HL Deb 21 July 1969 vol 304 cc729-37

6.24 p.m.

The CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (The Earl of Listowel)

My Lords, in moving the Third Reading of this Bill, I think I should say a few words about its background. I would remind your Lordships that in July of last year the House agreed to a Motion for an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill. That Motion was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, and when it was passed and the Instruction was given to the Committee, I reported early in this Session that the Bill, though it was, of course, an Unopposed Bill, should be treated as an Opposed Bill in order that a Select Committee could be appointed and could consider and make recommendations about the Instruction from the House. The Select Committee have made a Special Report giving their decision on the Instruction, and reasons for it, and this Report is now before your Lordships. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(The Earl of Listowel.)

6.25 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of LONDON

My Lords, I should, I suppose, declare an interest, in that I am not unconnected with the Promoters of this Bill. I should like to express our thanks to the Select Committee for the great care which they have taken and the time they have spent in going into this problem. When the matter was last before your Lordships' House I explained, so far as I could, the general attitude which the Diocese of London was taking. We did not consider that the Church of St. Saviour, Paddington, in its present form fulfilled a pastoral need, and we felt that the proposed new church, smaller, would in every way be more satisfactory pastorally.

I also said on that occasion that we should not think it right to spend large sums of money on restoring and maintaining the tower, which was not, in our opinion, justified pastorally, as against the needs of other areas of the diocese where new churches were required. The Select Committee have examined and set out in their Report the relative costs of retaining the tower, of making it an integral part of a new church or of pulling it down. Our feeling in the diocese remains the same.

There was a suggestion, to which the Select Committee refer in their Report, that a new, smaller and much cheaper church would be satisfactory, but, in the opinion of the diocese, that was swinging too far in the opposite direction. We would point out that the Report makes it clear that, although there were those who, on grounds of amenity, wished the tower to be retained, at considerable cost on any calculation, the only person or body which was prepared to help the diocese to do that was the Greater London Council, with a proposed grant of £4, 000, which would not go very far towards the actual capital work required now and would do nothing to ease the parish and the diocese from a considerable continuing liability.

The diocese accepts fully and willingly that there must be the fullest consultation with the Royal Fine Art Commission on the form and shape of any tall feature or spire which would fill in the gap at the end of Warwick Avenue if the tower were to go away. But, apart from that, we should ourselves hope very much that your Lordships will accept the advice of the Select Committee and give the Bill a Third Reading.

6.29 p.m.


My Lords, I shall be quite brief. First of all, I should like to echo the right reverend Prelate's compliments and appreciation of the work of the members of the Select Committee. They operated what was, I understand, something of an innovation, and went to great lengths to inform themselves and to help those of us who were interested in the proposed Bill, giving us time and instructions to get both sides together, and to produce for the Committee some kind of comparable figures. We are all extremely grateful for their work—grateful despite the fact that in the view of some of us the solution they reached was not the right one. It was merely a majority decision, and I hope that, that being so, when the Bill becomes an Act those who have to operate it will be influenced by what was said on an early occasion, and what I am saying at the moment.

Many of your Lordships—probably most—will know the site, Warwick Avenue, which is one of the most handsome specimens of town planning in London. The church and, above all, its spire come at the end of the main access of the Warwick Avenue development. It seems to me, and to those who like myself are interested in this church, that its retention, or the retention of something like it, is absolutely essential if the amenities of the area are to be preserved.

I was, if I may say so, very gratified to hear the right reverend Prelate's undertaking that the Fine Art Commission, and I hope other bodies interested from the amenity point of view, should be consulted. In this connection, I should like to stress two points. One is the siting of some kind of vertical feature to stand on the site of the present tower which the Committee have agreed should be demolished. I do not make much about the demolishing of the church by itself; it was not in itself a very great architectural entity, although by reason of its size and situation it played an essential part in the layout of which I have already spoken. Some vertical emphasis has been undertaken by the church authorities, and my first point is that the tower, or whatever replaces it, must be of the right scale to bring the vertical emphasis, as I have already said, into the proper relationship with the Warwick Avenue layout.

The other point I should like to make is that it is essential that the new build- ing, the new tower, not only should have sufficient bulk, but should be of a material that does not clash with the predominantly stucco buildings on each side of Warwick Avenue. There is in the Bill a saving clause for the town planners, and this matter will fall to the town planning officer of the Westminster City Council. I hope that the plans may in any event be called in by the Minister after that. They have to consider a slightly changed situation since the Bill was first introduced, because this area has now been scheduled as a conservation area where rather special rules and directions will operate in a way they have not operated so far. This will be a test case as to how we deal with the area: how it is dealt with by the planning authorities of the City of Westminister and/or the Minister, for this will be the first important development coming under the new Amenities Act. I hope that the church and the planning officers will bear in mind the strong feelings that many of us have about the preservation of this church not only for its own quality, but on account of the essential part it plays in the landscape or townscape in which it stands. I hope that my few words may penetrate into those planning offices where the decision will be taken.

6.36 p.m.


My Lords, it is customary for a member of the Government to say something about Bills of this nature, although it is not strictly necessary to do so. I will not repeat what has been said by the Lord Chairman about the progress of the Bill through our House and the Commit tee. The House has received a Report from the Committee, and the question of the Third Reading is before it. It may be of assistance if I say a word about the planning aspect. The Promoters of the Bill will require planning permission for the new development proposed upon the site; that is, for the housing part of it. They will also require planning permission from the local planning authority, the Westminster City Council, for the proposed new church and spire, under three heads: its siting; its access and its external appearance. All this is subject to planning control.

I should not go further because it may be that the matter will come before my right honourable friend in one way or another. It could come before him if the Westminster City Council were to refuse permission for what the proposers wish to do in the way of a new church, and if they were to appeal to him. It could also come before him if he were to think it right to call in the planning application in respect of the church and the new housing, or of either. In determining whether or not he should call it in, my right honourable friend will haveregard to the usual considerations in such cases—that is, the intrinsic importance of the matter; the wishes of the Promoters, and of the planning authority; the amount of public interest that has been aroused; and the opinion of the Royal Fine Art Commission. I share my noble friend's hope that the planning authorities, and the Promoters, will be closely in touch with this Commission on what it is planned to do from now on.

6.39 p.m.


My Lords, if I say a word or two on this subject from this Dispatch Box I trust it will not be thought that I am importing any Party element into the discussion. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and I are simply expressing our views—he on behalf of the Government, and I on behalf of myself alone. It happens that I have known the existing church tower since I was about five years of age, because in my boyhood I lived in that part of London, and I entirely sympathise with those who feel either that the tower should be retained or, if it cannot be retained, that great care needs to be taken in whatever buildings may replace it. I think myself that the Committee have come to a right decision.

I cannot help thinking that a number of cases, a series of cases, are likely to come along—and some of them will come on a Bill to your Lordships' House—where very difficult questions arise about the importance of the preservation of the townscape value of a church tower or a church building which the church itself no longer requires for spiritual purposes. My own belief is that the church authorities, whether they are the parochial authorities or the diocesan authorities, should pay very careful thought to views which are expressed, both by members of the public and by professionally qualified people, on the importance and value of a church building, or part of a church building, that has become redundant.

If, however, it is clear that the building, or part of the building, is no longer required for spiritual purposes, it seems to me that it would be wrong to call upon church people to meet the extra cost of maintenance that would be involved if such a building, or part of a building, is to be preserved. There may be an overwhelming case for its preservation, but in that event the additional cost should fall on the public, whether on the statutory authorities or on voluntary organisations, and not on the church people whose money has been given for the furtherance of the work of the church; that money ought not to be diverted to make our surroundings more pleasant, or to keep them pleasant.

In this case it was clear that the amount of money that the Greater London Council were willing to offer was not sufficient to offset the difference in cost that would fall upon the parish or the diocese. It seems to me, therefore, that it is right that the Bill should go through. But I join with the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and all those who have spoken, in endorsing the importance of this site and of watching that any buildings which are erected in the course of its redevelopment shall be worth) ones.

6.44 p.m.


My Lores, on behalf of the Committee—I happened to be their Chairman—I should like to thank the right reverend Prelate and my noble friend Lord Faringdon for having expressed appreciation of the work of the Committee and of the care which they took to try to get at the basis of the claim, or suggestion, that the tower should be retained, and our consideration of the cost involved. I came here prepared to defend the work of the Committee, or at least the decision of the majority of the Committee, but the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, has so perfectly put what seemed to me to be in the minds of the majority of the Committee when they finally took the decision, that I should be wasting your Lordships' time if I in fact embarked upon a speech of something like two hours!

I agree with the noble Lord that if the community—and this is something which will have to be looked into—desires to retain some features for its own enjoyment, it ought to be prepared to pay for them. It ought not to expect the Church to pay for it; it ought not to expect private bodies to pay for it. We ought to find some way in which it would be possible for the community in fact to pay for the retention of such a feature as we have here in this town. I must admit that I pass this church every day when I am in London. I do not like to see the tower going. But it seemed to me to be quite impracticable, quite wrong, to consider placing the cost of its retention upon the Church.

I end by asking that those who would be responsible—the Westminster City Council, the Royal Fine Art Commission and all those who will have to help to take a decision in this matter—to try, for heaven's sake, to put on this site a vertical feature which will be worthy of the situation. I sincerely hope that that will happen.


My Lords, may I say one word? I hope that the noble Lords, Lord Brooke and Lord Kennet, will not think that I ought to declare an interest. When I held a certain appointment a short time ago this church came under my care and attention; now it has nothing to do with me. But I was asked to say that great care had been taken about this tower and this church; and I am asked to commend the acceptance of the Bill by the House.

6.46 p.m.


My Lords, may I speak very briefly as one who is very much concerned with the planned compositions of London. I should like to say how much I appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, said about the dilemma which we are in and which we are going to be in in the future with a great number of these monuments. The fact is that this was a composition planned as a whole, and the church of course was partly a place to accommodate a congregation and also partly a monument. Now one has to regard it as a place whose use for holding a large congregation has passed, but the monument, which belongs to London, of course remains; and there is no means, apart from the offer of the Greater London Council of £4, 000, by which that monument can be kept up for the benefit of Londoners.

I personally shall bitterly regret the loss of this church and although it may perhaps be a little ironical to end on this note, I do not feel that anything which is a mini-monument, something which is a shrunken spire, or anything which does not hold the scale which the original monument held in this composition, would in fact be a proper substitute. On the other hand, one cannot dissent from the findings of the Committee, which I have read with great care, and therefore it seems that we are left with the dilemma.

6.47 p.m.


My Lords, although I am speaking from this Dispatch Box, I am speaking entirely personally. I could not possibly add anything to what my noble friend Lord Brooke has said, save that since I was sponsor of the Civic Amenities Act in this House—although I really look upon the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, as a co-sponsor here—since this is a conservation area, and in view of everything that has been said about the need for a really high quality building in this area, I would make a request to the noble Lord. It is that, if his Ministry are in doubt about this matter, I hope that one, at least, of the criteria of calling in will have been met, and that is the public interest as evinced by this short debate in your Lordships' House. Therefore, if there is any doubt about the matter, I hope that the noble Lord's right honourable friend will in fact exercise his power to call in the application, if need be.

6.48 p.m.


My Lords, with the leave of the House, there are two more points I should like to make. My right honourable friend will certainly take into account this short debate in determining the degree of public interest in the context of calling in this matter. I should like to make just one observation about what the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said about who should pay for the keeping up of churches no longer needed as churches. This observation does not relate to St. Saviour's, Paddington, where I think it would not be applicable, but in general, I hope I understand him aright, that he would not wish his remark, that it was unfair to expect the Church to contribute anything to the maintenance of a church which was redundant for church purposes, to cast any adverse light on the Redundant Churches Act, which we recently passed by agreement between both sides of the House, and under which of course the Church of England very generously contribute money towards the maintenance of churches which have become redundant.


My Lords, may I say that the Government have generously given an equal amount.


My Lords, if I may have leave to speak again, I certainly would cast no aspersion on the Redundant Churches Act, but I have always supposed that that Act would be available to assist only a small number of outstanding churches, and, like the noble Lord, Lord Holford, I think there will be a great many church buildings the future of which will have to be carefully considered during the next few years.

The Earl of LISTOWEL

My Lords, I think it would be proper for me to follow the noble Lord, Lord Champion, in what he said by way of thanking the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, for their kind words about the work of the Select Committee. Members of Select Committees of your Lordships' House give up a considerable amount of time to this work, and I think sometimes that that work is not sufficiently recognised by the House. Therefore I felt particularly glad to hear what was said on this occasion, and those remarks will be passed on to the members of the Committee.

On Question, Bill read 3a with the Amendment and passed, and returned to the Commons.