HL Deb 13 November 1962 vol 244 cc523-6

2.36 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will inquire into the circumstances of the Crown Commissioners' proposal to demolish Sussex Place, Regent's Park, contrary to the recommendations of the Gorell Committee and despite the fact that the London County Council architects consider this course unnecessary, and to ask how far this is a consequence of the particular plans of the developer.]


My Lords, the Government are already aware of the considerations that led the Crown Estate Commissioners to their proposal that Sussex Place should be rebuilt. These were set out by the Commissioners in their Third Statement on the Future of the Regent's Park Terraces, published in June last. The Gorell Committee, when reporting in 1947 (Command Paper 7094, paragraph 62) did not rule out rebuilding with a front that is an exact replica of the original structure—which is what the Commission propose—as a means of preserving the design of the individual terraces. They said that the choice of method must be left to the Crown Estate Commissioners when the time came.

It is correct that earlier this year the London County Council took a different view from that of the Commissioners. Since the publication of their statement in June, the Commissioners have arranged further detailed inspection by the Council's Architect. They have also themselves reviewed the problem in the light of further points made to them by a number of people, including a Parliamentary delegation and representatives of amenity organisations. They are now in touch again with the London County Council and we should await the outcome. The Commissioners' conclusions have arisen from the state of the present structure and their own views as to its future, including the importance of more and good residential accommodation, and not as a consequence of any particular plans of their selected developer.


My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that the Crown Commissioners have been less than frank in regard to the statement of their plans, and that in fact there has been public criticism of them by the L.C.C. for frankly misleading the public in regard to this matter? Further, is he not aware that to say that the Crown Commissioners are merely carrying out the wishes of the Gorell Committee is to mislead, when the Gorell Committee gave as their unanimous opinion that certain terraces should be restored and preserved—not merely that replicas should be built—and one of these was Sussex Place? Are the Government not aware, in fact, that the L.C.C. take the view that Sussex Place is structurally sound and, were it not for the plans to build garages underneath it, there would not have been a question of pulling it down?


My Lords, I do not want to anticipate the outcome of consultation between the Crown Commissioners and the London County Council. I do not know in what respects the noble Lord thinks the Commissioners have been less than frank, but they are now reviewing the question with the L.C.C. Their own view regarding the structure of Sussex Place was that it was suffering from what is called settlement; that is to say, the walls were gradually sinking into the ground, which would in course of time probably make things very uncomfortable for the inhabitants.


My Lords, will the noble Earl say whether a Minister is answerable for the Crown Commissioners, and, if so, which Minister? If there were an appeal against the London County Council on the decision would this prejudice fair consideration by the Minister of Housing and Local Government? Would the noble Earl not agree that it is a good thing that there is a London County Council with a first-class architectural department to safeguard the amenities of London and will he think twice about abolishing this admirable body and its staff?


My Lords, the second part of the noble Lord's supplementary is, I suppose, a matter for the Minister of Housing and Local Government. With regard to responsibility for the Crown Estate Commissioners, as the noble Lord will remember it used to be with the Minister of Agriculture, but that has now been changed. It is now, I understand, with the Treasury.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that this terrace, and many other terraces around Regent's Park, though they have a great tradition and great architectural and aesthetic beauty, nevertheless consist of houses that are uncleanable, impossible for people to live in in these days; and that merely to preserve them from settlement is rather a waste of assets and money, and that it is a good thing that somebody should think of a new design for the whole area?


My Lords, what the Crown Commissioners are trying to do, and what I think was recommended by the Gorell Committee is, so far as possible, to modernise the houses and make them fit for modern requirements and, at the same time, to preserve the appearance of Nash's scheme for all the terraces of Regent's Park. In nearly every case this can be done by reconditioning without any rebuilding, but in two cases—Sussex Place and Clarence Place—the Commissioners had been advised that the only way to effect modernisation and to preserve the appearance was complete rebuilding, with a replica of the facade so that it would look exactly the same as Nash designed it.


My Lords, would not the Government agree that tradition and great aesthetic qualities are good reasons for preserving the originals? Although there is no dispute that the interiors need to be modernised, would the Government none the less agree that there is a dispute on whether it is necessary to pull them down? Are we not then going to find ourselves in the position of pulling down beautiful buildings all over the country and merely building better designed replicas?


Yes. The dispute is a purely technical one in the case of 2 out of 23 terraces. There is no dispute with regard to the other 19. In one case, Park Terrace, the London County Council are in agreement with the Commissioners that, structurally, they will have to be pulled down. In the case of Sussex Place and Clarence Place the only point of difference has been not whether their appearance, their architectural frontage, shall be preserved—everybody is agreed about that—but whether, technically, it is better to do it by attempting to recondition it or whether it is more satisfactory to go in for complete renewal instead.


Renewal or wrecking?

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