HC Deb 02 April 1963 vol 675 cc269-74
Mr. Arthur Skeffington (Hayes and Harlington)

I beg to move, in page 73, line 24, to leave out "Greater London as a whole" and to insert: an area larger than the London borough or boroughs in which any such further park or open space is or is proposed to be, wholly 02 partly situated". I am glad that the House has a brief opportunity to consider this proposition, because, unfortunately, owing to the Guillotine procedure in Committee, we were denied the chance of doing so.

I think that it is common ground among all Members that the parks of London, both the Royal Parks and those which have been maintained by the London County Council, constitute one of the greatest glories of the capital. The purpose of the Amendment is to ensure that the Greater London Council has the opportunity, first, in appropriate cases, of maintaining the expert staff who have been responsible for a large variety of parks of all kinds, and, secondly, to undertake work on open spaces and gardens which might be beyond the ability of any individual borough or even group of boroughs.

The Amendment, which has been carefully drawn, would give the Council that opportunity, provided, of course, that it made out a reasonable case to the Minister for so doing. Clause 58 as drafted provides that the Greater London Council, if it so wishes, can retain those open spaces and parks which it convinces the Minister it would be desirable for it to have. But under the same Clause it appears that the Council, in general, would not have the power to provide new parks and open spaces unless it could be shown that the new space or park was for the benefit of the whole of London.

The difficulty with which we are faced—and it is one in which we have found ourselves in respect of many Clauses—is to know how the Minister will interpret this passage. In the district which I used to represent on the London County Council, Peckham, the London County Council is slowly creating a large park with the unattractive name of the North Camberwell open space. Nevertheless, it is a delightful concept to create a park in an area which is so deficient in open spaces. Old, shabby buildings are being cleared and the total scheme will cover about 135 acres.

It will be for the benefit of the inhabitants not only of Camberwell, but of Bermondsey and Southwark, and even to those living to the South, but I do not think that anyone could say that it will benefit other parts of the new greater London. For instance, it would be extremely difficult to say that it was being built for the benefit of people in Horn-church. Consequently, it would be easy for the Minister to decide in this case that even this great space was not for the benefit of the inhabitants of London as a whole, and would not in future allow the Greater London Council to embark on an enterprise of this kind.

The Amendment means that the Minister would still have to give his permission before the Greater London Council could undertake to provide a garden or open space. It would not mean that the Council could barge in anywhere and create a park, but in many instances, because the project is on such a scale, it may be desirable that the central body should undertake the work.

There are several supporting reasons why this Amendment is desirable. There will obviously be cases where a new development is required, but which a particular borough feels would impose too heavy a financial burden on its resources and, therefore, would not embark on it, particularly if the siting of the new open space meant that the benefits would he enjoyed by people in neighbouring boroughs. A large part of the park may be on the edge of one borough, but most of the users of it may come from somewhere else.

This problem does not arise with London parks now, because a common service is provided for all Me inhabitants of the county, but it arises when functions are split up in the way proposed in the Bill. A borough may have to think twice—indeed, it will be its duty to do so—about whether it can spend money when the benefits may be only partially for its own ratepayers, and the problem becomes acute when more than one borough is involved.

I suppose that we shall get the Parliamentary Secretary's oft-repeated formula, "Well, they can make ad hoc arrangements", but anyone with any experience of this knows that it is not easy to solve the problem. It requires good will on the part of all parties, and considerable effort and time by all concerned. It would be simpler to give the Greater London Council power to do this if, after consultation with the boroughs, it makes out a case to the Minister. This is still a limited power. The Minister will have the last word, and I hope, therefore, that the force of this proposition, and the cautious way in which it has been put forward, will commend itself to the hon. Gentleman.

There is another point to consider. If one is considering a new project like the Camberwell one, the area at present is covered with old, shoddy, houses which are gradually being removed. This is an expensive project. It is much easier if the cost of this expensive development is shared by all the ratepayers of the areas which benefit, rather than being concentrated upon the ratepayers of one borough. As far as I know, even with all the Ministerial regulations and the ingenious dovetailing of the various parts of the Bill, it is not possible to propose a financial scheme of that kind which would spread the cost.

4.30 p.m.

It seems desirable that the skilled team which now exists in the L.C.C. should not be completely broken up. It has been responsible for a great variety of landscaping, and in this work it is necessary to have some absolutely top experts. Even the new large boroughs are unlikely to be carrying out work of the skill or variety which is now done by the Parks Department of the London County Council. If this provision were inserted the skilled specialist staff which has created such a remarkable variety of parks in London would not be broken up. Landscaping gardeners of the quality required are not easily come by, and it is obvious that there would not be work for them in any one London borough. Consequently, if the Greater London Council does not at the moment possess the power which would be provided by the Amendment it seems clear that some of these individuals will have to go elsewhere.

For all those reasons I hope that the Minister will agree that I have made out a case. I lay particular stress on the last point that I made. We must remember the variety of landscaping achievements of the Parks Department. A little park in Stepney is being created out of an old bombed warehouse. In this case, all the soil has had to be brought to the site because the work of extracting the concrete, rubble and bricks would have been a massive task. With that we can compare the larger enterprise, such as Ken Wood, in the north, where not only gardens have been created, but provision has been made for concert performances, and where the music is heard by an audience on the other side of an attractive lake setting. Then there are the great parks in the south of London, such as Battersea Park and Greenwich Park, which are considerable achievements of landscaping.

Anything which can be done to ensure that the staffs that have created these parks continue to have opportunities of carrying out similar work, which is beyond the financial or practical ability of any one borough, will be well worth while. There will always be the safeguard that any new proposal of the Greater London Council will have to he sanctioned by the Minister. The Government have nothing to lose by accepting the Amendment, and the inhabitants of London have a great deal to gain.

Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith (Chislehurst)

I am not sure whether the hon: Member is aware of my interest in common land. I should like to know whether the words "open space" are intended to refer only to parks. I have great sympathy with the hon. Member's intention, and I can see the point of the Amendment, but I should like to know whether it is intended to embrace common lands which are already covered by other Acts of Parliament.

Mr. Skeffington

Answering "off the cuff," I would imagine that if an open space is already covered by an Act of Parliament it would not be affected by the Amendment. It is certainly not my intention that it should be. I used the term "open space" because some of this kind of development is technically not necessarily park development. But there is nothing in the Amendment which desires to interfere in any way with any open space that is already being administered under an Act of Parliament.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. F. V. Corfield)

I start by reminding the hon. Member that the North Camberwell open space—a somewhat unattractive and uninspiring name for a rather inspiring project—is a byproduct of comprehensive redevelopment, which, as I understand, will be covered by subsection (1, b) of the Clause. There is no doubt that the Bill as it stands enables this type of park to be created and retained by the Greater London Council. In the central area it is difficult to see how any substantial new open space or parkland could be provided by any means other than a fairly substantial redevelopment.

As the hon. Member suspected, I must remind him that in other cases there are various means of co-operation between boroughs both in respect of management, and, if necessary, acquisition. Nevertheless, he has made a good case, particularly by the example he gave of a borough—perhaps a poor borough—which has an open space entirely within its area, and without committing myself I undertake to look at the point again, on behalf of the Government and I shall read his speech with interest. In those circumstances, perhaps he will feel able to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment—although I am not making any promise.

Mr. Skeffington

I am grateful for what the Parliamentary Secretary has said. I was not clear that the point about comprehensive redevelopment was covered, but I am glad to hear that it is. On the general point, I can imagine cases in some populous boroughs in Middlesex, and in such places as West Ham and East Ham, where there may be a case for this type of development which is not specifically attached to comprehensive redevelopment.

In view of the hon. Member's undertaking, I have much pleasure in asking leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.