§ LORD LAMINGTON
said, he rose to call the attention of the House to the new buildings now in progress at Albert Gate, and to ask Her Majesty's Government, When the improvements in Parliament Street would be carried out, and what decision had been come to in regard to the now War and Admiralty Offices? He contented that the new buildings at Albert Gate would utterly destroy the beauty of that part of London. At the very time when there was 113 a great demand for open spaces, light, and air, the authorities had sanctioned the erection of these structures, which he understood would be 20 feet higher than the monstrous and horrible buildings in the neighbourhood of their Lordships' House—Queen's Anne's Mansions. The building at Albert Gate was to be 175 feet high, or within 20 feet of the height of the Monument of London. He wished to know whether the Government had any means of preventing the disfigurement of the Metropolis in this way? He was told that the remedy which the Board of Works had in view to bring pressure upon the builders was to erect a wall to obstruct the view from the basement. That he considered to be a very undignified method of proceeding, and he earnestly recommended those responsible for the good appearance of the Metropolis to consider whether they were altogether without other remedies. Then, with regard to the Parliament Street improvements, he desired to know when it was proposed to carry them out? He disapproved the scheme for the erection of the Admiralty and War Office buildings, involving, as it did, the destruction of a large part of St. James's Park, on which it was proposed to put up a building for Admiralty purposes, leaving the old structure as it was, and the making of a subway under Whitehall to communicate with the new War Office which would be erected on the site once occupied by Carrington House. Of all the schemes in the world, nothing could be worse than that. He asked for some statement upon this question.
§ THE EARL OF WEMYSS
said, that the late Government were pressed to have a model of the new Admiralty and War Office buildings made, so that people could judge whether or not the new structures would be in harmony with the surrounding buildings. He thought there ought to be a model of the proposed addition to the Admiralty.
§ LORD TRURO
said, he thought it could hardly be intended that buildings of so incongruous a nature should be permitted to be erected near Albert Gate. They were most unsightly and a grievous eyesore, and it was desirable that there should be some public official to whom plans of buildings of such an exceptional character ought to be sub- 114 mitted. With regard to the War Office and the Admiralty, one would not have thought that so long a time would have been taken to decide on those buildings. The delay which had occurred in respect to them entailed heavy expense to the country in the shape of rent for public offices.
§ LORD HENNIKER
said, that the noble Lord opposite had spoken of the National Portrait Gallery being at Bethnal Green, and that such a collection was wasted on the population of the East End of London. He did not agree. He did not intend to follow the noble Lord as to this; but, although he would confine himself to answering the three Questions, he would not pass this by unnoticed, and he must repeat what he had said more than once in their Lordships' House—that three or four times as many people had visited the Portrait Gallery since it had been in the East End in comparison to the numbers who visited it when it was at South Kensington. No doubt the noble Lord who had brought forward that subject had seen the answer given lately in "another place" by the First Commissioner of Works. He had little to add to that answer. The Office of Works was at present in communication with the builders of the proposed structure at Albert Gate, which was progressing. That Office had no direct power to interfere with what any proprietor of land might do in such a case; they had no power to interfere with what any proprietor chose to do with his own land, but it had some considerable power indirectly. In this case they could build a wall or screen to prevent access of light from the public park, because, under the Acts of Parliament governing the Royal Parks, the owners had no absolute right to access of light from that direction. The First Commissioner recognized that a site like that at Albert Gate was of great value, and that if acquired by a builder it must be for placing some considerable building upon it. All his right hon. Friend desired was to secure a reasonable protection to the interests of the public, and to see that the Park which was entrusted to his care should not be injured by the erection of those buildings. The great point was to reduce their height. Queen Anne's Mansions had been mentioned. It was only fair to say that the building at Albert Gate would be 115 of an entirely different character. It was artistic, and, if reduced in height, would be an ornament, rather than a damage, to the Park. As he (Lord Henniker) had said, a screen or wall could be erected; but the First Commissioner was in communication with the builders and the owners of the land, and he had every expectation of being able to make an arrangement for obtaining a reasonable reduction of the height, so that the buildings should not only not be detrimental to the public interest, but should be ornamental. As negotiations were proceeding, it would scarcely be right for him to enter further into details at present; but the House might rest assured that the public interests in that matter would not suffer in his right hon. Friend's hands. With respect to Parliament Street, he had stated in the House before, in answer to his noble Friend, that that question was not at all in the hands of the Government. It was altogether a private undertaking, and therefore, as far as the Office of Works was concerned, they had no power whatever over it. Parliament had thought fit last year to insert in the Bill a provision that before any of the buildings were pulled down £500,000 should be subscribed. If that condition had not been imposed he was told that the money would have been subscribed long before. The First Commissioner had recently been assured by the promoters that they had a very good prospect of securing the necessary capital before long. As to the War Office and Admiralty buildings, the plans were in the Tea Room of the House of Commons. The proposed elevation of the Admiralty buildings was contained in the Report of the Select Committee of the House of Commons last year. No doubt, his noble Friend on the Cross Benches had seen it. The delay with reference to the Admiralty and War Office buildings did not depend on the Office of Works. It had been caused entirely by the action of Parliament. Two Committees had been appointed, and Parliament had taken up the plans, and the Office of Works simply obeyed their orders. The plans—he spoke of the Admiralty plans only now—which had been prepared were in accordance with the recommendations of the Select Committee of the House of Commons 116 which sat last year. These plans were to make an addition to the Admiralty. It was proposed shortly to ask Parliament to vote the sum necessary to carry out those plans. The War Office plans were in abeyance at present. He had never heard of any plan to build a War Office on the site of the house which once belonged to Lord Carrington, with a subway, as suggested. However, the First Commissioner thought that it was far better to carry out one plan at a time, and not to undertake too much. The War Office scheme, too, depended entirely on the decision come to with regard to the Admiralty, and it was impossible for his right hon. Friend to decide on any scheme with regard to the War Office until the House of Commons had arrived at a decision with regard to the Admiralty buildings. If the plans were approved by the House of Commons, his right hon. Friend would then immediately proceed to consider the scheme for the War Office.
§ THE EARL OF WEMYSS
said, he would urge the desirableness of having a model of the proposed buildings placed in one of the rooms of their Lordships' House.
§ LORD HENNIKER
said, that the elevation was at the beginning of the printed Report of the House of Commons' Committee, and he thought it showed sufficiently what the effect of the new buildings would be. He could not say that a model was required, because he believed that the drawing gave all the necessary information as to relative height of buildings, and so on. He would, however, ask his right hon. Friend whether he thought it desirable that a model should be accessible to their Lordships?
§ LORD NORTON
asked, was it not a fact that the Home Office had prevented an additional storey being made to the Queen Anne's Mansions, which were not intended to be so high as the Albert Gate Mansion? High buildings of the kind referred to caused not only serious disfigurement to the architecture of a town, but great danger to life, and in the unfortunate event of fire breaking out in the building no engine or fire escape could reach the top.
§ LORD LAMINGTON
said, he hoped that a model of the intended new War Office and Admiralty, and also the model which was prepared in 1886, would be 117 placed side by side in the Library, so that noble Lords could compare them.
§ LORD BASING
observed, that it was scarcely correct to speak of the new plan as concocted by the House of Commons. The First Commissioner of Works was Chairman of the Committee to which reference had been made, and had complete control over its proceedings, so that the new plan, and the substitution of it for the discarded plan of Mr. Leeming, was in accordance with the design and policy of Her Majesty's Government.
§ LORD HENNIKER
did not know whether any power existed at the Home Office with respect to the height of buildings; but, as far as the Office of Works was concerned, the powers of that Office were as he had stated. He thought, for his own part, that a model was unnecessary; but he had said he would ask the First Commissioner whether it would be possible to place a model at their Lordships' disposal, and would also ask whether the previous plan could be set, side by side, with the present, in the form of models as suggested by his noble Friend.