§ 2.53 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN rose to call attention to the urgent problem of urban redevelopment; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, when this Motion first appeared on the Order Paper I was approached by quite a number of noble Lords who asked me what I was going to talk about and what was meant by "urban redevelopment". I should have thought the answer was obvious, but in view of the number of questions that have been put to me I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I take a little time in explaining what is meant by "urban redevelopment" and what is the problem that confronts us. It is one which concerns 90 per cent. of the people of this country—something like 45 million people—who are to-day living in towns. These towns were largely built during the Industrial Revolution, when our population was less than half what it is to-day. Naturally, some improvements and extensions have taken place in these towns, to a small extent by local authorities, and in a somewhat larger degree 126 by private persons. These, however, have been spasmodic; and they have been carried out, in the main, by persons who obtained planning permission to carry out the development. Naturally, too, only such improvements as have been likely to show a profit to the developer have taken place; they have not necessarily been where they were most needed, and certainly it has not been done in a comprehensive way. So, the general structure of our towns, and especially the larger industrial towns, remains substantially as it was.
§ It is only recently that attention and serious thought has been given to this question. There has been a valuable Report on urban redevelopment at the instance of the Civic Trust, of which the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, was Chairman. I had thought that the noble Lord would not be present at this debate, but I am glad to see that he is here, and I hope that he may still find it possible to take part. I am sure that on this subject, at any rate, he would make a good and progressive speech. The Minister of Health and Local Government and the Minister of Transport have jointly issued a Report on town centres. The Labour Party also have issued a pamphlet on the subject, and a number of private persons have spoken on it. But otherwise there has been no sustained study of the subject, and therefore I think it time that we had a debate on it.
May I briefly set out the facts, most of which are well known but, nevertheless, worth repeating. I would first quote from the Report of the Committee of the Civic Trust. In paragraph 1 they say:
Millions of people live in slums, at least in homes woefully inadequate by modern standards. Millions work in factories, offices and shops which are dark, cramped and ill-ventilated. Thousands of children must play on filthy, derelict sites or in streets made dangerous by heavy vehicles. Traffic congestion, particularly in town centres, takes a heavy and increasing toll of life and limb, time, temper and money.
That is pretty devastating. In addition, one can say that the general environment of our towns is ugly and dreary; there is, generally speaking, a lack of open space, trees or greenery; many of our buildings, externally as well as internally, are uncared for; and there is a large stock of buildings-
they were built in the late 18th and 19th centuries—whose effective life has ended.
§ To take housing, 2½ million out of the 14 million houses that we possess are over 100 years old, and even those that happen to be structurally sound—and there are very few of them—are out of date. There are between 3 million and 4 million households without baths, hot water cisterns or indoor lavatories. The number of slums is increasing every year by at least 60,000 as older houses come within this category. Our population is rising fast, and, allowing for the increasing population, the present rate of house building is not even keeping pace with our needs: in fact, every year the position deteriorates. Nor are the houses we are building of the right type or for the right people; and they are not necessarily being built in the places where they are most needed.
§ The centres of towns are becoming more and more congested. Shopping without a car is an ordeal: shopping with a car is an even greater ordeal; and even walking on the pavements in some of our towns is an effort. I do not know whether noble Lords have ever tried walking in the High Street, Oxford or Crawley, or the West End of London, during busy shopping times. One is jostled about, and it is almost impossible to keep on one's feet. Obviously these centres were created at a time when our population was very much smaller. Our street patterns are often based on the needs of 1800, when horse-drawn traffic was the only means of transport. In many of our industrial towns we have narrow streets, lacking in air and light. And, of course, we have, as was discussed last week in the traffic debate, increasing traffic congestion in towns making it, as I have said, more and more dangerous. One of our difficulties, of course, is that our street pattern is very difficult to change because of the Underground services which are allied to the width of the road, and it would be extremely costly and inconvenient if these services had to be taken up. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Bossom, who knows more about these subjects than I do, will agree with me that this would be a tremendous problem to deal with.
§ These conditions in towns have encouraged large numbers of families to 128 move to the outskirts, and this process is continuing and extending. So we have increasingly large conurbations, and these result in accentuating our traffic problems in getting to and from work and in the delivery of goods. This is the picture—and I am by no means exaggerating it—of most of the older towns to-day, which threatens all our towns in the years ahead unless urgent action is commenced now.
Let me quote, in confirmation, from an official bulletin recently issued jointly by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the Ministry of Transport. This is what they say.
Some town centres are in little better physical shape than the slums which surround them. But it is not only blight of this kind which attacks them. Nowadays rebuilding of commercial buildings becomes essential, or at least an economic proposition, long before the structure itself is worn out Old shops become unsuitable for modern retailing methods or too small for the number of customers. Old office buildings cannot be adapted to modern business methods. Old town halls cannot hold the staff needed to deal with the wide range of local government services.
Speaking about old town halls, I remember when County Hall was built after many years of deliberation. The plans went out to competition. Before County Hall was completed it was already too small, and plans had to be made afresh for an extension of it. It is still too small, and will be especially so if we get the Greater London Council, and we shall have to go on expanding and expanding. The official bulletin goes on to say:
The components of the old town centre become outgrown and out of date.
This is the problem that we must face.
Then there is the considerable drift of population from Scotland, the North of England and, to a lesser degree, from Wales to South-East England and the Midlands. This accentuates the already existing overcrowding in the South and causes serious depopulation problems elsewhere. I want to make one more quotation about this from the Report of the Civic Trust. They are referring to thousands of mills, factories, hospitals, schools, chapels and other buildings erected in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and to many pit heaps and miscellaneous dereliction, the legacy of coal mining, pottery manufacture and
similar industries. This is what they say:
This grim environment, accompanied by economic decline "—
this is relating to the areas that are being depopulated—
has contributed to the migration away from many of these areas. The migration, in turn, has reduced the incentive to redeem the environment. But it is becoming accepted that this grimness must be redeemed for the sake of those who live and work among it. These areas require not only new types of employment: they need a radical overhaul of their obsolete urban fabric.
This is the problem, and I want to turn to the solution.
§ There is no simple answer, and certainly no short-term or cheap solution. We are handicapped by having no effective plan for redevelopment, taking all these factors fully into account; nor has there been much research or inquiry. There has been little beyond the Reports that I have mentioned. We have had recently the Buchanan Report which, however, deals primarily with the alarming traffic aspects. We discussed this subject last week, but perhaps I can just mention one or two vital figures which that Report gives. In 10 years we shall have double the number of vehicles on the road; in 20 years we shall have 3 times as many, and in the year 2010 we shall have 10 times as many, or 14 million vehicles on the road, assuming that things go on as they appear to be going on now. Our first task must be a nation-wide survey and a series of development plans for different areas or regions of the country, based upon what we regard as the most satisfactory form of future development for each of the regions.
§ I stress that they must be regional plans and not, as they are to-day, plans dealing with each separate planning authority. The development plans must be co-ordinated nationally but, as I have said, prepared regionally in collaboration with the existing planning authorities. It may be that some kind of permanent regional body—I will not be more specific just now—could prepare an outline plan for the region, leaving it to the local planning authorities to fill in the details, subject to the approval of the regional authority. There is also a strong case for strengthening the powers of co-ordination and execu- 130 tion at the top. In Parliament, it would be desirable—and I do not put it higher than this at the moment—to have a Minister with executive powers over town and country planning, housing, transport, and the distribution of industry. All these services are vitally inter-related, and it is most desirable that there should be one Minister having overall charge of all these and looking at the picture as a whole. I am not being dogmatic about it, but this idea has received strong support among those interested in the development of our towns.
§ What would be the nature of these regional and national plans? How ambitious are they to be? I hope we shall not make the mistake of trying to look too far ahead. Under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, it was provided that local planning authorities should prepare plans for their area which would be approved by the Ministry, and that there should be a periodic review of those plans every five years. It is true that, in the main, that has not taken place as frequently as it should have done. It was never contemplated that these review plans should be of a drastic nature; they were intended to be minor modifications of the original review. It may be that a periodic review every five years is too short a period and that some longer period, perhaps seven years, would be more appropriate; but in that case one would expect that this septennial review would be much more drastic and thorough than the existing quinquennial.
§ There will be a need for far more New Towns if we are not to rebuild our existing towns at too great a density and with too many high flats, which very few people like to live in but do so because of sheer necessity. Our towns are so congested to-day that we cannot possibly put back on to the site as many people as we shall have to displace. There is, therefore, a need either for extending our conurbations, going beyond the Green Belts, or for creating entirely new towns. I am sure your Lordships will agree that the best solution is by the creation of more New Towns. We must recognise that we are living in a world of swift and revolutionary changes. We are still at the beginning of the age of computers, of automation, of nuclear energy and of 131 other inventions, and I am certain that the effect of all these will change dramatically the shape, pattern and character of our towns, certainly those of the future. It may no longer be essential to have special commercial or industrial zones, causing traffic congestion and longer journeys to and from work. If the industry of the future is to be, as one hopes, clean, smokeless and noiseless, there will be no reason for segregation in special industrial zones.
§ The Buchanan Report says that New Towns in some respects are already out of date in their general planning. If that is so after ten or fifteen years, it emphasises the rapidity with which conditions are changing, even to-day, and, as I have said, we are, in my view, at the beginning of far greater changes than have ever taken place in the history of the world. According to Buchanan, the growth in traffic—40 million vehicles by the end of this century—will dominate the shape of our towns of the future; but the Report provides no practical or effective answer. It leaves us to reconcile ourselves to a choice of either drastic restriction of movement, so that cars become virtually useless in our towns, or a grandiose expenditure involving virtual bankruptcy, which in any case, he says, will not be effective, or both.
§ The Government have paid lip service to this Report by purporting to accept it in principle. I cannot believe that they have really studied it with care and with a realisation of all its implications. It looks to me like a desire shortly before an Election to accept, without a real sense of responsibility, any Report which appears progressive or forward-looking. I believe that the Buchanan Report has seriously underrated the potentialities of such inventions as the hovercraft, the helicopter, the monorail, the transport of goods by pipes and other developments not yet thought of but which could largely and quickly replace existing forms of travel and transport, just as the internal combustion engine replaced horse-drawn vehicles over half-a-century ago.
§ In my school days I used to travel to school on a horse-bus. Even then, there was a certain amount of congestion, but I never visualised that within a few 132 years we should be in an era of motor buses. If we ever thought then of dealing with traffic congestion in the towns, we should certainly not have thought in terms of motor cars and engines; and the same thing may well be applicable to-day, but to a greater extent. Already the hovercraft to carry 500 to 600 passengers, or the equivalent weight of goods, is a practicable proposition; we recently passed the Pipe-lines Act for enabling pipes to be laid for facilitating the transport of goods; and travel by helicopter is no longer a novelty. So plans must be prepared which take account of these more than possibilities, probabilities.
§ Once plans have been prepared, how should the development be carried out, and by whom? There must, in general, be three parties to the implementation of these plans: first, the local authorities, or an equivalent public body; second, private enterprise; and, third, the building industry. Each will have a vital part to play. If the development is to be comprehensive and not spasmodic, as it is largely to-day, it will be necessary to acquire land on a large scale, generally by means of compulsory purchase by public bodies. It is essential—and I think this will be generally accepted—that this public body should own the land, but the actual redevelopment could in many cases be carried out in a partnership between the local authorities and private developers. The private developers have resources and money, experience and technique, as well skilled staff, and can play a very important part.
§ But we must not give to private development all the profitable part of the redevelopment, leaving the local authorities to carry out development which is unprofitable, such as housing, the provision of open spaces, public buildings and so on. It might be appropriate that the local authorities or the community should have a reasonable share of the profits of the development by private enterprise, either in the terms of the leases which will be granted to private enterprise, by actual participation in the profits, or both. The Government might take a lead here in laying down general principles for such a partnership.
§ The vital factor is, of course, the cost of land. At present, land costs have 133 risen and are rising astronomically. Local authorities are having to pay colossal figures for land for housing, open spaces or other public purposes, especially when they seek to acquire, as they have to do in many cases, land which is at present used by industry, even when the industry is in an area which is unsuitable for that purpose and is in a state of decay. The London County Council frequently pay up to a quarter of a million pounds an acre for land which they want to use for public purposes. Recently I read in the Press that Slough were paying, for small sites in the centre of their town, at the rate of between £1 and £2 million an acre for land for public purposes. I should imagine—I hope—that this is quite exceptional, but it is the kind of thing that is happening. This is a figure that we once associated with the most expensive land in this country in the heart of the City of London; but I shudder to think what we should have to pay for land in the centre of London to-day. If this process goes on it will completely frustrate all efforts at redevelopment.
§ The Government have made no attempt at all to deal with the question—indeed, they have hardly thought about it. I cannot take very seriously the casual remarks made (I think it was in the course of a debate on the Housing Bill) by the Minister of Housing and Local Government about local authorities acquiring land in advance of requirements. To a certain extent, they can already do that; and it is done, of course, in the case of New Towns. But that is a long way from what is required. And even this suggestion was later whittled down by Mr. Rippon, Minister of Public Building and Works. So the Government must give much more serious thought to this question of the high cost of land, which, as I have said, makes redevelopment prohibitive.
§ The Labour Party have a plan for bringing down the cost of land, particularly land needed for public purposes. I will not develop it now, as I have already spoken longer than is usual with me, but maybe we shall have an opportunity in the near future of discussing the principles of high cost of land and the proposals of my Party. I should welcome such a debate. Naturally our proposals are being criticised by our 134 opponents, and that is to be expected. But we are ready to listen to any alternative suggestions for bringing down the cost of land, especially for public purposes. I hope that we shall be quite flexible, and we shall be quite prepared to improve our proposals if a case can be made out. But at the moment I can see no practicable alternative to the Labour Party policy of setting up a Land Commission to acquire land which is ripe for development.
§ The building industry will have a great part to play; but we must do a lot of re-thinking about the kind of construction which will be needed in the future. We must not repeat the mistakes of the past and erect buildings, whether public, domestic, commercial or industrial, designed to last for at least 100 to 200 years. Long before the first generation of the life of these buildings, they are likely to be out of date, inefficient, inconvenient and unsuitable for their requirements. The building industry must carry out research and construct buildings which can be renewed from time to time without too great a loss of capital. The Royal Institute of British Architects have recently put forward a proposal for setting up a Research Council, comparable with the Medical Research Council and the Agricultural Research Council, to cover the field of physical planning, architecture and construction. Among the matters this Council would consider would be land use, and it would cover the structure of buildings for industry and the other potentialities of industrialised building techniques. They propose that such a Council should be the responsibility of a Minister—and I may say that this proposal was strongly supported in a leading article in The Times on February 20 last.
§ Already the type of local authority house which is being put up is likely to be out of date in a few years, if we are serious in believing that the standard of living of our people is going to rise substantially. People will not be content with tiny rooms, lack of ordinary amenities, garage space and so on, in the municipal houses that are being put up to-day, and we must do some very hard thinking about that. We are now making some small progress in the direction of building units in factories and delivering them to the site. They should be of lighter 135 construction, and building by-laws should be amended to make this possible.
§ I hope that we can make much more rapid progress in this direction in order not only to speed up the building of our houses but to bring down the cost and to make it possible to pull them down at the end of a generation or two if and when they are found to be no longer suitable for their immediate purpose. And we must consider the practicability of providing mobile units, whether of caravan type or some other type, particularly in housing those people who have to be mobile for the purposes of their work, liable to be moved from one place to another; and I think industry should assist by taking its part in that. To carry out this task the building industry must be rationalised. There are too many small units, some hundreds of thousands of building firms in the country, the vast majority of whom are really only jobbing firms, and the number of large building concerns capable of carrying out this work is very limited indeed. This is one of those cases where mergers into larger units might be desirable.
§ I have spoken about what I think needs to be done, and given some tentative ideas as to how I think the task should be tackled. I am conscious that even this long speech is by no means comprehensive. I have said nothing about the need for the preservation of buildings of historic importance or of national beauty and of the countryside; nor about the need to provide our towns with trees and greenery and open spaces and good buildings and architecture so as to make them pleasant and healthy places to live and work in. This is all the more essential if we are to encourage people to remain in their own area or to resettle in what are today the more dreary parts of this country. And in this respect it is the wives who matter more than the husbands. We must satisfy the wives that the new evironments will be such that they will be glad to live in them, and we must do it very quickly if we are to stop this drift.
§ Nor have I dealt with the tremendous cost involved; nor with the priorities as between schools, universities, hospitals and other needs of our community which will have to be settled. And I have not spoken about the increased need for 136 more technical staff, architects, engineers of all types, surveyors. sociologists, economists, among others, who will have to be trained and provided for the task. We have here one of the most beautiful countries in the world, but spoiled, in part only, by man in the last century and a half. There is, fortunately, much loveliness still left. We have tried to preserve, and even to improve, the countryside by means of green belts, tree-planting and afforestation, National Parks, and the creation of areas of outstanding natural beauty. But we have done nothing comparable for our towns, where, after all, 90 per cent. of our people are to-day living and working.
§ The vast programme of change which I have tried to set out would involve many sacrifices, and we must explain to our people what we are trying to do. We must get them interested. We must even get Parliament interested. It is tragic that more interest was taken in a debate as to what we should call the new Navy than in this debate. That is a measure of how far we have to go in creating an interest, even in Parliament. We must carry them with us by using all the known media—the Press, talks, radio, television, exhibitions and in every other way.
§ We have a colossal task before us and, as I have said, it would involve great financial sacrifices. Every day that passes makes it more difficult and more expensive. Therefore, if we are to restore the beauty of this Island and make this once more a "green and pleasant land" we must start at once and not shrink from the task. Then though we may not ourselves see the fruits of our labour and sacrifices, we shall have gained the gratitude of future generations and set an example, as in the case of our New Towns, to the whole world. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.33 p.m.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has raised a vast subject in a speech of great thoughtfulness, to which he has accustomed us. He has raised so many topics, and there is such a long list of speakers, that I know he will not expect me to follow him on many of them. Indeed, I think it would be quite wrong to do so, because the topics are so many that I expect most 137 of those who take part in this debate will raise one or two matters which may or may not be the same as those raised by other speakers. I shall deal with some of the same topics as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, including some that I believe to be most urgent. I share his view that much is unforeseeable, and that many of the measures that will be required will take a long time to execute. I therefore regard it as particularly important to see that we do not, meanwhile, make matters worse by any follies at the present stage; and the principal part of my speech will be a warning against what I think to be some of the immediate dangers.
I think I am in complete agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in thinking that town and country planning is nowhere needed more than it is in this country, and in no other country is it quite so difficult. The difficulty and the importance arise from a few quite simple facts. The first fact is, of course, our large population and the small area in which they live. We are one of the most crowded countries in the world. The second fact is, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that we have a country of unique beauty and variety, but also almost uniquely vulnerable. I have often pointed out how little the folly of man can injure some great scenery, because it would scarcely be noticed in such vast surroundings as the Rocky Mountains of Canada. But in England it is quite different. Here, our scenery is delicate and uniquely vulnerable. It is as possible to ruin the beauty of the Sussex Downs, one of the most beautiful things in the world, by some ill-considered development as it would be to slash and ruin a picture in the National Gallery. Those things make town planning in this country both important and difficult.
Then there is the further fact that we have many old and historic cities. After the continuity of our history, we have historic cities of the greatest value and villages of priceless beauty which it is quite easy to ruin; and we have also, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, rightly said, great conurbations (I apologise for that barbarous word, but it has become inevitable) of poor quality which are in urgent need of redevelopment.
The main proposition that I have 138 urged all my life since I have taken an interest in this matter is that in the long run, and even in the short run, we shall save both town and country or we shall save neither. There is no chance whatever of saving the countryside of England if we make our towns, or allow them to continue to be, places from which men and women wish to flee. The preservation of the countryside depends on the possibility of a civilised life in the towns. That is why I think that an immensely valuable contribution has been made by the Buchanan Report. I rejoiced greatly when this task was handed to Mr. Colin Buchanan, as he then was, by the Minister of Transport, to whom I think great credit is due for having had the good sense to pick the right man and to let him have the free hand that was allowed him. The immense value of the Buchanan Report is its recognition of the importance of living conditions in the towns, or the quality of urban life—the words used in the Motion which Her Majesty's Government put before another place when they debated this Report.
I have urged before, particularly in the debates on the London Government Bill, a most important principle of planning which I think should be steadfastly observed—namely, that it is the greatest possible mistake to allow any place or area in a town in which it is at present pleasant to live, to become an area in which it is unpleasant to live. I have given as examples in London the area of Highgate, of Chelsea (where I live), of Blackheath and many other areas that will occur to noble Lords in all quarters of the House. The first necessity is to see that those districts which are at present pleasant remain pleasant, and that we do not allow them to be destroyed because of some imaginary good that may result from some development which we think desirable for other reasons. There was a ridiculous proposal, now fortunately withdrawn, to destroy Highgate by a lorry scheme. It is difficult to understand how that scheme could have been produced by anybody who had regard to the values of urban living and thought them important. If we allow these areas to be destroyed we shall be destroying values which are irreplaceable, and the ruin which we create will be irremedi- 139 able. I am glad to see that Her Majesty's Government have made it clear in both Houses that they accept the main principles of the Buchanan Report, or the "planning concepts" as they called them in the Resolution which they submitted to the House of Commons.
All thinking people now recognise the need for some limitation of traffic which can go anywhere in cities. It is obvious, and has been obvious for years to any person of intelligence, that it is impossible, and will become more obviously impossible in the future, for everybody with a car to go to the centre of every city. To take London as an example, if everybody with a car in the future could take it for granted that he could drive into the City of London, we should need so much road space in the City of London that we should have to destroy all the buildings there. It needs only the most brief thought to see that it is physically impossible to allow all the traffic which is now foreseeable to go into the centre of all cities.
In case there is anybody who thinks that this fact has not been recognised by Her Majesty's Government, perhaps I may give two quotations from the ministerial speeches made in the debate in the other place on February 10. My right honourable friend the Minister of Transport said [column 36 of the OFFICIAL REPORT for that day]:… in the large towns and cities—and the great conurbations there is no prospect whatever of catering for all the cars which might ultimately want to go into them. I cannot stress that enough.And my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, in winding up the debate, said [col. 151.]:But—this is what we come to at the end of the day—even if all these palliatives were used to the full, and even if all these mitigations were applied, there would still not be enough room in our compact towns and cities, if we are determined to preserve a decent urban environment, for universal access by car.Therefore, the need for some limitation has been recognised not only in the Buchanan Report and in its acceptance by the Government, but in recent ministerial speeches in the debate on the subject. For that reason I make no complaint at all of Government acceptance 140 of the principles of the Buchanan Report in the long run.
May I give one other quotation from my right honourable friend, the Minister of Housing and Local Government? He said [column 150 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of the same day]:… we have to ensure that town centre redevelopment must take full account of the Buchanan concepts.I have no complaint at all, therefore, that the Government have accepted the principles of the Buchanan Report, even though they have done so mainly as a long-term project. What I am critical of, my Lords, and what I fear, is that, though they have accepted these principles as a long-term project, they have taken no adequate steps to prevent ruinously foolish actions, not in accordance with Buchanan principles, from being taken now and in the short run. Indeed, they have taken one such action themselves.
Not many years ago there was a protest in this House, for which I was responsible, and in another place by Mr. Kenneth Robinson—in fact it was an all-Party protest in both Houses—against the proposed Monico development in Piccadilly Circus. In fact I think I made myself more offensive to Her Majesty's Government than I had ever done previously, although I may subsequently have surpassed the performance. But it had at least this good result. I remember making my protest on the Tuesday which was the same day as the matter was being raised in another place. I got the answer from the Government that absolutely nothing could be done, that the Monico building would go ahead and that they proposed not to interfere. When I heard the six o'clock news on the Friday of the same week, I heard that the then Minister of Housing and Local Government had capitulated completely and had called in the application.
At the ensuing inquiry the inspector was Mr. Colin Buchanan, and I had the pleasure of giving evidence before him. As a result of that inquiry, and some very well-considered action by the London County Council, it was decided to employ Sir William Holford to draw up a scheme for the Circus. He prepared an admirable scheme, which the L.C.C. accepted. After some years it was 141 turned down by the two Ministers concerned, the Minister of Transport and the Minister of Housing and Local Government: on the ground, my Lords, if you please, that it did not provide for enough increase in traffic through the Circus. Sir William Holford had provided for an increase of 20 per cent.; the Ministers thought that provision should be made for an increase of 50 per cent. There was no suggestion whatever, of course, that there would be any finality about 50 per cent.; because, on the figures given by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and others, if the traffic were allowed to increase as much as it wished it would increase by much more than 50 per cent. through Piccadilly Circus.
So the reason for which Sir William Holford's scheme is to be rejected is not to provide for any increase in traffic which had any chance of being final. The Ministers would destroy the Circus designed by Sir William Holford and approved by the L.C.C. and do away with all its good features without improving the ultimate prospects of traffic at all. I find it almost impossible to believe that the people who proposed this destruction of Sir William Holford's scheme for Piccadilly Circus in the least understood Professor Buchanan's Report, which they profess to accept. This was made particularly obvious by the speech that Professor Buchanan himself made recently at a joint meeting of the Town Planning Institute and the Royal Institute of British Architects, which I was able to attend.
My Lords, this brings me to one of the real absurdities—there are very few absurdities—in the speech made by my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport in the Buchanan debate in another place. There was a good deal in that speech which was very well said and which was true and, as I say, in so far as he was dealing with the future I have very little complaint. But he mentioned at an earlier stage [col. 32], apparently with approval, what he had said in an earlier debate: that in the short runit was necessary to squeeze the maximum amount of traffic movement which we possibly could through the existing streets;that is, in any town that suffers from traffic congestion. My Lords, that really is not true. If it is accepted, as it is 142 accepted, that there must be control, then there is no merit whatever in squeezing through a little more traffic, which is far less than that which wishes to get through; seeking a maximum to go through existing streets quite regardless of the effect it has on the value of the life that can be led by the citizens of the town concerned. Therefore, the first hope that I would express, and the first warning I would give, is that if the Government are serious in accepting the Buchanan principles recognising the importance of environment, then they must not, as a temporary scheme or for the immediate future, allow the living conditions in towns to become further injured merely to accommodate a little more traffic, when it is, on their own showing, nothing like the amount of traffic which will wish to get through.
My Lords, I now come to my other word of warning, and this is of immediate importance to London. In the words of my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport, at column 39 in the debate which I have already mentioned, "the complete interdependence of transport facilities and land use" has now at last been recognised. Ministers rightly regard that as one of the principal lessons of the Buchanan Report. You cannot divorce traffic from the planning of land use because on the way you use the land, the purpose of the buildings you put in any particular place, will depend the amount of traffic that is generated. In all quarters of the House noble Lords will be aware of what is happening to-day, as a result of the pressure of people who are travelling into and out of London daily. It is causing congestion on the roads, already almost intolerable in some cases, and it is causing packed and uncomfortable railway journeys which Dr. Beeching himself has made clear cannot be very greatly improved.
Is it not quite obviously insane deliberately to do anything in London which needlessly increases the numbers of those who are compelled to travel into and out of London daily? It is quite obvious to any thinking man, as it has long been obvious to town planners, and as it has been obvious for some time, I am glad to say, to the London County Council and other great local authorities. But that increase of 143 the daily traffic of workers into and out of London is threatened, if rumour is correct, by a further great increase of office building by the British Railways Board on railway land.
If I may, I would remind the House that less than two years ago, on May 29, 1962, I moved an Amendment to the Transport Bill in this House, an Amendment which was carried with the support of all Parties by 59 votes to 39—by roughly three to two—against the vigorous opposition of Her Majesty's Government. That Amendment, which I had drafted and which prevailed, laid down, if I might remind noble Lords, that the Railways Board could not develop for office building land not required for its own purposes in the County of London, unless the Minister of Housing and Local Government certified that by the time it became available for use an equivalent amount of existing office accommodation in London would have been converted to residential use.
My Lords, I am absolutely certain that that principle was sound, and that every report that has become available to the Government subsequently strengthens the case against further increase of office accommodation in Central London. On every planning and traffic ground, any increase of office space in Central London ought to be rejected. Let me say at once that, of course, I recognise that it may be quite a good thing to erect office buildings on the London termini, provided, but only provided, that it does not lead to a net increase of travelling into and out of London; that is to say, that the increase of office accommodation on those spots is balanced by a diminution or conversion to residential use of other office building in the centre.
I could not, of course, hold the whole of the victory which the House afforded to my Amendment. Nevertheless, the Government did recognise their defeat to the extent of putting in what is now Section 87 of the Transport Act, 1962. Perhaps I might remind the House of the main provision of Section 87, subsection (1):It shall be the duty of the Commission and of the Boards to consult the London County Council as to the use of their land in the 144 administrative county of London so far as that land is not required for the purposes of their business, and to submit for the approval of the Minister of Housing and Local Government proposals with regard to the use of that land in a manner which is consistent with proper planning and which, in particular, is consistent with the need for keeping a proper balance in the use of their land as between new office accommodation and other accommodation for trade, business and industry on the one hand, and new living accommodation (with the amenities required by a resident community) on the other hand …That is the essential part of the existing statutory provision.
Your Lordships will notice that there is to be "a proper balance" between what I might roughly describe as office building and residential use. Of course, the proper balance with which the Government ought to be concerned, and with which this country is concerned, is a proper balance between those two uses in London as a whole; but, of course, it is possible to read that section as implying that the proper balance is merely between the uses on the Railways Board's own land, considered as quite separate from London as a whole. I am not going to argue what is the correct construction of that section, but I say this with some confidence to Her Majesty's Government. What we are concerned with, what the House of Commons is concerned with and what the country is concerned with is that no office building is allowed which will increase this commuter traffic into and out of Central London daily if, in the view of all the planners, it ought to be stopped; and if Section 87 as it stands is not sufficient to give the Government all the powers that they need to stop this ruinous development, Parliament and every Party in both Houses of Parliament will willingly give them whatever additional powers are required.
I cannot believe that Her Majesty's Government will allow a use so disastrous to the future of London and the happiness of its people as would follow from allowing the British Railways Board to provide a net addition to commuter traffic—with which, incidentally, neither the railways nor the roads can deal. There is a very strong case on planning grounds for urging that no increased employment should be permitted as a result of developing this railway property, however much housing 145 is placed on railway land, because, my Lords, the need for housing in Central London is urgent. Nor, indeed, ought suburban goods yards to be too readily used for office buildings before the Government have carefully considered whether it would not be desirable to use them for cars left by commuters who can continue their journey into Central London by train. If this House will bear in mind the constant increase in travelling daily into and out of London, the additional offices that have already been permitted, the congestion on roads and rail that this involves, and the Government's own recognition of the need to decentralise offices (because they have set up an organisation for this purpose)—if all those things are borne in mind, how can it be suggested that it would be right to allow the British Railways Board to effect the development which rumour has it they are asking the Minister to sanction?
My Lords, there is only one other matter that I would mention. Since the date when I carried that Amendment in this House there has, of course, been a further great development of office building in London. On November 8, 1962, I asked Her Majesty's Government this Question [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 244, col. 382]:… whether they will give their estimate—(a) of the number of persons entering and leaving the county of London daily for the purpose of work; and (b) of the increase expected when tenants have been found for all the office buildings already erected, or now in course of construction, or for the erection of which planning permission has already been given.My noble friend Lord Chesham, in his Answer, gave the figure of 1,340,000 as the number of people who, at that date, were travelling daily to and from work in the central area of London, and then he used these words:New offices in the central area are expected to provide employment for some 80,000 additional people, most of whom will travel into, and out of, the area daily.That was on November 8, 1962. Since then, of course, there has been a further increase, the figures of which I cannot give.
My Lords, I thank the House for the patience with which it has allowed me to develop these points. I say that the most urgent matter is that with which the Buchanan Report has made us 146 familiar. I say that the principles of the Buchanan Report are sound, and that their adoption may be of great use to us. But the main purposes of Buchanan will be defeated if, before his reforms can be carried out, we allow, quite unnecessarily, further deterioration to take place. What the Government have decided about Piccadilly Circus is an example of their complete misunderstanding of the Buchanan Report; and the request which I believe is now being made by British Railways, if allowed, will destroy whatever chance there is of making a more worthy London in the future.