HC Deb 16 December 1996 vol 287 cc607-8
11. Mr. Alan Howarth

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what representations she has received on the future of St. Pancras station and St. Pancras chambers; and if she will make a statement. [7603]

Mr. Sproat

Discussions on the future of those buildings have taken place between English Heritage, the Department of Transport and London and Continental Railways. Both my Department and the Department of the Environment have kept in close touch with progress, and we have of course been aware of English Heritage's views. We have also received representations from the Victorian Society and from one member of the public.

Mr. Howarth

Why have the Government abandoned the normal conservation controls on the grade I listed buildings of St. Pancras, which are of prime importance aesthetically and historically? Does the Minister accept that the heritage provisions of the rail link legislation amount to little more than vague statements of intent, omit to cover key areas of the work, and remove the Secretary of State's ultimate power to decide on major aspects? What is the point of having a Department of National Heritage if it will not stand up to the Department of Transport and is supine before the bulldozers of private investors?

Mr. Sproat

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. In fact, the heritage deed encompassed in the new Bill will give the right balance between the interests of aesthetics and listed buildings and the need to provide a terminal for the chunnel link. Under the heritage deed provisions, for listed buildings such as St. Pancras chambers, agreement will have to be reached between the railway authorities and the listed building authorities.

Only when railway technicalities could affect the aesthetics of the station—for instance, in extensions to platforms or roofs over those extensions—will only consultation, and not agreement, be required. Even in cases in which agreement does not have to be reached, there is provision for appeal to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and to the Secretary of State for the Environment. A proper balance has been struck to deal with the fears that the hon. Gentleman outlined.

Mr. Fisher

Does the Minister accept that, in addition to St. Pancras station, a growing number of important public buildings, including several key Government buildings in Whitehall, are either empty or becoming empty? Do the Government have any policy at all for dealing with those? Will he accept that flogging them off, or trying to get the maximum rent, as the Government tried to do with the Royal Hospital at Greenwich, is simply not the right policy, and that a much more imaginative policy is needed to put those great public buildings into public use?

Mr. Sproat

Indeed, it is not simply a question of getting the maximum amount of money—as the hon. Gentleman said. He talked about the need for imagination; that need is being met. In every case in which such buildings are offered to bidders, we consider bidders whose purposes are consonant with the traditions of the building and who will maintain its listed standards.