HL Deb 08 December 1926 vol 65 cc1338-45

had the following Notice on the Paper:—

To ask His Majesty's Government—

  1. (1) What is the amount of land purchase up to the present time under the provision of Section 11 (2) of the Development and Road Improvement Funds Act, 1909?
  2. (2) Whether the Minister of Transport has considered the advisability of promoting a Bill to give local authorities general powers comparable with the powers of the Minister under this Act?
The noble Marquess said: My Lords, would ask the indulgence of the House for four or five minutes, while I ask the Government the Questions which I have put upon the Paper, which I think are of some interest and of some importance. It is some thirteen years since the third instalment of the Campbell-Bannerman land and agricultural policy was presented to the two Houses of Parliament, in the shape of the Development and Road Improvement Bill of 1909. The Bill was divided into two parts, one dealing with the development of agriculture, with which I need not trouble your Lordships now, and the second part, which was the more important one, led to the formation of the Road Board.

There was a good deal of difficulty in getting the Bill, as it was, through the House of Commons, but eventually it was passed and came up to this House. It was here read a second time without a Division, but there was a little difficulty about Clause 11, to which Viscount Galway drew attention and which he denounced in pretty vigorous terms. The object of Clause 11 was to enable the Government, when they made the great arterial roads through England, which roads were then in their infancy, to take 220 feet of land on each side of the road, at an agricultural value, and then to re-sell it when the road was made, of course at an increased price, and in that way to save the ratepayers and taxpayers some little portion of the money spent on the road. That, as everybody knows, is the system on which the great American railways were built, and it seemed a fair and legitimate proposition, but Viscount Galway took great exception to it and moved an Amendment that Clause 11 should be deleted. It was my duty to get the Bill through, and I did the very best I could, but I was not successful and the clause was deleted by a three-to-one majority. The Bill was then returned to the other House, and the Commons disagreed with the Lords Amendment. The Bill was sent back to this House, where, somehow or other, the atmosphere seemed to have changed, as your Lordships did not insist upon your Amendment deleting Clause 11. There was no debate at all, so far as I remember, and the Commons Amendments were agreed to and the Bill went through without any further difficulty.

That occurred seventeen years ago. The Question I have put on the Paper is to ask in respect of these great arterial roads—London to Rochester, London to Maidstone, and that Great Western road from Kew Bridge, all magnificent roads—whether the Government have availed themselves of the powers under the Act, and, if so, how much land they have got and what price has been obtained for the land when sold again. And if not, why not? If your Lordships will go down the Great Western Road you will see cottages and houses, I will not say springing up like mushrooms but cropping up in great rows—a sort of township growing up—and there seems to have been a great opportunity of relieving the taxpayers of a considerable portion of the expense. That is the first Question I wish to ask.

The second Question is like unto it. We were very anxious not to interfere with the existing arrangement of the county councils, and so the Government of that day only took over the great arterial roads. All the existing main roads went into the hands of the county councils, and money was voted by the Government to help them, on the principle that those who used the roads should pay for the roads. Your Lordships will know the beginning of the Great Western Road. If you go a little further down the road you find two narrow streets at Longford and Colnbrook, shaped like the neck of a bottle, and owing to the traffic which goes through they are very dangerous. Therefore the Bucks County Council have taken circuitous routes round those two villages, and for that purpose they go through two separate properties. The owners of those properties—they are friends of mine—have naturally taken advantage of these roads, and these agricultural properties have developed into building estates. It seems a bit hard that the whole of this unearned increment should go into the pockets of these worthy friends of mine, but it must be so, because as the law stands now the county councils have not got the powers which the State possesses. Therefore my second Question is whether the Government have ever considered or have any intention of making the law go a little bit further, as I suggest it should and as is much desired, by giving the county councils the same right as is possessed by the Government at present. Those are the two Questions which I have to ask.


My Lords, perhaps it would save time if I said a few words before the Government replies. I think it would be interesting for your Lordships to know that this question of the taking of land on each side of a road had been before the Road Board all the time, nearly ten years, during which I was a member of the Board. Some of us, including myself, were always in favour of the land being bought before the road was made, on the ground that the money employed in making the road belonged either to the heavily taxed motorist, or to the community in general, and that any profit arising from that transaction should go either towards the Road Fund or to some other purpose. That was a perfectly fair principle. If you take the Great West Road from Chiswick up to a point ten miles to the west, most of that district is ripe for building purposes. Even taking 25 acres to each mile of frontage you will find that there has been a very considerable increment of value since that road was made. In 1921 the land was worth from£30 to£50 an acre. I have made some inquiries, and I find it is now worth from£300 to£500 an acre, and it would be quite fair to say that there has been an increment in value of something like£300 an acre. That means an increase of value on the first line of frontage alone of£150,000. That is a considerable sum, which would at any rate help to pay back some of the money spent in making this road, or alternatively in providing byroads off the main road, or making roads in other places.

It always seems to me perfectly reasonable that when the community builds a road, whether it is built out of the Road Fund or by the general public, represented by the taxpayer, some portion of that money should come back to the people who put up the money to create that value. I am not a follower of Henry George, or of the land taxing associations, with whom I think the noble Marquess has some sympathy, but I look at it purely from a practical point of view. Those of us who own land or make roads, as I and many of your Lordships have done, know that when we make a road we get our money back eventually in the increased price of the frontage. When a road is built, not by an individual but by the community, it is only fair that the increase in value should go to the community, and not to the individual who happens to own the land on both sides of the road.

I remember two or three definite occasions when I was on the Road Board when I asked the then Chairman, Sir George Gibb, why he did not put this into operation in regard to the Great West Road, about which we were engaged at that moment with various owners of land in the West of London, from Chiswick westward, and I never really could get a satisfactory answer from him. It was not a political question. There were various Governments in power in the period since 1909, when that Act came into operation, but I could never get a satisfactory explanation. On one occasion I was told that the Treasury disliked the Road Board speculating in land, and that they put their foot down. Whether that was so or not I do not know. But I do urge on the Government and on the noble Viscount who represents the Ministry of Transport tonight that when these great trunk roads are built it would be a distinct advantage to the Road Fund, and incidentally to the taxpayers of the country, if the land was bought ahead to the depth of a furlong on each side of the road. It is quite clear that they have powers to do that under the Act of 1909, so that there would be no difficulty in doing this. There are sections of that Act which could quote which not only give power to buy the land but the power to lease it or to sell it. If that is so, I am sure the noble Marquess would be glad to know from the noble Viscount why these powers are not exercised.


My Lords, I should like to say that, as regards the principle, both the noble Lords who have spoken are pushing an open door. The Act is based on the idea of getting recoupment. No question of principle, therefore, arises at all; it is merely a matter of practice. The Development and Road Improvement Funds Act provides that the Minister, when he proposes to consider a new road under Part II of the Act, may acquire land for the purpose, and in addition may acquire land on either side of the proposed road, within 220 yards from the middle of the road. The Minister has purchased land in connection with the construction of certain arterial roads in the neighbourhood of London, and, although it has occasionally been necessary to purchase surplus land in order to avoid claims for severance, the Minister has not in any case invoked his powers under Section 11 (1) for purchasing land within the 220 yards limit for the purpose of recoupment. In recent cases when the construction of a new arterial road has been under consideration it has been the practice of the Minister to obtain the views of the chief valuer on the desirability of exercising the powers under Section 11 (1), and in each case up to the present the chief valuer has advised either that there was no prospect of recoupment or that the prospect was too remote and speculative to justify the Minister in taking action. So that it was on the advice of the chief valuer that this has not been done, and not upon any advice from the Treasury, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Montagu.

As regards the second part of the Question, the Middlesex Act of 1925 confers on the Middlesex Council powers somewhat similar to those contained in Section 11 (1), but those powers can only be exercised with the consent of the Minister, and are confined to road improvements as distinct from new construction. On certain occasions representations have been received from the local authority as to the desirability of obtaining powers to acquire additional land for recoupment purposes, but in the main these representations have related to specific schemes which the local authority were then considering. If the Minister were satisfied that there was any general desire on the part of local authorities for powers of this nature he would consider sympathetically any measure promoted by them with this end in view, but he is doubtful whether it would be desirable to confer general powers upon local authorities which would enable them to engage in highly speculative operations in land values.


My Lords, the principle involved of recoupment from the new frontage is, of course, not a new one. It was applied a very long time ago by the London County Council in the case of the construction of Kingsway. I am very much interested to hear the noble Viscount say to-night that the principle is fully accepted, that we are pushing an open door, and the principle need not be argued. But I should like to dwell upon it for a moment, because there does appear to be a sort of feeling that there is something in this principle which is of a dangerous or Socialistic character. The noble Lord, Lord Montagu, in advocating it, found it necessary to say that he was not a follower of Henry George. What is the principle? The principle is that when you are spending a great deal of public money, and thereby creating very largely improved values, you should get back for the public, who have spent that money, some portion of that improved value. The only ground on which that principle could be objected to as Socialistic would be that you were robbing the owner of the land of something that was justly his; but if you have bought his land at a fair price in an arbitration, and paid him the full price for it, I should think even the most anti-Socialist person would hardly maintain that you were robbing that landowner, or doing him an injustice.

But now what are you doing to the community if you do not take these steps? You are robbing the community, because these roads cost an enormous sum to build. They are very expensive operations indeed, but where these roads have been created the frontages have acquired a building value. The values that you have lost are enormous. The answer made by the noble Viscount is a perfectly good one, if we are to accept it fully at its face value. He says that in the cases where the question has arisen the chief valuer has been consulted, and the chief valuer has advised that the recoupment to be obtained was either so doubtful or so speculative that it should not be entered upon. Chief valuers are wonderful people, but I very much doubt whether the noble Viscount would get any committee of laymen, or people interested in land, to agree with him. It seems to me to be a matter almost essentially without argument to a person who is not a valuer but is a person of ordinary common sense, that when you run a large main road through agricultural land to carry a large traffic you improve the value of the land on each side of that road. I have the greatest difficulty in understanding how the Minister can be advised otherwise.

If that is the reason for his action, and if that is the advice which has been given to him, it certainly seems almost worth while that in future he should appoint some Committee or a larger number of persons to consider these questions and see whether better advice could not be given him. It is quite impossible for us who are laymen to challenge the opinion of the valuer. I am merely saying that in the view of the ordinary layman it seems an impossible piece of advice to have been given. Consider upon whom this extra cost falls. It falls partly upon the Road. Fund and it falls as to the rest of it upon the ratepayers of the county who contribute to the making of the road. Your Lordships know well enough that rates are quite heavy and burdensome enough already without adding to them when there is a perfectly simple way of reducing them. I hope this subject may be raised again by the noble Marquess if necessary at some future date and that something may be done to see that it is not overlooked in future road schemes; because, whatever the valuer may have advised, I think that we have lost a great deal of money that might properly have gone to public funds by the neglect of this in the past.


My Lords, I am in perfect agreement with the principles that have been mentioned by various noble Lords, but I think that one point has been overlooked. The great object was to get these roads made through the country. There is only a certain amount of money available to spend upon these roads and much less could have been spent upon them if the depths from the centre had also been bought. There would have been far less money left for the roads. The noble Lord opposite shakes his head, but it is obvious that if you are going to buy double the amount of land there must be so much less money left for the roads unless you can persuade the purchaser to give you double the amount.