HL Deb 06 February 1979 vol 398 cc579-82

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are satisfied that plans for the future use of the site of the College of St. Mark and St. John in Chelsea are consistent with the maximum benefit of the local community.

Baroness DAVID

My Lords, the primary responsibility for determining the future use of the site lies with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, who are the local planning authority. It is for that council to take account of the interests of the local community when considering any proposals to redevelop the site which may come before them.


My Lords, while thanking the Minister for that Answer, may I ask the Government whether they are aware that there is very great concern among the residents of the Borough of Chelsea about the future of this distinguished and historical site, which is the last portion of the estate of Thomas More? Are they aware that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea have stated that this site should be reserved for educational or institutional purposes? Will Her Majesty's Government exercise some supervision over the proceedings to ensure that this comes about? May I further ask whether they will ensure that the scheduled buildings in this beautiful site are preserved in whatever form of development takes place, and that the open spaces are preserved for the use of the residents of the borough?

Baroness DAVID

My Lords, I am sure the Government have much sympathy with everything the noble Lord has said, but the decisions must be made by the GLC, who own the site, and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, who deal with planning permissions.

The Lord Bishop of LONDON

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that this very successful and important college was compulsorily acquired against its wishes in order to build a motorway that has never been built, and that therefore there is a very strong moral case for this site being used for educational purposes, especially when there are such distinguished buildings as the chapel and library on the site?

Baroness DAVID

My Lords, I have great sympathy with what the right reverend Prelate has said—I am aware of all those things—but I must again say that the decision is not with the Department but with the owners of the site and the borough.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that interest in this matter extends far beyond the Borough of Chelsea?

Baroness DAVID

Yes, I am, my Lords.


My Lords, in view of the fact that the company to which the GLC originally awarded the site and Chelsea College have reached agreement in principle on a scheme whereby the company would sell the site to the college and the college would sell a comparable site in South London to the company which they could then develop for residential purposes, may I ask the noble Baroness to use her best offices with the GLC to persuade them not to auction this site? May I further ask her to commend this scheme to her right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, so that she could persuade the Treasury to allow the college to keep the proceeds of the sale of their South London property to pay for the site of St. Mark and St. John?

Baroness DAVID

My Lords, I am aware that Chelsea College are having discussions with the firm in question. I cannot interfere with the rights of the GLC, as owners of the site, to make such arrangements for sale; they must do what they think fit. I understand that they intend to allow adequate time for investigation into planning requirements and finance when fixing the date of the auction. I very much welcome this and hope it will provide opportunity for further discussion. As for finances, in accordance with normal Government accounting arrangements, the proceeds of any sale of other properties acquired by Chelsea College with public funds would have to be returned to the Exchequer. It is however possible for the college to be allocated an equivalent amount to enable it to acquire the Marjohn site, and I am glad to say that such a course has been agreed in principle. I must emphasise, however, that this is subject to a more detailed investigation, and the college will in due course need to establish its case for a special allocation.


My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on the dexterity she is showing in answering Questions. Is she aware that the original development plan zoned this site for educational purposes? Would she confirm that no alteration in such a plan can be made without the consent of the Minister concerned? Therefore, is it not still a matter which affects the Government? Would she agree that this site is not only one of great historical significance but one of considerable beauty, and that it would be a tragedy if it were turned into a developers' paradise as opposed to a citizens' paradise?

Baroness DAVID

My Lords, I certainly agree about the historic importance and the beauty of the site. I know that it is zoned for educational purposes, and that is why planning permission would have to be sought for any other use. This is the question which the Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council have to decide. I must confess that I am not absolutely certain about the position regarding the permission of the Government, but I shall make inquiries and write to my noble friend.


My Lords, will the noble Baroness consider that whatever may be the powers of the GLC and the local authority, the Minister may, under the legislation relating to historic buildings and sites, have powers to prevent an unsatisfactory development of the site?

Baroness DAVID

I take note of that point, my Lords.


My Lords, will the noble Baroness undertake to convey to her right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment the strong representations which have been made this afternoon from all sides of the House, with a view to seeing that if at all possible the Greater London Council might favourably consider a bid from Chelsea College for the site?

Baroness DAVID

My Lords, I shall certainly do that, with great pleasure.


My Lords, will the noble Baroness—

The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Peart)

My Lords, I think that we have had a good run on this Question, and I hope that noble Lords will appreciate that there is important Business to follow.


My Lords, I have a question of which I have given the noble Baroness notice, and so perhaps I may ask it—


No, I am sorry.

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