HC Deb 23 June 1965 vol 714 cc1757-60
The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Douglas Jay)

With permission, I should like to make a statement.

For some time past the Government have been examining proposals for the construction of a National Exhibition Centre. The most promising site for such a centre appears to be the Crystal Palace.

Under the London Government Act, 1963, the Crystal Palace site is the property of the Greater London Council and is held by them for the purposes specified in the London County Council (Crystal Palace) Act, 1951. These purposes include the promotion of industry and commerce.

Two Federation of British Industries committees have looked into this matter. The first concluded that great benefits to industry and, in particular, to our export trade would be derived from the development of a modern exhibition centre in London suitable for major international exhibitions. The second recommended the Crystal Palace as the most suitable site and put forward outline plans for its development. The F.B.I. has obtained and passed on to the Government many assurances of support from trade organisations who participate in or organise trade fairs and exhibitions.

Discussions have been held between the Government and the L.C.C.—now the Greater London Council. I understand that the G.L.C. would be prepared to make the Crystal Palace site available without charge, and to undertake the building of the centre, as part of a joint arrangement for the construction of a National Exhibition Centre. They would, however, expect the Government to participate in the financing of the project.

The Government recognise that an exhibition centre of the kind proposed could be of great value, particularly for the promotion of exports. They welcome the willingness of the G.L.C. to make the Crystal Palace site available, and they consider that the concrete and detailed proposals which will be necessary before a final decision is taken to proceed should be worked out without delay.

I have accordingly asked the Greater London Council to undertake as a matter of urgency the preparation of costed plans for the exhibition centre, a fully detailed study of its revenue-earning prospects based on support from industry, including the export industries, and an examination of what improvements might be necessary in road and rail access.

I have informed the Council that if the outcome of these inquiries is satisfactory the Government will be prepared to proceed with the project in partnership with it under an arrangement the terms of which are already under discussion with the Council.

In this event our objective will be to have the exhibition centre ready for use in the autumn of 1970.

Mr. Barber

It is a happy change to be able to thank the Government for a welcome statement.

The proposal for a National Exhibition Centre has been under consideration for quite a time and the right hon. Gentleman's statement carries us one stage nearer to the actual completion of the proposal. There are three questions which I hope the right hon. Gentleman will answer.

First, what other sites did he consider before concluding that the most promising was the Crystal Palace, and is he satisfied that this site really is the best from the point of view of communications, whatever other advantages it may have? Secondly, would he say approximately when he expects to receive the costed plans and completion of the detailed study to which he referred? Thirdly, what sort of financial arrangement has the right hon. Gentleman in mind—in other words, what sort of proportion do the Government expect to contribute?

Mr. Jay

I am also happy to find the right hon. Gentleman in so constructive a mood.

The F.B.I. and ourselves have examined all the sites that were put forward. We have not been able to find one to rival the Crystal Palace for suitability. I certainly hope that these investigations can be completed by the end of the year and, if possible, sooner. The financial arrangements, which have not been worked out in detail, contemplate that half the cost would be provided by the Government and the other half probably by the Greater London Council by a suitable loan arrangement.

Mr. Lipton

Will my right hon. Friend take steps to ensure that the plan includes adequate hotel accommodation in or near the exhibition site, because such accommodation in that part of London is most inadequate? Will he see that adequate car parking accommodation is provided so that we do not get unnecessary congestion in what is an already congested part of London? Will he also ensure that all the traffic going to the exhibition does not have to go along the Brixton Road?

Mr. Jay

It is fully agreed that traffic and parking arrangements are most important. I assure my hon. Friend that when I visited the site we did not go via the Brixton Road.

Mr. Costain

When the President of the Board of Trade said that road and rail communications were being considered, why did he not take into account helicopter services, for is this not a very good site for such services?

Mr. Jay

We will certainly consider that, but the major discussion hitherto has been about road and rail access.

Mr. Snow

Would my right hon. Friend say, even at this early stage, whether he visualises an annual international exhibition or a series of exhibitions, on a continuing basis, possibly sub-divided into various industries?

Mr. Jay

The latter. The proposal is that this centre should be used by the various organisations which arrange exhibitions of different types of industrial products from different industries.

Mr. Dudley Smith

Would the right hon. Gentleman give an estimate, even a rough one, of the cost involved? Is he aware that when this idea was first mooted, many years ago, the estimated cost was £12 million, although costs have been escalating all the time, and, as the right hon. Gentleman said, it will probably be another five years before the centre is ready? Will he pay attention to the idea that there should be some smaller exhibition halls on the same site so that the whole project can be fully operative throughout the year?

Mr. Jay

I will certainly consider that suggestion. The estimate of the cost made by the F.B.I. two or three years ago was £12 million, excluding transport arrangements outside the site. We hope that it will not prove to be much more than that.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

Would my right hon. Friend assure the House that this scheme, which we all warmly welcome, will in no way damage the National Sports Centre which, after long years of effort, has only just opened at the Crystal Palace?

Mr. Jay

I hope not. I think that the Greater London Council would not support it if there were danger of that happening.

Mr. Peter Emery

Will the right hon. Gentleman try to ensure that the building which is finally put up will not be a massively enlarged aircraft hangar? Will he try to see that, architecturally, we illustrate new thought and concept, probably illustrative of Britain's advance in technical achievement and design, since here is a good opportunity for us to do that?

Mr. Jay

I agree that the design and architecture of the centre is extremely important, but at the moment we are not committed to any particular design.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

Would my right hon. Friend have consultations with the Minister of Transport about the public transport facilities in this area? Is he aware that they are particularly poor, especially so having regard to the various uses to which it is now proposed that the Crystal Palace should be put? Will he bear in mind the fact that during the last 13 years the Crystal Palace high level railway line has been closed, with the result that the public transport facilities have become much poorer?

Mr. Jay

Yes, Sir. It is intended to investigate that matter.