HL Deb 09 July 1953 vol 183 cc475-520

4.42 p.m.

LORD MOTTISTONE rose to call attention to the proposal to erect a building rising to 170 feet and 380 feet long in the very centre of the City of London, and to ask Her Majesty's Government whether this great increase in height above the previously agreed maximum is not a matter of grave national concern: and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I hope your Lordships will agree when I suggest that the matter upon which I am about to speak is a national one, and that you will therefore forgive me for taking up your time. It might seem at first glance that, by asking your Lordships to consider the case of one particular building project, I am exaggerating the importance of what should be the business of the locality concerned, for the sole, personal reason that I happen to be one of the very few residents in that locality, the City of London. Having lived, as well as worked, there for more than twenty years, it is perhaps right, however, that I should be the one among your Lordships to draw attention to this project; and I hope that I may be able to convince your Lordships that I am not making a mountain out of a molehill. In fact, the proposed Bucklers bury House, adjoining St. Stephen's, Walbrook, and the Mansion House, is the very reverse of a molehill; it is to be, as at present envisaged, a veritable mountain of steel, stone and concrete, almost exactly in the centre of the City and about 450 yards from St. Paul's Cathedral.

If this building, great as maybe the area upon which it stands (and indeed it is very great) were to be what I may call of normal height—that is, reaching only to the height that has been agreed either by common practice or by the observance of the London Building Acts—its erection might not be thought to be a matter for the national Parliament to consider. But if it or any new building in the historic centre of the capital City is to rise in massive bulk far above all previously agreed heights, so as to alter the whole character of the neighbourhood by its domination, then, indeed, I submit that it becomes a matter of grave national concern. Let us, therefore, consider first what is the normal or agreed height to which we have been accustomed, and then compare that standard with that which is proposed. It has long been thought that height regulation of one sort or another is a necessity if the character of a city is to be preserved, and the London Building Acts have in part been framed to ensure that this limitation of height shall be observed. It was after the appalling mistake of building Queen Anne's Mansions to a height of over 150 feet (which produced a storm and outburst of indignation) that, broadly speaking, a limit of 100 feet was imposed, except in cases of specific application and approval.

Generally speaking, this limitation was the rule until the war, after which, and owing to the resulting destruction, the City Corporation in 1947 prepared a plan for the future rebuilding of the greatly damaged City. The question of the height of new buildings came into the review, and the distinguished consultants in their report said this: We put forward the suggestion that the maximum overall height should be raised to 120 feet over a certain proportion of the ground plan of the large building sites, except in areas of special architectural control, such as the vicinity of St. Paul's Cathedral.

This suggestion was accepted by the Court of Common Council and embodied in the City Plan. The Plan, having thus been approved, is incorporated, with modifications as regards the lay-out, in the Development Plan of the County of London which is now being discussed and considered in detail.

At the start of the year 1951, just over two years ago, the City Corporation published a most comprehensive and excellent volume describing the City Plan in all its details. This book is profusely illustrated and is full of admirable diagrams and photographs, none of which envisages a height greater than the 120 feet suggested as a maximum in the Plan itself. Furthermore, in the section of the book dealing with the question of height, the authors (that is, the Corporation of the City) say this: Although the maximum height under the London Building Acts is still proposed as the limit"— that is 100 feet— it is suggested that parts of large buildings might be taken up to a maximum of about 120 feet in the form of towers. That seemed to be the final word—a very clear and definite final word on the part of the Corporation so far as anyone outside was to know.

Now some while before the time of the publication of that book negotiations were in progress between the City Corporation and a developer with regard to the building of a new office block—the one of which we are speaking—to be known as Bucklersbury House, on a triangle formed by Queen Victoria Street and Cannon Street and with its eastern side bounded by Walbrook. I cannot go into all the details of the negotiations now—indeed I could not do so even if your Lordships would wish me to, because naturally I know very little indeed about them. I do know, however—and I am sure many of your Lordships also know—how great are the difficulties on every side that beset both a developer and the local planning authority in a question of this size, magnitude and com- plexity. I feel the greatest possible sympathy with the developer and his architect who, I know, have been trying their hardest to produce acceptable plans.

It would be impossible, without wearying your Lordships, to delve now into all the ramifications involved in the question of what is called "plot ratio"—that is, the ratio between the floor space to be permitted and the area of the site. Indeed it is hardly possible for a layman in these subjects to understand it without long and careful study. Suffice it to say that all these negotiations were being carried on in the normal way, naturally without coming to the notice of the general public, until at a meeting of the Court of Common Council at the end of March, 1951—that is, about the time of the publication of the book to which I have referred—permission to develop the land, on which the new Bucklersbury House is to stand was granted. In the minutes of the meet rig describing in outline the proposals for development—detailed designs had not yet been worked out—are found these ominous words: The London County Council are prepared to consider permitting the building to rise to a height of from 130 to 140 feet My Lords, the red light was beginning to glow. Could it be that the City Corporation was already starting to go back on its most definite and avowed intention with regard to height limitation, as set out clearly both in its consultant's report and in the passage from its own book, which I have just read and which was then hardly dry from the printing press?

There was, of course, no definite proposal that the building would in fact rise to such heights—it merely said that such heights would be considered. However, it meant that the general public—the lovers of London—had had a warning. But I, in my ignorance, felt that when more detailed plans had been worked out—and in this connection we were glad to note that one of the conditions was consultation with the Royal Fine Art Commission—we should have time to consider the designs and their impact on London as a whole. From that day, consultation went on with the parties concerned, but no word reached the general public until copies of the summons to the meeting of the Court of Common Council were issued on May 26 of this year. In this agenda intimation was given that the Court would be asked to approve, with the concurrence of the London County Council, drawings and perspectives of the proposed new Bucklersbury House. No mention was made of the height to which the building would rise.

Therefore your Lordships may imagine my consternation when I heard that not only had the Corporation's own declared policy of a maximum of120 feet been exceeded, but also that the later suggestion of a maximum of 140 feet was to be outstripped by a further 30 feet. Part of the building, as now proposed, was to rise in sheer height of fourteen storeys to 162 feet, in one unbroken wall 55 feet wide and over 340 feet long—that is 10 feet longer than the facade of Buckingham Palace—with another block at right angles, 153 feet long but 20 feet lower. Upon the 162 feet high block were to be lift motor and tank rooms, which would bring the total height to 170 feet; 170 feet, which is nearly 20 feet higher than Queen Anne's Mansions, of which I have spoken, and which I believe I am right in saying led to the introduction of the London Building Acts, with the express purpose in mind of preventing such mistakes in future; 170 feet, which is exactly twice the height of the highest portion in the centre of Buckingham Palace; 170 feet which is nearly the height of the capitals of the peristyle supporting the stone gallery at the base of the dome of St. Paul's, and 60 feet higher than the cornice of the main roofs in the Cathedral.

The summons containing the news of the submission for approval of these plans was made public, as I have said, on May 26, which was only two and a half days before the meeting of the Court on May 29. I submit that this method of procedure precludes the possibility of adequate consideration by the public as a whole of proposals fraught with such weighty consequences for the future of London. How could those who view with alarm this apparent tendency to abolish the height restrictions in the historic centre of the capital, marshal their forces or express their views in this short time? I was able to warn the noble Viscount, Lord Esher—who has expressed his great regret to me that he is unavoidably prevented from being here to-day—and a letter from him, as President of the London Society, appeared in The Times on the morning of the day that the Court met, and I believe this may have been one of the causes of the narrowness of the majority for the adoption of the proposal.

Your Lordships will remember that as soon as the approval by the Court was announced a Question on the subject was asked in another place of the Minister of Housing and Local Government. You will also remember how strongly the questioner was supported from both sides. We, who have this matter at heart, are most grateful to the Minister, in that, following his reply, he has interested himself greatly in the problem. I am sure I voice the thoughts of all your Lordships in wishing him a speedy recovery from his illness. I should like to comment, however, upon one of the remarks which he has made. He referred to the fact that he is not there to stop people doing things, rather implying that the objectors wished to prevent the erection of this building in whatever form. None of us wants to do that, I am sure. Certainly we all want to see the City and the rest of London rehabilitated at the earliest possible moment, but we hope to see the essential character of the Capital preserved. In this case, I earnestly hope that some reduction of height may be achieved.

That brings me to the crux of the matter. In rebuilding are we to ignore the scale and character of this most famous and beautiful of cities, and treat it as if it had suddenly become one of the new towns? We all realise that in many circumstances there is a great deal to be said for high buildings, but is the very centre of London, with its wealth of historic and ancient buildings and all the traditions that go with them, the right place to indulge in this change of values? We have only to look at the Royal Commission's Survey Map of the City, which shows the ancient monuments in red, to see how many are the memorials of our glorious past. Your Lordships can see from where you sit the number of ancient monuments in this area. Are all these to be sunk in pits, as it were, beneath the towering walls of these new monster buildings? We realise all the difficulties and the great financial inducements to building high if sufficient floor space is to be achieved on expensive sites, without the evils of dark and ill-ventilated courts. We all understand the advantages to be gained by what is now so fashionably considered an open type of plan. But I am perfectly certain that in this case, having regard to the locality, this idea of an open plan has been overdone, and the developers have been asked to surrender far too much of the site area. After all, according to the City Plan, this site actually adjoins the proposed large new square, which is to be no less than 500 feet long and 300 feet broad.

Has the time not now arisen when this matter of heights in the Capital should be treated on a national basis, and when all these vexed questions of height and the problems relating thereto should be considered in a Council of the Nation? The present position is grotesque. There is a height limit fixed by Parliament under the London Building Act, 1894, covering the whole of London, but which, at the discretion of the London County Council, can be varied to such an extent that it loses all meaning. I should like to see these regulations replaced by a new code which safeguards our priceless inheritance in its appropriate setting but permits, without let or hindrance, and indeed encourages, in neighbouring but less historic localities the energy and enthusiasm of the youth of our new Elizabethan Era to greater heights, both literally and artistically, than ever before in this land. Therefore, I ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will consider calling together such a conference at which, perhaps, some method might also be evolved of giving the public time to make their attitude felt in matters such as this and, incidentally, of arranging for the Royal Fine Art Commission to announce their disapproval of a scheme, as they have done in this case, but before, and not after, permission has been given.

In closing, may I be allowed to quote three lines from a much loved and most beautiful sonnet: Earth has not anything to show more fair. Dull would he be of soul who could pass by A sight so touching in its majesty. To what was the poet, Wordsworth, referring? He had the whole wide world to choose from, and he singled out the view of London from Westminster Bridge as being as fair as anything the earth could show. He wrote that 150 years ago, and the wonderful and almost astounding fact is that it is still true to-day—changed, of course, but true—due largely to our forbears' insistence upon some form of height control. I think the truth of this is borne out by the feelings expressed by a young Australian architect whom I met last week, who is working over here for a while. Every morning his work takes him across Westminster Bridge, and he told me that every morning he pauses for a few minutes to survey the scene and marvel at the beauty of it. When I told him of this proposal and all that it foreshadows for the future, he could hardly believe that Londoners could contemplate such an enormity. I am firmly convinced that the views which this young man expressed are typical of many who, being privileged to call themselves citizens of the British Commonwealth of Nations, regard the City of London as their own. Are we to sacrifice all this beauty that we have inherited from the past? Is the dome of St. Paul's no longer to dominate the scene, and are the spires and towers of the City and Westminster no longer to grace that incomparable skyline? My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

5.9 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, on the sincerity of his remarks and on the way in which he puts his case. Whether we agree with it or not, we must recognise that he speaks with deep feeling and concern about the beauty of this City of ours. In addressing your Lordships I should like to make it clear that I speak for myself alone, and not for my Party. This is not a Party matter. I have not consulted my Party; I do not know what their views are. It would not surprise me if some of my noble friends took a different view from myself. In considering this matter I have endeavoured to see whether I could lay down certain principles upon which we might decide whether a building of this kind is desirable, or not. The first principle I would lay down, as I always did when I was in control of planning, is that prima facie the developer is entitled to develop his land as he pleases. We are entitled to prevent him only if it is; against the public interest. That is an important consideration. We have no right to step in and stop building unless we are quite clear that it is against the public interest. The onus is definitely upon those who seek to prevent it. The noble Lord criticised the statement of Mr. Macmillan that he was not there to prevent building. I imagine that that is exactly what he meant, and with that statement I would agree.

Secondly, I would say that it is difficult for Members of this House, without having the full details of the application before them, and all the circumstances, to form a really reliable judgment. What we do know is that both the City Corporation and the London County Council—and the noble Lord omitted to mention the London County Council in this; after all, they are the planning authority—have given full and prolonged consideration to this project. The London County Council—and I would say the same about the City Corporation—are by no means oblivious to amenity considerations. After all, it was the London County Council who were responsible for the London Building Act, 1894. I have at times crossed swords with the London County Council on amenity matters, and I know how deeply they feel about these things. In spite of that feeling, both of these authorities have approved this project.


May I interrupt to say that, as the delegated powers of the London County Council have gone to the Corporation, I do not think the whole Council, as a Council, have sat on this project. It has been considered only by the Town Planning Committee of the London County Council. It does not appear before the general public. The whole Council has not considered it.


No. The whole Council never do consider planning applications. But the Planning Committee of the Council speak in the name of the London County Council. I am sure that if the Planning Committee had rejected this scheme the noble Lord would not have complained that it was not the London County Council, as a Council.

The third point—and I regard this as a most important consideration in weighing up this matter—is that we are all anxious that the City of London should be rebuilt as quickly as possible. After all, the City of London is the heart of the British Commonwealth. I need not in this House enlarge upon the vital importance to the welfare of the Commonwealth, from the economic, the social, and every point of view, of rebuilding the City of London. Everybody who comes to London goes to see the Mansion House, the Guildhall and all those old glorious buildings, and we do want to see the City restored as soon as possible.

Those are three fundamental considerations that we must have before us in weighing up any application for rebuilding. Unless we are absolutely satisfied beyond all doubt that this project ought not to go forward in its present form—and in a case of this kind the onus is placed more strongly than ever upon those who object—then I submit that we ought not to intervene. Having listened carefully to the noble Lord, I gather that his real objection to this project, and I imagine his only objection, is that it is too high. He referred to the bulk and the length of the building—that it was longer than the facade of Buckingham Palace—but I do not think he enlarged on that, and he did not explain why Buckingham Palace should be the building with the longest facade in this country, and why no other building should exceed it in length. I take it that those of us who want to see this project, or something like it, go forward have to address ourselves only to the question of height. That I propose to do.

What is the objection? The noble Lord stressed the fact that at two or three points it was 170 feet high; and he rather tried to make our flesh creep, by emphasising the height, by telling us this same fact in so many different horrific ways, comparing it with other heights, and so on. But let us be realistic and frank with ourselves. What really is the objection to a building 170 feet high? Is it because it is higher than the normal height laid down in the London Building Act? I must confess that that does not impress me very much. The London Building Act, 1894, was more or less a panic measure. It was passed, as the noble Lord himself said, because of the erection of Queen Anne's Mansions. Up to that time there had apparently been no real restriction on the height of buildings, and many people were horrified at the erection of Queen Anne's Mansions. No doubt they were right, because anyone who knows that area realises that Queen Anne's Mansions deprive the surrounding area of light and air. The building is dark in itself and darkens the whole of the surrounding district. It is objectionable because of its height. Nobody is arguing that, in all circumstances and in all places, we should go to the kind of height of this building. It is no use for the noble Lord to tell us that 170 feet is an objectionable height in itself. If he does object to it, he must go further and prove to us that a building 170 feet high is wrong in Bucklersbury, and wrong in relation to the particular plans of this building.


I should like to ask the noble Lord a question. It is not only this one building. Suppose that this building is the forerunner of many others of equal, or even greater, height, will not the effect of that be to hide, minimise and dwarf all the spires of Wren, which are the great beauty of the skyline of the City of London, particularly as seen from such an aspect as Black friars Bridge or London Bridge?


I see the noble Lord's point. Of course, it is the function of the Town Planning Committees, both of the City Corporation and of the London County Council, to consider each scheme on its merits. This scheme is not necessarily the forerunner of anything else. This in no sense binds anybody at all. It is the duty of the Planning Committees of the Corporation and the London County Council to consider this particular problem, and no other. Since the noble Lord has made this point—and it is a perfectly legitimate point—let me say this. The London Building Act does not limit the height of buildings at all. It lays down what is the normal maximum height, but makes provision for greater heights than 100 feet. But in those cases it also lays down that any owner of land within one hundred yards of the proposed building who regards himself as being detrimentally affected by this building—through being deprived of light and air, say, or even of a view—can appeal against the decision to permit this building. He has a right of appeal, and his objections will be considered. In every single case the surrounding owner has that right if the building exceeds 100 feet. Therefore, the public are really protected against a recurrence of heights all over the City of London.

But supposing the noble Lord is right, is there any particular magic about 100 feet? We are living in very different days from the days when Wordsworth wrote his poem, and the view from Westminster Bridge, as the noble Lord quite rightly said, has changed considerably since those days. I would say that it has changed for the better, and there are many new sights from Westminster Bridge as a result of changes to which many people, including, I imagine, the noble Lord himself, strongly objected at the time. I should be surprised to hear that the noble Lord did not object to the pulling down of the old Waterloo Bridge and the erection of a new bridge; and yet to-day, by general agreement, Waterloo Bridge is one of the beautiful sights to be seen from Westminster Bridge. I do not think you can see another building from Westminster Bridge beyond the Bank side Power Station. But many of those who protested about it at the time have since seen it and no longer object. So what is the magic about this 100 feet?


What is the height of the Shell Building?


I think it is more than 100 feet, but less than the height of this proposed building. Of course, in 1894 100 feet was considered in relation to the method of building in those days. It bore some relationship to safety considerations. The days of reinforced concrete, and so on, were not exactly unknown, but they were untried; and the authorities were concerned with fire precautions and considerations of that sort. These were factors which led to the limit, under the London Building Act, of, normally, 100 feet.

We are living in very different days to-day. We have to reconstruct the City of London. The noble Lord agrees with that, and I hope no one will consider that the function of the present day is to replace the City of London exactly as it was before, with all the in sanitary buildings, and buildings with inadequate light and air. The noble Lord lives in the City of London and, therefore, knows all about it. I have worked in the City of London for the greater part of my working life, and I know that the majority of old buildings in the City are not healthy places in which to work. In the olden days a great many people had to work under constant artificial light and with inadequate air space. I hope that when we come to rebuild the City of London we shall provide adequate light and air for everybody, and a certain amount of open space. That is essential, if not on health grounds at any rate on the grounds of securing maximum efficiency, because you do not get efficiency from people working by artificial light all day long.

If, however, we are going to get in the City of London roughly the same amount of accommodation as we had before—and we need it—there is no case for decanting the City of London to other parts of the Metropolis. There has been a trend, which I think has already gone too far, towards moving the City to the West End of London. I do not think that trend can go much further, because the West End of London is now fairly congested. If we are to get into the City of London even that amount of accommodation which is essential for the special purposes of the City of London—insurance buildings and banking; then there is the Aldermanbury district, the textile industry and that kind of accommodation—and if we are to provide healthy conditions of work for the people in the City of London, we can only build upwards. We cannot remain at the existing heights and yet provide the necessary open space, light and air, and so on that we need. Therefore, it seems to me inevitable that the modern trend on every ground must be to go higher. It is a pity that we cannot expand the City of London, but whatever happens, the magic square mile remains; and if we are to get what we want in that square mile, and to get the necessary volume of accommodation, it can be done only by going higher than it has been the practice hitherto to go.

I would say one other thing about the building itself before I come to its effect on the general appearance of the City of London and its effect on St. Paul's. We are dependent upon people coming forward and risking their capital in the reconstruction of the City of London. Unless we can give people a scheme which is efficient and economical, and which will give them a reasonable return for their money, we shall not get buildings put up at all. Nobody is going to put up buildings at a loss. It is notorious that the cost of land in the City of London is extremely high, and that sites, for that reason, have to be used in the most efficient way. I am not sympathetic to landowners who ask too much for their land, but I imagine that the promoters of this scheme are not paying more than the normal market price for the land, and they have to see a reasonable return on their money. If I understand the noble Lord correctly, he would answer that he is not quarrelling with the cubic content of this building: he says that it is possible to get the same cubic content by spreading the building out. I am assured, however, that that is not the case; that if we are to get the standard conditions of light and air that are necessary, it is inevitable that the building must go upwards. I fear that the alternative to approving this scheme is to leave the site derelict; and that nobody would want.

Now a word about the dominance of this building and its effect on St. Paul's and other important buildings. The noble Lord has been good enough to give us the opportunity of seeing this for ourselves on a small scale—and, of course, no amount of talk in this Chamber can be a substitute for seeing a model. I have had the opportunity of seeing it, and I am sure we are all grateful to the noble Lord for letting us have the opportunity. I invite any noble Lord to go and look at it—it is in the Royal Gallery—and I defy anybody to say that this building is going to dominate St. Paul's. I feel personally that St. Paul's dominates the whole scene and, indeed, in perspective, it is most difficult to pick out this particular high building. It does not look as if it stands much higher than most other buildings; but, of course, measurements cannot be wrong, and it is higher. But as to dominating St. Paul's, that idea seems to me to be utterly misconceived: it does not do anything of the kind.


I did not say it is going to dominate St. Paul's—I admit it is not as big as all that, and I am very glad it is not—but it is a dominating building.


Of course, it is: it is I very large building. But I do not understand the relevance of its relationship with St. Paul's. I thought the noble Lord's case was that it was higher than St. Paul's. At any rate, I thought he was giving the impression that it was rivalling St. Paul's. That used to be said of the Bank side Power Station. If the noble Lord does not say that, I do not understand what his case is as regards dominance. Looking at this model, it strikes me that it is very much like any other building. It is a little higher, though it does not even look its full height; certainly it does not dominate St. Paul's or rival it or the other important buildings in the area.

There is one other point, though I do not think I need labour this question. We have to take into account that we are living in a different age, and that if we want both the best possible conditions for those who are going to spend a great part of their lives in the City of London, and also if we want to provide the volume of accommodation that is necessary for preserving the importance of the City and enabling it to discharge its proper functions, the only way is to go upwards. Therefore, while I feel that this discussion may have served a useful purpose and that it is a good thing to ventilate these matters, I hope we shall all of us look forward and not look backward. I hope that we in these islands are capable of as great architectural achievements in the future as we have been in the past. This is a new age with great and splendid opportunities. All artists have had to contend with those who were the exponents of standing still or of going back. Noble Lords may remember that Beethoven's Fifth Symphony was howled down when it was first produced; to-day it is recognised as a masterpiece. I have referred to Waterloo Bridge. Possibly in the days to come Bucklersbury House will be pointed to as one of the great achievements of the present age. At any rate, I feel that we ought not to stand in the way of opportunity being presented to modern architects to see what they can do, and not be governed entirely by what has happened in the past.


I am on the noble Lord's side but I should like to ask him a question. I wonder whether he can enlighten the House as to the possible necessity for altering the entire fire fighting arrangements of London because of one inordinately high building. Can he say anything abort that?


Not without asking for the indulgence of the House for a much longer period. But I do not think that the height of this building is in any way influenced by fire fighting considerations. I think that factor can be met to-day, whatever the height of the building is, and I do not consider that the height of this building is influenced in any way by that consideration.

5.31 p.m.


My Lords, before I begin the speech I have prepared, I should like to say one or two words to the noble Lord who has moved this Motion. He seemed to doubt whether the London County Council and the City Corporation were in favour of this project. I can tell him definitely that the London County Council is unanimously in favour of it and that the City Corporation is in favour of it by a substantial majority. I believe I am stating exactly the facts of the case. Now, with regard to these towering walls the noble Lord referred to, if he were to stand on the Victoria Embankment at the foot of Somerset House, I wonder what he would imagine the height to the top of Somerset House to be. I should say it is probably a good deal over 140 feet—I am, of course, speaking from a casual look at it. The noble Lord also spoke of the London Building Act. Well, my Lords, we know that that Act is quite obsolete now. It has been abused many times. After all, there is Faraday House, which is 140 feet high and only 235 yards from St. Paul's.

I think I may be able to give some information which I hope will convince your Lordships that the Bucklersbury House project is not unreasonable. I was privileged to attend a joint meeting of the London County Council, the City Corporation, and the developer concerned in this building, under the chairmanship of one of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government planning officers. Amongst the City Corporation's representatives there was a speaker in opposition to these plans. I believe he is a partner of the noble Lord who moved this Motion. He spoke strongly against the project though he did not go into the detail which the noble Lord did just now. His opposition to it was principally on the question of height. I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that we should not tie ourselves down to any particular height. Anyway, let us consider this project in regard to the height. I propose to deal with it from that point of view. I am afraid your Lordships will have to bear with me a little longer than usual. I generally speak for a very short time in this House, but I have to cover a good deal of ground, and I feel that this is a very important debate on the development of the City of London.

Now the maximum height above ground of this project is stated to be 168 feet. This includes the height of the lift towers which house the lift machinery. Ignoring these projections, the average height of the building proper would be 153 feet. Let us take the utmost height of 168 feet. We find that the fall in the land from St. Paul's to this building is 20 feet; therefore this height, in strict comparison with that of St. Paul's Cathedral, is 148 feet only. The plans already approved for the Bank of England buildings—the plans are going to be issued—give a height of 140 feet. These buildings, when erected, will be adjacent to St. Paul's Cathedral, whilst Bucklersbury House, as the noble Lord has already told us, is 450 yards from St. Paul's Cathedral. Is the difference of 8 feet, therefore, the cause of all this trouble? I will show your Lordships shortly what a trouble it has been to arrive at agreement on this subject. If it is only a question of a difference of 8 feet between what is going to be done close against St. Paul's and what is going to be done 450 yards from it, then I think, with the greatest respect, that the criticism is somewhat frivolous and indeed vexatious.

It was agreed that the bulk granted on this section, as compared with what existed before, should be as follows—it is always a bore to give figures, but, to demonstrate what I mean, I will give your Lordships the situation over this site as it was in 1939. The gross floor area in 1939 was 461,250 square feet. The gross floor area of the suggested new building is 467,700 square feet. In the 1939 building there were 6,202,648 cubic feet and in the proposed new building there will be 6,523,378 cubic feet. The cube of the 1939 buildings has been agreed with the district valuer, and the gross floor area of these buildings has been agreed with the City Corporation, so I do not think there is any doubt that those figures are accurate.

It will be seen that, although the actual gross floor area is increased by 6,450 square feet, the difference after allowing for the extra space set aside in the new building for corridors, walls, lifts, lavatories, et cetera, is very small in favour of the new buildings; whereas on the cubic feet measurement of the old buildings, plus the 10 per cent, permitted increase by law, there is less cubic feet capacity in the new building than the developer could have claimed. The opposition went on to say—I am quoting from what took place at the meeting with the Ministry—that they thought that, if the plans were again sent back for revision, the height could be lessened by a greater spreading of the whole building over the site. At present it occupies only 65 per cent.—that is, 85,000 square feet. The balance, no less than 44,000 square feet, or just over one acre, has been absorbed in road widening and open spaces. If the open spaces are lessened to reduce height, we shall be faced with a request to reduce the angles of light and thus the amenities will be affected—which is the very point made by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin.

Four years, at a cost in architects' fees of £31,000, has been spent in trying to get a compromise to suit all parties concerned in this area. Even if these plans are sent back again, is it likely that any other scheme, evolved at the expense of amenities or angle of light, will not arouse opposition from another section, equally as ill-informed, shall I say—perhaps I am putting it rather strongly—as the present objectors? Surely it is impossible to please everybody all the time. After all, the argument simply means that for the sake of, say, 30 feet, reducing the height to 118 feet, net, above ground level as compared with St. Paul's Cathedral 450 yards away, the company will have to lose a capital value of well over £500,000. It would, therefore, completely upset their financial plans and make the proposed building uneconomic, unless rents can be raised by 5s. to 7s. 6d. per foot. Such an increase, I venture to say, is almost impossible to achieve.

It is suggested that this building will set a standard for all the City. That is demonstrably incorrect. It is an island site, a very rare type of site in that area, and the height granted can be repeated only for buildings on similar areas in the City. Where are these areas? I know of none. Even if an area of a similar size were available, it is certainly outside the bounds set down for special treatment as to plot ratio by the planners. Consequently, this problem of bulk does not arise, and hence height considerations are of much less importance. Bearing in mind that this area is one that calls for concentration of business activity—a matter that brooks no criticism as to its need—the two necessary authorities have given their judgment. On this judgment, all plans have been based, both as to need and to economy. As Mr. Edmund Howard wrote in his letter to The Times, it is for the architects to solve the problem on these facts and not to ignore them.

With your Lordships' permission, I should like to read what Mr. Edmund Howard, who is no less a person than the President of the Associated Owners of City Properties, gives as his opinion with regard to this matter. I am quoting from his letter in The Times of Thursday, July 2. This is what he says: This style is entirely opposed to traditional form of architecture adopted in the City for the purpose of dealing with, first, its needs; secondly, its economic aspects"— He is referring here to the United Nations Building in New York, which had been referred to by some of the critics of this scheme. He continued: bearing in mind the first two points, the merging of these into an harmonious architectural plan that does not clash with existing new or comparatively new buildings in the vicinity. What we require in the City are buildings of such a bulk as will house tenants in close proximity to their respective markets. Any one of us who has ever been in the City—whether in the Stock Exchange or in a bank, or in any sort of big firm—knows the absolute necessity of having one's office near one's main place of business. Then Mr. Edmund Howard goes on to say: It is useless to contemplate a style of architecture that at the same time enforces on the City greater financial difficulties than ever before in carrying out its functions as a world financial centre.…The London County Council and the Corporation of London must be permitted to pass plans without reference to the Royal Fine Art Commission or any other body. I entirely agree with that statement made by one of the highest authorities in regard to City property.

My Lords, I come back to the tenor of my speech. If, as they say, the authorities cannot produce a building to meet conditions that satisfy their aim of emulating contemporary art, then contemporary art goes to the ground; for the City cannot live on the principle that they must subscribe to art as against their need to produce dollars. Here let me remind your Lordships that this area of the City earns more dollars than any industry in the whole country. Surely it is time to consider the way in which this matter of such importance has been treated. Driven from pillar to post, thwarted by regulation after regulation, restrained by the Treasury on various national financial grounds—that is the position which has faced the City. For over four years this interminable struggle has gone on. I do not say that some of the restrictions were not necessary, owing to our financial position; but that is the situation. What an example to future developers of the City, as Lord Silkin has said, so urgently needing new office accommodation! Yet they were promised every help by the City Council in regard to priority as to building licences, in so far as it lay in their power to induce them. It was further added that by their efforts they saved the City Corporation the need to find the money necessary for the sites to be purchased, as it was a declaratory area, and the cost of the building, a matter in all of between £7 million and £8 million, if the City were forced, as they could be, to take over the sites. This was freely spoken of at the recent meeting with the Ministry, where one of their representatives stated that they were in the dilemma of having to find, under the present planning scheme adopted, between £40 million and £50 million on other schemes.

It must be remembered that when the Capital Issues Committee approved the first steps in this company's financial programme, they would surely have done that only under approval from the Treasury and the Ministries involved in the project. Whilst it is true that capital issues permission does not mean that licences are immediately forthcoming, does it mean that we have got to have four years' delay? How can any developer move in these circumstances? Since the project was first mooted, building costs have gone up 25 per cent.—a further hardship inflicted on the developer. One very irritating phrase arising over the building licence relates to what is termed "the position in the queue" at the Ministry of Works for the necessary licence to build. How can this be operated when, to commence, the company must negotiate to purchase all the sites, and did so, in the belief that this condition was non-existent? I think I am right in saying that these sites cost somewhere between £1 million and £1,100,000. The time has come when this work has to proceed. May I say, therefore, that to alter these plans at this stage amounts, in my view, simply to bowing to criticism such as has already been fully dealt with in the departments of the authorities concerned? Further, may I ask what is the use of vesting the power in these authorities, who are in full agreement with the present plans, if they are to be overriden?

I am intervening in opposition to the noble Lord's Motion because, like him and many others in your Lordships' House, I have had many years' experience in City of London offices. It is only latterly that offices which were, and still are, in a sense (I am not putting it too highly) literally slums, have begun to be improved, giving a new outlook to City workers, who now come to their work to fine buildings, giving light and air and every modern amenity, enabling them to carry out their jobs efficiently and speedily. And, of course, it means everything to the firms who employ them to get the work economically carried out. Environment means much to the workers—not only to their minds but to their happiness and contentment. I am anxious, as I know your Lordships are, that our blitzed City shall be rebuilt in a manner worthy of its great name. Every encouragement should be given to those developers who have enterprise and imagination to do so.

What is the present position? All the authorities concerned approve the plans. The banks, both British and American, insurance companies, and great corporations want the accommodation—in fact, the place is let before one stone is put on another. I have seen letters from an American bank asking at what date they can take over their new office. So they really believe that this is going to happen. I am sure that it is bound to happen in the end, whether there is a slight alteration or not, as it is absolutely essential to the welfare of the City. Some offices of these great firms, and indeed the banks, are spread all over London, which is bound to be unsatisfactory and uneconomic. This situation must be rectified at once; the need is vital. Facilities must be given, at a reasonable cost, to re-establish our great businesses in the City—I do not mean in London as a whole, but the City of London. I have already referred to dollar-earning capacity. Why should not the City worker have the amenities of an up-to-date factory? This question has far too long been ignored. I do not know whether the noble Lord intends to divide the House—I do not think he does. But I hope noble Lords, and particularly those in Opposition, will take the view that Lord Silkin does, and support me in opposing the Motion, which undoubtedly is detrimental to the health and happiness of our City workers, and also to the efficient management of our great business firms. All I am asking for at the present moment is a licence for £100,000 to test the natural foundations of the site. This will take roughly nine months, and an assurance must be given that a further licence will be forthcoming to start the building itself on completion of this testing.

I hope that what I have said has somewhat shaken the views of the noble Lord who has moved this Motion. This is probably the most momentous debate that has taken place in regard to the future of the rebuilding of our great City of London. Finally, I would just like to say this. I understand that the developers have constantly said that they hold no particular brief for this particular plan. In fact, they consider that their own earlier efforts were better; but their original plan was not acceptable either to the City Corporation or to the London County Council. I take a very strong view about this matter, and I hope that what I have said, and the information which I have given, will greatly influence those in power to enable this project to go forward.

6.0 p.m.


My Lords, not only has the Motion before your Lordships' House been useful in eliciting the information given by the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, but there is one aspect—perhaps a by-product of the Motion—which is, I think, equally, if not more, important. The plans and the model of the building in Bucklersbury which are shown in the Royal Gallery have produced on me an effect which is not perhaps what Lord Mottistone would have wished, but which I think is even more important. The peccant building shown in the model is not the proposed structure in Bucklersbury but that on the so-called Bank of England site in the neighbourhood of St. Paul's I sincerely hope that one of the outcomes of this debate will be that that plan will not be proceeded with in the form shown on the model exhibited. In common with other people, I think that the plan will mask St. Paul's from the eastern end. On the other hand, I hope that the plan for the Bucklersbury site will be proceeded with as soon as possible.

I am not clear, from the terms of the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone's Motion, what is the particular trouble in his mind. He spoke about the height of the building, and re-emphasised time and time again the height of 170 feet. Now the height of a building, by itself, is not, as it seems to me, the essential point of his argument at all. It is the height in relation to the bulk of the building, and the number of buildings of that height in a given area, that affect the skyline and the whole conception of the plan. Lord Mottistone said he hoped that if the building were proceeded with it would not form a precedent in height for other buildings in the devastated areas of the City. On the contrary, I feel that it should be a precedent. Development of that vast devastated area between St. Paul's and the centre of the City was decided in principle, so far as I know, a long time ago, and it was to take the form of a spread-out disseminated plan of large blocks, with open areas around them. But to have one building only of 170 feet and to fill up the rest of the area, or large parts of the rest of the devastated area, with low buildings of 100 or 120 feet would result in drawing attention to the height of one building and would alter the conception, the skyline and the view of the City far more than if—as I hope will be done—a number of buildings of approximately the same height are placed in the devastated areas. In other words, I should like to see an entirely different conception from that which the noble Lord seems to have in mind about how the site ought to look after the devastated areas have been rebuilt. I should like to see large island blocks of buildings, with open spaces around them, and with the gardens and the amenities to which Lord Teviot has referred, which have been lacking in the City, not for generations but for centuries.

If I may enlarge upon one small point in what Lord Teviot has said, I would just say this. The City of London, as a contributor to our invisible exports, accounts, probably, for 100 per cent. of the invisible exports in banking and insurance; for a very large proportion (it is difficult to say how much exactly) of the commodity trade of this country, and for probably about 80 per cent. of the invisible revenues from the shipping industry. Yet that contribution to our balance of trade has been made from an acreage, from an aggregate mass of buildings, that no one would allow as a factory or allow a; an area in which a manufactured export was produced in this country. It is inconceivable that such conditions would be allowed to go on in factories without a public outcry. Yet in the City this major contribution—very much larger, as has been said, than has been made by any manufacturing industry—has been permitted for seven years since the war from buildings standing in about two-thirds of the area formerly occupied and containing—with the exception of two or three; one in Walbrook, and another in the Mincing Lane area—nonew buildings. The language which Lord Teviot used is moderate compared with what would be needed for many of us who work in the City to express our feelings on that subject.

If this beginning is to be made, as I hope it will be, I trust that it will be the beginning of the construction of large blocks of buildings; all over the area, so that not only can the existing population, the working population, of the City be rehoused, but provision can also be made for the additional people who have to work there and who are now uneconomically disseminated all over London—again under conditions which leave a great deal to be desired. Therefore, the argument in Lord Mottistone's Motion about the height of the building is, I consider, misplaced. What I had hoped he would have touched on was the height of the building in relation to its mass. It is arguable—I do not know whether Lord Mottistone would agree or not—that it might have been better to have a building rising to a central element init of 200 feet in height and have had a smaller mass at the 150 feet or 160 feet level. That, however, is arguable. It is a matter of taste and, to some extent, of economics. I should prefer to see a higher building than 170 feet with rather less mass at that height.


May I interrupt to say that I did stress the length of the building and its width? My point was that the height alone is not the real trouble, so much as the vast bulk. I said that it was 340 feet long. That was my point, and to that extent I agree with the noble Lord.


I am glad that the noble Lord has explained that, because his reiteration of "170 feet" left the impression on my mind—and I think on the minds of others of your Lordships also—that it was the height he was worrying about, more than the height in relation to the mass. There is a method of correcting that which is to go higher and reduce the mass. But that would perhaps take us into a discussion of the architectural merits of various schemes.

On the question of height, I should like to say as strongly as I can that we need an entirely new conception of what buildings in London are going to be. I do not feel that it is the height of the buildings in Queen Anne's Mansions that has shocked people; it is the shape of Queen Anne's Mansions and the relation of that building to buildings around it. Lord Mottistone surely would not want, as an alternative, to have the City built tight, without open spaces, at an average level of 100 feet, or on the lower level at which it stood before it was destroyed by the enemy. If that is not his view—and I do not think it can be—and he is in favour of open spaces around buildings, then we have no alternative but to go up.

The other point about which the noble Lord felt strongly is that a building of this size dwarfs other buildings. In regard to this point, Bucklersbury House is not the peccant building; it is the new Bank of England building. But let us see what Bucklersbury House is supposed to dwarf in its immediate neighbourhood. St Stephen's, Walbrook, is a very small church: it is already dwarfed, and has been for many years, by new buildings. St. Mary-le-Bow is sufficiently tall, even if immediately surrounded by tall buildings, not to run the risk of being dwarfed. There are different views about the architectural merit of the Mansion House, but the existence of a large building and a small building near it does not necessarily mean that a small building is dwarfed or vanishes from sight or, indeed, ceases to be a remarkable monument.

I think the greatest contrast in height in the world is the Church of the Trinity in Wall Street and the immense buildings which surround it. In my view, these buildings have added a great deal of dignity to a building which otherwise has little artistic merit. It has become much more than it would have been if skyscrapers had not been built around it. It is not necessarily the case that a large building draws attention away from the small, beautiful, old building near it—rather the reverse. A large modern building, such as that conceived at Bucklersbury, is so large that the eye is unlikely to take it all in from one point, and the eye will remain on the buildings surrounding it, like the Mansion House. I think the Mansion House will be emphasised by large buildings rather than by an open space. Therefore, far from wishing that this Motion will receive the approval of your Lordships, I hope that the Bucklersbury building, on which so many years of work and negotiation have been spent, will be a precedent for other buildings of that sort, size, height and conception in the devastated areas of the City of London.

6.14 p.m.


My Lords, all noble Lords who have spoken so far seem to me to have misunderstood the plea that the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, made in his speech. They accused him of wanting to stop the rebuilding of the City, and to stop building over a certain height, whereas, as I undertsand it—though, of course, the noble Lord will speak for himself when he comes to reply—his complaint was not against the building itself, but against building it on the proposed site. That brings up the question of town planning—and here a layman has to walk warily, because nowadays no subject seems so full of jargon which may be misused—and of legislation. I understand that there is provision for what is called areas of "special architectural control," areas in which the planning authorities have the duty to preserve the amenities of whatever is the principal feature of the area.

It seems to me that the ground for concern about Bucklersbury House is that from anywhere west of Waterloo Bridge it will, on the skyline, appear close to St. Paul's, and compete with St. Paul's on the skyline to such an extent that it will spoil the silhouette as we know it and as Wren planned it. On that ground it ought not to be allowed in that area. From that, it follows that this plan should have been brought to the notice of the public at some earlier stage. I would strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, in his plea for earlier opportunities for public discussion of these plans. It has happened again and again in my experience, in a society like the London Society, that plans are suddenly heard of at a stage when it is too late to stop them without causing great loss to the people undertaking the development. I think the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, will be able to tell us something about that from the planning aspect.

It is all very well to give the planning authorities full discretion but, as servants of the public—after all, they are not the masters—we expect them to give the public a chance of expressing its opinion on anything which is likely to be controversial. I know there is a danger of those bodies who devote themselves to the preservation of the amenities and the beauties of our cities and countryside being prone to take a narrow view, to urge preservation for preservation's sake and to resist anything new. Obviously, as the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, has said, that is an impossible standpoint. Every generation has to build for its own needs and build in its own style. All we can do, space being limited, is to ensure that the really valuable features left us from the past are not obscured from view by new buildings. That is why I think there is a case against this building, on the ground of its proximity to St. Paul's.

I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, quote, from a letter in The Times, but he omitted a sentence in that letter which seemed to me to give a clue to another danger in matters such as this. The letter is a frank expression, I would say an almost shameless expression, of the purely business view that the only thing that matters is to make a profit, and the results to the rest of the community do not matter. The missing sentence in the letter from the Associated Owners of City Properties is this: Developers of City properties object to the Royal Fine Art Commission being brought in to approve or disapprove modern buildings in the City. It is as bald as that. Surely, that is the authentic voice of the Victorians, who wrecked many cities and much of our countryside; people who do not acknowledge that there are any values but those of business profit and loss. I am sorry to see that the City property owners have committed themselves to such a view, and I can hardly believe that they all feel that way.

There is one last question on town planning which I should like to ask the noble Lord; it was, in fact, asked in a letter to The Times from Mr. Gordon Stephenson. We hear that it is absolutely essential that the City, when rebuilt, should house more people than before—I believe 10 per cent. is the figure allowed for. I might add that the City seems to have been conducting its business of earning invisible revenue quite successfully over the last ten years, in spite of half the City being devastated. I wonder whether the argument that the only possible place for business headquarters is within the boundaries of the City has so much validity as we are told. If we are going to maintain the number of people working in the City, or even increase it, is not that going completely contrary to the whole tendency and the whole aim of present-day town planning in London? Have not all the London plans had as their object decentralisation and the reduction of congestion? If you increase the number of people working in the City, you encourage the sprawling of suburbs out from London. The County of London and the Greater London Plans, new towns, and all the rest of it, are the means we have adopted to prevent that very thing.

Mr. Stephenson says in his letter: 'Does it make sense to go on increasing the amount of office accommodation in central London, including the City, when the main thesis of the plans is decentralisation and the reduction of congestion? This small area of high ground deserves special treatment to prevent St. Paul's, the largest and finest single feature of London, suffering from competition from other huge blocks of buildings. There is a good deal of room to the north and north-east of St. Paul's where there is devastated land waiting to be built on. Why cannot the developers who want these huge buildings be given their licences for land in areas other than that small area of the City? I should like to support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, with the qualification that I do not go all the way with him on the question of the general raising of building heights.

6.25 p.m.


My Lords, when my noble friend Lord Mottistone drew my attention in private to this forthcoming debate, and told me about the proposed erection of this large building, I must say that I was struck by his æsthetic arguments, and those of his partner who made a most eloquent speech before the Common Council of the City on this subject. Therefore, I looked forward eagerly to seeing the plans and models which are now to be seen in the Royal Gallery. I am bound to admit that the more I looked upon those models the less enthusiastic was my support for my noble friend's æsthetic objections to them. It seems to me that this building will not be of the all-dominant character which I conceived it would be. It will have no effect whatever on St. Paul's, of course; but it will dominate the immediate area around it—the Mansion House and St. Stephen's, Walbrook.

I was struck by the remarks of my noble friend Lord Rennell on this aspect when he said that a smaller building may even gain from the propinquity of some overpowering eminence by the actual fact of its smallness. Therefore, I would not argue on the architectural merits of this scheme. One must remember that the City Corporation are advised by two eminent architects, Professors Holden and Holford, and the London County Council have Professor Abercrombie. Surely, each case will be judged on its merits. In this case they have allowed 170 feet. I hope—and that is why I interrupted the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, when he was speaking—that no particular height will be considered universal. I deprecate the idea that Wren's skyline should be entirely obstructed by high buildings, and I think we must leave it to the expert advisers of those two bodies to treat each case on its merits. We may be sure that they have just as great a desire for the future beauty of the modernised City of London as has my noble friend Lord Mottistone or anybody else.

The reason why I have ventured to intervene for a few moments in this debate is that during the thirty-three years or so that I have been intimately connected with the City of London I have sat on a large number of committees, of one kind and another, connected with the beautification of the City, making open spaces in the City, Tower Hill improvement, and what not. The last one on which I sat was presided over by Mr. Holland Martin, a director of the Bank of England and consisted of about six members, each representing some phase of City life. I represented the banks and insurance companies; somebody else represented the City Guilds; somebody else represented the Churches, and so on. Our object was to keep an eye on the replanning of the City of London after its devastation; to do what we could to represent our various interests in connection with that replanning, and, above all, to hurry up the replanning. We signally failed to achieve anything in that respect. We started to sit in about the year 1945, I think it was; we met about once a quarter—and very boring the meetings were because they produced so little result. Eventually, on the Motion of our chairman, Mr. Holland Martin, about the year 1952 we considered that it was an utter waste of time for us ever to sit again, because we could get nothing whatever done. Since that time the committee has been in abeyance.

Therefore, when I see a plan coming forward to get something done, I lean very much towards it, and it is a satisfaction to me to notice that in the past year or so several big buildings, such as St. Swithin's House and Plantation House, have been completed. Here we have a new project coming forward, in the shape of Bucklersbury House, a very clumsy name which I hope the promoters will eventually modify to Walbrook House, a name that is equally historic and is more easily handled. But here is a big project coming forward to get something done, and on the whole I think it is being done reasonably well, having due regard to the amenities which are so desirable in the future, such as open air, light, space and so on. Therefore, I hope that the project will go forward without further delay. If the promoters, having listened to this debate, having noted the anxiety which your Lordships as a whole feel, that the general height of the City shall not be uniformly so overpowering as to wreck Wren's skyline, should therefore feel inclined to modify their plans at all, as the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, adumbrated they might be inclined to do, that would be all to the good. I hope that the project will go forward, and, therefore, I cannot support Lord Mottistone's Motion which is in the contrary sense.

Before sitting down, and in view of the emphasis which has been laid by so many of your Lordships on the necessity for more open spaces in the City of London, I should like to go completely out of order—to which your Lordships are always so sympathetic—and point out that at Bunhill Fields there are no fewer than six acres of utterly useless gravestones cluttering up the City of London. That site would make a most admirable park and playground for the children of Finsbury, which is the most crowded district in the City of London. Nobody has been buried in the graveyard since 1853, and nobody of note has been buried there for about 170 years. There is no earthly excuse for leaving that graveyard of six acres to clutter up the City of London any longer. It should be treated in the same sensible manner as the graveyards of Chelsea Parish Church and Holy Trinity, Brompton.

6.33 p.m.


My Lords, the issues raised by this proposed Bucklersbury building are more important than would appear from the rather narrowly drawn Motion of the noble Lord, and this debate is a more important one than might appear at first sight, because upon the decision which Her Majesty's Government take, whether to interfere or not in connection with this proposed building—a decision which doubtless will be decidedly influenced by the course of events in our House this afternoon—depends to a great extent the future development of the City of London, so essential to the whole life of the community. I feel that the apparent suggestion put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, that we should regard the height hitherto considered to be the maximum permissible in the City as sacrosanct for all time is rather lacking in reality.

As I understand it from my friends who have businesses and offices in the City, there is a tremendous shortage of office accommodation, partly caused by natural development and, of course, greatly aggravated by the destruction during the last war. The result is that office accommodation is at a premium; rents have risen to fantastically high figures, and most people whose leases are due to fall in in the near future are shaking in their shoes. Another unfortunate result has been that industry has been forced to go further and further west, and I think that the development—admittedly showing before the war—whereby offices and commercial houses were tending to invade the west, and particularly the south-west of London, has been accelerated and strengthened by this lack of accommodation in the City. I do not think that many people will feel that the amenity of south-west London has been greatly improved by its being changed from an entirely residential into a quasi-commercial area.

While it may be desirable that fewer people should have to earn their living in the narrow confines of the City, I feel that with many of the essential commercial undertakings, particularly the Stock Exchange and other, which are situated there, we must expect to have for all time a very large number of City workers. For that reason, we must try to provide adequate modern accommodation in which they can work in comfort. I entirely agree that Ails cannot be done if we are going to rebuild London merely to the heights that have hitherto been regarded as adequate. I do not suppose the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, was objecting primarily to height in itself, but merely to the places in which an excessive height was to be found, for I think that few people would agree that the somewhat fantastic skyline of New York is in itself unattractive. For New York it is extremely suitable. Admittedly it is not suitable for here, but to say that a height of 170feet, or any other arbitrary figure, is one which is undesirable and should never be exceeded, is not, in my opinion, a position which can be reasonably maintained.

I agree that once we get the environs of St. Paul's safeguarded, there is no reason why buildings much greater in height than 170 feet should not be contemplated. Such a development must come slowly, and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, that some body should be set up to be entrusted with the careful scrutiny of every new project. I should certainly be the first to oppose violently any scheme which sought in any way to remove, destroy or damage any of the monuments of the City of London. But it seems to me that the proposed Bucklersbury building, ugly though it is in itself, is not per se undesirable. I entirely agree that the Bank of England building is much too high and is more likely than Bucklersbury to interfere with the amenity of St. Paul's. There, I should like to see a fairly drastic alteration enforced. As I say, Bucklersbury itself does not appeal to my eye, but since I find practically all modern architecture singularly hideous, that may possibly be due to my jaundiced views. I should like to see something slightly less gaunt, and I agree that something taller and less square and shapeless would be a great advantage.

I think that our architects might well take some notice of what has been done in New York, where there are these immensely tall buildings, beautifully graduated and also artistic. Bucklersbury House is not artistic and in its present suggested form it is, in my view, an eyesore. But to endeavour to halt all progress in the redevelopment of the City unless such progress is to be on traditional lines seems to me a great mistake. There are, however, one or two other considerations which have not yet been mentioned, and I should like briefly to draw the attention of your Lordships and of the Government to them. One of them is the question of the construction of Bucklers- bury House and any similar building in regard to the lamentable possibility of another war. I would suggest that the construction should be extremely substantial, not only in view of the devastation that would be caused by the collapse of such a gigantic building but also because it seems to me, speaking without any technical knowledge, that a building of these dimensions, strongly built, might well act as a very good shield to buildings on the far side of it against any damage which might be done by any bomb that might fall. I agree that the question of fire is also one that should be given careful consideration.

I feel, too, that in connection with all these proposed new buildings the Government should give very careful consideration to the question of traffic, on which we had such an interesting debate in this House yesterday. Traffic conditions in the City are universally recognised as chaotic, and the opportunity should be taken to try to find some way out of the difficulty when these new buildings are constructed. Methods should be devised to keep lorries off the streets. The Government should also consider the question of working hours in the City, and methods of getting people to and from their work more quickly and with less trouble. It is very difficult to suggest any solution—no practical one seems to have been found so far. But I feel that this traffic problem is indissolubly involved with the whole question of the development of the City of London. I hope, therefore, that Her Majesty's Government will approve in principle this Bucklersbury project, but will consider carefully the possibility of linking up any future developments with the problem of traffic in the City of London.

6.43 p.m.


My Lords, we have heard some very important arguments in favour of the Motion in this debate on Bucklersbury House. I personally do not agree with the building as at present proposed, and I think our attitude to this building and to the whole City of London is rather controlled by what we think of history. This is not a matter for local decision only; the City of London belongs to the Commonwealth as a whole. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, and other noble Lords who have spoken, that this matter is of very great importance, and concerns an issue much wider than one building in particular.

It may seem a pompous thing to say, but it struck me that a city is in danger of retreating from its own greatness when it permits commercial buildings to over-reach and rival its Cathedral and its church spires and towers. I do not think it is difficult to imagine how this building will look. This is a very congested area already. Frankly, I think that ideally this site should become a garden. But we cannot ask this when we realise the value of land per square inch in the City. I was standing on Waterloo Bridge to-day and looking in that direction. The site would be somewhere between Cannon Street Station and St. Paul's. Incidentally, Cannon Street Station has already spoilt the landscape, and that is not, I suppose, more than 100 feet high. One realises, standing there, what this building will mean; and what is as frightening as its height of 170 feet is its length: there will be a sheer cliff 380 feet long. We should not place too much emphasis on the closeness of the Bucklersbury site to St. Paul's. It is, in fact, a full quarter of a mile away, but as regards the distant prospect the point I have just made is important. It is extraordinarily unpleasant to imagine the Mansion House being dwarfed by a building more than twice its own height and only a few feet away. I was interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, said about the possible gains from buildings being overshadowed. I think one would want to explore that idea, but it is one with which one could not agree. The lovely church of St. Stephen's, Walbrook, on the opposite side of the road would be made to look tiny by this plan. The Mansion House—the very centre of the civic life of the City—is only 70 feet high, and would live under the immediate shadow of this proposed new building.

I realise that the question of reconstruction in the City of London is of the greatest importance. Buildings must go up again; we must earn our living in the world. But this is a special area, and a special area belonging to the whole Commonwealth, in which we must not move far away from the great Wren and other buildings of the past that are there. I favour this building as a building. I think it would look fine in Paddington, or Holborn, or Finchley, but not within the walls of the City of London. If one takes what I have called this "special area" view, I suggest that we cannot possibly believe in great buildings of the past being dwarfed by tyrannous utility.

6.47 p.m.


My Lords, I have little to add to what has been said in the course of this extremely exhaustive debate. Having been a member of the Town Planning Committee of the London County Council, I have given this proposed development considerable thought in the last year. I think the position is—and the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—that the Minister is now considering this matter and has not yet made up his mind. If that is the case, then this debate is extremely timely; and we are all greatly indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, for initiating it. I am certain that the Minister will now be in a position to weigh most carefully the æsthetic and the practical, which have to be weighed before the correct decision can be made. I should like to assure the House that this matter was considered extremely carefully by the London County Council. We went into all the objections to the scheme that have been raised this afternoon. And I can add this: the original scheme went back and had to be modified on both amenity and other grounds, and the developer was not happy about that; but we had had the matter before us several times before we were satisfied that it was desirable. We were equally anxious to protect the amenity as well as the other aspects of the development.

The only other thing is this, and I think it has not been said so far. If it were decided that this plan should be either cancelled or modified, it would mean a very heavy cost in compensation to the developer, and that cost would be borne by the London ratepayer. I do not know what it would amount to, but I suppose it would be several hundreds of thousands of pounds. It would have to come out of the City rate or out of the rate paid in the County of London. In view of the large amount involved to cover abortive expenditure up to the present time and perhaps to cover future losses, I think the Government should consider extremely carefully before adding this to the financial burden on the ordinary London ratepayer. I personally hope that when the Minister has weighed the arguments very carefully on both sides he will come down in favour of the proposed scheme.

6.50 p.m.


My Lords, if I begin my remarks by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, upon the eloquent way in which he has brought this matter forward and by thanking him for so doing, I do not do it in anything of the normal, polite and conventional way, customary for the Government spokesman who winds up a debate such as this. For reasons upon which the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has touched, I think this debate has been more than usually useful. Most of the debates which the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, and I have either initiated or participated in have proved most useful. He and I did battle together over the Colonial Office building, to very good purpose, I am happy to say. But a remark was made in that debate, and again in a debate in which he and I were on opposite sides, on the two new top storeys at Carlton House Terrace, and that remark has also been made to-day by the noble Earl, Lord Lucan. He commented upon the unfortunate fact that these great projects do not catch the public eye until it is either too late or getting dangerously late for public opinion to form itself and for any action, if action should be required, to be taken. That is a point which I myself have made once or twice on both those previous occasions and it has been made again to-day. It is not in this case a Governmental responsibility, because the Government are not the planning authority here, but I think perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, who is more closely connected with this subject than most of us are, might like to pass back to his friends, certainly in the London County Council, the suggestion that they could consider with profit giving more publicity at an early stage to projects which clearly have an effect on the development and well-being of our city. If that had been done in this case, some expense that he has mentioned might have been spared and some anxious scurrying to and fro might have been avoided.


I am sorry I think the Government should consider to interrupt the noble Lord, but I am sure he will include in his indictment the City Corporation, which took the original decision, as being an accomplice of the London County Council.


Yes. I am not indicting the London County Council; I am merely suggesting that the good work could start with them, because we have a very good and close friend amongst us. It applies to the City and to every other planning authority throughout the land which is dealing with a matter which one day may cause widespread feeling and attract much interest. It does not apply to the London County Council alone. But this is a point made in both previous debates, and I think the London County Council are probably quite familiar with it.

I must make my position clear straight away—or rather the position of my right honourable friend, the Minister. I do not mean his personal position, to which the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone was good enough to refer, for he is unfortunately prone in St. Thomas's Hospital, and the latest news is that he had a fair night and his condition is going along satisfactorily. I refer more to his position vis-à-vis the planning authority. Let me make it perfectly clear that my right honourable friend has not yet taken any decision, so this debate is not about something that the Minister has done but about whether he should or should not do something. The position, roughly, is this. If a person is refused planning permission he can appeal to the Minister, but if the permission is granted the Minister does not usually come into the question. He can, of course, direct the planning authority to submit an order revoking or modifying the permission that has been given, but that is a drastic and unusual step to take. It is a lot to ask the Minister to step in after all the authorities have reviewed the whole case at great length and in great detail. It is asking a great deal, and my right honourable friend wants to make it perfectly clear that he intends to intervene in this particular case only if he is absolutely convinced that a wrong decision has been taken. I want to make that point quite clear. Perhaps I can explain it by telling your Lordships that since the Act came into force, which is some years ago now, on no more than three or four occasions have I been able to find that the Minister, when either side was in power, has so intervened. I want to make it quite clear to those who think with the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, that the case for the Minister's intervention has to be a strong one.

At the moment the score, if I have it correctly, is six to three against the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone. Deliberately, I am not going to add my voice to either side; but what I should like to do is to try to sum up the principal arguments upon which my right honourable friend will have to make up his mind. The first thing that he will have to do before considering those arguments is, clearly to my way of thinking, to check over again some of the figures that have been given us, because I have listened to figures this afternoon which do not tally with figures that I have already received. Obviously there is a difference of opinion, or perhaps an inaccurate approach to one or two of the important figures with which we have to concern ourselves. Those, clearly, must be agreed before the Minister can make up his mind.

If I have listened accurately to what has been said to-day, the arguments can be grouped under five heads: bulk, height, money, employment and the whole function of the City in our national make-up. May I turn first to the question of bulk, because this was, if I understood it aright, the point upon which the Royal Fine Art Commission objected most strongly, and I do not think it has been emphasised enough in the debate that the Royal Fine Art Commission are against this scheme. They have been all along. They have admitted that this present scheme, which is on view in the Royal Gallery, is the least objectionable of those submitted, but they do not support this scheme. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, mentioned the question of plot ratio. Plot ratio is one of the planners' ju-jus and it means the floor space—that is, all floors—compared with net area of the site. I believe I have got that right. It is rather interesting. The plot ratio for the whole of this scheme which we are discussing is 5.75. It is rather interesting to compare that with the ratio of other buildings, because it gives some idea of the actual size of this building. This scheme is 5.75; the War Office is 4.13; County Hall is 3.4; Carlton House Terrace is 3.1; the National Gallery is 1.7 and Somerset House, which was mentioned earlier this afternoon, is 1.5. I have deliberately given those going down in a descending scale.

Now we come to the modern buildings. Shell Mex is 8.2, and Berkeley Square House is 8.5—to mention buildings which I think your Lordships have in your mind's eye and therefore can compare fairly easily with the plans in the Royal Gallery, because the difficulty for all laymen like ourselves (not for the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone who is a most skilled professional), is to try to translate these plans and designs into reality in our mind's eye. I walked around this site last night for some time, trying to visualise what it would be like, but it is almost impossible for the layman to do it, and you have to take some form of comparison if you want to get an idea of it correctly. The purpose of this plot ratio, as I understand it, is to control bulk and density, to prevent the overshadowing of neighbouring buildings. I was struck by the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, about the Trinity Church, Wall Street. That is going too far. We do not want that in the City of London. Here I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, that most of these huge, featureless, cliff dwellings that we are erecting throughout the cities nowadays have little or no architectural merit at all. That is merely a personal prejudice. But, as I was about to say, the plot ratio of 5.75 for this scheme compares with the maximum of 5 which is laid down for the whole City generally, and the special maximum of 5.5 laid down in this dense building area round about the Bank.

I thought I had better mention that question of bulk because that is what the Royal Fine Art Commission are worrying about, and they have been directing their efforts to securing an open type of development, one which allows plenty of daylight and does not give a depressing effect of undue weight and solidity. But as I understand it, unless you change the plot ratio you can attain this open type of building only by increasing the height, either all round or, as has been suggested, in certain parts. This, of course, brings us straight away to the question of height, to this argument about the City skyline. I do not think we want to be too quick on this question of the City skyline. I hope that I shall not be considered a Philistine, but I think that in a good many of the stretches of the City skyline some of the modern, and even some of the very Victorian, embellishments have greatly improved it. If you stand on Westminster Bridge, one of the most attractive buildings, I think, is Whitehall Gardens—a remarkable piece of architecture, and a striking addition to the skyline.


But not the City.


I am taking the skyline as it is caught by your left eye when standing on the bridge. If you look further round, you have then got Shell-Mex House, a much more modern building. But if you look right round as far as you can see, the modern and the old merge together much more happily than one would have thought.

I well remember the excitement we had in this House at the time the Bankside Power Station was going up, and I remember some fierce letters to The Times and several people at that time saying that the prospect of the Bankside Power Station and St. Paul's in juxtaposition would be intolerable. The noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, very sensibly pointed out that, unless you had a physiogomy designed by Picasso and had one eye in the back of your head and the other round the side, you could not possibly get a view where the two structures would stand in juxtaposition. Wherever we can, we have to strike a happy medium. Of course, we are not going to put a building of this size up against St. Paul's. It is 450 yards to the outer edge and about 500 yards to the far side. Everybody would protest if it were suggested that it should be put right up against St. Paul's and I am certain that due weight will be given to the arguments against the new Bank of England offices much nearer to St. Paul's. I should object very strongly if this building were to be up against St. Paul's; but it is not. And having looked at it carefully last night, or rather having looked at the gap, I cannot think that it will really be very offensive to the eye. But again, that is purely personal opinion.

We have got to fix some sort of standard of height. About 125 feet appears to have been a popular one among some people, but several noble Lords have said they could go up much higher without spoiling the skyline. Both sides may be right, but whichever decision we take it throws us back on the other horn of the dilemma. If we are going to have this height limit, and not going to have increased bulk, it must be done in one way, and in one way only; and that is by reducing the plot ratio again. That brings us on to the hard question of cash. As we all know, sites are very expensive in the City, and building costs are extremely high, and it is only natural that people should want to get as much lettable space as possible, or the venture will be unprofitable.

The next argument is that in regard to employment. I understand that this building will house 5,000 people. If other sites were equally densely redeveloped, there would obviously be a great return of business occupancy to the City. That is quite clear. That raises two considerations. There is, of course, the convenience of a central location. It is a nuisance if you want to do business with a man to have to go halfway across London. One noble Lord, I think, suggested that one would not take the Stock Exchange to Dover. That is an extreme case, but it illustrates the need for those branches of the City's activities which are in contact with each other to be in physical contact as well. I confess that I often wonder whether these smaller firms, whether they be solicitors or accountants who are in the City, have to be there, but I suppose they know better than I do, and are there because they prefer it. But if they are there, and if these buildings on the scale of this particular erection are going to increase, the transport and traffic congestion arising from that concentration is bound to get beyond all endurance. The need for decentralisation, therefore, has to be weighed against the need for keeping the big issuing houses, Lloyds and so on, all in as close a contact as possible.

I think we have got to consider most closely the point which Lord Rennell put before us in regard to the function of the City. What is the function of the City? We have to make up our minds whether the City of London is a show place or a work place. As I see it, that is the real question. If you take either view to extremes you will lead yourself straight away to chaos. I think this is best illustrated by a cartoon in Punch about three weeks ago by an artist who signed himself "Acanthus." He suggested that the only way of considering this problem of buildings in close contiguity to St. Paul's was to have all other buildings put up, whether banks, power stations or schools, exactly on the same model as St. Paul's. He drew about nine copies of St. Paul's, which reduced the question to the absurdity to which it will be reduced if either of these two extremes is followed. There must be a compromise, otherwise this absurdity will result.

The problem which faces my right honourable friend is where to draw the line, both on the question of height and on the question of density. My Lords, he is now in a better position to form an opinion. I began by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, for bringing this Motion forward. He speaks with great authority as a practising architect of distinction, and he speaks with great emotion as a Londoner born and bred—one of the few who not only work but live in the City. He has done a real service this afternoon in allowing us to ventilate this matter at a time when the Minister is looking for other people's opinions and wanting to know what is the general feeling of people who have, like your Lordships, studied this matter carefully.

To sum up, the City and the London County Council think they have arrived at the best compromise in agreeing to the plans and the plot ratio which have now been submitted. The developers say that they have co-operated over four years in revising the plans. The Royal Fine Art Commission, on the other hand, say that the building is still too bulky; they say that it will be a bad neighbour, that it will overshadow and dwarf the other buildings in the City. Some of the other experts have said that we must cut down the height, even if the design has to be adjusted further. My right honourable friend has promised in another place that he will consult those interested, on an informal basis, to see whether some common ground of agreement can be reached. One or two private conferences have been held, but I do not think there is going to be much hope of any common agreement along those lines.

Therefore, my right honourable friend must seek for further and better particulars and make up his mind. He will bear in mind all the considerations which have been enumerated in these remarks, and I am certain that he will be greatly influenced by the comments that have been made in your Lordships' House this afternoon. But want to end, if I may, where I began, by saying that my right honourable friend will intervene in this matter only if he is convinced that something has gone seriously wrong—that I want to make quite clear. My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, for having made this additional information available, and I will make quite certain that all the points that have been made this afternoon are brought before my right honourable friend as soon as his health permits him to study this interesting subject.

7.10 p.m.


My Lords, the time is late, and I will not detain you. But should like to say two things. First, with regard to the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, about compensation, it is important to realise that the cost in compensation would not be great if what was in question was merely alteration of the skyline or the design of the building. Noble Lords seem rather to have got the idea that. I have been trying to say that the building should not be built at all. What If am suggesting is only an alteration, a reduction of height and so on. There is therefore no question of vast compensation. Incidentally, I understand that no licence has yet been received, so there is no hold-up in that connection. The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, said that all he was asking for was a licence for a certain amount for digging, so there is no hold-up.


The noble Lord did go on to say, "and to be followed by a licence to proceed. "I am not giving judgment, and I appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone says: "I am not asking that the building should not be built." But you can ask for conditions which will make it impossible economically for a building to be erected.


I am grateful for the noble Viscount's intervention, but it does not alter my point. No licence has been issued for the building, therefore work cannot be started immediately. So it would be possible to make some alterations without vast compensation being involved.

The other thing I should like to say is this. We are really nearly all on the same side. I do not think I agree with the suggestion that the proportion is six to three against, because so much of what every speaker has said reflects what is in my mind. I am most anxious to make it clear that I am not trying to persuade your Lordships that this building should not be built. I am only trying to communicate to you the feeling which I, and many other people in this country, I am sure, have: that we do not want the whole character of the centre of London changed so that it becomes a series of great cliffs. I shall be glad to know whether the Government will be prepared to consider the broader issues which I have put forward—namely, that the whole question of the London Building Acts may be delved into to some extent, and that some opportunity may be given for the general public to know more about these things in time for them to express their views. I think that this debate has been most useful, and I thank your Lordships for allowing me to bring my Motion before you. With your permission I now beg leave to withdraw it.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at twelve minutes past seven o'clock