HC Deb 05 August 1965 vol 717 cc1944-63

2.52 p.m.

Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)

I want to raise the subject of housing densities in new and expanding towns.

Sir Geoffrey de Freitas (Kettering)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. What protection have I, as someone who has the last Adjournment, from the great length of overrunning of these Adjournments today, and the fact that, I am told, a Royal Commission will interrupt the proceedings, and we go off and indulge in the ridiculous and ludicrous exercise of hearing a lot of Bills read out, and as a result my constituents suffer?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Samuel Storey)

That does not raise a point of order. These times are only arranged as a general guide. We started these debates very late, and in the first debate some time was saved. The last debate has taken its full time. I hope that in future debates right hon. and hon. Gentlemen will try to curtail their speeches as much as possible, to make up for the delay which has already occurred, and the delay which will occur when the Royal Commission is heard.

Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)

Further to that point of order. I do not know whether it is strictly in order, but is it appropriate for an hon. Gentleman, who himself has represented the Crown overseas, to refer to the giving of the Royal Assent as a ludicrous exercise?

Sir G. de Freitas

Further to that point of order. I will waste no more time on the procedure under which we work. To go along there and have the Clerk read out the Titles of the Bills is a ludicrous exercise. I represent some of the citizens of Northamptonshire today.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I deprecate such language. The hon. Gentleman must be courteous to the other place.

Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)

Further to that point of order. Am I not right in thinking that we are summoned to another place, but that it is up to this place to decide whether the time is convenient to go along?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That may be so, but I think that we should get along now.

Mr. Deedes

I shall do my utmost to make sure that the hon. Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas) gets his time. I think that he was not present earlier, when I registered, on behalf of him and others, protests about the first 40 minutes of our day going to Government announcements. I now want to spend a few moments explaining what this debate is about.

Twenty years after the war our population is still on the move, and moving faster than ever. Any hon. Gentleman who keeps an eye on the register of electors will realise how fast this movement is. This is what is called the population explosion. The people are disposing themselves into a new pattern, and an important part in this is played by new and expanding towns. Here, particularly in the second generation of new and expanding towns, the moulds of future life are being cast. These moulds will decide, not only how this generation lives, but perhaps how their children will live, and what sort of people, certainly among the younger generations they will become. This seems to me a matter of first importance.

A cardinal factor of these new living conditions is the space factor to be observed, or in a word, density, and that is what I want to talk about. My particular concern is the town of Ashford. We are an expanding town—just what we are to expand to it is difficult to discover. Our population is now 29,000 and our targets have been variously mentioned as 100,000 and 250,000. Perhaps the South-East Study, when it comes, will give us the answer. The only firm figure that we have on paper is an agreement with the Greater London Council to build about 4,250 houses for London by 1975, for about 19,500 people, an increase of about 66 per cent.

That is a very large operation for a very small town. It is not rendered any easier by the fact that we have not one but two objectives. The first is to relieve London's congestion, something in which a number of hon. Gentlemen have a very close interest—to accommodate what is elegantly called, "overspill". The second objective, I hope, is to build for Ashford a town worthy of the name. I will not say that those objectives are in conflict, but they do not always naturally go hand in hand.

In all this there seems to be no mastermind. We have many masters, we have the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, represented by the hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary, we have the Kent County Council, the Greater London Council and Ashford itself. All have their own spheres of responsibility and their own special interests. We have not got, to guide us in this matter, a new town corporation. I think that we should have, but that is not immediately relevant, and, therefore, there is a good deal of ad hoc planning. What I now wish to turn to seems to be a very bad example of it.

The expansion seriously began in Ashford last October on two new estates, one called Bockhanger, in a residential suburb of Kennington, which will contribute only 360 houses, and the other, in a much earlier stage, called Stanhope. That will hold eventually, 1,425 houses. Together that represents nearly half the decade's programme. The first site, Bockhanger, is about 26 acres, of which the residential area is 21 acres. It is being built to a density of about 70 persons to the acre or, alternatively, about 12.8 acres per 1,000 people.

By comparison with these figures in Ashford, modern standards elsewhere show that this is a very high density, in my view an alarmingly high density. It compares with an average of between 30–40 persons to the acre in most of the English new towns. The Scottish new towns are rather higher. At Bracknell, residential density, and I am comparing like with like, is about 25 persons to the acre. The other extreme is at Cumbernauld, in Scotland, where there are nearer 100 persons to the acre. Most of the English new towns, if one takes it on an average, are around 33 persons to the acre in density.

The Ashford figure, around 80, compares with the figure of 55 at Basingstoke, which is another expanding town, not a new town. I refer to the Oakridge Estate, where 90 per cent. of the houses are to have gardens. At Ashford, on the Stanhope Estate, four times the size of Bockhanger, the density is going to work out at about 80 to 85 persons to the acre. This is to be achieved only after the Ashford Council protested against a proposal by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government that the density should be no less than 100 to the acre. There was some correspondence, which will be of no interest to the House, which passed between the council and the Ministry, between January and March of this year, which the hon. Gentleman will know something about, and the details of which I need not go into. I am bound to say that I find it a little astonishing—this is the source of my disquiet—that the Ministry's policy on density should make such a proposal possible.

In reply to a Question which I tabled to the Minister, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary observed, on 6th July: For the Bockhanger scheme the Ashford U.D.C itself proposed a net density of 80 persons per acre. At an early stage in preparation of the plans for the Stanhope area, officers of the Department suggested that a net density of 100 persons per acre might produce the most economical housing scheme."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th July, 1965; Vol. 715, c. 193.] I ask the House to note that—"the most economical housing scheme".

Ashford's main objection to a density of 100 is the high proportion of flats which would be required to meet it. This is axiomatic. The higher the density, the greater the number of flats which must be built to meet it. The reduction to 80, after protest, means that in the scheme there can be a higher proportion of two-storey houses.

Those are the facts. I should like to say why more generally they seem to me immensely disquieting. First, there is the question of the future of these houses. Some observations on this matter appeared in the June issue of the Town and Country Planning Journal. They were written by Dr. Robin Best, of Wye College, who is, I think accepted as an authority on land use and housing development. I am indebted to him for some assistance in this matter. These are his conclusions on the houses themselves: As the standard of living rises and the stock of houses increases and diversifies in future decades it seems quite probable that these new estates will become embarrassing white elephants to which it will be more and more difficult to attract tenants. Needless to say, the social and financial consequences of this will be a serious matter for towns like Ashford. I cannot resist the conclusion that this reflects some weakness of thought in the Ministry of Housing. Dr. Best goes on to say: It may well be asked how such unrealistic planning proposals came to be made at all. Just what criteria have been used for arriving at these unfortunate decisions? That is the point: what criteria were used?

The second point, which is perhaps more important, is the people themselves. What sort of people are we catering for, not only in the expanding town of Ashford, but in expanding towns elsewhere? The motives of people who move from London are mixed, but we know that 30 per cent. of the people moving out of London are represented by children under the age of 10 compared with about 15 per cent. for the country as a whole. Therefore, these are young families, and that has a considerable bearing on the amount of space that we should consider for them. It certainly has a bearing on the number of five-storey flats which should be considered within these estates. People certainly will not desire to exchange one set of overcrowded conditions in London for another set elsewhere. Admittedly, the need for a house may drive them into doing so for the time being.

These estates are not only for today, but for tomorrow. In my view, they must anticipate some of tomorrow's needs. Every perceptible trend in this society of ours and all experience elsewhere suggests that these people will want more and not less space. We have entered the era of the urban region, which is familiar in America but less familiar here, with all that that implies for land, design and density. If densities in places like Ashford are pitched too high, one of the longterm results is, in my estimation, predictable: a high proportion of people will move out, whether the planners want it or not, and will settle in a wide belt of surrounding villages, and ultimately that will create a far larger demand for land than would be necessitated by granting more land for lower densities now.

The Minister is entitled to reply that I am on the verge of a doctrine somewhat at variance with that propagated for a great many years by members of my party representing agricultural constituencies, namely, that agricultural land is at a premium and that, to save it, we must remorselessly build upwards and that all other considerations must be subordinated to the needs of agriculture. I plead partly guilty here, although this is not a doctrine which I have preached for some years. I am sure that we must think carefully about this matter. We must not squander agricultural land. Of course, we cannot have garden cities everywhere, but I am sure that we must strike the right balance. We must not starve expanding towns of the land needed to meet the conditions which modern requirements demand.

I share with Dr. Best and others the view that densities are tending to become too high, not only in Ashford, but elsewhere, to provide this generation, let alone the next, with what it wants and with what it is able to afford. I know that there is a school of thought—I do not belong to it myself—which thinks that many people regard their homes as dormitories, and that their car, giving access to the open spaces and the sea, represents a kind of density of its own, that the car has become part of the density. I should like more scientific evidence of that theory before accepting that everywhere garages should replace gardens—as indeed they will do on part of one of these estates. Garage space has been subtracted from the area of the dwelling and the curtilage.

My view is that densities have been dictated not only by the desire to preserve agricultural land, but by cost considerations—by the idea that higher densities produce a marginal but important saving on site costs. Although high building normally means higher cost, admittedly industrial building may redress the balance. Costs must weigh, but not overwhelmingly.

My last word to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary concerns what I think the Ministry should do. First, the Ministry should overhaul its thinking and its guidance on the subject of density. Is it a consistent policy, or is it, as I suspect, subject to the ideas of particular officials? Consistency does not mean identical densities everywhere. It means, broadly horses for courses—applying by scientifically-based thinking the right solutions in the right places and giving guidance to councils which are not always well equipped to deal with a large subject like this on their own behalf. There is a need for more homework and research to be done, particularly in respect of expanding towns and the special populations which are going to them. We must not rehouse people by hit or miss methods.

I confess that my mood is somewhat conditioned by a recent visit to Kirkby, that sorry bit of social planning outside Liverpool. I will not have that tragedy repeated in the town of Ashford if I can help it; once is enough. We must face the fact that a great part of England is about to become an urban region and that for millions of people that is tomorrow's horizon. A great deal of health and happiness is involved.

I am sure—and no doubt the Parliamentary Secretary will agree with me—that we must be master of the right techniques. We must contrive that urban development of this kind in rural England is not, as it is traditionally represented, a dead loss to amenity, environment and national resources and merely a negative process of replacing contented cows with discontented human beings. Given the landscape architect, arboriculture and a number of things which we are not using properly, we can give environmental satisfaction to those who live in the urban regions. But we have a lot to learn. We must start our homework with a thorough look at the density question and decide what we want densities to be in the towns of tomorrow.

3.9 p.m.

Sir Anthony Meyer (Eton and Slough)

My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) has drawn an alarming picture of what can happen when housing densities are too high in new towns and on new housing estates. I should like to depart slightly from my right hon. Friend's thesis and make a plea for widely variegated standards of density within housing estates or new towns.

There are in my constituency two out-of-town Greater London Council estates which are of fairly uniform density. They provide nice houses and gardens. The other day, as is my wont, I was paying calls on people living in one of those Greater London Council housing estates and I discovered two things. I discovered that a surprisingly large number of them, mainly people coming down from London, particularly North Paddington, insisted on telling me that they proposed to vote Conservative at the next election. That was very gratifying.

What was rather less gratifying was that an equally large number of the people told me that they were not very happy in their nice new homes and gardens. I could not altogether find out from them the exact cause of their unhappiness, but I think I know what it is. It is the complete absence of any kind of community sense, the complete absence of feeling that they belong in the place in which they have arrived. That is partly due to poor transport facilities.

This is a very general complaint which would be heard from all hon. Members who have constituencies around the London area. It is difficult for these people to get from where they live to the centre of the town for amusement, cultural activities and the rest. It is also due to the fact that in these housing estates there is a woeful shortage of shops, pubs, post offices and amenities of any kind.

The reason, I suggest, why these facilities are so sparse on estates of that kind has something to do with the uniform fairly low densities. We are creating a sort of suburban desert in these housing estates with their immensely long rows of two-storey houses. There is not sufficient concentration of population at any point on the estate to attract shops or pubs. Because of this, we are not evolving a satisfying pattern of life for the people who live on these estates and who make up a surprisingly high proportion of the country's population. If we could create pockets of high-density housing within each estate, we could, I believe, help to improve the pattern of life and of the people who live on the estates.

Of course, there are difficulties. People do not like living in flats, particularly families who have children. Flats are very unattractive for families with young children. There is, however, a stage in the life of any family when a flat is not only acceptable but is a preferable form of accommodation. For married couples who have not yet had children or for couples whose children have grown up, a flat is a perfectly acceptable place in which to live. The point is that in between, there is a period in the development of a family when a flat is an unacceptable place in which to live.

In that connection, I was glad to see the suggestion put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield) and Mr. Geoffrey Rippon in a recent pamphlet suggesting that one of the causes of our troubles is the habit of giving indefinite tenancies to people who get council houses. Here is one possible key with which to unlock the problem. If we could give council house tenants a limited lease, this would help us to get greater mobility in the allocation of accommodation of this sort, so that we could thereby make flats a much more attractive proposition for families when they are first married. They could be given the tenancy of a flat for a couple of years with a fairly reasonable expectation that a house would become available for them later in their married life when they had a young family who wished to run about in the garden.

I should like to hear that the Government are giving attention to this side of the matter and that they have in mind the barrenness which results from creating these miles and miles of two-storey dwellings, which, although in themselves attractive places with nice gardens, are basically suburban deserts and places in which the human spirit withers and decays no matter what attractions are provided. I hope that this side of the problem will engage the attention of the Government together with the powerful points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford in favour of providing enough space for families in which to spread themselves.

3.15 p.m.

Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) on introducing this subject. It is a matter in which I have always had a great interest, dating from the time when I was a small schoolboy, when my father took me round the Port Sunlight development, which was the first of the garden city type.

My right hon. Friend has properly referred to the swings and the pendulums, which has so often been the tendency when vie have considered new developments, particularly after the end of the war. My right hon. Friend said that density in new towns started at a low level and has gradually increased. We have to accept that as a nation we are short of land. We do not, however, seem to be able to make up our minds about the right use of that land and how we will use it also for social purposes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Sir A. Meyer) has referred to the fact that flats are suitable only at a certain stage of a family's life. We should consider for a moment the translation of densities into dwellings, because that is what densities really are. It might help the House if I give the result of some of my calculations. Basically, my idea of economical building according to density is that if we are to have densities of 200 to the acre, the accommodation must be in the form of flats. A density of 75 to the acre could be in terraced maisonettes, which are not a very satisfactory form of development because it is difficult to plan a terraced maisonette.

When working on densities of 50 to the acre, one must think of terraced houses. Terraced houses have gone through phases. We started with the Nash terraces when things were done properly. After the 1914–18 war, we got down to the terraced houses which qualified for Government subsidy in order to overcome the density problem. When one then goes up or down the scale, according to whichever way one regards it, semi-detached houses accommodate about 25 people to the acre and detached houses 12 to the acre.

The trouble today is that there is a much greater hunger for land. Few people realise that a modern clover-leaf junction on a motorway takes up something like 100 acres of land, in addition to the demands made by airfields and other purposes. Quite often, we in this House have had debates concerning the acquisition of land. Quite rightly, our schools, hospitals and other buildings are all being surrounded by greater built-up areas. The problem can only be properly assessed by treating the areas of the country on the basis of big regions.

My right hon. Friend has referred to densities of 100 to the acre in Ashford. In any comprehensive development there are areas where a density of 100 to the acre would be entirely fair, provided that there was sufficient surrounding land to make this possible. The main necessity, however, is to avoid at all costs the kind of urban sprawl which we saw between the wars. Fond as I am of my right hon. Friend and his constituency, I do not want to see it sprawling into mine. I would prefer him to build to higher densities in flats.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough has made an important point concerning the different stages of life when flats and houses are the right forms of accommodation. What I think we must have—I have mentioned this in earlier debates—is more flexibility. I see no reason at all in planning an estate, a local authority housing estate in particular, why provision cannot be made for elderly people to live in a section of a house. I do not see why not. Every elderly persons wants a place of his own. Equally, he does not want to be forgotten; elderly people want to feel they are wanted by their grandchildren. With more ingenuity in planning this can be provided for. It can be done by having in a house, probably on the ground floor, a single-room flat—a bedroom and kitchenette—which the elderly can use. This would have this advantage, that by the mere passage of time it is more than likely that, when the children of the house have grown up and want a bedroom each, the grandparents will have passed on. By having that sort of planning we could have greater flexibility, but that sort of planning cannot be contained in any formula we have for density. Will the Minister see if he can do something to help about that?

3.21 p.m.

Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)

I am sure the House is indebted to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) for raising a subject of very great importance. My only regret is that it has not been possible to discuss it earlier in the Session in a fuller House, because it raises issues, as I am sure the joint Parliamentary Secretary will agree, of great seriousness for large parts of our future development.

None the less, I think the debate will have served a very good turn if we can elicit from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary the answers to two questions: first of all, what measure of guidance is given by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary's right hon. Friend to those responsible for the administration both of the new towns—the development corporations and to the appropriate authorities in the case of expanding towns; and secondly, it, as I suspect, that guidance is somewhat scanty, has the right hon. Gentleman in mind any special clarification and amplification of it?

I am not asking—I do not think the hon. Gentleman will misunderstand me—for his right hon. Friend to lay down a rigid rule applicable to each of the new towns or expanded towns whatever their circumstances. That would plainly be foolish. On the other hand, I think there is a great deal in what my right hon. Friend said, that the present position is of a somewhat hit-or-miss character, and I think that both sides of the House will take the view that, at any rate, the principles in determining density should not be left to those authorities but that a great deal of guidance—guidance, not direct control—should be given by the Minister.

After all, the money in the new towns is provided entirely—and in the expanded towns very largely—by the central Government, and these developments must be a major part of the housing and rehousing programme of any Government. The Minister has himself placed great reliance on this method of development and has announced his intention to make a number of new towns, and it is not unfair to ask that guidance should be given and what it is. Some of them, I may say, are new towns which were planned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph). I am not seeking to make a point either for or against the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. I am only saying that to emphasise the importance of this matter to our system of housing and rehousing.

I think that because guidance is particularly needed there is a clash of considerations. There is, on the one hand, the question of amenity for those who live in these towns. My hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Sir A. Meyer) brought out very eloquently the Englishman's desire for a little bit of garden and his own front door. This is a feeling which is very strong in our people in this country—stronger, I think, than among our European neighbours. Indeed, I recall that when, before the war, I was contesting—I hasten to add, unsuccessfully—a constituency in the East End of London for the then London County Council it was held against the party which I was then representing that although we had carried out a very considerable amount of rehousing we had done so, in that crowded area, in the shape of blocks of flats. People felt that what they wanted were little houses.

I think opinion has moved since then, and I think it is accepted as all but inescapable that those who want to live or have to live in or near the centres of the great conurbations will have to make up their minds to do what many of our continental neighbours do, and live in tall buildings. That is not, of course, a necessity in all cases in the new and expanded towns, and many of the people who seek to go to live in those towns do so because they want to live the sort of life which a separate house with a garden makes possible, with all the advantages it means for young children. My hon. Friend referred to this, and these are powerful considerations.

On the other hand, there is the consideration of cost, which is one which one who has served at the Treasury can never wholly shake himself clear of, and there is also the question, vital in this crowded island, of the proper use of land. I certainly do not intend to intervene in the border dispute between my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford and my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hvthe (Mr. Costain), but the proper allocation of land as between new towns on the one hand, and agricultural use and other uses on the other, is a crucial question, particularly in those parts of the country like the Midlands and the South-East where the shortage of land is increasingly acute.

These are major questions which simply cannot be left to hit-or-miss considerations and it is because there is here a balance of national considerations—amenity, well being, pleasantness of towns, on the one hand; cost and land use on the other—that it is very important that the Government should give as clear a line of guidance in principle as they can.

I should, however, like to add one comment. I am personally very glad that this debate is to be answered by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, partly because he comes from the Department which really has the power in the matter, and partly because, if he will allow me to say so, and I can do so without doing him irreparable damage, he has himself a great knowledge of the subject matter.

It is an extraordinary commentary on the Department that is supposed to have responsibility for land use, the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources, that not only is it not replying to this debate, but it is not represented on the Front Bench opposite. I have made the point before, and I shall make it again, that decisions as to lard use, which are major decisions of public policy, will not be taken effectively while we have an administrative system in which responsibility for them is given to one Minister, and the reality of power and decision lies with another.

That is exemplified today on this issue by the fact that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, whom we are glad to see here, is to reply, while the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources has shown no interest in the matter. It was also shown during the early hours of yesterday morning when my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. William Yates) raised a very important point on the allocation and use of land between two forms of public authority, and was replied to by the Minister of State for Education and Science.

I must put on record that the Government are unduly handicapping themselves in dealing with this most serious problem of all in the planning sphere, the proper use of land, by the creation of this fifth wheel of the coach, the co-called Minister of Land and Natural Resources. I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will not worry about him, because, as we all know, the decision rests with the hon. Gentleman and with his right hon. Friend as they have the effective control. As this is an important issue, I hope that he will be able to answer the two questions that I put to him—the amount of guidance already given, and his right hon. Friend's intention to amplify, clarify and expand it.

3.30 p.m

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. James MacColl)

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not think that the presence of my colleague from the Navy Department indicates that the Government are to build their new towns afloat in the future.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

No one would ever suspect the hon. Gentleman of being at sea at the Box.

Mr. MacColl

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) for raising this matter, because it enables me to clear up some points of misunderstanding which have been behind a certain amount of his detailed criticisms of what has been happening in Ashford.

A problem of semantics is involved in this, because there are two methods of measuring densities in terms of persons per acre. The first one, which is the one normally used, is based on the number of people expected to occupy an area. That includes the fact that some houses are under-occupied, some have families without children, some have a large number of children, and so on, and, therefore, it is less than the absolute maximum number that the area can hold.

In the Bulletin produced by the last Government to deal particularly with questions of costing, and really only costing, a new phrase was introduced—bed spaces. The point is that if one is trying to measure the cost of constructing a house, the fact that it is not to be fully occupied does not affect the issue. To measure whether one has made the best use of the land, one needs to know the number of bed spaces available, and divide that into the acreage. Confusion has arisen from the fact that the figures quoted—quite rightly; I am not suggesting that there is anything wrong with them—of 77.8 and 80 were, in fact, bed spaces and not the ordinary occupancy figure of persons per acre that is used in normal planning.

Mr. Deedes

I am aware of this difference. Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that this new phrase about bed spaces adds enormously to the confusion of the argument? How can we make sense of the issue if we use two kinds of vocabulary?

Mr. MacColl

The right hon. Gentleman need not raise that point with me, because I have to try to understand these things within the Ministry and I find it extremely difficult to do so.

I am not trying to put this in the form of saying that this is something which the right hon. Gentleman should have understood, but there is a need to have two measures. They measure different things, and are used for different purposes. One is used for costing, and the other for measuring how many people are to be accommodated on a housing estate. One needs to use these two measures for different forms of control. I do not think that there need be any difficulty about that. The difficulty arises to some extent over the confusion between their use.

To illustrate the contrast between the persons per acre in, for example, the Bockhanger Estate at Ashford and the persons per acre being rehoused in new towns, the right hon. Gentleman referred to the pamphlet written by Dr. Best. I carried out a little research into the way in which Dr. Best had arrived at his figures. The 77.8 was clearly based on bed spaces per acre. That is common ground. But when I looked up his earlier work, "Land For New Towns" I found that it was quite clear from the conversion table in that book that he has used the figure of 3.2 persons per dwelling as a multiplier to convert dwellings per acre into persons per acre. It is, therefore, clear that in the two articles he has compared two quite different things.

If we want to see the difference we can take the case which has been referred to—the Basingstoke estate. In that case he quoted a figure of 55 persons. They were translated into bed spaces in order to arrive at the figure of 77.4. This is only slightly less than the figures at Bock-hanger, so that the difference is not very substantial. The figure which the Ashford authority has been using to calculate occupancy rather than the numbers to be provided, is 3.5, and if we multiply by 3.5 instead of by the higher number, 4.6—which refers to bed spaces—we get a substantial reduction in the density. We get a density which, although large, is not all that much larger than the figure quoted for the new towns.

The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that one of the difficulties was that with an expanding town like Ashford there are many masters. That is a feature of the Town Development Act. It is a partnership, and it is meant to be. It is easy to slip into saying, "Ah, well, the new towns were invented by the Socialists and the expanded towns were invented by the Tories. Therefore, you have to take one or the other". Both have their advantages. My right hon. Friend has been impressed by the contribution made by some of the successful expanded towns. They impose a strain on local authorities. It is more difficult to work by agreement and conciliation than simply by having a development corporation which lays down the rules.

From the point of view of administrative tidiness new town corporations are attractive, but my right hon. Friend thinks that in some cases, where town development has been worked imaginatively, it has a very important contribution to make. London County Council, which has done a great deal and which was a pioneer in this field, has been extremely successful in working with other towns. My answer is that we want both forms of development.

The right hon. Gentleman then quoted the figure of 100 persons per acre, when that figure referred to bed spaces—so it is not quite so large as it would appear. He was very shocked by this figure, and wondered by what means it had been arrived at. I should point out that this was never taken as more than a piece of advice thrown out in discussion. When Government representatives and representatives of local authorities discussed the matter round the table this suggestion was put forward as something that would lend itself to good administration. It is not something that was insisted upon in any way.

I should have thought that it was good democracy that there should be a discussion, and that if local authorities think that a suggestion is silly it should be dropped. But when a person wonders where a figure comes from, and how anybody ever thought in terms of it, it is necessary to draw the attention of the House to Planning Bulletin No. 2—"Residential Areas—Higher Densities" which was published when the right hon. Gentleman was in the Cabinet.

The argument of the Bulletin is that in certain areas which are called "pressure areas" it is necessary and desirable and may be absolutely mandatory—the right hon. Gentleman made this point better than I can—to be economical in the use of land because of the tremendous demand for it. It says: The main pressure areas are within the conurbations and in the areas surrounding the conurbations beyond the green belts. That would define Ashford very well. Paragraph 15 says: Development or redevelopment of net densities much above 140 persons per acre, on the other hand, should seldom be necessary except in the most congested urban areas where existing densities are even higher … No one contends that family living at densities of over 100 persons per acre is ideal, but high density development meets the needs of the large number of families without small children"—

Mr. Deedes

Is that bed spaces, or on the old basis?

Mr. MacColl

It would be the old one. I do not think that even that great and powerful Administration of which the two right hon. Gentlemen were distinguished members had invented bed spaces at that time.

I want to quote the last sentence of the paragraph, which says: Some pockets of very high density will certainly be necessary, but even at 140 persons per acre it is possible by skilful planning to provide a proportion of two- and three-storey housing for families with children.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Would the hon. Gentleman tell us the date of that Bulletin?

Mr. MacColl

It was published in 1962, as the right hon. Gentleman ought to know. He should know when his right hon. Friend was in the Cabinet.

That leaves the other point that I wanted to make, and what I want to emphasise is that it does not necessarily follow—and what has been said by the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) who has great experience in this field, confirms that—that you need to have discomfort, inconvenience and lack of amenities because you are making a thicker density development. It depends on the skill in design and layout and the contribution of the architect. It is important not to get a rigid dichotomy between the two.

If it appears that I have been poking fun at it, I want to make it clear that it was a very wise document. It drew the line very clearly half-way between the extreme views that had been put forward of having very high density on the one hand and having what used to be called "prairie planning" in the new towns. One does not want either. One wants something between the two. We have a challenge now in the South-East, which my right hon. Friend the First Secretary mentioned in his statement yesterday, with a vast number of people to be re-housed and with overspill coming from London. In that situation, we are under a social duty to make the best possible use of the investment and the services provided in the way of roads and communal amenities, as well as the houses.

I will finish by answering specifically the two questions put by the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). The first one was, what measure of guidance is there? There are the Planning Bulletins, which are the general statement of policy. From time to time, they can be revised and brought up to date. They are simply for guidance; they are not laying down the law rigidly, but show the underlying philosophy behind our thinking on housing density.

Most local authorities, think that there already is far too much control through loan sanctions on what can be done. If we are to have good design we must give our architects more freedom. We cannot build up good communities if creative men are tied down by rigid rules, and I know that my right hon. Friend feels that very strongly. It is absolutely necessary to bring in the work of genius of young and creative architects who want to solve these problems and will rise to the challenge.

What we have to do—and this to some extent, answers the right hon. Gentleman's second question as to how the intentions are to be amplified—is to see that, without having too rigid control, public money, social capital, is used in the best and most effective way in accordance with the resources available in land as well as in other things.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Did the hon. Gentleman say, as I understood him to say, that the 1962 document from which he quoted is still regarded as being the proper guidance to give?

Mr. MacColl

The document was reprinted in 1963—which ties up the right hon. Gentleman effectively as to responsibility for it—but I would certainly say that the document is still in circulation and is accepted as planning policy. It is, of course, open to revision. This is not a dead field, but a dynamic field which all the time alters itself, and we intend to keep it up to date.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

So the Government are following the lines laid down by the Cabinet of which, as the hon. Gentleman says, I was a member.