§ 2.31 p.m.
§ LORD AMULREE
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 aware of the strong objections entertained against the tower proposed by a hotel company in Park Lane; whether they are aware that the Royal Fine Art Commission in April, 1959, expressed a considered opinion on the proposal, stating that it would be a grave loss if the rural atmosphere of Hyde Park should disappear, and whether, since the Minister of Housing and Local Government has recently reversed his opinion on the building proposed for Piccadilly Circus, he may not now reconsider the decision he has reached in this case.]
THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FOOD (EARL WALDEGRAVE)
My Lords, my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government held an inquiry into the proposals for an hotel in Park Lane in 1957. He subsequently rejected those proposals, but stated that a high building on this site would be acceptable in principle if certain objectionable features of the original scheme were removed. This was done, and the revised scheme, which is for a building less tall and bulky than that originally proposed, was approved by the London County Council, with the Minister's agreement. The Royal Fine Art Commission are critical of allowing high buildings on the edge of the London 397 parks, and for this reason were opposed to both the original and revised scheme. The Government, while fully sharing their view that a continuous cliff of high buildings round the parks must be avoided, cannot accept the view that individual high buildings properly spaced from one another should not be allowed.
I am afraid I cannot agree with the suggestion that my right honourable friend recently reversed his opinion on the building proposed for Piccadilly Circus. Although he had been reluctant to take this case out of the hands of the London County Council, who were the appropriate planning authority, when he did do so there was no question of reversing his decision, for he had taken no earlier decision on it.
§ LORD AMULREE
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Earl for his reply. I would ask him whether or not Her Majesty's Government have really studied what the Royal Fine Art Commission said. If your Lordships would forgive me, I should like to paraphrase two lines from what they said—namely, that if such buildings were put up around the park the rural aspect of the park would be destroyed. Do not Her Majesty's Government think that some notice should have been taken of what the Royal Fine Art Commission say?
§ EARL HOWE
My Lords, before the Minister answers that question, may I ask the noble Lord whether it is not far better to have a building erected as a sort of tower, with plenty of room for air circulation round it, than a very big block which does not allow for that at all? I merely say that because I happen to live near it, and I hope that the Minister's approval will be upheld.
My Lords, perhaps I had better answer the questions seriatim. The Royal Fine Art Commission, as I said in my original reply, hold the view that there should be no high buildings round the park, but my right honourable friend does not accept that proposition. He considers that proper buildings, properly spaced, are, and must be, acceptable. I think I should agree with my noble friend Lord Howe that if there are proper buildings the air circulation around a narrower building may be better than that round a squat building. I think that that is probably so.
§ LORD AMWELL
My Lords, can the Minister say what is the principle behind the idea of occasional high buildings as against a block? Has it anything to do with what modernists call "significant lines"?
My Lords, I am afraid I am not conversant with modernists and their significant lines. The main purpose of putting up a building of this type is that it would be more remunerative. It is extremely difficult to pay the cost of a central London site without putting a very large building upon it. The building that is now proposed will have some 500 bedrooms, and therefore will be likely to pay the cost of erection.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
My Lords, in view of the grave public dismay as to what has already been allowed, and now threatens, to the detriment of the London parks, will Her Majesty's Government enunciate a policy to define the encompassing skyline for the guidance of these developers and of the local authority?
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
My Lords, I am talking about the whole idea of enclosing the park with high buildings, whether they are widely spaced or are close together. The whole point is that I, and surely Her Majesty's Government also, feel that the park ought to be a rural area, not overtopped by high buildings.
My Lords, I think that, as in all matters, this has to be a matter of compromise. My right honourable friend takes the view that the analogy of Hyde Park and Central Park is not an accurate one, and he and the local planning authorities will secure that there is not a cliff of continuous high buildings around the parks and in the open spaces in the centre of London. Provided that that evil—because it would be an evil—does not take place, he feels that properly designed buildings, properly placed and spaced, are and must be acceptable in this modern age.
§ LORD MANCROFT
My Lords, does not this and similar controversy suggest 399 that the time has come for a complete overhaul of the whole of our planning procedure—a procedure which may have sufficed for the day and needs directly after the war, but which is now clearly insufficient for modern requirements?
My Lords, I cannot, without notice, express any opinion upon that point. Of course, my right honourable friend will take note of everything that has been said by your Lordships.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, if there is going to be any overhaul, we might perhaps overhaul the Royal Fine Art Commission as well.