HL Deb 17 June 1890 vol 345 cc1119-21

My Lords, I wish to put a question to my noble Friend who answers for the Office of Works in this House. I assume that none of your Lordships are very much enamoured of a building, which we all know, and which generally goes by the name of the Hankey Mansions. To my mind., it is one of the most unsightly erections that this Metropolis can boast of. It is one of those eyesores that now meet one at every turn. The view from Buckingham Palace, walking south, is one of the best views in the Park, and even that view is marred, to a certain extent, by some high buildings erected in the rear of the War Office. There seems, really, my Lords, to be a sort of mania for building these very high houses. No doubt, they are very profitable speculations; but that is no reason, I think, why speculative builders should be allowed to spoil the appearance of the Metropolis. Then we have what are called the Albert Gate Mansions—those very high buildings which have been erected at Albert Gate. Let me tell your Lordships what took place with regard to that. Mr. Plunket, finding that these buildings might be run up to any enormous height, considered, I am told, that the only way he could prevent it was by theatening to build a wall in front of the windows. In that case, I believe, he succeeded to a certain extent, and they were stopped. Still, to my mind, they are even now of an inordinate height—quite an unnecessary height. Then there are the buildings at the corner of Piccadilly and Arlington street, which shut out light and air from many of the surrounding buildings. Again, as I have mentioned before, the buildings on the Thames Embankment are unnecessarily high; they dwarf all the public buildings and the Banqueting Hall adjacent. Then, my Lords, even if we design a War Office, it seems we cannot design it without having an enormous tower erected, which would dwarf all the buildings in Trafalgar Square. Now, I think, the time has arrived when something should be done in a legislative direction to stop these enormously high buildings. Since giving notice of this question I have been informed by the Secretary of the Open Spaces Committee that last year Mr. Whitmore, the Member for Chelsea, brought in a Bill to limit the height of these houses. That Bill, unfortunately from press of business and other causes, lapsed; but this year the-same Association has induced the County Council to insert a clause in their General Powers Bill limiting the height in future of all street houses. The clause in the Bill is to the following effect:— No building shall be erected of a greater height than 70 feet without the consent in> writing of the Council. And then the clause goes on to enact certain pains and penalties for violating that provision. I do not know whether this is a private or a public Bill, and I do not know what stage the Bill has reached in the other House of Parliament, but it strikes me very strongly that a question, of this importance ought not to be dealt with in a private Bill. It is impossible to say what may be done with a private-Bill when clauses have to be considered. I must express my humble opinion that upon such a question as this it would be much more satisfactory if the Government would take up the question and bring in a short Bill which would effect the desired object. I do not wish to dwell upon the clauses in this Bill, because it might be irregular, as the Bill is not before your Lordships' House; but, looking to the probability of the improvements in Great George Street and in other streets and the possibility of our having other similar buildings, I am anxious that some legislation should take place before another lot of Hankey Mansions be erected in this Metropolis. I hope my noble Friend will not look upon my question in an unfavourable light, but that he will give the House some sort of assurance that his Department will lend its aid to the promotion of what I think a very useful and necessary piece of legislation.


My Lords, at the outset I will say that I warmly sympathise with my noble Friend the noble Viscount who has just sat down, in what he has said about these hideous buildings that are defacing London at the present moment; but, at the same time, I must tell him that the Office of Works has no power to deal with these high buildings. At present they have no more power to do so than any one of your Lordships orany member of the public who may pass down Birdcage Walk, near the building which the noble Viscount has described. Of course, that building is not very good-looking alongside the Wellington Barracks, but I may tell the noble Viscount and your Lordships that Wellington Barracks are not under the Office of Works at all. They are under the War Office, and, therefore, this particular building to which he has referred does not interfere with any building under the Office of Works. But, of course, my Lords, these high buildings do very much affect the Office of Works indirectly, because undoubtedly they do not improve the look of the Parks and the buildings which are under the control of the Office. My Lords, this is really a question for the County Council, as the noble Viscount has said; it is not a question for the Office of Works to deal with, or on which even to initiate legislation; but all I can say is this: that if by the wisdom of Parliament legislation is promoted and brought to an end in a satisfactory manner, there will be no one who will welcome the power to prevent the defacing with these buildings of London, the parks, and the buildings under the Office of Works, than the First Commissioner and those who act with him. I am sorry I can give the noble Viscount no other information, but I can assure him that if he can do anything to carry out what he wishes he will receive the warm support of the Office of Works.