HL Deb 30 April 1964 vol 257 cc1112-35

6.12 p.m.

LORD WALSTON rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will look into the possibilities of moving back the building known as Juxon House, now under construction in the front of St. Paul's Cathedral; and also give thought to methods whereby public opinion can be more effectively consulted than at present when proposals for buildings are made which affect places of national and historical interest. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. I do so in the full knowledge that the building known as Juxon House in front of St. Paul's is well under course of construction, and that construction was not started until there had been a full inquiry, involving a great deal of thought and effort, into the whole plan around St. Paul's. But I also do so in the belief that, whatever the failings of Her Majesty's Government may be, they are not stubborn and pigheaded and will not refuse to take such action as still is open to them, if a case can be made out. And I believe that it is possible to make out a case for the reconsideration of this proposal and for action to undo the damage which has already been done and to prevent further damage being done.

I think that this matter can best be dealt with under three separate headings. First of all, we must ask ourselves once more: is the St. Paul's plan a good one, or can it be improved in any way?—as I believe it can be. Secondly, what can be done at this stage to make it better and to prevent further damage; and, thirdly, what steps can be taken in order to prevent troubles of this sort arising in future?

I want to make it perfectly clear at the outset that I believe that what is known as the Holford Plan is, by and large, a good plan. I am not one of those who think that it should be scrapped entirely. I certainly am not one of those who are crying for a wide vista to St. Paul's, leading from Fleet Street up Ludgate Hill, on the analogy of St. Peter's, Rome. Whether that would be desirable or not, whether it was Sir Christopher Wren's original idea or not, is completely irrelevant, because we cannot achieve that, even if we were to wish it. I accept, in the circumstances as they are to-day, Sir William Holford's idea of having a precinct around St. Paul's and, as he put it, having views that appear suddenly from different angles. I think that this plan is the right one. Furthermore, it is a good plan that there should be a precinct around this great building, so that its beauty may be enhanced. After all, there is no point in framing a picture in such a way that the frame hides half of the picture. While accepting the concept of a frame to St. Paul's, I would suggest to your Lordships that the present frame, as it has been designed, is like making the frame of a picture so large that you can see only a portion of the picture, the rest being hidden perpetually behind the frame.

Many people have supported the present plan on the ground that it has been created by experts. I emphasise that I regard Sir William Holford as one of our leading experts in this matter. His services to town planning are as great as those of anybody in the country, if not greater. It is said that it is only the uneducated and uncultured who oppose the plan; but that is not entirely true. There are many prominent experts who, in the original stages, opposed this plan. Not only the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's, but also their architectural adviser—Sir Edward Mort—gave evidence against the plan. So there are experts on the other side. But I suggest to your Lordships that it is a great mistake to be blinded by the reputation of experts, particularly in the matter of art. After all, what is art? What is a beautiful thing? It is not an absolute. It is the impression it makes on other people; and the people on whom it must make its impression are the ordinary people who see it, if it is a picture or a building; who listen to it, if it is music, and who read it, if it is a book. We all know of many instances of critics and experts who have condemned a book or a piece of music, only for them to be proved by posterity that their judgment was entirely wrong.

Some years ago a friend of mine came to my home and looked through my pictures, which I had put away during the time that my home was occupied by the Army, during and after the war. He gave us the benefit of his advice. He was, and still is, one of the greatest living authorities on art in this country. He advised me on those that were worth hanging in the public rooms and on others to be hung in some of the smaller rooms, bedrooms and bathrooms, and others he relegated, with a toss of his hand, to the attic. But some of the paintings that he relegated to the attic had been bought by my father, who was, in his day, Professor of Fine Art at the University of Cambridge and a director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, and had a reputation just as great as that of my friend, who was dismissing my father's judgment with a toss of his hand. I am not saying whether my father or my friend was right in his judgment. My point is that what is to-day considered by experts as a great work of art may well to-morrow be considered as worth nothing at all, and the day after may once more come back into its own. Therefore, I beg your Lordships not to say simply that, because one of the greatest architects and town planners of to-day has supported this plan, there is no more to be said about it, and we must accept it.

It is not on that that we should make our judgment. We should make our judgment on what the ordinary people, who see these things, and for whose pleasure and edification they are created, think about it. In the last few months, thousands of people, not only Londoners but also people all over the country and outside the country (I have letters from many here and there are many others who have received letters like this), have protested against what they consider—and what I consider—the desecration of a beautiful view. It is. I think, significant that while some of the organs of the Establishment have supported the Holford Plan, in general, one can say that those newspapers whose public are the great mass of ordinary people have unanimously, if not opposed the Plan—and many of them have opposed it—certainly not come out in support of it.

Therefore I would say that public opinion, especially when it is supported by some eminent experts and by those who are most closely connected with St. Paul's in the shape of the Dean and Chapter, should not be disregarded and cast lightly on one side, but should be given pre-eminence over the views of others, no matter how great they may be as experts. That, I hope, is sufficient to convince those whose minds are still open upon this matter that the tower of Juxon House should, if possible, be moved back so as not to interfere with the existing view.

Can this be done? Let me say at this stage that we are not discussing the complete abolition of the Plan, or even the complete removal of the building going up, but merely the moving back (I say "merely", but I accept that it is a large, difficult and expensive job) fifteen or twenty feet of the building which is at present under construction. I have made inquiries about this and, as I understand it, the position is as follows. The developers of the site are under contract with the Corporation of the City of London to carry out the whole of the Plan as it has been approved so far, and they are not at liberty, even if they so wish, to stop the building or alter it. They can only do so if the Corporation of the City of London instruct them or ask them to, or, presumably, if Her Majesty's Government take the necessary steps to see that they do so.

They, I believe, would not be unwilling to do this. They are perfectly prepared to do what they are told, and if the Corporation or the Government were to say to them: "This building must stop; it must be pulled down and moved back", they would have no objection, provided they were suitably recompensed, which is fair enough. Therefore, there are no practical difficulties in the way of doing this if the will is there. But it is essential that the developers be released from their contract, either by the Corporation of the City of London or by the Government.

I hope that the Government, even at this late stage, will be brave enough to listen to the clearly expressed wishes of the people who feel so strongly about this; that they will not dig in their toes and simply say: "Because we have looked into this and made up our minds at one particular stage, there is no more that can be done about it, and we must let things be." I ask them, at least, to have an open mind. Assuming (perhaps this is too great an assumption) that the Government still have an open mind, what would the cost of this alteration be? I do not know precisely—I do not think anybody does—but I am given to understand that it would be a considerable sum of money, in the neighbourhood of £500,000. I, personally, do not believe that the taxpayer's money would be ill-spent if it were used in order to save what in effect is one of our greatest national views, which is now in danger of being spoilt.

However, I hope that this would not be necessary. I am certain that a large number of people would make small contributions towards it. And I should like to think that some of those gentlemen who have made great fortunes out of development in the City of London and elsewhere might do a great national service by putting up some or all of this money. I think it would be a very fine gesture on the part of one or more of these people—some of them have been most generous in the past in other ways—if they would come forward with an offer that, if the Government and the Corporation of the City of London agreed, they would between them, and with the help of the thousands who have protested, find this £500,000, or whatever the cost might be. They could be assured that they would earn the gratitude of very many people, some not yet born, if they did so.

I come now to the third point. How can we stop this sort of thing happening in the future? It is absolutely true that before this Plan was approved all the correct processes were gone through with the greatest meticulousness. A long time was spent preparing the plans; great and eminent people were employed to prepare them; the Minister responsible at the time took a great personal interest in the matter, and it was not just fobbed off on to some junior; the proper notice was given; pictures appeared in the newspapers, and all the rest of it. There were protests, as I have already said, including the protest of the Dean and Chapter. But at the public inquiry those protests were overruled and no further action was taken.

I would make one point here. It was stated—and I quote from The Times of March 17, 1956, when his Plan was first published in the newspapers and brought to the public attention: …nor is the famous view up Ludgate Hill disturbed by this new plan". While I am sure The Times had no intention of misleading people in this matter, I believe that many people did not take the trouble to look closely at what was going on, because they took those words at their face value and thought there would be no alteration of the view up Ludgate Hill. But, as anybody knows who has been there to see it, there has been a serious alteration of the view.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me to interrupt, may I say that it depends entirely upon where you are in Ludgate Hill whether the view is obstructed by Juxon House or not. From the bottom of Ludgate Hill and from about a third of the way up it is not obstructed, because of the curvature of the 19th century buildings that have been there for a long time. It is when you get two-thirds of the way up Ludgate Hill that the view is obstructed by Juxon House.


The noble Earl is quite correct. There are certain points on Ludgate Hill where the new building makes no difference to the view, but there are other points, rather closer, where the view should be all the better, where the new building juts out in front of the previous building line from St. Martin's Church and there the real obstruction takes place. Without stressing that point unduly, I think that what happened at the time of the inquiry was that the man in the street did not realise just what this meant. Pictures were published and they were looked at—I looked at them myself. They were pictures which, as noble Lords who saw them will remember, were taken as from the air and everything looked very nice. But one of the unfortunate things is that the ordinary person who looks at St. Paul's, who works in the City and goes to admire this wonderful place, does not look at it from an aeroplane or a helicopter but from a bus or the street. Had the views published in the newspapers been of a man's eye view instead of a bird's eye view. I think even at that stage the outcry would have been very different indeed.

I think we should also remember, when we are talking about St. Paul's and the steps which can be taken in future to prevent these things happening, the vandalism that has gone on in the past in the City of London and elsewhere. During the war there was a great outcry about the bombing of the City churches, and it was a shocking and a horrible thing. During the war the City lost six Wren churches by Hitler's bombs. Compare that with a figure of eighteen City Wren churches which have been pulled down in the last hundred years in order to make way for property development in the City. We have been in the past lavish in the destruction of our City treasures, and we are now continuing, not to destroy, but partially to obliterate the greatest of them.

In order to prevent this sort of thing in the future—and I am hoping that the damage already done can be put right—can we not make certain, when any of our national monuments are affected by any building plans whatsoever, or by any alterations in the existing surroundings and environment, not only that there should be the fullest publicity given to the matter in the Press, but that the pictures of the designs are taken, as I say, not from the air, but from ground level, so that the ordinary, uninitiated men and women—not the trained architect and town planner—can realise what is happening; and, furthermore, that these pictures and a complete description are shown on television throughout the country, and not simply locally in whatever area is to be affected by the new plans. In this way there will at least be an opportunity for those who feel strongly to realise what is happening, to bring pressure to bear or organise public opinion and test public opinion, so that we shall not suddenly wake up, as we have at the present time, and find what is happening to any of our great national monuments.

It is particularly cynical, I would say, that in this year, when we are celebrating the quatercentenary of the birth of William Shakespeare, our greatest English playwright and poet, we should at the same time be allowing the obliteration of one of the finest views of the greatest work of the greatest English architect. Why can we not be celebrating by allowing a better view of this great work in this particular year, instead of making it more difficult for the people to see and giving the impression to the world at large that more important to the City of London than beautiful things is the acquisition of higher rents and greater profits?

6.33 p.m.


My Lords, I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Walston, has raised this matter in an Unstarred Question. He asked a Starred Question about it recently, but, of course, this is an occasion which enables noble Lords to express their views much more fully than is possible by question and answer. Before I come to the detailed matters about St. Paul's, there is one point I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, who is to reply, and that is exactly where the Government stand on this matter. I know that in these days the tentacles of Government control spread very widely, but supposing the City Corporation, and other people concerned in this matter, agreed to demolish part of Juxon House, could the Government come down and say, "No, you must not do it?" We ask Questions of the Government in this House and in another place, but I think it would help everybody if the noble Lord could tell us exactly where the Government stand on this issue.

I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Walston, that the Holford Plan for St. Paul's is, in the main, a good plan. We all know that Sir William Holford is one of the great architects of the day, and that he took immense trouble over St. Paul's precincts. But, after all, good though the plan may be, it has, in my view, in the noble Lord's view, and in the view of many other people in the country, one great flaw, and that is this question of Juxon House. I think the South side of St. Paul's precincts has been enormously improved. The buildings there have been put back, and as you come along from the Bank of England, going west, and pass St. Paul's to-day, it stands out remarkably, and far better than it ever did in the past. But the flaw is, of course, this West Front.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said absolutely correctly that when you look up from the bottom of Ludgate Hill, Juxon House does not conceal any more of the Cathedral than was concealed in the old days: the view is exactly the same. In other words, the building line of Juxon House is the same as the old building line. But when you walk up Ludgate Hill a little further, particularly if you are walking on the North side, on the left going towards St. Paul's, when you reach a building with which I am connected—that is to say, the new building of the Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Society, of which I am chairman—and which was erected two years ago, you see this great building sticking out in front of you and definitely shutting out a great part of the view of the Cathedral, which to-day, now that the West Front has been cleaned, is really a wonderful sight. It reminds me more of a church in Venice or in some sunny country in the South. It is a remarkable sight indeed.

When my company put up their building two years ago they had to conform with the Holford Plan, and the Plan prescribed that the building (which is on the west side of Ave Maria Lane, with Juxon House on the other side) had to curve round to the North. There is now a curve round to the North at the top of Ludgate Hall which was prescribed by Sir William Holford. If only that curve had been continued the whole front of the cathedral would have been shown up, and there would have been an uninterrupted view, far better than there was before.

I agree that the view to-day from the bottom of Ludgate Hill is no worse than it used to be, and I suppose that if the curve of the building with which I am connected had not been laid down and it had remained straight as it was in the old days, possibly nobody would have raised any point. But the fact is that, having made this curve in the building next to Juxon House, the obvious thing was to carry it on and to take advantage of the fact that, with the demolition of the old buildings, one would be able to produce a far better and finer view of St. Paul's than ever existed before. That opportunity has, in my view, been lost.

I believe that the development, of which Juxon House is a part, is known as the Paternoster Development, including all those vast buildings now being put up on the old bomb sites near Moor-gate and North of St. Paul's; and I believe that a large part of the ground is owned by the Church Commissioners. We know that the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's Cathedral do not like this excrescence of Juxon House. Surely it should be possible for the leaders of the Church of England—the Dean and Chapter and the Church Commissioners, who own the land—to come to some arrangement under which this building could be stopped.

The noble Lord, Lord Walston, said, very rightly, that St. Paul's Cathedral is not only a heritage of the people of this country but one of the great monuments in the British Commonwealth, and that it is a heritage of all the people of the Commonwealth. I was talking only yesterday to an Australian friend, a man who was born in London, I suppose, over fifty years ago, and is now back in London for the first time since he left it as a boy. He told me that he was horrified and appalled when he stood outside the Colonial Mutual Building in Ludgate Hill and saw what was going to happen.

It is perfectly true, as the noble Lord has said, that all this was decided years ago, when everybody seemed to agree to it. But, of course, as he also said, people do not fully realise what is going to happen until they actually see it; and now that it is there for everybody to see, I am convinced that the great majority of the ordinary people of this country would rather see this offending building put back and the new and great view of the West Front which would then be possible brought into being.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down may I ask him this question? He spoke about his own building and its curve; and presumably the noble Lord at the time saw the surrounding plans. Could he say, when his company agreed to put up this building with this curve, that they were aware that a building like Juxon House was going to be built as it is now?


My Lords, I think that, in so far as we want to get it, we certainly were aware. I have always wondered why this building had to be put on a curve at all, as the curve was not going to be continued. I have heard since that it has been said that the reason was in order to improve the approach up Ave Maria Lane from the South; but as a matter of fact, Ave Maria Lane is a one-way street going from North to South.

6.45 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to support very strongly my noble friend Lord Walston, and I am afraid that I may be less reasonable and more outspoken than he was. I am very glad to see the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of London in his place, and I hope that, though he is not on our list of speakers, he will contribute to this discussion. As a layman it seems to me quite incomprehensible that anybody should seek to justify the building of anything which even partly obscures the view of St. Paul's Cathedral, which, in my view and that expressed by my noble friend, is one of the most beautiful works of one of the finest architects of all time. Surely it is our duty, and only common sense, to "cash in" on the advantages of the effects of the bombardment of protest and try to allow the Cathedral to remain unobscured so far as possible.

I remember many years ago, when I was quite a small boy, an advertisement which used to appear in Underground trains, which depicted the whole of Ludgate Hill as if it were covered with a great carpet with St. Paul's at one end, In spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Rathcavan, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, have said, I still think that, with the imposition of this building, the view as depicted in that advertisement would no longer be fully possible. That is looking at it from the bottom of Ludgate Hill; I have looked at it from all parts of Ludgate Hill.

It may be a matter of opinion, but to my mind most modern office buildings are so unsightly that it is really no less than an insult to the memory of Sir Christopher Wren to have the effrontery to install one in such a position as to obscure even one stone of his masterpiece. I am not alone in this view. Large numbers of our fellow Londoners regard these monstrosities as a sort of bad joke which has gone too far. A good example is at the corner of Moorgate and London Wall, where there is a series of enormous buildings, with an all-glass frontage, which look as if they have been blown over by a gale. Some people regard them as monuments to the ineptitude of our present-day architects. Nothing I can really say can adequately describe the contempt which large numbers of the public hold for the designers of these hideous buildings. I beg Her Majesty's Government to do all in their power to prevent this further obstruction of the setting of this beautiful building which remains to us; to call a halt to the completion of this work, and to remove the excrescence which has already begun to make its appearance.

Before I sit down I should like to express my gratitude to a number of newspapers for having drawn public attention to this matter, particularly, perhaps, to the Daily Telegraph, which has mounted a consistent and, I hope, fruitful campaign. I am sure we should all be very grateful to my noble friend Lord Walston for his efforts and for putting down this Question on the Order Paper. I ask the Government to do something popular for once, and put a stop to this nonsense.

6.48 p.m.


My Lords, if the Fire of London had not occurred I should be among the most enthusiastic supporters of the noble Lord, Lord Walston. In that event we should be dealing with a magnificent Gothic Cathedral; and the principal feature of the Gothic style is that beauty and interest reside in its parts even more, perhaps, than in the building as a whole. I should therefore be pleading for every possible vista and every possible glimpse of that Gothic Cathedral to be afforded, since I should be confident that an exquisitely beautiful sight would result from each view.

But we are, in fact, dealing with a baroque domed church; and in such a case totally different considerations apply. In the case of a baroque domed church interest and beauty reside not in the parts, but in the whole. The beauty of the church consists in a relation between the walls, the portico, the towers and the dome; and unless those features are properly arranged, the beauty of the church disappears. This implies that such a church must be seen from a particular viewpoint. It is necessary, in the case of a church of the character of St. Paul's, to provide in the front of it a piazza or precinct of a certain size; and that piazza must conform to three rules.

In the first place, it must be wide enough to embrace the whole front of the church. Secondly, it must be long enough to enable the onlooker to stand far back from the church, for the simple reason that if you approach a domed church too closely the dome inevitably disappears behind the portico. And the third rule is that the piazza must be level so that the eye of the onlooker is on the same level as on the steps of the church. If these rules are not observed, you get a false perspective of the building; the proportions appear to be wrong, and the beauty of the church—I am speaking of the formal beauty of the church and not of its associations, with which it is not for me to deal—is very largely impaired. Sir William Holford has given us such a piazza, and I believe that it will prove to be of adequate size. He has given us a covered place underneath the annexe to Juxon House where we may stand and gaze at the beauty of the cathedral, and I, for one, very much look forward to standing in that place and seeing once again St. Paul's Cathedral as it should be seen.

So far, I have spoken of theory, but I would now speak of practice, and of another domed church. When I first visited Rome there was a wedge-shaped block of buildings called the Spina, between St. Peter's Square and the River Tiber. The buildings were slightly picturesque but of no particular interest. The streets led obliquely towards St. Peter's, and afforded no view of the Basilica to the approaching traveller. I was arrested. When you emerged from the Spina and took a few paces to the left, then, suddenly, all the glory of the piazza, the colonnades, the fountains, the obelisk, and the Basilica itself, were revealed from exactly the right aspect. It was an unforgettable experience, and one which I shall not know again, because after my first visit came Mussolini, that enthusiastic but incompetent town planner. And after he had signed the Lateran Treaty he decided to commemorate it by building a road (and he called it the Reconciliation Road) from St. Peter's down to the Tiber. That road breaks all the rules of an open space from which you ought to look at a baroque church. You see only a part of the front. You see the dome detached from the rest of the Basilica. And since the Reconciliation Road slopes downwards (though not as steeply as Ludgate Hill slopes) to the Tiber, you see the Basilica from below. I am quite sure that no one in his senses would compare the noble Lord, Lord Walston, to the late Signor Mussolini, but I do beg that he will avoid Signor Mussolini's mistakes.

6.55 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to intervene in this debate, but one or two points have been made on which perhaps I ought to say a word. The Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's have consistently opposed this particular aspect of Sir William Holford's Plan, so far as the northern side of the precinct is concerned. They opposed it at the public inquiry, and they submitted an alternative which, in my judgment—though these things are necessarily subjective—would have been much better than the plan which Sir William Holford had put forward. That was rejected. The Dean and Chapter have never altered in their opinion, and perhaps this is an opportunity to express on their behalf—though it is a little dangerous for a Bishop to express any opinions on behalf of his Dean and Chapter—the gratitude which they feel to all those people who have shown their very deep concern for St. Paul's in all the discussions and publicity which have taken place since Juxon House began to go up and the view, which we had enjoyed only for nine months, began to disappear.

The other point I want to make is to emphasise what the noble Lord, Lord Walston, so rightly said: that neither the Dean and Chapter nor the developers, who are the Church Commissioners, in association with other firms, are able in the present circumstances to stop the work on Juxon House. They are, indeed, under contract to build a building precisely on that site, and conforming precisely to Sir William Holford's Plan, and to complete it by a fixed date. If they were to depart from that I believe that there would be considerable penalties.

It should also be made clear that the Church Commissioners did not, in fact, own the site of Juxon House. Their main properties lay to the North of Paternoster Row, but in order that one developer should be in charge of the whole of the development North of the Cathedral they were urged to acquire the other sites between Paternoster Row and the cathedral, including Juxon House. I mention this lest it be thought that the Church Commissioners themselves were anything but somewhat reluctant to be the developers of this particular part of the scheme. But they thought it their duty to be associated, on behalf of the Church, with the whole of the Paternoster development.

Lord Walston has said that if arrangements could be made to stop the work, no opposition would be raised by the Dean and Chapter. That, I imagine, could be regarded as almost to-day's masterpiece of under-statement. Also, though I have no authority to say this, it is unlikely that unless the Church Commissioners were going to be badly out of pocket over the business they and their fellow developers would be any less reluctant to fall in with what is so clearly expressed public opinion. But, by themselves, neither the Commissioners nor the Dean and Chapter can move an inch. They are in the hands of Her Majesty's Government and, in a sense, of the Corporation of the City.

7.2 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Walston, introduced his Unstarred Question with a great deal of persuasive charm. That is something that we have, of course, come to expect from him. He has put this Question to Her Majesty's Government, and it is divided into two parts. Therefore, at the outset, I should like to direct my attention to the first part of his Question asking whether the Government will look into the possibilities of moving back the building known as Juxon House.

I think it would be as well to clarify straight away the powers of the Minister in this matter. These powers derive from Section 207 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1962. The Minister can make orders revoking or modifying the existing planning permission and he can require the removal of what has already been built. Naturally, compensation would be payable for the abortive expenditure involved. I was going to say that I understand that the Church Commissioners are under contractual obligation to complete the building as proposed. In fact, that has already been confirmed by the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of London, and I think also the noble Lord, Lord Walston, spoke at some length on that aspect of the matter.

I think all noble Lords will agree that the Minister would not be justified in taking such drastic action unless the circumstances were altogether exceptional. I think it would equally be agreed that decisions must always be taken as the result of the production of plans, and in some cases of models as well, and that these decisions cannot wait until the actual building is being erected. It is, I think, reasonable to suppose that once a planning decision has been taken, and more especially when it has been taken down to the approval of detailed architectural plans, a developer is entitled to rely on being able to go ahead. This is all the more the case after a lengthy public investigation, and after lengthy expert examination as well. In such a case if planning permission were to be revoked, compensation would hardly be an adequate gesture, and the whole basis of the planning system, upon which people can and do rightly depend, once well-considered decisions have been taken, would be overturned.


My Lords, is the noble Lord suggesting that the developers would feel aggrieved if they were ordered by Her Majesty's Government to stop this development, and paid adequate compensation? He said that it would hardly be sufficient. I think those were his words. He implied that they would want something more than straightforward compensation.


My Lords, I am talking about the general case of planning permissions and revocations of such permissions. In general, developers would be aggrieved, and when it comes to compensation it is, I should imagine, in some cases at any rate, a question of loss of time and not merely the value of the building itself. There would be many things to be considered. But I am merely making the general case of the undesirability of revoking permission at any time, and especially after building has started to take place. The circumstances have altogether to be quite exceptional.

Let me therefore examine for a moment whether the circumstances are so exceptional and the procedure so defective in this case that my right honourable friend would be justified in ordering Juxon House to be demolished, and for the building line to be set back further in order to satisfy the noble Lord and those who are of a like mind. Perhaps I might interpolate at this juncture that I have made a close examination of all the documents in this case. I have not only visited the site this week, and crawled all over the building sites all round St. Paul's, but as a matter of fact I visited it from personal interest even before the noble Lord put down his previous Question last month, because I was so struck by the photograph which appeared in the national Press.

It is necessary to go into a bit of history. When Mr. Duncan Sandys approved the L.C.C. Administrative County of London Development Plan in March, 1955, he made an amendment to allow the St. Paul's Precinct to be given further consideration. He said: I cannot help feeling that a unique opportunity is being missed to provide a truly worthy setting for Wren's world-famous Cathedral". As a result, the Corporation of London appointed Sir William Holford to prepare a plan for the Precinct, and his report was presented to the Court of Common Council in March, 1956. Both the Common Council and the L.C.C. accepted Sir William Holford's proposals, and in April, 1957, the L.C.C. formally submitted an amendment to their Development Plan to give effect to the principles of those proposals.

The statutory procedures were then gone through. Notice of the amendment was advertised in the London Gazette and in a local newspaper, in this case the City Press, in which there were advertisements for two consecutive weeks. An opportunity was afforded for objections to be lodged. The Minister arranged for a public local inquiry at which objections were heard, and this inquiry ran for four days from July 15 to 18, 1957. The Dean and Chapter were represented at this inquiry as we have heard, and they suggested that the angle of the Deanery should be reproduced on the North side where Juxon House is being built, to give a widening and embracing effect towards the Cathedral.

The Minister agreed with those who argued that the Holford proposals, which were supported in principle by the Royal Fine Art Commission, were superior to the alternative plan produced, and announced his decision to amend the Development Plan on January 2, 1958, in accordance with the submitted proposals for the North side of the forecourt, but said that he thought the South side needed further consideration. Planning permission was subsequently given for the development of the North side.

Those are the bare bones of the case, and I think it must be agreed there was no defect in the procedure—in fact, the noble Lord admitted that there was not—and that there was no lack of opportunity to give evidence or to produce alternative plans. But I have a good deal more to say about what was going on at the time this procedure was being gone through, and this part of my reply inevitably overlaps the second part of the noble Lord's Question referring to methods whereby public opinion can be more effectively consulted when proposals for buildings are made which affect places of national and historic interest.

Immediately Sir William Holford's report was completed his scheme received national publicity in the Press. On March 16, 1956, the Evening Standard published an accurate sketch plan of the Holford proposals, which clearly showed Juxon House projecting beyond the curve of the new building in Ludgate Hill which is in front of it—the building to which my noble friend Lord Rathcavan has referred and with which he is concerned. Furthermore, the Evening Standard wrote this: There is no great approach to the Cathedral as at St. Peter's in Rome. One sees it from a variety of viewpoints, from sudden glimpses or towering above a picturesque conglomeration of lower buildings. One object of the scheme is to increase the variety of these surprise views. At the end of that article, the last paragraph read as follows: A large model of the proposals as they will appear when completed, with photographs and drawings, is on view at Guildhall until March 23. There are also accounts of the Plan by the architectural correspondents in both The Times and the Daily Telegraph, both of which carried leading articles on the subject—articles generally of a somewhat critical nature. The noble Lord, Lord Walston, has quoted something out of The Times, but I would suggest to him that, when it comes to publicity, there are far larger numbers of readers of the Evening Standard than there are of The Times. I have no doubt that other newspapers which I have not got to hand also will have carried accounts of this Plan of national significance.

A model was also exhibited in Parliament and there was a debate in your Lordships' House on April 19, 1956, on a Motion by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, of which we were reminded by my noble friend Lord Conesford when the noble Lord, Lord Walston, put down a Question on this matter last month. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in withdrawing his Motion, said this [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 196, col. 1114]: On the question of the layout of the precinct of St. Paul's, I am bound to say that, in all my experience in this House, I have never known such unanimity. Every single speaker, without exception, has expressed strong approval—and I put it mildly—of the Holford Plan. I hope that that remarkable expression of agreement will carry some weight with the Minister. As I have said, there was a public inquiry in July, 1957. Once again the national Press took up this fascinating and important problem. Photographs were published in the Daily Telegraph giving the appearance of the Precinct of St. Paul's under both the Holford plan and an alternative idea put forward on behalf of the Dean and Chapter, and a summarised version of what took place at the public inquiry was also given. I have no doubt that the rest of the national Press followed suit.

I think I have said enough to show that neither the circumstances nor the procedure were so exceptional in this instance as to justify the Minister's overturning a decision which had been so carefully considered and threshed out, not only between experts, but in the full public gaze. Therefore, my answer to the first part of the noble Lord's Question must, I am afraid, be in the negative.

When I come to the second part, I have already, of course, laid the ground for my reply by referring to the publicity which Sir William Holford's proposals received both locally and nationally, both in Parliament and in the Press. I cannot conceive of any planning case since the war where public opinion has been more effectively consulted, where the public have had so much opportunity to hear about and to see the plans and designs proposed as in the case of St. Paul's Precinct. It is not sufficient in this case to say that the effect could not be appreciated until Juxon House was seen on the ground. The effects of Juxon House on the longer vista from Ludgate Hill were plain enough on the Plan for any layman to comprehend. I have studied the plans and the photographs again and again, and I am convinced that there is no excuse for maintaining that the public have been misled in this case.

As I said on a previous occasion, it comes down to a difference of opinion as to whether the West Front of St. Paul's should be open to a longer vista, or semi-enclosed with a sense of intimacy, as proposed by Sir William Holford, so that the full width of the West Facade is not seen until one approaches some 35 to 40 yards closer than would otherwise have been the case. The Government, after the fullest consideration, came to the decision that Sir William Holford's scheme was right. In this they had the full support of the Corporation of London, the L.C.C., and your Lordships' House, which I venture to say goes to confirm that this was the right decision.

The noble Lord, Lord Walston, talked a good deal, and very interestingly, about art and the place of art in public life, saying that its importance was related to the impact it had on ordinary people. But to a certain extent he contradicted his own argument by pointing out how tastes in art change from one generation to another. He cited his own father, I think it was, as a case in point. He told us not to be overawed by a great name, the name of Sir William Holford. In short, he tried to prove that Sir William Holford's Plan could be improved. But all these matters were, of course, gone into at the inquiry. I would dearly love to join in a discussion on this whole problem, which, as we have heard from other noble Lords, is a very subjective one. I should like to express my own views on the whole subject—on the vista, on the Plan both from the North or on what might happen to the South. That is not my duty this evening because my personal opinions have no importance in this matter.

However, I would resist one thing the noble Lord opposite said: that the mass of public opinion is against Juxon House being built where it is; and I would resist his suggestion that there is no evidence that public opinion is for it. After all, a few years ago all the speakers in the House of Lords were for the proposal. This evening, with the notable exception of the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, the speakers have been against it. But, as the noble Lord will recognise, the protesters are always more to the fore than the contented people are. I do not think they would agree with this argument, based on a few letters in the Press, that the mass of public opinion is against this proposal.

I am sure that noble Lords will recognise that this is all a matter of personal taste, and while the noble Lord, Lord Walston, and his supporters are perfectly entitled to their own tastes—and I would agree with some of the things he said and some of the things the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, said, while taking the opposite view of some of his remarks about all modern architecture—


I did not say, all modern architecture.


I am sorry, I had the impression that the noble Viscount was rather prejudiced against it on the whole. I could agree with almost every word of the most interesting speech made by the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh. But that is not my task; these matters are a question of personal taste. While the noble Lord and his supporters are perfectly entitled to their own tastes, they are not, I suggest, justified in saying, on the one hand, that proper consideration has not been given to the planning of the Precinct of St. Paul's, and, on the other hand, that the public has been left in ignorance of what was going on. Indeed, my Lords, I must reiterate that the public have never been so well informed, or had so much opportunity to be well informed, about a redevelopment of national importance, as they have had in this matter of the Precinct of St. Paul's Cathedral.

The noble Lord, Lord Walston, reminded us that this is the fourth centenary of Shakespeare. I might have reminded him of something even more to the point, since we are talking about architecture: that this is the third centenary of the great architect Sir John Vanbrugh. I happen to have the good fortune to be the owner of a fine example of his building, which he put upon a site after pulling down a delightful Jacobean mansion which previously stood there. I think the desecration of the eighteenth century went far beyond anything that we are perpetrating in our generation; but look at what wonderful things they put in its place! But when we talk about desecration, I do not think we can blame ourselves more than our ancestors.

Be that as it may, for the future I would remind the noble Lord, Lord Walston, that the Historic Buildings Act was passed only just over a year ago, and that, as a result of its passing, my right honourable friend sent out a circular last August to all local authorities, enjoining upon them the necessity for giving publicity to planning applications which might adversely affect buildings of special architectural or historic interest. The necessity for this is emphasised in that circular, both in the first and the fourth—which is the last—paragraphs. After emphasising that it will be desirable to arrange for publicity, the circular ends with these words: The Minister hopes that local authorities will not hesitate to take full advantage of this procedure in suitable cases, so that public opinion has an opportunity to declare itself before decisions of importance are taken. My Lords, I am sorry that I have to reject the noble Lord's request that my right honourable friend should revoke the planning permission, but I hope that I have made the case for not doing so. I believe it to be overwhelming. I also hope that I have satisfied him that the Government, the Minister and the Ministry concerned are very much alive to the future and to the need for protecting our buildings of architectural, artistic or historic merit—a subject, in fact, which we debated on another Unstarred Question not long ago. With those final remarks, I trust that the noble Lord and those who support his view will give credit to those who disagree with them for doing what they believe to be the right thing and the best thing.