HL Deb 10 March 1964 vol 256 cc374-412

5.22 p.m.

LORD MOLSON rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are satisfied that the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Acts for the protection of buildings of special architectural or historic interest are adequate for the purpose and that they are being implemented effectively. The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Question is addressed to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. It does not relate to the grants made by the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works on the advice of the Historic Buildings Council under the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act, 1953. I was at one time desirous of bringing the whole matter of building preservation within one machine and under one Ministry, but I was convinced, at the time that the Bill of 1953 was being drafted, that that was probably impossible, and certainly undesirable. I understand that the matter has again been reviewed by Ministers subsequently, and they have come to the same conclusion.

Responsibility for the preservation of buildings of special architectural or historic interest rests, under Section 32 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1962, upon the Minister of Housing and Local Government, and under subsection (1) of that section the Minister is required to compile lists. As I understand it, when lists have been compiled under subsection (1) they become provisional, and when the provisions of subsections (2), (3) and (4) have been complied with they then become statutory. As I understand it, the general view is that decisions on proposed demolition are normally left to the local authorities. The Minister is often urged by amenity societies, and by other people interested, to intervene, but in the official report of the Ministry it is stated that he does so only in exceptional cases.

The first question that I should like to put to my noble friend is: how has this procedure of listing worked so far? How far has it proceeded? In the second place, I believe that there is a serious lag in time between the preparation of the provisional lists under subsection (1), and the time when they become statutory. I should have thought that that was a dangerous interval, because the owners would be put on their guard that when the whole procedure had been complied with they would not readily be able to demolish the houses, and they might seek to do so at once. So I would ask my noble friend: what is the time lag between the drawing up of provisional lists, and the time when they become statutory? As I understand it, the normal way in which listed buildings are preserved is by the refusal of the local authority to grant planning permission to redevelop. I would ask to what extent the Ministry have found that this has proved a satisfactory and adequate safeguard for buildings of special architectural or historic interest. Are these lists printed? I believe that it was originally stated that they would be printed, although a change was made under the Government of Sir Winston Churchill. I gather that the position today is that the lists are published, although they are not printed.

My Lords, I turn to Section 30 of the Act under which building preservation orders can be made either by a local planning authority or by the council of a county district. The Minister has reserve powers to make a building preservation order, if he feels that such an order should be made and the local authority has neglected to do so. I would ask my noble friend how far this general procedure has worked satisfactorily. Have an adequate number of building preservation orders been made by local authorities, and in how many cases has it been necessary for the Minister to use his reserve powers? But even when a building preservation order has been made, the powers of preservation are very limited. Although a building may not be demolished or substantially altered, there is nothing to prevent the owner from allowing it to fall into decay and to collapse. I fully understand the difficulty of compelling an owner to spend money upon a building on which he does not wish to spend money. Nevertheless, there can be real abuse if he deliberately allows such a building to fall into decay and then claims that, as it is a useless building, the preservation order should be removed. Is it, as I believe, not infrequently the case that the building preservation order is withdrawn after the owner has allowed a building to fall into a completely ruinous state? I should have thought that there was a case for preserving the building preservation order, in order that the owner should not obtain financial benefit from deliberately defeating the purpose of the building preservation order.

Under the 1962 Act the local authority has power to purchase a building upon which it has made a building preservation order, but in many cases that is the only positive action that can be taken to preserve the building. Is that frequently done? Perhaps my noble friend can tell us in how many cases it has happened. In 1962 Parliament passed the Local Authorities (Historic Buildings) Act, and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government subsequently issued Circular No. 68 giving guidance to the authorities about the loans and grants that could be made to the owners of buildings of historic interest and importance in order to help those owners who were unable themselves to find the money necessary to restore and preserve them. To what extent have local authorities acted in accordance with the powers provided for them by Parliament?

My Lords, I turn to the future, which I think in some respects is even more important than the past. In the debate last week, on March 4, my noble friend Lord Hastings, on behalf of the Government, held out prospects of large-scale work in the redevelopment of urban areas, and noble Lords on both sides of the House were very glad to know that the Government had these intentions. Of course, if there is going to be large-scale redevelopment in our towns, then it is extremely important that those areas which are of special beauty, interest and charm should be preserved. Indeed, that is specially referred to in the Buchanan Report. There, for the first time, as we nearly all of us agreed last week, the Buchanan Report talks about the environmental areas in which it will be a pleasure for pedestrians to walk and people to live. The Report emphasises that that can be done only if they are made into precincts, and if something is done to prevent large amounts of modern traffic from hurrying through. When we have this prospect before us—a prospect that we welcome—we do want to know what Her Majesty's Government are going to do to preserve these environmental areas of very special interest, beauty and charm which exist in so many of our old cities.

The Buchanan Report had a special paragraph dealing with Norwich, and pointed out that here was a very remarkable city of very great importance and that it would be possible, in accordance with its recommendations, to make provision for most traffic to by-pass the city and for there to be four environmental areas inside Norwich where, again, it would be a pleasure for people to live and to walk. I would congratulate my noble friend again on the production by his Department of Bulletins No. 1 and No. 4, dealing with this matter of environmental areas. But it really will be necessary for some guidance to be given from Whitehall. To take a case where I believe that, fortunately, at the last moment, things may yet be saved: the beautiful and interesting city of Salisbury. There, a land company called, I believe, Hammerton's, acquired some 2½ acres or more of land near the city, and had proposals for its complete redevelopment. The city council gave provisional planning approval to this scheme. Fortunately, as a result of public agitation, the county council called the matter in for their own determination, and they disapproved the plan. As a result, an extremely skilful town planning consultant was appointed, and new proposals have been made which are at any rate an immense improvement upon the original proposals and are, I believe, satisfactory.

There is a warning to the Government and to Parliament that, in the matter of these ancient cities, which are so vital a part of our national heritage, it would be quite wrong to leave these matters to be decided without any help or guidance by the local authorities. At present, there is no difference drawn between the authority of local authorities and planning authorities in areas of 19th century industrial sprawl and their authority in these priceless and irreplaceable historic cities of the past. I do beg Her Majesty's Government to realise the need for an initiative to be taken from the centre, in order to make certain that the redevelopment of these very beautiful places should not be left to the unguided discretion of the local authorities. I understand that in France this matter is being dealt with by quite revolutionary methods under the de Gaulle Government, and that Monsieur Malraux has been given special powers for making certain that the ancient cities which are the glory of France should not unwittingly and carelessly be destroyed and spoiled at a time when redevelopment is necessarily taking place, in order to bring them into harmony with the requirements of the 20th century.

My Lords, these are the questions which I would put to my noble friend. Some relate to what has been done in the past, but the more important part of my Question is asking for some assurance that Her Majesty's Government will take an initiative at the present time, rather on the lines adumbrated by the Buchanan Report and also by the two Bulletins which his Ministry has issued, and also for some assurance for the future.

5.36 p.m.


My Lords, I think we would all agree these are critical times for our country because its whole future appearance is going to be determined by what happens in the next few years. I think that there is an awakening, an awareness, among people—particularly young people—which I have noticed. But, of course, the danger is that this awareness may not make itself felt until too late. Those who are doing very good work are, I think, the voluntary societies. Perhaps I should declare an interest here, as I am president of a voluntary society, not a society for preserving buildings but for preserving the countryside around the Solent area. The great difficulty of these societies is that they are not official, and very often do not get information until it is too late. I should like to suggest to Her Majesty's Government that these bodies might in some cases be given some sort of official standing, which would allow or enable them to get necessary information and study the subject. They are mostly reasonable and helpful societies, and they would then be in a position at least to examine the pros and cons of any future development.

We all know that there is tremendous pressure for building and development to-day. There is a trend in the North to come into the South-East of England, a trend which the Government are finding very difficult to control. So this is not a simple problem at all, particularly as, when it is a question of a new development, planners and developers find it much easier to pull down and begin again than to adapt what is good and try to organise new development around the adaptation. I would submit that this country is so rich in its private buildings, its villages, bridges and churches that it would be a thousand tragedies if we were to allow them to be nibbled away little by little. That is the danger—not so much a clean sweep, as a gradual eroding of this extremely beautiful architecture of the past. Of course, there is a strong school of thought behind modern development which looks on the television set, the car and the washing machine as the ultimate satisfactions of life; but I submit that the other view is equally important. The visual sense is a very real one, and when more of our population have been educated to enjoy their leisure, they must be given the advantages and the possibilities of doing so.

To go from the more general to the particular, I think one could divide this question into three categories. One is ecclesiastical, which does not really arise on this Motion, because the ecclesiastical buildings are outside the Acts. And I must say that the Church of England have, on the whole, been very good. They have done their best to preserve. But there is tremendous pressure at the moment to acquire some of the more valuable sites of churches in our big cities, for development. These sites have gone up in value a hundredfold, and there is a tremendous temptation and pressure to relinquish the church in the city and then to build a smaller church outside in the suburbs. In some cases that might be no loss, but in others it would be a great tragedy. I am sorry that we have no representative whom one could question on the policy of the Church to resist this pressure, but I hope they will go on doing so and continue to save some of our finest architectural buildings.

However, this Motion is really concerned with private buildings and houses, some of which are extremely interesting and beautiful, though I am not so much thinking of what are known as the stately homes of England that charge visitors 1s., 2s. 6d., 5s., or whatever it may be. The only way these lesser buildings can be safeguarded, so far as I understand it, is by a preservation order which the noble Lord, Lord Molson, talked about. I very much agree with him on what he said. This order must be confirmed by the Minister, as I understand it. When the order is given the building can be neither demolished nor altered to such an extent as to change its character. But there is one point which I should be grateful if the noble Lord who is to reply would make clear. Section 33(1) of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1962 says that a building cannot be demolished, nor can there be any alteration or extension in any manner which would seriously affect its character". What I am not quite clear about is who is to judge. Is it the Minister, the local authority or the owner? If it is the owner then it is, of course, no safeguard whatever. It does not seem quite clear to me, but perhaps the noble Lord will tell us who is the final authority.

There is one example which I can give of the sort of procedure that goes on, which I think is happening all over England to-day. A good many people, and also the London County Council, have been interested in trying to preserve Tower House, Melbury Road, on the Ilchester Estate near Holland Park. I was very interested in that because it was a well-known artists' colony which, amongst others, had Lord Leighton's house in it. Tower House, built by Burges in 1870, has a unique interior. There is no other house in England quite like it. It may not be to everyone's taste, but it is absolutely unique. The London County Council applied for a preservation order; an inquiry was held in 1961; and, in spite of the Minister's representative being in favour of an order, the Minister finally decided he would not give it. I do not know on what grounds the refusal was based. As a result, this building is gradually becoming derelict, and if it is left long enough it will, I suppose, fall into disrepair and become a complete ruin. That would be sad.

This sort of situation is a problem for the private owner of houses, and, as the noble Lord who initiated this Motion has clearly put, the owner very often cannot, or in some cases will not, provide the money to support the house. I would suggest this as a step to help him. Would it not be possible to be more generous with interest-free loans for him? In many cases where an owner of a house like this could have a loan of money which he could advance for repairs he might take advantage of it and do something about it. Otherwise, as the noble Lord, Lord Molson, said, the trouble is that, in spite of the preservation order, all the owner need do is to leave the house to fall down. In the course of time it becomes useless, the preservation order may be removed, and the owner can sell the site at a considerable profit and England has lost another of her assets. I would much support the idea of more advantageous loans to help the owner.

I think we are beginning to appreciate the architecture of the last century, of Victorian times; and it would be a pity if some of the best examples of that very fast diminishing number of buildings were not preserved. I would ask the noble Lord who is to answer whether he could speed up the making of the statutory lists of buildings between, say, 1837 and 1914. This has been on the stocks for a very long time, and unless something can be done too many of these buildings will disappear.

The final category that I would bring up is the most important of all. It is the buildings controlled by Her Majesty's Government. Of these, the one that obviously leaps to mind is the Foreign Office which has been the subject of great debate and controversy. Personally, I think it would be a great pity if the particular character of the building and its skyline were not preserved. I know it would be an expensive undertaking, but I should have thought that the interior could be redesigned to make it workable, still keeping the essential facades and the outlines and the shape of the skyline.

In view of the immense responsibility which the Government have of looking after some of the finest of our buildings—and I have given the noble Lord notice of this question—would not the Government, before considering the demolition or reconstruction of some important building over which they have control, be prepared to publish or exhibit plans and elevations of the new building which is to take its place? And will they also take notice of the criticisms which might arise, and ensure so far as possible that the highest standards of design are used? It is very difficult for experts—and even more for the public—to give the final judgment unless they know what kind of building is going to replace one due for demolition. I think it would be a great advantage if in all these big controversial cases some kind of plan and design were shown before a decision were to be taken.

I do not wish to keep the House much longer, but I should like to say that I think we are entering into a transitional stage of architecture and it might well be that the new architect, with new ideas and new material, will develop something very fine indeed. We see a possible start abroad in the case of Brasilia. Up to date, we here have not gone very far in this direction. Indeed, it is a tradition in this island for our architects to be a little behind the times, and for movements from the Continent to arrive rather late. I would urge on Her Majesty's Government and on this House that it would be disastrous to let go what is already so good unless we can be very sure that what is going to take its place will be equally beautiful.

5.49 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we are very grateful to the noble Lord who introduced this subject, and we look forward to the Minister's reply in due course. My only reason for speaking is that I should like to raise one or two questions which I consider relevant. I think it is generally admitted that there are serious defects in the law as it stands, either through omission or through ambiguity.

May I take, in the first place, those buildings that have been or are likely to be listed under the Town and Country Planning Acts? There is always the question of the interior. It has never been made clear whether it was intended, under the original Act of 1944, to include the interior; and, if so, to what extent. Naturally, the main timbers, the roofs and walls are included, but what of historic fireplaces, panellings and stair- cases? In France they have the same difficulty, which I believe they have never overcome. The noble Lord who raised this question may remember the case a few years ago of a house in the Circus, Bath, having its fine fireplaces removed when it changed hands. I myself brought this matter to the notice of the Minister, without being given any definite assurance or satisfactory reply. A few years later, the same thing happened at Ston Easton, in Somerset, again with no satisfactory conclusion. In that case, an historic overmantel and fireplace were removed; they were part of the structure and could hardly be called a tenant's fixture.

I am quite aware of the difficulties of including the interiors of historic houses as part of the structure which should not be removed or altered. I remember being told by the noble Lord's Department of a house at Croydon which was considered of great interest and which the owner could not dipose of except to a purchaser who wished to have the interior gutted. Eventually, he came to terms with the Ministry, and it was agreed that the house would be preserved on condition that he would be allowed to change the interior. A similar case happened in Queen's Square, Bath, where again a house had to lose its interior, otherwise it would probably have been demolished.

Nevertheless, I think that it would be helpful if the noble Lord who is to reply to this debate would clarify the position, if he is able to do so. Is it really necessary, as I believe his Department consider, or used to consider up till recently, that the matter can be resolved only by Case Law?

My next point concerns the preservation of buildings schedule by the Ministry of Public Building and Works (which I know are excluded from this debate), and of buildings listed under the Town and Country Planning Acts of 1944, 1947 and 1962. As has already been mentioned by two previous speakers, there has been a studied practice by some owners, who wish to be rid of their historic houses but cannot sell them, except with a vacant site, and who cannot get a demolition order, just to allow them to deteriorate. In such circumstances, the Minister cannot very well refuse a demolition order eventually. In this way, we have lost many valuable buildings.

The serving by the local authority of what is called a "dangerous structure" order is not entirely the answer; nor, I imagine, is a preservation order. Am I right or wrong in suggesting that if a local authority issue a preservation order, they have to buy the house itself? That used to be the case, but it may well not be so any longer. In any case, I think that the Legislature should take notice of this fact, and make some attempt to meet the difficulty; that is, how can the Government compel an owner to do what it is presumably in the public interest he should do—namely, to restore his house—if he has not the cash to do it? Or he may turn round and say that he does not agree with the Minister; that restoration is not worth doing. There must be some solution to this problem. It has been suggested, as one way out of the difficulty, that the owner should receive a grant. The same difficulty arises in France. Your Lordships may be aware of the case of the famous Abbey of Jumièges. I happened to be there at the time when the negotiations were going on. The owner had been told by the Government to repair the Abbey, which is of enormous historic interest. He said that he had no cash. They eventually came to a very satisfactory solution. The owner gave the Abbey to the Government and sold the adjacent château to the Government for use as a rest house for decayed architects—a wonderful solution, and one that saved him a lot of money.

I now come to the question, a very important one, to my mind, of preserving the amenities and precincts of historic buildings. Your Lordships will remember that in April of last year in another place a Bill was introduced by Mr. Robert Cooke to amend the law relating to the granting of permission to develop land in the vicinity of historic buildings. That Bill failed to get a hearing. Does it not follow that the site and precincts on which an historic building are found are of great importance and must be respected? To put up an unsuitable structure near a historic building should be made illegal, as it has been in France for many years.

I had some correspondence over this matter with the Minister about a garage that was being built in the vicinity—in fact, in the enclave—of an interesting fifteenth-century chapel, which in the old days had been used as a stopping place for pilgrims on their way to Glastonbury. An inquiry was held, and the Minister upheld our objections, but a compromise was reached with the local planning authority, who allowed the owner to erect a garage on the spot, but with stone and tiles that matched the chapel. He had been going to do it with concrete blocks, which did not look at all suitable. But before long, on Monday morning, out came the washing. That did not improve the scene, though I quite like to see the washing out. After all, we are told that cleanliness is next to Godliness; so why not washing next to the chapel? However, I do not think that is a good argument. Of course, the real answer should have been not to allow any structure in the precincts at all, even though, as in this case, the surrounding land did not belong to the Church. Whoever made over the chapel to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners did not make over the land surrounding it, and that is what he should have done.

Your Lordships may remember that at the time of the introduction of Mr. Cooke's Bill, the Minister of Housing and Local Government gave an undertaking to issue a circular to planning authorities, arising out of this Bill. That circular, No. 51/63, duly appeared on August 7 last. One can only hope that planning authorities will act on it far more than they have in the past. I think that interference on the part of the Ministry might be quite a good stimulus.

I now come to gardens of outstanding interest. Your Lordships may wonder why I introduce this subject. It is because gardens have not been introduced and I feel that it is time they were. Many of these gardens, as your Lordships know, are safely in the joint hands of the National Trust and the Royal Horticultural Society, but there are many which are not and, with the incidence of death duties, may well be lost to the nation as well as to their owners. We have a unique climate in Devon and Cornwall, where practically any temperate plant can grow in what the catalogue compilers usually call "favoured districts". It would be a thousand pities if, through the lack of any far-reaching national preservation measures, some of the best of these gardens failed to survive. I particularly draw the noble Lord's attention to this question, because it is something about which we should like to know more.

Next, I come to a matter where I feel that a grave blunder has been made, and I can only hope that it is not too late to repair the damage. I refer to the case of Westbury Court, in Gloucestershire, a charming water-garden with pavilion, dating from about 1690, and the only remaining garden in England conceived in the Dutch manner of that time, a fashion introduced no doubt by our Dutch Monarch. This property changed hands about four years ago and the new owner obtained planning permission to build a number of houses on it, in spite of the fact that the water table was only a few inches below the surface. It seems a strange idea to give planning permission for such a scheme. I am glad to say that recently a further application to renew planning permission was refused.

The gardens consist of rectangular stone-faced canals, with a remarkable pavilion at the far end, facing a brick wall with gazebo and various ornaments and an ornamental grille. The two buildings I have mentioned are listed under the Town and Country Planning Acts. Attached to the pavilion was an ugly Victorian house which the present owner demolished, pulling down at the same time one side of the pavilion and leaving it in a parlous state. The fine gazebo has fallen in, and the gardens look dilapidated. But it is not too late to save them, and I understand that real efforts are now being made to do this and to rehabilitate the canals and listed buildings.

At the moment, considerable interest is being awakened in the historic tie between Holland and England. An exhibition, of which your Lordships no doubt are aware, known as "The Orange and the Rose", is to take place next autumn, under the auspices of the Arts Council. I suggest that it would be an opportunity to show our enlightenment by restoring these historic gardens at Westbury Court to their original state. My Lords, I will end on that note, and trust that the debate will at any rate have allowed some of us to air our grievances.

6.2 p.m.


My Lords, this is the second debate in less than a week raising matters on which the beauty and indeed the reputation of this country may largely depend. The Question of my noble friend Lord Molson deals with action under the Town and Country Planning Acts. In fact, those Acts are now included in the consolidated Act of 1962, which therefore is the only one that we need consider in this connection. The relevant provisions of this Act, as has been mentioned by noble Lords who have already spoken, really fall into two parts. They are Sections 30 and 31, which deal with building preservation orders, and Sections 32 and 33, which deal with listed buildings—the statutory list of buildings of special architectural or historic interest which have to be compiled. This is the chief requirement imposed on their owner: that he must give to the local planning authority two months' notice of work of demolition, alteration or extension. The Act also contains Sections 52 to 55 dealing with enforcement, Section 69 dealing with compulsory acquisition and Section 71 dealing with acquisition by agreement.

Of these various provisions, the ones that particularly interest me are those for listed buildings. In fact, I can claim in part to be the inventor of that part of the law, because some twenty years ago, with some devoted civil servants in the then Ministry of Town and Country Planning, we devised Section 42 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1944, which was the first Statute providing for these lists of buildings. That provision, Section 42 of the 1944 Act, with improvements, constitutes the present law about listed buildings. If my noble friend, when he comes to reply, can say that those provisions have been extremely useful, nobody will be more delighted than I.

Since some amenity societies have from time to time complained that this listing of buildings gives very little protection, let me say that that was always known. If noble Lords like to refer to the debates of October and November, 1944, in the House of Commons, they will find that we were able to carry, without too much difficulty, this provision for listed buildings (we hoped the list would be capable of being made with reasonable speed, and, be it noticed, without any consultation of the owner and without the owner having any right to object) precisely because it conferred no disadvantage of any sort on the owner, apart from the small delay which I have mentioned. The advantage, from the point of view of the preservation of our heritage of good architecture, was this: that at least it provided a pause in the destruction or demolition of a good building during which the planning authority or the Minister might be able to make a building preservation order. It was the building preservation order, and that alone, which provided actual security against demolition.

In dealing with these lists and this whole subject, the Minister is now advised by an Advisory Committee of great distinction and knowledge, sitting under the chairmanship of my friend Sir William Holford, and meeting regularly. How has this machinery worked? We look forward to hearing what the Minister is going to say. My own knowledge is derived from three main sources. The first is from using my eyes and seeing what is happening in towns and villages, and in the capital itself, to buildings of great value. Secondly, from the year 1943 until this year I have been continuously a member of the National Buildings Record, with the exception of the years from 1951 to 1955, when, since I was in office as Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, I severed my connection with that body. For the last few years I have served as its Vice-Chairman and, since the death of Sir James Mann in 1962, as its Chairman.

I am glad to say that a colleague on that body is the noble Lord who is to speak next, and I think he will bear me out when I say that the work we did over the years in securing photographic records and making measured drawings of important buildings was very good, so far as it went. But those who study the annual reports year by year will find nearly always on the outside the picture of some building of great value which, though we recorded it by photographs and permanently kept measured drawings, has gone; that part of our historic heritage has in fact been lost. That body, the National Buildings Records, has now been taken over under the new policy by the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments.

My third source of information and knowledge is based on membership of and serving on the council or executive committee of such bodies as the National Trust, the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings, the Georgian Group, and other societies. That, perhaps, gives one considerable experience, for this reason: that it is to those societies and to the enlightened local authorities that we must look for the initiation of the making of building preservation orders. Using those three sources of knowledge, I can only give my impression of how these provisions have worked in practice. Let me say at once that, whatever happened in the past, I think the machinery is now being fairly successful in preventing, or, at least, making unlikely, the destruction of buildings of the highest grade. To that extent the machinery is working, and working well. My impression is equally definite that it is being far less successful in protecting valuable buildings of the second grade, however important their preservation may be in securing the survival of some of the greatest beauties in our historic towns and villages, and even in the capital itself. I remember a phrase which I quoted long ago in another place, but I think is not inappropriate to describe some of these market towns, villages and historic cities, but particularly the villages and the smaller towns. Gilbert Chesterton called them "the Crown Jewels of England".

I do not think that this machinery has been or is being very successful in securing the survival of some of these second-grade buildings. Further, it seems to me, it is being even less effective sometimes in securing the survival of valuable groups of buildings, which are as important as any individual building that there is. What has been the Minister's attitude to the grade 2 building? I think it is not unfair to say that this attitude has been that the grade 2 buildings are, in effect, the primary responsibility of the local authority. That will not save a great many of these buildings in those cases where the local authority attaches no value whatsoever to these matters.

But there is another difficulty. The Minister, having said that these grade 2 buildings are the responsibility of the local authority, does not always back up that local authority when it is wise enough to make a building preservation order. To take first the attitude, "This is a matter for the local authority", but, when the local authority acts, then not to back up that local authority, endangers our heritage. Let me say at once that the Minister, whose personal concern for these matters I do not doubt for one moment, often does take the right action. Of course, as a Londoner I am perhaps more familiar with the work of the L.C.C. than with the work of other local authorities, but I think the London County Council has made building preservation orders, which have been confirmed by the Minister, on 34 buildings and 24 groups of buildings. The noble Lord who is to follow me will speak with greater authority on this part of my speech. But I am not saying for one moment that good work is not being done. In a matter of this importance, I think I shall be serving the interests of this House if I give some examples of cases where I do not think it is working satisfactorily.

I mentioned groups of buildings. Think of the importance of that in such a town as Stamford. There are there 320 listed buildings, but there are innumerable others, seemly and neighbourly, that form part of important groups. If we preserve nothing that is not in itself first-rate, we shall lose a priceless part of such a gem as Stamford. I could say the same of York, Salisbury, Norwich and, indeed, of many other places. I remember, 20 years ago in the House of Commons, giving the example of the High Street of Lewes, in Sussex. But the examples that will occur to noble Lords are innumerable.

The point I want to impress upon the House is this. We shall lose something that is priceless if we preserve nothing that is not in the top class. My noble friend Lord Molson, quite rightly, drew attention to the bad results that could follow if a building preservation order were refused on the ground that so much damage had already been done, or that the house was coming into a state of disrepair. I wonder whether I might quote one example where, I am afraid, I do not know the house myself, though I have a photograph. It is the case of Great Clayne Farm House, on which the Gravesend Corporation desired the Minister to confirm a building preservation order. It was precisely that type of smaller, beautiful, 18th-century house which, when put in a proper state of repair, would be considered a highly desirable place in which to live.

The matter to which I wish to draw the attention of the House is what in fact happened. This was a case in which the house had been empty since 1960; the owner had done little to prevent deterioration, and was objecting to a building preservation order that would prevent the demolition of the property. The value of the house was not denied by the inspector or by the Minister. But the building preservation order was not confirmed because the repairs would have been very expensive, though they certainly would not have been so expensive that there would not have been a purchaser, had they been made. Indeed, perhaps I may just read one paragraph of what the Minister said in his letter giving the decision: The Minister sympathises with the council's reasons for wishing to retain the building and he regrets that it has been allowed to get into its present bad condition. He has concluded, however, that he would not be justified having regard to the amount required to repair and modernise the building in attempting to insist upon its preservation. Accordingly he has decided to accept his Inspector's recommendation not to confirm the preservation order. The Minister hopes, nevertheless, that before the owner reaches a final decision on the question of the demolition of this building she will re-consider the possibility of selling it to a purchaser who would be prepared to restore it for further use. That is what the Minister wants, and that is what, in fact, would have happened if the Minister had confirmed the building preservation order. But I fear now that the owner will greatly prefer to demolish the building.

In conclusion, my Lords, I turn to the last case, which concerns a place in London, known already, I expect, to many noble Lords; but any of them can go and look at it to-morrow before worse has happened to it. I am referring to Ely Place, in Holborn. By a piece of irony it is actually illustrated on page 21 of Professor Buchanan's Traffic in Towns. He illustrates it in order, quite clearly, to show something valuable which is cluttered up with standing cars. The legend underneath the illustration is: … the crowding out of every available square yard of space with vehicles … But Professor Buchanan would not have chosen that illustration had not the houses been rather good. It is an oasis of architectural decency and good manners, and of the greatest interest and value to London. It is found as a delightful surprise in the place where it is.

My Lords, I do not know what other noble Lords will think, but my view is fairly clear. If this were in Paris or Rome, it would, quite certainly be preserved. Let me say at once that, of course, a great deal of damage has been done to many of these houses. In one there may be an insertion of an inappropriate window; many glazing bars have been removed; and other mistaken alterations have been made. But none of this damage is irreparable; indeed, some of it was being remedied gradually by the L.C.C. as opportunity arose. If I may give an example, the proper fenestration of No. 27 was to be reinstated when the house was altered, and this was the result of a condition imposed by the L.C.C. when planning permission was given for some alterations to the house. The Georgian Group were strongly in favour of preservation and one of their best-known experts gave evidence. So was the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings. The London Society is very much shocked by the fact that the Minister has refused to confirm the building preservation order, as I have reason to know, since I have recently become President of that body in succession to my noble friend the late Lord Esher who, if he were alive, would so greatly have enriched this debate.

The L.C.C., who have possibly the greatest experience of all local authorities in applying for building preservation orders of this kind, know the law and the practice very well. They were both shocked and highly surprised by the Minister's decision. The architecture of these 18th century terraces, the character of the enclosure and the historic interest of the site all make preservation desirable. The Minister, I think, takes the view that under the terms of Section 30 of the Act the architectural interest must be of a special nature. Yet surely this architectural interest was of a special nature, because Ely Place is obviously outstanding as a survival of architectural good grace and manners in this part of our capital. But the letter giving the decision of the Minister had an alarming and puzzling phrase in it. Perhaps I might read the sentence: It was essential, however, under the terms of Section 30 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1962, that for the preservation of a building to be warranted its degree of architectural interest should be of a 'special' nature. If the buildings in the order were of special architectural interest, which was doubtful, he still found it impossible to recommend that their preservation was justified. My Lords, all I can say is that I am as puzzled as the L.C.C. I am puzzled by the decision that these terraces were not considered special; and I am equally puzzled by the statement I have just quoted, that, even if the Minister had come to the other conclusion that they were special, he still would not have confirmed the building preservation order.

My Lords, if I may sum up, it is bad enough if all grade 2 buildings are to be left to the tender mercy of local authorities, some of whom take little or no interest in saving them. I know some who think nothing, for instance, of pulling down a priceless grade 2 building in order to provide for freer access to traffic into some ancient market place from which public policy would require that more traffic should be excluded. In other words, they would destroy the building to facilitate precisely the sort of traffic that Professor Buchanan has said ought to be avoided. It is bad enough, therefore, if the preservation of all these buildings is to be left to the tender mercies of local authorities, some of whom, but not all, are foolish or indifferent to our architectural heritage. But matters seem to be even worse. Even when a local authority is enlightened enough to list a building or group of buildings, and make a preservation order, the Minister refuses to confirm the order merely because some of the individual buildings are not sufficiently exceptional to justify, in his view, the word "special". My Lords, like others, I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say, but my experience and my observation of what has happened prevent my viewing this matter with any complacency.

6.30 p.m.


My Lords, I find myself in complete agreement with all the previous speakers, and, indeed, coming rather late in the debate, there seems to me to be comparatively little that I can add, particularly after the admirable speech we have just listened to from the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, with whom I share some experiences in this particular field. We have separated recently, and I have now for some years been chairman of the Historic Buildings Sub-committee of the Town Planning Committee of the London County Council. It is therefore with the deepest regret that I confirm the impression the noble Lord had, from the Reports of the National Buildings Record, of what was, in fact, happening; and now I, alas! have exactly the same experience almost every day of the week over at County Hall.

I was very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Molson, and the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, devoted so much, in fact the greater part, of their speeches to dealing either with the provincial city or with groups of buildings in London. Like them—and particularly like the noble Lord, Lord Conesford—I find myself unable to be quite sure what the Minister's policy is. Originally, it is perfectly true, this procedure was supposed to apply only to buildings of special architectural importance. We were then given to understand that the Minister would consider the listing and giving of building preservation orders in the case of buildings which, though in themselves not of immense importance, were none the less, as examples of town planning, or of good relationship between buildings, of immense importance—more important perhaps, in some ways, than a solitary building even of the best quality. These agglomerations of buildings are the backbone of our lives in a way which the bigger, more important buildings perhaps are not, and therefore it is with the deepest regret that we have had the experience that the Minister has not backed us up, has not shown himself willing even to do additional listing which we have wished to see done for this purpose.

The noble Lord said, too, that he understood that it was the Minister's policy that grade 2 buildings should be the responsibility of the local planning authority. First of all, I would say that in fact there is no real line of demarcation between grade 1 and grade 2 buildings. You will find buildings whose charm and importance one finds it very hard to recognise in the grade 1 or statutory list. You will find buildings—or sometimes, alas! not find them even there—but you may find buildings of first-class quality on the supplementary list. Appearance on this list entails, of course, slightly different procedures, but in fact, as the noble Lord said, it means only a stay of execution which enables the local planning authority and the Minister to decide whether these buildings are to be preserved.

There are, I suggest, two factors which inevitably influence planning authorities when considering the imposition of a building preservation order. I apologise to Her Majesty's Government, since I have spoken on this matter before, and they did last year introduce a Bill which dealt with the so-called Third Schedule; that was the Third Schedule to the Act of 1947, under which any developer was entitled to rebuild his house as often as he might wish, or as seemed to him necessary or desirable, on condition that he did not add thereto more than 10 per cent. of its cubic capacity. This had the most disabling results, though the position has been somewhat improved by the Act of 1963, in which it is said that the increase must be only one of total floor area. This is a help but it is by no means a total victory. In areas where value of land and building are high, the compensation which falls to be paid remains so great that it is only with the greatest hesitation that a planning authority can face up to it.

Another factor which seems to me likely to influence the Minister is the case of the building which comes within the purview of what is called the Part VI claim. Under Part VI of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, Sections 58 to 68, any owner of land had a right to register a claim, against a notional sum of £300 million which was administered, and is administered, by the Central Land Board, for loss of development rights, though such claims had to be made by the appointed day and need not be—and in many cases were not—made at all. But where owners are prevented from developing their property they have a claim, which they should agree with the Central Land Board, who calculate the value of the land as for development on the appointed day.

This has resulted in some cases in which the Minister has upheld the building preservation order, and I should point out that in these cases the building preservation order is extremely important to the developer, because it is about the only, and certainly the easiest, form of evidence of the fact that he is losing development value, without which of course he can make no claim. The procedure then becomes one under which the intending developer or applicant for permission to demolish and develop provokes the local authority to put a building preservation order on his land, and that is evidence of loss of development value and he can then claim. The Minister has on various occasions supported such building preservation orders, but in others he has refused to do so, and it has seemed quite possible that he has been influenced in this matter by the fact that in his view the claims made were excessively large. None the less, the buildings were lost.

There is a curious anomaly in the Act of 1962. Section 33(1) requires an applicant for permission to demolish to give two months' notice to the planning authority, but in fact this requirement is not limited to any particular person. It is not even, apparently, covered by Section 16 of the Act, which lays down as a requirement production of a certificate of ownership or consent of the owner. Apparently anybody can apply, on giving two months' notice, for permission to demolish any listed building. There is no limit to the time during which that application runs. If the two months elapse and the planning authority does not resist the application, it becomes operative. Surely this has led to the peculiar position in which I, or any of your Lordships, can apply for permission to demolish all the listed buildings in London; and after two months, if the local authority has not put building preservation orders upon all of them, they will to all intents and purposes be unlisted buildings. I draw the Government's attention to this rather peculiar matter, because although the suggestion is perhaps a little exaggerated, it is, I think, legally what would happen.

I do not wish to keep your Lordships longer. I feel that something has to be done to preserve our towns and buildings all over the country. As other noble Lords have said, they are part of our heritage. It may be that it is a heritage for which we shall have to pay. I do not believe that such payment should be excessive. It seems to me that most of these extravagant values of lands and buildings are what one might term a social augmentation of price and of value, and if reasonable compensation were paid I do not see that owners would have any justification for feeling that they had been badly done by. The problem is a difficult one, but it is one which I am convinced will repay dividends—and I am not talking about tourist traffic. It will repay dividends by preserving for us and for our children the amenities, the beauty and the interest of our country and of theirs.

6.42 p.m.


My Lords, I should like for a few moments to support the plea of my noble friend Lord Methuen on behalf of the interiors of listed buildings, and to raise the question whether local authorities are as interested in interiors as they are in exteriors. I think they certainly should be if they read the reports of the Historic Buildings Council, whose latest report is full of details about the restoration of interiors. But one experience of mine would lead me, if I were a Scotsman, to say, "I ha'e ma doots".

I have the good fortune to occupy a listed building. It is, I think, in its small way one of the stately homes of England. It is a stone built house of 1720 or thereabouts. One day I received from my local authority a statutory notice under Section 16 of the Housing Act, 1961, which deals with the admirable subject of safe means of escape from fire. This excellent objective, however, was in the opinion of the local authority to be achieved by a means which, from any artistic standpoint, was quite deplorable. I was required to erect a three-sided structure of wire-glass to enclose the foot of the staircase, which would have quite spoiled the hallway of the house with its two period fireplaces. Indeed, this hideous structure would have cut into and seriously marred what I think is the most admired feature of the interior of the house—an ornate, coloured stucco ceiling. Fortunately, I was able to put forward an alternative suggestion, which I am glad to say the local authority at once accepted, and they withdrew their really quite monstrous requirement.

The reason why I mention this is that, if my experience is a typical one, I am seriously concerned about it because not everybody is prepared to do battle with his local authority in the way that I showed that I was prepared to do. The statutory notice was served upon me without any prior consultation at all. It did not even have a covering letter accompanying it. It arrived by itself in a registered envelope—a cold document, starting, in capital letters "TAKE NOTICE …". One of the advantages of being a lawyer is that documents of this kind perhaps strike less terror into one than they do into some other people. It arrived on the day that I was setting out for my summer holiday. I do not say that there is anything sinister in this; it just so happened. But it gave me only six weeks in which to carry out the required work which, had it ever needed to be carried out, would have been difficult for me to arrange in that period.

I do not believe that the local authority considered the artistic aspect of what they proposed at all until I raised it with them, notwithstanding that this is a listed building under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. I simply do not think that owners ought to be treated in this way. As I have said, some may be, for one reason or another, timid about doing battle with a local authority. Others, I suppose, may be old and weary and will do what is required of them in order to be left in peace as soon as they possibly can be. Again, others may be unimaginative in thinking up alternative schemes less disfiguring than the scheme of their local authority. Yet another class of owner, I suppose one must confess, may be unappreciative of the artistic surroundings in which he lives and will allow ill-considered disfigurement to take place.

I should like to think that in every other case except the one I have mentioned the local authorities most carefully consider the artistic aspect of the building; that they make friendly approaches to the owner who is their ratepayer; that they consult him, and do not resort to the statutory notice procedure except as a last resort in the case of an owner whom they consider to be obstinate and unco-operative in the extreme. I hope that the Minister in replying to this debate can give an assurance that in 99 cases out of 100 local authorities do act in this latter manner; and if by waving his magic wand, or in some other way, he can ensure that those 99 cases become 100 out of 100, in that respect alone this debate will have been worth while.

6.50 p.m.


My Lords, it must be a long time since an Unstarred Question evoked such enormous interest among so many noble Lords, and I know that were it not for another event taking place now in another part of this building there would be present a great many noble Lords who were here at the beginning of this discussion. I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Molson for introducing this Question and for the meticulous way in which he dealt with it. I will do my best to answer very nearly all the questions which fell rather rapidly, one after the other, from his lips. During the course of my speech I shall succeed at least in answering all his questions, even though not all my answers may prove to be thoroughly satisfactory; and I will do my best to pick up points made by other noble Lords.

Although the procedure is well known to noble Lords who have a special interest in this matter, I think it may be just as well if I were to run through and describe very briefly the relevant provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1962, at any rate for the benefit of those noble Lords who are not quite so familiar with them. Section 32 requires the Minister of Housing and Local Government to compile lists of buildings of special architectural or historic interest for the guidance of local planning authorities. Owners and occupiers have to be notified when their properties are listed and the appropriate entry has to be made in the Register of Local Land Charges. Provision for the compilation of such lists was, of course, first made in the Town and Country Planning Act of 1944.

My noble friend Lord Molson asked whether these lists were published. They are not printed and available to the public in that sense, but these lists are of course registered as land charges. Any member of the public can inspect the lists at council offices, and indeed will be sent one on request if interested in this matter.

Section 33 requires any person who proposes to demolish, alter or extend a listed building in any manner which would seriously affect its character to give at least two months' notice to the local planning authority. The noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, asked who decided what was meant by "seriously affecting the character of a building". Of course, it is the owner or the person who wishes to undertake works in the first place, but he is under the obligation to give the two months' notice. If he should chance his arm and not give notice, he could thereby commit an offence for which he can be fined £100. He can also be made to restore the building to its original condition, assuming it is not such a major operation as to be impossible. There is not a great deal of risk that the owner might go ahead without giving the statutory notice of two months. Copies of the notice must be sent by the local planning authority to the Minister and, where appropriate, to the district council concerned—that is to say, where there is one. In a county borough it is a different matter.


My Lords, to interrupt the noble Lord for one moment, may I ask him who is the ultimate authority if the owner says he has altered the building but has not altered its character? Who decides who is right, the local authority or the owner?


The local authority, because it may become a question of planning permission and appeal. These arrangements which I have just outlined ensure that the preservation of each listed building will be considered when any threat to it arises.

Before going further, my Lords, I should like to pay tribute to the invaluable help successive Ministers have received from the Advisory Committee on Buildings of Architectural or Historic Interest. This Committee, whose Chairman is now Sir William Holford, is composed of eminent architects, antiquaries and historians. It has been meeting at frequent intervals since 1945 to give authoritative guidance on the selection of buildings for listing and upon the problems of preservation.

The basis of listing laid down by the Advisory Committee in 1945 is that all pre-Georgian buildings which survive in something like their original form are included. By far the larger number of Georgian buildings are also included, and the lists embrace even the ordinary small houses of that period where they form significant groups. The choice is more selective, however, when we come to the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Here the aim is to select buildings of definite quality and character, paying special attention to the main works of the principal architects. However, even here the standards listed were in fact revised in 1960 to take account of the increased appreciation of Victorian architecture to which the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon referred. As a result, all those areas rich in Victorian buildings of good quality have been, and are being, re-surveyed in order to repair the omission of buildings of this period from the original lists.

It should not be thought, my Lords, that the approach to listing is a purely academic one, resting on nothing more than strictly individual merit building by building. On the contrary, the visual qualities of buildings are recognised as of great importance. Full account is taken not only of the intrinsic merits of individual buildings, but also of any value they may derive from their setting—where, for example, a particular building is important as part of a larger composition.

This point has been laboured by several speakers, especially my noble friend Lord Conesford. It is a point in which I have taken a great personal interest recently and into which I have carried out some investigations. I was very interested to find out, and would remind your Lordships, that the Minister's view of the legal validity of this group value in assessing the merits of a building was recently upheld by the Court of Appeal in a case concerning a preservation order for two buildings in St. James's Square. It is now quite clear that, whatever may have happened in the past, the Ministry is giving this question of group value very great attention indeed.

In connection with this aspect of drawing up lists, it may interest your Lordships to know that some ancient towns—for example, Winchester, Canterbury and Chichester—have already been resurveyed to give greater weight to buildings which have group value but only moderate intrinsic merit. This usually involves upgrading from the supplementary to the statutory list—in other words, from Grade III to Grade II. In addition, the Advisory Committee on Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest are considering the problem of the preservation of the character of historic areas which were specially mentioned by my noble friend Lord Molson. They are making pilot studies of several ancient towns to test out the idea of defining areas within which special standards should be applied. That, again, is a considerable advance.

These lists are made by surveying literally every highway and byway in the country. This has proved an immense task and it has taken a long time, but the work is now nearing completion. Out of the 1,474 local authority areas in England and Wales, 1,403 have been surveyed; the others are generally remote with few buildings of importance in them. Provisional lists have been issued to local authorities for 1,293 areas, and statutory lists have been completed in 1,090, including all the county boroughs, nearly all the boroughs, and most of the urban districts. There is, unfortunately, a delay (about which we have heard this evening) between provisional and statutory listing, because of the very large amount of clerical work involved in serving notices, in correspondence, and in compiling and publishing the final lists. Nevertheless, there are now about 85,000 buildings on the statutory lists and 93,000 on supplementary Grade III lists. The latter, however, have no legal effect. The Grade I and Grade II lists are statutory lists. Of course, it should be realised that the provisional lists, which are the first stage in compiling statutory lists, are themselves of very great value since they put the necessary information immediately into the hands of the authorities responsible for the control of development before they receive the statutory lists.

As a result of these processes, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government receives copies of all notices of intention to demolish or alter statutorily listed buildings. Local planning authorities usually consult the Ministry, also, about applications for planning permission for development which would directly affect a grade I or grade II building, even when it is only provisionally listed. Hence the value of the provisional list to which I have just referred. I hope that this has set the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Molson, somewhat at rest. The more important cases are referred by the Ministry to the Advisory Committee, and the National Preservation Societies are also notified of proposed demolitions so that they can make representations to the local planning authority and offer their help when appropriate. The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, in particular, often provides valuable technical advice.

The noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, opposite asked whether these voluntary societies could be given greater recognition. As I said, the national societies are informed. It is virtually impossible to write to all of the local societies, but many of them have arrangements direct with local planning authorities to be kept in touch with this question. They can also, of course, inspect the register of planning applications if they wish to do so.

At this point I think I might turn to the question of interiors, which was dwelt on very properly at considerable length by the two Liberal noble Lords opposite. I am very pleased to be able to tell them that the interiors play a very important part when listing buildings, and some buildings are in fact listed for their interiors. Certainly when it was a question of listing the building in which the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, lives, the interior was taken into consideration He is therefore quite correct to say that local authorities should pay particular attention to interiors. I might remind noble Lords, who may have read this in the papers, that quite recently a preservation order was confirmed on Scarisbrook Hall in Lancashire which has a most remarkable interior. Having sold the building, the developer wished to remove some panelling and pictures encased in the panelling, together with some statues, but was prevented from doing any of that on the basis that this is an essential part of the house and should be preserved as such.

Therefore local authorities should certainly take into account the value of the interior and, if any alteration is involved, they should certainly be very careful as to what is done so as not to affect the character of the building. I am not quite sure whether the noble Lord was himself carrying out some form of conversion or alteration. In that case, of course, the local planning authority have a right to go into the question in respect of what works are going to be carried out under the Act. But, of course, I am sure I must be right in saying that no local authority can come to an owner who is not proposing to do anything to his statutorily listed house, and say, "I do not like your staircase. Put a bit of glass round it in case it catches fire". That would only arise, I think, in the case of any works being proposed or being undertaken.

At the same time the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, brought up the question of Tower House. I happen to know that area very well myself, and it is an interesting matter. The Minister decided not to confirm the preservation order, it is true, but he did at the same time see that some of the buildings in the area of Melbury Road, including Tower House, were added to the statutory list, so that advance notice of demolition or alteration would have to be given. I understand that no such notice has up to this moment been given. Of course, if Tower House is vacant and neglected, which in fact I happen to know it is, a preservation order would not by itself help, unless the local planning authority were prepared to acquire it. I quite realise it may be argued that a building preservation order will assist or encourage somebody to maintain it—that is a moot point—but the local planning authority have powers, of course, to do something about it if they feel they would care to afford the expenditure involved.

Another matter with which I might conveniently deal at this moment is the noble Earl's other point about Crown buildings. They come outside the Act but, of course, the practice is to consult with the Ministry and with the local authorities interested if any alteration or demolition is proposed. In point of fact, this is a matter for my right honourable friend, the Minister for Public Buildings and Works, and not my Ministry. But I will certainly refer the noble Earl's remarks to him, particularly the suggestions of the noble Earl in respect of giving the public an opportunity to see a model or proposals of the reconstruction of Crown buildings. I am sure he will give the matter his careful attention.

The other important statutory provision of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1962, is to be found in Section 30. This enables local authorities, including both county councils and district councils, to make orders for the preservation of buildings of special architectural or historic interest. These preservation orders are not effective unless confirmed by the Minister, and he must consider any objections from interested parties before deciding whether or not to confirm them. The effect of an order, when confirmed, is to prohibit the demolition or alteration of the building without the consent of the authority. The Minister may indeed make a preservation order himself after giving notice of his proposal and considering any objections. But this is in the nature of a reserve power and, in answer to my noble friend's question, it is used on average twice a year—sparingly, in other words.

I have no doubt that it will interest your Lordships to know that 1,148 buildings are now covered by preservation orders, and that orders covering about another 100 are at present being considered by the Minister. However, I should like to emphasise that these figures give no real indication of the value of the powers of protection which I have been outlining. Apart from actual building preservation orders, I think there can be little doubt that the larger part of preserving our architectural and historic heritage is achieved by the educational and deterrent effect of listing, as well as by the refusal of planning permission. This question of planning permission and refusals is, so far as we can see, working quite well. We do not know, of course, of all refusals but we understand they are usually effective. It is only if the owner or proposing developer refuses to accept this decision of the local planing authority and makes an appeal that the matter would come to the Minister. In such cases the local planning authority may well have in the meanwhile applied for a building preservation order, and joint inquiries are quite often held into a planning appeal and an objection to a preservation order at one and the same time. I think this system really works pretty well.

It was, I think, in connection with the planning permissions that the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, was very much alarmed at the possibility of other people being able to apply for permission to demolish a building which they did not even own. Of course, this possibility is not confined to building preservation orders or to the preservation of historic and architectural buildings. It is part of the general planning procedure. Any developer can make such an application—and I believe often does—seeking to get permission for development before trying to buy the property. But, of course, the applicant cannot force the owner to sell if he does not want to do so. I think that is the real point. But the point the noble Earl raised is, in fact, appreciated, and I think it is one which can be borne in mind if and when any further legislation is being considered. I agree that it does seem rather a peculiar possibility.

My Lords, the sort of action that local authorities can take, to which I have been referring, is sometimes reinforced by the offer of grants by the Minister of Public Building and Works under the Historic Buildings Act, 1953, which falls rather outside the scope of the Question before us, or by grants or loans by the local authorities themselves under the Local Authorities (Historic Buildings) Act, 1962. The circular of December of that year sent out by my right honourable friend followed up the passing of that Act, and I commend it to your Lordships' attention. I think that in that Act, and certainly in that circular, the question of gardens is referred to, and local authorities can make loans and grants for the maintenance of gardens attached to buildings for which they are willing to make such loans or grants.


Even for gardens not attached to buildings?


That is a point on which I am not entirely clear. I understand that it is a matter which comes within the concern of the Minister of Public Building and Works, and that he has agreed to examine that particular problem.

Apart from the encouragement and good advice that that circular gives to local authorities, it goes at least some way towards filling the gap which we all know exists as a result of inability to enforce the proper maintenance of buildings which have been placed on a statutory list. I would say to those who believe that powers should be taken to compel the proper maintenance and repair of such buildings that here we should be very careful, because we should be treading on dangerous ground. Quite apart from the practical difficulties, a compulsory obligation to maintain at standards laid down by Statute might well deter people from accepting, or from continuing to accept, as the case may be, responsibility for the buildings we want to see preserved, and thus defeat its purpose. As it is, where a statutorily listed building is not being maintained in good repair, local authorities can acquire it for preservation by agreement; and this does happen in a good many cases. They also have compulsory powers of acquisition where a preservation order is in force, but this is a more difficult thing, I think, and these powers have, in fact, been used only twice. Purchase by way of agreement is obviously the more satisfactory, and usually the easier, way of the two.

I would remind the noble Lord that again there is always this question of penalties for demolition, although not for lack of maintenance. When it comes to the possibility of somebody deliberately allowing a building to be demolished, in the hope of being able to redevelop more profitably, he can, of course, theoretically, be asked to reinstate the building; and, of course, he can also be refused planning permission for any redevelopment. One realises this particular difficulty, and that this gap in the legislation exists, but I do not think it is used very frequently in the unfortunate manner which noble Lords fear.


My Lords, would my noble friend say that he can be compelled to restore it if he does nothing but allow it to drop down? I thought he could be compelled to restore it only if he had taken positive action.


I think that is in fact correct: if he has demolished it, he can be compelled to restore it. But I think that in this case the real sanction would be the refusal of planning permission for redevelopment. However, these cases are very rare indeed, fortunately; and, although one does recognise there is a weakness in the present procedure, it is very difficult to put it right without interfering unwarrantably with private rights and getting into all kinds of practical difficulties.

I am asked whether all these provisions are adequate for the purpose for which they were designed, and whether they are being implemented effectively. The answer, on the whole, is, "Yes". The Government are satisfied that the present arrangements ensure that the merits of buildings of real value are brought to the attention of the local planning authority, and that they are fully considered in consultation with the Ministry when threats to them arise. In view of criticisms which have been voiced in the past, and which continue to be voiced from time to time, I think it is worth while reminding ourselves that, although the purpose of existing legislation is to preserve buildings of special architectural or historic interest, it is not the purpose of this legislation to ensure absolutely that all such buildings are always to be preserved regardless of the circumstances.

However much we may value buildings of historic or architectural merit, or however much we may want to see them retained, we must surely recognise that preservation is not always possible. Preservation may, on occasions, conflict with other important objectives, and it may not even be in the public interest. Good buildings are sometimes lost, it is true, but in fact the number of statutorily listed buildings which have been demolished amounts to a figure which is not very great. One cannot be exact about it, but it is somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000, probably, out of a total of 85,000 statutorily listed buildings. I suggest seriously to your Lordships that that is not a sufficient reason for deducing that the machinery of preservation has failed.

This was the view taken, I think by my noble friend Lord Conesford at the beginning of his speech. He thought that the Acts and the procedure were working well in regard to buildings of the highest grade, but he was not so sure in regard to those in the second grade. But the end of his speech—in fact, the last half of it—was really a vigorous criticism of, if not an attack upon, the Government based upon the single case of Ely Place in Holborn. I do not wish to enter into arguments or discussions on an individual case. Of course, we can always find individual cases and base a whole argument or series of arguments upon them. I do not deny that in the past mistakes have been made. I do not deny that cases before us recently, and perhaps cases before us in the near future, will arouse controversy and will lead to differences of opinion. I think that is inevitable. They contain extremely difficult problems and a great deal of care is taken about the decisions in matters of this importance. But certainly I hope I have dispelled any ideas the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, may have had in respect of the neglect of group value, because that certainly is now no longer the case.

I do not think I can reply in detail to the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, who said that he did not quite understand the Minister's policy. This is, and must necessarily be, a rather subjective matter. These questions are often balanced very evenly, and so many pros and cons have to be taken into account. I do not think it can really he maintained that because a local planning authority wishes to put a building preservation order on a particular building, every time it does so it must automatically be supported. I am sure that in the majority of cases local authorities are supported, but there are occasions when it does not seem to my right honourable friend right to do so.

There is no doubt that the growing momentum of urban renewal, which we were debating only last week, has brought very special problems in its train—problems of building redevelopment, problems of roads and transport, problems of improvement, conservation and preservation: all these are interconnected. In particular, the problem of town centres and the preservation of the character and quality of buildings within them, which have been stressed during the course of this debate, have also been stressed by the Planning Bulletins No. 1 and No. 4, issued jointly—and this is important—by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the Ministry of Transport.

The general question of development near buildings of special architectural or historical interest—a very important matter—which was brought up by the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, was also the subject of a circular sent out by my right honourable friend on August 7, 1963—in fact the noble Lord referred to it. This circular emphasises the great importance attached to any new development near buildings of special interest, and explained how the new development should be fitted in, with attention being paid to the bulk, the size, shape and materials used—


My Lords, may I ask whether the law makes that quite clear: that where buildings are of architectural interest nothing should be put near them to spoil their appearance and value?


It is not the law. It is not in the Act. But the point is that, when planning permission is being given, the local authorities always have power to control the sort of development and make conditions as to the sort of buildings which shall be erected. The importance of this question has been emphasised by the Minister's sending out this circular to remind the local authorities and give them advice as to their approach in this particular matter.

We have to face the fact—and I think I can say that we did face up to it last week—that there must be changes in our cities and in our towns, and even sometimes in our villages, if we are to meet the challenge of to-day and if we are to plan wisely for the future. Nevertheless, the Government are determined to protect the treasures of the past from unnecessary destruction. I hope that what I have said this evening has reassured many noble Lords, and that we can claim that, with the passage of time, procedure has been improved and tidied up with general benefit. We believe that the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Acts and, in particular, the way in which they are being put into operation do enable me to say truthfully that we are well equipped to give this protection.


My Lords, I wonder whether, before the noble Lord sits down, he could say a word about the operation of the Third Schedule.


My Lords, I am not sure; but I thought I had answered all the points. I am not quite clear.


Ten per cent. extra.


My Lords, I think the noble Lord himself answered this point. We have altered that Third Schedule. I am sorry my Lords, I did not take up that point. I made a note; but it escaped me. This question is really related to an owner's power to serve a purchase notice on a local authority to obtain a form of compensation; and such notice can be served on a local planning authority only if it can be proved that the buildings in their present form or by conversion cannot be put to beneficial use. And of course "beneficial use" does not mean that they have to be as profitable or as good as the buildings would be if they were redeveloped. It is a much lower standard. If buildings can be used in any way beneficially—and the classic example is Stratford Place, off Oxford Street—compensation will be refused. If the buildings can still be put to a beneficial use, the question of compensation does not arise. I hope that that answer will at least clear up some of the points which have been put.

House adjourned at twenty-five minutes past seven o'clock.