§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander S. L. C. Maydon (Wells)
I beg to move,That this House, recognising the commendable progress that has been made in housing and slum clearance in recent years, and the shortage of suitable sites for all kinds of building in a country as small as Great Britain, urges Her Majesty's Government to hasten the process of designating Green Belts in order to prevent sporadic devolopment, and to take measures to stimulate in-filling in urban areas and the development of building sites which 480 may not be entirely economic from the builder's point of view, in order to preserve agricultural land on the outskirts of towns and villages without slowing the pace of building.There is no doubt that commendable progress, both in housing and in slum clearance, has been made in recent years. This is indisputable. Over 4 million new houses and flats have been constructed since the war. The overall rate since 1945 has been 240,000 houses a year. During the last ten years the rate has been 300,000 houses a year, of which in the last five years a total of 360,000 have been slum-clearance replacement houses.
There are those who say that we need 400,000 new houses and flats a year for some considerable period into the future. The principal argument which prompts them to say this is the need to anticipate the end of the useful life of very large 481 numbers of houses built in the latter half of the nineteenth century which are now nearing the limit of their useful span of life. It is true that the greater use of the improvement grants which the Government have made available and which have now led to the improvement of 130,000 otherwise outdated houses may, and can, extend the useful life of some of these older houses.
I believe that the estimate that a building rate of 400,000 houses a year is needed is too high. It is a matter of opinion and only future events will prove who is right. However, if that number is required, it is doubtful, with present methods, whether we can afford the manpower and materials which would have to be diverted from the many other calls upon our economy at present, unless there is a revolution in building processes. To some extent, a revolution of building processes is overdue, and there are signs that in other countries processes of prefabrication, and so on, have greatly improved the speed of building. But in this country by far the greatest problem is the shortage of suitable sites for all kinds of building, not only housing. Of course, when one takes that into account, there are the other land-absorbing developments such as roads, including the big new motorways, airports and even reservoirs.
Green belts and the preservation of the countryside have recently been debated in the House. On 20th November, 1959, my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) moved a Motion concerned with industrial development and the preservation of the countryside. More recently, on 22nd November, 1961, my hon. Friend the Member for Broms-grove (Mr. Dance) had an Adjournment debate on green belts. I make no apology for raising the subject once more, for I am sure that it is a subject close to the public heart.
There is widespread evidence of the need for building sites. Nobody can deny that. No sensible person can resist the provision of suitable sites for rehousing and other building purposes. But, of course, we have to ensure that the sites are suitable. The utmost care must be used in the selection of land. We have to avoid the best agricultural land. Very often it is exceedingly difficult 482 to avoid taking good land. We have to avoid making—horrible words—conurbations and conglomerations. We have to avoid sporadic and urban development and indiscriminate and uncoordinated development. Above all, we have to preserve amenity. Let us remember that the beauty of our countryside is one of the most valuable parts of our national heritage.
At the same time as avoiding all these pitfalls, sufficient must be provided for normal house building, for additional slum clearance, for industrial purposes and for public works such as roads and airports and the other works which I have mentioned. But we have to see this against the background of what has been done in the past. We find that over the last fifteen years since the end of the war rather more than 464,000 acres were taken up in England and Wales for building purposes between June, 1945, and June, 1960, a rate of 31,000 acres a year over the fifteen years. The figure for the whole of the British Isles is roughly 35,000 acres a year which are being taken for these purposes. It is officially estimated that in the course of the next few years a further half-million acres will be required for development. When one thinks of the small size and the cramped nature of these islands, one sees that we are faced with rather a staggering prospect.
Green belts are one means of achieving some of these objects of avoiding conurbations and avoiding sporadic and unco-ordinated development—in fact, one means of preventing the uncontrolled sprawl of towns over our beautiful countryside. Unfortunately, green belt policy is widely misunderstood. There are doubts about its nature and purpose and complete ignorance about the procedure for establishing green belts. Green belts are not designed to sterilise and prevent every form of building. Some building may be desirable within the green belt areas, but they are designed to prevent intensive development.
In 1960 the Ministry of Housing and Local Government issued its most recent circular on this subject. Paragraph 8 of the circular, No. 37/60, is relevant to this subject and it reads:Special considerations apply where a green belt has been established or proposed. A green 483 belt is a long-term restriction of development in a defined area, and it must be matched by adequate provision for balanced and compact development elsewhereThis is the most important pant of the paragraph:This means the intensive use to its full capacity of land in the areas contained by the green belt, and the selection of adequate land for development beyond the green belt—avoiding wherever possible the use of good agricultural landThe difficulty of drawing a line between what might be considered permissible development within the area of a green belt is that local authorities are always troubled by the thought that one single exception may breach the whole principle. They attempt to administer these areas so that once established, except in exceptional circumstances, they are inviolate. But it should not mean necessarily that certain development should not be allowed. Paragraphs 11 and 12 of the same circular continue with some guidance to planning authorities on the methods to be employed in the more intensive use of urban land—such matters as density and the prevention of the wastage of land.
I understand that since this circular was issued there has been no change in Government policy. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Brooke), when he was Minister of Housing and Local Government, gave the following Answer to a Written Question on 5th July, 1960:Nor do I contemplate any change. I believe that green belts, once properly established, should, except in very special circumstances, be maintained inviolate; and I believe further that they will be so maintained over the years, for this is a policy which commands wide supportLater he said:The right principles are that a green belt should be established only where there is clear need to contain the growth of a town within limits which can be defined at the time; and the limits of the belt should be carefully drawn so as not to include land which it is unnecessary to keep permanently open for the purposes of the green belt."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th July, 1960; Vol. 626, c. 23.]Later, on 6th November, 1961, the present Minister of Housing and Local Government said:… we intend to adhere to the green belt policy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th November, 1961; Vol. 648, c. 655.]One purpose of this Motion is to urge the Government to streamline the procedure. 484 Surely enough time has passed since Sir Patrick Abercrombie first defined London green belt policy in his Greater London Plan in 1944. The principles are quite right, but the processes are far too slow. So far only the Greater London green belt has been firmly and permanently defined.
There are, in addition, twenty-four proposals for formal incorporation in development plans. The large majority of so-called green belts are only proposals based on sketch plans and have no statutory authority behind them. It is that fact that has somewhat misled the public. People speak rather vaguely about green belts in various areas on the outskirts of our cities, but those areas have not been properly defined and, therefore, have no statutory backing.
The 1947 Town and Country Planning Act encouraged local authorities to prepare development plans specifying green belts, but it was all rather vague. Since then, Ministry circulars issued in 1955, 1957 and 1960 have made the regulations for green belts and the processes for their establishment a little more definite, but all too little has been done—perhaps from an understandable reluctance to trample on the rights of individuals. Despite that admirable sentiment, it all takes too long. This is eighteen years after Abercrombie.
There are three stages in the procedure and, on paper, it looks simple enough. The first stage is the sketch plan, which requires preliminary approval by the Minister. Secondly, a more precise definition of boundaries is proposed as a formal amendment to the area development plan, and those more definite proposals are open to public criticism and objection. They have to be exhibited in stated places at stated times and they may, and almost certainly will, result in a public inquiry. The third stage is Ministerial approval, or otherwise. If the Minister approves, the formal amendment becomes part of the statutory development plan.
One can take as an example the Bristol-Bath green belt. That is somewhat outside my constituency, but it is not very distant from it and has a bearing on my constituents. Three county 485 councils are concerned there—Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Somerset. All have submitted generally-accepted sketch plans—the first stage. Only Gloucestershire has so far submitted a formal amendment to the development plan. On 8th February, 1962, the Somerset County Council published Press notices of the proposals and of places where maps can be examined so that people can see what is proposed, and object if they wish. That is only the very beginning of stage 2 in the procedure. Meanwhile, people in that area who have for some time thought that their amenities are protected by what they like to call a green belt have found to their surprise that it is not a properly defined and agreed green belt.
I have one or two suggestions for streamlining this procedure. The great thing is to keep these green belts in the public eye, and to keep up public interest in and public knowledge of what is intended. I suggest that the Minister should publish periodical progress reports, perhaps in the form of an appendix to the housing returns that are issued quarterly as a White Paper. The progress report might have four sections. The first could state the progress made in establishing green belts since the previous report. The second could show, by regions, the area of land that had been taken for urban housing and rural rehousing.
Thirdly, there could be an estimate, by regions, of site requirements for housing and industry for the following twelve months. The fourth section could give comparative figures of development density in urban areas, aimed at giving an incentive to the better use of land. If one had a sort of "league table", showing how various cities were making use of their land, it might be an incentive to people to get higher density and more desirable development in urban areas.
I also suggest that the Government should consider the possibility of a marginal building site subsidy. I know that the present period of economic stress is not a good time to suggest a new subsidy, and I am always reluctant to suggest that some other activity should be subsidised. A subsidy should pass pretty severe tests before it can be justified. In this case, however, we are up 486 against a tremendous problem, and the value of building sites is so great that some sort of incentive must be given to local authorities to encourage them to engage in in-filling in urban areas—very often of small sites where only a few houses or a small block can be put up. Sites like that are not very economic. The purpose would, in fact, be to encourage the use of uneconomic, inconvenient or physically difficult sites. It would be a subsidy to provide a house or houses on a site that would not otherwise be used. I emphasise that it would not be a rent subsidy.
Bearing in mind those principles on the use of sites for all purposes, we could, after the best choice has been made, do a lot better in blending function with appearance. The useful need not necessarily be ugly. If we have to use—and I think that the need is acknowledged—fairly large areas of our beautiful and unspoiled countryside for industry, housing and the like, let us be sure that it is done in the best taste so as not to destroy the amenities, for the beauty of our countryside is one of our most valuable national assets.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)
I congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wells (Lieut.-Comman-der Maydon) both on the content of his speech and on having chosen this very important subject for discussion tonight, which probably represents one of our most serious problems when one considers that since the war the population of this country has increased by some 5 million.
The very real prosperity which we see all around us is causing people at all levels of society to demand much better housing than they have ever had before. Various estimates have been given of the number of houses that will be required in the next 20 years. The figure of 6 million to 7 million houses has already been quoted. Merely to think of this and then to allow one's mind to contemplate the small amount of land available in Britain—and bearing in mind that the population will increase in the coming years even more than at present—one can see how vital it is that every piece of land on which it is possible to build without destroying the amenities of the country must be dealt with quickly.
487 I was interested to read in the Motion the part dealing with infilling. It is difficult to find any two architects who will give a precise definition of the term "infilling". It varies greatly from area to area, and I should like my hon. Friend, when replying, to give some sort of definition of this term from the Ministerial point of view.
A few years ago—and I relate this as an example—I was interested in a small piece of land in Chigwell which was adjacent to the house in which I lived. It was a quite useless piece of land of about two acres. On one side of the road were bungalows of substantial quality. On the other side of the road by the field there was a big house, and another house was situated on the second side of the field. The third side of the field was adjacent to the garden of a further house and, as a piece of agricultural or arable land, it was utterly useless and was generally recognised to be such.
I tried to sell this piece of land for the erection of six houses, giving about one-third of an acre for each. They would have been sold for about £8,000 each, giving the local authority a rateable value of about £700 a year. This was rejected on planning grounds since the site in question was in the green belt. I disposed of the property and the land some years ago and today—seven years after this took place—these two acres still remained completely derelict and useless. Since I disposed of it other applications have been made to build houses on this sort of land, but the proposals have been rejected by the Ministry.
There must be literally hundreds of similar pieces of land all over the country where plans are being rejected by the Ministry simply because they are in a green belt area. I invite my hon. Friend to look at the Essex plan for Chigwell and consider the map area and the line that is drawn in the borough of Chigwell along Manor Road. I invite him to do this and to tell me if he has ever seen a more fatuous attempt by any authority at demarcation. The demarcation strikes we have had in various industries of the North make sense compared with the line drawn here. It seems that local prejudice must be overcome, and 488 I imagine that the Ministry will experience some difficulty in this direction, especially with the country districts.
Nevertheless, I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wells that a detailed survey must be made of the green belt areas, particularly the peripheries where they adjoin populated areas, to see if it is possible for some relaxation or realism to be brought into our consideration of the problem.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)
I support my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wells (Lieut.-Commander Maydon) in his Motion and endorse many of the things he said. I feel that if the green belt depended on Motions of this kind and the arguments my hon. and gallant Friend used—and, no doubt, the reply we shall get from the Government—its future would give rise to only small anxiety. But, unhappily, even the wishes and the plainly expressed feelings of this House—which have been expressed more than once on this subject—are not themselves a guarantee that the green belt will survive.
Other factors are involved, not all of which are clearly foreseen at present, and I do not think that good or even firm intentions will necessarily be sufficient to meet them. The preserving of the green belt requires something more than a green belt policy, for even such a policy would not, eventually, prove enough. What is needed is some recognition of the pressures which are building up all around it and the consequences which they will have unless some policies are found to reduce those pressures.
I am thinking—and speaking in particular—about the London green belt and the situation in south-east England. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wells spoke correctly about the Greater London green belt as the only one that is permanently and firmly described. I do not feel nearly as optimistic as my hon. and gallant Friend, for it is that green belt which now seems principally threatened.
Immense changes have occurred—and are still occurring at increasing speed—in this part of the country since the green belt policy was first declared. If these changes are not recognised and acted upon, whatever we may say in 489 the House the green belt around London is doomed sooner or later—the later the better—and nothing will save it. The most significant trend now in relation to the green belt—and many other matters—is the growth of employment in south-east England, and, in particular, around the London conurbation. This is rising at a fast speed, and the number of residents, not unnaturally, is rising with it.
This relates not only to London inside the green belt but to a new rim of London on the other side of it where, proportionately, the most rapid development is going on. New employment in the south-east region has been rising by about 100,000 a year over the last ten years. That has brought about 1 million new jobs to the south-east area in the last decade—and that is continuing, apparently unchecked.
I do not know—though I think it is relevant to the terms of the Motion—what the Government's attitude is about this; whether they view this trend with approval, with acquiescence or with disquiet. Do they think that this is something that is quite inevitable and cannot be stopped, or are they of the opinion that if they could do something about it they would like to? If it continues at the present pace I find it hard to believe that there will be a green belt worth its name in ten years from now.
In ten years' time, at the present rate, we shall require a second green belt for this so-called London area which will have to be outside and beyond the new rim which is now being formed in the outer circle. When discussing this subject we are speaking about immensely powerful forces involving industry, commerce and an unseen but immensely strong social will. The prime movers are industry and commerce, and where they go others must follow. Officially, I believe—not only for preserving the green belt but for many other things as well—there is a policy to check the establishment of new industry in the south-east region. I must say that I doubt whether that policy, if it exists, is very effective. Something like one-third of the whole of the factory floor space to be built in Britain during the last ten years has come into south-east England. Therefore, if it is our policy to reduce the amount of fresh factory floor space in the south-east region, something 490 has obviously gone wrong with the arithmetic or with the policy.
Added to this, in central London and in the outer London area, commercial development as opposed to industrial development is proceeding rapidly. Altogether, I think, nine out of ten new jobs found in Great Britain in the last decade have been found either in the Midlands or in south-east England. That is a staggering trend, and I do not think that we can discuss the green belt intelligently without at least wondering what our policy towards this lopsided development is eventually going to be. It is as if the whole of this island had been slightly tipped up, as it were, on one corner causing a steady flow down in the south-easterly direction.
Have we got any idea how we are going to reduce the magnetism of London and the wider magnetic field of south-east England? I stress this difficulty in relation to my hon. and gallant Member's remarks because it is not difficult to see, apart from the many problems which it will engender and which are not relevant to what we are discussing tonight, why this change constitutes a threat to the green belt.
The shape of what we have called Greater London, but which in reality is now a huge nameless conurbation stretching far into the Home Counties and running into something approaching 100 miles from east to west, is making it harder than ever, and certainly less comfortable than ever, for those who are drawn into this area, to relate their homes to their work. Some are living on one side of the green belt and crossing it inwards to come to work. Their number is increasing. There is a smaller number living on the Metropolitan side of the green belt who travel outwards to their work. That, I would add in parenthesis, in itself is rather a good development because we want to see more commercial and industrial development outside the outer edge, and we should like to see the morning trains with people in them moving in both directions instead of in only one direction. That in itself is satisfactory and it is a hopeful sign.
However, in this outer rim, the rim on the other side of the green belt, the population is rising by about 100,000 a year. It is rising five times faster than 491 anywhere else in the country. An increasing number of these people, because of the development in Central London, are having to move inwards. What I fear from these trends is that the time may come when the green belt appears to be not a lung to London but a nuisance to the community, something which increases the distance and the trouble which people have to take each day to travel to and from work—a barrier, an obstacle which has to be crossed twice daily.
Apart from this, by the nature of things this growing concentration of people in commerce and industry is going to increase the items enumerated by my hon. and gallant Friend which qualify for inclusion in the green belt. Naturally the greater the concentration of commerce and people, the more of these special items inside the green belt there must proportionately be. This will cause the green belt to resemble, as one planner described it the other day, a blanket with moth holes. Once it appears as a moth-eaten barrier, as it already does to some people, and will do to an increasing number, it will really be imperilled. It exists not with the consent of this House or the wish of the Minister; it exists by social consent. Once it seems to me more of a nuisance than a boon it becomes worthless.
This threat will increase unless we get to grips with the problem of the southeast. This problem, although it is not relevant to what we are discussing tonight, may be astonishingly affected by other decisions that we take. If we enter into the Common Market, the effect of what I have said tonight about southeast England and London and its relationship to the green belt can be multiplied by an unknown figure.
Recently Mr. Wyndham Thomas, the Director of the Town and Country Planning Association, and a great student of these things, observed:If the Government and the county councils succeed in preserving the green belts round our large cities over the next ten years without having taken strong and effective action to guide jobs and people together to many more new and expanded towns they will have worked the biggest confidence trick since the South Sea BubbleIn a friendly debate of this kind I do not go as far as that, but I do think 492 that doing one without the other will land us in increasing difficulties.
I do not expect my hon. Friend to say very much about these larger questions. All I hope is that he will keep them in mind and remind his right hon. Friend how very much they bear and how increasingly they are going to bear on the problem which is before us.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)
I should like to echo many of the things which my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) has said. I agree wholeheartedly with many of his remarks.
I suppose my hon. Friend will probably agree that a green belt not only serves the people who live in it, but it is also a pleasant area to which the inhabitants of the great cities can go for their rest and relaxation. At least, that is so in theory. In fact, there is a strong suspicion by the inhabitants of the green belt that some of the city dwellers would be very glad of the open spaces on which to build houses for their congested populations. I am sure that suspicion is well founded. Undoubtedly, if it became available for building, the green belt around London would be swallowed up in no time, and once built on it would be gone for ever.
In some ways this is understandable. Those in the city see the open spaces. They have their crowded areas. "Why not," they ask,"build the houses which the people need in those open spaces?" It is logical. But I am sure their problem cannot be solved by building on the green belt, particularly in the green belt round London, because once that has gone comes the question, Where do we go from there? As my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford said, it would not mean the end of London's expansion. It would mean only the beginning of a new expansion and the engulfing of ever wider stretches of our countryside in the south-east.
The problem of the pressure of population in London can be dealt with only on a much broader front. People are attracted to the London area as a result of our present prosperity, by the shortage of people there compared with the number of jobs, and by the high rates of pay. In my view, the first step 493 is to divert the sources of the jobs to other parts of the country. This diversion is greatly needed today and it would, if successful, benefit not only London, but the rest of the country. London's daily commuting problem, which becomes progressively worse, would be eased. It will not be eased so long as the demand for labour is so great. If the demand for people in the London area were eased, that would be the best way to preserve the green belt.
The danger is undoubtedly real. I have an interest in the matter since my constituency of Carshalton and Ban-stead has large areas of green belt land. The violent opposition in Carshalton and Banstead to the Greater London plan springs to some extent from the fear that, once the area is swept into the Greater London area—which heaven forbid, and which I hope will never occur—the green areas will be built over very quickly. I do not suppose that you would allow me to continue very long, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if I gave all the other reasons why Carshalton and Banstead do not want to be in the Greater London area, but you can imagine the fears of people in the Banstead district, which is the southernmost district of my constituency, where there is the smallest number of people per acre of all the fringe areas round London. They are highly suspicious of anything which may lead to their land being built over and ruined for everybody.
Although both the inhabitants of the green belt and the people of the city who use it have a vested interest in preserving the green belt, those who live in it or in the outer country areas are the best people to be given the authority to preserve it. Some interests in the city, naturally unable to resist pressures, are much more likely to give way, and the result would be a general loss.
If we are to retain our green areas, think that we shall do it by two means. First, let us remove the pressure by directing industry and commercial interests away from London. Second, let us leave control of the green belts firmly in the hands of the authorities outside the city area. They are not subject to the pressures for housing as those in the city are, and I am sure that in their hands the green belts will be preserved.
§ 7.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
I think I should at this stage indicate the general attitude of the Opposition towards the Motion. We are all grateful to the hon. and gallant Member for Wells (Lieut.-Commander Maydon) for raising the subject and opening the debate, but he will know that his very comprehensive Motion contains certain propositions which we on this side must regard as fanciful. For example, we cannot agree that progress in housing and slum clearance in recent years has been "commendable", nor can we agree, if we take the country as a whole, England, Scotland and Wales, that there is ashortage of suitable sites for all kinds of buildingas the Motion suggests.
The House will wish to have the matter in the right perspective. I have before me the Paper which Mr. Wyndham Thomas, the Director of the Town and Country Planning Association, recently read and from which the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) in his admirable speech quoted. Mr. Wyndham Thomas says thatOne of the most widely believed bits of modern mythology is that Britain is desperately short of land",and he goes on to sayWe have all the land we are likely to need, and for all the purposes for which we are likely to need it, for as far ahead as even the most far-sighted can seeThat is the opinion of an expert in the matter. Mr. Thomas estimates that there will be a decline in the agricultural area over the next twenty years of less than 2 per cent. and a corresponding increase in the urban area of slightly less than 2 per cent. Against this decline in the agricultural area, we must bear in mind that, on the record of average agricultural production since the end of the war, there should be an increase in total agricultural production of at least 20 per cent., and we should be getting a lot more food in this period out of a little less land.
It is true that we have less land to spare, relatively, than most other European countries. It is true also that there is a real shortage of sites in certain areas, the London conurbation being one of them. However, as I see 495 it, what we need now is proper far-sighted planning so that our land may be used economically and to the best advantage.
I wholeheartily agree with that part of the Motion which criticises sporadic development. However, when we consider the colossal housing task facing the country today, we at least cannot accept that the Government have matched the challenge. There have been various estimates of the number of houses which will be needed during the next twenty years. The Alliance Building Society in its recent booklet estimates that we shall need 8 million houses. Mr. J. R. James, the chief planner of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, estimates the need as 5 million over twenty years. The Town and Country Planning Association estimates 6 million.
Can we be confident that the Government are grappling with this enormous task? The emphasis in building has shifted from need, and from the national interest, to profitability. If an office block pays better than housing, although houses are desperately needed, it is the office block which goes up. Nearly 16 million square feet of new office space has been built in the central area of the County of London during the last three years.
This debate is primarily about green belt policy. Green belts are now acceptable to all political parties. We all want to keep the green belt inviolate, which was the word the Joint Parliamentary Secretary used in the Adjournment debate on 22nd November. The central question in this debate is whether we shall be able to keep the green belt unspoilt. I agree with the hon. Member for Ashford that the green belts round London and Birmingham are in real jeopardy. The Government must be held responsible for this state of affairs. The Government are allowing the pressures to which the hon. Gentleman referred to build up, and these pressures must inevitably destroy the green belts, whether the Government like it or not.
Here I call in aid a warning which was given recently by Mr. A. G. Powell, another official of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, in a paper entitled The Recent Development 496 of Greater London. This is what he says:The hard core of the London conurbation has been contained with substantial success within its green belt so long as land remained available for development within it, and planned reception areas provided safety valves beyond it. In and beyond the green belt, movements of population and industrial expansion have, with the aid of the motor car, created an embryonic conurbation 100 miles wide…. Unless a positive regional framework is provided, the strength of the geographic and economic forces involved threatens to break through the green belt and weld great new rings of urban development on to the core of the London conurbation as we know it todayThat is the view of an official of the Parliamentary Secretary's Department.
London and the great cities, primarily those in the so-called industrial coffin, which stretches from Merseyside to the Thames, are bursting at the seams. This is a tragedy in view of the high hopes that we had following the Barlow Report and the Abercrombie Plan. I say with pride that between 1945 and 1951 the Labour Government played their part. The Distribution of Industry Act, with which the name of our late colleague and friend Hugh Dalton will always be associated, succeeded in drawing substantial industries from the congested areas, often against the wishes of the industrialists who would have preferred to remain in London. This had a two-fold effect. By drawing these industries away from the London area and Birmingham to Wales, to the North-East, to Scotland and to other areas, the old distressed areas were transformed, and the pressures within the conurbations were relaxed.
Early in the 1950s, the Government, unfortunately, stopped using the Distribution of Industry Act and thereby increased the pressures in London and in Birmingham. In London, the growth of industry has been fantastic, and, as the hon. Member for Ashford so rightly said, virtually nothing has been done to check it. In a 20 to 30 mile belt round London, the population is increasing at the rate of five times and employment at about four times the national rate. The London region stretches from Southend and the Medway towns in the east to Reading in the west, from Bletchley in the north to Burgess Hill in the south, and from Chelmsford in Essex to Basingstoke in Hampshire. Within this London region live almost all the 497 people who travel to work in central London.
The population in this London region increased by 626,000 people between 1952 and 1960—from 11.7 to 12.3 million people. If we take 1956 as the starting point, the average annual increase has been over 97,000. Nothing at the moment seems to be stopping this trend. If it continues, it will lead to an increase in population of over 2 million people by 1980. This makes most bitter reading for those of us who come from Wales, from Scotland, from the North-East and from the South-West, where we have problems of high unemployment and depopulation. We are told, "Do what you can with the Local Employment Act." We have been told recently that we cannot have any more advance factories. The figures which I have quoted clearly show that the very evils which the Barlow Report and the Abercrombie Plan sought to avoid are now materialising because of the Government's inaction. This is the great tragedy of this debate.
I now wish to deal with the employment figures in the London region. I take London for the same reason as the hon. Gentleman—it is the largest problem and the green belt round London is the one which has received formal and final approval. Between 1952 and 1959, the insured population of England and Wales increased by 1,027,000 people, or 5.5 per cent. There were 460,000 new jobs in the London region—an estimated 60 per cent. in manufacturing industry and the remainder in service industries and offices. That means that the London region, with 27 per cent. of the population, gained 45 per cent. of the new jobs available in that period. These are the facts of life.
Instead of industry being distributed in places where it was needed—in Cornwall, Anglesey, Brecon and Radnor, where there is high unemployment and where young men are leaving home against their wishes, which is a form of direction of labour; people are compelled to leave because they have not a job—and instead of the pressure in and around London being relaxed, London is becoming more dominant economically and more congested and unmanageable. I do not know what is the attraction of London. I much prefer 498 North Wales. If it were not for the fact that I have to come here, I would not come here. Something must be done to demagnetise this magnet so that people can have the opportunity to live in the more pleasant parts of the country.
It may be said that industrial employment in and around London has decreased. This is true. But it has been more than offset by the increase in office jobs and service occupations in the conurbation as a whole and in the factories on the periphery.
In his paper, Mr. A. G. Powell said that the built-up area of London had beencontained … within its green belt so long as land remained available for developmentinside Londonand planned reception areas provided safety valves beyondthe green belt. He makes two provisos. Let us examine them. We know that the supply of building land in London is vanishing rapidly. The shortage is reflected in the excessive cost of sites. I do not think that any hon. Member on either side of the House would deny that. Plenty of examples of it have been given in many debates. I propose to give only two.
Last October, the Islington Borough Council had to abandon its plans to build twenty-eight flats when it found that the land would cost more than £100,000 an acre. The London County Council recently wished to buy for housing purposes a site intended for offices. It had to stop the housing scheme when it found that it would have to pay £4 million in compensation. The situation is becoming impossible. It is becoming impossible for local authorities in this area to do their work.
Mr. Powell's second proviso was planned reception areas. I am afraid that these are dwindling in capacity. The number of houses built in the London ring of new towns has fallen by half in less than four years and was down to 6,000 in 1960. In all the town expansion schemes under the Town Development Act—and hon. Members will recall the great promises held out of future development during the Second Reading of that Bill—for the reception of overspill from London, only 10,000 houses have been built since 499 the scheme started. This is a great disappointment, and it is an unhappy record, especially when we consider London's overspill problem.
Against this background, for how long will the green belt remain acceptable and popular? As I see it, these are the dangers: as more and more people live on the outer edge of the green belt and continue to work in London, their attitude will change. The green belt will be a barrier between home and work, and many of these people will come to regard it with resentment. In those circumstances, for how long can it remain tenable?
On the other hand, people in London, looking for houses, forced to pay fantastic rents and prices because of the scarcity and the high cost of land in London itself, will begin to blame the green belt for their difficulties. If the rise in land prices continues and there are no planned outlets for London overspill, there will soon be irresistible demands to allow housing in the green belt. I know that the Parliamentary Secretary agrees with me. I read the Report of the Adjournment debate of 22nd November which was initiated by the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Dance). If hon. Members have not read it, I wish they would do so, because in it one could detect an undertone of the forces which are at work and which might lead willy-nilly to the destruction of the green belts. Instead of being oases of peace, the green belts will become a no-man's land over which conflicting forces will fight a bitter battle—and I do not think that any party wishes that to come about.
The Government's responsibility in this matter is very great, and they must begin to face the facts. The procedural points made by the hon. and gallant Member for Wells were important, and I do not minimise them, but it is these forces behind the green belt which are really important. It does not matter what the procedure is if these forces ultimately destroy the green belt—and this is what we have to consider in the debate.
The Labour Party has a policy—a very good policy. I have no time to go into it in detail; it is available to be read, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will study it carefully. We 500 should plan more new towns and we should look again at the whole question of the distribution of industry in Britain. Clearly the Local Employment Act is inadequate; it does not seriously help to distribute industry. It may help a little in the pockets of unemployment, but it does not control the distribution of new industry in the way which is required. In the final analysis, the entire problem, with the related difficulties of housing and traffic congestion, which I have not mentioned, but which are important in this context, depends on the location of new industries. The Board of Trade knows quite well about this and about what happens when industry wants to expand and seeks an industrial development certificate.
What co-operation exists among the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in relation to green belts? This is the sort of thing which we ought to know. As far as I am aware, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government does not know what the Board of Trade is doing and what new industries are likely to arise in London. Can the Parliamentary Secretary say how many new industries are likely to be built in the London region during the next twelve months? That is the sort of information which we ought to have in the debate if it is to be useful. People leave Scotland and Wales for London and Birmingham because there is no work for them at home, and, as a result, we create unbalanced communities. This is going on all the time in this country. In Wales the position is unbalanced because our young people are leaving to find work. Here, in London, there are too many people.
The Government are responsible. We want to know what they intend to do about it. We are entitled to know. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us. It is no use the Government merely saying, "We believe in the green belt". That is what the Chief Secretary to the Treasury said time and again, but it is not enough. If the Government continue to allow the forces which will destroy the green belt to develop unhindered, then the green belt policy will collapse.
I have reached the stage at which I begin to suspect the Government when 501 they say that they believe in something. They say, "We believe in the green belt, we believe in the United Nations, we believe in the National Health Service, we believe in healthy competition." It is when they say that that I begin to see the edifice cracking and crumbling. Justification by faith is not enough; we must have works, too. We need education by faith and good works.
We are debating a great problem which presents an enormous challenge to the Government and to the nation, but I am afraid—and I say this honestly and candidly, not as a piece of party politics—that the Government have not the energy, the vision or the imagination to match this great challenge.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Govment (Mr. Geoffrey Rippon)
We have had from the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) what the Socialists would describe as justification by words. He certainly ended with a splendid peroration. It is a great joy to all of us to know that there is a Socialist policy if only we buy a booklet to read about it.
I very much welcome the initiative which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wells (Lieut.-Commander Maydon) has shown in setting down the Motion, which raises matters which are of very great interest to the House and which ought to be of very great concern to the public at large. I noted what he said about the importance of trying by all possible means to give the public information about the progress which has been made. He was good enough to say—and the Motion affirms it—that considerable progress has been made in housing and in slum clearance in recent years. The hon. Member for Anglesey seems to dissent from that part of the Motion. We all know that in January my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing opened the four millionth house completed in Great Britain since the end of the war, over three million of them under a Conservative Government. That means that one house in every four in this country is a modern house, built to modern standards. By any test that represents considerable progress.
502 There was a full debate on housing on 2nd February, and I will not go into all the details which were then raised. I will only emphasise that, in spite of all that has been achieved, it is estimated that over 500,000 slums remain, and a large number of additional houses will become unfit as times goes on. The Government will continue to give a very high priority to slum clearance and will encourage local authorities in dealing with this problem as rapidly as the nation's resources will permit. The problem is greatest in the large cities, such as Liverpool and Manchester, and we are approving tenders as fast as they can be put into the machine.
Apart from getting rid of the slums, we have to plan, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Cooper) said, in an era of increasing prosperity for a rising demand for houses. We all know how over the past years young people have been marrying earlier and how the birth rate has been rising. As this happens they want separate houses of their own much more quickly than was the case in the old days, just as old people and single people also look for homes of their own. That is one field in which double banking is not as popular as it was. The number of households has increased to a far greater extent than the population in spite of the increase in the birth rate, and that tendency seems likely to continue.
The result of all this, as the hon. Member for Anglesey quite rightly pointed out, is that land has been used up, especially in some areas, considerably faster than the planners could or did anticipate when the first development plans were drawn up in 1950. At the same time he is quite right in saying that there is no general shortage of land taking the country as a whole, so perhaps to a slight extent I might join issue with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wells. The fact that that is so made some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Anglesey a little more harrowing than might have been necessary.
As the House will know, in 1960, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, then the Minister of Housing and Local Government, asked the planning authorities—in Circular 37—to consider whether more land needed to be allocated for 503 housing and other purposes and to take special measures where shortage of land was becoming a problem. All the evidence we have shows that local authorities are taking this matter seriously, and many of them have already provided more land. Thus we are endeavouring to make sure that enough land will be available in the more immediate years. Of course, taking the longer term it is going to be one of the problems to be dealt with in the current review of development plans which is now taking place. The same circular stressed the need to which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wells rightly attaches importance, to make more intensive use of urban land.
Since the circular that point has been hammered home in a variety of ways and on numerous occasions. As recently as 2nd February, my right hon. Friend told the House that it was our policy to make better use of the older and undeveloped land for rebuilding at higher densities. Densities of six to eight to the acre devour land at an alarming rate, and if we are to make the best use of our land we have to accept higher densities than hitherto has been thought necessary or desirable in many areas. Every case must be judged on its merits, but there is no doubt that very considerable savings in land can be made by a quite moderate increase in densities.
By raising net density of an area from 24 persons to the acre to 40 per acre and the number of houses from 8, roughly, to an acre to 13, it is possible to save about 17 acres of land per 1,000 of population, or to put it another way, to save enough land to house another 500 people. My right hon. Friend has told the House that he is doing his utmost in the appeals which come before him to see that land is put to the best advantage, and in that connection we hope to publish soon a bulletin on the subject of densities in order to stimulate interest in this subject.
My hon. and gallant Friend also refers specifically to the need to stimulate infilling in urban areas. I do not think I can give my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South a precise definition. It is a term of art rather than of law. Much depends on the circumstances of each particular case. There is, happily, increasing
504 evidence that builders are realising that there is not an inexhaustible supply of virgin land which it is easy to develop and that their outlets will come more and more to be found in the redevelopment of already built-up areas. There are undoubtedly large areas in London and other big cities built 50, 60 or even 100 years ago in a manner which is quite unsuitable to present needs. I am thinking particularly of the large Victorian houses with large gardens which people neither want nor can afford to live in these days. There is certainly scope there for the private builder who can acquire properties like this to redevelop them as modern homes for modern tastes.
I think that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wells may be a bit pessimistic in suggesting that such projects must necessarily be uneconomic. I do not think that is normally true in our cities. He referred specifically to subsidies to local authorities for marginal building. We have just passed the Housing Act, 1961, which gives substantial help to local authorities in the matter of subsidies. They ought not to relate their subsidies to any difficult site but should provide a pool from which they can manage their housing undertakings.
We have in all this to be careful to ensure that small-scale, piecemeal infilling of sites as and when builders can get hold of them does not result in a fearful mess. We are not going to encourage people to get hold of bits of land and do infilling which might cause something quite contrary to proper planning for the community as a whole. We must also recognise that however intensively we develop inside our towns and cities there will be a housing need which can only be met by overspill, with expanded towns and indeed also with new towns. This means selection of adequate land beyond the green belt for development, avoiding wherever possible, as laid down in the circular, good agricultural land. That, of course, is the answer to the hon. Member for Anglesey who told us that Socialist policy was to have new towns.
Of course, it is also Government policy to carry forward expanded town programmes, to promote overspill by all means, and that includes moving people and jobs to new towns where that may 505 also prove appropriate. We have got to accept that, because it has been assumed, and I think my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wells accepts this, that altogether from 30,000 to 40,000 acres of new land each year will be required to meet all our needs for new houses, schools, roads, factories, playing fields and all the rest. So there is no room for doubt on either side of the House about the size of the demand or that much of it will have to come from agricultural land whatever steps we take to step up densities or to secure the better use of urban land.
The safeguarding of agricultural land and the prevention of sporadic development are matters which can really be dealt with in the framework of the present planning procedures. One of the objects of planning policy has for long been to ensure that valuable agricultural land is not taken but less valuable land is 'taken instead, and that development which is unnecessarily extravagant in the use of land is not undertaken. There are standing arrangements by local authorities to consult the Regional Land Commissioners of the Ministry of Agriculture both when development plans are being prepared and subsequently when planning applications are being considered.
We have to be very careful about how we use agricultural land, but the safeguarding of it and the prevention of sporadic development are matters which are not directly dependent upon the existence of a statutory green belt, which has other purposes, though it may serve incidentally, of course, the object of preventing sporadic development and preserving agricultural land. However, that was not really the objective of the green belt policy. Indeed, we cannot contemplate a green belt surrounding all towns or even all sizeable towns. In the normal way, towns should be left to grow naturally, subject, of course, to the normal planning controls. It is only for large cities and large areas of population that special provisions may be required, and it is with those that most of the green belt proposals to which my hon. and gallant Friend referred are concerned.
I think he is quite right in saying that there is a good deal of misunderstanding about the nature and purpose of the green belt. It may be established for 506 one of three purposes; to check the growth of a large built-up area, to prevent neighbouring towns from merging into one another, and to preserve the special character of a town. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) rather gave the impression that he thought that the green belt was for the benefit of his constituents. I should like to emphasise that I do not believe that it is just for the benefit of the people who happen to be lucky enough to live within the proposed green belt.
§ Captain Elliot
I thought that I made absolutely clear that city dwellers had a vested interest in it just as much as the people who live there. It is for the benefit of both.
§ Mr. Rippon
I am glad to have that emphasised. It is important that we do not take a selfish attitude about the green belt. In the words of the old poem,We are the choice selected few;Let all the rest be damned.There's room enough in Hell for you;We won't have Heaven cramm'dI am glad that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton has views so much in line with those of Sir Patrick Abercrombie who certainly conceived the green belt as serving a double purpose both rural and urban. The former is basically, of course, its agricultural use.
The urban use he described as twofold. First as an extension or completion of the internal park system, except that in the green belt full public accessability would occur only at certain places, through footpaths and country lanes and so on. The second urban use was to set a limit to town growth. I think that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wells was quite right to emphasise that the green belt was not meant to be a sterilised area. I think that one of the best definitions yet found of the green belt is given in the Scott Report, 1942. The footnote to paragraph 201 on page 71 states:Although the term 'green belt' is of comparatively recent introduction it seized the public imagination and has become not only widely used but still more widely misused. It is a townsman's expression which embodies a townsman's point of view and has come, unfortunately, so mean a belt of open land—of commons, woods and fields—to be 'preserved' from building (or, as is often said. 507 'sterilised') and so to serve as an encircling ring of green round the smoke and dirt of the town, perhaps with 'wedges' of green penetrating towards the heart of the town itself. But open land cannot be 'preserved' and such a concept is false. We conceive the green belt to be a tract of ordinary country, of varying width, round a town, and as a tract where the normal occupations of farming or forestry should be continued so that here, as elsewhere in rural land, the farmer is the normal custodian of the land. This is the reverse of 'sterilisation'; it is the preservation of fertility. But in the green belt there is a difference. The townsman himself is vitally concerned in the maintenance of the open character of the land and the belt will naturally include golf courses and open common land primarily for his use. On the other hand the farmer is compelled to recognise that the farmland is serving a dual purpose, and that there may be types of farming (e.g., sheep rearing) unsuitable for such an area, where sheer propinquity brings urban-minded people into rural surroundings. But in essence the green belt is just a tract of the countryside.The Scott Report envisaged development of an appropriate character within it. Any expansion of existing towns and villages lying within the boundaries of that tract of countryside will normally be small. Outside, any existing towns and villages may well be selected for expansion to meet the overspill from the conurbations or towns. I think that was the point made by the hon. Member for Anglesey—that in preserving the green belt we have to face the need for overspill town development and new town schemes beyond it, properly planned.
Only yesterday there were hon. Members opposite who said that the Greater London Council would have nothing interesting to do. It will be charged with the responsibility of overspill, and I think that the hon. Member for Anglesey has emphasised how important that responsibility will be. While we are not, of course, willing to encourage towns and cities to cast excessively covetous eyes on the virgin lands immediately around their boundaries, it is necessary to consider whether building there will mean less loss of amenity, about which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wells is concerned, than jumping over the green belt into the rest of the countryside.
We must bear in mind that, where necessary and possible, existing towns and cities must be allowed some elbow room. As I said on 22nd November, that is not by any means the same thing as allowing urban sprawl or ribbon 508 development. The object must be to guide and regulate rather than hold up these natural forces of expansion. Because we take such a strong view that, once established, the green belt line around existing communities should be virtually inviolate, to use a word which has been accepted on both sides of the House and has been often used, it is all the more necessary to take the utmost care in settling that line.
§ Mr. C. Hughes
The hon. Gentleman talked about the natural forces of expansion. One would agree with him that in many areas it is proper to allow cities of a certain size to expand in certain directions. What would he say about London in that context? Have the natural forces of expansion gone far enough in that area?
§ Mr. Rippon
The hon. Member said that he would refer to London only because it was the only established green belt. The Motion urges the Government to hasten the process of designating green belts elsewhere, and a good many assurances have been given about the position of the London green belt.
I am considering the position where there is a provisional green belt and where it has been said that we are rather slow in setting the line. It is because we take such a firm view after the green belt is settled that we must take care at this stage. It is therefore necessary that the Minister should be free to consider the matter in appropriate cases, as has been suggested. Certain provisional boundaries may be too tightly drawn or some important and specific issue must be considered before a green belt area as a whole is finally settled. I am grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wells for explaining so clearly the way in which the procedure of the green belt operates, starting normally from the sketch plan and ending with the submission of proposals for formal incorporation in the development plans. We have twenty-four of these formal proposals before us and we expect the remainder to be submitted in a steady flow.
I do not think that we can expect that the procedure as such can be speeded up. There may be certain decisions that should be taken in the interim period and there may be serious decisions to be taken when the line is settled. I 509 think that this procedure is right. There is provision for public inquiry into the proposals and when the Minister considers those proposals and makes suggestions for modifications there is provision for an inquiry into that. The issues are so important and the effect on private and public interests so great that I think we should adopt that procedure. It is the procedure recommended by the Council on tribunals.
The second inquiry cannot be any quicker than the first, because it must be approached by my right hon. Friend with an open mind, weighing all the new evidence brought forward in the light of new proposals. At the same time, we appreciate the importance of getting these green belts established so that people will really know where they stand.
There are some difficult decisions to be taken. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deeds) set out some of the wider issues and some of the problems which have to be faced. I am equally well aware that a decision does not become any easier if it is delayed or evaded. Usually the reverse is true. At the same time, we cannot jeopardise a fair and sensible solution by trying to be in too much of a hurry.
With the two broad objectives of the Motion—the speeding up of the establishment of green belts and the encouragement of the more intensive use of urban land—I am sure the House will be in sympathy. Subject to the reservations that I have made in my speech, I commend the broad objectives of the Motion to the House.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
All hon. Members will be grateful to the hon. and gallant Member for Wells (Lieut.-Commander Maydon) for initiating a debate on this subject. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) that there is still very much to be done in providing houses for the people who need them. However, the Motion speaks not only of housing but of all kinds of building, and I should like to refer to what my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey said about the building and siting of factories.
The Local Employment Act is being frustrated now. Particularly because of 510 the Government's move to join the Common Market and because of their policy favouring great monopolies, there is a tendency for factory buildings to be concentrated in and around the great conurbations, to the detriment of places with high local unemployment.
In this respect, I wish to refer to Camborne-Redruth, where I live. Three months ago I.C.I. finally abandoned a factory which had existed there for 130 years, and left it altogether. Five years ago the factory employed 500 people. Admittedly, they were skilled people. This huge concern, with vast ramifications in industry, was prepared to leave the industrial area of mid-Cornwall without employment in order to concentrate on something goodness knows where.
That is a tendency to which the Minister and the President of the Board of Trade and also the Cabinet will have to pay very great attention, because when in a small town of 35,000 people one closes a factory which has employed 500 persons, that makes a very great difference indeed.
However, I welcomed the point in the Parliamentary Secretary's speech where be referred to sporadic development and the dangers that can arise in the infilling of small and unsuitable plots. I have seen very many instances of this. A point which I should like to emphasise is that, as I see it in travelling in my county and throughout the country, we seem to be pursuing a policy of ribbon development far faster now than at almost any time in the last forty years. We thought that ribbon development had ended, but if one travels any distance now one seems rarely to be in open countryside.
I thought that the description by the Parliamentary Secretary of a green belt as "just a tract of countryside" was quite right. But there is one point that we must all bear in mind, especially hon. Members opposite, in thinking of a property-owning democracy, and that is the wickedly high prices now charged for building sites. Very high prices indeed are charged in Cornwall generally and in some parts of my constituency.
I also draw attention to our debate on 11th December, 1961, on the problems of rural transport. The sporadic building 511 development and ribbon development going on in the countryside is enhancing transport difficulties, especially where British Railways are seeking very quickly to close down branch lines.
Ten days ago, the consultative council heard the Transport Commission's proposals for closing down the Gwinear Road-Helston line, which is partly in my constituency. Last week, I received proposals for the closing down of the Chacewater-Newquay line, which just borders my constituency but which will have serious consequences for Mid-and West Cornwall. The bus services are likely to meet far greater difficulties than they have done in the past. It therefore seems to me that the whole question of building development, including housing, must be linked with the question of rural transport, especially in the county areas.
The Parliamentary Secretary did not reply to the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey about the considerable factory development that has gone on in the London area and between London and Reading and is still continuing. I thought that the Parliamentary Secretary would have given attention to this and to the fact that factory expansion in London and the South-East is proceeding faster than in the rest of the country. When we see the huge palatial office blocks in London, which employ vast numbers of people, and when we realise that transport in London is fast becoming entangled almost beyond redemption, we consider that the Government should take seriously the whole question of building, both in the big conurbations and in the countryside.
I am grateful to the Minister for his decision to prevent mining exploitation and uncertain development in the Zennor area, which adjoins my constituency. He has shown a wise outlook concerning a piece of one of the liveliest cliffs in the country and I am grateful to him for it. I hope that he will also consider sympathetically the question of green belts and ribbon development.
§ 8.48 p.m.
Sir Colin Thoraton-Kemsley (North Angus and Mearns)
The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. 512 Hayman) and many other hon. Members who have participated in this debate have spoken of the immense pressures which are building up in the south-east of England and of the tremendous demand for offices and factories and for housing near to places of work, all of which is driving up the price of land and exerting enormous pressure upon our one statutory green belt.
My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary was quite right, as, indeed, was my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wells (Lieut.-Commander Maydon), who did us proud by choosing this subject and opening the debate in the way he did, to call attention to the fact that there are two stages of green belt policy. There are the statutory, established green belts and there are the proposed green belts around, to mention only a few places, Southampton, Oxford, Cambridge, Bath, Bristol, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Coventry, York and Newcastle, spread right over the country.
These provisional green belts are still under examination, as indeed is the greatest provisional green belt of all, the proposals in the development plans of certain of the Home Counties—Surrey Berkshire, Hertfordshire and Essex in particular—to push out the statutory green belt almost to the county boundaries and give a great width of green belt round the Metropolis. It is this proposal that I want, if not to attack, at least to criticise, and to do it in conjunction with the phrase used by the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes), that the pressures which are building up must inevitably destroy the green belt.
I hope that will not happen. I agree with the hon. Gentleman when he says that on both sides of the House there are many voices which would subscribe to the inviolability of the green belt; that the statutory green belt once established should remain inviolate. That is why, as my hon. Friend said, it is important to take a good look, even if it sometimes means a long look, at proposals to establish further green belts.
What will happen will be that the fact which the hon. Member for Anglesey fears, the destruction of the green belt, will be brought a great deal nearer if we are unrealistic about permitting extensions, and it seems to me that at the 513 heart of this problem—and it is a real one—there is a fundamental conflict of interest. On the one hand, there is the natural desire, which we all share, that "England's green and pleasant land" shall remain as green as we can possibly make it, and that there shall be a green environment for those of us who live near the great cities. But, on the other, there is the fact to which my hon. and gallant Friend drew attention, that the greatest problem today is the shortage of building sites.
That fact has driven up the price of land, as has been recognised by more than one speaker tonight, and has indeed been recognised by the fact that on two occasions within the last fifteen months or so we have had full day debates in the House about the price of land in this country. In free market conditions the only way to hold down the price of building land is to allow a substantial release of land for residential purposes in the pressure areas.
How are we to do that and at the same time maintain our green belts, and in particular maintain the statutory green belt round London? How can these conflicting requirements be reconciled? I believe that this is a great task of statesmanship; a task to which my right hon. Friend will need to devote much of his great knowledge and imagination. I believe that my right hon. Friend knows the problem. It is certainly important that it should be faced fairly and realistically, with a determination to overcome it as far as possible.
The policy of pushing, or attempting to push, London's green belt almost out to the extremity of the Home Counties is a mistaken one. It is mistaken, because it Will multiply the problems of the Chigwell sites, which were brought to the notice of the House earlier in the debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Cooper). At one time I lived at Chigwell. I do not pretend to know the circumstances now, nor am I familiar with the site my hon. Friend mentioned. It is a particular case, because it is in the statutory green belt, but we know of many cases where planning permission has been refused in respect of land which has no agricultural value whatsoever but which is ripe for development with houses and where 514 services are available. Permission has been refused simply because the land is in an area which is proposed to be added to the green belt.
What we have so far failed to recognise in all its implications is the manifest arrival, at any rate in the London area, of what has been called the city region. Growing around the great Metropolis, extending for 40 miles in all directions, is what is virtually a great city region. This demands two things. I should be out of order if I spoke about the first at any length this evening, because the first is a regional planning organisation. The second is a conscious effort to determine points of growth outside the statutory green belt. These points of growth must include new towns, expanded towns, and expanded villages. All these focal points of development should be against a green background, but not necessarily within a green belt.
The conception I have is of the great city region—the magnet, which it is, the centre of culture, the arts and education, and the seat of government, surrounded by the statutory green belt, much as it is at present, and absolutely inviolate. Beyond that I should like to see points of growth consciously worked out—new towns and expanded towns—where land will be released in considerable quantities quite quickly because the price must be kept down. Around that I should like to see, not a further green belt, but a green background, giving a means of access to the countryside from these points of growth.
This is especially a London problem, but if we can put such a scheme into effect in the London area we shall have a great chance of showing the way for the other great conurbations, the other emerging city regions. I refer to the Manchester conurbation, the Birmingham-Coventry area, Liverpool, Newcastle, all the great conurbations of the west Midlands, and Southampton in the South. In these areas the problem is becoming acute, particularly in pressure areas such as the west Midlands and the south-eastern segment of Britain, where the demand for land and houses is so high.
We must be realistic about this. It is no good trying to fight against natural tendencies. The natural tendency is for industry to want to go near the coast in 515 the South where it can have access to the Continent. There is something approaching a great industrial area now stretching from Essex, right through London, down to Southampton, crossing the Channel, and going through almost to the Rhine. We want to see that it is not all built up. There must be a green background.
But we must recognise that it is no good denying absolutely an outlet for economic pressures of that kind, and I want to see this faced squarely, and a conscious attempt made at high Ministerial level, at Cabinet level if required, to ensure that this green belt policy is looked at realistically, keeping inviolate the established green belt but releasing sufficient land at the right price to permit building and to enable the price of building land to be kept at a reasonable level.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Skeffington (Hayes and Harlington)
Like other hon. Members, I should like to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Wells (Lieut. -Commander Maydon) on introducing this very important subject. I apologise that I was not here to hear part of his speech and I look forward to reading it. I can see, as we all can, what an interesting debate he has initiated.
This is a most significant subject, because I believe that the provision and maintenance of green belts in present times has become an indispensable condition of healthy and gracious living for us all. For that reason, I regarded the speech of the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley) with considerable misgivings. I thought that he was providing all the sorts of reasons which will always be given about making some inroads into green belts, particularly in areas where the formal desigation has not yet been made.
I had one other reflection about green belts, as I listened to the speeches, particularly that of the Parliamentary Secretary. It was a sad reflection, leading almost to cynicism. I thought of the first authority which had the courage and the initiative to go out for a green belt before the war, very often against the advice of Government spokesmen and very often having to coerce other 516 authorities to co-operate by all kinds of flattery; the authority which secured the only green belt which at the moment exists and has been statutorily defined. This was the London County Council, under the leadership of Lord Morrison—and this is the body which the Government are about to kill and merge in the Greater London Council.
It is not a very pleasant reflection. Thanks to the foresight and to the many schemes which members of the L.C.C. devised in order to get land before the war, we have the green belt. As is usually the case, when it was known that a public body of that kind was after land, the price of that land became extraordinarily inflated. All kinds of strategems had to be devised in order to secure at a fair price what has become one of the great features, the redeeming feature, of this highly congested area in and around the capital of the Commonwealth.
The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) was very pessimistic about the maintenance of the green belt around London, and I must admit that to some extent I share his pessimism, which to a degree has been reinforced by the speech of the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns. Of course, the pressures are enormous around any great City, and certainly around the capital city of the Commonwealth. And there is no guarantee that those pressures will not be successful in breaching the green belt unless the Government are prepared to take positive and constructive action. It is the fact that we have seen little positive action from the Government over the last ten years, which adds to our fears and which has undoubtedly increased the problem.
Various figures have been given, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes), to explain why this is. I do not want to add very much to them, except to re-emphasise what amounts to a very considerable criticism of the Government for their failure to do very much about the location of industry. We know that the three regions centring on London account for more than 50 per cent. of the new employment, another 20 per cent. is in the two Midland regions, and the rest is spread over the remainder of the country. That is an extraordinarily high concentration. Good 517 planning could have prevented it, but no positive steps, or very few, have been taken since 1951.
The Ministry of Labour Gazettes from 1952 to 1962 show that between those years the London and South-Eastern Region, the Eastern Region and the Southern Region have had a net gain of about 187,000 insured employees. How different is the story elsewhere. Even the Midland Region has lost 3,000 and, as my hon. Friend mentioned, Wales lost 32,000 net in the same period, and Scotland lost 63,000 net. Furthermore, as Professor Sykes pointed out in a recent article in the Journal of the Town Planning Institute, 80 per cent. of the new employment in the Home Counties area is in new industries and only 20 per cent. in the old ones. What a contrast to Wales, where only 25 per cent. of the new employment is in new industry.
The central problem is the location of industry; encouragement should be given to firms to go to the areas where there is more space, less pressure on the schools, and less trouble about communications. The failure to take much more positive action over location of industry during the last ten years—when, apparently, we have been having it so good—will, I am sure, be one of the great future criticisms of our society. We shall pay for it very dearly, indeed, unless, even at this late hour, the Government are prepared to take much more effective action than they have in the past.
Because of this great concentration, particularly in the Greater London area—where the rate of unemployment is only half that of the worst of our development districts—great pressures have been exercised in all sorts of ways on the authorities and on the Government themselves. Derrick Senior wrote a series of articles in The Guardian a few months ago in which he showed the enormous temptations—bribes, indeed—offered to authorities. I do not for one moment suggest that those bribes are taken, but a tremendous temptation is presented. We know that speculators and investors frequently pay £100 an acre of agricultural land for the first option to purchase should the land ever be designated for building purposes. 518 Unless the Government are watchful, things are bound to go wrong in that kind of atmosphere.
A typical case of what these pressures can do comes from one of the metropolitan county councils. As some kind of inquiry is now being held, I do not want to mention names. The Parliamentary Secretary may know them and, in any case, the papers will all go to him. I will not, therefore, argue the merits of the case, but will use it only to illustrate the kind of difficulties confronting authorities under the existing pressures.
A proposal has been made six or seven times by various groups of developers to create a new village in the Home Counties on what is almost the last remaining unspoilt escarpment of a very celebrated range of hills. There is more than one range so perhaps I have not given too near a definition to show precisely where the spot is. Everyone admits that this is a spot of outstanding natural beauty and it is not what I might describe as just an average piece of land. I repeat that it is considered to be an outstanding natural beauty spot with excellent landscape.
The county council concerned had itself informally designated the area as a green belt, and if the Ministry had been able to act more quickly, and if the plans had been approved, perhaps the area would have been statutorily designated by now and the whole of this unfortunate episode would not have arisen. But tremendous pressures have been brought to bear. There have been eight or nine applications and four or five inquiries. On the last occasion that the matter came before the county council a decision to allow development was reached by a majority of only one vote. In the last inquiry the Minister's inspector reported that there was no social justification for the scheme and that no such social justification for it had ever been produced.
The scheme meets no known local requirement; it would not provide houses for local people, for local housing problems hardly exist. Most of the local authorities involved are not building houses, because they consider that they do not have local housing problems. Thus, in the area to which I am referring, development would be 519 provided but it would have been achieved by spoiling this beauty spot which is visited by thousands of people in the summer months. Accommodation would be provided for commuters, bringing people to the area who do not already live there and causing consequent expense to the existing rate-payers for the provision of schools, roads, sewerage and all the other amenities.
A scheme of that kind, if approved, would not only destroy the beauty of the place but, as there is in it a proposal for high flats which would be seen for miles around, would completely alter the whole character of this stretch of country. The tragedy is that within ten miles there are Victorian, worn-out houses in half-a-dozen towns—I nearly mentioned them, but I must not do so in the circumstances. These old houses are crying out to be rebuilt. They exist in places where the land use is extremely bad and where new houses are really needed. Instead of that we have all this paraphernalia of one inquiry after another in an effort to make a speculative development which, I hope, will never be permitted. If permission were granted it would not only destroy the beauty of the place but it would take valuable building resources away from other areas where they could do a socially useful job.
I have related the events in this area as an example of the kind of situation that is being created today. The county council concerned has a good planning record and the fact that all this has happened shows the pressures that exist and the vigilance that must be maintained. I hope that, as a result of giving this example, the Government will realise that considerable constructive action is required not only by the Ministry concerned but by the Board of Trade to try to divert some of this pressure to other areas where it is really required.
There have been two major reasons which have made the present green belt position even worse. The first, which has already been referred to, is the high price of land. I will not go into this in detail because it is outside the subject of the debate, although it is important to keep it in mind. The second concerns negative planning. This 520 is partly due—and it was referred to by the Royal Commission in its proposals for the Greater London area—to the fact that—and the Royal Commission mention this—there has not been one effective planning authority. The tragedy is that the solution proposed by the Government will itself not provide an effective planning authority. It will be too small to deal with the sort of case I have just mentioned, because such a case would be outside the boundary of the Greater London Council.
In five to ten years' time we might have another Royal Commission saying that an even more effective planning authority is required to cover the whole of the area of the Home Counties. Another cause of this negative planning attitude is the difficulty about compensation which arose once we repealed some of the provision of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. It often happens that an authority feels that it must allow development because it does not want to land itself with the heavy sums that become payable.
There are four or five things that I think need to be done. I have mentioned the location of industry and the need for much more positive steps and inducements of various kinds to get industry and, where possible, administration out of this area. There is no reason why that should not be done. There is a need for some limitation of the price of land, and there are various ways in which that can be done.
I also hope that there can be a much speedier process of confirming areas designated as open spaces and as green belts. I entirely agree with the Parliamentary Secretary that where people's rights are being infringed there must be adequate opportunities for protest and appeal. But an extraordinary length of time passes before we even get general outline planning maps, and it is very difficult to justify these delays. In the County of Kent where I live, the draft map was completed in July, 1953, nine years ago. Nobody has the faintest idea when the provisional map will be published. Then there has to be a definitive map. Something ought to be done to speed up the process. It is only fair to developers. It is certainly fair to the population as a whole, that this should be done.
521 I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will give some attention to this matter, because until one can expedite the publication of definitive planning maps there will always be this continual pressure of one kind and another, and that will be bad, not only for planning but for the country.
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Rees (Swansea, West)
I wish to take up the point which the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) has just made about the protracted delays in the publication of town plans and definitive maps. This has a very detrimental effect upon the planning of an area, on development and also on the allocation of land for development.
I think the point ties in very well with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley), that unless a substantial supply of building land is released now we cannot tackle the problem of high prices of land. These development plans have been in the brewing stage for quite long enough, and it is high time that definite, clear-cut planning decisions were made.
We shall never get a perfect plan if we continue to revise it. Social and transport conditions change. All sorts of things make a plan out of date very quickly. Somebody will always want to make an alteration. It is much better to have as near a good plan as possible now than to carry on with procrastination, which is a most expensive luxury that we cannot afford.
Much has been said about the green belt, but I do not want to say too much about that. Representing a provincial seat rather than a London seat, I do not want to become involved in the London green belt problem from a theoretical point of view. However, I would just like to say this about the use of the green belt. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wells (Lieut.-Commander Maydon), who has done a great service to the House in moving this Motion, said that a green belt should not be a sterilised zone, and that is very true. One sure way of preserving a green belt is to have within it a certain measure of development of a character which makes it quite out of keeping with urban 522 development which we are trying to prevent. In some of the provincial and rural areas development of a nature suitable for holidays would be advantageous.
In South Wales there is a proposed green belt, or, rather, a thought-of green belt—one cannot put it higher than that—in the area of which I submitted a planning application and was refused because the proposed development, so it was said, would interfere with the rural amenities of the neighbourhood and would also affect the green belt. Hon. Members will appreciate my sense of frustration when I tell them that the application was to level off a tip from a disused colliery and put a pair of semidetached houses on the land. That is the sort of peculiar decision which comes out at present, bringing green belt policy into contempt.
The green belt policy must be clearly laid down, it must be followed and it must be supported, but, also, it must appear to be logical. It must not be the result of someone having a compass set at a certain radius and drawing a circle round a town, saying that that indicates the green belt.
One of the ways to ease pressure on the green belts is quite clearly brought out in the Motion where it refers tothe development of building sites which may not be entirely economic from the builder's point of viewand in its references tomeasures to stimulate in-filling in urban areas.Not nearly enough is done to stimulate infilling in urban areas. I am quite sure that if my hon. Friend and his right hon. Friend examine the development plans which are already in existence they will see that there are many areas which have been set aside unnecessarily because nobody knows quite what will happen in the future. They should be bold in the release of that land now marked within the town map areas and designate it for the building of private houses or whatever it may be. Let them do it now, promptly, and release the land for building instead of procrastinating and saying that we should wait to see what comes out of the next five-year review. Procrastination will only mean that there will be sporadic development within our 523 towns which will make the five-year review even more difficult.
Something else very often overlooked is the comprehensive redevelopment of a town area which has now become a twilight area. It may be that a twilight area has been used for warehouse accommodation or for commercial and industrial use. In this country we do not do enough to regard such twilight areas as comprehensive units and redevelop them for mixed development, no longer saying that the use should be for warehouse purposes or for factories only. Let us cut down on the waste of sites on roads by bringing the dwelling accommodation into the same area. Every time a housing estate is developed, at least 10 per cent.—perhaps as much as 15 per cent.—is wasted on roads and sundry services not used for housing.
There are schemes throughout the world either proposed or in existence which the Ministry could examine where the warehouse accommodation is at one level, the roads are raised to a higher level, the shopping accommodation is then put on, and above that the dwelling accommodation is erected. I know that it is costly to build high, but if the profitable ground floor levels are used so as to yield the high rents, the rents on the top level, with mixed development, can indirectly be subsidised.
The next question is, Who is to do it? Central government and local government have not the capital finance at the moment, but central government or local government can acquire the land and economically release it to private enterprise to develop a worth-while scheme in the interests of the community at large, redeveloping the land on a commercial basis. We have not gone nearly far enough in the direction of redevelopment today. It can be done and it must be done. This is why I have been speaking about the industrial, semi-industrial or warehouse areas. In comprehensively redeveloping them, one does not meet the problem which arises in slum-clearance work. In doing slum clearance, one may displace a hundred families and put back only fifty. Space has to be found for the other fifty, but, more than that, one must find space for the 100 in the first instance before the redevelopment scheme can be carried out. If one goes to semi-industrial areas 524 of the kind to which I have referred, on the other hand, one may well find the small margin of accommodation which we need so much today for the comprehensive redevelopment of our cities.
Another point which we tend to overlook is that buildings outlive their usefulness in a comparatively short time. Perhaps it was the wish of our forefathers that buildings should last for generation after generation. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington referred to the Victorian mansions which could be more profitably redeveloped. The Government should give some incentive to people to demolish property which is not being comprehensively and beneficially used. Here I think in terms of a scheme—I will not go further than that—by which a man can write off the value of a building through some form of taxation relief to give a financial incentive to him to tear down his building and start afresh.
Instead of insisting on buildings which last a lifetime or two, we should indulge in buildings which will last, not necessarily as long as that but for twenty-five, thirty or forty years, which serve a useful purpose now and which will be cheaper to demolish in future and will give more incentive for their demolition and comprehensive redevelopment. We have a limited amount of land in this country. The amount fluctuates through coast erosion and things like that. But we can visualise the future for almost centuries ahead. We can see our population' increasing and shifting quite possibly, but I cannot understand why we should think that our children and great-grand-children will wish to live in two parlour rooms and bedrooms of today's shape.
At present, the policy is to build semidetached houses, with two rooms downstairs and a little kitchenette as a lean-to and two-and-a-half bedrooms upstairs. That is fine for the average family today, with generally one child or perhaps two children. What will happen if the family structure changes over the years, as it has done already since the Victorian era? Those houses cannot be converted to another use or adapted. They will become useless or unnecessary and it may be that the people who live in them in future will be in cramped accommodation. 525 We are not looking nearly far enough ahead to allow for flexibility. We do not know how transport conditions will change.
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
The hon. Gentleman is making some interesting and controversial suggestions. His argument boils down to reducing the standards of building compared with what they were in past years. If his wish is to provide complete flexibility in future to allow for an expansion of population, is not the logic of his argument to house the present generation in tents, which can be demolished without any cost to future families? If he envisages a complete revolution in building standards—I know that the hon. Gentleman is professionally interested in this matter—he must take into account the aesthetic standard of living as distinct from physical accommodation.
§ Mr. Rees
If the hon. Gentleman goes up to the River Forth he will see two bridges there. One of them is a magnificent edifice which has so much steel in it that the weight of the train going over it does not matter. The steel is there to hold the bridge up. In days gone by one would have said that the new bridge which runs parallel to it was skimped in design, was sub-standard and goodness knows what else. Yet its design is modern. Modern design and flexibility does not necessarily mean substandard work or going back to draughty tents. Very few people in this country use steel to build houses with curtain walls. It is possible to do that. I do not propose to go into the byways of design. To change our ideas of design and to try to change the architectural profession would need a considerable effort from many quarters because we are very hidebound in some of our methods. We love our nine-inch brick walls. However, having got people to change their attitude and to look a little further ahead, I do not see why we need go down the stony road of ruin. We might do; it depends what party is in power at the time.
My last point concerns planning decisions, which take an interminable time. There may be good reason for this. Very often these matters are taken in a small, local context until they reach the stage of a planning appeal. I cannot 526 help feeling that justifiable argument could be put forward for the Ministry to think in terms of regionalising planning rather than leaving it at the level of the borough or small local authority areas.
I do not go as far as those who allege bribery and matters of that kind. Many of our local authority and planning officials are of a high standard and do a good job of work. But the pressures that they are up against, forgetting for the moment monetary pressures or pressure from councillors—[An HON. MEMBER: "And their friends."] I know that councillors have friends, but the pressures that they are up against introduce a parochial instead of an overall attitude. Very often, they look over their shoulders at the question of rateable value and there is a tendency to feel that development should be brought within their boundaries when, logically, it should be outside them.
I do not blame them for those pressures, but they exist. They could to some extent be overruled if we had more regional planning. I should hate to see it coming all the way to Whitehall. There must be a happy medium somewhere. I have a healthy respect for my Principality, in which I live. We might not get such a healthy respect if everything was centralised in one central Government.
By regionalisation in planning, as there has been in many other things, we would get a tendency to more logical, comprehensive development of areas. In that way, with the internal development of the towns and cities, the pressures would be taken away from the green belts and it would be possible to maintain them, do a certain amount of development in them and still achieve the desired result.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Rhodes (Ashton-under-Lyne)
I have followed the excellent speeches Which have been made on this subject, but it is unfortunate that most of them have been devoted to the South. The hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Rees) mentioned demolition. I could find him an area between Manchester, Oldham and Ashton-under-Lyne—the constituency which I represent—that would keep bulldozers busy for many years.
We are in two worlds. There are those who want to come down and live in the urban areas of the South, and 527 there are those who do not know about it. Those who do not know about it would soon be recruited to those who want to come down and live here. For the first time in my life I have lived in the South for three months on end, and I do not want to go north again. I have found so many people down here who have deserted us in the North for better conditions and an easier way of life and who are able to get through much better than they did before, that I am beginning to think there is something in it.
The Motion refers toin-filling in urban areas and the development of building sites which may not be entirely economic from the builder's point of viewIt will not be long before we are discussing legislation to do with the filling of the canals in our part of the world. There is a marvellous crop of dead dogs and unsavoury objects in our canals, and we shall be bringing in legislation in 1962 about something that should have been dealt with forty years ago.
We are living in two worlds. Here in the south of England people are looking for desirable sites and informing the speculative builder when they have found one, and the speculative builder comes along after getting permission to develop and before he has got its foundations properly into the ground the house is sold. That happens anywhere south of London. They do not come up to our part of the world. They have more sense.
But this has got to be dealt with. Somebody has got to deal with it sooner or later. What is the use of people talking in this House about the undesirability of people coming down from the North to the London area and to the South and yet doing nothing about improving the conditions in the North? On Monday morning I made a tour round Crawley, the new industrial estate, to compare it with the miles of old houses and industrial property which we have up in the North and which should have been pulled down ages ago. There are two different worlds in this country.
I make a plea to the Minister again to consider the desirability of doing something to tip the balance in favour of those areas such as ours which find it so difficult to do their redeveloping now. 528 It is all very fine to say it may not be entirely economic from the builder's point of view, but who is going to finance it? When the local authority has to borrow at 6¾ per cent. it is not on. It is never going to be unless there is a real, supreme effort to deal with these old-established areas in the North.
We in our district are sick and tired of this talk of green belts and the rest when that applies to areas in the South which are so favoured. We want a new approach, if possible, whether by a Commission or whatever it is, to give us some encouragement to go ahead and to plan a decent life for those people who are living there. I make this appeal, to the Minister, "While you are considering this question of the green belt, find us one in our area." Because we have not got one. It is up to the Minister to do it, and I would ask the Minister to have a try.
§ 9.39 p.m.
§ Mr. F. V. Corfield (Gloucestershire, South)
I should like to commence by adding my congratulations to those already expressed to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wells (Lieut.-Commander Maydon). I think that in discussing these green belts there is some danger in regarding them purely as a method of preserving the land which is covered by the designation on the map, because I think that if they are to serve their purpose—and, more important, if they are to survive the pressures which we have all been discussing this evening—it is absolutely essential that they should be related to the use of the land on either side of the green belts. I think that by and large it would probably be fair to say that where the pressure is greatest the need for a green belt is greatest.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) referred to the problem of the commuters with regard to London. What are we doing about this problem? We are encircling London with a green belt which we know will be pierced in the next three, four or five years in every direction by motor roads so that the people living beyond the green belt, where the policy is to make more and more land available for building, will be commuting to London with greater ease than those living in the green belt today. We are in danger of 529 creating a situation in which the last state may be worse than the first.
The Motion of my hon. and gallant Friend urges the hastening of the process of designation, and this ties in with the remarks of some hon. Members about the necessity of hastening the approval of the development plans. There is no doubt that some degree of definiteness helps both local planning authorities and individual people living in the areas who may be applicants for planning permission. The local planning authorities are helped to resist the pressure. Where green belts are definite, and applicants are helped because the more they know where they stand in these matters the less likely they are to feel aggrieved and the victims of injustice if they have refusals on the grounds that the green belt has been established. This is a very important factor, because planning is of its nature restrictive, and unless the advantages quite clearly appear to outweigh the disadvantages, it is extremely unlikely, I think, that in a democracy it can effectively survive.
It is particularly so with the green belts. We shall merely perpetuate the problem of the commuter unless we make an effort to create beyond the green belts at least some of the attractions of the great conurbations such as the Metropolis. There is room for industry and commerce in these areas which would attract people not only to live but to work in them. Otherwise we shall end up, as in the case of many American cities, with the centre of the city devoted entirely to the motor cars.
If we are to have sound planning—it is an immensely complicated problem and I do not say this in any spirit of criticism of my hon. Friend's Department—it is essential that we should have the closest co-operation between his Department and all others concerned. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford said that the allocation of industry went to the root of where people wanted to live and where those services with which my hon. Friend is concerned have to be provided. I think that industry and transport go together. Whether the allocation of industry follows communications or communications follow the allocation of industry is a little like asking which came first, the chicken or the egg. But I am convinced that we 530 must not only provide this close cooperation, but that we should be seen to provide it. I hope that one day we shall see a permanent committee of the Cabinet representing the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Power as well as my hon. Friend's Department, which seems to me to have the responsibility with only the power to fill in the skeleton already provided by the transport systems and allocation of industry which are the responsibilities of other Departments.
I should like to pass to the problem raised by the hon. Member for Ilford about in-filling in the villages. There is no doubt that in certain parts of the country where an area has been allocated as a proposed green belt it is regarded as a complete blanket against the development of any village that may happen to be within that belt. This is despite the fact that many of these villages have obvious sites which are no good for anything else, including indeed the sites of old houses demolished before 1948. But I add the plea that we should regard this sensibly and in proportion, because probably the greatest of all planning crimes have been committed in the name of in-filling. I know of a delightful village in Northampton-shire which originally had six or seven houses strung out in the centre of the village along the road to Northampton. This was made the excuse for building 49 houses, on one side, and 53 on the other, all in the name of in-filling, the result being complete ribbon development between Northampton and the village.
Finally I should like to refer to the speech of the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes), and I am sorry that he has now left the Chamber. I was fascinated by the way in which he was so particular to state that he could not agree that the Government's achievement in housing and slum clearance was in any way commendable. It is a long time since hon. Members opposite were in power or had control over the problem, and we know that when they were in power they had to deal with the serious difficulties of the post-war period. But they cannot deny that the housing problem was no less urgent and the need for slum clearance no less pressing. And if it is unfair to compare their performance with ours I do not think that it is unfair 531 to compare, as they have raised it, the way in which they assessed the problem.
I went out of the Chamber to try to find out. This was the assessment of the then Minister in charge:I confidently expect that before the next election every family in Great Britain will have a separate house.That was in May, 1946. In July, 1946, the same Minister said:When the next election occurs there will be no housing problem in Great Britain for the British working classIn October he said:I give you this promise: that by the next General Election there will be no housing shortage as far as the mass of British people are concerned.We have heard the Parliamentary Secretary's assessment of the situation, I think it may be described as justifiable pride of achievement but certainly no complacency, and that gives me infinitely more confidence for the future than anything that has emerged from hon. Members opposite. We do not begrudge them their myths. They need to keep cheerful. We like to see the hon. Member for Anglesey keeping cheerful. We do not begrudge him his make-believe or, as one of my hon. Friends called it, his "justification by words."
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ Mr. A. V. Hilton (Norfolk, Southwest)
The hon. and gallant Member for Wells (Lieut.-Commander Maydon) did well in introducing this interesting subject. Already much has been said about green belt policy and I do not intend to repeat it. I should like to comment briefly on the references to the use of agricultural land for industrial and other purposes, because I consider that this is of paramount importance to the country and especially to my own area.
Emphasis has been placed too long on building new factories in the wrong areas and especially in the highly populated areas where land prices are scandalously exorbitant and where land is scarce. In Norfolk there is plenty of land where prices are not nearly as high as they are in some of the areas which have been discussed this evening. I believe that in Norfolk we have the answer partly to the problem of the use of agricultural land for industrial purposes, because we have a number of 532 small towns in the county, some of them in my constituency, including my own home town of Swaffham, which are desperately anxious to attract new light industry.
There is land in abundance, and there are suitable building sites. In fact, we have been disappointed on a number of occasions recently. We thought that new industry was coming to our area, but at the last moment those concerned changed their minds and went elsewhere. We have land at the right price. What is more, at present we have a number of unemployed. In agriculture, the main industry in my constituency, we are now losing workers at the rate of about 20,000 a year over the country as a whole. In line with this, there are a number of unemployed farmworkers in my constituency, and we are anxious to have new light industry there to absorb those who become unemployed through the reduction in the farm labour force.
Swaffham, therefore, has everything to commend it to the right type of light industry. The same applies to Down-ham Market, another small town in my constituency, which is very keen to attract new industry and has building land at the right price to offer and also some workers available. The same could be said about a number of other small towns in Norfolk.
An hon. Member opposite spoke of the importance of trying to keep the price of building land at a reasonable level. I think that if light industry could be attracted or diverted to areas such as I have described in Norfolk, it would help to that end.
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will bear in mind what I have said in this brief intervention, that Norfolk can help to solve the problem. As a representative of Norwich, the capital city of our county, the hon. Member should know that what I say is correct, and so I trust that he will bear in mind the observations which I have made, and use his influence to divert more industry to Norfolk.
§ 9.52 p.m.
§ Mr. James Dance (Bromsgrove)
I was fortunate some time ago to have an Adjournment debate about green belts. I shall not refer to that tonight. What I want to do is to draw attention to the problem of parish councils.
533 I do not believe that parish councils are consulted enough by rural district councils and county councils. To illustrate the extent to which one does not have such consultation, I quote a book entitled "The Parish Councils Review", which says:Representation of a parish on the rural district council does not guarantee that the parish council, itself, will be informed of any applications, and the statement evades the issue.That is true.
In my own village of Moreton Morrell we were suddenly presented with a fait accompli. Forty houses are to be built there. There had been no consultations about this, and no one knew anything about it. That is entirely wrong. People living in villages should be consulted. They are fond of their village and love their countryside. Surely they should be consulted.
§ Mr. Dance
Because they are prepared to defend themselves, which the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) is not.
I agree that this is a small thing, but we have our little church school of which we are very proud. We support it. Through hard work we obtain the money to keep it going. If the population of our small village is going to be increased—
§ Mr. Dance
—ought we not to be consulted about the way in which the village is to be developed? Will our school be big enough? Why should we contribute towards this church school and make it a going concern when we do not know what is to happen? There is no consultation from the rural district council to the parish council.
There are council houses in the village, and very good houses they are. There are also some agricultural houses, built by the Warwickshire County Council, but they do not match up with each other. They are of entirely different design and do not fit in with the design of the village. These council houses have very nice gardens and the people work hard 534 in them. They have dug them and planted them. Only the other day, however, a cursory note came from the rural district council to these unfortunate individuals saying that half of their gardens would be taken away. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] Of course, it is a shame. That sort of thing should not happen.
Next, I come to the design of the houses. In so many instances they do not fit in with the village. This is quite unnecessary, because in the village of Aynho, in Oxfordshire, some standard houses were built in ordinary brick and faced with stone so that they could fit in with the normal design of the rest of the village. Why cannot we do more of this and have more consultation from the county council to the rural district council and right down to the parish council? Time is short Mr. Speaker, and I do not wish to overstep my own time. There was much I wished to say, but I must curtail my remarks.
We are assured, as I was assured in reply to a Question I raised some time ago, that we have representation on our councils. Indeed we do, but they do not always report back and we get no information. What I suggest to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is that unless these rural district councils "play ball" with the parish councils, legislation must be brought in to see that they do.
§ Lieut.-Commander Maydon rose in his place, and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly and agreed to.
That this House, recognising the commendable progress that has been made in housing and slum clearance in recent years, and the shortage of suitable sites for all kinds of building in a country as small as Great Britain, urges Her Majesty's Government to hasten the process of designating Green Belts in order to prevent sporadic development, and to take measures to stimulate in-filling in urban areas and the development of building sites which may not be entirely economic from the builder's point of view, in order to preserve agricultural land on the outskirts of towns and villages without slowing the pace of building.