HL Deb 04 July 1972 vol 332 cc1305-37

3.48 p.m.

LORD REIGATE rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will use their powers to halt building on the site formerly occupied by Queen Anne's Mansions in Petty France. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the matter to which I refer is a rather long and complicated one. I must therefore apologise in advance if I detain your Lordships for a little longer than is my wont. Queen Anne's Mansions in Petty France has been a familiar sight to many of your Lordships for, I am sure, far too long. It has been described by Sir Nicholas Pevsner as "that irredeemable horror". When it was put up in the 1870s it caused Queen Victoria very great annoyance because it obtruded on the view from Buckingham Palace. Her Majesty's annoyance was entirely justified. It was the first building in London, alas! not the last, to be 150 feet high. The fact that one of its wings was only 100 feet high was largely due to the intervention of Queen Victoria. This building gave rise to the London Building Act of 1890 which limited the height of buildings in London to 80 feet. Some of us wish that that Act were still in force.

Having reluctantly reconciled ourselves to its presence, we all presumed that sooner or later Queen Anne's Mansions would fall down or be pulled down and be replaced by a less bulky occupant of the site, one more in scale with its surroundings and one which would not dominate the landscape; for this is a site and a scene as important as any in the whole of London. I say that with care, because it is on the perimeter of St. James's Park, which in my view is the most beautiful park in London and probably one of the most beautiful in the world. It has therefore come as a shock to the public in general that Queen Anne's Mansions is to be replaced by a building which is hardly less bulky. I must ask your Lordships to bear with me while I give a few figures. These figures have been extremely difficult to obtain. The floor area of the new building will be 421,000 square feet; the old Queen Anne's Mansions was 488,000 square feet. The plot ratio of the new building is to be 5.47 to 1 whereas that of the dear old horror was 6 to 1. There is not much reduction. The old Queen Anne's Mansions at its highest point was 154 feet; the new building is to be 186 feet. So gone are all our dreams of a new building in scale with its surroundings.

Let me make the position as regards ownership clear in so far as I understand it. This site is owned by the Government. The building is being erected by the Land Securities Investment Trust for a client who is also the Government. What is to be deplored is that the public and the Press have been kept in the dark about the plans until this late hour. A newspaper called the Architects Journal, which I think deserves a great deal of credit for what it has done, has been denied a sight of the plans over the last few months by both the architects and the Westminster City Council. The Architects Journal is a tenant of a house in Queen Anne's Gate, which is of course vitally affected by this building. In fact, it is only thanks to the persistence of that journal and of my honourable friend Mr. Robin Cooke, Member of Parliament, that a model and a few drawings were shown in another place in the Upper Waiting Hall for five days during the week before last, but only to Members of Parliament and to those whom they chose to introduce.

I went to see the model, and I can truthfully say that I was appalled by what I saw. The Press has been universally hostile, even vituperative, and rightly so. The model was accompanied by sketches by the architect, Sir Basil Spence, designed to show the impact of this building on its neighbours. I would describe those sketches as flattering and optimistic: I am sure they were not deliberately deceptive. The ones that I saw, by a strange coincidence, all appeared to be done at a time when the trees in St. James's Park were in full leaf, a set of circumstances that occurs only for a limited period of the year. I also worked out that in one or two cases the artist must have been lying on the ground to get the particular perspective. In short, my Lords, the sketches represent a worm's eye view. The plans are now shown also in the Royal Gallery. I can only say that the plans are better than the model. Mr. Osbert Lancaster described the appearance of the building as being a combination of an old-fashioned Hollywood set for the Fall of Babylon with a cluster of French provincial water towers. I think that Mr. Lancaster in that statement is unfair—unfair to Hollywood, because a Hollywood set is lathe and plaster and ephemeral; whereas this unlovely lump of a building will loom over London for a long time, and will, if I may say so, if it is allowed to happen, outlive all your Lordships.

There has also been circulated an architect's "blurb" which describes this monster as having a more traditional silhouette with a distinctly Victorian flavour". It also says that it is designed to create harmony with surrounding important buildings, such as Buckingham Palace, the Foreign Office, the Horse Guards and Wellington Barracks. I think that is a statement of monumental effrontery. To suggest that this mass of monumental masonry could harmonise with its surroundings is unbelievable: harmonise with Queen Anne's Gate, the most beautiful eighteenth century street left in our capital, over which it will hang like a great cliff; harmonise with Buckingham Palace, in whose view it will protrude or obtrude as did its predecessor; to say nothing of Gilbert Scott's Foreign Office, William Kent's Horse Guards, and Nash's Carlton House Terrace, from every window of which it will be visible! I hope that we shall hear no more about harmony. I am not concerned with the actual elevation of the building. This is always a difficult matter of taste. I just think it is hideous. But what I am criticising is the sheer bulk of such a building on this site.

How on earth does it happen that we are being presented with a fait accompli? How does it happen that such a project should reach this stage veiled in secrecy? The beauty of the Capital is the concern of us all. Therefore I want to ask my noble friend certain questions. When, and by whom, was the decision taken to replace the old Queen Anne's Mansions by a building of comparable bulk? Was that decision made public or reported to Parliament? The building having been commissioned and the plans drawn, who decided, and when, that there should be no public inquiry? How can it happen that plans for a project commissioned by and submitted to the Ministry of Works, approved by the Ministry of Works and considered by the Royal Fine Art Commission, can reach near fulfilment without either the public or the Press having any inkling of the plans, when you think of the publicity that has fortunately surrounded such matters as the Whitehall Plan and Piccadilly? I do not think I exaggerate when I say that the clandestine atmosphere which surrounds this project is very disquieting.

I should like to quote here from The Times under the heading, "Architect denies that he misled Parliament". Sir Basil Spence denied that he had tried to keep the design of the new building secret. 'There has been no attempt at secrecy at all', he said. 'Lord Samuel, my client, just does not seek personal publicity and he asked me not to exhibit the design at the Royal Academy'". To the justified sense of shame to this project is apparently to be added the quality of modesty! Was it modesty or was it just a hope that, faced with a fait accompli, all resistance would crumble? It is only thanks to the vigilance of the Press, and particularly the Architects Journal and Mr. Cooke, that that has not happened.

A friend of mine who is opposed to the scheme, when I told him that I was raising the matter here, said: "Thank God for Parliament!". My Lords, we still have our uses. If I may quote in connection with to-day's debate from a letter which Mr. Osbert Lancaster wrote to a noble mutual friend urging his support for me to-day, Mr. Lancaster ended his letter by saying: I feel it is only right and proper that a monster conceived in shame and secrecy should be publicly aborted. I have asked my noble friend with regard to the role of the former Ministry of Works—a Ministry of Works which, although it is now part of the Department of the Environment, is the guardian of the Royal Parks. That the plans were passed by the Westminster City Council Planning Committee causes less surprise to anyone who walks down Victoria Street. I understand it is alleged that the Westminster Society was consulted, and a number of local residents. I know nothing of the Westminster Society, how many members it has, or what right it has to speak for the citizens and ratepayers of Westminster, of whom I have been one for 17 years. I have never heard of the society. As to the local residents, I do not think they can have included the National Trust in Queen Anne's Gate or the Architects Journal. I wonder who they were. But above all, how does it come about that this project was approved, as is alleged, by the Royal Fine Art Commission? Here I must ask your Lordships to bear with me if I quote at length from a recent letter sent by the secretary of the Royal Fine Art Commission to the Architects Journal, with a few interpolated comments of my own.

The letter begins: Following your letter to members asking for their views on this project, the matter was discussed at the meeting of the commission on 14 June. In view of the lapse of time since decisions were taken on this building there have been extensive changes in membership of the commission: no less than nine of the present members were not involvd. The commission therefore thought it more suitable that an official statement should be made. The project for the rebuilding was first brought before the commission in 1959 and the proposals showed a building 240 ft. high. The commission had '… grave doubts about the justification for a high building in such a position' and asked for further thought to be given to it. It did not reappear until 1964. The letter goes on to give a list of the then membership of the Commission, which included Sir Basil Spence, until 1970. It continues: At the time of this submission"— that is in 1964— it was reiterated by the Ministry that the site belonged to the Government and the development was to be for the use of a Government department. The proposal was for a building less in hulk than that already existing and it was certainly not what is generally considered as a 'high building'."— My Lords, I should have liked to hear Queen Victoria's comments on that remark.— The commission therefore was asked to pronounce only upon the architectural form proposed. It was however made clear in discussion of the development that certain commissioners deplored the repetition on this 'delicate' site of a building of a bulk comparable to the existing one. In parenthesis, I would say that it is extremely unfortunate that, for their own reasons, the Royal Fine Art Commission apparently chose to give only unanimous opinions. If that minority opinion had been expressed, I might never have had to put the Question that I have put to-day.

The letter goes on—and this is a sentence which I find a little difficult to follow: Though idiosyncratic, the form proposed for the building did not cause the commission to feel that there was any ground for declaring that it was unsuitable in quality. When even more advanced proposals came before the commission in 1968 no reason was found to disapprove their architectural quality. Now the tone changes: In the light of to-day's opinion the result will inevitably be considered an over-use of the site and will be criticised on this ground. This criticism will flow over and bear also against the architecture itself, as happened in the somewhat comparable Hyde Park Barracks case. Sir Basil Spence was of course the architect of the Hyde Park Barracks. It should be remembered that in 1964 when the commission took its first step towards accepting the architectural form proposed:

  1. 1. Government departments still had power to develop their sites regardless of local planning regulations and
  2. 2. There was no machinery of public participation.
It can be supposed that if the total proposal were to have come up to-day it would not have succeeded, at any rate without a great public show-down. It can also he said that the commission is not in sympathy with the secrecy which has been kept and is still being kept about the nature of this important development. If I can draw some conclusions from the rather circumspect prose of that letter, I take it, first, that in 1964 the Commission was told that no matter what it said the Government would go ahead; secondly, that the opinion on the Commission was divided, but the fact was not made public, which I think was a mistake; and, thirdly, that it would not have a hope of approval to-day. That, my Lords, is the reason for the secrecy and the modesty concerning these eight-year-old plans for Government offices, contravening, I should have thought, the continuing policy of most Governments concerning decentralisation and also, I believe, the Department of Environment's own new standards for office buildings. What we are building is in fact an antiquated slum for civil servants. It also contains parking for 192 cars. I may be innocent, but I thought it was now the policy to reduce the amount of parking in central London. Think of the extra congestion at Storey's Gate at the rush hour as a result of this scheme! My Question asks Her Majesty's Government to use their power to halt building; that is to say, to issue a discontinuance order, which would stop the work on the building, and, secondly, to make a revocation order—that is, to withdraw planning permission.

My Lords, in another place the Secretary of State in effect said that if the decision was altered owners and developers of this property would be entitled to substantial sums by way of compensation. I do not know whether my noble friend can tell us what the cost of the proposed building is and what this alteration decision would cost. My guess was £2 million but I see that the Observer says "upwards of £ million". But the Government own the property and would hardly wish to draw substantial sums by way of compensation from themselves. As to the developer, Sir Harold Samuel is a public-spirited man and would, I am sure, be willing to co-operate in any negotiations. It is not too late. It is said that the foundations are there. I have gazed down into the site from a fourth floor opposite, and I can assure your Lordships that that is an exaggeration. Anyhow, there will have to be foundations there for any building on the site. At the moment there is only a hole in the ground. We are used to holes in the ground, like the old Westminster Hospital site in Broad Sanctuary, which has been a hole in the ground for 33 years. So why not leave this hole in the ground for a little longer?

I do not suggest to Her Majesty's Government that there should be no building at all on this site. I realise that it is probably too late for that, and too expensive; but I do ask—and I believe that in this I have the sympathy of the House—that, even at this late hour, the plans be modified and revised so as to reduce the bulk of the building by, let us say, a third. That would make an enormous difference to the scene around. It will not improve it, but it will not be nearly as harmful. Such action would be welcomed in all quarters in both Houses, by the public and by the Press. When my noble friend comes to reply I hope that his answer is, "Yes". I am afraid that I expect a "No", but I hope that it will at least be a qualified "No". I must remind him also that, thanks to the enterprise of my noble friend Lord Cork and Orrery, we may have an opportunity again of reconsidering this matter if his answer is, "No". But I hope that when he comes to reply he will not deploy two arguments. First of all, I hope he will not say, "It's no use crying over spilt milk It is well worth crying over spilt milk if at least to ensure that milk is not spilt in the future. And I hope that he will not pursue another line and say that, after all, it is water over the dam. My Lords, it is not; it is a hole in the ground; and we can do something about it.

4.11 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we are very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Reigate, for putting down this Unstarred Question. I should like to congratulate him most warmly on his speech and for the very well reasoned and convincing case that he has put up. I may say that it is a case I thoroughly agree with and I support everything he has said. I, with him, hope very much that the Government will intervene. I think that the old Queen Anne's Mansions is probably unique among Victorian buildings, in that we have never grown to love it, even after this passing of time, when much of the architecture of that period has become rather fashionable. Queen Anne's Mansions has remained reviled and hideous to the last.

It would be a tragedy and a travesty of good planning if, having pulled down one of the most hideous buildings in London, we were to replace it with something even more hideous, and indeed, what is worse, with something that is even more obstrusive. This, as the noble Lord, Lord Reigate, has said, is one of the capital's most important sites. The new building will rise high above Petty France. It will overshadow Queen's Anne's Gate—surely without question the most beautiful 18th century street in London. Its great bulk will loom over one of the loveliest parks in Europe. It will dwarf the elegant and sensitively designed Guards' Chapel in Birdcage Walk, and it will conflict, particularly in the winter, with Buckingham Palace at one end of John Nash's lake and with Horse Guards and Admiralty House at the other.

What I suggest we must ask ourselves is: How did this come to happen? As the noble Lord has said, the whole scheme seems to have been planned in secrecy. Even now, although work on the foundations has started the plans have never been made public, in spite of repeated requests to the developers by interested parties, including those who are situated near to the site. Not for the first time, we owe a great debt to the Press, particularly to the Architects Journal and also to the daily Press. I sometimes wonder what we should do without the Press. It is usually only the Press who bring these things to light. We also owe a debt to the honourable Member of the other place for Bristol, West. It is due to great pressure from him that a model was shown in the other place. I hope that the Government will arrange for this model to be made available to your Lordships in the Royal Gallery. At present, there are two elevations on display in the Royal Gallery, but I do not think these give any adequate idea of what is proposed. I would suggest to the Government that this exhibition should be made available before the Private Member's Bill of the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, is considered by the House.

The noble Lord, Lord Reigate, is quite right, of course, in saying that this sad story started way back in 1959 when the original plan of the tower block was rejected by the Royal Fine Art Commission. It appears, though, that planning permission was finally given by the Westminster Planning Committee, and that the Royal Fine Art Commission were again consulted, although the design was not published. The R.F.A.C. apparently agreed to the revised plan, but they say now, as the noble Lord has said, that the plan can be criticised; they describe it as an over-use of the site. And now they say that if it were to come up to-day it would not succeed. I only wish they had said that at the time. The question that must be asked is: Why did the Royal Fine Art Commission not make objections at the time, and, if they did, why were these not made public? There seems to have been a failure of communication here. What is important is that we must ensure that the same thing does not happen again.

I should like to suggest to the Government some steps they could well take to prevent further encroachment, and particularly encroachments like this which have come about as a result of a fait accompli. In my view, it should first he compulsory for full information about designs, with adequate and accurate models—not just tricked-up drawings and so-called artists' impressions, usually taken in the summer when the trees are in full leaf—to be made public when planning permission is sought. The decision on these developments of course should not be left to the developers. More power, also, should be given to the Royal Fine Art Commission, particularly to require them to publicise any doubts they may have about a project. The Government should also in future always call in applications for key sites and order a public inquiry if there are any doubts, so that the right decision can be taken, and be seen to be taken, in the open. These matters are too important to be left to the Westminster Planning Committee, the Department and interested parties such as the developers.

Lastly, the Government in general must stop this piecemeal development in the centre of London. I should like, following the Opposition in the other place, to urge the Government to appoint a Planning Inquiry Commission into the development of the area as a whole. In the meantime, I hope that they will take steps to halt these building operations in Petty France, and that they will order the public inquiry that should have taken place originally. In this way it should be possible to amend the plans. I hope they are not going to say that this cannot be done; that all this happened before they came into power, and that anyway it is going to cost too much. I hope that they are going to give an answer to the noble Lord, Lord Reigate, and say exactly how much it is going to cost. After all, interventions at a high level can often be very effective. I remember that the late Lord Attlee, when he was Prime Minister, intervened to save the Nash Terraces in Regent's Park when the Crown Commissioners were proposing to demolish them and surround Regent's Park by great big tower blocks as a kind of architects' and property developers' paradise. We owe, and future generations owe, a lasting debt of gratitude to Lord Attlee for what he did. And the present Secretary of State for the Environment has won national applause for his intervention over Centre Point—some of the best news we have heard during a long, cold summer; and I say, "More power to his elbow!", because the community has become shocked and outraged by some of these developments. Future generations will not thank us if the amenities of our capital are gradually eroded through official laissez-faire and commercial greed.

4.20 p.m.


My Lords, only in the last few days have I realised what was threatened to be erected on the site of Queen Anne's Mansions, and I think it important to realise how it is that so serious a blot upon the London skyline should have reached this stage without the public and most of those concerned with the preservation of amenities being aware of what was intended. Under town and country planning legislation, outline permission is the first thing that is obtained. The importance of outline planning permission is that if afterwards it is withdrawn, compensation has to be paid because of the withdrawal of that permission, but except in the case of conservation areas there is no obligation at all on the person applying for planning permission to give really full details and particulars of what is intended. Certain figures, of course, have to be given, but unless there is opposition and a public inquiry is asked for, there is no way of ensuring that what in fact is going to appear is made clear to those concerned. After the outline planning permission has been given, negotiations take place between the planning authority and the applicant for what are sometimes called "details" but are, in fact, extremely important.

No one would have objected—no one did object—to the idea of Queen Anne's Mansions being demolished and replaced by a smaller and suitable office block. No one was alerted to make further inquiries on the information that had to be given to the Westminster City Council when an application of that kind was made. Therefore I think we should consider, and I hope the Government will consider, whether our procedure at present is entirely satisfactory, when it is possible for the applicant for planning permission to obtain outline planning permission without sufficient particulars being provided and being available for inspection by the public to enable anyone to have a clear idea of what in fact is intended.

One would have supposed that even though Queen Anne's Mansions is not a conservation area in the technical sense of the term, it would have been protected from anything of this kind by Article 11 of the General Development Order 1963. That provides Before granting permission for development in any of the following eases"— and I omit two or three words— the local planning authority shall consult with the following authorities or persons, namely,"— and then paragraph (e): Where the development is of land which is within half a mile from any other Royal Palace or Park and might affect the amenities of that Palace or Park, with the Minister of Public Building and Works and shall, in determining the application, take into account any representations received from such authority, person or body. It was clearly thought necessary, as soon as a General Development Order was introduced (which was fairly soon after the passing of the Town and Country Planning Act 1947) that the Royal Parks in London should be protected against unsightly and excessively large and excessively high buildings, and it was the Minister of Public Building and Works who was given the responsibility for ensuring that that should not happen. But in this case, where the Government are at the same time the owners of the site and the prospective occupants of the building when it has been erected, obviously there is not the impartial or independent authority which was contemplated when the General Development Order was made. The old Latin tag is clearly applicable Quis custodiet ipsos custodes. This is the latest, and a very serious, example of the unsatisfactory way in which the surroundings of the Royal Parks are being treated at the present time.

I think after this lapse of time that there is no harm in my saying that when I was Minister of Works I very much objected to the proposed erection of the Hilton Hotel in Park Lane. Unfortunately, my Lords, despite all that I could do, my views did not prevail. In the climate of public opinion at the present time perhaps a different decision might be taken—I certainly hope so. This is an important matter. The doctrine which prevailed at that time was that high rise buildings round the Royal Parks should be allowed at intervals. The Royal Fine Art Commission have expressed the view that the Royal Parks in London should not be surrounded by great cliffs of high rise buildings, and even after this period of time I remember that they gave us an example of what we must avoid, which was the Central Park in New York. I took the view that if we allowed a high building like the Hilton tower on one site it would prove impossible to refuse to the owner of an adjoining site the same permission to develop an immensely profitable high rise building there. I think that is clearly right. But it was intended that high rise buildings should be allowed only at intervals around the Royal Parks.

I hope that in the future these high rise buildings, these towers, these terrific buildings close to our Royal Parks, will not be allowed. We cannot undo those that have been built, but we can at any rate do something to try to preserve in our Royal Parks that green and gracious rural scenery of which we have so little in London. My Lords, it is not too late for the Government to stop the building of this monstrous new building on the Queen Anne's Mansions site. The only thing that my noble friend Lord Reigate said with which I disagreed was his remark that while it would improve matters if the building were only two-thirds of the height, that would not in itself improve the architecture. Not only will this building be far too large for its site but it will be extremely ugly and top heavy, and the worst parts of it will be the parts at the top.


My Lords, I should hate to disagree with my noble friend about anything, but perhaps he misunderstood what I said on this aspect. I am all for slicing off the top one-third, including the tower.


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that com- ment, which means that I am in entire agreement with everything he said. This building will be graceless, top heavy and lacking in any kind of symmetry. If it is allowed to go ahead, Sir Basil Spence will go down in history remembered as being the man who perpetrated the defacement not only of one of the Royal Parks, as in the case of the Barracks, but of two. We have to-day a Department of the Environment, and the last two Governments have shown themselves very sensitive to the new and greatly increased concern which is felt about the environment in which we live. I do not despair that the Secretary of State for the Environment will intervene, even at this late stage. It is not technically impossible but only a matter of paying any compensation which may prove to be necessary. It would be ironical if the Secretary of State and his Department erected for the Government anything so harmful to the environment of London.

4.32 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend Lord Reigate, and to add my hearty approval to what has been expressed by other noble Lords. I confess to a suspicion, which I think my noble friend shares, that he may receive a negative reply. I suspect, I hope wrongly, that the Minister will say that nothing can be done; that all the necessary processes have been applied; that the required approvals have been sought and given and that, in short, it is now too late. However, I urge your Lordships to note precisely what my noble friend is asking. He is asking whether the Government will move. Perhaps—I emphasise the word "perhaps"—it is too late for that; but it is not too late for Parliament to move. Some of your Lordships may be aware that there is now before this House a Bill designed exactly for that purpose. I have a copy of the Bill with me. It is the Queen Anne's Mansions Bill which I had the honour to introduce last Friday. If Parliament accepts this Bill, it will become the final authority for the approval or disapproval of the Queen Anne's Mansions project. I hope to be allowed to initiate a Second Reading debate on the Bill in the near future, and for this reason I shall this evening be brevity itself and leave the detailed arguments and criticisms to others. I intend to confine myself to a tightly drawn outline of the position as I understand it.

We are discussing something more than a building. We are discussing a proposal to change the appearance of an area extending roughly from Whitehall to Buckingham Palace and from, say, Green Park and St. James's Park to the Victoria Tower. In this small area of parks and palaces, of Parliament and Government and Crown, are to be found both the visible and invisible centres of the Kingdom. Here, if anywhere, in surroundings of beauty, dignity and historic calm, beats the heart of England, of Britain itself. Indeed, to me and possibly to others it is, and I say this in no Chauvinistic spirit, the centre of the civilised world. It is certainly the lodestone to visitors from all over the world who come, in the words of Kipling … for to admire and for to see. That being so, this part of London deserves to be, and should be, uniquely protected from any sort of development of the unhappier kind.

We have our watchdogs in the shape of the local authority—in this case the Westminster City Council—the Royal Fine Art Commission and so on. These and others have given their approval to the project, as have the Government. But are our watchdogs good enough? Do they bark and bite? As my noble friend Lord Reigate suggested, we have only to look along Victoria Street, across Hyde Park or out of our own Library windows to see the answer. Like the great Martian machines in H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds, the monsters are closing in. As for the watchdogs, when they die the famous epitaph of Sir Christopher Wren will do very well for them: "Si monumentum requiris circumspice." But I do not want to see that epitaph graven on a lump of concrete beside the Guards Memorial. Round the heart of London we should draw a line and say loud and clear: "Within this line you shall not come." That is my personal philosophy in this matter, and I think my noble friend Lord Reigate will agree that it chimes quite well with the spirit of his Question. I hope that when my noble friend Lord Sandford comes to reply he will find it possible to give an indication that the Government's chimes are similarly tuned. But whatever his reply, I assure him with some confidence that when the House adjourns to-night the debate will not be over. This is a beginning, not an end.

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, I wish briefly to support the Question tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Reigate, in whose speech there was nothing with which I could disagree, and the same is true of most of the comments made in this debate. I wish to add my support to this Question and make my view clear that building on the Queen Anne's Mansions site should be stopped. I have a certain interest to declare in taking part in this debate. For eight or nine years I lived in Queen Anne's Gate and I therefore know the attractive residential part of the world that this is. I lived there just before the war and I enjoyed having the park on one side and the shops in Victoria Street on the other. Transport is handy and, above all, the area is quiet. It therefore seems a pity that this building, requisitioned by the Government during the war and turned into offices, should be developed in the way proposed.

In October, 1968, I asked in this House what would become of the building that comprised Queen Anne's Mansions because a rumour had got around that the building was to be demolished and a new one, designed by Sir Basil Spence, erected in its place. The noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, who replied to my Question said there were two points to bear in mind: first, that the building was not particularly beautiful, and, secondly, that it was not suitable for Government offices or, indeed, for office premises generally. This was being rather disingenuous and naïve because the building had not been built for offices, it had been built as a number of apartments. It had been requisitioned by the Government who were surprised that it did not turn out to be a very good building for offices. I can assure noble Lords that they were not at all bad apartments in the days when they were used as private apartments. I knew people who lived in one or two of them. Therefore, it seemed curious that there was afoot a project to pull down the building—which nobody would object to at all—and to replace it by offices.

Because I got a not very encouraging reply from the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, I wrote a long letter to The Times which appeared on November 15 of the same year, in which I put forward the same arguments as I am putting forward now. As an indication of what the public then felt there was not a single reply to that letter, or if there was then The Times did not publish it. I then gave up trying until, on March 16 last year, I put down another Question, asking whether it would not be possible to replace the proposed office building on the Queen Anne's Mansions site with something more suitable, perhaps residential. The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, replied to my Question saying that it could not really be done because an office development permit had been given in 1968 and the owners had obtained planning permission. I thought I had understood from various speakers that the Government were the owners, but according to the reply of the noble Lord it seemed that somebody else was the owner. Perhaps he will be able to enlighten when he comes to reply.

My Lords, I understand perfectly well why it is necessary for a certain number of civil servants to work fairly near the centre of government in Whitehall. But think of the enormous increase there has been in Civil Service occupied buildings since the war! The Board of Trade (as they were called) are housed in Victoria Street; there is that enormous building which houses the Department of the Environment in Marsham Street; and now we have this project to build this enormous building on the Queen Anne's Mansions site, again for Government servants. That does not seem to me to support the policy of successive Governments since the war to try and remove office workers from London. If you are going to make the centre of London a residential desert, entirely full of offices (whether Government or private, I do not mind) you will then drive people to the suburbs and add to the problems of the commuters, whether by train or car, thereby so far as I can see getting yourself into worse trouble in the future than you are in at present.

I quoted my Question in 1968 because it showed that the matter was being dis- cussed quite freely at that time. When one has seen the plan and the model of the new building, one wonders why no idea of the plan or sketch of the building had appeared before the other day. As has already been said, if you put this monstrous building there once again a Royal Park is going to be spoilt. You are also going to spoil St. James's Park, Green Park, The Mall and that very attractive complex of buildings, just as, in the same way, the same architect has spoiled Hyde Park by the monstrous tower he has erected at the Knightsbridge Barracks which has a symbolism that seems highly peculiar and curious to have in a Royal Park.

Therefore, I very much support the noble Lord who has put this Question and I trust that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, will be able to say some kind word in reply to give those of us who feel as we do some sort of encouragement.

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, may I intervene for a very few moments to support the plea made by my noble friend Lord Reigate, in such a powerful and overwhelmingly convincing speech, and the same pleas which have been made universally from every side of the House? For my own part I am not an expert in town planning, or anything else, but I probably have a unique position in this matter because I am pretty sure that I am the only Member of your Lordships' House who ever had a paper chase inside Queen Anne's Mansions. That was 65 years ago, and I cannot remember whether I was the hare or one of the hounds—I rather think I was the hare. The building made a splendid course, especially if one took advantage of the lifts to put the hounds off the scent. And that is, I am afraid, the only good thing I have to say about Queen Anne's Mansions. Ever since then I have regarded it with increasing distaste every time I have passed it, and I cannot tell your Lordships of the immense sense of relief I felt one day when suddenly, after a prolonged absence from London, I looked and it was not there. To realise that something even worse is going to take its place is a most appalling shock.

My Lords, in my view—and I imagine that a great many of your Lordships will agree with me—St. James's Park, though small, is the most perfect park in the world.


Hear, hear!


It is a kind of "pearl mosque" among parks, and I wholeheartedly support what my noble friend Lord Cork and Orrery, said about its being in a special sense the heart of England, because it does have these very real historical associations, especially for those of us who spend our time in this Palace here. I can see that there are great difficulties in reversing the decision on the Queen Anne's Mansions site. I still hope that this Government will be prepared to face the difficulties, and I hope that my noble friend who is to reply will be able to assure us that the matter will be reconsidered. If he cannot do so I, for one, shall give all the support I can to my noble friend Lord Cork and Orrery in the Bill which he has in his pocket.

4.48 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add one or two remarks to this very interesting debate. First of all, I would point out to the Minister and to the Government that every single speaker from every part of this House has condemned this scheme. Informed opinion is against it. Since the details were disclosed—in so far as the details have been disclosed—I have not met anybody, in either House of Parliament, who is not against it. Informed opinion among architects, among cultured people throughout the country, and even among the general public who do not pretend to have informed opinions but who can recognise a beautiful building when they sec one and have heard enough about this scheme to know that this building is not going to be a beautiful one is against it. I hope that the Government will take note of this and will realise that a Government can go too far in opposition to the opinion of their constituents—and not only of their constituents.

I should like to underwrite what has been said about this area and especially St. James's Park, by the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, and others of your Lordships. This is in a sense the heart of the Commonwealth. It is also the Mecca of all those people who come to see England and to see the beauties of England: certainly one of the most beautiful countries of the world, with some of the finest architecture in the world. On a fine summer day (there has not been one this year so far) if you walk through St. James's Park you hear more foreign languages spoken than anywhere else in the world. These are people who are enjoying Buckingham Palace—perhaps not one of the greatest buildings; Carlton House Terrace—very fine; Kent's Admiralty; the India Office; Queen Anne's Gate. These people are very sensitive to the sort of thing that has been going on recently in London. Foreign friends of mine, from great cities like Vienna, walking through London with me, looking round at Victoria Street, at the high buildings which have been erected very close to Buckingham Palace—which is not only the residence of the Queen but, in a sense, the residence of the Head of the British Commonwealth of Nations—ask "How can you allow in the great capital city this monstrous architecture overlooking the palace of your Queen, overlooking the gardens to which people from all over England come for the Garden Parties during the summer? How can you, who owe so much to the culture of the world, allow these things to happen?" That was put to me by a friend from Vienna. Within the last few weeks a distinguished judge from Germany, looking out over the scene, made almost exactly the same remarks to me. Surely we ought to feel a sense of shame at allowing anything of this kind to happen.

It is the size of this scheme, the overwhelming size, which appals me. I would not say that Sir Basil Spence's building is so much worse, if it is worse at all architecturally, than Queen Anne's Mansions, which was certainly about as hideous a monstrosity as one could imagine. But it is the bulk of the monstrosity—a dinosaur introduced—and we must get rid of it. We cannot allow the Government to say that they will allow this thing to be put up. It obviously is not too late, as has been emphasised time after time from Benches in all parts of your Lordships' House this afternoon. That is my last appeal. In the amenities movement the present Secretary of State has won golden opinions. I hope that he will not blot his copybook over the Queen Anne's Mansions site.

4.52 p.m.


My Lords, if, as I understand, there may be a debate upon the noble Earl's Bill when it comes before your Lordships, perhaps I, too, should be brief. In the circumstances, I should like to offer merely one reflection and one prediction to your Lordships on this matter. The reflection is on the strange contrasting nomenclature between the Ministry of Works and the Department of the Environment. I noticed the noble Lord, Lord Molson, referred to his position at the Ministry of Works. The Ministry of Works is a phrase with its sleeves rolled up, with grime upon its hands. You could forgive a Ministry of Works for not noticing the nature of this building; it is somehow in keeping with it. But "Department of the Environment"—there is a fancy phrase! You would expect a Department sensitive to every blade of grass. Is it not significant and ironic that it is the Department of the Environment which should be faced with this monstrosity? I should like to echo the noble Earl's word, "monstrosity". When I first saw the drawing, with the same suddenness that it fell upon the rest of the country, within recent weeks only, I passed it by, because I did not think it was an architectural drawing. I thought it was a cartoon. We all have our favourite simile and metaphor for this terrible building, but it struck me as being like nothing so much as a cartoon for one of those science fiction films in which a mad gorilla can be seen looming over a city and crunching it to death. For a moment that is what I thought it was as I went past, until suddenly I stopped when I realised, with a sense of shock, that it was a real projection of a real building in one of the most cherished parts of our capital.

It is for that reason that I come briefly to my second point, which is the prediction, and it is quite simply this. If this building goes up as planned now—if the Government allow it to go up, whatever the cost—then I predict that the Department of the Environment will become an empty phrase, and we can look forward to a future without a past, because the past will have become too expensive to protect.

4.54 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps I may intervene on one point which seems to me to offer some hope. Let me say, first of all, that I hope the Government will do what Lord Reigate asks. What I am about to say is said in the sense of being an added reason for doing it, and possibly even adumbrating a way in which it might be done. I do not know about this, because I am not the expert and no longer have expert advice available. It all hangs on the distinction between outline planning permission and detailed planning permission, a distinction which was described by Lord Molson with a clarity which can only be achieved in these matters by those who have, I would say, direct experience of operating the planning system. The noble Lord described it more than adequately for what I am about to say, so I will not repeat it. I think all your Lordships know that to get planning permission you have normally to get two separate planning permissions: first, outline permission, which, says, "O.K." to the use and the general idea; and, secondly, detailed planning permission, which says, "O.K." to the architecture.

This was a private developer—Sir Harold Samuel has been mentioned—operating on a Government site for a Government purpose. But he had to have planning permission, just like anyone else, and planning permission was applied for to the Westminster City Council as the planning authority. We should not forget that the Greater London Council also has a say, a sort of long-stop veto over the Westminster City Council on this matter. The Government come in because in a scheme of such importance and in such a sensitive place it is normal for the planning authority to consult the Government on the planning issue, apart from the fact that this was a semi-Government development in any case. As has been stated in the Press, although the data has been given wrongly, I think it was in 1969 that the Government looked at this proposal, saw that it had the endorsement of the Westminster City Council, of the Greater London Council, and of the Royal Fine Art Commission, so far as it had gone, and refrained from calling it in. This is what the Government do: they do not give permission themselves; they say "O.K., you give permission" to the planning authority. That is what the Government did on the outline proposal: that it should be a block for civil servants and that it should be designed by Sir Basil Spence, and the sort of general grouping and massing of the idea. I think that was the outline planning approval which was given in April, 1969, by the Westminster City Council.

At any rate, all the ministerial discussions which preceded that, as I remember, were not about details of the architecture at all but about a different question, a very important question, and 1 should like to ask the Government what happened to it. It was: should this site be handled and planned as one with a rebuilding, which was at that time proposed, of the Wellington Barracks next door? In the end the Government in 1969 decided no, it should not, because the Wellington Barracks proposal was not far enough forward to justify holding up the other one to wait for it. I should like to ask the noble Lord whether he could tell us what it is now proposed to do about Wellington Barracks, which stands right beside the sire we are discussing and which at one time it was proposed to develop with it. Of course, this is an even more delicate matter, because the site faces right on the park itself.

I come to the point of what I had to say, which is, what about the detailed planning permission? I remember in October, 1969—I was then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, the forerunner of the Department of the Environment—asking for news of this site and how things were going, and being told that the next thong was detailed planning application. The question then arose, should we ask to see the detailed planning proposals in order to decide whether the Government might not call that in, as opposed to the outline planning permission. Of course, a call-in raises the possibility of a public inquiry.

After some discussion, I asked that the Government be informed of the detailed proposals when they were available. They were not then available. This was in October, 1969. There was some forecast of when they might become available but—and this is the point—I never heard any more of it. My question to the noble Lord is this. That was only eight months before the General Election. I assume that the detailed planning permission was subsequently given by the Westminster City Council, that the new Government had the opportunity of calling it in and that they did not take that opportunity. If the new Government were not given the opportunity of calling it in, the question must arise in our minds: was detailed planning permission legally given by the Westminster City Council? On the other hand, if no further detailed planning permission was given, is the building being legally constructed at all? It seems to me that these questions can come to the surface only when we consider the history that I have just outlined. Who gave detailed planning permission? Did the Government know it had been given? Has it ever been given at all, and in any case is the building in full, undoubted receipt of the planning permission necessary for its erection? If it is not, the House will see at once that it would be much easier for the Government to do what the noble Lord, Lord Reigate, asks than if it were.


My Lords, before my noble friend sits down I should like to ask him if he could inform me whether at any point in these earlier deliberations consideration was given to having part of this proposed building for residential use and not having all of it for offices. After all, it is in one of the most attractive sites in the capital.


To my memory, the answer is "No". So far as I can remember it was always a solid office block for civil servants.


It seems most regrettable.


I think I can confirm that. I put a question about it—whether it would not be possible to turn it into residential accommodation, possibly for Members of Parliament, including Members of this House. I was told that it was quite impossible.

5.3 p.m.


My Lords, the whole House and, indeed, the public will be grateful to my noble friend Lord Reigate for asking this Question. The issue is certainly and rightly one of considerable public concern, not to say dismay. Queen Anne's Mansions was a familiar horror to me, because that was where one went as a naval officer during the War to get one's next appointment. I propose to answer my noble friend's Question in three parts. First of all, I propose to set out the facts and the events, and I must ask noble Lords to bear in mind that most of the material events occurred during the period in which noble Lords opposite were in Government, and I have not, therefore, for reasons and conventions that are well understood, had unrestricted access to all the relevant files in my Department. Secondly, I should like to say something about the system under which all this has occurred and the changes that have occurred in the system since these events. Finally, I shall indicate what could be done.

The site is the property—I say this in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, and in correction to my noble friend Lord Reigate—and has been since about 1959 of Land Securities Investment Trust Limited. Her Majesty's Government had been the occupiers ever since the old building was requisitioned during the War for use, in the first case by the Admiralty, and they are now the prospective tenants of the new building. Perhaps it would be convenient if I referred to the Land Securities Investment Trust Limited as the developers in the rest of my remarks. In July, 1968, the Minister of Public Buildings and Works—the Minister at that time was Mr. Mellish—entered into a contract with the developers for the lease of a new building solely as a Government office. The developers applied for and obtained an office development permit on that basis. In London at the moment it is necessary to have an office development permit if one wants to develop an office before applying for planning permission. They got theirs in August, 1968. This office development permit was for 525,000 square feet gross as compared with 420,000 gross area of the building now being constructed.

We now come to the planning application to Westminster City Council. The developers applied in August, 1968, for permission to redevelop the Queen Anne's Mansions site by the erection of a block of offices for Government use. Between August, 1968, and March, 1969, Westminster City Council consulted the Greater London Council, the Royal Fine Art Commission, the Westminster Society, 42 neighbouring owners and residents, the Ministry of Public Building and Works in their capacity as guardian of the Royal Parks—they have a dual rôle in this business—and the then Ministry of Housing and Local Government. The Royal Fine Art Commission, the Greater London Council and the Westminster Society raised no objection. I shall have more to say in a moment about the Royal Fine Art Commission in that respect. Two residents objected.

The Ministry of Public Building and Works, which had to be consulted about planning applications within half a mile of the Royal Parks under the terms of the General Development Order about which my noble friend Lord Molson reminded us, had misgivings about the bulk of the building and its possible effect on St. James's Park, but they decided in March, 1969, not to press the objections. They did so in the terms of the following letter, which I shall read in full. The Minister concerned here is still Mr. Mellish, but not now acting as a sponsor of Government offices but in another capacity—this is a point I should perhaps ask the noble Lord, Lord, Birkett, to note—his capacity as guardian of the Royal Parks. This letter is addressed to the Clerk of the Westminster City Council. It is dated March 21, 1969, and says: I do apologise for the delay in letting von have our comments on the application for planning permission to redevelop this site, which came over to us last September in the form of copies of the application documents without any covering letter or reference. I explained the reasons for delay to you on the telephone some time ago, and I am grateful to you for your forbearance. May I first of all correct the statement in the letter dated 8th August last to your City Architect and Planning Officer from Messrs. Fitzroy, Robinson and Partners,"— these are the architects to whom Sir Basil Spence is consultant— that this Ministry gave approval in principle to the 1964 scheme. This is not the case: our reply to the 1964 application is contained in a letter dated 13th October, 1964, to the London County Council (copy enclosed), in which we reserved our position until we were informed of proposals the Council eventually found acceptable. There was no response on this, as the scheme was put into abeyance as a result of the restrictions which were placed on office development. We did, in fact, dislike the 1964 scheme on the grounds that the proposed building would present a solid, massive front to St. James's Park and to the Palace and, as indicated in our letter of 13th October, 1964, because we felt that the fullest advantage had not been taken of the unique opportunity which the redevelopment offered for improving the vista of the building on this site from St. James's Park and for replacing the present building with one publicly acceptable as worthy of its situation in relation to St. James's Park. Our present views are much the same; and feeling nowadays is no more sympathetic than it was in 1964 to dominating buildings on the fringe of Royal Parks. However, after full consideration of all the circumstances at the highest level"— the level at which the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, recommended that these things should be decided— we do not propose to take our misgivings to the point of pressing an objection to what is now proposed. I should be grateful if we might please be informed of your Council's final views on this application, and those of the G.L.C. That is from the Ministry of Public Building and Works, March 21, 1969.

Now for the Government's view of these applications in the shape of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. Again, as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, suggested should in fact happen in these cases, the Westminster City Council gave the Ministry of Housing and Local Government an opportunity to call in the planning application for the Minister's decision, but in March, 1969, the Minister decided not to do so, and he left the decision to the Westminster City Council. The noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, was at that time the Minister of Housing and Local Government, Mr. Kenneth Robinson was the Minister of State responsible for planning, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, was one of the Parliamentary Secretaries. The plans as they then stood were made available to the Department before it was decided not to intervene. Of course, I have no way of knowing what Ministers at the time thought of the plans that were laid before them: whether they thought they were outline or detailed; whether they thought they were harmful or not. But the planning application on which permission was granted by Westminster on April 24 was accompanied by detailed plans. The permission itself referred to these plans, but included a condition requiring approval of detailed plans, sections and elevations to be obtained before work on the site commenced, including details of the treatment of the party wall with Queen Anne's Gate, and full particulars of the facing materials. These further details were submitted to Westminster for approval on February 14, 1972—that is, this year.

So much for the facts and events as I am aware of them. My impression, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, is that this application, and these events, have not been directly related to the events about the barracks. Now a word about the planning system and the "watchdogs", as my noble friend Lord Cork and Orrery calls them. May I remind noble Lords of the changes in the planning system since this permission was given. Since April 1, 1969, it has been a requirement, as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, recommended it should be, for complete copies of applications and supporting plans to be made available for the public on the planning register—up to that date only brief particulars had been required. But in this case, although not at the time required by Statute to make these full details available to the public in the register, Westminster City Council did so. I make this point with due emphasis, as some of the reports on this topic have been erroneous in this important respect.

May I turn now to changes in the procedures for advertising and notifying planning applications. Following the introduction of the Civic Amenities Act 1967, as amended by the Town and Country Planning Act 1968, applications for development that would affect a conservation area must be advertised, must have a notice published on the site, and must be notified to amenity societies concerned. At the period in question, however, there was no conservation area designated here, and no statutory requirement under this Act therefore arose. Westminster City Council did however notify the Westminster Society, as I have already said.

A conservation area for Birdcage Walk was designated in May, 1970, and, although the Queen Anne's Mansions site is not in it, it is near enough for the provisions of the Civic Amenities Act, as amended, to bear if the planning application were to be made to-day. Needless to say, it requires an alert public opinion, articulated by effective amenity societies, for these provisions to avail anything at all. In addition to these and other statutory provisions, there is scope for further advice to local planning authorities, and a further circular on this is currently under discussion in my Department.

My Lords, I turn next to development by Government Departments. The latest policy for this is set out in Circular 80 of last year. I would at the outset make the point that this is not strictly relevant, since this was development for a Government Department by a private developer, not by a Government Department directly: there has been a certain amount of confusion in the minds of the Royal Fine Art Commission in this respect. The main changes made in this circular dealing with development by Government Departments are as follows. Government proposals are now given the same publicity as similar private developments; public inquiries are held, where appropriate, even if there is no objection by the local planning authority; consultation takes place about proposals to demolish or alter the character of Government buildings of special architectural or historic interest; planning clearance is valid normally for only five years; strict limitation is applied to the types of development Departments can undertake without such consultation.

What was in the past the Ministry of Works, and then the Ministry of Public Building and Works, is now part of an integrated Department of the Environment, and this is the point to which the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, very rightly and properly alluded. This is a Department which bears heavy responsibility for both the preservation and the enhancement of the character of the environment in which we live, not for littering the environment with cheap, nasty, characterless buildings. All the members of my Department, whether they are building post offices, highways, or Government offices directly, or whether they are in a position, as they were in this case, and as they are in this case, to influence development as prospective tenants, share this overall responsibility borne by the whole Department.

I turn now, and finally in this section, to the Royal Fine Art Commission. In 1968, the Royal Fine Art Commission were asked for their views on the proposal, and they expressed no objections at that time. However, in a recent letter to the Architects Journal, having changed their mind and their membership since 1968, the present members attempted to dissociate themselves from the line taken by the Royal Fine Art Commission in 1968. As my noble friend Lord Reigate has, rightly and properly, quoted that letter in full, I will not do so again.

I turn now to what can be done. Can the work be stopped at once? The "stop notice" procedure applies only in connection with enforcement notices; that is, where the development in question contravenes planning control. That is not the case here. No noble Lord has sought to indicate that he thinks it is. There is no way, with the present law as it stands, of stopping construction immediately. I will say no more about the possibility of altering the law, or about the Bill that has been introduced by my noble friend Lord Cork and Orrery, as the Bill stands referred to the Examiners. However, the Secretary of State has power to make an order—or to direct the local planning authority, Westminster, to make one—under the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, revoking or modifying the permission. He would first have to consult the planning authority, and if an objection were made by them, or by the developer, he would have to hold an inquiry. These statutory processes would take, at best, several months, and meanwhile building work could continue, since the order would not take effect until confirmed by the Secretary of State following the inquiry.

I should like to say a word about revocation. The statutory criterion for revocation or modification action is that the planning authority and the Secretary of State, or the Secretary of State alone if he is taking the action, must be satisfied that the action is "expedient." The expediency must relate to planning considerations; and the undoubted change in public attitudes about the environment; and the change in environmental policies since 1969, would, I am advised, come within that term.

I now come to compensation. If this planning permission were to be revoked or modified, the developer would become entitled to compensation not from the Secretary of State but from the local planning authority—Westminster City Council. The amount of compensation that would be payable if the existing permission was revoked or modified is, at this stage, guesswork. Abortive expenditure alone would be considerable, especially if the substructure already built needed to be modified. The value of the contract alone is £11 million. The remaining compensation would be the difference between the value of the land with the present permission and the value of the land with the permission as revoked or modified. The net cost under this head could be quite small, if permission was ultimately given for a building of comparable capacity to the one now being built, since compensation paid in respect of revocation or modification can be recovered in part by the planning authority when subsequent development of the site takes place. But there are too many uncertainties to give a more precise estimate than that.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Reigate for having asked this Question. I am conscious that I shall not this evening have directly answered my noble friend's point, but I have attempted to set out as thoroughly as possible the facts and the factors that are now before myself and my right honourable friends. We also now have the further great benefit of your Lordships' views. I can go no further than that at the present time, but I would repeat my thanks to my noble friend and to the ten noble Lords who have taken part in this debate.


My Lords, the noble Lord's account of the history of the matter is like Hamlet without the Prince. I asked him: What happened to the detailed planning application? It is quite clear from his speech that the outline planning permission given in 1969 was subject to detailed permission later. It was clear that that detail was not limited to any specific detail, or set of details, as is shown by the noble Lord's use of the word "included" when he talked about including some details; that is, not excluding others. It is quite clear that the detailed planning permission was not sought before June, 1970, and the noble Lord himself has told us that it was sought on February 14, 1972. Was it granted by the Westminster City Council? If it was, did the Westminster City Council give the Government a chance to call it in? If they did, why did the Government not call it in?


My Lords, the House knows the difficulties which one Minister has in dealing with matters which took place in the time of another Minister. I assure the House that I have given as full and thorough an account of these events as I could in the circumstances.


My Lords, I am inquiring about events that took place in February, 1972, when the present Government were in office. I heard the noble Lord say that detailed planning permission was sought from the Westminster City Council on February 14, 1972. My questions are: Was that permission granted? If so, did Westminster City Council give the Government the opportunity to call it in? If so, why did the Government not call it in and have a public inquiry? If the permission has not yet been granted, the Government can still call it in, hold a public inquiry and, if they think fit after the public inquiry, knock one-third off the volume of the building.


My Lords, I am afraid that that is not quite the case. As I said, I am not in a position to know what the noble Lord and his friends thought of the planning application that was before them, its nature or its merit. What I said was that the planning permission given by Westminster was subject to certain conditions about the submission of further detailed plans. These last detailed plans, as it were completing the whole process, were received in February of this year.


My Lords, may I press the noble Lord once again? He has not said whether approval was given by the planning authority to those plans. That is the whole point. Was it or was it not given? If not, then the building does not have full planning permission and should not be being built. If it was, then the Government were either deprived of the opportunity of calling it in or failed to take it.


My Lords, the noble Lord knows very well that planning approval can be given subject to certain conditions being fulfilled. These were the conditions, and they were fulfilled in February, 1972.