HC Deb 25 October 1972 vol 843 cc1236-42

Lords Amendment: No. 284, in page 292, line 3, leave out "section 58 (building preservation notices)".

Mr. Graham Page

I beg to move, That the House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this Amendment it will be convenient for the House to discuss Lords Amendments Nos. 302 to 305 and 309.

Mr. Page

If I may digress on to what may be a point of order, part of Amendment No. 309 deals closely with the conservation and preservation functions of the local authorities which we are discussing under the group headed by Amendment No. 284, and part of it has nothing whatever to do with them. I will address my remarks first to the conservation and preservation functions and shall then have to digress to something quite different so as to include the rest of Amendment No. 309.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I think the right hon. Gentleman had better leave Amendment No. 309 and take it all together.

Mr. Page

If I may I will place the miscellaneous matters at the end of my address to the House so that they do not become confused with the conservation and preservation functions, because in this respect this is an important Amendment.

The functions of the local authorities to preserve and conserve their areas, to deal with listed buildings and so on have received a great deal of debate and discussion in both Houses and outside. We have now obtained the agreement of those concerned to a great extent—I will not say full agreement, but to a great extent there is consensus on what we now have in the Bill after Amendments in another place.

The functions of preservation and conservation exercised by local authorities can be divided into four. First, listed building control; second, building preservation notices; third, designation of conservation areas; fourth, control of unlisted buildings in conservation areas.

As the House will know, planning consent for the demolition, alteration or extension of a listed building may not be granted by the local planning authority until it has notified the Secretary of State of the intentions concerning demolition, alteration or extension and has given the Secretary of State an opportunity to call in the application. That is one major function.

I mentioned secondly the building preservation notices. These are the notices which give the building temporary protection while the Secretary of State considers whether it should be added permanently to the listed buildings which are of special arehitectural or historic interest.

Third, there is the designation of conservation areas. A local planning authority must decide which parts of its area or areas are of special arehitectural or historic interest, the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance, and it can then designate those areas as conservation areas. That is the third important function.

The fourth function, which was added fairly recently in this Parliament is the control of unlisted buildings in a conservation area. Where a local authority is convinced that there is a square, a terrace of houses or a particular building which does not meet the qualifications of a listed building but is part and pareel of the character of a conservation area, it may by direction bring the demolition of it within control so that if the owner wishes to demolish he will get consent only on the grounds for which consent would be given for demolition of a listed building.

The Bill as originally presented to the House placed all these functions with the district planning authorities. We thought that those functions went with the preparation of local plans and the exercise of development control which are in the hands of the district planning authority. The Amendments, and particularly new paragraph 45 of Amendment No. 309 provide that certain of these powers should be available also to county planning authorities. They provide that the county planning authorities may have concurrent powers with the district planning authorities to serve building preservation notices—that is Amendment No. 284—to designate conservation areas—that is Amendments Nos. 302 to 305—and make directions bringing within listed building control the demolition of unlisted buildings in conservation areas—that is new paragraph 45 in Amendment No. 309.

The Amendments do not affect the provisions in the Bill for the exercise of listed building control and development control whether it is within or outside the conservation area. That will remain, as in the Bill, a function exerciseable by the district planning authorities. I can perhaps best express it in this way. There will be concurrent powers to set the conservation in motion, to list a building, to designate a conservation area, to make directions to preserve buildings within a conservation area and to serve building preservation notices. The authorities which spark off the conservation or preservation will have concurrent powers, county and district. The actual management, whether of listed buildings or of a conservation area, will remain in the hands of the district planning authority.

Mr. Blenkinsop

There seems to be confusion here. Some local authorities have the impression that the result of the Amendments is to give exclusive powers to the county council to serve building preservation notices, and that that power has gone from the district council, but the Minister says that is not so.

Mr. Page

It is not so. I have written to the Secretary of the Association of Municipal Corporations explaining this to him and pointing out that the phrase about which he was worried was removed because it was superfluous. Elsewhere in these provisions it is clear that the powers are concurrent. We have taken nothing away from the district authorities; we have merely given to the county planning authorities the power to work alongside the district planning authorities or to carry out the same functions in starting the preservation or conservation.

6.0 p.m.

To explain the distinction, let us assume a conservation area in which a terrace has been designated. As I said, the houses there would have the same protection as if they were listed buildings.

The district or the county can make that designation, but once it is made, if any owners of those buildings want to knock them down, the application is made to the district. If it is a county matter or a national park matter, it would move up the scale in the same way as any other application to a district planning authority.

These Amendments would give the counties that right to start the preservation procedure concurrently with the district planning authorities, but to leave with the planning authorities the sole function of management of those areas. This is why I say that we go further from these separate Amendments and into the depths of Amendment No. 309, which deals with many other things as well.

The provisions in paragraphs 46 and 47 of Amendment No. 309 bear on the arrangements that a district planning authority might make to obtain the specialist advice it needs to carry out its functions in regard to conservation and listed building matters. This is an important point, on which we eventually got agreement between all those concerned.

By means of these new paragraphs, the Secretary of State will have the power to direct district planning authorities to submit for his approval the arrangements which they propose to make to obtain specialist advice in connection with listed building control and designation of conservation areas and their functions in relation to the control of the demolition of unlisted buildings in conservation areas. They will be obliged to submit these arrangements to the Secretary of State, and, if he is not satisfied with them, he is given power to direct the authority —the district planning authority—either to use the staff of another authority, which it could do under Clause 111, or to arrange for the discharge of its functions by another authority under Clause 100.

This is a power which is quite unique in the Bill. It is the sort of power which I would describe as being contrary to the spirit of the Bill and not in line with the requirements of the Bill, but its very uniqueness shows the importance which we attribute to the functions of conservation and preservation. I hope that on those grounds it will be accepted by the House.

Amendment No. 309 deals not only with what I was talking about—the arrangements for obtaining advice by the district planning authorities—but with other matters entirely unrelated. The Amendment tries to fulfil the intention to bring back into Schedule 16 all the adaptations of enactments relating to planning, and it achieves this by introducing a new Part II to Schedule 16 and deleting these matters from Schedule 29.

It brings into Part II the provisions relating to four Acts—the Building Restrictions (War-Time Contraventions) Act, 1946, the Land Compensation Act, 1961, the New Towns Act, 1965, and the Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Act, 1972. I need not go through the details of this, because there is very little new. There is nothing new at all so far as the New Towns Act is concerned—that is entirely as it left this House—and in the other cases it is merely a matter of removing certain ambiguities and improving the presentation of the Schedule.

This is quite outside the other matters which we have discussed—the important matters of conservation and preservation functions. I hope that the House will accept this as we have now presented it.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Again, we must all be grateful to the Minister for explaining what is, on the face of it, a fairly complicated set of provisions. It is true that some local authorities were concerned about the implications of some of these changes and the House should give it proper thought.

This is an area of considerable, and, we hope, increasing, importance. Every effort is being made, with Government approval, to encourage the local authorities in the districts to take a special interest in these matters—particularly building preservation, conservation areas and so on. Our object is to try to get as wide an interest in the locality as possible and to see that it is expressed in some tangible way.

Therefore, having said that we were anxious that local areas should take an active interest, it is odd, at first sight, that that desire should be to some extent contradicted by widening the scope of authority. Many representations were made when this matter was discussed earlier about whether or not it was desirable that the county authority, perhaps with a call on certain levels of expertise, should be brought in, rather than relying entirely on the purely local body which might not have that expertise. This was widely felt, but as the Minister explained, a new and rather exceptional provision has been made in these Amendments to enable him to ensure that the district authority should have adequate expert advice.

It is therefore understandable that local authorities should say, "If you are taking this power to require the district authority to prove that it has an adequate call upon expert advice, why do you also provide for concurrent powers?" As we have this special provision, to which we take no exception—we think that it is a wise, although unusual, provision—does the Minister feel that we need in addition the provision of concurrent powers?

I do not want to put it too high but some local authorities are concerned lest the effect of this provision will be for them to lose the expertise they may already have, because when talking about district authorities we are in some cases talking about very well established and large authorities with a very wide range of expertise, although I freely admit that we are also talking of authorities which have far less expertise in this connection.

Therefore, before we leave this set of what I believe to be important Lords Amendments it would be helpful if the Minister were to say a further word as to whether in all circumstances he needs to duplicate, as it were, his assurances and reassurances in this way; and whether it would not have been adequate now to leave it with the special powers he has taken under Lords Amendment No. 309.

Mr. Graham Page

With the leave of the House. As the hon. Gentleman will recollect, my own view at the outset was that listed building control and the creation of a conservation area and its control were so closely related to the powers we have given to the district planning authorities to draw the development plan of their area, or to control its planning, that it should be within their hands. But I have been convinced in listening to arguments inside and outside both Houses that there is a case for saying that a conservation area or a listed building is not the preserve of a district.

Perhaps one can use the simile of the green belt. We take the green belt to be a national matter, and control of the area is done by the central Government. I do not go so far as to say that conservation areas and listed buildings should be controlled nationally, though they are certainly national assets, but they are county assets as much as assets of the districts within those counties. To that extent I am now convinced that we should recognise that position by giving the county a concurrent power of creation.

I think that this provision is more an in terrorem than something to be used in practice. The very fact that the county will have this power will make the district think that it ought not to develop an area which should be a conservation area; that it ought to preserve it, or it may have the county using the powers it has. I believe that it will be a very strange occasion when the county has to step in and preserve this sort of national asset. I am sure that districts will exercise their powers, but we should also recognise that these things are assets for an area of population wider than just that of the district.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords Amendments agreed to.

Forward to