HL Deb 22 February 1962 vol 237 cc831-74

4.7 p.m.

LORD BRABAZON OF TARA rose to move to resolve, That this House regrets the recent erection of buildings of a sky-scraper type in the Metropolis from the æsthetic and aeronautical point of view. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I hope that we can pass with a jump from lovely Ireland to clear old London, and I have the privilege and the honour to move the Resolution standing in my name. I make no apology for this, because I am a Londoner born and bred, a true Cockney; and although I do not adopt the dialect, I am in every other way a keen lover of our great town. In this connection, I have always thought it rather odd that, whereas people who live in other cities—the inhabitants of Edinburgh, for example—very rightly extol the beauties of those cities, nobody seems very proud of London, and I have never understood why that is. Nobody boasts of being a Londoner. I do; and apparently a few of my friends here do. But it is rather a rare thing. I suppose it is because we live in one environment in London, and we are rather inclined to ignore the rest of the great city. But it does possess a certain quiet beauty and dignity which I believe is unequalled in the world.

What I am talking about to-day—and I wish I had made it a little clearer in my Resolution—is the particular area of about a mile-and-a-half radius, centred on Charing Cross, in which is included, of course, St. Paul's, the great Wren churches, Whitehall, the Houses of Parliament. Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace. That is the area which I consider sacred. I should have thought that it was desirable for all planning authorities to preserve that wonderful appearance, instead of deliberately making it look rather silly, especially in an era when control over building and planning has reached such a stage that you cannot put a beehive or a cucumber frame in your back garden, without the most tremendous fuss, and a "song and dance" with the local authority extending over months.

I cannot help drawing your attention, my Lords, to the strange happenings in our town. We have been told a thousand times, have we not—and we have experienced it—of the traffic congestion in London at peak hours; and we have been told again and again that this is due to overcrowding of offices in central London. Surely we are entitled to believe that it is undesirable to concentrate more offices in the centre of London. But that official Government policy is flatly contradicted by the permission now being given to erect enormously high buildings that are veritable cities in themselves.

With your Lordships' permission, I must draw attention to one or two of them: first of all, relative to the new Hilton Hotel. Now, when Halford House was bought by whoever bought it, and they built the Dorchester Hotel, they naturally wanted as many storeys as possible, in order to get as many rooms as possible. But whoever the authority was limited them to nine—and that, I should say, is about right as you look at the general configuration of the area.

As a matter of fact, they have added a penthouse, which makes it ten. Then, suddenly, there arrives an American, and in some mysterious way he obtains consent to build, within 200 yards, an hotel 27 storeys high. That is a most extraordinary thing, and I believe it will be a grave disfigurement to a very important part of London. I would ask, indeed, how it is that an American can come over here and suddenly put up a sky-scraper in sacred Park Lane. Could you or I, if we owned a piece of land, obtain permission to do the same thing? If not, why not?

Here, I must bring in the Royal Fine Art Commission. I am not quite clear what the Fine Art Commission do, although I have read their Report. I do not know if any of your Lordships can remember the old Carlton Club, but the building that has been put up there by the State is one of the ugliest I have ever seen in my life. Why was that permitted, especially when it was built by the State? But that is a side-line. I should like to quote something from the Fine Art Commission's Report. They say: We have on several occasions expressed the view that it is a mistake to build high on the fringes of the Royal Parks in spite of the fact that such sites have easier angles of Light. In particular, we oppose the principle of the erection of a very high hotel towards the southern end of Park Lane which was authorised by the Minister of Housing and Local Government in 1959. In this connection a pronouncement of policy was made by Her Majesty's Government in June, 1960, to the effect that, while fully sharing their view that a continuous cliff of high buildings round the park must be avoided, they could not accept the view that individual high buildings, properly spaced from one another, should not be allowed". My Lords, I hope that, in a few months' time, as you pass that hideous erection in Park Lane, you will thank the British Government for their kindness in allowing it to be put up. The Fine Art Commission did their best to stop it, but the onus must rest firmly on the Government.

I have been told that the erection of the A.E.I. building overlooks St. James's and Buckingham Palace. I cannot be quite convinced about that, because the other buildings seem to me to be just as high. I do not complain of that at all; but I do think that, when you are looking down from the 27th storey of the new Hilton Hotel, you will be looking very intimately down into the backyard of Buckingham Palace. Then I should like to mention the new Shell Building. I am a great admirer of the London County Council. I believe that they have done wonderful work. Their work in Stepney, for instance, is an example to the world. I am always delighted as I look at their lovely building the other side of the river; but it seems that they are unable to protect the beauty of their own building, because they have allowed that enormous Shell business entirely to upset the general beauty of it. The old charm of the Thames seems to have gone.

The last building to which I want to draw your Lordships' attention is what I can describe only as the "Vickers horror ". This is 34 storeys high. I just cannot understand the mentality that allowed that building to go up, because it is too near the great historic buildings of this country. It makes Westminster Abbey look like a country church, and it dwarfs everything in that wonderful area. I do ask this particular question: did the Fine Art Commission, or anybody else, realise that the siting of that hideous building was plumb at the end of St. James's Street? As you look down St. James's Street, gone is the beauty of St. James's Palace and of the old street. You look at this awful thing in the distance. I think it is a scandal that that was not realised in time.

I should make it clear, my Lords, that I have nothing against the idea of high buildings, as such. Some of them have a quiet beauty which I quite appreciate; but, if we must have them, cannot they be put on the fringes of London, where perhaps they are wanted? And could they not be grouped together? But surely the building trade is urgently required for the housing of our people in other parts of the country, instead of concentrating on high buildings in the middle of London.

I want to make one point about aviation. Outside London we now have these aerodromes with colossal runways. They could not be anywhere but a good way away—it would be too expensive. But the situation is to-day rapidly becoming absurd, because the time taken to get to or from the aerodrome is now—at least so far as the flight to Paris is concerned—twice that of the flight. However, flight does not stand still, and one of these days, though the helicopter is the only exhibition of it at the present moment, vertical takeoff and vertical landing will come in. I fully agree with what was said in this House two days ago: that civil aviation must be civil, and that it must not make too much noise. But there is nothing to stop the idea that we may have vertical flight without a great deal of noise. If we are going to do that, then the highway into London must be the Thames, from the safety point of view. Here I disagree with the Royal Fine Art commission, because they say this about high buildings: There are sites, for example, on the banks of the Thames, and in some other suburban areas, where high buildings can add to the general architectural effect. I disagree with that. I think that is the most dangerous place to put them, having regard to long-range planning, from the point of view of aviation.

I said at the beginning that I was proud of living in this great city. There is nothing wrong with that. But what I deplore is that authority, whoever the authority may be, seems to be possessed with the modern artistic outlook that favours everything that is outrageous, ugly and evil. They do everything to ruin the charm of the present, and to make cheap the glories of the past, for no reason that I can see except the satisfaction of calling those who disagree with them "squares". My Lords, the British "square" has a very noble history in our life, and I would rather be a British "square" than one of these irregular polygons who think they know all about art.

This policy of putting up these odd buildings is, in my opinion, not only to disfigure London but deliberately to add to the traffic problems of London in the future. What is the use of the Minister of Transport's struggling along to try to get the flow of traffic going, while the Government allow the situation to worsen by the erection of these new buildings? We are committing every error that was made in New York, and which is bitterly regretted there today. We are following them absolutely in doing everything wrong. I implore the Government to call a halt to this iconoclasm and to think of the future with wisdom. I shall always be eternally grateful to your Lordships for what you did two years ago when there was a movement to put up an artistic creation which looked like a diseased haddock at London Airport to commemorate the flight of the "R.34". Your Lordships rose in your wisdom and said, "No, we don't want it"; and I must say that I should be delighted if your Lordships would again rally round the ordinary Londoner and say, "We have had enough of these skyscrapers; leave us in the centre of London alone". My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That this House regrets the recent erection of buildings of a skyscraper type in the Metropolis from the æsthetic and aeronautical point of view.—(Lord Brabazon of Tara.)

4.23 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord has made a characteristically amusing, provocative and delightfully irrelevant speech, and, as usual, it is a little difficult to follow. At the very last moment, the noble Lord altered the form of his Motion. The original Motion called attention to this problem; he now asks this House to pass a judgment to-day. I am afraid that one of the less fortunate results of that is this. Had he been content to ask the House merely to discuss the matter, I should have been quite happy to stand on one side and not speak; indeed, I had no intention of speaking. But when I found that he was asking the House to express a definite opinion, I felt impelled to say a few words on the subject. It is quite obvious from what the noble Lord has said that he does not like skyscrapers; that, at any rate, emerges.


My Lords, may I interrupt for a moment? I especially said that I was not against high buildings in other places. Let the builders play about with their plots and bricks and do what they like, but not in the middle of London.


My Lords, I really do not think that that is a serious qualification to what I said. The noble Lord does not like skyscrapers, and least of all in the centre of London. If we must have these ugly things, then put them on the outskirts, where no one, or very few people, can see them. That is, of course, entirely a matter of taste. I believe that in these matters it is quite possible to take a different view after you have been living with a building for some time.

I remember that some years ago I had the opportunity of having a talk with a very celebrated modernistic painter, a person called Mr. Benedict Nicholson. He was showing me some of his work, and I must confess that I could not make head or tail of it. I asked him what was the meaning of it all, and he said, "What is the meaning of a rose?" Well, I do not know. A rose smells very nice, but this work did not even smell. He said to me—and I thought there was a good deal in it—that you have to live with these things for some months. He was not trying to sell me any of his works, but he added, "Take one and put it in your drawing room for three months, and then come back and tell me what you think of it". I believe there is a good deal of sound sense in that. One's first reaction to skyscrapers, or to modern paintings, or to other works of art, might be an unfavourable one. If the noble Lord would wait until the year 2,000, having lived with these skyscrapers in the intervening period, it is quite likely that he would take a different view.

Most of us know New York, the land of skyscrapers. It may well be that from a social and other points of view they are undesirable. But the noble Lord is not arguing that. He is asking us to form a judgment purely on æsthetic and aeronautical grounds, not on any other grounds.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord for a moment to ask him whether he followed the advice of his artist friend?


My Lords, I could not afford to. But what I did do was this. I did not want to continue the story, but I will. I had a talk with a gentleman who owns quite a number of them, who has bought them and, although he is a wealthy man, is not buying them from a commercial point of view; he is a business man. He told me that he loves them and thoroughly enjoys having them. I am quite prepared to believe that that may be the case. One does get used to things.

I am quite certain that most noble Lords who go to New York and see these skyscrapers will not be unfavourably impressed with them from an æsthetic point of view. Indeed, I think they make a very delightful skyline. I admit that the noble Lord is not so critical of these buildings if they are on the outskirts of London. But I would ask any noble Lord to look at these sky-scrapers at Roehampton, the London County Council buildings, and I defy anyone to say that they are not beautiful. I think they are among the loveliest buildings we have.

I hope that the House will not be asked to form a judgment to-day on the Shell building and on the A.E.I. building before they have been occupied, before your Lordships have seen them in life and in action, and before you have become used to them. The same sort of criticism has been expressed about almost every building at various times. I do not know what the noble Lord thinks of Central Hall, Westminster. Obviously the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, does not think much of it. But I have heard many people say that it is a very nice building to-day. It is a matter of opinion, but we have got used to the Central Hall, and even if it is not to everybody's taste, I think it is far less objectionable than it must have been in the days when it was first put up.

The Albert Memorial is another building which has had a great deal of criticism. I have criticised it myself. I have known it now for a great many years and I must say that to-day I think far more of it than I did when I first saw it. I do not know whether the noble Lord is aware that when St. Paul's was put up, Wren got into trouble about the dome and I believe that part of his plan was knocked down. I have very little doubt that when the present Houses of Parliament was first erected there was a good deal of unfavourable criticism of various aspects of the building. Yet to-day we think it is one of the loveliest buildings in the world and I have never heard anyone criticise it unfavourably. It is largely a matter of getting accustomed to buildings and gradually appreciating them. In any case, as your Lordships know, de gustibus non est disputandum.

I feel that the noble Lord has not really put the problem fairly. He scouted round it by talking of congestion, but the real problem is the high cost of land in London and the necessity of using land to the fullest possible extent. Land is so expensive that unless we can put up what the noble Lord calls skyscrapers, we could not use it at all. The noble Lord referred, for instance, to the proposed hotel. Well, I am not an advocate of a 34-storey hotel, though I have stayed in very high hotels in New York and Toronto and I must say that I did not feel that living in those was any different from living in lower buildings. But the fact is that if we are not prepared to accept a high hotel building of this kind we should not have one at all, and London is very badly in need of hotels. We are so desperately short of accommodation that it is becoming a deterrent to foreigners who wish to come to London.

While we could discuss this whole subject broadly as a social question, from the point of view of traffic, from the point of view of the high cost of land and from the point of view of whether we want to reduce the population of Greater London, I do not think that it is adequate merely to confine the discussion to æsthetics and aeronautics. I want to say only one word about aeronautics. I can assure the noble Lord that these matters are very carefully considered by the town planning authority and that they take the best possible advice. If there were the slightest danger in connection with aircraft, then I think that it would be wrong to permit these high buildings. But we who are not experts, as the noble Lord is, must accept the advice that is given. In every case where a high building has been permitted the advice has been that it can safely be allowed from the point of view of aircraft, and I think we must accept that. I would make only one slight correction of the noble Lord. If he wants to put up a cucumber frame in his garden, I can assure him that he can do so without seeking planning permission.


What about the beehive?


Even a beehive. Of course, if the noble Lord wants to have an enormous beehive containing half-a-million bees, he might have to get permission for such a building; but for a common beehive or cucumber frame it is quite all right.

I hope that the noble Lord will be satisfied with having ventilated this question and with having given us an opportunity of hearing his delightful speech and other noble Lords expressing their views. I sincerely hope that he will not try to force this Motion to a Division, because, if he does so, I hope he will be defeated, and I should not like that to happen to him, because I know that his intentions are entirely honourable. I think he should be satisfied with discussing the matter and then do what he would have done, if he had left his Motion as it originally stood, and ask leave to withdraw it.

4.37 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say a few words about the subject of to-day's debate—skyscrapers in the Metropolis—or "high-rise buildings," to give them their newest name. I shall speak from the æsthetic point of view only. I am not equipped, as the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, is, to talk about the aeronautical side of the matter. Nor do I want to criticise the design of these buildings individually. I want to consider for a moment the very important question of their siting.

Generally speaking, though there are most certain exceptions, the present policy in this regard, if we can dignify it by such a name, seems to me to be that every one should sit back and wait for prospective developers to make their suggestions for the siting of these high buildings, and then, when the proposals are announced, for a huge majority (perhaps that may be an exaggeration; but at any rate a large proportion) of the population to throw up their hands in horror. The planning authority then take great pains to consider every proposal and try to arrive at the right solution for the good of the Metropolis as a whole by the exercise of their powers. The Royal Fine Art Commission come into the picture, too, with their considered opinion. The amenities societies and everybody else have their say, and probably there is a public inquiry.

But it seems to me that all this is happening the wrong way round. The places for these high buildings should be settled beforehand, so that developers know where they can and where they cannot put them. It should not be for them to fly these ballons d'essai as was done, I believe last Tuesday for a site by Leaden-hall Street, with a proposal for a building 380 feet high. Your Lordships know that that is 14 feet higher than the top of the cross of St. Paul's Dome. It should, I submit, be for expert planners to visualise the form of the London of the future, and not for them to have to try to catch up with planning as the piecemeal proposals for development of this type come along. We should settle the sites for the developers, rather than allow the developers to settle them.

It seems to me that it is only since the craze for prestige building, as it is horribly called, has come in that the present arrangement is fraught with so much danger. Before the advent of this fashion it was only the immediate neighbourhood of each development that was either spoilt or improved by rebuilding. That did not matter quite so much. But the whole object of prestige building is to dominate, and therefore all too often these monster buildings can cast their baneful shadows, both actually and metaphorically, over a much greater region. It is now the middle distance that matters, and not only the immediate surroundings that should be considered. A writer in the Architect's Journal of January 24 truly said: There are, of course, several things to be said in favour of high buildings; they are much kinder to their immediate neighbours than squat, lumpy buildings; indeed, their lower floors are often pleasantly open. But London, like Milan, is becoming a city of unrelated towers. Unless siting of these towering structures has been carefully thought out before-hand, it is in the middle distance, in the previously well-balanced views and vistas, and in the scale of famous streets, squares and buildings of acknowledged beauty that the damage is done.

It is not as if London is a new town, or that there is nothing to be said for any of the existing buildings. No one suggests, surely, that it is time to sweep away St. Paul's and Westminster Abbey, the Banqueting House, the City Guildhall, Buckingham, St. James's and Kensington Palaces, these Houses of Parliament, Somerset House and a host of others. They, and those like them, set the scale; and new work should be made to respect their scale, and, if possible, enhance it.

In my view, this can be done to good effect with high buildings if they are placed with the greatest possible care. But who can say, for instance, that the middle distance view of Guildhall, seen from the South up King Street and Queen Street, has not been completely ruined by the great glass skyscraper, set askew, rising behind its façade? Nash's sharp spire, which used to pierce the sky so dramatically at the top of Regent Street, is now backed in a deplorable way by a new block. Charming little St. James's Palace, at the foot of St. James's Street, used to be the perfect end to that famous thoroughfare, with the trees of the Park as its background. Now it is frowned over by what is at present the tallest building in London. The gentle rise and fall of Piccadilly going westward no longer seems invitingly to lead out into the country, but is blocked only by the solid mass of the Carlton Tower beyond.

It seems to me to be a major mistake to allow so close to Buckingham Palace so tall a building as the one recently erected there. Is it conceivable that the Athenians could have allowed a commercial building to dominate the Acropolis; the Romans some speculative development to outstrip the Capitol; or the Venetians a high-rise block to over-shadow St. Mark's, its Campanile, or the Doge's Palace? And yet a near-by interloper of 29 storeys has been permitted to look down upon our Royal House and to depreciate the aspiring significance of Bentley's slender tower— a Cathedral's symbol of the Christian Faith. There is, surely, my Lords, a fitness of association between buildings and their use which must be respected if our architecture is to reflect the values of a nation's culture and beliefs.

Many of your Lordships may have read the article by Mr. Lewis Mumford, the great American writer and sociologist, in the Observer of January 7, reprinted from the New Yorker magazine, headed "Lament for London". In one paragraph of that illuminating article Mr. Mumford says this: The picture is, for the American observer, a dismally familiar one. But what is most discouraging is to find that London, the most decentralised and individualised of all great cities, the one most capable of maintaining the human scale, is flinging away both experience and common sense in a spate of high-rise building. Under the impression that they are serving the cause of progress, the English have thought it worth while to repeat all our characteristic urban mistakes of the last twenty years. If I may quote just one more paragraph from that same article, Mr. Mumford goes on to say: Before Londoners wake up to what has been happening, a great deal of damage will have been done. A generation ago, the Danish architect Steen Eiler Rasmussen could write a whole book in praise of London, which he characterised as ' the unique city,' the only metropolis conceived on the human scale. … To-day that unique city is in danger of turning into a mass of undistinguished, if not uniform, high buildings, encircled and penetrated by ever-wider lanes of motor traffic, where a constant surge of motorcars and lorries will wipe out the last traces of those human qualities. My Lords, what is to be done? How can we be awakened before all is lost? Surely now is the great opportunity, when the Government's proposals for the reorganisation of London's local government are being considered. The Royal Institute of British Architects, in its recent statement on these proposals, urges most strongly upon the Government that the machinery for guiding and implementing rebuilding must be organised so as to attract architects and planners of the highest calibre to posts of responsibility, not only in the new boroughs but in the Greater London Council as well.

I hope also that the Government will take careful note of the Institute's point that the proposals must not result in the dissipation of all that the London County Council has built up in its architectural department but must open the way and make easier the preparation of a comprehensive plan for the Metropolis, which should include the siting of high building. Men of vision and learning will continuously be required to seize this great opportunity, and to this end more and higher education in town planning will be needed. The Board of Studies of the University of London, of which I have the honour to be a member, is at this moment encouraging this most important aspect by the revision of the Master's degree in the subjects of architecture and town planning with proposals which, I hope and believe, will stimulate many to devote their lives to the great task of rebuilding London in beauty and splendour, while studying to preserve the attributes which I have described of this Unique City."

4.53 p.m.


My Lords, it is with a sense of humility that I venture to address your Lordships after the three speeches we have heard. Architecture is the most democratic of the arts. It is accessible to all, and it is impossible to escape its impact, because it shapes the form and setting in which the city dweller lives and moves. Therefore, the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, is of great interest to Londoners who, within the last five years, as a result of a great commercial boom, have seen great changes in the face and skyline of the London they have known.

This may indeed be an appropriate moment to weigh the gains and losses of these developments. Let me say at once that the London County Council is generally admitted to be the outstanding planning authority, and I would entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said about the developments in Stepney and Roehampton. I should like to mention also the very fine development at the Elephant and Castle. I would even admit that some of the tall buildings that have been allowed in the centre of London are æsthetically satisfying developments. I would refer to the splendid Castrol House in Marylebone Road, and the Thorn Electrical Industries building which is off the Charing Cross Road. Those seem to me to be particularly successful buildings.

Then let us look at the other side. With regard to the Vickers skyscraper, however good it may be as a contemporary skyscraper, rivalling perhaps some of the skyscrapers in New York, there is no doubt at all in my mind that the great American sociologist and architect Lewis Mumford was quite right when he described it as a gross error in town planning, on the grounds that it dwarfs the Palace of Westminster. This it certainly does, viewed from the greater part of Vauxhall Bridge and a large part of the Albert Embankment, and also from a considerable area of the river. But even worse than that is the spoiling of the wonderful view down St. James's Street of the Royal Palace of St. James.

Now let us turn to Westminster Cathedral. The view of Westminster Cathedral from the North, and in particular from Green Park, has been adversely affected by the enormous buildings that have gone up from the old Stag Brewery House site in Victoria. I think your Lordships would agree that this is implicitly admitted in paragraph 7 of the Seventeenth Report of the Royal Fine Art Commission. This is another case of a new commercial building which is allowed to dominate an historic and, in this case, a religious building.

These two examples of what many consider to be planning errors highlight the necessity for an increased sense of the social and civic importance and significance for the community of historic buildings, both religious and secular. In our time, high buildings signify the power of commerce, but commerce should be kept at a proper distance from, and not allowed to overlook the principal buildings of, Church and State. Recent tendencies in the Metropolis may also spread to the counties, and one can imagine how easy it would be to spoil our cathedral towns if these commercial tall buildings or skyscrapers were allowed to usurp the place of the cathedral as the dominant building in those cathedral towns.

It is reassuring to note paragraph 25 of the Royal Fine Art Commission's Report, which deals precisely with this point. I was glad also to note that the Royal Fine Art Commission was opposed to building high on the fringes of the Royal Parks, and I sincerely hope that Her Majesty's Government will in effect accept the recommendations contained in paragraph 23 of the Report. The Royal Parks are a priceless heritage which should be preserved unspoiled.

I think the time has come to ask Her Majesty's Government to take a more positive attitude to the redevelopment of the central City areas, and of the central area of the Metropolis in particular. Unfortunately, the longer the matter is allowed to drift, the more difficult it will be to plan for the future. I have one suggestion for Her Majesty's Government which may possibly be helpful: that they draw up lists of historic London views which, in their opinion, should be protected from the intrusion of high buildings, and that they indicate their attitude to the planning authority. I would include the view of Buckingham Palace from the Mall; the view from Lower Regent Street past the Duke of York's steps towards the Palace of Westminster; the view towards the river from the bridge in St. James's Park; the view from the bridge on the Serpentine; the view of Lambeth Palace across the river; and the view of London from Hampstead Heath. But I should like to stress that a tall building need not be in the nearby vicinity or the immediate vicinity of a palace or cathedral to spoil the view of it. The Vickers tower, for instance, is quite a little way from St. James's Palace, and yet it is quite effective in completely spoiling the view. My Lords, I think I have said enough to indicate that I support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara.

5.1 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to support, with enthusiasm, the Resolution which my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara has introduced with such richly merited emphasis. As your Lordships will know, he put the motorcar and the aeroplane where they are to-day, and he has done great service for technical development. Time and time again the noble Lord has shown, for all to admire, an uncanny sense of prevision. I could but wish that my noble friend had initiated this debate some decade or so ago, and thus, perhaps, have avoided the building of that 34-storey tower next door, leading in the modern horrors of London, which dwarfs Westminster Abbey and the Mother of Parliaments, and insults the memories of Barry and Pugin.

A generation back that world-famous Danish architect Steen Rasmussen, as Lord Mottistone has reminded us, wrote a book in praise of London, which he rightly called "the unique city." Today, that renowned American sociologist Lewis Mumford, who wants to see cities again become centres of civilisation instead of ant heaps, says that the London that was the most decentralised and individualised of all great cities, the one most capable of maintaining the human scale, is flinging away"— I would say, my Lords, has flung away— both experience and common sense in a spate of high-rise building. They cancel each other out and produce a mediocre mass. What we see today is the once unique city turned into what Mr. Lewis Mumford describes as a mass of undistinguished, if not uniform, high buildings, encircled and penetrated by ever-wider lanes of motor traffic, where a constant surge of motor-cars and lorries will wipe out the last traces of those human qualities that had been protected by the very intricacy and deviousness of London's old web of streets, alleys, mews, and culs-de-sac. My noble friend who raises this matter to-day has shown that we are not worthy of this great city, which we are bringing to ruin. And I would suggest that if this dreadful process is to be arrested, and something saved, then an international committee of leading architects, town planners and sociologists should be invited to report on the rescue operation so urgently needed before the London hailed a generation ago by Rasmussen, to whom I have already referred, has been completely obliterated. My Lords, those whom I suggest should be invited by Her Majesty's Government to join the proposed committee are Professor Steen Rasmussen, architect and town planner from Denmark; Professor Sven Markelius, from Sweden, architect and town planner, who in April is to receive the Royal Gold Medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects; Professor van den Broek, architect and town planner from Holland, and Lewis Mumford, noted sociologist from the United States. I beg to support the Resolution.

5.5 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara has spoken with his usual wit and charm, but has proposed a Resolution in terms so wide that many of us who agree with some of the things he said could not possibly support it. I was very much astonished by his opening remark that nobody was proud of being a Londoner; I could scarcely believe my ears. I speak as a Cockney; I was born and have lived all my life in London, and think it is an amazingly beautiful place. Agreeing with various speakers who have already mentioned it, I have always thought that perhaps the wisest and best book on London was Rasmussen's book, London, The Unique City. I cannot agree for one moment that Londoners are not proud of the fact that they are Londoners.

I think it was James Bone—I hope those who already know the story will forgive me for repeating it—who at the beginning of his London Perambulator tells the story, a true story, of the patriotic Londoner who found himself in Canada in August, 1914, at the outbreak of the First World War. He was far from his native land and wished to fight for King and Country, so he went to the nearest recruiting station in Canada, where he was asked, after giving his name, for the place of his birth. He replied, "London", and the Canadian at the recruiting office said "London, Ont."—which I believe means London, Ontario. "London, Ont.! London, the whole bloody world", he replied. That patriotic story illustrates what most Londoners think of their native city.

My Lords, though I agree with many of the things that my noble friend, Lord Brabazon of Tara, said, and, I think, with practically everything that my noble friend Lord Mottistone said in what I regard as a brilliant as well as a wise speech, I am afraid that, on esthetic grounds, I differ quite a lot from my noble friend. I am an enthusiastic admirer of Georgian architecture. I have served on the Executive Committee or Council of the Georgian Group for many years, and I do not think anybody loves Georgian architecture more than I do, but I cannot agree with the suggestion that architecture has come to a full-stop and that the modern architects have not anything worthy to show. There can be very good tall buildings; the skyscraper can be a very splendid thing. It can enrich even London. But it is extraordinarily important where you put it and where you do not put it; and that, I realise, was one of the main points of my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara though, unfortunately, it does not appear in the terms of his Resolution.

In the historic centre of London, which has been alluded to by many of the speakers, scale is of quite extraordinary importance. The Georgian squares can be ruined by an intrusion quite out of scale, not merely in the square itself but possibly near it. Some of the worst crimes that have destroyed our happiest architectural inspirations have not been perpetrated, I think, by skyscrapers in the ordinary sense at all. I agree with the example—and I think it is one of the worst examples that have occurred—that was mentioned by my noble friend, Lord Mottistone—Nash's glorious inspiration in planning Regent Street for the vista of All Souls, Langham Place, which has been completely ruined, and ruined, I believe, by the B.B.C. I wonder whether anybody at the time when they were proposing to put up that building even realised what was being destroyed, but they should have.

To give what I believe is practical advice, I know that Her Majesty's Government would never make the mistake of listening to anything I suggested, but they might possibly sometimes take a little notice of a body they have themselves appointed. It so happens that in the latest Report of the Royal Fine Art Commission the question of high buildings is dealt with at considerable length. I am in complete agreement with practically everything they say. There is some perfectly practical advice offered there, and I hope that my noble friend when he replies to this debate will treat the considered recommendations of the Royal Fine Art Commission with some respect. This question of high buildings was dealt with in a publication of the London County Council in November, 1959, and, broadly speaking, I think the criteria that the L.C.C. said they were adopting commanded the general assent of all thinking people, as far as they went. But they did not give, perhaps, very positive guidance.

If I might sum up the recommendation of the Royal Fine Art Commission on where you should put high buildings and where you should not, let me give first of all some important examples of where you should not put them and where it is still not too late to take their advice. If that advice is ignored, we may lose some of the most characteristic beauties of our capital. I suppose that one of the most famous of London's treasures is the wealth of Royal Parks in the centre; they differ from parks in almost every other great city, in that you have, or until recently had, some of the feeling of really being in rural surroundings; you were not oppressed by the town in any way. One of the worst places to put one of these enormous buildings is in the immediate vicinity of Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, because if you provide a continuous cliff of high building you lose, when you walk in Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, one of the characteristic charms of London. The Government overruled the recommendations of the Royal Fine Art Commission—


And the L.C.C.


—in the case quoted by my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara. That has been done and I am not going to argue the pros and cons of that at all. What I am going to say to the Government—and I think what they themselves have said confirms this—is that they ought not to regard that necessarily as a precedent.

Let me read a paragraph of the Royal Fine Art Commission Report dealing with it. In paragraph 22, the Royal Fine Art Commission say: In this connection a pronouncement of policy was made by Your Majesty's Government in June, 1960, to the effect that 'while fully sharing their view, that a continuous cliff of high buildings around the parks must be avoided,' they could not ' accept the view that individual high buildings, properly spaced from one another, should not be allowed'. Then comes the paragraph which I beg Her Majesty's Government to treat with sympathy and to follow: Notwithstanding this general pronouncement, and the consents which have been given for high buildings on the eastern verge of the Park, we suggest that the question how far, and in what other places, high buildings should be allowed on the fringe of the Royal Parks deserves examination as part of the general policy which should govern the erection of high buildings. One point to which we attach particular importance is that no high buildings should be allowed at the western end of Kensington Gardens, in order to retain the feeling that this green space still leads towards the more open areas in the west. Indeed we think that it should be a matter for serious consideration whether high buildings should not be prohibited along either the northern or southern fringes of the Park in order to increase the sense of openness afforded by the one large open space in central London. They go on, very reasonably, in the next paragraph to say that they realise that tall buildings will be visible from the Park. But they add this: In making this suggestion, we would not wish to rule out the erection of high buildings at a greater distance from the boundary which would nevertheless be visible from within the Park. Such buildings in the right place could add to the sense of openness by creating an illusion of greater extent. So much, my Lords, for the fringes of the Royal Parks.

Then there is the area in the vicinity of Buckingham Palace. I agree with what has been said by so many previous speakers: that the erection of a huge building, with the effect, though I hope not with the purpose, of spoiling the privacy and charm of the gardens of Buckingham Palace, seems to be one of the most amazing things that has been permitted in that part of London. Indeed, how much better off were we with the Stag Brewery, even on planning grounds!

I agree with my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara and others—in fact I have put the point often in your Lordships' House—on the insanity of planning to make the rush-hour problem insoluble by putting more and more great office buildings in the centre for which people have to come into and go out of London in the morning and in the evening. Then, when the Stag Brewery site is developed, we allow what has been allowed in that place. Not only is it visually outrageous, but, when you think of what it borders on, it is also an outrage on good planning.

My Lords, having spoken about some of the places where these tall buildings should not go, let me now read the paragraph, of which I think part was read by my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara, saying where they can be built. It says: On the other hand, there are certain areas which are prima facie very suitable for high buildings. There are sites for example on the banks of the Thames and in some older suburban centres where high buildings can add to the general architectural effect and quality, and also have little adverse effect on other buildings. Again when an area is being completely redeveloped, as in the Aldersgate-Barbican Scheme, the scheme may be enhanced by the introduction and careful grouping of high buildings. I think that anybody who is acquainted with the proposals for the Barbican scheme will say how right that is. Of course, when these high buildings are being planned they can be made much more effective, where a number of them are developed together. That will generally be in those areas of London, not the centre, which stand in the greatest need of urban redevelopment.

The Georgian Group have given a good deal of study to this question, on which I think shortly they may have some suggestions to offer. One of the matters which may emerge—I hope it will—from the discussion and consideration, is some doubt whether in planning we are not doing something almost exactly the opposite of what we ought to be doing, in allowing for enormous concentrated building in the centre, and insisting on a small number of persons per acre when you get further out. I am not at all sure that it should not be almost precisely the opposite. I am not sure that we should not reduce plot ratios, which is the technical term, in the centre and increase them further out. I throw that out as a matter for study if it is not being studied already.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, spoke of the high value of land in the centre. I think I am right in saying that if permission is refused for one of these extremely high buildings, the mere fact does not carry with it the right to compensation. Going up to these enormous heights is not something to which a person has a statutory right. So many people have spoken—here I must differ from them emphatically—as though all skyscrapers were good or all were bad. Of course, architecturally, some can be very good and some extremely bad. If I may express my own view, which I know is always risky, I think that the Shell tower could scarcely be worse and that the Vickers tower in itself could scarcely be better. But that does not mean that I do not share fully the view which has been expressed, that the Vickers tower should not have been allowed to destroy the view down St. James's Street. My noble friend Lord Croft made an eloquent plea for the consideration of certain views, and that was one of the views that certainly ought to have been considered.

May I venture one final word, on aviation? I was glad that my noble friend Lord Brarbazon of Tara said he agreed with what was said in this House two days ago. I was also glad that, when he spoke of the future, when we might have vertical take-off planes which can start from some point much nearer than London Airport, he made it clear that he did not want a helicopter station in London now or until the noise problem had been solved. In order to reinforce what was said in this House on Tuesday on this helicopter proposal, I must mention one of the things that really frighten me about what is proposed for London. Here, although I do not agree with Lord Brabazon of Tara's Motion in its entirety, I welcome his raising it, because it shows his concern for London. My concern for London was much increased when I read this extraordinary document, which I think few in this House have read—namely, the Report of the Committee on the Planning of Helicopter Stations in the London Area. It is the most extraordinary document. As with so many documents, they seem so ashamed of it that they do not give it a date, except that it was brought out in 1961. No other date is to be found, I think, in the whole course of the document, nor, I think, is any number by which you can refer to it.

The one question never considered from beginning to end in this document, is whether the citizens of London will be happier with or without this helicopter station. That is considered completely irrelevant. What is assumed is that somebody described as an executive, who seems to be a businessman who can afford to take an individual flight and apparently is not prepared to travel for more than a quarter of an hour by taxi, and who lives in an hotel in the middle of London, is the factor that determines that this helicopter station must be put quite near in. Then they discuss how many executives and others will use a machine that at the moment, by their own definition, is quite intolerably noisy. Then, suddenly, and rather reluctantly, they realise that noise may be such a nuisance that even the long-suffering people of London will not stand it, and that must influence them in the choice of which of many places they recommend. What do you think is the advantage in many of the sites that they recommend?—that the infernal noise which will be made by the machine will be made over Battersea Park, and therefore, as it will not be over a residential district, to hell with the women and children and others who use Battersea Park! That document is really frightening to anybody who is concerned with the beauty and glory of London.

I must say that I differ from my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara when he speaks as though it were quite an absurdity that one may take longer to get to the aerodrome than on the whole flight of the machine from London to Paris. What is wrong with that? The quicker the plane travels from London to Paris, the more you can afford reasonable time to get to the aerodrome. Why because you reduce the time in flight, the person who is already enjoying an unnaturally short time in the air should be allowed to make life a nuisance to the people who live in London, I simply cannot understand. My Lords, I really do not know. What I do know is that London is already suffering from far too many noisy flights over London; it is already suffering much too much. If the tall buildings are a nuisance to aviation, that is a definite advantage.

5.27 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise to noble Lords for seeking to intervene in this debate without notice, but I will be brief. My reason is that there are one or two things that have been said in the debate which I feel very much constrained to comment upon. A year or two ago I was in Copenhagen and Oslo, and in both those cities I saw a great deal of high building going on. I think it will support Lord Brabazon of Tara's view about keeping high buildings away from city centres when I tell your Lordships that I noticed the fact that those high buildings were not in the centre of those cities. In Oslo there are two fairly high buildings attached to the town hall block, but they seem to be unobjectionable because of their position and design. However, quite apart from that aspect a town like Copenhagen would not, I conceive, think of allowing the prestige of its history and beauty to be interfered with, as we are doing in London. I therefore agree with what Lord Brabazon of Tara said when opening this debate.

I think that there is something more to be said. With the consent of the Department, I had a photograph taken—and it is displayed in the Library—showing the view, from the middle of Waterloo Bridge, of Vickers tower. That was bad enough, but there are other angles which are worse; and it seems to me a disgraceful thing that the bodies men- tioned, the Royal Fine Art Commission and all the rest of them—and even the London County Council, it seems—were prepared to support a monstrosity of that kind in that particular place. I am not arguing about the general value of high buildings or low buildings or any such thing, but, as Lord Brabazon of Tara has said, about their interfering with the æthetic value and the amenities of a great, historic city like London.

I do not agree with my noble friend Lord Silkin when he said that the real question was the price of land. I do not think that is the real question at all; it is not the fundamental question. There is something much more important and much deeper than that. It is the thorough materialisation of modern progress and modern civilisation. And I ask myself the question and I invite noble Lords to do the same: what is it all for? What is the purpose of all this, adding as it does to traffic congestion and other problems? Just go up to the roof of the Shell building—I have not been up there myself, but I have been half way up a similar building—and look around, and what do you see? You see these satanic mills rising in every direction. I use that phrase "satanic mills" because they are satanic, even if the mills are only paper mills. But they are up there for a commercial purpose, for the purpose of progress! Did your Lordships listen to the terms used in this debate this afternoon: progress, commerce, and all the rest of it? What does it all mean? When you are on top of one of these buildings, looking down, ask yourself that very question.

One sees millions of people pouring from these buildings, with their masses of windows all the same size, grotesque and at the same time monstrous. What are the people doing there? Millions of people come out for their lunch, they go back, and come out in the peak travelling hours. What are they doing? They are counting things, in the main; that is their job. They are not producing anything at all. It is a question of Parkinson's Law, which applies as much to industry as it does to the Civil Service or anything of that kind. The more we have of this technique of industry, this technique of government of all kinds, the more we require to have; and so we are building up, building up all the time.

The executive cost of modern capitalism, the difference between the factory cost and the cost to the consumer, is amazing.

I will tell your Lordships of one industry that I was part of at one time in my life. I believe that machines, the technique of industry, ought to be a question of facilitating the happiness of the community. The real purpose of a machine should be to lighten labour, not to run a "rat race" round the world; it should be to cheapen goods and make more commodities available for the people. In fact, it has not cheapened commodities; they are higher in real price than ever they were, in spite of miracles of development and progress in regard to machinery and modern commercial technique. However, in the industry I refer to, at about the turn of the century, when I was concerned in that side of it, the unit per machine per product was 50.000. I am not going into details unless I am asked to do so, but that production unit has increased by over 1,000 per cent. We have not had an increase of wages of over 1,000 per cent. You cannot blame the worker and his demands for that. Yet the price of the commodity is seven times higher than it was at the turn of the century. In whatever industry one likes to mention, agriculture or whatever it may be, one finds this Parkinson's Law operating: machinery, machinery, machinery.

In the Observer of last Sunday there was a series of articles by scientists upon what is called, quite perversely and mythically, "The Thinking Machine". Of course, machines do not think. The idea that humanity consists of tape recorders is something I myself cannot tolerate; and I do not believe in substituting holes in paper for souls in men. But the term "thinking machines" is used and is popular. One of the three articles in the Observer tells us what we have to do in order to feed those machines. The cost of it is alarming—the cost in specialised labour, and the cost in money terms of these new computers which are supposed to be necessary for progress and commercial development. All this kind of thing goes on, and we have these costs piling up, which accounts for the fact that to-day, in one industry alone, the advertising industry—and you can go to any advertising agency and they will tell you this —it costs six times as much to get rid of an article as to produce it. That is fine Socialist talk, I know. I cannot altogether tolerate the idea of talking the language of capitalism all the time, but there it is, and that is the real fundamental cause of all this business, which is one of the reasons, apart from the æsthetic one, why I oppose some, at any rate, of this kind of modern development. I am not going to talk in extreme language about why we must not have high buildings. If high buildings can be justified, they must be justified upon their merits. But I certainly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, and if this Motion goes to a Division I will support him in it, and I congratulate him upon initiating the debate this afternoon.

5.41 p.m.


My Lords, when I came into your Lordships' House I had no intention of intervening in the debate. I must, however, say one thing about what has been said by your Lordships this afternoon. I find myself almost entirely in sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, and I should like particularly to commend his attack upon heliports, as I think they are called. A more scandalous, monstrous plot to ruin the amenities of London has not been evolved in the whole of history, and I am delighted that the noble Lord attacked them. Why the people of London should be subjected to this torture, simply and solely in order to cut off a matter of twenty minutes, by going to Battersea Park rather than going out to London Airport, I cannot think. I cannot conceive that, although nowadays time is said to be money, any appreciable sum will be saved by this appalling atrocity.

I am not happy, however, about the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara. I cannot accept his view that skyscrapers, high-rising buildings, are absolutely unacceptable. I think they can be, and sometimes are, things of great beauty. However, quite clearly, they are things which must be most carefully positioned, and here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone. I can assure him that his views are shared and are receiving constant attention from the planning authority, but I would point out to him that there is a serious difficulty. It may be said: "We will allow high-rising buildings in this area and in this area"; and if they are built then I think they may, in fact, add to the beauties of London. We may have a view all the way round London of exquisite towers, well-grouped and, above all, at a suitable distance—this is the important thing—from the ancient London, the centre of London, whose scale is quite different. In that centre I suggest that what is known as perimeter development must take place, because if it does not development will dominate and dwarf the buildings which constitute the London which we have all known. But I would point out that, in my view at any rate, no such serious damage has been done by any modern building as was done before the war by Faraday House. Therefore, I suggest to your Lordships that even comparatively low buildings can do catastrophic damage in the centre.

The point I really wanted to make, and which has not been made to-day, is on the social and health usefulness of these very high buildings. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, mentioned the Leadenhall project. This is a project which has received a good deal of attack, but I do not know how many of your Lordships are aware of the situation in this particular area. It constitutes what I remember used to be referred to as a commercial slum. The buildings are all built on a perimeter development plan, and I would say myself that two public-spirited large companies have joined together to develop a rather considerable area. What they propose to do is to put up one very high building, another lower building, and perhaps a very low building with shops, and to leave space in which the people who work in those buildings can walk, where they can sit and eat their lunches, where they will be able to see more of the sky than the little, tiny section which shows above the narrow streets that are now there. They will work in offices which will be fresh, light and airy; not offices where, in order to get any light at all, a mirror has to be hung outside the windows.

My Lords, it is very important, I think, that we should realise the importance of these high buildings. Whilst, as I say, I believe it is justifiable and, indeed, necessary to build at a low level in some places, because of the important buildings there, I suggest that high buildings have a considerable utility if they can be properly placed.

I would say just one word in conclusion. A good many of the speakers have talked rather as if the planning authority had settled the plot ratios for themselves, out of their heads. I am sure that most of your Lordships, certainly those who are interested in this subject, are already aware that, in fact, these plot ratios are based upon existing circumstances, existing buildings and development, and unless very heavy compensation is paid it is impossible to prevent this kind of development. Your Lordships may not be aware of an appalling difficulty in connection with all planning, and which is responsible for the increase—where there has been an increase—in office premises. Among ourselves, this is what is known as Third Schedule tolerance.

Third Schedule tolerance allows anybody to add 10 per cent. to his building. I am quite sure that, when this was introduced in the Town Planning Act, it was a perfectly sensible idea, intended to cover your house or mine when we wished to build a bathroom out of it, or something of that sort. That 10 per cent. seemed a reasonable permission. But this 10 per cent. tolerance has become a bogy. It has become a monster which is riding upon our shoulders and is causing an appalling amount of increased undesirable development. I do not know whether even those of your Lordships who are aware of the existence of the Third Schedule tolerance, know that the moment a building is completed, be it a building of two storeys or of twenty, they then become entitled to their Third Schedule tolerance, and can add another 10 per cent. on to the top of what they have already done.

This really is a problem for Her Majesty's Government. It is a problem which the planning authority does its best to deal with, but which it cannot do effectively, and as it should, because its powers are insufficient. I beg Her Majesty's Government to give the necessary powers to the planning authority in London. I should like to support also the plea of the noble Lord, Lord Croft, for the planning authorities outside London. It may well be that our small cathedral cities may be spoiled, and spoiled far more completely and more catastrophically than London itself.

5.48 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add just a word in this very interesting debate. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, has put his finger on a very important point with regard to the planning side of this problem, which undoubtedly is one of the main reasons why the London County Council has not been able to control this problem. A great deal of criticism has been poured upon them over these last few years and, in a way, it is justifiable criticism, at any rate on the face of it. But, undoubtedly, unless the Government step in and take a hand in this business, the London County Council will not be in a position to handle the matter adequately.

I find myself in very considerable sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara. It is seldom that I find myself in agreement with him, and, if he will not mind my saying so, I sometimes feel that he does not need the beehive in his back garden to which he was referring, because he has room in his bonnet for the bees. On this occasion, however, I find myself in much sympathy with him; and, while I cannot accept his Motion in the terms in which it is drafted, I should be very glad to go into the Division Lobby with him in connection with the broad issue which he has put to your Lordships' House this afternoon. I hope that at some stage or another the Sovereign Parliament will be given an opportunity of expressing its views quite clearly on these points, which are really points of fundamental importance.

I think most of the points have been made this afternoon in a series of excellent speeches, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, who put the points most cogently and persuasively—and I am sure that he had the sympathy of all your Lordships—and from the noble Lord, Lord Conesford. In particular, I should like to say that the overriding of the Royal Fine Art Commission, which has become almost common form with the Government over the past years, is really a scandal. I sometimes wonder why the very busy and able men who give their services to the Royal Fine Art Commission are content to stay on it, when, on so many occasions, the views which they have expressed are overridden by the Minister, who gives reasons which, on the face of them, are most unconvincing. I hope that this side of the matter will receive careful attention, because it is scandalous that on so many occasions the views of these eminent men, who have studied these matters and are extraordinarily sensitive to these problems, should be overridden in the way in which they have been.

In conclusion, I should like to say how much I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, in his denunciation, as I think it was—and it was a most justifiable one—of the ruination of Buckingham Palace Gardens. One of the great democratic features of the post-war period has been the Royal Garden Parties, at which men and women of all classes have come together in that beautiful garden. On a number of occasions when, in those Gardens, I have met acquaintances from distant towns and even villages in the North of England, they have said to me, "Is it not wonderful to be here? You would not believe that, in the centre of this enormous Metropolis, you could be in a lovely garden like this as if you were in the depth of the country".

The love of the country is perhaps more characteristic of the English than anything else, and the fact that in the very heart of London there can be this country atmosphere is a thing on which we should congratulate ourselves. Yet here it is being just wiped off the slate in this callous and hard-hearted way. It will no longer be possible for these people to have this feeling, when they come to the annual Garden Parties to which Her Gracious Majesty invites them, because the whole place will be dominated by this terribly high building. I feel that it is time that Parliament intervened in order to prevent this thing from going any further.

5.54 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara for initiating this debate and for the characteristic sprightliness with which he has done so. I am also grateful to those noble Lords who have taken part in it. Their interest is, I feel, a reflection of a growing public interest in the physical planning and appearance of London. My Lords, the Government welcome this growing interest. Would that it had grown earlier! If it had, should we have lost Nash's Regent Street, or the Adelphi, or Berkeley Square, or Grosvenor Square? It is only right that from time to time your Lordships' House should grapple with the physique of this city. As we all know, my noble friend is a brave man, and he has shown his courage is grasping the nettle of these high buildings in London, since, in so doing, he has broached a difficult and perplexing subject.

What, in the first place, is a high building? What we presumably mean is a building which is higher, much higher, than the normal, even if the normal is itself high. In suburbia, a seven-storey block of flats would, suggest, be a high building at present. In troglodytic communities, a one-storey house would, I suggest, be high, but in central London what should be considered high is, of course, anybody's guess. I suppose that a few years ago a building of over 150 feet would have been considered high. Now it is the buildings over 250 feet which cause your Lordships' eyebrows to rise. So, generally speaking, I would suggest that the only acceptable definition of a high building is one considerably above the average, whatever the average in a particular locality may be.

I feel I should first of all make it quite plain, without any equivocation, that we believe that high buildings in London have come to stay. With improved technology, it is becoming increasingly easy, convenient and safe to build high, not only for the prestige of a company or the ego of its directors, but also for the happiness of the typists—with good daylighting and with a view, not over the dirty tiles of ill-lit courtyards, but perhaps over the Thames. Here I would say how very much I agreed with what the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, had to say on that particular point. Again, there are advantages of what I would call a planning nature. It is the policy of the L.C.C. to permit redevelopment on a plot ratio system—that is to say, the ratio of total floor space to the area of the building site at ground level. Generally, the plot ratios for new development are based on those of the existing site. This means, broadly speaking, that if you erect a new building on half the area covered by the existing one, you must build it twice as high.

There are many who think that a tall, slim building is better to look at than a squatter, bulkier one. I would suppose that some of your Lordships, at least, would not restrict this judgment merely to buildings. But æsthetics apart, there is an important planning consideration here. A tall, slim building will allow much more open space at ground level, roads can be wider and, more important perhaps, there can be more freedom for the pedestrian to circulate or for the child to play. These planning considerations apply with equal force to offices in the heart of the City or to flats in a slum clearance area.

My Lords, I should like to stress the point that high buildings as such do not add to traffic congestion—I repeat, high buildings as such. It is bulk, not height, that counts here. But, on that, and on the question of Third Schedule tolerance, to which the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, referred—and these are very important questions—I would suggest that these matters hardly arise on the æsthetic and aeronautical terms of the Motion of my noble friend. I would also suggest that, important though they are, they would best be discussed by your Lordships' House on the Motion winch now stands on the Order Paper in the name of my noble friend Lord Molson on the Barlow Report.

May I revert to æsthetics for the moment? High buildings may be sore thumbs and ugly, but they can also be slender fingers and beautiful. They can mar a landscape; but they can also help to make one. I know that judgment in these matters can be very subjective, but, in looking at some of the L.C.C.'s higher density housing schemes, I myself have been impressed by how greatly they gain from the juxtaposition of two, three and four-storey houses with well-placed, higher and well-designed point blocks of flats. These can give focus and lend variety to the view, whether it is in London, Sheffield or Birmingham. Nor should we forget the really splendid effect of the night scene which the lights of these buildings can bring; it can be very spectacular indeed.

But, my Lords, it is not only the view "outside in" which one should consider; there is also the view "inside out". I do not think it can be contested that, whatever their other demerits may be, high buildings can offer their inhabitants really splendid and spectacular views. I think that the people who are going to live in the great point blocks which will form an integral part of the Barbican scheme will be the proud possessors of some of the finest views in Europe. Or, to take a more homely example, I recently read the comments of one of the tenants of the new 18-storey block of flats in the heart of Soho, Kemp House, in Berwick Street. This tenant is an Irish lady, Mrs. Lucy Theophilus, and she lives on the thirteenth floor. Describing the view from her window, she said: You should see it at night; it is like some great carpet of jewels. Both Kemp House and the Barbican scheme fall within the 1½ mile radius to which the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, in introducing his Motion, referred. Thus, I would suggest that, in general, high buildings are not just the result of advanced technology, or economics, or even human vanity. There is also in many cases sound planning, and, indeed, visual justification for them.

It is not for me to praise or bury high buildings, as such, this evening. I merely wish to emphasise that, things being as they are, the trend towards higher buildings in London and elsewhere is inevitable. But is it irresistible? Should we just let things rip? Or should we attempt to control this development? To pose those questions, my Lords, is, I think, to answer them. It is perfectly obvious that some control must be exercised, if only on grounds of safety; or to prevent tall buildings from overshadowing their neighbours and cutting off the daylight from them; or to stop them from getting in the way of some of my noble friend's flying contraptions; or on more general planning grounds; or because of those even wider considerations of æsthetics and amenity, to which a number of noble Lords have drawn attention this afternoon. Quite clearly, a tall building needs careful siting and careful designing. If a mistake is made with a tall building, it sticks out like a sore thumb. On the other hand, the squat buildings, like a squat lady at a cocktail party, are lost in the crowd.

It is quite obvious that in London, of all places, with its traditionally rather low skyline, with its parks and Palaces, with its wealth of fine architecture, with its familiar and historic views, we must be very careful indeed. The need for care has been recognised in the past and embodied in legislation—the London Building Acts, which go back in pedigree to the Black Act (as it was termed) of 1774. The London Building Acts are, of course, concerned with technical matters—constructional, sanitary, daylight, and considerations of that sort. But, in addition, the London County Council have established a code of principles against which any new project for a high building has to stand up. Those are the eight points to which my noble friend Lord Conesford referred. They are pretty comprehensive, and they constitute, with the normal planning controls, what I would term the second line of defence through which a high building has to pass.

My Lords, high buildings have to pass through the eyes, at least in Central London, of other needles. I would remind your Lordships, if you need reminding (I do not think you do), that the London County Council do not take their decisions in isolation. At one stage or another, most schemes for high buildings in Central London are normally referred to the expert judgment of the Royal Fine Art Commission. Sometimes the developers themselves take that initiative; sometimes the L.C.C. do. This process of reference can happen at various stages of a project: when it is perhaps no more than a gleam in the eye of a designer, or at the stage when detailed designs have been prepared.

There are other defences. For any development—and I repeat, any development—within half a mile of a Royal Park or Palace, the L.C.C. are required by Statute to consult my right honourable friend the Minister of Works if the amenities of either Park or Palace art likely to be affected. In practice, I understand that the London County Council ape interpreting this to include any development likely to be visible from the Park or Palace.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl whether that is half a mile from the Palace itself, or from the perimeter wall of the Palace?


My Lords, I am afraid I should need notice of that question: I should not wish to give the noble Lord misinformation on this particular point.


My Lords, does the noble Earl not agree that now that has ceased to be a sensible distance? What is half a mile, with these buildings 300 or 400 feet high?


My Lords, I think it is half a mile.


It means nothing in the context of the present situation.


I am coming to that point a little later if the noble Lord will allow me. These then, my Lords, are what I would term the general defences.

There is also, of course, the aeronautical aspect, to which my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara referred. In general, I do not think there is much I can add to the position as outlined by my noble friend Lord Denham, in reply to a Question by my noble friend Lord Bossom on November 21, when he explained the general position. So far as flying is concerned, I would merely add that, in the last ten years, I think there have been something like 2¾ million landings and take-offs in the United Kingdom. During that period, there have been only two accidents involving buildings, and in neither case was the building a high one. As regards helicopters, I am informed that, so far as the future is concerned, there is no certainty that VTO aircraft, if they are ever used in Central London, will necessarily follow the Thames; and therefore high buildings along Thamesside should not necessarily be ruled out by that type of aeronautical consideration.

My Lords, such, in general, are the existing controls applied to high buildings in London. As you will have appreciated, they are pretty diverse; but, in the end, each particular project for a high building is judged on its own merits. In essence, that judgment is pragmatic—ad hoc, if you would prefer. I would not claim for one moment that our existing procedures are necessarily perfect. There are too many big, bad modern buildings to contradict me. But what I would claim is that, when you come to look at this matter at all closely, it is not at all easy to decide on what better principles to base improved controls.

A number of possibilities have been touched on this evening. Broadly speaking, they are about four in number, as I see it. The first possibility would be the radical one of imposing an absolute ban from now onwards on buildings over a certain height in London. There are precedents, of course, for this abroad. Paris has a height limit prohibiting buildings over a certain height in its central area. In Washington, D.C., there is a height limit which effectively amounts to a maximum of about ten storeys. But I feel myself that it would be quite wrong, and indeed quite alien to the character of this city, for us to try to impose any general ban over London as a whole; and I do not think, despite the terms of my noble friend's Resolution, that anyone has in fact advocated that proceeding.

The second possibility which has been suggested is that London should, as it were, be zoned. Certain areas, like the vicinity of the Royal Parks, or the Palaces, or the remaining Georgian squares, should be "out of bounds" for high buildings. Other zones like, possibly, the Riverside—pace the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara—may be in-bounds; and there may be grey or neutral zones where there is no predisposition one way or the other. Something of this kind was suggested by the Royal Fine Art Commission in this last Report, and I would admit straight away that I, for one, initially found this idea not at all unacceptable. I think it is also the broad proposal advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, in his very expert and informed speech this afternoon.

Nevertheless, I would suggest that a zoning scheme might be much more difficult to apply than at first sight would appear. It may be possible, of course, to stop high buildings in the out-of-bounds zones; but would it be just to discriminate against actual or potential developers in those areas? Be that as it may be, it is surely difficult to stop people building low, if they so wish, and force them to build high. The factors accompanying any big development are to a large extent fortuitous and fluid, and it is extremely difficult to accommodate these fluid factors to any rigid proposals for zoning. Again, proposals for zoning cannot cater for the unexpected, for the happy accident, which so often happens. For example, in preparing a zoning plan based on London's existing character, one would hardly have predicted the siting of the Economist's proposed new office block next to Boodles Club, nor the borough council's 18-storey block of flats next to the redeveloped Munster Square. Both schemes would probably have been ruled out in a zoning plan, yet both schemes have received, and I think merit, high praise.

Finally, there is the human factor. Surely we should be wise to be fairly humble here, especially when we see the mistakes that have been made in the past—indeed, in the recent past. What master minds are to do this zoning? Can we be sure they, too, would not make mistakes? Are we really prepared to accept the degree of arbitrary judgment which zoning would involve, even by an international committee of eminent experts, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Sempill? The planning authority for London, the L.C.C., has come in for pretty hard kicks this afternoon. Is it suggested that they should be entrusted with these far more widespread powers? I think we have to be very clear about our answers to these questions before we plump for any rigid zoning scheme in any shape or form.

The third possibility is that we should try to gather the high buildings which we permit in groups, clusters or constellations. Again, the Royal Fine Art Commission have been most attracted by this possibility and it has a great deal to commend it, as the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, and other noble Lords have suggested. I think the cluster theory has been fairly successfully applied in post-war Sweden. The L.C.C. architects have also adopted it in the admirable Roehampton scheme, to which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, referred, and elsewhere, such as at Kennington, Stepney, Paddington and Rotherhithe. The Rockefeller Centre is a successful transatlantic example, and noble Lords who know Northern Italy may have been impressed by the more or less fortuitous clustering of offices in Milan.

My own feeling about this theory is that it works well with schemes like the Roehampton and the Barbican schemes, where there are several high buildings designed as a single architectural exercise, where each building is the same shape or where its shape is closely related to the next one. In some circumstances, usually when the area is a large one in single ownership, the results can be fine, but in a jungle like the West End—a jungle of ownership, I mean—a cluster of high buildings, designed by various architects, and of all different shapes and sizes and with different finishes, could look pretty ghastly.

The final possibility is what I would call the scantum theory. This is really a refinement of the zoning theory and would mean that certain areas—the Royal Parks are perhaps the most obvious examples—should prima facie be out of bounds for future high buildings. As your Lordships know, this view has been strongly pressed by the Royal Fine Art Commission, and indeed most recently by Sir William Holford, and it has been pretty forcibly advocated by a number of speakers this afternoon. The Government gave this matter very careful consideration on the original proposal for the Hilton Hotel in Park Lane, and their view is in fact reproduced in paragraph 22 of the Royal Fine Art Commission's most recent report.

Briefly stated, it boils down to almost a repetition of what the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, said. Whilst we fully share the Commission's view that a continuous cliff of high buildings around the Parks must be avoided, we do not accept the view that individual high buildings should not be allowed, provided they are well designed and sited properly. But having said that, we should agree that, perhaps first of all, very special consideration must be given to the Royal Parks. Tall buildings near them may jostle the Palaces. The Royal Parks, too, provide a wonderful relief from our busy streets and a contrast of natural forms which both Londoners and visitors to the city regard as one of its chief glories.


My Lords, is it not the point that these questions are not being considered? The thing is going on.


My Lords, the point I was making is that these factors are very much engaging the Government's attention. I would suggest that even here we should be careful before adopting too rigid or cut-and-dried an approach. The Royal Parks themselves vary in their characters. Having said that, I should like to emphasise that we propose to pay very careful attention to the paragraphs which the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, quoted from the Commission's Report, and to what the noble Lord himself has said this afternoon.

Your Lordships may feel that, in discussing these alternative possibilities, I am implying that we should adopt a laissez-faire attitude towards high buildings in London. If I have given this impression, it is a false one. I have already explained the existing system of controls and, I hope, shown the careful scrutiny which the planning authorities and other responsible bodies give to proposals for high buildings in London. What I am suggesting is that, rather than striving for some panacea or cure-all, there may be great advantage in our continuing to adopt the more flexible approach, judging each high building on its own merits and demerits in the context of its setting and reconciling in the process, as best we can, the amenities and the character of historic London with its modern needs and potentialities.

We clearly cannot be complacent about this, and I do not think that those responsible are complacent about it. For example, the London County Council are at the moment re-examining their eight points to see whether more flesh and blood cannot be grafted on to them, and I understand that they are in close contact with the Royal Fine Art Commission on this matter. I have no doubt that both bodies will wish to consider carefully the views expressed in your Lordships' House this evening. I myself would express the hope that some way can be found of strengthening the eight points and making them more positive. For example, cannot more reference be made to the aesthetic advantages of towers rather than slabs? Should not more emphasis be laid on the opening up of ground levels made possible by high buildings? Again, could not the need be further emphasised for relating the design of tall blocks to that of others in the vicinity, to make them better neighbours? Should we not address our minds to working out techniques by which, perhaps by accident, historic or familiar views are suddenly blotted out or intruded on?

My noble friend Lord Croft put a specific suggestion to me on that point, and I would say that, so far as that suggestion is concerned, it is precisely the sort of thing we should want the L.C.C. to consider in their re-examination of their eight points. And in the sort of places where the Royal Fine Art Commission have indicated that high buildings should be out of bounds, ought it not at least to be made clear that the tests which would normally be applied to any new project for a high building should be that much stiffer?

Finally, my Lords, I very much hope that, in re-examining this problem, more emphasis will be placed on the quality of the individual design. I agree that mistakes have been made since the war in the siting of particular tall buildings, but what I think is much more obvious is that the quality of some individual buildings has not been as high as their conspicuousness warrants. Perhaps this slight stricture applies particularly to office buildings. I feel that at present many of our office buildings do not, designwise, stand comparison with the best in America, or, indeed, the best in Europe. Have we office buildings of the quality of the Unilever or the Seagram buildings in New York? Have we a design as striking and distinctive as the Pirelli building in Milan? I would plead that far greater attention should be given not only to the basic design of these great structures but also to the quality of their materials and their finishes, and to the careful landscaping of the open sites around them. I hope that in the re-examination of this whole matter this factor of quality will be increasingly high-lighted and emphasised.

My Lords, may I, in conclusion, again thank my noble friend for drawing your Lordships' attention to this matter? I hope that I have convinced him that I am no less concerned than he is about these developments, although we may sometimes look at high buildings from a somewhat different angle; and that I have made it clear that the screening to which projects for new high buildings are subjected is both close and intense. I hope that I have also made it clear that we are in nowise complacent about this problem, and that we will certainly examine carefully any suggestions which have been put forward for improving the machinery for dealing with it. I also hope that I have made it clear that in considering this matter we are as alive as anybody else to the need of harmonising, so far as possible, the demands of the older London with the needs of the future Metropolis. Clearly, what we build, whether it be high or low, not only should not mar the past but should be a credit to us in the future. Clearly, this is no easy balance to hold right. But in trying to do so, I would myself hope that we could bear in mind the words of Sir William Holford during his inaugural address as President of the Institute of British Architects: It would be a sad day for this island kingdom if the preservation of the past were to be regarded as a more important principle than building for the future. I sympathise with my noble friend's love of London. I think that more of his noble friends in your Lordships' House share that love than he perhaps allowed for. I sympathise with his dislike of certain high buildings, although I may not share his particular dislikes; and I believe, too, that the problem which he has had ventilated this afternoon is one of real importance. But I hope, having perhaps half persuaded him that we are not complacent about this matter, that he will not press his Resolution to a Division. I think I should say that his Resolution is framed in such broad and sweeping terms that I could not vote for it; in fact, I should have to vote against it and to advise my noble friends also to vote against it.

6.25 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we are grateful to the noble Earl for his comprehensive reply to the Resolution that I have down on the Paper. I must thank very much all speakers, because most of them agreed with the Resolution; and I must say that when I look at it I do not agree with it myself, because I have put down some things which really contradict what I tried to say to your Lordships. I have nothing against a skyscraper qua skyscraper. The point is that I do not like a skyscraper to be in the wrong place, and that is what has been worrying me right through. One noble Lord said that it would be a good thing to increase the density of population in the outskirts. I approve of that.

My noble friend Lord Jellicoe tried to impress us with what he called the general defences. I must say that that made me smile. He talked about the need for care which was looked after by legislation. Does he remember (I am sure he does) that this Hilton outrage was barred by the London County Council and by the Royal Fine Art Commission? And then, if you please, the Minister comes along and encourages it. Have the Government an interest in the Hilton hotel? What was the reason for having this outrage? It offends everything that anybody has laid down to-day, by its proximity to the Royal Palace, nearness to the Park and everything else. I hope that your Lordships are not impressed with the Minister's general defences: they are very poor.

What I liked most about this debate was the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone. That really ought to be read by people interested in this subject. I sincerely hope that between us, after this debate and when we come to deal with the subject of Greater London, we shall together be able to obtain some scheme whereby some really definite planning can be indulged in without the over-ruling ukase of a half-witted Minister. In view of the fact that I do not like my own Resolution, I beg leave to withdraw it.

Resolution, by leave, withdrawn.