§ 2.50 p.m.
§ LORD NUGENT or GUILDFORD rose to call attention to the need to plan for quality of life in the urban environment; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, there are many factors which contribute to the quality of life in the community—the Church, the arts, drama, recreation and so on—and I am not going to attempt to refer to those in the few minutes that I intend to speak. I want to concentrate on the statutory planning process, which is basic to the shape and character 593 of the life of the community. If that is right, then all these secondary factors which enrich our lives will follow, and if it is wrong they will be frustrated. In this field the great landmark is the Town and Country Planning Act 1947. Here may I pay my tribute to the late Lord Silkin, who played such a distinguished part in putting that Act on the Statute Book. More than a quarter of a century has passed since that Act came into being and into effect. Very broadly, it required that the whole of the country should be covered by the county authorities with development plans, and that these would determine what was to be developed and how, and what was to be conserved. During that twenty-five years our population has increased by over six million, and we have now the major feature of the universal motor car with which we have to live. Both of these factors have placed enormous new strains on the problems of planning.
§ I should like to begin by paying my tribute to the planners, both in central government and in local government, for the very big successes that they have had during this period. We naturally tend to concentrate on the failures—and rightly—and to criticise them; but very broadly, if you consider the improvements in the past twenty-five years compared with the inter-war twenty-one years, you will see what a tremendous amount has been achieved. In those inter-war years the common features of development were ribbon developments sprawling along our roads, sprawling suburbs outside of big cities and big towns, and sporadic development happening all over the place in the countryside and in small villages. None of these features has been repeated in the last twenty-five years, and so very much has been conserved that might have been lost. I would think that it is also true to say that, if we compare our achievements with those in other countries, our record of planning in these post-war years really bears very favourable comparison.
§ We know, after having patted ourselves on the back, that there are lessons to be learned. I suggest that one of them—and I think that this is a lesson that we are taking to mind now—is that perhaps in some cases we have concentrated rather too much on physical planning than on social planning. The message for 594 the future in planning that is now going on, both in urban redevelopment and in the mass of new urban development, is that we should pay greater attention to the social aspects of planning rather than the physical aspects. The kind of graphic illustration that noble Lords will be familiar with of where we have made some mistakes in the past in urban redevelopment is where an urban corporation has acquired a large area for redevelopment by gradually purchasing houses, shops, offices, and the like until the whole of that large area has been acquired. This of course takes a long time, and while it is going on gradually one building after another is boarded up as it becomes empty and the occupants move out. Eventually the day comes when the bulldozers move in, the whole area is cleared, and the new buildings start to rise, but generally neither to the new blocks of flats which normally go up nor to the new shops do the old occupants return. On the one hand the shop rents are usually too high for the old shopkeepers, and on the other hand the flats almost invariably are uniformly public corporation owned; so there is a one class community and the occupants are all new. The total result of schemes of that kind is a splendid improvement in physical conditions but undoubtedly a significant loss in the quality of life.
§ There have been many examples showing the reverse effect, and my noble friend has arranged the attractive exhibition in the Royal Gallery which shows us some of these urban redevelopments which have been singularly successful—Norwich, Leeds, and others—where old areas have been rejuvenated by imaginative treatment, usually by shutting the traffic out of old, narrow streets and changing the character of the area to make it meet the present day needs. In London there have been some notable successes, and I should like to congratulate the Greater London Council, with my noble friend, on their success in their experiment in Oxford Street. On the other hand, there are outstanding failures, like the Elephant and Castle, which is quite one of the dreariest redevelopments at enormous expense and exactly illustrates the point that I am making.
§ On this I would say to my noble friend that where these imaginative redevelopments of old buildings are set about by 595 urban corporations, there are generally very expensive traffic redesigns to be done—new intersections, widening of old roads, and so on—in order to divert the traffic out of existing streets. I think more attention needs to be given to assisting the urban authority in that kind of scheme, which I think at present falls mainly, if not entirely, on the local ratepayers.
§ I now wish to turn in a little more detail to new developments. The same principle applies to new developments, but the scope for application is just that much greater. In these new urban developments we all want to see public parks, playing fields, play areas, piazzas in the shopping centres, trees left in the residential and shopping areas, space for churches, theatres, community centres, and the like, but all these things cost a lot of money. A very big population increase is still going on, despite the revised downward figures which in some ways relieve anxieties, and the forecast for the end of the century is still an extra six million, with an extra two or three million of those in the South-East region of the country. Very large scale developments will be needed to accommodate these vast numbers. There are few new town corporations in this broad picture, and in the main these developments are to be carried out by local authorities using their existing powers. The general policy throughout the country is for local authorities—that is, county authorities—to identify the areas which are to be conserved, and complementary to that matter to identify the areas which are to be developed.
§ If I might take an example of the South-East region, with which I am especially familiar, the local authorities have identified the areas of high amenity value, such as the South Downs and the North Downs, the Chilterns, South Essex, and other areas which are exceptionally beautiful and which will contribute greatly to the life of the community. But that means of course, at the same time, that they have identified the areas where the major development is to take place; and these extra two million or three million are to live in such areas as the South Hampshire city region, as it will be, the triangle between Guildford, Reading and Basingstoke, South Essex and the Crawley—Burgess Hill—Horsham area.596
§ These are all to be areas of major urban development where there will be populations growing up over the next ten or twenty years of a quarter of a million, half a million or even a million people on balanced development—residential and employment, commercial employment, industrial employment and, of course, shopping areas.
§ This future vision focuses our minds on what is needed if we are to plan these vast new urban developments as attractive human environments. The local authorities estimate that, to make an attractive environment in an urban area, something like a quarter of the total is needed for the public services—for roads, schools, sewerage, in so far as that takes up space, and all the other major services, plus parks, play areas, recreational areas, sports grounds and all the rest of it, which go to make an attractive place with a little extra space in the residential areas, leaving a few trees here and there. Incidentally, I ask your Lordships to bear in mind that to leave one fully mature tree in a residential area in the South-East, where development land costs £50,000 an acre, would take up a whole site, and on that basis would cost £5,000. That gives a perspective to what we are talking about when we say that we want to make these areas attractive.
§ Here I come immediately to the major problem. The major obstacle to the local authorities is inadequate finance. The present position is that local authorities are entirely responsible for the cost of these developments, and they have to purchase all the land for social purposes at the full market price. As I said, in the South-East the fully developed land value is probably something of the order of £40,000 or £50,000 an acre, and the full cost of the provision of social service areas will fall on the ratepayers. Therefore, it is inevitable, as matters now stand, that local authorities are pressed to economise wherever they can in these areas. They are pressed to locate schools in an area where it is perhaps cheaper but nothing like so good, to cut down on the open spaces, to cut out the parks and so on, all of which will prejudice the future quality of life in the neighbourhood. Let me give credit to my noble friend, while I am heaping coals on his head, for the £80 million loan which he has made available to local authorities 597 throughout the country for buying areas for development in those places where they have major developments. That is a help; but a loan is a loan and must be repaid. It is therefore only a temporary help and, at the end of the day, the ratepayer has to meet the bill.
§ Local authorities have not been inert in the face of this massive challenge, and in the South-East they have been enterprising enough to develop the thought, with which noble Lords may be familiar, of forming a partnership between the local authority and the landowners in order to save the full cost of development land. This idea was pioneered by Buckinghamshire and it has been followed by some other counties. It works on the basis that the local authority goes into partnership with the owners of the land which is wanted for a major development, and the owners of the land, if willing, accept a price for their land which is something between existing use value and the full development value. The partnership having been formed on this basis and the land having been acquired, the partnership then proceeds to develop the land, providing all the basic services and social services that are required and all the land that is needed to make the place attractive. Having reached that state of development, the partnership then sells the land in blocks to private enterprise developers for building houses, offices, shops and so on, as required for the development of the area. So that at that point the partnership cashes in, so to speak, and reaps a sufficient return from the difference between the fully developed price of the land and the price that was paid to the landowners to cover the cost of the development, which would otherwise have fallen directly on to the shoulders of the local authority. That is enough to show that it is a jolly good scheme, and it has been blessed by my noble friend in the Department of the Environment.
§ But that kind of scheme will apply only in exceptional cases. First of all, it is necessary to have owners of land who are willing to co-operate in that way; and, secondly, it is necessary to have land in an area which has not already reached fully ripe development values, because if you had to pay the full price there would be no scope for doing 598 this. There is also this other point which I would make to my noble friend, that although the end of this particular ingenious scheme is good and pro bono publico, the means are slightly suspect, because there is an implication that the local authority is using its statutory power of planning consent as a bargaining counter with the landowners, in order to get their land at a cheaper price. Although it all works out very well in the end if they all agree, this could be embarrassing either to Ministers or to local authorities. As I said, it is good in some cases, but it will not begin to cover the field. So that something more is needed for general application, and my suggestion to my noble friend is that this concept should be made statutory.
§ The underlying concept is that owners of undeveloped land, which is planned and scheduled for development, should contribute pro rata their share of the cost of the development of the public services involved. We estimate that in the South-East this would not be unduly onerous and might be something of the order of £5,000 an acre. But that concept is fair in principle, because it is the process of development by the local authority which gives the land its enhanced value. It is therefore only reasonable that the owner who will get a higher price should make his contribution, and it is expedient in practice because it will provide a local authority with the essential finance to make its future development attractive in human terms, without putting a crippling burden on the ratepayers in the area. So I hope that my noble friend will look at this idea carefully. In the White Paper, Ministers have stated their intention in connection with their admirable campaign of counter-inflation, to take action to limit excessive profits on land developments. I commend this thought to my noble friend as the right way to achieve this object. The conventional alternative, which may spring to some people's minds, of simply increasing the 30 per cent. capital gains tax may look to be politically attractive, but it suffers from the double defect, first, that it will probably add to the sale price of the land—all past experience shows that when these levies are put on the cost is added to the price which the purchaser has to pay—and, secondly, that it does nothing to help a local authority to 599 finance the kind of development that we require, because the tax just disappears into the Treasury maw.
§ In passing, I think I should make the point that these very high prices for land for development are not primarily the result of machinations of speculators. They are the direct result of our national planning policy of totally restricting land for development in order to conserve the open spaces as areas of great amenity and recreational value, which we all want. This is indeed the price of conservation, and we must keep that perspective firmly in our mind. So I ask my noble friend whether he will give careful thought to this idea; and may I inform him that in the Standing Conference the planners in the South-East are ever at his service, to consult with his officials, to discuss how this might be made to work in practice. There are, I believe, respectable precedents in other countries. I think it is not unusual to find it in a number of States in the United States, and it seems to me basically fair; it makes sense.
§ There is a second alternative in this field which is not so good; that is, that the new town corporation powers should be extended to local authorities. At present, they are reserved exclusively for new town corporations, but where those operate the advantage to the developing authority is really dramatic. If I may take the new town which is being developed in the South-East region, Milton Keynes, a boundary was drawn on a map, enclosing some 22,000 acres, several years ago, when the new town was designated, and the land was valued at that time at £700 an acre, its existing use value. The authority have not bought it all, of course, but they are now still buying land there, within this area, which will become part of the developed Milton Keynes, at £700 an acre. I have only to say that for noble Lords to see what an enormous advantage this is to the developing authority. Instead of paying £50,000 an acre they are paying £700; and this is what happens, of course, where a new town is defined. I would have thought that it was not impossible for Ministers to designate large areas of new development of the kind I have indicated, which local authorities are undertaking, in a similar way, and for these new town 600 powers to be operated. Although it would not be possible, probably, to buy the land at such a low price now, the figure would be something very much less than the full development value.
§ VISCOUNT AMORY
My Lords, would my noble friend allow me to interrupt him? He is outlining an extremely interesting scheme, I think. In the case of his first alternative, where the owner of the land would make a contribution towards development, would that apply to sales by an owner to a local authority, or to compulsory purchases by the local authority from him?
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
My Lords. I would suggest to both; that this should become, as it were, the basis of the statutory purchase by compulsory purchase, so that that power would therefore be available. It would also be so in the case of voluntary purchase.
§ VISCOUNT AMORY
My Lords, I apologise for interrupting my noble friend again. Would the vendor receive the full market price for the land?
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
My Lords, the full market price less this levy for development, which would have to be assessed in some way which was generally understandable and acceptable to all concerned. The concept in the voluntary partnership scheme, of course, is that a price is agreed between the local authority and the landowners who join in the partnership; the development is then done; the sale is then made to the developers at the fully right price; and if there is a balance over, a further chance goes to the landowners. I hope I have dealt adequately with my noble friend's question. I do not want to pursue this point for too long, or to take up too much of noble Lords' time. I hope my noble friend has got the point.
My second point concerns the other shortage—of a commodity which is always in short supply, and that is time. Money is one of the things we are always short of for good development; time is the other one. Very briefly, the present statutory process for development planning is taking so long—I have told my noble friend this before—that plans will be out of date before they are finally settled. The development plan, which decides what is going to happen over the 601 next ten or fifteen years, is basic to everything. This is what everyone wants to know; they want to have a say in it; they want, so far as they can, to decide on the best option. So it is vital that that should be out in time for everyone to know what it is. Sincere efforts have been made, as noble Lords will know, both by noble Lords opposite when they were in Government, through the 1968 Act, under the distinguished leadership in that Department of the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, and again through the 1972 Act, to try to devise ways of shortening this process of development planning. But in fact I do not believe they have done it. I think that, if anything, what has gone with it, which is the increased provision for public participation, has made the whole process even longer.
So the present position with regard to development planning is that practically all the development plans in the country, which, under the 1947 Act, were drawn up in the early 'fifties, have pretty well all run out. They ran out mainly in 1970–71; so that, broadly speaking, there is now no statutory position at all. The new structure plans, which are to come along under the 1968 Act—and they are of course, very broadly, development plans, too—have not yet arrived. Here we are, over four years after the 1968 Act, and no structure plan has yet emerged. A number of county councils have applied to my noble friend—I think about half a dozen or a dozen of them. They have, so to speak, reached stage one; that is to say, a project report has been completed by the local authority, who then apply to the Secretary of State for the Environment for a statutory commencement order. They are just coming up to that, after four or five years. What follows after are these steps: first, there is public participation, which will take about 18 months, I should think; eventually, after consideration of the results of the public participation, there is a public inquiry; then there is the report, and then there is the Ministerial decision. Each of these stages will take another year or two.
Then follow the preparation and examination of, and public discussion on, the local plans. We have no experience of them yet, but they are, so to speak, 602 the translation into detailed picture of planning on the ground, in the localities, of the broad sweep of the structure plan for the county. One cannot tell precisely, but we in the South-East estimate that these local plans will take another one to four years or something of that order; perhaps two or three years, but several more years. If you add all those matters together, it is quite obvious that these development plans, which are really vital to show people what is coming—how their neighbourhood is going to develop over the coming years; or, indeed, how it is not going to develop, because that is equally important—will not be out under ten years, and by that time, with the speed of change that we live in to-day, they are out of date and you have got to start all over again. So the fact is that in striving for perfection, and rightly so, in drawing up the best possible plans for the future and bringing everybody in as much as possible, so that they can all have a say, we really have defeated our own ends.
I believe we really must re-think this development plan process, and that we must aim to get development plans completed within four or five years; because if they take longer they will be useless to us. So I again suggest to my noble friend what I have suggested to him once before: that it really would be worth considering making the development plan—or the structure plan; call it what you will—non-statutory. Several years would be saved if we did that; and I can quote the example of the regional plan for the South-East, known as the Strategic Plan for the South-East which is itself non-statutory. It was composed by a joint team of planners from local government and central Government; it was blessed by both local government and central Government, and although it is non-statutory it has been published, and everybody has seen it and discussed it. It is having an extremely valuable effect as a broad brush indication as to how the whole region is going to develop over the next 10 or 20 years. If you had a non-statutory county development plan, you could break that down into statutory local plans in regard to which you would apply all the correct statutory tests, with the Minister's confirmation at the end. I believe that it is essential we should once again begin to think over 603 this matter and find out how we can get it into a timescale short enough to serve the purpose we want it to serve. I would suggest to my noble friend a joint study of D. of E. officials and local government officials—local government planners are essential here; they know the practical problems on the ground—to see what is the best way of dealing with this major problem.
My Lords, I have made the two points that I wish to make: that we are short of time and money in developing the kind of future for these urban areas, both redevelopment and new development in developing areas, which will give the quality of life that we want. I have suggested to my noble friend and to noble Lords generally methods by which we might be able to improve the situation. I hope that these will be of some help in taking us the way we all wish to go to lay the basic structure of these new urban developments in a way which will contribute to the quality of life. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.21 p.m.
§ LORD GREENWOOD OF ROSSENDALE
My Lords, there are times when I feel it is almost a formality to thank a noble Lord for having raised a subject in this House, but that is certainly not the case to-day. When I express thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, it is because of the constructive character of his speech and the fact that he was one of the first politicians to show practical concern about the environment. The noble Lord, as Chairman of the Thames Conservancy and as Chairman of the Standing Conference on London Regional Planning, has placed us all in his debt, and certainly over the years there have been few occasions when I found it necessary to disagree with him.
It is fitting, too, that we should express to the Government our appreciation of a number of forward-looking decisions that they have taken. We shall have many opportunities over the next few months of discussing their initiative in the field of water reorganisation, so I should like at this stage simply to thank them for their consideration in publishing the document A Background to Water Reorganisation in England and Wales. 604 By the same token, I will restrict myself merely to expressing my appreciation of the stimulating Report on the Pollution of Estuaries and Coastal Waters which the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution has presented to us. This, too, is a subject worthy of debate in this House. I also welcome the Government's proposals for compensating the victims of injurious affection. This is a project for which, as a Minister, I failed to win support; but it is of immense importance to those who are suffering at the hands of public authorities damage for which they could claim compensation if those responsible for it were private interests. It is a reform which is long overdue and, without reservation, I express appreciation of the Government's policy.
There is one further welcome that I should extend. I am delighted by the Government's Six Towns Studies. I endorse their choice of areas and of the consultants who will be working with the Government and the local councils in this very important experiment. Your Lordships will recall that the purpose of these studies is to ascertain how a total approach to urban problems can be achieved. That is far from being an easy assignment. Urban problems derive from an obsolete social infrastructure, a shortage of new investment, the decline of traditional industries, a selective approach by those responsible for welfare and, not least important, the personal inadequacy of many who fall victim to urban malaise. These problems are compounded by the drift of population away from the big towns and the steadily rising burden of expenditure which has to be borne by a reduced population. And the situation is bound to be exacerbated by the falling off in the housing programme which was announced to-day.
I hope that the Government's inquiries—and I wish that the time span could be shortened—will result in an urban audit for local authorities which will lead the authorities to examine their own needs and priorities—the question of traffic management to which the noble Lord referred is an example—and to evolve a strategy based on those needs. In this, they will need to be assured of substantial Exchequer help, on a more selective basis probably than at present and applied in a way that will not frustrate local 605 initiative. Social planning should be given high priority in our consideration of the urban environment.
Remembering the essential role of democratically-elected local authorities in creating an acceptable urban environment, we must appreciate the difficulties under which they are now operating and make allowances for any shortcomings we may think we detect. I am certain that they will be better equipped to repair those defects when reorganisation has been completed. The new councils will in general be stronger, have greater resources, and be better equipped to deal with problems than those which exist to-day. I am therefore reasonably optimistic about the future. To-day, however, I am concerned about the consequences of revaluation and the, so far at least, imprecise but disturbing consequences of the Government's economic policy, a policy which no local government man could reasonably be expected to have foreseen at the time of the last General Election—unless of course he happened to be standing on his head at the time in a laudable attempt to anticipate the future.
My Lords, may I turn to the present structure plan system to which the noble Lord referred? I agree to a very large extent with the criticisms he made. In the 1968 Act I set out to simplify and to speed up the plan-making process. I simplified it and in some measure expedited it, but neither my own Act nor the present Government's Act have been really effective in that respect. We must in some way repair whatever deficiencies there are. That became increasingly clear as the Greater London Development Plan inquiry ground on and as the Secretary of State embarked on what looks like being a long period of digestion—prolonged, no doubt by the highly fluid nature of the Greater London Council's proposals. I think your Lordships will agree with me that we need a procedure which enables dynamic local government to forge ahead, while at the same time protecting individual rights and enabling the public interest to make itself effectively felt It may well be that we should take this problem out of politics and have the machinery overhauled by an entirely new body nominated by the Secretary of State for the Environment. There can 606 be little doubt that new and radical thinking is needed, and needed very urgently.
I also have great sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, said about the high price of land—a matter upon which Mr. Wilson, Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Peter Walker have all spoken in recent months. We are told in to-day's papers that last year the average cost of building land was £25,000 an acre. It was of course very substantially higher in many urban areas. In answer to a question at the Royal Society of Arts last week I ventured the opinion that local authorities could probably overcome the problem of the high cost of land only if they possessed powers very similar to the New Towns' Section 6 powers. To some extent, therefore, the views of the noble Lord and myself coincide. I should like to consider at greater leisure the other interesting possibilities that he opened up.
I hope that we shall receive from the Under-Secretary of State an assurance that the Government are reconciled to yet another change of policy and will warmly embrace the extension of public ownership in this way. If they do so, councils will have available to them at more reasonable prices than those at present obtaining the land needed by themselves, by housing associations and, subject to reasonable control, by private developers. I am sure that at the same time the Government should be considering the future New Towns programme, about which I will speak in a moment; and considering also whether, especially but not solely in historic towns, there is not room for urban development corporations through which the Government and local councils could bring greatly increased influence to bear and achieve the improvements for which the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, asks. I hope that before long we shall have a chance to debate the Motion on historic towns tabled by my noble friend Lord Raglan.
My Lords, closely linked with land prices is the need to reduce the pressure on the city centres, which at present is an important factor in pushing up the cost of land. That raises a number of issues. Not least important is the question of office control, which at the moment is dramatically ineffective. On the one hand, by restricting office development we are helping to create scarcity and so to put up the cost of 607 accommodation to a level far beyond anything experienced in the other big cities in the world. On the other hand, we are tolerating scandals like Centre Point and a number of other comparable outrages which are striking examples either of commercial misjudgment or inordinate greed. Whatever the cause, such scandals as these cannot be allowed in a society like ours, whose very political stability they could put into jeopardy. My own solution, which I propounded in September, 1969, and which I was working to incorporate into a Bill when the General Election was announced, is to double the rates every six months. If the consciences of certain developers cannot be activated, then their purses must be depleted. I hope that the strong comments of Her Majesty's Ministers will soon be translated into positive action.
There are two other ways in which I should like to release the pressure on the centres of our towns. I am painfully aware that the centres of many of our towns are dying. Shops are closing and residents are moving out, so that the streets in the daytime are dead and dreary and the area goes to sleep when the lights in the offices are switched off. Here again it is largely the high price of land which is at work. We have to bring residential accommodation back into the city centres, as the City of London is courageously seeking to do. But none of us wants rich men's ghettoes: we want socially balanced communities, just as the City of London is trying to get them. That means public subsidies, and perhaps higher density development of the kind which we in this country, because of the skilful research done in the last few years, are so well equipped to provide. Mr. Rippon's demolition of the G.L.C.'s appalling Covent Garden Plan gives me hope that we may be moving in the right direction; but I shall await his reaction to the Cambridge Circus proposal before I make up my mind. I am sure, however, that the Secretary of State will agree that we cannot go on dehumanising our innercity areas.
At the same time, I am convinced that the pattern of shopping is going to change. More than half our households now have cars, and the car is going to be used more and more for shopping in bulk, which is more convenient, less tiring and more 608 economical. As a planner, I started out with a strong prejudice against large out-of-town shopping centres; but having seen the hypermarket at Caerphilly and the admirable Cresset Shopping Centre sponsored by the Peterborough New Town Corporation, complete with district heating and with Sainsbury's and Boot's as the main component, I believe that, provided the right planning precautions are taken, the future of shopping lies largely in developments of this kind. Otherwise, the car will choke the city centres even more seriously than it does to-day. But—and this is important—I am sure that Mr. John Sainsbury is right in saying that in-town shopping provision still has an important part to play.
There is no doubt that we must push ahead with our New Towns programme. I confess that I am an enthusiast for New Towns, and I had the privilege of designating six New Towns—the last of them, though, nearly three years ago. I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, will be able to tell us what further New Town proposals are in the pipeline. I watched a programme on television the other night which stressed that if we are to keep pace with our increasing population we need a new Milton Keynes every year. What plans have the Government got? And do they propose to continue what I believe to be the right policy; namely, the policy of grafting New Towns on to existing communities like Northampton, Peterborough and Preston, so that new development and urban renewal can go together?
My Lords I have believed, too, for some time that there is scope for nevi villages, and I was greatly encouraged in this view by an article by Mr. Ian Nairn in the Sunday Times on November 9. There are many parts of the country where, because of the effects of the Black Death, the Enclosure Movement, or other rural upheavals, churches stand isolated, or almost isolated, or with just a manor house or a farmhouse and a few cottages around them. I should like to see them made the focus of a new village or township, with the green beside the church, with the provision of a small amount of industry, and perhaps 1,000 or 2,000 houses. Such development could, I believe, enhance many areas and make a modest contribution to housing our people.
609 I should like to say a word or two about improvement policy. When the 1969 Housing Act was introduced I made certain optimistic prophecies, and I am delighted that the take-up of improvement grants has substantially exceeded the estimate I made at that time. Grants have in fact more than doubled, and totalled over 226,000 in the first nine months of last year—partly, no doubt, because of the special treatment given to the development areas by noble Lords opposite. I am worried, however, about two aspects of the situation. The first is that General Improvement Areas, to which I attach the very greatest social importance, have not been developed as widely as I could have wished. This, in my view, is a sphere in which really enterprising private enterprise could secure an adequate return on investment, and produce at the same time a very high return for the community as a whole.
I am also disturbed at the extent to which grants are finding their way into the pockets of developers and landlords—over 64 per cent. in the case of my own Borough of Camden, where were are producing a social imbalance which is detrimental to civilised living. The 1969 Act has increased the number of grants given and the number of houses improved; it has increased the number of smaller dwellings in areas where they are needed and it has produced a number of General Improvement Areas which otherwise would not have been initiated. But I am also acutely aware that it has yielded rich rewards for a section of our population which is not pre-eminently productive in its operations, and that many people have been bribed out, or priced out, of areas where they really belong. As chairman of the Housing Centre Trust, I should perhaps say that the Centre will shortly be submitting its views on this question to Mr. Channon, who is, I know, keenly interested in it.
There is another aspect of the environmental problem which I make no apology for mentioning. It is the curse of the juggernaut; indeed, it is the curse of lorries in general. They park with appalling discourtesy and gross lack of consideration in front of people's houses—particularly in working-class streets. They racket through our historic towns, 610 leaving scarred walls and broken paving stones behind them. They shatter the peace of our countryside as they roar along our roads. In its January number, the Municipal Review set out the problem in words I would not try to better. It said:Ceilings crack, fronts of brick houses sink, paving stones split and crumble; bollards buckle, gardens shrink and about 50,000 acres of land disappear each year under concrete roads; 6 million tons of carbon monoxide are emitted into the English atmosphere annually; fuel oil contaminates British beaches at the rate of 50,000 tons a year. Each year 7,000 people die on roads used by over 15 million vehicles, roads that cost £230 million in 1971 to construct and maintain. Meanwhile railway lines vanish and the freight liners shrink. Britain is the only European country in which rail freight has been declining since 1950.I would ask your Lordships to note particularly that last sentence.
The same article tells us that last year 85,000 T.I.R. lorries passed through Dover, and one in five of them was overweight. I have nothing but praise for the G.L.C. in the positive, bloody-minded action it has taken against lorries. I hope the Government will follow that example and will stick to their guns and say that these giant lorries will not be allowed in this country.
I hope your Lordships have studied the Report of the Expenditure Committee on Urban Transport Planning, together with the evidence which accompanied it. I will not weary your Lordships' House by attempting to summarise the Committee's recommendations. I will simply say that the Report is, in my view, one of the most significant that I have read. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, will be able to tell us why it is possible for the Municipal Review to say, as I have just quoted, that Britain is the only European country in which rail freight has been declining since 1950, and I hope that the noble Lord will he able to tell us what positive action his Department is taking to restore to the railways and canals the freight they badly need and which, when it is carried by road, gravely damages the quality of our life.
Finally, may I say this. We in Britain are the pioneers of social advance. The names of Chadwick, Shaftesbury, Cadbury, Sir Frederick Osborne and my 611 old friend Lord Silkin, are revered throughout the world. Our New Towns have probably been our greatest contribution in the social field since the war. We have acquired great experience in planning and urban growth, and over the last ten years we have stepped up our research. We have above all, I believe, the political sophistication to put the fruits of our research to good use in the years to come. Our knowledge and our sophistication put us ahead of all other nations in matters of this kind, and I hope that no one will think because in this House we show ourselves to be aware of our country's shortcomings, that we are not proud of our country's achievements. We are, my Lords—very proud indeed.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ LORD AIREDALE
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, told us that when the office lights go out the City goes to sleep. I am not very fond of statistics but I have one statistic which bears out what the noble Lord has said. In the middle of the week the population of the City of London at midnight is 4,000; at midday it is 400,000. One does not have to go very far in the City to find two people lunching together who had breakfast 50 miles apart. Commuter travel is not exactly fun, and there must be something which causes these people to make their 800,000 commuter journeys every day. One might suppose that this commuter traffic, multiplied all over the country in and out of all our cities, was the one thing that saved British Railways from complete insolvency. But when you make inquiries you find out, sadly, that the commuter services are the ones that do not pay.
On the subject of commuter travel, I should like to mention one thing in connection with road transport, going to the opposite end of the subject from the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, who dealt with juggernauts—that is to say, the commuter's car. What has happened to the commuter's electric car, which we are always hearing is just around the corner and just about to be launched on the market; a nice, clean, quiet, speedy little car which will bring great joy not only to the commuter himself but to the electricity generating boards who will be able 612 to use their spare capacity in the night-time, recharging the batteries of all the commuters' electric cars? What is happening about this? I can just remember the electric cars in London in the 1920s. They were not very successful and they did not last very long; but if we could do it at all in 1923 surely we can do it successfully in 1973.
If one were to give the statistics of our commuter traffic to a man newly arrived from Mars, I suppose the inevitable conclusion would be that, "The life in your cities nowadays must be immeasurably worse than at any period of time in the past." My Lords, is this so? Have we made no advances over the years? Surely we have. We have largely conquered the infectious diseases, and thus we have largely conquered the epidemics which were the absolute bane of the town dwellers among our ancestors. With our smoke-control policies we have eliminated the "pea soup" fog to such an extent that I verily believe there will be some of your Lordships who have not experienced a "pea soup" fog in which you could not see between one lamp post and the next and were lost in absolute total darkness. Furthermore, it has become worth while to clean our public buildings, because at least there is a real prospect that, having been cleaned at vast expense, they will not again be covered with grime. So we have made some advance there. Our fire damage figures are alarming, but the fact is that in peace time we are not threatened with anything like the disaster which overcame London in 1666.
Next, crimes of violence—mugging. "Mugging" is a new term, and there is some danger in supposing that a new term denotes a new phenomenon. But in case we are in danger of thinking that let me quote a short extract from a superbly illustrated book by Hugh Phillips, The Thames About 1750, about the crime quarter of London of those days; it was called "Alsatia", and lay just to the East of the Temple. Ironically, the Temple then, as now, was one of the most law-abiding areas of London. Cheek by jowl with it to the East was the crime quarter called "Alsatia". It came into being because originally it had been a sanctuary within the sacred precincts of a medieval religious settlement where fugitives from justice could enjoy immunity from arrest.
613 Mr. Phillips describes conditions in 1750 as follows:In 1750, an epoch of unlit streets and an ineffective police-system, robbery was an industry. The daily papers of the time mention three to five 'hold-up' street robberies per day from the outskirts to the centre of London. On an average of once a fortnight, a stage coach or a gentleman's carriage was robbed by a masked and mounted highwayman on the very borders of London, particularly at Turnham Green, Putney and Islington.Footpads and street robbers worked in gangs, clubbing solitary pedestrians in the main streets, holding pistols loaded with double ball to their waistcoats, or threatening to knife them, and finally robbing them of everything, including their handkerchiefs, wigs, hats, purses and watches. Intimidation by extremely harsh punishment had little effect. Every month a convoy containing from five to fifteen condemned men with coffins in their carts would pass through Oxford Street to Tyburn—often condemned for no more than stealing ribbons from a draper's shop—but it made no difference. Pickpockets were busy among the crowd while the executions proceeded.So, my Lords, our ancestors could tell us one of two things about mugging.
Perhaps that is enough historical matter for the moment, and it behoves me now to be practical. I should like finally to mention what the R.I.B.A. calls the "throw-away house of to-day". I am quoting from a paper called The Human Habitat, prepared for the R.I.B.A., which says:Instead of building for a limited life, and moving towards a throw-away building … we will have to plan long-lasting buildings, designed for economy in use…that can be adapted to future needs without rebuilding. The assumptions on which architects and their clients have relied will have to be reappraised. For example, the tendency towards progressively shorter life buildings has gone hand in hand with … the concept of building to accommodate the exact needs of the moment. This must now be reviewed in the light of the realisation that a tailormade, glove-tight fit is incompatible with longer life buildings … The Georgian terrace has survived not so much because of its aesthetic merits but because it is almost infinitely flexible—can one say the same of most present day building? Setting aside the small proportion of really specialised needs (for example, the concert hall, the operating theatre and so on) the fundamental requirements of a vast range of activities … do not differ greatly.I suppose it is not much good saying to the average prospective housebuilder of to-day, who finds it hard enough, even with the help of a building society, to raise the money to build the flimsiest 614 house, that he ought to build something which will last for 250 years. Some solution to this problem must be found— possibly a loan from public funds which can be repayable in fairly easy stages throughout the life of the building. If that is not the right solution, there must be some other solution; otherwise we shall be in the sad position of finding, just at the moment when we pride ourselves on having really got on top of our slum clearance problem, that with a great many of the houses we are building to-day we are simply creating a slum clearance problem for our grandchildren.
§ 3.54 p.m.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE, DEPARTMENT OF THE ENVIRONMENT (LORD SANDFORD)
My Lords, we are all very grateful to my noble friend Lord Nugent for giving us an opportunity to discuss this subject in all its width. I am sure we all welcome back to the front line on the environment the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, after quite a long absence from these debates. I should like to start by dealing with matters about which my noble friend Lord Nugent and the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, expressed concern—land availability and structure planning. The Government share the general concern over the need to make adequate land available for new housing and new housing estates at this time. We have already taken action to ensure that more planning permissions are granted, and we have promised support for local authorities in acquiring land for resale to builders. As promised in the recent White Paper on the second stage of the programme for controlling inflation, we intend to bring forward further proposals to increase the supply of building land. A statement will be made about that before the second stage comes into effect.
My noble friend Lord Nugent also referred to the subject of land assembly. The Government recognise that in both the short and the long term advance land assembly by local authorities can play a useful part in promoting development schemes. I am not, however, in a position to say at this stage whether the special £80 million loan allocation for land acquisition—which my noble friend Lord Nugent acknowledged had proved 615 helpful—will be continued on a longer-term basis. It is up to local authorities to take full advantage of what is now available. We have, however, already agreed in principle to deferments of loan charges designed to relieve the burden which would undoubtedly otherwise fall upon the ratepayers straight away, pending returns on the land which has been resold. To that extent I would say that it is not the whole burden that falls upon the ratepayers immediately.
The issues raised by my noble friend on compensation for public acquisition of land are ones which we are considering, as he knows, in the context of the report of the Working Party on local authority/private enterprise partnership schemes. I am not ready to make a statement on that subject, but one will be made when the consultations have been completed. However, I am bound to say—and this is in answer to my noble friend Lord Nugent and the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood—that we see difficulty in any attempt to apply more widely in general areas of growth the special compensation rules applying to the New Towns. Our present view is that it is not feasible to value land in growth areas generally on assumptions which deny the expectation of that growth in the way that valuation in a New Town ignores enhancement created by the New Town project itself. But at the same time we recognise the reasonableness of designating particular parts of growth areas as comprehensive development areas or new-style Action Areas, with the result that compensation for land acquired in them is not enhanced by the prospects of development attributable to that designation and the public works associated with it.
To turn to structure plans, I think I can say that we are not so far behind, and there is not quite so long to go as my noble friend might fear. The position in the South-East is that South Hampshire are pioneering the "joint structure plan", for which we have made provision since the 1968 Act. Plans are well ahead for Buckinghamshire, for the Brighton and Crawley areas, and for the Ipswich area and the adjoining region. Some authorities in the South-East have found difficulties in getting ahead as quickly as authorities elsewhere, despite 616 having available the most fully-fledged regional strategy that has yet appeared. My Department will seek further discussions with them to settle their doubts. I think the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, will recognise that we have made further moves since the 1968 Act, of which he was the author. We have abolished the need for London borough structure plans; we have authorised joint structure planning; we have provided for the less extensive examinations in public, as opposed to the examination of every single objection which would be the case if we were carrying on with the ordinary public local inquiry.
The examination in public is designed to deal with the major issues and the problems which are significant at the structure planning stage, and it does not oblige local authorities to go into every matter in meticulous detail at that point. Our forecast is that the first structure plans will be submitted this spring. Twenty-five per cent. of the structure plans should have been submitted by April, 1974. On a number of these the Secretary of State will by then have held the examination in public or be arranging for one. We reckon that a further 25 per cent. will be submitted by the end of 1975. By that date many other plans will be in an advanced stage of preparation. The booklet on the examination in public, which we shall shortly be circulating, will make quite clear the importance that the Government attach to issuing decisions on submitted structure plans with all reasonable speed—certainly far more quickly than many previous plans were dealt with. Thus I would say that from April 1, 1974, onwards structure plans will be in increasing numbers actually coming into operation.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
My Lords, may I interrupt my noble friend for one minute? As I understand it, at this stage the application is being made for a statutory order by a certain number of local authorities. That order received, they will then publish their provisional plan for public participation. That will take about a year. They have then to apply for their public inquiry. My experience is that it usually takes six months to 12 months after application for a public inquiry before the Minister appoints an inspector—usually nearer 12 617 months than six for an important inquiry like that. The public inquiry will then take another six months. It will take the inspector or the panel at least six months to write their report; and it takes the Minister another 12 months before he takes his decision on it. This adds up to over three years.
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, I think my noble friend is reading into this process too much of the experience of the previous process which was much more detailed. We are going to make very special efforts to speed up this process. My noble friend will know from our discussions on the Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Bill of last year the extent to which we have already modified the public examination of the structure plan as compared to the public local inquiry. The programme which I have just outlined takes into account the factors which my noble friend has just mentioned.
The noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, asked about New Towns. I will not, if he will excuse me, go into that matter in great detail, except to say that we have of course since coming to power designated the Central Lancashire New Town on which he serves—
§ LORD GREENWOOD OF ROSSENDALE
My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive me for interrupting, I would say that that was in fact designated in March, 1970, before the present Government were elected.
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, I apologise. We have decided to carry on with that designation, which is as far as it had gone. But I have no plans or intentions about further designations on which I can make a statement at the moment, except to say that we are certainly continuing with all the New Towns that were already under way.
If I may turn to my general remarks on this topic, I think that if we had been having this debate about ten years ago we should have been concentrating on urban renewal and reconstruction. We should have been thinking about the physical problems of towns, of the continuing need for major slum clearance programmes, of the extent of substandard housing, the need for dealing with traffic congestion, and so on. These 618 are all subjects which will recur to-day. Some would have urged the extension of pedestrianisation schemes such as are shown in the exhibition in the Royal Gallery. Others would have quoted local improvement schemes such as that shown at Rochdale or Skelmersdale; would have referred to land reclamation, as shown at Bradford; provision of open space, as shown at Liverpool, and so on. Two or three years ago we should have concentrated on a number of organisational questions; the planning system itself which the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, did so much to improve; local government reorganisation, on which we spent so much time last summer, and changing relationships between town and country and between different tiers of authorities which will flow from that; the scope for the reorganisation which has led to the creation of my own Department. Those organisational problems, like many of the others, are now to some extent behind us. It is therefore fitting that my noble friend should have changed the theme to one of the quality of life.
When we speak like that in relation to the planning of our towns I believe we come to four main themes: first of all (and the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, has introduced this one), there is dissatisfaction with the quality of a good deal that has been built and the quality of many of the services which we have provided. People feel that the centres of our towns are all coming to look and feel the same, to lose their special local colour and their own particular character. Some of our housing schemes have not been sufficiently human in scale or sufficiently sensitive in style; and we could all quote examples of developments which we regret. But as my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford said, we should not overlook the achievements that have been made and the benefits which have come from our house-building programme.
The second theme is this deplorable disruption of people's ordinary lives that has occurred as a result of the blight of redevelopment and the wholesale transfers of population from old neighbourhoods into new housing estates. No one now doubts the great importance which people attach to familiar surroundings, to being near friends and relations, and to all those things which save them from 619 feelings of isolation and anonymity. This is why I was so glad that the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, mentioned, with approval, the extent to which we have built on the legislation that he had made available for the improvement of our housing stock and the idea of general improvement areas. We have gone out of our way to accelerate this programme and I think the House will agree that we have succeeded. I would agree with the noble Lord that the objective now is to concentrate on making more of the "general improvement area" concept, which relatively has lagged behind.
Thirdly—and this is a theme which the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, introduced and I am sure other noble Lords will pursue—it is now widely recognized that the lot of people living in our inner city areas is not in general improving but in many cases is deteriorating. In recent years we have had the growth of voluntary movements such as Shelter, the City Poverty Committee and numerous local bodies, all dedicated to dealing with this problem. The Government are playing their part through the urban aid programme and community development projects, and noble Lords will know, as the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, has mentioned, that we have recently put in hand a further series of six studies of situations of this sort and three of them in particular—in Liverpool, Birmingham, and Lambeth—are designed to examine the scope for improving the physical quality of people's lives and surroundings in the central city areas.
The fourth theme is that in more and more cities more and more major proposals for change are coming under public attack. Schemes which have been devised and brought forward in the public interest are condemned by the public they are supposed to serve. The criticism that we hear calls not for less planning but rather is it a call for a better style of planning. In short, therefore, we have the need to aim for a higher quality of achievement; secondly, to realise this at less social cost than before; thirdly, to get to grips still more closely with the problems of deprived communities in the worst urban areas and, fourthly, wherever we act to seek to accomplish change in a way more acceptable to the public than it has been in the past.
620 Of those four problems the third—the evils of multiple deprivation in the inner city areas—is certainly the most acute, and I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, stressed and welcomed the six towns studies. After those studies I shall be in a better position to deal with those matters than I am now, and therefore I propose this afternoon to continue on the other three themes and to set out some thoughts on the approaches which I think we need to develop. I have in mind particularly the contradiction which I have just pointed out: the criticism of the developments which are needed and which are brought forward and the way in which they are presented and executed. If we are to plan for the quality of life we have to try to bridge the gap between expectation and achievement.
One simple fact which accounts for both the dissatisfaction and the hostility is that people's needs differ. It is a simple point, but it is really at the root of the problem. We used to believe—and perhaps we had grounds for believing after the war—that we could reach some consensus about what our towns should be like and express this in a straightforward plan, but public reactions have now brought us to see that this is much more difficult than it was once thought. Different people and different groups of people want our towns to provide different things for them. Different people have different expectations. Their desires conflict, and they will continue to conflict. The things that different people want cannot all be provided for in some general consensus. The most familiar example is in the use of cars. That is not going to be resolved, if I may say so, by electrifying them, because there is still the question of fitting them into our cities, and not everybody who would like to drive his car can do so. Different groups compete for housing; they differ about the kind of shopping facilities that they want. Some prefer to have the employment which a factory provides while others prefer to avoid the disturbance and the great risk of pollution that it creates. On all such matters, and many others, there are conflicts of interest between groups of people, and the advantages and disadvantages do not fall equally.
§ LORD AIREDALE
My Lords, the Minister has referred to the risks of 621 pollution, and that is where the electric car comes in.
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, I mentioned pollution as one of the factors governing whether you have your employment in a factory close at hand to a residential site. Decisions have to be taken but they cannot reconcile all the interests. So what follows from this is that we can expect not less, but more conflict; not less, but more appeals; not less but more difficult decisions. I believe this is inherent in any genuinely vital democratic process. I do not think anybody now can hope to satisfy all the rising expectations and aspirations of everybody all the time. Moreover, the future needs and desires of people and the extent to which they will be able to satisfy them become more and more uncertain, as well as in conflict. Great and various social changes are under way. We can no longer fix our eyes on some simple, single agreed goal.
So the planning process has to achieve two main things at the same time. First, it has to be firm about what has to be decided now and to choose between the conflicting aspirations of different groups of people. Secondly, while doing that, it must be flexible about future decisions and adaptable to future changes in pressure, demand and public taste. This is a difficult task. Nevertheless, I believe to achieve it we need to develop a comprehensive approach and a method, but this should not necessarily imply comprehensive development and implementation. So far as possible we should avoid sudden, drastic and sweeping changes in our towns, and concentrate more on a series of smaller improvements over fairly long periods within a comprehensive future structure plan.
There are, of course, some big things which we must continue to do. We must continue to clear the slums. We shall need to get on with some major road schemes. If we do not, the juggernauts will continue to be where they are now, going along our residential roads which were never designed for them. All we can do is to endeavour to do all of these things better. I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, acknowledged and welcomed the compensation legislation which is now going to another place and is one way of improving upon our 622 performance when it is necessary to conduct big public developments that affect private interests. But so far as we can, we must limit the major changes, and we hope to be able to do so. I think there is now a strong current of opinion that total redevelopment should proceed only where it is fully justified and that so far as we can we should proceed by more limited and piecemeal change in a way which allows us to preserve our familiar surroundings, conserve our architectural heritage and build upon the historic character of places and on living communities, rather than sweep them all away.
Four things follow from all this. First, we must see, as the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, and the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, both said, that consideration of social aspects is built into the planning process, and I can confirm that we are moving along this line. The regulations governing the new structure plans require authorities to include such indications as they think appropriate of the regard they have had to social policies. The development plan manual produced by the Department summarised one of the main purposes of development plans as being to satisfy local aspirations. Provision for non-physical needs in the future must, of course, take the planning of cultural and recreational facilities fully into account, and we shall expect both structure and local plans to deal, with appropriate thoroughness, with these factors.
Secondly, the implication of what I was saying is that we need full and firm conservation policies. Past and present conservation work has concentrated upon areas of exceptionally important landscape and historic townscape. Steps are taken to conserve buildings of high architectural merit or historic importance. But the new approach must be broader than this. It can be realised within the present plan-making procedures. It should take account of the growth of public opinion in favour of conserving the familiar and cherished local scene. It should also have care for the conservation of existing communities and the social fabric, wherever public opinion points clearly towards it. Conservation of the character of cities ought more strongly to influence planners at all stages of their work; conservation of the character of cities should be the starting point for thought about the extent 623 of redevelopment needs; and conservation of the character of cities should be the framework for planning both the scale and the pace of urban change.
Thirdly, we should recognise also the advantages of devolving decisions about particular places as close to the grass roots as we can reasonably get them. In many ways the quality of life in our towns is affected by decisions of the Government. There have to be certain national priorities and national programmes. There must be national decisions about the distribution of resources. Only the Government can advance a trunk road programme or bring together all the measures needed to mitigate the nuisance of aircraft noise. But nevertheless for the most part the quality of life in any particular place results from many different decisions that can be taken only in the light of the particular circumstances of each particular place, involving all aspects of the local management of the local environment—the provision of open space and the management of parks and playing fields (which the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, has already mentioned and which I understand my noble friend Lord Gainford is going to refer to), street cleaning, refuse collection, litter—and here I should like to make a passing acknowledgment to the work of the Keep Britain Tidy group which has done a great deal in this important sphere. This is an area in which the studies, to which the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, has referred and welcomed, will give us advice which we shall be able to pass on to local authorities advocating something nearer to a total approach to all these local matters.
The fourth point that follows from what I have been saying—and perhaps it is the most important of all; it is certainly one which is very much in the public eye at the moment—is that we must maintain and improve the arrangements for public participation in the process leading to planning decisions, while at the same time giving full weight to the necessity, stressed by my noble friend, to get the plans into operation with all due despatch. But the fact is that decisions at whatever level cannot be informed by an understanding of different people's differing needs, wants and 624 desires, unless these have first been discovered, drawn out and made explicit in the plan. There are differing and conflicting views about what this public participation should mean. To some it means just a splendid opportunity to fight for their own particular interests. With that in mind, we need to be sure that we give due weight to the views of those who are less vociferous—the non-participators, the silent majority. Others regard public participation as merely a kind of therapeutic device, as though whatever the final decision people will accept it more readily if they feel that they have been involved. Others will go so far as to say that the only right decision is the one that has been generated by the particular community effecting the proposal without any regard to wider regional or national considerations. So as we develop public participation, we have to be aware that it is regarded in a great many different ways and we have to allow for that.
That being so, we shall find increasingly that these processes are both difficult and time-consuming. One of the most valuable test bids of all this on a small scale are the general improvement areas where everything that I have been saying applies but on a small scale, and lessons can be learned from these which can then be applied to larger and more complex problems. At any rate my Department is mounting research into a number of aspects of these problems, and we hope to publish shortly proposals for involving the public at an earlier stage before future trunk road planning.
I hope that ways will be found of bringing together the efforts of the voluntary bodies to contribute more fruitfully to a constructive planning process. My right honourable friend is giving a variety of grants on an experimental basis to promote that. I look forward very much to hearing from the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Portsmouth, his views on the role of the Churches which I know will be based on direct experience of the Churches in his diocese with the work on the South Hants joint structure plan. Voluntary bodies can help directly in physical improvement and contribute thus to the quality of life. We are giving grants to the Yorkshire Council for the Environment, and the Civic Trusts for the North-West and the 625 North-East and we would greatly welcome the setting up of regional civic trusts in other parts of the country.
My Lords, I want to end—and not before time—by emphasising the role of the local councillor in all this. The Baines Report on the management and structure of the new local authorities had a very valuable discussion on this. It discussed the various roles which councillors may wish to play, and the importance of each one of them. These processes of public participation muse reinforce, and not replace, the democratic process at the centre of which the councillor stands. The participation process—a two-way and constructive process—faces great problems of communication. Better planning depends increasingly on specialised and elaborate techniques which lay people find it difficult both to understand and to trust. It is a matter of great skill to surmount that barrier. It is a field that itself needs more experiment and research. We cannot expect the councillor to be a kind of interpreter between professional expertise and public understanding, but we can call on him to insist on every effort by the professionals to make clear and understandable to the public what it is that they are trying to say through their plans and policies.
I believe that comprehension is not the only barrier There is also the need to get the message across that major policy and structural decisions will, in the end, affect what happens to individuals. It is very difficult for these implications to be brought out and made clear early enough. It is the local knowledge of the place where he lives and of the people he serves that enables the councillor to play a great part. If we can surmount these hurdles we shall be on the way to disposing of the "them" and "us" problem with which we are all so familiar. And the solution of this can make such a contribution to the quality of life. In addition, the councillor has a special responsibility for bringing in the local publicity and news media much more effectively than has been done hitherto, to work with the council, as well as to be critical of them where occasion demands, in this whole process.
§ LORD GRIMSTON OF WESTBURY
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, is he not going to comment on the 626 point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, about the loss of freight on the railways at a time when it is increasing in other parts of the world?
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, I was not going to comment on that point because I was counting on my noble friend Lord Gowrie to deal with that, and with a number of other points raised by noble Lords which I have not been able to cover in a speech that has already gone on too long. But I can assure my noble friend that it will be covered.
My noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford has invited us to discuss the quality of life. To raise it is an aim on which we can all very easily agree; but what in practice each one of us means by it, and just how we raise it, is a great deal more obscure and a great deal more difficult. However, we are grateful to the noble Lord for lighting our path and leading us some way along it in his speech this afternoon.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ THE LORD BISHOP OF PORTSMOUTH
My Lords, I would begin by expressing gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, for introducing this debate on a subject which quite obviously is of very deep and significant importance to the life of the society in which we live. The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, said that if this debate had taken place ten years ago it would have taken place on a very different level; and it may be that in the whole field of planning we have needed sufficient time to enable us to see the mistakes that have been made and what we are planning for. This is in no way to detract from or to criticise all that the planners have done. Indeed, I dread to think—and I am sure that all noble Lords will share my feeling—what might have happened in this country if it had not been for the planning authorities over the last 25 years. But this is a planning debate; and as such it has immediate implications about people since, ultimately, it is people who lie at the back of all the planning and all the thought that goes into it.
I sometimes think that perhaps one of the weaknesses of the past has been that plans have been produced into which people have been expected or made to fit; 627 and people do not react in that kind of way. It may be that in future planning the search for the way in which people themselves can decide the kind of society, the kind of community, the kind of setting, in which their lives are to be spent, will be the point of the utmost importance. So this debate has implications for people, not merely through the reference in the Motion to the quality of life but also, I believe, as a result of the recognition, expressed first in the Skeffington Committee's Report on Participation in Planning Procedure, that planning is not adequate if it is something done for people; as it were, at people, instead of by people: it must be a process into which every possible representative of a community is drawn, by means which will develop their concern and educate them in the kind of society in which they are going to live.
It is obviously true that all down the centuries man has been deeply affected, sometimes slowly, sometimes with considerable speed, by the environment in which his life is set. He reacts fairly definitely to the setting in which his life is. This still goes on to-day, and one sees it not only in the new developments within the big cities but also in the new housing areas. But the total environment of human beings is not solely the result of physical circumstances. Those circumstances will be powerful, but man's total environment consists also of his social relationships and of the framework of the society in which he lives. In other words, the community or communities in which he is involved are important elements in the totality.
Various problems have been mentioned and various failures in experience can be pointed to. One of the failures, I am sure, has been the failure to bring the local communities sufficiently into discussion and into participation. A scheme has been implanted on an area, and they have had no say in it. One of the by-products of this, as I see it happening in my own locality, is that such areas are now producing what are called community councils; and their creation has had a somewhat disastrous effect in making authorities suspicious that they are a revolutionary group, so producing yet another of those "We/they situations which bedevil so much 628 of our common life in this country to-day. But it seems that in the planning for the future there is at last going to be participation.
May I be excused if I recount to your Lordships the experience which we have had in South Hampshire? Ten years ago two development structure plans were produced, neither of them acceptable, and both of them from the old point of view of imposing an idea on an area or on a community. In 1968 the three authorities of Portsmouth, Southampton and the Hampshire County decided to set up their own planning authority in Winchester. The first thing that body did was to call together a meeting of as wide a representation of bodies as it could possibly have done, covering the whole of the area. At that meeting we had spelled out to us the possibility of every group participating in the plans which were going to be drawn up. As a result, on the Churches' side we set up a Churches secretariat, which represented all the Christian Churches of the area and not just the Church of England. This secretariat set up working parties in the Solent area, which eventually reported on such things as rural settlements, education, social services, urban forms, housing, employment, social change. In 1970 a symposium was held in Portsmouth, as a result of which the planners more or less said to the Churches, in answer to the profound question that was being asked." What is man; what is he for; what is it that we are seeking to provide for him?": "Will you set up a working party, because we think you are the most disinterested body to do this, and seek to answer this question, 'What is community and what is it that makes a community tick?'"
This working party was set up under the chairmanship of Miss Mollie Batten and produced its report last year, in perhaps a rather glossy form, entitled Your Choice, Your Community. It was very enthusiastically accepted by the planners, and as a result I think a considerable impression has been made on the kind of structure plan to which they are working. We in South Hampshire now have our draft structure plan. The local authorities are now being asked to go into the more particular details; and at that level, too, there is an assurance of complete participation by those who are 629 concerned. While this sense that the community as a whole is now able to share in and take part in the kind of future which is being built may not answer all the problems, I believe that it will at least make people feel they have been consulted, and that if their differences still remain they have little cause for complaint. The vital questions are: what is it that really makes a community? Where does man, being the kind of person he is, fit into it? And how best can he be helped to adjust himself into it? I rejoice that that participation is now very much a reality.
Of course we are all aware of the kind of problems which are being produced in the cities. I hope that it is true to say that there has come about a changing pattern in development. In the early 1960s the main characteristic seemed to be a desire to wipe out whole neighbourhoods, leaving in the middle of it all perhaps a church and a public house as the only survivors. That situation is now giving way, as I see it, to a greater reliance on mixed and selective development, of which the proposals for the Covent Garden area seem to me to be a good example. The Minister has indicated that development should begin by a study of the stock of buildings, the community networks, and the people actually living and working in the area, rather than attempting a clean sweep and the retention of individual outstanding buildings.
Concern for "quality of life" may become hollow if it does not start with a recognition of the claims to attention of those living and working in the area. In the past, whole little communities within a city have been disastrously wiped out and transplanted to different areas. The main continuing need all the time is for a sufficient stock of cheap housing for those working people who must live near their work. In other areas the swing away from comprehensive redevelopment of housing has been hastened—and for this I personally thank God—by the discovery of the high cost of high-rise buildings, and also the discovery of the social deprivation which comes to so many of those who have to live in these high-rise buildings. Children, housebound mothers, and of course the elderly, have forced on them problems of deep personal reality, and there does not seem to be an answer to them in the setting of the high-rise 630 buildings. A combination of all these factors, and the desire to retain the visual variety of many still sturdy Victorian houses has, I am thankful to say, led to "mixed" developments, where medium height blocks of flats, new terrace houses and maisonettes, are combined with rehabilitated existing housing in ways which achieve high density housing and yet enable the majority of the residents to live at ground level.
We have learned from past mistakes. Possibly we shall go on making mistakes—we should not be human if we did not—but through public participation and the sharing of the needs of the local community, we have the power to build not just houses on a piece of land, but real societies in which men and women are not just depersonalised factors but are living and sharing in a balanced community.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ LORD ARDWICK
My Lords, I am speaking under some physical difficulties, and I hope that my speech will not be brought to an end when I am seized with a bronchitic spasm. The subject we are debating this afternoon would justify a very long book and a whole series of Reith lectures, so all one can do in a short debate of this kind is to pick out one or two items which are basic to the problem. Last night I told a Chinese diplomat that we were debating to-day the quality of life. He asked me, quite rightly, what that meant. I answered—and I thought that it was rather a good answer on the spur of the moment—that when we speak of the quality of urban life we mean the amenities that a city provides to live a life that is both pleasant and rich, rich in satisfactions. Of course the first insistence always has to be on the elimination of poverty, a stage which we have not yet reached. The Chinese then asked, "Does it include the problems of social morality?" and I assured them that it did, and that they would probably be raised in this Chamber this afternoon.
The noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, is a scholar, and he will tell me if I am right in thinking that the phrase "the quality of life" originated with Matthew Arnold, and I think it was introduced into political debate here some years ago by my right honourable friend Mr. 631 Anthony Crosland, who is at once the most practical and clear-headed political philosopher of the Left. It is now right in the forefront of politics, and it was the basis of a speech made by my right honourable friend the Leader of the Labour Party at Edinburgh ten days ago. This speech was the first in a series which I presume is leading up to a programme for the General Election. Therefore, the subject that we are discussing here this afternoon is not just a philosophic one in which we can vent our concern about our urban environment and our Utopian dreams of the city beautiful; it is the very stuff of the current political struggle.
Poverty apart, I should say that the very basic needs of a life to be judged by its quality are, first, that the air that we breathe shall not be too impure; that we are all adequately housed; that there is an adequate and comprehensive public transport system to convey us to and from our work and our pleasures; that the public services that we all require are sufficient; and that we can feel that we can walk at night in safety. Perhaps the most surprising progress that we have made is towards cleaner air. Nothing that I know of is more dramatic than the improvement in Central Manchester. Even 25 years ago Central Manchester was not only the frequent victim of dense sulphurous fog—I am a permanent victim of that particular environment—but we sometimes had darkness at noon. The most remarkable phenomenon was that the fog would hover 50 feet above the houses, turning day into night. That kind of thing does not happen any more in Manchester.
Since then, we have had in all our cities the increasing problem of invisible pollution by car, bus, and lorry. Of course solutions are in sight, even if they will not be very rapidly achieved. There was some talk this afternoon from the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, about the electric car; but why the transport authorities dispensed with the trolley-bus is something I have not been able to understand. It had the cleanliness of the tramcar without its noise, and something of the flexibility of the bus. If it was removed simply because it was marginally less economical than the diesel engined bus, then I think that to-day the marginal 632 excess is one that a civilised city would gladly pay.
I believe that, at last, we are ready for more radical solutions of our urban transport problems. As happens so often in politics, it is only when chaos is seen to be right ahead that public consent can be secured for radical schemes. The point of traffic chaos is getting very close in the centres of our cities to-day. Consequently, the public transport systems are getting worse and not better; and the worse they grow, the more expensive and infrequent the services become, the greater the temptation to use the private car as a commuting vehicle, all adding to the chaos. I believe that to-day we are getting ready to impose severe restrictions in urban centres on the minority of people using the private car. I believe that we are also ready to envisage free or very low-cost, fiat-rate public transport. I should like to know, though the question may be beyond the competence of the Government because I think the matter falls within the ambit of the Greater London Council, whether London Transport has worked out the gains in efficiency that it could have, with its existing stock of buses and with its existing drivers and conductors, assuming free or flat-rate fares and also assuming various reductions in the density of private vehicles, and of commercial vehicles, too. I think we need some basic facts like that, in order to see what kind of public transport system we can have. Perhaps the starting point is the banning not merely of heavy but of very long vehicles from the centre of London.
I now come to housing, which is always a minority problem. The larger the number of satisfied householders, the smaller the political will to cope with a diminishing problem. The housing record of this Government, if I may say so in the meiotic fashion to which we are accustomed in this Chamber, is not one of which they can be very proud. Only 123,000 council houses were completed last year, according to the figures published this morning, which was the lowest total for 11 years; and even the combined total of privately and publicly-built homes amounted to less than 320,000, the lowest total for nine years. Yet, in the face of those facts, we hear 633 of moves by certain Members of Parliament to ask the Government to cut public expenditure as a counter-inflationary measure. The Government have learned a good deal from President Nixon's prices and incomes policy. I hope that President Nixon's influence will stop there, and that when the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister meets President Nixon to-night or to-morrow, he will not be inspired by the presidential decision to cut the poverty programme and other social provisions. I feel that the majority of the public, and not just Labour supporters and Labour voters, are in a mood to desire a radical solution of the remaining housing problem which would involve the public ownership of development land, especially in our cities.
Up to 1939, we saw enormous extensions on the peripheries of our cities. The emphasis was on quantity rather than on quality, with square miles of semidetached boxes, dull in design if they were built by the municipalities, and decadent if they were built by private enterprise. Here and there, there were super cinemas, most of which are closed to-day; here and there an enormous, unfriendly pub which was an incitement to temperance, rather than an incentive to conviviality; and, as a rule, there were very few other social buildings. The charm of the older suburbs, such as Wimbledon, was completely missed and yet the English suburb was our greatest contribution to all the cities of the world. In the new towns we have avoided the more egregious errors of the between-wars developments, and we are now developing the decayed and often slum-infested inner rings of our cities.
I have recently been visiting Hulme in Manchester, where something like a new town is built on the old slum site. I must be very careful, because the noble Lord, Lord Hewlett, knows much more about that than I do, and indeed, although I do not think he was responsible for the new plan, he was probably responsible during the years he served on the Manchester City Council for preparing to knock down the old houses. It is wonderful in Hulme to-day to see green grass growing around a new school—a quarter where previously there was not a blade of grass; but some of the housing provision is still in flats, and they do not have to be high flats in order to be 634 a recipe for despair and delinquency. One can only think that they are provided to increase the density of buildings on land which is scandalously expensive, or to gratify the whims of English architects who are not much good at small house design, anyway. In the place called Ardwick, where I spent much of my boyhood, there are now vast tracts of rubble. I hope that when Ardwick is rebuilt they will make a better job of it than they are doing at Hulme. There is a place called Fortress Ardwick—thank God!it has no connection with me—which is an abomination of habitation. It may be very comfortable inside, but from the outside it looks a very grim place. I think that even low-built flats are tragically wrong for families, and they are wrong for most other people, too. Most people, and certainly most Manchester people, would much rather have a house. I think they have a right to choose, and it is up to the Government to get over the financial problems of giving them a right of choice.
There is one prospect which affects many people like myself who are now comfortably housed. They are faced with the prospect that, within five, ten or fifteen years, there will be some development or a road will he built either through their house or unpleasantly close to it. The plans for the London motorways are sufficiently vague, contradictory and remote not to have affected values of properties in the district where I live, but the family house in Manchester has been under a threat for some years. Many of the neighbours have left and the council, quite sensibly, put large families into unoccupied houses. But it may well be ten years before the road is built—ten years in which the property is blighted and in which the owner feels that he can make no desirable improvements, such as rewiring or installing central heating: and nobody seems to know what is the basis of compensation if they get out now, or what will be the basis in ten years' time. The problem becomes more acute and more frightening for people in this position, as similar but unblighted properties in the district fetch unexpectedly high prices. Surely compensation must be based on the current price of similar accommodation in the same district, and I should like to know what the Government intend to do about 635 compensation in the circumstances of a still rising property market.
I now come to the services, by which I mean all kinds of services from the repair of a transistor radio to those services supplied by the nationalised boards. The services of the latter are just not adequate to meet to-day's conditions. The nationalised boards seem to imagine that in every house there is a little woman with nothing better to do than wait until the meter reader or the gas man calls. To-day there are about 5 million married women going out to work and they—and many other women, too—have the nightmare of trying to arrange to be in when a service man is calling or when something is being delivered, perhaps even from a private firm. That nightmare results from to-day's broken promises by people making commitments which they cannot fulfil, or from making an appointment for a day and not for a specified hour. This is one thing which detracts greatly from one minor aspect of the quality of life.
My Lords, I should like to say just a word about civil peace. The noble Lord, Lord Airedale, spoke about "mugging" and its prevalence in the 18th and 19th centuries. I think we all know that, but that is no consolation for the violence which people fear to-day. One of the reasons why, in those days, the violence disappeared from the streets of London, or was very much reduced, was the creation of the "Peelers", of the police force. I should like to ask: is it true that the Metropolitan Police Force is below strength to-day? Is the establishment, even if at full strength, really adequate for to-day's conditions? I should like to know whether the deficiency, if there is one, as has been reported, is due to the fact that the differential in pay between the Metropolitan and the provincial police forces is inadequate—so inadequate, indeed, that there have been losses from the Metropolitan Police to the provincial forces, where people find that they are better off on the rates of pay. I should like to ask: what is the difficulty about moving the London rate upwards if it requires to be moved upwards?
Finally, I am a little disappointed at the number of noble Lords taking part in to-day's debate. I imagined that it would be one of those debates which 636 would go on until midnight, and in which we would have had sturdy provincial voices from Newcastle, Leeds and Liverpool. But we are not hearing them; I do not know why. Of course, a number of noble Lords are countrymen at heart; they are not very much concerned about the city. They might even have been unhappy in 5th century Athens and upset by the unnecessary high-density building on the Acropolis. But as I go round England I am a little worried that leading citizens do not seem to take the same kind of pride in their city as you find in, for example, a city like Liège. I blame this largely on our previous system of local government, which drew boundaries around cities too narrowly, so that by 19–15 a very large proportion of the middle-classes lived beyond the city boundaries in pastures green, and were content to leave the city where they earned their living as a neglected and dirty workshop. Indeed, they had no right of public participation in civic affairs because they were not ratepayers. Perhaps, with our new concern about the environment and the larger units of local government, we may restore the kind of pride in our cities which is essential if we are to improve the quality of life in them.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ EARL HOWE
My Lords, I must apologise to the House for arriving late for this most interesting debate, but I was attending a lunch for road transport engineers on the other side of London, and the lunch lasted for over two hours. The quality of life in the urban environment largely depends on traffic density, and in my remarks I am going to deal, in the main, with traffic density and noise. Far too much is made of the dangers of lead in petrol polluting the atmosphere. According to some of my friends in the engineering world, there is a greater danger of lead poisoning from water brought down lead drinking-water pipes than from the pollution of the atmosphere by lead from exhaust emission. There is only one practical way in which the traffic crush in central London and our other big cities can be eased, and that is by constructing ring roads around the cities similar to the ring roads around Paris, so that all main roads leading into a city from all points of the compass give the opportunity for through 637 traffic to skirt the outside of that city. That is most effective in Paris and other European Community cities.
Urban transport planning should not penalise the private motorist, who has to pay heavily for the privilege of using his motor car on the highway and who, in my opinion and in the opinion of, I think, most motorists, is entitled to bring his motor car into London. Personally, controlling my temper and using every opportunity, I myself have never had much difficulty in wending my way through traffic. The real problem arises when there is an accident or a major breakdown; or when a heavy vehicle going through London meets with some mechanical trouble; or even when there is some demonstration march during the rush hour. With careful planning, all that sort of thing can be avoided. It might well be worth while to study the planning of the urban environment for the new city of Milton Keynes, in North Buckinghamshire. In this planning, the Milton Keynes Development Corporation, with the co-operation of the Buckinghamshire County Council, are doing a really fine job in separating pedestrians from road traffic; although it is obviously easier—and I think it is very true to say this—to build a new town from scratch and to provide ample car-parking facilities and public transport routes, a pedestrian network, et cetera, than to alter, and possibly disfigure, an old city like London in order to make the traffic fit into it.
There are rumours of even harsher penalties for motorists who bring their motor cars into London. This hardly seems fair to the most heavily-taxed section of the community, which I referred to earlier in my remarks. It has been repeatedly stated that the greater use of public transport should be achieved by persuasion, not by compulsion, which is always objectionable; and nobody can really be forced to use public transport unless it is made cheaper and more comfortable. In any case, compulsion or restriction would be almost impossible to enforce, as are speed limits and seat belts to-day. A step towards an efficient public transport system is the ban on juggernaut lorries using central London as a throughway. Surveys have shown an astonishing number of such lorries without any real reason for their being 638 in central London; and even in a limited area this ban on juggernaut lorries is sensible.
To reduce both noise and congestion, more public car-parking facilities must be provided. During the passage of the Transport Bill through your Lordships' House, which took a very long time, I moved an Amendment to enable the surplus money from parking meters to be used to provide more parking facilities. This Amendment, with the help of my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford, was accepted, but nothing has come of it so far. I am afraid that with so many things these days we are finding out that cures for urban and traffic problems are started far too late and without sufficient capital. I am not singling out any political Party; I think that all political Parties have been responsible for progress of that sort. But I am an optimist, and in my opinion it is not yet impossible to provide the roads and the parking facilities in an urban environment without further penalising the private motorist.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ LORD WYNNE-JONES
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth called attention to the great importance of considering the individual, the people, in this problem of urban planning, and it seems to me that we must pay most attention to this. Naturally, we are concerned with the beauty of our cities; naturally, we are concerned with architecture; of course we are concerned with all the buildings that are put up; but we are really concerned with the people who live in the cities. Unfortunately, in recent times the tendency has been to pay most attention to the buildings and least attention to the people. This has been carried to extremes in other countries. For instance, in America it has been carried to such extremes that the centres of almost all the major cities there are now areas of desert, and also of architectural ruin. If one goes to the capital of New York State, to Albany, one finds that the whole of the centre of Albany has been deprived of all residential accommodation, of hotels—even of shops; and that it consists almost entirely of an enormous mall which has been set up in order to perpetuate the memory of the present Governor of the State of New York 639 I remember going to Albany about two years ago: I went by bus from New York City. When I arrived in Albany I was warned that the one hotel still remaining in the centre of Albany should not be approached on foot even though the distance from the bus station was only 200 yards, because it was dangerous at night time to walk that short distance, and that one should take a taxi. Take the case of New York City. My elder daughter lives on the fringe of Harlem. There one can see only to clearly what has happened to a great city. This great city has been ruined in its centre because of this decay of an urban community, because of the moving away of people who could afford to move away. The result is that property has been allowed to decay and is occupied almost entirely by people who cannot pay any heavy rents. They take the worst properties and cram them full of people. In New York they have no money to undertake public building on any big scale and the private developer cannot possibly put up habitations for poor people because the private developer would put up only habitations for people who could afford high rents. So one has the complete decay of cities.
Only yesterday we noticed that there was an attack on a Senator in Washington when he was going to his car just by the Capitol. One is warned in Washington to-day that one should not, if anywhere near the centre of the city, walk on the streets at night. This sort of thing has happened all over America, and it has happened because of the policy that has been adopted. It is important that we should realise that the only purpose of our cities is to live in them. The purpose is not to have fine banks, it is not to have magnificent emporia; it is to live in them. All these other things are there because people want them, because they live there. If we do not treat our cities in this way, they are inevitably going to decay. We shall find that in the centres of cities we are left merely with vast, expensive buildings used purely for business purposes or for purposes such as higher education or something of the sort.
It seems to me that because we have forgotten, or have paid too little attention to, what a city is about we have landed ourselves in this position. Let me go 640 back to a man who, I believe, was really responsible for the whole concept of planning, Sir Partick Geddes. He was, incidentally, a biologist, a professor of botany in Dundee, but only part-time—he had to lecture there, I am told, for only one term in the year and consequently spent the rest of his time looking at the problems of living in cities. Sir Patrick Geddes paid special attention to the problem of people living in cities. He treated cities as biological communities and not merely as bricks and mortar. This became the all-important point in the whole of the teaching of Patrick Geddes. Many of your Lordships will have read the book by Lewis Mumford on the culture of cities. In that book Lewis Mumford acknowledges his great indebtedness to the influence of Patrick Geddes. If only we look back to the sort of thing thought of then, we see that the buildings were subsidiary to the people, whereas to-day one gets the impression that the buildings—and, even worse, the roads—are predominant.
One finds to-day that the first thing required is to put roads through cities, and almost everywhere we go we see a minor highway driven clean through a city. What does it do? In the old days, all one did was to widen the roads. This proved to be inadequate. Naturally, the architects pointed to the disadvantage from the point of view of the buildings. Now we put the roads on stilts, and we find enormous highways running through cities and isolating one part of a city from another. I have been living until recently ill Newcastle-upon-Tyne. I have been there frequently in the last few months on certain matters of business. I find that just opposite the house in which I used to live, which was about 50 yards off the Great North Road, there is now being built an enormous, three-level intercepting highway system. Whereas when I lived there I could walk in every morning to the University and have a pleasant conversation on the way with my colleagues, or with anyone else I met, it will now he impossible to walk across directly to the University because this highway system has divided the city. This sort of thing is going on everywhere. If we do this, if we deliberately set out to make the roadway the all-important thing, we must not be surprised at the violence in our cities; we 641 must not be surprised at hooliganism, or at the lack of quality in in the urban environment, because—not deliberately; but we have planned it—we have produced it as a result of the nature of the planning that we have carried out.
There is an interesting book which was written by Jane Jacobs a few years ago called the Death and Life of Great American Cities. This book is fascinating to read. I do not say that one will necessarily agree with everything that she says; but she has certain points to make which I think rather important. I quote one sentence from a passage in which she is talking about diversity. She says:We need all kinds of diversity intricately mingled in mutual support.That, I submit, is what used to be tried in towns and cities, until there grew up a theory—which I hope is disappearing—that the proper thing to do was to make one area called an educational area, another called an administrative area, another an area that was used for warehouses and another as a so-called shopping precinct. For the ordinary person when living in his house who wants to slip out to buy something at a shop which is only a few yards away, it is not a great advantage to be told that there is a fine pedestrian precinct in the centre of the city where all the shops are; and to be told that you must take a bus—if it happens to run—to reach to this particular precinct. Incidentally, when you get there, you find that the bus stops a hundred yards away from the shop that you want. It is no advantage, if you are an invalid, or a young woman with a child, and have to go this distance of a few hundred yards in order to get to this magnificent shop, when all you want is to buy a pound of butter. That pound of butter could be bought more conveniently at a local shop, yet the local shop tends to disappear in all the planning that goes on.
One looks to-day at the centres of cities. I think of my own city of Newcastle, where I lived, with lovely old shops in the centre. It is absolutely certain that after redevelopment none of those people will be able to go back to the new shops, because they will not be able to afford it. They will be Marks and Spencer, Woolworths, British Home Stores or someone like that, but not the little shop; the little shop will have 642 gone. From the point of view of the quality of life I believe that this is a tragedy.
We do things with the very best motives. I personally am very much in favour of the development of fine, big comprehensive schools. We have to be careful about what the consequences of building these schools will be. I have had a small flat in Dolphin Square for the last two years, and the large Pimlico School (which I think all the busmen know as "The Glasshouse") is undoubtedly a fine school. But all that this school provides in the way of recreation for something like 2,000 pupils is two asphalt playgrounds. There is no space to put more there. I imagine that for their recreation the children have to be taken out to the Inner London Education Authority's playing fields, which are somewhere near Epsom. This is serious. It means that instead of having the community there, all we have done is to create what is no doubt a superb educational institution but without those rational, sensible amenities which the children need.
So, my Lords, if we are considering the quality of life, we have to think all the time not just of the buildings, but of how people live. I put it in this way not because I do not like architect are, because I do. I think some, of the modern architecture is excellent; some of it I do not like so much, but one does not like everything. But the architect can only be the servant of the community. It is our job, as the community, to see that the needs of the community are put first, and that we build and plan our cities not for the motor car or the property developers, but for individuals.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ LORD HEWLETT
My Lords, the need to plan for "quality of life" in the urban environment is surely undeniable. But if the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, will forgive me, I would submit that one word is missing from his Motion, namely, the word "successfully", and that we should plan successfully. The need is to plan successfully, and although good work has been done in many parts of the country, alas! all too often is the planning ill-conceived and, if I take Lord Wynne-Jones's comment, too often with the thought of the thing 643 and not of the person; too little thought for the occupant and too much for the slab of concrete. This results in ill-considered and ill-conceived plans often producing results grotesquely different from those which would have been expected, and far away from what is economically desirable, socially acceptable or even aesthetically tolerable—and sometimes all three together.
I should like to give your Lordships one recent example in respect of Manchester, and I am very mindful of what the two previous speakers, the noble Lords, Lord Ardwick and Lord Wynne-Jones, have said. Like the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, I expected many more Peers to speak for other cities, but with the sole exception of Newcastle-on-Tyne I am afraid that it has been pretty well a Mancunian debate in terms of detail. The Manchester City Council have new plans to erect a housing development (I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, but when he hears what I have to say, I think he may support the idea of this claim) in a zone long since approved and reserved for heavy industry development. Allegedly it is planned to buy up the former English Steel site of 30 acres in Openshaw, Manchester, opposite Ciba Geigy Limited, and alongside our company and others in the chemical and heavy industries which have sites on the boundary of English Steel, now the British Steel Corporation. The theory is, apparently, to bring people closer to their place of work. But, as the noble Lords, Lord Wynne-Jones and Lord Ardwick, have said, the slum clearance has been so well effected all around that the industrial zone now has no amenity whatever except the industry—shops, pubs, places of entertainment have practically all been flattened, and what are not already away in the matter of history are to be removed because of road widening to permit a greater flow of traffic into Manchester along both the Ashton Old Road and the Ashton New Road. So these poor people who are going to be condemned to live in this proposed development will be facing one of the largest chemical complexes in the North of England, with almost no amenity whatsoever.
Please do not tell me, my Lords, that we shall create amenities for the com- 644 paratively few people involved when the authorities have done all the linear parts of development that they expect to do along the Ashton Canal, because I cannot see it being a paying proposition to bring in such a form of development. I suggest that those people who live there will be faced with problems of noise, excessive light at night, and probably vibration. All the companies operating in the district are constantly improving conditions. No one in their right mind, I submit, sets out to build a housing development slap bang up against a great multi-million pound chemical complex which has a huge percentage of precious export business in dyestuffs and other chemical products. I talked to my noble friend Lord Harvey of Prestbury, the immediate past chairman of Ciba Geigy, and he told me that so far advanced are the improvements of that company on gaseous effluent elimination that in four years or so they expect to be able to demolish their chimney. But, as I observe, it will still be a factory of huge proportions, not the ideal or even an acceptable prospect for those forced to live in the proposed new development.
Have we learned nothing from the areas of the 'twenties and 'thirties? Surely, as the right reverend Prelate said, we have. But we must not allow the repetition of silly mistakes similar to those that we saw made in the past. Where we have industrial zones near big centres of population—and those plans have been approved and established for 25 years or so—it is a nonsense suddenly to designate a small and integral part of that heavy industry zone as a residential area. One courts trouble and disappointment, not least for lack of amenity. I am all in favour, as I am sure we all are in this House, of constantly improving standards of cleanliness, and indeed of quietness in the environment. But do let us be sensible and not take action which will result in the promotion of misunderstanding and vast unnecessary extra expenditure. We must, I submit, be practical and not prodigal with our plans.
My noble friend Lord Ardwick has made reference to Hulme. Believe me, my Lords, you should see that development, or even worse, alas! see the municipal housing development along both Ashton Old and Ashton New Roads—indeed, in my noble friend's Ardwick, 645 from which he takes his name, and moving into Openshaw quite near the industrial zone to which I have made reference. I do not want to be rude, but, frankly, they are huge, dirty, granite-coloured, elongated blocks, utterly monolithic structures, totally uninviting and forbidding—indeed, soul-destroying: they ire so ugly as to look very little better now, when they are new, than the old slums which they were designed to replace. I would ask the Minister to go and see them for himself. Frankly, like W. S. Gilbert, I would condemn the architects and planners to live in those blocks until they repent. Never have I seen such horrible "accommodation units"—and I have travelled the world over; not even in Moscow, where they have a great facility for ugliness. Never have I seen anything so formidable perpetrated.
Quite frankly, we must do better than this. It is public money that is being spent, to the great damage of the private individuals who are forced to live in these monstrosities. When the Wythenshawe area of Manchester was first purchased and later developed in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, it was—and I think still is: I agree entirely with what the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, said—one of the most wonderful, though huge, housing schemes. Alas! the War's intervention first slowed and then stopped all the important new projects that were planned until the late 'forties. The planners dreamed dreams and created nightmares—and with almost no amenities. There were clinical public houses and that was it! It took decades even to obtain reasonable facilities, and then they were as oases in deserts of housing.
In future, my Lords, we must insist upon far better-balanced communities—balanced from every aspect: socially as well as from the concept of the quality of life, the type of work, the form of enjoyment, and so forth. Please let us have the quality of life and not the quality of existence. People's lives are wasting away in this country in conditions which are a disgrace to us all—and I am not speaking Party-politically. In Manchester I fought on the city council to make that City redevelop acre upon acre of spoilt land which was part of the price we paid for pioneering the Industrial Revolution in the North of England. But what did the 646 council try to do in the late 'forties and early 'fifties? First the Moberley Scheme and then the Lymm Scheme threatened to take some of the finest agricultural land from Cheshire for the City's housing requirements, while we would have had, had these schemes gone forward, Goldsmith's deserted village in North, East and North-West Lancashire. Cheshire cheese and Cheshire milk: quality products par excellence for hundreds of years.
What did the great cartographer, John Speed, proclaim of Cheshire 362 years ago? He said:The soile is fat, fruitful and rich, yielding abundantly great profit and pleasures for man. The champion grounds make glad the hearts of their tillers. The meadows are imbrodered with divers sweet smelling flowers and pastures makes the kine's udders strout to the paile from whom and wherein the best cheese in all Europe is made.That is what we can do in Cheshire. We cannot, I submit, have marvellous milk yields from herds of slums or slag heaps, and we cannot make cheese on industrial sites. I say to Manchester, as I would say to any other city that I knew at all well: what we must have is redevelopment and revitalisation of our cities and unspoilt countryside as close as possible for genuine recreation—and I mean recreation—and pastimes for those who live in the urban areas.
I now turn to what I hope will be generally acceptable; that is, that we should think of those things we try to preserve as part of our great national heritage, whether it be in London or anywhere else in this country. I do not want to be unkind, but frankly I would not like to have on my conscience the obscuring of Wren's great masterpiece from the gaze of Londoners and visitors alike. Who, I ask—and I am sorry that the Bishops' Bench is empty—allowed the Church Commissioners (yes, the Church Commissioners!) to erect a building to hide at least part of our great St. Paul's Cathedral from Ludgate Hill? The planners—is that what you call them, my Lords? Have you not seen how New Zealand House, like some veritable sore thumb, sticks up to ruin the symmetry of the magnificent classical buildings of The Mall?
Frankly, I do not know what we are doing in the name of planning in those marvellous areas of London. Let there 647 be tall buildings, by all means, if we wish it—tall buildings in the centres of office type development; the great commercial rather than manufacturing centres, of course— but what on earth are we doing allowing monstrosities like this to be put up in the great straight ways that we are so privileged to have in our capital city? They do not fit into the community at all. I do not honestly believe that they are necessary; and, with all respect, I would add to my "horrors list" the Knightsbridge Barracks. I really do not know why we have to endure this nonsense. Let places like The Mall, Hyde Park Corner, and Park Lane be spared further ravages. Aesthetically to permit such things is the mere progress of Gadarene swine.
It is not only in appearance but in function that this happens. Take Euston Station. It takes some beating: a marvellous rail service, absolutely first-class, quicker than ever—so that you may do what?—stand beneath-ground and be asphixiated while waiting for a taxi to arrive and being granted that privilege along with several dozen others. It is difficult to emerge from this place, because the planners have carefully created two huge "yield" signs and a set of traffic lights as well before you get outside the station on a snake's course and at a snail's pace. And what about the wide-open spaces in front of the station? They are quite superb—but I do not know what they were made for except to be rained on. It is pitiful, my Lords. I do not know why planners should be allowed to get away with it, wasting public money in such a manner, to the detriment and inconvenience of the public. It is the public, of course, whom we are representing in these Houses of Parliament. These stupid developments would be laughable if they were not so perfectly stupid and expensive and excessively infuriating to those who have to use them.
May I now turn to another aspect of the quality of life? I apologise in advance if this is probably a little more contentious. I should like to deal with the fashionable detractors and the denigrators in many parts of England. Where do we find these creatures? Mainly, and not surprisingly, in the communications media, not so much in the Press but rather 648 concerned with radio and television. The atmosphere of the alleged environment —what nonsense is created in the "kitchen sink" serials on television or the inane trivia of so-called regional radio news! And this is meant to represent truthfully how people live, typically live, in the North-West of England. Why do these fellows try to sell us short? We do not need selling short either nationally or locally. The fact is that it is a form of masochism; it is another aspect of the Engish malaise that does not do us the slightest bit of good.
I submit that "Coronation Street" is not typical of Manchester or Liverpool. It may be good entertainment, but in view of what is presented is it small wonder that some people think a person is a hero to live there? In fact, cities like Salford and Manchester have been marvellously redeveloped. For instance, the University campus of Manchester is going to finish up as one of the greatest centres of learning—and in appearance, too—of Western Europe. There are also such great civic endeavours as "Theatre 69", which hopes to be able to use the Old Royal Exchange in Manchester and convert it into a very high quality, almost experimental, theatre. Manchester has a tremendous centre of art and gives opportunities for the pursuit of many studies. In Lancashire generally we have a great character and great skills. They abound. And, frankly, even if when we come South we sometimes "act daft" because it pays us to do so, you must not think that we are all that simple. So I challenge that image of "Coronation Street". It is far from being a truthful representation of real life in Lancashire or in the conurbations of Manchester or Liverpool. But I proclaim that the redevelopment of this area of England is truly thrilling, save for those isolated examples I have illustrated—and Lord Ardwick has done the same—of Hulme, Ardwick and Openshaw, at the present time.
If there persists the foolish fantasy that London and the South-East are the only places worth living in, all I would say is that very soon they certainly will not be. As has already been said in this debate, in London and the South-East of England there are appalling problems of overcrowding and of transport. Already they are far worse than in any cities of 649 the Provinces. What I should dearly like to see (and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, will support this from his past experience in the other place) is a really serious redevelopment of the grey areas, particularly the North-West—and the North-East, too—so that we may have an arresting of the population drift southwards. That drift should be halted, not by order but by genuine persuasion, because standards have been improved to the extent that it is desirable that people of their own choice should stay in the Provinces. More jobs and better housing, a better environment to make these places more attractive in which to live and work, are essential. This is already being achieved, but at not a sufficiently fast pace. I am sure that this applies to many other of the regions of this country.
I have always been mystified, if not dismayed, that this country, at one time the wealthiest in the world, was never able to conquer its housing problem. I know that it is all too easy to judge anachronistically, quoting to-day's standards as though they existed in earlier decades or centuries—a common error of political historians. But, notwithstanding that, I proclaim that vast improvements could and should be made to give that real quality of life to thousands who, happily, will live longer and, I believe, benefit to a much greater extent than their forbears could from more leisure time. The prayer in our city council in Manchester before the first business is begun includes the phrase: "A city fair as she might be". We might well pray that all our provincial cities should be "fair as they might be". It is not beyond our wit, or ability, or resources to achieve this. Let the locations in which the citizens live be so much improved that life takes on a new and vivid aspect. Away with the dirt and the drear; and finish with, "Where there's muck there's brass". Let it indeed be "England's green and pleasant land". But, my Lords—and it is a very big "but"—this new land of promise has to earn and produce in industry as well as in agriculture.
Let me illustrate that with a short story of changing standards and resultant incompatibilities which I would commend the Minister to look into with his colleagues of the Welsh Office. Once more 650 I declare an interest and special knowledge resulting therefrom. Some 25 years or so ago Amalgamated Anthracite Limited were not only invited but officially welcomed to Port Tennant, Swansea, as manufacturers of carbon black. This is a vital ingredient to impart abrasion resistance to rubber. Your car tyres, my Lords, consist to some considerable degree of this highly technically controlled form of fine particle carbon dust. Enormous improvements in manufacturing techniques have progressively been introduced since then. When bag filters first became available in 1957 they were installed, and every possible practical improvement has followed.
In 1971 the plant, employing 120 persons, with dependants therefore presumably approaching 400 in number, was illegally blockaded by irate housewives from nearby homes who believed that this and no other plant was responsible for dirtying their laundry. Quite frankly, they knew that the plant was going to enormous expense to improve conditions constantly; and even as recently as a month ago the same people thought that they would create another barricade because they feared that the plant was to be expanded in size and operation. Let me assure the Members of this House that the plant did and does comply with all the requirements of the Alkali Inspectorate and the law. The company has spent, and continues to spend, a small fortune upon dust elimination, and even better standards of control to prevent pollution. But, my Lords, you must face the fact that they make carbon black, and someone has to make carbon black somewhere. Some dust, wherever it is made, is unavoidable, and this is inescapable. I am sorry to say that the protestors only a week or two ago refused to support a public inquiry, an independent inquiry, to find out the true facts of possible pollution within the area.
Perhaps the re-siting of this plant is the answer. At a recent meeting with the Member of the other place for Swansea, East, Mr. McBride, he promised to press for this and for Government financial assistance to bring it about. In the case of this one comparatively small plant it would cost about £3½ million; but it can he sheer economic nonsense to haul the plant away from accessible raw material supply, obviously based upon 651 oil and gas, to a place where those are not easily accessible. To put it far away from its customers, the rubber industry, is a very difficult economic decision to take. The material is bulky and difficult to handle. It looks to me as though there is a real conflict of interest based upon changing standards from the aspect of pollution as well as chemical technology. What worries me is that there are far bigger plants in that area, I suspect doing far more damage in terms of pollution, but the number of people that they employ, and the size that they are, entitles them not to be considered for this form of treatment. It would be too damaging to the economy to lose these giants of industry, and certainly beyond the public purse to contemplate moving them.
Let me emphasise to you that the country need tyres, the end product of carbon black, and excellent quality ones if the carnage of motor car accidents is to be restricted and, I pray, reduced. So here we have a classic conflict between hard industrial economics and road safety on the one hand, and the quality of life in a comparatively small district on the other hand. Of course if you know Port Tennant, Swansea, you will realise that what I am describing is one of the most difficult areas of the British Isles, and you will know that what I have said about the large companies that operate—some of them nationalised—in that district can be the cause for deep concern. All I would ask the Ministry to do is consider the matter very seriously before they take an isolated case and try to persuade the company, or encourage the company, to move, when it may make extraordinarily little, if any, difference to the major effects of pollution by other industries in that immediate environment.
Steel, power—though not in this immediate locality—mining, quarrying, and many other heavy industries, create these problems. They occur in the United States, Germany and Japan, and many other countries. Let me quote very briefly from a report, appropriately enough in the Guardian, on the Japanese situation affecting Tokyo:About 2,000 factories that pollute Tokyo's air and water are to be evicted from the city. Most are being re-sited on reclaimed land around the already highly polluted Tokyo Bay. The removals are part of a 10-year plan costing 652 about £2,135 million, to protect the capital's almost 12 million residents.That is the size of the problem in Tokyo. The size of the problem in South Wales and other heavily industrialised areas of the British Isles is in proportion to that.
May I suggest that we must have a practical attitude in this House, and not run away with the idea that processes can be ordered to be amended, or plants threatened with closure, for it is nowhere near as simple as that. It is surely a subject for genuine international cooperation and a setting of standards and of controls based on practical measures that can be devised and brought to successful fruition. I would suggest to your Lordships that it is no use making comments of a very general nature that this or that or the other can be done. These are highly technical matters—and we have had only a quarter of a century so far in dealing with them in the chemical and the carbon black industries. There is no easy outcome of such problems, and it ill behoves those who have very little knowledge to make profound pronouncements upon them which are almost meaningless. I suggest that these general claims, that "industry will be forced to do this, or else …" ignore the total fact that research and development are the only things that will answer these problems and be able to amend the processes successfully, and viably financially, or indeed put a substitute product in place of the end product the manufacture of which is causing the difficulty. These findings and discoveries, my Lords, do not come on demand. They may depend upon thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of pounds-worth of expenditure. So we must find short-term, temporary, practical solutions to these major problems.
If I may say so, I feel that my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford has done a great service in raising at once this highly complex yet fundamental issue within this House. I hope that your Lordships will press for much more to be done to improve standards in practical ways without trying to pillory industry unfairly. I suggest that more enrichment of the lives of our citizens in urban areas can take place in our great country, and we must see that it does take place. I 653 submit to your Lordships that to achieve a really noticeable improvement in the next five years is most desirable, and an almost total elimination of poor environment by the end of the next decade should be our target. This is work for industry and Government together, my Lords: neither one can do it alone. There is a fund of good will on both sides. Each must bear its fair share in the true interest of the common weal.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ LORD RAGLAN
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hewlett, has highlighted the difficulty of applying some of the smoke control regulations, but it is a fact that, as well as having the most comprehensive planning legislation in the world, Britain has also the best smoke control legislation in the world. People come from all over the world to find out how we do it, and I myself have the greatest confidence in the alkali inspectorate in their application of the regulations. It is a gradual process, but it is worth repeating fairly often that still the most smoke pollution comes from the domestic chimney and not from industry.
I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, on his speech. I found it stimulating and agreeable. The noble Lord is not only a very well respected Member of this House; he is also, may I say, a shrewd and benign elder statesman of the Party opposite. Therefore, when he first put down this Motion for debate I wondered why it was couched in terms quite so wide and, to be frank, rather vague. I think—at least I hope—that the Motion may in fact have a greater significance than at first appears, for I hope it may signify that the conventional philosophy of the Party opposite, as distinct from that embraced so far only by its Ministers, is at last moving to accept what pioneering town planners and the Labour Party have been saying for many years: that you have to plan the urban environment; you cannot leave development to chance and speculation, otherwise the hasty and the improvident actions of commerce will leave you with the type of surroundings of which we have so many deplorable examples. For only rarely, and then mainly in wealthy districts, has private enterprise been prepared to bear the social costs of pleasant urban development.
654 I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth and with my noble friend Lord Wynne-Jones (I agree with my noble friend, by the way, very much about the effect of roads on people) that it often seems that the planners want to fit people to their ideas, instead of the other way round. I would say in mitigation that the best planners try to have ideas which they think people will like and then invite people to try them. Awful though some modern developments have been, the vast majority of them provide far better conditions than the awful squalor to which the majority of our population were condemned until fairly recently. So I want to talk about the better modern developments, and like my noble friend Lord Greenwood I want to say something shortly about New Towns.
I start by saying that of course town planning is not new. The Greeks did it; the Romans did it; I believe that the Spanish Conquistadors did it. Edward I was an enthusiastic town planner and Caernarvon, and I think Conway, are both examples of his new towns. But the first post-Industrial Revolution town planning—a New Town designed to got away from the old industrial townscape—was chiefly the work of Ebenezer Howard, who founded Letchworth Garden City in 1898. This was just the kind of social planning about which the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, spoke.
I mention the date of the foundation of Letchworth because it is not always realised how long ago the Garden City concept began. After much preparation and discussion, the concept was taken up as Government policy by the postwar Labour Government, the enthusiastic Minister being my late noble friend Lord Silkin. He had a right to be proud of what he and his team did. He claimed, I believe justly, that British New Towns are something unique in world history, for not only was the making of a number of New Towns adopted as Government policy, but they were designed not as mere dormitory areas but to be self-contained in respect of employment offered to housing provided. They were balanced communities living in a landscaped surrounding. Now, almost thirty years later, in spite of the opposition of some and the derision of many, they have proved their worth in displaying 655 living conditions which other places have tried to copy; and, as I have just mentioned for smoke control legislation, people come from all over the world to see how we plan our New Towns.
New Towns are Government enterprise, because only Government can take the necessary planning powers and only Government can put up such large sums for such slow return. But I am sure that it will be of general interest if I mention that Harlow New Town returned 24 per cent. last year on its capital investment, and there are others which are not far behind. So it should be well known that our New Towns are a financial as well as an environmental success, and that we should be proud of them. As well as planning capability and long-term finance, the New Towns owe their success to their management structure; and it is no coincidence that the Baynes Committee, which recommended a new structure for the new local authorities, drew very largely on the New Town management structure in their recommendations. Some towns, no doubt, are managed better than others, but among the over thirty New Towns there is a very high standard of expertise, which is attached to a considerable idealism.
Although the New Towns Act of 1946 was one of the most inspired pieces of planning legislation that there has ever been, the very success for which it has been responsible has led to attempts to use it for the regeneration of older urban areas, a purpose for which it was not originally intended, and it remains to be seen whether this will work. It certainly has thrown up some problems in the hybrid New Towns where the New Town corporation and the local authority are having to share officers.
However, I must also stress the importance of the New Towns Act as a ready-made instrument to be used—and it can so be used and is being used—to put taxpayers' capital into the regions in a particularly rewarding fashion. On the whole, industrialists like New Towns, not only because their needs are met in a businesslike way but because on the whole their key workers are also attracted to living in them. So also, in spite of much propaganda to the contrary, very many other people also enjoy living in them. In fact I have discovered that 656 no fewer than one in 32 of our population now live in New Towns—just over 3.2 per cent. That is a very large percentage for a venture which only so recently began in earnest. I think it has been demonstrated quite clearly that the old, haphazard unsightly development in our industrial towns is simply neither good enough nor necessary. Development must be planned—not regimented, but planned carefully by sensitive people who know pretty well what they are doing, so that we can create an urban environment which is as good as it can possibly be within the inevitable restriction on costs. I urge the Government to continue to use the designation of New Towns, not around London but within the regions, as a sound social and economic investment.
The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, mentioned development plans, and although I firmly believe in planning I do not myself believe in detailed 5, 10 or 20 year plans. I do not believe one can work out a master plan for that many years ahead and stick to it, for time will make a monkey of it. You must have some general outline of what you want to do, but the filling in of detail is liable to be a waste of time, and master plans which are inches thick can be near to being out of date before they are even printed. Ideas change, fashions and habits change, circumstances, facts and data all alter, and planning only ever really ceases with the completion of a layout or the erection of a building; and even then, sometimes years later, one may find oneself wishing it was not quite where it is. So I hope that the Government will look askance at the piles of print and plans which are sometimes produced, and not take them as evidence that they will produce in the long run anything better, if as good, as plans which are more modest but more flexible, and therefore more practical.
But if Ebenezer Howard showed us how we could build new industrial towns, I do not know who is going to show us how to rebuild parts of the centres of our great cities, especially in London. I have in mind commercial development. I cannot believe that imagination and beauty have left the minds of all our architects, but I can believe that the developers tend not to care what is erected so long as it is the cheapest thing they 657 can get away with. So I offer the following set of facts as a contribution to improving our townscape.
Around the Provinces, in towns 100 miles or more from London, you can find a quantity of recently built offices being offered at an economic rent—and I can assure your Lordships that it is an economic rent—of about £1 per square foot or less. That includes heat and may also include a commissionaire. The going rate in London for newly built offices is about £10 per square foot and sometimes very much more. Taking the building costs in London as being only slightly more than in the Provinces, it clearly shows that one can double the cost of a building in London and still add only about 10 per cent. to the rent. The rest of the rent is accounted for by the cost of the land. I am not complaining about the cost of the land if that is what it is worth, but I am saying that when land costs are high, and especially when they are as high as they are in London, developers can quite easily afford buildings which cost double or treble that of the cheapest. If that is the way that more imaginative buildings which will add to and not detract from the appearance of our cities can be built, then planning committees and the Department of the Environment should not be put off by pleas of poverty on the part of developers. Developers and property companies are very rich and would not groan under the burden of a per cent. or two less on their takings. In my view, developers have a duty to provide buildings which are as handsome as possible, and it is the duty of planning officers and others in charge of development to see that the public get them.
I have only one more important but short point, and that concerns land prices. It has already been mentioned this afternoon but I might as well say straight out that building land is rationed and that is why it is so costly, and because it is rationed some methods of control are necessary and justified. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, put forward some suggestions about that this afternoon and I hope the Government will earnestly look into those and others.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ LORD REDESDALE
My Lords, some noble Lords have gone back as far as the Romans in their speeches but I will not be as ambitious as that; I will go back only as far as 1964. In that year Colin Buchanan brought out his book Traffic in Towns. In it he put forward the idea of environmental areas and coined the phrase "the rooms of a city ". Of the schemes that have resulted from this, some have been particularly successful while others have not been so successful. What I should like to do is to analyse the reasons for their success or failure and see what can be learned for the future in terms of making future environmental areas more successful.
Camden was one of the first areas to put forward a scheme when, in April 1967, the G.L.C. asked boroughs to put forward environmental schemes. By October, 1967, Camden had moved very quickly and had produced a really excellent scheme for the Primrose Hill area. It was imaginative and what should really be described as an environmental area. It tried to integrate the park area and the people. However, it did one thing which I am afraid in this day and age appears to be a cardinal sin: it cut off the motor car. The scheme was put forward for consultation. We have heard a fair bit about participation and the problems of consultation. Consultation takes a long time and I should like to dwell on it in more detail later. However, the scheme was put up, and unfortunately with an environmental area there is always a down side to it: that is, the people living on the periphery.
Somebody has to suffer if the car is to be excluded from an area. In this case it was an area running alongside the railway line, Gloucester Avenue. This immediately caused a furore. Originally, and talking about the consultation, the local branch of the St. Pancras Civic Society had been set up so that the local residents could air their views. As soon as it was realised that somebody was going to suffer, inevitably the whole area broke down into the groups that were affected. That is something we can learn from for the future. The particular group which was to have a lot of the traffic put their way were extremely articulate and highly militant. One point 659 that comes out of that is that militancy in this type of scheme works, because—without boring your Lordships with the full record of events which goes on for some time—the net result was that the plan had to be modified. I must confess that the other people who came in on their side, were, as it happened, one of the 19 bodies which had to be consulted, namely, the police, because in their task of keeping the traffic flowing they foresaw considerable problems.
May I continue about this scheme and about what happened? In March, 1968, a revised scheme was started. After that there was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and then the inevitable passing of the parcel around, like a children's game, between the borough, the G.L.C. and the Ministry. It was not until February, 1971, that a very modified scheme was put into effect. Interestingly enough, the scheme that was put into effect was the old scheme turned inside out. The people who had been the most militant ended up by being on the inside of the environmental area, and the people on the outside—and here I have to declare an interest because I am on the periphery—got the main flow of traffic. The interesting point is that it took almost three years as there are 19 bodies who had to be consulted. I am not advocating that there should be no consultation; all I am advocating is that systems should be set up whereby that consultation can be a little more simplified and made more effective. Obviously the police and the emergency services—fire, ambulances and so on—have to be consulted. They have a worry when it comes to environmental areas. They are worried about access, the fact that Panda cars cannot patrol and that environmental areas produce cul-de-sacs which tend to encourage crime. There are all these factors which have to be taken into account.
But the "up" side of the situation is that those living inside the area have a vastly improved quality of life in the urban environment: so much so, as I was told by a local planning officer, that an old lady who had read that Camden had produced the schemes was so impressed by them that she wondered whether she could possibly live in the area of one of them. Sadly he had to reply that because the schemes had been so effective they had pushed up the value of houses and 660 land, and consequently it was not an area in which somebody living on a pension could afford to live. That is only because the number of areas at the moment is limited, but it raises an interesting point: if the restricting of traffic so improves an area that the value of houses goes up and on the "down" side the quality of life of those people living on the periphery diminishes because of the extreme increase in traffic, we ought to consider how compensation can he effected. Surely one way may be by the rates. Those people living inside the environment area should have to pay a slightly higher rate, and those people affected by the blight of traffic should have a slightly lower rate. I am sure that there are many problems involved and nothing is easy. It is a moral question as to whether the people living on the outside of an environmental area should have to suffer for the sake of those who are living inside the area. It is rather like the question of noise round an aerodrome. In the channelling of flights over one particular area, somebody has to suffer for somebody else to have an advantage. Is that right?
On this quesion it has been argued very cogently by, for instance, Mr. Mayer Hillman, who is a distinguished architect planner, that environmental areas in London at the moment are wrong because it means putting a greater burden on the people who live on (and here we have this wonderful jargonistic phrase) the main distributors "; and in passing, may I say that the jargon of planning seems to get more and more complicated all the time. The problem when there are main distributors running through an area—and obviously they have to go around the main heart, or round an environmental area if it is beside a park, if we have traffic, as it appears we must have traffic—is that these main roads tend to go between the parks and environmental areas. This is a nonsense because these areas should be integrated. The results of the traffic on those people living in the peripheral areas are all too well known. It has been stated that 70 decibels of noise should not consciously be exceeded, but in these types of areas it is consistently being exceeded, not only during rush hours but also during the rest of the day.
Vibration is another point which people tend to forget. It does not matter so 661 much in the case of new housing, but with +old housing, especially in late higher buildings, the vibration increases the higher one goes. Then there is the question of the pedestrian threshold. In the particular area about which I am talking and which now carries the traffic there are quite a number of amenities—a school, an old people's home, a church, and various other places—and the people there now find it extremely difficult to cross the road. The question of crossings I should like to raise later because it is something that is now controlled by the G.L.C.
When I was talking about the question of through-traffic the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, mentioned that the question of lorries is getting far worse in London. It is interesting to note that a great many of these lorries are now avoiding sonic of the main routes to go through a more pleasant route and one that takes less time. They avoid Marylebone Road, because of its heavy congestion, and go the long way round, up past Regent's Park, to go West. It is the lorries that cause most of the problem of noise and vibration. We can tolerate a far heavier level of cars than of single lorries. Among the particular schemes I mentioned, that in the Primrose Hill area has improved the quality of life for those living in a now relatively small area. It did not need a tremendous improvement, because it was an area through which cars did not tend to go too much, but it has held it and maintained the quality of that area. Another scheme was the Camden Square scheme, and that has been very much more successful. Interestingly enough, that scheme was put up originally by the residents and not put up by the Council. It is unfair to say that, for that reason, one worked and one did not work. The Camden Square scheme was in a more natural area for success. Traffic tended to channel around it.
One of the problems on the forming of environmental areas is that it takes such a long time to implement schemes. I should be grateful if the Government would consider ways in which experimental plans to create environmental areas could be made simpler. At the moment, a closure order can be obtained in two ways. The first is under Section 662 92 of the Town and Country Planning Act, when a scheme goes through the Department of the Environment. They then have to advertise, and if objections are raised these have to be taken up. The slightly quicker method is under Section 9 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967. It is not necessary to advertise under this particular procedure, and only the highway authority and the police have to be consulted. Theoretically, it should take only six weeks to get a closure order through; in fact, it takes about nine months, at the very least, and quite often two years. It would be very helpful if boroughs could have the authority to close roads. That means legislation will have to be amended, or new legislation brought in, under which simple, very short-term closure orders—about nine months—could be introduced by a borough and need not be introduced by the G.L.C. Obviously, these plans would have to be monitored, and if they were successful then the plan would have to be ratified by the G.L.C. before the final closure.
I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I am taking too long on this point. At the moment, when an environmental area is put down, you have to be right first time, because you cannot move the barrier once it is down; you have to go through this long rigmarole to shift it again. If it could be done by the borough, they could move it. For instance, it was found in one of these areas that the barrier was put up about 50 feet the wrong way, and that made a big difference. But it could not be shifted. Also on this question of consultation, people would be very much more prepared to accept an environmental area if they realised that it was an experimental plan and they could see how it worked out in practice. This question of consultation is obviously getting more and more important, and it is interesting to see that Islington has just appointed a full-time public consultation officer. I think this is vitally important, because the more people know what the plan is and how it will affect them, the more ready they are to participate.
The other point I should like to raise about traffic is that in areas which have very heavy traffic flow it is the G.L.C. who decide where a pedestrian crossing 663 shall go. This used to be the responsibility of the Department of the Environment, but it has now been transferred to the G.L.C. They are still working on the old Department of the Environment criteria, but in fact they cannot have as much discretion as the Department had. I feel that this should be taken out of the hands of the G.L.C. and put into the hands of boroughs. Probably it would be said that the boroughs would put in too many pedestrian crossings; but if these could be made subject to ratification by the G.L.C. I feel that it could be an acceptable plan.
My Lords, the question of environmental areas can be effective only if the plan for the amount of traffic to be allowed into London is finalised. The noble Lord, Lord Raglan, talked about the benefits of planning. I wholeheartedly agree with him here, because nobody has yet produced a totally integrated transport plan. If it could be seen how much traffic could be allowed into London and what other alternative methods of transporting people were available, then the environmental quality of the towns could be greatly improved. With regard to this question of the amount of traffic which comes in, Camden have produced an excellent booklet called, Traffic and the Environment, which represents Camden's views on the subject. Some of the points that came out of this—and they are things we should all remember—are that the number of job opportunities in London is decreasing, the number of households in London is decreasing, the number of private cars is increasing, and, most important of all, the cost of public transport per mile is going up and the cost of the private car mileage is going down; hence people use cars. We have a completely ambivalent attitude to cars. I drove here in a car to-night, but I do not want other people to drive through my area. I appreciate that this is a problem that we have to live with. It has taken from 1964 to now to achieve something in terms of environmental areas. I very much hope that it will not take as long to formulate a plan which will be effective.
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, I wonder whether I may intervene on one 664 point the noble Lord made, leaving my noble friend Lord Gowrie to deal with the other points made by noble Lords since I spoke. It happens that some months ago I spent a day or two with the Camden Borough looking into this very problem of environmental areas, including the noble Lord's own area. It is perfectly true that there is a difficulty here through a division of responsibility between the boroughs and the G.L.C., and I would assure him that the mechanics of introducing these areas and these policies is something we are looking into both with the boroughs and the G.L.C.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ LORD WALSTON
My Lords, the subject which the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, has chosen for this debate is, quite obviously, from the debate we have had already, of very great interest and importance. It is also, as one can tell from the different speeches to which we have listened, a very wide-ranging subject. I will not attempt to go into any of the details of planning, much as I should like to. I would particularly, I must confess, like to follow up the point first raised by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, concerning the bringing together of the need for more democratic consultation in planning and the need for speedier decision in planning. Suggestions have been put forward on how that can be achieved. They must all be of a technical nature. I believe that it is of paramount importance, if our planning is to be of any value and carry any conviction with it, that we must evolve methods by which the people who are affected by those plans are brought into the decision-making, and whereby the decisions are made speedily while the matter is still hot, rather than some ten years later when these problems have disappeared or become magnified or changed in character.
On the more general side, I would suggest some of the main factors which go to make up the quality of life. They of course change from generation to generation. The things which we to-day want in order to have a good life are not identical by any means with those that our parents would have wished for, and undoubtedly are different from those that our children will wish for. But I would 665 suggest that prominent among them are good houses; good places to live; good places for children to be educated in and for the sick to be cared for in; schools and hospitals; a wide choice of jobs to suit all types of capabilities and tastes; an absence of pollution of the air; an absence of traffic congestion and the frustration which goes with it; the ability to get quickly to one's job; to shop in comfort, and send one's children to school without danger and without anxiety. At the very least, an absence of ugliness, if possible; the positive presence of beauty; open spaces, green trees, grass, and right of access to the quietness of the countryside. It is a long list, but I believe that we shall never achieve anything approaching a good quality of life for people, whether they live in urban districts, conurbations or in the countryside, unless all those things are made available.
The one main reason why so many of these essential qualities are absent to-day in our cities is purely the fact of the size of those cities. If the cities were half the size, or a quarter of the size, many of these disabilities, or factors, that go to make a bad life, would disappear. I suggest to your Lordships that while we can deal with the symptoms by various ad hoc measures in the large number of overlarge cities that we have—pedestrian precincts, traffic free zones, smoke free zones, open spaces, parks, and so on—we shall never solve the problem by concentrating solely on these. We can solve the problem—and we are looking to-day not just to what is to happen in the 1970s but to the end of the century or beyond—only if we take positive steps to prevent our cities from becoming any larger, and, if at all possible, take steps to see that the largest of them become smaller. This has already been done in the case of London and certain other cities, and it is a wise and a good move.
When discussing this, we have to think of the reasons which led to these great cities being formed. They were obvious and well known economic reasons. Our industries, in the clays of the Industrial Revolution, needed to be close to their raw materials of coal and steel; they needed to be in certain areas because of the climate (the textile industries in Lancashire, and so on); and people had to live close to the factories because 666 they had only their feet to get them to work, and because communications were poor in the days before the telephone and telex. The other ancillary industries grew up close to them—the banks and exchanges, and all the rest—and they formed these vast agglomerations. But there is no need for any of those things to-day. There are still certain industries which are better sited in certain areas, and there are a few which have to be in certain areas, but very few indeed. An increasing number can be sited anywhere throughout the country with no great loss of efficiency, and sometimes with some increase in efficiency. What is more, through modern methods of communication people can be in touch with their brokers, bankers, or suppliers of materials, just as quickly, whether they happen to be in Ipswich, in Liverpool or in the same street in the City of London.
There are no economic reasons why our industries have to be centred in a few small areas, and there is every social reason, and some economic reasons, why they should be dispersed. The New Towns to which my noble friend Lord Raglan so rightly drew our attention are one answer to this problem, and I think an admirable answer. We are leading the world in our New Towns. Mistakes have been made in some of them which are being very rapidly rectified, and we are creating in our New Towns places where people can live and work, with plenty of opportunities not only for choice of jobs but for recreation and living in mixed communities which are alive and varied, and which give plenty of scope to all types of people who live there.
However, New Towns alone are not the answer. I believe that our rural districts and rural areas have a large part to play in solving this problem. As I have said, there is no economic reason why industries should not move from the industrial Midlands to, for instance, my own area of East Anglia, and come into the small towns and even into the larger villages. Some of them have done so, bringing with them a new vitality, a new source of wealth and new opportunities for the people who formerly worked on the land but now have no jobs there and no prspects for future advancement, and who are forced to emigrate into the larger towns or to London or 667 elsewhere, leaving behind them the deserted villages of which we have already heard to-day.
I agree that no one single small town in East Anglia, or anywhere else, can make a very big contribution to this problem. But it is worth remembering—and again I refer solely to East Anglia—that if you take that region and enlarge every small town and village by merely 25 per cent. (which is not a big increase in population, if you think of any town or village in which your Lordships live or which you know well, and it will not in any way alter the character of that village), you will be bringing into those areas over 300,000 people, or the population of two quite reasonably sized towns. That is just one area of this country—and probably the smallest one—the region of East Anglia. What is more, there will be a further advantage in doing this. The right reverend Prelate spoke about the human aspects. Other noble Lords have also mentioned them, and they are of vital importance. One of the great qualities of life in the countryside, as opposed to large cities, is that you have all sorts of people mixing together—rich and poor, clever and stupid, manual workers and brain workers, old and young—because it is a small community, whereas in cities people are naturally segregated according to their incomes and their occupations. If they go to live in the rural areas, they will have a far better quality of life simply by reason of this mixing one with the other.
There are problems in doing this, but in the East Anglian region we have recently completed a study of the problems of the small towns, and what is needed in order to make it possible for them to attract more industry and enlarge themselves by a given amount, what the costs of it are, what services are needed and so on. Much valuable information is already there, and this will enable us to make this kind of plan a reality, if it is felt that it is a good one. Another study is going on at the present time with regard to the city of Cambridge, and how the character of the university and the market town can be preserved. This is essential, because we cannot allow an influx of new people and industry to ruin our traditionally beautiful cities, towns and countryside. The problem is 668 how they can be preserved, at the same time making more industry available for the people living in and around the area.
I believe that the problem that faces us to-day is how we can achieve the object of having the rural areas, the countryside, and the small towns, play their part in building up and improving the quality of life for their own people and for the people who are longing to leave the great cities—and indeed are leaving them, and will leave faster if they get good opportunities both for work and for living—without destroying the beauties, amenities and quality of life of those already in the countryside. That is the main problem we are faced with to-day, and we must try to discover how that can be solved. I am certain that it can be done, and when we have decided how it can be done it is first up to the local authorities to make their own plans for their own expansion, and, secondly, for the Government to see what form of pump-priming help, if any, is needed—and I do not think much will be—in order to enable this movement away from the big cities into the more sparsely populated areas to take place with greater speed than is happening at the present time. We are not trying, and are not suggesting that we should try, to force people out of the towns where they want to live and into the country where they do not want to go; or to force people already in the country to receive people from the towns when they do not want them. But when we can marry the two natural desires together to the maximum benefit of everybody, we shall have got to the root of the problem of the lack of good environment and the poor quality of life in our cities to-day.
§ BARONESS PHILLIPS
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him whether he agrees that the policy of the new and expanding towns, of always having a shopping precinct which has no life in it after six o'clock, is hardl conducive to community life?
§ LORD WALSTON
My Lords, I would certainly agree that you do not want such a vast shopping precinct that it becomes a big dead area in the middle of the town. But a relatively small shopping precinct, of the sort that certainly exists in the expanding towns, is a perfectly satisfactory state of affairs.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him whether transport and travel problems will not be accentuated if a great number of factories are moved out of the industrial areas and scattered around the countryside in places such as East Anglia? Factories need raw materials which must be brought from their source in the industrial areas into the country areas.
§ LORD WALSTON
My Lords, I am very glad that the noble Viscount has mentioned transport, which I should have done, because in order to promote this movement it is essential for central Government to improve communications of all kinds for the raw materials—which do not necessarily come from industrial centres and may come from the ports—and for the finished goods which have to be taken away. Also, of course, workers who may be living in villages 10 or 15 miles away will need sufficiently good roads for their own cars and public transport to enable them to get to work. The ideal situation is that nobody should have to spend more than half-an-hour getting to his place of work.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ LORD GAINFORD
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford certainly deserves to be congratulated. From all that we have heard to-day, it seems certain that he has a very strong case in pleading for a plan for the quality of life in the urban environment. The word "environment" almost appears to be a new word, although in fact it is an old word which seems to have taken on a new meaning. Almost everybody has a different picture in his mind about it, and we have to-day heard some very interesting interpretations of it. I myself regard it as meaning the way we put everything together. I shall probably touch on a number of subjects which have already been mentioned, but I wish to talk chiefly about the use we make of spaces in our towns.
During the last fifty years there has, as the noble Lord, Lord Walston, said, been a very noticeable retreat from life and work on the land, which has resulted in a massive expansion of all our urban areas. Each decade has produced an increase in this rate of expansion, and to compensate for any loss of country 670 life the authorities have attempted to place a series of blobs on urban surroundings which they have called public parks. Those parks are important, because open spaces in town planning are vital. Now that we have discovered means of building upwards, the planning of our cities has to take into account the use of the space between buildings. We all need open air for recreation, whether for sport or merely for sitting down and enjoying some quiet minutes. It is not enough to have some well-designed spaces with a few trees planted here and there.
Trees were mentioned early in to-day's debate. They are beautiful and can improve the appearance of any locality, but they produce their own problems. The finance connected with them has been mentioned, and there is also the fact that some spread their roots widely and get tangled up with underground cables and drains. Some trees grow too tall, and there are complaints that they block the view from dwellings. Some grow to such a height that they even interfere with lamp posts, telegraph cables and other overhead cables. Then there is the problem of falling leaves in the autumn, when a tree with a lot of leaves can clog up open drains, while rotting leaves get into the fissures of the tarmac. It seems that the space planner could find himself at loggerheads with the engineer to such an extent that a horticulturist must come forward and recommend—and could there be anything more ghastly?—a uniform type of tree which does not spread its roots too much, which does not grow too tall and which does not drop a large amount of leaves to litter the pavements, roadways and drains.
§ LORD SOMERS
My Lords, may I interrupt for a moment? I would say that the solution is an artificial tree.
§ LORD GAINFORD
My Lords, I think I shall express the sentiments of your Lordships when I say, "Heaven preserve us!". In city spaces, there are still problems with age groups. Play areas are provided for children, but unless the park or space is large veteran citizens have difficulty in getting away from the noise, and children are apt to be tarred with the old-fashioned maxim that "Children should be seen and not heard". The most aggravating noise is the cry of the frustrated child. Children 671 who must live in towns are likely to miss the opportunities of playing adventurously. The desire to take risks is the source of that stupid game of dashing across streets. Mercifully, that is very much on the decline, but it is a factor to be considered.
The noble Lord, Lord Walston, drew attention to East Anglia, and I have pleasure in mentioning the little town of Thetford in Norfolk, which is a fine example to us. In Thetford, there is a special adventure playground close to the river and among its amenities is a large fort. It is of good solid construction, and although built recently has the look of an old castle which might have been built centuries ago. Inside the fort are all forms of pleasurable junk and rubbish, plus some machinery associated with traditional municipal children's playgrounds. The towers of the fort contain toilets and washrooms. There is even a drawbridge over the moat, which was approved by the River Ouse Board, but the regulation states that the drawbridge must remain down all the time. This play fort has had success in more ways than one: the children are kept amused, their noise is confined to one area, the more rowdy have less desire to go round the houses and work off frustration by breaking windows or by doing damage of some other nature, and there is also peace of mind for the parents, who do not have to worry about whether their offspring is making too much noise or is being dangerously quiet, because they know where he is; and that is so important.
Thetford has also produced another beautiful idea; that is, an area for cycling which the children can use both day and night. To be able to cycle at night is a thrill for a boy or girl, but it is difficult to find anywhere that is safe enough. A special area for children to cycle in after dark, such as exists at Thetford, must be a great boon to the parents; and I can certainly appreciate their feelings. I have a sporty young daughter who is very proud of her bicycle. She takes great care of it, and has had it fitted with many gadgets, including lamps, but when and where she can use these lamps to their best advantage is a problem. The parks are closed after dark, and after dark the children are discouraged from using the 672 public garden between the houses in the street where my home is and the houses in the neighbouring street. This leads to my plea for the use of parks after dark. May I ask whether there is any possibility of research by the Government and local authorities into the matter of lighting and availability of park officials, so that parks could be places of recreation and sport, both organised and disorganised (by which I mean cycling or casual games) after dark? Athletes in training could use them to advantage. In the winter we see athletes and footballers training by running along highways. In the summer they can take advantage of the long evenings, but in the winter the park gates clang shut early when the light fails.
My Lords, I have mentioned Thetford, but most of my concern about the environment is naturally based on the way I see London, as a man who lives and works here. There are many who associate the environment problem with that of rearranging the road transport, and there has been a good deal of talk about the banning of private motor cars from parts of the city. In conjunction, there is the alternative suggestion of having a free public transport system. An estimation has been made that if such a scheme were implemented it could cost the ratepayers an extra £40 each a year. If this is a truly correct calculation, then for myself I should be perfectly agreeable to paying such an extra amount on the rates. As I say, I live and work in London: I have no car; I mostly use the railways of London Transport. On the annual cost of my season tickets alone I should stand to make quite a fair profit; but there are many who would not view such schemes with favour. The theory of a free public transport system in the London area is pleasant, but one wonders how long it would take to put it into practice, and how reliable it would be. Just a few days ago a colleague said to me, "I would gladly give up my car tomorrow, but I cannot rely on the bus service."
The noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, mentioned a problem which has certainly come to my notice a number of times in my years of work with the Greater London Council, the problem of the juggernauts on the roads. I have an idea that might help all those concerned 673 in that—and I will try not to get off the point. Your Lordships may remember that about ten months ago there was an interesting debate in your Lordships' House on aerospace, and my noble friend Lord Alexander of Tunis put forward an interesting theory about the possible re-use of the airship. Here I must declare a little interest, because I am a small shareholder in a shipping company which has a subsidiary that is trying to design airships to carry cargoes of freight at high speeds—it could almost be from door to door. If such an idea for air transport, adapted from an early aeronautical design, could be put into practice, it might not bring back much transport to the canals and the railways but it would bring about a considerable reduction in the need for the use of these hideously large lorries that we see on our roads to-day.
London, again, has its own particular environment problem which it has had to deal with throughout the centuries. I have heard some remarks, and I have seen something in the booklet to which my noble friend Lord Redesdale referred, about the traffic and the environment, to the effect that there is a decline in the population. I am not going to contradict that, but if anybody had asked me what I thought of London's population I would have said that throughout the centuries looking at its size throughout the years, the population of London has always been the maximum. The only time it was not at its maximum was at the times of the Great Plague and the Great Fire, which the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, mentioned. But when each of these dangers was over people swarmed into London because they wanted to take advantage of every possible vacancy that was available, for living or for trading. Add to this the geographical position of London. London lies close to the Great Circle route between the European Continent and North America; hence the increase in transit population with the increase of air travel. But London still has a very great attraction to the tourist. We who live here may feel bored by it, but it is a tonic to meet travellers from abroad and to find out how they see it. As a suggestion, I would recommend any of your Lordships who has not done so to try to find a guide book or a translation of one written for overseas visitors. If you do, 674 you will get a delightful new look at London.
In connection with this attraction to tourists, I have heard concern expressed by past, present and future visitors to London about the pcssibilities of the complete redesign of Piccadilly, which has been looked upon as a great centre of London that people want to see; and dismay has been expressed that it may not be there much longer for them to see. Then there is the cultural attraction. We may say that we are going into Europe; but, of course, for a long time Europe has been coming to us. Artistic people from the Continent love to come here and to be able to say that they have studied art in London, whether it be pictures, painting or music. In fact, it seems that London has now taken what was the position of Paris.
No city must be allowed to lose its character. This sameness of modern architecture is threatening to make all towns look alike. The last time I was in Reading, which I used to know quite well some years ago, I was trying to find my way to the railway station, whose landmarks used to be quite easy to spot. But the sameness of the modern buildings made it very difficult for me to find my way; and from looking at those buildings I could not tell at one glance whether I was in Reading or back in London. With my plea for open spaces, may I request future planners not to allow very tall buildings to be close to parks or other places, like river banks. Even with spacing that is insisted upon by law, there is the possibility of some lovely views being lost. If the ground near an open area is relatively flat, can we not have the smaller buildings put near the border of the area and the larger ones at the back, so that the dwellers in these buildings can have a view, with the lower floors, which may be blocked by the ones in front, reserved for trade or offices?
My Lords, in my opening remarks I said that my view of the environment was the way in which we put everything together. When we build with bricks, we need mortar. Mortar binds yet it keeps the bricks apart. That is how our spaces should be used: to bind our buildings and to build cities. If we allow our buildings to become the same size and shape, and allow the spaces between them 675 to be of the same shape and lay-out, then urban life is likely to become dreary in the extreme; and I should not like to make any prophecy of what the reaction of the population will be. We have already heard something of that from the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones. There might be some unpleasant violence if people were confined to such conditions.
§ 7.1 p.m.
THE EARL OF GOWRIE
My Lords, I believe that this debate provides outstanding evidence of a central truth about cities: their problems are complex because they are complexes. The House has ably demonstrated that so many aspects of the quality of life in our towns are interrelated. We cannot improve the traffic environment, as my noble friend Lord Redesdale pointed out, of one street without making worse the traffic environment of the next, unless we have other measures which limit traffic overall. This is a relatively simple example and can stand for many more complex ones. One point that we should recognise is the way our towns differ from one another. We tend here, naturally, to see the problems in terms of London. This is the capital city and it is much bigger and has much greater regional influence than any other conurbation. It has a quite different structure of employment; it has a different scale of traffic problem; the housing pressures are quite exceptional. But it is not merely a question of London on the one hand and the rest on the other. There are great regional and local differences among the rest; and I am glad that my noble friend Lord Hewlett so vigorously reminded us of that fact.
Another difficulty we face in trying to tackle a subject of such wide scope is that of achieving any comprehensive statement—and I am all too aware of that in winding up this debate to-night. This is not simply because the various aspects are diverse; it is because matters will be at different stages in different fields. To take one example, again in the field of transport, we all look forward to reading the Report of the Layfield Inquiry into the Greater London Development Plan and to see what the panel have to say on the difficult problems of roads, traffic and transport which have occupied so much of the Inquiry's 676 time. Concurrently, we have from the Select Committee in another place a Report, which the Government are now considering, on the problems of urban transport. This Report puts great emphasis on public transport and traffic restraint, and this has received wide and, on the whole, favourable comment from the Press. I am glad that the comment has been favourable.
But the first general theme which I should like to draw out is that of the relative roles of central and local government. I am glad to take my cue from the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, on the Opposition Benches. We naturally tend to concentrate here on what the Government and Parliament can do: getting the statutory organisation right, allocating the resources between difficult fields of activity, identifying points of importance for the national interest. All these are, as my noble friend Lord Sandford demonstrated, necessarily central functions. But in almost all the matters we have touched on the execution lies with the local authorities. They act within the framework of national policy but have considerable freedom to do more or less, to put the emphasis in one direction or another. In the planning system, the preparation of regional plans is a matter of co-operation between central and local government. The preparation of structure plans in counties is a matter for the local authorities. The decision on plans is a matter for Government. I think the noble Lord, Lord Walston, will be aware of that. Within the framework of the structure plans, the preparation and decisions on local plans is a matter for the local authorities who are themselves responsible for development control.
Even at these lower levels central Government can intervene. Thus the Government have said that proposals for out-of-town shopping developments, which the noble Lord raised, of more than 50,000 square feet floor space are to be notified to the Secretary of State, so that he can decide whether or not to call them in for his decision. Again, on the subject of Covent Garden, which has been much in the news recently, the Secretary of State has said that in view of the special importance of the area and its key position in a district of major change in the centre of the capital city, he wishes to be kept in touch with the Greater London 677 Council's preparation of the plan and consulted personally about the scale and nature of redevelopment.
Government intervention at local level is, however, exceptional. As a general rule it is the local authority, and only they, who can consider the totality of the local situation and identify particular needs. This is by no means easy. The actions of local authorities affect in many ways both the planning and the day-to-day management of the local environment. They provide services for, or in other ways touch, the lives of the inhabitants of their area in a number of ways. Some authorities seek to develop systems of corporate management which will better enable them to take an overall view of the needs of an area and of the actions best directed to the needs and desires of the inhabitants. The Government have instituted a number of studies jointly with individual local authorities. The Six Towns Study, referred to by my noble friend, seeks to develop in practical terms indications and advice which would help all local authorities to move towards a total approach. I shall return later to this matter of co-ordination.
We are faced in the plurality of this subject which takes in so much of human life with ail the complexities and contradictions of life itself. We all know of and share concern for the housing problem. But the new and improved housing does not necessarily solve the human problem. Too often, new housing estates on the edges of our towns and cities are featureless, shopping facilities may be few and more expensive than the cheaper markets of the city centres which are now no longer easily accessible. Recreational and leisure facilities may be limited, and this becomes more evident as children grow up. I do not think that we should forget the old use of the word "environment" before the ecological connotation became fashionable, the use in the sense of a delinquent child growing up in a bad environment. Journeys to work in this context become lengthier and more expensive. Job opportunities for housewives to supplement family income may be lacking. The transfer of families to new estates can break existing ties. All these factors need careful consideration in the planning of housing policies and call for the utmost co-operation among all departments of the local authority and 678 with other agencies. In reality, problems of bad housing are closely connected with all low-income group problems, poor schools, limited job opportunities and the like.
A good deal has been said about public participation, and this the Government welcome. In the field of housing it is vital. For this purpose people cannot be categorised. The fact is that different people have different needs and they must be given the opportunity of making their needs known. It is no longer good enough for those in authority merely to prescribe what they think is needed. Many people have to look to the local authorities for housing accommodation. There is a good deal which could be done to make it more acceptable to the residents. I believe there are indications that council tenants prefer smaller estates and would prefer them not to look like housing estates; they want to get away from institutional-type building. Many speakers have mentioned this point. It is essential that people's views on aspects such as this must be ascertained if they are to be housed or rehoused in a satisfactory manner. I welcome the contribution of the right reverent Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth this afternoon and his good news of the Church's essential participation in these issues.
Noble Lords will know that new housing is only one part of the housing programme. The emphasis to-day is very much on the improvement of existing housing. This has been an outstanding success. In 1971, a record total of nearly 200,000 improvement grants were approved in England and Wales. The 1972 total is not yet known but it is likely to be well over the 300,000 mark. As well as improving the older houses worth saving, we are also making good progress in clearing the slums. A national sample survey of house conditions carried out by the Department last year revealed that the number of unfit houses had dropped to about 1.2 million from the 1.8 million shown by a similar survey carried out in 1967. It is not enough, but the new slum clearance subsidy which has been given by the Housing (Finance) Act will no doubt help to encourage further progress.
The unparalleled progress that we have made in improving individual houses has not, unfortunately, been 679 matched by similar dramatic achievements in the field of area improvement, although some reasonable progress has been made. Everyone recognises the social and economic benefits of the systematic and comprehensive improvement of older houses as compared with what has been called the "pepper-pot" improvement of individual houses over the whole of a city or town. When an area is improved its character can be retained and its community spirit preserved. And the resources put into house improvements are clearly better applied if a whole area can be given a guaranteed lease of life, with the houses modernised and their surroundings uplifted at one and the same time. The external appearance—The image—of a whole area is almost as important in generating confidence in its future as the internal housing conditions; and this, in turn, could encourage routine repairs and maintenance which were necessary to secure the longer-term benefits of rehabilitation.
My Lords, what are the doubts and difficulties that have slowed down area improvement? These have come particularly to the fore in inner-city areas where fears have been expressed that the declaration of a general improvement area has accelerated what in the new jargon is called the "gentrification" of the area caused by pricing out the original residents—and my noble friend Lord Redesdale referred to this aspect. There have also been reports from tenants of landlords wishing to cash in quickly on enhanced property values in rejuvenated areas. One difficulty in this type of area is perhaps that local authorities are being pulled in two directions at once. Having committed themselves to the improvement of an area, the local authority naturally want to encourage house improvement. Their inclination is therefore to give grants freely to improve the living conditions in the area. But it is still essential for the local authority to look closely at the merits of each grant application. If they think that the effects of a particular scheme of improvement would be to intensify housing stress and stimulate undue speculation, they could and should refuse to support the scheme or to make a grant to the owner of the property. They may also need from time 680 to time to invoke their considerable powers to prevent harassment of tenants in properties undergoing conversion or improvement.
There is also the major difficulty that in most areas of acute housing stress many of the residents are poor and socially deprived. They may lack the initiative and the resources to better their living conditions, and they may be in need of help from the welfare, education and health departments, as well as the housing department, of the local authority. We all know of the difficulties when people fail to take up the grants, and so on, allowed to them. Large families, in particular, may suffer from the tendency of the grants scheme to encourage the conversion of large houses into flats. The local authorities themselves have found that area improvement presents administrative problems and takes up a lot of staff time. If the local authority are to act effectively, they need to set up a widely based team of officers which stretches across many of the local authority departments. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, welcomed reconstruction, at any rate in that regard. Some authorities take the view that the voluntary principle, which is the mainspring of area improvement, is very wasteful in terms of staff resources, and they would therefore like to be given stronger powers of compulsion. There is also the problem of repairs to houses, as distinct from improvements. A few houses in poor repair can drag down a whole neighbourhood; but, of course, elderly owner-occupiers often just cannot afford to pay for even running repairs.
My Lords, the plight of elderly tenants in privately rented accommodation also needs to be borne in mind. The over-sixty age group is likely to increase substantially in number during the 1970s and is likely to continue to be one of the least well-off sections of our society. In the past they have looked to the inner-city areas for accommodation because of the attractiveness of low rents. The low incomes and immobility of this age group means that they will continue to live in areas familiar to them, but available accommodation will become scarcer as demand increases.
We are aware that some of these difficulties are formidable—and I have not 681 hesitated to outline them—but we are confident that they can be overcome if central Government, the local authorities and the housing associations all work together. Earlier this year the local authorities were invited to join the Government in a concerted and decisive drive on the problems of slums and older houses which would have as its objective that within a decade no one should be required to live in an unfit or sub-standard house. I am also glad to say that my honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Construction has recently announced that he is undertaking a major and comprehensive review of policy affecting older housing. This review will seek to find ways of concentrating efforts and resources increasingly on those parts of the country where areas of sub-standard housing still remain. Its main theme will be to ensure that help towards the improvement and repair of older houses is directed to those groups of people and to those areas with the greatest problems.
My Lords, it now behoves me to move from the topic of housing, which I have tried to treat as my own contribution to the debate to-day, and to deal with some other themes which many noble Lords have brought up. Principal among these, of course, was the whole question of traffic congestion. It is a major problem in urban areas. The Metropolitan Police and the G.L.C. are working closely together to make the best use of the existing roads. I am glad to say to noble Lords, and to the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, particularly, who showed great concern about this, that in the longer term the G.L.C., London Transport and British Railways have plans for improving the whole transport system in London, public and private, road and rail—and I will come in a minute to the ways in which the Government might be able to help. Studies are also being made of ways of limiting the use of overcrowded roads, which would. I think, be a most valuable contribution.
I come to heavy lorries. In replying to a debate initiated by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester on traffic last summer, I was forced to say, putting myself in the unpopular position of the juggernaut's defender, that while people loathe heavy lorries, they also loathe high prices and the increased 682 cost that different delivery systems may bring. But I also welcome, with the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, and others, the G.L.C. proposal to ban lorries over 40 feet long from parts of Central London, including, I may say, Parliament Square and Whitehall. This is a start to keeping lorries out of areas where they do not belong, and the experience gained may lead to other measures over a wider area of London.
The noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, raised the question of lorry parking. Parking of lorries in residential streets overnight is another difficult problem. The G.L.C. have banned the on-street overnight parking of lorries in Tower Hamlets, and this is to be extended to 60 square miles of Inner London during the next two years. Such proposals require the provision of off-street lorry parks, and the G.L.C. and the boroughs are planning parks for local lorries, as well as a number of strategic lorry parks in London, to fit in with the national network for long-distance lorries.
The question of lorry routes was raised. We recognise that one of the first priorities is that of creating a road system which will enable through traffic to get to and from its destination without intruding into areas where it does not need to go. In the meantime, an advisory lorry route system has been introduced which is specifically designed to get traffic to and from the ports straight on to the primary route network. I hope that this will give some satisfaction to my noble friend Lord Howe. Local authorities already have the power to ban lorries from unsuitable roads except for access. This of course is an important qualification, because the overwhelming majority of all freight movement of vehicles over three tons either starts or finishes within an urban area. Blanket restrictions without regard to the consequences for local industry and commerce would therefore be highly damaging.
The whole subject is an area in which local rather than central Government must take the lead—that is why we welcome the G.L.C.'s lead—but the Department have set in hand a programme of research to learn more about the implications of various possible alternative approaches to the problem of movement of goods in town and the location and 683 planning of traffic generators, such as warehouses, shopping centres, haulage yards and the like. In spite of lorries being the villains of the piece—they are fairly large, and they can accept our slings and arrows with equanimity—nevertheless, we are concerned about urban car ownership and registration of goods vehicles growing so fast and, with them, the demand for urban road space. If the trends of the last two years continue, in 1980 car ownership will he 40 per cent. more than in 1970. In this country as a whole there may well be 22 million vehicles of all types, compared with the present 15 million.
The growth of urban planning has been commensurate except in urban London, where it has been slower. The urban road programme cannot hope to satisfy the demand. Whatever the rate of road building, the need is bound to increase over the next decade. The total social and economic costs of congestion are of course considerable. Apart from the cost of greatly increased journey times, increased petrol consumption and so on associated with the congested city centre, there are all the environmental disbenefits of noise, danger and visual intrusion. The need for the restraint of traffic in towns is based on the premise that the total economic cost and the environmental disbenefits of congestion are greater than the value of the individual journey.
The Government accept that, as a result of rising car ownership and greater congestion, an increased level of traffic restraint has become inevitable. The objectives are constructive policies of restraint, irrespective of the methods adopted. These are: to reduce the volume of traffic while allowing the more essential journeys to continue; to improve the operational efficiency of the system, especially of bus transport—and I recollect our exhibition next door in this regard—by selectively deterring the traffic that confers the least economic benefit and the general aim of lessening the impact of traffic on the environment. In spite of this, we recognise that the prime responsibility for local urban transport must rest with local authorities because each town has to look at its own policies concerning investment on roads and public transport, traffic management and so forth, and the 684 measures taken to improve the effectiveness of public transport within a related whole, and to frame these policies in relation to broader tactics, which depend on the prosperity of an individual town and the effect of traffic on the general environment. The Government, of course, have a general responsibility to make advice on traffic restraint available to local authorities, to conduct research (as they do), to provide financial support (as they do) and to promote legislation. To this end the Department of the Environment is inquiring in depth into the possible methods of restraint, including the more sophisticated types, such as supplementary licensing and road pricing.
I come now to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, on motorways. The noble Lord expressed concern about the ways in which urban motorways can cut across existing access routes in or near city centres. He also drew attention to the intrusiveness of large roads on stilts. The Urban Motorway Committee, which reported to the Government last autumn, strongly recommended that steps be taken to minimise the severance of communities and also emphasised the need for designs which would reduce adverse visual effects so far as possible. These, and many other recommendations by the Committee relating to the provision of major urban roads with reference to their immediate surroundings, were accepted by the Government. We have commended this new approach to local authorities and have undertaken to help them finance it for large schemes and have taken steps to apply it to our own trunk roads. We have already introduced in another place legislation which would improve the basis of compensating those most closely affected (and this has been welcomed this afternoon) as well as for the wider acquisition of land in the interests of better design.
I should perhaps say a few words more to the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, about the new out-of-town shopping centres and the related consideration of cars and transport. These shopping centres usually consist of a large central store surrounded by a number of smaller units, normally sited well out of the town. With good road access, they are designed for the car-borne shopper. In February, 1972, the Department of the 685 Environment issued for the benefit of retailers, developers and planning authorities Development Control Policy No. 13. This statement summed up the situation and said that, while the out-of-town shopping centres may by efficient retailing help to keep prices down, to increase the convenience of shopping by car and reduce congestion in towns, nevertheless they may tend to disfigure the countryside, detract custom from, and cause deterioration of, existing city centres, and produce traffic problems on inter-urban and country roads. So I must say to the noble Lord that we must go cannily on that. I would also say that there are now over 20 cases at different stages before my right honourable friend for decision. Decisions on many of these can be expected during the year.
§ LORD RAGLAN
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether these are decisions on out-of-town shopping centres of over 50,000 square feet?—because that is a whole acre of shopping space: it is very large.
THE EARL OF GOWRIE
My Lords, the Secretary of State, as I understand it, has the right to call in shopping developments in excess of that figure. Though he is not necessarily required to do so, he would do so if in his view they would be likely to contribute to a deterioration in the environment. I agree that they are large but I must commend to the noble Lord what the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, said: that shopping centres have many other advantages in relieving congestion from the centres of cities. It is a question of something which has been a constant dream—attempting to achieve a balance.
We need not feel quite so balanced perhaps on the question of mugging, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones. I would say to the noble Lord that I also have had experience of life in American cities, and the advice I got when I was last in New York was to walk down the middle of the road against the traffic, singing loudly but soberly, as a way of attracting least interest. Chief officers of police are very much alive to the problem of mugging, and special measures appropriate to local circumstances have been taken in the urban areas. They have included increasing the numbers of uniformed and dog 686 patrols in vulnerable areas at times of greatest risk, and also the formation of special squads to deal with mugging, and the use of the news media to warn the public about danger. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, has so splendidly shown in his lurid historical description, there have been a few improvements since 1750.
Another variety of pollution is air pollution and, contrary to what one tends often to read in many newspapers and magazines, the story of clean air in this country is an unqualified success story. The code of legislation for tackling air pollution is an excellent one which gives our local authority inspectors a fine bag of clubs with which to hit the ball—and they have hit it to some purpose. The principal target of course has been, and remains, the domestic chimney; but despite various setbacks, such as financial restrictions and the solid smokeless fuel shortage some years ago, there have been Sheffield, remarkable achievements. Sheffield once one of the dirtiest cities of Europe, is now one of the cleanest; and London is 90 per cent. covered by smoke control orders. It now has 70 per cent. more sunshine in December, with visibility on a average winter day up from one and a half miles to four miles—a visibility that we might have shared had we not been so busy here this afternoon.
As a result of the efforts of Her Majesty's Alkali and Clean Air Inspectorate and the Public Health Inspectorate, with the active co-operation of industry, industrial smoke emissions in 1970 were less than one-eighth of what they were in 1950, and I think that is something of a success story as well. In the campaign for cleaner air, Manchester played a very formative role and led the way.
That leads me to the point made in a very vigorous speech by my noble friend Lord Hewlett. He referred to a specific proposal which had come to his notice to build houses on land adjoining a chemical works at Clayton, in Manchester, and expressed concern about the risk of pollution which this would involve. My information is that the site in question—and I understand that it is the site of the old English Steel Works—has apparently been allocated for industrial use and that no decision to change that allocation has been taken. This matter falls 687 entirely within the competence of the Manchester Corporation. I am sure they would try to answer any queries put to them by my noble friend about the future of the site, if he were to get in touch with them direct. He also mentioned a case in Swansea. This again is a specific case on which I cannot comment in detail but I understand that the company concerned and the Alkali Inspectorate—which is where the Government come in—will be examining possibilities of technical improvements in monitoring emissions of carbon black and possibly advising on an advanced system. But I cannot give encouraging news about the situation, which I understand has deteriorated quite rapidly in the last two months. My noble friend also made mention of the clearance of derelict land, and we welcome all that local authorities are doing in this important arena. I believe an increase is postulated of about 5,000 acres of clearance for next year.
I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, that I regret I could not be present during his speech, but I expect he is glad that my noble friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, who is concerned with these matters directly, was present and was busily taking notes all the while. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, mentioned a number of points. I have touched on his concern with old people, with people not being able to afford to live in areas after improvement, and we recognise the reality of these problems. I cannot comment on the specific case in Primrose Hill, an area I know quite well, in London. While there is often an administrative or statutory reason for defining a boundary for environmental areas, conservation areas or housing improvements, one must at the same time maintain a total look on the environmental and social needs not only of the historical special areas but of the borough or central areas as a whole, including the more deprived sectors. As I said to the noble Lord at the outset of my speech, one man's environmental meat is often another's environmental poison.
I will study carefully what the noble Lord, Lord Walston, said. In the meantime, I assure him that the South-Eastern Regional Study is not the only pebble on the beach; subsequent studies and struc- 688 ture plans will be pointing to growth areas throughout the country. This is a perfect instance of the kind of balance we need. Coming finally to my noble friend Lord Gainford, I hope he was not suggesting that we have plastic trees with built-in lights in our parks, though I appreciate the problems of parks after dark. I am glad that he drew our attention to the City as a centre of the arts and a great catalytic place for artistic activity. He went far in saying that we were overtaking Paris in this regard. I would say that perhaps the greatest or most famous artist connected with the subject of urban alienation is Francis Bacon, and he is alive and well, and working in London.
The noble Lord mentioned parks. He will know that the Greater London Council are responsible for administering an open space—which is going to be called St. George's Park—as a regional park, and hope that acquisition and development will be substantially completed by 1980. The park, which includes part of the disused Surrey Canal, will provide recreational facilities, including a 14-acre lake. I hope that a park named after a patron saint is an encouraging note on which to end these specific points. At home in my flat, which I am glad to say is in Covent Garden, and is still in Covent Garden, I have a gramophone record of Haydn's London Symphony. On the sleeve of the record is a fine reproduction of a view of the City of London against its river. It was painted, I would say, by Canaletto on the Embankment at Somerset House. The City is a dense little copse of churches, St. Paul's drawing them all up towards its shell-like dome. The work, like the symphony, is gay, serene and formidable —a testament to civic activity and civic grace, the kind of urban Eden from which our industrial curiosity drove us away.
But I also have an engraving by Hogarth, the other side of that bright coin. In this century, by fair means and foul, we have got rid of a lot of the colour, but a lot of the squalor, too, of Gin Lane. We have paid heavily, and we are still paying, for eradicating infant mortality, shortened life spans, relative material and physical ease, mobility, a knowledge of the possibilities of men. I 689 cannot believe that we were really wrong to pay the price. What we must now do, and earn the means to do, is to put back into our cities the fun and vigour and at least a little of the beauty that we have lost, not least by holding hard to the pockets that remain. I thank my noble friend Lord Nugent, and all noble Lords who have spoken, for giving me the chance to do so too. In return, I impress upon your Lordships that the Government will look hard at everything you have had to say.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
My Lords, may I thank noble Lords on all sides of the House for joining in in this debate and making it such an interesting one. There is no doubt about your Lordships' interest in the quality of life from every point of view. I feel that from everything that has been said by noble Lords on all sides my noble friends on the Front Bench will be left with a number of substantial points to think about. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, for supporting me on the two major points I wished to make. Because I went on in my speech longer than I meant to, I did not refer to traffic problems, so I am particularly grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Greenwood, Lord Airedale, Lord Wynne-Jones, Lord Redesdale and Lord Gainford, who have all referred to the necessity to bring urban traffic under control. My noble friend Lord Howe wanted the private motorist to be given all the facilities that he wanted; but my own view is that there will have to be increasing restraints on the use of the private car in big cities. There will have to be an increasing improvement in the quality of public transport; this is our only course, and we must go along positively with it. I was very glad to hear my noble friend Lord Gowrie addressing himself to this subject in his reply.
In that context the Guardian was kind enough to mention me—or half of me—in one of their columns to-day. They referred to me as one who is unfamiliar with London buses. But I use buses every day, and I rather like them. If I have time for a longer journey there is nothing that I like better than to sit on top of a bus in the front seat, where one gets the best view of London that 690 anyone could wish for. Let me support my noble friends in any action that they wish to take to restrain the use of the private car. That will have my support, because I know it is going to be essential. On the theme of "mugging", referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, in his reference to the 17th century, it occurred to me that in those days—and we are reminded of the significance of this by the red lines on the floor of your Lordships' House—noble Lords and honourable Members in another place wore swords to protect themselves. That firmly throws the challenge to my noble friends on the Front Bench that they must see that the police forces are strong enough to give adequate protection to the citizens of this country; otherwise we shall find ourselves going back to the 17th century habits of arming ourselves, and then we shall have the worst of everything.
The noble Lord, Lord Raglan, kindly paid me a compliment—it was a slightly inverted compliment because he was expressing surprise that I had what might be called an objective approach to planning problems. May I say this to him: he is a little old-fashioned in his outlook. Noble Lords on this side, and my right honourable and honourable friends in another place, have for a long time now recognised that this is an immensely complex subject and that the only possible hope of solving the problems is to approach them completely objectively. As chairman of the Standing. Conference I have dealt with several different Governments now—a Tory Government, a Labour Government, another Labour Government and a Tory Government—and from my own experience I can assure the noble Lord that it does not make the slightest difference. The main thing that stays the same is the officials in the Department. The problem here—and I was glad my noble friend Lord Gowrie referred to it—is the absolute necessity for central Government and local government to work together in partnership; for there to be a continuous dialogue between them. Central Government determine the policies but local government carries them out, and unless there is a very close partnership, with both sides talking to each other, explaining to each other their problems, we shall not get the solutions we want.
691 My Lords, there is much more that could be said in answer to such an interesting debate. I would conclude by saying only this to my noble friend Lord Sandford. I greatly appreciated his comprehensive and interesting speech, and indeed that made by my noble friend Lord Gowrie. I feel that they showed their grasp of, and their sensitivity to, the problems of that quality of life for which we are all striving. On the specific points that I put to him, I apprehend that he gave me an undertaking that he would look again at the suggestions I made about relieving the financial squeeze on local government bodies' undertaking development—both the possibility of using the powers under the New Town Acts in designating specific areas, and the other suggestion I made of a levy to cover development costs.
On his forecast of how quickly structure plans could come forward, I can only say that I hope he is right, but I very much doubt it. I would ask him again to request his officials to sit down with the local government officials and take a fresh look at this question. It really is essential. Unless structure plans, development plans—call them what you like—are settled within four or five years, they are not going to be any good to anybody. My Lords, I again thank noble Lords on both sides of the House for the valuable support they have given and for the valuable ideas they have put forward; and I now beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.