HL Deb 11 August 1890 vol 348 cc449-55

Order of the Day for the Third Reading, read.


The Amendment which I wish to move will have the effect of restoring the Bill to the form in which it was originally put forward by the London County Council, and as it was passed by the House of Commons in regard to that part of the Bill which proposes that the maximum height of houses should be 70 feet and one storey in the roof. The Select Committee have increased that height to 90 feet and two storeys in the roof. That will be the height allowed if the Bill, as altered by the Select Committee of your Lordships' House, is permitted to stand. That is an addition of 35 feet, for with the additional storey it will raise the height of buildings to 105 feet or more, and there is also an allowance for architectural adornments. There is the less reason for giving this general permission to build houses upwards of 100 feet high, since another provision, which is a very good one, has been added by the Select Committee, which allows of new houses being built up to the height of existing houses in streets such as Victoria Street, Westminster, where there are several gaps still remaining in the buildings along the street. The clause, moreover, allows a greater height where the consent of the County Council has been obtained. The Bill also provides a very good tribunal in the shape of surveyors and architects. In all new streets which are constantly being made in the outskirts of London the sanitary scale of the height of houses not exceeding the width of the street is already made obligatory by statute, but considerable doubts have been expressed whether this power possessed by the County Council might not over-ride the Statute, and permit houses of a height of over 100 feet even in new streets. No provision has been made for narrow streets existing in London, such as may be found at the back of Victoria Street, where houses of great height would be excessively prejudicial to health, and would shut out both light and air from the neighbouring houses. Even buildings 70 feet high will do that in narrow streets, but to allow houses to be built to a height of over 100 feet would be far worse. The additional storey in the roof, that is the two storeys instead of one granted by the Select Committee, would add to the un-healthiness of these houses, and also to the danger from fire. Your Lordships are, no doubt, aware in regard to the unhealthiness of these houses, that from the character of the outer walls they are like ovens in summer and very cold in winter, but that point was not gone into. Neither did the Select Committee take any evidence as to the danger from fire and the means of meeting that danger. If they had done so, I believe they would have been told that it was proposed to place cisterns in the roofs of these houses accompanied by hydrants, which it is supposed might be easily set to work; but whether such appliances will be effective or not depends upon having persons at hand who would understand how to use the hydrants, and having sufficient presence of mind to use them. Houses of this size would also require to be provided with other means of meeting danger; such precautions as balconies passing from one part of the building to the other, and fire-proof galleries inside. The excuse given for asking for this increased height of 30 feet or more is the cost of the ground in certain parts of London, but it would be very inconsistent to make sacrifices to procure open spaces to provide air in the Metropolis, and at the same time to impede light and air by such monstrous buildings, excluding the access of any light and air except perpendicularly. This enormous height is not required for artisans' dwellings. Artisans' dwellings could not without too much increase of rent be provided with lifts and persons to work them. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who have a large amount of property in London, who are very competent judges on the subject, and who were appealed to on the subject before this Bill of the London County Council was brought in, had agreed to the 70 feet maximum limit, and they would not stir or raise their little finger to obtain any increase of that height. But if your Lordships should think the 70 feet too low a limit, and that there is some reason for raising it, I would still urge that an increase of 35 feet is too much, especially when even in exceptional cases that limit cannot be exceeded without application to the County Council. So that if your Lordships should think that, as a compromise, 80 feet would be better than 70, I would accept that, and move for the insertion of 80 feet.

Amendment moved, to leave out "90," and insert "70."—(Lord Stanley of Alderley.)


I hope your Lordships will not agree to the Amendment which has been moved by my noble Friend. This question of the height of houses came before the Select Committee upon which I had the honour of sitting, and received very careful consideration; in fact, I believe we devoted more than a day to the consideration of this one clause. I do not understand that my noble Friend brings forward this matter exactly as representing the London County Council. There are other noble Lords who are in the habit of speaking for the London County Council; and as they are not present, I think it is only fair to assume that the County Council are prepared to bow to the decision of the Select Committee. I do not understand that my noble Friend does more than take an amateur interest in the beauty of London. He takes an entirely different line to that which was taken by the County Council before the Select Committee. It was stated by the County Council, with great frankness, that their only object in introducing this clause was to prevent the erection of monstrous buildings, of which, perhaps, the best known example now is the large residential mansions at Queen Anne's Gate. But the noble Lord seems to want to confer upon them general powers over buildings in London, and, in fact, to constitute them a kind of Committee of Taste for London, an office which they themselves expressly disclaim. Perhaps I might call to your Lordships' attention, as it is rather difficult to judge from a single building, the figures of the heights of some well-known buildings in London. The Queen Anne's Mansion building is 145 feet high to the top of the wall. That has a flat roof, and therefore the question of extra stories does not arise. But to come to buildings which I think your Lordships will all agree are not exceedingly high placed in the position in which they are, I may mention that the public building which includes the Foreign Office and other public offices is 89 feet high, and I do not think anybody will say that is an excessive height for a building fronting an open space. Then the buildings in Northumberland Avenue greatly exceed the proposed height, and so do a good many new buildings in Piccadilly, to which I think no particular exception has been taken. I am bound to say the instance which guided us most in our decision was Grosvenor Place. The houses there are 82 feet high, and they have in some places three stories in the roof. I cannot think that houses of that height can be looked upon as monstrosities, although in certain places they might very possibly be found to be too high. Then there is the case of the building known as Albert Mansions at Albert Gate. The history of that building is very well known. It was originally intended to build it to an extreme height, but the First Commissioner of Works, Mr. Plunket, with great adroitness was able to check that by threatening to build a wall between it and the Park, and to carry the wall up to the height of the building. As the building stands it is over 100 feet. I think your Lordships will agree it is far from being un-ornamental, and as a matter of fact it has been, I should say, generally much admired. On the Committee it was our unanimous opinion that the London County Council ought to have powers to check the excessive height of buildings, but that it should not be continually called upon to revise plans or to decrease the elevations of buildings of which the height is more a matter of taste than I may say of symmetry. Because I must remind your Lordships there is a very great extent of frontage in London. There is especially the river frontage, and the whole of the frontage on the parks, as well as the frontage in the larger squares. In those positions very high buildings may be very properly allowed, and I think your Lordships will all agree that up to quite a recent time the buildings in London had been too low for any ornamental effect. I should also remind your Lordships that this is really a new power. As my noble Friend said, at present there is a power for dealing with new streets, but there is no power whatever of interfering with the heights of buildings in other localities. It seemed to us that, this being a new power, it ought to be used with great caution, and we did not wish to confer upon the Council a power of using it indiscriminately. Your Lordships will remember that in one of the other Bills dealing with property in London which we have had before us, dealing with St. Pancras, it seemed to a great many of your Lordships that we had hardly been tender enough of the rights of property. In this instance my noble Friend seems to think that we have treated the rights of property with too great deference. But I do not believe your Lordships will be of that opinion, and I cannot help thinking that at this period of the Session your Lordships will not interfere in the manner suggested by my noble Friend. I must appeal to your Lordships not to overturn the decision of the Committee, which was arrived at after very careful deliberation and after hearing a great deal of evidence.


There was a time when I used to glory in the Hankey Buildings. I used to point to them as showing what complete liberty we enjoyed in this Metropolis and in this country. But now we are fast losing our liberty and have got Hankey Buildings. I think, then, if a check can be put upon the erection of such buildings, it is certainly desirable. A 90 feet limit did certainly appear rather high, but from what has fallen from my noble Friend now, when he says that the buildings in Grosvenor Place are more than that, 90 feet does not seem an unreasonable height. But I think it depends very much upon the width of the street and where the buildings are erected. A building which on the bank of the river or fronting upon a broad street might reasonably be 90 feet in height would be utterly unreasonable and would produce utter darkness in a very narrow street. I should like to know from my noble Friend who has just spoken whether powers are taken to regulate buildings according to the width of the street, for if no such powers are given the result may be somewhat serious.


I may say at once, in reply to my noble Friend, that there was no clause of that kind in the Bill as it was originally brought before us. I understood that it was not found possible to draw a clause which would give the County Council the power of dealing with houses in narrow streets, though I am bound to say I quite agree with my noble Friend on the Cross Benches that if such power could be conferred as is given in the case of new streets it would be extremely desirable.

On Question, "That the word 'ninety' stand part of the Bill," disagreed to.


Before this Bill passes there is one clause to which I wish to direct your Lordships' attention. It is Clause 26, which exempts members of the London County Council from service on juries. This has been done in a sort of surreptitious manner, as there is no such provision in the Act which constituted the County Council, and no such provision was contained in the Act of 1855, which constituted the Metropolitan Board of Works. Usually the present London County Council are supposed to be the successors of the Metropolitan Board of Works in regard to their powers and duties, and I am at a loss to know on what principle an exemption is to be allowed in the case of members of that Council, which did not exist in regard to the duties of the members of the late Metropolitan Board. If the County Councillors are to be thus exempted why should not Vestrymen have the same exemption, and I speak as a Vestryman myself? Vestries comprise many tradesmen, and all tradesmen are anxious to attend to their own business and not to serve on juries. They have a great deal of hard work to do on committees as well as the ordinary vestry work, and why should not they be exempted. Why also should not County Councillors in the country be exempted? When once you open such a door as this, you cannot tell how far the matter will go, and I therefore have to move that Clause 26, exempting members of the County Council from service on juries, be struck out of the Bill.

Amendment moved, "To omit Clause 26."—(The Earl of Wemyss.)


I think it is very unusual to make so very large an alteration in a Bill on Third Reading without notice given. I do not know why my noble Friend did not take the point he now urges at an earlier stage.


I was not aware of it.


I think this is a considerable invasion of our ordinary rule.


I would point out to my noble Friend that the question was fully discussed in another place, and that it certainly is an unusual course, on Motion that the Bill do pass, that so important an Amendment should be moved without any notice having been given of it.

On Question, "That Clause 26 stand part of the Bill," agreed to.

Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.