HL Deb 12 July 1976 vol 373 cc84-110

6.40 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Greater London Council (Money) Bill be now read a second time. Paragraph 25 of Schedule 2 to the London Government Act 1963 requires the expenditure of the Greater London Council on capital account or on lending to other persons during each financial year and the immediately following six months to be regulated by annual Money Acts.

The present Bill is promoted by the Greater London Council in pursuance of that duty. The Bill deals with the estimated expenditure to be incurred and loans to be made by the Council during the financial period from 1st April 1976 to 30th September 1977. It includes provisions for the requirements of the Inner London Education Authority, which is a special committee of the Council: and although the Council has no control over the expenditure of the Authority, it must include its expenditure in its budget.

The purposes for which the Council contemplates incurring capital expenditure relate to services and duties which are entrusted to the Council by Parliament. The provision for lending money is largely to cover the anticipated requirements of certain public bodies for authorised purposes and for assistance to housing associations and individuals wishing to buy their own homes. These purposes and the sums to be expended on them, as well as the amounts which may be lent to other authorities or individuals, are set out in the Schedule forming part of the Bill.

Among the more important services for which capital expenditure is proposed to be incurred by the Council under the present Bill are the provision and lay-out of open spaces and contributions towards green belt schemes, provision of refuse disposal plant and depots, the improvement of metropolitan roads, the provision of schools and colleges and the equipment thereof, provision of housing accommodation, flood prevention, including works on the Thames barrier, town planning, acquisition of property, compensation and execution of works, capital grants to London Transport and the British Railways Board.

In addition, provision is made for capital expenditure to be incurred in respect of museums, works in connection with concert halls on the South Bank of the River Thames, the Fire Service, judicial services, the acquisition of land and the execution of works under the Community Land Act 1975, accommodation for an art collection, landing-places on the River Thames and other amenity improvements concerning the river and maintenance of a farm centre.

Substantial reductions have been made in the sum proposed for loans by the Council. The total reduction under this Schedule, compared with last year, for the period 1st April 1976 to 30th September 1977 amounts to £75,750,000. Most of the reductions have been made in the amounts proposed to be lent to housing associations and to individual home buyers. The Council's budget has been drawn up against a background of severe restraint, and the Council has accordingly reduced its total 18 months' provision by over £52 million. Your Lordships will agree that that is a significant contribution to the attack on inflation and restriction of expenditure in the public sector.

Estimates of expenditure on capital account amount to £268 million for the year ending 31st March 1977, as compared with £241.1 million for the year 1975–76—an increase of just under £27 million. Inflation has meant that an increase in expenditure has been unavoidable. In spite of this, however, cutbacks in capital expenditure compared with last year have been achieved in no fewer than seven areas: namely, museums, staff offices, roads, education, planning, transport and Thames landing places.

Of the remaining items, there are small increases in expenditure on open spaces, supplies, fire services, judicial services and historic buildings. There is an increase of £1½ million on expenditure concerned with refuse disposal, and £2 million on flood prevention. In education, the 12 months' provision ending on 31st March 1977 is reduced by £3.65 million as compared with last year's provision, with a further £2 million reduction for the supplementary period. There is a reduction of £9.6 million in the provision for roads, and of £3 million in the provisions for planning. Although the provision for housing has the largest increase, it should be noted for the purposes of comparison that the figure originally proposed for last year was reduced by £48 million during the passage of the Money Act for 1975, owing to the worsening financial situation of the country.

The increased costs, compared with last year (which was £38.9 million) are due mainly to the costs of new building, the increase on that being £43.5 million. The sum allocated for 1975/6 by the Money Act of 1975 fell short of the sum required by £22 million and a further £21.5 million increase was necessary, for 1976/77. This reflects the substantial increase in tenderage for contracts let in 1974 and the inflation in wages and material since then. The sum for land acquisition is increased only by £9 million and the amounts for acquisition of private developments and existing dwellings are reduced by £8 million and £5 million respectively. Capital expenditure on housing covers the provision of new dwellings, an extensive programme of improvement of existing dwellings, including area improvements such as general improvement areas, housing action areas and slum clearance, the acquisition of existing dwellings, the acquisition of non-conforming industrial premises under the new and expanded grant towns scheme and provision of hostels.

As I have mentioned before to your Lordships, London still has a terrible housing problem. In order to alleviate or overcome this situation, it is essential that a high rate of new building in Greater London is achieved and more improvement work carried out. Dwellings still within the declining privately-rented sector must not be lost from the total pool of housing available for renting in London, and the Council takes all possible action within its means to prevent that happening. The GLC assists the London borough councils with slum clearance, with improvement areas and stress areas. It also helps to improve the housing situation in London by using vacancies on its own estates and by making arrangements with London borough councils and housing associations to help them out, as the case may be. Although the Council is operating this year in a no-growth situation, it hopes to maintain housing starts in 1976/77 at the same level of 5,000 as in 1975/76. The Council and the London boroughs are in active negotiations on a strategic housing plan for London. These negotiations are at an advanced stage, and I hope it will not be long before we are able to announce an agreed plan.

Home loans are restricted to £55 million, and loans to housing associations to £20 million. The figure for home loans is barely half of what was lent in 1974–75. With building society funds now relatively plentiful, I am very sorry that we are still not able to work out some scheme which would enable building societies to help the less well-off section of the community, and assist the purchase of older properties with some guarantee from the Greater London Council. The amount included for contingency spending and lending power has been kept at last year's level, and I want to point out that this contingency provision cannot be utilised except with the authority of the Treasury.

I hope that I have explained the Bill sufficiently satisfactorily and that your Lordships will feel able to give it a Second Reading and allow it to proceed. The rejection of the Bill, or any delay which causes it to fail to be passed before Parliament rises for the Summer Recess, would mean that after 30th September next the Greater London Council would have no power to meet expenditure on capital account, or on any of the important services for which provision is made in the Bill, or to lend money to the persons and public bodies referred to. I hope your Lordships will bear that in mind in dealing with any matters relating to this Bill.

That brings me straight to the Motion standing in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, requiring the House to give certain instructions to the Committee. I shall begin by pointing out to your Lordships that the Council already owns the St. Paul's site. Therefore, the only sums included in this Money Bill are £1,300,000 towards the contractual sums due for the building of the West London College of Further Education, and £950,000 towards the contractual sums due for housing on the site; in other words, £2¼ million out of £767 million in this Money Bill.

The case for justifying the expenditure in the interests of the local population and Greater London as a whole is this. In April 1964, the Town Planning Committee of the former London County Council resolved that the St. Paul's site, when vacated, should be used for 10 acres of public open spaces and 4¾ acres of housing. Had the London Government Act not been passed, this is probably what would have happened, because the London County Council would have had the power to carry that out. But the London Government Act gave power to create local parks to the local borough councils, and the Greater London Council could not establish any local parks. As a matter of fact, the law has now been changed, and since 1974 the situation is quite different. But between the time when the London County Council ceased to exist and 1974, it was not possible for the GLC to establish a park in that area, because it would have been a local park and only the local borough council could have established it.

Property was purchased by the Greater London Council on dates in 1965, 1968 and 1969 at a cost of £2.1 million. Interest charges on payments run at £18,000 per month, and at 31st March their total was £1.4 million. Clearly, land of this value must be efficiently utilised and continuing delays are placing an intolerable burden on the public purse. The Hammersmith Borough Council wished to proceed with a part development of the site for public open space in 1969, but was financially unable to do so. I must repeat what I said earlier to your Lordships, that at that time only the Hammersmith Borough Council could have established that place as an open space, because even if the whole site was used it would still have been only a local park. Therefore only the local borough council could have established it.

It was in these circumstances that, in 1970, the Council and the Inner London Education Authority commenced the process of obtaining deemed planning permission for the redevelopment of the site for the West London College, which is presently housed on 11 unsuitable sites, for housing and for some ancillary use as amenity open space with limited public access. It was the Council's declared policy that the planning approval should be subject to consultations with the Hammersmith Borough Council, advertisement, consideration of any objections and the views of the Minister of Housing and Local Government.

On 22nd January 1971, the then Secretary of State for the Environment wrote to the Greater London Council's Director-General and Clerk saying that he did not require an application to be made to him under Section 11(2) under the Town and Country Planning General Regulations 1969 in this case. The effect of this decision was to permit the Council and the authority to give themselves deemed planning permission for the development. I want to point out that in reaching this decision the Secretary of State had before him 51 objections to the scheme. Extensive discussions—and I am talking about 1971—were then pursued with the borough council, and the scheme was adapted in an effort to meet the council's views. As late as March this year, one housing block was deleted from the scheme in order to meet the borough council's objections to possible over-development.

On 16th March 1976 Councillor Barrie Stead, the leader of the Hammersmith Borough Council, and Joan Chapman, the chairman of the Planning Committee, issued a joint statement in which they indicated that the scheme had been modified to their satisfaction and it was warmly welcomed. The amount of open space was considerably increased as a result of the removal of this central block of 28 housing units and this, plus the open space to the North of the site and the adventure playground in the South-West corner, as well as the use of adjoining tennis courts by the public outside college hours, meant that there would be a certain amount of open space on that site. It is worth noting that the borough council, which is the local planning authority has not at any stage sought to exercise any of its enforcement powers in this case.

The legality of the planning permissions was fully reviewed in the High Court in April when, having listened to five days of evidence and argument, Mr. Justice Goff delivered a 30-page judgment supporting the GLC in all the matters raised; namely, that a valid planning permission had been obtained by the GLC and the correct procedures followed; that the necessary requirements had been fulfilled and relevant regulations complied with by the Council; thus the planning permission was not void for uncertainty. The necessary committee resolutions and approvals had been obtained. Procedurally, the Council had done all that was legally required, including advertisement of the proposals. There was no defect regarding the validity of the outline planning permission. Appeals and other proceedings in the Court have not altered the decision.

The Council therefore contends, and has a right to contend, that it has exhausted every possible avenue of consultation and publicity and that it has obtained clearance for the scheme from three Secretaries of State for the Environment, the agreement of the local borough council and confirmation of the justification of its actions by the High Court. It is difficult to envisage what greater effort could have been made by the Council and what further justification is needed for getting the scheme off the ground. The only financially viable approach to the development of the site is the scheme embarked upon by the Council and the Inner London Education Authority. I want to remind your Lordships that for every month of delay there is an extra £18,000 which the London ratepayers have to pay. Contracts for both housing and education development have now been let. Their total value is £10.3 million. The contractor for the college is already on the site. Were these contracts to be broken, substantial damages would inevitably have to be paid.

Now may I say a few words about the West London College which seems to be the source of all the controversy. The college currently operates on 11 sites. There is no other suitable site available. The saga of a new college for West London has been continuing for over 10 years. The college has developed a special concern for the needs of the younger, less able and less advanced students. If I wanted to be cynical, I would say that that is probably why there is all this opposition to it. It provides courses especially for the low level, less advantaged students, of whom there are many in the West London area. It provides general education courses up to A level. In addition, it provides courses with no examination aim and with a vocational ingredient. Also, it provides courses for students pursuing operative, craft and technician courses leading directly to employment in building construction, housing management, commercial subjects, management courses for hospital personnel and so on.

The college is very anxious to become involved with the local community and has appointed a family liaison officer who works in very close association with the Hammersmith Council for Community Relations. In its new building it intends to open up some of its amenities, such as its halls, gymnasia and library facilities, to the community. A youth club and adventure playground are part of the college building. Hammersmith happens to be an area which is very short of youth clubs. In addition to full-time younger students, the college has a large proportion of part-time and evening students who come from surrounding areas.

It is important that this college, which is trying to do a very important job in that area, should be properly housed to pursue these important aspects of its work for the local community. I hope that, having heard this explanation, the noble Baroness will withdraw her Motion, and I appeal to her to do so. I commend the Bill to the House and ask your Lordships to give it a Second Reading and a speedy progress to the Statute Book. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Pitt of Hampstead.)

7.4 p.m.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, on an occasion such as this, it is easier for me to begin by saying what I do not wish to do by my Instruction rather than what I wish to do. The first point I should like to make quite clear is that I do not wish in any way to make any Party political points. It is not my intention to criticise the Greater London Council, the Hammersmith Borough Council or, indeed, any of the three Secretaries of State who have looked at this matter. Indeed, looking at the history of the St. Paul's School site, as I have done, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the responsibility for the present situation rests on both political Parties.

Secondly, I do not wish to criticise the Greater London Council (Money) Bill. I am fully aware that it is a most unusual, if not unique, circumstance to have a debate upon the Bill. Nevertheless, provision has been made to allow your Lordships to amend the Greater London Council (Money) Bill if you so wish. To argue that, because the Bill has not been either debated or amended before, it ought not to be debated or amended now is, I believe, fundamentally wrong, for in a democracy where democratic procedures are allowed for the expectation must surely be that sooner or later they will be used.

May I also make it clear that there is no argument about the need for housing on the site. Everyone, so far as I know, is agreed upon this. Certainly I agree. The point about which there has been a difference of opinion is over the use of the remaining open space for the building of a college of further education. If I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, I thought that his remarks on that subject were unworthy of him. Neither I nor, so far as I am aware. anyone to whom have spoken about this matter is opposed in principle to further education, least of all to those whose need for it is the greatest.

Lastly, I have no personal interest in this matter. I have never lived in Hammersmith—nor, indeed, until quite recently have I met or had to work with those who have been so concerned about the future of the school site. However, in the course of the last week I have taken the opportunity, in preparation for the debate today, to visit and walk around this site and the various alternative sites which have been proposed.

The noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, has put his case, as I would expect, very fairly and very well, and he and I have already discussed the matter of my Instruction. I fully appreciate the importance of this matter to the Greater London Council and the difficulty in which the Council finds itself. I hope, however, that the noble Lord and the House will appreciate the case I am putting and will recognise that I would not do so if I had not considered the matter very carefully. For whatever may be said—and I am not going to argue about many of the facts of the case—there are a great many people in Hammersmith—at least the 11,500 who signed the petition—who do not believe that there has been fairness in this case and who do not see that justice has been done.

The noble Lord has argued that because three Secretaries of State have looked at the matter and have not called in the plan, the case is proved. Secondly, the noble Lord has raised the matter of the judgment in the High Court. On the question of the judgment, I would say only one thing. It is not my intention to argue a matter of planning law with a High Court judge. This, I believe, would be a very foolish undertaking and one that I would almost certainly lose. However, may I draw the attention of the House to page 7 of the judgment in which the judge says at F: I shall consider each of these four submissions in turn. Of necessity they raise purely legal questions for my decision. With the merits of the proposed development, involving, as it does, the abandonment of the scheme that the old school playing fields should be preserved as a public amenity space, I am not and cannot be concerned ". That is, to my way of thinking, the nub of the argument. It is not a dispute as to whether or not the Greater London Council has acted legally. I am prepared to accept that it has. It is a question as to whether or not the Greater London Council has made the right decision and whether it has made a fair decision.

On the question of whether or not the issue has been fairly decided by the Secretary of State, I believe that the matter turns on the decision taken in 1970, and in particular on the question of the advertisement. When there is to be a substantial departure from the development plan, of course it is right that the matter should be advertised—and indeed the matter was advertised. An advertisement appeared in the local newspaper in the middle of August—one advertisement. As a result of that there were 51 objections, but I believe there was not an objection from the Hammersmith Borough Council. As the High Court judgment said, the GLC have acted legally and done what they should have done. But many people feel, and I think nowadays it would be agreed, that it was very little consultation to put one advertisement in one newspaper in the middle of August when it might be presumed that a large number of people might be away as it would be the school holidays. I make this point because I think it adds to the sense of unfairness felt by the Petitioners.

As a consequence, these people have not been able to have a public inquiry and this is all that they have been asking for. At the end of the day, all that they can ask for is the opportunity to put their case fairly, for all are agreed, as the judgment makes clear, that the site was originally intended to be used partly as a public open space. My Instruction, which I hope very much that the Government will accept, is so worded only to ask the Opposed Bills Committee to take one last look at the future of this site. All I am asking is whether or not this is a proper use of the House of Lords; for is this not a Chamber whose main purpose is to amend legislation, and one whose main function is to look again at what has happened? It is an opportunity for second thoughts.

I do not want to take up a lot of the time of the House and I only wish to touch on what I believe to be some of the main points of the issue. First, I have already commented on the failure to call in the plan in 1970. What has brought the present situation to a head is what has happened since 1975 when the detailed plans became known. Here again the Secretary of State has refused to hold a public inquiry and I sympathise with the position of the Greater London Council in this matter. I was for a number of years the chairman of a planning committee and I know that one of the most difficult things in planning today is that you consider an application, you take account of what you believe to be the wishes of the people, you reach a decision, and by the time the decision is implemented some years have elapsed, public opinion has changed and the issues on which you took the decision have also suffered change. The result is that people do not believe that you have examined the case properly.

I believe three things have changed very much since 1970; the first is a much greater use of local plans and consultation with local residents. This, after all, is the function of a borough council. I am not absolutely certain whether it is the function of the Greater London Council—it may be or it may not—but at any rate, the principle of local consultation is now accepted by all planning authorities. Secondly, we are very concerned about the destruction of communities. I recognise that if the College of Further Education is built on this site, it could, as the noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, has clearly explained, be used by the community. Its tennis courts, its hall, its facilities could be used by the community in the evening.

Nevertheless, the space that exists at the moment is extensively used by the community; it has been part of the landscape that people know and have seen for a very long time—at least, since the school was built, over 100 years ago. It is part of the townscape that they are used to. I would have thought that in this House particularly, where we have discussed so often the needs of the family, the need to keep communities together, and in particular the important debate introduced less than a month ago by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, in which he made an appeal to make town places where families can live, all these are fundamental changes which have come about in planning in the last five years.

Therefore, I think there is a case to be made for keeping land available for family use and for school use in Hammersmith. It is always unhelpful simply to be against something. If one is putting a case, one is naturally asked, What would you do instead? ", and as the debate turns on the site of the College of Further Education, I think it is worth considering whether or not there is an alternative site. Two have been suggested to me, and one is the site of a former premises of the St. Mark and St. John College of Education. I understand that the Secretary of State for Education—and I quote from a letter of his dated 24th March 1976—at least considers that this is a viable possibility. He says in his letter: It is true that with some new building and with considerable conversion and modernisation work the total area of accommodation required for the Hammersmith and West London College could probably be provided on the St. Mark and St. John site. I do not think that a Secretary of State would write in those terms if he did not believe this to be a possibility—not just wishful thinking.

Then there is what has come to be called the Backdale site which I have looked at and which appears to be completely unused and which, so far as I could see from the measurements of it, is almost exactly equal to the requirements of the College. The fact is that if the open space in Hammersmith goes, it is the people of Hammersmith who will suffer a real loss. I understand that the borough is already the third worst for public open space in inner London. According to the Greater London Council's Report Open Space Provisions in Urban Areas: April 1973, it is short of 74.3 acres of open space, and if these 10 acres go it will be that much shorter. The site is at present used by over 30 local schools for physical education and it is used regularly by the residents, and all these amenities would go.

These seem to me to be reasonable grounds for supporting my Instruction to the Committee. I do not profess to be more than a lay person, deeply interested not only in problems of the environment but also particularly interested in the problems of cities. I was very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clark, who is, after all, an expert and who telephoned me last night to say how very sorry he was that he could not come to support me this evening but that he had unavoidable commitments. I believe that many people who are knowledgeable about the environment, about the future of our cities, about the future of our family life, are concerned when they see opportunities like this being missed. For if it is possible to rehabilitate an old building like the College of St. Mark and St. John, we are helping education and we are helping the town. At the same time, we are keeping the open space.

But, above all, we live in a time when Parliamentary democracy at both national and local levels has regrettably fallen into a great deal of disrepute. I believe that to allow the case to be stated before the Opposed Bills Committee would help to restore the faith of many people, at any rate in Hammersmith, that sooner or later our Constitution provides that justice may be seen to be done.

7.19 p.m.

Baroness SEEAR

My Lords, I should like from these Benches very briefly to support the Instruction moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, asking for reference to the Committee for investigation. In so doing, I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, that I, not least because I am a ratepayer in the GLC, fully sympathise with the financial problems involved and the problems with which the GLC has been faced because of the many changes over recent years in local government and shifts in authorities, which have undoubtedly made the handling of this whole case a great deal more difficult.

I should also like to say that I do not for one moment believe that this is anything to do with any kind of opposition to the West London College. I would go the whole way with the noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, in recognising how important it is for a college doing the kind of work that the West London College is doing. It is making a most important contribution, second to none in its own field in education.

However, I am not as convinced as he is that it is necessarily to the greatest possible advantage to have one very large college doing the educational work described by the noble Lord; but 11, no doubt, is too many. Many of us have seen the disadvantages that come when a group of small organisations mass together to form one vast educational college. There is loss as well as gain in educational value when the students on one site exceed a certain number. However, that is not really the main point of the debate this evening. It is recognised that some changes have to be made to the West London College. The issue is whether it should be on this open space, or whether a further attempt should be made to find somewhere else in which the West London College can do its undoubtedly very important work.

My Lords, the reason why we on these Benches support this Instruction is a quite simple one: the need to preserve the very sparse open spaces in this part of London. It is possible to make a change to a building once that building is erected, but an open space once lost in an area like Hammersmith or, indeed, in any area, is an open space lost for ever. London, particularly this part of London, cannot afford to part with any of its precious open spaces.

I cannot go along with the noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, when he suggests that the community by being able to share, in out-of-college time, the amenities that will go with the West London College—I think this was the burden of what the noble Lord told us—would get much the same benefits as it would get from the open space. I do not think that this can possibly be so. An open space of this kind, of this size, in an area like Hammersmith, is a place to which mothers can go, morning and afternoon when they have some spare time, pushing a perambulator; they can sit on the grass and let the children run about on the grass. You cannot do that while the college is in operation. It is a place in which youngsters leaving school at half-past three or four o'clock can go to kick a ball around and get rid of the surplus energy which they have to put somewhere. We know the needs of youngsters; the juvenile delinquency figures are alarming enough.

Surely one factor of this is that in heavily built-up areas, as in Hammersmith, youngsters bursting with vitality, activity and aggression, have nowhere to get rid of it. The opportunity to use college premises after college hours simply does not meet the needs of young adolescents, who want adequate space in which to push about. The same thing applies to elderly people, pensioners, who on a sunny day want to be able to sit out in an open space when they want to do so, not when it suits the college because the college is no longer using that particular area.

So, although we sympathise very much with many of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, we believe that on balance the importance of salvaging this precious area before it is too late is greater. After all, a very large number of local residents have petitioned; the number is formidable. These are people who could not have easily been coerced into signing a petition in order to have the issue raised. Because of this, we wish to support the Bill.

7.25 p.m.


My Lords, may I first declare an interest in this subject, both as a resident of Hammersmith and as the wife of one of the local Members of Parliament. May I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that unfortunately I have not conducted a Gallop Poll in Hammersmith on this subject, but am reasonably certain that I could find many more than 10,600 signatures in support of the plans of the Greater London Council for the St. Paul's site.

It seems to me that the problem relating to this site is primarily one of the assessment of priorities. To what extent should the housing and educational needs of those living in Inner London be given priority over their recreational needs? When considering this problem, we must bear in mind that before the GLC adopted the St. Paul's site, the general public did not have access to it as a recreational facility. Its advantage to the local residents was that it provided peace and quiet and an attractive view.

I do not underrate the importance of open space to Londoners and particularly, of course, those living in areas such as Hammersmith. Nevertheless, I am convinced that at present, housing and education should be given the highest priority. There is still a desperate shortage of adequate housing accommodation in Inner London. The London boroughs have over 200,000 names on their housing lists, and Hammersmith's needs are greater than those of some of its nearest neighbours. These needs cannot possibly be met by a suggestion made, although not, I think, in this House, that the different councils should open up their empty houses which are awaiting repair and modernisation. Progressive local authorities must always keep some of their houses empty for this purpose.

My Lords, in a modern world, it is as important to provide educational opportunities for all members of the community as it is to provide for their housing needs. I think the decision of the Greater London Council to rebuild the Hammersmith West London College on the St. Paul's site is both a wise and a courageous one. The college, which has 16,000 students, provides a very wide range of courses, which include land studies, local government, Civil Service courses, courses in connection with the building trade unions and so on, in addition to those mentioned by my noble friend—for example, help to newly arrived immigrants, and special classes for young people with physical and mental handicap. The work of the college at the moment, as my noble friend said, is spread over 11 different buildings. New premises are urgently needed and, when provided, it is hoped that the new college will become a neighbourhood community college, concerned with many aspects of both local and London life. When this occurs—and clearly it will not happen for some time—I shall not be at all surprised if some of the Hammersmith residents who at present are wholly opposed to the plan relating to the college, change their minds about it, and offer their services to the college for the benefit of the community.

My Lords, may I say in conclusion that if the plan of the Greater London Council for the development of the St. Paul's area were interfered with now, many families in desperate need of housing would suffer unnecessarily. I most sincerely hope that your Lordships will not take any action which could lead to this result.

7.29 p.m.


My Lords, I should also like to declare an interest. I think I am the only person in this House who was actually born in Fulham before it was merged into Hammersmith—very much Johnny-come-lately! Fulham was mentioned in the Domesday Book. I live very near to this site, I suspect nearer than any other Member of this House. I am chairman of the governors of a small school which has been using, with great delight, the open space during the time they have been able to do so. I am speaking this evening to support the noble Baroness, Lady Young, so that it will remove the idea that this has any particular Party connotation. I speak entirely as a resident of Hammersmith.

I would not care again to go over the splendid arguments she has advanced, other than to repeat that I am astonished that this is the only site that can be found for a college. My own son, who was a scholar at St. Paul's, when we first discussed this said that in historical retrospect it seemed very strange that St. Paul's School and the High Master's House should have been pulled down in order to build another college. Those of your Lordships who know St. Paul's School could hardly question that it would have been eminently suitable for a college, which at that time apparently was already envisaged.

I was interested in the letter from the Minister of State which the noble Baroness mentioned, of which I also have a copy, in which he suggested that it was almost as costly to recondition old buildings as to build new ones. Surely, this cannot be true; it seems patently nonsensical if you already have a building such as the college of St. Mark and St. John, which I know very well. This is a borough—indeed I understand it is true in London generally—of falling school rolls. More and more buildings are beginning to stand empty.

The noble Baroness, Lady Stewart, mentioned priorities. I am bound to say this makes me feel a little bitter, since I have had to fight desperately hard to get new lavatories in a small primary school in Fulham, which certainly would not have cost anything like £2¼ million. Of course, it would be far more attractive to any project to be a completely new one, but is this the moment, when we have been told that public expenditure must be looked at carefully and held back?

One argument which I find extraordinarily difficult to follow has been advanced before, and the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, mentioned it again, that it appears to be more expensive to leave the field without anything on it than actually to build on it. I must confess I find this argument financially very confusing. Since you have to repay the debt, why is it more costly if you are not spending money building on the site. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, will explain this when he replies.

I, too, have been in the field with my grandchildren. It is marvellous to have an open space like this, and I would certainly greatly regret seeing it disappear. I noticed the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, referred to a library. Our local council has recently pulled down a library building in Dawes Road which seemed in excellent condition. The youth club on the other side of Hammersmith Road is appealing for that not to be pulled down; they have a large sign up saying "Save our club". Again, these are perfectly adequate buildings. Often the policies of local authorities defeat those of us who have to pay the rates for these various new schemes. Can I appeal to your Lordships to give one more chance to look at the possibility of retaining some more open space for my borough of Hammersmith.

7.34 p.m.


My Lords, may I rise for one moment to appeal to your Lordships to support the words which have been spoken with so much feeling and, I believe, sincerity in favour of retaining this important open space in London. Of course, it can be argued that there is a need for more educational facilities and for more housing. There always will be. I cannot remember any time in the whole of my life when there has not been a housing shortage. But surely that cannot be regarded as an argument, or as sufficient argument in itself, to build over important open spaces. If we accept that argument, we accept that all open spaces are in danger. Hyde Park would be an admirable place for large housing development; I can think of no better place looked at purely from the point of view of housing. Why not build on Battersea Park. I really do not think we can accept at all that that is an argument.

The question is, is this an open space which is worth preserving or is it not? I believe it is a very important open space in that part of London. I believe it would be a tragedy if it were lost. I think the people in the locality should be listened to. This is a period when we talk about public participation in planning, all sorts of pompous expressions like that. But this is an occasion when we should really apply some of those ideas and some of those principles. You can see as you go around the protests that are being made. I have no doubt whatsoever that the people of the locality would feel that they had suffered a grave loss if this important open space were lost and built over, for whatever good cause. I should like to support the appeal which has been made in favour of the retention of this open space in West London.

7.36 p.m.


My Lords, may I be allowed to rise for a minute to support the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I am going to tell your Lordships a little story for which Greater London Council ought to be grateful. Many years ago I found myself chairman of an education committee. I had a most delightful and very wise little school inspector, and all he said to me was, "Do not build schools; buy sites, buy sites". I bought them. I think eleven schools have been built in Bexley on those sites. They would not have had any sites if they had not been bought. Now we have seen the loss of St. Paul's, and you now want to build on that wonderful open space. Since those days I have started playing fields, and out of small funds. There are hundreds and thousands of acres of playing fields in my own county as a result of that. If you throw away this open space in Hammersmith, you are mad; that is all I can say. It would be very much better and more useful to any society, any locality, as an open space where health and happiness can be gained, rather than sitting in a school. There are plenty of places you can go inside to get your education. There are very few places where you can learn a great deal more outside. That is all I want to say, that is all I want to warn. I have been in education all my life. I, therefore, do hope that everyone will support the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in her Motion and in the retention of this site as an open space.

7.38 p.m.

The CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (The Earl of Listowel)

My Lords, I think your Lordships might expect me to say something about the procedural aspect of the Instruction which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, will move if your Lordships give this Bill a Second Reading. There are five Petitions deposited against the Bill, of which four are directly concerned to oppose the development for building purposes of St. Paul's playing fields, the matter, of course, referred to by the noble Baroness in her Instruction.

Consequently the Bill will in any event be referred to a Select Committee, and if these Petitions are considered that matter will, of course, be dealt with. I should point out, however, that, as is the usual practice, it will be open to the Promoters to challenge before the Committee the locus standi of any of the Petitioners against the Bill, and this may well be done. If the challenge is sustained, then the Committee will not be able to consider the Petition concerned. But even if all four Petitions regarding the playing fields were to fail, the Instruction could still be considered by the Committee, with the authority of the House, of course, on another Motion to have evidence heard before the Committee other than that tendered by the parties. As the House will have heard, the Bill is a usual Money Bill of the Greater London Council promoted in accordance with the London Government Act 1963 which, among other things, regulates the expenditure on capital account by the Greater London Council during the financial period from 1st April 1976 to 30th September 1977.

But this, of course, is not a Money Bill in the technical sense of this expression. There is no constitutional reason why this House, or any one of its Committees, should not amend any Money Bill promoted by the Greater London Council if it wishes to do so. Should the House agree the Instruction and pass the Bill on Second Reading, or if the Petitions fall to be considered by the Committee, the Select Committee in either event will be in a position, by a suitable amendment, both to limit or reduce the expenditure on any item set out in the Schedules to the Bill and also to amend the purpose for which the expenditure is allocated. There will be nothing procedurally improper in this course, though of course it would be unusual in the case of the annual GLC Money Bill which, as the noble Baroness has pointed out, is usually passed by your Lordships without debate. I think that that is all the advice on procedural matters which I can offer the House.

7.42 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise for intervening at this late stage, but I misunderstood that the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, was going to wind up with this analysis on what the position might be. I feel very strongly in supporting my noble friend Lady Young in her Instruction. All we are asking is that another look should be taken at this. I would willingly support all noble Lords who have emphasised so strongly the paucity of open space in that area for the very dense population of Barons Court. I was privileged to be born in East Sheen. I was a mile from Barnes Common, a mile from Palewell Common, barely a mile from Richmond Park and from Sheen Common, and those were my playgrounds. I would only hope that we ask the Committee to look again at this, and indeed I strongly support the noble Baroness, Lady Seear.

The noble Lord, Lord Pitt, said that we had 11 sites. Surely that could be reduced to three, as I know that some of them are under-occupied. Surely we could specialise in all the building crafts in one of them, because if you have a specialty centre which takes electricity, brick building, plumbing, and gets a reputation as a specialty, then it is all the more important as a centre than making an enormous kaleidoscope of goodness knows how many varieties of advanced education in one great centre. There are many sites. The noble Lord said 11. There are others that are independent, and some of them will shortly become available on the market. Do we have to destroy this air lung that is so important to the young families and young people in West London? I believe that we should ask the Committee to consider all the evidence very closely again.

7.45 p.m.


My Lords, I am a little disturbed about all that I have heard so far, because from the debate one would think that that particular area was a public open space which we were in the process of closing, but of course it was not. It was an open space: it was the playing fields of a particular school. And during the period when it was the playing fields of that particular school the people of the area were not able to use it at all. So what we are now giving them is some additional open space which they did not have before. That is basically what the change is.

It is not as if it was an open space, for example, as the noble Lord, Lord Duncan-Sandys, said, and you would next talk about closing Hyde Park. There is no comparison. Here is a school with playing fields. We bought the area, and in effect, had the London County Council still been in existence, there would have been housing and playing fields. I concede that. But the London Government Act changed it. The borough council which was responsible for doing that found it could not afford it, and that is where the GLC came in. It was the GLC from that moment, in consultation with the Secretary of State for the Environment, and the borough council inspite of its various colours—all three of them—and these decisions have been arrived at.

The first point I want to underline is that this is not a question of open space being taken away. In effect, what we are doing is adding additional open space which was not available until St. Paul's School was moved. There will be some open space. Again, the debate seemed to suggest that we are completely liquidating open space from the area. We are not. There will be open space. There will be two acres of open space in the North. There will be open space in the middle, because of the removal of this particular block of houses. Then there will be an adventure playground on the South-West. Then the people will have available to them access to the tennis courts when the college is not open. As I indicated, the college intends also to allow them to use some of the facilities that will have been made available for the college.

There seems to be a wrong degree of thinking going on somewhere in your Lordships' House. Of course your Lordships have a right to amend any Bill, and of course your Lordships have a right to force us to think again; but again I ask your Lordships to think about the consequences of what you are doing. Every month's delay means an extra £18,000 for the London ratepayers. If you think that delaying it that long is worth that price, all right, but know what you are all doing. I again must point out to your Lordships that contracts have been entered into for building both the college and the houses, and that in actual fact the contractor for the college is on the site. That means that damages would have to be paid if we cancelled the contract for the college. Again that must be borne in mind by your Lordships when you decide whether or not you want to delay this particular matter. In other words, you have to take into account the present £18,000 we are paying, and the amount we would have to pay contractors if we cancel the present arrangement.


My Lords, the noble Lord said that contracts had been entered into with building contractors—I may have misunderstood him. But surely the Bill should have been presented before contracts were entered into.


My Lords, I do not want to go on making the same speech that I made earlier. We went through all the procedures we needed to, including facing a court case. At the end of the court case we were entitled to feel that at that stage we must get a move on, and we got a move on. We entered into contracts for building both the houses and the college. As a matter of fact, the college contractor was quicker than the housing contractor and he is actually on the site.


My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt the noble Lord, but in my business I charter small coasters. I do not charter them until I have actually got the contracts for the buying and selling. Otherwise I would be landed with a vessel and not having anything to do with it.


My Lords, again may I point out that we own the land. As a matter of fact we own the money that is involved in this Bill; this £2¼ million of continual cost. In other words, all that was necessary to do this particular job had been done before this money Bill, and the Council did not expect that the Bill would be opposed in the way that it is. It has never been opposed in this way before and I should have thought, with respect to noble Lords, that the Council was entitled to expect that your Lordships would behave in the way you normally behave towards Greater London Council (Money) Bills. It is necessary for noble Lords to take these facts into account when making their decision.

Great play has been made about alternative sites. I am told that the Becton site was looked at and was found not suitable. I have also been given some notes on the College of St. Mark and St. John, and before I enter into other points about that I should point out that, if that was accepted as the alternative site, we should have to take away some open space. It could not be done in any other way. However, there are other objections to that site, apart from the fact that one would have to liquidate some open space. The first is that the site would require at least £1 million to be spent on it to make it safe in terms of the fire regulations and some essential repairs. It was a residential college for 600; we are talking about 4,500 and therefore it is not suitable. Again, many of the buildings on that site are listed, with all the difficulties that that means—and the noble Lord, Lord Duncan-Sandys, will know what I am talking about. The GLC have learned that adapting old buildings in such a way can be very expensive. We learnt it to our cost when we used the old buildings for the new Central London Polytechnic. That cost us a lot of money. So I must tell the House that as an alternative site the College of St. Mark and St. John does not stand up to close examination.

We are, therefore, back to where we started. If we are to have this college, the real place for it is where we propose. Moreover, we have found what we regard as an equitable division; that is. there will be some housing, some open space available to the community and a college which the community needs, a college with a community attitude about it. In terms of the community, we believe that there is a terrific gain in doing it in the way we propose. I hope that your Lordships will bear all these factors in mind when reaching a decision.

There is a final point which I think I should make, but which I did not make in my opening remarks because I did not want to bring in the Party situation. These agreements began under Conservative control. In 1969, Hammersmith Borough Council was Conservative, the GLC was Conservative and the Inner London Education Authority was under Conservative control. In 1970, they were all Conservative controlled. In 1971, when the Minister gave his first ruling, the GLC was Conservative controlled, the Minister was a Conservative and the noble Baroness was in his Department. Now the balance has shifted: the GLC is Labour, the ILEA is Labour and the borough council in Hammersmith is Labour. Nevertheless, the policy, except for the modifications which provide for more rather than less open space, was originally initiated under Conservative control. In other words, the arguments which we are hearing from noble Lords opposite today should have been made then. The arguments which we are hearing now are really in favour of us for the simple reason that the only modifications that have been made to the scheme are to provide for more rather than less open space. We see, therefore, that the scheme as originally conceived under Conservative control had less open space than the scheme which we have agreed upon. It is really art agreed modified scheme, agreed between the GLC, the ILEA and the local borough council.

Hammersmith has more than 11,500 people; it has 250,000 and Hammersmith Borough Council represents those 250,000 people, and that Council agrees with this scheme. I am sorry to tell the noble Baroness, Lady Stewart of Alvechurch, that it was quite possible for a canvassing opposition to have produced an equally large petition in favour, because I am advised—I did not make this point earlier because I did not think it was all that important—that Hammersmith Borough Council does not regard it as the best place for an open space. There are other areas in the borough where the Council is more anxious to get an open space, and for that reason it has not been as enthusiastic as some of our friends in this House and other people to keep this particular open space. It does not regard this area as the area in the Hammersmith borough which is most in need of open space.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.

I hope that, with this reply, noble Lords will give the Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Select Committee.

7.58 p.m.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That it be an Instruction to the Committee to whom it is committed that they shall inquire whether any of the amounts authorised for expenditure in the Schedule to the Bill will be allocated to the acquisition and development for building purposes of St. Paul's Playing Field and, if so, whether any such expenditure is desirable, having regard to the interests of the inhabitants of West Kensington in particular and of Greater London in general, in the preservation of this valuable open space.—(Baroness Young.)

On Question, Whether the said Motion shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 54; Not-Contents, 21.

Amherst, E. Elton, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Amory, V. Faithfull, B. O'Hagan, L.
Atholl, D. Ferrers, E. Onslow, E.
Barrington, V. Gowrie, E. Redesdale, L.
Belstead, L. Gray, L. Ruthven of Freeland, Ly
Berkeley, B. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Bethell, L. Sandys, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Harmar-Nicholls, L. Seear, B.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Hornsby-Smith, B. Somers, L.
Carrington, L. Hylton-Foster, B. Spens, L.
Cathcart, E. Inglewood, L. Strathclyde, L.
Clitheroe, L. Kinnaird, L. Strathspey, L.
Colville of Culross, V. Kinnoull, E. Thorneycroft, L.
Cornwallis, L. Long, V. Thurlow, L.
de Freyne, L. Lyell, L. Vickers, B.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Macleod of Borve, B. Vivian, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Montgomery of Alamein, V. Westbury, L.
Duncan-Sandys, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L. [Teller.] Young, B.
Elliot of Harwood, B.
Birk, B. Kirkhill, L. Segal, L.
Brimelow, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Shepherd, L. (L. Privy Seal.)
Burton of Coventry, B. Melchett, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B. [Teller.]
Champion, L. Murray of Gravesend, L.
Davies of Leek, L. Northfield, L. Strabolgi, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Oram, L. White, B.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L. [Teller.]
Jacques, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.