HC Deb 26 April 1972 vol 835 cc1545-7

3.35 p.m.

Sir Brandon Rhys Williams (Kensington, South)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make further provision for controlling the development of residential property. In South Kensington we are suffering particularly acutely from a problem which I think also affects a number of other constituencies, namely, that the area is attractive and a large number of people wish to find accommodation there. They are willing to pay prices for accommodation which are inordinately high. Sometimes they are visitors from abroad, sometimes they are business people and sometimes they are holiday makers, but the problem is that they seem to be willing to pay rents for property which are quite out of line with what the established residents are able to pay.

The local planning authority does not appear, under the existing provisions of the law, to have the necessary powers to deal with the problem. The Borough of Kensington and Chelsea has introduced a Private Bill making specific recommendations for the extension of its powers, and these have been studied in another place and given a general welcome. Nevertheless, my hon. Friends and I who are seeking the leave of the House to introduce the Bill today believe that there are two or three specific recommendations for the amendment of the law which it would be fruitful for the House to consider.

First, the local planning authority should have power to set upper limits of occupancy for particular areas or even for particular blocks of flats and houses for reasons other than those of health, which are already provided for in the Housing Acts. It seems to me that where there is new construction or where changes of use are involved which require permission from the local planning authority, Parliament has already given power to the local planning authority to set upper limits of occupancy for particular areas and buildings. But it appears that if someone obtains control of an existing building and makes changes to it or makes changes in the nature of the tenancies which may result in sharp increases in the occupancy with undesirable effects on the other residents and on the neighbourhood, the local planning authority is powerless to act.

I believe that an amendment of the law would be easy of enforcement because, if one specified the number of bed spaces per habitable room, it would soon come to the notice of the local authority if developers or landlords were grossly exceeding what was permitted. The other residents in the neighbourhood or in the building would see to it that the local authority knew all about it.

Secondly, it is useful to consider again the question of service charges which concerned the House earlier in the week. Where a developer intends any building change which would enable him either to introduce a service charge where none was payable before, or to increase existing service charges—I suggest by 50 per cent. in any one year, or 100 per cent. over a period of five years, but the figures obviously are subject to further discussion—that change should be subject to planning control. It should also be obligatory on the developer to publish site notices extensively in advance so that all who are likely to be affected will know all about it before it is too late for anything to be done.

Some people feel that changes in the existing Use Classes Order governing residential property would meet this problem more effectively in another way. My feeling is that it is best to tackle the problem, particularly of the creeping hotels, by making the business unprofitable rather than by trying to make it illegal through direct controls, which are simply a challenge to an ingenious mind to find yet another way round.

Third, to deal with the 10 per cent. rule, which allows developers to extend their properties, sometimes in defiance of the wishes of the local planning authority and to insist on their right to do so, I think it is true to say that in this difficult area local authorities are frequently afraid to refuse planning permission, even where quite substantial extensions to, for example, blocks of flats are in prospect because in some cases they would be obliged to pay substantial compensation if they did. They feel that on balance it is better to allow an eyesore than to land the ratepayers with the obligation to pay compensation.

My suggestion for dealing with this problem is that compensation, where expansion of this sort within the 10 per cent. rule is refused, should be payable only insofar as the proposed extension is within the plot ratio or other limitations already established for the area in the development plan.

That, briefly, is an outline of three particular suggestions which I suggest it would be fruitful for hon. Members and right hon. Members and the Department to consider further and the reasons why I am seeking leave to introduce a Bill on these lines.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir B. Rhys Williams, Mr. Adley, Mr. Sydney Chapman, Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg, Mrs. Kellett-Bowman, and Mr. Tugendhat.