HL Deb 03 February 1965 vol 262 cc1172-80

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, may I be allowed to intervene for a moment, to congratulate my noble friend on the speech that we have just heard and to repeat a Statement which my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government has just made in another place about housing for Londoners. Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to use his words. They are as follows:

"In co-operation with the local authorities I am making every effort to stimulate house building within the conurbation. But there are limits to the extent that London can be built up, and there can be no doubt that the needs of the existing population call for a new programme of building in new and expanded towns in order to end the housing shortage, replace houses lost through slum clearance and other redevelopment, and keep pace with natural increase.

"A critical fact is that the output of houses in the present New Towns is running down as they near completion. Immediate decisions are necessary if we are to avoid a disastrous gap in housing for Londoners.

"To prevent this the Government propose, as an interim measure, to go ahead with a New Town in North Buckinghamshire and with the expansion of Ipswich, Peterborough and Northampton. I will shortly be discussing with local authorities concerned the measures needed to implement these proposals, including the surveys that will be needed to determine the precise siting of the development. In particular, I shall be considering with them the desirability of using the machinery of the New Towns Act for these schemes. I am also discussing with the Greater London Council the possibility of an expansion of some of their existing overspill schemes.

"There remains the question of land for people who move themselves out of London into the Home Counties. Some of these will move well away, but many will want, and will need, to live within reach of London, and they must have the chance to do so. Moreover, land must be made available for the new households of the population already living in the 40-mile ring. My Department will shortly be discussing with the individual local planning authorities where, in the outer metropolitan region, this additional land can best be provided, leaving aside, for the time being, the question of any provision for migration into the South East.

"These measures are urgently needed to ensure a continued housing programme for people who have to move out of London. In order to avoid prejudicing the South-East review, especially in relation to migration from other parts of the country, the Government's aim will be to secure that an even greater proportion of houses provided will go to Londoners than in the existing New Towns; also that the employment provided will be in activities that cannot be located further away from London, and not, for example, in new industrial growth that could take place elsewhere in Great Britain."

3.50 p.m.


My Lords, I would thank the Parliamentary Secretary for Land and Natural Resources for such information as he has given in this Statement. However, this information is wrap- ped up in a good deal of verbiage, the purport of which is well known to all your Lordships. The first two paragraphs are merely a recapitulation of what was said on many occasions by the noble Lord's predecessor—in other words, myself—during the last Conservative Government.

We come to some information in the third paragraph, where we are told that the Government propose to go ahead with the New Town in North Buckinghamshire and with the expansion of Ipswich, Peterborough and Northampton, and it adds that consultations are going on with the local authorities to determine the siting of the development. Presumably this refers to all four developments mentioned, particularly as in the subsequent sentence reference is made to the use of the machinery of the New Towns Act for these schemes, a proposal which, of course, was put forward by my right honourable friend Sir Keith Joseph when he was Minister of Housing.

There are one or two questions about these schemes that I would ask. I hope the noble Lord will be able to give answers straight away. First of all, does this New Town in North Buckinghamshire refer to the proposal in The South East Study for the expansion of Bletchley, or to a scheme which has been adumbrated in the County Council and in the Press about another town in North Buckinghamshire with a monorail service? I believe that there may be some confusion, and perhaps the noble Lord could tell us which scheme is contemplated in the Statement.

This paragraph immediately follows on the statement that the output of houses in the present New Towns is running down as they near completion and therefore we must do something to close the gap in housing for Londoners. It was because of that that Sir Keith Joseph suggested that it would be desirable to go ahead with the development of Stevenage. The expansion of Ipswich, Peterborough and Northampton which is put forward is not a proper substitute, because Stevenage could go ahead much more quickly, with the staff already there for planning and building, whereas in the other towns a special organisation will have to be set up before they can start making progress. So my second question is: what is happening about Stevenage? I am aware that there is a lot of controversy and that many noble Lords on my side of the House disagree on this, but that is not the point at the moment. What has happened about the public inquiry which was going to take place at Stevenage? Is that postponed indefinitely? Is any decision to be expected on that matter?

Turning to the expansion of Ipswich, Peterborough and Northampton, which was recommended in The South East Study, I would point out to the noble Lord that these expansions, including the expansion of Bletchley, would, according to the estimates of The South East Study, amount to an increase of 235, 000 houses in a phased development over the next 20 years. That would mean, in ten years, about 125, 000 new houses. But we already know from the White Paper, London: Housing, Employment and Land, which the previous Government produced in February, 1963, that London requires at least half a million new houses in the next ten years. Here are proposals for producing only 120, 000 of that half million, of which half may be in London. This means that there will be still a shortfall of 130, 000 houses over the next ten years for Londoners alone, not to mention the other 1½ million extra population expected in the South-Eeast from natural increase, excluding any migration into the area. It is plain that a great deal more has to be done and many decisions taken: and the sooner the better.

A slight reference is made to the problem in the penultimate paragraph, where it says that land must be made available for the new households of the population already living in the 40-mile ring. That is a limited area and a limited population, but at least it refers to people already living outside London. The great problem remains—what is going to be done about the suggestions (because it was not a plan, but suggestions for discussion) in The South East Study? The rest of this paragraph says that the noble Lord's Department is discussing the matter with the planning authorities.


My Lords, may I break in for a moment? It is customary to try to let noble Lords on the Opposition side have a copy of a Statement a short while before it is made, but I hope that the noble Lord will not take undue advantage of that. It is not usual to proceed along the lines he is adopting at present.


My Lords, I am sorry if it is too long. I wanted to put these questions because I felt that the noble Lord would be in a position to answer. I hope he will be able to give us some more information about the further progress of this Study and about what his right honourable friend proposes to do.

3.58 p.m.


My Lords, with great respect, I think that the noble Lord has slightly misunderstood the character of the Statement I have just been making. I purposely emphasised the words, "as an interim measure", because this is an interim measure intended to get these developments started as soon as possible. I am sorry that the noble Lord found parts of this Statement verbose. It seems to me to have a real content in every case.

I would say to the noble Lord, on the need for an interim measure, that a great deal of the difficulty about the New Towns and the expansions of existing towns arises from the fact that during six years the Conservative Government did not build any New Towns. It is true that more lately they began to do so but, as I think the Statement indicates, what has already been started has proved insufficient. As to the extent of the insufficiency, the noble Lord rightly points out that the proposed developments in themselves will not provide all that is needed. I entirely agree. The figures he gave indicated that they would provide roughly one-quarter of the requirements. I think that the figure of one-third might be a little more accurate, but housing statistics are extremely difficult to use and one has to be careful about what exactly one is describing in any given set of figures. I noticed his reference to the existing population without migrants. That is what I, too, have in mind and what is intended particularly by these developments.

To turn to the other points raised by the noble Lord, the first was whether the development described as to be in North Buckinghamshire was at Bletchley or at some other town in that county with monorail connections. To this I would simply say that, if he takes the very next sentence after the reference to North Buckinghamshire, he will see that my right honourable friend will shortly be discussing with the local authorities concerned the measures needed to implement these proposals, including the service that will be needed to determine the precise siting of the development. That is the present position, and pending those discussions I am afraid I cannot—nor could my right honourable friend if he were here—further answer the noble Lord's question on that point.

I would again call the attention of noble Lords to the references in this Statement to the South-East Study. This is not intended in any way to prejudice consideration of the South-East Study. Indeed, my right honourable friend expresses himself as leaving aside for the time being the question of any provision for migration into the South-East. That was one of the principal subjects with which the South-East Study was concerned, and the review of the Study could hardly be made except in relation to both that question as well as to the natural growth of population.

If I may say so, this is an interim measure. This is a Statement about a particular and rather urgent matter, and the urgency of it lies not in the fact that these New Towns and other developments have to be put up quickly, but in the fact that they must be begun soon. It takes time to get New Towns, and so on, started. Therefore, the Statement does not connect up with any proposals about Stevenage or any other place, on which I am well aware that there is controversy; and this is rather apart from the real subject matter of this Statement.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for the explanation and answers that he has given to the questions put by my noble friend on this important Statement. It may be that we shall want to discuss this later in the course of a debate, and I should like to reserve consideration of it. There are, however, two questions that I wish to put to the noble Lord for further elucidation of the Statement. At the end of it the noble Lord said that there remained the question of land for people who moved out of London into the Home Counties, and also the provision of land for the households of the population already living in the 40-mile ring. Am I right in thinking that this means that further land in the Green Belt is going to be used for housing? I will not ask the noble Lord to say, if that is so, how much is going to be allocated for housing. I think that is what it means, and I should be glad to know whether the noble Lord confirms it.

The second point I wish to mention is this. The noble Lord knows this area around Northampton perhaps as well as I do. I should hope that some consideration might be given to not confining all this development to Northampton, but to some taking place at Kettering and Wellingborough, and perhaps, last but not least, the town of Welwyn.


My Lords, on the first point, I made a fairly full statement about the Green Belt in a debate on an Unstarred Question that we had the other day, and I have really nothing to add to that. But I should like to repeat what I then said, that that particular development was not intended to be, and in my view was not, an intrusion in any way on the principle of the Green Belt. I would put it otherwise: that what is proposed here is really the only way of preventing the constant "nibbling" at the Green Belt which went on under the last Government—"nibbling" in small pieces, but small pieces amounting, on the whole, to quite considerable incursions. I hope the noble and learned Viscount will not think that I am being too contentious or desiring to discuss something that is hardly before us now, but I can put it even more shortly. This is not intended in any way to represent any further incursion into the Green Belt or to foreshadow any further incursion into the Green Belt. It is wholly consistent with what was said at more length in the debate to which I have referred.

On the second and, if I may put it this way, very homely question—homely both to the noble and learned Viscount and, until recently, to myself and my noble friends here—I would only say that I will take care that his views are conveyed, and adequately conveyed, to my right honourable friend. The noble and learned Viscount knows that part of the world very well indeed, and has done so over many years, and I am sure his opinions about it will be valued and appreciated. The matter has not yet been settled, for the reasons that I have just given.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether, in order to increase accommodation in London, there is any intention of increasing density by allowing buildings to be built higher in appropriate places, which would bring more people to live centrally in London rather than to go further afield?


My Lords, with great respect, we were having an extremely interesting debate just before the Statement was made, and this question really does go a long way beyond the subject matter of this particular Statement. I entirely see the noble Lord's point, and I have often felt it myself. It is a matter for argument one way or the other, but perhaps not for argument now.


My Lords, the noble Lord said in this important Statement that development of the proposed town in North Buckinghamshire was very urgent; that this was an interim plan, and the three towns he mentioned were referred to in the South-East Study. The town in North Buckinghamshire was proposed to be at Bletchley, but now further studies are going on. Can the noble Lord say how long will it be before some arrangement can be come to with the Buckinghamshire County Council as to where this proposed New Town will go. There is, as the noble Lord said, a lot of preliminary work to be done, and we want to get started. I should like to know when it will be decided where the New Town is going to be.


My Lords, I see the noble Lord's point; but one really cannot foretell the length of time that discussions with local authorities, which are clearly required in this case, will take. I am certain that my right honourable friend will move with diligence, and I hope that the local authorities will do the same.


My Lords, the noble Lord said that his right honourable friend would be having discussions with the appropriate authorities concerning the siting of this development. I understand that there have been proposals for a New Town—it was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Hastings—which would have 36 miles of monorail. May I ask the noble Lord whether in effect the suggestion of having a monorail, which costs in the region of £1 million a mile, will be considered at the same time?


My Lords, I am sure that every relevant consideration will be taken into account, including monorails. But this is a Statement of an interim measure and of pending consultations and surveys that will have to be considered at a later stage.