§ 3.47 p.m.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN rose to call attention to the working of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move the Motion which stands in my name on the Order Paper. I do so with a certain amount of diffidence because I do not suppose that there is any matter upon which more disagree- 1474 ment exists between individuals, and indeed between individuals in the same Party, as on matters of town and country planning. As the noble Earl, Lord Jowitt, and the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, will certainly remember, we spent hours in this House in making Amendments to the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. The Bill came from another place and we together did our best here to improve it. I think the time has now come to sere how it is working. I do not suppose that even the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, is completely satisfied with the way it is working out. Moreover, the time is shortly coming when under the terms of the Act the payment of the £300,000,000 for loss of development rights is due to be made to land owners, and one of the matters which must be looked into by the present Government and upon which they will have to decide is whether this is an appropriate time in our economic struggle to pay out so large a sum and thus quite substantially to increase purchasing power. If the Act is left as it is, that sum will have to be found next year by the Treasury.
§ We were told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on February 26 last that approved claims amount to more than the £300,000,000; in fact, they amount to some £350,000,000. In passing let me say that if such a sum is paid out to land owners—and I am dealing with this matter, I hope, impartially—there is liable from the political angle, from the political Party standpoint, to be the same kind of misrepresentation as there has been in regard to the payment to the doctors of back pay involving a payment of some £40,000,000 to those persons this year. It is little good trying to, point out that either of these two things was an obligation incurred by the Socialist Government and wholly inherited from them, because the suggestion is sedulously spread around, "Look at the Tories taking an early opportunity of helping their friends."
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
I am glad that I have support from the noble Lord, who is always, if I may so, one of the frankest noble Lords in your Lordships' House. If that is happening with regard to the £40,000,000 paid to the doctors, what will be said if some £300,000,000 is paid out to the land owners?
1475 The next point I would make is this: Will that sum be enough to pay people in full the amount of the agreed claims? If you take out of this £350,000,000 of agreed claims the £100,000,000 that is due to priority claims—to mineral owners and one or two other classes—that means claims to the value of £250,000,000 left, and some £200,000,000 with which to pay them within the three months. That works out approximately that the non-priority classes will get a dividend—if that is the correct word for it—of about 16s. in the pound. In private life, if one's debtor goes bankrupt one may think as a creditor that one is fairly lucky to get 16s. in the pound. But to me it is unthinkable that when as in this case, the Government's own officials have agreed the amounts of these claims, a Conservative Government at any rate can pay out less than 20s. in the pound.
We may as well face the fact that, unless the present Government decide to amend the Town and Country Planning Act at some time next year, the Exchequer in some way or another has to produce £350,000,000. I do not know, but it may be that the Government will decide to scrap these Parts of the Act altogether. On economic grounds alone they might well be justified in doing so. On political grounds, too, there is something to be said for it. Equally, they might well be justified in doing so on the ground that these provisions of the Act are now beginning seriously to hamper the housing drive, which otherwise is going well. Whatever any advocate of the provisions of the 1947 Act may say, it is undeniable that it is harder now, at any rate for the private developer, to acquire building sites than it was before the Act came into operation.
Further, it is also clear that, although in theory present user value plus development charge ought to equal and not exceed the price at which under the old conditions one could buy land, in fact in almost every case the man cannot buy a building site plus the development charge as cheaply as he could before. This is so for two reasons: first, the intending purchaser, in order to buy the right to develop, has to deal with a monopoly—a conception as dear to the hearts of modern Socialists as it was to King James I. That came out very 1476 remarkably in our Broadcasting debate of the last two days. This monopoly lies in the Central Land Board, from which there is no appeal. Secondly, the intending vendor, in other than exceptional circumstances, has no incentive to sell at mere present user value. So the purchaser offers more in order not to have to incur the delay and expense inherent in trying to get somebody to obtain a compulsory purchase order for him. It may well be, therefore, that the Government will decide to repeal these Parts of the Act altogether, and from the legislative point of view this is, of course, the simplest course. On the other hand—let us be honest about it—that will leave the problem that unwanted development cannot be stopped by a planning authority without someone paying compensation to a person (as, for instance, the owner of a piece of prospective green belt land) who is arbitrarily prevented from developing his land when his next-door neighbour is allowed to develop his. Compensation that such a man should have has to be paid by the local authorities. Let us face the fact that we are leaving open the way to further somewhat haphazard development of our countryside, and few will want to see that happen.
There may well be, of course, a "halfway house," a course which still retains the operation of Parts VI and VII of that Act in regard to some types of land but not to other types, and a "halfway house" which simplifies the changes of user provisions to which development charge now attracts. One of the factors which swells the claims total is that the Act of 1947 applies equally to areas already built up as to land which is ripe for development but on which at present no development has taken place. One cannot take a look around some of the small dwelling-house areas of our big cities without realising that a great part of those areas need re-development, and that nothing should be done to hamper it. Yet, under the 1947 Act, any redevelopment of these areas attracts a development charge, and in effect tends to perpetuate existing buildings and will eventually, I believe, give rise to new slums.
I know the difficulty of taking the centre of a city and drawing a circle round it at a mile radius, or a five or ten mile radius from that centre, and saying that 1477 all within the circle has to be considered a development area and all outside it an undeveloped area, because in practically every case there will be some developed land outside the circle and some undeveloped land inside the circle. That, therefore, is not a very satisfactory method, although it has been considered by persons concerned in planning from time to time.
How then, my Lords, do I suggest that we restrict the operations of Parts VI and VII of the Act to the districts where there are some goad and free areas—where, in fact, they do harm? I suggest that we say that the re-development of a developed site shall not attract development charge so long as the site is developed for a similar purpose; and, correspondingly, that the owners of such sites should have no claim for compensation under the other Part of the Act. If a man or a local authority pulls down slum cottages, and in accordance with the approved plan erects a block of modern flats in their stead, a benefit is done to the community; and whoever confers the benefit should not be penalised by the imposition of a development charge. Similarly, if a man pulls down old office or shop buildings and puts up modern buildings in their place, he, again, surely is a benefactor to the community and should not he penalised. Again, if a company pull down an old factory and erect a new one, with better layout, more floor space, better facilities for production, better accommodation for the workers and so forth, they are performing a service to the nation and should, in my view, not have to pay a development charge for doing so.
Therefore, under this head my suggested solution is that, where there is already a building, it should be possible to erect a new one in its place, for the same purpose, without the payment of any charge. And, as I say, the owner would not be able to claim on the compensation fund because he might have to get planning permission and pay a development charge to do so. Where there is a virgin however, development charge would still be payable. The effect of this, as your Lordships will no doubt realise, would be to help to prevent the spread of our towns over more and more of our countryside, taking more and more of our agricultural land; and it would 1478 encourage the re-development and the better development of those parts of our towns arid cities of which, I venture to suggest, nobody can be really proud. At the same time, I should allow extensions on homes and other existing buildings without development charge. I would also relieve of planning permission any internal change of a building which did not affect the exterior appearance. I do not see why a person should not re-plan the inside of a house or of a factory without having to go before a planning committee and get authority for doing so. That is quite a different case from the erection of a new factory or house or a new building of any ether kind.
To simplify the matter still further, I suggest that all changes of use of existing buildings should be exempt from development charge, and, correspondingly, that all such changes should be removed from Part VI of the Act as an element in a claim for loss of development value. The advantage of this would be that existing buildings could then again be bought and sold without concern as to what development charge might be incurred. Planning permission would still be required for a change of use of a residential building to factory or business premises of any kind, but no compensation would be payable when such permission was refused. Planning restrictions that do not exceed the obligations of good neighbourliness may be imposed, as they always were by land owners who developed their land well. That is what happened with density zoning before the Act of 1947, without the conception that a land owner was being deprived of his property. In order that matters such as these may not be decided finally, either in Committee or by an anonymous official in the Ministry, I should like to see a quasi-judicial tribunal set up to which could be referred certain planning provisions of the Act of 1947.
Before I suggest what the powers of such a tribunal should he, I would say that I would also widen greatly the definition of "change of user" of residential prernises—that is to say in the case of a building previously lived in by a family and then used as a hospital, an old people's home, a residential club or as a school or any place in which mainly people resided. Such a place should be in a category where it would not be regarded as having 1479 been subject to change of use. I am speaking, as I say, of a place that was mainly used for residential purposes. I am not talking about an office which has a caretaker living in it; I mean a building which is mainly residential in character whether a hospital, or a home or anything else.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
No, I do not think I would. That would be on a slightly different basis from the cases that I have in mind.
Now I come to the powers that I should give to this semi-judicial tribunal. Let me say frankly that no civil servant would like this idea, nor would a number of people who have been Ministers of Health, Ministers of Local Government and Housing, and so forth. I should give this tribunal powers to decide appeals under Section 16 of the Act; that is to say, those made to the Minister against refusal of planning permission by a local planning authority, or against the granting of permission subject to unacceptable conditions. I should also send to it applications under Section 17 to determine whether planning permission is required or not; and probably also applications under Section 15 of the Act for application for planning permission to be referred to the Minister, on his direction. In cases under Sections 15 or 16, the procedure, I suggest, would be this. A tribunal would report to the Minister, who at that stage, and not earlier, and in the light of the recommendation of the tribunal, should take the administrative decision involved. Where the Minister disagreed with the decision of the tribunal, the report of the tribunal and the Minister's reasons for disagreeing with it should be published. That would allow either House to raise' questions as to why the Minister had acted in the way that he had, and would be a perfectly democratic process.
The tribunal that I should like to see appointed would be one chosen by the Lord Chancellor. It should have a legally qualified chairman and a panel of surveyors, architects and independent persons to sit with him. Hearings should be in open court, and all parties should be available for examination and cross- 1480 examination and should be entitled, if they wished, to be legally represented. I suggest that because there is too much "hole and corner" business about the present procedure. A local inquiry may be held, but the objector is not entitled to have the planning officer put in the box to be cross-examined, and I think he should. I think that where there is a dispute between the planning committee and one of Her Majesty's subjects, it should be possible for that dispute to be aired in public and for the planning officer to be asked why he selected the particular site and not another. I should preserve the right of the Minister to have the last word in the administrative decision, but if he disagrees with this tribunal—he may have to say, on general lines of public policy: "I have had to take a different view"—he should report to Parliament, and, no doubt, Parliament would support him.
If we are to get contentment about the working of this Act in the countryside, it is essential that there should be some new procedure such as I have just outlined. If a development charge is maintained in any shape or form, I am sure that the majority of your Lordships will agree that, whatever else is or is not done, an appeal against its assessment is essential if we are to get rid of the arbitrary nature of these charges. Your Lordships may remember that on May 5, 1949, we inserted a provision in the Lands Tribunal Bill when it was passing through this House. I believe, if my memory is correct, that it was sponsored by a member of Her Majesty's present Government. We inserted a provision that appeals on the amount of the development charges which were objected to when levied by the Central Land Board should go to the Lands Tribunal. Our Amendment was rejected in another place and we did not adhere to it, but if development charge is retained I hope that at any rate that will be one of the provisions that noble Lords will back as strongly in Government as they did in Opposition.
I hope that I have not spoken for too long, but in a debate of this sort speeches are not of much value unless they contain some constructive suggestions. I hope that some of mine may be put into that category. Whether or not those I have 1481 put forward will be acceptable to Her Majesty's Government is a matter, of course, for them. One merit of my suggestions is that, if adopted, they will materially reduce the amount which the Treasury will otherwise be called upon to pay out next year. Any Government would at this time have had to take stock of the way in which this complicated piece of legislation was working out in practice. We as a Party are pledged in our Election Manifesto to do something about this Act. I believe the words used were: "We shall drastically change the 1947 Act." That Act may be a popular Act with a few enthusiastic professional planners, but I can assure your Lordships that in its present form it is not so regarded in the minds of those who are affected by it. I have purposely put down this Motion at a time when I believe that Her Majesty's Government have not yet finally decided what to do, as it will thus give members of your Lordships' House—and there are some among us who know a great deal about planning and have given much of our time to it—the opportunity to let the Government know their ideas in advance. In short, this means that. I do not expect a pronouncement on Government policy in this debate to-day. I, for one, shall be quite happy if I can be assured that some of the things that some of us may say to-day will be found helpful to the Government in the complicated decisions they have to make. I trust that we shall be assured that a Government decision on this matter will be announced before very long. With those words, and in the hope that I have started a debate which may be of use to Her Majesty's Government, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ LORD MILNER OF LEEDS
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, I approach this subject, which is one of considerable difficulty and complexity, with some diffidence. The noble Lord has the advantage over me in that I think he has raised the same subject on at least two previous occasions. Indeed, I think I am not using too strong words if I say that the noble Lord is conducting something of a vendetta against the Town and Country Planning Act—
§ LORD MILNER OF LEEDS
I hope he will forgive me if I say that the suggestions which he has made appear to me to be in the nature either of whittling away the provisions of the Act, on the one hand, or setting up a new and what appeared to me a rather fantastic bureaucracy, or an additional bureaucracy, on the other. However, I think the noble Lord is rendering a service to the House and the country in raising this question, because it is desirable that the attitude of the new Government should be known at the earliest possible moment. I hope that we can have some declaration in that regard before this debate closes.
That there is difficulty in operating some of the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, cannot be denied. That is especially so in regard to the compensation and betterment sections of the Act; and of course there is doubt, which I certainly hope may be cleared up to-day, in regard to the distribution of the global sum. I also think that the difficulty in regard to development charges is militating somewhat against private development and building, although I think that perhaps the objections there are rather exaggerated. There are other factors operating, but I think that perhaps these factors are becoming less marked month by month.
In the course of the last few years, there have been great difficulties in the way of obtaining raw materials and labour, but those difficulties are being gradually overcome. At the same time, in my view the provisions of this Act do militate against land owners' being willing to sell, certainly until their share of the global sum has been ascertained. There is little inducement for them or anyone else (for example, land developers) to go to the extent and trouble of obtaining all the necessary authorities and laying out capital moneys on estates. The restrictions on capital investments and on borrowing are also, of course, having their effect. At the same time it is difficult to see, except in detail, how the present law can be altered when so much has been done. I certainly should hope that the procedure might be made more flexible. In my view, the advantages of control can be too dearly bought, and that is the case if they exert an unduly restrictive effect upon the normal activities of the community. Therefore, one would hope that in some measure the procedure may 1483 be simplified. I know that my noble friend, Lord Silkin, when he was Minister, was only too anxious to consider any suggestions to that end.
Then, I think the country is entitled to know something more about the position with regard to the global sum. Have all the claims been agreed or settled? What dividend is likely to be paid; and how and when is that dividend likely to be paid? If it is intended to pay such a sum in cash, have the Government considered whether or not that will involve the question of inflation? Of course, that may not arise if the intention is to issue stock in some form.
In the next place, I think the procedure in regard to planning appeals should, without indulging in the set-up which the noble Lord. Lord Llewellin has suggested, be brought into conformity with custom and with the requirements of natural justice. For instance, I think that the planning authorities should give notice of the evidence they propose to adduce before the planning appeal tribunals. It seems to me that, whilst the planning authorities have the advantage of expert and professional advice and help, there are quite a number of small people whose appeals have to be dealt with without those advantages. Therefore, I feel that planning authorities should be under some obligation to give prior indication of the points they propose to make. I agree with something that I gathered was in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin—namely, that written representations should not be received by planning tribunals or by appeal tribunals unless they are supported by oral evidence. It seems to me quite wrong and contrary to all the practice of the courts, that Government Departments, local authorities and so on, should be permitted to write letters, and that those letters should be produced in evidence without any oral witness being present and being subject to cross-examination.
There is another way in which the Minister can be of help—namely, in giving his decision promptly. From such little experience as I have had, I know that decisions on appeals may be given two, three, four, five or even more months after the appeal has been heard. 1484 In my view, that delay is quite unjustifiable. I can see no reason why a decision on the report of the appropriate inspector should not be given within a month, certainly within two months, of the appeal being heard. That would be of great value and would expedite procedure in all directions without a great deal of trouble. Then if, when he gives his decision, the Minister is proposing to lay down conditions additional to those originally in mind when the appeal was brought, I think that, before he lays them down, he ought to give an opportunity to the representatives of both sides, the planning authority and the appellant, to make representations to him in regard to those additional conditions.
I also agree that there is scope for simplification in regard to one or two items where the development charge is being paid at present. For example, I think that in cases where less than £100 is involved they might very properly and easily be freed from development charges. I also feel—and I gathered that Lord Llewellin also had this in mind—that old and already developed property which is obsolete or inconvenient should have some special consideration, so that the best possible use may be made of it in the national interest. In the case of that class of property it is not always possible for the owners to pay substantial development charges, and it would seem unnecessary for them to do so where property has already been developed, in some cases for hundreds of years, and in which there is a mere change of user—in one sense of the word, though perhaps not in another—which is in the national interest.
Having made those few comments, or it may be criticisms, I think one ought just to turn for a moment to consider at this stage, some four or five years' having passed, how far the general objects of the Town and Country Planning Act have been achieved. As your Lordships know, those objects were, first, to place planning on something of a national basis; secondly, to encourage active or positive development as distinct from mere restriction or regulation; and, thirdly, to solve the problem of compensation. I think we must all agree that the question of national planning, or of planning on a national basis, has made great progress. The general principles have been laid down. The preservation of agricultural 1485 land, the better planning of towns and cities, the division into areas, for various industrial and other purposes, has gone quite a long way, as I know from my own experience in the City of Leeds. The new towns, the trading estates, the decentralisation of industry, have also come about largely by reason of the Town and Country Planning Act and the other Acts which preceded or followed it. The national parks, the preservation of open spaces, the taking over of buildings of antiquarian or architectural importance are all matters which have been brought about largely by the action of the late Government, in the various Acts which they passed. And in my submission, the country is gradually being planned to the national advantage, though of course that is a very long-term project.
Delay has occurred, it is true. Many of these matters might have moved much more rapidly had it not been for the difficulties arising from the present situation. The diversion of effort in many directions, the necessity for rearmament and so on, Lave all had their effect on the results which might otherwise have accrued front the Town and Country Planning Act and other Acts of Parliament. I submit particularly that in the matter of new towns we have had evidence of positive planning which must be an advantage, and we must all hope that the general objects of the Act—though there may be criticism on matters of detail—will be achieved. And I believe they are being achieved. At the same time, in regard to the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, as in regard to other Acts passed by the late Government, I feel that a fair opportunity must be given for us to obtain full benefit from its operation.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT HUDSON
My Lords, I always thought, when I sat in another place, that any Member who began his speech by saying: "The honourable Member who has just sat down, will forgive me if I do not follow him," was guilty of transgressing the most important rule of debate. Nevertheless, in view of the extremely wide scope of the Town and Country Planning Act, I hope that I may be forgiven for once if, in effect, I do not follow everything that the noble Lord opposite has just said. I want to deal with a rather narrow but nevertheless, I venture to think, fairly 1486 important aspect of planning, especially national planning. It will not surprise your Lordships, knowing my past, to be told that I am particularly concerned with the use of land, and particularly with the possibility of saving as much agricultural land as possible from the ravages of the house builder.
Any of your Lordships who, currently or even occasionally, takes the train or drives to what is known as the Black Country, that conglomeration of towns and derelict slag heaps which comprises an area of land between Wolverhampton and Walsall, must have been struck with the dreadful waste that has been going on. Towards the end of the war, we undertook a fairly rapid survey to see whether or not it would be possible to use a great deal of this land, covered by derelict factories, slag heaps and so forth, and to restore it to useful purposes as housing sites, open places and towns, with a view to saving, if possible, the sprawl into the surrounding country. It was, I think, in 1945 that a survey was actually made of the Black Country, and it emerged from that survey that, as a minimum, over 6,000 acres of land were suitable for reclamation and could be used for rehousing the population,: providing schools and open places et cetera.
It was clear that the cost would vary. The cost in some areas, it was obvious, might be substantial. But, after all, compared with the days of 1929 to 1931, the days of unemployment, when men were engaged in digging holes only to fill them in again, enormous progress has been made, especially overseas, in the invention and use of earth-moving machinery; and the cost, therefore, both in human labour and actual money, is a very different thing to-day from what it was thirty years ago or even ten years ago. It is quite true, on the other hand, that much of this machinery is obtainable only overseas, and that a great deal of it costs dollars. Nevertheless, I think the time is here when this question should be looked at again in a more realistic spirit. A few weeks ago we had in your Lordships' House a debate on food production, and on all sides there was testimony to the urgent need of increasing to the maximum possible extent the production of food in this country. The farmers were urged to do their best. But when a farmer living, say, in Staffordshire or Shropshire, 1487 or parts of Cheshire or Derbyshire, drives through this area and sees this land still derelict, then goes a little beyond and sees good agricultural land being taken for houses, he would not be human if he did not say to himself, "Is the country really serious in this demand for increased food production, in this demand for the maximum possible use of land for this purpose?" Could not something be done to save these acres, in our crisis, by using this land which is at present an eyesore?
I think there is also something to be said for the psychological aspect. Speaking quite frankly and personally, I should hate to live in those towns. I can conceive nothing more dreadful than to be compelled to live all one's life looking at a slag heap or a derelict factory. Apart from the question of the saving in time and money brought about by obviating the necessity for people to live in suburbs instead of near their work, there is every reason to try to see that something is done. I am not overlooking the fact that several local authorities have, in fact, tackled parts of this question; but, not unnaturally, they have applied most of their effort to dealing with land that is most easily levelled. That is obvious.
The fact of the matter is—or at least this is what I was told at the time—that the real difficulty, apart from the financial one, lies in local borough boundaries. It may well be that when you are re-allocating this land you will find that particular spots are very suitable for a school and a playground, but the children who would use that school and that playground belong to the borough which is situated just across the street. The survey of which I have spoken, which was made for the Ministry, gives instances of borough boundaries running up the middle of a street. That, of course, prevents development on either side owing—it would, perhaps, be unkind to say, to the jealousies of the local authorities, but certainly owing to a very understandable reluctance in these days of high rates of one authority to spend a great deal of money for the benefit of an adjoining authority. Therefore, as I am informed, it is necessary that this question should be tackled in a comprehensive way, and one which is designed to meet the demands of the times. It will be necessary to make some arrangement for altering 1488 the boundaries of local authorities. There was, I think, an Act passed by the late Government to carry out some of these necessary readjustments, but circumstances into which I need not enter at present resulted in that Act certainly not being made use of, if, indeed, it was not repealed.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, may I correct the noble Viscount? It was not passed by the Labour Government, but by the previous Government.
§ VISCOUNT HUDSON
It was not made use of by the late Government—I will put it in that way. I appeal to the noble Lord who is to reply to see whether something cannot be done to get voluntary organisation among local authorities, if there is not time for legislation, because, from the point of view of food production, of amenity and of the whole psychology of the people condemned to death in this Black Country, I am sure that the matter is ripe, and over-ripe, for action.
§ 4.41 p.m.
§ LORD DOUGLAS OF BARLOCH
My Lords, I think we are all agreed upon the necessity for some form of planning and control of land use. Nevertheless, it is true that at present it seems to be difficult to secure permission for needed developments, not merely because of the need for planning permission but because of other permissions which have to be obtained—building licences, or, in some cases, consent of the Board of Trade to industrial user. When we cast our eyes back over the development of the idea of planning, it is evident that a great change has taken place. In its first conception as it began to be developed about the beginning of this century, the idea was to impose some kind of general rules by means of zoning, restriction of the height of buildings and similar regulations applying to an area, rather than by control of every building as an individual building. We have now come to a position in which for every development, even a mere change of use without any structural change whatever in the lands or buildings, it is necessary to obtain a planning permission. This has thrown an added obligation upon everybody, and in the early stages particularly, before the machinery began to be well organised and to work promptly, it involved serious 1489 delays. I do not say that there are not still delays.
We have not yet reached a stage under the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947 under which the development plans in each planning area have become finalised. Of course that helps to create additional uncertainty in the situation and makes the job of those who wish to develop land somewhat more difficult than otherwise it would be. I hope that some means can he devised to get away from the need for so many individual consents where the proposed development lies within a recognised scheme which has been settled by a planning authority or where it involves trivial changes which make no substantial difference to the neighbourhood. If the necessity for so many individual permissions and formalities which have to be gone through for quite trivial things could be overcome, it would certainly be a great improvement.
The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, who initiated this discussion, devoted a good deal of his speech to the problem of development charges and the correlative provisions for compensation for loss of development value which form one of the novel features of the Act of 1947. We must remember that one of the great difficulties with which planning was always confronted was the requirement that compensation should be paid in respect of land which was reduced in value because of planning restrictions imposed upon it, quite properly, in the interests of the community at large. There is not the slightest doubt that the progress of planning in this country under the old law was very much impeded, especially in cases where the prospective charge upon the local authority was likely to be considerable. No doubt it was largely on that account that there was introduced a comprehensive provision which was intended to deal with this problem once and for all. The plan of taking away from owners the development value at one stroke, and compensating them for it, was intended to remove a difficulty which had hitherto been imposed upon planning authorities by the necessity of paying compensation, in some cases very large sums. On the other hand, I think it is not altogether untrue to say that under existing conditions, when that financial liability no longer lies upon the planning authority, in some cases they may be tempted to make more extensive reserves 1490 of land for non-productive uses than they would have done had they been obliged to count the cost of doing so.
I sympathise with the view that in this country we have to be economical in land use and that we cannot afford to have removed from productive purposes, whether for agriculture or other objects, any more land than is reasonably required to secure a good layout and amenity in our residential districts. Now we have the provisions which were intended to solve the question of betterment, and their inevitable correlative of the imposition of a development charge when a permission is given to develop land, with, of course, certain exceptions with which your. Lordships are quite familiar. Unfortunately, I do not think that this scheme has worked out in quite the way that was anticipated, because it appears that people who have land for sale are unwilling to dispose of it upon its existing use value, which in some cases, naturally, is negligible. Their inertia to do so is overcome by the would-be developer paying a price which, according to the theory of this legislation, he ought not to pay. To this, of course, there is a check provided in the Act in the power which is given to the Central Land Board to acquire land and to dispose of it for development. I understand that that power has been used in some cases, but on the whole it seems to be a clumsy means of trying to deal with the difficulty, and it does not appear to have been used very frequently or very effectively.
There is another curious feature which has arisen out of the system of development charges. The development charge naturally depends upon the particular kind of use which it is proposed to make of the land. If it is proposed to alter or improve the land to only a slight extent, the development charge is, or ought to be, correspondingly small, whereas if it is intended to develop the land to the full extent to which it might reasonably be developed, the development charge is correspondingly high. This may, in some cases at any rate, induce people to make a development which is not adequate to the site, and so prevent the full development of which the site is capable. That seems to me to be a somewhat unforeseen result of the legislation, and one which, when it takes place, is undoubtedly unfortunate.
I feel that the result which was aimed at by these provisions could have been 1491 obtained in another way, and much more simply, without the enormous amount of labour involved in calculating the sums payable in compensation for the restriction to the right to develop. It could have been achieved by simply making the compensation payable out of national funds in those particular cases where it was definitely decided to restrict the use of land in accordance with the town planning scheme. That would have relieved the difficulty of the poor local authority engaged upon a planning scheme which happened to involve considerable sums of compensation. That, in effect, by a roundabout route, is what has been done by the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. But the method involves the payment at one blow of a lump sum of £300,000,000 of public money, which sum might have been spread over a great many years as planning developed and as restrictions were imposed in particular cases. It may be that in total, if that course had been adopted, the amount of public money to be paid out would have been less.
On the converse side, however, we have to remember that the orderly development of towns and the operation of planning is calculated to increase land values, and that in any event the development of a town is, in effect, a process which creates site values. I adhere to the view, which has been held by town planners since the early stages of the discussion of this subject, that the community is entitled to recover some, if not all, of the value which has been created by public activity and by the very presence of the community itself. Unfortunately, the development charge provisions do not achieve that object, because there can be large accretions of site value within the limits of the existing use of land. Indeed, all over London we can see street upon street which has been well developed which does not at this stage call for re-development, where at the time when the street was originally laid out the ground rent was £2 or £3 a year, representing approximately the site value at that time, and where, if the building were to be accidently destroyed and the site let again at this moment, it would undoubtedly command a very much higher ground rent. That is an example of an 1492 increase in site value within the framework of existing use and not subject to any development charge at all. On that account, I do not think the development charge system is comprehensive enough, because it does not achieve the object of recovering for the community in all cases some or all of the increase in the site value which has been created by the presence and activity of the community. I therefore feel that the theory which some of us cherished and adhered to, that this problem would be better solved, either by a national tax on site values, or by a local rate on site values, should be examined once more.
In this connection, let me refer to one other feature of the development charge system. The transaction in each case is a kind of negotiation or bargain which has to be made between the developer and the Central Land Board. Instances come to light in which the initial demand of the Central Land Board for development charge has, after negotiation, been reduced to a half, a quarter, or even, in some cases, one-tenth, of the amount originally proposed. That creates a fearful state of uncertainty. If the matter works out like that, it indicates that, in fact, the result depends to a very large extent, upon which party has superior skill in bargaining. I submit to your Lordships that that is an unhappy state of affairs, and it means that the strong will emerge out of this contest most successfully while the weak will be pushed to the wall. If there were some general valuation of sites in existence which formed a framework of reference by which these claims could be judged and settled, that would indeed be a very different story; and that again supports the argument that there is something to be said for dealing with this problem of compensation and betterment in a different way, by settling the compensation as and when it arises in individual cases and by recovering the betterment generally by a tax or rate upon site values wherever they occur.
§ 5.0 p.m.
My Lords, others of your Lordships have indicated that they would like to see some amendment of this Act, and many other suggestions have been put forward by bodies outside this House. If it can be shown that there is a way of reducing unnecessary expense 1493 and complications under the Act, I, too, should like to see amendments made. I hope that your Lordships and the Government will not insist on amendments of such a sort that they will compel the local authorities to redraw the schemes that they are now engaged in submitting. I think I have reminded your Lordships previously that under the 1932 Act the planning authorities sent great stacks of documents and maps to Whitehall, all of which were put in the waste-paper basket, and now we are submitting a great many more. I think some 1,500 are going in from my own county. If all those are going to be scrapped, it will mean rot merely that there will be a great deal of frustration and waste of money in the local authorities but also that town planning itself will become somewhat of a farce. People will begin to say, with some justification: "If we are going to have planning, we might as well start with a little planning in Whitehall itself."
I do not believe that any of the schemes I have seen or heard has the intention of upsetting these plans. In fact, many very responsible people have said to me: "It is not the planning we want to alter, it is the financial part of the Act." I cannot see how planning can be divorced from the financial part of the Act. Up to a point, plans depend on finance and particularly on compensation being paid. The schemes now being submitted are being submitted on the assumption that compensation will be paid out of a national fund, and if there is going to be any change in that, it will mean some change in the plans themselves. Really a great deal depends on the question of justice, and I am fairly certain that whatever powers you give to the local authorities they will not be used in the way it may be intended that they shall be used if the result is to create obvious injustice.
And injustice does become greater the nearer you get to the people whose properties you are planning. In particular, I am thinking of the small plot-holders, of whom there are many thousands in the country, but unfortunately they are not organised. They are not represented by the Country Landowners' Association; they are represented in a small part by the National Federation of Property Owners. Yet I believe that they are more vulnerable than any other class to altera- 1494 tions in the town planning law. Many of them have sunk a considerable portion of their savings in buying plots often on the strength of past town planning schemes, and if they are now not to be allowed to build and if they are to be given no compensation they will simply lose their money.
Having said that, I do not for a moment intend to imply that I think that all town planning restrictions will lead to injustice unless compensation is paid in respect of them. I agree with a view expressed by my noble friend, Lord Reading: if a man has bought a house at a price appropriate to a house, and is subsequently prevented from turning it into even a block of offices, I cannot see that it is unjust not to pay him compensation. Because although he may have lost the power of making further profit, he still has his house and the value in the house. Surely it follows that if you can exclude such cases from compensation, you can also exclude similar cases where planning consent is given from the necessity to pay a development charge. Although I believe it is absolutely necessary to have a national compensation fund, I cannot see that it need by any bigger than is necessary to meet cases of hardship.
It is just at this point that we run into ideological difficulties. I believe that a great deal of unnecessary complication has arisen because, when the late Government introduced this Bill, they tried to kill two birds with one stone: they tried to combine the principle of compensation paid out of betterment with another principle—namely, that as a matter of policy, the Government ought to become possessed of all development values. The theory of compensation paid out of betterment is agreed to by many people outside the Labour Party, but the theory that the Government should, as a matter of policy, acquire all development values seems to me something different. It seems to me to be a sort of fiscal device designed not to redistribute building, but to redistribute wealth; and whatever its merits may be, it has the effect of pushing town planning into the forefront of Party controversy. By doing that, we run the risk whenever we have a change of Government of having a new Town Planning Act, and that is the surest way to kill town planning altogether.
1495 If we can afford to disregard this theory, and approach the financial angle simply from the point of view of the requirements of town planning, we can afford to examine how much compensation we can dispense with without injustice, and, by the same token, how much development charge we can also dispense with. Here I agree with my noble friend, Lord Llewellin, that it might be useful to re-examine the Uthwatt Report which your Lordships will remember differentiated between built-up and undeveloped land. I agree with him that there is certainly a case for cutting out altogether the development charge and compensation on all existing buildings. I would leave them subject to planning control; but if planning consent is forthcoming I believe an owner should be able to change the use of a building or, within limits, enlarge it or alter it, without any development charge being paid; and if planning consent is not forthcoming, I would pay no compensation. I think there are strong arguments for that contention.
In the first place, from all the evidence produced in this House and outside it, I think that about 75 per cent. of the cases of a vexatious, arbitrary and unintelligible development charge arose on a change of user. My noble friend Lord Llewellin produced the case of the Union Club, and there were various cases of small cottages, one where an old lady wanted to have a room for serving tea. That development was assessed. Then the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, produced a case of a derelict shack, and so forth. I think your Lordships may feel that, although there was a logical reason for a development charge, the logic was so pedantic and unrealistic that the general effect was just rather silly. I believe that the late Government themselves must have agreed, up to a point, with that way of looking at the matter, because they amended their original regulations out of all recognition. Secondly, I do not believe that great hardship would be caused by not paying compensation in regard to restrictions on existing buildings. I do not believe that many people have bought buildings at more than their existing use value, except in cases where they were derelict and the purchasers were certain that they would get planning consent.
I think the position is quite different from that which prevails with unde- 1496 veloped land. Doing away with development charge, as my noble friend has already said, would stimulate the re-development and modernisation of existing buildings, many of which are in sad need of something of the sort. I speak as a member of a Planning Committee. We are marking on town maps areas which should be replaced within the next twenty years. That is all in accordance with the rules, but I cannot honestly say that, going on as we are at present, there is likely to be the slightest chance of those areas being re-developed in twenty years. Very little is in fact being done to encourage the improvement, or even the repair, of existing buildings, let alone their redevelopment. We are told on the best authority that the rate of obsolescence of existing buildings is greater than the rate of building new houses. I have always thought that that was rather an alarming situation. Of course, where real slum areas already exist, the Act provides for their being treated drastically as areas of comprehensive re-development. I am not suggesting any change there, because where there is a multiplicity of ownerships of these obsolescent buildings I cannot see any alternative to public acquisition. But I hope we shall get on with those schemes, because just marking lines on maps will do nothing at all.
I am concerned chiefly with the prevention of the creation of new slums, and going on as we are there seems to be a real danger that new slums will be created. There is not much that we can do about it under this Act, or even by amendment of this Act, but at least we can stop fining people who want to modernise and improve old buildings. What I have in mind is the kind of proposition where a man wants to buy a row of derelict houses, possibly to put shops underneath and flats above. If anything, I think a man of that sort ought to be subsidised and not penalised. I have advanced what I believe to be strong arguments for the idea propounded by my noble friend of relieving all existing buildings of development charge. No doubt there are strong arguments against it, because no Back Bencher can be dogmatic on such a matter of such complication. All I hope is that the counter arguments are not purely technical ones, because it seems to be the rule that in all these stratospheric technicalities sur- 1497 rounding the higher thought on town planning what one super-expert says is almost certain to be contradicted by another super-expert.
With regard to undeveloped land, I would frankly leave the Act to operate as it was intended. I should perhaps declare an interest, because I have some claims, but I would have development charge levied for any building consent. Of course, if you cut out existing buildings you would have the development charge imposed only once and for all. I can see that there may be serious objections to that. I can see that a number of people would get unexpected windfalls. The case of Lord's cricket ground has been cited. I do not think the M.C.C. are any too well off, but I have not heard that they are likely to sell Lord's cricket ground for building—and the building value must be considerable. It would perhaps be rather absurd to present them with a large sum of public money, though no doubt they would be glad of it. It might have the unexpected but pleasing result of causing the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, as the originator of this scheme, to be remembered along with W. G. Grace and others as one of the great patrons of English cricket. I believe that, although there may be anomalies, having gone thus far, it would create more anomalies and cause a bigger mess if an attempt were made to divide all the claimants into categories, compensating them according to their hardship. When one thinks not only of the small plot owners, but also of trustees, mortgagees, death duty payers, charities and so forth, it seems to roe to be extraordinarily difficult to devise a scheme which will have any kind of justice about it. Even the chartered surveyors' very ingenious scheme of deferred payment certificates has certain technical difficulties which I do not think have ever been surmounted in theory.
As for the difficulty of obtaining land, I am well aware of the case which has been made out. I am equally aware of the contrary argument that far too much land has already been taken. I was glad to hear that that view had the support of my noble friend Lord Hudson. Certainly my experience is that in the Home Counties this question of protecting agricultural land is becoming a very acute one, and it is not likely to become any less acute when the Town Development 1498 Bill comes into operation. As we all know, local authorities have power to purchase land compulsorily for council housing and also to acquire land for private enterprise building. In present circumstances I believe that there is something to be said for councils' buying land in excess of their own requirements, servicing it, and selling or letting it out in building plots. In present circumstances this may often be preferable and more economical to the probable alternative—namely, the dotting about over the countryside of somewhat squalid bungalows, because under present conditions substantial buildings are not easy to build in isolation. I know that, in theory, this alternative, can be prevented by planning, but it is a pure illusion to think that planning can withstand prolonged pressure over a number of years Therefore I am not entirely unhappy that the Act has had this unintended result of making agricultural land difficult to acquire although I know that that is an unpopular view.
In dealing with such a large subject one can only touch on various points. I am not in favour of Lend Llewellin's idea of an appeal tribunal, because it seems to me that it would not be possible to have an independent tribunal without altering the whole idea of the Act, and particularly the position of the Minister. I am, however, in favour of his other idea of having an appeal orgy assessment of development charges, because, whether people are being equally assessed or not, no one will think he is until there is a central appeal body. It would be satisfactory to think that we were getting somewhere in all this planning, and that there was some chance of making plans and of carrying them out. But if that is to happen, there has got to be some continuity of policy, both in regard to legislation and in regard to the effect and administration of the planning, so that the plans can be not only made but also implemented. Since town planning really affects matters of geography and amenity it should not be beyond the power of our leaders to make this a non-Party subject; but if town planning is to be used as a theatre for other theories it will be very difficult.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ LORD WISE
My Lords, I have been looking at the list of speakers and I find that my position this afternoon is half-way 1499 down. That is a rather difficult position to occupy, because those who have spoken have stolen a great deal of the thunder and many of the points upon which I should have touched; and those who are following me are, I am certain, hoping that I shall be very brief. I noticed, in referring to the word "thunder" just now, that the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, pointed to the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin; and I must say that I thought the debate was opened with a great deal of vigour. I think it is a very good thing that we have had this debate.
There is one point which I should like to mention with regard to the speech of Lord Llewellin, and that is his remark concerning a note which appeared in the Conservative Manifesto to the effect that a Conservative Government would drastically change the 1947 Act. Well, my Lords, I hope that that will not happen. We have already gone through a few weeks of drastic changes and I therefore sincerely advise the Government (if I may use the word "advise") to go very carefully with this particular Act. I know it is a difficult Act. I think that those who come from another place and who had something to do with the passing of the Act in 1947, and, indeed, those of your Lordships who were in this House at that time, will realise that the Town and Country Planning Act was one of the most difficult Acts ever passed through Parliament. I am not at all certain that any of us, either in this House or in another place, with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, knew what it was all about.
At any rate we have gone through a period of trial and error and there are many features in the Act which I think are worth continuing. Some people may think it a bad Act from their point of view; but I am convinced that 90 per cent. of the Act is good, and the other 10 per cent. is not bad. It may be irksome; it may present difficulties for one or another; but, by and large, I hope that if the Government see fit, as possibly they will, to amend it (and it can perhaps well be amended in one or two details) they will not touch the main body of the Act—which, in my view, comprises the few sections dealing with the development of land. We may have to amend the provisions regarding the compensation fund and the development charge. 1500 They have led us into difficulties which we never foresaw some three or four years ago. Already numbers of people have spoken of the difficulties of the practical application of the charges and how they have played a part in creating frustration and dissatisfaction.
Another point is that concerning the £300,000,000 compensation fund. The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, informed the House that there were already claims to the extent of £350,000,000; so already, if that sum of £300,000,000 is used, the Government are on the wrong side to the tune of £50,000,000. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, can give us some information as to how much the Government have collected up to the present in development charges towards that £300,000,000. It may well be that already there is a fair amount of money available for redistribution. I hope the Government will see to it that people who have a legitimate claim on the compensation fund and are looking for payment will be paid.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
On that point, may I say that I quite agree with what the noble Lord is saying, but I suggest that the Government have had to pay out considerable sums? If we could have those figures at the same time—I do not know whether they are available—we should get the whole picture. We should get the whole figure on valuation.
§ LORD WISE
I agree, and perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, can supply the figures before the end of the debate. There are some claims under the compensation fund which could, no doubt, very well be delayed. I myself have a claim under the fund, but the land in respect of which it is made will not be developed for some considerable time, if at all. Those people who are not likely to develop their land immediately should not have a claim on the fund at the present time. The noble Viscount, Lord Gage, referred to the plan of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors in regard to certificates. That may be worth consideration; and, even if it is not, I think I may say that there is a committee already set up by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors which is considering amendments which might well be put forward in regard to this Act.
1501 There are one or two complaints which have arisen in regard to the operation of the Act. I said I would he brief, and I will be, but I find that quite recently there has been a good deal of difference of opinion between the county councils and the borough councils in regard to development plans. It is admitted that, under the Act, the county council is the body which should produce its plans, but friction is likely to be caused, and in future it may be desirable, on the periodical revision of these plans, to delegate some of the powers to the local authorities.
§ LORD WISE
To the smaller ones—to borough councils and people of that sort who are interested in their own borough development and who, at the moment, rather consider that the county councils are usurping some of their own particular powers. There are complaints that the machine is too slow and that development is held up. I think that complaint is justified. If I may say so from this side of the House, it seems to me that nearly every Government Department and nearly every Minister is concerned with town and country planning. There are the Minister of Local Government and Planning, the Minister of Agriculture, the Minister of Transport—
§ LORD WISE
Well, I do not want to joke about it, but I wonder what the supreme commander of co-ordinators is thinking about it. At some time or another, we shall have another co-ordinator for the development of our towns and areas.
I have dealt with the question of the uncertainty of the compensation claim, and another point of complaint is the excessive development charges. I think that some of them are out of all reason and certainly not at all in the spirit of the Act. I was glad to hear the noble Viscount, Lord Hudson, refer to the question of the agricultural interests and 1502 the conservation of agricultural land. These matters are all provided for in what I call the good part of the Act. Under the first portion, it is possible to further the conservation of agricultural land. It is possible to assist the planning of new housing estates, the improvement of beauty spots, the preservation of beauty spots and of historical buildings, and so on. I came upon a matter which interested me very much only a few days ago. I happened to be attending an auction sale and, during the sale, a note was handed to the auctioneer informing him in regard to a certain area of parkland that a number of trees along the roadside was coming under the control of the local planning authority and could not be sold for the purpose of felling. That was an instance, which otherwise might not have occurred, where we were able to preserve our countryside.
I finish on this particular note: that if and when any amendment is required of this Act, I hope that the Government will bring into consultation all those professional and other bodies which have acquired practical experience of the working of the Act. There are many. We have had about four or five years of its operation, and there are already people considering how the Act should be improved to make it more workable and to establish it as a measure which we in this House and in another place can be proud to have carried on during the lifetime of this Government and in the years to come.
§ 5.37 p.m.
My Lords, it is not my intention to delay your Lordships for long in this debate, in which many classes of opinion have been expressed and to which I find it difficult to add to what has already been said. I think the purpose of this debate is not to try to draw up legislative amendments for Her Majesty's Government: they are fully supplied with all the necessary technical information by the technical bodies with whom they associate every day. I feel that all that is necessary is to touch lightly on one or two of the major points of the administration of this Town and Country Planning Act as we find it as citizens of this country, and as we have to deal with it in the course of our daily lives.
1503 The first point is the planning part of the Act. Before I come to that, I should like to look back for a moment to the year 1947, when this Act came into force, to see what was the situation in this country at that time. The country was still suffering from the devastation of war and an unhappy peace. Nobody knew what was going to happen. Houses were short, office accommodation was short, and materials and money were also short. This Act came into force, and the first thing that happened was that controls were imposed. Government staffs grew to enormous sizes and the position became worse. From the planning side of the Act, I should like to point out that, although certain modifications of the used classes orders have been allowed, control of planning is still too cumbersome and detailed. For instance, in the used classes orders and the classification of buildings and properties, not more than four large groups should be necessary—I mean residential properties, business premises, industrial premises and places of assembly. That is the first point for a planning authority to consider. It is a basis which should help to clarify their minds.
The next problem, from the planning point of view, that I have come up against has been the long delays in obtaining planning permission. When we look around for possible reasons one of the first things that strikes me is that local planning committees do not meet often enough. It is generally the fact that the personnel of those Committees are busy with other engagements, and it is not always possible to get them together sufficiently often to meet the necessities of the times. There have also been too many alterations in area plans before final settlement. By that, I mean that one has gone to the local planning authority asking for a decision on whether such-and-such a street shall be residential or office property, or a mixture of both. I have run across cases where one answer has been given on, say, the 1st of the month and, by the 8th of the next month, the decision has been reversed. That is no good for planning. Those are the sort of administrative details which the Government would do well to look into.
One other matter, from a planning point of view, is the control by the Board of 1504 Trade on industrial buildings over a certain size. This is a very detailed and complicated matter, and the control is in addition to that held by the ordinary local planning authority. Industrialists have been asked to get on with production, and they should not be held up with the details of the erection of their factories to such an extent as to cause trouble to the production of this country. A definite time limit should also be set in regard to the time over which the Board of Trade have control of a factory building. Another point, which has already been touched on this afternoon, is that of planning appeals. I wish to endorse the opinions that have been expressed, especially with regard to planning authorities having too much advance information and technical advice and time for consideration. Government Departments and planning authorities should have to give oral evidence at a hearing, because such evidence takes on a very different appearance from written evidence placed before the Minister. There should also be a time limit of three months within which the Minister should be allowed to arrive at his decision. These are a few instances where I feel that the administration of the Act could be reconsidered to advantage.
From the financial side, the development charge and its application are really at the root of the greater part of the troubles of development during the past five years. It has become nothing more or less than a powerful form of penal taxation. Proper changes of use and development of property are being frustrated by this development charge liability, and developers who already own property will be unwilling to develop to the full ripe value on account of the charge to be paid at the time of the development. It has to be remembered that in the past development has taken place ahead of requirements, and so on a lower financial basis.
The other two points with regard to the development charge which I think it necessary to mention are, first, that existing buildings and houses should not pay a development charge on account of change of user. That has been a really bad aspect of the case, and has caused an enormous amount of delay in the rehabilitation of a considerable amount of residential and office building which might have been in use long ago. The 1505 other point, about which I am not of the same opinion as my noble friend Lord Gage, is that of appeal. This, I think, has caused a greater sense of frustration throughout the industrial and the economic world than any other point in regard to the development charge. A short time ago a mock court of appeal was set up, consisting of a mock tribunal, a practising barrister, a solicitor, and a member of the Institute of Chartered Surveyors. An imaginary appeal was heard; it went off perfectly smoothly, and it was agreed by all concerned that there was no hitch in the proceedings.
I hope that I have not taken up too many points. I do not wish to follow any further the ordinary general line of points taken in regard to the Act, but I want to turn for one moment to something rather out of the ordinary line of the discussion that we have been having this afternoon. I want to refer to the position of the National Trust in regard to the Act. It has been reported by the representatives of the Trust that the greatest possible trouble has been taken in deciding whether to declare as inalienable land which they held on the appointed day, and, as a matter of fact, any proposals for declaring land inalienable were first submitted to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning. Moreover, when the exemption of inalienable land from death duties was inserted in the Finance Act of 1937, the Treasury made it clear that they would watch with great care the policy which the Trust adopted about declarations of inalienability, and that, if they considered that the Trust were abusing their powers in that respect, the exemptions from death duties would be modified or withdrawn. The fact that neither the Minister of Town and Country Planning nor the Treasury has seen any reason to complain of the policy adopted by the Trust in this matter over a considerable number of years is strong confirmatory evidence to show that the Trust act with a very real sense of responsibility.
That being the case, it is suggested that it is a reasonable request on the part of the Trust that legislation should be introduced to extend the exemption from development charge, conferred by Section 85 of the existing Act, to land which is declared inalienable after the appointed 1506 date. This is something which I hope the Government will take into consideration in whatever changes they choose to make in the Act. The National Trust are doing a fine job of work in this country. Whatever development they undertake will, I am sure, be of such a nature that neither the country nor the Treasury will lose anything by it, because any development which the Trust bring about is not of an extravagant kind. I hope the Government will do their best to give them every possible help.
§ 5.46 p.m.
My Lords, Aristotle said that thought was the only form of hard labour. Certainly a great deal of hard labour is required in considering the amendment of the Town and Country Planning Act. 1947. There is a great deal of loose talk about the desirability of amending this Statute. I am not suggesting that any of your Lordships has indulged or will indulge, in any loose talk on the subject, but throughout the country generally there is a great deal of very wide, unrelated talk about amending this particular Statute. Therefore, let me try and be as precise as possible, and see what portions of the Act, if any, require amendment.
Part I of the Act consists of four sections and deals simply with central and local administration. There is no cause for amending that part of the Act. Part II of the Act deals with development plans, and I think everybody will agree that development plans are preferable to the form of planning scheme which existed under the old legislation. The development plan is simple and flexible. It is simple because it marks out the broad pattern of development in the area in question, and it is flexible in the sense that it may be amended from time to time to meet changing circumstances. If that is the general concensus of opinion throughout the country, I do not see that any case is made out for any Amendment of Part II of the Act.
Part III of the Act is concerned with the control of development. We all remember that in days gone by there was a period of interim control between the passing of the resolution to prepare the scheme and the final making of the scheme, during which period application for permission to develop had to be made to the interim development authority. 1507 When the scheme was finally made (a great number of such schemes were never finally made) applications for development had to be to a responsible authority under the scheme. All that has now disappeared. Under Part III of the 1947 Act, permission for development must be obtained for any development carried out after July 1, 1948. There are certain operations and uses which are deemed not to constitute development, and it therefore follows that no permission need be obtained in those cases.
On the other hand, there are a certain number of operations and uses which do in fact constitute development, but which may be carried out without the necessity of obtaining permission, by reason either of the Town and Country General Development Order, 1950, or the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order, 1950, or the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes for Third Schedule Purposes) Order, 1948. It may be that in the light of the past four years' experience the Government may extend the scope of those various regulations. There are also in Part III certain provisions enabling the serving of enforcement notices in order to carry out the orders on the planning authority. I think everyone will agree that unless these enforcement provisions exist controlled planning will become a farce. Broadly speaking, Part III of the Act requires no amendment, or no serious amendment, with the possible exception of extending the scope of the various regulations to which I have referred.
Part IV of the Act deals with the acquisition and disposal of land for planning purposes. Land designated for compulsory acquisition in a development plan may be acquired within ten years, or seven years in the case of agricultural land. I should like to know from the Government what effect that has upon sterilising land for purposes of development by private individuals. I do not know, and it will be interesting to get the views of the Government on that point. The Central Land Board are also empowered to acquire land for any purpose connected with their functions under the Act. The interpretation of the word "functions" has provided the Central Land Board with a kind of bludgeon which they may use against people who 1508 try to sell land at a price above its existing use value. I suggest that the Government might well look at this bludgeon which is exercised by the Central Land Board. On the whole, however, there does not appear to be any serious criticism of Part IV of the Act.
Part V of the Act contains amendments relating to compensation for compulsory acquisition of land. Some of these amendments relate to periods of time which are past history. Where the Notice to Treat was served before August 6, 1947, the compensation fell to be assessed under the old 1939 standard, subject to certain modifications. That is now past history. Where the Notice to Treat was served after August 6, 1947, and before July 1, 1948, land acquired during that period was valued for compensation by reference to its existing use at the time of the Notice to Treat in terms of prices current immediately before January 7, 1947. That is now past history. But now we come to something much more important. Where the Notice to Treat is served after July 1, 1948, the compensation is assessed by reference to the existing use value of the land as if it were sold in the open market.
The principle of "existing use" underlies the whole structure of the 1947 Act. The Act of 1947 without the principle of "existing use," would be like Hamlet without the ghost. No one has ever suggested shooting the ghost in Hamlet; therefore no doubt it is unlikely that any Government will ever abolish the principle of "existing use." Whether we like it or not, it must be remembered that the principle of "existing use" is responsible for Part VI and Part VII of this Act. Part VI of the Act, which deals with payment for depreciation of land values, and Part VII, which deals with development charges, exist solely and exclusively because the value of the land to the owner is restricted to its existing use value. As to Part VI—that is the part which, as I say, deals with payment for depreciation of land values—there seems to be a great deal of vague talk as to what are the correct figures in this connection. I do not propose to suggest any figures but I should like to hear from Her Majesty's Government the figures of the claims which have been admitted, and whether all claims have been adjudicated or some are still awaiting final determination. 1509 Further, I would ask what is the precise figure that will be available for what may be described as ordinary creditors in this case, after allowing for preferential creditors. The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, said that we ordinary creditors might hope for a composition of 16s. in the pound. I think he is rather optimistic. I think that a figure of 14s. is nearer the mark. Still I will not argue that point with anyone.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
I was taking my figures from the reply of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the House of Commons on February 26. Some difference may have come about since.
I am very much obliged to the noble Lord for his intervention and I withdraw any suggestion that his figures are not accurate. As to Part VII of the Act—that is the part which deals with development charge—I think we are all agreed that development charge is a total mistake. I believe Thomas Carlyle said that 90 per cent. of the human race were mad. Personally I think that 95 per cent. must have been suffering under a delusion when they either agreed to or acquiesced in the passing of the development charge. Just let us relate ourselves to the facts of life. A man, we will suppose, has a factory. He is urged by the Government to increase the export trade. With that view in mind, he enlarges his factory beyond the 10 per cent. tolerance allowed by the Act. Having done that he has to pay a fine in the shape of a development charge, for having helped to further the export trade of this country. That appears to me to be absolutely nonsensical. I was going to say that in my view development charge was the invention of Satan, but perhaps that might give offence. As we know, development charge to-day is charged in respect of all operations or uses for which planning permission is required. To that general rule there are exceptions which are to be found in the Town and Country Planning (Development Charge Exemptions) Regulations 1950.
However, I suggest that if the Government, in the light of four years' experience, decide tot to abolish development charge, they should review these regulations to see whether or not their scope can be extended. As we all know, development charge is 100 per cent. of the 1510 difference between the value of land with the benefit of planning permission and the value of land without the benefit of such permission. Again, if the Government prefer to continue with the development charge I urge them to reduce the figure of 100 per cent. to a figure not exceeding 60 per cent. As to an appeal to the Lands Tribunal from the determination of a development charge by the Central Land Board, I agree with all noble Lords who are in favour of such appeal. As your Lordships know, at the present time the matter is determined in the first place by the district valuer, who, I think, always does his duty according to his lights. But he has a very difficult duty to perform. Anyone who is dissatisfied, and is physically capable of doing so, may ask to see the Central Land Board and put his case to that Board, and that is sometimes regarded as an appeal from the district valuer. Of course, it is nothing of the sort, because the Central Land Board are the authority who are charged with the determination and collection of this charge. There is no such thing as an appeal to the Central Land Board from determination of their own development charge. Therefore, I submit that there should be an appeal from the determination of development charge by the Central Land Board to the Lands Tribunal.
Let me summarise the position. Instead of wandering over the whole field, I make four suggestions to Her Majesty's Government in connection with amending the Act of 1947. The first is that all admitted claims for payments for loss of development value should be paid in full. The second is that development charge should be abolished; alternatively, if it is not abolished, the amount of development charge should be reduced from 100 per cent. to a figure not exceeding 60 per cent. The third is that the right of appeal from determination of development charge by the Central Land Board should be given to the Lands Tribunal. And the fourth is that the powers of the Central Land Board in connection with their functions under the Act and, in particular, with their function to purchase land, should be carefully reviewed. In conclusion, may I say that I was greatly struck by an observation of the noble Lord, Lord Wise, who said, 1511 I think, that only he and the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, really understood the Act of 1947.
The noble Lord suggested that only the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, understood the 1947 Act. I think that is a view that was shared by Omar Khayýam. Omar Khayýam took a poor view of the 1947 Act. To adapt his quatrain, he said:The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,Moves on: nor all thy piety nor WitShall lure it back to cancel half a Line—Nor understand a single Word of it.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ LORD QUIBELL
My Lords, I feel almost like craving your Lordships' indulgence for speaking, it is so long since I have spoken in your Lordships' House. But I feel that I cannot allow a discussion on housing and town planning to proceed without saying a word or two. I agree that the author of the Town and Country Planning Act is a wonderful man, but I do not think he knows all about the Act. He knows a great deal about it, but by now I think I know some parts of it a great deal better than the Minister responsible. Town planning goes back farther than 1947. The first Act was the Prevention of Ribbon Development Act, which sought to prevent the building of houses along made-up country roads and in our villages. This Act was intended to ensure that we should have proper planning development and to compel owners of estates, big or little, to develop their back lands and make roads and sewers there, instead of exploiting the road-sides all over England and despoiling the best aspects of our countryside. That is all to the good and I do not think there is any member of your Lordships' House or of another place who for one moment would think of repealing the best provisions of that Act.
But when we come to what I call the planners, I hardly know what to say. We are planned to death. For a time I was engaged almost every week-end in developing an estate, which I thought was a very nice estate, and so did the planners. But they had one great objection to this 1512 estate—they objected to the colour scheme. The people for whom I was building the houses wanted red-tiled roofs or brindle roofs or blue roofs, so that they could identify their houses easily when they went homewards. That did not suit the planners. One of them came down and saw me. He objected to the different-coloured roofs. There was nothing at all wrong with the buildings or the streets. It was the colour scheme that he did not like. I never proposed to ask him. I was more concerned with suiting the people who were going to pay for the houses and live in them, and it was not long before I told him where I thought he "got off." And I did not see him again. I hope he found a more useful job of work than coming round to tell me how to paint a house and what the colour scheme should be.
A little bit of fact is worth a lot of theory about matters of this kind, and I want to give some facts about the development of a certain site. It was a derelict one, a large part of it consisting of sand dunes. Some of it was Crown Land, because it had been left by the sea and the dunes were the only embankment to prevent the sea invading the land again. The owner gave something like £550 an acre for it, put in roads and sewers, levelled it for development and made it into a proper building site. What happened when he wanted to build on it? He got plans passed and the district valuer came down, because the local authority wanted to purchase some of the land, to put a price on it. The valuer marked on a plan of the site what he was prepared to give for each part of the twenty acres, and the owner agreed that he would accept his valuation. The figure put down for compulsory acquisition was 7½d. a yard—for land valued by the district valuer at 12s. 6d. a yard. Was that ever intended? If that is not madness, I do not know what is.
The difference between these two prices on the same estate was the difference between ripe and near-ripe land. I have found no remedy for this problem. My noble friend Lord Silkin knows it, because he has seen the plans. What is the difference? Because you have plans passed for two houses on a piece of land, that land is ripe and is valued at 12s. 6d. a yard. But the next piece of land, which is an even better piece of land from the point 1513 of view of site value, is near-ripe, because plans have not been passed for it; and for this land you get only 7½d. a yard. That is my experience. It is a practical one, capable of proof and indisputable.
Let me take another example, sent me by a man in Northwich. I have had letters from all over the country about this kind of nonsense. This man in Northwich thought he would build himself a little house and bought a piece of land, for which he paid £450. He had to plan how he was going to develop it, so along came the town planning authority and assessed a development charge nearly as much as the man had paid for the site. Any noble Lord would consider that £450 for the site was sufficient for a man with a small income who wanted to build a cottage. What is the result? That man is landed with that site: he has parted with his £450 and he cannot build his house. He came to my home town to ask me whether I could get him out of his difficulty. But I cannot, because there is nothing in this Act which prevents the owner of land from selling it, despite the fact that there is a development charge. He can sell it at what he considers to be its full site value, without any hindrance whatever. Some of the poor people have paid out money for land and have been faced with a development charge which makes it impossible for them to build. It is no good anyone saying that that is not holding up building—it certainly is. If anyone is buying land at present, his lawyer, if he is any good, will advise him that he will have to face a development charge, and immediately on hearing that the prospective purchaser will not consider it further. Everyone in this House knows as well as I do that that is true.
I know of a case of a shop that was altered by a co-operative society. They wanted to turn the front part into a more convenient place for the people who went to bank their money—it is a co-operative bank. It was a development from one kind of room into another. All they put in was a counter, and the development charge for that was £400, because they altered the user. One example after another can be given. I had a conveyance shown to me by my own lawyer where an owner charged a man who wanted to Mild a small house £118 10s.; 1514 and the development charge was equal to the amount that the man paid for the land. I know of another case where the development charge for two houses was £450. It is no use noble Lords on this or the other side of the House, the town planners or the local authorities—who ought to know better—saying that that kind of thing is not holding up the building of houses. It most certainly is. I say quite honestly that it is time that some alteration was made in a state of affairs such as that.
I am one of those who believe in taking what I call the social value out of land and giving a portion of it to the community; but I am certainly not in favour of the development charge as it operates to-day, which allows an owner to charge the full site value of the land and the man who buys to be faced with a development charge equal to the amount he has paid for the land. I say that it is arresting development and preventing people from building. It also prevents some people from buying their own house. Why a man should not be able to buy his land and build his own house, I do not know. So far as I am concerned, I live in my own home, and I feel that every opportunity should he given to all men to buy their own land and have their own house. I have never subscribed to any philosophy that simply lays down the law that, because a man owns his house, or wants to, he is therefore an enemy of the country and ought not to be allowed to do so. I believe not only that he should be allowed to do so but that he should be encouraged to do so. I hope that, so far as this Act is concerned, something will be done about this problem.
With regard to the valuation, nobody knows what lie may have to pay. If you buy a piece of land now, what you pay is at the whim of the valuer. In one town he will take the 1947 value and say: "This is a developing town, and the increase in values has been so much more than it is in any other town." I know of one such case. The consequence is that you have one value in one town, which is rapidly developing, and another value in a town a few miles away which is not developing so rapidly. We have this uncertainty, and it is preventing building development in this country. I have a site—I have had it 1515 for ten years—which anyone can have at the district valuer's price. But nobody will buy it, or dare buy it—not even the council itself. There are fifteen acres, with sewers, roads, electricity and water all laid on. But not a brick has been laid there for ten years; nor will there be, because nobody dare attempt to buy it while the development charge is so undefined and unlimited. The amount of the development charge on the land is not known. The consequence is that nobody will build until there is some alteration in the development charge, so that a prospective purchaser knows the liability he will have to meet when the houses are built.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ LORD WOLVERTON
My Lords, in the few minutes that I propose to address your Lordships this evening I wish to deal with the position of the small man trying to build a house. I spoke on this matter in the housing debate in your Lordships' House in February last year. Like the noble Lord, Lord Quibell, I feel that certain provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act are detrimental to development for private housing. The local authorities have wide powers of compulsory acquisition to get land at the existing use value if they cannot agree a price with the seller, but the private developer has not those powers. It is true that he can apply to the Central Land Board and ask them to buy the land from him. But will every man trying to build a house apply to the Central Land Board to buy his piece of land at existing use value? The answer is that he will not. He buys at above the existing use value, but at what he considers a fair value, and he is most upset when he finds that the development value of the land is very high. I feel that something should be done for the small man, because the dead-ripe land and the near-ripe land is being rapidly used up. If something is not done quickly (and I hope that the Government will be able to do something to help the smaller people) as the noble Lord, Lord Quibell said, development will be held up.
I have recently talked to a number of architects and surveyors in the eastern counties; and they tell me that under Part III of the Act, which was referred to by my noble friend Lord Portman, it 1516 takes a long time to get planning permission before an owner can proceed to try to get an assessment of the development charge. Under a statutory instrument, which I believe was laid in 1950, two months were given for the local planning authority to approve the planning permission, if that was their intention, unless it was agreed that the period should be longer. Before then, the owner has to put his plans in front of the local authority, in accordance with the local by-laws—which may take a month, six weeks, or even two months if he misses a meeting. He may then have to wait another two or three months, or longer if the development plan has not been made for the whole area; and he does not hear finally for perhaps four or five months. And it takes, perhaps, two months more to find out what the development charge is. An owner can afford to have only a sketch plan made in the preliminary stage. He will not want to go to the expense of having working drawings made of the house if he is to be turned down, or if the development charge is going to be high. I think we shall have drastically to alter the financial provisions of Part VI and Part VII of the Act. It is extremely inflationary to pay out £300,000,000 at this time, and I think that those two Parts of the Act will have to be withdrawn. If these two Parts are withdrawn, Part IV, certainly in my humble opinion, will have to be amended, because that deals with the position where land has already been acquired from those people at the lower value; and if they are not to be given any betterment out of the £300,000,000 obviously they will have to be compensated.
I should have thought, as has been said earlier in the debate to-day, that something could be done for the small people in developing small houses. In Part VII of the Act, at page 82, it is said:Regulations made under this Act with the consent of the Treasury may provide for exempting from the provisions of this Part of the Act operations or uses of any description specified in the regulations.I should have thought that under that provision a new statutory instrument could be laid to exempt people building small houses from, say, 1,200 square feet up to 1,500 square feet where at present, on an average, they would have to pay £150 development charge. That is a great 1517 deal of money for these small people. In a speech that I made in February, which was not contradicted, I said that the Eastern Building Board put up two experimental houses at Ipswich last summer, with the permission of the Ipswich Corporation, at a cost of about £1,106 per house, or 26s. 11d. per square foot. On top of that you have to add the purchase of the land, development charges, legal fees and so on—something in the neighbourhood of £435 all told—making a total of about £1,500 for a house of somewhere in the neighbourhood of 820 square feet.
This development charge represents a great deal of money for these small people, and I hope that something can be done. If it is not possible to amend fairly soon the whole Part of the Act which we feel should be amended, then something should be done to relieve these people. Most of the building that is going on today is domestic building, and that is what we all, on both sides of the House, want to see at the present moment. I am certain that this heavy development charge is a deterrent, and that a great many people are waiting to see what Her Majesty's Government are going to do about this matter. That is bad because we want to go forward. If something could be done to relieve the problem we should be grateful.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, we have heard a long debate with a considerable number of speakers. The Town and Country Planning Act 1947 has gone through a very close and searching scrutiny, and I Venture to say that, except for the provisions of Parts VI and VII, with which I propose to deal, it has come out not too badly. Indeed most of the criticism of the remainder of the Act is based on matters of administration (particularly administration by the local authorities) and partly on matters which can be remedied by administrative measures within the Ministry itself. There was criticism, for instance, of delays in giving decisions. I admit that in some cases that criticism is justified. The difficulty at the moment is that the country has not been fully planned. Development plans are still under consideration and each application for development has to be considered separately and independently, 1518 and very often without reference to a particular plan. Once plans have been approved it should be much simpler to deal with applications for development, and they should go much more speedily.
A suggestion was made as to altering the procedure on appeals. This is a matter about which none of us I imagine would fight in the last ditch. I think that on the whole the machinery for appeals is fairly satisfactory, and that is borne out by the fact that at any rate over the major part of the field—there is one aspect of appeals with which later I want to deal with separately—certainly in the time I had control of the Ministry, something like 40 per cent. of appeals were allowed. That is not a bad proportion and it so happens that it is roughly the same percentage of appeals as is allowed from decisions of inferior courts by superior courts. Therefore one can assume that, by and large, the machinery of appeals works out not too unsatisfactorily. However, if any better method can be devised which not only would be fair to the appellant but would also give him the feeling of fairness, I certainly should not object, and I am sure that the noble Lord who will be replying would not object either. Apart from that, I doubt whether any serious proposals have been put forward for the amendment of the Act otherwise than in Parts VI and VII, and I should like to say a word about those.
Incidentally, I think this debate has at any rate disposed of one bogy—namely, that there is only one person who understands this Act—because a considerable number of your Lordships have given clear evidence that they understand it. I should not for a moment suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Lewellin, or the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, did not understand the Act, seeing that the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, has been concerned with it right from the beginning and the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, is administering it from day to day. If he did not understand it, I should be very sorry for the affairs of his county council.
May I make one other general remark before turn to Parts VI and VII of the Act, and that is that town planning has been somewhat of a cock-pit over many years? Uncertainty is fatal to planning. Local authorities who administer it want to know where they are, and every time 1519 there is a major change there is considerable disturbance in the field of town planning and it constitutes a major setback. I recognise that the Act of 1947 was a revolutionary change: it changed the local authorities who were responsible, it meant employing new officers and it meant teaching a great many people their job. To-day, after five years, when the new local authorities have settled down and know their job and, on the whole, are doing it well—if they were not we should have heard about it in this House to-day—it would be a great pity if any drastic changes were made merely because it was stated in an Election Manifesto that there would be drastic amendment of the Act. That is one of those pledges which I will forgive the noble Lord for breaking.
§ LORD SILKIN
I am sure the noble Lord would not desire to amend the Act merely because it was in the Election Manifesto. That is the appeal I am making to him.
§ LORD SILKIN
The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, was in some difficulty in dealing with the subject of compensation and betterment, because he first made out a very strong case for abolishing both compensation and penalty, but eventually came down on a middle course. He argued that this was not an appropriate time to pay out, £300,000,000 is a lot of money, and it would put a great deal of purchasing power in the hands of individuals. If he is right, I do not see why he should be prepared to entertain the so-called halfway house, which, in practice, would not mean a substantially smaller sum than £300,000,000.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
I should have thought it would, because it would exclude a claim of anybody who has a site that has a house at present built on it. Those claims would be taken out completely, and a large body of them—unless I am misinformed—come from existing city or town property.
§ LORD SILKIN
I will come to that matter in a moment. The noble Lord also argues that 16s. in the pound is not 1520 good enough—that it ought to be 20s. in the pound. That would increase the claim. Accepting his own case, he would have to find more money for those who were entitled to be paid and, presumably, less for those who would drop out. I will not say a word about the amount of the distribution or dividend. I remember things which were said about the £300,000,000 in this House, in another place and outside. The noble Marquess the Leader of the House said that it was perpetrating a gross fraud on the public; that in his opinion—I do not know on what it was based—the claims were much more likely to be £1,500,000,000 than the £350,000,000 it has turned out to be. Other noble Lords talked of a dividend of 6d. in the pound, and to-day, on the admission of the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, it looks as though there is going to be 16s. in the pound.
I would ask your Lordships to take into account that this makes provision for the element of float. There is in all the valuations which have been made an element of float which the Uthwatt Report stated to be about two or three times the actual valuations. In other words, according to Uthwatt, if you added up the valuations of all the land in the country and paid out on that basis, you would be paid two or three times as much. I recognise that in the valuations which have actually been made some account has been taken of this element of float. Valuers have adopted what is called a reduction for development. If land is not going to be developed for a number of years they have reduced the value by an appropriate figure. Therefore by their valuation they have reduced the element of float to a considerable extent, but not wholly. I would say that 16s. or 15s. in the pound is a perfectly fair figure, and I have heard no word of complaint from anybody as to the amount of the so-called dividend. I have heard some suggestion that they may not get it—that it is over-optimistic—but everybody to whom I have spoken will be delighted to accept this 16s. in the pound on the amount of claim.
The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, talks about the inflationary effect. Will it really be inflationary? I do not pretend to be an economist. The payment will be made in stock. It will be a payment for a capital loss. Something has been taken 1521 from an owner; his land has been depreciated in value as a result of State action, and he has been compensated by the payment of stock. I do not accept the view that the moment people get this sum in stock they will rush out and try to spend it on consumer goods and bring about an inflationary state of affairs. Suppose they try to sell it? Who are the buyers? Only other people who are in exactly the same position. Other people will have the stock who formerly had the money. You will merely be exchanging money for stock. In better days it might have been possible for people to go to the bank and raise money on the securities, but the action which the Government have taken has virtually prevented that. You will not be able to borrow money, and if you did you would have to pay 5½ per cent. interest, which is fairly heavy. I doubt whether the Government will actually be paying interest at that rate. People who receive this stock will, at any rate for a considerable time and until the inflationary danger is over, have to keep it. I cannot see, therefore, that there is any serious danger of inflation if payment is made.
A point has been raised that the effect of the Act has been to reduce the incentive of an owner to sell his land, and that people are having to pay more for their land together with development charge, and this is holding up development. I deny that development is being held up at all. The Minister of Housing and Local Government is endeavouring to build as many houses as possible. Nothing has been put in his way—whether in regard to labour, material or money. He can go ahead as fast as he can. There is no shortage of available land, and the only thing which stands in the way of development is the limitation of labour and material. My noble friend Lord Quibell spoke about builders being held up. I agree that a young, enterprising builder like my noble friend, who is straining at the leash and anxious to develop as much land as he possibly can, must feel somewhat frustrated if he cannot build as many houses as he would like to build. I agree, too, taking the overall picture, that this country is building as many houses to-day and is carrying out as much development to-day as it can afford to do. There is no hold-up either of housing or of other kinds of capital 1522 development which are to-day in the public interest. There is a restriction of capital investment—that we recognise. There was a restriction by the previous Government. There a licensing system; but the licensing system was dictated not by the shortage of land, not by any particular developer being held up, but because it was necessary in the national interest.
And so I refuse to accept the doctrine that the imposition of the development charge is in any way interfering with or restricting development. What might happen in the future one cannot say. I do not know. But my own experience—and it is fairly extensive in these matters—is that developers are only too happy to develop if they get the chance, in spite of the development charge. I have made frequent inquiries of the Central Land Board as to whether there was a single case to their knowledge of any developer who abandoned a scheme of development merely on account of the development charge, and they assured me that they know of no single case. I admit that noble Lords can come to this House and quote individual examples of someone who has paid too much money for his land, or even of someone who has been asked too much development charge. I concede that there are such cases. On the other hand, I remember that the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, some two years ago or so, came to this House and complained that district valuers had in some cases substantially reduced their demands as a result of discussion.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
I was complaining not of the final demand but that it had been put so high to start with.
§ LORD SILKIN
I know. But it is a fact that the district valuers are open to negotiation if you can make a case to them. As a matter of fact, the noble Lord brought forward a case which I had to investigate afterwards. I found that the district valuer had been asked to give his idea as to what the development charge might be.
§ LORD SILKIN
It may be. But this did frequently happen, He had been asked to help by ascertaining what the development charge might be. Then it 1523 turned out that the particular development approved by the planning authority was something quite different—something, possibly, of less value, and the development charge was less. And that very often accounted for the difference between the first figure and the later one. These things do happen, over a large area and with many district valuers. It is quite conceivable that some district valuers might ask for a payment which was in the first instance unjustified and which could be negotiated. These are matters for negotiation and administration; they are not fundamental defects of the Act itself. One way of remedying that would be an appeal against the district valuer's development charge.
When I was Minister of Town and Country Planning, I resisted the provision that there should he an appeal. I resisted it frequently on the ground, among others, that administratively it would be impossible—that there was a great shortage of district valuers and that one just could not afford to let them take up their time in attending arbitrations and in doing all the administrative work that was necessary in connection with appeals. I took the view that this was a matter in which one could normally arrive at a fair figure by the process of negotiation between the valuer acting for the applicant and the district valuer; and I believe that, by and large, that is true. If the administrative position to-day is such that it is possible to have an appeal, I certainly should not object to it. I think it would make the applicant feel that he was getting a better deal. I do not know whether he would be or not; but if he felt he was getting a better deal and if it helped to remove any grievance, then, certainly, there is no objection, in principle, as far as I see, to an appeal. I hope the noble Lord will go to his colleagues and consider whether the time has not now come when it is possible to provide an appeal.
The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, made a number of other suggestions, and I am sure the whole House will be grateful to him for having considered the matter and made those suggestions. He suggested that there should be no development charge when an existing 1524 developed property was being redeveloped for the same purpose. I am sure the noble Lord is aware of the Third Schedule of the Act, which provides that you can re-develop a site as often as you like without charge and without its being regarded as development. If that is all the noble Lord is asking, then it is already in the Act itself. It is true that you cannot develop a much larger area than the existing one, but you can take the existing area and re-develop it as often as you like.
May I interrupt the noble Lord for one moment? There have been cases where houses, shall we say, which would not be suitable to the present housing emergency, have stood on sites which were required for the building of flats—perhaps two blocks of flats—for the national benefit in the present emergency. That is where the soreness over development charge has been very strongly felt.
§ LORD SILKIN
That is a change of use which at present carries a development charge. Lord Llewellin was taking the example of a site being re-developed for the same purpose. I do not suggest that there might not be some further consideration of the amount of development charge. Here, again, I would not fight in the last ditch over the 100 per cent. I think the 100 per cent. development charge is logical and right. But Her Majesty's Government might consider reducing it to 80 per cent.—which I understand is their conception of what it should be. However, it is not a matter on which one would wish to start a revolution; and it can be done without amendment of the Act. All that is needed is a simple regulation which will require an Affirmative Resolution of both Houses.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
Nor, I presume, would the noble Lord object to some alteration in the "change of user" part of the Act.
§ LORD SILKIN
No, I should not. But I do say that it would be a remarkable thing if a complicated measure of this kind, passed in 1947, could not be improved by some such amendment after five years of experience. Certainly I should welcome an exhaustive examination of the Act with a view to making it 1525 work better if it is possible. What I should strongly oppose would be amendment for the sake of amendment, in order to comply with, perhaps, a reckless statement inserted in an Election manifesto. In passing, may I say that I was refreshing my memory of a speech I made on the Third Reading of the Bill? I said very much the same thing then. I recognised that a measure of this kind was bound to produce defects which were not foreseen but could be reasonably considered after a time: when those defects were made clear and had manifested themselves, consideration could be given to amendment of the Act itself.
I want to deal now with the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Gage. He produced a reductio ad absurdum argument as regards Lord's Cricket Ground. May I say that the previous Government considered the question, not of Lord's Cricket Ground but of places of that kind—golf courses, sports grounds and so on—where there was no intention to develop, where, indeed, if development were entertained at all it would arouse the greatest possible public protest but where, nevertheless, if the land were developed, the development value would be very high indeed—places where the owners never anticipated or expected to pay development charge. Those cases can, of course, he met by the Treasury scheme. The Treasury scheme is provided for in the Act to enable the Treasury to decide, after discussion with the appropriate Minister, how the £300,000,000 shall be distributed among different classes of claimants. It may be that the equity of the matter would justify some claimants getting nothing and some getting 20s. in the pound. I had in mind that it might well be that those who had recently bought their land and paid for it on the basis of full development value would have a greater claim to be paid out in full than those who had inherited land or who had owned it for many generations. At any rate, the Treasury scheme was inserted rather to provide that amount of elasticity and to try to judge as between the equity of different claimants to be paid compensation.
There has been a certain amount of dissatisfaction with the development charge generally. One noble Lord referred to it as the "invention of Satan." I can assure your Lordships that it has a much more 1526 respectable parentage than Satan. Indeed, it was invented by the Liberal Government in the form of betterment, but betterment did not produce any results. The objective of betterment was very much the same as the objective of development charge—namely, that those who benefited as a result of planning should make a contribution. But I noticed that the noble Lord who regarded it as a device of Satan and who desired to abandon the development charge altogether did not offer also to abandon compensation. The two must go hand in hand. It is the development charge which helps to finance compensation. The two need not, of course, exactly match. I believe that experience up to date will show that the amount of development charge received has not been sufficient to pay interest on the £300,000,000; but that is largely because the amount of development owing to necessary restrictions has been less than was anticipated in 1946. I think that is all I have to say on compensation and betterment and the provisions of Parts VI and VII.
I am sure—and I think that any noble Lord who has given any consideration to planning will agree—that without the provisions of Parts VI and VII the whole Act is futile. I would say this also: that it was not the Labour Government who invented the provisions of Parts VI and VII of the Act. They were invented as the result of years of deliberation by all Parties—and nobody knows that better than the noble Lord himself, who took a very active part in some of the discussions—and I believe they arrived at a result which was not very different from the results at which the Labour Government arrived. There may have been differences in percentage; and so on, but, in broad outline, all Parties arrived at the same conclusion: that it was necessary to have something like the provisions of Parts VI and VII of the Act.
Since we are discussing the working of the Act, I should like to say a few words about advertisements. Nobody so far has said anything about this matter in this debate. I imagine that all Parties are, on the whole, satisfied with the advertisement provisions in the Act and would not wish to alter them. Indeed, no part of the Act was more enthusiastically received, when it went through its discussion in both Houses, than the 1527 advertisement provisions. These were, of course, designed to protect the amenities of both our cities and our countryside. They constituted a considerable interference with the position of the advertisers and they were, in the first instance, very much resented by them. But, in the end, the advertisers accepted the provisions of the Bill. There were two very serious departures from previous practice. The first was that the Bill brought them under planning control, whereas previously they had been allowed to exhibit their posters until the posters were challenged by a local authority as constituting an offence against amenity. Then, if the advertisers were challenged, they were ordered to take their posters down, although, of course, they had a right to go to the courts. The Bill substituted an appeal for the loser in the event of permission being refused. Those were the two major provisions. The advertisers have accepted them in what I regarded as a very public-spirited way. They themselves have taken action, so far as they can, through their organisations to prevent the most undesirable advertisements from appearing. They have collaborated and co-operated with the Ministry in framing the regulations and, so far as I know, they have throughout acted in the best public interest.
I know that there are some people—maybe some noble Lords too—who object to all outdoor advertising. I am not arguing whether outdoor advertising is a good or a bad thing. If it is a bad thing, and if it is desired to abolish all outdoor advertising, it should not be done through the machinery of a planning Act; the Government should come out quite openly with a White Paper and introduce subsequent legislation on the subject so that we all have a chance of debating it. But that of course is not the policy to-day, and at critical times nobody has advertised more than Her Majesty's Government themselves. Therefore we must assume, at any rate for the time being, that outdoor advertising is a perfectly legitimate form of activity, so long as it is not carried out in an anti-social fashion.
The advertisers have made a complaint, and in a sense I feel personally responsible, because I gave them an assurance that they would be well treated under the provisions of the Act. I feel 1528 that, having regard to the way in which they have behaved, I owe it to them to do my best to see that their complaint is investigated. The complaint they make is that the number of appeals in which they are successful has seriously declined in the last two years or so. Rightly or wrongly, they feel that there is a prejudice on the part of the Minister or the Ministry—at any rate, that there is in existence an anti-advertising bias; that there is no consistency in the appeals that are allowed; that there is no definable policy; that what is allowed on appeal in one town is disallowed in another, and that probably the Ministry are unduly biased in favour of the local authorities. I hope that is not true. I gave the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, notice of this point, and he may be able to give some figures showing the number of appeals that have been allowed over different periods. The information given me is that the number of appeals allowed recently has seriously declined, and the advertisers feel that they are being seriously affected by some change in outlook. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, will be able to deal with that point.
Generally, I would say that, judging by this debate, the noble Lord will find it very difficult to carry out the drastic amendments to the Act which he promised in the Conservative Election Manifesto. Improvements, yes. Most of those he can carry out by normal administration and by changes in regulations. When he comes to examine the position, I think he may well find that all that is necessary is to make a few minor amendments, and I can assure him that if they are in the public interest, and are not introduced in a doctrinal spirit, they will have the support of all quarters of this House.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ LORD WOOLTON
My Lords, in the customary language of this House, at this late hour I will not detain your Lordships unduly. Before I go on to the main subject, let me answer the last question which the noble Lord put to me. He asked me whether there had been any serious alteration in the number of appeals from advertisers that have been allowed. There has been an alteration since his time. The alteration took place at the time of his successor. The number 1529 of appeals allowed by the present Minister is almost identical with that which was allowed by the noble Lord's successor. As to whether they are right or wrong, I should not for a moment care to give any opinion, because I am not in a position to do so. But I will draw the attention of my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government to the position because, never having had anything to do with outside advertising, I have some sympathy with the position in which the noble Lord opposite found himself when he had to deal with this issue. I will certainly have a conversation on the subject with my right honourable friend.
On the general debate, when my noble friend Lord Llewellin told me that he would like to raise in your Lordships' House this question of town and country planning, I told him quite frankly that I should be delighted if he would do so, because, on behalf of the Minister of Housing and Local Government, I should be very glad indeed to have the benefit of the opinion of your Lordships. Of course, as the noble Lord opposite was talking to us, he convinced me still more that it is indeed true that he is the person par excellence in the country who really understands the 1947 Act. It is difficult enough in all conscience to understand. Let me say that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has done something more than understand the Act himself, because during the last two days I have had the advantage of some briefing by the people whom he trained, and they also understand it. He left behind a very competent body of people to administer the Act. The speech that the noble Lord has made to your Lordships to-night has convinced me of his understanding of the position. Necessarily, he has looked at it with all the pride of a creator, but very fairly indeed he admitted that there might be imperfections in it.
I am going to be perfectly frank with your Lordships. Just let me add first that, as the noble Lord said, I too, have had some experience of this situation, because when I was Minister of Reconstruction in a Coalition Government, we tried to hammer out, without any Party bias, what would be the best solution to this problem of town and country planning. Of course, the theory of what is desirable—and this was embodied in a White Paper presented to 1530 your Lordships' House on the subject—and the practice of what is attainable, are two different things, not always easy to co-ordinate. As I understand it, and as I think the speeches that have been delivered this afternoon indicate, the previous Government were finding that there were quite a number of ways in which it would be desirable to make some amendments in this Act, either by regulation or by legislation.
My Lords, this is where I want to be frank with your Lordships. The present Government are, in fact, at the moment going very thoroughly into this question and endeavouring to come to a conclusion. Let me say at once that we realise the importance of the essential feature of this Act, which is to secure the best use of the land of this country. On this, there will be no division of opinion between us. Your Lordships will agree that it would be quite improper for me to say anything to-night which might indicate the way in which the Government's deliberations are proceeding and your Lordships will, I am sure, be good enough to wait until we can announce in the proper form what our conclusions are. But let us not bother unduly about adjectives. If a noble Lord says "operations are necessary," if some anonymous person who wrote a Party Election pamphlet used the word "drastic"—-well, we will not bother. The noble Lord says he will not use it against us if alterations to the Act are not drastic. We shall endeavour to make alterations such as will be in the best interests of the land of the country: we shall certainly not make alterations for their own sake.
The noble Lord, Lord Wise, who made what I thought was a very fair and practical speech, urged that we should retain the major body of the Act. I have no doubt about that. Many of us on this side of the House have been interested in town planning for a very long time, and there is no danger of our ceasing to be interested. But one thing the noble Lord said went straight home to my rather practical turn of mind. He made an appeal (I do not know whether I am quoting him precisely, but he will not mind if I do not) that we should seek to make things easier for the applicant. That is very sound. Much of the criticism in general to-day—which I am sure my right honourable friend will welcome— 1531 has been on the lines of the complaint made by the noble Lord, Lord Wise, the noble Viscount, Lord Portman, and many others—to the effect that there is too long a delay in dealing with planning matters. That is a thing we all complain of concerning Governments. When we do not happen to be in office ourselves, we complain publicly; when we are in office we complain privately. I will see that all these issues are brought to the notice of my right honourabe friend Mr. Macmillan, and particularly I should like the noble Viscount, Lord Portman, to be assured that his remarks on the subject of the National Trust will be conveyed to the Minister.
My noble friend Lord Gage, who spoke to us from his wide experience in these matters, asked for some continuity in town planning. I am sure he was right in that. I shall ever be grateful to him for the phrase about the "stratospheric technicalities" of the expert. I think that is one of the things that ought to go down in the history of your Lordships' debates. The noble Lord, Lord Quibell, says that he rarely comes and speaks to us. If I may address him quite personally across the Floor of the House, I would say this: "If we must have such a difficult subject for debate as this in order to induce you to come here and make speeches of that refreshing nature, then we will have a series of very difficult subjects, because we all of us very greatly enjoyed your speech." To my noble friend Lord Llewellin, I would express my gratitude for having raised this subject. There will come a time when I shall be able to speak to your Lordships in a more informative manner. In the meantime, I thank you for a debate which certainly has been of very great value, and, if I may be very personal. I thank Lord Silkin for the most informative speech with which he entertained us at the end of our discussion.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
My Lords, I am obliged to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I did not expect that we should at this stage receive 1532 any declaration of Government policy, but we have the satisfaction of having made suggestions to Her Majesty's Government as to what they might do. If they do not do it, we may have the satisfaction of saying that we think that they would have acted better if they had adopted our suggestions. I do not consider myself one of those who really understand this Act, although I took a considerable part in its passage through this House, but there are some noble Lords here who through their practical experience have great knowledge of this subject, and I am obliged to them for taking part in the debate to-day. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will profit from some of the speeches. With those words I ask to be allowed to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.