§ 2.51 p.m.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, I beg leave to ask Her Majesty's Government the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government what consideration they have given to proposed developments on the North side of Piccadilly Circus, which must affect the dignity and amenities of London and the efficient circulation and segregation of traffic; what advice the Royal Fine Art Commission has given; and what action Her Majesty's Government will now take to ensure that all developments on this site and the design of the buildings shall enhance and not disgrace our national reputation.]
THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FOOD (EARL WALDEGRAVE)
My Lords, these proposals have been dealt with by the London County Council as local planning authority. At an earlier stage the Council consulted the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation about the line of the proposed road widening, and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government about the floor space and land uses which could be permitted. On the building itself, they consulted the Royal Fine Art Commission, who accepted the principle that Piccadilly Circus should continue to be used for advertising, and raised no objection to the general massing and volume of the proposed building. But they did criticise the lower part of the elevations; and they also said that they would prefer to see the building treated as a background for advertising rather than that blank wall surfaces should be provided to accommodate the advertisements. The first of these points, my Lords, was met; but the London County Council considered that the second would produce an unsatisfactory result, especially for the users of the building. The Government do not propose to intervene.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, does my noble friend recall that in October of last year the L.C.C. published their own planning proposals for the Circus on 600 which to base negotiations with private developers? Have the Government ascertained why the L.C.C. have completely abandoned their own proposals for the sake of this unspeakable building? Secondly, are Her Majesty's Government aware that no other nation in Europe would permit this prostitution of the centre of their capital? What has London, in all its glorious history, done to deserve this fate?
My Lords, I certainly could not follow the noble Lord in his somewhat extravagant language. The appropriate planning authority in this case is the London County Council, and they have come to agreement with the developer and have met certain of the suggestions that were put to them by the Fine Art Commission.
My Lords, the noble Earl is sheltering behind various other bodies, but the Government is ultimately responsible for everything. Does the Government spokesman think it important to preserve and not to debase the character and scale of London in those parts of it which, like Piccadilly Circus, may not be of high architectural value but are held in deep affection by its citizens, both here and abroad?
My Lords, of course the Government have the beauty and the dignity of the capital at heart as much an any noble Lord, or as much as anybody else here. But the Government must also have regard to the existing state of legislation, whereby the statutory planning authority under the Act of Parliament is in this case the London County Council.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, is there any step that the London County Council should have taken which they have not taken? Is there any approval which they have sought which they have not obtained? Is there anything that they could have done which they have not done?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, might I make an appeal to the Government on this point? Piccadilly Circus is of much more than a purely local importance. It is one of the most 601 important sites probably in the Commonwealth and Empire. It is quite clear that there is a definite clash on more than one point between the L.C.C., who are the local authority, and the Fine Art Commission, who are the chief æsthetic advisers to the Government. In these circumstances, can my noble friend not give an assurance that he will at any rate ask the Minister to give further -consideration to this question before reaching a decision, and that in the meantime work on the site should be suspended? I am sure that that would be in accordance with the general feeling of the House.
My Lords, I cannot give any indication of altering decisions that have been taken by the statutory authorities, but I shall, of course, bring everything that has been said to-day to the notice of my right honourable friend.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether, remembering that the ultimate responsibility under the Act is, I believe, without question in the Minister, who is responsible to Parliament, he would put a suitable scale model of this proposal for us in this House, at any rate, to see?
My Lords, the question of a scale model in this House would, I should imagine, be a matter which could be raised with the London County Council.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
No. With great respect, surely that is no answer. We in this House cannot address questions to the London County Council. Our business is to address questions to Her Majesty's Government.
I accept what the noble Earl has said, and I will certainly bring to the notice of my right honourable friend that it appears to be the wish of this House that he should 602 request the appropriate authority to make plans or models available.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I suppose that in such a matter as this the Minister could also be reminded by the noble Earl that the London County Council are a public body, publicly elected, and sit in representative capacity for the citizens of London. Surely they have some weight in this matter. I hope we shall not be laying down a law that because your Lordships here make suggestions the decisions of a democratically-elected body will be overridden.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords since the powers have been referred to, will Her Majesty's Government recall the fact that, while the London County Council is certainly the local planning authority under the Act, equally the Minister of Housing and Local Government is given by Statute certain powers of revocation where he thinks that a mistake has been made. If the London County Council had turned down this scheme the developer could have appealed to the Minister. Equally powers are given to the Minister in the Statute to enable him to revoke a planning permission in a proper case. What case could be more appropriate for his consideration than a development in the centre of the capital of the Commonwealth?
THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR COMMONWEALTH RELATIONS (THE EARL OF HOME)
My Lords, I think my noble friend has probably gone as far as he can to-day. He has said that he will convey the feelings expressed by your Lordships to the Minister and he will ask the Minister whether it is possible to arrange for a model of this building to be placed in the House so that your Lordships can see what is at stake. I have no doubt that the Minister will consider what has been said to-day, although I know that he has given close consideration to this matter.