HL Deb 03 February 1955 vol 190 cc975-1004

3.12 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This is the fourth occasion upon which Parliamentary approval has been sought for the provision of money for new towns, and this Bill seeks to increase the aggregate figure by £100 million to a total of £250 million. We estimate that this additional sum should be sufficient for any fresh commitments over the next two years. I need say no more about the purpose and scope of the Bill because it is well summarised in the Explanatory Memorandum. I have been given to understand, through the usual channels, that it is the wish of the House that a general discussion should take place on the whole subject of new towns. I have no wish to delay the House for any length of time, as I shall endeavour to reply at the end of the debate to any questions which may be addressed to me; but perhaps it will assist noble Lords if I make now some observations of a general character.

I do not want to weary noble Lords with a mass of figures, but it will be necessary for me to give some figures so that noble Lords may have a proper appreciation of the present position. A sum of £150 million has already been approved by Parliament for development corporations, and of that figure £143 million has already been earmarked—£128 million having been allotted to England and Wales, and the remaining £15 million to Scotland. I will break those figures down one stage further, as it may be of interest to noble Lords to know that, of that sum, £107 million has been devoted to housing, £15 million to the provision of main services, and a similar sum to industrial development. Finally, £6 million has gone in miscellaneous expenditure.

From the passing of the principal Act in 1946 up to date, the total expenditure which it was estimated would have to be met from the Consolidated Fund was between £250 million and £275 million; but at current prices, and because the corporations are doing more building than was previously expected, it seems more likely that a sum of between £300 million and £325 million will be required. I have probably said enough on the financial obligations, and I will now give some account of the progress achieved since the original Act of 1946 was passed, at which time the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, was the Minister primarily concerned. I feel that noble Lords will agree that the development corporations have done a good job, and that they deserve credit for the work they have undertaken. They have, of course, received certain assistance from local authorities, and from private enterprise, assistance which cannot be overlooked or neglected.

I want to deal first with the twelve new towns in England and Wales, and later I will offer some observations upon the two in Scotland. During the last three financial years, the rate of house-building in the new towns has improved from 3,200 a year, to 8,400 a year, and we hope that during the present financial year the figure may reach 10,000. It is expected that, ultimately, the maximum rate of house-building in the new towns will be in the neighbourhood of 13,000 houses a year. As the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, will know quite well, work on the building of these houses got into its stride somewhat slowly. In 1948, the number of building and civil engineers engaged on construction work in the new towns was limited to 300; in fact, that figure was never reached. Today, as we all know, things are somewhat easier, and at the end of December of last year the number of building and civil engineers engaged on construction work in the new towns reached 12,400.

The erection of factories likewise began somewhat slowly, but recently considerable progress has been made, and at the end of the last year about 131 factories, employing some 17,000 persons, had been completed, while a further 72 factories, which will employ another 12,000 people, are in course of construction. The flow of industry to the new towns is now reasonably satisfactory, but it will be necessary to keep a constant close and careful watch on future development. As noble Lords who are interested in this subject will be well aware, there is some lack of diversity among the industries to be found in the new towns, but the removal of building restrictions and controls will, it is hoped, encourage much more varied industries to be set up. Your Lordships who are interested, and who are acquainted with the principal Act, will know that the provision of schools in these new towns is the responsibility of local authorities. I think that they, in their turn, are to be congratulated on the progress which they have made, for at the end of last year forty-one schools, containing over 17,000 places, had been completed. A further thirty-six schools, with roughly the same number of places, were under construction.

I feel that I should just add a few words about sewerage works and water supply. I have been informed that in almost every case where these new towns were set up new and large schemes for the disposal of sewage and the provision of water had to be undertaken. That, in itself, as noble Lords will appreciate, automatically restricted the rate of house construction in the first instance. It was clearly useless to erect any number of houses until provision had been made for sewerage and water. Now, although this naturally necessitated a large constructional programme, I am advised that all major problems have at last been overcome.

I turn finally, in discussing housing in England and Wales, to deal with community centres. By the end of December, twenty-three had been completed and seven were under construction. With one exception, all of them have been provided by the development corporations themselves.

Before I conclude these brief remarks, I think I must add a few words about the two new towns in Scotland. By the end of December, 3,600 houses had been completed; a further 2,100 were under construction; eight new factories, employing more than 4,000 persons, had been erected, and two more, to employ 700 people, were under construction. I may add that four schools, with 2,400 places, have been completed, and four more, with 4,300 places, are under construction. I think I need say no more on Scotland or, indeed, on the progress in England and Wales. I apologise for giving the House that mass of figures, but I think they give some idea of the progress which has been made in these twelve new towns in England and Wales and the two new towns in Scotland, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a— (The Earl of Munster.)

3.24 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to begin by welcoming the noble Earl into the fold of town planning. I believe that this is his first speech, in his new position, on this subject, and he is fortunate to be making his deébut on a subject upon which we are all in substantial agreement. The information he has been able to give us has been very encouraging, and it will be welcomed by the whole House. I can assure the noble Earl that he need have no apprehension that the House will not give authority for the expenditure of the further £100 million he mentioned. He has warned us that it may be two years before we have another chance of discussing new towns, at any rate under a Bill of this kind, and I feel, therefore, that it will be a good thing if we go rather beyond the narrow limits of this Bill, about which there is not a great deal to say, and discuss the whole question of new towns in a broad and general way.

There are one or two things I should like to say, first of all, about finance. Those who have, in the past, been critics of new towns from the financial angle will be interested in the figures which the noble Earl gave us, showing that, of the £143 million that has been spent or authorised so far, all but £6 million has been spent on housing or on industry, which is, of course, remunerative. Indeed, from a financial point of view, this is very largely a housing operation. If these houses had not been built in the new towns they would have had to be built elsewhere, and there will be general agreement, I think, that they are rightly located in the new towns and would have been wrongly located elsewhere. Moreover, it is cheaper to build houses in the new towns than on the outskirts of the old towns, or to build in the form of flats in the centre of the new towns. Land costs are substantially less and the cost of building is less. Certainly it is cheaper to build houses, as against flats, and both the Exchequer and the rate contributions in respect of the houses built in the new towns are very much less than they would have been if the dwellings had been erected in the form of flats in the centre of the town.

Finally, on the financial side, I should like to point out that, by all appearances. this is going to be a profitable investment. Already there are indications that the Exchequer will be refunded the whole of its outlay, together with interest, within a measurable distance of time. I should like to remind your Lordships that this is a State undertaking which looks like being a financial success as well as a social success. The cost of administration, which is included in the £6 million, is very small, and I think it will be admitted that the administration of this vast scheme is being economically carried out and is cheaper than would have been the case if it had been carried out by local authorities, or even by private enterprise. At any rate, it bears a very favourable ratio to the total expenditure on housing.

Every year a volume like the one I have in my hand is published for the twelve new towns in England and Wales, and a smaller one is published for Scotland. If noble Lords wish to make themselves acquainted with what is going on, they should read these volumes: they make interesting reading. At the end of the report on each new town there are a number of financial tables, and anyone who is interested in the financial aspect of the new towns can wade his way through these tables. But that is a very heavy undertaking, and I should like to make a suggestion to the noble Earl which I hope he will see fit to transmit to the Minister responsible. I suggest that, with this report, it might be possible to issue either a White Paper or an introduction which would set out in summary form the financial position of the new towns as a whole. If we could have something perhaps a little more elaborate than he has given us in his speech this afternoon, it would save wading through this enormous volume and would give noble Lords, and others interested, a picture of the financial position at the end of each year. I hope the noble Earl will find that suggestion worthy of consideration. That is all I want to say about the financial position. The noble Earl was very brief and I will be almost equally brief.

The new towns were not designed primarily as financial investments, or indeed as housing estates: they were intended to be towns where people could live and work and enjoy their recreation in the best possible conditions and surroundings. At the same time, they were intended to facilitate the improvement and redevelopment of existing old towns suffering from obsolescence. That was the main purpose of the new towns. There were a number of new towns built for subsidiary purposes, Newton Aycliffe, Cwmbran in South Wales, Peterlee and Glenrothes—but by and large they were designed for the purposes I have set out. After six years, it is now possible to get an indication of whether we are really achieving the purpose for which this scheme was initiated.

One of the difficulties that was foreseen was that of getting industry to come to the new towns, and of getting population to come to the new towns, and to synchronise these movements and so avoid the danger that the new towns would become dormitories. Another difficulty was that of providing social amenities so that people would be able as soon as possible to lead as full a life as maybe. I am happy to be able to say that in all those respects the new towns have come up to our highest hopes. Industry was a bit slow in coming, and the Board of Trade had to be prodded. I do not complain of that, however, because they have the task of dealing with special areas and of directing new industries there as well as to the new towns; and it was not surprising, perhaps, that in the first instance they tended to favour the special areas. But industry is now coming along in a most encouraging way, and it has been possible to synchronise the arrival of industry with the arrival of population into the new towns. As we have been able to do that, the question of the new towns becoming dormitories hardly arises. People have come in because they have had jobs to come to; and by and large they have remained in their jobs. Of course, nothing is 100 per cent. perfect, and I should not like to swear that there is nobody travelling from Crawley or Stevenage to London daily; but the number of such people must be few and hardly noticeable in the amount of traffic on the roads. People have settled down in their new towns.

A year ago or more there was some complaint about lack of social amenities in the new towns. The position has improved, I am happy to say. And one of the things that is so encouraging in these new towns is that people have got into the way of helping themselves. I noticed two illustrations in the reports of the development corporations where there was some difficulty in getting the authority to build meeting halls, either because the Ministry were too slow or the scheme was thought to be expensive. The inhabitants of the new towns undertook to build these meeting places with their own hands, if the land was provided for them. What was more encouraging was that those inhabitants included both the old and the new—there was no discrimination or class distinction. In one of these cases (I think it was in Basildon), the hall erected by the inhabitants themselves was twice the size of the one that would have been provided.

There may be complaints about lack of social amenities, but I believe that the finest thing of all is that people should be prepared to help themselves. What is wanted is not so much to have readymade buildings, luxurious or less luxurious, provided, but that people should be given the means of providing these things for themselves if and when they are ready. I would much rather let a development corporation provide the inhabitants with a hut or a small house, or a couple of rooms, and let the inhabitants themselves build up from that as and when it is found that larger accommodation is necessary. Let them save up and make their own contribution. I am sure that they will value that far more than if magnificent buildings were put up for them in advance—possibly not always the right kind of buildings and without its being known whether they will really be needed or not. I am greatly encouraged when people go out to help themselves and develop their sense of initiative and enterprise to a far greater degree than they were able, or had the opportunity, to do in the places from which they came.

Another encouraging fact in the field of social amenities is that a large number of organisations have been set up in the new towns from among the old inhabitants and the new. For instance, in Crawley I see that, for a population of 20,000, they have 203 social organisations. Maybe that is rather a lot; it may be that one could do a little rationalisation amongst these organisations, but I do not think it is important. Let people get together and organise any kind of body that they like: the rationalisation will come with the good sense of the people themselves.

When we last discussed the question of playing fields and open spaces there were financial difficulties in the way. I do not say that these have entirely disappeared. There is the question of who should pay for the maintenance of the open spaces which are provided by the development corporations. In many cases the argument is largely academic, because in the end the whole town will pass to the local authority when it is substantially completed. It could not matter less who pays for them. In any case, since they are going to be used by the existing population and the new population alike, there ought to be the possibility of arriving at a reasonable conclusion. Many of these difficulties—though I do not say all—have been overcome, and it appears that there are more playing fields and open spaces available than there were when we last discussed this matter.

One of the doubts we had was whether people would settle down in the new towns. We wondered to what extent they would long for the comforts and the kind of life they had had in the old towns. Again it is gratifying to find that people do settle down very quickly, and in a matter of weeks begin to take pride in the new town and to speak of it with the greatest enthusiasm. I was at Stevenage three weeks ago. That is a place in which I have not always had the most friendly reception, but on this occasion I was received with friendliness. I there visited a school and saw children of five and six years of age playing happily, talking and singing and having stories read to them. They looked perfectly happy and settled. I inquired of the teacher how long the children had been in Stevenage and was told only a few days: they had arrived at the place only a few days before, yet they were perfectly at home. That goes for the parents, as well. Many of the fears, indeed all the fears, that we entertained—after all, one can never be certain how an enterprise of this kind will go—seem to have been without foundation.

The question of balanced communities is different. By that we mean ensuring that people of different income levels and occupation are able to live together in the town, each in a way exercising an influence on the other and sharing the cultural life of the place. So far, that has not gone quite so well. There has been some hesitation on the part of people with higher incomes, people of the managerial class, to settle in the new towns. I believe in many cases it has been discovered that they prefer to live in a separate area of their own, in the west end of the town, say, and if they can be provided with the conditions they like there, they are willing to entertain it. After all, the new towns were designed for people, and not people for the new towns, and if people want to live in that way, then the new towns must cater for them. I hope it will be recognised that that is the way that people of higher income levels want to live. They do not want to mix with people of various other income levels or occupations, and no doubt the new towns will provide for them. But it is still hoped that they will not live entirely apart, but that they will join in the general activities of the new towns.

Industry is going very well indeed, although I notice that there are not enough office buildings. I have been round most of the new towns in the last few months, and apparently, so far, there is no demand for that type of accommodation. I am glad to say that the D.S.I.R. have gone down to Stevenage with one of their departments; they have a large building and are employing something of the order of 200 people. That is a useful lead. I hope that Government Departments will also give a strong lead and enable some of their own departments to go to the new towns, and thus encourage others to go as well.

From the progress that we have made so far, and that which the noble Earl forecast, it looks as if the new towns will be completed in something like the time which we had in mind at the outset—that is, about fifteen years from the commencement. If that turns out to be so, we shall have a State undertaking which is not only profitable but which has been able to carry on in accordance with its programme, in spite of the bad start to which the noble Earl referred, and as to which I agree. The policy has been generally accepted. The work that has gone on in the new towns has had favourable comment even in the Economist, in an article which appeared on November 20, headed "Britain's Boom Towns." The hostility on the part of local inhabitants, which was fairly general at the outset, has disappeared. There is ample evidence that newcomers are being welcomed and that there is co-operation between the old and the new inhabitants to establish amenities, means of social intercourse, and so on.

Another interesting point is that the new towns are arousing a great deal of interest throughout the world. Visitors from all over the world come to this country, some of them specifically to see new towns. One of the new towns, Harlow, reports that last year they had 1,200 official visitors, who came from five continents and over thirty countries. If nothing else, that is a help in our balance of payments, because all those visitors brought some currency with them. We are, indeed, leading the world in this enterprise; there is nothing like it anywhere else. Several countries are building individual new towns for a specific purpose—there are one or two in the United States; there is a new town in the Soviet Union and one in Poland—but no country is building new towns on the scale that we are as a definite policy.

It is most satisfying that these great schemes in this country should be going forward in a non-Party and non-controversial spirit, so that all Parties of the State can claim equal credit for what is going on. So far, I have heard nothing but praise for the new towns. But I should be a very fond parent indeed (and I do claim to have some part in the parentage of these new towns) if I did not have something to say on the other side, with a view to being helpful and stimulating even more favourable progress. The noble Earl said that he would answer questions when he came to reply. I want to put one or two questions to him, but I should also like to make one or two criticisms, of which I have given the noble Earl notice of two. I am sorry I have not given him notice of the others, and if he finds himself unable to deal with them, I shall fully understand, although no doubt they will be reported to the Minister in charge.

If, as we all agree, the new towns are a success—the noble Earl was quite eloquent in claiming that they are—I should like to know why there is a decision not to start any more. New towns have not been established merely for the sake of building new towns, but to deal with certain specific problems and because it was thought they were the most satisfactory way of dealing with those problems. The problems remain—the problem of congestion certainly remains—and if they are not dealt with in a satisfactory way they will be dealt with in an unsatisfactory way. There are Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham and Glasgow, all having enormous overspill problems—that is, the problem of riot being able satisfactorily to house their population within their own area or within the immediate outskirts. For all these the right solution is a new town, and it has been recognised. Moreover, it takes three, four or five years, as the noble Earl admitted, before the new towns get going, so that unless we do something immediately we shall be forced to deal with the problems of these great communities in a less satisfactory way than by means of new towns. Why, then, is there this policy of saying, "Let us stop them; consolidate these new towns and do not go on with any more"?

I have already indicated, as did the noble Earl, that a vast proportion of the expenditure on new towns so far has been in respect of housing, and a small amount in respect of necessary industry. What is it that is holding up the creation of more new towns? I know that there is a Town Development Act which, incidentally, has not been used very much so far but which has a great contribution to make—I do not deny that for a moment. But the two are complementary, and both are needed. I hope that the noble Earl will convey to the Minister the strong feeling which exists in many quarters that we ought not to rest on our laurels and stop halfway on this task, but that we ought to provide new towns wherever they are the most satisfactory way of solving the problem.

In the comments I wish to make I am not necessarily placing them in order of importance; but, as I say, having been round most of the new towns recently, I have been struck with the somewhat monotonous appearance of a number of them. A really good design of a house is chosen but hundreds of them are put up close together, with the result that the appearance becomes monotonous. I had this problem when I was Chairman of the London County Council Housing Committee. We had a magnificent design for our flats, a sort of Georgian appearance, and they looked very nice; but by the time 200 or 300 blocks of flats of the same kind have been built one begins to get sick and tired of the sight of them, and their whole attraction disappears. I hope that something will be done—and this is a word I would say to the corporations, rather than to the Minister—to relieve the monotony of these good individual buildings.

The monotony arises partly because there is some difficulty about density. I am inclined to think that the density is too low, at any rate in respect of the built-up areas. I do not mind how much space is allocated for playing fields, open spaces or even for allotments and small holdings; but I think that if a town is being built it ought to look like our idea of a town, and not like a straggling village. And some of the new towns do look more like straggling villages than towns. It is this combination of an appearance of a straggling village and monotony of building which produces this not altogether satisfactory appearance.

There is one other point. Is it necessary to have hundreds of houses all together unrelieved by any other type of building? If only an office building could be put up it would look different, and it would break the monotony. I see no particular town planning objections to other types of building than pure housing, even in a residential area, so long as they are not a nuisance or an annoyance to the people living there. That is a comment, if not a criticism, of what is being done. I know the great pressure which the corporations are under to produce houses as quickly as possible, and, of course, the simple way of producing houses quickly and cheaply is to produce them of all one design. Whenever you try to alter or vary a design, you are increasing the cost and slowing things down. But these new towns are going to exist for a long time, and I feel that some attention ought to be paid to their appearance.

There is still a certain amount of unnecessary restriction on the activities of the development corporations, and I should like to give one or two examples. In the industrial area, the development corporations are not allowed to build standard factories for letting in anticipation of need; before they are allowed to put up the standard factory they must first have a tenant. That seems to me to be nonsense. Most of the prospective tenants cannot afford to wait until the administrative machinery has been gone through and the factory has been built. If a man wants a factory, he wants it straight away or within a reasonable time. He does not want a factory "made to measure" for him, with all the delay that that would involve. By the time a standard factory is put up he has probably met his need elsewhere. Why cannot the development corporations be trusted not to overbuild with these standard factories? They are not irresponsible people. If only they could provide these factories in anticipation of need, where they were reasonably satisfied there was a need, it would be a great help.

Moreover, they are not allowed to build public halls or meeting places without a great deal of fuss. At Hemel Hempstead, which has a responsible corporation, they were told by the Ministry that, because they could not show in advance that the building of a public meeting place in the town centre was likely to be carried on without financial loss, they could not build it, although the facilities that it was proposed to provide were absolutely essential if the town as a whole was to be welded into one community. If a development corporation cannot be trusted to judge of the need of a meeting place, and whether in the long run it is going to be required, then, frankly, I do not see the point of having development corporations at all. If every single building that they put up has to be judged by the test as to whether that alone can be made to pay immediately, or even within a reasonably short time, then we shall not get a new town at all of the kind we need.

The Ministry of Transport are particularly difficult. In the case of Stevenage, the corporation, after an immense amount of consideration, have built over the railway line a bridge which leads on to the Great North Road. Quite obviously, with the immense amount of traffic that uses the Great North Road, the junction of the bridge and the Great North Road is a spot which requires great care. The corporation wanted a roundabout, and the argument about the desirability of a roundabout has been going forward for a long time. In the meantime, there is traffic congestion on this bridge. The corporation have not been allowed to build a roundabout, and the Ministry of Transport have put the heavy hand down upon it. Here again, surely the local development corporation are in a position to judge whether this roundabout is necessary or not. I do not say that they should be allowed to do anything they like, anything that is extremely silly; but these schemes are certainly schemes that ought not to be interfered with. It is very frustrating to a development corporation which, on the one hand, is being encouraged to show imagination, to chance its arm and to do what it feels is in the public interest, and, on the other hand, finds the dead hand on it constantly.

I am glad that the noble Earl, Lord Home, is here because I wanted to say a word about Glenrothes. As he knows, Glenrothes was designated as a town with an ultimate population of 30,000 to 32,000, and the plans were prepared on that basis—I am afraid I have not given the noble Earl notice of this matter; I have tried to get hold of him once or twice but I think he knows the problem. Then suddenly they are told: "We are considering reducing the size to 18,000." It is only under consideration and there is no decision. Apparently, somebody in the designated area has made representations that his land ought not to be acquired for the purpose of a new town and the Minister responsible seems to have been impressed with them. In the meantime the corporation do not know whether they are going to build a town of 18,000 or a town of 32,000. It is not very satisfactory. It is not satisfactory, in any case, when a town has been designated of one size, to reduce it to a town of just over half the size. I would ask the noble Earl to come down quickly on one side or the other and let the development corporation get on with their job and know what their target really is.


I do not know whether the noble Lord would like me to intervene now, rather than later in the debate, on this particular point. Would it help?


I have finished with that point so perhaps it would be better if the noble Earl answered it later rather than now. I have nothing more to say on it.

Then there is the difficulty of transport. Port of the plans of a number of these new towns is to divert the main trunk roads: for instance, at Stevenage there is the A.1, and at Crawley there is the A.23, which goes to Brighton. However, it seems to be very difficult to get the Ministry of Transport to agree to the diversion of these roads, and in the meantime they are making the building of a town difficult. I do not want to overstate my case: the cases I am quoting are not normal; they are exceptional, but they give rise to a good deal of irritation and frustration. There is the case of Gatwick about which some of your Lordships know something. Here, one finds two Departments, each pulling a different way. A new town is set up at Crawley at considerable expense, and then an airport is established at Gatwick, which is the last place where one would have it if one is building a new town; or Crawley is the last place to have a new town if there is to be an airport at Gatwick, because one is a frustration of the other. But there it is. One Minister encourages the new town and approves of it and another approves of Gatwick airport which is going to injure the amenities of the new town.

There are two other matters I want to mention. One is that insufficient research is going on. I regard the new towns partly as laboratories where experiments can be tried, but, of course, experiments after a reasonable amount of investigation has taken place. After all, the new towns, with all their vast expenditure, constitute only a small fraction of the amount, of redevelopment that will have to take place in this country in the next twenty-five years. The new towns could be used to try out things which could thus be demonstrated as being either valuable or not valuable. That would be of assistance when we come to redevelop our large obsolescent towns. A certain amount of research took place in the beginning, but to-day every research officer has been discharged except one, and at the Ministry itself I understand that there is nobody carrying out duties of research.

I want also to ask the noble Earl whether the Government have any policy as regards houses and industrial buildings which are vacated in the congested areas, particularly in London. It is not much use trying to disperse population and industry from London and getting people to go to the new towns when, as soon as the premises are vacated, somebody else steps in from Birmingham, say, and uses the same premises all over again, thereby attracting population from different parts of the country. I admit that in some cases local authorities have acquired premises and used them for purposes of storage or for other of their local requirements, but there are many cases in which the factories vacated have been re-let and consequently there has been no solution to the problem. It is merely trying to fill a bottle with a hole at the bottom. I wondered whether the noble Earl could tell us if anything is being or could be done to prevent the frustration of the new towns policy.

Having made these points, I should like to emphasise that I do not regard them as in any way destroying the general satisfaction and pride which we are entitled to feel at one of our most successful post-war ventures. Of course, every project is bound to have troubles. I hope that the noble Earl feels that I am rendering or trying to render some service in drawing attention to them. I should like to conclude by congratulating all concerned with the building of our new towns. We have a most devoted and enthusiastic body of members of corporations and of officers, many of them serving at some considerable sacrifice of time, money and energy. We are fortunate in having had a number of most distinguished chairmen. We have had from this House the noble Lord, Lord Reith, and the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge. I am sorry that neither of them is today occupying the position of chairman of a corporation, because I believe that they have an immense contribution to make. We have had Sir Ernest Gowers and men like Sir Thomas Bennett, Sir Lancelot Keay, and Sir Roy-don Dash, all of them men who have risen to the top of their various professions and who have made an immense contribution to the success of the new towns. May I say, in passing, that the noble Earl will have noticed that none of the men whose names I have mentioned is a member of the Labour Party. They have brought to their task great experience, imagination and much thought.

I should like to quote from the last Report of the Newton Aycliffe Corporation, which states: As a result of experience gained during the last five years, the Corporation is more than ever convinced that the building of the new towns by means of the machinery of the New Towns Act, 1946, has been successful. I should like to congratulate also the officers of the Ministry on the great success which has resulted from their efforts. In spite of the few examples I have given, I still feel that there has been an immense amount of loyal co-operation as between the Ministry and the corporations, and, without that, success would have been impossible. I am convinced that as time goes on the difficulties to which I have referred, and others, will be ironed out, and that we and future generations will be left with assets which will add greatly, both in themselves and by their example, to the welfare and happiness of our people.

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, I have the greatest possible pleasure in welcoming this Bill, if only for the simple reason that it makes it possible to avoid bringing to an abrupt end, on financial grounds, one of the most interesting and important social experiments of recent years. I may point out that that is not very high praise for the Bill, but I am glad to give it such praise as it deserves. The Bill allows this experiment to continue: without it the experiment would be brought to an end. In welcoming the Bill, I am also glad to welcome nearly everything that was said about it by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. As Minister, he, more than any other single man, was responsible for the successful start and early development of this great experiment, and I should like for myself, and for all those concerned in the new towns, to express gratitude to him for what he has done in that field.

This Bill does a good deal, because without the Bill things would be so much worse; but I hope that the noble Earl who has just spoken on behalf of the Government will not feel it unreasonable if I say that I should like a good deal more than this Bill. After all, one of the greatest of the social evils of this country, and indeed of nearly all industrialised countries, is the evil which has the ugly name of "conurbation." It is a hideous name for a hideous thing. What it means is that when, under industrialisation, a town has reached a certain size, it seems to have an inherent tendency to get larger and larger. It is like the power complex which seems to affect the rulers of certain countries: when they have a certain area of land and a number of people under their control, they think they must go on and extend their power. I do not say that it is for the same reason, but undoubtedly it happens that, under our economic systems all over the world, one sees the big towns tending to get larger; and the bigger the towns the more rapid their tendency to grow.

I am not going to discuss why that happens; but that it does happen is quite certain. And, of course, that process of conurbation brings many evils in its train—by that I mean that in these big towns human life spends a greater proportion of its total time strap-hanging instead of producing. If you are able to shorten their time of strap-hanging you shorten it only at the price of putting a great deal more money into needless transport. Conurbation is a thing that is destructive to all economies, and all social life, and it is an evil so prevalent in all countries of the world that it requires more than one method for dealing with it.

One of the methods, of course, is that represented by the Town Development Act, which enables towns that are already large to take steps to guide their growth to new places. But that is not the only method; nor is it, I think, the best method of stopping conurbation. I am sure that the best method is that of the new towns. When it is known that there must be more industry, and more places for the industrial workers to live, the choice of where they go should depend not on chance (which is another word for economic laws) but on a careful study of what is the best small town—or a place without a town at all—in which a new town should grow. That is the policy of the new towns, and it has certain great advantages over any other method: one becomes less helpless in face of this evil of conurbation; the choice of places for new urbation, of new growing of towns and of industrial occupation, is made by a single central authority. That authority has no interest in one part of the country rather than in another, and acts after consideration of what is the best place for the proposed growth to take place and of whether the land that is taken from agriculture for building and industry is good or bad agricultural land.

The other great advantage of the new towns' plan is that to which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has already referred: that under the machinery of the New Towns Act it is possible to enlist, as the country has been successful in enlisting, the devoted services of the development corporations. I say, frankly, knowing them all, that in the main they are excellent bodies, working very hard at this one single aim: that of building a perfect new town. And neither the development corporations nor their chairmen spare themselves in the process. That devotion and interest of the development corporations spreads naturally to the populations. I think that is true of all those who have been concerned with the growth of new towns. I was chairman of one development corporation, and I decided that I would go and live in the new town with which I was concerned. I found that to be a way of learning how much interest there was in the people of that new town, which happened to be Newton Aycliffe, a town which was absolutely new—there was no small centre in it at all. The people who came there set themselves to do the new things, to get for themselves the new things and to build up the social structure of the town. One does find that in this new towns movement.

I hope Her Majesty's Government, having considered the inherent advantages of the new town plan for dealing with the evil of conurbation and for the wise spreading of urban life over this crowded country, will do rather more than is suggested in the Bill—that merely keeps alive what would otherwise die for want of financial power. What more do I suggest we want? First, I most heartily agree with what has been said by the noble Lord who has just spoken. I would ask Her Majesty's Government to reconsider the decision which apparently they have made to add no more new towns. Why should there be an artificial limit to the number of new towns just because the politics of the Government of the country have altered? This subject is not political at all; there is nothing political about new towns. I suggest that the fact that we had a change of Government a few years ago should make no difference; it is no reason for abruptly stopping the new town method of dealing with this world-wide problem. I would therefore ask Her Majesty's Government to open their mind again to the possibility of more new towns.

Coming to my second point, I would beg Her Majesty's Government to remember that much more than just houses are needed for a town. I feel that in some new towns the passion of Her Majesty's Government for building more and more houses, thus adding to their housing score, has led to some overemphasis upon housing, to the neglect of other things which are equally needed in a new town. I speak from my own experience in a brand new town where the complete absence of anything except houses has been particularly felt. We have struggled for a long time to get a health centre, but we have not yet got one. We have struggled to get a library and public meeting place. I do urge Her Majesty's Government to realise that new towns must have many more things than just houses, and that if those other things are provided, people will more readily pay the high rents in the new towns.

My third plea to Her Majesty's Government is that they should give rather more freedom to the development corporations and relax the control of detail which has been rather too common for a long time. Provided that a development corporation undertakes to cover the cost of everything that is advanced to it for building a new town, is there, for example, any reason why the corporation should have to prove that every separate item, including a public community meeting place, will pay for itself? Again, a town which needs a health centre—as some new towns do—should be financially in a position to obtain one. The requirement that every item of new town structure expenditure must finance itself is wrong and inconsistent with the way in which towns have grown in the past. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will reconsider this question of the financial freedom of development corporations, subject to the general principle, from which I am not departing, that the corporations must, in some way or other, cover their total expenditure out of their total receipts—apart, of course, from any special grants made for particular purposes.

There is a fourth point I should like to put on this financial aspect. I wonder whether, when a completely new town is being built, it is really necessary to apply a strictly limited period of years at the end of which all debts incurred on houses should be paid off. The house is still there, as it will be for many years to come, as a free gift to posterity. One might well lengthen the time over which that debt can be paid off. I suggest that it is quite sufficient to give posterity a perfect new town, as a solution of social problems, without giving it that new town free of all debt and thereby giving posterity some money to "blue" after sixty years instead of after eighty years. I would ask Her Majesty's Government to consider whether the financial basis for a new town cannot be made a little more generous than it is at present.

I do not know whether my next suggestion has already been carried out, because, having now ceased to be chairman of a development corporation, I do not know how Her Majesty's Government are acting in regard to the corporations. But in the seven years during which I was chairman of a development corporation, and particularly during those years when the noble Lord who has just spoken was the Minister, the chairman of the corporations greatly valued the chance of regular discussion as a body with the Minister. We used to come for regular meetings with the Minister, to discuss our problems together, and we had that opportunity of direct contact with the Minister responsible. That arrangement was dropped at one stage and I do not think it has been revised. I should like Her Majesty's Government to consider whether it would not be desirable to re-establish that personal regular contact with the chairmen of the corporations, not only as individuals but meeting as a body. Summing up, I would say that, while welcoming this Bill, I should like Her Majesty's Government to add to it a sympathetic and open mind for further and freer use of this special method of dealing with conurbation, to which the noble Lord who has just spoken devoted so much of his energies during the first years after the war.

4.29 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend has suggested, and I feel it might be convenient to your Lordships, that I should say a brief word on the problem of Glenrothes, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, before the general debate is resumed. I am just as anxious as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, to settle the problem of the size of Glenrothes. The corporation's present building plans will, I understand, occupy them for some eighteen months, but they must be looking round for more land if they are to expand, and it is possible that the process of acquisition will be lengthy. Therefore I fully understand the corporation's anxieties. The difference between the original estimate of population and what seems likely, in fact, to become the upper limit—that is to say, somewhere around 18,000–is the result of the difference between the original forecast of the Coal Board of the number of miners they were likely to transfer into Glenrothes and their actual requirements as they see them now. I met the Coal Board only a month or so ago, and I am not yet satisfied that they are able to give an estimate which is as accurate as we shall require. I am to have further meetings with them later, and in the meantime I am offering to meet the Corporation of Glenrothes next week to explain the position to them. After that I shall have to meet representatives of the Coal Board again. I hope it will not be very long before I can give a decision which will enable the corporation to go ahead with their building and their purchases.

4.31 p.m.


My Lords, in the very few moments during which I propose to address your Lordships' House in support of this Bill, there are just one or two small matters upon which I should like to touch. I should not have risen had it not been for the interesting speech which was made by Lord Silkin. I agree with a great deal of what he said. I had the privilege last year of being taken round the new town of Harlow, and I spent some hours there. I have also been to Stevenage. But while I agree that a wonderful job of work has been done at both these towns, and I should like to congratulate the new town corporations, the officials and all concerned on their achievement, I could not help thinking that there is a degree of monotony about these places. One would like to see, if possible, more variation. As it is, there are rows and rows of houses all of the same type, and this does make for monotony. A very important point which the noble Lord has made was brought strongly to my notice by a member of one of these bodies; that is, the question of trying to get permission to build meeting places. This is a matter of great importance to such organisations as boys' clubs. These organisations must have proper meeting centres. I know that the Treasury have to keep a strict eye on expenditure in these matters and it is very difficult when a boys' club is started to say that it is going to pay or how much the subscriptions are going to be. Probably the subscriptions will be very small in the early days—and it is at that period that these institutions really have to be subsidised to a small extent. I hope that a little relaxation in this connection will be possible, especially now that there has been this relief with regard to building licences.

I agree strongly that something should be and could be done with regard to the bridge leading to the industrial area in Stevenage. It runs to the Great North Road and undoubtedly there is a dangerous point there. Something in the form of a roundabout should be constructed. The bridge is a magnificent double-line structure—it has a very good double-line track—and I am sure that if something of the kind which is suggested could be done, it would be a great advantage. I think very good progress is being made in these new towns, especially with schools, and I am glad to note that cinemas are also going up; they are places which are of great importance to many people. Public houses are also going up and they, too, are important to some people. I feel that work in connection with these towns ought to be carried forward with all possible speed. With those few words, I support the Second Reading of the Bill.

4.35 p.m.


My Lords, one thing, I think, emerges clearly as the result of our debate this afternoon—namely, that noble Lords on all sides of the House who have taken part in our discussion are unanimous in their belief that the development corporations have undoubtedly done a good job of work and well deserve the congratulations which have been expressed in your Lordships' House. I do not wish to weary your Lordships all over again by making a long speech, and perhaps my best course will be to reply as briefly as I can to the many questions which have been addressed to me by noble Lords who have spoken. I do not in the least wish to be controversial or argumentative, but I thought I detected an element of surprise in the House at Lord Silkin's remark that these new towns were the best so far, of State enterprise. I would not deny that, certainly up to now, their financial prospects and opportunities are good. But the noble Lord will know, as well as I do, that, in point of fact, they have not yet been half completed. I think we have a long way to go before we can definitely say that the new towns have been a financial success. Indeed, that answers to some extent the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, which I will not go into further if the noble Lord will forgive me.

I come now to the first question which Lord Silkin raised—namely, the question of the form of presentation of the reports of the development corporations. As he knows, this matter has been raised before in this House. On one previous occasion it was raised, I think, by the noble Viscount, Lord Hudson, and a reply was given by Lord Mancroft. As a result, the document which Lord Silkin has in his hand was provided with a longer and improved list of contents in the front of it. I will certainly convey to my right honourable friend the noble Lord's views about the possibility of issuing a White Paper. The noble Lord spoke of office buildings. There has been no substantial movement yet in the new towns for the erection of office buildings. As the noble Lord knows, there was a ban on the construction of these offices. That has now been lifted and there is hope—I will not put it higher than that—that perhaps a number of firms may ultimately see their way to moving with their offices into these new towns.

One of the main questions which was asked by both noble Lords opposite was why is it that Her Majesty's Government have decided against the designation of further new towns. Quite briefly—and I must expand the answer here—the reply is that we believe it is important at the present time to get on with building the existing new towns rather than to designate any more. It is also important, in our view, that we should have some intimation that the existing new towns are going to succeed, and that we should encourage local authorities to press forward with their schemes under the Act to which the noble Lord briefly referred, the Town Development Act, 1952. The noble Lord is probably aware—in fact, I am sure he is—that the ultimate population of the twelve new towns in England and Wales will be not far short of half a million. The approximate population which has already been housed in these new towns is somewhere around 80,000. Though, as I said in my introductory remarks, we hope that the rate of house building will be increased to a maximum of about 13,000 a year, the noble Lord will see at once that we have some distance yet to go before we can say that all persons who ultimately expect to live in new towns have had accommodation provided for them. I will go even one stage further, if I may. My right honourable friend has not slammed the door in any way whatsoever, and it may well be necessary some time in the future to designate new towns. But, for the moment at any rate, my right honourable friend is of the opinion that we should proceed with the projects which have already been begun and which are now continuing so well.


My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down—I gather that he has practically finished what he has to say—I wonder whether he would mind answering one further question. It is this. Do the Government realise that their decision that the population of the new towns shall not be enlarged does not mean that the total number of town dwellers in this country will not be enlarged? In other words, the enlargement of the number of new town dwellers will take place by the old system of conurbation. Is there any reason for shutting the door on this one particular method, when we know that existing methods of increasing the town population of this country will then have to go on all the more?


Perhaps I did not explain myself clearly. My right honourable friend has not slammed the door, and, of course, the point which the noble Lord has mentioned has been considered by my right honourable friend; but, as I say, at the present time at any rate, he is of the opinion—and I am bound to say I think he is right—that if these new towns have not been completed anything like 50 per cent., it would be futile to designate new areas where new towns can go when there is little prospect of starting on them for a very considerable time.


My Lords, will the noble Earl allow me to ask one more question? As his right honourable friend has not slammed the door, cannot he go a little further and open the door and look through it and perhaps see some excellent new areas to be designated for new towns?


If the door is not slammed, obviously it is open and no doubt my right honourable friend will look through it. I should like to go on to another point made by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, on the monotony of the buildings in the new towns. I am told that in the new towns as a whole there is an immense variety of types and designs of buildings. In many cases the corporations employ not only their own architects, but outside consultative architects as well. I think I am correct in saying that in Welwyn Garden City alone no fewer than six firms of architects have been employed by the corporation for the particular purpose of avoiding monotony. I agree with the noble Lord that whatever else is done, we must get away from monotony of building.

I come to another point which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who suggested—and I will not dispute it—that when premises have been left vacant by firms who have moved from London to the new towns in many cases almost at once these empty factories are re-occupied by other firms coming into London from outside areas, and therefore the industrial congestion in London may well be as bad as ever. I do not deny that this re-occupation of empty premises does occur, but I have been informed that my right honourable friend possesses statistics which indicate that, on the whole, there has been a net decrease in the inner area of London. The noble Lord is better aware than I am of the difficulties which present themselves, and he knows that the first difficulty is the very high cost of buying up these vacant premises. I am advised that, even with the grant in aid, this results in a very heavy burden on local planning authorities. The Town and Country Planning Act, which your Lordships recently passed, includes provision for the rate of grant towards expenditure of this kind to be increased up to 50 per cent.

I am aware that the same complaint has teen made about private houses vacated by people moving from London into the new towns. Local authorities do not have powers which they can exercise in the case of private houses as in the case of vacant industrial premises. I do not want to go into this matter in great detail, but the noble Lord will be well acquainted with the industrial selection scheme, which has now been in operation for a period of about eighteen months. Although the scheme is still in its infancy, its success has been considerable. Your Lordships will appreciate the difficulties at once when I say that in the county of London no fewer than 200,000 people still await housing accommodation. It follows automatically that the moment a house or flat becomes empty, there is somebody on the waiting list who will immediately go and see whether they can get possession of the vacant premises. The noble Lord knows that we certainly want to stop these new industries from coming into London as much as possible. I think he will agree that the real answer to this problem is that the more industries we can get set up in the new towns, the more will people automatically follow.

Another point raised by both noble Lords, Lord Beveridge and Lord Silkin, was the important question of community centres and playing fields. Let me say that we are all at one about the necessity of encouraging a social spirit within the new towns. I think it would be true to say that there is no better way in which that can be done than through community centres and playing fields. As the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, knows, in the past the difficulty was due entirely to financial restrictions, largely imposed in 1950 by the Government of which he was a member and reinforced by the present Government when we came into power in 1951. That decision had an identical effect on community centres and playing fields. I think the House will agree that the financial condition of the country is certainly better than it was three years ago. Therefore the Minister of Education has now been able to issue a circular, which was sent out last December, notifying local education authorities of the relaxation of restrictions upon direct grants to voluntary bodies and local authorities under the Physical Training and Recreation Act, which applies also to village halls and community centres. Here let me assure my noble friend behind me that grants have also been renewed for youth clubs. As a result of that circular, local education authorities can now make provision for community centres and playing fields, within a limit of £10,000 for each job, or assist others to do this. I think it is now up to them, in consultation with the development corporation, to agree upon what provision is needed in their areas. I hope that at any rate they will see that the facilities at the new schools are available for community use, because I think that is very important.


My Lords, does not that still mean failure to provide a new town with its absolutely vital needs? If the new town has to depend on the local education authority for community centre and playing fields, the education authority might well think that there are places other than the new town which need them. I am only pleading for sympathetic action by the Minister to persuade local education authorities that the new towns deserve special consideration, and I speak not without knowledge of the need for that kind of action from the centre with some local authorities.


I would not dispute what the noble Lord says; indeed, I will see that his remarks on that question are conveyed to my right honourable friend. I was just going to finish on that particular point of community centres. The noble Lord opposite will realise that the care of local education authorities, and indeed of my right honourable friend, is, and must continue to be, the provision of ample school places in the new towns. Therefore I should not like it to be thought that unlimited funds will be available for community centres. But what the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, says is perfectly true: it is most important that these new towns, for the reasons which I gave earlier, should be provided with these community centres.

Now I should like to discuss for a few moments the question of playing fields. Here again, the responsibility for their provision rests with the local authorities, but owing to the same financial restrictions to which I have already referred, they were, up to last December, unable to obtain grants from the Ministry of Education; and, not unnaturally I think, they decided not to incur expenditure of that kind in the new towns. If any provision had to be made, as I think noble Lords will know, it had to come through the development corporation, and in fact only very modest provision was made. However, this new policy will now enable local education authorities to resume expenditure on the provision of playing fields in these areas, and my right honourable friend will be prepared to consider favourably applications which are made to him.

There were a few other questions which I was asked in the course of the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, asked whether the regular meetings which chairmen of development corporations formerly had with the Minister could be re-established. I understand that they were stopped in the days of the late Government, and they have not been resumed since then. I am perfectly prepared to convey the views of the noble Lord to my right honourable friend, and I have no doubt that they will be given careful consideration. I hope that I have answered the great majority of the many questions which were directed to me, and I would now ask your Lordships to be good enough to read this Bill a second time.

On Question Bill read 2a: Committee negatived.

House adjourned at seven minutes before five o'clock.