§ 2.46 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are now able to announce how many days are being allowed between the date of the publication of the amended design for the proposed new building at Piccadilly Circus and the public inquiry appointed to consider it.]
My Lords, the Inquiry is due to open on Wednesday, December 16, and the revised drawings will be on display at County Hall on the Monday and Tuesday of that week. It is a most exceptional step to make plans available for public inspection in this way before an inquiry, but 1085 my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government thought it right to secure that this exceptional step was taken in view of the public interest which has been shown in this particular application, and he has been able to obtain the co-operation of both the developers and the London County Council in these arrangements. My right honourable friend hopes that these arrangements will be of value to those who may wish to give evidence at the Inquiry.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I am extremely grateful, as I am sure we all are, to the noble Earl and to the Minister for giving the House, at such very short notice, the information for which I asked yesterday. But I cannot help feeling very sorry to hear confirmation of what was suggested to us yesterday, that there are not three days but only one or two days to elapse between the publication of this amended scheme for a site of the first importance and the public inquiry which is to take place.
The purpose of inquiries of this kind, as I understand it, is to inform the Minister and the public of all the views that are held with regard to a proposed scheme, and in the present case I cannot help feeling that the only result will be that the Inquiry will be in the nature of a farce. The promoters—
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I will put it in the form of a question: Is it not true that the promoters and the London County Council will have seen this amended scheme before publication? Probably they have already seen it, and will have plenty of time to prepare a case on their side. Is it not equally true that the objectors, who are not nearly so well organised, inevitably will have little or no time to prepare their case and to get it properly presented? They may well be put at a hopeless disadvantage, and I am sure that cannot be the aim of the Minister or the Government. Might I suggest, therefore, that if there is no time now to postpone this Inquiry—and the noble Earl indicated that yesterday—the Government should ask the Royal Fine Art Commission (who, after all, have given no public opinion yet on this amended 1086 scheme) or some other appropriate body to express their views, in order that the public may get a balanced view on this matter.
My Lords, we must try to get this matter in proportion. The public have been aware of the general scheme of development on the north side, the Monico site, as it is called, of Piccadilly since March 13, when photographs (I have them here) and leading articles were published in the newspapers. I think that should be borne in mind. The public have known about this scheme since March 13. It was then known that the building would be 172 feet high, and all these matters were known. No objections of any sort were made at that time. There are, of course, three main factors, namely the height and general design of the building, provision for advertisements, and details of the design. The proposals for the first two have been public knowledge for nine months, and the architects and other members of the general public will now have the opportunity of studying the details of the design for 48 hours before the inquiry, and during the inquiry.
With regard to the second question the noble Marquess asked, I have discussed the question of a possible postponement of this matter with my right honourable friend this morning, and he has decided that the inquiry must start on December 16. He has to consider what is fair to the applicant, and he also has in mind that definite objections have already been voiced to the height and so on. He has therefore decided that the inquiry must start on December 16.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
My Lords, may I repeat to the noble Earl the question which I put to him a fortnight ago on which he said he would consult his right honourable friend? That is whether a model—now an amended model—of this building can be placed before us (and I think it has also been asked for in another place), so that Parliament as well as the London County Council may see it.
My Lords, of course I conveyed the noble Earl's request to my right honourable friend, as I said I would, and I have discussed this matter with him. The model, it must 1087 be remembered, does not belong to Her Majesty's Government. It is a model, if there is one, which has been or will have to be made by the developer, and if a model can be made available by the developer it shall be placed here as soon as possible.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, may I put a perfectly practical point to my noble friend? Does he not agree that, if this inquiry is to help the Minister, the case against this building must be properly presented? If there is not enough time for an amenity society or trust to arrange for legal representation and the marshalling of professional evidence, is it not probable that there will be a very large number of individual objectors, and is this not much more likely to prolong the proceedings than the postponement for which my noble friend Lord Salisbury pleads?
I must repeat that the general design and layout of this building—I have in front of me the photographs which were published in the Press—have been available to all members of the public since March 13; and if people object to that type of development, and if they have not already started preparing their case, they still have from to-day until December 16 to prepare a case to bring before the inquiry. The inquiry will be conducted by an inspector, who will report to my right honourable friend, who will then decide.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, is it not always open to the inspector to postpone the inquiry if it should turn out that any objector is prejudiced owing to the shortness of time? Is it not for such an objector to come forward and establish that he is prejudiced?
That is perfectly true. It is, of course, usual, once an inquiry has been opened, to continue it till the end; but it is within the power of the inspector to adjourn it, and that he might very well wish to do if he were satisfied that any important part of the case could not be heard without such an adjournment.
§ LORD KILLEARN
My Lords, the noble Earl twice referred to photographs. 1088 As a practical measure, could those photographs be made available for the House to see, either in the Library or some other suitable place?
The photographs to which I was referring are available for the House to see, and they are in the Library of the House, because they were published in the Daily Telegraph of March 13 and October 28.
§ LORD CONESFORD
Since the noble Earl has referred to photographs, would it not be fair to make it clear to noble Lords that the developer himself has made clear by the publication of subsequent photographs or plans that the photographs previously published bore no relation whatever to the building he proposed to put up?
I am quite unaware of that. It is, no doubt, a point the noble Lord will make at the inquiry.
My Lords, can the Government inform us why a design for the whole Circus cannot be made in advance, and why they could not postpone the development so that we can get a design for the whole Circus, even if the leases have not fallen in?
My Lords, to postpone all this matter until comprehensive plans for the whole Circus were ready would really, as I think perhaps the noble Lord will feel on second thoughts, be highly undesirable. The redevelopment of the whole of this area will necessarily take a very large number of years, and the Minister surely ought to be very reluctant to leave the north side, the Monico site, which is now coming down, derelict for a large number of years while the whole area is being redeveloped all round.
The noble Earl does not appear to have understood my question. I did not propose that he should leave the Monico site empty but that he should make a design for the whole Circus in which the Monico site would be included. Surely the Government must agree that in a matter of this kind, when we are dealing with a site of great importance, it is more important to provide the design first and the uses for that design afterwards.
I must remind your Lordships it is not my right honourable friend's responsibility to provide the design.
It is the developer's responsibility to provide the design and submit it to the planning authority, and normally that is the end of the matter. In this case, because of the public interest which has been aroused, the Minister has taken the exceptional step of calling in this matter and saying he will decide himself, but he decides only on the development that is on foot and so far proposed.
§ EARL WINTERTON
My Lords, may a neutral ask a question in this controversy, in order to answer the point made by the noble Lord opposite? Would not the Government be breaking the law if they attempted to carry out the duties of the London County Council?
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, arising out of that point, would not the Parliamentary Secretary advise or inform his Minister that it might be wise, especially as an old member of the London County Council, to recall to mind what happened not in regard to a building in a street but with regard to Waterloo Bridge, and that the London County Council had to go to great lengths in order to obtain finally the beautiful structure which everybody welcomes to-day, and should not he be very careful before he overrides the views of the statutory planning authority of this very great metropolitan area?
I am sure my right honourable friend is very anxious not to break the law and will be advised not to do so; and I am sure also that he will remember the controversy about Waterloo Bridge.
My Lords, I think the noble Earl said that it was unusual for the public to have access to plans before inquiries are held. Would he convey to his right honourable friend that it might be desirable to consider whether in such cases of universal interest the public should normally have access rather than not normally have access?
EARL ST. ALDWYN
My Lords, this is a Starred Question, not an unstarred one. I really feel that this discussion has gone on sufficiently long, and if noble Lords are not happy they can always put down an unstarred Question for discussion later on.