HL Deb 10 December 1969 vol 306 cc575-9

3.50 p.m.


My Lords, with the leave of the House I will repeat a Statement about the Greater London Development Plan Inquiry, which has been made in the House of Commons by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Local Government and Regional Planning. It is as follows:

"The Greater London Council, as the strategic planning authority for Greater London, formally submitted their Greater London Development Plan to my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing in August.

"This Plan sets out a series of strategic policies and proposals for the future development of London, covering population, housing, employment, roads, transportation, areas for comprehensive development and other matters of strategic significance.

"The Plan is comprehensive, complex and controversial. There has been much argument, in particular about the motorway proposals and their possible impact on the urban environment. The objections to the Plan now total 20,000; most of them are directed against the road proposals. The Government believe that so important a plan must be subject to the most rigorous and searching scrutiny. I know that the Greater London Council would welcome this.

"In the case of the London County Council County of London Development Plan in 1952, to which there were 6,700 objections, the statutory Inquiry was handled by a panel of inspectors from the Ministry of Housing. On this occasion, without casting any reflection on the acknowledged competence and impartiality of the Ministry Inspectorate, the Government believe that we need special arrangements for the statutory Inquiry.

"To this end I propose: first, that the Inquiry should be conducted by an independent Chairman of high standing and repute; secondly, that he should be assisted by a panel including an independent transportation expert and an independent planner, together with sufficient Ministry inspectors and others to enable the Inquiry to be conducted efficiently, expertly and expeditiously; thirdly, that the Panel should, in addition, be assisted by a number of outside assessors to help them probe and evaluate, fully and searchingly, the policies embodied in the Plan, the objections made to them and possible alternative strategies.

"I am sure that the G.L.C., and the other parties to the Inquiry, will readily provide such supplementary material as the Panel may require for evaluating the proposals in the Plan. I consider it essential, however, that, if it should prove necessary, the Chairman of the Inquiry should have the right to ask the Government to commission any additional research which he considers necessary for the proper completion of his task.

"There will be an announcement later of the names of the Chairman and the outside members of the Panel appointed by the Minister of Housing, and also of the date for the opening of the Inquiry, which is unlikely to be before next July."


My Lords, I think that all your Lordships would wish me to thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for repeating this important Statement—a Statement which, so far as I am concerned, is generally acceptable. May I ask the noble Lord to confirm that this is not the case of a Planning Inquiry Commission under Part VI of the Town and Country Planning Act 1968, but a normal, though high-powered, statutory Inquiry such as is regularly held into a development plan? Further, is it not possible for the Inquiry to start before July? And can the noble Lord give your Lordships the assurance that when it does start the Chairman and the Panel will be strongly enough staffed and equipped to carry through the Inquiry with the greatest possible speed as well as thoroughness? Because prolonged delay in this matter is bad for the persons and interests affected, bad for the Greater London Council and bad for the country generally.


My Lords, I, too, should like to welcome the Statement which has been made by the Minister. May I ask him this question? In view of the American experience, which indicates that decisions taken by one area or city can have unforeseen and sometimes unfavourable effects on other towns and cities even a hundred or more miles away, who will be charged with the duty of looking after the national interest in what in fact appears to be a London problem?


My Lords, before the Minister replies, may I ask him whether a practical woman's mind has been included on the Panel?


My Lords, I am glad that the Statement is welcomed by all sides of the House. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, asked whether I could confirm that this was not a P.I.C. but only a normal development plan Inquiry. I can confirm that. Why can it not start before next July? Mainly because there is a bit that the Greater London Council want to add to it. This is a section of their Ringway 2 proposal, which is not yet ready. This is coming to the Minister shortly, and there will have to be a couple of months for objectors to put in their objections to this late part of the Plan. Then the objectors themselves will have to be sorted into categories, and when you have 20,000 objections that is a major task. There is, unfortunately, so much preparatory work that the hopes of getting it going before July are, I regret, virtually nil. Thirdly, the noble Lord asked whether the Inquiry would be strongly enough staffed to work with speed. I think that when he comes to look to-morrow at what I said in detail about the Panel themselves, the attached inspectors, the assessors and all the rest, he should be confident that if this is not well enough staffed it is doubtful whether anything ever will be.

The noble Lord, Lord Byers, inquired about the effect on national planning. This Plan, although it is an enormous one, is only a local planning authority development plan. Every local planning authority has one, or should have one by now—they almost all do—which are up-dated from time to time. They are fitted together when they are being formulated by common sense contact between planning authorities. The overall framework is provided in an advisory sense by my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, and his technical staff are always ready to advise. As to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, since none of the members of the Panel has yet been appointed I cannot say whether any of them will be a woman; and, if any of them is a woman, I cannot say whether she will have more or less common sense than her colleagues, who will no doubt be male.


My Lords, may I say how glad I am to learn with what seriousness Her Majesty's Government regard this extraordinarily important matter? May I ask one question? I am not sure that I heard or remember exactly what the noble Lord said about assessors and those taking part in the Inquiry. What I am anxious to know is whether architectural interests will be adequately represented. The threats to the future of the treasures of architecture in Greater London are so immense that I hope architectural assessors will be on the Panel.


My Lords, the question of the number of assessors and what skills they should have remains to be settled, but I will certainly keep the noble Lord's observations in mind.


My Lords, could my noble friend explain in what way, except as to the magnitude of the thing, this Inquiry differs from other town planning inquiries as regards other large towns? I assume, if I understood my noble friend correctly, that this is a normal town planning inquiry. Why, then, is he setting up such an elaborate organisation for it? That is the first point. The other is quite separate. Apart from the matter of the roads, plans for which I understand have not yet been finalised, I believe that the rest of the planning has already been brought forward. Is it too late for people to lodge objections to that part of the Inquiry? They will be able to lodge objections, of course, to plans for the roads which are not yet formulated; but I wonder whether the door is now closed for people to object to the rest of the Plan.


My Lords, in the statutory sense it is, as I have said, a normal development plan inquiry, differing in no way from others. It differs only in being larger and in having an outside chairman and outside members. Why so elaborate?—because the Greater London Development Plan is, in the words of the Statement, "complex and controversial". Is it too late for objections? The objection period closed yesterday; but my right honourable friend, as always, is willing to consider late objections. I suggest that people hurry to get them in, or they will be too late even for late ones. On the question of roads, I should make it clear that the greater part of the road proposals are already formulated and have been objected to by the great majority of the 20,000 objectors who have already sent in their observations. It is only one part of Ringway 2 that is not yet formulated. When that is formulated and published there will be the normal two-month period during which objections to that specific part may be lodged.