§ 2.52 p.m.
§ LORD RAGLAN rose to call attention to the Report on Historic Towns and Villages of the Preservation Policy Group; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. The Motion itself is quite old; I first put it down for debate in December 1971, since when about 300 buildings on the Department of the Environment's list of buildings of historic importance have been pulled down. How many old buildings which the department has not managed to list and which might have been saved it is not possible to say, but it probably runs into thousands; and the destruction continues. The Preservation Policy Group was a Committee headed by my noble friend Lord Kennet which began in 1966 to examine what the Government could do to aid preservation and conservation. Their Report (which, I may say, is well written and concise) was published in May, 1970. It sets out what the legislative and administrative state of affairs was in 1966. It reviews legislation enacted since then: the Civic Amenities Act 1967; the Town and Country Planning Act 1968, though not of course the Act of 1972; the Transport Act 1968; the Housing Act 1969; and the administrative changes connected with them. Then there is a summary of the surveys commissioned on four historic towns: York. Chester, Chichester and Bath. There is a review of the position in other European countries and, finally, there is a discussion of what recommendations could be made, and a summary of recommendations.645
§ The Report was promptly accepted by the then Government, the acceptance being published in the OFFICIAL REPORT of May 20, 1970, cols. 1163–4, in a Written Answer to my noble friend Lord Faringdon. I shall refer to that answer later. For the moment, I will only say that most of the legislation necessary for preservation and conservation is on the Statute Book already, but the will to use it has not been forthcoming where it matters so much, which is in the local authority planning offices. If the interest and awareness were there, a small fraction of the huge sums for which it seems to me Departments seem cheerfully to indent for dubious schemes such as the London Ringways would arrest the ruin of our historic towns and the older areas of our cities.
§ My purpose in this debate is to persuade the Government to press on with recommendations in the Report; that if legislation is lacking it should be framed; that they should use their influence to generate the will to use the existing powers; and that if money is lacking for that purpose it should be found. I am very encouraged that the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, is opening for the Government. Your Lordships know how much he has already contributed, including his taking the Civic Amenities Bill through this House. I have no doubt where his heart is; I only hope he can get the Treasury to fill it with gold. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, for his help to me regarding this debate, including the mounting of the exhibition now in the Moses Room.
§ The list of distinguished people who hope to speak has been sadly depleted by enforced absence—for instance, the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, is down with the 'flu—but a most notable list is left, and your Lordships will be glad to see that the noble Duke, the Duke of Grafton, is in his place at last, after almost insuperable difficulties over establishing his identity. We are relieved to see that he is a perfect modern replica of the Earl of Euston, a leading preservationist for many years. I wish the noble Duke well in his speech, and I am sure your Lordships will not want him to be too brief on this subject which he knows so much about.
§ Only for archæological reasons should I wish to preserve a building just because it is old. Living as I have done in a 646 house open to the public, the last thing I should wish upon anybody is that they should live in a museum—even a quasi museum. For me, it made the place stiff and unlifelike, and I am not "sold" on the idea of preserving old towns for the tourist trade as a primary reason, though the income must be a useful by-product to the towns concerned and to the country. The reason for the preservation of old towns is that people not only like looking at them; they increasingly like living in them. The Department's statistics now show that second-hand houses are fetching more than new ones. Perhaps I should not make too much of that interesting fact, because older houses tend to have more space for one thing, and to be better built for another. These statistics are a pointer to what I believe to be the case: that if the Government aid preservation they will not only be rescuing what is aesthetically and environmentally attractive; they will be making a good and profitable investment.
§ It is totally erroneous to dismiss the desire for preservation as a mere, cranky vogue for the antique. The reasons are much deeper. There is, for one a great dissatisfaction with much of contemporary architecture; it is harsh, ugly and discordant. I sense in much of new architecture a great contempt, a professional élite's contempt, (for the people who have to live among it. In the uncouth intrusions into pleasant townscapes there seems to be a wilful pleasure in causing disruption. Whatever the motives of the architects, the fact is that there is now widespread opposition to most redevelopment schemes, stemming as much from fear of what will be built as from distress at what will be lost. I am very well aware of the deep desire that there has been, especially in the great industrial areas, to sweep away the old and build new. It is easy to sweep away the old, and though new building has been very successful in many places under favourable circumstances, we have found it is not so easy after all and that frequently the old has been condemned for the wrong reasons. The house improvement grant, which has been so enterpriseingly taken up by some councils who have been renovating at half the cost of building new, may turn out to be as beneficial to conservation as any other 647 single piece of legislation, because it has opened the eyes of so many people to the real reasons why they may have deemed their housing to be unsatisfactory.
§ One is constantly being told that a building has reached the end of its useful economic life but thousands of what are called "artisan cottages", let alone the bigger houses, were built as solidly as stately homes, and it should of course be clear that the longer a building has stood the more likely it is to be fundamentally a sound one. Surely there could not be any more satisfactory economic, creative and responsible task than to make good houses better, and at the same time to prevent any more depredations on our miserably low housing stock, and avoid disruptions to communities.
§ What then of the planning departments and their development schemes? In one way we are the victims of our own success. Parliament having created the most comprehensive planning legislation in the free world, administrative machines have grown up all over the country with immense powers to control development. I dread to think of the state of things now if that had not been so. Yet it needs only one or two insensitive people in charge of one of these departments to wreck a whole area, and very quickly, too. Planning departments have a life and momentum of their own. Once they have started, it is difficult to stop them. They do not like objections as objections mean delay and delay costs money and may cost jobs as well. But planning officers are public servants and they will listen eventually. They are tussling with catering for cars, the changing habits of shoppers, requests for communal halls, sports complexes and other provision for leisure, and so on. These are the things they are giving priority to; and one cannot blame them for that, because that is what people want.
§ How are they to be persuaded that it is not necessary to devastate a town in order to accommodate these things? The officers and committees need to have pointed cut to them the value of what they are spoiling. But, then, it is not easy to explain what it is that they are spoiling. It is far simpler to advocate making a definite concrete thing like a new road than to define the feeling of 648 community in the area which that road will annihilate and the social intercourse which it will prevent. It is much easier to advocate the building of a new office block or a shopping centre than to defend the small houses which it will replace, which are set randomly together in a human size, a varied texture, of mellow aspect and intimacy. One says, "Look, this is how people like to live. Do they really have to have towers and windblown piazzas?" Planners are trained to do things, to change things. How does one say to a planner, "Please don't"? It can seem more interesting to think up a new development, believing it to be an improvement, than to study what really makes a town a desirable place to live in.
§ It is significant how strongly the conservation movement has been growing in every walk of life as the old buildings have disappeared. As well as the fear of what replacement may come (which I mentioned earlier) many dislike the change, which they frequently see as change for change's sake. Others are realising for the first time, and too late, why they had such an affection for a town. A town is a living organism, grown up with time. The older it is, the less rough surgery it can withstand; and it takes cunning and care, delicacy and sympathy, to adapt its fabric to modern circumstances.
§ Thanks to the continuous efforts over many years by amenity societies and by individuals I think it can be said that we no longer have to fear the loss of fine set pieces of obvious merit. It is the lower grade buildings which are the worry. I suggest that the nomenclature which is used for classification has itself an air of snobbery which may inadvertently contribute to the loss. Grade I—very important; Grade III—well, it really does not matter. Perhaps the Government will consider that point as there are hundreds of thousands of buildings which lack appreciation, it may be as works of art or as pleasant dwellings (and usually both) which make up the whole character of towns. Rows of cottages, Victorian and Edwardian terraces, buildings of all sorts from all centuries which, with no more than ordinary care, have more years of life in them than they have behind them. These are threatened everywhere, though their value to the community where they belong is immeasurable. In 649 their way they create the community. They can be threatened as much by domineering, out of scale neighbouring development as by insensitive intrusion into their midst. Protected from this and adapted to modern use they can be made safe.
§ There is a growing apprehension, and often outrage, at what is happening. It is happening so quickly, for never has it been so easy to knock things down before public opposition has become articulate. I think the Government are in a difficulty: they know the situation but they are reluctant to move, and not just through diffidence in interfering in local authority affairs. Private developers, sectional interests as they are sometimes called, are traditionally Conservative supporters and they are making as much of a hash of things as anyone else. Conservative controlled councils are among the worst offenders of all.
But perhaps not enough members of the Government have so far seen the situation as being very worrying. There is no doubt in my mind that they have dragged their feet over accepting this Report. Although the Labour Government had accepted it this Government shelved it as soon as they came into Office, and it was only in January, 1971, that a circular went out in which the idea of the new type of general conservation scheme was accepted. It was only a "wait-and-see" type of document. It was not until August, 1972, that the money to pay for these general development schemes was got under the Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Act, and then, I fancy (though this is one of the questions I wish to ask the Government) the money made available for the schemes looks as if it is less than that proposed by the previous Government. I should like to quote from the Answer previously mentioned in which my noble friend Lord Kennet said:
The Group recommend a substantial increase in the amount of grants made on the advice of the Historic Buildings Council for individual outstanding buildings and for 'town schemes'. We also propose an Exchequer Grant for historic areas which are to be the subject of a new type of general conservation scheme prepared by local authorities. This grant would meet half any net annual loss incurred by the authority on an improved scheme.
The Government accept the Report. As a first step, the amount of grants which the
Historic Buildings Council can recommend has been increased from £575,000 to £700,000 in the current financial year. At an early opportunity the Government will introduce legislation to enable the payment of the proposed new grant on general conservation schemes. It is impossible to forecast precisely how expenditure would run under these proposals, but my right honourable friend would regard a gradual increase up to a figure of £1½t million in 1973–74 as an acceptable rate.
In the meantime, I am to-day inviting the local authorities in Bath, Chester, Chichester and York to discuss with me the possibility of joining in carrying out pilot general conservation schemes in those cities which were the subject of the Four Towns Reports."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20/5/70; col. 1164.]
§ So we lost two years and the money which would have been forthcoming for those years (and incidentally, Chichester has not yet come in on a pilot conservation scheme). The Government cannot make up the lost time and the potential conservation areas which must have passed away with it. But can the Government tell me this? The Report proposed that the Exchequer should meet half the cost of general conservation schemes and the present Government changed that. In what way do the Government consider their policy to be better than the proposal in the Report, and how much money is being made available towards it? In view of the worsening of the situation and the tremendous increase in building costs, is that money really enough? The Government have laudably increased the grants made available through the Historic Buildings Council, but by the same token are they really satisfied that it is nearly enough? I believe that we need a great deal more.
§ On No. 4 of the Report's recommendations, have the Government considered the possibility of a subsidy towards the repair of listed buildings not included in general conservation schemes? I think I interpreted the answer given by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, this afternoon as meaning that they have. On Recommendation No. 5: in view of the greatly increased value of old houses I am not convinced that the Government need to guarantee advances from building societies, though discussions with them would obviously be useful. On Recommendation No. 6, I think that the Government should legislate at an early date to enable local authorities to charge owners when they themselves repair existing buildings. As to neglecting a building to 651 realise "break-up" value, I am not sure whether that is done very often now, though I hope that a careful watch will be kept. Perhaps your Lordship will know of some instances of this happening. Recommendation No. 8 refers to the impact of new roads on historic areas and is obviously of prime importance. I should add that of course the provision of bypasses should be a matter of top priority. Heavy traffic damages buildings through vibration and physical impact, and the noise, smoke and danger to foot traffic engenders a rapid decay by making the building uninhabitable and unusable. The last Recommendations, Nos. 10 and 11, are to do with the very important matter of general education. The Government have done some good things but they could, with profit, do a great deal more. Has the excellent film made by the Civic Trust, but with a grant from the Government, which was shown here last night, called "A Future for the Past", been offered to the television circuits and to other cinemas? There must be many other ways in which general interest can be stimulated on how to set about good conservation.
§ The last Government more than doubled the number of Department investigators. Are the Government certain that there are now enough of them to help planning authorities with their schemes? Have the Government enough general staff to cope? Could not local authorities appoint trained conservation officers, at a suitably high grade, in the same way as many of them are now appointing landscape architects? Whatever the importance of responsibility of local planning authorities, the Government are themselves the ultimate planning authority and (the legislation mostly being already enacted) they must give a lead. They must find the money for what is not going to be a permanent drag on the Exchequer but is essentially a "pump-priming" operation. If a local authority will not submit to persuasion and offers of subsidies, the Government have the power to call in every planning application. But that would be a very clumsy thing to do continually. The Insall Report on Chester suggested a central historic buildings corporation to take charge of the disbursement of funds with the power to "acquire, repair and manage property, and thn to dispose of it 652 efficiently". That sounds rather drastic but drastic measures may be needed in particular cases—and I am thinking of the City of Bath, which is an international treasure and where the appalling destruction has to be seen to be believed. For these cases I ask the Government to bear in mind the possibility of creating Historic Town Corporations, somewhat on the lies of New Town Corporations, and staffed by people who have a real understanding of the problems involved.
§ I commend this Report to your Lordships. I could say a lot more as there is so much in it that I should like to discuss but, in view of the list of speakers, more discussion by me would be superfluous. I hope that the Government will act with speed and energy on its recommendations and will feel obliged to do much more than just take a careful note of what your Lordships say this afternoon. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.18 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ESHER
My Lords, I am not going to speak at great length this afternoon because I am particularly anxious to listen to other noble Lords who have put their names down to speak in this debate. I am particularly pleased that one of those speakers is the noble Duke, the Duke of Grafton. The noble Duke succeeded my father as Chairman of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, after my father had served in that capacity, I think for 28 years. I see no reason why the noble Duke should not serve just as long actuarially and from every other point of view, and I hope that he will. We all know him as a passionate defender of our historic towns and cities. He has a sharper style than my father had, but in this day and age I am afraid that one needs that.
The noble Lord, Lord Raglan, has chosen a very opportune moment to introduce this debate, because as I see it the conservation movement in this country has recently moved into a completely new and quite different phase. Until lately conservationists—as we like to call them now—all over the world, and particularly on the continent of Europe, thought of the protection of ancient buildings as essentially something to do with what they described on the Continent as monuments and science. These listed buildings were thought to be what it was 653 all about. Agencies of all kinds were set up to get to work on this and of course this country, as we all know, was well to the fore in this movement. I think that by and large one can now say that in so far as the protection of our great buildings is concerned the situation is more or less under control. The great houses, through the heroic efforts of the National Trust and the Historic Buildings Council, with a few tragic losses, can be regarded as secure. Our parish churches, which were terribly at risk until a year or two ago, are now covered by machinery which, though cumbersome, and even divisive, I think can be relied on to ensure that we shall not lose any of our beautiful and romantic parish churches.
When I say that a new stage has been reached I mean that we have come to realise, through a process of disillusion, that just looking after historic monuments is nothing like enough. This disillusion has taken perhaps two forms: the disillusion of architects with the commercial and financial pressures under which they have had to work in our cities, and the disillusion of laymen with architects. The noble Lord, Lord Raglan, just now gave us a characteristic illustration of that feeling that so many have about my profession. I do not want to defend it at any length, except just to say that I do not think it is ever right to criticse the whole of a group of people collectively. The fact is that our New Towns, our new schools, the work done by the old London County Council since the war, have an international reputation, unmatched, I think, in any other country. The fact also is that architects of all generations have been deeply involved in the conservation movement, have been members of every conservation society, and all of us who try to build in this difficult world are equally concerned, even more concerned, with the buildings we inherit.
But, that said, it is true that many of us have begun to care more about what we inherit than what we make; I know that is true in my personal case, and I often ask myself why. Of course, it is easy to regard it as a symptom of advancing age. In fact, strangely enough, that is not the case. The people who are most concerned about the protection of our environment are the young. It is they who are out in front demon 654 trating whenever a building that they think livable is going to be destroyed. The movement of conservation is now not just a matter of conserving monuments but conserving the whole of the artefacts of human beings and indeed the whole of our planet. This is the change that has taken place, and in this count-try once again I hope and believe that we are in a position to take a lead in the world, because we are fortunate enough to possess towns that are more livable, more human in scale, more suitable to adaptation than those of any other country in Europe.
Compared, for example, with the problems of the Italians, whose beautiful hill towns and ancient mediæval cities are real slums and are really pitch dark and are really scarcely habitable by people of the 20th century, our villages, our country towns, are eminently livable and we are in a very strong position to show the world how to do it. So I think that all architects and planners and conservationists these days think of conservation much more broadly than we ever did before. We see the conversion and improvement of old houses, the renewal of whole neighbourhoods as a part of conservation, and consequently we see conservation as a part of planning, not separable, not a separate activity. If it is a part of planning, it has to fit into the economics of planning, into the cost-benefit studies in which planning to some extent consists. If one approaches it in this way one is bound to be slightly suspicious of the concept of conservation areas. For example, that half the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea should be a conservation area, the half that the better-off live in, whereas the other half is not, seems to me to divide that great part of western London artificially and socially undesirably. There are parts unlisted in North Kensington equally good, equally livable, but written off for a variety of reasons, not all of them, I think, correct in principle. But still we have these conservation areas and I think we ought to look rather closely into what they mean in economic terms.
What one is doing with a conservation area is to take it out of the market. One is taking large areas of our cities away from the forces which historically have shaped them all through the centuries, and applying to them what one, 655 I suppose, could fashionably call dirigiste economics—all the rage at the moment, but not necessarily the right thing to do unless one knows very clearly what one is doing and has a carefully thought out technique for doing it. I should like to suggest very briefly the sort of considerations that this involves.
I think that the economics of conservation must in principle boil down to this: to conserve by planning so as to avoid having to conserve by spending. Old buildings disappear, broadly speaking, for two reasons: either an excessive demand for their sites so that their sites become more valuable than they were, or an inadequate demand for them for building for any possible human use—if you like, overloading of demand or underloading of demand. By planning, we can temper the wind to the shorn lamb, and perhaps I may give one or two examples of what I mean. If we take population, there is no question that if one allows an historic city to grow too much and too fast the threats to its core, what we know it by, will become almost unbearable and uncontainable. The classic example of this, of course, is Oxford. But now every modern capital is in the same state, and it is tragic to see what used to be small historic capital cities, like Rome, like Bangkok, like even the little Baroque city of Quito in Equador, because they are the capitals of their countries, subjected to pressures which their centres cannot contain.
Those of your Lordships who, like me, do not read the Daily Express may not have seen Osbert Lancaster's cartoon today, in which a squirrel speaks to a little deer in a Green Belt and says, "I told you this was all eyewash". We know of the pressures of space and the need for housing. None of us must turn a blind eye to those pressures. It is a sad thing that this rampart which has held us within reasonable bounds is now to be breached. Right or wrong, beautiful or plain, the Green Belts are critical elements in the fight to contain the size of cities and therefore to reduce the pressures on their centres.
I have spoken of population as one danger to the historic core of a town or city. Another planning factor which can be played to protect historic buildings, if 656 it is played aright, but can certainly be played wrong, is zoning; the location of new development. If a multi-storey car park is built a few hundred yards from the centre of an old town the pedestrian route from that car park to the centre will inflate the value of properties on that route overnight and old buildings, if they happen to be on that route, will become supermarkets. One must therefore be very careful where one puts such a route because the pressures on those old buildings will be more than they can stand up to if they find themselves in the way of that kind of commercial development. Again, the plot ratio technique, invented I think by the noble Lord, Lord Holford, some years ago, can be used to protect old buildings and can be used to destroy them. The great city of Glasgow survives almost intact as a Victorian city for the simple reason that it has refused to allow redevelopment at any higher plot ratio than exists on the site at present so there is no incentive to destroy the solid Victorian mansions and office buildings in the heart of the city, but if there is money to be made out of those buildings they will go.
Finally, and most dramatic and most familiar to your Lordships—traffic. Anyone who drives out to London Airport will have seen how a plain but decent late Victorian crescent on which the Cromwell Road extension has been aligned, as an architectural concept which seemed quite sensible, has in fact been turned into a slum by the noise of the new road which has made it totally uninhabitable. This is true of the radial routes out of all our cities. You cannot combine living and traffic on that sort of scale. In the little country town of Wallingford, which I am glad to find is to be the capital of the district in which I live, there is a Georgian inn called "The Lamb" which some of us were involved ten years ago in protecting from destruction. It lies at the central crossroads of that fundamentally Roman little town, and we won. It is just still there but this word "erosion", generally used figuratively, applies literally and physically to "The Lamb" at Wallingford. This building is now a ruin simply from the pressure of heavy vehicles passing within a few inches of its walls and very often actually hitting them, and until Wallingford receives its by-pass its historic buildings may be 657 saved theoretically but will be lost in reality. Everyone therefore must welcome the Government's decision of a year or two ago to give special priority to road projects in historic towns.
This road business at the moment is going through in the public mind a period of anxiety and I think misunderstanding. A powerful combination of opinion has been formed to oppose all new road construction, and it is powerful because it combines the working-class inhabitants of what in some circles is called the urban ghetto, with the articulate middle class looking for a political cause, and it is easy to whip up feeling in those areas against roads, to describe the motor-car as a kind of middle-class symbol and to elevate the bus as a working-class symbol. I think we must keep cool about this and do all we possibly can to avoid this extraordinarily difficult problem taking on a political tinge. I myself, like all of us, am torn in two by the problem of new roads. As long ago as 1958 Sir Basil Spence, when he was President of the R.I.B.A., and myself appeared on television to warn the people as best we could about what lay ahead. The fashion for spaghetti junctions in the United States was at its peak—they had not yet hit this country—and it seemed opportune that public opinion should be alerted, but this does not mean that no roads should be built.
In my opinion, the Buchanan theory of the need to strike a subtle balance between accessibility and environment, in his phraseology, has never been dented. I think Sir Colin is worth ten of all his opponents put together and I totally disagree with those who regard him as a philistine who is prepared to lose beautiful cities in the interests of the motor-car. It is so easy to talk about the motor-car when what is also at stake of course is the lorry, the heavy transport and the servicing vehicles which all cities have to accommodate. It is a great load of traffic which we have to contend with and the motor-car is by no means its only element. We need to strike a balance in this matter. Adequate accessibility is absolutely vital to the survival of our historic cities. Without it we shall have the American style of dead centres and hypermarkets out in the country.
In the case of York, I have always thought it was essential that York should 658 remain a shopping centre and that it was not feasible or desirable to move that thriving, happy and industrious shopping out to the fringe of the city. It must also be a place for living in and neither of those aims is achievable without the construction of roads. Perhaps your Lordships will forgive me if I read two sentences out of my report on York.Benefits can only be claimed if the job is earned through and carried through entirely. In conservation, as in other fields, there are economies of scale and fatal diseconomies if a project is approached half-heartedly or spread over an excessive time span. The campaign to restore and regenerate the heart of York will bring its benefits if it is handled as a campaign and seen to be fair. Then private investment will follow the public need. Conversely, if public action is tentative, halfhearted and tedious it will cost the public more. The factor which will settle the issue is speed and decisiveness one way or the other and with it the credibility of the campaign to regenerate York is the road programme outside the walls.I was not asked to advise, and have never really been able to say, where that road should go, but that it should be constructed, that the heart of York should be relieved of the intolerable burden of traffic which it has to bear at the moment, is unquestionable. But all we have had—and I should mention that I wrote that Report in 1967, which is six years ago—is one statement in the Preservation Policy Group's Report to this effect:We recommend that pilot projects be carried out in each of the Four Towns. These exercises will, we hope, serve not only as a practical demonstration of what can be done in the way of renovating and maintaining historic areas, but show how far existing powers are adequate, and how far local authorities can recoup the losses.York City Council gallantly went ahead with this exercise and established pretty soon that the losses would be substantial—of the order of £2 million—on the first and largest of these renewal projects. Eighteen months ago, to the great excitement of people in York, Mr. Walker suddenly announced his intention to visit York and make a statement. By then we knew the money we wanted and we naturally hoped that we would get at least a good share of it from the Government. Mr. Walker was not able to give us anything more than the normal comprehensive development area procedure—a 50 per cent. grant, as for all central area redevelopment. This is a very unappetising exercise for a local authority, if it is housing rather than commercial 659 development with which one is concerned. It is terribly expensive to buy out industrial and commercial property, and to substitute residential property in the centre of a city. But I am convinced that it will eventually pay, when the roads have been built and our city centres are once again habitable. Just as in London, so in our other great cities, living in the centre will be attractive to people and will therefore be commercially viable.
At the moment, however, it quite obviously is not and no pilot project at this point of time makes any kind of commercial sense. It seems silly to spend money in this way, proving something we know already. The only value of doing anything at the moment is to demonstrate how well it could be done; to demonstrate, in other words, not the economics but the æsthetics. Everyone wishes that in the four towns this could be set on foot, because the æsthetic demonstration is just as important as the economic one and is not, by Government standards, expensive to pay for. If a 75 per cent. grant, such as has been made available with immense success—with almost embarrassing success—in the case of Operation Eyesore, could have been made available to the four towns, these so-called pilot projects which we are all wanting to see might have got off the ground, and would indeed have gone like a bomb instead of going like a snail or perhaps, to be kinder, I should say like a tortoise. It is this tragic loss of momentum, which I feared when I wrote my Report on York, which we now have to accept as a fact.
We all recognise the steady increase of Government spending on the repair of historic buildings, and the slow but significant decline in the losses of historic buildings in relation to the total number of listed buildings. But we all hope that local authorities will not regard the £1,500,000 made available to the Historic Buildings Council as letting them out of their own obligations to make grants themselves. At the moment, the level of local authority grants to historic buildings is only about one-fifth of the central Government grant, and I fear very much that this feeling that Whitehall will take care may have been partly responsible, and that this rather miserable perform 660 ance itself conceals individual cases that are really shameful. So we have far to go in this field of grants to historic buildings.
Of course, if the Government persist in their present intention to charge V.A.T. on the repair of listed buildings, the situation, instead of getting slowly better, could get dramatically worse. I have been told of one Oxford college which has a very big repair bill to face in the next two years, and if it has to pay V.A.T. on that bill it will have to pay the Government £85,000. I cannot believe that it is right or sensible for the Government to take away with one hand what it gives with the other. While the demands for zero rating are no doubt becoming very tiresome to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, this is a very simple one because the definition is unquestionable as statutorily listed buildings define themselves, and the simple exception of them from value added tax would, at least, ensure that such momentum as we have does not suddenly evaporate.
Conservationists are, I am afraid, rather a gloomy lot, accused of grumbling a great deal, and I should like to end by saying that I think this gloom can be overdone. Despite what we have lost, despite what people may say about modern architecture, historic buildings are now unquestionably better looked after than they have ever been in living memory—indeed, I suppose, ever been at all. Anyone who has seen the incredible achievement of York Minster in the last couple of years cannot fail to be moved by a great effort of that kind; and I am very pleased to see the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York here today. At the other end of the scale of size, we are putting back the interiors of great houses with a degree of scholarship and skill—such as, for example, at Clandon Park—not shown by any earlier generation. I think we can be proud of all this. Even poor London, so often decried, is to my mind a finer city now than it was before the war. I know that this is an unfashionable view, but the cleaning of the air, the cleaning of the buildings and the floodlighting of the buildings at night have transformed the atmosphere of this great City, and I am not ashamed of being one of its citizens. My Lords, I really believe that, within this comparatively 661 narrow field of the care and protection of historic buildings, the tide has turned and I only wish that in the broader field of planning as a whole the same could be said.
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ LORD CLARK
My Lords, I rise to speak on this complex issue with great diffidence, which is all the greater as I am speaking after the noble Viscount, Lord Esher, whose Report on York was the finest document on conservation and planning of our time. This is a subject fraught with technicalities, many of which I confess I do not understand, and in so far as I can see it in simple terms it seems to involve a conflict between material welfare, ordinary human needs and the belief that, however much our society has changed, we must keep some lifeline with the past. I might perhaps add the belief that architecture is an art, and that some works of art are worth preserving. One hundred and fifty years ago our towns and villages were the visible expression of a way of life which had evolved, with ups-and-downs, throughout the centuries. I do not think one can doubt that the ancient harmonious character of these towns had a deep effect on the minds of the citizens. It gave them a sense of continuity, of belonging somewhere. It was a source of pride. From the 14th century onwards men thought a great deal about making money, but they were willing to restrict their profits in order that their city or town might gain new lustre. They did not grudge the high price paid for a civic building any more than the people of Manchester today grudge the high price paid for a footballer.
Well, styles changed. Towns grew bigger. The cathedral was no longer the centre of life. But up to the mid-19th century the changes were organic. Each new style could be related to its predecessors. Then a new force appeared, too strong to be resisted: the Industrial Revolution, with its philosophy of laissez-faire, its greed for money and the inevitable accompaniment, the unprecedented growth of population. The result was that in the 19th century many of the most famous ancient cities in Europe were almost completely destroyed, knocked down and built over. Cities like Toulouse and Lyons lost their existence; Glasgow, 662 which was mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Esher, as a beautiful city—though I have never really quite seen it in that light myself—was a beautiful mediæval city.
§ LORD CLARK
It was; and it still contains one of the most refined and intelligent pieces of Gothic architecture in Britain. But ask anyone in Glasgow the way to the cathedral—ask the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, the way to the cathedral—and his face is a blank. Even the taximen have never heard of it.
So much for the first wave of destruction. It ruined the character of many great cities and a few small ones; but other towns, and most villages, which had not been industrialised retained their old plans and contained whole streets of good houses, often built during a period of three hundred years, but harmonising with each other. It may have seemed as if by 1900 greed and laissez-faire had done their worst. But the destroyers of the 19th century were mere amateurs. With the help of cost accountants, greed became far more professional. In towns, solid, well-designed buildings with large rooms were knocked down to make room for taller buildings, made up of small rooms with low ceilings, which could naturally be more profitable. These buildings tended to be made of glass and concrete. If I may venture to differ for a moment with the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, whose speech I agreed with almost throughout, I should not wish to attack modern architecture as such. The modern style is a wonderful new creation. It has produced great buildings in the United States, in Brazil, in West Germany and in Italy. But it is a complete split with the architecture of the past, for three simple reasons: it is purely rectilinear, it is based on the steel girder, and it is without ornament. Put quite a second-rate Victorian building into Oxford High Street and it would be absorbed; no one would notice it. But put quite a good building in the modern style, what we might call the Bauhaus style into the High Street and it would ruin the street. It would be comforting to think that modern towns could develop organically as old ones did, but I fear this is simply not true. Modern architecture 663 is a clean cut with the past, and a compromise architecture is not likely to achieve much distinction. The age of the great pasticheur, like Sir Edwin Lutyens, is over.
Then, of course, came the motor car—or the internal combustion engine, to include the lorry, the mammoth lorry, and so forth—and in some ways it was the most disastrous blow struck against traditional architecture. The narrow streets of old towns are blocked; the squares lose their character by being made into car parks. What can be done? The obvious answer is to widen the streets by knocking down the old buildings. The noble Viscount, Lord Esher, gave a most painful instance, familiar to all of us who make our way to London Airport. Of course, the result of this widening of roads and knocking down of old streets is that a lot of people make money out of erecting profitable packing cases. To make new streets that go round the town involves again greater destruction. But here I will not speak of motor roads, because I believe the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, who has far greater knowledge than I have, will deal with that question.
Is there any way of dealing with this wholesale destruction? I must confess that hitherto the proposals made in this country do not look to me as if they will ultimately be effective. They are almost all based on giving power and responsibility to the local authorities. Papers and documents on the subject speak of "recommendations", of "good will", of "informed public opinion". Almost every sentence in any report is in the conditional mood: "The importance of preserving historic towns should be given proper weight", et cetera. I ask your Lordships to put yourselves in the position of a city council confronted with a growing population, a demand for modern housing conditions and a natural desire to keep down the rates. How can they be asked to spend money on propping up old, uneconomic houses when the vast majority of their citizens are clamouring for new ones?
Let us make no mistake about it, my Lords, those who wish to preserve old buildings are a very small minority—a minority that includes most of our friends, but a minority all the same. I was 664 interested to hear the noble Viscount, Lord Esher, say that the young were in favour of preserving old buildings. I am sure the very intelligent people who go to the Royal College of Art are on our side, but take a survey of the whole country and I am afraid it would produce a very different result. And this feeling that conditions in towns must change is not confined to England; it is universal. Ask any young Venetian or young Florentine what he thinks about his city. He will tell you, "I want to get out of it. I am sick of living in a museum."
This, of course, is exactly the answer given by the city architect of Bath, Dr. Howard Stutchbury. He has said that it is his duty to bring Bath into the 20th century, and he is supported by a very eminent architect, Sir Hugh Casson, who combines the position of paid consultant to the city of Bath with a place on the Royal Fine Art Commission. It is true that a map of Bath exists in which certain areas are painted blue and called conservation areas, but it is entirely for the city architect and the city council to decide whether or not they pay any attention to this blue wash. As a result, over 300 houses in Bath have already been knocked down and we are told that au-other 300 will be knocked down next year. You can call this civic humanitarianism, or you can call it vandalism. Either way it is going to be the end of one of the most complete, harmonious and beautiful cities in the world. Of course, a few showpieces will be left—the crescents, the circuses, Pulteney Street—but without their setting, surrounded by very undistinguished modern buildings, I am afraid they will become museum pieces, without the organic relationship to their surroundings that is essential to fine architecture.
I quote Bath because it is unique and because its destruction is taking place now at a really astonishing speed, but this could happen in many, many other cities and towns, large and small. Suppose a new industry decided to base itself on Burford—a branch of the aircraft industry, for example. What chance of survival would Burford have? This is not as fantastic as it seems, because in the last few years a number of industries have decided (for some, to me, totally mysterious reason) to settle in Lincoln, which I believe is now one of 665 the most prosperous cities in England; and every week I see in the newspapers advertisements inviting industrialists to base themselves on King's Lynn.
This is a problem that exists in the whole of Europe, and in many places it has been dealt with successfully. The architectural harmony of Copenhagen and Amsterdam is almost entirely unspoilt; in France and West Germany many fine buildings have been saved; the centre of Leningrad is entirely untouched. How has this been achieved? The answer, I feel, is quite simple: by giving mandatory power to the central Government. I know well that it is the policy of Her Majesty's Government to increase the strength and autonomy of the regions; and I suppose that none of us would be glad to see any increases of governmental machinery. The thought of adding a new block to the Ministry of the Environment is indeed a daunting one. But I am afraid that any effective control will involve staff very different from the (believe it or not) five or six devoted men in central Government who are concerned with conservation to-day.
Such a body would not merely respond to local appeals for help: only a few old towns have lively local preservation societies. I believe that something on the lines of M. Malraux's schedules, or the similar plans drawn up in Denmark and Holland, will be necessary; that is to say, conservation areas laid down in a number of towns, large and small, where all new building schemes must be referred to the central authority. Of course, the reasonable way to deal with a sudden expansion such as that which has taken place in Lincoln is to build a new town, complete with shops, supermarkets, bingo parlours and so forth, a mile or two away, so designed that it could absorb motor traffic. But such towns would probably be outside the rateable area of the city, and heaven knows how much complication the purchase of the land would involve!
However, this debate is not the occasion for a discussion of ways and means: it is concerned with principles, and I am proposing a principle which I fear will be distasteful to many Members of your Lordships' House. It is that the conservation of fine buildings and old towns runs contrary to the claims and responsi 666 bilities which must be uppermost in the minds of local authorities, and that it can be achieved only by giving mandatory powers to the central Government. Unless this is done, I am perfectly certain that in twenty years' time the old towns and streets that are a link with our past, a lifeline of our society, will have vanished. And I do not believe that persuasion, propaganda, climates of opinion, seminars, publicity or films will weigh against material interests. To conserve what is best in the architecture of the past is not to be a conservative: in fact, as I have suggested, it has been practised most extensively in the communist countries of the East. It is simply to realise that no society, no association of human beings, can cut itself off from its history or pull up its deepest roots without impoverishing or even destroying, its spirit.
§ 4.5 p.m.
My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, for giving us the chance to debate this important subject this afternoon and for the informed, thoughtful and civilised speech which he made in introducing his Motion. I must congratulate the noble Lord, not only on the distinction of his speech but also on the distinction of the speakers whom he has managed to attract into this debate. He has managed to magnetise Lord Clark—"Lord Clark of Civilisation", as one is almost irresistibly compelled to term the noble Lord these days—and that is no mean feat. That has been proved by the speech—a powerful plea for dirigisme, but a very powerful speech—to which we have just listened. Perhaps it is invidious to mention too many names, but I have listened with special interest, as I am sure your Lordships have, to the words which have fallen from the noble Viscount, Lord Esher, a former President of the R.I.B.A. and the distinguished author of a very distinguished Report on York.
I am also particularly glad that we shall have the opportunity to-day to hear the views of two distinguished members of the Historic Buildings Council—the noble Lord, Lord Holford, and my noble friend the Duke of Grafton. Lord Holford is a modest man. He may not tell us that he has been for twenty years chairman of the committee of the Historic Buildings Council which decides 667 what standards should be fixed for the protection of buildings to be placed on the national list; and he is now chairman of a new committee concerned with deciding whose proposals for the enhancement of which outstanding conservation areas should get what slice of the cake of grants. I am particularly looking forward to the maiden speech, in a very short time, of my noble friend the Duke of Grafton. As your Lordships well know, my noble friend is far from a maiden in these matters of conservation. We all know his matronly, I was going to say, but I think I prefer to say passionate and professional interest in these matters of conservation; and he is in fact chairman of the joint committee of all the national amenity societies.
My Lords, since both the noble Lord, Lord Holford, and my noble friend are leading members of the Historic Buildings Council, I think it would be right for me to say at the outset of these remarks how much the Government value the work of the Council and how glad we are that my noble friend Lord Glendevon has accepted its chairmanship. I should also like to take this opportunity to wish him well in this new and important task, and at the same time to express our appreciation to my noble friend Lord Hailes for his ten years of valuable service to the Council. Both he and the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, who has retired after nine years' service on the Council, deserve our thanks. My Lords, while I am in this cordial mood may I say how glad I am, too, that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, the chairman of the group which produced the Report which we are debating, will be speaking in this debate. I have no doubt at all that some of his remarks will be pointed, but I am equally in no doubt that your Lordships will wish me, from these Benches, to acknowledge the really outstanding contribution which he has made, and is making, in this field.
My Lords, it is now six years or so since we enacted the Civic Amenities Bill—the Act which is a monument, I think one of the many monuments, to Duncan Sandys' devotion to the cause of civilised conservation. My aim will be to review some of the progress since then and to survey, very perfunctorily, I fear, the scene as I see it now. May I at the outset apologise for the fact that, as a result 668 of a long-standing commitment, I shall not be able to be here at the conclusion of the debate. That means that my noble friend Lord Sandford will wind up for the Government; but, of course, this is right and proper, since my noble friend now wears the Ministerial mantle which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, wore in the old Ministry of Housing and Local Government, and wears it in a Department—the Department of the Environment—the activities of which embrace almost all aspects of the physical environment. My noble friend's presence during these last two or three years in so many of the places which one sees in the exhibition in the Moses Room which we have been discussing, is evidence of the passionate interest he, too, brings to this work.
When I introduced the Civic Amenities Bill to your Lordships six years ago just over 100,000 or so of our historic buildings were safeguarded by being listed. To-day, nearly 170,000 have this protection and the continuing re-survey of our inventory of historic buildings is bringing in a further 20,000 or so each year. All this is evidence of progress, in this area at least; but a better indicator of progress is the fact which the noble Viscount, Lord Esher, mentioned, that while in 1967 we were losing historic buildings at the really horrific rate of 400 a year this haemorrhage is now being cut down to something like 200. It is still far too much: but at least a tourniquet has been applied and is beginning to work. At the outset of what I hope will be a not too long speech, we are dealing with individual buildings. We have our failings here, although I think I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Esher, that by now we can be confident that most of our great historic buildings are probably secure. But we also have our successes. The noble Viscount, Lord Esher, alluded, rightly, to one of the greatest of our successes in this field; that is, the salvation of York Minster. It has been a triumph for the Dean and Chapter, and a triumph too for all the private and local people who raised the £2 million that made it possible—for there was no Government grant. It was a triumph not least from the point of view of the civil engineering firm who carried out this work. I think, too, that we must be glad for what we see being done with the restoration of the fabric of some of 669 the others of our great cathedrals, St. Paul's, Chester, Salisbury, Winchester and so on. It is my view that as a group our English cathedrals constitute one of the supreme manifestations of English and European art. Whatever else we lose, we must not lose them or suffer them to fall into disrepair.
My Lords, it is not only our great cathedrals, one of our great national glories, that we need to care for; we need to recognise the debt we owe to the Churches who continue to maintain over 11,000 listed buildings—more by far than any other organisation in the land. These churches, from the great ones like Tewkesbury and Edington to the tiny parish church, are part and parcel of our architectural heritage and are the centrepieces of many of our conservation areas. That is why I particularly look forward to hearing what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester will have to say. 1 should like straightaway to assure him, of a sympathetic hearing from Her Majesty's Government when his Working Party has analysed the scale and nature of the problem of maintaining our historic churches, the problems of which they are seized. I am glad again to echo what the noble Viscount, Lord Esher, has said. We now have machinery, perhaps too cumbersome, for ensuring that by means of the Redundant Churches Fund there is care for churches no longer needed for worship.
If we are going to preserve buildings, we cannot preserve them, as it were, in aspic. Preservation and use, be it of the ecclesiastical, the ex-ecclesiastical or the lay building, are vitally interlinked. That is why again I welcome what we see now in St. John's, Smith Square, or in the use to which Holy Trinity, Southwark, is going to be put, and also why I welcome what can be seen in the exhibition in the Moses Room; what is done, for example, in Crescent Road, Alvestoke, at the Corn Exchange at Sudbury or the Maltings at Farnham. This type of work, very often a partnership between local amenity societies and local authorities, in finding new uses, valid modern uses, for old buildings, is a vital part of effective and sensible preservation.
So much for the buildings themselves. I would agree with those who feel that, important though they are, it is the areas 670 as a whole which are more important. It is worth remembering that six years ago there were no conservation areas. I note what the noble Viscount, Lord Esher, had to say about conservation areas, but I am an unrepentant defender of the concept until we find something better. But, here again, we can point to some real progress. In 1966, as I have said, there were no conservation areas; now, at the latest count, there are 2,288 up and down the country. I do not think we should be wise to minimise the importance of designation as an act in itself. A boundary on a map is worth something; it is a statutory and formal recognition for all to see that there is something worth conserving; it is a signal calling for vigilance; it should be a halt to thoughtless and incongruous development, a sign that the car should if possible be curbed and the lorry diverted. That is why I should like to express the hope on the part of the Government that this process of designation will continue to roll forward. Rather meaningless designation—designation by the dozen, if I may so term it—is without value. Nevertheless, I believe there are many areas in this country which could do with more designation; and, greatly daring, I will instance just one—one from my home county of Wiltshire. There I note that nine areas only have been designated—nine only in an area rich in townscape and in villagescape.
Noble Lords have referred to the four town studies, the classic studies of Bath, Chichester, Chester and York. If one reads those studies, one gets a measure of the scale of what full-blooded conservation really means. It is good to know—again, it is a sign of progress, although I do not wish to exaggerate the progress—that the example set by these classic studies has been adopted, adapted and expanded in so many other historic towns of great distinction. On the larger scale, the towns I would instance are Norwich, Winchester and Cheltenham. On the smaller scale but no less precious I instance Stamford, the first conservation area of all, Blandford, Deal, Banbury, Whitney, and Whitehaven; and across the Border in Scotland we have seen all that is being done in Edinburgh New Town.
But I think it would be a mistake to talk only of our towns.The Motion 671 refers to villages as well, and I believe it is just as important in looking at our heritage to do what we can to preserve the character of our villages. I believe that progress is being made, with Somerset and Warwickshire taking the lead. West Sussex, I instance as just an example which, starting late, now has conservation proposals in preparation for over 120 villages.
There is a point I should like to make in passing. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment made clear in his Statement and White Paper last Monday that the pressure over housing accommodation means that many of our villages will need to be expanded. Living, as I do, close to the spine of one of our great new motorways, the M.4, I know what this can mean in terms of pressure on some of our smaller villages. All I would stress is that very great care will be needed, if there is to be this expansion—and I believe it is to some extent inevitable—to ensure that it does not spoil the essential character of our villages; and the new local authorities will need to be very vigilant and alert to ensure sensible and sensitive expansion.
My Lords, designation, surveying, planning, policy formulation are one thing, but action positively to enhance and improve our historic towns and villages and the historic hearts of our great cities is another thing. Here again I believe that progress is being made, partly as a result of the guidance and stimulus provided by the Preservation Policy Group. Again, I would not wish to generalise but to particularise by way of example. We have recently seen the completion of the inner ring road in Chester. We have seen the introduction of a really civilised car-parking policy in Chichester, and we have seen the efforts of the Civic Trust in York. In 1967 there were only nine town schemes; now there are 41, and they involve an expenditure of nearly a quarter of a million pounds a year.
I have touched, I hope without too much complacency—because, goodness knows!there is a lot of ground to be made up, which is clear enough from the speeches we have already listened to—on some of the progress which we have 672 been making in preserving our inheritance. May I refer to one part of our inheritance that, I am glad to say, we are making great strides in destroying. I refer to the encrustations of grime and soot which have been, and are being, erased from our buildings up and down the country. I was glad that the noble Viscount, Lord Esher, referred to this. Here I believe that central Government, apeing Malraux, have played their part as good landowners. Whitehall really does live again in its fresh new clothing, and that is a source of pleasure to me as I walk up and down Whitehall each day. In this weather it is astonishing and exhilarating to walk up and down this now new, clean thoroughfare. Now that the clean air policy has made our urban atmosphere freer than it has been for a century or so from smoke and soot we can be confident that this cleansing will not be a temporary palliative but will have a lasting and beneficial effect upon our townscapes up and down the country. I believe that the effect is more than physical. It makes our towns and cities more pleasant, and I feel that it helps to reawaken and recreate that civic pride which I believe lies not very far below the surface and which may easily be re-created.
What are the problems? I will touch on them only cursorily. There is the problem, perhaps the greatest one of all, of learning to cope with Henry Ford's "Frankenstein", a motor-car. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Clark, drew attention to the priority which my right honourable friend the present Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, then Secretary of State for the Environment, accorded in the road programme which was then announced to relieving a large number of towns and villages of the noise, dirt and danger caused by traffic from which they suffer. We must not "kid" ourselves that these aims will be realised quickly. The dangers and difficulties are only too evident and I have a shrewd suspicion that my noble friend Lord Aldington may be touching on some of them in his forthcoming remarks. But I would say that this is a matter very much in the Government's mind.
Secondly, there is the problem posed by an industry which, unlike many of our industries, is expanding with dynamic speed. I refer, of course, to tourism. It 673 presents its problems, but also I believe it affords us a great opportunity if we handle it sensibly. Any one of us who has seen the Mall on a fine summer's day, or seen the crowds that populate and the charabancs that pollute the centre of London, will feel that London is becoming "over-touristed", if only because of the mean quality of many of the new hotels which we see rising around us. But there are towns and places off the normal tourist beat which are immensely attractive but little visited and which could benefit from the stimulus which a greater number of visitors would bring. I believe that the sensible policy would be to do what is possible to divert some of our tourists away from the normal tourist "milk run"—the Tower of London, Whitehall, Stratford-upon-Avon, Oxford and Cambridge, Edinburgh and so on—to less familiar but no less beautiful places. I will not here particularise, as some might object.
The third problem, a not unfamiliar one, is that of finance. I think that the exhibition in the Moses Room shows what can be done, sometimes in small but significant ways, when we bring together the combined financial resources of Whitehall, town hall, county hall and individual owners, upon whole groups of buildings. I should like to make clear that so far as the Government are concerned, we believe that the sort of work illustrated in that exhibition should continue, and continue to be encouraged. That is why I am glad that the Historic Buildings Council will be able to allocate £750,000 this year as the Government's contribution to work in outstanding conservation areas. Some noble Lords may wish for, and may ask for, more. That I readily appreciate. I shall be cautious here because my noble friend Lord Sandford will be dealing with the financial aspect. Very often one hears pleas to the Government to curtail public expenditure. These things have to be weighed in the balance, but I believe that, without being complacent, we may claim that at least on certain fronts these last six years solid progress has been made. Yet none of the achievements which I have just touched on compares in significance with the quite remarkable revolution in public attitudes which has taken place.
674 I think there are three powerful tides of public opinion which have been running and gaining strength. First, over the past two decades there has been a rising interest in our past. I think that here I side with the noble Viscount, Lord Esher, and against the noble Lord, Lord Clark, because I feel that this is something the young feel very deeply. Among our young people there is a passionate interest in archæology, and that is one sign of the rising interest. The second ingredient in this flood tide of opinion is the increasing concern for the totality of our physical environment. The third component of this movement of public opinion is, I think, the growing recognition of the value in human terms of the familiar and the longstanding. My Lords, in looking back on my short experience it is striking how opinion has moved in the last six years.
I should like to instance an example. I remember well a discussion in your Lordships' House, a debate on the Leslie Martin plan for Whitehall—it must have been six or seven years ago—a plan commissioned, as it were, by the Government of the day. There was no great objection when it was commissioned, and the terms of reference, so far as I recall, were given. It was a plan which nowadays I think we should totally reject, treating historic Whitehall as a tabular rasa from which to work. Only six or seven years ago we were seriously prepared to contemplate it. I believe that this is a symptom of an astonishingly rapid turnabout in opinion, and one which I personally greatly welcome.
My Lords, there is one aspect of this to which I wish to refer before I come to my conclusion, and that is the sign of this new movement of opinion in the growth in the whole amenity society movement. Six or seven years ago there were just over 500 civic societies; now there are over 1,000 affiliated to the Civic Trust. Four of the national amenity societies—the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, the Georgian Group, the Victorian Society and the Ancient Monuments Society—undertake work as part of the procedure of handling applications for listed building consent in respect of buildings of special architectural or historic interest. The Government are grateful for the advice of such national experts on architectural history, and to assist with 675 the costs which they incur I am glad to say that we shall be able to give each of them a grant, modest but I think none the less valuable, of £2,500 per annum to help towards the cost of this work: and similarly, arrangements have been made, I think for £750 per annum to the Scottish Georgian Society and the Scottish Civic Trust. These are small sums, but they can do a great deal to help and encourage work which is of real national value.
I have been speaking in an insular context, and in conclusion I should like to emphasise our view that English art and English architecture, although it has its own distinctive idiom, like English history, is essentially European. Other countries of Europe are rightly proud of their heritage, and as I think the noble Lord, Lord Clark, has particularly convincingly demonstrated, we may be able to learn quite a bit from them, too. In any event, the Council of Europe has designated 1975 as European Architectural Heritage Year. The Government have warmly welcomed this initiative and have stated thcir intention that the United Kingdom should make an effective and distinctive contribution. I think we must all be glad that His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh has agreed to serve as President of a specially formed United Kingdom Council, and that the Queen Mother and the Prince of Wales will be serving as Presidents on the Committees for Scotland and Wales respectively. I think, too, that the fact that the day-to-day running of the campaign will be under the direction of an executive committee chaired by Lady Dartmouth is a guarantee that a considerable impulse and a lot of fizz will be imparted to this work. As your Lordships doubtless know, the Government have made £150,000 available for schemes which are likely to produce these results by 1975 in conservation areas which are perhaps not of the highest quality but which are crying out for care and attention and which can be completed in time to make our practical contribution to European Architectural Heritage Year.
So much, my Lords, for this progress report. Despite all the difficulties and the many frustrations, I think I can honestly claim a measure of significant progress these last five or six years. But none of 676 us can afford to be complacent or to rest on our oars. I am sure that from this debate my noble friend and his Department will draw encouragement, and I can certainly assure those noble Lords who have spoken, or will be speaking, in it that the suggestions made by them in this discussion will receive our careful consideration.
I should like to assure your Lordships, in conclusion, of one further thing: that is, that the Government for their part attach the very highest importance to the preservation and conservation, and wherever possible the enhancement, of what is best in our heritage of architecture and of civilised urban living: that heritage which has been passed down to us over the centuries, for which we are at a perilous moment for that heritage, but also a moment of opportunity, the temporary trustees. It is the aim of this Government, as it was of the last Government, and indeed as it should be of any Government, to act as good and, within the bounds of prudence and the bounds of practicality, as large-minded trustees.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, I have just heard that the other place have voted 2 to 1 against the restoration of capital punishment, so if I accuse noble Lords opposite of getting away with murder it will not be such a serious matter as it might have been. This is one of those debates, I think, where politicians ought to take a back seat and listen to those who know about the subject—but of course I shall do nothing of the sort. With Lord Esher, Lord Clark, the Duke of Grafton and Lord Holford speaking, it is one of those occasions, which are less frequent than we often say, when we in this House are exceptionally well-qualified to debate a matter. Before going further, may I join with the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, in thanking and congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Hailes, on all his long years of work at the Historic Buildings Council. When I first got to the hot seat now occupied by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, and learned who I should have to be working with on that front as the chief statutory adviser, I thought it a very wrong thing that this intensely professional body should be chaired by an ex-Chief Whip, and a Tory ex-Chief Whip at that. Then we met, and I learned that this was an excessively theoretical 677 and bigoted approach to the matter, and I think it is fair to say that never in my short experience has a body of statutory professional advisers better served a Government. Let me also wish the noble Lord, Lord Glendevon, long and successful years as his successor.
My Lords, may I start with Bath? It is a paradigm of our troubles. The character of Bath, as everybody knows, is dual: it consists of four or five majestic set pieces of town planning, and a great mass or podium of so-called artisan housing of the 18th and early 19th centuries. They go together. There are few examples in the world of a city built so much of one style, so coherent, in so short a time. Dubrovnik is another. The noble Lord, Lord Clark, can no doubt think of many more, but I can only think of those two at the moment. We are all right on the great set pieces. They are safe, I think, although I should like to tell the House that it was only in our own term of office that my noble friend Lord Greenwood and I had the pleasure of dismissing a proposal by a cement company for a glass office block virtually touching the north transept of the Abbey. That, if I remember rightly, was in 1968. So it is not so long since even the great set pieces in Bath became safe. What with that point, the Buchanan proposals for the tunnel and one or two refinements on the wilder shores of Sir Colin's proposal, we got rid of the cut—the noble Lord knows what I am talking about—I thought, O.K.; even if we lose the Election, Bath is safe. But it has not really happened like that, because here we have the City Council taking Sir Colin Buchanan's tunnel proposal, which is a pretty hazardous one in any case, and twisting the approach road right into the heart of historic Bath for a reason I do not know. Here we have that podium of artisan houses round the great central pieces going by acres, bull-dozing down.
My Lords, I have three photographs here. One shows an old lady standing in several acres of Georgian rubble looking at what used to be her house, while behind stands a row of Georgian houses identical with what has been knocked down. So one can see how unnecessary it was to knock them down. Another is a photograph of Pulteney Bridge, the Ponte Veccio of England, standing against its new background, which is a 678 large, heavy, absolutely linear hotel which entirely dwarfs the bridge. The third picture is a handsome view of Bath Abbey and the approach to it, which is entirely overshadowed by a ventilator apparently some 80 feet high for extracting fumes from underground car parks. It has artistic slats on top. This ventilator is about the size of a Gothic church which is across the street. On the other side you can see the big new, flat-topped hotel dominating and killing the river which Pulteney Bridge crosses. In the foreground there is an excellent lamp post with a fluroescent light and a large notice saying "Toilets" on it. I should like to pass these photographs to the Leader of the House for him to be thinking about in the more boring bits of what I am going to say.
There is to be another building between the hotel and Pulteney Bridge; some law courts. I do not think the bridge will be visible from anywhere after that is built. I am sorry that the Government did not find room in their exhibition in the Moses Room for some of these photographs. The Bath Preservation Trust wanted to show some photographs of what went wrong and, acting with the Civic Trust, I approached the noble Lord to see whether he could find a corner for some "failure" photographs as well as his excellent departmental "success" photographs; but no, it would not be done. I approached the House authorities and was told that I could easily have an exhibition in my office if I was ready to move out of that. Since I share my office with seven others I was embarrassed about proposing that to them. I inquired whether there was any other room in the House but was told that that was impossible. A couple of days ago I discovered that the Government's exhibition was being transferred from the room where it was announced it would be held into another one, which has been, presumably, available all the time. I make no further comment.
In 1968 or so, the chairman of what they laughingly call the Development Committee at Bath—any other City Council would call them the Planning Committee—said that he thought that it would have taken about £8 million over ten or fifteen years to look after all the listed buildings in the city. I shall come in a moment to a passage where I shall 679 claim that that is just about what they would have got under the Labour Government's reforms in the Report we are discussing. I want to know whether that is just about what they are going to get under the alternative scheme of the present Government. I share very much Lord Clark's feeling regarding Bath and the battlefield it has become. It is a political battelfield because the council is rent from top to bottom. Professional advisers are retained on all sides; they disagree with each other; they impugn each other's good faith. The amenity movement itself is rent between extremists and moderates. Matters are moving so fast and the Council over the years has shown so little ability to come to grips with them, and the Government have shown so little ability to force them to come to grips with them, that I share Lord Clark's feeling that the time has come for a more centralised and sterner approach, at least in this one key city. He said we must give mandatory powers to the Government to do something about it. We do not need to give them mandatory Dowers; they already have them.
Every single planning application in the country may be called in by the Secretary of State of the Environment for his own decision—every single one: important, unimportant, large, small, on a mass scale, or on an individual scale. If the Secretary of State were to say to the city council of Bath, "I am going to call in every planning application in your city for the next two years, starting on June 1, unless you adopt what I think is a right policy, and here it is", this would administer a salutary shock, not only to the local organism but to the national one too. It might be so salutary that it would not be necessary to do it. Even if it were done in Bath, that would not be the end of the world. I do not believe that it would be against the wish of Parliament, which gave those powers to the Secretary of State, and if it were done in Bath it would probably never have to be done again anywhere else. When the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, comes to speak I do not expect him to say, "We will do that", straight away to-night, because we know this is a rigorous measure, but can he hold out hope that the idea will be examined and that he will, on behalf of Parliament, 680 mention the idea to the City Fathers of Bath? Even when Parliament set up local authorities like the Bath City Council, they were all on sufferance. The Minister has always had the power to dissolve them entirely if he wants to and assume all their functions by means of a Commissioner. The present Government are doing that about housing in one or two places. This power is being used for the first time. So let us not say that the Government cannot control what is happening in our historic towns, or must be given more powers before they can be expected to control what is happening. It is not so; they can do it now, and I hope that they will.
Before coming to the general point, may I turn to one other particular question: churches in use as such. This prosaic, hyphenated phrase covers the great question of the relationship between the State and the Church about fine old churches which are not redundant and which are still being used for worship. There is this increasing difficulty: what kind of church are we talking about? Maybe we have a picture in our minds of a beautiful village church or a cathedral; but it is more often the urban church. Perhaps the House might like to think as an archetype of Christ Church, Spitalfields, the masterpiece of Hawksmore, who was the chief of the few British baroque architects, which has stood closed now for 15 years in the heart of the East End. The fact that the church is closed means that people do not know it as well as they ought. But if they go in the church they will realise that they are inside one of the small handful of the greatest buildings that have ever appeared on our soil.
In 1913 Archbishop Davidson, sitting presumably on the Bishops' Bench opposite, told the Government, sitting where the present Government are sitting, that the Church did not want to come into State preservation law. That was the beginning of State preservation law with teeth in it. He said, "Leave the churches out; we will look after our own. We would rather not have any State control". The Government of the day agreed with that request, and so it has been ever since. Many years later Governments began to make grants for the restoration and maintenance of old buildings, and they made them to buildings over which 681 the State had control. The two naturally went together. It has always been taken for granted that you do not get State money without State control, because this is in theory pouring away the taxpayer's money into something over which he no longer has any control. The theory is important, though of course the practice would not work like that.
In 1968 the Church approached the State to open a discussion about the possibility of revising the 1913 Act. It fell to my lot on behalf of the State to see the body, who came under the chairmanship of Professor Phillips, from the Churches. We opened discussions and they said, "What about some money for churches in use?" At that time I had to say, "Not a hope for a year or two at least; but there may be hope later, so let us begin talking about what arrangements we could have if and when the money becomes available". We did this. It quickly became apparent that there was going to be a difficulty about the so-called "ecclesiastical exemption", which means that churches in use are not under planning law. The Church can pull them down without permission from any planning authority and in many ways make extensive alterations to them without consulting anybody on the State side of the fence.
We decided at that time that it would not be right to make State money available without also extending State planning control. There was a feeling in the backwoods—not among the central negotiators of the Church—that maybe you would get a desperately bigoted sectarian Minister who would start telling parsons where to put the altar, and intervene in liturgical decisions and experiments. That of course is ridiculous. There is nothing any Minister would sooner do less than become involved in that particular spiritual hornets' nest. I have heard with great pleasure that the contacts are continuing and that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, is handling them for the State. I believe the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Rochester is handling affairs for the Church. I hope they will come to a satisfactory conclusion and that State money will be made available, as we in our Government would have made it available for churches in use. But I do not think Parliament would accept that the ecclesiastical exemption 682 should continue. I believe that these particular buildings in receipt of State money must come under planning law just as all the lay buildings are under planning law. This is an important constitutional point.
I have heard it said that the Government are considering one possible solution, which would be the appointment of State representatives to the bodies which advise the Churches on the question of demolitions, alterations and architectural questions generally—that is to say, the Cathedrals Advisory Committee (or Council) for the cathedrals, and I imagine the Central Council for the Care of Churches for parish churches. We on this side of the House do not think that would be sufficient. The appointment of State representatives to bodies which have no more than an advisory function towards property owners who are not bound by the law would not be a sufficient substitute for normal State control over these buildings, as over any other buildings.
There are one or two general points upon which I should like to touch. It is extraordinary that V.A.T. is not going to apply to new building but is to apply to the restoration and the repair of old buildings. I understand that it will not apply to a repair that totally changes the character of the original fabric, but will apply to the sensitive restoration of historic buildings. I hope the Government will be able to rethink this manifest nonsense. I am not asking them to impose V.A.T. on new buildings, but to exempt the restoration of old buildings from the 10 per cent. charge.
It is very good news that the Government are producing money for the amenity societies, as the noble Earl the Leader of the House has just said. I am not sure whether this was an announcement; I had not heard the details of it before. It is in accordance with the report of Mr. Denis Stevenson and—
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. I am not quite certain what the noble Lord means by "an announcement", but I think this was the first time that this news has been imparted to an impatient world.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, the noble Earl imparted it with such characteristic mildness and humility that I thought from his manner it must be something everybody knew already.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, that is exactly what I was saying. Now we know that it is an announcement, I should like to say, with what I hope is normal diffidence, that we on this side of the House are glad to hear of it, that we have been urging it for some time and my only fear is in regard to how far the Government will go, because there will be a lot of others queueing up behind the Georgian Group. I hope the Government will go as far as they possibly can and will be generous. It is part of democracy to enable people effectively to say what they want to see done.
My Lords, I hesitate but I am going to interrupt the noble Lord just once more. I should like to thank him for his reception of this announcement and I am glad that my normal diffidence has in fact highlighted the importance of the announcement.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, we shall always give a good reception when the noble Earl announces good things. The noble Earl told us about the rate of loss of listed buildings and said, "We have halved that". The situation, as he so correctly and vividly reminded us, was that when our Government first found out how many listed buildings were being lost, because nobody had taken the trouble to inquire before, the answer we received was "about 400 a year". As a result of that we passed the 1968 planning Act, which for the first time required people to ask permission before they demolished a listed building. It is not generally known that they did not even require to have permission before. Since then permission has been necessary, and I rather thought I remembered that that had cut the rate by one half almost within the first year of its operation. If it is still only cut by a half, from 400 to, say, about 200, what has been happening recently? When the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, replies to the debate will it be possible for him to give the yearly figures for—I suppose 1969 was the first full year of operation—1969, 1970, 1971 and 1972, so that we may see how the curve is going? That would be most helpful.
There is one small but important question: has the Department now got ex 684 perts in Victorian buildings? It used to have, but I have heard it said that they have all gone elsewhere. If true, this would be sad. May we be told? A further question: the Government recently took the deplorable decision to subject all these matters in regard to listed buildings, historic towns, and so on, to decision by the district councils—the second tier in the reformed local government—instead of the top tier councils who alone would have the people who are skilled to do it. We could not get them to change their minds; they assured us that it would be all right and that the district councils would in fact use teams belonging to the top tier councils, which would be a complete waste of time, of course, but it would be better than nothing. Can the Government tell us whether they are doing that and what news there is on that front?
I come at last to the Report which is nominally the subject of this debate and which I hope has formed a useful peg for it. This Paper, which was accepted by the outgoing Government on May 20, 1970, suffered a peculiar fate. The date on which the Government accepted it was, if I remember aright, the day on which the date of the General Election was announced. So it was totally unknown to the general public that it had been (a) published, and (b) accepted. That is just the luck of the draw, but it is a fact. None of us on this side of the House would claim that it necessarily contains the best solution to the total problem of our old towns, but it does contain a detailed and careful solution, and when Lord Sandford replies I want to know what is his detailed and careful solution, so that the House may compare like with like.
I should like to make two points in amplification of the very full and accurate account which has been given by my noble friend Lord Raglan. The general conservation schemes that it proposed have quite a special character. They were to be schemes covering not only the repair of old buildings, to stop them falling down; they were to be integrated schemes whereby each local council would roll up all its strength and sweetness in one ball, and push it through the bars of life, its housing powers, traffic control powers, road construction powers, preservation powers, land-owning 685 powers and housing management powers. There would be five or six different types of power rolled into one scheme which was then going to operate at a loss, obviously, otherwise it would have been done already: and a good deal of public land ownership was to be included. The point of this scheme was that the Exchequer would bear half of that loss.
I come now to the financial provisions. I shall be a little detailed here because I want the Government to be equally detailed when they come to their own scheme. The finance which would have been flowing now if this scheme had not been rescinded by the present Government would have fallen into three parts, as follows: the Historic Buildings Council's grants for England (as we know them now) would have been flowing at such higher rate than three quarters of a million pounds a year as increasing costs would have dictated. That is Part I. Part II is itself bipartite. Part II is the money for the general conservation schemes which we would have been putting into effect. The first part of Part II would have been the Exchequer half of the loss on those schemes. That, according to the Statement made by the Government on May 20, 1970, would have risen by this year to £1½ million a year. The second part of Part II would have been the local authority contribution to those schemes, which would have been equal; it too would have been £1½ million per year.
Your Lordships will see that we are now at a level of at least £3¾ million, and probably over £4 million because of the increase in costs. Then there would have been the third element I have mentioned, which would have been the quite minor contributions that the local authorities would have continued to make (as they do now) to the old-fashioned "town schemes" and to other historic buildings around the place. This would probably only have been less than £500,000 a year. It has never been above that sum, and often way below. So I can say that the State, taking central and local government together, would by now under the scheme rejected by the present Government, have been paying well over £4 million a year to the historic towns and villages.
What is the global figure under the Government scheme? That is my main 686 question for this debate. Let me repeat: I do not claim that our scheme was the best in the world, but I do claim that I do not fully understand the Government scheme, and if I do not understand it I am not sure that many other people will. Does it involve an integrated general conservation approach with all those six types of local authority power rolled up? Are the grants introduced by the Government in the 1972 Act payable to local authorities on losses incurred under the use of any of those powers? Or, do they all have to go towards propping up old houses? Can they go towards traffic schemes, for instance, and building an odd road for conservation purposes? Can they go towards land acquisition? Can they go towards more expensive forms of housing management? Those are the sort of questions posed. If the answer to all that is, "No", then I shall be forced to conclude that the Government's present scheme is an inferior one, though I hope that the answer will be, "yes".
Then I have a few points to wind up. I am not sure that the Department of the Environment has succeeded in absorbing ing the old Ministry of Transport. I am worried about this. It still seems to have a life of its own in the stomach of "big Daddy". I wish it had not. Can anything be done to digest it further? One still sees these enormous traffic signs in conservation areas, instead of the little ones which is all one needs if one is going at five miles an hour, which is all one should be going in a conservation area, if not walking which would be better. What about pedestrianisation? It is not going well in England, is it? The whole centre of Bonn, where I was two days ago, is now pedestrianised. It takes 10 minutes to go from one side to the other and it is full of people standing around laughing because they are so happy about it. It is a remarkable sight. Let us have more of that in England, please, can we?
I want to end up with personalities. I know that it is deplorable and against the custom of the House but I shall. I want to praise Mr. Peter Walker now that he has left this life and gone to a commercial one. I want to praise him for his courageous decision about the Avon Gorge Hotel. I do not know when that has been done before by a Minister with his powers. He cancelled a deplorable 687 planning permission already given by a council and let the council incur the compensation, as they richly deserved. That was a brave decision. I hope that we shall see more decisions of that nature.
I have been speculating about what we shall call Lord Rippon when he comes to the end of an honourable term of service in the House of Commons and joins us here. It will be a personal pleasure to us to welcome Lord Rippon of Bassenthwaite, Lord Rippon of Winchester or Lord Rippon of the London Green Belt. I shall not dwell on that last one, because it is still not clear whether he really means it. But if he does, one can only say that this is a reversal of the very heartland of all our planning policy in the last 25 years in this country. Two thousand acres of the London Green Belt is to go on housing. Do we need housing in London? I should say that we jolly well do. There is no doubt about that. But it was only a week before this decision that a survey returned the fact that there are 100,000 empty houses in London. I am sorry to be polemical, my Lords, but what are we to say about a Government which cannot find the courage to squash the speculators, and developers, the tapeworms of our economy, so as to get those 100,000 houses occupied, but can find the courage to take 2,000 acres of the Metropolitan Green Belt for development? It is a most deplorable situation. In order not to leave the matter on a rancid note, let me say, to come back to historic towns, that I think the time is due for a shake-up. I hope that I have suggested something positive in the much freer use of the call-in procedure, and that the Government will say that they are going to do precisely that.
§ 5.5 p.m.
THE DUKE OF GRAFTON
My Lords, I count it as very fortunate to be able to make my maiden speech to-day on a subject about which I feel so strongly. Mercifully, public opinion also seems to be beginning, at last, to feel equally strongly about it, and this is surely a non-controversial subject if ever there was one. Incidentally, I should just like to mention that I do not think my family has troubled your Lordships much of recent years because I understand that 688 the last maiden speech by a Duke of Grafton was in 1845.
Looking back over the last 10 years, it is certainly immensely encouraging to see how far and how fast public opinion has moved behind those in the amenity societies who for years have been struggling with this problem of preserving historic towns and villages. I count it as a very good omen that I should be making my maiden speech on the day when my noble friend Lord Jellicoe has made his most welcome announcement that Her Majesty's Government are now proposing to give a grant to the four national amenity societies: The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings; the Ancient Monuments Society; the Georgian Group; and the Victorian Society. On behalf of those four societies I thank the Government most warmly for this generous recognition of our work.
I should like to start on this subject by telling a true story about the late Lord Esher, the noble Viscount's father, who, when discussing the problem of preserving historic towns, had an entertaining experience. As I remember, he was speaking at the annual general meeting of the Kensington Society some fifteen years ago, and in the course of his speech he said, "London is rapidly losing its character. One day it is going to become like any town in Minnesota." What he had not realised was that his speech went out on world radio, and when he was finishing breakfast the next morning, he was rung up from Minneapolis, from the very heart of America, and a furious voice was heard to say: "Say, Lord Esher, what's wrong with us anyway?" It is surely this very subtle character of or historic towns with which we are concerned to-day.
The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, for which I have now worked for some 22 years and of which I am Chairman, was the parent of the whole amenity movement and was, of course, founded by that great man William Morris, 96 years ago, in 1877. It is interesting to look back to realise that there was then practically no legislation to take care of a single historic building in this country. In those 96 years enormous strides have been made, and far the most 689 important step, I feel, has been the establishment of national funds to preserve historic buildings. I have now sat on the Historic Buildings Council for England for 20 years. I think I am one of the three original members; the noble Lord, Lord Holford, is, luckily, another. During our 20 years we have dealt with buildings of all sorts and kinds, from dovecotes and windmills to manor houses and palaces. But increasingly of recent years our efforts have been directed towards historic streets and the whole centres of towns. Much the most important town we have helped is Bath, and Bath has been spoken of a great deal to-day.
I should just like to say that the Historic Buildings Council has tried to help here. I have sat on the sub-committee with Sir John Summerson now for 16 years, and we have, necessarily, because of our limited funds, had to concentrate on the most important architectural showpieces in Bath. But we have really rebuilt the Circus. Any of your Lordships who has been to Bath will, I am sure, have noticed how splendid the Circus looks now. Fifteen years ago, when we started, it really was falling down. We are now undertaking major work in Pulteney Street. But, of course, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Clark, and others, that other absolutely vital areas in the city are suffering and will continue to suffer, and nobody who goes to Bath and sees the new buildings on the slopes of Lansdowne can feel complacent about what is happening there.
While mentioning the problem of Bath, I feel that the role of a consultant in an historic town is an extremely difficult one. Many historic towns have consultants of international repute. In my experience, this very often does more harm than good. The unfortunate consultant is often not consulted, and as a result of not knowing the full picture of the town in question he is often ignorant of what is going on; in any case his advice need not be taken. It seems to me that if you are a consultant the very first thing you must do is to discover what are the long-term plans of the corporation for that particular town.
From the point of view of historic towns, we on the Historic Buildings Council, I am sure, realise that we are simply touching the fringe of the problem. As 690 has been mentioned, within the last six months we have been allocated an extra half million pounds a year for conservation grants, purely for conservation, not for repair. This is opening quite a new chapter, and a very large one, in our existence. So far we have dealt with comparatively few applications, but I think this is a very important step forward.
My society, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, can, I think, claim a good deal of credit for the existence of the Preservation Policy Group's document which we are discussing to-day. In spite of the creation of the Historic Buildings Council in 1953, we in the Society had become so concerned about the problem of our historic towns that in 1963 we set up a pressure group consisting of all the national organisations to study the problem. Over this we were very greatly helped by Mr. Nicholas Ridley, Conservative Member of Parliament for Cirencester and then secretary of the Arts and Amenities Group in the House of Commons. We held various meetings, and a memorandum was produced, which was really, looking back, very largely the forerunner of the Policy Group's document. Owing to the change of Government in 1963 there was delay, and it was not until the beginning of the Labour Government in 1965, and in particular with the arrival of Mr. Crossman as Minister of Housing and Local Government, that we made any real progress. It was he who convened a conference at Churchill College, Cambridge, of everybody particularly interested in this subject, and I think it was really as a direct result of the Churchill College Conference that the four pilot studies were commissioned and published in 1968.
It is perhaps unnecessary for me to remind your Lordships of the great disasters which have already befallen so many of our historic towns. Whatever we do now, and do not let us forget it, in some cases it is too late. We have only to think of London itself, and in particular of the City of London, where it appears that the whole fabric of its history is disappearing under the high rise blocks. One has perhaps to admit that the City of London presents a very difficult problem, but surely it cannot be right to allow its history to disappear in this absolutely wholesale manner.
691 Think for a moment about some of our country towns, cities like Gloucester, the old buildings of which, apart from the cathedral precinct, have virtually disappeared over the past 20 years. I do not think the ghost of the tailor of Gloucester, of Beatrix Potter fame, would find it very easy to recognise the city he knew. Think of Worcester, when only 10 or 12 years ago the whole area North of the cathedral, immediately jutting right up to the cathedral, was completely sacked, laid waste, and redeveloped by developers from outside the city.
Think of Norwich, where I always feel it is ironic to be greeted by a large notice saying "Welcome to a fine city", where very great damage has been done, with the notable exception of the pedestrian precinct. One has to remember that Norwich has a particular problem in possessing vast numbers of mediaeval churches, many of which are bound to be declared redundant, and the corporation, to their very great credit, have taken responsibility for them. There are 32 of these churches. I believe that Norwich and the city of Novgorod in Russia are the only walled cities in Europe with this huge number of churches within the walls. When I visited Novgorod some six years ago I must say it was very interesting to see the Russians rebuilding, as part of the essential townscape of their city, all the churches which had been destroyed during the war.
Think of King's Lynn in Norfolk, where without the activities of the splendid King's Lynn Preservation Trust some of the finest buildings in the town would certainly have disappeared by now, and where without great vigilance on the part of these societies I believe that the whole historic core of the town would by now have suffered irreparable damage. Think of Newcastle where the remaining half of Eldon Square, a part of the great Dobson-Grainger complex, is, I understand, at this moment being demolished.
In the last year I have had the opportunity of looking at this problem from a rather different angle, through being a member of the Royal Fine Art Commission. This Commission is presented with problems of really incredible complexity and importance. Quite frankly, what worries me is how these problems are 692 brought before us. The city of Lincoln has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Clark, and the Royal Fine Art Commission has been consulted during the past year about various individual projects there. Anybody who read the magazine called The Built Environment for February may have read the article about the wholesale development of the lower half of the city. The upper half surrounding the cathedral is a conservation area and is safe. But from the cathedral one is going to look out over a new city, totally out of scale with the old, and, so far as I can judge it, the product of the jungle law of modern uncoordinated development, on such a scale that it appears to me to be something far beyond the control of the Royal Fine Art Commission. The Department of the Environment is the body which surely must have this matter under review. Might a solution be found in the strengthening of the Department's team of investigators, possibly at regional level, with power to act as conservation advisers, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Raglan? They might advise on amenity and environmental aspects of these huge and alarming new developments.
May I put this problem in a international setting, because I have had a good deal of experience in this field over past years, in the creation of an international body for preservation. This body is a child of UNESCO and is called the International Council of Monuments and Sites. It was set up some eight years ago at a constitutive meeting in the city of Warsaw, where the Poles had had the great good sense to invite this international body and to show us their really extraordinary achievement, not only, of course, in rebuilding the city of Warsaw, but in building alongside it a very fine new city. It was an unforgettable experience to visit Warsaw; and the recreation of Warsaw, more than any other town I have ever been to, showed that what we are discussing to-day in fact represents the whole spirit of a nation. The determination of the Poles to rebuild their city after its total destruction during the war is an example to many other countries.
We have in the International Council learned a very great deal from other countries such as France, particularly about the preservation of historic towns.
693 The French twenty years ago had listed their historic towns, of which I believe there were a thousand, and they have put into operation various pilot schemes such as we are now beginning to administer here. The French Government have in fact given the International Council a headquarters in the Marais District in the City of Paris which is a notable example of preservation of a whole area, and I am very glad to be able to announce that an Englishman has been made the first director of this centre which is to collect information about the preservation of historic buildings throughout the world. Forty-six countries are now affiliated to this centre. I think myself that this is potentially a very important step forward and I hope very much that financial aid of some kind will be given to this project by Her Majesty's Government. For Western Europe of course a body called Europa Nostra, under the indefatigable chairmanship of Mr. Duncan Sandys, has been doing extremely valuable work particularly over legislation affecting preservation.
One has to travel far afield to continents such as Australia, and indeed America, to realise just how blessed we are in the towns which still survive here. You have to go to towns in the outback of Australia, or to New Zealand, where I have been on a lecture tour, and where there really is not one single building of any merit, to realise that what we take for granted here is something quite exceptional. One looks at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where the Declaration was signed, and sees that it is now entirely surrounded by skyscrapers.
One can set the problem on the world scene. What are we going to do here? The action of Her Majesty's Government in recent months in the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act 1972 relating to conservation areas, and the conservation and preservation in the Local Government Act 1972, is very much welcomed and in particular the Department of the Environment's recent explanatory circular is an encouraging document, with every word of which I agree except for what I feel is the serious omission of giving county councils concurrent powers with district councils over listed buildings. My feeling is that the document is somewhat complacent in its constant references to teams of experts 694 and individual experts who can advise councils on these highly complex matters of planning and conservation. In my experience experts in this field can be numbered almost on the fingers of two hands. There are not nearly enough of them and obviously the training of more experts is one of the most important factors we should press for. My society has in fact for some twenty years been running courses for architects and planners and we have now had two courses, over 1,000 people, but this is only touching the fringe of the problem.
What else can one do? First of all, surely it is of major importance that our historic towns should be categorised. An official list must be made of historic towns similar to the list made by the Council for British Archeology some years ago, but a great deal more thought needs to be given to this list. It is quite clear, as has already been said, that priority must be given to by-passing these historic towns which are being mauled to bits by traffic. Surely the Department of the Environment should be given power to express opinions and be able to amend the conservation areas and a time limit should be set for the designation of these areas.
Value added tax has been mentioned by various noble Lords. It must be possible, surely, to zero rate all listed buildings. The role of the Department of the Environment in all these matters is absolutely crucial, particularly in the transitory period while the new authorities are getting established for 1974. There must be overall control from the central Government if we are going to tackle this problem as it deserves. Again, as has been mentioned, the Council of Europe has set a specific target in declaring 1975 European Architectural Heritage Year. I am a member of the Executive Committee for this country and I would beg your Lordships to use your influence to promote schemes of conservation which will draw public attention to the importance of this country's producing really worthwhile schemes for 1975 which will not only increase public awareness of the problem but will, one hopes, in the future attract a permanent and much wider interest in this very vital subject.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ LORD HOLFORD
My Lords, I rise without blushing, although I might well 695 blush after what a few noble Lords have said about me. Any unaccustomed pinkness of my face is entirely the reflection of these speeches. Let me put the matter straight at once. The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, referred to me as a modest man, and in relation to this particular subject I would only say that I do not think I have any right to be anything but modest. First, however, I should like to congratulate the noble Duke, the Duke of Grafton, on his maiden speech. It was thoughtful and knowledgeable; it had force and it had humour, and I do not think anyone can ask more from a maiden speech than that. I know that every noble Lord will want me to congratulate him on it.
As regards our subject of debate to-day, there is so much to be said and so much to be done at this very critical time that one hardly knows where to begin. Many noble Lords have referred to the fact that it is a critical time, and I would begin by making two special points on this issue. The first is that the tide of financial inflation in building is very much against us. I think the average increase in building costs is running at something between about 7 and sometimes as high as 10 per cent. per annum. That is sufficiently horrifying. The cost of certain kinds of building however is actually going down and this is due of course to mechanisation and other improvements in building techniques and to the fact that mass production is able to make certain types of building cheaper. But, of course, none of that helps in preservation, restoration and repair. The inflation of craftsmen's costs, of the cost of masons, joiners, decorators, plasterers, and all the work that historic buildings so urgently need, is more like 12 to 15 per cent. a year, and this means that if you postpone work on an historic building for five years it is certain to cost, at the end of that time, at least twice as much. This is an appalling financial problem and one which I think makes this debate come, as I said, at a very critical time.
As to V.A.T., this, as the noble Viscount, Lord Esher, said, makes the problem even more difficult. It makes it particularly difficult for owners of historic buildings who are repairing them themselves. I had the privilege of looking after a vast number of buildings at Eton for twenty years after the war, as the 696 noble Lord, Lord Glendevon, knows. In that area, to about 57 buildings, most of them historic, no repairs whatever had been done throughout the Victorian period, the late 19th century. We spent five of those twenty years in bringing Eton back into repair, repairing things such as drains, electricity conduits, brickwork and stonework, making the roofs watertight and putting in modem kitchens. That kind of work, which was carried out without any grant from the State, will cost owners a very great deal in future, and the cost is escalating.
I have one suggestion which I hope the Minister will consider. Towards the end of the war we were concerned about the disappearance of the craft of silversmiths and goldsmiths, and, purchase tax being very high at that time, the Goldsmiths Company approached the Government and suggested that there should be a purchase tax exemption panel. The procedure worked very simply. If a goldsmith came and said, "This is a genuine piece of design. I am not putting it out in hundreds of thousands of replicas for commercial use", it was exempted from purchase tax. We must draw a distinction between the kind of repairs that an owner ought to do to his house, which would obviously create a frightful fiscal problem for the Treasury, and the kind of repairs which will really restore a building and bring it back into a condition where people will recognise its historical features, which should be authentic. A lot of money is necessary to do such repairs, and that money should not have an additional tax put upon it. I should have thought it might be possible for an application to be made to a V.A.T. exemption panel in genuine cases.
The second reason why this debate has come at a critical time and why it is so useful that the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, has initiated it is that the public and local government effort is at the moment not even commensurate with the resources; that is to say, there is more money available to help local authorities and the public than is really being used. Worst still, local authorities do not parallel, complement or increase very much the funds available from the Treasury. Therefore, so many historic towns—not only Bath—stand like discarded scenery in the wings of the stage of a small but very precious opera house, 697 which is England. This scenery is subject to destruction, or is being replaced by modern sets at an increasing rate as new actors and new plays are put upon the stage. Following his Question on Bath in the House last July, the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, has now called another rehearsal and I must say that it is very necessary to call it.
There are two special features of this debate to which I should like very briefly to refer. The first is that, as the noble Duke, the Duke of Grafton, said, it is twenty years since the Historic Buildings Council was formed. In that time we have had only two chairmen. We had Sir Alan Lascelles for ten years, and for the next ten years we had Lord Hailes, who retired at the end of last month. I hope I can say, without any sort of presumption, that he has retired at the full height of his powers of persuasion, diplomacy and occasional dragooning, which he did to his great credit and to our very great loss. We had only one committee at the start, but we now have four committees of the Council. One is concerned with looking at new cases and asking, "Is this something which could be regarded as outstanding?" If it is, it goes on to the Council. Secondly we have the Listed Buildings Advisory Committee, of which I was chairman for a long period and, which was started as long ago, believe it or not, as 1945 by Lord Silkin.
It is relevant here to mention the Question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Stocks. I could listen all afternoon to supplementaries by the noble Baroness on the subject of the Coronet Theatre, or on anything else. But the climate has changed very slowly. There was a time when the Listed Buildings Advisory Committee went around with nothing but abuse. I remember, only a few years ago, being rung up by a very indignant and very famous lady, who said to me on the telephone, "The most frightful thing has happened. My house has been listed. What power of appeal do I have?" I had to tell her that she had no power whatever of appeal, and it took me a very long time indeed and two visits to the house to persuade her that it was no insult to her or to the house and it could do her a great deal of good. The Listed Buildings Advisory Committee has now passed into a stage where people are 698 asking for buildings to be listed, and I think that this little theatre is one of them. It is a theatre made famous by Sarah Bernhardt, and had other people, such as Dame Sybil Thorndike, appearing in it. It seems to me that now that the pump has been primed by the Government and the Minister has, I think, listed more theatres in London in the last year than his predecessor would ever think possible, it is time that the local authorities said, "We are going to ask for this building to be listed", and I hope they will do that for the Coronet Theatre.
The third committee of the Historic Buildings Council is called Town Schemes. This considers all the buildings in a marked area where a contribution is made by the Minister, by local authorities—sometimes the county and the district together—and by the owner. These schemes, starting very slowly, have now reached the number of 41, as the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, said, and there is allocated to them something like £250,000 a year. I should add that not all this money is taken up, because it is one of the features of this grant scheme that it takes a little time to get the particulars right and to spend the money. Nevertheless, it is a very considerable achievement to have £250,000 allocated to town schemes in this country.
The fourth committee, of which I have been chairman for only a few months, deals with the provisions of the Act of 1972, with a grant of £500,000 which has now been increased for conservation areas. I am afraid I must leave it to the Minister to answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, about the way in which this Committee works and what is included in its statement of accounts. But I should like to say that if you are going to have a scheme which includes housing grants, improvement grants and road scheme grants all wrapped up together with a conservation area, I believe—and I hope the Minister will agree with me—that you will need an army of bureaucrats to administer it. We are finding it very difficult, in our amateur and unofficial way, to get schemes which are sufficiently coherent for us to be able to make them a grant. We are completely flexible at the moment and are listening to tiny little schemes, such as that at Park Crescent in Oxford, where the inhabitants want to replace the railings which were knocked 699 down for half-a-crown in 1940. They want to bring back a little open space in the middle, and that is a scheme where the amenities of that area will be enhanced by conservation.
Then we go up to enormous schemes like Bath, where obviously the problem is exactly the opposite. It is that most of Bath should be a conservation area and this does not fit in with the development plan for that city which is being pursued on quite a different level from the level of conservation, as Lord Clark has pointed out. I will return to this point in one moment.
Another special feature of the debate to-day, as I have mentioned, is the maiden speech of the noble Duke, the Duke of Grafton; but it is important for another reason in that it makes the return of the S.P.A.B., which I am delighted to learn from the Minister is one of the bodies given a small grant to help it, as it were, to do its administrative work and to be more effective. I was once asked as a young architectural lecturer to address the S.P.A.B. in the time of Lord Esher's father. I was extremely nervous, and when I referred to that ancient society I unfortunately called it the Society for the Prevention of Ancient Buildings, much in the same way as one talks about accidents or cruelty to children. I think today that would be called a Freudian slip, because most young architects feel they can do something better than the building which is threatened or about to be demolished. Nevertheless, the proposer of the vote of thanks, when he was woken up to make it, got his own back on me by saying, "Young Mr. Holcroft had made a very provocative speech". The sad feature behind this story is that when architects learn more about the history of their own houses, their own buildings, their own towns it does not spur them on sufficiently to make their own history; and I part company, as I believe the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, does, with the conservationists when they say that it is no part of conservation to make opportunities for people who really care about the buildings they are designing—make an opportunity for them to build them.
I have two major points and I will deal with them fairly briefly because there are other speakers who will deal with 700 them much better, but I think they are very important. The first, relating to the matter of cost, is that the scale of operations is now going to take a turn upwards; the curve of expenditure must rise. In a generation from now more buildings will have been constructed than exist to-day. This means two things. It means that we have to be extra careful about keeping the relatively smaller proportion of old buildings that remain, and it also means that the curve of conservation, including its cost, must rise with the curve of new development, and that is quite rapidly. I think one has to look at the history of expenditure on these buildings. I happen to have seen it from a very honest back seat, so to speak, since 1945. The first stage was as far back as 1932 when in the planning Act of that year the local authorities had permissive power—they were not expected to do this, but they were allowed—to preserve historic buildings and to use money to do so. That was not exercised very much before the war and during the war the War Damage Act and the 1944 Town Planning Act quite deliberately placed the emphasis on the Minister's making lists and required him to consult opinion—S.P.A.B., the Georgian Group and others—in so doing, so that we had listed buildings starting in 1945. And it is interesting that the European Architectural Heritage Year of 1975 is exactly 30 years later.
The third and important stage came with money. For the first time, in 1953 the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act provided a sum from the Treasury for the Minister, on the advice of the Historic Buildings Council, to use in the making of grants for the repair and restoration of historic buildings. There has been a slow increase in funds available for grants, and personally I think that slow increase has been absolutely correct. You cannot spend this money as quickly as you expect. Everyone is enthusiastic about restoring some very dilapidated and beautiful building, but when you get down to it it takes a long time to do. Therefore, it is no good taking that money and holding it in reserve. You ought to spread it over a great many schemes and gradually, as time goes on, you have to increase the capital fund. Secondly, public opinion has to be carried along with you, and 701 at the same rate, and owners have to be persuaded to help themselves. I think many conservationists entirely forget how much work is done, not only in financial terms but in the time and care given to their buildings, by owners and occupiers. Thirdly, the local authorities have to adjust their ideas from saving the rates to the idea that conservation is an enormous job, just as big a job really as new construction, and this is going to take a long time, I am sure, to sink in.
Then, as has been said, Sir Duncan Sandys produced his Bill on civic amenities and we had first the idea, in 1967, of designating conservation areas, and from that point preservation entered the planning field, so the curve now starts to rise more rapidly. Because, just like population and information and technology, and in fact monetary inflation generally, the curve rises very slowly for a long time and then suddenly rises extremely steeply, and it is the rate of the increase that I think matters most in our historic buildings fund rather than the actual monetary sums referred to. I think for the moment there is also enough to do the jobs, not all the jobs but most of them. But within five or 10 years Parliament is going to have to face the fact that these funds are going to be totally inadequate, when it is realised that Venice, for example, has a bill of over £200 million to spend, after years and years of discussion with UNESCO and the Italian Government; and our own Venice, Bath, is suddenly going to come to a point where it is going to require not tens of thousands but hundreds of thousands of pounds a year to do the job properly. I think all one can say about money is that all Governments have been generous since 1953—they have not been over-generous; they have been shrewd in the way they have handed out the money—but they must now be prepared, and public opinion must be prepared, for the curve suddenly to rise extremely fast.
In this connection I would make one point from our short experience in conservation grants and that is the difficulty of the local authorities' raising their other 50 per cent. The grant recommended on conservation areas is not always as high as 50 per cent. but it very likely may be so, and you will find the local authority looks askance at you, saying, "It's no good 702 your giving us all that money. We've got to find the other 50 per cent. out of the rates, and we have education, housing and so on to think about." The only thought I put forward on this is related to the second bigger point which I wish to make, and that is the question of priorities or selectivity in what we do.
I take only three places: Bath, at one end of the scale, Berwick-on-Tweed on the other—with no money and yet a perfect little walled town sitting on the border between Scotland and England—and Liverpool. Liverpool also has a Georgian town hall, designed by John Wood of Bath. When I asked for help in finding out what Liverpool looked like in the 18th century, I found that Liverpool was a beautiful Georgian city, exactly as Bath is now. The difference, of course, is that Liverpool was a port and Bath was a resort, and Bath therefore had a season and could afford, as it were, to keep up these buildings in what one might almost call holiday costume to a much greater extent than a commercial and mercantile city such as Liverpool. Liverpool now has only three buildings of the Georgian period left in it. On the other hand, under the Victorians Liverpool built some extraordinarily interesting modern buildings—modern for their time—like Oriel Chambers, for example, in Water Street.
The point is that we have to understand the degree of public expenditure which is appropriate to these different tasks. In the case of Berwick-on-Tweed it is absolutely a question of money, because if money can restore those stone houses, the town walls and all the other public buildings in Berwick-on-Tweed I think it will be possible to get people to go to Berwick to live there and to recreate in the 20th century a small Liverpool town that belongs to so many earlier periods. I believe that the Wigans, the Skelmersdales and the other new towns can look after themselves. I believe that they will make their own urban history; and therefore the problem of a town like Bath becomes more and more special and more and more isolated. As Lord Clark said about Glasgow, you have there a fine mediæval city which had some interesting Victorian additions, and at the present day it ought to be able to look after itself. But in the case of Bath you are running right counter to the local 703 government principle that there should be equality, or at least equity, in the finances as well as the proposals of local authorities and once one tackles this problem of distinction, which is so alien to the equalisation theories of local government, one is at the beginning of deciding that there must be special remedies for special cases.
I cannot offer a total solution to this problem. I am devastated, as Lord Clark has been devastated, and, as he said in that noble letter to The Times some months ago, shocked by the rate at which not the principal actors but the supporting cast are being removed from the stage in Bath. On the other hand, I feel that you cannot go to a town like Bath, which still has its future as a regional shopping centre, and say, "You should be nothing but a conservation area". They have their own lives to live. It seems to me that what has been most attractive about to-day's debate is the idea which I think Lord Raglan himself suggested, that there should be some kind of conservation corporation on the lines of the new town corporation that we thought of in 1946. I believe that there must be some special coming together, or else that a part of the local authority must be hived off to deal solely for a period of years—say, 10 or 15 years—with this problem of the conservation of Bath.
My Lords, I have only one other point which I should like to make, and that is a point on what happens below stage: what the Council for British Archæology call the erosion of history. This is very significant in the four cities which have been chosen by the Preservation Policy Group, and perhaps one of the most interesting at the moment is York, which is the one we are indebted to the noble Viscount, Lord Esher, for writing his Report about. The Leverhulme Trust has given a grant to the York Archæological Trust to help them with their excavations in this very historic city, and has at the same time asked them to report after three years on the problems that they found in dealing with this work in a city which is subject not only to a large amount of redevelopment but also to a large amount of conservation.
It will be very interesting to see whether we can resolve the at present very (I 704 think) tricky situation between scholars and archæologists who wish to have complete access to sites when they are uncovered by the demolition of buildings, or even before those buildings have been demolished and during the process of rebuilding, and those who realise, to their cost, that every week spent in delay once a contract is signed may mean perhaps £10,000 lost on the building that is to be erected. There are two extremes here that must be brought together. Years ago, the Marquess of Queensberry did this for the boxing ring, and I cannot help feeling that we should have some rules—a code of practice, if you like—not necessarily mandatory, of which the archæologists and historians, plus the owners of buildings, the developers and the people who apply for planning permission, should be made aware and made to use.
My Lords, I must really bring this rather long speech to an end. May I summarise by saying that I should like very much to see three things happen. I should like to see more money, not immediately but very soon, to raise more effort. I think we shall all have to do more work on the selection of what the central Government are asked to aid and what local authorities are now starting to assist by grants. I think we shall want more scholarship and skill, not less and, as the noble Duke, the Duke of Grafton, said, the training of these people and the finding of them is a major problem. I think we have to accept the inequalities of history because, after all, the more the cost accountants get at everything the more ordinary people go away and look for fantasy and for even the splendours and the opulence of Victorian and Georgian buildings. It is the fantasies of the past that people are so extremely keen to keep to-day, and all this is an aspect of selectivity.
Lastly, I think we want better stage management below stage as well as on the stage itself. I think we shall have to invent, as we invented the new town corporation, a new form of conservation corporation, whether it works with the local authority or even, in extreme cases, in place of it for a period and then hands the thing back. These, I take it, are some of the lessons of the Kennet Report which we have been debating.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ LORD FISKE
My Lords, I am sure we are all very grateful to Lord Raglan for giving us the opportunity to debate this Motion this afternoon, as well as to Lord Kennet for the excellent Report which is the subject of the debate. I also noted particularly during our discussions the enthusiasm of the noble Earl the Leader of the House, and I know that that enthusiasm will be matched by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, when he comes to reply to the debate. But this is an important subject, and I want to deal with it in a rather different way from that in which anyone has dealt with it so far, in the sense that I want to deal with working it in practice.
It so happens that I think it was 21 or 22 years ago now that, as chairman of the London County Council's town planning committee I set up an historic buildings sub-committee, with quite simple terms of reference. The first one was to consider and recommend to the Council on what buildings blue plaques should be erected commemorating the residence there of eminent men and women as long as they had been dead for at least 20 years. The second was to take over from the voluntary committee that had been doing it the work of writing the London Survey, a work which has been going on all this century, a distinguished work of scholarship which continues under Dr. Shepherd's skilful guidance, and which will go on for the rest of the century.
The third of the terms of reference was to advise the council on town planning applications for the alteration and development of historic buildings, and also to advise the council on its own historic buildings. This was a very worthwhile exercise and I think that it had some salutary results. The first thing that I would call to your Lordships' attention is that my wish that the Government insist or recommend (I do not know which) that local authorities have this sort of job done by a small sub-committee not cluttered up with other urgent business. In that sub-committee we could sit back and argue all the afternoon on the merits or demerits of buildings if we so wished. It meant that a lot of consideration was given and that a lot of careful study was done. In that work, incidentally, I was assisted by two Members of your Lord 706 ships' House, first the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, and then the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. We set a policy and we found out something that alarmed us. Some of those things I should like to put to your Lordships because they only came to notice when one really started to study the thing with intensity.
We looked first at our own historic buildings. I think that the first one we looked at was Marble Hill House. Your Lordships will now all know Marble Hill House as one of the more delightful of London's amenities. It was not in the area of the London County Council but it belonged to the London County Council. If they had not stepped in and bought it earlier in the century it would have become a building estate on the banks of the River Thames. Marble Hill House had been used as a seed and implement store by the Council's parks department during the war and it was being so used in 1952. This was something that obviously could immediately be put in hand; and it was.
We then moved to the next historical building, which was the house called Claremont on the border of Roehampton and Richmond Park. Claremont was a beautiful house of the Adam period and was literally in tatters. We had to spend £40,000 to restore it to order in the middle 1950s. Your Lordships will remember the middle 1950s. It was a lot of money to spend at that time and one had to spend it against the criticism. "What are you going to use it for?" Neither I nor anyone else could have said, looking at that building in ruins, that anybody would ever want to use it. This is another point which local authorities must be aware of: that you have to take your faith in your hands and know—literally know—that once you have restored the building somebody will come along who is prepared to use it. Before it is restored people cannot visualise how it is going to look. That house at Claremont is now the central building of a very successful teachers' training college.
The next two examples illustrate the point that in the case of large cities or conurbations particularly you must endeavour to have a geographical distribution. It would not be proper that all the historic buildings of London should be centred in Westminster or round the Tower or in any other one place. So 707 that the next "parcel of buildings"—for that is what they literally were—which came up for consideration were the Trinity Almshouses for Decayed Mariners in the Mile End Road. Here was a group of 24 almshouses round a quadrangle with a chapel at the end—again in ruins. It was of the period of Wren although I think not by Wren. We knew that they would not be suitable for old people because they were on two very awkward levels and should not have been built as almshouses in the first place; but we thought that they had an intrinsic part to lay in the life of Stepney; and so we restored them. While restoring them we were told that we could not do so within the council's ordinary housing subsidy and that it would have to be done at economic rents. That had a profound effect; but we still went on. In the end, when they were done, delightful as they were, they were immediately snapped up by all the many people who are engaged in social work in the East End of London. They have been greatly successful ever since.
The fourth that we tried was a large Tudor mansion in Hackney called Brooke House. It was the home of the Earl of Oxford, he whom some people think "wrote Shakespeare". This was really beyond anything we could possibly visualise. With great reluctance we agreed to its demolition but, mainly because of intensive study and because we were ready and armed to keep the bulldozers out (for the L.C.C. had a very efficient fleet of bulldozers and, in fact on two of the sites that I have mentioned they were literally ready to go in) we were able to prevail; and it was worth while.
The lessons that emerged from these examples are: first, you must have a specialist committee to do it; second, you must have geographical distribution; and third, you do not have to worry about whether anybody will be prepared to use it when you have done it. They are three important lessons that we learned in the very early days.
The work developed rapidly from that point. Obviously I cannot go into all the details, but there are now many very fine terraces and crescents in London which would never have remained but for the activities of that committee, energetically 708 supported by the council. One needs to be served on that sort of work by a team of highly qualified and highly conscientious officers. Here one runs into the question of choice to which the noble Lord, Lord Holford, referred. What is a historic building within the ambit of the council? I have no doubt that by the end of this century we shall be rushing around trying to preserve terraces of the semi-detached houses built between the two wars; because in my opinion preservation is not so much a matter of intrinsic merit but a matter of time—the time it was built and the time you happen to be living in—and fashion.
This is to some extent unfortunate, but for me it can be illustrated in one simple way. When I was a very young man the two most execrated buildings in London were the Albert Memorial and the St. Pancras Hotel. I dare say that many of your Lordships who are roughly my age will have had the same views. Now it would be absolute sacrilege to lay hands on either of those buildings in spite of the fact that in the case of the St. Pancras Hotel, so far as I know, nobody has ever found that its vast rooms could be used in a modern context.
But, my Lords, there we are. It is against this background of changing fashion, of the passage of time, that a conscientious historically-minded architect has to choose what he is to recommend for preservation and what he is to withhold. All the members of his committee will, of course, be amateurs. We all think we are planners and judges of architecture in a way that we would not dream of judging engineering or medicine or anything else. Somehow we refuse to admit that planning and architecture are highly professional matters and that we need guidance, and we shall have to see that in this connection we get it.
My Lords, in conclusion I would come very much to the same point as did the noble Lord, Lord Holford; that if we can have more money so much the better, but we do need a vast programme of education, particularly, I think, among local authorities. This should be easier in their new and larger context because, presumably, in their very much enlarged architects departments they will be able to have a small section of highly qualified antiquarians—if you like to use that word. I do not quite know what is the real word 709 to describe an architect concerned with the past—he is not quite an "archeologist". In this way it should be possible to speed the work and to preserve for posterity our great heritage in practically every town and village in the country; and that, I am sure, is what most of your Lordships who have spoken this afternoon would like to see.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ LORD ALDINGTON
My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Fiske, and in particular to have heard him, rightly, say what he had been able to contribute to the preservation of buildings in London. He will know that I am connected with the dockland area and I hope that I—or if not I, my successor—shall be able to pass on to posterity some of the wonderful buildings which are, as it were, being uncovered in that area. In that I shall seek to emulate the noble Lord's example later on. I should like to start my remarks by saying, "Thank you", as we all have, to the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, for giving us the chance to debate, and perhaps to take a bit further, the principles in the valuable Report of the Preservation Policy Group on Historic Towns and Villages which was published in 1970. I should like also to thank him for the distinguished way in which he opened the debate.
At the start of his speech the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, spoke of the importance of the will to use the powers available. I shall be referring to that point in what I have to say on one facet of this fascinating problem. May I also add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and his colleagues for the Report. He is not at present in the Chamber, I am sure for very good reasons, but may I congratulate my noble friend the Duke of Grafton on his powerful and most interesting maiden speech. I speak with more than usual humility and more than usual diffidence, even greater than the diffidence professed by my noble Leader. For I know that though I feel deeply about the conservation and preservation of our national heritage everywhere, I have not the knowledge, nor have I the experience, nor have I the eloquence—not even the elegance—of so many of your Lordships who have made this debate fascinating to someone who is a newcomer to discussions like this in your 710 Lordships' House. I fear that I may prove to be rather more abrasive than some of your Lordships on one point, if I get roused.
I have to admit also that I have a fair number of Philistine occupations at present, which might indicate to your Lordships that I should not have this interest in the preservation of the buildings and also the character of our historic cities, towns, villages and buildings. But the truth is that I am as glad to support a crusade for Bath or the other cities, and the villages, as I am to spend a few minutes to-day—and perhaps again on a later occasion—asking your Lordships to support the crusade for the preservation of the character of Britain's ancient capital city, Winchester, against the threat of destruction by a proposed new motorway. As a new crusader, perhaps I should at the outset not only acknowledge but also pay tribute to the work done over many years by amenity societies, the national and also the local societies, and by what are now called environmental correspondents in the national Press and local newspapers. With the help of many of your Lordships this has led to the revolution of opinion so rightly mentioned in paragraph 8 of Lord Kennet's Report; a revolution which I think has been continuing. I do not pay that tribute only in the hope of favours to come. Also, may I pay a sincere tribute to the achievements of the Department of the Environment and their predecessors.
This revolution of opinion has led, quite rightly, to the expenditure of relatively large amounts of public and private funds on the preservation and improvement of historic buildings. We have heard much about that to-day. Also it has led to the acceptance by the Government of the proposition that on occasions strict economics will have to take second place to the need to preserve the character of historic areas. It would be great folly to give out funds with one hand and destroy the purpose of that expenditure with the other; for a substantial part of the Government's activities must impinge on the historic areas, and no greater part than transport and road policy. In the case of traffic and roads the Government have sought to follow the recommendations in Lord Kennet's Report, particularly the recommendation in paragraph 70. In a circular 711 issued by the Department of the Environment in mid-1971—I think it was No. 56/71—there is a paragraph, No. 6, which I will quote:The Department further accepts that preserving the character of historic towns, or individual buildings in it, may sometimes mean incurring increased costs of road construction.So money costs, my Lords, are not to be used by the Department or its inspectors as an argument for destroying historic areas rather than putting a road or motorway somewhere else. I do not imagine that there is anyone who now thinks that it is not right to relieve historic areas from through traffic. There will be—and in certain places mentioned to-day there are—considerable arguments about how best to do this, but the principle is accepted.
Many good things have been done, not least in Winchester city, to relieve the centre of historic places from heavy traffic, and indeed from any traffic at all. But if we are to preserve the character of historic towns and cities the surrounding area also must be protected. My noble friend Lord Clark, in his powerful speech, spoke of the organic relationship between historic buildings and their surroundings. In the debate in your Lordships' House on January 31, my noble friend Lord Sandford referred to the character of our cities, particularly cities with historic buildings. He referred specifically to the growth of public opinion in favour of "conserving the familiar and cherished local scene". I am the more able to quote my noble friend's words because they are on the front page of a circular which is awaiting us in the Printed Paper Office to-day. The noble Lord could not have helped me more in the argument I am about to put.
Let me now tell your Lordships about the madness that it is proposed shall happen at Winchester which will vitally affect its character. The madness arises in this way. A very necessary by-pass was built to the immediate East of the city in the mid-1930s. That road has been improved since, but it is clearly not going to be sufficient to cater for the through traffic not only from London, but from the Midlands, to Southampton in the next decade—and it is in many ways not a really safe road. So the City Council want a better by-pass—and I 712 think they are right. At the same time, the motorway authorities wish to extend the existing M.3 part of the south-western motorway from London down to Southampton. I think that they made a mistake in directing the motorway from Southampton towards London. It should be directed at Birmingham, joining the London motorway somewhere further up, perhaps near Andover. But that is a matter for another debate.
The existing M.3 stops at present at Popham, which is approximately immediately North of Winchester, which is approximately immediately North of Southampton. It is not surprising if you start the road at Popham that the cheapest way of building it to Southampton is to take it due South and to pass as near as possible to Winchester on the East of it. Out of various alternatives, therefore, the route chosen and approved by the Minister is the cheapest route, and is to pass inside the existing by-pass within about half a mile of the Cathedral and the College, across the edge of the College playing fields and then across the Water Meadows to less than one-quarter of a mile from the old St. Cross buildings. As many of your Lordships know, this means coming between St. Catherine's Hill and the Cathedral and College and St. Cross, allowing the hill to act as a sounding board for the noise of the traffic, to throw it back on to the historic areas of the South part of the city.
The motorway is to be a six-lane motorway, with vehicles up to 80,000 a day, so we are told, moving at motorway speeds, and, of course, vehicles of hideous motorway sizes, familiar to me in the docks and to most of your Lordships too—very different from the idea of the mid-1930s by-pass. There will be the noise. There will be the unsightliness, particularly of signboards, referred to by one noble Lord earlier to-day. Something could be done to mitigate the nuisance from these, but not to remove the damage. Most important of all, there will be the wide stone barrier of road, in all about 100 yards or more wide, with its high banks. This, with the by-pass next to it, will together form a barrier of movement to people, whether they be the citizens of Winchester or visitors from all over the world, between the beautiful Water Meadows and the open country 713 beyond. For about 1,000 years now these Water Meadows have provided the lungs of Winchester City, and for many hundreds of years have been as much a part of this historic area as the Cathedral, the College and St. Cross on which they border—in Lord Sandford's words: "the familiar and the cherished local scene". Who can deny that the construction of a motorway along that route will for ever destroy the character of that historic part of Winchester City? It is not extravagant to say, as has been said, I think, by the headmaster and myself on another occasion, that the construction of this proposed extension of the motorway would be an act of desecration.
My Lords, in the Report, Lord Kennet and his colleagues were asked to consider measures adopted in other countries for preserving the character of historic towns. As your Lordships will know, motorways in Italy, motorways in France, and I believe it is true in Germany, too, do not pass through or even on the edge of historic areas of such a character.
Reference has been made to the European Architectural Heritage Year 1975. The objectives of that year are given as four: to awaken the interest of the European peoples in their common architectural heritage; to protect and enhance buildings and areas of architectural or historic interest; to conserve the character of old towns and villages; and to assure for ancient buildings a living role in contemporary society. Her Majesty's Government support the United Kingdom Council for this Year, and support it well. But they will in my opinion not be acting true to their money, or true to their personal participation, if they allow this new motorway to destroy the character of Winchester; and they will surely be running counter to each one of those four objectives that I have just read out. One can pause for a moment to ask how decisions like this come to be taken.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord if he is leaving the subject of the place where he went to school. Can he tell us how many buildings are likely to be demolished, and where he would route the motorway? I go about once a fortnight on that very inferior and dangerous 714 by-pass, and I wondered what his alternative would be.
§ LORD ALDINGTON
My Lords, I will tell the noble Lord, but I have a different way of doing it, if he will just listen. I realise of course that anybody who was at one of these famous public schools and refers to it in a debate like this is open to the slight jibe that he is really only concerned with protecting the playing fields of Eton and Winchester, or whatever. I cannot believe that the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition is really making that jibe, but I think he is making the point that this does not do direct damage to any historic building. I am arguing that it does damage to the character of the buildings in the City and to the surroundings. That is the argument. If I have not made it clear to the noble Lord, then I am about to do so. If I may come to the alternatives, I propose to deal with them quickly, because this is not a road debate or a transport debate.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, the noble Lord should not assume that I am hostile. I am trying to help him. He should not be so sensitive.
§ LORD ALDINGTON
My Lords, if I have proved sensitive, I warned your Lordships that I might. I am trying to speak quickly. If I can go back to my question of how decisions like this can be taken. I think I will best deal with the point that is worrying the noble Lord. The first answer, I think, is that it is had road planning. People have been writing letters to The Times about this relating to a number of roads. The fact is that road planning procedures appear to deal with problems of new big motorways piecemeal, and nobody ever looks at the conservation aspect of the whole route, which presumably is in somebody's pigeonhole and does not come out for many years. The second answer is that the plans which made this route necessary were thought up before Lord Kennet's Committee had reported. I think that is indubitable. It appears that the inspector who conducted the inquiry was not aware of the Department's policy and the circular implementing the recommendations in the Report was not issued until after the inquiry. The third answer is that the Government do not understand that the Water Meadows and their quietude form 715 an organic part of Winchester's historic buildings. This may be a matter of opinion, and it is something on which your Lordships may have different opinions from mine. But at least some of your Lordships will agree with me on that. The fourth answer is that in road planning, in my opinion, mistakes will continue to be made unless there is a very clear directive to road planners about conservation policies such as this.
My noble friend Lord Clark referred to the need for Central Government to have mandatory power. He gave us his reasons and, with humility, I agree with his thinking. But, of course, so far as motorways are concerned, the Government already have that mandatory power. The trouble is that they do not appear to have used it. They can say to the road planners: "Thou shalt not put a motorway so close to historic cities, towns and buildings as to destroy forever the character of such places whether by noise, or by disfigurement, or by sealing off people from their environment." They can say that and I wish they would. I said at the outset that I hoped we should take this excellent Report and the principles in it a little further. The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, helped us to do this in his speech to us on January 31 in the Quality of Life debate. I have already referred to his remarks. I stress again that in recent years there has been the change from worrying only about the preservation of buildings to worrying about the preservation of the character of the cities or the villages or the towns, and of the environment of those buildings.
Secondly, I must refer to the motorway aspect. I cannot believe that Lord Kennet's Committee had in mind that anyone would be so crazy as to threaten historic cities and towns with motorways connecting other great urban centres. I hope now that others, as well as myself, will be reminding the Government that there is a difference, not only of size, between a motorway and an ordinary road—a difference that arises because of the number of vehicles, the size of them, the speed of them, and the size of the road itself. One might suggest to your Lordships that there should be a special study of motorways in relation to historic cities, towns and villages.
716 I believe that Cambridge is under the same or similar threat to that to Winchester from a motorway which really ought not to be anywhere near it, any more than the M.3 ought to be anywhere near Winchester. It may be that York and other cities are likewise threatened. Motorways are designed for long-distance journeys and not for bypassing cities. But that, as I have indicated to my noble friend Lord Sandford, is another story for another debate, as is the case for alternate routes. There are alternate routes: one costs £1 million more, and only £1 million more, than the preferred route. I am concerned here simply to make the case that the highest priority should be given to the preservation of the character of Winchester city, particularly the character of the cathedral, the college, St. Cross and the areas between them. My submission is that the only way to secure this highest priority is for Ministers to direct that a motorway shall not be built so close as to destroy the character of that area. It is never too late for them to do that.
Looking back on other controversies that have raged around roads and historic buildings, I come to think most easily of the case of the proposed Christchurch Meadows road at Oxford. I have always understood that that argument was not really settled until someone at or near the very top said that a new road shall not go there. Whether or not that is true, it is that kind of firm decisive decision that is required if we are to implement to the full the purpose of the Report of Lord Kennet's group. Someone must say, "A motorway shall not go between St. Catherine's Hill and Winchester city".
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ THE LORD BISHOP OF ROCHESTER
My Lords, any Member of your Lordships' House who speaks from these particular Benches has the privilege of taking as part of his own name and signature for so long as he holds office the name of a historic city. I happen to be the 104th person to bear the name of the See city of Rochester. Although the area of the Bishop's jurisdiction has varied enormously down the centuries (a hundred years ago he had the whole of Essex and Hertfordshire in his care) the name of the See has remained unaltered for 13½ centuries.
717 This prompts me to say that at a time when changes in local government are affecting not only boundaries and councils but also local names, I believe it to be important that our concern for our historic cities and towns should include concern for the preservation of historic names. A city such as my own See city, which has had a mayor by royal charter for over 500 years, is sad to see its name erased from the list of local authorities, as is the great naval port of Chatham. Names evoke local pride and local loyalty. As we have seen in the Greater London area, it is possible for a district that is no longer a unit of government, by keeping its name and many of the associations that go with it, to preserve something of that sense of belonging which is one of the essential ingredients of an integrated local community.
A good many references have already been made to that part of Lord Kennet's Report which deals with traffic. I quote the firm statement in the Report thatTraffic is one of the greatest threats to the historic environment.I do not think that only Winchester among the cathedral cities would echo that sentiment. One of the paradoxes of our time is that as each year goes by more and more people make pilgrimage to our cathedral cities. Thirty years ago the redoubtable editor of Crock ford's (the Established Church's own particular species of Gadfly) wrote,The ancient cathedrals are objects of more widespread interest than at any previous period. It is sometimes said that the present day is the cathedral age.Since he wrote those words the two 20th century cathedrals at Coventry and Guildford have been built, and the stream of English pilgrims to our great churches has been joined by an ever-increasing number of visitors from all parts of the world, all of them attracted by that part of our English heritage of which the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, spoke with such feeling.
This fact, call it tourism if you like, underlines the importance of really bold town schemes that will preserve on the one hand pedestrian precincts and fine, open views of our great buildings, and on the other hand conveniently placed and well designed parking places within easy access of the historic buildings and 718 shopping centres. In Rochester the present council intends in due course to introduce a town scheme, with all the help from local and central funds, that that will bring to the owners of buildings of historic or architectural interest. But our present City Fathers are rightly of the opinion that they cannot ask property owners to be party to a town scheme until something is done about the present traffic conditions. When urgently needed traffic improvements have been carried out, the introduction of a town scheme will be a more feasible proposition.
I venture to quote this example from within my own limited experience to emphasise the importance of what is said in paragraph 70 of the Preservation Policy Group's Report about traffic management in historic areas being an integral part of conservation. In the same paragraph there is a reference to the need for the relief of historic areas from through traffic to be recognised clearly as an important factor in the assessment of alternative routes, and what is called inter-urban highways, something which the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, has spoken about so powerfully. I venture to hope that the Department of the Environment, with its overall responsibility for planning, conservation and transport, will support local councils whenever possible in their endeavours to prevent heavy commercial vehicles from using the high streets of cathedral cities as through routes.
The third matter upon which I should like to speak is that of the control over buildings listed as of architectural or historic merit. The Preservation Policy Group tell us in paragraph 3 of their Report that they were closely concerned with the drafting of the 1968 Act under which listed building consent is required before any alteration of significance can be made, or demolition put in hand. Over 50 years earlier, in a debate in this House, the attention of the Church of England was drawn to the need for closer control over alterations affecting the character of parish churches. By 1923 the Church had evolved a system in every diocese to restrain unwise alterations to parish churches. The service rendered for over half a century by diocesan advisory committees has been a notable one, even if at times they have not been the most appreciated body by some hard 719 pressed clergy or struggling parochial treasurers.
Safeguarding buildings from demolition is a much more difficult task than that of unwise alterations. The Report admits as much when it reveals that in 1966 listed buildings were disappearing at the rate of 400 a year. Churches are exposed to the same pressures as are the owners of historic houses. In the Church of England the record, at least since the last War, has not been too bad. I hope it has been rather better, perhaps, than the noble Viscount, Lord Esher, seemed to suggest. It is now almost impossible for a parish church to be demolished without reference, first to a body competent to assess its architectural and historic merits, and then, without the approval of another outside body able to assess the pastoral considerations as well. In almost all cases in which demolition is proposed the Advisory Board for Redundant Churches, of which the noble Lord, Lord Fletcher, is chairman and the noble Viscount, Lord Esher, is a member, must consider the merit of the building. The proposals must be advertised, and objections may be lodged in much the same way as for secular buildings under the 1968 Act. The final decision does not rest locally but with the Board of Governors of the Church Commissioners, a body of clergy and laity, most of them elected.
I turn now to that section of the Report entitled "New Uses for Old Buildings", for this is a key to the conservation of buildings for which the former use is no more. As the Report states, the great majority of listed buildings are still capable of beneficial use in the present day, but to find an appropriate use sometimes requires considerable effort. In the Church of England we take this problem very seriously. Each diocese now has a committee whose special responsibility it is to try to find, within a statutory period, a new use for every church that is declared redundant. The use that is proposed, and any consequential structural alterations that are proposed, require the approval of Lord Fletcher's Advisory Board. Many such uses have been found already, including an Arts centre, a concert hall, a regimental museum and an agricultural store. 720 There are sometimes people who are keen to convert a church to residential use, and some very skilful adaptations of churches have been made without detriment to their historic character. The Advisory Board, with the help of the Goldsmiths Company, has recently appointed a research fellow, a qualified architect, to examine ideas both here and on the Continent for the conversion of redundant churches. I would also mention the significant recommendation of the Historic Buildings Council, that redundant churches that have been successfully adapted to an alternative use should qualify for its grants on the same basis as do secular historic buildings.
This leads me, finally, to say something about State aid for churches. It is in a way something of a paradox that there should already be State aid for churches that have been declared redundant before there is State aid for churches still in use. Of course I realise that some may hold that aid for churches in use would be a subsidy to this or that particular denomination, helping to keep it in being. But perhaps one may be allowed to ask how this differs from what happens with grants to owners of historic houses at the present time. These grants must sometimes help to keep in being those who would otherwise be driven to the wall on account of economic circumstances. The case for aid is surely the same for both—that it is the nation's concern to conserve its historic treasures. These are best preserved—as Lord Kennet's Report says in paragraph 67—by being continued in use.
The distinction in treatment between historic houses and historic churches did not come about in 1913, for dwelling-houses equally with ecclesiastical buildings were excluded from the Ancient Monuments legislation of that year. An Englishman's home was then his castle. Parliament in 1913 knew well that he would not tolerate interference, whether by the Commissioner of Works or by the local authority. Yet it has been asserted that in 1913 it was the Church that was somehow uniquely stand-offish. The distinction in treatment between houses and churches first arose, I believe, through administrative decisions taken at the time of the 1953 Act, when State aid was brought to historic houses, 15 years before they were subject to any really effective control. State aid was then not 721 extended to churches in use, although I think there is nothing hi the Act to exclude them.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, I wonder whether the right reverend Prelate would permit me to introduce a distinction. Is it not the case that churches were first distinguished from dwellinghouses under planning law in 1947, when for the first time the system was set up whereby listed houses might not be demolished without one informed the State and waited for objections, but churches were provisionally exempted from that control?
§ THE LORD BISHOP OF ROCHESTER
My Lords, I would not presume to disagree with the noble Lord on a technical matter of that kind. The point I was really making was that it does not go back to 1913.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, would the right reverend Prelate allow me to intervene? In the most meaningful sense it goes back to 1913, because the 1913 Act drew up a list of buildings, which are the most important buildings in the country, not including any dwellinghouses—castles, ruins, palaces, what-have-you—and subjected them to control by the State. But the churches, the best of which were not only as good as those but even better, were exempted from State control on—and I think Parliament understood it—the request of Archbishop Davidson in 1913.
§ THE LORD BISHOP OF ROCHESTER
My Lords, with respect I suggest that there is an area of debate here which is one that no doubt we shall be continuing later with Her Majesty's Government in the Working Party to which I shall refer in a moment.
I have spoken of the Church's domestic system of control that now, after fifty years of continuous care and effort, provides much the same safeguards as for listed secular buildings. Regular inspection by competent architects every five years ensures that every parish knows what must be done to keep its parish church in good repair. I never cease to marvel at the prodigious efforts made by comparatively small communities to raise the money required. Sometimes the bills are crippling and are a positive setback to the spiritual and pastoral work of a parish. Now, in addition, they must pay V.A.T. on all professional fees and 722 repair bills. This problem is particularly difficult in remote country areas and in those areas where the residential population has moved away. It is help for churches in historic towns and villages of this sort that the Working Party set up by the General Synod of the Church of England had particularly in mind when it approached the Secretary of State for the Environment about the possibility of State aid for churches in use; an approach made with greater confidence because of the helpful reception to an earlier approach, to which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has already referred in this debate. It falls to me to be Chairman of that Working Party and I am immensely grateful to my reverend friend, the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, for the helpful way in which he has received our initial approach. If I may be allowed to say so, I am also most grateful for and immensely encouraged by the warm and generous words of the noble Earl the Leader of the House this afternoon.
The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, has. not unnaturally, asked us for facts and figures from at least two representative areas both of the Church's needs for the upkeep of its historic churches and of its resources. We hope that we shall very shortly be in a position to supply him with the detailed information for which he has asked. We shall be ready as well to answer any questions that he may have about the Church's domestic system of control. As I have indicated already. we shall be ready to discuss the question of the exemption clause if he asks us to do so, which he has not yet done; and I should perhaps say also that we shall be ready to speak not only for the Church of England but for Churches of all traditions. My Lords, I very much hope that before the start of the European Architectural Heritage Year in 1975, which will be some eight centuries after the building of so many of our finest churches, the Government will be ready to announce that in future listed parish churches will be eligible for Government grants on a similar basis to that which applies to-day to secular buildings of outstanding historic or architectural importance in our historic towns and villages.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ BARONESS STOCKS
My Lords, I should like to put in a word for our 723 villages which have not received sufficient attention in the course of this debate. Our villages are a feature of Great Britain which I believe should be perpetuated and not entirely lost. When is a village a village? My answer is: when the people who live in it think of themselves as living in a village. In some cases our villages have been at risk. In the commuter areas South of London they are at risk from over-settlement by opulent commuters who live in them and who destroy the sense of being in a village. They are at risk also from being absorbed in great conurbations and they may or may not continue to regard themselves as villages. The interesting thing is that they may, even under those conditions.
In Manchester there is a big road going to the South carrying very heavy, fast traffic. It goes through Fallowfield, Withington and Didsbury. In Didsbury, which used to be a village, there are still some village shops in the main street in spite of the settlement of Boots and two supermarkets. Just off that main road here are little village streets—there were two years ago, though I do not know whether they are still there—with cottages, cottage gardens and fences. The fact remains that if you live in Didsbury you go shopping in the village and Didsbury is still, in that sense, a village.
There are villages of that sort in London. Years ago I was a professional social worker in London and became aware that when one went uphill into Woolwich from the river bank one was in a village. I do not know whether that is so now. It is true still that if you live in Blackheath you go shopping in the village and there are still village shops. There are not many villages left in London but there are vestigial remains of villages in the form of a few little village streets. In Kensington I can remember two: one was a little row of cottages with gardens behind what is now Woolworth's—I think it was called Woolmer Place, but I forget. It is now no longer there, naturally. There was another called Prince's Place, with two rows of houses with cottage gardens and fences, which is now in the process of demolition. For the most part one has to consider Kensington (with which I am very concerned because I live in it and always have) as not only a village area but a residential area. Kensington is still 724 a residential area though it has suffered considerably from office building, hotel building and whatnot, but its Borough Council is determined—rather boldly for a Conservative council—to retain it as a residential area. Hampstead is a residential area; part of Paddington is a residential area; Highgate is a residential area and there is a considerable residential area north of Regent's Park. There are other residential areas where people want to live and bring up families and, as they do in Kensington, exercise dogs every evening—to the great distress of those who walk upon its pavements. They are still residential areas.
Residential areas are at risk everywhere—in London certainly. For instance, we used to have a residential area in Bloomsbury, which is now going down as a residential area owing to the banausic spread of higher education and now a National Library. Its squares no longer house that sort of resident. The refugees from the squares of Bloomsbury have now moved uphill to Islington which has equally good squares and much better street planning, and a residential area is now growing up in Islington. They can survive. The City, of course, 200 years ago ceased to be a residential area. Mayfair has long since ceased to be a residential area.
What are we to do to preserve not only our villages, but also our residential areas in London, where people who love London and want to live in London, live to bring up their families and exercise their dogs and play in its parks? What is going to happen to these residential areas? Reading a report of the first meeting of the United Kingdom Council at Lancaster House in December last year, of the very powerful group of speakers under the chairmanship of the Duke of Edinburgh who gathered to talk about Our European Agricultural Heritage in the Year 1975, one finds one very important phrase uttered by Mr. Channon, the Minister for Housing and Construction. He said that the campaign was starting at a most opportune moment; formidable pressures of change were threatening our towns and villages. How true!
Now, what are these formidable pressures? I think we all know. I suggest they can be summed up under the title: property developers, marshalled under 725 the banner of the great god Mammon, out for money. It is a solemn thought that if you walk through the central parts of London, W.C., S.W., and to some extent N.W., looking as you go at your surroundings, there is not a building, not a terrace, not a square, with the exception of certain quite recently built office blocks and hotels, that could not be developed profitably if the property developers could get hold of it, and of course in many cases they can and do.
What are the restraints? The noble Lord, Lord Clark, suggested that the great restraint was more power to the central Government. I wish I could share his faith in Governments! But Governments themselves are not always unsusceptible to financial pressures. Our own Government have proved susceptible to financial pressures from the gambling industry, from the Carlisle brewers, from the commercial broadcasting lobby, although not, I think, from the trade unions, which they appear to be resisting with some obstinacy in connection with the anti-inflation Act. The Party to which I belong has not been able to resist that particular pressure and does not appear to have the intention of doing so. I mention that because this is a non-Party debate and I like my insults to be fairly divided.
There it is. What faith can we put in Government controls? What faith can we put in controls exercised by local planning authorities and housing authorities? Well, that remains to be seen. It is perfectly true that the various Departments concerned with the environment and with historic buildings and the Royal Parks can safeguard certain buildings and certain areas. One cannot imagine St. James's Park, for instance, being handed over to a property developer to develop as office blocks near Westminster, which would be extremely profitable. It could happen; it might, but I do not think it will. One cannot fear that certain very historic buildings like the Houses of Parliament or St. Paul's Cathedral will suffer the fate of property development. But what can happen and does happen, what has happened to St. Paul's Cathedral, is that its whole environment has been overwhelmed by the proximity of office blocks and tower blocks which obscure its skyline, which obscure its approach from the West, and which obscure the whole sky 726 line of London which was once made beautiful by the towers of Sir Christopher Wren and is now made hideous by the towers of the office blocks. That sort of control can be exercised.
When it comes to the local authorities, some of our local authorities are very susceptible, too, to financial pressures. I would not put it past the Westminster City Council to be susceptible.
§ BARONESS STOCKS
My own borough of Kensington, I will say, has done rather well for a Conservative borough. It is standing out against certain forms of property development. But already the whole of the South side of Kensington High Street has gone; it is in the hands of the property developers and is being developed. But the borough is standing out against hotel development and to some extent against more office blocks. The trouble about local authorities is that they are wholly lacking in imagination. They mean well. They would like, if they could, to use their planning and housing powers to provide more homes for more people, but they have no imagination. They should learn the facts of life. They have no idea of the frightful importance of the terraced houses, with backyards—scruffy little backyards, but proprietary backyards. They do not realise what goes on in those backyards; that there are sheds where father can practise carpentry or breed racing pigeons; places where the children can keep rabbits and dogs and cats; places where a young man can take motor bicycles, turn them upside down and take them to pieces and put them together again; places where mother, doing her chores in the kitchen, can look out and keep an eye on the baby in the perambulator and the washing on the line, and take in the washing when it rains. Those things are disappearing from our view, and they are disappearing at the hands of the local authorities.
If you drive round South London, especially in the neighbourhood of the Elephant and Castle, you will pass row after row of little terraced houses either boarded up for demolition or partly demolished. So it goes on. If only the local authorities could learn the facts of life, and if only the central authorities could stand up to financial pressures, things might be saved.
727 What hope is there? The only hope I see is in the voluntary amenity societies. We have killed the old spirit of local government. But the amenity societies are proliferating. They are a marvellous feature of the past decade. They are increasing month by month, week by week, day by day—voluntary associations of citizens organised for the protection of their own environment, by the neighbourhood, by the block of flats, by the square, and even by the street. Every day there are more of them; and more power to them, because I think they are the grass roots of democracy, and in their power to put pressure on Governments, Ministries and local authorities, lies our hope of salvation for our environment.
May I, in conclusion, say one word about nomenclature, a matter raised by my noble friend Lord Raglan. He objected to certain forms of nomenclature which he regretted, and I object to one form of nomenclature which I regret. I wish to goodness we could talk less about preservation and more about protection. I am sad that the Green Paper of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government is entitled Preservation Policy Group. I wish it were entitled Protection Policy Group. We protect live things, such as, for instance, badgers. We preserve dead things, such as pickled onions in sealed jam pots. Our history, our villages, our neighbourhood are all live things. We must work to protect the life that is in them and other life that may come to birth beside them. We must do that, and if we go on talking about nothing but preservation this great city of London and the other great cities of York, Chester, Bath and Chichester will be nothing more than museums for tourists, package tourists equipped with expensive cameras and looking only for souvenirs.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, would the noble Baroness not agree that "protection" suggests something else that you might do with pickles and jams, namely, levy a tariff on them? We were not writing about a tariff policy or the Common Market. The word "protection" I think is usually associated in the mind of the public with import duties and tariffs.
§ BARONESS STOCKS
My Lords, it is a very large question because there is a 728 lot to be said I think for the protection of dairy products.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, is to be congratulated on opening the debate, to which we have had some very distinguished contributions. My only quarrel with the admirable speech of the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, is that I disagree with his reference to modern architects and I agree completely with the comments made on that part of his speech by the noble Viscount, Lord Esher. I do not think there is any more devoted admirer of 18th century architecture than myself. I was an original member of the Georgian Group, and may I say how delighted I am that they are apparently going to get a grant. I nevertheless love 20th century architecture. I mention that because I think it was the only point on which I differed from the noble Lord, Lord Raglan.
This debate has brought contributions from the noble Viscount, Lord Esher, the noble Duke, the Duke of Grafton, the noble Lord, Lord Holford, and the noble Lord, Lord Clark. All four of those noble Lords have world reputations on the subject on which they were addressing your Lordships' House, and I think that alone should be sufficient reward for the splendid effort of the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, in initiating this debate. May I join my congratulations with those of many others on the maiden speech of my noble friend the Duke of Grafton. I have known him so long as the leader of various amenity societies. I think I have been most of my life a member of every amenity society, national and local, that has been mentioned in this debate, with one exception which I shall not mention because that might lead me into difficulties.
My Lords, I do not think there is any subject to which I have devoted a greater part of my life than the question of the preservation of the beauties of town and country. In answer to the noble Baroness who preceded me, I think there is something to be said for the word "preservation" and something for the word "protection", and something also for the word "conservation"; but I do not think it really matters which we use because we all know what is meant. 729 My Lords, I have nothing to add to the distinguished contributions of the noble Lords I have mentioned. Perhaps the most useful contribution I can make is based on my experience as a junior Minister in what was then the Ministry of Town and Country Planning. There are three speakers in this debate who have occupied that position: my noble friend Lord Sandford, who is to wind up, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, whose excellent Report is the foundation of this debate, and myself. Owing to my great age I was in fact the first Minister to be appointed who was to confine his attention entirely to the question of town and country planning, and it is over thirty years since in another place I wound up the debate for the Government on a very important planning Bill, the Town and Country Planning (Interim Development) Act 1943, which was followed by the Town and Country Planning Act of 1944.
The provisions in those Acts have long been consolidated in subsequent Acts, but there are three provisions which those old Acts contained for the first time of which I venture to remind this House. The first is Section 1 of the 1943 Act, which made planning universal in England and Wales. Up till that moment only certain areas had been planned at all. Secondly, Section 6 of that Act provided for the calling in of applications by the Minister. This was wholly new and very important, and on this I will say something further. Thirdly, there was what I have every reason to remember because I was, I suppose, part author—that was Section 42 of the 1944 Act which provided for the first time for the listing of buildings. The happiest recollection of those times is that my chief professional adviser was the noble Lord, Lord Holford. I learned from him more than I have ever learned from anybody else on this particular subject, and it was the start of a long friendship.
The section that I am going to bring to the special attention of your Lordships is that provision of the 1943 Act which provided for the calling in of applications by the Minister. That was extremely important for this reason: that a fatal defect of the planning law up till that date—even in the areas which had made the necessary resolutions that they should be town planned—was that if an application for development was refused 730 by the local planning authority an appeal lay to the Minister, but, if the local planning authority (at that time something much smaller than the county council) granted the planning application, then nobody had any power to intervene at all. However disastrous the development might be to the countryside or to the dignity and architectural decency of an excellent street, the outrage could take place; nobody had any power to interfere with the grant by a planning authority of permission to develop.
We had not long been studying that subject before we knew that that defect had to be remedied. I do not think I am disclosing any secret if I say that various remedies were considered. I long considered whether it would be possible to give, by Statute, power to various bodies themselves to appeal against a grant of planning permission, but there were great difficulties about that and eventually we came to the conclusion that the right way of dealing with the matter was to enable the Minister to call in the application. Those who have followed the history of town and country planning in the intervening years will know how often that power has been exercised, to the immense benefit of the public. I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, in the importance he attached to that power in the speech which he made this afternoon. The principal reason why I am intervening in this debate is that I want to emphasise that the power of the Minister to call in the application is absolutely vital if we are to preserve any of the beauties of town and country in Great Britain.
I have seen various suggestions—I have not brought them with me, so I cannot quote them—that it may be the wish of Her Majesty's Government, or of the present Secretary of State for the Environment, not to exercise his powers of calling in, save perhaps in the rarest cases, and to rely entirely on the local authorities. As regards the Government's choice of the local authorities, I would agree with the comment of my noble friend the Duke of Grafton, and I am sorry that the higher level of local authorities under the Government's scheme of local government reform will not have any power on this question of the preservation of historic buildings. I 731 think they might at least have concurrent powers with the smaller divisional authorities. But even if the smaller local authorities fulfil all the hopes of Her Majesty's Government, it will still be necessary that the Government themselves, in the shape of the Minister, shall have power to call in an application to develop in order that there shall be some national control of the position. I cannot stress that too emphatically.
I have spent a long life devoting myself largely to the questions which we have been discussing this afternoon, and I believe that if ever the idea got abroad that the Government themselves would hesitate to intervene to stop a bad development, then all our hopes would be frustrated. I am myself appalled at the fact that we are not saving Bath completely and absolutely. I remember, thirty or forty years ago, making speeches in the country long before I entered Parliament, to say that there were two things of great value, the town and the country, and I always thought that we should preserve both or we should preserve neither. So long as the town was regarded as a place from which to flee, we should not save the country. I said how absurd it would have appeared to the 18th century builders of Bath to suggest that a town was a place from which to flee—the town which has given us the very name of urbanity. That is the first point I want to make and it is my main ground for speaking: that in no circumstances must the Government be tempted, whatever their hope of the local authorities which they are setting up, to whittle down the power and, in proper cases, the duty of the Secretary of State for the Environment to call in the application to develop.
The other matter which I should like to mention is traffic. On traffic, so many good speeches have been made and so much good sense has been said in some of the documents that we have considered that I shall add only one point, which concerns something between a historic town and the sort of villages for which the noble Baroness, Lady Stocks, made such an admirable plea. I am thinking of some of those county towns—I had not meant to mention any, but since Wallingford has been mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Esher, I shall mention it, 732 too. Wallingford has and, still more, had a most beautiful market place. If it only had the traffic that it had for most of the centuries of its life, it would have remained wholly delightful. Then some ass, who had the power to carry his asinine notion into fruition, broadened one of the entrances into the market place—incidentally, doing harm to the architecture of the market place as a whole—to enable entry to be facilitated to traffic at that particular place. During the period of construction, when the market place was empty, it had never looked more beautiful. Subsequently, when the widening had taken place, the effect in easing traffic was infinitesimal and temporary. There is now, on many occasions, a solid block of stationary traffic on the whole of one side of the square.
The plea that I shall make is this. Very often there are the alternatives of building a well considered by-pass, or tearing the guts out of the place. In case after case the decision in England has been to do both. You first tear the guts out of the place, in the vain hope that that will avoid the necessity of the by-pass. When you find that it will not, you decide to build the by-pass; but by that time you have destroyed the place. It is not really a good idea, when you have the choice of two alternatives either of which may do some damage, to choose both. My plea to the Government is that that insanity, at least, shall be in future avoided.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, we really are having a very good debate. I am fascinated by the valuable historical survey of the noble Lord who has just resumed his seat. He gave us, out of his long experience both as a Minister and as a student of these matters, some very valuable advice. Speeches have sparkled, and I was quite tickled by Lady Stocks's division of scolding between the one Party and the other of which, very properly, the Government Benches got about three-quarters—just about the right sort of division. One could go on discussing speech after speech.
The only other speech which I will refer to for the moment is that of the noble Lord, Lord Fiske, who gave us a most interesting account of his experiences on the old London County Council, particularly in connection with the committee which he rather thought had 733 arrogated to itself architectural knowledge which if it had been dealing with medicine or traffic or something of that kind it would not have wanted to do. He will not get the chance of doing this again, no doubt, but if he did I should like to encourage him by saying that architecture is completely different from all these things. Architecture is in many ways the most important of all the Arts because it is what the ordinary man and woman in the street sees all the time. More people see bad architecture than any other kind of art, and see it for longer. Surely that means that it is very important indeed that people like Lord Fiske, who have sensibility about these things, should be passing upon these schemes and not the architects, who have been pretty well scolded this afternoon not only by my noble friend who introduced this Motion but even by fellow architects. It is very difficult for anybody who has not been trained to assess an architectural drawing on the drawing board. You can do it much better from models. That is why there should always be models and people should have an opportunity of seeing them.
Of course, we all feel it was high time we had this debate and we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, for giving us the opportunity of having it. All who heard him are, I am sure, grateful for the speech itself, which was a very polished performance. I should also like to join in the tributes paid to the noble Duke, the Duke of Grafton, with whom I worked for many years on one of the numerous important national organisations which he has served and helped over so many years, the National Trust. It is particularly gratifying to me to see him sitting here, even though on the opposite side of the House, because I am quite sure his great knowledge of these matters will be of the greatest help to your Lordships as time goes on.
This debate has obviously given rise to a good deal of interest outside your Lordships' House. I have never had so many communications from interested societies and indeed if I were to try and put all the valuable informative material which I have found in them into a speech I would be trespassing too long on your Lordships' time, but I should like to thank those societies for sending me so much material, which is interesting to me 734 not only for the purposes of this debate but also for the part I shall endeavour to play in the amenities movement as a whole. Among the material was a Government pamphlet for which I have to thank the noble Earl the Leader of the House, because in the letter which covered it it is stated that Lord Jellicoe had asked the Department of the Environment to send me this very interesting publication.
The only part of it I did not like was the Prime Minister's introduction, in which he seemed to be taking the credit for cleaning Whitehall and other important buildings in London. That has been going on for a long time and we have been enjoying it as we walked about London. It is very valuable indeed that we should have a series of pictures of this kind because it brings them all together. Of course the buildings are all spick and span at the moment. You cannot do this sort of work without, as it were, overdoing it. The beauty of London's buildings depends to a large extent on the great use of Portland stone, that very white building material, and the soot which Victorian London put on to that stone, always on the easterly side. As the wet west winds swept it off on the one side the smoke accumulated on the other and one got those delightful constrasts pointed out by many writers on the æsthetics of London's buildings. It will be some time before we get this again. When this was first pointed out, I believe about 1900 when this cleaning up began, many of these buildings had become so dirty all round that a great deal of their æsthetic value was being lost. I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, for writing to ask if there were any questions we should like him to answer. He makes a practice of this and it is very valuable. Very few Ministers do it, and I would say that I appreciate it. as I think many other of your Lordships do.
My main interest is to discover how far the report of Lord Kennet's Preservation Policy Group has been implemented. It is not at all easy to tell. Some of the societies with which I am connected think it has been reasonably well implemented; others that the Government have been dragging their feet. The noble Earl the Leader of the House gave a rather optimistic report of the 735 situation and I found it encouraging. A great deal of the debate has naturally centred around the reports on the four towns which have figured largely in the report. I should like to know how far the work which has been done on the four towns in the interval (to some extent this came out in the valuable speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Esher) provides guidelines for future conduct; because it has been pointed out in Lord Kennet's report, and in many other places, that the four towns are just four out of a large number; they are perhaps not even necessarily the four best although they rank very high indeed. But how far is what has been discovered as a result of the work in the four towns been made available in the many other towns in which the same sort of problems arise and much the same sort of protection or preservation work ought to be done? I should be grateful if the Minister could tell us in rather more detail the situation on this particular point.
I do not want to say anything more about the large towns. The architecture in the large towns is very much in the European tradition, and we are to have the 1975 European Architectural Year, which I was very glad to hear about, as I am sure all your Lordships were. It is a natural follow on, and a very proper one, to the Countryside in 1970 movement. It does not seem to have had quite as good a build-up, but it is gratifying to know that the Duke of Edinburgh has again taken the lead. His support in connection with the Countryside in 1970 movement was of the very greatest value, and I am sure that, here again, he will make his presence felt throughout the organisation. This he has the astonishing ability to do in a way that I think hardly anybody else in the country has.
I am also glad, as I am sure all your Lordships are, to know that Mr. Duncan Sandys is in effect the right-hand man on this occasion. With the possible exception of Lord Silkin, I regard Mr. Duncan Sandys as the best Minister of Housing and Local Government we have had since the war, and his work in connection with the Civic Trust (which he founded, I think) has been of the greatest value. Looking at the work of that Trust, the way in which they have stimulated face-lifting projects in many good old towns 736 of medium size up and down the country has really been very encouraging indeed. My own native town of Kendal was stimulated in this way, and I had the very great pleasure of opening the old Market Square in this lovely old town some twelve or so years ago. It really completely brightened up the whole place, and was a great success. That has been going on all over the country, and we are indebted to Mr. Sandys and the Civic Trust.
One cannot help wondering how much real help the Government are giving to the 1975 Architectural Year. I appreciated very much the jibe—it was a very proper jibe—as to what the title of the Secretary of State for the Environment would be when he came to your Lordships' House. But in between his present position and his coming here I would recommend him to read a famous old English book in which there is a character called Mr. Facing-Both-Ways. He might consider a little the character of Mr. Facing-Both-Ways, and then wonder how he can reconcile his taking a prominent position in connection with the European 1975 Architectural Year and what he has been doing at Winchester, as Lord Kennet suggested, and what he has been doing in the Lake District, which from many points of view is a great deal worse. This is the sort of thing, of course, which makes people fed up with politics and politicians. They just do not put into practice so many of the precepts which they preach from public platforms.
But, as I was saying, I am not so much concerned with these larger towns as with the villages which the noble Baroness, Lady Stocks, referred to, and to which I am very glad the European movement attach importance in the same way, as also does the noble Lord, Lord Raglan. The English village is really quite unique. Parts of New England were settled from England at a time, very largely, when the English village was assuming its present really delightful character, and there is nothing like it anywhere else so far as I know. European villages are often, in their own way, just as attractive, with just as much character, but they are attractive in a different way and have a character of a different kind. It is not at all clear how far the quality of the English village is going to be maintained under the schemes which are at present in force in this country, and if we lose our 737 English villages we shall have lost what is in some ways just as valuable as our English towns and in other ways perhaps even more valuable.
Here and there, of course, as a result of the work of organisations like the National Trust, outstanding villages have in fact been protected. West Wycombe, practically the whole of which belongs to the National Trust, is a delight; and it is very much more of a delight now to travel through it than it was before the High Wycombe by-pass was opened. Very many people like just to go meandering through West Wycombe—a perfect example of a charming village. In the case of Laycock, too, practically all of it belongs to the National Trust. But it is only here and there that the National Trust can take over a village in that way. The whole of Laycock does not belong to it, but so much of it does that it bears the impress, so to speak, of the work of the National Trust. What one really needs, I am sure, is a list of these outstanding villages. Then, I do not know that it is necessary to have a new Act of Parliament, but it is certainly necessary to have a much stronger policy in the Department to see that nothing is allowed to happen which destroys the character of the villages whose names appear on this list. Because one small, bad, new house in a village of that kind can be like a boil and can destroy, if not the whole, a very large part of its beauty and its character. So I think this aspect of the matter is one of considerable importance, and is one to which the greatest attention ought to be given.
My Lords, what we are very worried about, I think, throughout the amenities movement, not only in groups like the Georgian Society, which are concerned with architecture, but in the C.P.R.E. and the National Trust, which to a larger extent are concerned with the countryside—and this has appeared, of course, time after time this afternoon; it appeared in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Conesford—is what is going to result from the transfer of planning powers to the district councils. Even under the recent scheme, in which the county councils still had the responsibility, it was not always possible to rely on the county planning committees, although the counties are stronger and able to pay better salaries and to recruit 738 better professional assistance than the districts. Even so, from all over the country one hears terrible stories of how the V.I.P.s in the districts have succeeded in persuading county councils to abandon perfectly good schemes in order that they might carry through some nefarious enterprise of their own. I was reading a story about Devonshire. The Devonshire County Council had very properly decided, at Tiverton, to protect a listed building which the Tiverton District Council wanted to get rid of; and as a result of the negotiations between Tiverton and the Devon County Council the county council withdrew its perfectly correct decision in the first instance. That could be paralleled all over the country.
The administration of the planning Acts by the county councils has been very patchy. Some county councils have done it very well indeed; others have hardly clone it at all. I think Lord Kennet is quite right in saying that the local conservation area was a contribution of outstanding importance. I disagree entirely with Lord Esher about this; think it has in fact been a very considerable contribution to planning, if not the most important that has been made. That has been in force for quite a number of years. It was two, if not three, years before the County of Norfolk, which from this point of view is a very important county, made any orders under the scheme at all. The last I heard was that they had still made only eleven orders—four years after the law had been in operation. They are not the worst county. The noble Lord, Lord Clark, mentioned Worcestershire where the number does not reach even double figures. During the same period in Kent, a county which takes these matters seriously, the number of orders made, I understand, is well over 150. This shows the difference between one county and another.
I was interested in the question of footpaths under the National Parks (Countryside) Act in which local authorities had to designate the rights of way through their counties. Some counties just did not do it. Even ten years after the Act was passed some counties had not done anything. The Minister had to "chivvy" and threaten them. That is happening all the time. The noble Lord, Lord Clark, is right when he says that there must be very strong powers at the 739 centre to see that the local authorities do their job properly. I want to know, and if possible to get an undertaking (as the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, obviously did) from the Ministry, that they will call in these cases. I think the machinery for calling in is there, but it needs to be much improved. At the moment it depends on the little local preservation societies to which the noble Baroness, Lady Stocks, referred. As President of one of the first to be started in the 1950s, I know that we have to be on our toes the whole time. Otherwise the developer gets in and gets his proposal into the planning consultant's office; and then, before you know where you are, a quite objectionable building is going up.
There ought to be some sort of organisation which has the duty, more than just the power, to take these cases to the Department of the Environment and to "chivvy" the Department into calling them in so that they can be looked at. We had a case which was called in; and the Minister quashed it. Within two or three weeks the developer had put in a scheme which was almost the same. The local authority had spent about £2,000 on costs and said that they could not do that all over again, and passed the modified scheme. I took that scheme to the President of the R.I.B.A., who was himself at that time very much in the forefront as a planner. I asked what was the difference between the two schemes. He said that any architect could see that there was no basic difference whatever. That is the sort of difficulty with which one is confronted. The Minister is himself to a certain extent in a somewhat powerless position. I should be grateful if the Minister could say how he sees this problem and what are the problems of the Department in putting it right.
I will now leave out a great deal of this prepared speech; but before I sit down I should like to raise one further point on a matter that has hardly been raised this afternoon—it has been referred to parenthetically once or twice. It is the archæological aspect of the problem. Archæology is the very foundation of history; if you do not pay attention to it, it is not possible to get local history properly built up and understood. Yet in all this work the archæologists have 740 received very scant attention. Even Lord Kennet's Report, so far as I recall, does not deal with this matter, and organisations like the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings and the Georgian Society are not really concerned with it. It is a matter of great importance. Every now and then one reads of some wonderful Viking ship found during excavations near, say, Guy's Hospital; that it is going to be kept open for 48 hours so that people can see it before the site is filled in and it is lost for ever. That ought not to be allowed to happen. Yet it is happening all over the country—not in the case of items of that sort which are spectacular, but in the case of items of great social importance in the historical development of our country.
It seems to me these matters ought to receive much closer consideration than they have in the past. It ought to be an essential element of any town planning scheme put forward that the archaeological side of the matter should be looked at. It ought to be a compulsory element in all town plans put forward. In some of them there will be very little; in others it may be very important. I suggest that the Department, in its next circular on these matters to local authorities, should stress the importance of seeing to it that the local archaeological society or its representatives have been properly consulted.
It follows from this that provision must be made for access to particular parts of the site under discussion for planning permission, and that access should be available to archaeologists properly appointed for the purpose; because it is very difficult just to do these things on a map, and the developers dislike people of this kind coming round snooping. It ought to be part of the drill that the archaeologist should be able to look at the place if he wants to and should be given time. One cannot always tell by spending half an hour on a site whether it is one of outstanding importance or not. I do not think it would be too difficult to work out some scheme where, in proper cases, the amount of time made available would be two or three weeks. Sometimes it may be of such importance that some expert should be brought from London and given some days to ferret about and make quite sure what the position it. In that case 741 provision ought to be made for the protection of the archaeological situation in that particular plan. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, who said that ample powers exist for all these things already and that it is just a question of whether the Secretary of State takes advantage of them. I should like to know from the Minister how far that is true in cases of this kind, particularly in cases of archaeology.
If there are no Ministerial powers enabling the sort of conditions which I have tried to outline to be observed, I suggest that provision should be made in the next Town and Country Planning Bill. We get fobbed off by being told that this would require an Act of Parliament which is a long way away. If your Lordships go back over the last twenty years or so you will find that the passing of planning Acts averaged about three in ten years. We had one last year, and so we should certainly be due for another one in 1975 at the latest. Therefore it would not be very far away, and the archaeological values in England are being dissipated all the time. One of the most interesting of the pamphlets sent to me in connection with this debate The Erosion of the Past, came from the British Council of Archaeology. I had always felt that this subject was important, but a short perusal of that admirable piece of work has persuaded me that I have not taken anything like a sufficiently serious view of the position in the past. It certainly is serious, and if legislation is necessary I hope that the Government will see to it that in the next Bill provision is made for the protection of archaeology.
§ 8.1 p.m.
§ LORD SANDYS
My Lords, as the fourteenth speaker in this debate I can assure your Lordships that I shall be brief. I should like to start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, for introducing this subject. I have been looking forward to this debate, as many of your Lordships have been, for a very long time, and I am sure that all our expectations were fulfilled. It has given the opportunity for one eminent and most distinguished maiden speech, and that in itself was a justification for holding this splendid debate. My Lords, I speak as a very junior representative in the field of preservation, as chairman of a local preservation society, the Worcestershire 742 Building Preservation Trust. Two principal matters to which I should like to draw the attention of your Lordships are the financial aspects and the specific problem of skilled labour. In both these factors I was so much in accord with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Holford. It is a matter of paramount importance—I cannot stress this too much—that the question of V.A.T. on repairs be reviewed in the course of the deliberations on the Finance Bill. I may say as a member of a building preservation trust that I am convinced we shall go out of business if V.A.T. is to be levied on repairs. That is without doubt.
We should draw comfort from the fact that V.A.T. is not to be levied on improvements or new building. Surely these are two crumbs of encouragement. I hope to that may be added the major concession of exemption on repairs for listed buildings, which I think was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Holford, and also over a wider area to cover the exemption of all building repairs. Surely the case is a good one. If we exempt repairs to dwelling-houses throughout the United Kingdom we shall be adding something to the national stock; we shall he adding to the housing stock and to the conservation movement as a whole. I hope that my noble friend Lord Sandford will bring all his great powers of persuasion to bear on that oldest and most powerful of Government Departments, the Treasury.
A problem which intimately concerns the Treasury is my second point which I do not think has been brought out by any of the 13 previous speakers. It is the question of rateable value. We are only to well aware that the revaluation this year has shown that values have risen three or four times in certain cases and possibly more in rather special areas. This is a cause for great concern in the conservation movement as a whole. It will be impossible to live in these conserved areas, in these beautifully preserved dwellings, if the rateable value reaches an astronomical level. Surely this is a matter which should be a cause for concern. It should be pointed out to the Treasury, and to their district valuers in all parts of the country, that there is a case for reviewing appeals. The valuation lists are in the hands of the local authorities but in handling the appeals, of 743 which there will be many hundreds of thousands all over the country, I hope that the Department of the Environment will take a serious view of the need to bring home to their friends in the Treasury the fact that there is grave concern among owners of individual buildings and in institutions and the like, and that the rateable values ought to be abated.
The "road block" of sufficient skilled labour is of great importance. Your Lordships will be aware that in the last year the building trade has lost a large number of skilled tradesmen to other industries. Surely this is something which the conservation movement as a whole should note with great anxiety. Are there not three ways in which this problem might be tackled? First, a review of the training and retraining through Government schemes of those who wish to enter the rather technical and particular skilled crafts involved in conservation—plasterers, bricklayers and other skilled trades. This affects a large number of trades apart from building and it affects whole areas relating to the art world. Surely we ought to encourage those who are training to become mural artists, et cetera. The shortage of materials, which is tied to the shortage of skilled labour, is one of equal concern. Those who are dwelling in houses which have recently been restored will be only too well aware of the lack of seasoned timber. After twelve months this is revealed by the fact that no window or door will fit. No frame made of unseasoned timber will do so. The need to provide a stock of seasoned timber and suitable building materials is a matter of national concern. I so much agree with what many noble Lords have said about conserving buildings due for demolition, so that valuable panelling, stones, slates, bricks, fittings and tiles may be set aside and not destroyed.
Finally, my Lords, may I make a few suggestions, as my noble friend Lord Jellicoe said he would listen to those who put forward suggestions. I should like to lay before your Lordships a number of suggestions which are not taken in order of preference. First, I hope that my noble friend will blow the dust off the Gowers Report which has lain on the table for 744 19 years and certain parts of which are still awaiting implementation. As your Lordships will be aware, this Report relates to the care of historic houses. Secondly, I wish to add my small weight to the question of powers of surveillance of planning applications and the calling in thereof, which has been so eloquently pronounced upon by my noble friend Lord Conesford. Thirdly, the use of the Historic Buildings Act 1962 by local authorities: as Lord Kennet's Report points out, far greater use ought to be made of this Act. Fourthly, the use of the Housing Act 1969, as pointed out by Circular 6469.
Fifthly, the much greater use and development of the National Land Fund set up in 1946. The noble Lord, Lord Aldington, referred to the surroundings of land being conserved. Surely, here is an area for greater imagination to be used by the Treasury through the Estate Duty Office. I should have liked to develop this theme at far greater length, but clearly time is against me. Sixthly, the question of the exemption from V.A.T., which I have already mentioned. Seventhly, the examination of rateable values. Eighthly, the question of the Department of the Environment investigating the number of craftsmen who are leaving their trades, and of the recruiting levels. It is a matter of constant concern to society that this should be reviewed. Ninthly and lastly, I wish to lay one final matter before your Lordships. Surely there is a case for looking upon the inherited environment as a national asset as a whole. Surely there is a case for devoting a much larger sum of money from Treasury awards than those mentioned already. We have heard of a grant of £750 to the National Trust of Scotland and one of £750,000 to the Historic Buildings Council. Surely much larger sums of money are involved. I would heartily endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said about £4½ million or more.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, we are all extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, for having initiated this debate, and those of us who are particularly directly concerned in conservation are immensely grateful for the great wealth of advice, enlightenment and encouragement that has come to us as a 745 result of it. We are very much encouraged by the further evidence, if any were needed, of the wide support that there is for conservation. I should like to add my congratulations to the noble Duke, the Duke of Grafton, for his speech, to welcome him here, and to hope that he will contribute to debates of this kind on many future occasions.
It is flattering to hear in this debate so many opinions expressed to the effect that all would be well if everything was done by my Department. Well, my Lords, I do not think it is practicable to do this. I will in a moment reassure your Lordships about the powers that we have, the powers we intend to keep, and the powers we intend to use. But I do not share all the criticisms that have been voiced about the deficiencies, the lack of imagination and the lack of skill that is vested in local authorities. I am perhaps more conscious than some of your Lordships, by having been round the country and seen the work that is going on on the ground, of the great skill, imagination and devotion that many local authorities, both members and mayors, planning officers and architects, are applying to all this activity, to say nothing of the amenity societies, about whom I will speak more extensively in a moment.
My Lords, this is a debate about the Preservation Policy Group Report, and, that being so, I will start by responding to Lord Chorley's suggestion and review what is going on in the four towns which were selected as part of the exercise of the Preservation Policy Group for the so-called pilot projects. I will start with Bath. It is in Bath that the issue as to whether this can really be done by the local authority, or whether we need some national corporation, appears to arise most sharply—and I will come to that point in a moment. What is happening, in practice, in Bath at the present time is something in between these two different points of view; that is to say, there is a committee of the Corporation now in being in which not only my Department is directly involved but several of the national amenity bodies are also directly involved as members and observers. Together with the local authority and the local amenity societies, they are working out a long-term conservation programme to be carried out by the local authority and based upon a much 746 enlarged conservation area (which the noble Lord, Lord Holford, rightly says is what is required in Bath), within which the new powers available under the Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Act 1972 for designating and protecting unlisted buildings—the podium, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, described it, of the city of Bath—can be undertaken.
But, side by side with that, my Department are also involved through the Controller for Housing and Planning in our regional office in seeing what more can be done (a good deal is already being done, and I was involved in the campaign which began it) in housing improvements throughout Bath, so that these important artisan buildings which form the podium of Bath can be improved in the way that all other valuable but modest dwellings are being improved at the moment. We agree very much that it is the modest buildings here, as in so many places, that are important in the local context of Bath; hence the need to enlarge the conservation area. I will return in a moment to the general question of local and central management of conservation.
As to Chester, Mr. Donald Insall, the consultant who wrote the original report, has, I am glad to say, been re-engaged by the city of Chester and my own Department jointly, and is now undertaking a full pilot programme for the restoration of the Bridgegate action area in Chester. The whole complex of how this can be done—and it involves many different agencies—will form a useful and valuable example for other cities to follow. There are three or four other aspects in Chester that I want to mention. The fact that they have completed their inner ring road means that they can now press on with the process of pedestrianising and removing cars and lorries from the centre of the city, leaving it solely for pedestrians and for public transport. This is already having quite an effect, and there is a great deal of further improvement in prospect there. This of course has been done elsewhere, notably in Norwich among the historic towns, and extensively in Leeds and many other cities. Chester is also notable for having for some time had a conservation officer on the staff of the city who is devoting his whole time, skills and attention to conservation alone. And Chester is to be commended for having for some time devoted the product of a 747 1½p rate, which is quite a substantial sum of money, exclusively to conservation. This is an example which many other cities and authorities would do well to follow.
I turn to Chichester. Among many things which have been achieved at Chichester, the one I want to mention is a proposal in which the Department have already offered to participate financially for the study of a goods storage and interchange depot. This sounds rather a prosaic thing in an historic town, but if and when we can manage to get it going (what we are waiting for is a contribution from private sources in Chichester) it will enable us to test out in practice the scope that there is for providing a depot, including, for instance, cold storage, outside the historic core of a town, into which large delivery lorries can unload their goods and from which the retailers of the town can collect their goods as and when they require them to put on the counters, as it were, in their shops in the centre. It is of course much cheaper to store goods outside the town than to store them inside where the cost per square foot of space is much greater. If this scheme can be made to operate in a viable way it will mean that only light vehicles will be using the centre of the town and all the heavy vehicles will make their deliveries outside. This is going to be a valuable exercise and we are grateful to Chichester for embarking upon it. The state of the inner ring road in Chichester is such that pedestrianisation of the Cross will shortly be possible. They have carried out a useful piece of work in advertisement control and imaginative work in providing rear servicing and car parking space at the rear of the central shops.
As to York, the outstanding achievement there is the salvation of the Minster which my noble friend has already mentioned. The essence of conservation in York, as the noble Viscount, Lord Esher, said, is a matter of well-balanced and well-harnessed prosperity. York has not any great prosperity to spare; it is under intense competition in the commercial and industrial sense from other cities like Leeds. What prosperity there is has to be carefully harnessed to conservation. The pilot project is the one the noble Lord first suggested in his 748 conservation study and has since carried forward into greater detail for the redevelopment of the whole of the Aldwalk area for high-class, fine new homes for residential purposes. I share with the noble Lord the feeling of impatience about the rate at which this project is going forward. I am glad that Shepherd's, the builders responsible for the splendid restoration of the Minister, are now engaged in the first instalment of this particular scheme.
York is notable too for the activities of their civic trust of which the president is the most reverend Prelate, the Archbishop; and Mr. Shannon, the chairman, is a fine example of what the chairman of a civic trust, together with his colleagues, can do for his city. I take this opportunity of commending them for all their activities. York is a place, too, where the archaeological problems mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Chorley and Lord Holford, are particularly acute. I shall be talking about York in connection with roads. There is a proposal for an inner ring road in York which has been to inquiry, and on which we have yet to take a decision. Assuming that the broad line proposed is the one taken, and I am not saying that it will be, one part of it goes right through the old Viking settlement (and York is a place where Viking remains are particularly well preserved because of the behaviour of the water table) and another section goes right through the Roman fortress. The problems of getting all that area excavated properly if and when a road goes through it, will be acute. We are particularly grateful, and thanks are due to the charitable trust, that Mr. Addyman is presiding over the York archaeological Trust and is doing as much preliminary survey work as is practicable.
I mention those as examples of the work that is going on in those four cities. They are just the important aspects; there is much more besides. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, rightly wanted me to go into finance, which I gladly do. The noble Lord, Lord Raglan, said they were not paid enough; the noble Viscount, Lord Esher, said we were making a snail's progress; the noble Lord, Lord Holford, said we had got it about right. I will just say what the situation is, and leave your Lordships to judge. In the days when this Report 749 was being written, the figure available to the H.B.C. was £575,000. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, was able to raise that figure to £700,000 before the Election—the first step in the right direction. In 1971 we raised it to £1 million—the largest step so far taken—and devoted £250,000 to town schemes. In 1972, with the legislation on the Statute Book for our version of the conservation grant—and I will return to that later—we introduced £500,000 to support that, the first instalment of the heritage grant in support of the European Architectural Heritage Year, and continued the town schemes. The overall figure went up to £1,575,000. That is the figure from central Government which the noble Lord was aiming at in his Report. Since then we have increased it again and the figure now, including the increase in the conservation area grants which my noble friend has already announced to-day from £500,000 to £750,000, puts the figure at £1,825,000. That is the figure which we can compare with what the previous Government were proposing from central Government. It cannot be compared exactly with what was to be available from local government as well because we have approached the conservation area grant in a rather different way.
I will respond to the noble Lord's request that I should make a comparison between the two forms of grant. The main point to make in comparing them is that the conservation area grant which we have provided is more flexible than the one proposed here in that it can be paid for a whole variety of different schemes, some quite small, some quite complex—not quite so complex as the noble Lord had in mind, involving highways and so on. The great thing about it is its flexibility, in that it is available not only to local authorities (which his would have been) but to private owners and also—and this is the chief advantage—to amenity societies who put forward schemes. I think the noble Lord, Lord Holford, said that the slightly restricted scope as compared with what was envisaged in the P.P.G. was already proving difficult enough for the conservation area grant committee of the H.B.C. to administer. I do not feel that to limit it a little more has been a mistake.
I will say one thing in respect of local authority grant giving: this has risen. 750 It was £344,000 in 1971£72, but I agree it could well rise more. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Sandys for his plea to local authorities to make greater use of their powers under the 1962 Act. If more towns, cities and authorities follow Chester's fine example we shall be well on the way.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves finance (I am sure he will not be surprised if I have a go at him!) I listened carefully, and he referred to the figure of £1.825 million of central Government money, and an unknown sum of local government money. This has to be compared with £2.5 million central Government money that would have been provided under our scheme, plus over £1½ million from local authorities, making £4 million. Am I fair in comparing £1.825 million with £4 million? If not, why not?
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Lord is fair or not. All I know is that when we came into office he had managed to raise the figure from £575,000 to £700,000, and we were all glad of that. He spoke as though we had rescinded something; but quite honestly, there was not anything to rescind. There was no legislation prepared, no scheme worked out in any more detail. We put the legislation on the Statute Book. He and I between us have more than trebled the amount available to the H.B.C. in a period of three years, and I would prefer to leave the matter there.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, I am sorry, but I would not. The noble Lord's Government did rescind something; they rescinded a commitment to an expenditure of £3.75 million a year. That commitment is perfectly clear in Hansard of May 20, 1970. There is no question about that. This was a commitment. Legislation was not passed but the financial commitment was there. The highest figure we can now get out of the noble Lord is £1.825 plus an unknown amount from the local authorities. Why does he not know what the local authorities are paying?
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, I do not know precisely what the local authorities are paying because some of these grants are paid direct to private owners, 751 some are paid to local authorities as owners, some are paid for town schemes where the ratio, as the noble Lord knows, is 50–50 as between central Government and local government, and some are paid as conservation area grant which, as I have just explained, is more flexible than the noble Lord's scheme inasmuch as the rate is infinitely variable. If the noble Lord wants to make comparisons, the figures to compare are what his scheme would have produced from central Government, which is £1½million, and what ours is producing from central Government, which was £1½ million until we announced the recent increases. So it is about the same.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, I am sorry to keep coming back at the noble Lord, but he is wrong. In fact, our scheme would not have produced £1½ million from central Government; it would have produced £2.2 million, being £1½ million under the new scheme and £700,000 under the familiar H.B.C. payments. I have already stated the obvious, that that £700,000 would have risen to keep pace with rising costs.
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, I will take the noble Lord's word for it. I do not think we need pursue it any further, but I should like to go into some of the other proposals that he made in his Report and to explain how we are getting on with those. One was for the preparation of guide books by the English Tourist Board, and this I hope is now in hand by the Board. But the scheme which we are pursuing in this connection is that of interpretation centres, and Chester may well be one of the first cities to establish this in a redundant church.
The noble Lord, Lord Clark, put forward the idea of interpreting the architecture of a town as an art form and using these centres to help the architecture of each historic town to come alive in a way which even the best guide book cannot do. This is an idea which was the subject of a letter to The Times on April 4 from the President of the R.I.B.A. and the Chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain, and it is something that we had already been working on in our own Department for ancient 752 monuments as well as historic towns. So that is an interesting development.
Two of the booklets which he recommended, New Life for Historic Buildings and New Life for Historic Areas, have already been published. We are now taking up the challenge of a third, which will be entitled something like, New Buildings for Old Settings. This will serve to illustrate who is right over the question of whether it is or is not possible to put a 20th century building into an historic street scene. My own personal view, and that of most of the architects who have spoken, is that it can be done, despite the fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Clark, has said, that the architecture of the 20th century is such a tremendous break with anything that has gone before. I believe it is possible to put new buildings in an old setting, and it is all part of the conservation exercise. I hope also that we shall be able to persuade the Churches to make a contribution to this series with a set described as New Uses for Old Churches, because there are some very imaginative schemes coming forward, which certainly applies in the case of St. John's, Smith Square, and may well apply in the case of Christ Church Spitalfields. I will deal with churches again in a moment.
Another recommendation of the P.P.G. Report was the issue of technical bulletins. I do not think that has materialised in quite the way proposed by the Group. but I think they would agree that one of the very best things the Civic Trust has produced is the book entitled Pride of Place, which serves a very useful purpose in kindling the imagination of amenity societies as to what they can do in this field.
I should now like to turn to the business of central and national control of conservation. Several noble Lords, starting with the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, have suggested that something patterned on the New Towns Commission could serve, but I know that the Preservation Policy Group considered this and rejected it, and I think I agree with them. I do not believe the approach of a New Town will quite fit here. Historic towns are places in which people live and work; new houses and other buildings will be needed from time to time, road improvements become necessary, shops have to 753 prosper—in other words, these are living towns which need to exercise, not just conservation powers but the full gamut of normal controls over city life. Furthermore, they need to respond to the full gamut of democratic pressures. That is not to say that central Government cannot be involved in a whole variety of effective ways, and I have already described the way in which we are concerning ourselves with Bath at the moment. We remain firmly in control of listed building demolition and alteration and we have a number of other powers which I will come to in a moment when I am speaking about other forms of management of conservation.
It is notable that although Mr. Insall in his report on Chester joined forces with those who are commending the idea of an historic towns corporation, Sir Colin Buchanan in his Report on Bath, said this:Conservation poses an organisational problem. More than anything else—no serious progress will be made on the scale required unless someone takes the whole subject under its wing—the only body with the necessary powers and authority is the corporation itself.That was the view of Sir Colin Buchanan, having specifically studied the City of Bath.
I must say that I am convinced that the right course is to ensure that the ordinary framework of controls, planning, housing, roads, is applied with particular care in the historic towns and that encouragement is given to the local planning authority to use it sensitively. That is not to say that the Government are not involved. We are involved in many ways. We have to find the right answer as to whom to employ, whom to consult, whom to go to for advice for each particular set of problems in a particular town. Some will benefit from joint Working Parties such as I have described, others may prefer to use consultants—and that is what has happened in Chester; some may prefer to combine the two and have a Working Party direct the efforts of a consultant. There really are endless variations. The Preservation Policy Group which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, himself chaired, said in their Report—and I agree with this:It seems to us more along the grain of English society and thus more likely to be successful if the existing local authorities 754 keep the job—that is, the job of conservation—and co-ordinate their own efforts with those of individual property owners, housing trusts and historic buildings trusts.So I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Holford, that this is a field in which we have to be flexible, although I dare say there is something to be said for the classification of historic towns, and there is a lot to be said about the way we deploy our very scarce skilled staff. I need not say a great deal about that because we have just issued a circular setting out our proposals. All I want to say is, by way of reassurance to noble Lords, that the key powers for the control of the demolition of listed buildings are held concurrently by the districts and the counties.
Counties still retain, concurrently with the districts, the power to designate conservation areas, the power to serve a building preservation notice, and the power to make directions under Section 8 of the Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Act, which serves to protect unlisted buildings in conservation areas. I hope that that will be reassuring.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, asked me about the losses of listed buildings year by year. In 1969 the number was 266; in 1970, 198 in 1971, 201; and in 1972, 223. The slight increase is not a sign that a hole has appeared in the net, it is the result of having more buildings listed because in fact the percentage of listed buildings lost year by year is 0.22 per cent., 0.15 per cent., 0.15 per cent., and 0.13 per cent. I hope that he finds that reassuring. I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Fiske, in what he says about the value of the groups of skilled staff that have been built up by the G.L.C. and other authorities, although it is undoubtedly true that we need to train more specialist staff for conservation as fast as we can. I should like to commend the Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies at York University for their course which we are financially assisting. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, about the need for more skilled craftsmen.
I turn now briefly to amenity societies with gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Stocks, and the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, for their recognition of the valuable part such societies play. To mark that recognition we are assisting them in 755 a variety of ways. We paid a grant of £16,000 to the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers in order to stimulate the activity, particularly of young people, in practical conservation work. We have paid grants to the Regional Civic Trusts for the North West and the North East, and the Yorkshire Council for the Environment. The Scottish Office have done likewise for the Scottish Civic Trust. We are asking the National Civic Trust to consider the possibility of establishing further regional Civic Trusts elsewhere in England because it is clear from the examples of the existing ones how much valuable work there is to do there. We are in touch with the munity Service Volunteers with a view to helping them develop their work in the environment. Then there are the new grants announced by my noble friend today to the four national amenity societies of £2,500 each.
I was asked, I think by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, about our contribution to European Architectural Heritage Year. We are paying Europa Nostra £10,000 a year—that is the British contribution to that; and the Civic Trust £30,000 for their role in administering activities in connection with this year on our behalf. But the particular item I should like to announce is in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Stocks, and the noble Lord. Lord Chorley, who were concerned about villages, and we are too. We believe that conservation there can be greatly assisted if we help the local village amenity societies to co-ordinate their activities. To that end we have asked the Development Commission to find ways and means of financing the appointment of environmental offices in the rural community councils of the following counties: Gloucestershire, Durham, Bedfordshire, Cheshire, Cornwall, Kent, Leicestershire. Staffordshire, Surrey, Warwickshire and Wiltshire. I am glad to say that the first appointment in Gloucestershire has just been made. That will be of assistance to the villages in the countryside; but I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Stocks, that development in urban areas also has to be considered, and that is being done.
I now turn briefly to the churches—and must not speak for very much longer. 756 We were most grateful for the remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, will see from his remarks that we are not yet considering any particular solution of this problem. What we are waiting for, and what I am sure we must have first, is an accurate analysis of the problem both as to its scale and its nature and then we will move on to the question of how best the State can deal with it. In connection with churches in the plight of. for instance, Christ Church, Spitalfields, it is of course up to the churches to set in motion the procedures which are required when a church is no longer needed for worship and is redundant from that point of view, but is too good to pull down and for which no further use can be found. Here it is worth noting the Redundant Churches Fund designed to deal with that has a healthy credit balance of £166,000. I hope that can be put to good use. I should like to commend in passing the work of the City of Norwich which shows what local authorities can do in the care of churches. in a way that central Government is at the moment, by past agreement, inhibited from doing.
The noble Lord, Lord Aldington, introduced the question of roads. I shall not follow him too far into the question of the M.3 around Winchester except to say that that is a choice which was not arrived at because it was the cheapest route but because it was found after a long inquiry to be the best. I do not believe that the effect of that on the Water Meadows or on St. Cross or the college will be anything like as great as the objectors had made out, and from the cathedral the road will neither be seen nor heard at all. But it is true to say that the development of our highway programme can probably make a greater contribution to conservation than almost anything else my Department can do. Therefore, I should like to remind your Lordships of the strategy which we announced in the summer of 1971 which leads to the relief, when it is completed in the early 1980s, of 87 out of the 105 towns on the C.B.A. list of historic towns. My Lords, there is a great deal more that could be said about the impact of the highway programme but I have spoken for long enough, it is late enough, and I shall leave it at that by finally thanking 757 the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, for giving us this debate and your Lordships for all the stimulus, guidance and encouragement that your remarks have given to all those of us who are engaged in the exacting but rewarding task of conservation.
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ LORD RAGLAN
My Lords, I was going to be very brief but the noble Viscount, Lord Esher, the noble Lord, Lord Clark, and the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, defended modern architecture against what they apparently thought I said but did not. I qualified my observations. I by no means condemned all modern architecture but said that I thought some new buildings were very successful. As the Chairman of a New Town Corporation I would hardly not think that. I should like to have a discussion at some time with the noble Lord, Lord Clark, on the subject. I would say now only that I think that history shows that with the advent of a new material initially builders imitate the old style and then the new material in a way dictates the use of itself. So, of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Clark, said, modern architecture is new because concrete is new and there have been some exhilarating and beautiful buildings made of it. But I do not see many of these, and there is little around that is exciting, in my opinion. I am not advocating carbon copies of old buildings, though that may be necessary sometimes, and great artists have never been afraid to imitate. I am saying that new buildings should have the good manners to try to fit in, as I am sure they can.
Not since the last debate which I initiated have I listened to so many notable, useful and thoroughly constructive speeches. I hope that the noble Duke, the Duke of Grafton, now has no regrets that he put his name down to speak; I am sure that your Lordships are not sad that he put his name down, and found his contribution very valuable indeed, as it was bound to be. I am most grateful to every speaker, and I hope they feel, as I do, that this debate is bound to have been most helpful.
The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, did not answer the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Kennet of a "call-in blitz". The demolition figures show that the reduction we achieved with the 1968 Act has stopped. It now appears to bo about 758 steady. What does he intend to do about that, I wonder? I have not heard any denial from the Government that they have been going rather slowly. The situation is not going to stand still, and I think they will have to move fast to keep up with it. Practically every speaker said how important it is that the Government should be prepared to take strong measures when it looks as if they may be needed. In view of what the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, said about that just now, we will watch with interest what happens.
There have been huge subscriptions, matched by Government money, to save famous pictures from being exported. Whichever country the picture finds its way to, at least the picture survives. Whether it be a single building or whole areas, once the bulldozer moves in they are dead and gone forever. So this truly is a case where it is better to be safe than sorry, and I hope that the Government have taken note of that message from your Lordships to-night. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.