HC Deb 28 June 1982 vol 26 cc705-22 10.25 pm
Mr. Ted Graham (Edmonton)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Town and Country Planning (Vauxhall Cross) Special Development Order 1982 (S.I., 1982, No. 796), dated 9th June 1982, a copy of which was laid before this House on 18th June, be annulled.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will notice from the Order Paper that the instrument that the House is about to debate has not yet been considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. As you know, the Joint Committee is established by resolution of the House, and, if the Committee is to exercise its functions properly, then clearly the House should have the advice of the Joint Committee, which was established to scrutinise orders against abuse by Ministers. The House cannot do this if orders are debated before the Committee considers the instruments.

The Government control the timetable of the House, and I am assured by the Opposition Chief Whip that if the Government are prepared to offer an alternative date for the debate of this instrument, subsequent to the consideration by the Committee, undertaking the task that the House has given to the Committee, the House would welcome such an opportunity.

While it is clearly the province of the Government, not you, Mr. Speaker, to decide timetables, I should like to place it on the record that it is desirable for the Committee to consider statutory instruments before they are debated. The Committee has charged me recently with the task of writing both to the Opposition Chief Whip and the Government Chief Whip urging them that before instruments are debated in this fashion, they should contact the Clerk of the Committee to ensure that instruments are debated only after the Committee has scrutinised the instrument, as it is authorised to do by the House.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am obliged to the hon. Member, but he has already anticipated the point that this is not a point of order on which I can rule. He has made his point and no doubt it will be noticed.

Mr. Graham

There is surely no dispute that what the Secretary of State is about in laying this special development order is to short-circuit the planning system. There should be little criticism of the Secretary of State for realising that in the special development order procedure he has a weapon of direct and simple effect in accord with his behaviour since he occupied his great office of State.

The Secretary of State now asserts that the planning decisions are so complex and widespread in effect and impact that only he has the perception, the vision and the sensitivity needed to evaluate the involved issues. What is more, the special development order is not just a question of deciding that one design for use in a development plan is superior.

In using SDOs the Secretary of State takes out the involvement of a council exercising its responsibilities by closely scrutinising an application in detail, bringing to bear its special local knowledge of the local scene, environment, people and reactions. For a special development order there has to be an imperative so compelling, urgent and vital to regional or national interest, transcending the ability of local councillors to make good judgments, that the Secretary of State determines that they must not be allowed to exercise their judgment even though his can over-ride theirs. In other words, we are tonight looking for reasons why this Minister knows best, better than those elected to exercise their judgment in these matters.

At this stage the House should know that in this Secretary of State we have a Jekyll and Hyde character. His record of disasters in housing are legion, only worsened, not bettered, by Neville Chamberlain, 60 years ago. His measures, aimed at reforming local government and its functions and finance, have rightly earned him the condemnation of councillors in all parties, including his own, at all levels and at all times.

However, I acknowledge his genuine desire to see that the landscape and the skyline of our cities improved, the infuriating delays in our planning system speeded up, our heritage protected, and our environment made cleaner and safer. This Secretary of State tries very hard. The trouble is that he knows that he knows best. He believes that more and more decision-making should be done in Marsham Street, and not in the town halls of our cities and towns. Our case tonight is not that the Secretary of State has exceeded his power, but that he has abused it, not that he has failed to consult, but that he has ignored those whom he has consulted, not that he does not care, but that he does not care enough about the enormous damage that he is inflicting on central and local relationships in government.

This Secretary of State is a prime advocate of competition in every sphere of economic activity. So it did not surprise anyone when the device of the architectural competition emerged as his contribution to settling once and for all how best to develop what we know as the Vauxhall Cross site. The Wandsworth council is in no doubt about what it will mean on this precious and crucial site, because it said: The buildings would be massive when viewed from either the river or the landward sides of the site, presenting a solid wall". When we hear such strictures from local people, surely even this Minister should reflect on the calamity he is on the verge of foisting on local people—and, because of its position, on the nation, too.

Lambeth council has expressed its views about the architectural competition in no uncertain manner, and in particular about the use of an SDO in this case. It told the Secretary of State that the SDO use is immoral, that the SDO negates the council's role as a planning authority, causes uncertainty and delays in the redevelopment of the site, and severely limits public consultation and debate.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Will the hon. Gentleman say whether that is the present council, or the previous one that has just been thrown out of office?

Mr. Graham

I have given the views that were sent to the Secretary of State at the appropriate time, December of last year.

Tonight those who represent the area, and other hon. Members who know the site, will talk much more knowledgeably than I can about the best use of the site. I do not assert that there can be a universally accepted scheme. We object to the use of the SDO procedure for the site. This wrong use—this misuse—of SDOs must be resisted now. If the Secretary of State gets his way, he will rely on them in the future, whenever he gets impatient.

In a letter from the DoE to councils, dated 10 June 1981, the Secretary of State said that SDOs have been used exceedingly sparingly for quite exceptional situations". He then listed the uses to which SDOs had been used in the past—landscape areas, national parks, new towns, the atomic energy establishments, the Windscale and the Calder works. Comparatively recently, the SDO has been reserved for only such major projects as the Merseyside and London development corporations. If the Secretary of State has his way, the SDO will assume a strategic role, far exceeding the limited use so far.

We know from circulars and from conferences that the Secretary of State has attended that he favours the use of SDOs to extend existing industrial estates by up to 50 per cent., and to change the use of industrial estates. That would remove local authority control over the number and—more important—the type of new jobs that would be created. We know that he favours giving outline permission for housing development. That would weaken the planning authorities' control over the density of development.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Liverpool, Wavertree)

Is the hon. Gentleman talking about enterprise zones or industrial development areas?

Mr. Graham

The Secretary of State has said that he wants the views of the public and authorities on a wider use of the SDO procedure than has hitherto been accepted. He has said that in industrial areas he is minded to consider the possibility of up to a 50 per cent. increase of its industrial, housing, and other use.

If we consider that this is an inappropriate use of the SDO, we should say so tonight and not leave it until later.

We know that the Secretary of State is in favour of awarding full permission if a developer is prepared to proceed by way of open competition in what he called, in his letter of 10 June, urban sites of special significance". We will risk, as in this instance, exposing the community at large to a development which is architecturally of a high standard but which is over-intensive and has the wrong mix of land uses.

Hon. Members tonight will argue with deep knowledge and understanding the case for local needs in housing, a better skyline treatment and a more sympathetic overall view of the whole area surrounding the site so that a development is married into its surroundings and does not literally stick out like a sore thumb.

The faith that the Secretary of State places in the good intentions of the developer to complete the whole of his brief and not just the profitable parts is disturbing. I doubt if there is an hon. Member who has not at least one experience from his borough of a developer who has been given permission but has mysteriously failed to complete the brief; the profitable parts are completed, but those that could be described as community related are those which unfortunately are not completed whenever there may be a shortage of money or a bankruptcy.

In taking the decision out of the hands of town hall bureaucrats, it is not as if the architectural competition gives the public greater influence over the final choice. In the Standard on 17 June, less than two weeks ago, there appeared the headline: Public choose big dipper". One might assume that, because there was a competition, the public had chosen the design. Not a bit of it. A design other than that chosen by popular acclaim will get the contract and the considerable amount of money that goes with it.

Why cannot we be told of the panel's choice? Why cannot that choice be defended if we know that it is only second best? Why cannot the public be asked to explain which scheme they prefer only to ignore them and give no explanation?

The Secretary of State will readily understand why councils and councillors have assumed from his behaviour and announcements that we are witnessing not only a major change in the application of planning law but the end of town and country planning as we have known it in this sphere for a long time.

The Secretary of State would have difficulty, for example, in persuading the Tory borough of Wandsworth and its councillors that rule by Heseltinian fiat is preferable to scrutiny by Wandsworth planning committee, approval by the full council, and, if need be, the full glare of a public inquiry with all the opportunities that that brings to probe, challenge and influence, for the inspector to urge modifications and then for the Secretary of State to issue his approval or otherwise. The House is being invited—unless it supports me in the Lobby—to accept that we are moving into a planning era in which a Secretary of State can ride roughshod over local opinion for a far greater extent than ever before.

I shall conclude with two quotations that seem to encapsulate the themes involved in the debate. The first quotation comes from a speech made by the Secretary of State to the annual meeting of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1980, in Newcastle upon Tyne. He said: Who, a century from now will care about the political issues which dominate this week's national newspaper headlines. Very few of these will survive as a memorial to our generation but if we take the wrong decision now, on how to use sites properly in the centre of our capital we shall not easily be forgotten, nor, dare I say, forgiven". We know that the Secretary of State does not intend to be forgotten. He will not be forgiven if he persists with his present course.

The final comment on the Secretary of State's behaviour comes from the chairman of the planning committee of the GLC. The quotation is worth waiting for. Last November, he said: The idea of the SDO looks to be in line with the Minister's view that the local councils and the people they serve are a nuisance to be avoided at any cost. Development briefs have been drawn up by ourselves and the borough involved. It seems absurd and undemocratic that we shall not be the ones to decide if any proposal fits the briefs. The man's name is Ed Gouge. [Interruption.] Hon. Members may not have heard of him, but they will.

The House should support that view. Those who share that view with us can strike a blow for local government—which is increasingly under assault from the Government and the Secretary of State—by joining my right hon. and hon. Friends and I in the Lobby.

10.41 pm
Mr. Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

It might be prudent of me to declare at the outset several professional interests. I am a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects—although not a practising architect—a Fellow of the Royal Town Planning Institute, and a non-executive director of a development company. I hasten to add that I have no professional or financial interest in the site in question or the proposed development.

I support the order, which has been introduced under section 24 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971. I commend the Secretary of State on his initiatives in promoting architectural competitions as a means of encouraging higher architectural standards. Who is to say that that is not badly needed? In addition, I commend him on his attempt to bring the development of this key site on prime land on the South Bank to fruition.

The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) seemed to have two criticisms of the order. First, it is said that the Secretary of State is using an exceptional and rare procedure that is mostly used for developments that are considered to be of public benefit for a private development. Secondly, the scheme chosen is criticised. Of course, that is a subjective judgment of design. To that second series of criticisms the hon. Gentleman might add the method of selecting the winning scheme and the schedule of accommodation, or ratio of offices to residential accommodation, shops and open space. I shall deal briefly with both criticisms, although it is important to separate and not mix them up.

This is the first time that a special development order has been used for such a development. However, rightly or wrongly, Parliament has clearly laid down certain procedures for town and country planning. Hon. Members should read section 24 of the principal Act.

The Town and Country Planning Act not only devolves considerable powers to local planning authorities but gives powers to the Secretary of State. As on previous occasions, the Secretary of State can call in such a development plan under section 35, which gives him power to determine any planning application submitted to a local planning authority.

Mr. Reginald Freeson (Brent, East)


Mr. Chapman

I give way to the right hon. Member, who has great experience in these matters.

Mr. Freeson

There is such a power in the Act, as in previous legislation. Leaving aside the judgment about the present proposal or whether the plan is private or public, does the hon. Gentleman accept that it has always been understood that the power should be used only when a matter of national interest is involved? If the hon. Gentleman checks any Department of the Environment file, he will discover that the power has been used only in connection with developments decided on the basis of national and major public importance.

Mr. Chapman

I accept that, but that the power can be used only when a matter of national importance is involved is not written into the legislation. There are exceptional and national reasons why a special development order should be made.

Land use is not an issue for the Vauxhall Cross site. The decision has already been made that the site should be principally for office use. Earlier proposals for substantial parts of the site have already been considered at public inquiries. The site is basically divided into two parts—north and south of Vauxhall bridge on the east side of the river. By my calculations part of the site has been derelict for 23 years, and part of it has been empty and unused for 32 years. Environmentally, the use of the site for a tall building was decided 20 years ago.

The district plan—called the local plan in Lambeth, but the site touches Wandsworth—allows for the proposed density. I understand that a later decision by Lambeth council is that the ratio of floor area to site should be 2:1 maximum, whereas the proposed ratio is 2½:1. The district plan also mentions a limit of 300 ft to the height of the proposed development.

I believe that the site is suitable for a tall building because of the wide expanse of the Thames in front and the desolate expanse—if I may call it that without insulting anyone—of roads, railway and indifferent development behind, That is a subjective judgment.

I turn to the development merits, or demerits, of the scheme. The architectural competition system has fallen into disuse in recent years. It is important to realise why. Clients, or prospective developers, believe that the schemes imposed upon them by such a system, albeit organised by the Royal Institute of British Architects, has involved little or no commercial viability. Developers increasingly have not used the system as a result. Now the Royal Institute of British Architects has reorganised the system and the promoter has, understandably and properly, the final choice after specialist architectural assessors have identified the best schemes in the competition. No fewer than 128 architects submitted entries to this competition, including many leading British firms. Eight were short listed, and three reached the final round. My intelligence tells me that those three were the most popular with the public who visited the exhibition and were asked to comment on them. The winner was a firm called Allsop Sebire and Happold.

The three assessors were a former distinguished chief architect of the old London county council, a very distinguished young architect and, naturally, the development company's architect. I am aware that one man's aesthetic judgment is another man's poison, but I have the utmost confidence that the proposed development is an excellent design that the public will grow to admire. What great architectural scheme, thrown out to competition, has ever been left to the judgment of a popular vote among the public in the last resort? Certainly not St. Paul's Cathedral, Coventry Cathedral or the august Palace of Westminster.

Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)

My hon. Friend seems to attach considerable importance to public judgment. He says that the three schemes that were shortlisted were the three most popular with the public who saw the exhibition. The evidence that I saw in a newspaper was that that was not the case. If it is that important, should we not have been told which were the most popular and how many votes each attracted?

Mr. Chapman

The three from the original 128 that were selected for submission to the promoters were the most popular in the opinion of those who visited the exhibition. It may be that the scheme finally chosen by the promoter was not the one most popular with those who visited the exhibition, but there is no reason why it should be. Would the public have chosen Sir Basil Spence's Scheme for Coventry Cathedral? It was widely disliked when it was chosen by an expert panel.

Mr. John Tilley (Lambeth, Central)

Does not the hon. Gentleman believe that he should know before pontificating in that way to the House? It is a crucial point. The press clearly said that the most popular of the schemes was not that chosen by the developer. The hon. Gentleman should know whether that is true before he generalises in that way.

Mr. Chapman

I am not trying to generalise. I am trying to give the House the benefit of the intelligence that was given to me. I do not know whether the scheme that won was the most popular in the public mind. The press tells me not, but surely the hon. Gentleman is not telling us that we should believe all that we read in the newspapers. I cannot be certain, but my intelligence informed me that the final three schemes chosen were the most popular in the public opinion. I cannot be more open or honest about that point.

The design is excellent. It is not an over-intensive development of the site. It will bring new life to the area and welcome rate revenue to the local authority. After years of delay, argument and decision, it is truly in the public interest that this special development order should be approved. If it is, the building will become a distinctive and distinguished contribution to the South Bank. Instead of criticising my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, the House should commend his initiative and enterprise.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Paul Dean)

Before I call the next hon. Member to speak, I remind the House that the debate ends at 11.30 pm.

10.55 pm
Mr. Stuart Holland (Vauxhall)

We have to ask ourselves in the context of the debate what is a special development order. It clearly can be seen that previously it has been used for an arguably defensible public over-ride of private interests. Initially it was used for national parks and new town developments. It is now to be used as an over-ride of public, for private, interests. That is a major change in the use of the order.

The Secretary of State, in a written answer on 5 November, said that the procedure would offer greater certainty for the developer if he works … within a planning brief that has my support. Secondly, he claimed that it would encourage a wider public debate about a range of choices and solutions for a particular site".—[Official Report,5 November 1981; Vol. 12, c. 1.] The House must ask itself who the Secretary of State is trying to fool. First, he has used a negative rather than an affirmative procedure in laying the order. It is widely recognised that the negative procedure provides a less stringent form of parliamentary control than an affirmative order.

Secondly, the Secretary of State said that he was trying to encourage wider public debate about a range of choices, but in the Upper Waiting Hall he has exhibited only the winning design for the scheme rather than the alternative three final designs shortlisted from the final eight. The next site where such a special development order may possibly be used is the Coin Street site, also in my constituency. Yet when, as a matter of routine, I asked the Secretary of State whether he would give his permission for the exhibition of the alternative model for the site proposed by the Association of Waterloo Groups, he replied monosyllabically, saying "No". Hon. Members will appreciate the significance of that. The Upper Waiting Hall is an area which most of us pass at least once a week, and where any scheme is openly visible. The showing of a model or an exhibit in a Committee room, if one can get past the Serjeant at Arms, is behind closed doors and not visible.

There is another less obvious implication to which the House should address itself. The accepted procedure by which a Member asks for permission to exhibit models should be a formality. If refused, the publicity for new schemes, which the Secretary of State claims, is mere window dressing for his own scheme and proscription for other competing or community schemes. One would have thought that the Secretary of State would have learnt from the recent manipulation of publicity by a certain Argentine general during the Falklands war that Government control of publicity becomes incredible to most people most of the time. Indeed, if the Secretary of State wishes to avoid being known as the General Heseltieri of this and other schemes subject to his new use of special development orders, he should not veto what presumably he considers to be the bad news of community alternatives.

Besides, when the Secretary of State talks of wider choices and solutions, we must ask whose choice and whose solutions? The answer is simple: "the developer's". Certainly, eight designs were exhibited. Three were shortlisted. But the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) failed to say that it was the developer alone who chose the winning scheme. Members of the public visiting the exhibition on site were invited to express their preference, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) has made plain, the results of their choice have never been published. As the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet seems to be unclear on the matter, Arunbridge Limited, the company concerned, according to the report in The Standard of 17 June, refused to say which scheme had gained public support. It said: That is confidential and will not be revealed until such time as we decide". So where is the great public debate that we wanted and that the Secretary of State assured the House on 5 November we would have?

Mr. Chapman

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that, as the client decides whether to build a building, he should decide who designs the building, without any architectural competition, which is better than having open international architectural competition? Do the results show that that is better?

Mr. Holland

The hon. Gentleman leads me to my next point. What is the nature of the competition? What are the criteria for such forms of competition? They are not public or social criteria. They are not integrated with the area or with the riverside, which is a crucial inner London area. Nor are they related to the community. The criteria are purely visual. They are purely design criteria.

The Secretary of State claimed, in justification of the orders, that they would speed up public development. But the developer only must begin work on the site within five years. Where is the speed-up there? Also, despite the fact that he is allowed to choose the winning scheme, he is not obliged to use the architects for the winning scheme. In other words, the architects are paid a fee to withdraw from the scheme. As a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects, the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet should be well aware that the way in which the scheme has been forwarded has given rise to controversy in the RIBA.

The core of the objection to the scheme lies in its implications for town and country planning procedure. It is claimed that planning procedures take time. I have already pointed out that we may have to wait five years before ground is broken on the scheme. We must also take into account the fact that there is no obligation on the developer to complete the scheme as one unit. Anyone who considers the second paragraph of the order will see that a developer could begin with zone one without also having to undertake to complete zone five. The operation could be spun out over more than five years. The time argument in that respect, therefore, does not wash. And planning procedures at least have the merit of involving the local community in the wider social issue.

Conservative Members seem to be remarkably sanguine in their support of the present use of special development orders. I draw to their attention the fact that the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), when he was Secretary of State for the Environment between 1970 and 1972, had the merit of accepting the concept of development plans of which the Waterloo district plan was the prototype. That plan moved progressively towards involving local communities with local councils in alternative schemes for a site as part of a strategic use of land in a given area.

Even the last use of a special development order for the site of the Windscale power station followed a public inquiry into the specific proposals, unlike the present scheme which is not associated with a public inquiry or consultation with local authorities or witih local community or amenity groups.

In that connection, the Vauxhall Society has submitted to the Secretary of State in writing its opposition both to the procedure for and the specific use of the site. It has drawn attention to the fact that it will have an excessively high plot ratio, and to the fact that it proposes a further extension of the continuous physical barrier that has been created by post-war development along the Albert Embankment. It is concerned about the indequate provision of public open space which it believes should form a substantial proportion of the developed site, and also that the riverside walk is token and does not compensate in terms of area for the loss of existing public foreshore. The Thames Conservation Society has also forcefully made that point. The Vauxhall Society also objects to the fact that there has been no real consideration of the problems of pedestrian circulation in an area where there is already a heavily congested traffic junction and to the fact that the buildings, in the main extremely expensive accommodation, will be for speculative lettings.

Those issues cannot be debated reasonably or in detail in the time that is available today. They are the heart and substance of the local planning inquiry into this scheme that should have but has not taken place.

The Vauxhall Cross Amenity Trust opposed such a scheme with large slab-like buildings that would form massive and forbidding barriers. It would like to see the Vauxhall Bridge sites developed as lively and well-used centres, not only during the office working day but at other times. It is also doubtful about the adequacy of the road arrangements. But again, we cannot consider these issues adequately in this debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton points out that even Tory Wandsworth is opposed to the scheme.

Without exaggeration, if special development orders are used in this selective way by negative procedures in the House it is not automatic that they will be debated, they have to be prayed against. They have been used rarely and have not been used in this context at all, so the practice is not entirely clear. But if an individual hon. Member prays against the use of such a special development order there may be no guarantee that the matter will be debated in the House.

Indeed, no local authority in any major conurbation can be guaranteed that it can proceed with a strategic plan for its area if the Secretary of State unilaterally uses such special development orders. That means the end of the Town and Country Planning Act 1947, and its subsequent amendments, as we know it. The thrust and essence of the Act is that there should be consultation on a strategic plan. But with SDOs there is no strategic plan and no consultation. If the Secretary of State had the courage of his convictions, not only would he have come to the House to face these arguments but he would have come with an amendment to the Town and Country Planning Act, to make plain and try to justify why he is using special development orders in this way.

Mr. John Heddle (Lichfield and Tamworth)

The hon. Gentleman is well known in his constituency and elsewhere for his interest in creating jobs and homes in his constituency. How many jobs does he think 1.15 million sq ft of office accommodation will provide and how many homes for his constituents will 260,000 sq ft of residential accommodation provide? More particularly, how many jobs for the construction industry will the project create?

Mr. Holland

If the Secretary of State for the Environment were interested in creating jobs in the construction industry he would be aware that in England and Wales less than 7 per cent. of council housing is constructed by direct labour departments. About 93 per cent. is constructed by private contractors. There is massive unemployment of about one-third of a million construction workers because the Secretary of State has axed the council housing programme.

But this housing will not provide accommodation for my constituents. If the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Heddle) had anything other than a passing acquaintance with Vauxhall Cross or the Vauxhall area, he would realise that in the main my constituents do not come into the social class who can afford the penthouse-type accommodation being offered.

The hon. Gentleman should also note this fact. It is precisely the local community groups in my constituency which have made it plain to me that it is not people from Lambeth alone who are employed in office developments in Lambeth. Contract cleaners, for example, employed in major office developments, come from a wide catchment area. The hon. Gentleman cannot argue that the development will benefit my constituents. Not a single constituent—despite one or two sitting on the Government Benches—has written to me in support of the scheme. Every local community group and association opposes it.

Mr. Tilley

To assume, as Conservative Members do, that if an office block is built it is tenanted is a hoax. If we continue to create that amount of office space we may have empty Green Giants for the next 30 years.

Mr. Holland

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point.

Among the many monosyllabic replies that I have had from the Secretary of State for the Environment was one following a question I had asked him whether he had made any estimate of the overall demand and supply for office space in the Greater London area. In his reply the Secretary of State simply said "No". So there is no evaluation on these sites or sites at Coin Street and Hays Wharf, whether office development, which may go through by special development orders if not challenged by the House, will be tenanted. There is an increase of 10 per cent. in the office stock in Central London, whereas evidence of application of new technology in office use shows that office staff may be reduced by between 15 and 30 per cent. by the introduction of word processors and data processors.

If it were a private matter the Secretary of State could make an error of judgment in relation to one site. If it is cumulative, he will make it in relation to the property industry as a whole. Those hon. Members on the Government Benches supporting the property developers' lobby who see only the upswing of the cycle, are taken for a ride and then let down in the slump often lose not only their money but that of other people.

It is noticeable that Mr. Ronnie Lyons, who is the agent for the site, notoriously went bankrupt during the last blow-out of the property boom leaving unredeemed debts of over £30 million. We understand that he has certain Middle East finance from one source only through Artoc Ltd. based responsibly in the Bahamas. What will happen to the scheme—

Sir Frederick Burden (Gillingham)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Are we not dealing with the order, and does not what the hon. Gentleman is saying go far beyond the terms of the order?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The order deals with the desirability of permitted development of the kind envisaged. A large number of developments are in fact envisaged.

Mr. Holland

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because my point refers to this specific site, and the developer, to whose bankruptcy I have referred, is involved with the site. We understand that he has only one source of finance—perhaps the Under-Secretary will correct that. What will happen if the financier pulls the rug from under him in the middle of the scheme if Mr. Lyons wants to go ahead with all the zones in the site, especially when his backers see how foolish the Secretary of State is to believe that office development is a sound investment, when within the last decade we saw that market collapse?

These issues are both specific to the site and of general interest. The way to proceed with such sites is not to kick the local community in the teeth but to show that the Secretary of State is prepared to have a fuller involvement of the community by wider and more extensive debate.

In inner city areas low-hope has given way to no-hope for many people. The Secretary of State has drawn attention, in relation to the events of Brixton and Toxteth, to the importance of preserving viable communities in inner city areas. What is the point of local community groups attending meetings where they draft, amend and argue proposals for the area, as the Vauxhall Society and the Vauxhall Amenity Trust have done, if the Secretary of State can descend like some dark angel and tell them that it was a waste of time and that they might as well pack up and go home?

The Secretary of State believes that he has some relationship to Sir Christopher Wren for the beautification of some of our inner city areas. I suggest that another bird is more appropriate as a metaphor—the bird of prey that seeks rich pickings from other's killings. In this case it is an alleged killing in the property market which the Secretary of State has made possible by giving greater certainty to the developer.

Many people have summarised these issues, but apart from the coverage in the press— The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph and the Financial Times question the whole use of SDOs—Spike Milligan is probably closer to the mark in the statement he made to a press conference here today. He said: The winning design, for all the Secretary of State's aspirations, has all the charisma of an out-of-order telephone box".

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)

I hope that the hon. Gentleman realises that he is driving hon. Members into a Lobby that they may not wish to go through and is taking up time that others might use more profitably.

Mr. Holland

If Conservative Members had not sought to hold up a short debate by inviting me to reply to their points, my contribution would have been finished much earlier. The hon. Gentleman has a great concern for issues such as London's skyline and he should not seek to excuse himself on this crucial vote by referring to what one other hon. Member has said. That would be a shoddy excuse.

Mr. Milligan also said: If this scheme is architecture, the Brigade of Guards are Boy Scouts". I commend his judgment to the House, and I urge hon. Members to support the prayer to annul a scandalous and indefensible order.

11.15 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Sir George Young)

Hon. Members have criticised the order for three main reasons. First, some do not like the scheme that has been selected, secondly, there is disagreement with the land use strategy for the sites in question, and the third objection is the SDO procedure used by the Government. I will try in the time available to deal with those principal objections.

The scheme emerged from a competition which was open to all architects registered in the United Kingdom. Normally, the developer would have selected his own architect and there would have been no element of choice or competition in the design of the site. The promoters set up the competition with the guidance of the Royal Institute of British Architects, using one of its formats for competitions. It was organised in detail and run by a panel of assessors.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) said, four invitations were issued to join the panel of assessors—two to distinguished independent architects nominated by the RIBA, one to the developer's architect and one to the local planning authority, Lambeth council, to nominate one of its officers. Lambeth council, control of which has happily changed hands, decided that it did not want to be involved in the competition.

The format selected for the competition was that termed "promoter choice" by the RIBA. It is a format designed to achieve the advantages of the competition system in producing choice, and allowing new ideas and talent to surface, without the likelihood of the competition throwing up a winning design which is uneconomic or impracticable to build.

All architects registered in the United Kingdom were eligible for the competition and 128 entered, investing considerable effort in the process. The assessors, among which the developer's architect was in a minority, chose a short list of eight who went on to the second stage of the competition, working up their designs in more detail. These were put on display, giving the public the opportunity to pass on their comments to the assessors, who selected the three schemes that they thought best—and all worthy of the site. From there, the developer chose the winning design. There is no way of producing a scheme that is acceptable to every hon Member, but great efforts have been made to enable a high quality and practical scheme to emerge.

Mr. Graham

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir George Young

I must try to answer the many points made in the debate. If the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) had not taken so much time, it might have been possible for me to give way.

The second line of opposition that I referred to was land use. As my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet said, in terms of the statutory planning process, the appropriate use of this site had been exceptionally clearly established before the competition was launched. As hon. Members have already explained the site has until recently been considered in three separate parts: the European Ferries site, the Effra site, and the cold store upstream of that.

All the sites have been used for industrial purposes, but since those uses disappeared the sites have been earmarked for offices or public buildings, with pedestrian access to the riverside and open space beside it. The framework is set out in the Greater London development plan approved by the then Secretary of State in 1976. Lambeth council's Waterloo district plan, which the council adopted in 1977, provided a more detailed interpretation of the GLDP. It recognised that all the sites were suitable for office development, subject to detailed design constraints and the provision of riverside open space, some residential accommodation and other facilities for the benefit of the public. The GLDP and the Waterloo district plan are statutory documents that have had to go through substantial consultation procedures. Lambeth Council has also published more detailed, though non-statutory, guidance for the development of the Effra and European Ferries site.

The brief for the competition was drawn up by the panel of assessors, and it incorporated all this planning background. All the competitors received copies of Lambeth council's design guides for the European Ferries and Effra sites. They were given the inspectors' reports on the two public inquiries, which incorporated full accounts of Lambeth council's and the GLC's evidence about those sites. They were also sent my right hon. Friend's decision letters on the applications considered at one of the inquiries. The brief also benefited from the detailed discussions that Arunbridge Limited had already had with Lambeth council about the Effra site.

Mr. Cormack

Does my hon. Friend agree that there would have been a more satisfactory context for the competition if the Skyline Protection Bill had become law? I introduced that Bill with support from hon. Members in all parts of the House and several members of the present Government, but it was talked out by Labour Members. Does he agree that there is a great need for protection of the skyline and that there would have been a happier result if that, or a similar Bill, had been enacted?

Sir George Young

I have no doubt that my hon. Friend's Bill had considerable merit. It is a matter of regret that it did not reach the statute book.

As regards the skyline, the GLC and Lambeth council have indicated that their interpretation of high buildings policy is that buildings should not be higher than 300 ft. The maximum height of buildings permitted by the order is 280 ft, so it is within the strategy of the GLC and Lambeth council.

The land use issues have already been settled in accordance with the statutory development plan, and efforts have been made to meet the detailed concerns of Lambeth council and the GLC.

The third point to emerge from the debate is as to the use of special development orders. The provisions for making development orders have been an integral part of the planning system from the beginning. They can be made either in the form of general development orders, applying throughout England and Wales, or in the form of special development orders, applicable only to specified land. They have been used for a variety of purposes—to introduce special planning regimes in environmentally sensitive areas, to grant permission for development in new towns, and to permit development in certain areas.

The use of SDOs to grant planning permission for specific sites has been rare. The latest precedent is the order permitting the construction of the Windscale development, made by the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) in 1978.

This is the first time that an order has been used to grant planning permission in such detail. Before the competition was proposed, my right hon. Friend circulated a consultation paper exploring the scope for wider use of the SDO procedure in improving the operation of the planning system. This is an example of one of the possibilities floated in the consultation paper.

When the idea of a competition was put to my right hon. Friend, we faced an almost classic case of the stagnation that the existing system can sometimes produce—an important site, most of which had been virtually derelict for a quarter of a century and the future of which was interminably debated.

The time had clearly come for quick and decisive action. The SDO procedure offered the possibility of substantial savings in time compared with the alternative of leaving the owners of the site to make another planning application after the competition had run to its conclusion, with the possibility of yet another public inquiry before the future of the site was decided. A decision to proceed by SDO, provided that a suitable scheme emerged, also meant that, instead of having to wait until the final proposal came before him after a long process, my right hon. Friend was able to make a contribution to the planning background of the competition brief by seeing that it was in general conformity with the development plan and the views expressed in his decision letter.

Criticism of the SDO procedure as being undemocratic is misplaced. It is important that we make the right comparison. We should not be comparing the SDO procedure with the procedure for handling a planning application of purely local significance. This is a site of national significance. A feature of the planning system has always been that the Secretary of State has the power to call in applications of wider than local significance for his own decision. Major sites on the banks of the Thames have been judged to be of broader significance. Coin Street, Hays Wharf and the "Green Giant" provide examples. Therefore, decisions on sites of national importance will generally be taken by the Secretary of State on his own, although he is ultimately answerable to Parliament, rather than by the local authority which is answerable to the local community.

Mr. Cryer

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir George Young

No. I must make more progress.

When the SDO procedure is used, the decision is for Parliament directly. In this case, the local community has been involved. The community's views have been explored in the preparation of the statutory development plan and at two public inquiries. During the competition, the public had the opportunity to comment on the eight short listed schemes.

Normally, like the local planning authority or the Secretary of State, one is presented with only one option to accept or reject. I regret Lambeth council's decision not to participate fully in the competition process, but it was the council's decision. I have to reject what was said by the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham). The Secretary of State was not seeking to impose his own taste on London. It would be indefensible for an individual to seek to impose his personal views in that way. The chosen scheme has emerged from a rigorous process organised by a panel of experts. The Secretary of State had no part in the selection process. Not everyone likes the scheme that has emerged from that process—

Mr. Cryer


Sir George Young

I may give way in a moment. I wish to finish this part of my speech.

I think that universal experience in the planning system is that it is infinitely easier to obtain objections than support. It was suggested that the developer might undertake the profitable part of the scheme and abandon the rest of it. If hon. Members study the order, they will see how tightly the developer is bound to implement the approved scheme. Phasing conditions have been built into the permission, so that no offices can be occupied until a major section of the river wall has been built and the housing and other parts of the scheme in that phase have been completed.

Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)

Is there a fee for an SDO in the same way as there would be a fee for a planning application?

Sir George Young

I understand that a fee does not arise in this case.

We have an opportunity to end 25 years of uncertainty and dereliction with a scheme of high architectural quality which meets the conditions of the approved development plan. When the scheme is completed, the offices will provide employment for 5,000 or 6,000 people with another 200 jobs in the shops.

The development will provide a great deal for the general public. It will provide 1,800 ft of riverside wall and walk from Albert Embankment, where the riverside walk at present stops, at Alembic House, right through to, under and beyond Vauxhall Bridge. If the two sites had been developed separately, the length of walk and wall in front of the existing buildings linking Albert Embankment with this development might have been delayed indefinitely. While the scheme is being built, it will provide the construction industry with work of value approaching £100 million at today's prices. That will require the employment of about 1,000 people for five years, if that is the time within which the scheme is completed.

Mr. Moate

I welcome the speed of decision making. Can my hon. Friend give me one good reason why I should now vote for a scheme against which as a member of the public, I voted and expressed a view in favour of another?

Sir George Young

I have explained the precautions taken to ensure that a scheme of the highest architectural quality emerged. I regret that it did not command the support of my hon. Friend. That is not the choice facing my hon. Friend. The choice is that if the order does not go through, there will be no development on this site.

I say to the hon. Member for Edmonton that if this development is a memorial to my right hon. Friend, the site as it now is is a monument and memorial to the Opposition. More years of delay, more haggling and more blight should not be tolerated by the House. I urge my hon. Friend's to reject the prayer.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 86, Noes 132.

Division No. 247] [11.30 pm
Alton, David Davis, Terry (B'ham, Stechf'd)
Anderson, Donald Deakins, Eric
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)
Ashton, Joe Dixon, Donald
Atkinson, N. (H'gey,) Dormand, Jack
Beith, A. J. Douglas, Dick
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Dubs, Alfred
Brown, Ronald W. (H'ckn'y S) Duffy, A. E. P.
Campbell-Savours, Dale Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Ellis, R. (NE D'bysh're)
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S) Evans, John (Newton)
Cohen, Stanley Field, Frank
Cook, Robin F. Foster, Derek
Cryer, Bob Fraser, J. (Lamb'th, N'w'd)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Davidson, Arthur Freud, Clement
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Graham, Ted Prescott, John
Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife) Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Race, Reg
Haynes, Frank Richardson, Jo
Holland, S. (L'b'th, Vauxh'll) Robertson, George
Homewood, William Roper, John
Howells, Geraint Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
Huckfield, Les Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Sandelson, Neville
Leighton, Ronald Sheerman, Barry
Lyons, Edward (Bradf'd W) Skinner, Dennis
McCartney, Hugh Snape, Peter
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Soley, Clive
McElhone, Frank Spearing, Nigel
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Stallard, A. W.
McKelvey, William Strang, Gavin
McNamara, Kevin Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
McWilliam, John Tilley, John
Marks, Kenneth Welsh, Michael
Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) White, Frank R.
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Woodall, Alec
Newens, Stanley Woolmer, Kenneth
Ogden, Eric Wrigglesworth, Ian
O'Neill, Martin Wright, Sheila
Palmer, Arthur
Park, George Tellers for the Ayes:
Parry, Robert Mr. George Morton and
Pitt, William Henry Mr. Geoffrey Robinson.
Aitken, Jonathan Budgen, Nick
Alexander, Richard Burden, Sir Frederick
Ancram, Michael Cad bury, Jocelyn
Arnold, Tom Carlisle, John (Luton West)
Aspinwall, Jack Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Atkins, Robert(Preston N) Chapman, Sydney
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n)
Benyon, Thomas (A'don) Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Berry, Hon Anthony Cope, John
Best, Keith Costain, Sir Albert
Bevan, David Gilroy Cranborne, Viscount
Blackburn, John Crouch, David
Boscawen, Hon Robert Dorrell, Stephen
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Bright, Graham Dover, Denshore
Brinton, Tim Dunn, Robert (Dartford)
Brittan, Rt. Hon. Leon Durant, Tony
Brooke, Hon Peter Dykes, Hugh
Brotherton, Michael Eggar, Tim
Bruce-Gardyne, John Elliott, Sir William
Emery, Sir Peter Normanton, Tom
Faith, Mrs Sheila Onslow, Cranley
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Page, Richard (SW Herts)
Fletcher-Cooke, Sir Charles Parris, Matthew
Garel-Jones, Tristan Pattie, Geoffrey
Goodhew, Sir Victor Percival, Sir Ian
Goodlad, Alastair Proctor, K. Harvey
Gow, Ian Rathbone, Tim
Griffiths, Peter Portsm'th N) Renton, Tim
Gummer, John Selwyn Rhodes James, Robert
Hamilton, Hon A. Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Haselhurst, Alan Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Hawksley, Warren Rifkind, Malcolm
Henderson, Barry Rossi, Hugh
Hicks, Robert Rumbold, Mrs A. C. R.
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Shelton, William (Streatham)
Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Skeet, T. H. H.
King, Rt Hon Tom Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lamont, Norman Speller, Tony
Latham, Michael Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Lawrence, Ivan Stanbrook, Ivor
Lester, Jim (Beeston) Stanley, John
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Stevens, Martin
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Stradling Thomas, J.
Loveridge, John Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Luce, Richard Temple-Morris, Peter
Lyell, Nicholas Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
McCrindle, Robert Thompson, Donald
Macfarlane, Neil Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)
MacGregor, John Thornton, Malcolm
Major, John Townend, John (Bridlington)
Marlow, Antony Trippier, David
Mather, Carol van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Mills, Iain (Meriden) Waddington, David
Miscampbell, Norman Waldegrave, Hon William
Moate, Roger Warren, Kenneth
Morgan, Geraint Watson, John
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes) Wheeler, John
Mudd, David Whitney, Raymond
Murphy, Christopher Wilkinson, John
Myles, David Wolfson, Mark
Neale, Gerrard Young, Sir George (Acton)
Needham, Richard
Nelson, Anthony Tellers for the Noes:
Neubert, Michael Mr. David Hunt and
Newton, Tony Mr. Ian Lang.

Question accordingly negatived.