HL Deb 26 November 1981 vol 425 cc869-74

4.12 p.m.

The Earl of Avon rose to move, That the order laid before the House on 10th July be approved.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move that the London Docklands Development Corporation (Vesting of Land) (Tower Hamlets London Borough Council) Order 1981, a copy of which was laid before this House in July, be approved. With the leave of the House, I should like at the same time to speak to the next order, the London Docklands Development Corporation (Vesting of Land) (Greater London Council No. 2) Order 1981.

On 1st July, the House approved orders setting up the London Docklands Development Corporation and vesting in it certain lands owned by the Greater London Council and the Port of London Authority. Two further orders were approved by this House on 31st July vesting in the corporation lands owned by the London boroughs of Southwark and Newham. In the debate on those latter orders, I told the House that further orders had been laid, affecting some 63 acres of land belonging to Tower Hamlets Borough Council and some 44 acres owned by the Greater London Council. It is with those two orders that we are concerned today.

The Local Government Planning and Land Act 1980 enables urban development corporations to acquire land compulsorily and, in the case of publicly-owned land, by means of a vesting order, subject to affirmation orders in both Houses of Parliament. 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 developments. The corporation put forward proposals for the early acquisition of some 850 acres of publicly-owned land. Orders vesting 278 acres of Port of London Authority land in the West India and Millwall Docks and in Beckton; 15 acres of GLC land on various sites; 142 acres of Southwark land and 87 acres of Newham land have already been approved.

The corporation are also negotiating for the purchase of land from the British Gas Corporation, British Rail, the Thames Water Authority 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 underused land on which it can carry out any necessary preliminary work and then release it for development. That is a key component of its strategy. Most such sites are in public ownership and several of them are included in the orders before us.

Your Lordships may recall that a Government proposal to set up a development corporation was considered by a Select Committee of this House. That committee heard evidence and sat for 50 days, producing a unanimous report which endorsed the Government's proposals with the exception of the proposed change in the boundary. Although that committee did not consider the specific proposals for vesting land, they clearly accepted the need to vest land in the corporation.

The two orders before us today were laid on the 10th July and were open to petitions for a period of 14 days. One petition against the GLC order by the Greater London Council was received; two petitions were received against the Tower Hamlets Order, from Tower Hamlets Borough Council and the Association of Wapping Organisations, which is a local community group. In their petition, the Greater London Council argued that the vesting order would deprive the council of potential sites for public sector housing and that the inclusion of various plots would prejudice the implementation of various development proposals which were envisaged. Tower Hamlets argued that the vesting order would deprive them of land which they proposed to use for public sector housing; that the corporation already had sufficient land for its purpose; that the order would frustrate a civil engineering contract for the reclamation of various parts of the London Docks complex; and, finally, that in any event the order made no provision to indemnify the council against the obligations arising from that contract. The Association of Wapping Organisations argued that the vesting order would deprive the local community of new public sector housing and that the community facilities enjoyed on some of the plots proposed for vesting would be taken from them.

In response, 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 assurances had been given to all three bodies concerning particular points which they had raised, and that the development corporation would take over the reclamation contract. Compensation will be paid to Tower Hamlets for any loss suffered as a result of a vesting order in accordance with the provisions of the compensation code.

The three petitions and the Secretary of State's representations we considered by a Hybrid Instruments Committee of your Lordships' House. The committee's report was published and is available in the Library. In it, the committee took the view that, so far as the land for housing was concerned, that matter had already been sufficiently dealt with by the Select Committee. The committee also felt that the assurance given by the Secretary of State and the corporation adequately met the remaining points raised by the petitioners and that therefore no substantial ground of complaint remained.

The way is therefore open for both orders to be considered by the House this afternoon. The development corporation has the task of regenerating the whole of Docklands, and it is essential to that task that the corporation should have an assortment of sites in all parts of the urban development area as a base from which to pursue its activities. These two orders will finally give the corporation that broad base, and I commend them to the House this afternoon. I beg to move.

Moved, That the order laid before the House on 10th July be approved.—(The Earl of Avon.)

Lord Bishopston

My Lords, having just finished in the previous debate as a spokesman on agriculture and horticulture and rural subjects, I might have said that I was going to shake the rural mud off my boots to enter our capital city, but, as the noble Earl has said, the area with which we are concerned is one of great regeneration, and I suspect that there may be just as much mud there as anywhere else.

I am sure that noble Lords will be grateful for the detailed way in which the noble Earl has introduced these two orders. The orders provide the means by which areas of land now under the control of the elected local authorities are transferred to a UDC appointed to carry out the task given to it. The areas concerned may not be small, especially when the remaining acreage is borne in mind. As we know, a number of orders have come before this House, and indeed another place, since the Secretary of State laid the London Docklands Development Corporation Area and Constitution Order 1980 in November of last year. The noble Earl has been good enough to detail some of the background of the orders affecting the corporation, and your Lordships will know that we discussed an order on 1st July, last when the matter was given detailed consideration after the Select Committee set up by this House had spent 10 weeks going into the aspects of concern. Indeed, I think 42 days were spent taking evidence and seeing the area before reporting to this House on 5th June.

I mention these brief factors because they indicate that general concern was expressed about the way in which the UDC was conceived and born, and, indeed—and this is most important—how it might proceed. The case for the setting up of the UDC was that the scale and the severity of the decline of the Docklands was such as to create a national rather than a local problem. I will not go into some of the steps taken earlier about the Docklands Joint Committee—a body with representative members and in partnership with Government and other agencies. Indeed, I do not need to detail the objections raised by local authorities and others who feared that an appointed UDC was less desirable than having, the work done by the co-ordinated action of democratically elected local authorities. I refer to these aspects of the scheme's history only because it is important, I think, to note that when progress reports are made to your Lordships' House we are aware not only of the controversy surrounding the birth of the UDC but of those aspects which give cause for concern.

The fact is that the UDC has been established and it will be the vehicle, whether we like it or not, whereby change and improvement and new life will be brought into this blighted area. The LDDC has already put forward proposals for the early acquisition of publicly owned land in Southwark and Newham. I think this was the subject of the last two orders in which I was involved. Other land relates to that of the PLA, the British Gas Corporation, the CEGB and British Rail. While it is essential that enough land is acquired for there to be co-ordinated preparation, I think it is essential also that the plans and the proposals of the LDDC are not looked at in isolation but with regard to the problems and the policies of the surrounding areas under the control of the local councils, who also have statutory rights and obligations.

With this in mind, I would ask the Minister if he can say, with regard to the areas and the use of the land covered in these orders, not only how much land is to be taken from Tower Hamlets and the GLC but what areas are left to them. Can he say with regard to the proposed area how it fits in with the needs of the local councils, recognising that housing is a very important responsibility of councils which they can often best meet? Would he say, if the land is being vested for private and public purposes, what are those purposes? Would it be better for the local councils to do the job, and. with regard to housing, will it be for sale or to let? If for sale, can the noble Earl say something about the price range, and if for letting—or, indeed, for either—will the range be commensurate with the incomes of those on the council's list? I understand that in Tower Hamlets only about 8 acres are left for housing and something like 8,000 people are on the housing list. So there questions are relevant to these orders.

I would also ask the Minister what close consultations took place. I think he has mentioned to some extent the objections put, and I would like to know what area of agreement was arrived at when those suggestions were considered. I think it was helpful that the Minister referred to the hybrid instruments and the consideration of the committee, but there are one or two points there on which it would be helpful if the Minister were to comment.

Finally, I believe this is of great importance to the corporation's progress and indeed in regard to the concern which is felt by the councils concerned, not only the members but also the officials, as I think the Minister knows. I think there is a need for a feeling of involvement by local councils and other agencies so that they feel they are doing the job best suited to the overall needs of the local community. Speaking on two previous London dockland development orders for the vesting of land not long ago, I said that it was most important that the LDDC was sensitive about the powers taken over from the local authorities because accountability also is involved. I urged that there should be close consultation with the interests concerned, and where possible local knowledge and expertise of the local authorities and their members and officers should be used.

That is important not only because of the local know-how that we know exists in local areas but because it is important that local authorities and others should feel involved in the work which is essential to the future of the docklands area. I believe this is the best way of getting the teamwork. I believe that in all these matters, including the question of housing, we have to have regard to the human factors as well as the other considerations, because people identify with an area over a period of many years and they wish to stay in the area, and their needs must be accommodated in relation to housing, how much they can afford to pay to buy houses and how much they can afford to pay for rents and so on. I believe there is no great cause for concern at the moment about the progress made by the LDDC, but I think we should all be sensitive to the needs and feelings of the local people in order that greater progress may be made in the vital regeneration of this particular area.

4.25 p.m.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord's remarks. I also appreciate, with him, that the duties we take are very broad. I am delighted that he can switch from cows and pigs to Tower Hamlets and the Isle of Dogs with such facility. The noble Lord asked me some specific questions. He asked about the private and public sectors. The London Dockland Development Corporation will concentrate on providing service sites for private sector and housing association development, and the boroughs will remain responsible for the provision of public sector housing. He also asked whether it would not be better for local authorities to do the job. Noble Lords will recall that it was on this very issue that the Select Committee recommended that the urban development corporation should be established and agreed that the LDDC is more likely to engender the confidence that generates private sector investment.

The noble Lord asked about prices. I understand that the corporation is aiming for an overall split of 50 per cent. owner-occupation, 25 per cent. shared ownership and 25 per cent. housing associations. The dwellings at present being constructed on LDDC land in Newham will be marketed at prices from £18,000 It might be useful if I quote from the Hansard of the other place for Tuesday of this week, when the right honourable Member for Bermondsey, Mr. Robert Mellish, who is, I believe, a vice-chairman, said: I want to make it abundantly clear that every house with which I am associated—past and present—has been in the price range of £18,000–£25,000".—[Col. 857.] At col. 858 of Hansard he continues: We have started building the sort of houses that ordinary people can afford The noble Lord went on to talk about consultation. The chief executive designate of the corporation discussed land acquisition with the various public authorities in October 1980. In December of that year and on subsequent occasions my department wrote to the public authorities setting out the vesting proposals. These proposals were subsequently discussed in general in the Select Committee here. The committee accepted the principle that land should be vested in the corporation, though they did not consider the actual merits of individual plots. The Government fully accept that the LDDC must work closely with the boroughs to achieve the success we are aiming for. I am happy to tell the House that the leaders of each of the three boroughs have now been appointed to the board of the LDDC and are playing a full part in the corporation's activities. Here again, with the leave of the House, I would like to quote the right honourable Member for Bermondsey, who in col. 859 of Hansard sets this out in some detail: We must set up an organisation, which I call the 'docklands forum'. We must pay for it and its staff, separate it from the urban development corporation, give it its own offices and make sure it has complete independence. We inform the forum of everything, such as details of planning, and let it transmit the information to the various groups about which they will know. That is the only way in which I can see the plan working". I understand that the corporation is this afternoon discussing this proposal, and I am sure they will look on it favourably.

The noble Lord also mentioned Tower Hamlets. We believe the figure to be about 10½acres, of which 2½acres only will remain within the urban development areas. This is how much will remain within Tower Hamlets' ownership. Most of the GLC housing land has been transferred to the boroughs, and it is not possible straight off to give a figure for the GLC housing land.

Tower Hamlets have an extraordinary record in housing in that 80 per cent. of their housing is council houses. They have, indeed, a waiting list of 8,000 people, which I think the noble Lord mentioned, and the London Docklands Development Corporation has said that it will give nomination rights to those people. Again, I should like to stress that the development corporation is going forward on those lines, with both shared ownership and housing association development very much in view. My Lords, I hope that, with those assurances, the noble Lord and other noble Lords will be pleased to accept the order.

On Question, Motion agreed to.