is done will have profound social consequences, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to view urban central redevelopment on a national scale; to consider at once making available to local authorities engaged in the work more guidance and advice, particularly on long-term traffic needs and ways of bringing private enterprise and public authorities into closer partnership; to devise ways of giving more financial encouragement where large sums are at stake: to take stock of professional skills available to local authorities for this kind of work with a view to stimulating recruiting and training of them if necessary; and to examine the possibilities of closer co-ordination between the Ministries concerned.