HL Deb 31 July 1981 vol 423 cc935-40

2.55 p.m.

The Earl of Avon rose to move, That the order laid before the House on 11th June be approved.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I should perhaps mention at this stage that there is a misprint on some copies of the Order Paper, and that the date should be 11th June, rather than 11th July. With the leave of the House, at the same time as moving this order I should like to speak to the London Docklands Development Corporation (Vesting of Land) (Newham London Borough Council) Order 1981.

On 1st July the House approved orders setting up the London Docklands Development Corporation vesting in it certain lands owned by the Greater London Council and the Port of London Authority. In the debate on the orders, it was explained that further orders had been laid affecting some 142 acres of land belonging to Southwark Borough Council and some 87 acres owned by Newham Council. It is those two orders that we are concerned with today.

The two vesting orders before us today were laid in June and were open to petitions for a period of 14 days. No petitions were received against the Southwark order. One petition, by Newham Borough Council, was received against the Newham order.

In their petition, Newham argued that the vesting order would deprive the borough of potential sites for public sector and/or mid-tenure housing; that the inclusion of all or part of the sites of the proposed local centres would prejudice the timely provision of the community facilities envisaged; and that the inclusion of statutory allotments would deprive allotment-holders of their statutory rights while leaving Newham with the commitment to relocate them.

The Secretary of State pointed out that the question of the availability of housing land had been considered during the lengthy proceedings on the Designation Order; that Newham had been given assurances that the land required for community facilities in the local centres would be made available when needed; and that the LDDC had already acquired certain sites from the Port of London Authority for the relocation of allotment-holders and had offered the sites to Newham for statutory allotments.

Newham Borough Council's petition and my right honourable friend's department's representations were considered by the Hybrid Instruments Committee in another place. They took the view that, so far as the land for housing and allotments was concerned, that matter had already been sufficiently dealt with by the Select Committee. The committee also felt that there was no substantial ground of complaint concerning the land required for community facilities within the local centres. They concluded that no further inquiry into any of these points was required.

I commend these orders to the House, so that the London Docklands Development Corporation may take possession of the sites and make them available for early development.

Moved, That the order laid before the House on 11th June be approved.—(The Earl of Avon.)

2.59 p.m.

Lord Bishopston

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl the Minister for the way in which he has introduced the orders and for the information which he has given the House. He will not be surprised if I remind him and the House that when the previous LDDC order last came before your Lordships' House on 1st July, to which the Minister has made reference, my noble friend Lady Birk expressed some misgivings on it and notified the House of several aspects of concern not only to the Opposition but to local authorities, to the petitioners and others. Probably the main area of objection concerned the principle of what is an undemocratic and appointed urban development council arbitrarily imposed on the existing local government structure.

It is with that kind of background that one will look at these orders today, and with the fears which were discussed on that occasion. We feel that it is essential in the circumstances of the background to the founding of the LDDC to be sensitive to the relationships and the responsibilities which are involved. The London Dockland Development Corporation is now a reality and we all hope that some of the fears expressed earlier will not be realised. Much depends on the membership of the LDDC and its officers, and we hope that the membership of the corporation, when it is finally appointed, will reflect the interests of the local authorities and the other bodies concerned. This of course is most important.

As my noble friend Lady Birk said in the debate on 1st July there could well be problems of relationships and administration between the democratic and the non-elected bodies, but this can be eased if people not only act with consultation but also through engendering a sense of involvement by all the authorities concerned. I should like to ask the Minister one or two questions regarding these particular vesting orders, of which he has given us some details, as they affect the two local authorities whose land is being vested—namely, Newham and Southwark councils—and which of course have been subject to a petition by Newham, to which he has made reference and on which I should like his further comments. It appears that, although Newham made very strong representations through a petition to the Hybrid Select Committee, the Newham Council are still not satisfied that they have had a fair hearing. At least, that is the impression I have got.

Will the Minister say what consultations have taken place with the councils about the proposals which involve the disposal of land earmarked for development and other purposes? I think he mentioned housing in particular and also allotments; but of course if land is given up to another authority by a local authority which has in mind its own development for housing and its present statutory duties to allotment holders, this can create problems for the local authority concerned. Can the House be told whether the intended use by the LDDC has been seen in the light of the possibility that the land in question might be more speedily developed for the same purposes by the local authorities concerned? I am sure that we want to make sure that the land is developed and used by the authority most likely to administer it in the best way.

Further, is the Minister aware that the vesting of the land could reduce the area of land in the Beckton area of Newham which might be available for other housing purposes? Has there been any attempt to reach agreement as to the use to which the land is being put? Reading the petition which was presented one gets the impression that there has not been the degree of co-operation which might have been thought desirable in that situation. In putting forward the vesting orders at this stage, can the Minister say whether the Secretary of State is using what might be called his "last resort" powers under Section 141 of the Local Government Planning and Land Act before other means of achieving the same objective have been considered?

I noticed in the petition by the Newham Borough Council to the Hybrid Instruments Committee that there is a reference which says: Your Petitioners are astonished at the allegation that the Petition discloses no ground of complaint, and are much disturbed that the pugnacious attitude adopted by the Secretary of State will hamper the establishment of a working relationship between the development corporation and your Petitioners. The Secretary of State proposes by the vesting order to force your Petitioners to surrender their property to the corporation, and now by his representations seeks to prevent your Petitioners from presenting reasoned arguments to the contrary. He does not appear to understand the sense of anxiety your Petitioners seek to express in their petitions, which if your Right Honourable Committee were to so recommend, could be argued before a Select Committee". I am not concerned particularly about the relationships between the authorities concerned here but the role of the Minister himself, which is of course a very important factor. I believe that in the short period of time in which the LDDC has been operating there has of course been a great deal of co-ordination and co-operation between him and the local authorities, otherwise of course the detailed plots referred to in the orders could not have been so specified.

In view of the misgivings which we, as Her Majesty's Opposition, have had and the fears of local authorities and other bodies, I feel sure the Minister will agree, and so will the LDDC, that it is absolutely vital to be sensitive to the relationships between the bodies concerned in carrying out the functions which will achieve the objectives in which we all have a mutual interest. I feel sure that the LDDC will be as anxious as anyone that there is full consultation on the way ahead and also that there is avoidance of duplication of functions which might be better carried out by the local authority, whose know-how and local experience in an area over many years is so valuable.

Recognising that only when such orders come before your Lordships' House do we really have an opportunity to ask about the progress being made and the plans for the future, may I ask the Minister to comment on possible future vesting and other orders which might be coming before the House and on which we anticipate there will be adequate consultation? We have to accept, and we do, that the LDDC is a reality, and I have no cause for feeling there should be any complaint at the moment about any lack of co-ordination and co-operation, but I am sure that all those concerned will recognise how important that is, and I hope too that the Minister, in keeping his eye on the way things proceed, will also be sensitive to the feelings of those involved.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I recognise of course that noble Lords opposite have some doubts about the scheme, and I hope that the few remarks I shall now make will allay some of them. The Local Government (Planning and Land) Act 1980 enables the urban development corporations to acquire land compulsorily and, in the case of publicly-owned land, by means of a vesting order, subject to affirmative resolution of both Houses, and there is nothing about jumping the gun or changing the timing in the production of these orders at the present time.

The principal purpose of the latter provision is to enable UDCs to have enough land at the outset for their own early projects and to prepare a range of sites for private development. Accordingly, during the "shadow period", the London Docklands Development Corporation discussed the likely demand for land with the present owners, transport and planning authorities, financial institutions and private sector agencies such as volume house-builders. The corporation put forward proposals for the early acquisition of some 840 acres of publicly-owned land.

As I mentioned, orders vesting about 280 acres of PLA land and 15 acres of GLC land have already been approved. Two more orders vesting land belonging to Tower Hamlets and further GLC land have also been laid and will come before us on another occasion. The LDDC are also negotiating the purchase of land from the British Gas Corporation, British Rail and the Central Electricity Generating Board. The Government's case for the orders is that, to be effective, the London Docklands Development Corporation needs to own a substantial amount of vacant or under-used land on which it can carry out any necessary preliminary work and then release it for development. That is a key component of the Government's strategy.

In my opening remarks I mentioned the three points which are really the major points in the petition by Newham—amenities, allotment sites and housing—and I thought that with the help of the Select Committee, those three issues had more or less been ironed out. The noble Lord mentioned housing in the Beckton area. Newham still have land available for over 1,000 dwellings in the Beckton area, even after this particular bit of land has been vested.

The noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, also mentioned consultation. As was mentioned when we discussed the Mersey orders, Section 1(40) of the Local Government (Planning and Land) Act 1980 requires that the London Docklands Development Corporation prepare a code of practice as to consultation with local authorities concerned with its area. Discussions have already taken place between the Chief Executive designate of the corporation and the chief officers of the GLC and the borough councils. The LDDC will produce a formal code well within the 12 months allowed by the legislation.

The LDDC fully recognises its obligation to inform and to consult local people, organisations and firms. The shadow corporation has publicly stated that, first, the success of the LDDC depends in part on mobilising the involvement and support of the communities, voluntary groups, and personal skills which exist in Docklands. Secondly, on major issues and plans a full public consultation exercise is an essential, otherwise the emphasis would be on encouraging and providing the opportunities for involvement, which is something more than consultation. Thirdly, the LDDC proposes to establish a direct and constant relationship with the Docklands Forum, individual community groups, resource centres, trade councils, firms, the London Chamber of Commerce, and voluntary organisations in the community field, especially the councils for voluntary service.

Although the boroughs have vigorously opposed the setting up of the LDDC, they have, however, co-operated generously with the shadow LDDC. Indeed, they were prepared to appoint the chief executive designate as acting managing director of the executive arm of the Docklands Development Organisation. We have no reason to suppose that the boroughs will not continue to co-operate with the LDDC, if it is set up, and there are many welcome signs that they will accept Parliament's decision, if made, and will participate fully in the work of the corporation.

I should like to remove any doubts that there might be on the financial provisions. For 1981–82 the Government allocated £65 million for expenditure by the LDDC, that is at out-turn prices. More resources are available, if required, to cover the costs of acquiring land from the PLA, the BGC, and other statutory undertakers. These funds are available in addition to other resources which the Government have made available in the area, for example, through the urban programme.

The noble Lord referred to the board appointments. As he is aware, some of the appointments have already been made, and some others are expected to be announced shortly. I cannot in any way prejudge the appointments to be announced. The appointments of Mr. Nigel Broackes, Mr. Bob Mellish, and Mr. Reg Ward as chairman, deputy chairman and chief executive with a place on the board have already been announced and I think broadly welcomed.

I hope that what I have said in these brief remarks will have allayed some of the fears of the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, and I am delighted that we should have as the final business on the day that we rise for the Recess matters as important as these two orders.

On Question, Motion agreed to.