HC Deb 25 January 1974 vol 867 cc2050-110

Order for Second Reading read.

11.28 a.m.

Sir John Rodgers (Sevenoaks)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

After 24 years in this House I was naturally delighted at long last to secure first place in the Private Members' Ballot. Obviously I had to think quickly but carefully about the choice of subject of my Bill. The range of possibilities was enormous, but I decided quite early on that perhaps the best course was to try to sponsor a Bill which was likely to advantage everyone in our society by adding a fragment to our planning legislation with the aim of facilitating creative improvements to our surroundings. This is an environmental Bill. I know that "environment" is a fashionable in-word but it is not too bad a term to use.

Our environment and our surroundings have a powerful and deep effect upon us. The works of man, expressed in his architecture, can uplift his spirit and enhance his dignity, or they can depress his very soul and reduce him to ant-like proportions. Such is the pressure of new development today that we are in danger of seeing much of our architectural heritage reduced to rubble and dust. Our town centres are rapidly changing; vast new shopping complexes and office blocks are obliterating familiar and well-loved scenes; our towns begin to look like each other and even one country is beginning to look like another.

Our great cathedrals and castles and our splendid country houses, many beautifully maintained by the National Trust, are reasonably safe. However, our market squares and our High Streets, our gracious crescents and gentle peaceful villages, are all part of our great architectural and historic heritage. Unless these are safeguarded our children and their offspring will be bereft of the legacy handed down to us from previous generations. Our trusteeship of the environment demands that we exercise our responsibilities with the greatest care and with understanding on behalf of future generations. We must constantly be aware that every historic building which collapses before the bulldozer is lost for ever. No little plaque saying "On this site stood …" is an adequate substitute for the three-dimensional building which stood there and which delighted all who knew it.

I sometimes think we should require any developer to show cause why a development should be given permission by the planning authority. At any rate within conservation areas we should try even harder to establish a system of retention rather than redevelopment.

Eight years ago, my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) introduced his Civic Amenities Bill and established the idea of the conservation area. Until then we had concentrated our energies on protecting individual buildings, either through the old building preservation order or by listing those buildings held to be of architectural or historic interest. My right hon. Friend's Bill sought to extend the frontiers of preservation by recognising that whole areas may be of special architectural or historic interest, and provided accordingly that local planning authorities should designate such areas.

Since that Bill became law, about 2,750 conservation areas have been so designated. Some are sleepy hamlets, some are busy market towns, and some are cathedral cities, steeped in history. Others are bold and vigorous places, reflecting the drive of the Victorian era.

All hon. Members should be grateful to my right hon. Friend for his dedication to the conservation cause over many years. His founding and subsequent leadership of the Civic Trust have contributed a great deal towards raising the level of interest in environmental affairs. My right hon. Friend has not only raised his conservation banner in Great Britain but is crusading at the European level, as Chairman of the Council of Europe's International Organising Committee for European Architectural Heritage Year in 1975. Yet he has found the time to give me a great deal of help and encouragement in the preparation of my Bill. I greatly appreciate his interest and his presence here today.

The Bill has the backing of all three parties. I am grateful to my sponsors for allowing their names to be associated with it and for their support. Here at least is a measure that is non-party political and which cannot by any stretch of the imagination be called divisive. I also express my gratitude to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, who I am delighted to see with us today, and to members of his Department, particularly in the Historic Buildings Division, for help in discussions on how to attain my objectives and translate them into legal language. Without their co-operation, the Bill in its present form would not have been possible.

Consultations have also taken place with the local authority associations. I should like to place on record my thanks for their constructive approach. They readily responded to an invitation to discuss the Bill in its formative stages. I do not expect them to agree with every one of the provisions of the Bill without occasional reservations, but the way in which they gave the Bill a fair wind encouraged me greatly.

There are also the national preservation societies, such as the Georgian Group, the Victorian Society, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, and the Ancient Monuments Society, whose secretary, Mrs. Jennifer Jenkins, has been indefatigable in her support and help. I have also been helped by the Council for the Protection of Rural England, the Garden History Society, and others. They have all aided and abetted me in the preparation of the Bill, and I am deeply indebted to them.

Finally, I must express my debt to Mr. Peter Robshaw, of the Civic Trust, for giving generously of his time, knowledge and enthusiasm. He has put in enough work to be considered almost a joint architect of the proposals I present to the House.

Parts I and II of the Civic Amenities Act, dealing with conservation issues and the planning and preservation of trees, were consolidated in the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 and are as much an integrated part of the planning process as the system of development control. Since 1967, not only have an increasing number of conservation areas been designated, but additional powers and resources have been made available to local authorities to enable them to make conservation more effective. For example, Section 8 of the Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Act 1972 gave powers to local authorities to make directions to control demolition in conservation areas, while Section 10 provided grants and loans for the preservation and enhancement of the character and appearance of conservation areas.

In spite of our economic difficulties, £750,000 is available from the Department of the Environment, on the advice of the Historic Buildings Council, to support local improvement schemes in the outstanding conservation areas, and a further £150,000 has been provided to grant-aid other schemes in the non-outstanding preservation areas for European Architectural Heritage Year 1975.

It is my belief—that is why I introduced the Bill—that the time is ripe, and that public opinion is in step with us, to make a further modest advance. A great deal of experience has been gained in the past six years on which we should now seek to build.

Defining an area on the map and saying proudly, "This is our conservation area" will not of itself save a single building, although it may succeed in raising the level of public interest. The designation of conservation areas must be joined with determination, determination to take action to safeguard the character and appearance of the areas, for that is why they were designated in the first place.

Conservation is not simply preserving everything as it is; it involves a dynamic and positive approach, aimed at enhancing and improving our architectural inheritance. I hope that the Bill will provide at least a framework to facilitate such an approach.

I now turn to the Bill, to describe briefly what is intended in each of the clauses. Clause 1 concerns the control of demolition in conservation areas. One of the most important elements in conservation is the extent of control which local authorities have or do not have over the demolition of buildings. In our planning law, demolition is not normally regarded as development. As a result, consent is not required before a building can be demolished, unless the building concerned is listed by the Secretary of State as being of special architectural or historic interest.

The only other way in which demolition control can be secured is for local planning authorities to make a direction under Section 8 of the Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Act 1972 in respect of such unlisted buildings as it chooses within a designated conservation area.

We all know of buildings which, while not of listable quality, make a pleasing visual contribution to the street scene by the way in which they relate to each other and the way in which the scale and texture of individual buildings make up a harmonious view of a street, square or crescent. The uncontrolled demolition of such buildings or groups of buildings within a conservation area can at least diminish the character of the street scene or at most render designation of listed buildings pointless.

Local authorities have not been slow in using their Section 8 powers to control demolition. I understand that more than 200 directions have been made to bring non-listed buildings under control. In some cases, all the buildings in a conservation area have been included in a direction. In others, a direction has been sought in respect of a single building that appears to be threatened. But there are about 2,750 conservation areas, which means that many areas and buildings within them are totally unprotected.

Sir Elwyn Jones (West Ham, South)

Does the Bill contain provisions to prevent the deliberate running down and deterioration of buildings, which is one of the devices which has been used in recent years?

Sir J. Rodgers

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for raising that matter. I shall come to it a little later.

Making directions by local authorities is a time-consuming process, involving the carrying out of surveys, identifying the buildings which are to become subject to a direction, submitting the direction to the Secretary of State for confirmation and, at a later stage, notifying each owner and occupier of the effect of the direction.

I believe that we have now reached the stage when we should establish the assumption that if it is worth while to designate a conservation area to safeguard its qualities, the buildings within it should all be regarded, initially, as being of sufficient merit to be worth preserving. By making all buildings in conservation areas subject to planning control for their proposed demolition, we are not insisting that permission to demolish should be withheld. All that I propose is that the local planning authority should have the opportunity to consider a building in its wider setting and be able to grant or withhold consent to demolish in the circumstances of each case.

All too often in the past it has been possible for the appearance of a conservation area to be adversely affected, because a non-listed building can become a heap of builder's rubble overnight. Clause 1 is intended to remedy that by making the demolition of any building in a conservation area subject to the specific consent of the local planning authority. People talk about spin-off in these days, and the spin-off in Clause 1 is that local authorities will be relieved of the administrative burdens which Section 8 of the Planning Amendment Act 1972 has imposed upon them.

Provision is made in the Bill for the Secretary of State, if he should desire, to make directions excluding either individual buildings or categories of buildings from the scope of Clause 1. I am sure that we do not want to burden the planning authorities with having to consider applications, for example, for the demolition of coal bunkers or corrugated iron sheds.

Clause 2 deals with the designation of conservation areas. The contents of the clause are offered in the light of our national experience over the past six years. I have already referred to the fact that 2,750 conservation areas have so far been established. That is a good overall record. I am glad to say that my own county of Kent has designated as many as 224 conservation areas. That is, I think, more than any other county in England outside London.

I am not convinced that every place which merits attention has yet received it. The results, plotted on a map, are patchy. With the reorganisation of local government giving designation powers to the district councils, it would now be right to require all planning authorities to take stock of what has or has not been designated. With European Architectural Heritage Year in 1975 it would be fitting for the process of designation to be speeded up so that by the end of 1975 we could have a comprehensive national list of those places which are worthy of our care and attention.

Further, there is a case for giving reserve powers to the Secretary of State to designate after consultation with the local authority concerned. It may be that such powers will not need to be used be-because the local authorities have done their work so well. So be it. But if for various reasons an area which should be designated has not been so designated, it would be open to the Secretary of State to take action himself.

Clause 3 deals with proposals for the improvement of conservation areas. The designation of a conservation area, important as it is, is no more than an administrative preliminary to action. It is only a declaration of intent. What determines whether the environment is upgraded depends less on the delineation of the conservation area than on the action which is taken within it.

Much can be done within existing powers—for example, the restoration of buildings and the finding of new uses for them, the planting of trees, the creation of small gardens, the regrouping of traffic notices and, where possible, dispensing with some of them altogether. Especially do I commend the creation of traffic-free precincts and other traffic measures, such as excluding heavy lorries, repaving and resurfacing, getting rid of overhead lines, getting street furniture of good design and stimulating private conservation initiatives. Those matters are all within the competence of the local authority.

Then there is the question of development control in conservation areas. We should not aim to preserve these places as if they are in aspic. I have no desire to see England turned into a museum. We should positively encourage higher standards in modern architectural design where appropriate, paying close attention to the scale of new development. We should pay close attention to the colouring and texture of the materials which are to be used and consider how they will relate to the existing scene.

I confess that, personally, I am not greatly enamoured of most modern architecture. To my mind a lot of it is cold and formless. Our architects seem to be obsessed with the rectangle. There are no curves, circles, semicircles or ovals, and no exciting skylines. There is little variation. On top of that, we have boring flat surfaces and the over-use of acres and acres of glass.

Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

Like the new parliamentary building.

Sir J. Rodgers

I am not pleading for a dull uniformity, or arguing that we should try to stifle the creativity of modern architects; far from it. However, we should try to curb the intrusion of arrogant and self-conscious design in our conservation areas. We should try to encourage a scale and standard of design which, without compromising modern ideas, will enable new buildings to fit more gracefully into long-established and long-loved surroundings.

All these matters naturally depend upon informed public opinion. To help in establishing that opinion I propose that local planning authorities, following designation, should draw up and publish detailed proposals to enhance the character and appearance of conservation areas. When the public can see that the local authority is taking conservation responsibilities seriously by publishing its action plan for conservation, it will be easier to secure a public response. That is important, because conservation is a matter that concerns us all.

It is no use expecting local authorities to do everything. There is plenty of scope for private initiative. I believe that the publication of the local council's proposals would help to stimulate voluntary co-operation in that important area.

Clause 4 deals with the duty to consider the making of special orders in relation to conservation areas. At this stage I must declare an interest. From 1967 to 1969 I was President of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising. However, I am sufficiently unbiased to admit that there are many places where unrestrained advertising diminishes the quality of the environment. We readily accept curbs on advertising in the countryside and we should now consider advertising control in relation to conservation areas. I suggest, in the interests of amenity, that local planning authorities should consider applying tighter controls on advertising which is allowed in conservation areas by making such areas come within an "area of special control" under Section 63(4) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971.

Some of my hon. Friends believe that conservation areas should be deemed to be areas of special control and that, in consequence, advertising should be severely limited. They believe that it should be restricted to election notices, statutory advertisements, traffic signs, advertisements displayed within buildings, functional advertisements, temporary advertisements, advertisements on the forecourt of or on business premises, advertisements relating to travelling fairs and circuses and in no other circumstances.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Cannock)

Will my hon. Friend's Bill enable us to deal with the garish advertisements that appear in shop windows, which are often totally incongruous, and possibly with advertisements on shop fronts which we see in conservation areas?

Sir J. Rodgers

That is a matter which we will be able to discuss in Committee if the House is willing to give the Bill a Second Reading.

This is a detailed matter, as the intervention of my hon. Friend has just proved. I shall content myself with saying that there is a strong case for reducing the amount and type of advertising material in conservation areas.

Clause 5 deals with the extension of special publicity requirements to planning applications affecting settings of listed buildings. Section 28 of the Planning Act 1971 provides that any proposed development which, in the opinion of the local planning authority, is likely to affect the character or appearance of a conservation area, shall be advertised to enable public representation to be made. Section 29 of the same Act requires the authority, in deciding the application, to take account of any representation it has received on the application.

Where a listed building is within a conservation area, any proposed development nearby would be advertised and the plans made public under Section 28. But if an application is filed which may affect a listed building which is not, I repeat not, in a conservation area, there is no legal obligation at the moment to test public opinion.

Successive Governments have sought to increase the level of public participation and interest in planning matters. If a new development appears likely to overshadow a listed building or to mask it, or to intrude upon the landscape surrounding the listed building, or to conflict with it visually, or in any way to affect its setting, I believe that is just as much a matter for public concern as if that listed building were within a designated conservation area. Clause 5 makes provision accordingly and extends the Section 28 mechanism to listed buildings.

There are many glaring examples, both in London and elsewhere, of buildings that have been allowed to be erected which completely dwarf, spoil or even ruin the appearance of a listed building. There is, of course, All Souls, Langham Place, which has been dwarfed by office blocks and an hotel. There is the Prudential Building in Nottingham, which adjoins and overshadows a splendid eighteenth century house. Then there is the much criticised office block that prevents one getting the full view of St. Paul's Cathedral when approaching it from Fleet Street. Further, there is Trinity Hospital, Greenwich, which is completely overshadowed by a power station. I could give many more examples, but I think that the clause will help to alert people to these dangers.

Clause 6 deals with the cost of urgent repairs to unoccupied listed buildings. Powers already exist, having been first introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham in the Civic Amenities Act, and are now contained in Section 101 of the 1971 planning Act for local authorities to carry out urgent works necessary for the preservation of unoccupied listed buildings. These powers were envisaged only for first-aid works to prevent or slow down further deterioration of the fabric. Such works as making the roof or a wall proof against wind and water, securing premises against the ravages of vandals and the elements are obvious examples.

However, no powers exist to enable a local authority to recover any costs incurred in carrying out such work. It is possible that if provisions were available whereby the local authority could recoup its expenses, Section 101 would be activated more than it is and the ultimate costs of restoration might be reduced. Clause 6, therefore, makes provision for the recovery of costs of carrying out urgent works at the discretion of the local authority and with a right of appeal from the owner to the Secretary of State.

No diminution of personal freedom is involved. But the conservation conscious local authority might find its path a little smoother by the application of a "stitch in time" principle which the clause is designed to facilitate.

Sir Elwyn Jones

Does the hon. Gentleman think that this is enough? The clause deals with unoccupied listed buildings and only with urgent repairs. The mischief which has become apparent is a deliberate design by developers in some instances to occupy premises and to allow them to fall into disrepair while they are in occupation by the convenient missing of roof slates which gradually causes a decline of the building as a whole. Ought not there to be imposed a duty on the owner of a listed building, whether or not it is occupied, to maintain it in a state of reasonable repair? I hope that my interventions are not thought by the hon. Gentleman to be obstructive. The contrary is the case.

Sir J. Rodgers

Not at all. I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. To some extent his intervention is dealt with in Clause 7. But I have thought a great deal about this division between occupied and unoccupied buildings, and I have come to the conclusion that I can see many cases where a person living in a historic home, for example, could not afford to do the repairs himself and would need help. This is a matter which can be considered carefully in Committee. It may be that I have not gone far enough and that the Bill should be strengthened in this regard.

Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)

I hope that my hon. Friend will not follow too closely the suggestion of the right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones). When the original lists of buildings were made, far too many buildings which should not have been put on the lists were included. If there were dogmatic repair obligations, the burden upon the owners of such buildings would be intolerable. Although I understand the thought behind the right hon. and learned Gentleman's wishes, we might get into a great deal of trouble if we followed his advice.

Sir J. Rodgers

I should like to leave that to the Committee stage, assuming that my Bill is given a Second Reading. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has raised a point which requires further thought.

Clause 7 provides for the compulsory acquisition of listed buildings. Local authorities already have powers under Section 114 of the planning Act to acquire compulsorily, with the consent of the Secretary of State, any listed building for the purposes of preserving it, if it is clear that reasonable steps are not being taken to preserve it by its owners. Section 116 of the same Act sets out the basis for assessing compensation on such acquisition.

Section 116 contains an absolute presumption in that in assessing compensation it shall be assumed that listed building consent would be granted for its alteration, extension or demolition. It seems odd that when the building is being acquired out of public funds with the object of preserving it, the compensation is to be calculated as if consent would be granted for its demolition. The redevelopment value of the site, following an assumed demolition, may far exceed the market value of the building being acquired by public funds.

If a listed building has not been properly cared for, with the result that the only remedy for its preservation is its purchase by the local authority, it seems unjust that the authority should be penalised for its public spiritedness and the owner rewarded for his lack of concern.

Clause 7 is intended to reverse that situation by deleting the presumption that listed building consent for demolition would be granted. The result will be that in acquiring listed buildings in order to preserve them, local authorities will only have to pay for what they acquire, and not some inflated and arbitrary sum based on a false premise.

Clause 8 deals with grants for historic gardens. The Secretaries of State may already, on the advice of the Historic Buildings Councils, under powers contained in Section 4 of the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act 1953, make grants for the upkeep of any land attached to buildings of outstanding architectural or historic interest. If, however, the original house has been demolished, or is not of outstanding quality, no matter how splendid the gardens, even if designed by Capability Brown, Humphrey Repton or Paxton, under the present rules no grant may be paid.

Clause 8 is quite simple and would enable grant to be paid towards the upkeep of a garden—on other land—which was considered by the Secretary of State to be of outstanding historic interest. The clause would afford—I think for the first time—official recognition to historic gardens in their own right. I am advised that there may be as many as 200 such gardens in Britain, and I believe that this simple clause, costing nothing, will bring pleasure to many lovers of our historic gardens and man-made landscapes.

As Members will expect, Clause 9—the citation—is a technical clause which relates this Bill to existing planning legislation and, by excluding its provisions from Northern Ireland, establishes that the Bill is intended to apply only to England, Scotland and Wales.

I turn now to the schedules. They contain detailed proposals for the way in which the control of demolition will operate in conservation areas and they replace broadly similar schedules contained in the Planning Amendment Act 1972 dealing with the operation of Section 8 directions. The new schedules are different, in so far as they are in a simpler form as a result of my proposal to make demolition control universal in conservation areas, subject to any directions which may be made in respect of any exclusions.

So much for the Bill as it stands. Being first in the Ballot, the Bill has had to be prepared in a great hurry. I had a clean sheet of paper when the result of the Ballot was announced and I discovered that I was first on the list. There are one or two important points that I would have liked to include, but time was not on my side. However, I am hopeful that if the House agrees to give the Bill a Second Reading, it will be possible to improve the Bill in Committee and to add a few additional items.

Very briefly, I mention some of the ideas that I should like to introduce or see introduced to improve the Bill in Committee. There are three main elements at present not covered—trees, archaeological research and the living theatre.

As the author of a book on the English woodland, I should like to see greater protection afforded to trees generally, but especially in conservation areas. What I have in mind is that in conservation areas the consent of the local authority should be required for the felling of any tree—subject to any reasonable exclusions which the Secretary of State may wish to make. Damage to trees and the moving of trees which are the subject of a tree preservation order are other matters which may need some legislative attention, and I hope that it might be possible to make it an offence to damage a tree and prevent the removal of a healthy tree on which a preservation order exists. My right hon. and learned Friend may himself have other ideas for improving our tree protection legislation and, if he is willing, I shall be delighted to co-operate with him in Committee in fathering appropriate additions or amendments to my Bill.

Mr. James Allason (Hemel Hempstead)

In my hon. Friend's definition of "trees", will he include hedges in conservation areas?

Sir J. Rodgers

That is a matter more for the Committee stage. The clause itself has not been drafted, so I cannot go into any detail about what it might contain.

We should also be concerned with what is below the ground as well as what is built on it. I should like to see provision made for opportunities to be afforded for archaeological research prior to building work starting on sites which are to be redeveloped where it is reasonable to suppose that important archaeological remains exist.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Smethwick)

In that respect, would the hon. Gentleman introduce the mandatory requirement that developers must give time for archaeological investigation and that if something is found, or is suspected to be under the ground, they should provide a proportion of the funding of the operation, and perhaps some of the funding of the publication of the results of such excavations?

Sir J. Rodgers

The clause is not yet drafted, so I cannot say in detail what it would contain, but that is plainly something that would have to be taken into account. Obviously, time must be given before building is commenced if any archaeological research is to be undertaken.

In conclusion, I turn to the subject of the living theatre. I hope that in Committee it will be possible to introduce a clause affording help to the live theatre. The theatre is subject to the same economic pressure for redevelopment as any other type of building. Generally, those who manage and perform in theatres do not own or control the buildings in which they work. I am attracted to the simple idea that if a building has been in constant use as a live theatre for more than 50 years, in view of its almost inevitable historic associations, it should to all intents and purposes be made a listed building, with all the safeguards against demolition that listing affords.

Of course, a considerable number of London theatres are already listed. The probability is that the problem cannot be resolved by the use of a simple expedient such as I have put forward and which I realise introduces a totally new criterion in the selection of listed buildings. I am open to receive better ideas, but I should like to feel that if the House gives the Bill a Second Reading, we can try to make some provision to foster and nurture the cause of the living theatre, surely a major part of our cultural heritage.

Mr. Faulds

I am sorry to interrupt again, but does not the hon. Gentleman agree that in this respect it is essential not just to preserve the fabric of the theatre in any district, but to give support to the theatrical industries around, to the wigmakers and to those who move scenery, and so on, because unless they can be retained in the area there will not be any theatre?

Sir J. Rodgers

I appreciate the importance of that, but helping to keep wigmakers in business is a little wide of the scope of the Bill.

Mr. S. C. Silkin (Dulwich)

I entirely agree that steps must be taken to preserve the theatre, as such, but not necessarily the individual building, which in the course of time may become quite unsuitable for use as a theatre and which ought to be replaced by a modern building. Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that that raises a difficult and important question that may involve the use of public funds in the way that he suggests they be used for historic gardens

Sir J. Rodgers

The hon. and learned Gentleman may be quite right. That is obviously something that we shall have to consider in Committee. Here again, however, the clause has not yet been drafted and so I cannot go into details.

Looking for a moment at the Bill as a whole, I believe that if we can take it successfully to the stage of Royal Assent, with whatever improvements may be wrought in Committee and in another place, it will add something to the dignity of our surroundings and bring more pleasure to people up and down the country in their daily round and common task. We shall also make a permanent advance in the frontiers of conservation as we approach the European Architectural Heritage Year in 1975. I therefore commend the Bill to the House and hope that it will have a Second Reading.

12.3 p.m.

Sir Geoffrey de Freitas (Kettering)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Seven-oaks (Sir J. Rodgers) on his luck in the Ballot. After 24 years he deserves to be successful. Clearly, the first 23 years are the hardest.

I trust that the Bill will be given a Second Reading. As one of its sponsors, I am encouraged by the presence of the Minister—I am sure that it is a good sign. Obviously, many improvements and changes will be made in Committee and I am encouraged by the way in which the hon. Member for Sevenoaks has indicated some of the matters that he thinks we ought to consider.

For example, we all recognise that the planting of trees and their preservation are of especial importance in conservation areas. We may have to consider substantial fines for the felling of trees—perhaps penalties going into thousands instead of hundreds of pounds. Although at times it may be possible to reconstruct a building, it is almost impossible to reconstruct a tree or woodland. More trees should be planted in the towns. I was sad to read recently that during last year, Tree Planting Year, six boroughs in London spent no money or less than £1,000 on trees.

Mr. Sydney Chapman (Birmingham, Handsworth)

I am glad to hear what the right hon. Member says about the need to plant more trees. He will know that last year there was a special tree-planting campaign. Would he agree that that campaign should be a continuing campaign and that we should plant more trees in 1974? Is he aware that there are fewer than 15,000 tree preservation orders? Does he not agree that a way round the problem would be to make every tree in every conservation area subject to a tree preservation order?

Sir G. de Freitas

I should like to consider the full implications of that in Committee, but the hon. Gentleman knows from our private conversations that I thoroughly support what he says about planting trees in the cities, for it is a project with which I am much concerned.

I was glad to learn that the County Councils Association is willing to support a proposal—to lend assistance in its drafting and so on—dealing with trees and woodlands in the countryside. It is not only in the towns that tree planting is important. However, I am reminded by another committee with which both the hon. Gentleman and I are concerned—which deals with the consequences of Dutch Elm disease in the countryside—of the importance of considering the type of tree and how to ensure that the right trees are planted and how to encourage replanting. We must remember that this is primarily a conservation Bill, however, and that the first thing to do is to conserve what we have.

The hon. Member for Sevenoaks mentioned archaeology. It is intolerable that in order to avoid a delay of only a few months, we may often destroy for ever part of our history. With his special knowledge and special views on the subject, which we shall have to explore in Committee, the hon. Member mentioned advertising hoardings and placards in conservation areas. It is a feature of our countryside that foreigners always note that it is almost entirely free of advertising hoardings and there are many towns and cities where they do not matter, for the hoardings, alas, are better than what they hide, but in conservation areas especially they must be severely restricted.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the theatre. This is a Town and Country Amenities Bill and I would not go as far as was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Faulds) and help wigmakers and others to retain their establishments. It is important to remember that the living theatre is directly affected by the problem in London. There can be an assault on the theatres in London, many of which are listed and which have a unique rôle in preserving what must be not necessarily the most creative but certainly the most active theatre in the world today. At present it would be too easy to buy a theatre and to encourage it to decay and then to tear it down and build offices, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) suggested could happen.

That leads automatically to my next point, which is that I wonder whether we are now ready—I do not know—to prevent applications for demolition from being even considered unless accompanied by applications for planning permission, so that we know what we are likely to get if a building or series of buildings is demolished.

Part I of Schedule I refers to demolition in conservation areas. I agree that there is a strong case for historic towns of great national importance to be so dealt with that central Government rather than the local authority have the ultimate responsibility for the control of demolition.

I do not want this to distract us from another problem that arises in towns which are of little historic importance and are not well known but in which there are one or two buildings of distinction. Because there are only one or two such buildings they are even more important in that area. In Bath, for example, one could demolish a building in a particular place and it would not be missed. I am not suggesting that it should be done. I said that it could be done. However, in a town which has only two buildings of distinction, once one is demolished it is gone for ever and it is missed.

I hope that the Bill will receive a Second Reading and a thorough examination in Committee. It has certain financial implications about which not everyone is happy. We should improve it. Many of the points raised by the hon. Member for Sevenoaks should be examined. We must be careful to remember that it is a town and country planning Bill and we must think in those terms.

12.12 p.m.

Mr. Sandys (Streatham)

I warmly welcome the initiative taken by my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers) in introducing this Bill; and I very much appreciate the extremely generous references which he made to me. We are all pleased to see the Secretary of State for the Environment here in person, not withstanding his many other heavy responsibilities. He has shown keen interest in questions of this kind over a number of years. I shall never forget the help he gave us initially when we formed the Civic Trust.

Mention has been made of the "backroom boys" who have helped in the preparation of this and previous measures. Mr. Peter Robshaw has been mentioned, and I should like to add my word of thanks. We should, however, remember not only the "back-room boys" but also the "back-room girls", and I should like, in particular, to express my thanks and appreciation to Mrs. Jennifer Jenkins, the wife of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins), who, as Secretary of the Ancient Monuments Society, has played a major part in the drafting of this Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks explained that prior to the passing of the Civic Amenities Act 1967 attention had been concentrated on the provision of special protection for individual buildings of outstanding quality. The 1967 Act extended this protection to whole areas of architectural or historic interest. Local planning authorities were asked to designate such areas as conservation areas; and with certain exceptions, they have in most parts of the country responded well, although there are certain notable exceptions, where less has been done. To date, no less than 2,800 conservation areas have been designated. My figure on this is a little larger than that quoted by my hon. Friend.

It is of course not enough to designate a conservation area by drawing a line on a map. That is of little value unless positive action follows. Where necessary, local authorities must be stimulated. I therefore particularly welcome the proposal to give the Secretary of State powers to take the initiative to designate conservation areas, where it has not already been done by the local authority, and to call for plans.

Clause 3, requires local planning authorities to give the fullest publicity to their proposals for the protection and improvement of conservation areas. This is absolutely essential if we are to secure the vitally important co-operation of local civic societies and other voluntary organisations, local commercial and industrial concerns and private citizens. Their active involvement is an indispensable element in the task of upgrading the quality of the urban environment.

The planting of trees, the cleaning up and painting of shoddy streets, the tidying up of scruffy sites, restraint in advertising, improvements in the design of shop fronts and other such measures, which individually may not appear to be very important, can, taken together, totally transform the appearance of a neighbourhood. These are all matters which require the active collaboration of the local people.

Undoubtedly the most important provision in the Bill is the proposal to make it obligatory to obtain permission for the demolition of buildings in a conservation area, whether or not they are listed buildings. I consider that the procedure for obtaining permission to demolish as set out in Clause 1(2) needs to be clarified and strengthened. There are many buildings in conservation areas which are individually of no exceptional interest, but which by reason of their style and proportions fit well into their surroundings. The demolition of such a building and its replacement by another of incongruous design can all too easily destroy the unity and character of the whole scene.

The planning authority has power to refuse permission for the construction of a new building which will spoil the appearance of the area, but that power is not as effective as might be thought. Once a building has been demolished, the hole which it leaves constitutes an eyesore in itself. Since this cannot be allowed to remain indefinitely, the planning authority will often find itself obliged to give permission for the construction of some new building, the design of which may pay scant respect to the character of its older neighbours. That is why I should like to see Clause 1 amended so as to provide that anyone applying for permission to demolish a building in a conservation area should be obliged at the same time to submit his plans for the new building which is to take its place.

I do not feel that the Bill effectively provides for that. Permission to demolish would thus be linked with permission to rebuild. That would enable the planning authority to withhold permission to demolish, if it did not approve of the proposal for subsequent redevelopment. There would of course have to be some redress against a person who obtained permission to demolish a building and thereafter failed to rebuild in accordance with the plans approved by the local authority. In such circumstances I suggest that the local authority might be given the power to acquire the site compulsorily with compensation based on its value prior to the grant of permission to demolish.

The other improvement which I wish to suggest relates to the control of advertisements. Clause 4 requires local planning authorities to "consider" establishing what is called an "area of special control" of advertisements in conservation areas. But, as far as I can see, this is already provided for in Part VII of the Control of Advertisements Regulations which came into operation in January 1970. Under Section 63(3) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 "areas of special control" are defined as: areas which appear… to require special protection on grounds of amenity.

Since a conservation area is, in the words of the 1967 Act, an area of special architectural and historic interest". it would seem to be self-evident that a conservation area, by its very nature, must be an area requiring special protection on grounds of amenity.

I therefore urge that, instead of asking local planning authorities merely to "consider" the desirability of exercising advertisement control, the law should provide that all conservation areas shall automatically be deemed to be areas of special control unless they are decontrolled, in whole or in part, by direction of the Secretary of State on the application of the local planning authority.

Having made those two specific suggestions, which I hope will receive consideration in Committee, I should like again to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks on making such excellent use of his good fortune in the Ballot and to express the hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will give the Bill an unopposed Second Reading.

12.24 p.m.

Mr. Gordon Oakes (Widnes)

I join the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) in expressing warmest congratulations to the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers) on using his good fortune in the Ballot to introduce such a desirable and timely Bill. I assure him that he will receive the full support of the Opposition today and later in Committee if the Bill receives a Second Reading.

This is a timely Bill because in the latest year for which figures are available—1972—the number of applications to demolish listed buildings doubled. A responsible body, the British Council for Archaeology, recently made a survey of our historic towns which showed that, in England and Wales, two-thirds of them were threatened by some form of development scheme within the next seven years. Some towns, astonishingly, are not listed as conservation areas—for example, in England, Ipswich and Halifax; in Scotland, Jedburgh and Dumfries; and in "Wales, two towns which I know very well, Denbigh and Llangollen, both of which depend not only on the tourist industry and the beauty of their surroundings, but almost entirely on their historic content and the wealth of historical houses in them. Further, the council—an academic body not given to wild exaggeration—has concluded that most important towns of all historical periods will be lost to archaeology in 20 years, if not before, if the present rate of development continues unchecked.

Therefore, this is not only a desirable but a timely Bill. It will in no small way stem the tide against the board room vandal who sends in his men and bulldozers and who is an even greater menace to society than his humble counterpart who goes in with an aerosol paint spray. However, basically, they are both irretrievably damaging our historic heritage.

The hon. Member for Sevenoaks rightly puts at the forefront of his Bill the problem of demolition, which is increasing and will increase unless there is a check, particularly in conservation areas. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) has raised with me the question, not only of demolition in conservation areas, but of demolition generally. I hope that if the Bill receives the Royal Assent it will pilot the way for us to consider whether we should make not only demolition in conservation areas but major demolition in any area subject to planning consent.

There are many forces which persuade property owners to demolish their property. If they do not receive planning consent to use it in a certain way, often they will knock it down and present local authorities with an empty site. It is then very difficulty for the local authority to resist a planning application to use it in a way which originally it would never have envisaged had the building stood on it. This tendency may increase, unwittingly, as a result of the Local Government Bill, with the multiplier of rates on unused commercial property. In the case of older property which is empty, the owner may knock it down rather than pay double, treble or quadruple rates. There is, therefore, an unwitting but added danger, and if the Bill prevents it arising at least in conservation areas it is much to be welcomed.

Turning to Clause 3, I go all the way in spirit with the hon. Member for Sevenoaks who wants local authorities to improve conservation areas by getting rid of the unsightly street furniture which often clutters up such areas, which is completely out of keeping with the historical period and downright ugly. I agree with the hon. Member in his wish to do that, but I urge on hon. Members a little caution. The clause makes this a duty rather than a discretion on the local authority and we might kill with kindness the concept of the conservation areas. They will be so tarted up and improved that they will cease to have the value which they would have had if they were left in peace but firmly protected by the local authority. I am sure that the hon. Member for Sevenoaks knows what I mean. We must watch this point carefully in Committee. However, I agree completely with the spirit of the clause.

I particularly welcome Clause 7. It is ridiculous that where a conservation order is made in an area the assumption should be that if the local authority had acquired the property compulsorily it would have given planning consent for major extensions, improvements or developments. Of course it would not, but that is the theory behind payment of compensation. It is based on the theory that the owner is entitled to the maximum remuneration. If a person takes on a listed building, he takes on the burdens and responsibilities of it as well as the assets and delights of it. Therefore, Clause 7 will put an end to a very strange anomaly in the law because I am sure that it was not intended that people should be paid the full rate of compensation for a planning consent which almost certainly would never have been granted.

As the hon. Gentleman said, the Bill is amenable to improvements in Committee. I warmly welcome what he said about trees and archaeology and, if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) will equally welcome what the hon. Gentleman said about theatres.

When the Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Bill was in Committee the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hands-worth (Mr. Sydney Chapman) and I tried to include in it provision for historical and archaeological sites as well as buildings, but, although the Minister was sympathetic, we were not successful in that.

I hope that archaeological sites and buildings of interest to industrial archaeology will be included in this Bill. Industrial archaeology is a subject of growing interest, and the country has a wealth of industrial as well as domestic heritage. I hope that in Committee we shall be able to add other desirable features to this desirable Bill. I am in no way criticising the Bill. We shall seek in Committee to attempt constructive improvements to a very fine and timely Bill.

12.31 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Geoffrey Rippon)

It is with great pleasure that I follow the speech of the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) and join him in welcoming the Bill. I add my congratulations to those which have been expressed to my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers). The Bill is a valuable measure which, in his words, could advantage everyone, and that is not altogether easy to achieve these days. My hon. Friend has had valuable support in introducing the measure from both sides of the House and from any individuals and bodies outside who have made their contribution.

If I have any criticism of the Bill, it is the criticism that has been expressed by several hon. Members, that it should perhaps go a little further, and none of us will be regretful if it can be strengthened in Committee. As my hon. Friend acknowledged, the Bill carries forward the good work which my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) initiated with the Civic Amenities Act, some of whose provisions are now incorporated in the Town and Country Planning Act 1971. I thank my right hon. Friend for his observations about my own interest in these matters. I think everyone on both sides of the House acknowledges the enormous contribution that he has made as founder and President of the Civic Trust and in the support he has always given in these matters.

Some conservation areas are national and some are international, but I have a good deal of sympathy with what the right hon. Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas) said about the quite small areas that can be of local concern and also need to be protected. They all have something in common, and merit special care and attention because of the contribution they make to the life and character of the local community.

The Bill will greatly assist conservation in what I regard as several important ways. Thus, I am sure that it is right to bring all demolition in conservation areas under control, whether or not the individual buildings are listed. Demolition can be just as destructive of the environment as redevelopment, and sometimes perhaps more so. It is right that it should be strictly controlled in areas of acknowledged environmental quality. I hope that in Committee it will be possible to give further consideration to the strengthening of Clause 1 on the lines suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham and by the right hon. Member for Kettering.

Secondly, I particularly welcome the proposals in Clause 6 which are designed to help to prevent listed buildings being allowed to fall into such a state of disrepair that demolition becomes almost inevitable. This can often be a deliberate tactic. In his brief intervention the right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) showed that this concern is widely shared.

At present a local authority, on giving seven days notice, may carry out emergency repairs to an unoccupied listed building but cannot recover the cost of the repairs from the owner or occupier. That deficiency in the powers has acted as a deterrent. Clause 6 enables the cost to be recovered subject to the safeguards which are rightly inserted in subsection (3). The Government are happy to accept that improvement in the law. Here again, we may possibly be able to go further, as the right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South suggested.

There has been a great deal of interest lately in the unfortunate plight of some theatres, and reference has been made to that subject this morning. Many suggestions—some of them very ingenious—have been made on how they can be protected. I must declare my interest in doing what we can to protect the living theatre. Some of what we want to do goes beyond the scope of the Bill, however it may be amended, but I shall be able to assist in the task of protecting the living theatre with the help of the recently appointed Advisory Committee on Theatres under the chairmanship of Lord Drogheda. Some matters may be outside the scope of the Bill, but there may be others that can be brought within it.

The Bill's provisions may go some way towards helping theatres indirectly, and I will consider what further might be done to extend the provisions of Clause 6 to theatres and other buildings which may not be of special architectural or historic interest but which are of importance to the character of a conservation area. I have in mind, for instance, buildings in conservation areas which, as a result of a direction made by a local authority and confirmed by me, are already treated as though they were listed buildings under Section 8 of the Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Act 1972, for example, the Shaftesbury Theatre.

Thirdly, the Bill remedies a deficiency in the existing conservation provisions by enabling the Secretary of State himself to designate conservation areas where the local authority for one reason or another has been reluctant to act. My hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks is right in hoping that that might be regarded as a reserve power to be used only after careful consultation and consideration. Nevertheless, it is a useful addition to the armoury of powers.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

The Minister rose a little early, so I was unable to put this point to him before. We are in difficulty in York in energetically pursuing conservation because we are unaware how much we can claim for conservation from the Minister under the 1972 Act. No help is given to us to quantify that amount. If the Minister is now taking power to designate conservation areas, will he say where the money will come from?

Mr. Rippon

First, one must have the powers and then, under any administration, discussions always have to take place with the Treasury from time to time about what can be made available. Considerable grants are made to Bath, York, Chester and other cities, and I am not adverse to proposals from any quarter on how we can help to draw people's attention to the powers they possess and to see that they use them effectively.

Equally helpful are the provisions in the Bill designed to require authorities to produce and to publish plans for the improvement of conservation areas. I am sure that we all acknowledge the widsom of what my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks said about the need for a positive approach. Equally, I am sure that it is important, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham said, to see that we give publicity on planning applications in the vicinity of the listed buildings. I agree with my right hon. Friend that that is an essential point. We are equally sympathetic to the proposal for the control of development in such areas.

Equally, I welcome the proposed change in the law relating to compensation which my hon. Friend has explained. This will not destroy the owner's right to a proper measure of compensation. He will still get the market value and he will still have the safeguards that the law provides. What he will not have, as the hon. Member for Widnes pointed out, is this undeserved bonus. What the provision will do is to correct an anomaly in the law.

The scope of the Bill is wider than just amendments to the law relating to conservation areas. I am grateful for my hon. Friend's proposals to give the Secretary of State some wider powers in relation to the upkeep of gardens in circumstances which are not now possible under the existing law.

There are other matters which have been raised by my hon. Friend and other hon. Members today and which are not in the Bill as drafted, but we all appreciate the timescale within which my hon. Friend had to operate.

I welcome in general terms my hon. Friend's proposals to strengthen the law on the protection of trees.

Mr. Faulds

Will the Secretary of State comment on the prospect of making it a mandatory requirement on developers that they would give time for archaeological investigation and possibly provide some of the funds necessary for such excavation?

Mr. Rippon

As I said, I welcome the proposals to strengthen the law for the protection of trees. It would probably be helpful if there were discussion in Committee on the question of including provision for the protection of archaeological remains before development. We ourselves are working on proposals for legislation along these lines. We may have to put these provisions into a general ancient monuments Bill, but we will certainly pay careful attention to the ideas which may be raised in the course of discussion on the Bill.

I am sure that it is important to protect trees as well as to plant new trees. I share very much the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Sydney Chapman) that the Tree Planting Year campaign needs to be a continuous effort. I am sure that the possibility of a new general control over the felling of individual trees in certain designated areas deserves to be considered very carefully.

From our contacts with the local authority associations and others I believe that the time is ripe now for us to introduce further legislation. Certainly we need to close certain loopholes in the tree preservation legislation and I hope that in Committee it will be possible to include an additional clause on this subject. Possibly we shall seek to introduce one or two Government amendments relating to trees.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks indicated—I am sure that he was right—that this is a very appropriate measure for European Architectural Heritage Year 1975. My hon. Friend's contribution in the form of the Bill may be proved to be not the least of the positive achievements that will follow. We in Britain are making great efforts to make European Architectural Heritage Year a success. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing our attention in the Bill to the importance of preserving for future generations what is best in our architectural heritage.

12.45 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)

I join others in welcoming the Bill and congratulating the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers) on introducing it and on the work he has put into it. The hon. Gentleman must count himself fortunate in having such strong support from the Secretary of State.

Today it is indeed a very fortunate circumstance that we have with us the promoter of the earlier measure—the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys). We have been greatly encouraged by the interest which has been taken in trying to implement some of the provisions of the measure for which the right hon. Gentleman was responsible. That measure has been of enormous value in encouraging a great deal of effort on the part of voluntary groups who have come forward to help in the definition of conservation areas. This has become a popular and vigorous industry of its own and one which is greatly to be encouraged.

There is also the fact that, although it has its importance for some of our great historic towns and famous cities, the measure is important also for small towns and villages all over the country, including a great number of our industrial towns. The right hon. Gentleman's measure has encouraged, as the Bill will encourage, the inhabitants of those places to realise how much there is of historic and amenity value within their neighbourhoods.

There is a great richness throughout the country in small places as well as in places which have no particular great international fame, perhaps, but which nevertheless have points of quality and importance within them. This Bill, like its predecessor, will encourage those living in small towns. I think of some of our industrial centres on Tyneside which are also historic centres but whose names are perhaps better known for some grim aspects of their recent industrial history. I think of areas, too, where with the use of facilities granted under the right hon. Gentleman's measure, and with the encouragement of the right hon. Gentleman, trees have been planted and new hopes and possibilities created for lasting beauty in the areas.

Hon. Members may well have received representations from the local authority associations. I, like many other hon. Members, am a vice-president of the Association of Municipal Corporations. The association has expressed anxiety about parts of the Bill. It need not worry. I think that the Bill will not prove to be quite so onerous as some may fear. In some cases it might be a good thing if it were more onerous. There are plenty of cases where stimulus for action is needed. Any points that the association may wish to raise are more suitably dealt with in Committee.

The hon. Member for Sevenoaks said that he would consider the possibility of adding provisions relating to the preservation of trees. I welcome that. I have what might be regarded as a split mind about trees. I am revolted by some of the mass planting which has taken place in Britain, particularly by the unimaginative way in which the great Kielder Forest in my part of the world—the biggest forest in the United Kingdom, if not in the whole of Europe—was originally developed. For that very reason I am happy to support the reservoir proposal that will drown some of those trees and bring in some variety. I am sorry that the Secretary of State is not in his place, because that forest is within his constituency and there have been arguments about it recently.

That does not detract from my great anxiety and keenness to see more tree planting of various species, both in the countryside, in the form of copses, shelter breaks, and so on, and in towns and villages, and measures for their preservation and protection.

In those terms we are not so well off compared with other countries in Europe—for example, France. It seems that they have a greater richness, particularly in varieties of tree, which adds enormously to the appearance of the countryside. It is worrying that so many of the small groups of trees that we used to see are in danger. We need to protect what we have, to replant, to redevelop, and to offer encouragement to tree planting in towns and villages of all characters throughout the countryside. Nothing but good can come if some provision of this kind can be made.

I unhesitatingly support the Bill. Many questions will rightly arise and will have to be gone into in Committee. Again, I congratulate the hon. Member for Sevenoaks on his good fortune and the Secretary of State for his helpful intervention.

12.53 p.m.

Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers) on bringing forward the Bill. Having had the good fortune to draw tenth in the Ballot last year and eleventh the year before and having introduced, on the first occasion, a Bill of great simplicity but much controversy and, on the second occasion, a Bill of great complexity, which fortunately did not arouse much much debate, I can understand the problems faced by my hon. Friend in producing a complicated Bill in the short time that is available to private Members who wish to legislate.

I hope that I am not alone in feeling that this is a matter of substantial complexity, because the Bill constantly refers to other legislation. I confess that I am not an expert on the planning legislation that has grown up over the years, which to the layman has frequently become bogged down in legal niceties that leave one gasping. I have no doubt that the hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon), if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will enlighten us on some of those matters.

I speak with a good deal of feeling about conservation areas, since I live in one. I believe that my house is a listed building. The little town of Axbridge, which unhappily may be in the public memory as a result of a tragic air disaster last April, is a special gem. It was the first conservation area in Somerset and a great deal of time and trouble has been spent on that little town—it has only 1,100 inhabitants, but it is and always has been referred to as a town—during the past few years. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister came to Weston-super-Mare he stopped off on his way home to open a building, restored by the National Trust and known locally as King John's Hunting Lodge, which dominates our little square.

Unhappily, I have been involved in a good deal of controversy with the local authority about a scheme for doing up part of the town under the Civic Amenities Act introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys). I have no wish to revive the row that took place in that part of the country, but some of the experience that I gained at that time may be useful during the passage of this legislation.

I particularly welcome the principle of the Bill and shall certainly support its Second Reading. Indeed. I hope that I shall have the privilege of serving on the Committee, as there are a number of detailed points that I feel should be raised.

I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will convey to our right hon. Friend my feeling about the way that the financing of improvements in conservation areas should be carried out. My hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks is precluded by the rules of the House from introducing a Bill under the Private Members' procedure that involves the expenditure of public money. However, it is within the capacity of the Government, if they wish, to move a money resolution to be attached to a Private Members' Bill.

I take the view that conservation areas, as a philosophy, are national treasures to be preserved and tied up for the benefit of the whole community. The fact that those who live and work in those areas already benefit is by the way. It seems a fair principle that at least some part of the cost of the improvements about which my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham spoke should be borne by the Exchequer.

I appreciate that this is not perhaps the most propitious time to suggest an increase in public expenditure, but I do not think that we can expect our heritage to be preserved across the nation at the expense of private individuals who wish to live and work in these places. That is why so many other things have deteriorated so badly in the past. Even after the passage of this legislation, I fear that many local authorities will be either unwilling or incapable of taking action without some financial help from the national exchequer.

The control of demolition is accepted as the most important principle in the Bill. I entirely endorse that view. We have a very bad case in Axbridge, where a developer pulled down a building and tried to get permission for, of all things, a fish-and-chip shop. That application has been persistently refused by the planning authority and, two and a half years after the building was pulled down, a gaping hole still exists in a line of houses in a beautiful old street. There is at least one other example of that kind of thing in this small conservation area. It is intolerable. It is therefore right and proper that we should legislate to put the matter right. If people choose to go ahead without permission they should be forced to rebuild as near as possible to the original line, size and design.

I am a little more cautious about Clause 2, which relates to designation. In an earlier intervention I commented on the number of listed buildings in this country. When the original proposals for listing buildings came in I understand that parish councils were asked to suggest which buildings in their parishes should be listed. In some parts of the country where there was little or nothing worth preserving, parish councils, with obvious local pride, placed on those lists buildings which, frankly, in the judgment of many people, ought not to have been included. If we have too many conservation areas there is likely to be a temptation to ignore the overall picture, and the worthwhile places will lose out because of the desire to count total numbers rather than quality.

The proposal in Clause 3 is that local authorities should be obliged to produce a scheme. I hope that something will be added here so that local public opinion may express itself formally. In the instance which I mentioned, the local authority prepared what I thought was an over-ambitious scheme for the improvement of that street, a street, incidentally, in which the local authority itself was responsible for one public convenience and for a large modern Dutch barn in which it kept its refuse lorries, the refuse tip being at the end of the lane.

The local authority's solution was to close the whole road and build a service road round the back, part of which was to pass through my garden. I should not have been so upset about this had it not proposed that the road should cross the site of the old rifle range, built by the inhabitants of the town before the Napoleonic wars, at a time when the local home guard turned out at the back of the town hall—no doubt, after their deliberations—and practised their musketry down that unique little passage.

Because it neither knew of that fact nor had inquired about it, the local authority prepared its scheme to build a road through that historic little place. Public opinion could easily have told the authority about it. Public opinion opposed the scheme, saying that it was extravagant, and in due course, I am glad to say, the proposal has been arrested. As I say, I hope that public opinion will have a big say, particularly where an overall scheme covers a large part of a conservation area.

Next, I turn to the question of advertising. I am nervous about the restrictions on commercial property internally. I entirely accept that hoardings and the like are of no benefit. But in Axbridge for example, we have several grocers' shops, all competing for the trade of a small population. They are there because, historically, people came from miles around to this little area. Businesses of that kind find life difficult enough, and I should be worried if we were to restrict them overmuch in carrying on their trade. The very fact that they carry on makes it a conservation area and not a museum.

I realise that this argument has been put many times in the past, but it is the fact that people live, work and trade in a little village such as Axbridge that makes it the gem it is.

I have been round a mediaeval town in France which the French authorities have restored from top to bottom, and a very beautiful job it is. But it would be no more than a museum if they had not allowed people to continue to live in it. I hope that we shall not forget that and try overmuch to preserve our conservation areas. It is easy, in the enthusiasm of blocking up loopholes, to forget some of the lessons already learned.

For a long time, I have been asking my hon. Friends for more publicity for planning applications. In the three years I have been in Axbridge, I have suffered a ladies' hairdressing shop opposite my own front gate, also separately listed, I have been threatened by the road about which I spoke a few minutes ago, and a local farmer, although he did not need to apply, consulted the local planning authority about the erection of a barn, which was moved into the viewpoint of my own and some of my neighbours houses. Had we known about any of these things—there are other complaints—our quite sensible representations could have been considered.

There is a circular—I do not recall the number—which directs local authorities that they should advertise planning applications relating to places near historic buildings. On taking this matter up with my local authority, I was informed that, in its opinion, it did not see why it should conform to that circular because it considered that the development was neither material nor near to a historic building A local authority is perfectly entitled to say that, and I hope that the Bill will put that matter right, not a moment too soon.

I am worried about Clauses 6 and 7 because, by its very nature, my little town has within it a number of people who have been living there for many years, having been born and brought up in small cottages of great beauty. Naturally, they have not always been able to do up their cottages. I have in mind one place where there is a dear old lady, who happens to own the cottage next door as well. This cottage has been allowed to go into substantial disrepair because she has no money to tackle repairs.

I am reluctant to approve legislation which would allow local authorities to make life difficult for such an old lady. I reiterate what I said earlier, that Government money could and should be spent on the external appearance of buildings in conservation areas. In due course, no doubt, these matters will be considered in detail, and my hon. Friend will have an opportunity to advise me if I am under some misapprehension.

Sir J. Rodgers

I remind my hon. Friend that in the Bill I refer to unoccupied premises, not occupied premises.

Mr. Wiggin

I understand that, but in the circumstances prevailing in that particular street, for example, quite a lot of the buildings are unoccupied, though owned by neighbours of families in the town, and they are unoccupied because, admittedly, they have in some cases fallen into a bad state of repair. However, that is a Committee point which we can discuss later.

I am a little reluctant to think that the tree preservation order procedure is as inadequate as has been suggested. I am not aware that any of the important trees in our conservation area—I have one in my own garden—has a TPO on it. I feel that the procedure could be used without becoming overweighted. At all costs, we must avoid passing legislation which is too overpowering so that people are discouraged from living in conservation areas. That would be a tragedy.

I am delighted to see my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) with us today, because she was one of a group of us who recently went to China, where the tree planting programme is one of the most impressive achievements of the present Government. Tree planting need not be excessively expensive. If produced properly in large numbers, trees by themselves need not be costly. Many private owners of land would be only too glad to find space for trees if they were encouraged to do so. I know that in Worcestershire, which was particularly badly ravaged by Dutch elm disease, the county council has given a grant for the replacement planting of a large number of trees—an excellent thing to do.

On theatres and archaeology, I am substantially in agreement with my hon. Friend, and I hope that he will have the good fortune to be able to add provisions to the Bill to deal with those matters.

I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me at an early stage, and I apologise to the House for now having to leave. The distance to my constituency, especially with the 50 mph speed limit, leaves me little time, and I have a vital engagement there tonight.

1.8 p.m.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

Before the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) leaves, may I assure him, since he referred to my legal acumen, that I find as much difficulty in following the Bill as he did.

Some years ago, when I was a member of a sub-committee of the Statute Law Revision Committee, under Mr. Justice Scarman, it was recommended that in future all amendments to Bills should be textual amendments, and that we should have loose-leaf Bills so that one could simply take out the appropriate page and put in another one. I was asked how this would meet the needs of Members of Parliament when they came to consider amendments, and I said that I thought that we could manage. However, having looked at this Bill, I have some difficulty, and I feel that what we ought to do in these circumstances is what is done in the law itself, that is, to print the original provision, cross out the words which are amended, and then write the amended words underneath. Then we could at least follow it from the text.

My speech will be short because I am anxious that the next Bill should be considered, but it may be a little carping, not against the intentions of the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers) but against the Government. The hon. Member is a son of York and we share the distinction of being members of the Civic Trust, the founder of which is sitting here with us. We share a common devotion to the interests of that city and it is that which brings me into these matters.

I have lived through eight years of trying to deal with the problems of conservation of one of the great cities of Europe, and in that time I think I have been beset by most of the problems which face us in this matter. An amazing difference has overtaken our consideration of the problems since 1967 when the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) was introducing his Private Member's Bill. There has been a complete revolution in the attitude to these problems not only by Government and local authority but, more important, by the public in general, and there is a new forceful body of public opinion in every area that is conscious of these problems and anxious to do something about them.

In that time we have produced a great many pieces of legislation to give us the power to deal with them, and I welcome the addition of this Bill. There are some interesting matters in it and I have no doubt that by the time it leaves the Committee there will be even more which will help us in tackling the job. However, in the final analysis, I am met, I fear, by the somewhat dour assessment of the leader of my Labour group who, viewing these problems and the aspirations of this lobby and the great pretentions of Government when it comes to legislation like this, as witnessed by the words of the Secretary of State today, says, "Yes, but how are we going to pay for it?"

At first I thought this was simply the entrenched conservatism of a local councillor and that he should rise to the great visions we can display here on a Friday morning when we have no question of financial resources in our minds. However, I am afraid that after a number of years of trying to push first the Government and then the local authority into implementing the recommendations of the Esher Report for York, with its imaginative proposals for dealing with the conservation areas in the city, I begin to share his scepticism. Esher recommended three action areas, and all of us—the local authority, the Government and everybody else concerned—agreed that Aldwalk should be the first, as an example to show how it would all work. Nothing has yet been built in Aldwalk to substantiate even the beginning of the action area which was recommended four or five years ago.

I was therefore a little surprised when Lord Sandford came in his capacity as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry to look around the conservation area. He said all the proper things that should be said on these occasions, just the kind of things the Secretary of State was saying today. When we were closeted together with the councillors and when we began to discuss the nuts and bolts of how we were going to tackle Aldwalk, I was particularly interested to know how much the Government would contribute. Esher recommended in his study certain proposals as part of the four towns scheme. That scheme was considered by a sub-committee of the Ministry under the chairmanship of Lord Kennet, and just before the 1970 election it recommended that there should be a conservation grant of 50 per cent. so that local authorities, having weighed up how much it would cost to implement the proposals, would be able to cost it out and see exactly where they stood.

The Government abandoned these proposals when they came into office and then in 1972 during the Committee stage of the Town and Country Planning Bill, when no one on the Committee as far as I could gather was interested in this aspect of the problem, because the Bill was concerned with something quite different, the Government put in a clause allowing the authorities to make conservation grants. There is no reference in that section of the Act to how much would be paid and the Government have never committed themselves to a figure.

Therefore, we asked Lord Sandford how much he was prepared to pay. His answer was most evasive. It amounted to saying that the Treasury had difficulty in finding resources for implementing that section. Therefore, he suggested we should make use of all the possible grants which were available under the housing provisions, the town and country planning provisions, and so on, and then see how the amounts worked out. Then we should go to see the Government with the deficit and they would try to meet us.

We cannot run a local authority like that. A local authority must know how much it will have to pay, particularly when it is under a squeeze in local authority financing, as authorities are at the moment.

This is all so silly because under the improvement grant, procedure which applies in an intermediate area such as mine we can at present claim 75 per cent. for the improvement of houses. Therefore, a substantial amount of the cost of certain improvements could be met. We can also get 75 per cent. for some expenditure on roads, and 50 per cent. in relation to other amenity improvements. However, the total amount, if it were within the resources of the local authority to do it, would still leave the Government with a substantial amount to pay under existing legislation. Why cannot the Government simply say that they will pay 50 per cent. or 75 per cent. of the total cost of conservation, because in the end the sum would not be much different?

Therefore, I suggest to the Government that during the course of discussion on the Bill they should commit themselves to some kind of percentage grant under the 1972 Act. They already have the power to give such grants and to persuade the Treasury to make it clear to local authorities that conservation areas will be treated in toto for this kind of percentage grant. That would perhaps be the best thing that could happen as a result of the Bill.

However, I welcome the general proposals contained in the Bill. I am a little sceptical about Section 2 for the reasons I have indicated. It is all very well for the Minister to have the power to designate conservation areas, but it is not much good unless he intends to provide some money. As the right hon. Member for Streatham said, designation of conservation areas is merely the first step. Then one has to tear down the buildings which disfigure the area and put money into the buildings which need conserving. It is necessary to put up new buildings which have the distinction of being alive to the general shape and status of the area.

This is a vastly interesting process but a vastly expensive one. In this one action area in York we are talking in terms of £10 million. The local authority's total rate yield is about £2 million per year so that £10 million is well outside our resources. We desperately need Government help and we need it in a coherent way which allows us to take coherent steps to deal with the problem. I agree with much that has been said about the other matters that can be put into the Bill.

I want to keep my speech short and I will not adumbrate them, but I wish the hon. Member for Sevenoaks well and I am sure the Bill will be of great assistance to us all.

1.19 p.m.

Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)

May I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers) on producing the Bill. I have taken a particular interest in it because as a member of the Council of Europe I was a chairman of the European Committee for Conservation in 1970. I was then speaking as a European and I am now speaking as a Briton. I should like to draw attention to the Split conference. I mention it now because the Bill has worldwide interests, which is another reason why I congratulate my hon. Friend.

The European Symposium on Towns of Historic Interest, held in Split in October 1971, was attended by representatives of more than 100 historic cities, not just from countries belonging to the Council of Europe but from Yugoslavia, Finland, Tunisia and Canada. Today we are joining a group of other historic cities to help preserve the gems in this country.

It is fairly easy to decide which buildings are of historic interest. What will be difficult, because opinions differ so much, is to decide which buildings are of architectural interest. It is essential to consult local authorities, and particularly bodies such as the Victorian Society and the Georgian Group. I think soon that we shall also need an Edwardian Society to preserve buildings from that period.

There are still many buildings that are unlisted. Perhaps there are too many insignificant buildings listed, but it appears from the documents of a number of societies that too many which I would consider worth preserving are scheduled to be destroyed.

I understand that the final decision on preservation will be with the Department of the Environment, unless the Bill alters that situation. I am rather disturbed by the fact that the Department can refuse, stating that a building is not up to standard. What is meant by that? Is there any consultation with the local experts, who may have better knowledge than the Department?

One thing in our favour is that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has great local government knowledge, having been a very important person in the local authority world. But I should like to know what is meant by "standard" and who sets the standard.

Next year is European Architectural Heritage Year. I hope that we shall be in the forefront in putting forward ideas that will be helpful. In Lord Kennet's Preservation Policy Group's report in 1970 he spoke of the need for more expenditure on conservation and stressed the regrettable effects of inflation and VAT on grants.

Recently Appendix IV of Council of Europe Resolution No. 6, DELA/ MS(71)1, pressed the Council to recommend to all member governments the introduction of legislation to ensure fiscal exemption for charitable funds donated to or collected by such associations "— private associations concerned with conservation, so the Government might consider not charging VAT, because it hinders a great deal of the work.

Does my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks include railway stations and bridges within the provisions of the Bill? In my constituency a beautiful railway station was pulled down and was replaced by a hideous building. Throughout the country we have some beautiful bridges.

In the dockyard at Devonport, and perhaps in other dockyards, certain buildings have been scheduled by the Defence Department and there are buildings that have nothing to do with the local authority. For example, there is a ropewalk at Devonport in which there is a gallows that was used to hang French prisoners of war, and there is also a hideous office building with enormous chimneys. It may be said that we must preserve the ropewalk because it is of historic importance, because rope is no longer made in the same way, and those with an interest in hanging may like the gallows to remain, but the ropewalk takes up a great deal of room in the dockyard.

The office building inhibits modern construction, but when I was visited recently I was told that it had to be kept to show how people used to work. I do not see much point in preserving a building which shows the bad conditions under which people used to work.

What, then, should be the object of preserving monuments and buildings? I think that it should be their re-animation to give them a true function in modern times. That could be undertaken by the local authorities with the help of specialists, including architects and sociologists.

In the city of Plymouth we have the Stonehouse Association. The community has got together, and we have helped reorganise the Stonehouse area, and people are living in all the houses concerned. The Defence Department helped by re-establishing and refurbishing to modern standards a beautiful building for the Royal Marines, the Royal Marine Barracks, which was built in the 1700s.

The interior has been reconstructed to bring it up to modern standards for the services concerned.

The outward appearance of some buildings have been kept while the inside has been modernised, and in some cases this has been detrimental. I think, for example, of two interesting buildings built on the Egyptian style by Foulston, both in the West Country. The architecture of the inside, which was especially designed, has been destroyed, although the outside has been kept in its original state. I hope that the Bill can also help to protect interiors.

My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) mentioned the gardens and trees we saw in China. The Chinese have done a very interesting job in the old mandarins' gardens, which are beautiful, and they have made flower pictures. Into the walls they have built beautiful shapes—moon shapes, triangles and other shapes—and they have planted flowers on the far side to make a complete picture, so I hope that we, too, may think of constructing beautiful gardens of that kind.

It is important to carry out investigations into what was previously on sites being used for new purposes. I was horrified when I found that no archaeological survey had been carried out before work started on the House of Commons car park.

It is possible for the Defence Department both to preserve buildings and to give buildings to a local authority. The Palmerston Forts, formidable buildings in the South-West, have been well used, so when a building is reinstated, it should be put to use. Although the Army still have one or two of the forts, there is a youth centre in one and another provides winter quarters for a travelling show. There is also a youth club in the Drake's Island Fort. Those are wise measures taken to preserve buildings and to put them into modern use.

My hon. Friend mentioned the question of land. Gardens are mentioned in the Bill, but I have not seen the word "land". I should like to know whether the Bill includes the restoration and preservation of tumuli which are regrettably being destroyed by animals grazing, and as a result, the interesting examples of the ancient forts will be gradually trodden down.

My last point concerns the outward appearance of the cottages in some villages. In a village which I know well all the houses had been thatched. Of course, thatching is expensive. The houses are now to be tiled. When I put in a protest I was told that some fairly old tiles were to be used, but the tiles will spoil the whole appearance of the village. Is there any possibility of making a preservation order for the roofs of individual houses so that the character of the village concerned can be kept?

I welcome the Bill and I hope that I shall have the privilege of being on the Committee. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks for the trouble which he has taken. It is appropriate that the Bill should come before the House when the whole of Europe has an interest in the preservation of historic buildings.

1.32 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)

I hope that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) will forgive me if I do not follow the points which she made. I think that they will probably be dealt with at a later stage.

It gives me great pleasure that my first appearance at this Dispatch Box should be for the purpose of welcoming the Bill. My interest in it will be well known. It is a self-imposed duty because I wanted to be here for the purpose of saying how valuable the Bill is likely to be for the theatre. I give the Bill a general welcome.

The Bill has been subjected to one or two detailed criticisms, but in general hon. Members have said that it is an important and valuable measure. The hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers) is to be congratulated and thanked. I shall not usurp his function by making detailed references to what has been said. I shall refer to the Bill in general terms. It has been suggested that it will not enable us to undo the damage which has been done in the past. Of course it will not. However, it will enable us to prevent the sort of thing which should not have happened in the past from happening in the future.

I can give an example within my own constituency. Putney is not a place which has a wealth of historic and architectural background such as York and other places. As a result, the few things which Putney has are especially precious. For me it was a disaster when the historic parish church of St. Mary's, Putney, was overshadowed by the huge building which is now occupied by International Computers Limited. ICL cannot be blamed. It occupies a building which was built for another purpose. If the Bill had been an Act at that time the overshadowing building would not have been permitted to be built on the south bank of the Thames at Putney Bridge and a vista would not have been lost.

Unfortunately, the church has been gutted by fire. I know that it will be rebuilt in exactly the same form. There may be some changes in the use which is made of the rest of the site, but the building will be reconstructed in the same form. It is a pity that it will have to be reconstructed against the background of the ICL building. I see no hope of losing the huge ICL building although some people would be glad to see its presence removed.

The Bill will not do everything but it will do a great deal. I thought that the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) made an extremely good point. It is a continual surprise to discover that I think similarly on these matters with hon. Members with whom I thought I had nothing in common. To make that discovery in no way decreases the firmness with which I hold my convictions. It causes me to be surprised that hon. Members who are so enlightened in some respects should be so unenlightened in others.

I thought that the right hon. Gentleman made a very good point when he was talking about replacement. He was right to express the hope that in Committee we shall be able to do something to ensure that when a building is demolished—that may happen when it is decided that for the preservation of one building another one must go—the matter of replacement will be considered.

An example which can be used is the Shaftesbury Theatre which used to be known as the Prince's and which is at the top of Shaftesbury Avenue. As hon. Members will be aware, it has recently been acquired. Part or all of the roof happened to fall in and the building is unoccupied. The Bill will be of great value in such circumstances. The local authority had to go through the procedure of getting a Section 8 order and so forth. If the Bill were now an Act, the local authority would be able to act much more speedily.

The new owners of the building do not look at the matter from a theatrical point of view. They might have had some doubts about acquiring the theatre if the Bill had been an Act at the time of acquisition. If it had been an Act the profit which they seek to make as a result of the acquisition might not have been so readily apparent to them. The further use of the building would not be in question if the Bill had been an Act. I believe that the consequence of the Bill passing through the House may be beneficial to the future of the theatre in that consideration must be given to whether a building is to be preserved in its present form or to be replaced by a new theatre.

In the circumstances the point which was made by the right hon. Member for Streatham is of relevance. If we were satisfied that the Shaftsbury Theatre was to be replaced by an approved theatre, we would know that such a building would be a valuable addition to the existing London theatres. In those circumstances our reluctance to see the end of the Shaftesbury Theatre would be reduced. At the moment we have no control over what happens when a theatre is demolished.

I have in mind that when the old Stoll Theatre disappeared it was replaced by a theatre which was built originally as a cinema and which has occasionally been used since for some relatively undistinguished performances. In other words, the old Stoll was not replaced by a theatre which made a valuable contribution to the theatrical life of London. The same applies to the Shaftesbury. Many of us still feel that it would be far better if the Shaftesbury were to remain and were to be restored in its present form. Many people would take that view, unless they could be assured that it would be replaced by a theatre which would be approved and known by theatre people to be workable and usable.

That brings me to a suggestion which we might look at in Committee. Recently the Secretary of State set up an advisory committee to advise him on theatrical matters. I warmly welcome his decision not only because I am a member of the committee but because he was good enough to say that I had something to do with promoting the idea. I am very glad that the committee exists.

If the committee could be given statutory recognition in this Bill it would be the right body to make sure that any theatre which was intended to replace one which had been pulled down was the right sort of theatre. That is the kind of advice which could be tendered to the Minister, and an amendment to give the committee statutory recognition in the Bill is one that we might wish to look at in Committee.

The same applies to a suggestion made by the hon. Member for Sevenoaks that it might be possible to strengthen the Bill by giving special recognition to theatres with an existing life of, say, 50 years. Of course there are a number of theatres which have a lesser life than 50 years. But someone has to decide whether a theatre is theatrically viable. The existence of a committee and its statutory recognition in the Bill would provide a group of people to whom such questions might be referred. It could be asked, "Is this a theatre which is viable in itself? Is it one which should be replaced, and, if so, what sort of theatre should replace it?" These are all matters which can be dealt with in Committee. I hope that the hon. Member for Seven-oaks will suggest or will welcome amendments along these lines when we come to our more detailed discussions.

My pleasure in welcoming the Bill is very real. I hope to be able to participate in the discussions in Committee both generally and on the special matters of interest to which I have referred. It is my great hope that we shall see this measure on the Statute Book.

Recently I was asked whether I wanted to see a General Election. I said that for myself I did not mind when it came but that I should prefer it not to come too soon because I wanted to see the Town and Countries Amenities Bill on the statute book. For that reason I hope that we shall have a quick Committee stage and come back to this House for Report and Third Reading so that this measure may pass to another place and become the law of the land.

1.44 p.m.

Sir Clive Bossom (Leominster)

I, too, welcome this most useful Bill, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers) on introducing it. In my view it will be an even better Bill if he is able to include the three amendments that he suggested dealing with trees, with archaeology and with the theatre.

The Bill should help further to strengthen the hand of local authorities in dealing with conservation areas and the preservation of historic buildings. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) said that the Bill was a very good forerunner to Heritage Year 1975. I was very pleased to hear the Secretary of State for the Environment give Heritage Year such warm support. I trust that he will follow it up with active participation next year when I hope that we shall all make a special effort to halt the steady loss of irreplaceable historic buildings and the steady erosion of character in many of our historic towns and villages.

We have still to get it over to the nation that we all have a moral obligation to preserve many more historic buildings for future generations and, whenever possible, to leave them in a better condition than we found them.

I can cite a very good example of what I mean. If legislation of this kind had existed, an area of which I know could have been saved as a conservation area with an ancient monument called Sutton Walls near the City of Hereford. It is one of the most outstanding examples of early English earthworks. It is said to have been the legendary seat of King Offa. The perimeter of the hilltop fortress is preserved by what was the Ministry of Public Building and Works as a national monument. But the inside area was allowed to be turned into a dump.

It should have been made a conservation area years ago as it is of great interest to antiquarians. But somehow permission slipped through the various local authorities, and now it is used as a refuse tip for industrial effluent. We have had all sorts of problems there, including fires and explosions. It is a danger to children. In the summer it exudes a foul smell. I trust that between the Protection of the Environment Bill, which is now in another place, and this Bill such pollution will never be allowed again in what ought to have been a conservation area.

The Bill touches upon what I call "visual" pollution. I agree readily that there must be tighter control of advertisements and garish posters. What is more, advertisements must be in better taste, especially in or near conservation areas and near our historic buildings. There is a great surplus of signs, notices and advertisements—even neon signs. There is far too much clutter, ugliness and bad taste in the countryside, especially near our historic buildings. Industry must have the opportunity to advertise, but I believe that it can do it in a more civilised and subtle manner.

A more civilised method would be for an industry to restore an old listed building in a beautiful village or to repair a distinguished old historical town house. This could be recorded on a large plaque placed on the building saying, "By the generosity of Bulmer's Cider"—or Cadbury's or BP. Many sporting events such as car and speed-boat racing are sponsored today. I can see nothing wrong in this type of constructive, responsible and harmless advertising. At the same time it would be improving and helping our historic buildings and saving public funds.

Tourism is a growth industry. It is Britain's fourth and most important export trade. Many areas want to encourage visitors to come to see and enjoy historic buildings and gardens of outstanding historical interest. Therefore it is vital that local planning authorities do not allow the vicinity to be spoiled by bad taste or villages to become "cute" as a result of a rash of tea, souvenir and craft shops, old waggon wheels and mock-stone cider presses to spring up near historic buildings.

The village of Broadway in South Worcestershire is a very good example. It has managed to keep its advertisements and notices down to the minimum, and those which are visible are in good taste.

I hope that this Bill will reach the statute book. There is still a great deal which can and must be done to protect and to preserve our heritage.

1.50 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Cannock)

I should like to begin, as have colleagues on both sides of the House, by warmly congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers) on both his luck and his initiative. He has brought before the House today a measure of far-reaching and considerable importance, and it is refreshing, after all the problems with which we have been confronted over the past few weeks, to be able to get back to what I consider to be the normal Friday scene of worthwhile Private Member's Bills with all-party support dealing with important problems. I very much echo the remarks of the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) and hope that we shall not have an election until this Bill is on the statute book.

The conservation area concept is one of the most considerable achievements of the considerable career of my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) and is now accepted throughout the country, but the public in general are not sufficiently aware of the existence of conservation areas. Those who know and care are, of course, aware but I like to think—and I trust that this will be suitable for inclusion in the Bill later—that we shall be able to consider how to bring home to the public the importance of conservation areas—perhaps by an extension of the old LCC and current GLC blue plaque idea at the entrance to a conservation area, or the sort of sign that is used in a national park. It must be brought home to people that they are in a conservation area and that it is precious and of importance to the district.

There has been too much unthinking and unfeeling development, and I regret to say that some of it has taken place in conservation areas since they were designated. There are incongruous lamp posts, for instance, and I know of a village where there was a horse trough that had stood there for more than a century and that was the focal point of the village square, but it was carted off and a rubbishy little island was put in its place. Fortunately, we were able to get it back, but that is the sort of thing that happens. Just as things like that happen in charming rural hamlets and villages, so they happen in the great towns and cities. Anyone who knows what has occurred in Canterbury, Winchester, Norwich, Bath, York, or any other great city, will shudder with horror both at what has happened and what is threatened.

The big guns have been brought to bear in this context, but there are gems less famous and therefore in a sense more vulnerable. I am to spend part of the weekend in the lovely eighteenth century town of Louth, in Lincolnshire. It is unspoilt and one of the most remarkable examples of an English country town. Towns such as Louth can be threatened if we are not careful of their existence, just as a neighbouring town—my own home town of Grimsby, which did not have much to boast of—has been totally mutilated and destroyed by unthinking development. It had a charming character of its own and was a very individual town, but now it is what one could vulgarly call a one-off job, with precincts and shopping areas, just like any new town in the country, and with a vast supermarket literally within feet of the ancient church at the centre of the town. These are the things against which we must stand four-square, and if the Bill will give us fresh determination it deserves the support of everybody who holds the English heritage dear.

I want to concentrate on one aspect of the subject and that is churches, but before doing so, I should like to pay tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. He has come in for much criticism from time to time, and I have criticised him myself, but I draw the attention of the House to something that he has done in my constituency deserving more widespread recognition than it has had. We were threatened with the awful M54 motorway. I did not want it and my constituents did not want it. Sensible of the local feeling and determined to do something about it, my right hon. and learned Friend has accepted suggestions that were made to him, and a landscape consultant is to come and talk to local people and we are making sure that every local interest is fully considered and properly deliberated upon before the exact route is finally settled. In a debate of this nature it is appropriate to make a passing reference to that.

I said that I wanted to concentrate on churches. I hope that something can be done in Committee to make our ancient English churches eligible for some help from the State. I am not now talking about redundant churches and the Pastoral Measures, and other things with which we are all familiar, but about churches still regularly used for worship —and there are some 8,000 mediaeval examples alone in the country. The church is often the focal point of the landscape or the townscape, often the only building of intrinsic merit and of historic association and character in the area.

Yet today we have the ludicrous sitution that if I live in a listed building, as in fact I have the pleasure of doing, in certain circumstances I may apply for and properly be awarded grants—and that is now to apply to gardens; splendid, I am glad of it—whereas a church, faithfully supported and rigorously maintained by a worshipping congregation, perhaps only a handful, is not eligible for any sort of assistance from the State. This is an anomaly that must be put right.

I know that in a sense this is special pleading. I had a Bill on this very subject about three years ago and it reached the Committee stage, and I hope that a corresponding Bill of mine will have its Second Reading next week. I would willingly sacrifice that Bill and allow its provisions to be incorporated into this one if it were possible to make churches eligible.

One of my most refreshing tasks is to serve on the Grants Committee of the Historic Churches Preservation Trust, a very worthy body. It is refreshing, but also depressing. We meet every six or eight weeks and have before us lists of applications from all over the country. I went to see one church to vet it for grant a little while ago. It was a church in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. More), who has done so much in this respect. Here was a church, with a tiny congregation serving a very small parish. So much had been done by the congregation, which had raised hundreds of pounds by its own efforts, and yet the sum was just not enough.

In that instance the Historic Churches Trust has been able to help with a grant of £1,000 and that will be all right, but this sort of example is repeated all over the country particularly in counties such as Norfolk, Suffolk, Lincolnshire and Herefordshire. One thinks of my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Sir Clive Bossom) and the glorious gem in his constituency. What happens if it is affected by major structural faults? It will be beyond the means of local people adequately to repair it.

Cathedrals can always get their money through appeals, one may say, and generally they succeed, but parish churches are in danger, and the most significant contribution to European Heritage Year that we could make would be to ensure that our churches were eligible for some sort of State subsidy and support where necessary, not as a sop to lazy vicars or negligent congregations—for it is always right that they should make the first efforts themselves—but to ensure that future generations enjoy what we are privileged to enjoy. If such a provision could be incorporated in the Bill, I, for one, would be heartily thankful. Whether or not it is, the Bill still has great merit.

Even if my own special pleading goes unanswered, although I should be sorry I should still believe that this was a Bill deserving of the support of us all. I wish my hon. Friend every success in his endeavours and I hope that the Bill will soon be on the statute book, and then Sevenoaks may stand, with the Streatham Act as one of the landmarks in conservation history.

1.57 p.m.

Mr. Sydney Chapman (Birmingham, Handsworth)

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity to speak in support of the Bill. I have the honour to be a sponsor of the Bill and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers) on introducing it. I have noted very personally the criticisms that he made about modern architecture and architects and I must say that in the main some of his criticisms were justified. But I should also say that one of the heart-warming trends of political development in the past decade has been the way in which environment has become of increasing importance to people outside the House. I pay tribute to many of my professional colleagues, architects throughout the country, who are leaders and vigorous supporters of schemes for conservation.

I hope that Clause 1 will go through, but I hope that it will be strengthened somewhat. I remember that in Committee on the Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Act 1972 I unsuccessfully proposed that all buildings within conservation areas should become the subject of permission before demolition. My right hon. Friends were unable to accept that because they said that it would inhibit natural development in certain areas, particularly in such places as Chester and York where virtually the whole of the town within the city walls is part of the conservation area.

I did not accept that but we moved a small step forward and my right hon. Friend accepted an amendment of mine stating that local planning authorities should have power to designate protected buildings within conservation areas, buildings which were not listed buildings. In reply to a Parliamentary Question of mine yesterday I note, sadly perhaps, that fewer than 7,000 buildings have been made subject to the need to obtain permission before demolition. I hope that that number will greatly increase.

Obviously I am pleased with Clause 2. I hope that there will be at least 5,000 conservation areas throughout the country. I realise the difficulties of the numbers game. I know that in the administrative county of Kent there are 212 conservation areas whereas in the city of Birmingham there are, alas, only 12. It depends upon how large the area is. Unfortunately in Birmingham the conservation areas are very small. In the City of Chester there is only one area but that includes virtually the whole of the city within the walls.

Unrestrained advertising is an important problem and not only in conservation areas. I hope we shall tackle not only this but the problem of the eyesores created by petrol filling stations with their garish lights. If the energy crisis has done nothing other than to dim some of those lights we ought to be grateful for at least that. Another eyesore is the so-called temporary advertisements in luminous paint but which are in fact a permanent blot on the townscape.

The extra publicity for new development will be welcomed by all. In many cases people may not be able to afford the rather heavy costs of inserting notices in newspapers. I am still sufficiently old-fashioned to believe that the safest way of informing people about a proposed development is through the site notice. I very much hope that that will be extended.

The right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) may care, before Committee stage—and I hope that he is a member of the Committee—to read the Committee proceedings on the Town and Country Planning (Amendments) Act, particularly the debate on recovering costs from owners or occupiers of listed and other buildings. The difficulties were discussed at great length there.

My right hon. and learned Friend will know of my keen interest in trees, and I thank him for his kind remarks. There is one point which I hope the Government will earnestly consider. The problem of extending legislation to cover more trees is that it involves more work for local planning authorities. If every tree in a conservation area were to be automatically protected I can see that it would impose an additional burden on local authorities. What I suggest is that anyone who wishes to chop down a tree in a conservation area should give six weeks' notice of intention to the local planning authority. This would give the authority time to consider whether the tree had amenity value and to place an instant preservation order on the tree if necessary.

There is no doubt that the hearts of our great cities and many of our historic towns, at least in large part, have been irreparably damaged in the name of so-called progress. The preservation, let alone conservation, of much of our achitectural heritage has been neglected and the characters of so many of the more pleasant parts of our towns have been sacrificed, to put it bluntly, to the short-term economic interest. We shall live to rue the day that we ever allowed so much of that heritage to disappear in the path of the bulldozer.

Sadly, far too many of our cities and large towns have no adequate conservation policy. It almost appears as if there is a totally uninformed interest and lack of initiative among some of our civic leaders and local politicians. I must also include some criticism of my own profession. Many architects have failed to interest and encourage their clients or potential clients in important conservation schemes. We have to face up to one simple truth. Conservation costs money. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks pointed out the difference between preservation and conservation of buildings.

I am afraid that the legislation we have at the moment, the optimistic speeches and the relatively meagre funds—which I acknowledge have been increased in recent years—are no substitute for proper conservation policies. We have to face that and be prepared to try to lead public opinion towards the granting of more money for conservation. Many buildings in a place such as Bath have been demolished due to the fact that the city cannot properly afford to conserve the buildings which it ought to.

This must be a national responsibility, and it involves not only money. There is much more need for inter-professional teamwork to study, evaluate and over come the many problems of conservation, which is becoming a new science of building. Many more specialist staff are needed.

In giving a warm welcome to the Bill, I suggest that we need to accept the necessity for a better balance between commercialism on the one hand and conservation on the other. I represent a constituency in the middle of Birmingham and know the importance of sound environmental policies. The only environmental problem I do not have is that of oil pollution on the beaches. Any measure that can assist in the conservation of the pleasant parts of our townscapes and our architectural heritage is to be warmly welcomed. I wish my hon. Friend every success with his Bill.

2.13 p.m.

Mr. James Allason (Hemel Hempstead)

I very much welcome this Bill because I want to do anything possible to further the cause of conserving what is best both in the towns and in the countryside. I learned with regret this week that the last genuine Tudor house in Boxmoor, in my constituency, is about to be demolished. It is now too late to do anything about it. Unfortunately, it is not a listed building and permission has been given for it to be demolished so that redevelopment may take place.

I want to deal primarily with the countryside. The Bill involves town and country amenities and is to Make further provision for the control of development in the interests of amenity;". It is a matter of worry that areas of outstanding natural beauty in the countryside are being destroyed or severely damaged under general development orders whereby farms with more than one acre do not require planning permission for farm buildings. On large farms it can mean that unsightly buildings are erected or that buildings are constructed in what is the wrong place from the point of view of preserving the countryside

Even worse is the threat to smallholdings and the danger of fragmentation. There is a tendency for farms to be sold in small packets, and each new owner tries to make a farm of his own. That must involve the erection of farm buildings—possibly of objectionable farm buildings, such as piggeries—in unsuitable places, probably with the need to build a farmworker's house. That has led to the countryside being pepper-potted. Therefore, valuable green belt land can be made unsightly in an even worse way than when my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State gives planning permission for proper development in the green belt, as he often does.

It is clear that some control is necessary. There are two methods of control. First, there is the Article 4 direction, under which the Minister may make an order to exempt land from the general development order, which means that planning permission must be sought. This system is used, rightly, very sparingly. It is used, in fact, only when the danger is imminent. That is only fair, because it is very unsatisfactory for this to happen to the farmer. He is put to the expense of applying for planning permission and having to submit detailed drawings and plans. Also, time is lost while the application goes through the planning machinery. Therefore, the farmer who receives an Article 4 direction resents it immensely because it takes a right from him and he feels that he is being subjected to unfair discrimination, because it is put on him and not on an area.

The system does not always work. It may fail on account of time. Although the local authority may learn that a farmer intends to develop, it must apply for a general development order. The farmer, in turn, learns that the order has been sought and he may then start to try to win the race. If the building is under construction when the general development order is issued, compensation has to be paid if there is an order to demolish the building. The local authority will therefore tend to say, "Too late; the building is going up and will have to be completed". This method is not satisfactory, because the people caught by it are those who have played the game and have said, "We want to erect a building. Will you give us your advice about where it should be sited?". The local authority then says, "Very well" and then obtains a general development order, meanwhile saying to the farmer, "Stay your hand while we consider the matter", thus entrapping the fair-minded man, who feels aggrieved because, although he played the game, he loses most.

There is an alternative method, which is operated in the Glemham Vale, in Suffolk. There is a voluntary understanding with the National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners' Association under which members apply to the local authority for unofficial planning permission and obtain agreement to the siting and design of their farm buildings. This is an attractive proposition if it can work, but I do not understand how it can work, in view of the fragmentation to which I have referred.

There are other possibilities. One is to revise the general development order so that in areas of outstanding natural beauty farms of more than 50 acres rather than one acre are exempt. I do not suggest that that should happen all over the countryside, but there must be an improvement in the system in order to preserve areas of outstanding natural beauty. It is likely that farmers with more than 50 acres will operate the voluntary system.

An alternative method, or possibly a complementary method, in certain sensitive areas is to declare conservation areas in the countryside. This is already possible. In one village in my constituency a farm is within a declared conservation area. But it is fairly unusual. The general development order does not operate in conservation areas, so planning applications would have to be made. That has the merit that it brings in all the benefits of a conservation area. I have already mentioned the question of hedges. There is a general need to preserve hedges, but there is a particular need to preserve them in sensitive areas of outstanding natural beauty.

There is no need for me to dilate on the value of hedges to the countryside. For the past 200 years we—at least those of us who are under that age—have grown used to seeing hedges in the countryside. They are valuable windbreaks in the matter of conserving the soil. They provide shelter for birds and encourage them to remain in the countryside. They also have a considerable historical significance, which we want to preserve.

I appreciate that farmers will not like having greater control placed on their rights to erect farm buildings, but their rights may have to be curtailed in areas of outstanding natural beauty. If the situation is the same for every farmer in his area, he will understand the matter much more than if, as happens with the present system, certain people are picked on because a local habit has grown up of undesirable buildings being erected. I therefore hope that the farmer will appreciate the need for the suggested provision.

I also hope that local planning authorities will remember that if this power is introduced it is given to them in order to preserve the countryside and not in order to indulge in their old habit of saying "No" to planning authorities as a matter of course. A new farm building may be necessary to a farm, and it is important to obtain agreement on the best place for it so that the beauty of the countryside is preserved. That is within the scope of the Bill, and I hope that my hon. Friend will feel it is a useful addition to it. I warmly congratulate him on introducing this excellent measure.

2.21 p.m.

Sir J. Rodgers

With the leave of the House, I should like to address the Chamber for a second time. I shall be brief, because the business to follow is the Rehabilitation of Offenders Bill, of which I am a sponsor.

I express my gratitude to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House for the way in which they have received the Bill, for the constructive suggestions they have made, and even for some of the novel ideas that have been suggested from one or two quarters. If the Bill receives a Second Reading all these ideas and suggestions will be considered both before and in Committee.

I very much appreciate the presence of Ministers from the Department of the Environment, in particular that of the Secretary of State himself, whose interest in conservation is well known and who has done a great deal for it. I am grateful to him for having spared time from his vast Department and all the tasks he has to perform to come to the House on a Friday to listen to the debate and to make such a constructive and helpful speech.

My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) asked me two questions. First, she asked who sets the standards. I understand that the standards are set by the Secretary of State for the Environment on the advice of the Historic Buildings Council, on which serve eminent and important people in whom she can have great trust. My hon. Friend also asked whether bridges and railway stations were included. If I am rightly informed, bridges, as buildings, are included in the existing legislation and would be covered by the Bill. As for railway stations, it depends on their historical or architectural significance.

I thank the House again for the way in which it has received the Bill, and I hope that it will proceed to give it a Second Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).