§ 3.54 p.m.
It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I indicate the possible extent of debate in to-day's proceedings. As the Committee will be aware, the subject announced for today's debate is town and country planning. The Committee will also be aware that there were published yesterday the text of the Government's Town and Country Planning Bill, together with a White Paper entitled "London—Employment: Housing: Land", in the course of which the proposals of the Government's Bill are referred to.
It is an old and established rule and practice that matters which involve legislation may not be raised in Committee of Supply. It seems to me, however, that it would be difficult for the Committee to debate the subject of town and country planning today without reference to legislation, which might at times become somewhat more extensive than such incidental reference as has usually been permitted. I would, therefore, if I have the assent of the Committee, be prepared to allow such reference, provided that hon. Members do not go into too great detail on any proposal which would involve legislation.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)
I hope, Sir Robert, that I will not find myself trespassing very much in the sphere of new legislation, because it would be a pity if the debate developed into a Second Reading discussion of the Town 1099 and Country Planning Bill, which, no doubt, we will be having later in the Session. There is quite enough to talk about in town planning and quite enough in the White Paper to keep us occupied in the few hours at our disposal without getting very far into the special problem of the control of office accommodation, which is one of the subjects touched upon in the White Paper.
I wish to thank the Minister, because he must have pressed to get the White Paper published in time for us to read it in tolerable comfort before this debate. I certainly took advantage of that to read it hurriedly. It left on my mind rather the feeling that having spent long hours of deep thought and research, the Minister had published a White Paper saying that he had come to the conclusion that planning should be based upon the assumption that the earth was round. It was one of those important assumptions which ought to be made, but which most of us have been making for some years.
When I went home and turned on my radio, I found that Mr. Peter Self, the chairman of the Town and Country Planning Association, was also talking about the White Paper and saying that it was all much too late. I came down to breakfast this morning, opened my newspapers and found that virtually all of them were saying precisely the same. It is a great comfort to find oneself so well supported, but it is rather difficult to make a speech because everybody naturally assumes that one has merely cribbed it from The Times.
With one or two exceptions, I regard most of the White Paper as being welcome. I do not propose to say anything about those sections of it which deal with housing, because we have had a good many discussions on housing in London and I have no doubt that we will have a good many more. I would rather consider some of the assumptions behind the White Paper and ask questions about its planning features.
I welcome the idea that south-east regional planning is an essential approach. I am glad that the Minister has a body—it is rather obscure just who it is—which is doing intensive investigation and inquiry into the whole of the southeastern region in transport, employment 1100 and housing. Of course, the Minister is right. Everybody has known for a long time that all these problems must be considered together before any of the vital questions can be answered.
I hope that the Minister will tell us something about how that is being done. One of the difficulties that occurs to me is that this vital moment in the history of London planning is the one moment when there is no planning authority in London. We are in the process of winding up the two old planning authorities, the two county councils, and we are in process of creating at least one new planning authority plus the new boroughs, which, I gather, will have planning responsibilities.
I did my best to refresh myself with the discussion in Standing Committee F about what has been happening concerning London planning to find out what was the most up-to-date decision, but I am still left in considerable confusion about what will happen. My impression was that there are at present no planning authorities and that if there were any, they would not know what their powers were. Until the Minister issues his orders making clear what is to be the allocation of powers, even the new planning authorities, who will be engaged for some time in getting themselves reorganised and getting their staff recruited after the retreat away from London which has been taking place since the Government's proposals were originally announced, will be left in uncertainty as to their powers. Therefore, I presume that the Government are doing the job of planning for London—the effective, creative job.
It is important to know who is. Is there a joint committee of Government Departments? What steps are being taken to bring together such Departments as the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the Ministry of Education—and others—in this tremendous job?
No one can challenge the statement in the White Paper that the problems of London are insoluble without a great deal of dispersal. Again, that is something that everyone has known for many years. What alarms me even more, however, is paragraph 58. Very typical of the right hon. Gentleman's literary style, which 1101 always starts in headlines and ends in platitudes, it says:Dispersal of both population and employment right away from London must be an important objective in the overall strategy of providing for London's needs. The scale on which it will be needed and the extent to which it can be considered practicable cannot be established under the South-East Study is completed.What has been happening over the past ten years? Has no one been asking himself how, where and when the population of London can be dispersed? Was there no thought about this until the right hon. Gentleman assumed office? The paragraph goes on:But it could not begin to provide substantial relief until towards the end of the period.I understand that the word "period" means, in this connection, ten years. In other words, we are faced with the alarming proposition that for the past ten years nothing has been done effectively to mobilise the forces making for dispersal and that it is to be another ten years before those forces even begin to be effective.
In the meantime, what is happening? Apart from more intensive development within the area, there has been a concentration, as we are told in the next paragraph, on the present new and expanded towns. But there have been no new new towns. I recognise that the original conception by the Reith Committee of a 60,000 population limit for a new town was probably a conservative estimate. It is certainly true that a young and vigorous population in a new town, enjoying life there and full of the forward-looking excitement of being in a new town, means that there is a tremendous momentum to increasing population not only naturally—which is welcome—but also by people such as relatives being attracted there.
There has been tremendous pressure to expand the new towns, but it is most undesirable that, in addition to the natural increase, there should be this artificial pressure on them to take in more population from outside. The attitude of the Government is, "We are in a jam. We cannot solve London's problems because we have not any new new towns and other outlets, so we will put the pressure on you quickly to take a larger popu- 1102 lation until our long-term proposals can begin to take effect in ten years' time".
In other words, the new towns are inevitably suffering from having to be expanded at a very rapid and artificial rate. That is in the nature of a new town at first, but this is now the time when these people should be able to settle down and mature. Yet they are finding themselves under pressure to increase the population not naturally, but artificially, by taking more and more people from outside. It is a great condemnation of the Government's policy that that should be necessary.
I think it wise of the Government to have the Flemming inquiry into the dispersal of civil servants. Again, it is astonishing that this has never been done before. We have had so many debates in the House about the need to disperse population and the advantages of decentralising Government Departments. To say that only now is it necessary to bring in a retired civil servant to find out to what extent it is possible to make it effective is an astounding confession of administrative bankruptcy.
What are the limits of the terms of reference of Sir Gilbert Flemming? Suppose he thinks that in order to get any substantial movement of civil servants, Parliament should go out of London. Will he be allowed to suggest that Parliament should move to York? It would be an interesting suggestion to consider, because I often feel that dispersal is always for everyone else except oneself. People are very good at saying, "Your department should go to the north of Scotland and your business should go to Lancashire, but, unfortunately, my profession means that I have to work within five miles of Piccadilly Circus."
It may well be that the Minister could reach immortality by being a latter day Moses and leading us on a pilgrimage to York to settle there and take with us not only the legislative machinery but all the pressure groups and Departments which surround us. We are told that the right hon. Gentleman is always looking for new ideas. Perhaps he will consider this contribution.
All this adds up to a shocking story because behind it is the statement, so casually dropped in the White Paper, that 1103 we are facing a situation in which there are 900 to 1,000 homeless families in London. That is only symptomatic of the much deeper and more alarming problem, in terms of size, of bad housing, with so many people with families unable to get decent accommodation. This whole situation is reflected by the homeless families.
That is the result not of the Minister having been in office for only a few months—the Government cannot get away with that one—but of twelve years of Conservative Government and failure to deal with this problem. This White Paper is one of the most shocking confessions of complete failure to tackle London's housing problems that we could have had.
There are only two alternative before the right hon. Gentleman. Either he can resign, or he can shoot the Home Secretary. Personally, I would not want to guide his judgment on the matter, but we cannot allow him to use this string of plausible platitudes—which, no doubt, will inspire many people to say what a vigorous Minister we have—to hide the fact that over the years nothing has been done by successive Ministers. This is despite all the pleading, not only across this Table—people may say that that is only a party battle—but by all responsible town planning authorities, consultants and everyone else who has had anything to do with the problems of London over the years. We have all known that these things must be done.
Those are the points in the White Paper of which I approve. Now for the others. The one which causes a great deal of alarm is the question of the green belt. Time and again successive Ministers have said that they would defend the green belt with their lives. They have repudiated as smear tactics any suggestion that they would allow any interference with it. Now we get a rather different story in the White Paper, and the right hon. Gentleman should say something about how he sees his plan working.
Paragraph 64 deals with the green belt and makes some flattering remarks about it, but paragraph 66 still says that planning authorities are to be invited to consider initially in the light of the needs set out in the Paper what additional areas would be suitable for housing. There 1104 are two great criticisms of that. The first is that it is typical of the Government's piecemeal approach to this problem that instead of our having a comprehensive land use plan, so that we could know what should be apportioned to what purpose, planning authorities under stress and pressure are to scrape up what land they can find available for further housing.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
Does the hon. Member deny that there are acres within the existing green belt around London which could be used for housing and which are not really green belt?
§ Mr. MacColl
My difficulty about that is that I suspect that things are not really green belt when it suits the builders to develop them, and that when not much effective use can be made of them, then they are aesthetically suitable for the green belt. I am not quarrelling with the need to find land for building, but I am saying that we should have some proper plans instead of scraping up what can be found from local authorities under pressure.
That leads me to the next great criticism, which is the great encouragement to speculation. The right hon. Gentleman symbolises floating value. He is a gigantic piece of floating value hovering over Greater London with the land for 200,000 houses which he has to find somewhere. The bet is where the right hon. Gentleman is to land, because where he lands will be the development value, the rise in the price of land, the opportunity for the speculator to cash in. Not only in London but in other parts of the country people will watch the right hon. Gentleman to guess which way he will move.
That goes a very long way from the bold words which we used to have from the Home Secretary. In an interview with the Daily Mail in 1961, obviously warming up under the stimulus of the interview, the present Home Secretary said:I warn speculators who are dabbling in land for housing in the hope of making big killings. I warn them—'look out! Some of you are likely to get your fingers badly burned'.Those are fine fighting words from the right hon. Gentleman, but what is to happen now if not precisely what he was warning about? Who is to prevent the speculators from taking advantage of these proposals?
1105 That leads me to say something about some other green belt problems with which I should like the Minister to deal. The same sort of thing seems to be happening in the west Midlands. I recently saw some discussions of a dispute in the village of Lapworth, in Warwickshire. I am not an expert on the west Midlands, but it so happens that this is one of the few villages in west Warwickshire which I have visited. My memories of it are very happy, because I went to a wedding there, and I think it a very charming place.
The history of Lapworth—no doubt the right hon. Gentleman can check me if I am wrong—is that in 1955 the villagers were told that their village was in the green belt. In 1957, it was proposed by the local authorities in the area that 133 acres should be available as white land for development if required. That led to a good deal of protest, and eventually, after varying proposals, in 1959 the area was reduced to 50 acres, and that was the figure put in the development plan. However, in 1962 it was decided that the acreage should go back to 133.
On the face of it, it seemed sad that in a part of the west Midlands where the distances between the great west Midlands towns are probably at their narrowest, where the undeveloped area is probably at its narrowest, an area like that should be considered for substantial redevelopment. But even supposing that the decision is right, what can be worse, not only from the point of view of the morale of the people but from that of the reaction of the land speculators, than taking this, "You are in, you are out, you are in" attitude? That is simply inviting people to believe that development plans and Ministers are not serious when they talk about the green belt, and that, therefore, one should hang on to one's land in the hope of getting a whacking great profit on it because of the pressure of housing need. Whose fingers are getting burned in these operations? I suspect that it is not the speculators'.
Another alarming remark was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister the other day when he was talking about his proposals for Lancashire. Speaking of the need for more houses, he said:With this in mind I am considering whether any modifications are needed in Lancashire County Council's proposals for a Merseyside 1106 green belt and I shall shortly discuss this with the county council ".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th February, 1963; Vol. 672, c. 243.]There is the same threat with which we are faced in London and which appears to be facing the west Midlands. Now in Lancashire nobody knows how safe the green belt is to be.
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Sir Keith Joseph)
I want to correct one impression, in case it becomes widespread from the speech of the hon. Member. Except for one instance, about which I shall be telling the Committee, the initiative in all these modifications to the green belt should come from the local authority. The modifications I intend to discuss with the Lancashire County Council will be connected with the proposals by Liverpool which were ventilated at a public inquiry some months ago. The initiative came from the county borough. The White Paper invites local authorities surrounding London themselves to do the selection, because, of course, the Minister has to retain his quasi-judicial position in order to judge, after a public inquiry where necessary—and it will almost always be necessary—in such cases where the public interest lies.
§ Mr. MacColl
The right hon. Gentleman remains the trustee of the green belt for the public. I do not know from whence the pressure comes in some cases, whether from the exporting local authority, the reception authority, or even private developers. What I am saying is that the kind of statement which the right hon. Gentleman made strikes terror into people's hearts. Lancashire is as much entitled to its green fields as is London, and in the small conurbations we have to avoid the kind of mistakes which so shockingly and so unfortunately have been made in areas around Greater London.
I warmly welcome the right hon. Gentleman's proposals for new towns in Lancashire. Personally, I do not know anything about Redditch, but I know a great deal about Runcorn and I am very pleased to hear that at last, after all these long delays, new towns have been founded in the North-West. The story of Skelmersdale was pretty shocking—in the plan and then out and then in again—in 1107 that characteristic acting in administrative fog, but now we have this new proposal.
It is not a carping criticism, but a genuine comment on the problems involved to say that it is a difficult operation to start a new town in as large a place as Runcorn, or Redditch, which I believe to be of about the same size. I have some experience because I was present at the birth pangs of Hemel Hempstead, although I did not stay on the corporation long enough to have the satisfaction of seeing the child delivered. However, Hemel Hempstead was then about the same size as Runcorn is today, in the 20,000s, and the trouble was that you cannot have two kings in Brentford—the development corporation with all the resources of the Government behind it and the authority of a full-time salaried board, on the one hand, and, on the other, the hard-working, conscientious urban district council, anxious about and perhaps inevitably a little jealous of the new arrival. I am not saying it is an insoluble problem, because I think that it has been solved fairly satisfactorily over the years in Hemel Hempstead.
§ Mr. James Dance (Bromsgrove)
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Actually, Redditch happens to be in my constituency. Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that in many ways the mere fact that there is a resident population there, with tradition, history, art and culture, is a much better medium to start off absorbing new population than starting from scratch?
§ Mr. MacColl
I think that there is a lot in that, but I am bound to say that after my experience in Hemel Hempstead, which was limited, I came away with the feeling that expanded towns were a better instrument in these larger places than having the development corporation procedure. However, having seen the difficulties of expanded towns since then I do not think that that is necessarily true.
I am not saying it is a wrong decision, or that it would have been wiser to have left development to the local authority. What I am saying is that it is a great challenge for the wisdom and tact of both the development corporation and the urban district council, with the 1108 county council hovering in the background of these things, to try to make it a successful operation.
There have been criticisms of these towns as being main exporting centres and, therefore, they will just be dormitories. I am afraid at the moment on Merseyside it is not a question of the journey to work being too short; it is a question of the journey to the employment exchange being too short because in view of the present unemployment on Merseyside the difficulty will not be the tendency for people to go into Liverpool to get jobs, but that they will not get jobs at all.
Perhaps I may just grind a constituency point about this, and I am sure it is relevant in other cases. In Widnes, we are an expanding town. We have agreed to take 15,000 people from Liverpool and we are welcoming them. We have voluntarily undertaken to do this. We have had a long task in getting the agreement signed and the arrangements made and, therefore, it is a bit of a shock to us suddenly to find, across the river, a new town being started. Naturally, it causes a great deal of uncertainty in a place like Widnes as to what will happen to their own scheme.
It is true that the right hon. Gentleman said that it was going ahead and that he would do all he could to press it forward, but it involves also the President of the Board of Trade, because the problem is in getting adequate employment. One has the situation of a town invited to take 15,000 extra population, with an unemployment percentage of 6 per cent., with a development district at Liverpool, down river, and a new town with all the resources in the way of being able to get new factories, and so on, and a development corporation across the bridge. I think that this can only mean that Widnes must become a development district. I do not want to press that point, because I feel confident that is what the Government will see must be done. Therefore, I will not waste time labouring that point.
There is one other point on the administrative side I should like to ask about and that is what hopes there are for speeding up the inquiries not only in the field of new towns, but in all types of town planning development. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that the Council on Tribunals criticised this just about 1109 a year ago. In particular, it referred to the delays, and in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) the right hon. Gentleman gave some figures about the number of cases still waiting to be heard. That is maddeningly frustrating, both for local authorities who want to get on with the development and are held up while objections are being considered, and also for private developers who are held up because local authorities or other people are making objections. Therefore, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to have some comforting words for us, that he is able to get more inspectors and, therefore, more inquiries done.
Finally, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to say something about central urban redevelopment. If one takes a place like Widnes it is tremendously important that if one is to provide an adequate town for people to go in from a place like Liverpool, they must be provided not only with houses but also with reasonable factories. They must not only be provided with public buildings, schools, and so on, but also with properly equipped, modern factories, shops and houses, and all those things ought to be included in urban redevelopment.
It was only last April that the present Minister Without Portfolio carried a Motion on this subject in the House. I would like to remind the right hon. Gentleman what he undertook, because he did not resist this Motion:That this House … calls upon Her Majesty's Government to view urban central redevelopment on a national scale; to consider at once making available to local authorities engaged in the work more guidance and advice, particularly on long-term traffic needs and ways of bringing private enterprise and public authorities into closer partnership; to devise ways of giving more financial encouragement where large sums are at stake; to take stock of professional skills available to local authorities for this kind of work with a view to stimulating recruiting and training of them if necessary; and to examine the possibilities of closer co-ordination between the Ministries concerned."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 13th April, 1962; Vol. 657, c. 1645.]That was the Minister Without Portfolio, now in the Cabinet. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what he has been doing about it since April? Has he any ideas about it? What progress has been made?
The only other point I want to touch on on the question of urban renewal—and that is the last thing I want to say 1110 —is the question of compensation. We all know that in our constituencies there has been a good deal of unhappiness among displaced traders and a good many claims that the compensation is inadequate. I do not know whether that is true or not, because I have not seen any applications. Of course, it is true that this tends to be a one-way and not a two-way thing. In other words, if a trader has a large area built next door to him with the result that the trade of his shop increases, he does not expect to have a levy made against him. He accepts that as part of his good fortune, or as a bonus.
When the converse happens and the swing is away from him, then he begins to complain that he ought to get compensation. In the Minister's approach to the renewal of town centres, he made clear, in paragraph 71 of the White Paper, the importance he attached to this subject. I will read it, because in view of the comments which have been made and the Motions on the Order Paper what is said by the Government is something that ought to be realised:The interests of displaced traders must be respected. Both the Minister and the local authority have a statutory duty … to secure that, so far as is practicable, reasonable alternative accommodation is offered to displaced traders on terms which have due regard to the price at which their land was acquired. Redevelopment cannot be accounted a success unless every effort is made to provide satisfactorily for these established local interests and to ease the disturbance inherent in redevelopment schemes of this kind.Is that working? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us something about it?
§ Mr. Philip N. Hocking (Coventry, South)
Is it not true that the vast majority of traders who suffer hardship when displaced are not those who actually own the property, but those who have their shops on weekly or monthly tenancies? That has been the case in my constituency. Is not that largely true?
§ Mr. MacColl
That is very probably true. I am not coming down on one side or the other, but we all want to be sure that there is fair compensation because we do not want the schemes held up by friction and public opinion created by unjust treatment. It may well be that in many cases the local authority is not careful enough to ensure that when it acquires land in partnership with private developers there are adequate facilities 1111 and arrangements in conjunction with the private development for reaccommodating people. Where such partnerships exist, it is important that the local authority should ensure that the private developer takes full responsibility not only for rehousing the people but for providing other non-remunerative services.
§ Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)
With regard to these alternatives or whatever accommodation is offered, I often find that my constituents fail to realise that, though the rent may be more, their opportunities are sometimes better. We must keep these two things in relation to each other.
§ Mr. MacColl
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman—it is no good my trying to reassure anybody; no one cares what I say—will reassure those who are worried about these matters. I thought it my duty to mention this matter because it is exercising people's minds.
My final word to the right hon. Gentleman is that I have been searching my conscience, and this is, after all, Shrove Tuesday and the time for examining one's conscience. I may have been a little over-critical of him in what I said about the White Paper and the number of platitudes and the amount of talk and froth in it, but I give him the credit for having done one very good job. It must have been a hard struggle for him to get as much as he has got in the way of these new towns. I do not think this absolves the Government of responsibility for the delay, for this should have been done before. However, the right hon. Gentleman ought to have the credit due to him for the slight gleam of hope in the other areas that the tragic mistakes made in respect of Greater London will not be made in the west Midlands and the North-West.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip N. Hocking (Coventry, South)
I welcome the debate. If I do not follow the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) through the ramifications of the White Paper, I hope that the Committee will forgive me. There are a number of points which need to be raised from a planning point of view—questions which ought to be asked.
I have had a rather unique experience in that I have had the good fortune 1112 to take part in planning matters from every angle. I was trained and worked as an architect for a time, submitting planning applcations for various people. I had the good fortune to serve on a planning applications for various people, so was able to see planning applications from another point of view. Latterly, I have had some interest in planning from the point of view of a contractor. So I can safely say that I have seen town planning and its application from every point of view.
During the last fifteen or twenty years town planning has become almost a peculiar science. Just before the war it was practised largely by architects. Then, slowly, the Town Planning Institute grew up, and, latterly, there has been a certain amount of mystique about town planning. A most peculiar being has set himself up as a town planner, whereas the problems which he solves are to a great extent only the normal problems of the architect planning a comparatively reasonable building.
Some of the points that I wish to raise with my right hon. Friend are those concerned with the different applications of planning in town and country. In many of our cities and larger conurbations it is difficult to get planning approval for even a reasonable scheme. Yet in another part of the country the same type of scheme will receive approval fairly quickly. In some of the country districts, on the other hand, it is easier; yet it is in the country where I believe we have most to lose.
I have never understood why it is possible to erect the most ghastly looking agricultural buildings in concrete and asbestos in the country—one has only to travel through the Cotswolds to see this happening; one often sees glorious panoramic views ruined by a precast concrete building with a white asbestos roof—and yet approval is often withheld from someone who wants to build possibly a modest house on the outskirts of a village and landscape it properly and use materials which would blend in with the surroundings.
I believe that in the cities pressure is growing on the planning machine. It has been growing for some considerable time. Today, it takes a longer period to obtain planning permission for a scheme than 1113 it has ever done. It used to be possible to get complete byelaw approval and planning permission within two or three weeks for a reasonable scheme. Today, assuming that one has outline planning permission—that is, permission for the use of the land for whatever purpose one wishes to use it—it is difficult to get detailed planning permission in under three months. This delay is unreasonable, and it is certainly not practical.
During the three months one often finds that discussions go backwards and forwards between the would-be developer, on the one hand, and the planning staff, on the other. It is a battle of wits. When I served on a planning committee, the chairman used to describe it as horse trading. I do not think that planning is a field for horse trading at all. Many of the points which are raised by the local planning staff often cover such things as a matter of opinion as to whether this or that facing material is reasonable. There are many niggling points brought up as to whether the house or building should be turned this way or that way. All these points are used by planning officers in discussion to force the bargain that they want.
Often, during these discussions, the developer is at a very serious disadvantage. He cannot get approval or rejection of his plans, and in the end, if he digs his toes in, it means that his only recourse is to appeal to the Minister. I have noticed during the last two or three years how the number of appeals to the Minister has gone up. It went up by one-fifth between 1960 and 1961. The appeal procedure means that there must be delay, and, after all, delay costs money to someone.
I was interested to hear the hon. Gentleman suggest that something should be done about the appeal procedure. I should have thought that it was possible to devise a simpler form of procedure, but I shall come back to this in a few moments.
I think that it is now generally accepted that when the development plans for the various towns and cities, and the county plans, were introduced some years ago too little land was made available for housing needs. This gives rise to what the hon. Gentleman described as nibbling into the green belts. There is built into the planning law machinery for looking 1114 at these plans again, and making amendments to them, but this machinery for the reallocation of land appears to be much too slow.
I was surprised when the hon. Gentleman mentioned the village of Lapworth. I know it well. I was sorry that he isolated Lapworth from the rest of the Warwickshire plan, because although development has been added to Lap-worth it has been taken away from some of the other villages which are every bit as beautiful. I cannot think that the hon. Gentleman is in agreement with the thesis that no amendment whatsoever should be made to these plans; that once having decided that a village or town should be so big, it must never be altered again. That, surely, is a negative attitude to planning.
When planning authorities decide to amend their plans, it often takes as long as two years for their reviews to be approved. This is a very lengthy period, and it must lead to an increasing number of appeals by would-be developers. If the approval of a planning review takes two years, a number of people may well move in and suggest various schemes in the hope that theirs will fit in with the revised plans. The local authorities automatically reject those planning applications, and then the developer comes along and decides to go to appeal. The machine is thus cluttered up with a number of appeals in this sort of category. Is it not possible to devise a system whereby a planning review can be decided on much more quickly than at the moment? I am sure that if my right hon. Friend could devise such a system the number of appeals would diminish.
I said a few moments ago that the appeal procedure should be modified considerably. Is it not possible to devise a method of regional appeals, instead of all the appeals coming to the Minister? Could not some of the less important appeals be settled at regional level? I should have thought that it was possible to set up some form of machinery on which the Minister is represented, on which the local authorities are represented and on which regional architects are represented so that they can express their opinions.
I have never been altogether satisfied with the present arrangement whereby an inspector holds an inquiry and makes 1115 a report. I think that there is scope for bringing independent architects into these appeals so that there can be genuine independent opinions. Many of the decisions which are taken are, after all, matters of opinion. They are matters of opinion on aesthetic points of architecture or planning, and I believe that there is scope in this work for these independent bodies to give their opinions about various matters.
At the moment, in many people's minds planning has become associated with rigid control, and I think that this is bad. I hope that the Minister will use his influence to speed up planning decisions from the point of view of the planning authorities, and to bring speedy relief in the cases of appeal.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
The hon. Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Hocking) started by drawing attention to some buildings in the countryside which are ugly. I think that it is as well to bear in mind that town and country planning ought to be an exciting subject. It is about beauty and human beings and gaiety. By the time it has been smothered in the language which is usually used to describe it, and by the time one has clambered about among the reports on the subject, all life has been drained out of it.
I thought that the hon. Gentleman also had a point when he protested against the delay in getting decisions. My only point on that is that the architects to whom I have spoken are rather frightened lest the new proposals for London lead to further delays, because there is to be some division of responsibility between the Greater London Council and the boroughs.
I want to address my remarks to the White Paper. It is a monument to the incapacity of the Government to take decisions in planning. In so far as it is a plan at all, it is incomplete, because it depends on the reports of at least three inquiries. It is aimed far more at the fifties than at the period at which we should be looking, and it should be noticed that it is a plan—in so far as it is a plan at all—for increasing the population in the south-east and London area.
§ Sir K. Joseph
The Government must not be given credit by the right hon. 1116 Gentleman for the natural increase in the south-east area for which this White Paper makes provision so far as London only is concerned.
§ Mr. Grimond
I have no intention of giving the Government credit for anything, least of all for that. Paragraph 2 says:The policy outlined here takes into account the Government's firm determination to reduce the movement of population from Scotland and the North.It does not say to stop it, and, therefore, this presupposes that it will go on.
This plan depends on three inquiries. One is mentioned in paragraph 4, which says:The regional study is examining the growth and movement of population in the South-East…I suggest that what we need, in the first place, is not an inquiry into the growth and movement of population in the South-East, but an inquiry into the whole concept that we have of Great Britain in the period from, say, the 'seventies to the end of the century. From that there would follow certain consequences which would apply to the South-East.
I want to draw attention to three matters mentioned in this White Paper. Paragraph 8 says:Since the mid-fifties nearly 40,000 new jobs a year have been created in the conurbation.To anyone coming from Scotland or the North that is a terrifying figure. If those 40,000 jobs had been provided in Scotland, they would have made up at least the minimum at which the Toothill Report aimed, but they are accepted by the Government as having been created in the South-East.
Paragraph 58 of the White Paper, which deals with the question of dispersal, says:The scale on which it will be needed and the extent to which it can be considered practicable cannot be established until the South-East Study is completed.There are no definite proposals in this White Paper for dispersal, and the summary mentions the need for half a million new houses for London. I do not complain about clearing slums in London. I am aware of the housing conditions here, but I ask the House and the Government to consider their policy 1117 as a whole. Are they serious about repopulating the North, Scotland, Wales and the South-West? Are they serious about reversing the drift to the South-East? If so, why have we had this White Paper?
The Government have no plan for these other areas. When we get a plan, if we ever do, for Scotland is it merely to say that it is hoped to slow down the depopulation from Scotland? The life blood of Scotland is draining away and it is not sufficient to slow it down. Unless the Government are determined to reverse the trend—and I believe this goes for north-east England, also—they will face a situation in Scotland as a whole similar to that which now exists in the Highlands and other parts of the extreme North. We must have growth points in Scotland and they must be points of political, social and economic power as well as of industrial growth. I see no signs of this in the Government's general policy on town and country planning.
The kind of thing we want to see is new roads being built in this country which go out of their way to avoid the conurbations in the South-East, say down to Southampton, to ports in the North, across Scotland and in Wales; and roads which do not follow the old railway routes. I would draw the attention of the House to the Government's proposal to create a new town at Redditch. Again, if this is necessary to clear the slums in Birmingham it may be a good thing but, like other hon. Members, I strongly suspect that it will not be a new town at all, but that most of those who are to live there will work in Birmingham. Is it the Government's intention to give certificates for new factories in Redditch? Where are the new towns in the really depressed parts of the country? There are two or three of them, but the bulk of the effort to build new towns has gone into the area around London. That is revealed in the map printed with the White Paper showing development within what is described as the metropolitan region. Now a new town is to be built in the Midlands.
Then—and this is a matter which I have raised before—when are we to have the Government's plans for improving ports away from London? When are we to be told what is to be done about ports in north-east England, Scotland 1118 and Wales? That is the kind of planning I would have liked to have seen and until it is drawn up it is no good talking about Government plans for tackling the long-term situation of the North-East and Scotland. When any such plan is drawn up is it to be an entirely London-made plan in which these districts are looked at from the point of view of London, and planned entirely on London lines?—because, if so, I can tell the Government that it will fail. We have the experience of the last twenty or thirty years to show how such plans have failed. We have to get away from the present concept and to look at the situation which will arise by creating away from London the growth points which everyone admits are necessary.
Next, an inquiry is to go on, believe it or not, as to whether the Government can move more of their civil servants out of London—and this after twelve years in office. That point has been put to them again and again and now we are to have an inquiry to find out whether or not this can be done. Of course it can be done, and it has to be done, but if we want it to be effective we have to move out not only the clerks and the typists, but some of the power from London. We have to give the power to take decisions to Scotland, Wales and probably the north of England.
If we really want to disperse some of the office population out of London we have to send their jobs out; and that does not mean moving out only the lower-paid jobs, but moving out, also, the power to take decisions and embarking on a policy of devolution. There is no reason why this should not be done even for offices which may have to retain some nucleus in London. There are all kinds of modern devices, like closed-circuit television, which can now keep one office in touch with another.
Then, have the Government looked at whether the Board of Trade should not shed some of its responsibilities for regional development and whether regional development offices should not be set up in Scotland and Wales? When are we to be told that the Government are to create machinery for bringing new life to these countries? The Government were asked some time ago why the National Coal Board should not move out of London. Has there been any answer to that? Have any conversations been 1119 carried on about it with the Coal Board and other nationalised industries. May I ask the Minister how much new office space has been taken by the Government themselves in London during the past year? Can he tell us how much new office space the Government are now taking up in London, during the very period that they have been stressing the need to get offices out of London?
Then there is the inquiry into the management and use of existing housing, mentioned in paragraph 51 of the White Paper. I notice that there is no inquiry into rents, but perhaps "management and use" includes rents. I also notice—and I consider that this is a serous omission from the White Paper—that there is no mention of taxation of land values, or on profits made out of land. Nor is there any mention of such an authority as has been suggested many times, by Liberals and others which could hold "twilight" areas until they can be redeveloped. It is very necessary for urban renewal to have some such authority which can help areas which need rebuilding until they can be let off for rebuilding either to public authorities or private developers. Perhaps we can be told whether the Government have come to any conclusion to this suggestion.
Then there is the matter of the green belt, a subject on which I share the anxiety of other hon. Members. This House has been assured again and again that the Government will not tolerate "nibbling" at the green belt. It appears now that perhaps "nibbling" is not to be permitted, but that taking great bites out of it may be permitted. I do not know whether the Government are to tell us more on that, but, if so, I hope that they will be more specific. I do not think that anyone would maintain that under no circumstances ever should any land be taken for building in any area selected for green belt; but if such land should be taken then we should be assured as to the processes which have to be gone through before that is done.
We should be assured, too, that the Government have other proposals for maintaining the essential character of the green belt which is to allow large open spaces within the conurbations of the South-East. The green belt was originally invented largely as a holding 1120 operation to put a "moat" round the growth of Greater London. It may be that the conception of a moat is medieval and that we are too much influenced by the idea of a walled city all in one piece; and perhaps more attention should be paid to providing open spaces which run into built-up areas and should aim also at providing open spaces along such places as canals. There can be ribbon development of open spaces as well as ribbon development of houses. But if this is to be done we should have a much fuller explanation from the Government. At present, the impression must remain that the Government are going back on their pledges that they will not touch the green belt.
Like other hon. Members, I would welcome the change which is forecast in relation to 10 per cent. extra on cubic capacity in office building. There has been a great increase in office building and I believe that there has been a tendency to increase the density there. The White Paper says that there has been a 32 per cent increase over pre-war floor space. I believe that it is right to attempt to get office building round the periphery and to stop this steady "breathing in and out" of central London; but is there much co-ordination about this? I am told of proposals to close the railway line which goes from Richmond round the periphery and into the City. If the Government are encouraging peripheral office building, that is the sort of line which should be kept open.
I must also ask them about the new tube railway line which is to run slap through the middle of London. That may be necessary even if the numbers of people moving into the middle of London is reduced—but who will pay for it? Again, I reiterate that I attach the greatest importance to taking the main emphasis off development in the south-east of England and putting it on development in the North, Scotland and Wales.
There is a clear need now to look at the 1970s and 1980s, and at the country as a whole, and to try to draw up a plan for the main features of the country, not only in respect of transport, ports and housing but also in respect of water resources—and then to create the machinery which will make a sensible town and country planning policy possible. We have never had it so far. I envisage some kind 1121 of small unit—and I emphasise that it should be a small unit—and the creation of regional bodies in touch with that unit and adequately supplied with technical staff to draw up a proper plan.
Of late, the Government have told us that we are at the end of an era. They wish to draw a veil over the last twelve years during which they have been in office, but they cannot escape responsibility for this. Nor does the White Paper, with its very belated announcement about town and country planning, give me any confidence that the Government will do any better in the next ten years, if they remain in office.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Mr. John M. Temple (City of Chester)
I was interested in the observations of the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), the Liberal Leader, but I was surprised when he commenced his speech by saying that he would speak about the White Paper, and then, having said that, he travelled over Scotland, Wales and the North-East Coast ports and finally brought in the question of water resources. I shall endeavour to keep more closely to the White PaperLondon—Employment: Housing: Land—because it contains many points of extreme interest.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the White Paper, which is a real step in the right direction. It is not the whole answer, but it is just as well to take a firm step in the right direction while exploring alternative avenues. In paragraph 5 the White Paper mentions population and employment and says that we must "not plan for a static London". My right hon. Friend is quite right, but, more than that, we must not plan for a static Britain. We must plan for a dynamic purposeful Britain.
In this connection, I draw attention to one important factor which is brought out in the White Paper, and to two related factors. The White Paper says that the effect of smaller households in the next ten years will be to increase the demand for housing accommodation by 10 per cent. The average number of persons per household will decrease from 3.3 to approximately 3 per household, and that will mean an increasing demand for housing, accommodation. The first of the two additional factors, to which I draw atten- 1122 tion, is the velocity of the reproductive cycle. We cannot stop these young couples from getting married at an earlier age! We do not want to do so! But the effect will be that we shall have four generations per century, as opposed to the three generations that we were accustomed to twenty-five years ago. The second factor is that most people are living longer. The effect of those two natural happenings will be to increase our population by about 25 per cent. in the next twenty-five years—an increase of 1 per cent. per annum. That in itself will mean a substantial additional demand for homes.
The hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) pointed out that this was Shrove Tuesday. I have no wish to be controversial on such a day, but I would remind him of the housing achievements of the Conservative Party. During the last ten years it has built more houses than the Labour Party ever thought possible. If that is not a considerable achievement, I do not know what is.
I want to refer briefly to the Town and Country Planning Bill. Your predecessor, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, said that it would be possible to make brief references to increases in office floor space which can be achieved by redevelopment. I hope that the Bill will not operate to any great extent in provincial Britain to stop redevelopment, because there we shall need a considerable increase in office accommodation in order to house office workers in the improved conditions envisaged in the Offices Bill now going through Parliament.
Paragraph 64 of the White Paper rightly refers to the Metropolitan Green Belt, and before the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland leaves the Chamber I remind him that the only statutory green belts in this country are the Metropolitan Green Belt and a very small section of green belt somewhere in the region of the Solent. The other green belts at present are only proposed green belts, and the right time to make any change in green belt policy will be when it is proposed to make them statutory. But it would be sensible to release certain pockets of land or salients in the Metropolitan Green Belt which are neither green nor attractive as features of the landscape in order to assist the housing situation.
§ Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)
That is a very general statement to make, and many people will fundamentally disagree with it. Has my hon. Friend any particular pockets in mind in making that general statement?
§ Mr. Temple
Naturally, when I make a general statement I am prepared to be more specific. The salients that I have in mind are those which run, say, between railway lines. They are often of minimal agricultural value and probably of very little scenic value. We all know of such pockets in and around London which would be more valuable for housing purposes. This is a matter of judgment, but I believe that many such pockets or salients could be developed in case of need.
I notice that my right hon. Friend proposes to strengthen the green belt by adding to it. We must be careful here, because one of the difficulties about the Metropolitan Green Belt is that it was delineated very largely by reference to local authority boundaries. One of the first Ministry circulars sent out with reference to green belts said that they should be delineated by reference to natural features in the landscape, and when we are seeking to extend them we must see that we do have reference to those natural features, such as escarpments and boundaries of river basins. If we do that, the boundary of a green belt will command much more respect than it does now, delineated as it is largely by reference to local authority boundaries.
I remind the Minister that we must think long and carefully before we extend the green belt to any great extent. It is extraordinarily restrictive of development within its boundaries and we must have regard to the restriction which is built in in any future extension of green belt policy. The White Paper says that the Government are to proceed with this expansion of the green belt, but the Minister cloaks in a veil of mystery the way in which this problem will be dealt with. I hope that whoever replies will tell us how the problem is to be tackled.
I agree with the Leader of the Liberal Party about regional planning. For some years I have said that there was a good case for this, and I am glad that the White 1124 Paper contains a statement calling for a regional plan for London and South-East England. With my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, I had the honour to be a co-author of "Change and Challenge", which was published last year by the Conservative Political Centre. That publication envisaged the setting up of a regional planning board or authority for the south-east region of Britain. It took cognisance of the fact that there would be a Greater London Council. It suggested that the regional planning board should have a varied membership drawn from the local planning authorities, including the Greater London Council, and that it should encompass an area going as far north as Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire.
Representatives would, of course, be placed on this board from those counties, and, in addition, the suggestion was that the board should incorporate independent representatives in the same way as the Water Resources Board envisages having a membership from industry and various other parties interested in planning, such as the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Transport.
I believe that there is a powerful case today for looking rather beyond planning just in the Metropolitan region itself. I believe that the Metropolitan district could well be fitted into this region of south-east England.
I congratulate my right lion. Friend on his great political courage and, in fact, the great political courage of the Conservative Party in reorganising local government in Greater London. Comparatively recently I had the privilege of being received by the planning authority of San Francisco. That planning authority has studied with great interest the reorganisation of local government in Greater London. In the San Francisco Bay area, similar to our conurbation around London, and the surrounding districts there are very many local authorities. They would give anything to have just one council responsible for planning in the whole of the San Francisco Bay area. They paid tribute to our political courage in bringing in one planning authority for the whole of the Metropolitan district of London.
I believe that having done that there is a powerful case for merging certain 1125 of these planning powers for, shall I say, statistical and research purposes so that the regional planning board could give advice from a statistical and research point of view to the Government as to how the south-east region should be developed.
§ Mr. W. Yates
Did my hon. Friend go to Los Angeles as well and discuss the matter with that authority?
§ Mr. Temple
I did not have the privilege of going to Los Angeles, but I visited New York and Boston and spoke with the planning commissions in both cities.
I believe it is essential that any planning should be flexible. I do not think it possible to plan for fifty or 100 years hence on an entirely rigid and immutable basis, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will perhaps act on this advice, because it must be clear that at times there will be movement within all the designated areas of the country. By designated, of course, I include development plans and green belt proposals.
I will give one example of where I believe that a flexible provision should be made. I think hon. Members will be aware that in London there is a "Caravan Harbour" run by the Caravan Club of Great Britain. The caravan harbour is on 4 acres of land at the Crystal Palace and is on a six-months lease to the Caravan Club of Great Britain from the L.C.C. The harbour is an immense tourist attraction. In the last year 30,000 campers and caravanners used that harbour. Some 35 per cent. of them came from the continent of Europe, 10 per cent. from the Commonwealth and 5 per cent. from the United States of America. This caravan harbour is in danger of being closed because the lease is only on a six-monthly basis. It is things like this which I hope will be taken into account when the planning for the Metropolitan area is decided.
I have no wish to take up the time of the House this evening on any more details within the White Paper, but, as I have said, I believe that it is a satisfactory start. It is indeed a useful instalment, but it is certainly not the whole plan, and, in the words of The Times leader, I believe that what is required isa strategic plan for the entire South-East Region".
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Skeffington (Hayes and Harlington)
I very much hope that the Minister of Housing and Local Government will not pay too much attention to what the hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) has just said in relation to the possible extension of green belts. My own view is that unless we are to have built-up areas, particularly in the South-East, from the Thames to the Channel one has to maintain the green belt wherever possible, and I hope that will go out from both sides of the House as the general advice which we feel we can give the Minister.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman entirely in the need for a regional authority to plan land use for the whole of the South-East, but I could not understand why the hon. Gentleman was so full of praise and congratulation for the Minister when he is introducing the reorganisation measures for the Greater London area which will not produce one regional planning authority or one superior planning authority even within that area. Indeed, we now know—and this is the supreme irony—that while the Royal Commission said that the arrangements for planning are hopeless in the review area, because there are nine planning authorities, the Minister has evolved a scheme which will give us thirty-four, and they, more or less, will be equal, some perhaps more than others. There is no one planning authority with supreme power. Every borough will have two plans, the borough development plan and that part of the Greater London development plan. This will create chaos and makes nonsense of hitherto held concepts of town and country planning. There is one feeling of hope about the Bill. It is so full of opportunities for the Minister to intervene by regulation that perhaps a new Minister will be able to bring order out of chaos.
I am glad that at long last we are having an opportunity to pay some attention to considerations of town and country planning, because for good or ill—I fear to an increasing degree for ill—we are acquiescing in determination of land use and all that goes with it—health amenity, ease of human communications, which may well be determined for generations to come. We are all preparing our own monument for future generations, and I am bound to say, 1127 taking as objective a view of the matter as possible, that we are making a pretty sorry mess of it in most parts of the country, and it will be so regarded.
The first conclusion which I think sticks out a mile, and which is recognised by a number of hon. Members opposite, is the almost complete lack of co-ordination in planning activities in the Government. It is absurd to have the Board of Trade deciding industrial locations and factory developments quite separately from the Minister of Housing and Local Government and the Minister of Transport. We all know that there is some kind of formal consultation, but it would have been impossible to have reached the situation of gross overcrowding which we have reached in the south-east region had there been more consultation and more unity in the approach to the problem.
A recent article in Lloyds Bank Review showed—and, indeed, the figures in the White Paper show—that the industrial location in the Greater London area, in the south-east region, could never have come about if industrial certificates had not been granted almost as a mere formality by the Board of Trade. We know that since the war 40 per cent. of the jobs in all the new industries have actually been in this already congested south-east area.
The Minister of Transport—as a Committee of the House found not so long ago—decides on communications very much in isolation. Who would have put the M.1 as a first communication priority, a road on which, if one is lucky and there are no hold-ups due to the breakup of the road surface, one is able to go at 90 to 100 m.p.h., but only between the two greatest traffic concentrations in Europe. Whereas the M.4, linking the South Wales ports with the south-west ports and London, was obviously of much greater strategic and commercial importance.
This lack of general co-ordination between the Minister of Housing, the Minister of Transport and the Board of Trade is one of the main reasons why we have got into this muddle. The Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister have not the status even to decide the issue raised in the White Paper. It requires an important member of the 1128 Cabinet or a Cabinet sub-committee to ensure that planning can be discussed with a unitary approach by the three Departments which I have mentioned.
§ Mr. Hocking
The hon. Gentleman has referred to the priority of M.1. Surely he realises that this road carries one of the largest percentages of goods from the very workshop of England to the docks, from where those goods are sent overseas? Surely the hon. Gentleman has travelled that road sufficiently often to realise the quantity of goods which are transported on it. Surely it was a reasonable order of priority which was decided upon? Exports are vital to this country, and the quicker they get to the docks the better.
§ Mr. Skeffington
I still think that the strategic, economic and social considerations regarding the development of new industries in Wales are much more important than the provision of a road between two highly congested cities when there are adequate rail communications available. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's argument, and the view which I put forward is certainly nearer to that of the Committee of this House which investigated the matter eighteen months ago.
Another body blow was dealt to the whole concept of town and country planning when parts of the 1947 Act were abrogated by the 1954 and 1959 compensation provisions in the two Acts of those years. Up to 1954, if an outline planning permission, because of changed circumstances, was changed, or if the Minister directed a change in outline planning permission, the local authority had merely to meet the appropriate cost of abortive expenditure. But now, in many instances, they may be responsible for the expected commercial value of the whole enterprise, had it ever been completed. The result is that from time to time when authorities know that they ought to revoke or modify some aspect of planning they are inhibited from doing so by the financial consequences. This has meant that much of the planning has been quite negative.
If we couple that with the high commercial value attached to land purchased by public authorities, we can appreciate how in many cases our social development is being twisted by these compensation proposals. I will give one example 1129 from my own constituency involving two acres of land, well sited near a railway station and near to three large factories. There is a desperate need for housing; more than 2,000 families are on the waiting list. The commercial speculative value of those two acres is over £70,000, which is many thousands more than the value given by the district auditor. The result is that 50, 60 or 70 families will certainly not be living in houses built there by the local authority, and factory workers must continue to travel longer distances in order to work in the district. If one takes a look at specific planning bearing in mind that there is no Cabinet Minister with adequate authority in charge, plus the effect of the compensation proposals. I have mentioned, one begins to realise the sad and sorry mess we are in.
I wish to refer to a specific example from the county in which I live. As an inhabitant. I have been watching some of the planning decisions with growing apprehension which, I may say, is shared by many residents. I have spoken to several hon. Members who are concerned and who all happen to sit on the opposite side of the Committee. They were aware that I intended to raise these matters today. I am not raising them as constituency points, but as an example of what is happening in Kent. I wish to express concern about the development taking place even in the village of Meopham where I live. There is a town development plan which allows for considerable expansion, and I have been watching the rapid development in relation to the public services.
Incidentally, a number of people have told me that they cannot understand why individual applications are continually being turned down but bigger development plans involving a number of houses always seem to be approved. I have suggested that individual planning applications may be as objectionable as a group application if the plan includes one house which may ruin the landscape for ever. But there is uneasiness not only about the way in which the plan is being operated but because planning decisions seem to operate in a vacuum.
We know, for example, that at Meopham the social services are not adequate for further expansion. Already the school is grossly overcrowded. The 1130 teachers do their best and are doing a very good job. There is no complaint against them. But because of the development which has already taken place the school is grossly overcrowded and is likely to continue so for some time with some ill effects on the children. The hospital services are inadequate. The doctors tell me that they have never been so short of maternity beds as at the present time. The railways have publicly stated they cannot take any more commuters into London either on the Maidstone or the Chatham line.
I asked the county planning officer why it was that residential development could go on even within the provisions of the town map when the existing services were so woefully below standard. The planning officer replied in a long and courteous letter and said:As to services, the increase in the population … has been publicly known … and if it is felt that any of the bodies responsible for these services … have failed to keep reasonable pace with the development, they should be approached direct.By whom? By me? And if I did approach them, what effect would that be likely to have? Does this mean that even though we know that there is an inadequate hospital service, or not enough schools, or that the railways cannot cater for more people, building is still to be allowed to go on? If so, we might as well say that there is no validity in any of the principles of town and country planning as we have known it, at any rate since the war——
§ Mr. Skeffington
I will give way in a moment. I am anxious not to talk for too long because other hon. Members wish to speak.
That was the answer which I received from the planning officer. I am now trying to find out from the authority which has delegated rights in this matter what attention it pays to the social services. If they are ignored I cannot see any point in the delegated powers being given. If they do not ignore the services, how do we proceed? Does the Minister at some stage say that there must be some halt in development until the social services have caught up? It is useless for the planning officer to say that those responsible must be approached direct. The hospital services cannot expand. There 1131 is often no money available. In some instances, they cannot secure staff to run the beds which they have. I apologise for having taken such a humble example as the village in which I live——
§ Mr. Skeffington
I mentioned that I have been in close consultation with my Member of Parliament and he shares my concern, but I am expressing my own views on the matter. He knew that I was going to raise this issue in the debate today.
Before coming to the one major test case in Kent to which I wish to refer, I ask the Minister if he can tell me something about a different kind of development which is now going forward in connection with the fine old mediæval town of Sandwich. This is a wonderfully unique town. With Rye, I suppose there is no parallel anywhere in the world. As one approaches from Canterbury one sees the embattled town standing out in the distance across the marshes. People come from all over the world to see Sandwich as they come to see other beauty spots in Kent. In parenthesis, I point out that dollar earnings from the tourist industry are very much greater than from the sale of motor cars and probably greater than from sales of whisky, so, quite apart from the issue of keeping pace with the social services, there are quite important commercial considerations in the amenity aspects of some of our cities.
Outside the area, as one approaches, we come to what is known as Gallows Field, which may be an appropriate name for it in view of the death blow to be dealt to the whole of the ancient site by a planning decision. Although I suppose advertisement was given, many people have expressed great concern to find that a contract has been let for the building of more than 200 houses on this site. It will completely ruin the approach to the town. Local people are not saying, and I do not say, that no development should take place. There are other areas in which difficulties would not be created and destruction of amenities and the charm of this place would not take place. From many points of view this development, as it is below 1132 flood level at particular times, may not be suitable for residential development in any case. I very much hope that we shall hear from the Minister that for the sake of amenity he is not prepared to allow that this delightful city shall be destroyed by residential development which could well take place elsewhere.
I turn for a moment to the remarks about the green belt to which my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) referred in his opening. I was delighted to read paragraph 64 and to get the re-emphasis of the Government on the place of the green belt as a permanent feature of planning policy in London and. I hope, elsewhere—if it is really meant. I was particularly glad to hear my hon. Friend refer to the Home Secretary's remarks about speculators burning their fingers. On a subsequent occasion when the present Home Secretary was replying to a debate of this kind I quoted the estate correspondent of the Guardian, who wrote these words in 1960already owners of green-belt land are accepting up to £100 an acre cash down for nothing but an option to buy it if ever permission to develop it is granted.He went on:In some areas the humble members of small district councils, exercising delegated planning powers, are being plied with embarrassingly lavish hospitality, and divisional planning officers are being told: 'That's a shabby looking car you've got isn't it?', though its cellulose gleams factory-fresh.In effect the property market is betting a huge and rapidly mounting sum that will succeed in breaking planning control, or alternatively, that will get its money back in the form of compensation (at current market prices) for the refusal of permission to cash by development the speculative values it is creating—which would speedily produce the same result.The then Home Secretary used precisely the same phrase then, "They will get their fingers burnt." What the estate correspondent of the Guardian said is now very largely happening. Not only is more and more land being bought in this way, but the Minister himself, by the decision to which I now want to refer, has given impetus to this kind of action, which is wholly deplorable. I refer to the Minister's decision to allow residential development on the Trosley Towers estate near Wrotham in Kent. That happens to be an area not merely in pretty rural surroundings but the last unbuilt escarpment of the North Downs. 1133 It is an area which is already designated as one of exceptional landscape value. For eight or nine years it has been included in the proposed extension of the Metropolitan Green Belt and so far it has been treated by everyone as such in their dealing with planning matters. It is very shortly to be designated by the National Parks Commission, which is under a statutory duty to designate places of great natural beauty. This is not any ordinary stretch of land; it is an elevated piece of exceptionally outstanding beautiful English countryside.
Outline planning permission was given for some development of this site in 1952. How that outline planning permission was ever given is shrouded in mystery. Probably it would be unprofitable to try to pierce the folds of that mystery now, but, whatever the conditions in 1952, they have now altered. In 1952 there was an R.A.F. camp and squatters there. The squatters have been rehoused and there is now no local problem of that kind. Furthermore, there have been at least two public inquiries into the proposal. The first was conducted in 1958 by Mr. Buchanan, a very distinguished expert in this field, who, after hearing all the evidence, held:If there is to be settlement at Trosley it must. I suggest, have a genuine social basis.He went on to say, in paragraph 77 of his report:I have considerable doubts about the social basis for this project … I have recorded the representations of the other interested parties at the Inquiry … there is evidence of a fair weight of responsible opinion that is firmly opposed to the whole idea of development on this site on the grounds that there is now no social justification for it and there is a risk of serious harm to amenities. For myself I share their misgivings to the full.That is strong language for an inspector speaking in a judicial capacity who had listened to the evidence. At that time no further scheme came forward, but one of the curious features of town and country planning legislation is that even far a site of this kind where the application has been refused the developer, or other developers, can apply again and again. I should have thought there must come a time When finality is reached. It imposes very heavy burdens on local authorities and those fighting to preserve what is best in the countryside continually to have to rush troops to the battle.
1134 The second inquiry took place and a more detailed scheme was put before the inspector this time. In his conclusion's he again found against the scheme. He said:It is beyond dispute that those circumstances have changed radically in the last ten years and it therefore follows that revocation would be justified if the development then permitted is now considered to be undesirable. … In my view the arguments against the residential development on the Trosley Towers site are overwhelming.He said:It would have the disadvantage of housing little, if any, service labour on the site and would be essentially a one-sided community. It is not a social basis which I would recommend.He found as a fact that the social basis of the scheme was a community of commuters, retired people in the middle and upper income groups. So there is no relief whatever in the towns in the Medway Valley and no relief whatever to those in need of houses in the village. This, as the inspector found as a matter of fact, was for commuters or retired people and those in the upper and middle income groups. Despite those two inquiries and the facts I have illustrated in my earlier remarks about development in Kent, the social services at the moment being hopelessly inadequate, the railways unable to cater for more people; yet the Minister has permitted this development. I hope that he will take advantage of this debate to give us some reasons why he has done so in the face of two inquiries and the fact that there is no social need, no roads or schools and all these services will have to be provided in an area which already is very short of them. If building can take place on a proposed extension of the Metropolitan Green Belt in an area of undoubted landscape value and one about to be designated as of exceptional beauty, building can take place anywhere. I hope the Minister will take this opportunity of telling us why.
It is a depressing experience to go through many parts of Kent today. Much of the fault must be laid at the door of the Minister and even more so at the door of the Government who have allowed these conditions to operate over the last ten years. Kent used to be known as "the Garden of England". It is becoming the backyard of England, and a very shoddy one at that.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)
The subject we are discussing tonight—town and country planning—is one of the most important subjects that we can discuss in the House. It is unfortunate that the debate must be so short. For that reason, I shall try to compress my remarks into as short a time as possible, confining them largely to London and the surrounding district, because I am a Londoner and I represent a constituency outside London. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will take note of that expression.
What has happened since the war, as is clear from many paragraphs of the White Paper, is that in the centre of London and in the West End there has been an enormous increase in office building. That is a good thing, because the offices which have been built since the war are very much better, very much more sanitary, if you like to use the word, and very much pleasanter to work in than those which they have replaced. They have replaced other offices either because the others were knocked down by enemy action or because they were subsequently pulled down. The people who used to live in those parts of the West End and other parts of London which are now occupied by offices and business premises have moved out to the periphery because they find that they can get houses and accommodation there at a proper price, at a price which they can afford, and because they like the rural amenities to be enjoyed in the neighbourhood of their houses. The rural amenities consist almost entirely of the green belt that surrounds London.
Over 11 years ago when I made my maiden speech in the House, as nervous then as I still am, I pointed out that if it had not been for the foresight of our ancestors London would consist entirely of bricks and mortar from its centre to the outside. Places like Clapham Common, Streatham Common and open spaces in Wandsworth and all over the place would not have been left to us and our families who live round there for recreation and air if they had not in the past century and the centuries before that been left intentionally as open spaces. Now we have green belts, not only for the people who live there but for the whole of London when it chooses to go out and 1136 get its recreation and fresh air in these places.
I want to deal first with travel between those outer parts and the centre. I will return to the green belts in a moment. To travel from homes on the outskirts to the centre a fast railway system is required. I know that nowadays many people make the journey in their cars. Indeed, if we go outside the House at the moment we can see the streets completely blocked with people going back to the outer parts of London and beyond, very often one to a car. I do not deal with that. I do not think that it is a sound principle. The proper way of moving these vast numbers of people nowadays is by electric railway.
Since the war there have been no new lines or additional lines built. It is true that owing to the enormous advances made before the war in electric travel many more trains carrying many more passengers can be run over the same lines than was possible in the days of steam. Saturation point has now been reached, and unless more lines are built the trains will become even more crowded than they are at present.
One reason for this is another change in post-war habits. All these people travel at the same time. A person travelling in the opposite direction during rush hour, or going in the same direction out of rush hour, can have the train practically to himself. If he tries to travel in the same direction as the crowd during rush hour, it is difficult to get into a carriage. Before the war rush hour was spread over a much longer period. It is now more compressed. For some reason for which I do not profess to offer an explanation, that is a change in the postwar habits of people working in the centre of London. One of the things the Minister should do in conjunction with the Ministry of Transport is to get the rush hour extended and also to have more rail facilities built. Then this problem of the people moving into their work and out again will be partially relieved, if not wholly relieved. It is a very important problem?
I come now to the very important matter affecting everybody who lives round London. I refer to the green belt. I reject entirely the argument of my hon. Friend 1137 the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple), who suggested that it should be eroded. He said that there are various places which do not have a full amenity value. He could not name them, except as between railways, but he did not tell us which particular railway he had in mind.
Let me tell him that I will take him, if he cares to come, to a very attractive part of the green belt whose proprietor is anxious to sell it for building purposes and is able to obtain building permission. He has deliberately let that field or those fields, whichever it may be, down so that it looks unattractive. Application after application is made for building permission. One of the arguments that is frequently used is this—"Look at this depressing scene. We can grow nothing on it for farming purposes. Nobody wants the site. For goodness' sake, let us have some houses or flats put up here". Of course—because he could sell the land at an enormous price. That is what happens when people start talking of places of low amenity value.
We have heard all these arguments so often. They all come to exactly the same thing. One is to suggest that the land is of low amenity value; infilling is another one. I must include also "regional planning". They are all expressions which have only one object—that is, to build upon the green belt. One effect of having the green belt is that land which does have planning permission increases in value, because land is one of those things of which we can manufacture no more. This country has only a limited amount of it, because we are a small island. That is what we must face up to. We must accept that land anywhere near a town with building permission will be expensive.
The price that we pay is not the price of hard cash. The price we pay is to leave the rest of the land alone as open space where the people of the big towns can go and get fresh air and have pleasant views and get away from the bricks and mortar which they live in the whole time.
I have read the White Paper, as other hon. Members have. I do not propose to read paragraphs 64 onwards again. They are very vague. I do not know 1138 exactly what is meant by them. I am sure that the Minister will explain them a little more fully. I remind my right hon. Friend that only last Wednesday when he and I were crossing swords when we were discussing London in another context, namely, the London Government Bill, he said this about part of the constituency I have the honour to represent, that particular part being Coulsdon and Purley:… in the middle term I suggest that decent living for all the inhabitants of the Metropolis is very much in their own interests too.Thinking that he might have some question in mind of building in the green belt, I interrupted him, something I am very loath to do, particularly as there was a Guillotine on, and said,Is my right hon. Friend suggesting that the green belt should be built on? It is the only building land we have left.When I said "we", I meant we in Coulsdon and Purley. This is the reply my right hon. Friend gave me:Not for a moment do I suggest that. I was not making that point, and I hope that my words did not lend themselves to that interpretation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February, 1963: Vol. 672, c. 522.]That was a clear statement on the part of the Minister, and I am gratified that he made it. It showed that he has not the slightest intention of allowing building to take place on the green belt at any time.
§ Sir K. Joseph
My hon. and learned Friend is normally scrupulously fair in his remarks. On that occasion, however, I was in the middle of a spontaneous and serious speech about the fact that I was taking a decision. I knew that it was resented by a lot of people in his constituency. I was endeavouring to meet his argument regarding the building on certain land about which I knew his constituents were frightened. I was pointing out that a lot of empty land could be taken out of London under Clause 6. I did not have in my mind the whole question of the green belt, but merely his part of it, including the part which was being put in Greater London.
§ Mr. Doughty
I know that my right hon. Friend was making an important speech. Because this matter of the building on green belt land is a sore subject with me, I interrupted him. I think that my question at that time was needed as, 1139 indeed, was his reply. If he now confines it to the green belt in Coulsdon and Purley, then I accept it because, after all, we were discussing that matter. However, even with that limitation, I must take his words as a complete undertaking that not an acre, not a square yard of the green belt in Coulsdon and Purley will be touched.
Is it any wonder that we are suspicious in my part of the world about what may happen to our green belt land when we talk in terms of regional planning? What does regional planning exactly mean? It means something which is supported by the Opposition and the Leader of the Liberal Party. It has been made clear that the Liberals intend that a central body should decide what should happen in districts in which they have really no representation. In other words, someone in Westminster—or, for the Greater London Council, someone in Lambeth—will decide whether building should take place anywhere within the region. It is no wonder that a number of people are concerned about decisions which may be taken by people who are a long way from the areas affected by those decisions.
§ Mr. Temple
Since I associated myself with the Leader of the Liberal Party on the question of regional planning. I can assure my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) that, for my part, regional planning does not mean any attack on the green belt whatever. It has nothing to do with encroachment but with major strategic planning concepts.
§ Mr. Doughty
My hon. Friend represents a constituency, the City of Chester, which has no geen belt around it.
§ Mr. Doughty
In which case I am showing my ignorance of the City of Chester, just as my hon. Friend is showing his ignorance of London. I thought that the Romans built a wall around that city. No doubt my hon. Friend will tell me later how far he has carried on the ancient Roman plan, good as it was. I can tell him that tremendous pressures are continually being placed on anyone 1140 having anything to do with green belt land. The people putting on this pressure are most insistent that, whatever else happens, the land in which they are interested should be built upon; and that pressure will be exercised upon any regional council or whatever else may be set up. If that is the Liberal idea, let us have nothing to do with their ideas of such regional councils but, rather, let the local people decide.
Some people may say that East Surrey is being obstructive and does not want development. That is not so, because there are a large number of properties still standing, many of which were built in the 19th century, consisting of large houses with spacious gardens. They may have been useful when they were built—when people had domestic staffs, gas lighting and so on and could afford to maintain family gardens of three of four acres—but such premises are certainly not suitable for single family occupation these days. They are gradually coming on to the market with vacant possession at reasonable prices. Although they are not required as homes for individual families, they are being pulled down and replaced with houses at so many per acre. The number varies but where one is pulled down up to 20 new houses are erected in its place, subject to overbuilding not occurring, and this sort of development has never been opposed by the people in the green belt constituencies. That sort of building is a natural development which should be encouraged. It is far better than snipping bits off the green belt or causing the death of the green belt by a thousand cuts, as one Sunday newspaper described it.
I hope that the present Minister, like his predecessors, will carry on the good work of preserving the green belt and adding to it. Let us forget the Liberal ideas in this connection and stick to good, sound Conservative principles. Let us develop the available land in a modern way and keep London's surroundings in good order, protected by this generation for the next.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Mrs. Joyce Butler (Wood Green)
I intend to follow the hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) in his remarks about the green belt later in my speech. I would, first, like 1141 to raise a number of points related to the White Paper concerning general planning matters.
I am sure that we all welcome the unexceptionable sentiments in the White Paper about the control of office development. We are pleased to note in paragraph 19 that the Government intend to encourage the taking of Government work outside central London as far as possible. It is more than a year ago since I ascertained the figures of the number of civil servants who could be moved to offices outside London. The Minister responsible told me that there were 212,000 such workers in Greater London, of whom 80,000 were engaged in headquarters works, excluding the Post Office.
Accepting that some of those 212,000 will be employed in local offices on the periphery, a considerable number of civil servants could be moved outside the London area. I am aware of the difficulties of doing this because in my constituency a high proportion of Post Office staff has been affected by the removal of the Savings Division to the North. I am satisfied, however, from correspondence and discussions I have had with my constituents, that these difficulties could be overcome by a steady Government plan of dispersal. I hope that the remarks in the White Paper are not just pious sentiments but that they will be effectively followed up.
In paragraphs 17 and l8 the Minister sets out his reasons for not following something like the procedure in regard to industrial development certificates for commercial buildings. He says that to introduce such machinery depends upon knowledge of the firm which occupies the factory in the case of industrial premises and on an assessment of the need of that firm to carry on manufacture in a particular area. Then he says that if the procedure were followed in the case of offices it would be difficult because… when the developer seeks planning permission he may not know how many tenants he will have or who his tenants will be; and these tenants may change at frequent intervals.If the Minister's control of office development is to be effective he must have that knowledge about offices, a knowledge similar to that which the Board of Trade has about factories.
I can best illustrate this point by referring to what has been happening in 1142 Middlesex over the last few years. The Minister would seem to be suggesting in the White Paper that by providing more office accommodation or land for office development outside the central area—and he mentions in particular Croydon, Watford, Ilford and Surbiton—by means of the Bill which we shall be considering shortly, and by the Location of Offices Bureau merely advising without any power, firms will remove themselves from the centre of London and go outside the intensely built-up area.
In Middlesex, between 1955 and 1961, encouragement was given to use land on the periphery for office development. During that period, 11,295,000 sq. ft. of land was approved for office development. But as at April of last year, on 6,325,000 sq. ft. of the 11 million no work had been started, despite the fact that it has been the policy over these years to make land available for office development on the periphery. More than half of the land has not had work started on it. Since 1962 a further 1,788,000 sq. ft. have been made available, but no work has yet been started on that.
It is perfectly true that of 121 firms which took up office accommodation on the periphery of Middlesex and employed 8,148 people, 44 per cent. came from the central London area. Fifty per cent. had moved from other parts of Middlesex and only 6 per cent. had come into Middlesex from outside. This result was achieved not merely by making accommodation land available. It was achieved in the main because Middlesex County Council would not grant approval to firms unless they were in London or Middlesex. The council pursued this very firm policy and this may well explain why so much of the land available for offices has not been taken up.
This suggests that the Minister must put more teeth into his suggestions for the control of office development if it is to be effective. It is clear that the present measures will not produce the results which he and all of us want. It is clear that he will need a great deal more information about the firms in London who require offices. He must have information about their needs and about what firms will occupy the office space which he hopes to provide outside the central area. I cannot see any 1143 alternative to something like the industrial development certificate procedure if it is to be effective.
As to the need to make better use of the land within the Greater London area and in south-east England, with the problem of housing and with Ministers suggesting that much of the land in London will have to be used more effectively, we are brought back to the great problem of making better use of the rundown residential areas in the central part of the Greater London area. I have emphasised many times that the Minister still does not produce any plan to help solve this problem. These areas are in the main commercially unprofitable to redevelop, but they are areas where we shall have the biggest allocation of housing land without encroaching on the green belt or on the virgin countryside outside.
These are the areas which must be developed if we are to solve part of the London housing needs inside London. The Minister, however, has given no guidance on how the local authorities—which if it is commercially unprofitable are the bodies to do the job—are to be helped either with something like the old direct planning grant or deferred interest payments. This has been put to the Minister a number of times, but so far he has refused to commit himself.
§ Mr. Doughty
With respect, the hon. Lady is saying what I said earlier, but there is no need for the local authorities to do this. While land in central London is available there is plenty of private enterprise which at no public cost to anybody will put up first-class houses and flats.
§ Mrs. Butler
The difficulty about commercial developers coming into areas like this is that to make a scheme commercially profitable they tend to want to put up all kinds of commercial developments which are really not suitable in the areas. I have personal experience of one place where this has happened, and I know that it is true generally. Naturally they want to make commercially profitable schemes, and often this is not consistent with residential developments for families in greatest need, which is what we are seeking to provide inside London for homeless and other families who must live there.
1144 The other point about redevelopment relates to the commercially profitable central area, and here I must say that I am sorry that so little is done by way of research into this question. We need a more impressive attack on research into the problem and greater co-ordination of the efforts made in central area redevelopment.
I mention central area redevelopment because it relates very closely to the south-east region. It is not only a matter of the redevelopment of the central areas of large cities. The map published in the middle of the White Paper shows towns all round London and actually inside London which are carrying out central redevelopment. Most of the authorities in Middlesex, for example, are considering schemes of this kind in isolation from one another.
I attended recently a conference of municipal engineers which was attended by the development officer of the Cooperative Union. His experience in each town is similar to that of the small traders who are so concerned about this development, but because the Co-operative Union is involved the experience is repeated all over the country. This officer, therefore, had a nation-wide impression of what traders are finding in their own separate towns. He was able to give illustrations of the way in which two towns quite close together were developing their central areas without recognising the fact that the development of the central area of one would inevitably affect the people going in to shop, the transport arrangements and the other requirements of the adjacent town. One cannot redevelop two towns side by side without the redevelopment of one having an effect upon the other.
We have made no studies of this kind in this country at all. The same is true if one applies it to the south-east region in relation to the reorganisation of London Government. The right hon. Gentleman is grouping together several boroughs in a new London borough. Each of the separate boroughs in the new borough may have its central area development scheme, and this may be affected by the fact that the new London borough will centralise in one particular area and the other centres will become less important.
§ Mr. Doughty
The hon. Lady has spoken of the co-operative societies and 1145 their views. The last resolution I received from them advocated the municipalisation of all rented property. Does she agree with those views of the co-operative societies?
§ Mrs. Butler
I am tempted to follow the hon. and learned Gentleman, but he must know that what he is saying is completely irrelevant to the point I am making, which is of great concern not only to the Co-operative movement but to small traders and municipalities all over the country.
We need more research into the kind of pattern which is emerging throughout the country. I take the example of what is happening in Paris; there is no need to go as far as San Francisco. In Paris, a body has been set up, with £13 million available, to stimulate development in the city and for fifty miles round about. In the first year only, £500,000 is being made available for research. In this country, with building investment at £2,400 million, we have each year only £50,000 spent on planning research of all kinds.
With a problem such as that in the Greater London area, we cannot expect to get results unless we are prepared to do more in this respect. It has been suggested that we should do a great deal more through the universities, encouraging them to do planning research and set up planning departments on the same lines as at Leeds. There is a great need for this work to be done, and I hope that the Minister will encourage it. One hopes that the South-East study, when it is published, will prove to have touched on some of these points which are so important.
Now the green belt. The Minister has been very cunning about the green belt. He has put a colourful map at the centre of the White Paper; such a map is always a draw and tends to make people think, when they see the coloured areas and notice that the proposed additions to the green belt are more than twice the area of the existing green belt, that it is not a bad thing if some encroachment is made on the existing green belt. However, it is a matter for great concern. The green belt is essential for the health and amenities of people living in Greater London. I take the part which is closest to my own constituency. That stretch of green belt is already an hour's journey from central London. Any encroach- 1146 ment on it will mean that people will have to travel still further to reach any kind of open countryside.
What the Minister is saving, in effect, when he speaks of some land being of low amenity value is that some of the land is scruffy because it is close to the built-up area. The land around towns has always been rather scruffy, ever since primitive days when men threw their meat bones outside the encampments where they lived and made the outskirts of their primitive settlements rather scruffy and untidy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Men only?"] "Men" is a collective term including women as well.
This is a process which can go on indefinitely. If one takes away scruffy land on the immediate outskirts, a further stretch of land becomes scruffy or of low amenity value, and so one can go on nibbling away until there is no green belt left.
I am concerned about this map which the Minister has put in to gild the lily, as it were. There is no indication in the White Paper that he will accept any of the additions. They are to be considered, but there is no indication that he will accept them. It is rather misleading to insert a map in this way so that people may feel reassured that, if they lose a little bit of the existing green belt, they will have a lot more added somewhere else. There is no guarantee that it will be added at all.
I accept that the Minister, with the best of intentions, would probably like to take in some of the additional green belt which has been proposed, but I prefer what I know to something vague which may never materialise. I am sure that this is the feeling of most of the citizens of Greater London.
The Minister stressed that he would rely on proposals from local authorities with regard to encroachments on the green belt. I put it to him that local authorities are very greatly helped if they have behind them a Minister who is firm in resisting encroachments. The hon. and learned Member for Surrey. East spoke about pressures. They are enormously strong. If a local authority is under pressure to accept encroachment on the green belt, it will not be helped by the knowledge that the Minister has said that in certain circumstances he will give way, which, in effect is what he has said. Already today, 1147 immediately after publication of the White Paper, I have been asked what I think will happen to the green belt in my own area. Already the spies are out looking for the possible places where building could take place.
A word now about the new towns. I was concerned, as I have been in the past, by the Minister's references to increasing the amount of housing in places like Harlow and Stevenage. In my view, it is a mistake to try to make the new towns too big. I hope that the replies he receives in due course from these towns will be such that he will not proceed with the idea. There is a school of thought which believes that all the facilities of a town can reasonably be provided within a population of 30,000. I myself very much favour this idea. I do not like enormous new towns. I think that they are a mistake in that respect, and I think that they are a mistake also if they are too close to the conurbations. This is something which the Minister should watch very carefully because there is some ground for thinking that both Redditch and Runcorn are too close to the conurbations which they are supposed to relieve.
We are told that a second generation of new and expanded towns will be considered in the course of the regional plan which is to follow the South-East study. This could be years ahead. We need the new towns now. We need to know immediately where they are likely to be. There has already been emphasis on the importance of communications. It would be quite ridiculous to have proposals for further new towns to relieve the southeast region many years ahead when branch lines have already been closed and communications are more difficult for both goods and people.
Finally, I should like to stress this point. The whole purpose of planning our towns—south-east England is largely a region of towns—is to provide for the convenience and delight of the people who live in them. All of us in this Committee are concerned about how little convenience and how little delight there is in south-east England, which, nevertheless, is a magnet drawing people from other parts of the country. The Minister has a great responsibility, in view of all that has been said to him about green belt 1148 encroachments which have been made in south-east England, in trying to stem the rot which has set in in so many areas and to make this country a more delightful place for people to live in. In the twentieth century we should not have to put up with the misery which we are suffering because of bad planning but should be making a determined effort to plan for the benefit of the people who live here.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Hocking), I have been trained as a contractor and estate developer. I have given my views on land and land developments in previous debates. In the batting order, I think that the hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) and I have generally gone to the wicket in succession, and we have not always agreed on the points made. I was interested to hear what she had to say, particularly her resentment about the fact that the Minister had not brought in industrial development certificates for offices. I take issue with her on this point, because the White Paper clearly sets out why such certificates cannot be given for offices. The problem of office development and office occupation is so different from that of factory development that it is impracticable to do what the hon. Lady suggests. The majority of offices are not occupied by a single tenant as is usually the case with commercial factory undertakings.
There has been a good deal of talk about the pros and cons of the green belt. I have expressed the view on previous occasions that the green belt must have a purpose. It should be either an area of natural beauty which we want to preserve or a public recreation ground from which the public can fully benefit, or it should be a productive farmstead producing food for the nation. I am sure that Wimbledon Common was once considered to be in the green belt.
When my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) referred to the green belt in his constituency I reminded myself that as a younger man I built a large number of houses in his constituency. The people who were then only too glad to have houses for their own occupation are now 1149 wanting to make sure that people do not live beside them. I do not think they fully appreciate what they are doing in wishing to prevent other people from having facilities similar to their own. I still maintain that the green belt must be maintained, but it must be maintained for a specific purpose.
I wish to make a special point on the question of offices as dealt with in paragraphs 16 to 24 of the White Paper. This is a problem which is generally half understood but not fully appreciated. I am particularly interested in the survey of the south-east area because I have the honour to represent Folkestone and Hythe, which is on the outer fringe of this area. Our unemployment figures do not have the impact of the unemployment figures in the North-East, but, because of a series of factors, we have a very high unemployment figure for this part of England, 4.4 after seasonal adjustments have been made. We have a large number of schools, and a large proportion of the school population leaves each year. We do not consider that we should compete with the North-East for factories for heavy industries. We consider that our rôle should be in decentralising offices from London, particularly as we have an adequate and fast train service.
I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister to elaborate on the White Paper and to tell us how he intends to give advice and direction under the Location of Offices Bureau. Folkestone is an area which can make a real contribution to the decentralisation of London. Traffic to Folkestone would be going against the rush hour traffic. We have a natural green belt because we have the Channel, a permanent amenity, at the side of us. It seems to me that we are in a perfect situation to encourage the development of offices.
Will my right hon. Friend—and I speak for all South Coast towns—give some indication as to how the Offices Bureau would operate and how local authorities can get in contact with him in order that they may put their point of view. Does he propose to indicate to local authorities which firms are thinking about decentralising? Will he set up a form of sales bureau where he can display the wares of each locality and tell the authorities how they can get in touch with likely firms? This is a real problem from our point of view.
1150 I note from paragraph 19 (a) of the White Paper that the Government intendto make planning control over new office building still more effective".I welcome that. I should like there to be more effective planning control, but I ask my right hon. Friend to bear in mind that we are passing through the House the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Bill which will make a number of offices obsolete. The terms and conditions of that Measure will create a very big demand for new and modern office accommodation. Therefore, this Bill presents my right hon. Friend with a splendid opportunity to bring about the creation of new offices in areas outside the centre of London.
§ Mr. Costain
It would be advantageous to do that in many cases. My own company has moved offices to Scotland, so I therefore speak with some knowledge of the problem. But it is uneconomical for many people to set up offices in Scotland. It would be silly to say to a firm which trades between London and Paris, "You must have an office in Edinburgh". Hon. Members often think that all one has to do is to set up a control and everything will be all right. All that I am pleading for is that there should be common sense in this matter. We do not want negative planning; we want positive planning. We give industrialists the opportunity to judge from the information which they have been given where they want their offices. We do not subscribe to the usual parrot cry, "Come up to Scotland, whether you like it or not. We want you, we need you, but we do not care whether this affects you or the prosperity of your business."
We now have a unique planning opportunity. We have passed the postwar era when we had to redevelop to get over the bomb scars. We are now in an era when we want to plan for the future, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that he is fortunate in having the opportunity of being in office at this time.
In dealing with regional planning, we must take full cognisance of the fact that populations are made up of human beings. One hon. Member referred to the development of the new towns and said that more people should not be 1151 pushed into the new towns. He overlooked the fact that the majority of new towns are populated by one age group. New factories have taken the young employees. If we could introduce another type of individual, the elder person, we would get over quite a problem. The regional organisation could give consideration to these points.
I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister is waiting to speak, so I will detain the Committee only one more minute. I merely ask for further consideration to be given to the spreading of the rush hour. I am sure that, in our planning organisation, communications have not been given sufficient importance. I am certain that insufficient consideration has been given to peak load traffic.
I should like my right hon. Friend to advise us which Government Department could give a lead in this matter. It overlaps a number of Departments and probably concerns the Ministry of Labour, the Board of Trade and my right hon. Friend himself. Is it not possible to have a wider timetable so that people spread the load of their travel? Could not shops arrange different opening and closing hours to enable the peak load on the buses to be varied? We have done a good deal with our licensing hours to stop the peak load in that connection. Will my right hon. Friend tell us how he thinks all this can best be achieved?
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Sir Keith Joseph)
This has been a debate full of interesting speeches. I only regret that so few hon. Members have been present to hear them. I shall pick out the main themes and I apologise to hon. Members whose detailed points I shall not answer. They will, however, agree that sufficient strategic questions have been raised to keep me busy trying to answer them.
The hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) made a vigorous and interesting speech, and I was grateful for the moments of kindness which he extended towards me. He was, of course, rewarded by hearing earlier today that his own constituency has been scheduled as a development district.
The White Paper is, as both hon. Members this afternoon and The Times this 1152 morning have described it, the first instalment of the South-East Regional Plan. It was my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary who, when Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs, first recognised the trends that were rapidly changing the assumptions on which planning has to be based. We all now take it for granted that the population has been leaping ahead and that the number of separate households is rising even more rapidly than population because of early marriages, longer survival in retirement and a generally increased level of prosperity.
We must not, however, assume that that was obvious so many years ago. It is true that from the late 1950s it was gradually becoming clear that there was much that was wrong in the assumptions that had been based upon the immediately post-war projects of population. But it was not until the 1961 census that the full scale of the rise in the population and of households came to be appreciated. It was my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary who set in hand the surveys which are now coming to fruition.
The hon. Member for Widnes and other hon. Members have asked whether those surveys have been the result of Governmental as opposed to purely departmental initiative. I assure the Committee that they are being prepared by representatives of all the Departments concerned. The South-East survey, which will be the first to be ready, will be ready in about the autumn of this year. A little later there will come the surveys of the North-West and the Midlands, to be followed by those of the North-East and elsewhere.
On those surveys we shall build, in the closest collaboration with the local planning authorities, regional plans for each area. Each regional survey, and, therefore, each regional plan, will seek to look twenty years ahead and to predict the demands for land in the region that will arise during those twenty years; so that on the basis of that information the local planning authorities, co-ordinated by the Government in their approval of the development plans, will be able to make suitable provision. It is an essential and important part of this whole procedure that the surveys, and the regional plans based upon them, which will cover twenty 1153 years head, will be reviewed at least every ten years to keep them up to date with newly developing trends.
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
I hope that when dealing with the north-west of England, part of which I have the honour to represent, the Minister will bear in mind that as far back as 1954 the Lancashire County Council carried out the most comprehensive survey ever conducted in this country and that all the documents have been available for his persual. It was a far-reaching survey never equalled elsewhere in the country.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I do not think that the trends which have come recently to light were available even to the Lancashire County Council at that time.
It may be that I should have advised the Government to delay the issue of the White Paper until the South-East survey was available to be published with it. It would then have been seen as part of a regional study as preparation for a regional plan. I think, however, that the Committee will sympathise with me and agree that the Town and Country Planning Bill, which was introduced yesterday, is a Measure which has been generally welcomed and that there would have been no point in delaying its introduction. If, on the other hand, I had introduced the Bill on its own, it would have made it appear that the Government's total policy for London was one of restriction concerning offices and that that was that. That would not have represented the total Government strategy in dealing with London's employment, housing and land.
We must accept, as I hope the Committee will, that it is not practicable to restrict London's commercial vitality. It is no good having housing without jobs, and London's commercial vitality is essential to the wellbeing of the country as a whole. Consequently, what we have sought to do by a combination of measures, of which the Bill is one, is so to arrange things that, by the normal incentives of business, more and more employers of office labour will see fit to start new offices and, indeed, to move existing offices away from the congested central London area to areas where there can be new offices in close touch with 1154 new housing and with good transport facilities.
That is why to have presented the Bill on its own, and to have waited six or more months before presenting the White Paper with the Survey would have given a wrong impression. The Bill will enable local planning authorities to take sensible decisions on planning in the congested areas without having to face the threat that now exists of having to pay heavy compensation.
But the White Paper makes it clear that we are also following a policy of encouraging office centres outside London; of trying to move more Government staff outside London, and of setting up the Location of Offices Bureau to make sure that employers have the necessary information. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain), I hope very soon to be in a position to set up the Bureau. As soon as it is set up it should be able to give valuable advice, and I will make a statement on bow it will operate.
I do not, therefore, apologise for issuing a White Paper in advance of the Survey. Perhaps now I should come to the strategy which lies behind the White Paper and which will lie behind the other regional surveys when they go forward. Hon. Members may say that some of these statements are platitudes, but a platitude is a truth which is accepted, and I am sure that hon. Members will be glad to hear that the Government are operating on the basis of regional coordination of jobs, housing and transport.
We must recognise that there are four methods for solving the regional problems in the areas of most congestion. Last week the Government announced that there would be new towns for Birmingham and Liverpool, and provision on the scale of a new town for Manchester. This week the Government produced their White Paper about housing for London and, of course, we are dealing in all these four places with the hearts of the most congested areas in the country, where the pressure upon the land available for all sorts of worthy uses is at its height. We cannot, therefore, look to find our land by a single method on its own. We have at once and simultaneously to use four separate ways of finding the land.
1155 First, we have to develop with more intensity, and that means higher density inside our cities. We have to find more land and the Committee will be glad to see that in London, as announced in paragraphs 56 and 57 of the White Paper, we have not been totally unsuccessful. I am sure that the Greater London Council will be able, with unified planning control over the Metropolis, to be even more successful in finding more land.
I have the greatest sympathy with the hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler), my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Hocking), my hon. Friend for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) who have urged on the Government the importance of providing for the renewal of decaying and twilight areas in our cities. That is close to my heart. But we have to recognise priorities. We must, first of all, be able to meet the housing shortage and to replace the worst slums before we can in each city turn to the necessary, but not quite so urgent, job of replacing the twilight areas of houses.
What I have to say now will be news to the Committee and not very palatable. I hate to have to give it. I had hoped to announce that by the middle of the year I would be able to publish a bulletin giving the Government's first ideas of procedures whereby we should he able to tackle the renewal of such areas, as each city dealt with its worst slums. But on examining the subject I find that it bristles with an unexpected number of difficulties. I shall not, therefore, be ready by the middle of the year.
Studies are going ahead as fast as they can be driven, and I hope to carry out, before long, studies in which the local authorities and private bodies can cooperate to learn the lessons which may be drawn. It is still my first objective to produce such a trial policy so that, as the years pass, as the shortage of houses is eliminated and as the slums are pulled down, each city can be ready to tackle this massive renewal job. I express my sympathy with the purpose of hon. Members in expounding the importance of this matter, but I am not quite ready for that stage yet.
1156 As I was saying, we have to deal with finding land in congested areas by four different methods. I have indicated the first, which is to find and use, to the maximum civilised density, areas within the cities themselves. The second method is dispersal to new towns and expanded towns.
The last ten years have seen a vigorous development by the Government of the new towns in the South-East and by the L.C.C.—all credit to it of the expanded towns which have brought so much relief to London. We hope that, in the new and expanded towns that serve it, London will have available during the next ten years probably some 80,000 additional dwellings. But we shall inevitably need a second generation of dispersed communities. As the White Paper says, it is premature to measure exactly how many we shall need until we have the results of the South-Eastern survey. What we commit ourselves to doing is to consider, as soon as the survey is available, what the scale of the need will be so that we can then study the relevance of a second generation of new and expanded towns.
We shall bring this forward as soon as possible, but it would not have been sensible to wait for the survey, and with the best will in the world this new generation of towns cannot provide substantial numbers of houses for some years. I hope that they will begin to supply them before the ten-year period is over, but the build-up to substantial supplies will probably be at the end of the period.
Now I turn from London to the Midlands. There is a difference between the housing needs of London, where the prime requirement is more houses because of the shortage, and the main housing needs of Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester, where there are shortages but where the prime need is to make quicker headway against the very large number of slums. This is well known to the Committee, which will also know that the Government have set in hand, with the enthusiastic co-operation of the local authorities, an accelerated slum-clearance programme.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Dr. Hill), in preparation for this, started the Northern Office and initiated the procedure that led to the designation 1157 of Skelmersdale as the new town for Liverpool, and Dawley as the new town for Birmingham; and he knew that Manchester was making provision of the new town type at Westhoughton.
I thought that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) was a little grudging in his welcome to Redditch and Runcorn. Let us be realistic. There is not likely to be, at any one moment, enough industry on the wing to be able to meet the needs of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the North-East and to supply firms in an indefiinte number of new towns and expanded towns all simultaneously. Surely it is sensible, with Skelmersdale and Dawley, already designated as new towns for Birmingham and Liverpool, to put our next new town in such a position that it will undoubtedly become a balanced community and can start providing houses for people to match the accelerated slum-clearance schemes of Birmingham and Liverpool even before industry, if necessary, goes there.
I was grateful for the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Dance) who said that there were advantages in expanding an existing healthy community—to which I would add the additional advantage of the presence of a third generation, in the number of grannies and baby sitters, which do not exist, naturally, when we start a new town completely from scratch. In the case of Birmingham and Liverpool, there is also the fact that industry in these cities is not quite as mobile as it may be in other places, and we therefore cannot expect to get a substantial transfer of industry straight away; although I am sure that, over the years, much industry will be able to move from those cities.
There is a great deal that expanded towns still have to contribute. In answer to hon. Members who have asked, I can assure the Committee that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, after giving first priority to development districts, then does his best to steer industry to new and expanded towns. It so happens that the constituency of Widnes will now qualify both as an expanded town and as a development district; although I do not congratulate the hon. Member for 1158 Widnes on the last, nor would he wish to be so congratulated.
After providing for the maximum use of all land which can be discovered within the cities, and after arranging for the maximum practicable dispersal, there will still remain in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool, people who have not houses, or whose houses are slums, or who live in overcrowded conditions and whose work cannot be moved out of the big cities. That is inevitable, and it is for them that the Government have made provision in all their statements and in the White Paper for land to be found within commuter distance. Most of this land will not have to be in the green belt, but some of it will be. These no doubt will be rare cases, but after public inquiry, and with Ministerial approval and, I hope, in all cases except one, which I shall mention, on the initiative of the local authority some areas might have to be used for housing.
Let me explain the situation in each of these four cities. We recently had an inquiry about Liverpool's application for more land on its periphery in the Lancashire green belt. An inquiry was held, but a decision was deferred pending publication of the North-West survey. This was made public. In my statement last week, I said that now that we have made arrangements to give a second new town to Liverpool, we must first discuss with Liverpool the scale of its programme, and then go to Lancashire to see whether some peripheral land which was mentioned by Liverpool in its application for land in the green belt at the recent inquiry might perhaps, in part or whole, have to be released for Liverpool. Here the initiative lay with Liverpool. There has already been an inquiry and the next stage is discussions with Lancashire County Council.
In the case of Birmingham and Manchester, there has not been a recent application by the local authorities which is now outstanding for use of peripheral land, be it in the green belt or not. In these two cases, what my statement of last week invited the local authorities of Birmingham and Manchester to do was to study their accelerated slum clearance programme and to measure against it the land now available; to see what 1159 use they could make by quicker procedure under the Town Development Act; and, if there still remained a shortage of land for reaching and maintaining a much faster slum-clearance programme, to discuss their needs with the county councils and, by implication, in due course to come to me.
§ Mr. J. T. Price
The Minister has referred to what he called land available to Manchester and the other large cities and within commuter distance. What has he in mind as being commuter distance? The traffic congestion in the Manchester conurbation is now so appalling that there is no solution on these lines.
§ Sir K. Joseph
It is for the local authorities concerned to put proposals to me. It is for their initiative.
I now turn to that part of the land, still needed, within access of the work in the great cities, despite all the more intensive development within the cities and despite all the dispersal arrangements, which cannot be found outside the green belt. I stress to the Committee that I would expect after all has been said and done that a very small part only of the green belt—that is the approved green belt around London and the draft green belts in the Midlands—would fall to be developed. The hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green objected to my having included in the White Paper the draft green belt which lies outside the approved Metropolitan green belt and asked how she would know whether any part of the draft green belt would ever come to be approved. I can assure her that I would expect successors of mine, after all the work on the survey and regional plans has been done, to find it possible to approve substantial parts of the draft green belt. Even after the very small part which might have to be taken has been used for housing, the green belt for the Metropolis will be very much larger than the approved London green belt is today.
I have said that the initiative in all cases except one will lie with the local authorities, and I think that it would help the Committee if I gave it one example of the sort of area where changes might be considered. The example I have in mind, the only 1160 example I have in mind for London, is the Lea Valley. A good deal of land is covered or surrounded by glasshouses, some of which are falling into disuse as the horticultural use in this area becomes increasingly difficult. These holdings are no adornment to the green belt and there is a heavy problem of dereliction to be faced, for it is doubtful whether there is any practical prospect of keeping many of the glasshouses in this area in use in the long term. Nor does it seem likely that anyone could face the expense of clearing them and removing their foundations so that the land could be put to normal agricultural use.
There seems therefore, to be a case for taking a fresh look at the future of this land, especially as the railway lines serving this area have some spare capacity. In view of this, I am asking London County Council, as an authority which can represent the need for more housing land for London, to examine the possibilities here with the local planning authorities concerned, that is, Hertfordshire and Essex.
§ Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)
As my right hon. Friend's example of the Lea Valley lies mainly in my constituency, may we take it that the intention is that there should be a welcome contribution to housing land in this derelict nurseryland without in any way weakening the general principle and operation in the Lea Valley of the green belt which we value so highly? Secondly, will not my right hon. Friend appreciate that there are local housing needs and that we shall expect priority for local needs in local land?
§ Sir K. Joseph
I think I can welcome that intervention by my right hon. and learned Friend almost wholeheartedly, but I should like to study every careful word of it first.
§ Mrs. Butler
When the right hon. Gentleman said London County Council, did he mean Middlesex County Council, or did he include Middlesex County Council?
§ Sir K. Joseph
May I think about that, too? I have in mind London County Council taking the initiative.
I must come now to one or two other major questions. My hon. Friend the 1161 Member for Coventry. South (Mr. Hocking) and the hon. Member for Widnes attacked the delays in planning both at local planning authority level and at the appeal level. I am sure that they will recognise that planning requires very complex consideration of all the manifold conflicting interests which exist and that local planning authorities do their best. Nevertheless, both at that level and at the appeal level I am not satisfied. I am sure that they will recognise that it is difficult to speed up things when the Franks Committee has rightly insisted on scrupulous attention to the interests concerned. However, I am studying what can be done and I shall be happy if I am able to make some progress in this direction.
Finally, to try to sum up this short but interesting debate; we have been discussing both the statement of last week and the White Paper of today in the general context of planning. What we have been discussing are the inescapable needs for housing of London, Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester, and I think that, in general, I can take it that the Committee approves the strategic regional proposals which the Government have put forward.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That a sum, not exceeding £1,654,095,100, be granted to Her Majesty, on account, for or towards defraying the charges for the following Civil Departments and for the Ministry of Defence for the year ending on the 31st day of March 1964.
§ Resolution to be reported.
§ Report to be received Tomorrow; Committee to sit again Tomorrow.