HC Deb 03 February 1965 vol 705 cc1074-81
The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Richard Crossman)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on housing for Londoners.

In co-operation with the local authorities, I am making every effort to stimulate house building within the conurbation. But there are limits to the extent that London can be built up, and there can be no doubt that the needs of the existing population call for a new programme of building in new and expanded towns in order to end the housing shortage, replace houses lost through slum clearance and other redevelopment, and keep pace with natural increase.

A critical fact is that the output of houses in the present new towns is running down as they near completion. Immediate decisions are necessary if we are to avoid a disastrous gap in housing for Londoners.

To prevent this the Government propose, as an interim measure, to go ahead with a new town in North Buckinghamshire and with the expansion of Ipswich, Peterborough and Northampton. I will shortly be discussing with local authorities concerned the measures needed to implement these proposals including the surveys that will be needed to determine the precise siting of the development. In particular, I shall be considering with them the desirability of using the machinery of the New Towns Act for these schemes.

I am also discussing with the Greater London Council the possibility of an expansion of some of its existing overspill schemes.

There remains the question of land for people who move themselves out of London into the Home Counties. Some of these will move well away, but many will want and will need to live within reach of London, and they must have the chance to do so. Moreover, land must be made available for the new households of the population already living in the 40-mile ring. My Department will shortly be discussing with the individual local planning authorities where, in the outer metropolitan region, this additional land can best be provided, leaving aside, for the time being, the question of any provision for migration into the South-East.

These measures are urgently needed to ensure a continued housing programme for people who have to move out of London. In order to avoid prejudicing the South-East review, especially in relation to migration from other parts of the country. the Government's aim will be to secure that an even greater proportion of houses provided will go to Londoners than in the existing new towns; also, that the employment provided will be in activities that cannot be located further away from London, and not, for example, in new industrial growth that could take place elsewhere in Great Britain.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we shall want carefully to study, and, no doubt, in due course to debate, his statement? Does he acknowledge that in the work which went into it he received a good deal of help from the massive study undertaken by officials under the direction of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) and presented to Parliament last year?

Could the Minister clear up one or two points of detail on the statement? He specifically names three towns in the statement, but refers also to a new town in North Buckinghamshire. Has he, in fact, decided on the location of that town? If so, is there any reason why it should not be mentioned with the others? Did he have in mind Bletchley, as is suggested in the South-East Study?

Secondly, did the right hon. Gentleman have any consultations with the authorities of the towns whose names he did mention before taking the decision and making this announcement?

Finally, is he aware that the steps referred to particularly in the latter part of his statement depend for their success on a steady supply of land continuing to be available? Will he give an assurance that no steps taken by him or by his colleagues will interfere with the free flow of that land?

Mr. Crossman

The Government will consider the question of a debate, but that will be discussed through the usual channels. I acknowledge, and very freely, the work of our officials, not only in my Ministry but in all the other Ministries concerned, which went on before we came to office and which has continued since. I would make this point, however. After the officials have done their work, the politicians have to take some decisions on action. This is a decision on action for creating new towns on an unprecedented scale and, indeed, I think, in the case of Buckinghamshire, the largest new town since the war.

On details, the right hon. Gentleman asked me why I mentioned specifically the three old towns which are now, perhaps, to have the new town organisation to double their size—I think that in each case we hope to have enough room for 70,000 people. The right hon. Gentleman asked why I did not mention a specific place in Buckinghamshire. The answer is that negotiations are still taking place about where precisely this new town should be situated, and we do not want to commit ourselves to one particular place rather than another in the North Buckinghamshire area since we are discussing the matter with the county council.

With regard to the old towns, we have been having discussions with the authorities concerned and, in principle, have reached agreement, although the specific details of planning have yet to be worked out in the normal way.

The right hon. Gentleman, lastly, asked me about the provision of land. This whole policy is designed to obtain land. This is precisely its function. If the Government can by further legislation produce a further instrument for the acquisition of land, I shall be very grateful.

Mr. F. Noel-Baker

The Minister will be aware that, although generally, for other purposes, it belongs to the South-West, Swindon is referred to in the South-East Study. Can he say whether, among the local authorities with whom he is to have conversations about expanding existing overspill schemes, Swindon is included, when he expects to have the conversations and when he will be able to make a fuller announcement?

Mr. Crossman

I emphasise that this is an interim statement on a pressing programme which we cannot delay any further for the review of the South-East Study. Swindon was mentioned in the South-East Study; so were a good many other places. I have merely told the House today of the Government's decision to go ahead on a limited scale because of the pressing needs of London's overspill. At a rough calculation, I would say that we would hope to provide places for 350,000 people in this interim scheme. The South-East Study calculated for 600,000 people, and Swindon falls in the second round. That will fall for review in the review of the South-East Study.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

The Minister mentioned Peterborough as one of the three towns to be extended and said that he will have another survey made. Is he not going to make use of the Wells plan which is already available and which has the approval of the local authority? Also, has he made arrangements with the President of the Board of Trade to ensure that his right hon. Friend is more helpful with industrial development certificates to account for the extra population which he envisages?

Mr. Crossman

The hon. Gentleman should put down the last question to the President of the Board of Trade. Regarding further development in Peterborough, I emphasise that all these developments have to be worked out in terms of specific planning in discussion with the local authorities. I am aware of the Wells plan; no doubt it will be useful. This is a matter for discussion—a new enterprise, which is to use the new town machinery for doubling the size of existing towns, not providing a new town. This is the kind of collaboration which will rely on the good will of the old towns. We are confident that we have it in Peterborough. But I do not want to pre-commit the authorities on questions which must be settled in the discussion of precise plans.

Mr. Paget

Is my right hon. Friend saying that we in Northampton have to take an expansion which roughly doubles our size without further industry?

Mr. Crossman

That is not what I am saying. The discussions with Northampton have been on the normal new town basis. What I said in my statement was that we must be careful that in the expansion of these towns we do not expand the kinds of industry which we should like to see in our development areas. These places must have industrial expansion and office expansion. That will be planned in collaboration with the Board of Trade.

Sir R. Thompson

In considering the special needs of Londoners in this exercise, will the Minister bear in mind that they do not necessarily need to be exported outside the London boroughs? Will he try to inject urgency into the redevelopment of 280 acres of Croydon Airport, which for many years has neither flown off aircraft nor provided anything useful for the surrounding population? Will he really knock a few heads together and set down time limits after which, if necessary, he will produce a solution of his own?

Mr. Crossman

I am grateful to the hon. Member for that reference to building inside Greater London, because, obviously, it would be quite irresponsible to make a suggestion for an extremely expensive scheme of new towns if it was not planned in conjunction with the maximum use of housing land within the Greater London area.

We made calculations and we reassessed the possibilities and I reckon that we should be able to increase the annual production of houses, that is to say, dwellings—flats and houses—inside London from, say, 27,000 a year, which is roughly the present figure, to 35,000 or even 50,000 a year. That is the kind of thing we ought to be able to do. Even if we get up to 35,000 houses a year, however, we shall be 15,000 houses a year short on the minimum calculation of London's natural increase. This estimate does not take account of people moving into London from outside; all that is extra.

I am concerned to see that inside London the sites are used to the best effect. We have, fortunately, had windfalls quite recently. I am thinking of the two aerodromes—Croydon, to which the hon. Member has referred, and Hendon—and of Woolwich, and also of railway land, which was to be auctioned off until the present Government came into power and which, I hope, will now be used for housing.

Mr. Maxwell

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the majoirty of my constituents and local authorities will welcome his statement, as it is now certain that the new town will be located in North Buckinghamshire? Will my right hon. Friend say whether the new town to be located there is anything like the Pooley town, of which so much has been written and talked about? Will he also consider setting up a North Buckinghamshire development corporation, because we are talking here about the development of part of a county and not just one town?

Will my right hon. Friend consider using his good offices with his other right hon. Friends in the Government to remove some Government Departments and encourage office building in Bletchley and in other parts of North Bucks, so as to provide employment, which we so urgently need in that area if it is to continue to expand?

Mr. Crossman

We shall certainly try to get office building in all these areas, which, I might add, are 45 miles and more from London.

I want to be careful, because Buckinghamshire County Council has its own plans. The county council has a very gifted architect, Mr. Pooley, and a magnificent vision of a town. It is still to be agreed between the county council and us whether the county council should make it its new town, or whether it will need capital on such a scale that the county council might be better served if we used our new town organisation.

This is something which has to be discussed with the county council, Therefore, I cannot make any statement about exactly what rôle Mr. Pooley will play or what exactly the relationship will be between the county organisation and the new town organisation.

Mr. Deedes

May I ask two questions arising from the Minister's statement? First, where does it leave the towns which are already expanding, such as Ashford, in terms of priority for industry and for offices in relation to the three towns which he has just announced? Secondly, towards the end of his statement the Minister mentioned the need to make more land nearer London available for those who wish to have easy access to and from London. Has he taken into account, and will he discuss with the railway and other transport authorities, the fact that the commuter services from many parts of the Home Counties are already at bursting point? What will be done to meet the increased transit of passengers?

Mr. Crossman

It is obvious that if people are to live at commuter distance from London, even the present population, without the addition of anybody else, needs an improved commuter service. It is also true, however, that whatever any Government may wish, a number of people are determined to live within range of London. The real issue is whether they are to seep out there in an unplanned way or whether we can plan growth carefully.

Although I mentioned these projects as examples of new towns further out, I said that all the arrangements for overspill and expansion would continue with the Greater London Council. Therefore, although I cannot make a specific statement about Ashford, I can say that there are expansions which will continue as at present.

The last point which I take up is the relationship between green belt and overspill. In my statement, I emphasised that it is extremely important for us to get agreement between the local authorities concerned and the Government about how much of this overspill each of them will take into their area and how it will be accommodated in relation to the green belt. This is the point of the discussions which I shall now initiate, and I regard it as of the greatest importance in solving the problem.

In addition, obviously we must discuss transport. I refer the right hon. Member to the indication in the South-East Study that with a certain amount of capital investment in the south of London, a very large increase of commuter traffic could be borne by the railways and that something could be done. Obviously, however, this must be planned in relation to overspill.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

We cannot debate this matter without a Question before the House.

Dr. David Kerr

On a point of order. With all respect and some temerity, Mr. Speaker, may I say that it would seem to be a pity if you should deny London Members of Parliament an opportunity to express their gratitude to the Minister? I should appreciate a moment of the time of the House to do precisely that.

Mr. Speaker

I will explain the position. I have a duty to help the House to get on with its business. I am also quite aware of how widespread must be the interest in a topic of this kind. I hope that the constituents of no hon. Member who is eagerly rising without success will think he has not been doing his best.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

On a point of order. Three constituencies were specifically mentioned in the statement made by the Minister. Is it not the normal practice, Mr. Speaker, that hon. Members representing those constituencies are given notice that a statement is about to be made?

Mr. Speaker

That does not raise a point of order.