HL Deb 01 December 1966 vol 278 cc798-801

3.14 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what, if any, is their policy with regard to high buildings in London.]


My Lords, policy On high buildings in London is primarily the responsibility of the local planning authorities, the Greater London Council and the London boroughs. When buildings over 150 feet, in the central area, and over 125 feet elsewhere, are proposed, boroughs must refer applications to the Greater London Council if they wish to grant permission.

The development plan for the former London County Council area requires the planning authorities to ensure that high buildings are properly sited. The present arrangements are not, however, the last word. The Greater London Council are required to formulate a policy for high buildings as part of the Greater London development plan which they must submit for my right honourable friend's approval by the end of 1968. Their preliminary report on the plan, which was published last week, has a section on this subject and I commend it to the noble Lord's attention.


My Lords, I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, will expect me to thank him very much for that Answer. I should like to ask whether the noble Lord or Her Majesty's Government are aware of the extreme anxiety felt by the public generally about the crushing up in an apparently quite incoherent manner of these tall buildings? I would ask, in particular, whether the noble Lord would not agree with me that the value of our parks for the purpose of recreation depends to a large extent on the fact that they are able to produce the illusion to those who frequent them of a contact—too difficult to obtain in most cities—with Nature, and that this is immediately vitiated when tall buildings come up over the horizon of the parks? May I ask the noble Lord whether one would not conclude from this that it is desirable that high buildings should be situated in such a way that they are not visible from the parks?


My Lords, the Government are aware of the existence of doubt, and even disquiet, in the public mind about the siting of high buildings in London. On the special question of the parks, I should say that my right honourable friend the Minister of Public Building and Works has to be consulted—although he has no veto—about the siting of tall buildings within 50* yards of any Royal Park or Palace. However, I would assure my noble friend that this whole policy is under discussion at the moment, in preparation for the submission of the Greater London Plan by 1968, between the Greater London Council and the borough councils, and that my right honourable friend's officials in the Ministry of Housing and Local Government will do what they can to enable the best possible policy to be devised in 1968.


My Lords, refer ring back to the original Answer and the responsibilities of the Greater London Council, can the noble Lord say, in regard to the immediate area of Whitehall, whether this responsibility still exists within the competence of the Greater London Council in parts of it where the 50-yard rule would not apply? If the responsibility does lie with them, will Her Majesty's Government pay great attention to any possible redevelopment in the area of Whitehall so that the beautiful silhouettes which exist in certain parts of it may be preserved?


My Lords, the greater part of what we think of as Whitehall is Crown property, and the Crown, as the House will know, is exempt from planning permission. But there exists a procedure whereby development on Crown property is discussed between the Ministers concerned and the local authority, generally under the ægis of my right honourable friend's Department, and agreement is reached in accordance with this procedure.


My Lords, does the Minister recall the very valuable comments on the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, which were made some time ago in a Report of the Royal Fine Art Commission which drew particular attention to the importance of avoiding the destruction of what is a uniquely valuable feature of London, the illusion which you can get in some of our parks of being in the country? Will he bear that Report of the Royal Fine Art Commission very carefully in mind?


Yes, my Lords.


My Lords, did I hear the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, refer to 50 yards? If so, does he think that with a building which is going to be well over 50 yards high there is any point in a regulation of this kind? Would it not be better to extend the distance to 500 yards, or even 5,000 yards?


My Lords, we shall bear the noble Lord's question closely in mind in the consultations which are proceeding.


My Lords, I understood the Minister to say that in cases of areas like Whitehall, which are largely Crown property, discussions take place between the Minister concerned, or the Department concerned, and the Greater London Council. With whom does the final decision rest in such cases?


My Lords, I am not aware, without preparation, of cases where, as a practical matter, the question of where the final decision rests has ever arisen. Agreement, I think, is always reached.


My Lords, may I enlighten the noble Lord? It has occurred. One of the very worst offences against the amenities of the Parks was the result of ministerial action taken against some other authorities.


My Lords, supposing a further Question was put down on the point I raised, would the Minister do his best to answer it? It seems to me to be a point of some importance.


My Lords, of course, I will do my best to answer it, but the proceedings under Circular No. 100 are normally confidential.


My Lords, would the noble Lord say why buildings 150 feet high are allowed in the central area of London without special attention while outside that area the limit is only 125 feet? Would it not be better if the regulations were framed the other way round, and tall buildings kept to a minimum in the central area?


My Lords, this point, too, is under consideration at the present time between the Greater London Council and the boroughs.


My Lords, does the Minister's answer to my noble friend Lord Salisbury really mean that Parliament is not to be taken into the confidence of the Government and the Greater London Council on Whitehall, which after all is a great national institution?


No, my Lords, I think not. Ministers are responsible to Parliament, and they conduct consultations and reach joint decisions with local authorities which immediately become public property.

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