HC Deb 26 June 1967 vol 749 cc196-204
Mr. Chapman

I beg to move, in page 41, line 7, to leave out from the beginning to the third 'the'.

I know that the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) is very good at explaining to me how usual these things are, but I wonder whether he can explain how this provision got into the Bill at all. It is covered by Clause 54(1), which he was so anxious to preserve and which effectively governs the following four Clauses, for it says: For the protection of the corporation the following four sections of this Act shall … apply…. Clause 58 is therefore governed by Clause 54, but in Clause 58 there is a repetition of the words Save with the prior consent of the corporation, the Company shall not construct or erect… For reasons which I do not understand, we here have a double-banked power of the Corporation to waive the provisions of Clause 58.

However, that is not the real purpose of the Amendment. It is an important Amendment about which we should have some explanation. The Amendment would mean that the Corporation could not in any circumstances give permission for any of the buildings of the proposed marina to be higher than the height of the cliffs. As the subsection is drafted, the Corporation could give consent for the buildings to be higher than the cliffs.

As the Bill stands, the corporation could change its mind and agree to buildings higher than the cliffs. If my hon. And learned Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) feels strongly about any of the minor parts of this Bill he ought to feel strongly about this one, because one of the things promised to objectors to the proposals all the way through was that never would any buildings be allowed to be higher than the height of the cliffs. There are many occasions when this has been firmly promised.

Take first of all the Minister's findings in giving planning permission for the propect. Paragraph 13(2) of the Minister's planning permission is quite clear: No building shall be of a height greater than the level of that part of the cliff-top which is immediately north of the site of the building. The Minister made the position absolutely clear. He was not the only person to do so. Paragraph 154 of the hearings before the Inspector appointed by the Minister, dealing with the promoters' case, says: In the first place none of its buildings would exceed the height of the adjoining cliffs, while most if not all of this development would be hidden by the latter from any residential developments or public thoroughfare immediately behind the site. The promoters offered this scheme on the understanding that there would not he any buildings higher than the cliffs. Then we have paragraph 206, which is the case for the corporation in supporting the promoters. This says: Even though the height of new buildings would be kept below the height of the cliff face… In other words, this was an assumption made by the Corporation in good faith that it was thoroughly agreed that no buildings would be higher than the cliffs.

The promoters gave their pledge, the corporation supported them on the basis of that pledge. The Minister gave permission for the whole project on the understanding, and the clear condition that no buildings would be higher than the cliff. I would have thought that this was one of the things which would reassure people living locally, and those who want to protect the amenities of the area from the impact of this project on the whole scene. This was an assurance cardinal to the scheme.

Yet here we have in this Clause as drafted the power of the Corporation to waive this requirement. I object most strongly to this. It was one of the things which persuaded people that this scheme could be allowed, because it was clear that there was an assurance, never to be broken, that the cliff height was the limit for the height of the buildings. I do not understand why the Corporation is retaining the power to waive this requirement. I do not know why it is necessary and I very much hope that the House will agree to delete it.

This is a perfectly reasonable request to make, based on all the understandings that have been arrived at all the way through this Bill with regard to this problem. For this reason we should, very firmly and clearly remove from the Bill the power of the Corporation to waive this requirement.

Mr. Martin Maddan (Hove)

I am not a Brighton Member, but I am acting in an honorary capacity for Brighton because I have taken an interest in the Bill and I wish to see it succeed. I want to tell the hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) that this Clause does not have any diabolical intention behind it, although the point that he raises is important. The purpose of the words which he seeks to strike out are to enable the erection of structures like lamp-posts, guard rails, maybe harbour lights, or something of this sort during 125 years—the period with which the Bill is concerned. It would be wrong to take out of the hands of the Corporation the power to decide matters of that sort. The Corporation has no interest in allowing permanent buildings to be built to a height greater than the cliff top. But it must safeguard its position to be able to allow the erection of necessary ancillaries in the scheme for the good of the scheme.

8.45 p.m.

I therefore hope that the hon. Member for Northfield will give some credence to the good intentions of the Brighton Corporation to undertake its duties as the local authority in the way stated, and that he will allow the flexibility which the initial words in the Clause give.

Mr. MacColl

There may be some point in the argument about whether the structure is development within the planning Acts.

In general, I have a good deal of sympathy with what my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) said. The condition in the planning permission was quite categorical in limiting the height of the buildings to be erected. The Minister would not be parlous in the matter. If there were a proposal to do something of this sort, he could always call it in for planning decision directly by himself, even if there were a likelihood of the planning authority agreeing to it, or if it got beyond that stage he would have power under the Town and Country Planning Act to make a discontinuance order. There would, therefore, be some reserves left. However, this is a matter which could be looked at in another place.

Sir L. Heald

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) was kind enough to suggest that I might be able to help him. If his Amendment were adopted, there would be a positive statutory prohibition against anything of this kind, no matter what anybody did. It would mean that no lamp posts or navigation beacons or anything of that kind could be put up, and anybody who put up such things would be infringing the Act. The Amendment is quite futile.

Mr. Chapman

The right hon. and learned Gentleman may think it futile, but the Clause flies in the face of every assurance given to people who opposed the Bill, which was that nothing would be built above the height of the cliff. The right hon. and learned Gentleman may smile, but that was the assurance given locally. The whole justification for the scheme was that the height of the cliffs would mask the development below and that none of the development would protrude above the cliffs so that it spoiled the view of the cliffs and impinged on the development which already existed.

I was much encouraged to hear my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary say that this is a reasonable proposition. I am grateful to him for pointing out that this is the sort of thing which can be considered in another place. I will do my best to ensure that it is considered in another place with a view to deleting this power of the Corporation to waive the requirements.

I was also glad to hear my hon. Friend state categorically that the Minister's view, as set out in the original permission, was that there should be a limit on the height of buildings. In view of the silence of Brighton Members, I was encouraged by what the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Maddan) said, namely, that the Corporation is willing to give an assurance that there will not be any buildings above a certain height erected. However, as it has been said that this matter can be amended in the House of Lords, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Chapman

I beg to move, in page 41, line 30, after 'Act', to insert: unless the Company shall first have offered to sell undertakings to the Corporation on terms to be agreed or to be settled according to the provisions of the Compulsory Purchase Act 1965, and'. The Amendment raises a matter of public policy. It concerns what happens to the undertaking if at any time the promoting company decides to sell it.

The Bill sets out the powers of the company. By Clause 52, it will have power to sell the undertaking to another private enterprise company. I have no objection to its wishing to sell the enterprise. The House decided on Second Reading that it should go ahead on the basis mainly of private enterprise development. I have misgivings about that, but they have been partly relieved by the ability of the Corporation to nominate directors, and I also understand from the town clerk that the company is willing to share the profits of the undertaking with the local authority. To some extent, therefore, I am satisfied that the Bill as finally drafted contains a mixture of public and private enterprise. Although it is on a smaller scale than originally I would have admitted, it certainly goes part of the way to meet my point of view.

The undertaking is, however, mainly one of private enterprise and by Clause 52 of the Bill the company is to have power to sell the undertaking to another company at any time. There is a protective provision to Clause 52 in Clause 58(3). It is for this reason that I move the Amendment to Clause 58 rather than to Clause 52.

Subsection (3) of Clause 58 states: The Company shall not exercise the powers of section 52 (Power to sell or lease undertaking) or section 53 (Power to mortgage undertaking) of this Act except with the previous consent of and subject to such terms, conditions and restrictions as may be approved by the corporation but such consent shall not be unreasonably withheld". The effect of that subsection is that the company shall not sell the undertaking except with the permission of Brighton Corporation.

My intention in the Amendment is to insert a provision that if the company reaches the point of wanting to sell the undertaking, it shall first offer it to Brighton Corporation. This is a reasonable request. We are to have a company which, quite unusually in modern law at least, is being given the right to develop the public foreshore and to do all kinds of things which require special Acts of Parliament to enable them to be proceeded with.

We are envisaging the position that the company becomes fed up with the proposition and the project or has a tempting offer to sell it. I have no objection to its wishing to sell on a future occasion. All I say is that when it reaches the point of wishing to sell, for what may be legitimate reasons, the company should first be asked to offer the undertaking to Brighton Corporation in case at that point it is thought best to say, "With full experience and the benefit of hindsight, we now think that this should have been a public enterprise and it would be better to incorporate the whole thing under Brighton Corporation."

The Amendment therefore provides that at the stage of exercising its powers to sell, the company shall not do so unless it has first offered to sell the undertaking to the Corporation on terms to be agreed or to be settled according to the provisions of the Compulsory Purchase Act, 1965 and then subject to any other terms and conditions which the remainder of the subsection imposes.

If I am asked why reference is made to the Compulsory Purchase Act, 1965, the answer is because the company itself chose this Act to govern its operations when it wanted to compulsorily acquire houses and land in the first instance. Under this Measure, the company will have certain powers in respect of acquiring rights of way, easements and so on, and there would be no disadvantage in the Amendment being accepted in that it would mean that the full market value, under the terms of the 1965 Act, would be paid in the event of its being acquired. Only in the event of terms not being agreed voluntarily and freely between the company and Brighton Corporation would this apply.

Nobody would be able to force the company to sell to the Corporation. That is not envisaged by the Amendment. It merely ensures that, in the event of the company being anxious to part with the undertaking, Brighton Corporation should have some power to secure the first refusal.

Mr. Maddan

There is a division of labour between hon. Members and in considering this, the last Amendment, it may be appropriate, therefore, if I reply to the remarks of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman). The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Hobden) is seeing to it that, if there is a Division, the majority of hon. Members will be voting with him. My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Sir W. Teeling) has only just returned from abroad and that is why he is not replying. It is appropriate, therefore, that I should be intervening.

I am glad to have this opportunity to help the passage of the Bill, which is important for the area. I assure the hon. Member for Northfield that Brighton Corporation would have no objection to there being an obligation on the company of the type the hon. Gentleman is suggesting, should the company wish to sell the undertaking. However, as drafted—and in view of the wording of Clause 4—the Amendment would mean that if the company should wish to arrange a letting of a part, it would first of all have to offer that part for sale to the Corporation. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman had that in mind when drafting the Amendment.

A similar situation might arise if the company even wished to obtain a mortgage. Nor do I think that the hon. Gentleman had that in mind. Apart from other considerations, the Corporation would first have to be offered a sale if the company wished to get a mortgage. Brighton Corporation has no objection to the Amendment in principle but, in view of its defects, it is objectionable and I hope, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw it.

Mr. Chapman

The reply of the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Maddan) reassures me. It means that I can look forward to a more perfectly drafted Amendment of this type being tabled and accepted in another place. My Amendment—a bit of amateur private enterprise drafting—may not be acceptable, but I trust that a similar Amendment, but drafted in more official form, will be accepted in another place.

Mr. Maddan

I have no authority, on behalf of Brighton Corporation, to say that such an Amendment will be moved in another place. However, in view of the spirit of what I have been told, I think that we can take it that the Corporation would consult with the company to see if a satisfactory formula can be found.

Mr. Chapman

In view of that assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That Standing Order 205 (Notice of third reading) be suspended and that the Bill be now read the third time.—[The Chairman of Ways and Means.]

9.0 p.m.

Mr. Hector Hughes

I oppose the Motion. The Standing Order speaks for itself. This is a very important, complex and long Bill and it is right that another place should have an opportunity of considering the various points made in this debate. The Standing Order states very clearly: Not less than a clear day's notice, in writing, shall be given by the agent for the bill to the Clerks in the Private Bill Office, of the date proposed for the third reading of a private bill; and no such notice shall be given until the day after that on which the Bill has been ordered to be read the third time. As I say, this is a complicated Bill. It is a Bill involving millions of £s. It affects the lives of, perhaps, millions and, certainly, of thousands and tens of thousands of people. Above all it is a Bill that affects Her Majesty's right to the foreshore and the access of the public to the foreshore. For all these reasons I submit that those who have to consider it in another place should have an opportunity to consider our debate, and the Bill's complexity and length. I respectfully submit that the Standing Order should not be suspended. What is the Standing Order for if not to be obeyed—not in a cavalier way cast aside? The Bill should take its ordinary course.

Question put and agreed to.

[Queen's Consent on behalf of the Crown, signified]

Bill read the Third time and passed.