§ 2.53 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF CORK AND ORRERY
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This is indeed a brief candle of a Bill with only two days left to flicker. However, the small pool of wax that it will leave behind may well give rise very shortly to a class of legislative phoenix. In another respect, also, it is unusual if not unique. It proposes to interfere with a single private enterprise, a building, for which planning permission has been given and on which work has already begun. 2063 Clearly, that is neither a project nor a precedent to be approached in any way lightheartedly. Clause 1(1) of the Bill states:No building operations may be conducted on the Westminster site lately occupied by Queen Anne's Mansions without the special permission of the Secretary of State for the Environment",and subsection (2) ordains that that permission shall not be given without an Affirmative Resolution of both Houses of Parliament; and that is all. The Bill in no way vetoes the building. What it does is to freeze it, so to speak, until such time as Parliament is pleased to give it the go-ahead, either as planned or in a modified form.
With the present position noble Lords are already doubtless familiar. The old great block of Queen Anne's Mansions in Petty France has gone, to the relief of many, and a replacement, which I will refer to for brevity from now as "the building" or "the new building", is to take its place. It is a modern building from the board of a most distinguished modern architect, Sir Basil Spence, 136 feet high at the highest point, with a plot ratio of 5.47 to 1 and walled and roofed in white Portland stone. How it compares in size or beauty with its predecessor, I do not propose to discuss, because such comparison is to my mind irrelevant. All that matters is what it will look like when it is built, if it ever is. Nor do I propose to discuss it simply as architecture. As a design it may be admirable. In the whole picture of which it will form part, behind the Guards' Chapel and 200 feet back from the edge of Birdcage Walk, I am convinced that it is a good deal less than admirable. My personal objection to it is that it is too big and too heavy. It broods. Thanks to the overhanging masses that crown its summit, it will sit there like a family of asymmetrical sphinxes wearing Smithfield porters' thick-brimmed leather hats. The whole keynote of St. James's Park is one of lightness, of upspringing from the earth, and it is over this marvellous oasis that this building will brood, thrusting downwards in ponderous negation of the place. That is my personal view and I have no wish to enlarge on it. Others have expressed stronger views and expressed them more strongly, and may well do so again before this debate is done.
2064 The project has been defended on the ground that it may, by contrast, improve the scene by setting off the beauty of its surroundings. This is a principle that I, for one, utterly reject. Does an ugly frame enhance the beauty of a picture? Hyde Park has no more been improved by the proximity of the tower of Sir Basil's Knightsbridge Barracks than would the Taj Mahal be improved by being neighboured by a gas holder or a coffee stall. It has been argued, notably by the noble Viscount, Lord Esher, that the new building improves the view now ruined by Scotland Yard. I agree. Scotland Yard is, to my mind, a monstrosity and an offence, and a building in front of it that "diversifies the dull scene"—the words of the noble Viscount, Lord Esher—is for that reason to be applauded. But to perform that function a building does not necessarily have to be the one with which we are confronted. A vast diversity of different shapes would do the trick equally well.
One line of defence that seems to invite comment is that put forward by Sir Basil Spence himself in a letter to The Times of July 12:The fact is this building would only be seen properly from Birdcage Walk in summer, and through a dense net-work of branches and twigs in winter from the park.True, but the fact also is that you cannot in summer, unless you stand on the bridge over the lake, see any other buildings either from the middle of the park. I think myself that this has nothing to do with the argument, and Sir Basil himself must presumably agree, having begun his letter with a sentence which includes these words:… the new Queen Anne's Mansions building must be considered as part of the townscape which includes the Foreign Office and the other ministerial buildings, the Admiralty, the terraces opposite and the Palace itself.Exactly. It must be seen as part of a cohesive whole.
I hope your Lordships will think that the granting of planning permission for this project may have been a mistake, and will also be aware of the disquiet which has been expressed in both the national and the provincial Press. Your Lordships will remember the forceful criticisms which were expressed in the debate initiated in July by my noble friend Lord Reigate, and I make no doubt that by the 2065 end of this afternoon's debate this widespread consternation will have been considerably augmented. Does it follow from all this that Parliament should appoint itself, under the terms of this Bill, as the final planning authority, and an authority which, thanks to the Affirmative Resolution requirement, cannot be sidestepped and will not abrogate its function? To put it differently, why should Parliament think it necessary itself to take this authority, which surely resides already in powerful and reliable hands and is buttressed by an adequate—and I believe it is adequate—code of law? My Lords, note the suggestio falsi in what I have just said—"powerful and reliable hands". Are these hands reliable? My contention, on which I found my Bill, is that they are not.
I say, as I said in the earlier debate, that we rely on the watchdogs at our peril. Who, then, are these watchdogs? The planning authority is, of course, the Westminster City Council, behind which stand the Greater London Council and the Department of the Environment, formerly the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. In addition to these, before planning permission was granted in 1969 the plans were seen and approved by the Royal Fine Art Commission and the Westminster Society. Of the Westminster Society I confess that I have no knowledge. Concerning the Royal Fine Art Commission I feel it necessary to say a word. This is an advisory body of distinguished membership and enormous authority. Of the Commissioners, 15 in number, 9 are architects and 4 are either Honorary Fellows or Honorary Associates of the Royal Institute of British Architects. That leaves only two outside the R.I.B.A., and, of these, one is a civil engineer. It might almost as well be called the Royal Architectural Commission; and I, for one, should like to see the fine arts more strongly represented and the professional architects less so. I make that point in passing, but perhaps it may be thought not unworthy of note.
In his debate in July, my noble friend Lord Reigate quoted at some length from a letter which had been written by the Secretary of the Commission (another architect, incidentlly) to the Architects 2066 Journal. I should like to take up again, more briefly, one or two points from that letter. In 1964—and I quote—… 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.And again:Government Departments still had power to develop their sites regardless of local planning regulations.That is true. But the site had in fact belonged to the developers, Land Securities Investment Trust Ltd., for three years, since 1961. Did the Government really tell the Commission that they still owned the site; and, if so, did they tell the Westminster City Council the same? Perhaps my noble friend Lord Sandford can tell us the answer to this highly important question.
I take two other points from the letter. I am quoting again now: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.This seems to confirm my suspicion that the Commission was, at least on this occasion, concerned only with architecture and not with the surrounding townscape or parkscape. Yet certain of the Commissioners were unhappy about the sheer size of the project. It would be illuminating to know who these Commissioners were and what they said. If anyone doubts the value of a minority report in planning, I would refer him to that great and classic example of the species, the one-man report of Professor Colin Buchanan which, single-handed, defeated the mighty Roskill Report on the Third London Airport.
I quote a last time from the letter:It can also be said that the commission is not in sympathy with the secrecy that has been kept and is still being kept about the nature of this important development".Secrecy? It is not the Commission alone that has made this accusation. In July, Sir Basil's solicitors wrote to the Architects Journal complaining of the inaccuracy of a drawing and a photomontage that they had published, and asking for their withdrawal. In their 2067 issue of September 6—last month—they wrote this:As at that time we had not received any factual material from Sir Basil's office to show that we were wrong we could hardly have withdrawn them. It was only after this, and after specific requests from us that we received from Fitzroy Robinson"—they are the architects—a sketch of the Mansions' silhouette over the Queen Anne's Gate roof tops. This shows our inaccuracy and we regret it. But these illustrations were not deliberately exaggerated as Lord Esher wrote in The Times. Working under considerable difficulties we erred unwittingly … Our aim was to get the design published and its quality and its effect on the surrounding buildings discussed. The secrecy of the architect and his client gave the impression that their aim was to get the building as far advanced as possible before anyone complained. Sir Basil's complaints of inaccuracy need never have arisen if he had published the drawings or the siting studies which his office claimed had been made. As Tony Aldous wrote in The Times: 'The Journal's original drawing no doubt did "misrepresent" the Spence handiwork, but it is scarcely open to him to cry "foul" when he has been sitting firmly on the publicity ball and refusing to put it into play'.I read that, my Lords, without comment. I do not necessarily associate myself with any opinion there expressed.
I return to Sir Basil, as quoted in The Times on July 10. This is a quotation from the article:Answering criticisms that some people felt the new building had been accepted surreptitiously and without adequate public debate, Sir Basil blamed those interested for not bothering to find out about the building".Then the article quotes him:'Lord Samuel did not want publicity. He is perfectly entitled not to have it if he does not want it, although I tried to persuade him on more than one occasion to exhibit the building in the Royal Academy'.So it goes round and round, and I wonder how many of your Lordships may feel, with me, that with every gyration the whole story becomes a little less edifying.
Who, of the central characters in all this, can really be said to have acted both wisely and openly? The public outcry over this project really blew up at the end of June when, thanks to the initiative of a private Member of Parliament, drawings, photographs, photomontages and a model were put on exhibition here, upstairs, in the Upper Waiting Hall. That can hardly be 2068 described as a public exhibition, but it was enough to stimulate a widespread reaction, of which the culminating point so far is this debate. It may occur to some noble Lords that there would be little point in passing this Bill if in fact there were no likelihood of an Affirmative Resolution ever being withheld. I would not entirely go along with that line of argument, but I see its point; and I also see one thing that might be thought an obstacle to the revoking of planning permission. I refer to the matter of compensation. As to what compensation might amount to, and which the Westminster City Council would presumably have to pay, that is a matter of guesswork, and estimates that I have seen have ranged up to as high as £15 million.
Now the law as regards compensation is clear at present. The burden falls on the local planning authority if permission, once given, is revoked by any authority that has the power to do so. Thus, if the Secretary of State were to revoke it, the council would have to pay. But I do not think—and here I speak subject to correction, which no doubt my noble friend Lord Sandford will provide if necessary—that the existing Acts make provision for revocation by Act of Parliament. Consequently, if Affirmative Resolution were to be denied under this Bill, no compensation would in law be payable at all. Now that is obviously wrong, and what would actually happen, I think, is this. This, my Lords, is a hybrid Bill, and, as such, subject to both Private and Public Bill procedures. It will be referred from here to a Select Committee which will hear petitions on this very point. It will then return to a Committee of the Whole House, and on its return it will be found to have been enlarged, by now containing compensation clauses inserted by the Select Committee. These clauses would be for your Lordships to debate or to amend at your discretion. In other words, it will be for Parliament to decide the scale on which compensation should be paid, and by whom it should be paid. If I am wrong in this, doubtless the Minister will put me right. If I am not wrong, then the bogey of compensation appears in a rather less lurid light.
My Lords, do we now approve this Bill? Let us be quite clear what it will do. Legislatively speaking, it will do 2069 nothing for it cannot pass into law. Is there then any point in it? I think so, or I should not have introduced it at this time. Giving it a Second Reading will have several effects. It will make plain that your Lordships disapprove of what has been done and how it has been done. It will pave the way for and indicate the likelihood of either the reintroduction of the same Bill or the introduction of a more comprehensive Bill early in the coming Session. It will certainly set a red light burning brightly before the eyes of the planning authorities and the developers—and particularly the developers—ensuring that in future they will make their plans as public as possible, as early as possible, for their own protection if for nothing else. In short, it will be a blow struck in defence of the heart of London which at present is gravely under threat. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Cork and Orrery.)
§ 3.12 p.m.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
My Lords, when this House debated this matter last July on a Question by the noble Lord, Lord Reigate, I think that there was almost complete unanimity among the speakers that this ran right across Party lines. The debate concluded that the building to be erected by Queen Anne's Gate and overlooking St. James's Park was out of key with its surroundings and too bulky for the site: although I accept that this was not the fault of the architect who was acting to his brief, more the fault of the law. I shall have a little more to say about that later.
In that debate all the speakers urged the Government to stop it from being built. The noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery. took part and at the end of his admirable speech the noble Earl said that the debate was a beginning, not an end. I am very glad that he has introduced a Private Member's Bill and given the House an opportunity to consider the matter. I should like to congratulate him on the clear and concise way in which he has presented his case. From these Benches, speaking for myself, I warmly welcome the noble Earl's initiative. This may be the last chance to control this development. I shall certainly support the Bill unless the noble Lord, Lord 2070 Sandford, on behalf of the Government, is able to announce some positive action. In this connection, I shall have a number of questions to ask the noble Lord, questions arising from the last debate and from certain events since then.
This design has been widely condemned both in Parliament and outside it. With the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, I am sorry that Sir Basil Spence has been offended by all the criticism. He is, of course, a most distinguished architect who has done some very fine work. But architects who also do bad work (and many do from time to time) must expect criticism just as any other creative artist. Even the Royal Fine Art Commission, who approved the design in 1964, have now, as the noble Earl has said, joined the critics. Indeed, this is hardly surprising, since on the architect's own admission the first set of drawings submitted to the Commission in 1964 were not accurate presentations but merely impressions or sketches of the intention —and these are his own words, as reported in The Times. The Commission say that had the design been submitted now it would be considered an overuse of the site.
What I find so deplorable is the secrecy which from the beginning has cloaked the whole planning procedure for this particular project. The architects were apparently instructed by their client not to give out any detailed information. This is perhaps understandable following the public reaction to the Knightsbridge Barracks design. The architect, in his own words, tried to persuade the developer on more than one occasion to let him exhibit the design and model to the Royal Academy, but he was specifically asked not to do so. I should have thought that a property company entrusted with so important a site in a key position in central London, and having commissioned a leading architect to design for them a building for a Government Department, would be proud to display the plans to the public. Indeed, it should have been their duty so to do unless they regarded the whole scheme as little more than a speculative investment.
I understand the building is to be completed in about two and a half years; although it may take rather longer due to the building strike this summer. I 2071 hope that the Government are not going to be influenced in their decision by the long-term need to find accommodation for the Civil Service Department. I am sure that the people concerned would be prepared to postpone their move for a while in such a good cause.
I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, about compensation. The noble Lord said during the last debate that the net cost might be quite small if permission were ultimately given for a building of comparable capacity. I understand that the developers are prepared to consider scaling-down, but subject to the payment of compensation and the agreement of the Government as lessees. According to the Westminster City Council, a scaling-down of 30 per cent. would result in a claim under the Land Compensation Act 1961 for compensation of some £15 million, which seems an enormous sum. I should like to ask the Government some questions on this. First, are they, as future tenants, willing to have this 30 per cent. scaling-down? Secondly, how and by whom has the amount of compensation been calculated? Has it been calculated by surveyors acting for the developers, for the City Council or for somebody else? Would it not be better for the Department to intervene and to appoint an independent assessor? I must also ask whether the compensation, once this is agreed, can be shared so that it shall not fall wholly on the hard-pressed Westminster ratepayers, of whom I count myself one. After all, the public have rights just as have the developers who, with most of their kind, seem to be doing very nicely. I hope that the Land Securities Investment Trust, too, will feel able to make some contribution. Why should the payment of compensation fall on one council alone? Why cannot the G.L.C. be asked to help? Why cannot the Treasury contribute as well?—the building is for a Government Department, the Civil Service Department, which will serve the whole nation.
My Lords, this unhappy situation has come about partly because the site owner has always had a legal right, subject of course to planning permission, to re-build to the existing cubic capacity. I admit that the proposed building would be about one-fifth less in office space than might have been sought, but in my view 2072 and in the view of most critics it is still too bulky for the site, just as the old "horror" was too bulky. If the authorities had been able to reduce the potential cubic capacity of the site when it was acquired, half the trouble might not have arisen. I hope that the Government will consider a change in the law so that property developers and speculators who get hold of already over-burdened sites are not allowed to heap Pelion upon Ossa to their own considerable profit.
Lastly, my Lords, I must ask the Government about planning permission. The Westminster City Council say that planning permission was granted in 1969 and that the plans were seen and approved by, among others, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. My noble friend Lord Kennet, who is sorry that he cannot be here to-day, has asked me to say that this statement, which is contained in a paper widely circulated by the council, is not accurate. I understand that the plans were seen but not approved by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, which merely stood aside for the Westminster City Council's decision. The permission given in 1969 appears to have been outline permission only.
Some months before the General Election my noble friend Lord Kennet recorded in a Minute his view that the detailed permission should be called in. After the Election it appears that the present Government did not call in the detailed planning permission. I should like to ask them why they did not do so, not in order to blame them—because this is not a Party matter and I am not trying to make a Party point; I think it far too important for that—but to check whether the procedure has been properly carried out. Because, my Lords, if it has not been followed properly the whole building operation would appear to be out of order and this should make it easier and cheaper to stop it. For it should be stopped, and I certainly hope that unless the Government can give a satisfactory reply the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 3.23 p.m.
§ LORD AMULREE
My Lords, I should like briefly to support this Bill which the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, introduced so clearly. I have 2073 not a great deal more to add to what I said in the debate on July 4, and I do not want to weary your Lordships by repeating things which I said at that time. I should like to support what one might call the principle behind the Bill and I think something should be done by the Government to stop the piecemeal development of London which is going on so surprisingly quickly at the present time.
I wonder whether a more satisfactory procedure would not be to remove the granting of planning permission, both for general and for detailed plans, from the local authorities and from the Greater London Council, and put the onus firmly on the shoulders of the Department of the Environment, particularly as regards the centre of London. Suppose that this were to be done, it would be more simple to get the requisite publicity for what was contemplated. Plans and models could be shown and there would be no need for the present procedure where one has to request to see them, for if people do not know that the models and plans exist they cannot request to see them. There should be some place in the middle of London where plans and models could be permanently on show as soon as they were prepared, so that the public could find out what was going on.
As the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, said, what has been wrong with this scheme has been the total lack of publicity. The scheme came to my knowledge in 1968, although apparently it had been talked about for some time before that. In 1968 I put down a Question on the subject in your Lordships' House and from that moment onwards until, I think, the spring of this year I did not hear any more about what was going on. We were told that notice was given to certain residents in the neighbourhood of the proposed building, and to a body called the Westminster Society, which I am sure is a very worthy body but I do not know what is its standing. I have yet to find someone who was consulted about the matter and told about the building which was to be erected. There was that atmosphere of secrecy about the whole thing. I will not say it was one of deliberate concealment; I am sure it was not like that, but because the procedure is such, it was simple and easy for things not to come out.
2074 I can quite understand why Lord Samuel, who I think is the developer principally involved, would wish for no personal publicity from the scheme, but one feels it is a pity that he did not accede to the request of the architect to show the plans and models some time before things had gone too far. That is why I think it would not be a bad idea if the procedure could be changed and some kind of general legislation passed, rather on the lines of the Bill we are now discussing, which would mean that the Department of the Environment would have a much bigger say than they have now, and then we should get the right kind of publicity.
Before I sit down, I should like to touch briefly on the use to which this new building is to be put after it has been erected. The noble Lord who replied to my Question in 1968 gave a very disingenuous reply: that the building had been in use as offices for 30 years; that they had not been up to the standard of accommodation and that new offices would be built which could be used by some organisation which needed to be near the centre of London. The noble Lord went on to say that the Civil Service must be properly housed in decent accommodation, and with that I entirely agree. But wily the whole procedure seemed to be a little naïve and disingenuous was that the building was not meant for Civil Service offices but for flats. I admit that the old flats became somewhat old-fashioned, but they were functioning perfectly as flats.
We were told at the time that the total number of civil servants employed at the site was about 1,800, which, we were informed, was not a large number for a site of that size. I should like to know the total number of civil servants who will be housed there and from which Government Department they will come. When one looks round that part of London, one is puzzled to know what Department should require the accommodation when there is the enormous Board of Trade building (to use its old name) in Victoria Street and the even bigger Department of the Environment in Marsham Street. Where is this large number of civil servants to come from? Does it not mean the bringing of more people into the centre of London, against what has been the policy of successive Governments, which was to discourage 2075 the building of offices in Central London and to try to disperse Government Departments into the country or away from the centre of London? My Lords, I have pleasure in supporting the Bill.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
My Lords, I should like to join in the thanks the House has expressed to my noble friend Lord Cork and Orrery for placing this Bill before us and giving us a further opportunity to debate this very important matter, which my noble friend Lord Reigate first gave your Lordships an opportunity to debate last July. I should be second to none in my concern for the development of buildings surrounding St. James's Park or indeed any other of our Royal Parks. These are matters of great public interest and concern, and I am sure that we are serving a good cause in further debating them. But while I have 100 per cent. sympathy with the objectives of my noble friend's Bill, I am going to deploy certain objections which I see to his methods of achieving them as outlined in the Bill. I would add that if those objections seem convincing either to my noble friend or to the House, I would say to my noble friend Lord Sandford that I think no one can be entirely happy with the course of events in this particular instance, and clearly a major responsibility rests with him and his Ministry to ensure that matters of this kind—and this one in particular—go more satisfactorily in the future.
Here I should declare an interest because I am President of the National Association of Property Owners. But let me hasten to add that this job is as honorary as it is honourable, and that the Land Securities Investment Trust Limited, a company of great standing, with no less than 100,000 shareholders, does not include myself: and when I look to see what they are likely to get out of this particular development. I do not feel any particular regret.
In the post-war era there has been a growing practice, of which we are all conscious, for Her Majesty's Government to look to private developers to build their new office blocks and then lease them. I understand that this is financially advantageous to Her Majesty's Government. How times have changed since the 2076 last century, when Lord Palmerston, as Prime Minister, vetoed Sir Gilbert Scott's accepted design for the new Foreign Office after it had been commissioned by Her Majesty's Government. When my noble friend Lord Reigate in the July debate referred with approval, rightly I think, to Sir Gilbert Scott's elevation of the Foreign Office, which we all admire, I could not forbear to smile as I wondered whether my noble friend knows how very nearly we came to having St. Pancras Station, designed by Sir Gilbert, standing on that site.
Sir Gilbert Scott was the leading exponent of the neo-Gothic style and when he was commissioned to design a new building for the Foreign Office he had designed such an elevation and had had it accepted by Her Majesty's Government. When Lord Palmerston heard of it he stepped in as Prime Minister and put his foot down and vetoed it. Sir Gilbert fought hard for his design, but eventually he had to give in, and thus he produced a new design in the more traditional style of the Regency period on which Lord Palmerston insisted. The sequal was that Sir Gilbert kept his cherished design on ice until he could find a purchaser for it; and he found a purchaser in the directors of the Midland Railway, who then had it erected as St. Pancras Station as we know it to-day. Whatever our feelings may be about St. Pancras Station, I think we must be very glad that it is where it is and not in St. James's Park. History does not relate whether any compensation was paid to Sir Gilbert Scott, but probably not. There was no private development involved in those days, with the long and costly procedure of getting planning consent, O.D.P.s et cetera which so complicate the position to-day. This is really the substance of my speech: that my noble friend's Bill would have worked fine one hundred years ago, but I do not believe it is workable to-day. If I may give a brief account of the history of this case over the past 13 years, I believe that I shall illustrate my point.
The first move in this story was in 1959, when the development company (as I will call them) bought the lease of the site and the building, and immediately applied in 1959 to the L.C.C. for planning consent. That was their first application; 13 years ago. Interestingly, their 2077 design then was based on an L.C.C. sketch for the new building. They subsequently acquired the site in 1961, and their total outlay on the purchase of the site and the leasehold was some £4 million plus. During 1960, 1961 and 1962 a number of further schemes were produced and discussed by the development company with the L.C.C., including one which it is interesting to recall the L.C.C. put forward, which consisted of three hexagonal blocks, the tallest of which was 21 storeys high and which the development company had the wisdom to reject as being too obtrusive. In February, 1963, the development company produced a definitive scheme and submitted it to the L.C.C.; and in the face of further delays the company decided to appeal to the Minister. Thereupon the L.C.C. decided in November, 1963, to recommend it to the Minister. During 1964 further consultation took place between the company and the L.C.C.; and it was in 1964 that Sir Basil Spence was first appointed consultant architect in succession to Sir Robert Matthews. In June, 1964, Sir Basil's revised scheme was submitted to the L.C.C., and at the same time the scheme was submitted to the Royal Fine Art Commission; and Sir Basil and Mr. Fitzroy Robinson attended the meeting of the Commission in order to assist. The Royal Fine Art Commission then approved the design and so informed the L.C.C. and the development company. At this time, of course, the L.C.C. was coming to an end and the G.L.C. was coming into existence. Hence, there was inevitably further delay in a final decision being reached.
Early in 1965, Parliament legislated and passed the Office Development Control Act, which required that the development company would have to obtain an office development permit for the new building. The company then made application for an O.D.P. to the Board of Trade, who were then responsible. Meantime, the London Government Act was on the Statute Book, the G.L.C. was set up, and the town planning function had in fact been transferred to the Westminster City Council, with the G.L.C. having no more than certain longstop powers. During 1965 and 1966 there were negotiations with the G.L.C. and Westminster City Council with regard to the planning consent. In 1967 negotiations began 2078 between the company and the Ministry of Public Building and Works for the lease of the new building when it was completed, and these negotiations were finally concluded in July, 1968. Here perhaps there is an answer to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. In fact, apart from this immensely long and costly development stage, the company at the end of it all, in 1975, assuming that the building is completed then, have agreed to let it to the Government at a concessionary rent for no less than 14 years. So they are evidently prepared to take a very long view.
In 1968 an office development permit was granted, but conditional on the lease of the building to a Government Department, which of course was also granted that year. Here I should mention that the original planning application for building, as my noble friend Lord Sandford said in the July debate, was for 525,000 square feet gross. That was what the company were entitled to: the square footage of the original building, plus 10 per cent. However, Government policy was to try to prevent this automatic extension of office buildings in London, and in order to meet Government policy the development company voluntarily agreed—because they were fully entitled to this—to a 20 per cent. reduction on the O.D.P., and the final gross area was of 420,000 square feet.
In 1968 a new application for planning consent, based on this reduced size of building, was made to the Westminster City Council. Also, a new submission was made to the Royal Fine Art Commission, and once again Sir Basil Spence and Mr. Robinson attended. Thus in November, 1968, the Royal Fine Art Commission approved the scheme for the second time. In the latter part of 1968 the Westminster City Council consulted the G.L.C., the Ministry of Public Building and Works, in their capacity of guardian of the Royal Parks, as my noble friend mentioned in the July debate. and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, in particular to ascertain whether the Ministry of Housing and Local Government wished to call in this very important application. In the event, the Royal Fine Art Commission having given their approval, the G.L.C. gave their approval, and I would have said—this of course is in conflict with the noble 2079 Lord, Lord Strabolgi—that both the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the Ministry of Public Building and Works by implication, either directly or indirectly, gave their approval. They had seen the plans and they had indicated no wish to take action on them.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but there is a difference between detailed and initial planning permission.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
Well, my Lords, I do not propose to go into this point in detail, but I do not doubt that my noble friend Lord Sandford will. The noble Lord dealt with this matter in the July debate, and there was no doubt that the drawings and plans which were submitted with this application were fully adequate to show exactly what was proposed. If I may refer the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, to column 1332 of Hansard, July 4, 1972, I think he will see the point set out there in some detail by my noble friend Lord Sandford. Frankly, I am surprised and puzzled by the reference of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet—I am sorry that he cannot be here today—when he said that it was the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, to call in the application and that he had marked the papers to this effect, but that the General Election intervened. I am puzzled about this because this was at the beginning of 1969 and the General Election did not occur for another 18 months. There was plenty of time to call this in during 1969. In the event, as we all well know, because both the Ministries concerned had in effect given their consent, the Westminster City Council went ahead and in March, 1969, they formally gave planning consent; but it is absolutely clear that they had cleared this with the two Ministries at the time and nobody could possibly say they had not. I would therefore ask noble Lords to take note of that—the whole procedure had been fully followed both by the development company and the Westminster City Council, because nobody that I know of has heard that the Westminster City Council put a foot wrong in what they did in their planning procedures.
Simultaneously with these formal consultations that the Westminster Council 2080 were carrying out, they also carried out informal consultations which have been referred to particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Amulree. They consulted with the Westminster Society and they consulted with some 42 neighbouring owners and residents, of whom only two objected. Here is a point that puzzles me. I have heard again on all sides to-day the charge of secrecy and the charge that the company have failed to make public what they were doing. But the fact is that these plans were deposited with the Westminster City Council in 1968 and they have been there for everybody to see ever since. In addition there was this round of public consultations that took place with the Westminster Society and also with a large number of local people who dwell or who have property in that area.
§ LORD REIGATE
My Lords, would my noble friend allow me to interrupt? Would he deal with Sir Basil Spence's own accusation that he was not allowed to show his own drawings?
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
My Lords, I will deal with that in a moment. But the point I want to make first—and I would ask my noble friend to take note of it—is that these plans have been available for anyone to see for the last four years and they were also made public to the Westminster Society and also to 42 local people. That is quite a large number. This is not secrecy, my Lords.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
Yes, my Lords; but was this advertised by the Westminster City Council? What is the good of having plans in the back room if the public do not know anything about the fact, apart from one or two specialised societies?
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
My Lords, is the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, really being completely fair in saying this was kept private, when 42 local residents and property owners were told about it, as well as the Westminster Society? Is that really fair? I suggest that it is not. I suggest that all proper publicity was given. The Westminster 2081 City Council at that stage—because the law was not the same then as it is to-day —had no obligation to go any further. They told the people immediately concerned; they told anyone whom they thought would be interested locally, and because the plans were available for anyone to see who wished to, I suggest that in all fairness, as the law stood then, they have done all that they should have done.
Finally, in April, 1969, the Westminster City Council gave official planning consent to the schemes. The company then proceeded to go out to tender and they finally let their contracts in 1970. The work of demolition and on the foundations has been in progress for about a year. If not interrupted, the building will be finished and occupied in 1975. That completes the saga of this development, and I would only add—and in this I have no interest of any sort or kind—that it surprises me that the company have never complained to anybody about what must have been the enormous cost of these endless negotiations and delays. Apart from anything else, they laid out £4 million about half a generation ago and have had no return from that outlay.
I would have thought that this account confirms, first, that the development company have been acting pro bono publico. They have spent this immensely long time going through all these statutory procedures absolutely correctly, and I would suggest that if any Government Department had laid out £4 million and taken so long to get a building started, the Permanent Secretary concerned would very likely be called in front of the Public Accounts Committee and given the stick for it. So I would ask noble Lords to give credit where credit is due. Secondly, I would suggest that after the development company has successfully negotiated all these statutory hoops and procedures over the last 13 years they really cannot be asked to stop now and start the whole process over again. If we should do that we are going to make a complete nonsense of the whole of our planning procedure.
In this connection, I particularly call your Lordships' attention to the fact that this scheme has already received (in 1969) either directly or indirectly the approval 2082 of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the Ministry of Public Building and Works—and they in effect form the new Department of the Environment. Taking into account also the power in the Bill for which my noble friend is asking, for the Secretary of State for the Environment to review the scheme once again would really be an act of supererogation without equal. The final step which my noble friend asks for—that an Affirmative Resolution would be needed by Parliament following the Minister's review—does not make a practical proposition. Parliament would be bound in such cases as this to rely upon the Minister's advice, and surely this should be the final decision.
To these objections must be added two further ones. First, the Bill would have retrospective action of a most damaging kind. Occasionally there has been retrospective legislation, but noble Lords on all sides would greatly regret retrospective action as savage as this would be. Apart from the injustices to the development company, it would create a precedent which would have serious repercussions throughout all planning and development in this country, creating uncertainties and increasing delays and costs throughout. Secondly, the cost of stopping the present development. which has been referred to, and of starting again with some modified scheme has been variously estimated at between £15 million and £25 million, depending on the procedures adopted, on how much the size of the building is reduced and what the procedure is for the new development—in other words, if a completely new application has to be made and they have to go through all the procedures once again of new design, planning consent, O.D.P., and so on. There are a variety of possibilities here, and the cost, as I have said, varies between £15 million and £25 million.
§ THE EARL OF CORK AND ORRERY
My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend could tell us by whom these estimates were made?
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
My Lords, these estimates have been made basically by the development company on request from my noble friend's Ministry, in order to give the best information that can be obtained.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
My Lords, before the estimates are blown upon, other figures ought to be brought forward from any other source which could show that they are wrong. They looked to me as if they were of that order. As my noble friend indicated originally, the position of the Westminster City Council who, as the law stands, would be responsible for meeting this large bill, was such that it was not surprising to see that they confirmed their original decision once again at their Council meeting last night. My noble friend's suggestion that the burden of these costs should fall elsewhere is something that I am sure noble Lords will wish to think about. Wherever the cost falls, the burden will be a very heavy one. We do not wish it to fall on either the taxpayer or the ratepayer unless it is really justified.
In conclusion, I should like to make three short points on Sir Basil Spence's original design. As has been admitted to-day by my noble friend Lord Cork and Orrery, the original projection which hit the headlines was far from being an accurate one—that was the one which came from an edition of the Architects Journal. Unfortunately, the subsequent corrections which have put the new project into a correct perspective have never been repeated in the national Press, so very few people have had the advantage of seeing how this project might come out. In this connection I commend the article by Mr. David Rock in the July issue of Building, which shows a number of photographs with the new building imposed upon them. This gives an accurate representation of how the building will look, and I suggest that in the skyline against the tall buildings in Victoria Street the new building does not blend in too badly. Thirdly, I shall not express my own opinion on the design because I do not think that would be helpful. I will only make the comment that I feel that the architect, Sir Basil Spence (who designed the new Coventry 2084 Cathedral), deserves to be taken seriously.
My Lords, may I conclude by saying that in the face of the formidable objections to the Bill which I have adduced, I hope that when we look at the matter constitutionally and legally my noble friend will not feel that he wishes to proceed with this Bill and that we may find a better way of preserving the beauty and amenity of St. James's Park.
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ LORD HOLFORD
My Lords, in one respect, at least, I speak with hesitation this afternoon, in that I was unable to hear, or to contribute to, the lively debate in July last that followed Lord Reigate's Question on the development of this site. Even when reading the OFFICIAL REPORT one cannot fail to appreciate the force of the ten-gun salvo that was fired off on that occasion. I realise that I missed something in being away. It was a superb prelude to the Second Reading of this Bill. Yet if this Bill becomes an Act I. for one, should be greatly concerned by its effect on two things in particular: first, our interesting tradition of public architecture in this country, particularly in Westminster; secondly, its effect on the system of planning control by local authorities which we have nursed ever since the Acts of 1932 and 1947 and which has been debated in this House so very recently on the Local Government Bill.
For me to say anything at all now in favour of a project which was so roundly and unanimously condemned in this House less than four months ago might lead your Lordships to believe that I have a particular financial or professional interest in it, and that is not the case. I have not been associated with the drawing up of the brief, or the design that came out of it. To use the noble Earl's own metaphor, it is not the kind of hat that I would wear. Nor have I any interest in Land Securities Investment Trust who own the site. None the less, as a student of London's urban history, and a former member of the Royal Fine Art Commission, I have been aware ever since 1969 that there were schemes afoot for rebuilding Queen Anne's Mansions—the earliest ones emanating from the Architect's Department of the then London County Council. I realise that in this I was in a privileged position. 2085 My real interest in this Bill is in the probable effects that its provisions will have on something more continuous and more fundamental; that is to say, on the architectural history that each generation should have a chance to make as well as to preserve.
We have few great classical compositions in our cities, but we have a lot of human and livable qualities in our streets, in our buildings and particularly in our parks, and there is great variety and contrast in the pattern of our towns, particularly in London. Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, that admirable recorder of the Buildings of England, remarked in a letter to The Times that Westminster is not Bath. It already contains, in Victoria Street, a string of buildings of large scale, and to these Sir Basil Spence's building—and I quote Sir Nikolaus here—makes a very convincing accent where it stands".He went on to say that while the 18th century houses in Queen Anne's Gate—one of them occupied, incidentally, by the Architects' Journal—should of course be preserved,development in the 'seventies…cannot be vetoed on that account".In the same issue, the noble Viscount, Lord Esher, to whom reference has already been made, made the further point that London is not Washington, either.Its essence",he said,is diversity of style and scale and the capacity to profit by eccentricity".My Lords, it is on grounds such as these that my first objection is based. In seeking to suppress a single design which it considers outrageous, the Bill takes quite a step towards the general suppression of personality, vigour, and even fantasy in our public architecture. Your Lordships may think it curious for an architect to use this word "fantasy", but I must explain.
This suppression would seem to be unfortunate in principle, and particularly so around St. James's Park where these qualities already exist to a marked degree. Who would now forgo the bulk, or the silhouette of Whitehall Court on the Embankment? It is a much-derided building, I may say. Unlovely and old- 2086 fashioned as its roofs and chimneys are in themselves, one has only to go to the Buckingham Palace end of St. James's Park to see it as a mirage of Eastern turrets and minarets floating over the trees and reflected in the lake. This happy accident of location and history has resulted in the top of the building being listed for preservation, no matter what happens to the lower parts. That is fantasy indeed. But when one comes to think about it one realises that it is completely right; at any rate so long as the extraordinary viewpoint from the Park survives.
The noble Lord, Lord Reigate, in the earlier debate quoted Osbert Lancaster, who always puts his finger on the point and who described the new building on the site of Queen Anne's Mansions as being,a combination of an old-fashioned Hollywood set for the Fall of Balylon with a cluster of French provincial water towers".One laughs, as he intended one should. But this, too, could be a fantasy that our successors in fifty years' time might want to preserve. They might want to preserve it, for one thing, for its remarkable contrast to the many faceless, formless office buildings in the neighbourhood: buildings with no modelling and no silhouhettes whatever, except the afterthoughts on their flat roofs. These can be seen in all directions from St. James's Park, and who would want to preserve them'? Not even New Scotland Yard which, with its greater height, really supervises whatever is going on in St. James's Park.
The Foreign Office, to which the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, referred, was also considered overbearing in its day—not, I may add, as Gilbert Scott wanted it to be in its 15th century Gothic dress, but in the way that Palmerston decided that it should be, in the Italianate tradition. The growth of high trees in the Park has now reduced its domination, and cleaning has revealed extraordinarily interesting details long obscured by soot and grime. Times change, and some of the Victorian monsters suddenly become interesting and valuable; and we find them not only praiseworthy but grantworthy. These are only two examples out of many that make up the continuous history of Westminster's civic and landscape design. It is nearly 2087 always outrageous when new buildings of any size are added, but Westminster would lose a great deal of its vital attractive force if they were not.
The economics of the development, it seems to me, and the administrative system which regulates it, both encouraged the owners of Queen Anne's Mansions to create a full brief for a building which stands, after all, on a very valuable and desirable site. But they kept it well within the permitted limits of height, cubic content (which is 20 per cent. less than they were entitled to), plot ratio, office user, and the requirements of local authorities, Government Departments, the Crown Commissioners and 42 adjoining owners, as the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, has said. They then entrusted this brief to the inventive minds and hands of Fitzroy Robinson and Partners as architects, first with Sir Robert Matthew and then with Sir Basil Spence as consultants.
Sir Basil, whose general concept this building really is, has designed buildings of mark, from Coventry Cathedral to the recent British Embassy in Rome. They are conspicuous buildings, and one can say without any malice whatsoever that he enjoys making them conspicuous. And why not? I happened to follow him, 12 years ago, as President of the Royal Institute of British Architects, and I can assure your Lordships that there is nothing secretive whatsoever about this man or his work. In the case of the Queen Anne's Mansions site he had a client who was understandably more cautious about publicity than his architect—I think personally wrongly so, but that was the case. My point is that Sir Basil has been building architectural statements for a long time now and it is not surprising that he should make a robust statement here. He has earned the right to make them. Equally, the planning authorities and the Secretary of State have the right to impose conditions on the development of a particular site, such as this, which would make that statement of his not only inappropriate but impossible. They did not do this; and, on the whole, I think they were right not to. But that is a purely personal opinion. However, this is the second reason why I am opposed to this Bill.
2088 As the President of the Law Society, Sir Desmond Heap, remarked in a letter:…it is nothing less than ridiculous later to ask the developer not to do the very thing which the planning authority has exactly and expressly authorised him to do.I am not an authority on this matter, but having put in applications to the same council I would assume that this was an application for planning consent. It is possible to put in an application for outline consent only, to be followed by detailed planning consent, but in this case the drawings were available to show exactly what was wanted; and the consent, when it was given, was a planning consent subject to the normal conditions, which were that the O.D.C. limit should be complied with, that the question of the materials should be referred for approval at a later stage, and so on.
I hope that some noble Lords will agree with me that, while it is always costly, because of compensation, to secure in the heart of London open space—or even open air—where there was building before, the cost might be worth it in terms of the real gain to amenity which it would bring. But there is nothing to be said for revocation, which would be infinitely more costly and would leave just a hole in the ground. If ordered by the Secretary of State, revocation would be an almost sadistic act of revenge against the Westminster City Council for giving consent to a building designed to provide civil servants with a better environment—at least so far as the interior of the building is concerned.
I speak with some feeling here as a member of the Historic Buildings Council, because we used to meet in the old Queen Anne's Mansions, and while we looked out on to noble vistas of Westminster Abbey, the park and so on, the interior of the building was excruciatingly uncomfortable. The Council has now been transferred to a very thin modern building in Savile Row where if we close the windows we suffocate and if we open them we cannot hear ourselves speak. This could not be said of the old Queen Anne's Mansions, and it could never be said of Sir Basil Spence's scheme for replacing it. The building, if it were built, would have certain merits, both outside and in. I am not going to try to exaggerate those 2089 merits but I should like to quote a young architect who referred to it in this way:The building is strongly modelled, has character, good materials, an interesting silhouette and a personality lacking in most of our commercial architecture.My Lords, if I had the eloquence I would continue at some length and would try to persuade the noble Earl to withdraw his Motion for the Second Reading of this Bill. Lacking that eloquence I can only say that I am very much disturbed by the terms of this Bill.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ LORD REIGATE
My Lords, may I begin by commending my noble friend Lord Cork and Orrery for his great eloquence in proposing the Second Reading of this Bill and for, in effect, allowing your Lordships to continue the debate which I was privileged to initiate earlier in the year. If I may say so of that debate it was a little one-sided in that no one had a good word to say for the building or for the manner in which it had, as it were, arrived on the scene. I suppose, therefore, as a fair-minded man I ought to welcome the fact that the last two speeches we have just heard were spoken by two noble Lords—I will not say acting in the role of advocatus diaboli, but at least in one case speaking on behalf of the property developer and in the other case speaking on behalf of the architect.
I listened with great attention to what the noble Lord, Lord Holford, said, and of course he would be the first to agree that in matters of taste there is bound to be dispute. From what I have seen of this building I cannot say that I think it is going to be a great adornment. However, I am quite certain that it will be better looking than the building it replaces and I am also quite certain that it is very much better looking than some of the buildings which were proposed at the earlier stages, to which my noble friend Lord Nugent referred. In my view, however, that still does not make it a suitable building on this particular site. There is an adage about not being able to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear and I believe one cannot expect to have a really fine building of which one can be proud on this particular site, on the edge of a park, on a plot ratio of, I think it is, 5.47 to 1.
Many noble Lords will have read with interest the correspondence in The Times, 2090 to which I contributed myself. There were one or two people who came out in favour of Sir Basil Spence including, if I may say so, myself, because I expressed the view that he was the architect of two of the finest buildings of this century. That earned me a letter of thanks from Sir Basil. Sir Nikolaus Pevsner came out in his defence. I think the main argument, in the case of Sir Nikolaus Pevsner and Lord Esher, was that this building was going to hide New Scotland Yard. I think that is true; it does hide New Scotland Yard and I think that is the best argument in its favour. But next we shall have to pull down the Guards' Chapel in order to hide Sir Basil Spence's building, and so we go on. I find this argument about the townscape a little unreal. One correspondent said that one must more or less set the scale by the Stag brewery site building. That is quite true, but somehow or another at some time I feel that we have to call a halt, and I will deal with that point later on.
I have expressed my views at some length beforehand and I shall try not to repeat myself. I have never attacked Sir Basil Spence as an architect, or his reputation, which stands high. I have not attacked the Land Securities Investment Trust or Lord Samuel, to whom I referred as a "public-spirited man". I listened to the speech made by my noble friend Lord Nugent in his capacity as President of the National Federation of Property Owners. I thought at one stage he said that the shareholders were not going to make very much out of it. In that case I hope they will not mind surrendering a little compensation. Either that, or £15 million is too much—I am not quite certain which. No doubt when the Minister replies he will be able to sort that one out. But I think the company still stands convicted of too much silence, and I notice that my noble friend did not answer the question why Sir Basil Spence was not allowed to show his views of the building in the Academy.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
My Lords, perhaps I may help my noble friend, since he continues to play on this point. At that time, of course, as he will be aware, there was no statutory obligation (as there is now) for plans to be advertised and publicity to be given. Had 2091 there been that obligation then of course these things would have been done. But it is the policy of this company not to "make a splash" with their developments and therefore they simply carried out their statutory duty.
§ LORD REIGATE
My Lords, I think my noble friend's statement speaks for itself. He said that it was not their statutory duty and they did not want to make a splash. Well, we all understand why, and I shall return later to what I consider to be the duty of property developers.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
My Lords, will my noble friend give way? That is a very unfair remark, as he well knows. This company has performed every duty, as I have related, over the last 13 years in this particular matter. It has engaged the best possible architects and the implication made by my noble friend is really not worthy of him.
§ LORD REIGATE
My Lords, I am not quite sure what the implication is. I have never suggested that they have not fulfilled their statutory duties. I am only saying that I deplore the fact that for the sake of their own reputation they have not sought the publicity that good property developers seek for their activities, and in due course I shall refer to this matter and give some shining examples of where property developers have rightly sought publicity. I am sure that as an architect the noble Lord, Lord Holford, would say that he would welcome a client who wants publicity and public discussion before the matter gets into the kind of controversy that has largely been brought about by the conspiracy of silence on the part of the company. Of course they have complied with all their statutory duties—everybody has. I am sure that we have all had an admirable brief from the Westminster City Council, telling us exactly what is happening, and at the end of it all we do not know why we have been landed with this excessive development on a particular site.
I do not want to go into the whole story, but I was very interested in the dialogue between the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, and others, and indeed with my noble friend Lord Sandford on a previous occasion, as to who really did 2092 give permission. If there is any doubt, let us have a Select Committee to examine the whole facts of the situation. Let us even go back as far as 1951, when it was decided by the Government of the day—and I do not know what Party were in power at the time—that this building which had been commandeered during the war should remain as offices. If that decision had not been given then none of this would have followed. By all means let us go back and open all the books and show the world everything there is, because we can at least profit for the future from what has happened in the past.
I wish to commend the Architects' Journal for what it has done in this matter. It is not easy for a small and not very powerful journal to act on this sort of issue. It is true that its first drawings were wrong and it published them. Unfortunately they were not given publicity; but whose fault was that? The drawings were there, in the Westminster City Council's offices, but the Architects' Journal was not allowed to publish them. Of course someone will get them wrong, and there is no silence then.
We are also told that 42 owners were consulted. That is fair enough, but who were they? I understand that the Trustees of Christ's Hospital own four freehold houses in Queen Anne's Gate, but they were not consulted. The Architects' Journal is the tenant of a house, and it was not consulted. I know one freeholder who was consulted and who agreed, and his building is next door, but it happens to look out the other way. He is not affected and rightly he did not disagree. There has been no real publicity, though publicity is the very thing that is needed with respect to a site as important as this.
I come back to the valuable brief which Westminster City Council has sent us. No one is really happy about the situation and I feel that since the chances of my noble friend's Bill becoming law are not perhaps very great at this stage of the Session, we should look to the future rather than to what is actually contained in the Bill. I am aware that in the last few years the Act has been strengthened and that more publicity is given to plans; I think they can now be reproduced, whether or not consent is 2093 given. However, the problem goes deeper than this and really why I welcome the Bill that my noble friend has introduced and the debates we have had is because we are dealing not just with a building, be it beautiful or not, according to one's taste, but with the centre of the capital of this country, a capital that is the centre of the world to a great many people.
Some of your Lordships may remember a poster which was produced by London Transport or the Tourist Bureau before the war. Entitled The Heart of the Empire, it contained a panoramic view of the whole stretch of London from Buckingham Palace and Hyde Park Corner to Westminster Abbey up to Trafalgar Square and so on. It was an attractive view. It would be interesting to reproduce that now and compare it with a picture of what we have done to that heart of the Empire. We have built the Hilton, Stag House and the New Zealand building, itself a very beautiful building but in my view not very happily sited. We have built the Department of the Environment's building, for which I have not yet heard anybody ever say a good word, including the Minister concerned. We have built New Scotland Yard, about which we have heard so much to-day, and now we are going to build Queen Anne's Mansions—bad random development on the whole, and this is something which does not concern just Westminster City Council. It concerns the whole of this country and perhaps the world, for we are not the only city faced with this problem; Paris will suddenly be faced with it.
I suggest that there is a principle implicit in my noble friend's Bill which can perhaps be the germ of wisdom for what we should do for the future. Here is an area of London, of the capital city, which must be brought back under the control of Parliament. I say with great respect to Westminster City Council, for which I have nothing but respect, that we cannot trust a local authority whose boundaries after all extend beyond Paddington. Frankly, we cannot trust the Executive—I am not referring to Ministers—because some of these decisions get taken, I do not know how or by whom We must bring this matter back to Parliament. We should have a new Bill saying that no building within a mile of 2094 the Palace of Westminster or half a mile of a Royal Park may be built higher than say, 60 or 70 feet without exactly what my noble friend has talked about, which is an Affirmative Order of both Houses. We may make mistakes, too, and I have no doubt that we shall—we may forbid Whitehall Court—but it will at least be Parliament which will be responsible. My noble friend told us about how Lord Palmerston provided us with the Foreign Office and how Sir Gilbert Scott provided us with St. Pancras. How right Lord Palmerston was! How wrong the architect was! What a good argument for trusting Parliament rather than the architects or a local council. I was of course aware of that story and it is a strong argument for the case I have made.
I wish to make clear my own attitude to these matters. I am not an obsessed conservationist. One cannot preserve everything; like human beings, buildings wear out and have to be renewed. We have the beauty of a city but we cannot pickle it and keep it as it always was. We must have development and I wish to make it clear that I have no prejudice whatever against property developers, including Land Securities Investment Trust, high buildings or architects. I know quite a number of property developers. They are proud of their projects. They not only welcome publicity; they seek it. There are some fine developments going on in London now. There is one in Victoria Street which will open up a view of Westminster Cathedral that we have never had before. There is one in the Strand which will open up a new vista; and dare I modestly mention that I am concerned, as a director of a company, with a development which will take place further up the river and which will turn a rather squalid industrial sector into something which I hope will help to beautify even more the River Thames and be something of which we can be proud? But we seek publicity. We want the world to know what we are doing. We do not hide our light under a bushel, nor do good property developers.
I live in an area which was built by a speculative builder named Cubitt for a property developer called the Grosvenor Estate. It is one of the finest bits of town planning anywhere. It is scheduled 2095 for preservation, although it was speculative building, and rightly so. Nor am I opposed to high buildings if they are rightly sited and grouped. New York is my second home in the sense that my wife comes from that city. I think it is a beautiful city. It has high buildings and they are grouped together. As a New Yorker once said to me, "What makes our high buildings tolerable and even beautiful is the fact that one can stand at the corner of the street and, because of our straight streets, always see the sky or horizon at the end of the street."
But what have we in London done? We have let the buildings spring up sporadically all over. As one flies in over London and looks down, the whole picture looks rather like an asparagus bed with the asparagus just ready for cutting. That is not right. We have gone badly wrong and we are going worse wrong in the centre of the capital. There is plenty of room for high buildings here and there are some beautiful such buildings in the City. Look at the Commercial Union Building in the City, beautifully sited and something of which to be proud.
Let me assure the noble Lord, Lord Holford, that I have absolutely no prejudice whatsoever against architects. There are as fine buildings being built in this age as ever before, and Sir Basil Spence has built two in particular: the Rome Embassy and Coventry Cathedral. I will not mention Hyde Park Barracks because Sir Basil Spence was unwise enough to enter into controversy about that with my noble friend Lord Molson, the result of which was, if I may so put it, game, set and match to Molson. I myself think the Knightsbridge Barracks is a fine building, badly sited. It would look marvellous in Aldershot or the Sahara, but not on the edge of a leafy, green park like Hyde Park. We have a great many other buildings to be proud of. I just happen to think that this is not Sir Basil's best effort.
I had the pleasure of seeing Sir Basil on television the Sunday before last, as perhaps other noble Lords did. I thought he acquitted himself very well. I noted two remarks that he made. He said: "It is essential that there should be poetry in a building." How right he is! But I ask 2096 myself whether Queen Anne's Mansions, as he designed it, is going to be a lyric or just one of those enormous Norse epics that nobody ever reads. He made another remark which is perhaps even more apposite, and I would have liked to have heard the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Holford, on this. He said: "An architect is a servant. He is told what to do." Is that right? Is he? Do not servants give notice? Do not servants ever say: "It is not my place." Does an architect take any instruction, however damaging to his reputation? Of course not. What would have happened if Sir Basil had said to Lord Samuel: "I know I cannot build a fine building of this bulk on this site"? I think that he would have gone Sown in history as the great architect that he is. But I would say this also of architects generally: if they take the credit they must also take the blame. I have noticed with my architect friends that when their building is widely praised they quite rightly take the credit, but if it is criticised then somehow it is liable to be the client's fault. I do not know what we would say now if Sir Christopher Wren was designing this building. Do you think Sir Christopher Wren would say: "I had to do what I was told. I am only a servant."? I am sure he argued like hell with the Dean and Chapter, and I am sure he won all the time, too, like a good architect; and that is what an architect should do with a property developer.
My Lords, this has been a most interesting debate, not least for the fact that we have heard a few voices raised on the other side. I therefore once again commend my noble friend for what he has done in moving the Second Reading of the Bill. I would only say to him that I do not expect that he will win to-day; but it has given us all food for thought for the future, and I hope that this opportunity will never be lost.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, may I mention one point that troubles me very much? I have a great admiration for the noble Lord, Lord Holford, whose advice I have often enjoyed and for whose abilities as a planner I have the greatest respect. He said that he is no longer a member of the Royal Fine Art Commission. I am one of those who very much deplore that fact. But the point that worries me very much is one 2097 with which perhaps the Minister will deal when he comes to reply.
I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, who quoted in this debate (it has certainly been quoted both, I think, in this debate and in previous debates, and it has appeared, I believe, in The Times) the view expressed by the Royal Fine Art Commission: that if this matter came before them now they would give quite different advice from that which they gave when it came before them previously—advice to which I think my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford referred. I want to know why the Royal Fine Art Commission to-day would give quite different advice from that which was given on what is the subject matter of the present debate. What I find so hard to stomach is this. If the present view of the Royal Fine Art Commission is a good and wise view, it seems to me to be rather a defeatist argument to say that no effect could possibly be given to it now because of the events that have happened, though the building itself which we are discussing has not yet appeared.
My Lords, admittedly there can be few more important sites in the world, I should have thought, than the site of which we are speaking. What goes up on that site is something about which we are entitled to the best possible advice. The Royal Fine Art Commission were set up precisely in order that they should give advice on this sort of matter. Of course I accept from my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford and from the noble Lord, Lord Holford, their statements that approval was given by the Royal Fine Art Commission; but I am alarmed by their present statement, as I understand it, that at the present time they would not have given such advice. What I am asking the Minister who is to reply is: what is the ground on which the Royal Fine Art Commission now say they would not give sanction to this building here? And suppose they had given that advice at the time when this building was under discussion before, what effect, if any, would that advice have had? Would it have affected the then Minister (I forget what his title was, but the Minister who has to decide whether a building should be built near one of the Royal Parks), and would their 2098 advice then, had it been adverse, have had any effect? What is the Government's view of the present views of the Royal Fine Art Commission?
The Royal Fine Art Commission, if I understand the facts correctly, now say that this building is one which they would condemn. If the Government share that view, do they still say there is absolutely nothing to be done? If they say that, I must say that I shall be very much tempted to vote for this Bill, if it goes to a Division, because I cannot share such defeatism. This building in this place is either one which ought to be sanctioned or it is one that ought not to be sanctioned. It is on too important a site in London for us to say that, in view of the events that have happened, there is nothing that we can do. My goodness! great sums have been paid for other causes. If anybody said that the miscalculations on the Concorde would make the amount payable in compensation infinitesimal in comparison, everybody would say that that was a ridiculous argument. Of course, in the case of aeroplanes nobody wants, the more money you lose the better; the more money that is spent the more glorious the project becomes. But if it is a matter of saving the centre of London, of course, the thing has got to pay; it would be intolerable if it did not.
I must not be led astray. I feel fairly strongly on this matter. I agree, as I usually do, with nearly everything that the noble Lord, Lord Holford, said. I love the variety of London. I will not give a view, even on this building, because I know people question some of the plans that have been published. I ought to add—this is perhaps a disclosure, an admission—that in the realm of architecture I agree, almost as often as I agree with my noble friend Lord Holford, with my friend Osbert Lancaster, and Osbert Lancaster was not very polite about this particular building. But the single question I wish to put to Her Majesty's Government is, what is the present view of the Royal Fine Art Commission on this building, and do Her Majesty's Government agree with that view?
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF PERTH
My Lords, I have listened to this debate with a feeling that but for the Grace of God I might have been in the dock as First Crown Estate Commissioner, because very 2099 often we face somewhat similar problems. We have very important sites in the heart of London where development arises, and with this in mind we suggested in our annual report last year that there should be a review of the planning procedure as it now stands. I have listened with the greatest care to the debate to-day, and one of the thoughts that comes to me particularly is that such a review is probably needed and would be right. So I ask the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, to consider such a review at a later time.
When it comes to the particular question of the Second Reading of this Bill, I am not very happy at what is suggested as a planning procedure; namely, first of all, that the Department of the Environment should decide what is right or wrong. The Department of the Environment, or its predecessor, overrode all the other authorities and sanctioned the Hilton Hotel; and the Knightsbridge Barracks, which undoubtedly is wrongly placed, was again a Government decision.
§ LORD MOLSON
My Lords, may I correct my noble friend? The Ministry of Works protested against the Hilton Hotel but were overruled.
§ THE EARL OF PERTH
My Lords, I take the point, but the fact remains that the Government took that decision. I apologise if it was not the Ministry. But the Government took the decision; that is my point.
We have heard the noble Lord, Lord Reigate, suggest that all buildings within a certain area of the centre should be approved by Parliament; and that indeed is what is suggested in the Bill. But I wonder whether Parliament is the best body so to judge. I can foresee endless argument; those who in the Commons or the Lords had a particular interest in architecture would be at sixes and sevens. I am not certain that this is the way, yet this is what is suggested in this particular case and in this Bill. So what I would hope, I repeat, is that, as an outcome of this debate, the whole question of planning procedure will be looked at again with the thought that in any event the sort of thing about which so many of your Lordships are worried, rightly or wrongly—and I am not taking sides—cannot happen again.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, I want to start by making quite clear at the outset of my remarks that my right honourable friend and my colleagues and I in the Department of the Environment are in absolutely no doubt whatever about the heavy responsibilities which we bear, not only for protecting the environment by controlling the conservation of fine old buildings of the past but also for the enhancement of the environment by authorising the construction of elegant new buildings worthy of and appropriate to their settings. Whatever may have been the case in the past, we are fully aware that we bear a direct responsibility for every new Government building that goes up, not only in Whitehall but everywhere else in the country.
When he set up the new Property Services Agency at the beginning of last month this was what my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said:The fact that the Agency is part of my Department has special significance. It means that the Government is serious about its concern for the built environment. The Government intends to ensure that its own practice as builder and developer remains in accord with its policies for the conservation and improvement of our towns and cities. The Agency will be in the best position to produce buildings of high quality in the right places for the good of the whole community.I myself, together with my right honourable friend, the Minister for Housing and Construction, are personally involved at this moment—not, I assure your Lordships, for the first time—in seeing that there are effective and satisfactory arrangements for translating that wide responsibility and that broad approach into practical reality on the ground, both in London and in the Provinces. It may cost more money, but elegance and quality have in the past been for far too long lacking in some of our new Government buildings, not of course in all of them, and one cannot fail to be conscious of this if one is a Minister working in No. 2, Marsham Street. The same could be said, alas!, of many other office buildings not occupied by the Government. But I assure your Lordships that we are determined to do all that we can to ensure that these qualities of elegance and appropriateness and quality are not so lacking in the future as they have been in the 2101 recent past, just as we are equally determined in our efforts to conserve the buildings of elegance and quality that we already have.
But I cannot agree with my noble friend Lord Cork and Orrery that the proposal he is advocating to your Lordships will help us in the achievement of our aims, either in the precedent that it would create or in the procedures that it would make available to us. If the proposal now before us in this Bill were accepted, I assure noble Lords that it would have serious consequences and wide implications, both in itself and in its implications for our system of planning and development control.
My noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford has fully gone into the early history of this case and there is no need for me to repeat that. However, I should like to remind your Lordships how the plans for this new building were approved under the legislation in force at the time. This matter has been covered in our previous debate, but in coming to a view about my noble friend's proposals it is important to have the record again. The Queen Anne's Mansions site is owned by Land Securities Investment Trust, Ltd., from whom the then Ministry of Public Building and Works leased the old building as Government offices. When that lease expired, Land Securities decided to redevelop the site, and in July, 1968, the Ministry contracted to lease the new building, on completion.
Neither the Ministry of Public Building and Works nor any other Government Department played any part in the design of the building. But, as prospective tenant, the Ministry of Public Building and Works sponsored the office development permit which had to be obtained from the then Board of Trade, and they gave the decision and awarded that on the condition that it was occupied by central Government staff. I think that that deals with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, as to whether the question of residential occupation was considered.
Land Securities put in their planning application in August, 1968, and from then until March, 1969, Westminster City Council consulted the Greater London Council, the Royal Fine Art Commission, 2102 the Westminster Society, 42 neighbouring owners and residents, and the Ministry of Public Building and Works (but in this case in their capacity as guardian of the Royal Parks), and the then Ministry of Housing and Local Government. Of course at that time all the Ministers in charge of all the three Departments I have just mentioned were colleagues of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, and his Party opposite. It is important to know precisely the attitude they took, and I will therefore quote again the relevant documents, starting first of all with the views of the Ministry of Public Building and Works. Their view on this development can be best expressed in paragraphs 3 and 4 of a letter dated March 21, 1969. At this time Mr. Mellish was the responsible Minister. The letter is to the Town Clerk of the Westminster City Council, and the relevant parts read as follows: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.The next paragraph reads:Our present views"—this was five years later, on a different proposal—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.Now this is the section that I should like noble Lords, and particularly noble Lords opposite, to note:However, after full consideration of all the circumstances at the highest level,"—and I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, to note that particularly—we do not propose to take our misgivings to the point of pressing an objection to what is now proposed.That is the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works under the Labour Government taking its decision on this issue.
In response to my noble friend Lord Conesford, I should quote the views of the Royal Fine Art Commission, but I must tell your Lordships that one of the conditions under which the letter I have 2103 here was originally sent was that if it was quoted at all it should be quoted in full, and I think noble Lords will probably agree that under those conditions I have really no option but to do so. This will be rather extensive, but I agree that it is important. This is a letter from the Secretary of the Commission to the Architects' Journal dated June 28 of this year:Queen Anne's Mansions:Following your letter to members asking for their views on this project, the matter was discussed at the meeting of the commission on 14th 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 9 of the present members were not involved.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 proposal 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.Membership of the commission was then: Chairman, Lord Bridges. Commissioners: Sir Colin Anderson, Mr. John Betjeman, Sir Hugh Casson, Mr. Colvin, Mr. Erith, Lord Esher, Mr. Floyd, Mr. Frederick Gibberd, Sir William Holford, Mr. Jellicoe, Lord Llewellyn-Davies, Sir Leslie Martin, Mr. Moore, Sir Edward Playfair, Mr. John Piper, Mr. J. M. Richards, and Sir Basil Spence. At the time of this submission it was reiterated by the Ministry that the site belonged to the Government,"—I will not go over all that again, my Lords—and the development was to be for the use of a Government Department. The proposal was for a building less in bulk than that already existing and it was certainly not what is generally considered as a `high building'. The commission therefore was asked to pronounce only on 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 the building of a bulk comparable to the existing one. 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.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. It should be remembered that in 1964 when the commission took its first step towards accepting the architectural form proposed:2104
I will not comment on those points here.
- 1. Government Departments still had power to develop their sites regardless of local planning regulations,
- 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 be 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.I think it will be agreed that it is much wiser for me to leave your Lordships to form your own opinion of the Royal Fine Art Commission and their varying views as they expressed them in that letter, and I will not go further than that.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for reading that letter, but ought he not to go further to the extent of revealing what is the Government's view of the Royal Fine Art Commission's present view? Is that asking too much?
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, I rather think it is. We have had no part in the decisions which have resulted in planning permission being given for the building which is now under construction on this site. There is a stage in the statutory procedures when, as my noble friend knows, the opinion of the Royal Fine Art Commission is very often sought—certainly always in a case of this kind—and that is the moment when my right honourable friend has to form a view as to whether or not he accepts what the Royal Fine Art Commission say, or decides to what degree his own view is modified or otherwise by that of the Commission. I really do not think it would be right for me to express a view about what the Royal Fine Art Commission now think about a decision which they took three years earlier.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, of course I accept that from my noble friend and will not press him further. But does he not attach some importance to the that that the tentative view which they gave some years ago in favour of this building was based, admittedly, on the mistaken view that the site belonged to the Government?
§ LORD SANDFORD
Yes, my Lords. I think there are a number of reasons which have led the Royal Fine Art Commission to change their minds. If my noble friend will leave it at that, I shall be most grateful. Another body which was then consulted was the then Ministry of Housing and Local Government, of which the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale (as he now is), was at the relevant time the Minister, and in which was also serving his noble friend Lord Kennet. Both the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, on an earlier occasion, and the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, on this occasion, have raised the questions of whether or not it was the full planning permission that was being considered, and whether or not the decision issued at that time amounted to a final decision to leave the matter to the Westminster City Council. I must tell the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, that the latter was the case. As the noble Lord, Lord Holford, rightly surmised, this was a planning permission and in the decision which was taken on that occasion Westminster City Council was given full authority to deal with the matter in its entirety from then on.
To substantiate what I am saying, I will quote, for the benefit of the House and for the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, the letter that was sent to Westminster at the time. It was addressed to the Chief Planning Officer of the City Council and was dated February 27, 1969. It reads:Further to my letter of the 23rd December last, I can now say that the Minister does not wish to intervene in the matter of the application which is before your Council, for planning permission to redevelop Queen Anne's Mansions for use as Government offices.'I am sorry that I have been unable to write before now and I greatly appreciate your council's co-operation in deferring a formal decision. I shall be grateful if you will let me know what they decide.There is nothing in that letter to indicate that the Minister was expecting to have a detailed application referred to him in due course. That is the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, washing his hands of the matter completely, having looked at the proposals and at the detailed plans as they then stood and having taken that decision. Those were the four important decisions: by the Minister of Public Building and Works, by the Board of Trade as to the office development permits, by the Royal Fine Art Com- 2106 mission—with their subsequent retraction—and by the Minister of Housing and Local Government.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, and I am very grateful to him for the very full explanation which he has given. But will be also comment on the Minute of my noble friend Lord Kennet, to which I referred? He cannot of course quote from that, but will be confirm that such a point was made?
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, not only can I not quote from it; the noble Lord knows perfectly well that I cannot even see it. I am able to repeat confirmation that Ministers were personally involved only on the basis that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said that himself. If he had not said so, I should not know and should not be able to tell your Lordships. These matters are part of the conventions.
Westminster City Council were left free to decide the application decisions and, having done so, they granted complete planning permission in April, 1969. So it can be seen, whatever view one takes about whether or not those decisions or that advice were right, that all the statutory procedures then in force governing the handling of the planning application were fully complied with, and I want to reinforce that point. Far from dealing with the matter secretly, as some sections of the Press, and indeed some noble Lords, have claimed, Westminster consulted widely before taking their decision, and details of the proposed development were always available at their offices for inspection by anybody who was interested. Furthermore, there was public discussion before permission was given, stimulated by the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, who raised the matter in this House in October, 1968, five or six months before the relevant decisions were taken, and he also had a letter on the subject published in The Times later that month.
As I have said, the Ministers concerned at the time—the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and Mr. Mellish—were personally involved and took all the effective decisions. Under the legislation now in force, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment 2107 has powers to call in any planning application for his own decision—powers which the previous Government decided not to exercise when the application was put before them in 1969. My right honourable friend also has reserve powers to revoke or to modify any permission given by a local planning authority if, after considering all the circumstances, he considers it expedient to do so. The owner of any land for which a planning permission is revoked or modified is entitled under the Planning Acts to be compensated for abortive expenditure incurred in carrying out work, including design work—if your Lordships will note these headings you will readily see how the cost of compensation can rise, and has risen in this case—and for other losses or damage attributable to revocation or modification, including depreciation in the value of an interest in the land. It can therefore be seen that there is already a statutory framework for ensuring that proposals for new development are very fully considered before planning permission is granted, and that once permission has been granted there are also powers for revoking or modifying it wherever that is appropriate.
So our first objection to my noble friend's Bill is that it is an unnecessary and inappropriate means of securing its objective. If it were thought right to reopen the planning decision, properly taken after all the due procedures in 1969 by the local planning authority and acquiesced in by the Ministers of the then Government, statutory powers are available to this Government for having that done. It is of course clearly right that Parliament should be able effectively to express its views as critically as it wishes on major planning issues, and I should have thought that our proceedings on, for instance, the siting of the third London Airport were an example of Parliament expressing its view on a planning decision. But I submit that it would be both impracticable and arbitrary to go as far as my noble friend goes in his Bill, and take out of the hands of the local planning authority the statutory powers and responsibilities which Parliament has invested in them through many Statutes enacted over many years, and operated through procedures built up over two or three decades of 2108 experience. But the absence of the novel and, to us, unwelcome provisions of this Bill does not, of course, rule out discussion and consideration of the merits of this building and the pros and cons of now modifying its design, and of revoking the permission in order to do so. It is indeed to this matter that my right honourable friends and I have been carefully addressing our minds, especially since last July, and I should tell your Lordships of the views which we have formed.
The function of this new building is to provide accommodation for staff carrying out important Government functions. There is at present a shortage of offices in central London suitable for Government use, and recent developments, such as the creation of the Northern Ireland Department, the Industrial Development Executive and the Uganda Resettlement Board, have further increased the urgent demand for accommodation. The new Queen Anne's Mansions building is required as a permanent headquarters for the Civil Service Department. I think one or two noble Lords were asking me what specific use it was to have. The need for this is as great now as it was when the contract for the building was signed in 1968. The Property Services Agency, which is now the part of our Department concerned with these matters, has been relying on the full capacity of the building as an essential part of their plans for housing the Civil Service Department, 1,650 of them, in the latter part of the 1970s. Delay in occupation would entail heavy costs. Also, the permanent loss of office space to the Government Estate arising from any smaller building would of course need to be made up by an additional building. The Government would have to find further accommodation at greater expense; and the costs of this further accommodation would be at least of the order of £7 million. That is what would be involved if we were able to contemplate a, say, 30 per cent. reduction in the capacity of the new building on the Queen Anne's Mansions site.
The effects of the current dispersal review, which noble Lords will be glad to know is in fact going on, will not be felt in time to help solve the immediate accommodation shortages in London. 2109 There will probably be some extra, unforeseen urgent demands arising in the next few years. The planned occupation date of the new building as at present designed is mid-1975, and any delay would defer the planned sequence of interlocking moves involving various Departments around Whitehall. Even if dispersal did produce surplus accommodation in central London, Queen Anne's Mansions would still be needed, as it would allow the giving up of other more expensive, leased accommodation. In practice, of course, there will always he a large number of headquarters staff who will need to be located in and around Whitehall, near the Ministers they serve. Queen Anne's Mansions is a key factor, as it has been for some time, in meeting the urgent and permanent demand for accommodation in this area, and to enable the overall plans for the whole Whitehall area to be carried out. Its loss or delay would not only mean serious financial penalties: it would also destroy well-laid plans for improving the operational efficiency of various Government Departments around Whitehall, and for improving the working conditions of thousands of Government staff—a matter on which several of your Lordships have addressed questions to me in the past.
§ LORD REIGATE
My Lords, would my noble friend allow me to interrupt him? If the urgency is so great, why, then, is it that the old Colonial Office site, Broad Sanctuary, has never been built on?
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, as I say, the whole question of Government use of buildings in the Whitehall area is part of one vast interlocking problem, and building on this particular site plays a significant part in it. But I am not resting the whole of my case on this: all I am giving your Lordships is an indication of the part that this building has to play. What I am resting my case on much more is the part to which I am now coming.
Any attempt to alter the design at this very late stage would, on top of these costs of £7 million, entail very substantial compensation. Over half the project period has already passed. A main contract was let as long ago as June, 1970—over two years ago. Site works have 2110 started, and various sub-contracts have also already been let. Even the purchase of materials and plant has already taken place. Westminster City Council have been advised that revocation of the existing planning permission would entail a compensation bill for the council—and they are the people who, under the present legislation, would have to foot the bill—of something like £15 million. My advisers have no reason to doubt that the figure would be of this order of magnitude, plus or minus a million. So the answer to Lord Strabolgi's point about whose these figures are is that we have two sets of compensation figures, one from the developers and one from the City Council, and there is about £1 million between them. You have to add to this the figure of £7 million for finding the extra office space, and this produces a figure of £20 million, or thereabouts.
My Lords, there is certainly scope for argument about the exact assessment of the likely cost of redesigning the building and reducing its size by a significant amount. There is even more scope for arguing about who ought to bear the different shares of the cost if it were decided to scrap the present designs. But I put it to your Lordships that there is no scope for argument about two basic points: first, that the total costs would be very high—as I say, of the order of £20 million—and, second, that these would be real costs and that someone (ratepayers or taxpayers, or some combination of both) would have to pay them. So the Government have had to consider whether it is right to expect the community as a whole, or some part of the community, to pay this amount for the redesign of one single building. I must tell your Lordships that we approached the question with an open mind, but we have reached the clear and firm conclusion that costs of this order are unacceptable and would be cut of all proportion to the environmental benefit to be obtained. If we had £20 million to spend on improving the environment, I believe we could think of many more worthwhile causes, of far more wide-ranging significance, than altering the design of this single building.
So to sum up, my Lords, the Government's view is that, whatever view may now be taken of the merits of this building in this particular place, and whatever 2111 the difference between the views we would now hold and those which, together, led to the decisions of 1969, the cost of any effective modification is out of all proportion to the environmental gains that might be had, and for that reason it is not intended to use the powers available to my right honourable friend to revoke the decision. Nor do we believe that the procedure envisaged in the Bill for dealing with the matter would help good planning, either in this case or in the future, but that it would rather hinder and seriously harm it. But, my Lords. that is not to say that the procedures for controlling development, and for controlling development of this kind in particular, are incapable of improvement. Of course they are. Nor is it to say that valuable lessons have not been learned from this case and from the two debates on this subject—lessons that cannot be applied and will not be applied in the future. For instance, at the time of the Queen Anne's Mansions application in August, 1968, Westminster City Council had no statutory responsibility to consult any body or person apart from the Greater London Council, because of the height of the proposed building, and subsequently, the Ministry of Public Building and Works, because the proposed building was within half a mile of a Royal Park.
Since April 1, 1969, there has been introduced a further requirement, that copies of every planning application and of accompanying plans, both at the outline and at the detailed approval stages if there are two stages, be placed in the statutory planning register which local planning authorities are obliged to keep and to make available for public inspection at reasonable hours. But this requirement was not in force at the time of the Queen Anne's Mansions application, although Westminster City Council have assured us that details were in fact available for anybody who wished to see them. Thirdly, Queen Anne's Mansions adjoins the Birdcage Walk conservation area, an area not designated until May 1970, that is, after the Queen Anne's Mansions planning application had been made and permission granted. Under legislation now in force, if a local planning authority considers that a development would affect the character and appearance of a conservation area the authority must publish an advertisement in a local newspaper, 2112 must display a notice on or near the site for at least seven days and must consider any representations made within at least 21 days. Your Lordships will see that the procedures have in fact been further extended in a number of important ways since then, designed to ensure that still greater care is taken about large new buildings in sensitive areas—although I rebut once again any suggestion that Westminster did less than their duty; they did, in fact, do more.
I take this opportunity to reaffirm my right honourable friend's determination, that of my colleagues and my own to continue to assert our influence and powers—and I assure your Lordships and the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, in particular, that they are considerable and ample for the purpose—as much to enhance the future environment with new and appropriate buildings of elegance as to protect the present environment by conserving fine old buildings of the past in their historical settings.
I am grateful to my noble friend who has shown with his "small candle" that he shares this concern of ours; but assure him that we should be hampered and hindered rather than helped by the terms of his Bill. I hope that having now used his Bill, as he has, to illuminate the subject, to achieve this useful debate, to express so well the concern of your Lordships on this matter, he will feel that he can now with honour withdraw his Bill and look to better ways and means of helping us all to do better in the future.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF CORK AND ORRERY
My Lords, I am grateful to all those who have taken part in this debate. My noble friend Lord Sandford has referred to it, slightly misquoting me, as a small candle". As it was, I called it a "short-lived candle". With luck, it may have a little more illuminative power than he gives it credit for; and if it does not do so, then his request that I should withdraw it lacks a certain amount of substance. The fact that this debate has taken place I hope has contributed to the whole question—not only to the matter of Queen Anne's Mansions but to the general question of planning, particularly in the whole of the central London area to which we all attach the greatest 2113 possible importance. In that connection I am encouraged to hear what my noble friend had to say about the attitude of his Department and their intentions for the future.
I have been a little overwhelmed, I confess, by the three exposés—though that is not quite the word; perhaps "exegeses" would be better—of the history of the whole project. My noble friend himself has presented one for the second time and my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford did so in the "intermediate spot" earlier in the afternoon. One of the things that stunned me slightly was the number "42"—forty-two local residents. It sounded like Ali Baba and his forty-two "somethings"— I am not sure what they are, in which jar they were or where they are likely to pop out next. But they did not appear to me to carry any weight. My noble friend Lord Nugent himself asked whether it was fair that the Westminster City Council should be accused of keeping the plans secret when the Council are said to have consulted the Westminster Society and forty-two local residents. If that is all it did, I would say, "Yes, it is fair so to accuse them". But that is not all that the Council did; and I hope that the Council have some rather larger views of what is entailed in making plans available to the public. This Bill—this "candle" or whatever you may call it—has been available to the public, free of charge, since the end of June. It has been in a room on the eleventh floor of the Westminster City Council offices. I know; I put it there! I announced that I had put it there, twice in The Times and once in the London Gazette. Anybody who wanted to see that Bill could have wended his way to the top of that building, hammered on the door and demanded to see the copy. Is that making something available to the public? Hardly! I think that the Westminster City Council must have done something better; and I hope that they will do something better in the future, as my noble friend has assured us they probably will.
My noble friend Lord Nugent also said; that this Bill would set a precedent; that it would have serious repercussions throughout the whole development industry. That is precisely the intention of the Bill—or one of them. I wish it to 2114 have repercussions throughout the development industry. I wish nobody any harm; certainly I do not wish the particular developer concerned any harm; but I wish it to have repercussions and that those concerned should be forced to bring their plans into the open earlier and to make them as public as possible. If that is the kind of repercussion we are talking about, then I am entirely for it. My noble friend also said that Sir Basil Spence deserves to be taken seriously. I do not think that there is anyone in your Lordships' House who does not take Sir Basil Spence seriously. The fact that he has been criticised here is not an indication of levity or frivolity; he is one of our leading architects, celebrated and justly famed for the work that he has done. And if we are not taking seriously the work that he has designed to be done upon the Queen Anne's Mansions site, then what are we taking seriously? We have just spent 2½ to 3 hours talking about it.
My Lords, to me, and I think to everyone else, one of the pleasures of this debate has been the participation of the noble Lord, Lord Holford. I cannot really persuade myself that he put his name down as a compliment to me; but I hope that he will accept it from me that I am personally genuine in saying how much I appreciated his taking part. Perhaps "appreciated" is not the right word, Perhaps I should refer to the enormous contribution that he made, not only by his speech but by the fact that he took part at all; because without him we should have had only one other speaker, my noble friend Lord Nugent, taking a line in contradiction to this Bill and we should have had an unbalanced debate. But not only have we not had an unbalanced debate, thanks to his intervention, but we have had a debate more entertaining and informative than it might have been. I note his criticism that the Bill takes a step towards the suppression of fantasy.
This is an idea which, if true, would depress me very much. I take the point of view of the upper reaches of Whitehall Court. One of my favourite views in London is that from the other end of St. James's Park with its strange domes and minarets and the Oriental effect they produce rising above the fountains. There is a fantasy which has come about by 2115 chance. I do not think—certainly I do not want to be personal about this, or to make any distinction between the two Houses—that Parliament on the whole is a place from which fantasy is entirely excluded. It has never given me that impression. I look around and I think that this is as fantastic a place as one could wish to see. I do not think that on that ground alone we need have any fears of the effects of bringing the final planning authority under the roof of the Palace of Westminster.
A great deal has been said (and reference to it has been made by the noble Lords, Lord Holford, Lord Reigate, and others) of the planning that has gone on in Victoria Street and thereabouts; and there has been particular reference to the letter of Sir Nikolaus Pevsner. The noble Lord, Lord Holford, certainly referred to this. Sir Nikolaus mentions the fact that this tide of planning, as he calls it, starts with the Stag Brewery site buildings and flows down Victoria Street, and against it—I am only paraphrasing—Sir Basil's building makes an effective anchorage for Queen Anne's Gate. That is all very well, but if this tide that the Westminster City Council sets flowing down Victoria Street is casting up an unlovely jettison of packing cases on the shore before flowing out into Queen Anne's Gate, I think it time to say, with the sage of my youth, that a little is all very well but too much is enough. If it follows from that, as Sir Nikolaus seems to suggest, that this 1970 monumental architecture cannot be changed, I say, "Why not? The sooner it is changed the better"—at any rate if it is going to flow into St. James's Park.
Lord Esher, quoted also by the noble Lord, Lord Holford, refers to London not being Washington, to which he adds, I think, "Thank God!" He commends it in essence as being a diversity of style, scale and having the capacity to profit by eccentricity. Here we are back in Parliament again, I think. Eccentricity, my Lords, by all means. Is the building that we are discussing eccentric? I do not know. I am not going into the definition of "eccentric", but I do not wish to see eccentricity disappear from London. I want only for it to be kept under some kind of control, organised and put in the right place. Otherwise we 2116 might have a latter-day St. Pancras Station behind the Guards' Chapel, and that would never do.
Another pleasure of this debate was the intervention of my noble friend Lord Conesford. Invariably my noble friend creates pleasure in the House by his interventions, but not necessarily in all quarters. He touched on defeatism and brought us back to the point from which the debate, by that time, had strayed: that this is too important a site, as he put it, for it to be said that nothing can be done. This is what has been happening, my Lords. We have heard and talked about what has been done, how it has been done, why it has been done, to whom it has been done, for what purpose it has been done and how much it would cost to undo it, and how much it would upset Government Departments, and all the rest of it, when all the time we are supposed to be debating a Bill about a building. As my noble friend Lord Reigate pointed out—although he did not put it in quite this way—the question is this: how much money are we prepared to spend not to have it if we do not like it? The question does not come out in quite that form. When my noble friend Lord Sandford mentioned that the money to be paid in compensation was prohibitive for the purpose of stopping a particular building I wondered very much how much sympathy that particular calculation will receive. How much is it worth to preserve this place? It is not a question of a building or stopping building; it is a question of stopping the spoliation—if that is anyone's view—of the whole of, what Sir Basil Spence rightly calls, this "townscape" and I would add the word, "parkscape". Can you measure this against money in terms of a few million pounds? My noble friend Lord Conesford made the comparison in terms of expenditure on, say, Concorde.
My noble friend Lord Reigate said, and I take up the point, the question was one concerning whether or not an architect has to do as he is told. Is he a servant? Is he the master? Can he object? Can he give notice? What would Sir Christopher Wren have done if the Dean and Chapter had tried to interfere with the building of St. Paul's? In fact, my Lords, they did. I forget the name of the organist at that time. Perhaps 2117 some erudite person like the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, or even the Minister for the Arts, can tell me the name of the organist at St. Paul's Cathedral when Wren was building it. Whoever he was—let us call him "Dr. King"—he proposed, and the Dean and Chapter approved, that right bang in the middle of St. Paul's there should be placed a loft or gallery bearing the organ. Sir Christopher Wren said that he was damned if he was going to have the view across his cathedral interfered with by Dr. King's box of whistles. That is one attitude of an architect, and I mention it by the way.
What is going to happen in the future, my Lords? What are we going to do with this Bill? We know already, and I never pretended otherwise, that it cannot pass into law. I do not think that it ever should pass into law, as a matter of fact, in view of the debate we have had this afternoon. I see the objections to it; I have been aware of them indeed all along, I think tolerably so. The question to which I did not know the answer was, how valid are they? I am not entirely sure now that they are all valid. What I am inclined to think is required is not a Bill on this particular site—as it were, a sharp-ended one attacking a building—but a simple regulation, or a Bill of one clause, giving the same authority that this Bill gives to Parliament to approve by Affirmative Resolution a Statutory Instrument made by the Secretary of State, and to give this not through some legislation that does not yet exist but to take in a Regulation which already exists. I am not sure what it is or what it is called; I have been told, but it has gone out of my head. It does exist and refers to houses or new buildings going up within half a mile of a Royal Palace. It may well be reasonable to say that all plans for such buildings, or alternatively, possibly, for such buildings going up within half a mile of the Royal Parks, or however you might define the area, should be subject to the procedure I have mentioned, the Affirmative Resolution procedure of Parliament. That would need no new law at all. The planning laws, as they are, are adequate, I am certain. If it is the general feeling of the House, as I suspect it is, I am quite prepared to go no further with this Bill—that is to say not to divide the House—and I thank your Lordships for 2118 your attention and help. I believe that we have lit a candle that will shed some light in the future. If it turns out that we have not, I am entirely ready to light a bigger and better and hotter one.
§ On Question, Bill, by leave, withdrawn.