HC Deb 25 March 1969 vol 780 cc1356-78

7.40 p.m.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

The subject I wish to raise tonight will, I hope, have attached to it none of the acrimony which attended the first debate on the Bill. I am arguing that the need for planning, preservation and development be considered on a national basis. I aim to initiate a discussion inside and outside the House because it is a subject upon which there should be a proper partnership between Government, Parliament and the public. We should have far more planning on a national basis, planning by consent, evolved rather than imposed from Whitehall or Westminster.

Many of the distressing aspects of the present situation are due to the imposition of plans dreamt up by those who had perhaps not the proper touch with the people for whom they planned. Planning should be a positive process rather than a purely negative one, as it is too often today. What I have to say has little to do with the National—economic—Plan, about which we heard so much some years ago, although development—industrial, commercial and other forms—has a considerable bearing upon our environment, and obviously the economic situation will affect what is done.

We live in a crowded island and a highly developed society—too crowded most would agree. In addition, it is a society which has become perhaps too complex for many of us. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) has done much valuable work and had a long correspondence with the Prime Minister, which has been published, on the population problem. I hope that it will be studied by hon. Members and many others outside the House. It is not primarily with that problem that I want to deal this evening, although obviously planning on the scale and with the sympathy for which I am asking must take account of an increase in the population, although some of the figures which have been given are perhaps too alarming.

We can all agree that our surroundings have a very considerable effect upon our lives, and that in our work or at leisure, we can find ourselves employed infinitely more effectively if we are surrounded by beauty rather than by ugliness and squalor. The land is infinitely precious, and it is not something which can be lacerated by road, rail, air, power, pipes and wires, and all the other interests which attack it, without injury, some of which may be permanent, or at least last for more than one generation.

The first item mentioned in the title of my debate is preservation, and I would say a word about that before passing on to other matters. There is first preservation of the land and scenery. Scenery is something built up over the years, in most cases over the centuries.

What man has done to the scene, although it may be a grave injury, has often been a recent intrusion and the scenery which we most enjoy has been there for many centuries. No amount of landscaping by Ministerial experts or local authority experts, or even private experts, can undo damage of certain kinds; no planting of shrubs or rows of geraniums or rows of Japanese flowering cherries can replace a cherished landscape where English oaks have grown and matured over three centuries. Nothing can replace them if a wrong decision is made.

Then there are buildings. Taken in isolation, buildings are seldom worth preserving, but one must look to their surroundings. The Gowers Report, which many regard as almost the Bible on the subject of planning and preservation of items of historical interest, went out of its way to stress the importance of preservation and enhancing the appearance of buildings of importance. Yet it has taken years of endless frustration in this House to get the first Civic Amenities Act, and then the provisions in the latest Town and Country Planning Measure.

I remember introducing a Bill, the precursor of the Civic Amenities Act, which was blocked by my own party. For that they should be ashamed of themselves. There are many building of immense significance which have received grants from the Historic Buildings Council and which have had thousands of pounds of private money and years of loving care lavished upon them which are even now threatened by a by-pass or some other man-made threat. There are many buildings which have been the subject of immense expenditure and care but whose surroundings, because of the lack of planning in the past, are, if not ruined, then considerably damaged.

Nothing is now being done to improve these surroundings. Hardly a day goes by but we hear of some new threat to something which is priceless and which the nation—and I stress the nation, not just the private or public owner—cannot afford to lose. The House will have noticed the Motion, signed by well over 100 Members, concerning the threat to Levens Park in Westmorland. I have no wish to enter into a debate on that subject. It would be unfair to the Ministry of Transport, which is principally concerned, to do so. I merely wish to say that this is a piece of landscape which has enjoyed public access for more than three centuries and has on it trees which cannot be replaced.

It has a wealth of animal, bird and aquatic life, and the scenery is so splendid that it has attracted the attention of David Cox, de Wint, Girtin and many others. I do not believe that the present threat would have become so ominous if the full picture had been available to all concerned in good time. I feel hopeful that the good sense of the Minister of Transport, who is now so personally involved, will prevail, and that an act of real statesmanship will save this unique part of our landscape. Centuries from now we shall earn the condemnation of our heirs if we do not act with good sense in such cases.

I have spoken of the threat from the road, Roads are most unpleasant things. They are a scar on the landscape which is slow to heal. They bring vehicles, sometimes recklessly driven, usually noisy, and often smelly. Vehicles could perhaps be designed which had neither noise nor smell, and then so much happier would we all be. As this Government, in particular, are so interested in every facet of life, I wonder what they are doing to press on with research to see whether road users can be made less intrusive and obnoxious. Much of the trouble from roads would be abated if those who travel on them were not so offensive to the countryside or townscape through which the road passes.

How much better it is to design a bypass or a through route, if a through route is needed, than to indulge in piecemeal improvement and destroy the places we aim to save. How many small towns and villages have had their guts torn out by road widening and such other improvements before the bypass is built? We would restore life to many of our villages by getting rid of the traffic which thunders through them. We must make the decision in time before the villages are completely destroyed.

The Ministry of Power, with its pipes and wires and power stations, has much to answer for. Why is it not possible to aim at concentrating the wires of the C.E.G.B., the railways and the through route by road all along one valley instead of spreading their nuisances over such a wide area? I wonder why the public bodies which deal with the telephones, electricity, radio and television must have so many wires disfiguring the countryside and the towns. Has any real thought been given to the design of the necessary pieces of equipment? Must we have frightful square transformer boxes stuck up on poles in every pleasant field through which a wire passes? Does the electricity authority from time to time consider the mess it is creating and wonder how it can simplify it? I can answer that question. The answer is, no, unless prodded by a locally interested person. The landscape can often be greatly improved by people getting together and planning an improvement.

I have been attacking various de-flowerers of the landscape, as they might be called. I propose in the next part of my speech not to make an attack but to turn my spotlight on the amenity societies because they, too, could do more by collaborating to a much greater degree. The Civic Trust has a fine overall record. Would that its work could go even further. The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings does good work in connection with early buildings, but it makes a special point of not concerning itself with land, so that it will not act to protect the surroundings. The Georgian Group is admirably concerned with Georgian buildings. The Victorian Society has its own special field of operations. I wish that there was more collaboration between them. The C.P.R.E. does good work in the countryside, but the C.L.A. must also be involved.

Only recently it was discovered that there was no effective group of people looking after the interests of historic buildings, in public and private ownership. It took the initiative of the British Travel Association, which is concerned with tourism, to set up, first, an advisory committee and then a more permanent body representing private owners of historic buildings, the National Trust, the Ministry of Public Building and Works and all the other organisations concerned. It is surprising that that committee came into operation only three years ago. There was no proper collaboration between all these bodies which were trying to do much the same concerning historic buildings.

There is a national responsibility for buildings and the countryside. The National Trust does an admirable job. But it must be brought into closer partnership with the private people concerned. We have heard the plea that National Trust land should be inalienable and that once it belongs to the National Trust it cannot be disturbed. I hope that we shall give this matter a little thought because the ownership of a piece of land—it might not be of agricultural use, and it might not be particularly attractive to look at—by the National Trust might positively steer a new road or some other unpleasant development straight into an historic building or another piece of land of great significance in private ownership. We must aim at a proper partnership between the National Trust and other trusts and all the interests concerned, because there are many beautiful pieces of countryside and many fine buildings not in the National Trust's hands which could be damaged as a result of Trust ownership of adjacent properties.

I hope that more preservation trusts will be set up. It is possible under present charity legislation for money to be devoted to this purpose. There are few privileges which the National Trust enjoys which could not be enjoyed by trusts set up for a similar purpose. Just as in private enterprise health insurance I would hope that British United Provident would not have a perpetual monopoly, so I feel certain that the National Trust could do with some competition as it finds it difficult to administer all that it now owns.

I could continue with my list of offenders—and local government would come high on the list. Some local planning departments are very ignorant, particularly about historic buildings, and seem insensitive to scenery. One has only to look at the actions of the park departments in some of our big cities to realise that to them landscaping simply means rows of geraniums. We have had a similar intrusion in Bristol in a landscape by Humphry Repton. It may be that some of my friends in Bristol like rows of geraniums in a Repton landscape. But these are small matters compared with the ignorance displayed by many planning departments. One could forgive it if they would follow professional advice when it is available. I believe that most councils have, or certainly could have, an advisory panel of independent architects to help them.

I remember in a county well known to me—I am not speaking of Bristol—a frightful decision having been made about the amenities of a fine building. When I asked what the advisory committee of architects had said about this piece of bad planning, I was told, "We did not think it was anything to do with them". There is not only ignorance, but a lack of enthusiasm, to put it mildly, to consult those who could help.

There are those who are above the law, the Service Ministries in particular. I would say a word in their defence, because they are not as bad as some would have it. If a large tract of countryside is in the hands of a Service Ministry and perhaps used for a rifle range or worse, that piece of land has at least been saved from development, and perhaps 50 years from now when it is relinquished we shall be delighted to find that there is one large area of our country—or, as a Dorset resident, I would say "county"—which has been saved from the developer. It may be that land which now causes so much trouble in the Isle of Purbeck will one day become a great beauty spot because the military were there for a century and stopped other men from spoiling it. Nevertheless, the Service Departments must take their share of the blame, in that many of the things erected by them are not objects of beauty. Worst of all, they fail to take them away when they have finished with them, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will say a word in the ear of some of his right hon. Friends on this matter.

Nationalised industries are outside planning altogether. I accept the doctrine that the Crown must be paramount and must not be put in the position of having to ask permission from a committee before it acts. Here there could perhaps be more friendly collaboration.

Even the Church is not without blame. The Measure designed to deal with redundant churches which was before us recently did not meet with universal approval; almost every speech but one was critical. This scheme left in the hands of the Church of England the demolition of any building that it was determined to demolish, and funds for repair and renewal were to be made available only to those buildings which had reached a state of redundancy. All manner of frightful things might happen to a building on the way to redundancy, and the building might be quite irredeemable before it became redundant.

The Church does not have a very good record for maintenance. During the last 100 years the death-watch beetle has begun to show, and I am always distressed to hear of £10,000 or £20,000 being needed to save a roof when perhaps a little more care during the last 50 years would have reduced that budget by more than half.

I have given a catalogue of villains in which I must include the private developer and the private citizen, because we are all to blame. So often we are insensitive in our choice of materials. A laudable scheme of housing may be ruined by the use of uncompromising materials. It is no good saying that the material will weather in time. There are certain types of red brick and concrete blocks which will not weather in a century, no matter how much mud is rubbed into them or how many fast-growing Leyland cypresses are planted round them. The Minister might like to see what his friends in the Forestry Commission are doing to propagate the fastest growing of all the conifers, the Leyland cypress, which can now be grown in vast numbers thanks to mist propagation. It is able to grow at the rate of 2 ft. 6 ins. a year and can be used to hide hideous bricks and concrete.

It might be said that my remarks have been somewhat random. This is a very big subject, and the House might ask me what I am proposing to do about it. I do not believe that some omnipotent new planning procedure is the answer. As I said at the beginning, I do not believe in imposing plans. They should be evolved. That means that people matter, and that the planning must start with the people in the locality; but there must be better collaboration between all those interested. When people are together round a table discussing a project or an area of countryside, the first requirement is for a map, and maps are sadly lacking.

The 25 in. Ordance map was created in the 1880s. The maps for certain areas have been brought up to date but not all. We need a 25 in. map of the entire country, up to date, constantly revised, with the revisions available. With all the magic of photo-copying, it is perfectly possible to photograph a map that was drawn yesterday for distribution to all who need it. The map should show all the features of significance, both scenic and man-made, not forgetting vistas and views, which are not always easily seen from a map. I should have thought that the planners would be able to spot an avenue and would know that it would not be a good idea to build a row of red brick council houses at the end of it, but they cannot. If one stands in the front door of Montacute House, Somerset, looking down the magnificent drive, one sees at the end one and a half red brick council houses in an otherwise open landscape. The same thing happens opposite the great gate of St. Osyth's Priory, in Essex, although there there is a pleasant crescent of council houses, and I am told that the planting of suitable creepers and trees has resulted in their looking quite attractive. But the point is that they need not have been built there.

There are also caravan sites and railway sidings which surround historic buildings of great significance. Some of these happened in the nineteenth century, but some are still happening.

The map should also show mature woodlands. There are various symbols for a tree on the Ordnance Survey map, but one is not able to tell from the symbol what one needs to know. Buildings should also be shown, grade 1, grade 2 starred, grade 2 and even grade 3, and also groups of buildings. No map shows groups of buildings of architectural and historic significance, although I recognise that grants have been made towards the repair of groups of buildings, none of which is of the first class. Properly constructed, up-to-date maps of the kind I am suggesting would be of great assistance. If in the local planning office there were put on the wall a map of the area covered by the planning authority, officers would think twice before suggesting to their committees the sort of proposals which are put into effect. This properly constructed map, like the 39 Articles, should be the guideline on which we should proceed.

Having got the map, one can designate the areas which are suitable for certain kinds of development, by which I mean not just the creation of new work but perhaps the removal of old. Under the conservation area procedure, it can be done, though I doubt whether much demolition will take place. However, if one designates an area for improvement, it should be the conscious effort of the local authority and others who can be brought into its confidence to improve that area and then all those areas where it is decided that development should take place.

If one can sort out the various needs and requirements, one might get a great deal more; done in the way of dealing with our housing problem, which the right hon. Gentleman assured the nation recently was nearing its end—[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman disagrees. I heard the television broadcast, and I thought he meant that there would be a surplus in many areas though there would still be problems elsewhere. In certain places we are nearing the end of the problem, and that will make planning easier. There way be other areas where there is great pressure for land. With a more sensible designation of what should go where, it may be that a flood of land would come on the market.

There is an immense amount of waste in planning at present. There is waste where land is built up, and that leads to the destruction of new land. The right hon. Gentleman will not agree with me when I say that we should repeal all the Rent Acts and, by so doing, make for a much greater mobility and also make it very much easier to redevelop entire streets or neighbourhoods. At the present time, only local authorities can do this, and they have limited resources. I would like to see the scrapping of the Rent Acts, so enabling large areas of Victorian suburban houses with substantial gardens to be redeveloped as neighbourhoods, where one could end up with a greater density of people living in much better surroundings. In my part of the world, for example, there are many large Victorian houses which are occupied by small families. Much of the available accommodation is empty. Their owners fear to let it in case they find themselves with tenants for life. That is another matter, I know, but it may be that it has a bearing on the general problem.

I have covered a very wide area, but I hope that I have given the Minister a little to think about. I know he cares very much about the matters which I discussed at the beginning of my speech, and I am sure that he will agree that the present situation is not entirely satisfactory. I hope he will be able to give an undertaking tonight that the Government regard the whole matter as one of the greatest importance. I am sure that he will acknowledge that all is not well and that present policy does not provide all the safeguards that we need, in that it does not bring into partnership all the interests concerned.

We must think of the long-distant future, not just of the next generation, but of the next, the next and the next. If we want our age to be remembered at all, I hope that it will be that we recognise at last the unique value of our landscape and the varied buildings which man has created and, I hope, will go on creating upon it. I hope that we shall be remembered for recognising that ugly surroundings make for ugly lives. We can make a better future for our children's children if we tackle the problem, but it must be tackled now. This is our last chance. Let us begin by the short discussion that we have had this evening and hope that the Minister will be able to give us some cheerful thoughts from this Government.

8.15 p.m.

Mr. Edwin Brooks (Bebington)

I shall not detain the House for long, and I must apologise to the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) for having missed the earlier part of his speech. I have been following the latter part with interest and with sympathy for the underlying theme which he developed.

There is a need for planning to be systematic and comprehensive, to be up to date, and to recognise both the legacy of the past and the grave problems of the future. Inevitably, in a theme as broadly based as that introduced by the hon. Gentleman, it is easy to be tempted to cover far too large a canvas. I have no wish either to reiterate what he has said nor to give my right hon. Friend any anxious moments by putting questions to him of which I have not given him previous notice. I want simply to refer to one point. I feel that it is one of some importance and one which is often ignored in our general discussions about planning and planning priorities.

In one of his phrases, the hon. Gentleman said that plans must start with people. I want to take up that phrase but in rather a different way from that which is normally intended. I agree that plans are about people. But a great deal depends on the number of people with whom one is dealing.

Britain is a small island which has to import something like half its food supplies. This position is likely to be with us for decades to come. It is an island which has a density of population among the highest in the world. Moreover, the population is densely congested in our great conurbations. It shows evidence of internal migration which is likely to lead to even greater densities in the future. This is an island where the population can look forward confidently in the decades ahead to rising standards of affluence, and one of the consequences of affluence is that the effective demand for land space increases dramatically. As more people obtain motor cars, their mobility increases, they become a race of urban nomads and, as their leisure time increases, their demands upon recreational facilities grow. We have seen the extrapolations of the Buchanan Committee which show the magnitude of the crisis which will affect our road systems before the end of the century.

There are many other forecasts which can be made, especially those arising from population growth; which should fill us with apprehension. In the earlier years of this century, certainly in the inter-war years, it was anticipated confidently that the population of this country was, at most, on a plateau and might even be beginning a process of long descent. However, since about the mid-1950s, there has been a dramatic and unexpected increase in our population, with a substantial increase in the birth rate leading to many problems of demand for educational facilities and for social services in general. Although it is true that, since about 1964, the birth rate has tended to fall, it is still higher than would have been anticipated in the immediate aftermath of the post-war birth rate bulge.

Therefore, we have forecasts of a population growth throughout the remaining decades of the century which will pose immense problems to the planners. According to the latest figures, which have not been amended substantially in the last few months, we can anticipate an average annual increase of 400,000 persons in Great Britain during the 1970s, rising to an annual average increase of 500,000 during the 1980s, and to an increase of 700,000 a year during the decade of the 1990s.

This should rightly fill us with great apprehension. We are, in effect, adding to the very limited space of this island the equivalent of a city the size of Bristol each year during the next decade and, by the end of the century, a city the equivalent of the present-day population of Liverpool. It will not work out as neatly as that, but, when we try to put these figures into some recognisable pattern of magnitude, we can see clearly that there is here a grave threat to agricultural land and to the very environment in which we live, which, as the hon. Gentleman has said, we have an obligation to pass on to our successors without fundamental deterioration or mishap.

Sir David Renton (Huntingdonshire)

In order to complete the interesting picture which the hon. Gentleman is drawing, would he confirm that an area of agricultural land approximately the size of Devonshire will be needed by about the end of the century to accommodate all the new cities, towns and dwellings that he has mentioned?

Mr. Brooks

I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is broadly accurate in this prospect. A great deal depends on certain assumptions over the density at which we envisage future residents of this island living. But there are certain upper limits to the density at which people should and can be asked to live together. Therefore, I do not find myself in disagreement with the quite dramatic way in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has put the problem.

It may be said that this is beyond our control: that population movements throughout history, even to those who, like historians, are blessed with hindsight and have considerable knowledge of the circumstances, have always been matters of great mystery and confusion.

There is a great deal of argument among economic historians about the causal relationship between population growth and economic advance. Certainly I am not competent to comment upon the technicalities of such arguments. Nevertheless, we must surely recognise that much of our economic planning during the last 20 to 30 years has been motivated by the wish to avoid unnecessary and excessive congestion in certain areas of the country. It is fairly obvious that, over the last 30 years, our planning has been largely shaped by the considerations brought forward by the Barlow Commission in 1940. Although we often think of the Barlow Commission's Report as stressing the problems of the depressed regions of Britain it was simultaneously stressing the disadvantages of undue concentrations of population in the more favoured regions of Britain. Those concentrations which were going on in the inter-war years were in large measure due to migration. This was regarded as a matter which was capable of being solved or remedied to some extent by Government intervention. Indeed, this explains much of our post-war development area policy.

However, when we are faced with increases of population in the South-Eastern region of between 2 million and 3 million during the present quarter of a century and are told simultaneously that this increase, vast though it is, is beyond our control because a great proportion is due to the net increase of population arising from the high birth rate among people already in the region, it seems that we are in a sense selling the pass. We are saying that there is nothing we can do about natural rates and trends in population growth, but that there is a great deal we can do about the distribution of the population once it has appeared.

This problem requires a great deal more thought in this country. I accept, as I am sure my right hon. Friend will say if he is drawn to comment upon the phrase, that there is no very easy meaning to be given to such a concept as "optimum population." A great deal depends on the quite arbitrary criteria that one introduces to define that term. But I think that we must ask ourselves whether it is a sensible thing for this country, given its problems of land use and of conservation, to envisage an increase in population to 71 million or 72 million by the end of the century.

I think that this is where we have at last a marginal rôle to play as a Government, as a legislature, if only because there are certain spheres in which it is proper for the Government to intervene. I refer to family planning, in particular. It seems quite extraordinary that, given the very large increase in the rate of illegitimacy in this country in recent years which has undoubtedly been serious and significant, we are, in effect, prepared to see our population problems magnified, as it were, by the injection of this serious problem or group of problems without doing much about it.

I appreciate that for many years this has been a subject which politicians have been chary to discuss in public because of religious and moral overtones, but there is a need to speak up on what is becoming a severe moral problem, namely, the sheer pressure—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)

Order. The subject being discussed at the moment is planning, preservation and development. I think it is stretching the responsibility of the Department which is to reply to the debate a little far to discuss family planning.

Mr. Brooks

With respect, this is precisely the predicament we are in. Perhaps I can illustrate my point a little more succinctly. We have, for example, in this review, "The Task Ahead", which certainly deals with the problem of economic planning in this country, one or two paragraphs which clearly indicate the implications of certain patterns of demographic change.

On page 51, dealing with health, we are informed: Between 1967 and 1972 the total population of Great Britain is forecast to increase by 2–6 per cent.… My whole point in arguing that there is relevance in considering demographic change as something which is amenable to Government intervention is to argue that these forecasts are not immutable; they are forecasts based on certain assumptions which are all too readily taken for granted.

There is equally nothing inevitable about the changes which are forecast in an earlier section of the Report on page 37 dealing with changes in the working population. Some very important forecasts are made about the changing numbers of the population, the effect of these changes upon employment demand, upon productivity per head, and, as a result of changes in the structure of the population, upon different demands for male, female and juvenile labour. When the hon. Member for Bristol, West posed his theme about the need for a comprehensive approach to problems of planning, I thought it was important to bring into the equation one of the most important determinants of all.

Without wishing to stretch your patience unnecessarily, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I simply reiterate that this is a matter to which Parliament should address itself in all seriousness with a sense of urgency, because, despite all the exhortations to conserve the beauties of our environment, our countryside and our landscape which have been made so eloquently this evening, I fear there is little hope of doing so unless we can simultaneously reduce these tremendous pressures on our land area.

8.28 p.m.

The Minister for Planning and Land (Mr. Kenneth Robinson)

I think that the whole House knows the concern of the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) for amenity and planning generally—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)

Order. I take it that the right hon. Member is seeking the leave of the House to speak again?

Mr. Robinson

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. At the head of my notes is a reminder to ask for the leave of the House, which I now do. It perhaps gives me the opportunity to repeat my opening sentence, which was that the hon. Gentleman's concern for amenity and planning generally, and preservation in particular, is well known in this House, and I think that there was very little in his speech with which one could dissent, certainly within the scope of planning. Indeed, it is good to hear an hon. Member who is positively and enthusiastically wedded to the concept of planning in its broadest sense. It was only when the hon. Gentleman reached housing policy that I wondered whether we would have quite the amicable debate to which I was looking forward, but happily Mr. Speaker has ruled that we cannot discuss legislation, and therefore the repeal of the Rent Acts had better not be pursued further.

The population problems referred to by my hon. Friend, the Member for Bebing-ton (Mr. Brooks) are extremely important and have a great impact on the whole idea of planning. As such they are of concern to me, but the thesis which my hon. Friend was putting forward was perhaps of more direct concern to me in my last ministerial post than in this one.

Sir D. Renton

Would the right hon. Gentleman accept the simple proposition that however successful we are in making the best use of our land from now onwards until the end of the century, and well into the next century, our time will have been completely wasted, and his endeavours will have been completely wasted, if the population gets so large that we can no longer have a rational land policy?

Mr. Robinson

If the population gets that large I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman's proposition is self-evident.

In a wide-ranging speech the hon. Member for Bristol, West expressed concern at the failure of the bodies and the interests concerned with planning matters to collaborate, and he mentioned the amenity societies. I do not think the hon. Gentleman intended his criticism of them to be as sweeping as it appeared. The same comment applies to local authorities and their planning functions. Whilst we would agree that some are worse than others, there are others that are very much better than some.

Mr. Robert Cooke

I do not dissent from that, but would the right hon. Gentleman agree that in order to be listened to one has to state a case fairly strongly?

Mr. Robinson

I appreciate all too well the reason for the hon. Gentleman's choice of words. The amenity societies are masters in their own house, and they must work out their own salvation in this respect, but I rather think I caught the implication that within the Government, too, there should be more collaboration and co-ordination.

Inevitably, Government Departments have different interests to foster, and this is reflected in the whole machinery of government. I do not think that one would have it otherwise. It just is not practicable to think of every conceivable interest which has a bearing on planning coming under what would inevitably be a single huge umbrella. It just would not work as a matter of machinery. There obviously has to be a Ministry of Transport to look after the roads, a Ministry of Agriculture to look after the interests of farmers, and a Board of Trade to look after commerce and industry, but a great deal has been done, and is being done, in planning to bring all those interests together into a more coherent pattern.

That is not to say that conflicts never arise, but there is plenty of machinery for tackling these conflicts sensibly and constructively. In the last resort this goes back to the whole machinery of government and collective Cabinet responsibility. If a major difference of opinion arises on priorities, the Departments concerned get together to work the thing out. It is discussed between Ministers if officials cannot resolve it, and if necessary in the end the Cabinet can decide, but very few disagreements call for heavyweight machinery of this kind.

The whole process of planning, at local authority level, at regional level, and at national level, is a continuing story of consultation between Government Departments, local authorities, and many other interests such as the agricultural and industrial interests. One new example of the way in which all this works is the setting up by this Government of the regional economic planning boards which bring together at regional level representatives of all the Government Departments, including my own, which have interests and responsibilities for planning. These boards have a great deal of valuable contact with the local planning authorities. They advise the regional economic planning councils, and the fruits of their work are to be seen in the co-ordinated regional studies and strategies which have been published for every part of the country.

Another example is the new development plan system set up by the Town and Country Planning Act passed last year. Three important new features are introduced by that system. First, these plans are set plainly in the context of national and regional planning. Second, they broaden the basis of the planning, taking it away from the narrow concept of land use and making it clear, in particular, that the development of transportation policies and proposals must go hand in hand with the zoning of land and that both must have regard to all other relevant considerations for the area, including the probable rate of probable investment.

Third, the new system expressly provides—the hon. Gentleman particularly asked for this—for the public to take part in the formulation of plans and not just to appear as objectors when things are already largely settled. We attach great importance to this, but it will not be by any means an easy process. We must be careful to avoid paying too high a price in the form of a further slowing up of planning procedures, which are already more protracted than many of us wish, and which I hope to see abbreviated as time goes on. But the hon. Gentleman will know that the Committee under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, which is known as the Skeffington Committee, will shortly produce a report on the whole question of public participation.

My right hon. Friend has made it clear that he intends to introduce the new development plan system area by area, bringing in groups of authorities whose territory taken together offers a much more reasonable basis for some civil planning than the rather confused and arbitrary boundaries of local government as it now exists. Of course, we will never have perfection in all this. Planning, after all, is largely the resolution of conflicts. The hon. Member mentioned the enemies of amenity, such as traffic, roads and power lines. Very often, these conflicts attract more attention than their resolution, unfortunately. But the will to get proper co-ordination of these very complex matters is certainly there and I believe that these fairly recent developments, particularly, will greatly help.

Mr. Brooks

Would my right hon. Friend not agree, though, that there is a certain danger, when setting up planning authorities such as the passenger transport authorities, which will not be local government units, of decisions being taken by officials rather than by elected representatives, and that it is important to phase the two together?

Mr. Robinson

If I follow my hon. Friend too far, I shall be treading into the dangerous pre-Maude territory which I must not enter. Thanks to the new development plan system and also in the context of the probably larger local authorities which most people think will emerge from Maude, we shall get a much more rational structure of planning. I would mention also the Countryside Act and the Civic Amenities Act which have made their contributions very much to the sort of improvements which the hon. Gentleman has in mind.

This has been a useful little debate and I am grateful to the hon. Member for having initiated it.

Mr. Robert Cooke

Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down. I raised one important matter which I thought was the bones of the solution to the whole problem—the construction of effective maps of the countryside. I did not hear him deal with that. How are we to proceed without these maps? What will he do about that?

Mr. Robinson

I understand that there is no need for a national coverage with maps of the scale that the hon. Gentleman suggested. The new development plan system gets the balance right, with flexibility in the presentation of policies and proposals and the preparation of local plans on an appropriate scale by the local authorities.

The scale of maps for local plans will be the subject of regulations, but these have not yet been made. There will be some flexibility in this and I do not believe that we want to be tied to the same scale for all areas.

I had the opportunity of visiting the Ordnance Survey recently and I was extremely impressed with the work that is going on there, with the extent to which it is reviewing its survey of the whole country and with the advanced technological aids which it now has to help it in the extremely important work that it does.

8.40 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

Confusion and anxiety in the mind of the public is caused by the variety of authorities involved in development and planning. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) has, therefore, performed a valuable service tonight by calling attention to the need consciously to bring all concerned into partnership in development and planning.

The House recently passed the Town and Country Planning Act, 1968, and under that a new process of planning is being set up with structure plans and local plans, and we hope that this will take effect as soon as possible. I appreciate that a great deal of preparation is necessary, but we had some depressing forecasts during the passage of that Measure about the time that it would take to get this new procedure into operation. When it is in operation it may go part of the way to meet the proposals made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West, although it will certainly not go all the way.

Under Part V of that Act we are able to deal with buildings of architectural and historic interest in that we may set up new procedures relating to them. In addition to the Civic Amenities Act, 1967, and the Countryside Act, there have been innumerable Private Acts promoted by local authorities with the object of improving the amenities of their districts.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West seeks a conscious integration of all these powers; somebody who will guide these powers along a national path. I admit that one cannot expect the Minister of Planning and Land to be an overlord of motorways and pylons, a convenor of amenity societies, a jack of all trades among public utility corporations and local authorities or even—he would resist this in any event—a busybody around his brother Ministers' Ministries.

However, it might be well for a guide and mentor at Ministerial level to be created in some form. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman's office is the best Department for the job. While it is necessary for these planning powers to be coordinated, there should not be interference with the exercise of them. We want general guidance for their co-ordination. I would not wish to impose the likes and dislikes of Whitehall on local authorities and on other developers. It is guidance, rather than imposition, which we have in mind.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West made the practical suggestion of having a comprehensive Ordnance map. I was disappointed with the Ministry's reply, for it is astonishing how lacking we are, both in Ministeries and in town halls, in that simple tool of planning and development, an up-to-date map on an appropriate scale.

I have often thought we ought to take every town planning officer, every developer, every person who has control of public utility corporations and their development, up in a helicopter high enough for them to get an overall picture of a wide area and to see what they are doing with that area and what there is in it. Then they should ponder on the sort of population growth of which the House has been told tonight by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) when he said that we should need another Devon by the end of the century, or as the hon. Member for Bebington (Mr. Brooks) said, a new Bristol every year.

If one could go high enough to look down on a wide area and ponder on that sort of population growth we should be doing something to co-ordinate ideas of planning and development. We would see in correct perspective against those forecasts of population growth the folly, for example, of letting a few acres of white land out from planning restrictions so that local authorities around them, rather like vultures, descend on those few acres to put little boxes on an area and call them houses, or mighty towers called blocks of flats, without any consideration for the overall development of the area.

The Minister said that a huge umbrella is not possible; I agree. He said that there was plenty of machinery to bring about co-ordination. It is not always evident that there is. I hope that the Minister will not be complacent about this and will not continue to say, "There is the machinery there, we are using it, we hope to get co-ordination". There is hard work to be done, particularly in the sphere of planning procedure as we have now set it up under the 1968 Act. I am sure both Government and Opposition will need to be vigilant in seeing that the good intentions that we have set up, particularly under that Act and under other Acts, are translated into good deeds.