HL Deb 15 February 1966 vol 272 cc968-71

2.38 p.m.


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

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the decision taken by the Minister of Housing and Local Government with regard to the limitation of the use of New Court, Carey Street and conveyed on behalf of that Minister to Messrs. Goodman Derrick and Company, in a letter dated July 13, 1965, still represents the views of the Government; and, if so, what steps they are taking to ensure the implementation of those views by the local planning authority.]


My Lords, this limitation was imposed in a planning permission granted in 1964. There was an outline permission for a smaller building on the same site which was granted in 1962 and contained no such limiting condition. Any action to modify the 1962 permission by adding a similar limiting condition was a matter in the first place for the Westminster City Council as local planning authority. They decided not to do so and they approved the details for the 1962 planning permission on November 25, 1965.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, but will he not agree that the reason why no condition was included in the 1962 permission was an oversight by an officer of his Department? Therefore, will he not exercise his powers under Section 207 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1962 in order to ensure that the condition is imposed now?


No, my Lords, I am afraid that I cannot agree with the first suggestion. If there was any oversight it was an oversight by the London County Council, and I have always understood that we never say anything but good about the dead. However that may be, in relation to this building, and to this area of London generally, the circumstances in 1962 were rather different from what they have since become; and if there was a mistake, I think it was an excusable one.

On the second point, my right honourable friend took the view, which I tried to express in the Answer, that this was a matter for the Westminster City Council. The noble Viscount will be well aware that if an attempt is made to modify an existing permission—and there was the 1962 existing permission—the planning authority incur a considerable liability, and it may well be that the possibility of a liability of that kind weighed with the Westminster City Council in their decision. It was, of course, only one of the elements to be considered. This is an area at the back of the Law Courts, which is not reserved exclusively for the legal profession. There are other buildings in that same block, and if one goes along from Chancery Lane to the back entrance of the Law Courts one passes premises such as shops which are not occupied by members of the law profession at all. If I may say so with all respect to my right honourable friend, I think it is a case which ought to have been left to the Westminster City Council, who are a highly responsible planning authority and would, I am sure, be most reluctant to place any additional liability for rates on the Law Society, who are, I think, one of the Council's ratepayers.


My Lords, again I am grateful to the noble Lord, but will he not agree that this particular area of New Court has for the last 80-odd years been substantially a legal precinct, or a precinct for those persons who work in businesses ancillary to the law? Would he please look again at the question of whose mistake it originally was?—because, according to my information, the lack of imposition of a condition for the redevelopment of this property, restricting it to being substantially a legal precinct, was the mistake of his Department. Therefore, accepting the fact that the Westminster City Council, if they now limit the planning condition, will have to pay a substantial sum of money by way of compensation, will the noble Lord not accept that that responsibility should be shouldered by his Department?


My Lords, I do not think it is quite a case of the Department shouldering a responsibility. Of course, I know how very careful the noble Viscount is about his facts, and if his information on this differs from mine it may well be that he is right and I am wrong. I do not know. But assuming that his information is right, the fact remains that the 1962 planning permission for a smaller building was given without this condition, so that when the disputes about the 1964 planning permission were concluded the prospective developers were left with a choice between using the 1964 planning permission—with its condition—for a larger building or using the 1962 planning permission— without a condition—for a smaller building. They chose the latter, and I cannot see that there is any responsibility at all on my right honourable friend or his Department in this matter. This seems to me to be, as it now is, rightly and properly a matter for the local planning authority, and particularly, if I may say so, for a highly responsible planning authority such as the Westminster City Council.

I think it is fair to the Westminster City Council to add that they did, in fact, give my right honourable friend an opportunity of objecting, if he so chose, or of taking appropriate steps, and he regarded it—and told the Council that he regarded it—as a matter for the Council. That is what I think it was. I am sure the noble Viscount will agree that one must draw the line, sometimes with considerable difficulty, between the planning authority and the Ministry. I am sorry to have taken so long.