§ 4.27 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, for having dealt so fully with the Order before us. Your Lordships will be aware that your Special Orders Committee expressed the view that this Order could not be passed by the House without special attention, and we are grateful to the noble Lord for having given so much special attention to it in the statement that he has made to us.
May I ask the noble Lord one or two questions, and perhaps say this first of all? In a situation where, as I understand from the statement in another place, the offices now being built will provide nearly a quarter more office places than at present exist in the area, and when at the same time there is a manpower shortage, it would be difficult to oppose an order extending the Act to this area. Indeed, I would have thought that it was not even necessary to include this in the statement that was made on July 27, because in the circumstances which the noble Lord has stated to the House, the extension of this area under the Act could have stood on its own. The noble Lord has said that there will, of course, be no retrospection in this regard, and I should like to ask him this question. Clearly, there will be a movement from sub-standard offices elsewhere into the office premises now being built, so that the offices in the sights so to speak, are not likely to be clear gain if as I expect those sub-standard offices will not be reoccupied. May I ask the noble Lord whether or not where sub-standard offices are evacuated so as to improve office accommodation, they will be permitted to be re-occupied?
Secondly, may I take it that the Order can be altered at any time? If it should be found that the area in which the control is required is less than the rather wide area at present affected, which I think amounts to about 240 square miles, will an amending Order be laid restricting the area to a smaller one? Thirdly, on the question of areas, I understand that the Boundary Commission's 717 reorganisation proposals have been laid before the House, and if passed will come into effect on April 1. Will that mean any change in the Order, and if it does—if a fresh Order will have to be laid—will there be a change in the total area which is covered by the Order, or will the area be substantially the same? I should be grateful if the noble Lord would answer those questions.
§ LORD RHODES
My Lords, with regard to retrospection, the Order does not apply retrospectively to office development in excess of the exemption limit for which planning application was made, or for which permission was given, before the 14th. I think that is quite clear and definite. With regard to the noble Lord's question about the Boundary Commission and its findings, may I say that there is very little difference in area expected between this part of the West Midlands Region as a whole, the one we are talking about, and the Birmingham conurbation, but it will be necessary, in the event of any change at all being made, to make another Order.
With regard to sub-standard offices, I do not think it is possible for us to prevent re-occupation of old offices after the occupants have moved into new offices. I cannot give the noble Lord a better answer on that, I am afraid, but we shall try to see that the old offices are not kept as offices and that the bad conditions are not perpetuated. To the noble Lord's question, "Can an Order be made at any time? "the answer is: yes, it can—and I hope he will accept that. We are grateful to the noble Lord for having commended this Order, for which there is a very urgent need.
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord could say whether authorities contemplating schemes of comprehensive redevelopment will be able to discover, by application to the local office of the Board of Trade, whether or not an office content can be inserted in a scheme of comprehensive redevelopment? I had some assurances on this point when I raised it in regard to the first district Order, and I believe I was assured that it would be possible for authorities contemplating these schemes to have some guidance in this matter. I can only say that, so far as my experience goes, it has as yet been 718 extremely difficult to get any guidance from the Board of Trade.
§ LORD RHODES
My Lords, in answer to the noble Viscount I would say that his question is not really applicable to this particular Order, but I remember his great interest in this matter when we were discussing the Bill, before it became an Act, in the House, and if there is any fresh information about it I will see that he gets a letter to let him know.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, may I make one small point? I do not want to accept thanks to which I am not really entitled. I was careful to say that we would not oppose this Order, but I did not exactly commend it. I said that, in the context of the Act (about which, as noble Lords opposite know, we had reservations), we would not oppose this Order. May I make one further point clear? I take it that, as this Order can be altered at any time, it will not necessarily follow that this Order will run for the whole period of the Act. Is that so?
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.