HC Deb 06 March 1962 vol 655 cc194-6
26. Mr. Driberg

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs if he is aware that the future of the Coal Exchange is to be considered further on 8th March by the Court of Common Council of the City of London; if, in view of the historic and architectural importance of this building, he will make further representations to the Court of Common Council with a view to securing its preservation; and if he will publish in HANSARD a summary of the various proposals for preserving it submitted to him, with his reasons for rejecting them.

67. Dr. Stross

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs what action he intends to take to ensure that the Coal Exchange building will be preserved.

71. Sir H. Kerr

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs whether he will make representations to the Court of Common Council regarding the preservation of the Coal Exchange, as a building of historic and architectural importance.

Mr. Rippon

The Corporation of London deferred demolition of the Coal Exchange at our request so that three schemes which were submitted for retaining it could be examined. In view of the objection to all three schemes my right hon. Friend has released the City Corporation from its undertaking to postpone demolition. He does not propose to take any further action.

I will, with permission, circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT a summary of the schemes and the objections to them.

Mr. Driberg

Before circulating that, will the hon. Gentleman be good enough to correct an error in one of the objections? In the letter sent to us it was stated that Lord Mottistone's scheme, though practicable, would greatly alter the appearance of the Coal Exchange. The hon. Member will see, if he looks at it again, that this is quite inaccurate. Will he also be good enough to ask the City what the hurry is, since the new road will not be completed for ten years? Therefore, why rush the demolition of this historic building?

Mr. Rippon

On the question of rush, I understand that the roadworks may reach the Coal Exchange in 1964. As to the practicability of the schemes, they may well be practicable, but they are either very costly or they raise highway or other objections. Practicability has not been the sole test.

Dr. Stross

Has the Parliamentary Secretary noted, with reference to Lord Mottistone's scheme, that the total expenditure was in the region of only £125,000? A voluntary organisation—the Victorian Society—has declared its intention of campaigning for money in order to raise a very appreciable part of this sum. Is it now too late to prevent one of the twelve most important buildings in Britain being destroyed?

Mr. Rippon

I think it is putting the matter very high to call the Coal Exchange one of the twelve most important buildings in Britain. This is not the view, at any rate, of the Holford Committee. It is true that the cost would be about £125,000. Another difficulty is that I am advised that it would be hard to find a suitable use for this new structure.

Colonel Lancaster

Will my hon. Friend think again about this? Is he aware that this is a building of great architectural importance which has played a significant part in the economic life of the City? Must we always sacrifice our heritage to expediency?

Mr. Rippon

Everyone has been very disappointed that it has not been possible to find a scheme to which strong objection was not taken. Both the City Corporation and the London County Council expressed objections to all these proposals.

Mr. Driberg

If this relatively small cost is really an obstacle, would the hon. Gentleman consider asking the City Fathers to release some of their enormous resources lying idle in the Bridge House Estates fund? They have nearly £2 million there doing nothing.

Mr. Rippon

I do not think that I can be answerable for how the City Corporation spends its money. The House will receive some guidance from the summary which I propose to circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Following is the summary: Three schemes were submitted to the Minister of Housing and Local Government by a deputation of persons anxious to secure the retention of the Coal Exchange on its present site, part of which is required for the widening of Lower Thames Street for the major new traffic route from Blackfriars to the Tower and East End which is now under construction. The schemes are identified below by the names of the persons who proposed them, viz.: C. S. Chettoe. Esq., B.Sc. (Eng.), MICE., F.S.A., Sir Albert Richardson, K.C.V.O., P.P.R.A., F.S.A., F.R.I.B.A., and Lord Mottistone, F.S.A., F.R.I.B.A Mr. Chettoe's scheme provided for a two-tier arrangement of the road, with four lanes below and two on top. It would start by means of a ramp near London Bridge and finish near the Tower. No alterations to the Coal Exchange, or to the Custom House on the opposite side of the road, would be necessary. The objections to this scheme include the additional cost, estimated at £250,000, and the detrimental effect of a raised carriageway at a height of 20 to 25 feet in close proximity to the flanking buildings including the Coal Exchange and the Custom House. Sir Albert Richardson's scheme provided for the new road to divide into two one-way roads between Billingsgate and Tower Hill, one of which would go behind the Coal Exchange. This would involve the demolition of the Watermen and Lightermen's Hall, a building of outstanding architectural interest and a scheduled ancient monument. The newly built Bakers' Hall would also have to be demolished and planning permission revoked on adjoining land. The approach to the suggested new northern carriageway would be below the minimum acceptable standards for such an important highway, because of its curves and gradients. The steep slope to the north of Lower Thames Street would also create serious difficulties in the way of alternative lines. The back of the Coal Exchange would be exposed and it would be left upon a central island in a dual carriageway. Lord Mottistone's scheme proposed to obtain the required increase in the width of Lower Thames Street by demolishing the front of the Coal Exchange and rebuilding it 10 feet further back. The new part of the building would be arcaded to provide a footway and part of the ground floor of the Custom House on the opposite side of the road would have to be arcaded for a similar purpose. Under this scheme the rotunda of the Coal Exchange would be retained but the external appearance of the building would be greatly altered. It would cost approximately £125,000 including modernisation and replacing the top stage of the tower. The problem of finding a suitable use for the building would be aggravated by a substantial reduction in the accommodation it provides.
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