HL Deb 22 July 1982 vol 433 cc1040-68

7.47 p.m.

Baroness Birk rose to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Town and Country Planning (Vauxhall Cross) Special Development Order 1982 [S.L. 1982 No. 769], laid before the House on 18th June 1982, be annulled.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving the prayer to this order I believe I should say that what we are discussing tonight really concerns the visual backcloth to the Houses of Parliament. We are discussing part of the great visual heritage of London, and although the order is contained in this rather dry-as-dust statutory instrument, nevertheless it is something of enormous interest to very many people. This interest has been expressed in the coverage given by newspapers and also in the list of very distinguished speakers who follow me in this debate tonight.

We are discussing a special development order which is being used in a drastic and unique manner; an order much more sweeping than any planning permission to which we have been accustomed. We are discussing also a competition that leaves a great deal to be desired and a great deal to criticise. It is better, I would say, than the Green Giant, about which I believe we all know, but the Government did not have to choose either the Green Giant or this new version, which is clothed in resentment against the design and lurking suspicion that in fact the development probably will not be carried out.

I am not opposed in principle to special development orders, nor to architectural competitions. On the contrary, I have always advocated competitions, if they are real competitions—but not where the developer has the ultimate power to determine the winning design. When I was a Minister at the Department of the Environment, I was very anxious that there should be more competitions in the architectural area than in fact there were; but not where the special development order means that Parliament is unable to devote adequate time to discussing it. One hour on 28th June in another place was the time which was allocated to something which is going to change the whole of the face of the Thames and the whole of the look of that area of our city. Nor am I enamoured of it where Parliament has no power to change the order. And this is so; either the order is accepted or it is turned down; there is nothing in between.

My Lords, on matters of design there are no absolutes. Unfortunately, in the last 20 years the standard of design has, with some rare exceptions, I think been very bad indeed. It filled me with great despair when I was at the Department of the Environment, the Minister in charge of conservation, that we were building so few buildings which we would be happy and proud to conserve for the future. I think this is one of the reasons why so many people are, in addition to their love of the old, so anxious to retain the old buildings, because they have very little faith or love for many of the new buildings that are erected.

Creative architectural skill has been subsumed under developers' commercial schemes. It is an unhappy paradox that here, under Government auspices, the developer has had the final choice in an architectural competition. There surely must be a trade-off between the developers' demands and the community's needs. But here the Arunbridge development plan is unfettered by local authorities, unfettered by local amenity groups, unfettered by the individuals who live in the area and those who visit it, either as tourists or from other parts of the country, and want to see the River Thames and the whole riverscape on either side of it; unfettered by the fact that the people of Vauxhall will have the river cut off from them entirely if this scheme goes through. There surely must have been a great deal of private dialogue between the developer and the Department of the Environment. I would guess that there was a great deal of anxiety and a great deal of disagreement between both parties, at least I hope there was, before the final brief was agreed. I would ask: why was that dialogue not made public, instead of having this private dialogue between the Department and the developer?

It is perfectly true that the planning system is not always as responsive as it might be. It is true that the special development orders have been used successfully in a number of cases. They have been used for Windscale, where it was important on health and other grounds to do something quickly; for the national parks, for the project Mercury, where you could not have a whole number of tiny planning applications and use them in the time. These are special circumstances. But SDO was never intended to case the path for a private speculative development at great social cost. If the local planning authority—in this case it is Lambeth—had agreed, there could have been a private competition with the final choice made by independent assessors. If there had then been a consensus they could have asked for a special development order in order to speed things up. There was never that opportunity given to them.

A letter was sent by the Department of the Environment to the local authority associations and to the GLC, but no comments on that have been published, although to my knowledge the local authority associations expressed quite contrary views to the proposals that were put forward in that letter. This special development order was not arrived at by democratic means at all. First, the final decision was made by the developer, who has a colossal financial interest in it. I do not blame him. I blame the people who allowed this to happen. This is the mould that we have to break if we are to have better architecture. We have to break the developers' clutch on building design. And we certainly do not need help from any Government to speed up the architectural catastrophe that I believe we are going through, certainly in this decade. This particular scheme could have gone through the usual planning process, with the competition attached to it, and could have been done in that way.

I would also ask why was there need for such speed, because I am pretty sure this is one of the answers that will be put forward by the Minister, or perhaps by any and I hope there will not be many—who will be speaking in support of this order. Why was there need for such a grandiose plan, 13.64 acres? From the time of the entry of those who applied and competed to win the award, and also to have the opportunity to design the site, there was six weeks to the first phase, then two months to the second phase, at which stage eight schemes were picked out and exhibited. I am all in favour of urging people to get on with things, but when you are contemplating something which, one would hope, is going to be in existence far beyond the lifetime of anybody in this Chamber, even the youngest Member who may be here, and which is supposed to be a thing that we can admire and love and feel is something of beauty of which we are proud, that sort of time-scale is absolutely ridiculous. I think this was indicated by, as I understand it, the 120 schemes which were put forward. Public reaction was asked for in regard to these, but the result of that has been kept curiously quiet. We do not know which scheme the public plumped for at all. Of course this can only fill even the most naive of us with considerable suspicion.

We must not forget that the special development order goes with the land. So what this means is that the developer, if he wishes, can build part of the scheme and then sell that off. The noble Lord shakes his head, but in fact he can because the order goes with the scheme. There is no guarantee even that the architect will complete the work. On 19th May this year, in the Architects' Journal, Ronald Lyon of the developers' Arunbridge is quoted as saying that the architect will be commissioned to develop his proposals up to the point where they are due to be presented to Parliament early next month; that has now passed. After that, said Mr. Lyon, the architect's participation would be a matter for discussion. So there is simply no guarantee even that the architect who won the competition would carry out the work, and no guarantee that the work will be implemented. I wonder whether the Secretary of State is going to see that this is done and in what way he is going to manage it, when in fact it may not even then rest with the same developer.

What has been planned? One and a half million square feet of office floor space. Do we really need that much office space? There are office blocks around London which are still empty and impossible to get rid of. What is happening now is that the pensions funds are buying up empty office blocks in order to invest their money. It may be all right for the pensions funds, but it does not help the architectural or visual aspect of London. Together with that there is residential accommodation which, I understand, will be pretty good housing and de luxe housing. The conditions about the riverside walk are extremely vague and are not spelt out. It all adds up to what really should have been done; namely, to have started on a small scheme which could then be assessed visually and functionally, and altered in the next phase, if necessary.

Surely we have learnt over many past years what happens if we rush at these enormous schemes. I remember very vividly many examples, and one in particular in the City of Leeds. The schemes become out of date long before they are even finished and you are stuck with continuing something that has become unacceptable to most people, out of date architecturally and functionally, but because it has gone so far ahead it is very difficult to change it. I thought that we had moved away from the idea of big being beautiful, and were thinking along the lines that really small can often be very much more beautiful and very much more adaptable.

In the recent past both the GLC and Lambeth have produced detailed and comprehensive design guidance for these sites. The purpose of these planning briefs was to indicate to potential developers, first, the physical constraints limiting the scope of development and, secondly, the considerations governing the local planning authorities' judgment as to what are acceptable proposals for the site. Those two criteria are absolutely essential for any local planning authority when it is considering what is going to happen in its area, and for the people who live and work there. That makes planning and local sense. It also has regard to the wishes and needs of the community.

The president of the Royal Town Planning Institute has been quoted as saying: It is important to planning that there is always opportunity for an expression of local views". This scheme overrides the local authorities. It is unfortunately yet another example of the insensitivity to local interests, local pride and local government that we have seen going through so much of this Government's actions and legislation to do with local government—certainly that with which I have been concerned. It brings the competition system which has so much creative potential, into disrepute.

I ask the Minister: how will the standard of architecture be improved if we are to have schemes like this? The danger is this. Once one has this scheme, which is really answerable to no one, which is so wide open that you could drive a coach and horses through it, how will we encourage better architecture in this country—something that is more "in span" with the people, in which people can take pride and in which they can feel they have participated? How can we have that if the Government themselves take action like this?

The Secretary of State might have had the best of intentions—I will not deny that. He may have been working for speed, to get something built, and he may have wanted to feel that this site was being dealt with fairly rapidly. But it will no doubt be argued that this land had been left. It has not been derelict; it has been used in some ways. There is one area which, for the moment, is a very much needed coach park. It is true that it has been like that for some time. But if that is so—and it is—it seems a great mistake to rush something through in this way which will be a lasting and unhappy monument of which I do not believe any Government could be proud.

Looking at the scheme, the models and the sketches, it really is not a very pretty, acceptable or comfortable site. I think that we must have architecture with which we feel we can live happily. The Government—whichever Government it is—should be giving a lead in excellence. Governments may make mistakes, but they should be giving a lead in excellence, certainly so far as architecture is concerned.

I would only say in conclusion—because there are a number of speakers and it is rather late in the evening—that whatever happens to this order we ought to ensure that nothing so bad architecturally, as undemocratic in method and as speculative as this developer's charter, ever occurs again. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Town and Country Planning (Vauxhall Cross) Special Development Order 1982 [S.I 1982 No. 769], laid before the House on 18th June 1982, be annulled.—(Baroness Birk.)

8.5 p.m.

Lord Duncan-Sandys

My Lords, the Motion of the noble Baroness seeks to annul a special development order made by the Secretary of State for the Environment in respect of a planning proposal for the Vauxhall Cross site. I share a number of the anxieties which the noble Baroness has just expressed. But I am advised that this House has so far never exercised its power to annul an order subject to negative resolution, and I do not think that this is an issue on which it would be appropriate to set such a significant, new constitutional precedent.

Lord Wynne-Jones

My Lords, why not?

Lord Duncan-Sandys

My Lords, I think that it is questionable and that there are doubts on the Bench opposite. Perhaps that will deal with the point. However, I feel obliged to question whether the use of the special development order procedure is justified in a case such as this. While the law does not specifically say so, there is no doubt that when conferring these exceptional powers on the Minister, Parliament had in mind problems of a very different kind from the one we are considering today. These included, in particular, the siting of major new industrial developments. The noble Baroness has quoted the example of the Windscale nuclear plant. Other purposes for which these powers were introduced included the location of new towns and the designation of national parks, all of which were of more than local importance.

Questions such as these raise wide issues of national planning policy which cannot appropriately be argued at local public inquiries. It was, therefore, thought right to give the Government the power to take the necessary decisions, subject to the approval of Parliament. The purpose of this procedure was certainly not to circumvent planning inquiries on the design of individual buildings.

Having said that, I fully recognise the difficulty of reaching a decision with regard to this particular site which has remained not derelict, but vacant, for many years and which has aroused such profound controversy. The Minister evidently felt that, rather than accept interminable delay, it was preferable, after holding a competition, to impose a solution by the exercise of his power under the special development order procedure. I am most reluctant to disagree with any decision of the present Secretary of State for the Environment, who in so many ways has shown his profound concern for the protection of our architectural and natural heritage. However, I am sure that he would agree that one of the most important safeguards against inapproptiate new development has been the procedure of the public inquiry coupled with the right of the Minister, in cases of importance, to reserve to himself the right to take a final decision after considering the recommendations of the inspector who has presided over the public inquiry and heard the views expressed by those who attended it.

Public participation in planning—PPP, as it has sometimes been called—is a precious democratic right which in many instances has prevented disastrous decisions. Perhaps the most notable example was the Government's own proposal to demolish the whole of one side of Parliament Street and to replace it with a single monster block of official offices. Such was the strength of public opposition expressed at this inquiry, in which I myself took part, that the Government not only withdrew their own proposal, but are now actively restoring the fine façade of Richmond Terrace, which it had been their intention to demolish.

The present case is complicated by the fact that the issue is one of both local and national importance. The opinion of the local inhabitants on both sides of the river should be fully considered. At the same time, any new development which affects the character of this historic area is one of national and even worldwide significance.

But the point to which I wish to draw attention is that the problem is not confined to this particular site. It embraces all new development along the banks of the Thames in the centre of London. There will undoubtedly be further planning applications for redevelopment in this area and I fear that the use of these special powers in this case may set a dangerous precedent. I cannot believe that we shall achieve a satisfactory solution by a series of piecemeal decisions taken over a period of years by a succession of Ministers who will possibly have differing views.

In my opinion—and this is a proposal which shall put to your Lordships' House—what is needed is the formulation of general guidelines governing all further development in this whole area. In a Question for Written Answer on the Order Paper I have suggested one possible method of doing this and I propose, if I may, to read the Question which explains what I have in mind. It is: To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in order to assist developers and the different planning authorities involved, they will set up an independent London Thameside Advisory Committee, which, after consulting interested bodies and considering opinions submitted to it, will recommend broad guidelines regarding the general character, scale and functions of new development in the area bordering the Thames in central London. As will be seen, the thought behind this proposal is that the problem of new development along the river should be considered as an indivisible whole. I recognise, of course, that much incongrous new construction of many different kinds has already been undertaken, but I cannot accept that we should throw up our hands in despair and abandon all further effort to encourage appropriate new development of high quality in this vitally important area.

I have, therefore, suggested that broad guidelines regarding the general character, scale and functions of new development in this area, should be formulated. This would undoubtedly exercise a powerful influence upon developers seeking planning permission for new construction. It would likewise be of great assistance to the inspectors at public inquiries when drawing up their recommendations.

The local planning authority or the Minister with whom the final decision rests would not, of course, be bound by these guidelines; but one can be sure that they, too—that is to say, the Minister and the local planning authorities—would give these guidelines their fullest consideration.

In short, I am saying that although I recognise that much inferior and incongruous new development has, over the years, been permitted along the banks of the Thames, we should continue to try to protect and improve the quality of the environment in this historic centre. With this object, I am suggesting that steps should be taken to formulate in general terms an overall planning strategy for the area as a whole. Although I do not expect any immediate reaction to this proposal, I hope that in his reply the Minister will be able to assure me that the Government will give this proposal serious consideration.

8.16 p.m.

Lord Hampton

My Lords, the House is indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, for her concern over this matter and for introducing this debate. I have listened with great interest to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Duncan-Sandys. I should like to put forward the reasons why I believe that the great majority of my colleagues here and in the other place distrust the use of the special development order procedure. In fact, this is the first time that an SDO has been used to grant planning permission in such detail on a specific site in an inner city area. We fear that the Secretary of State might feel tempted to move in on other sites of a similar nature—and this was touched on by the noble Lord—which has been the subject of controversy for some time, such as Brixton town centre.

I suggest that two reasons make the use of the SDO procedure undesirable. First, it is completely undemocratic because it overrides the views of local ratepayers by short-circuiting the legitimate planning authorities. Secondly, objections to a special development order can be brushed aside by the Secretary of State. These objections may be technical—such as those lodged by those with specialised knowledge of wind nuisance—or based on invaluable local knowledge of the area. By cutting out a public inquiry there is no forum where local objectors can raise their voices and obtain a fair hearing.

In a Written Answer on 5th November 1981 the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, said: the procedure"— that is, the SDO procedure— would encourage a wider public debate about a range of choices and solutions for a particular site that is not usually available when only one scheme is the subject of a planning application. But this "wider public debate" is, I submit, a farce. The outcome of any public debate cannot be gauged because there is no forum for debate, and the debate, such as it is, would have no significance because the Secretary of State can override objections.

There is no evidence that local communities are better served by this short-circuiting of the legitimate planning system. The Government believe that developments of national significance should not be vulnerable to the delays of the local planning authorities. They maintain that the Secretary of State has always been able to "call in" applications, and that SDOs do not give the Secretary of State more power than he has always had.

But ordinary planning applications would always have been the subject of a public inquiry before intervention by the Secretary of State. SDOs are not subject to a public inquiry. Two questions arise from the SDO procedure, on which I shall be glad of comment by the Minister. First, who copes with the effects—increased crime, vandalism, litter, traffic congestion, et cetera—of major developments on which local authorities have had to remain silent? Local ratepayers, via local authorities, who have had no say in the matter have to foot the bill. Secondly, what happens if, in a few years' time, the developers decide to change their original plans to take account of prevailing circumstances? Do they apply to the planning authorities or does the SDO automatically cover any alterations that they may wish to make? If the former is the answer what happens if the local planning authority refuses permission for the change? Does Section 52 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 apply to special development orders?

The Government will no doubt argue that an earlier application by Arunbridge Limited for part of the area—the Effra site—was the subject of a planning inquiry. But there is no getting away from the fact that this development has not been subject to any inquiry at all to which the public had the right to protest. Futhermore, the recommendation at the end of the inspector's report on the Effra site application said: I recommend that planning permission be granted to this application subject to the conditions and notes to the applicants as requested by the Lambeth Borough Council and the Greater London Council, together with a further condition relating to the carrying Out of remedial measures to alleviate wind conditions in parts of the development. Has any research been done by the developers into the effects of wind nuisance?

Let me make it clear that I accept that I am in no way professionally qualified to speak on these matters. I am just deeply concerned about what may take place. Last night, however, I spoke to two experts who prepared a feasibilities study entitled, The Abatement of Wind Nuisance in the vicinity of Tower Blocks. They tell me that it was handed over to the GLC authorities some time back but that no notice appears to have been taken of it. Perhaps I might reinforce our view that further attention needs to be paid to this problem by reference to the planning inquiry at the time of the application by Arunbridge Limited for part of this area, the Effra site. I quote—and the reference is 5.6.7— Wind speeds at ground level in the vicinity of tall buildings can be both troublesome and dangerous, especially to the elderly. The micro-climate conditions on public walkways is of particular importance. The applicants admit that there would be various places where the wind would be troublesome and it is possible that the remedies suggested may not be effective. While it is accepted that the GLC did not ask for wind tunnel tests, the council recommends that the results of the tests which have been undertaken should be taken into consideration before any form of high building is approved. Can the Minister please comment when he replies?

Finally, I should like to put on record my considerable personal, subjective, distrust of the scheme proposed. I have studied photographs of models which make the scheme look devastatingly unattractive. I have been shown photographs that make it look at least tolerable. I am left with the impression—that is all that I can form at this stage—that British architects have yet to rise to the full inspiration that a unique site of this kind should demand. I am concerned that in years to come we may in part be held responsible for a project that was at best only mediocre rather than superb. I support the two previous speakers in their desire that the Government should give a lead in excellence.

8.24 p.m.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, in view of the number and distinction of the speakers to follow I am going to make a very short speech in support of the Prayer. In the first place, the use of the Special Development Order procedure in this case seems to me to be totally misconceived. Originally introduced for the purpose of overriding private interests for the public good in such developments as new towns and national parks, already mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Duncan-Sandys, this type of order is here being invoked for the very opposite purpose; that is, to override the public good for the private interests of a developer.

Winding up in another place on 28th June on the same subject, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment acknowledged: the use of SDOs to grant planning permission for specific sites has been rare". He then went on to attempt to justify it in this instance on the grounds that: This is a site of national significance". That is not in doubt, but I would have drawn exactly the opposite conclusion; namely, that it is quite wrong for the Secretary of State to bulldoze a development on a site of "national interest" through Parliament by this means, short-circuiting the whole planning system and in effect replacing it by ministerial fiat.

Next, the competition. Much is made of the fact that there has been a competition and that the developer has made his choice from the top three entries selected by the judges. But the competition is purely cosmetic. In fact, such competitions are meaningless under the RIBA's present rules, in which the assessors need not be independent professionals but can be architect developers with a vested interest in work for their profession. In this case, of the three architects on the panel two fell into the latter category, and one of these was the developer's own architect.

The design that has emerged from this has been almost universally condemned in the national press and by amenity and conservation groups, and not received with a great deal of enthusiasm even in the professional press. The SDO throws us a sop by imposing certain conditions on the developer regarding the construction of such amenities as a leisure centre, a riverside walk, and a pub. But what happens if there is a financial setback and Arunbridge's bankers, or the Arab backers who, I quote from the inspector's report, are residents of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Oman, and who are clients of Artock Bank and Trust Limited, Nassau, Bahamas", pull the rug out from the developer's feet? How do you withdraw permission from something that is half built, before the amenity provisions are completed, if the developer pleads the impossibility of complying with those conditions owing to a change of circumstances? This was a point touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Hampton.

Another important question that has not been seriously addressed is that of the demand for office space in Greater London. The inspector acknowledged in his report on the Effra site, in 14.7, that: objectors have put up forceful arguments that there is already a surplus of new office space in London". He then goes on rather feebly to say: They may well be right in this, but it is difficult to form a judgment without being able to compare the trends for both supply and demand". It might be difficult for him, but the Government could do it easily enough if they took the trouble. But the Government have simply assumed that more and more people will pour into London to fill up the new monster, and those that will no doubt follow in its wake if it is allowed through your Lordships' House tonight. What is very much more likely is that the introduction of word and data processors and the computerised storage and retrieval of information will reduce office staff by something between 15 per cent. and 30 per cent.

Another argument advanced for the development is founded on the jobs it would create. The Under-Secretary of State in another place said that the offices would provide employment for 5,000 or 6,000 people with 200 jobs in the shops. Even that number, as I have already indicated, is questionable. We are much more likely to be faced with high rate-paying office space lying idle. As regards the employment effects of the construction work this is calculated at a mere 1,000 people a year over five years.

If the Government seriously want to create employment in the construction industry on any significant scale, they know quite well what they should do. As we have proposed on a number of occasions from this Bench, they should bring general stimulus to bear on the industry—on the construction industry, that is—and on public infrastructure, and they could almost immediately take 300,000 people off the dole, if they were so minded. But they are not so minded.

No, my Lords, this is not the way to go about things in the heart of the capital within a few hundred yards of the Palace of Westminster and of many of our most cherished national monuments. I do not know if Lord Wynne-Jones's Bill to designate a conservation area within a three-mile radius of Parliament is the best way, or if there is perhaps another way as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Duncan-Sandys. But we should at least be able to consider these ideas in a civilised and constructive way in the next Session of Parliament. If we pass this order we shall be depriving ourselves of that opportunity. I therefore hope that even at this late hour the Government will see fit to withdraw the order.

8.30 p.m.

Viscount Dilhorne

My Lords, my speech this evening will not be long. My intention in the main is to be strictly factual and not to apply, if any, subjective tests of the architectural merits of the proposed construction. The relevant legislation concerning special development orders is contained in Section 24 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971. I believe it would repay us to look at the relevant words in that section to see what they really say. I will paraphrase the relevant parts: The Minister shall by order in this Act referred to as a development order provide for the granting of planning permission. A development order may either itself grant planning permission for the development specified in the order or for development of any class so specified". A development order, as your Lordships know, may be made as a general order, that is of any class so specified applicable to all land, or as a special order only to such land as may be specified, which covers the present situation. Furthermore, the Act provides that planning permission may be granted unconditionally or subject to such conditions or limitations as may be specified in the order which may require the approval of the local authority.

The development which is the subject of this order accords with the land usage for the site included in the adopted local plan for the area. Previous applications for planning permission relating to developments of a similar kind to that now permitted by this order have been discussed at length at major public inquiries. Thus the planning issues have been fully examined. This order grants full detailed planning permission for the development. The drawings are detailed and are to be found in Schedule 2 to the order. I would like first to draw the attention of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, to what the statute says in relation to development orders of this kind which have to be made by statutory instrument and may be annulled by Parliament, of which we all know; but I would add this, which I hope will help the noble Baroness: If they exclude or modify enactments or they vary or revoke, there is a requirement that there must be a further Resolution of approval". I hope that that will assuage, to some extent, the doubts of the noble Baroness about architects withdrawing and constructors withdrawing and selling off something which is probably half completed. No one likes permitting that. I hope that that contribution will help the noble Baroness.

This statutory provision is no new thing. It may be said to be enshrined by statute. The Act of 1962 re-enacts Section 13 (1,4) of the 1947 Act. There is nothing particularly significant in that except that that Act derives ultimately from the provisions respecting interim development orders enacted in the Housing, Town Planning Act of 1919. That was re-enacted in the Town Planning Act of 1935, and in the 1932 Act with some elaboration. Now it is found, as we know, in Section 24 of the current legislation, the 1971 Act.

As the noble Baroness has pointed out, they have been used for granting development for new towns, for designating areas of outstanding national beauty, for permitting development at specific sites, for instance, at the Atomic Energy Establishment, and for specific developments, for instance, one which has already been mentioned, Windscale. I have been unable to find anything in the Statute that states or in any way implies that the granting of planning permission by the Secretary of State for the Environment by means of a special development order is either inappropriate or wrong in this case.

There is a common factor running through it, and it is accepted, and has been for some time, that a special development order could be applied in this way. I would submit that after your Lordships have heard what could be called the history of the Green Giant site you would agree with me that the Secretary of State's use of the special development order is most appropriate. It is not an overriding of the local authority's powers, of the rights of audience, to which my noble friend Lord Duncan-Sandys referred as PPP. It is most appropriate and it is most right that it should be used for these reasons.

Because of time I will limit my remarks to the Green Giant site and not extend them to the other site because there are parallels and I would only be repeating myself. Between 1958 and 1960 a 350 ft. tall tower with 480,000 square feet of office space was proposed. The plot ratio, for those who have a more scientific mind than I do, was 3.5 to 1. Between 1960 and 1963 a 430 ft. tall tower was rejected. Further applications were made for a 420 ft. tower. Appeals followed. The project was adjourned for negotiation. Then the site was cleared of all buildings in 1964 and it has remained in that condition to this day. The London County Council—as it then was—invited offers of development for a hotel and offices. Application was made for a 300,000 square feet office block and 100,000 square feet of hotel space. That decision was deferred because there was a reconsideraion of the Vauxhall Cross improvement scheme, and then the application lapsed. From 1965 to 1967 there was a discussion between the Greater London Council and the owner of the site, and that was followed in 1967 by the Improvements Bill. In 1969 the Lambeth Borough Council said: "We are not going to support that Bill", and produced a planning study showing a 400 feet tower on the Effra site and a 3.9 to 1 plot ratio.

The saga continued. From 1971 to 1976 there were no formal applications although many drawings were prepared, in 1971 one with a 421 foot tower and in 1972 one with a 320 foot tower. That is getting nearer the present proposals, but it is still higher really and in 1973 there was one for a 390 foot tower. In 1974, after a lot of consideration, Lambeth suddenly decided in favour of low-rise storage with a high concentration in the plot ratio of 3.85 to 1. So the merry-go-round, if such it can be called, of planning and planning and planning with no result started again on a completely different type of scheme. In 1975 the Greater London Council followed the Lambeth example, swung away from offices towards low plot ratios, and proposed something that had a plot ratio of 2.5 to 1.

In 1977 the site was bought by the present owners. The vendor had owned the site from 1960 to 1967 when, apart from the early 1960s, as the noble Baroness has pointed out, it had been a park for buses or lorries. A new plan, called perhaps not inaptly the "Waterloo Plan", was adopted. In 1978–79 there was more talk discussing future development. In 1979–80 eight applications were made and I believe we are all familiar with the more up to date ones. I will not go through the history of the Effra site save to say that it was cleared in 1953 and remains that way to this day. The proposed height of the new building, at 300 ft, is lower than any other proposal since 1958 for both these sites.

In my mind, these facts speak very clearly. The Effra site was cleared in 1953, nearly 30 years ago. The European Ferries site was cleared in 1963, nearly 20 years ago. This used to be called in planners' language a blight situation and it has been caused, with respect, by an inability to reach a decision. I would ask this rhetorical question: For how much longer does this kind of indecisiveness have to remain paramount before a Minister acts under a vehicle which he has been given by Parliament, enshrined by Statute over a long period of time? I am sure your Lordships will agree that the postwar riverside development to the north-east of the site is undistinguished and that the surroundings of the proposed site are unprepossessing as they now exist. I have purposely desisted from making any comment on the achitectural merits; that is another thing altogether and is a subjective matter which may satisfy some but may not satisfy other people's aesthetic taste.

I say that the time has now been reached when a decision must be made. I do not think that decision has been reached with undue haste—with indecent haste, if I may be permitted the liberty of putting words into what was said by noble Lords opposite—and if this Prayer is not resisted, if it succeeds, there will be a further deferment for an indefinite period of time. There is nothing, so far I as can see, to prevent a further plan then being put forward and the same procedure being followed; deferral. I would resist the Prayer at this stage for the reasons I have given.

Baroness Birk

I did not want to interrupt the noble Viscount in full flow, but may I ask him if it is not true that permission goes with the land and that, if the land is sold, then, as the permission goes with it, it is not incumbent on the new buyer to carry out any of the building or plans that have been agreed before?

Viscount Dilhorne

My Lords, with a special development order—I understand that normally planning permission goes with the land—if there is to be any change (because it is by statutory instrument) my understanding is that that is then a whole new situation and that it really cannot be done without going through Parliament again—but I may be wrong about that.

Baroness Birk

I think the noble Viscount is, my Lords, but I will not pursue it now.

8.43 p.m.

Lord Sudeley

My Lords, I intervene briefly because my ancestor, the first Lord Sudeley, was chairman of the commission for the rebuilding of the Houses of Parliament, and the subject of this debate, called the Son of the Green Giant, is both within sight of the Houses of Parliament and, like the Palace of Westminster, the subject of an architectural competition. I wish to consider, first, the proximity of the Son of the Green Giant to the Palace of Westminster and why that is not to be desired owing to its height and size.

The design chosen by the commission of which my ancestor was chairman is exceptionally sensitive to its visual setting. It is not only a Gothic building but also a picturesque building. And one of the most important things about its picturesque style, with its reliance on towers, is how much it gains from being viewed at a certain distance. Any distance which can be obtained from a picturesque building can only add to its enchantment. The Vickers building, with its height, has already given enough trouble, and it is fairly clear from a photograph which appeared recently in The Times that the Son of the Green Giant would make matters worse.

So far my argument has been based on the sentiments of the aesthetes and a descendant of the chairman of the commission for the rebuilding of the Houses of Parliament. But perhaps it is easy enough to secure the argument, with a better hearing and a harder edge, by mentioning the financial implications which can be taken into account. It is possibly true to say that the higher the political level at which a decision is taken, the more financial considerations are taken into account. Perhaps the Cabinet very often does little else. There is no doubt that if the centre of London could remain protected, and buildings of the kind which are the subject of this debate would not arise, London could continue to be a draw for overseas visitors, with all the money they bring in in foreign exchange and the VAT they pay on their hotel bills. But clearly, if that is not to be the case, then London will be less of a draw for overseas visitors; and in this context it is important to remark how quickly a city can go. Athens and Newcastle are sad examples; and when a city goes, it goes irrevocably.

The second line of argument I wish to pursue is about where the public stands in the competition; and in this context it may be apt to contrast the sort of competition which occurred for the building of the Houses of Parliament with the sort of competition this one is. When the commission of which my ancestor was chairman chose the design for the Houses of Parliament, architecture was taken seriously; it was still regarded as one of the principal achievements of man. Uppermost in the minds of the commissioners was to choose a building for the Palace of Westminster which was worthy of the capital of a great empire. That was the principal reason why the commissioners were attracted by the splendour of Barry's elevations which have given pleasure and enlightenment to the public ever since.

We find here, however, that the whole basis of this competition is something quite different. It emerged from the other place, and it has emerged from this debate so far, that the winning design has been chosen by the developer. Clearly, the terms of reference for a developer are not beneficial to the public. What the developer wants is a building that costs as little as possible and something out of which he can make as much money as possible. In another place mention was made of a reference in the Standard of 17th June, and the same point has emerged in this debate, that Arunbridge Limited has not revealed the particular design which gained public support.

One is therefore driven back to asking: What form of Government have we? What credibility can they possess? Though they may be formally elected by the people, the decision in this particular instance has been taken by a centre of power in the economy. It seems in this case that the other place has neglected the interests of the public. I am very much hoping that the Upper House will represent the interests of the public and will at least make clear what is wrong with the special development order.

8.47 p.m.

The Earl of Perth

My Lords, we are indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, for introducing this prayer because this is a matter of great concern to all of us, and the debate so far has shown how well your Lordships can help in a case of this sort. I support the idea behind the special development order, because it is clear that what is attempted by the Government is to cut through the interminable planning delays which have arisen so often. When I was first a Crown Estate Commissioner we devoted most of one of our annual reports to this very subject and gave many examples of the difficulties we were up against in trying to get through good design or good planning. I recall, for example, Cambridge Terrace, one of the great Nash Terraces in Regents Park. We wanted there to restore a bomb site with the facade as it had been originally. It took us over 20 years to achieve that; only last year did we get permission to go ahead.

One can think of countless other examples—your Lordships know them well—and we heard the noble Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, say for how long attempts at development have been made in respect of this particular site. In principle, therefore, I am sure that anything which succeeds in cutting through these interminable delays is good. Whether this particular form of special development order in such cases is the right method is another question, and I shall return to that shortly.

I believe in architectural competitions, and I believe in them particularly when they are under the auspices of the Royal Institute of British Architects. I perhaps ought to declare an interest (if that is the right word) in that I am an honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute, and so maybe I am slightly prejudiced. When I was with the Crown Estates we set a pattern—in fact on exactly the opposite side of the river to the site that we are now talking about. We had an architectural competition. There were three, or perhaps four, assessors. Two, if not three, of them were eminent architects. The fourth was yours truly, and I was the assessor on behalf of the patron.

In the case that we are considering today the patron is Arunbridge, and I think that where there are architectural competitions it is unreal if the patrons themselves are not able to play a part. It must be recognised that if one is a patron, and one goes in for open architectural competition, if one is not careful one will be landed with something that is simply not commercial, even though the design might be good. One has to marry the two aspects. So I do not think we should mind too much the fact that Arunbridge was associated with it. Indeed, I do not see how we can avoid such a situation if we are to have architectural competitions, which personally I believe in, and which I like to think we have pioneered.

An architectural competition gives the young architects the chance, which otherwise they might never have, to do something special. Certainly in the case of Crown Reach (which I was telling your Lordships about), we had a young architect, Nicolas Lacey, who had never before had anything to build. A curious reflection on that instance was that he was one of the last three architects involved in the present design. That is extraordinary.

Some of your Lordships have said, "Oh well, it should be for the Government to give a lead in architectural excellence". I am afraid that I cannot agree with that view, because while in principle it might be right, in practice the result is almost always disastrous. I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Duncan-Sandy's, who told us about what almost happened in Parliament Square, with that great block of a building—that was "Government excellence". Alternatively, your Lordships can look at the Hilton; and I am sure that you can think of many other, similar examples. No, my Lords, I am afraid that I do not believe that the Government are the right body to give the lead. We should leave it to the architects, leave it in some respects to the public.

Having said that in principle I appreciate what is behind the aim to cut through planning, and having supported the architectural competition, I come to the particular case in regard to which the prayer is being moved. First, I think that it was a mistake to have invoked the negative procedure, because we are in constitutional difficulty about it. Personally I am not sure that in a case such as this, which is of not epoch-making importance, in one sense, we should be too greatly afraid of going through with it, if people feel so strongly about it that it ought to go to a vote. But the procedure means that debate is limited. I think that in another place Members could speak for only an hour on this very important subject. We do not suffer from the same inhibitions, but we are told, "Oh, yes, but you mustn't vote against it; so it doesn't matter what you say". It might be possible—and perhaps it would be better—if we could have a positive rather than a negative procedure in such cases, because we want to get something which is right, and I do not think that the negative procedure is satisfactory.

I should like to mention a minor point. I think that it was a mistake—though obviously it was done with the best will in the world—to show the winning eight models to the public, invite them to say which they liked the best, and then pay no attention to their views. In our case—I am thinking of the competition which the Crown Estate run—we made our decision and then showed the public the various winning designs. Your Lordships might say that that was not a democratic procedure. But that is not what is important. The mistake is to say to the public, "Here you are", and then, when they say what they want, to reply to them "Oh no, it's none of your business". In a sense this is a detail, but in future we shall have competitions of this kind—and I am sure we ought to—and the decision must lie with the developer and the assessors. That does not mean to say that in one way or another, through the local authorities and so forth, the public should not play a very important part in what finally comes off.

In the debate in the other place Sir George Young said that if the prayer to annul succeeded, there would be no development on the site. Is that right, my Lords? Perhaps Arunbridge will not develop on the site, but though we have heard a history of 30 years of neglect, I cannot believe that somebody, at some time, will not step in. So I do not think that we should be too greatly influenced by the view that there might be no development on the site.

All of your Lordships will have read the article in today's Times, which referred to a decision that could doom London. It went on to state that if the special development order were passed, in the future no one would have the power to stop similar special development orders, nor the right to object. I think that that is wrong. It is true in this particular case, but it need not be true in the future.

So I come to my final point. Frankly, at the moment I do not know which Lobby I shall go into if there is to be a vote. I want to hear the Government's answers to many of the questions. I want to think about the matter further. I very much hope that the Secretary of State, who we all know is greatly concerned with what comes out in the way of good planning in towns and in the country, will consider what has been said in your Lordships' Chamber tonight; will consider how best he can take that into account and in the future inprove the method or procedure for special development orders, so that we do not get a feeling of frustration and an impression that, whatever we say, it does not matter at all. My Lords, it does.

8.58 p.m.

Viscount Esher

My Lords, I should like to say straight away that I am glad that in introducing the subject the noble Baroness spoke of the over-building of offices in London. I am sure that this is going on, and has been going on for a generation. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, that we are undoubtedly moving into a period in which technology will reduce the number of clerks and secretaries—perhaps by more than the percentage that he had in mind—which will leave us with a large number of white elephant buildings in this city. The trouble is that there are great areas of London where it is very difficult for planning authorities to designate land for any purpose other than offices. I am thinking of sites which do not possess the kind of characteristics that residential land must have—such as accessibility to parks, schools, and so on. Inevitably a great deal of land is designated for offices because there is no other sensible use for it. The trouble is that land so designated at once establishes a value which means that it is very expensive to buy back, and undoubtedly the site that we are thinking about this evening comes into that category.

I also share the doubts and reservations of noble Lords on the whole use of the SDO procedure in cases of this kind. I agree with my noble friend Lord Hampton that this is a matter that we must look at with the greatest of care and with considerable scepticism. On the other hand, I am pretty sure that this particular instance deserves to be treated as a special case for the reasons which noble Lords have already mentioned. To begin with, there has been a planning brief for this site for many years. It was dealt with in the Greater London Development Plan; it was covered by the Waterloo Area District Plan; plot ratios have been settled; heights of buildings, as the noble Viscount has told us, have been infinitely tossed about; and there has been, as we all know, a public inquiry very recently which, while it did not deal with the whole site, did deal with a great many considerations relevant to a decision on this one.

There is, again, the special point about this site that there is really no local community. It is a desert hemmed in between main road, railway and river. There is no immediate local feeling, except, I have no doubt, among one or two people living on this side of the river. It is a site which for two or three decades has been seen as an ideal site, if ever there was one, for large, monumental buildings. But the main reason why I think we would be right to treat it as a special case is that it seems that a bargain has been struck which I would regard as benign and ingenious.

Developers do not like most types of architect. They prefer to use a sort of tame architect capable of giving them the greatest possible amount of floor space. Even less do developers like competitions, because, of course, in the way that competitions have hitherto been run, they have found themselves saddled, sometimes with an experienced architect, sometimes with an architect unsympathetic to their attitudes, and generally with an architect who could not be pushed around in the way that large-scale developers have been accustomed to do it.

There was, therefore, inevitably, in the case of this developer, no doubt extreme reluctance to go to a competition; and I am very glad that the noble Earl, Lord Perth, mentioned the part that the RIBA played in inventing a new style of competition, which in fact owes a good deal to his own initiative as First Crown Commissioner, which really, I think, has given the best of both worlds to the client. As noble Lords are well aware, the final choice has rested with him of three architects, all of them acceptable to the assessors. I do not think it right for noble Lords, or for people outside this House, to be contemptuous of the three assessors because one of them was, correctly, a representative of the developer, and another, a very distinguished architect who was for many years architect to the Greater London Council, at one time worked in the development company.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Viscount would give way for a moment, because I referred to the developers. What I was concerned about was not the distinguished assessors and that the developer was one of them, but that the final choice was made by the developer. That was the point.

Viscount Esher

Yes, my Lords; I am well aware of the noble Baroness's point there. That the final choice should be made by the people who have to do the building, provided the three architects are all equally acceptable to the assessors, seems to me to be a good solution, and one which really gives a cautious company deploying a great deal of finance the kind of assurance which makes it possible for them to use a competition. But, of course, the essence of the bargain, as noble Lords are well aware, was that in exchange for good architecture the developer would be given speed—a quick start. It was because of that, I am sure, that it became possible for the bargain to be struck.

My Lords, I have studied all three designs and I know the work of all three architects quite well. I am pretty sure that we are going to get good architecture at the end of this exercise. I do not want to bandy aesthetic judgments with other noble Lords except, perhaps, on one aspect, which seems to me to have been dealt with in this morning's paper in a way which might be misleading. This is the aspect of height and bulk. The plot ratio has gone down to 2.5 (for those who understand plot ratios), which is almost a residential density. The "300-ft. black shadow"—I quote from The Times this morning—is really not what the building is going to look like. It is, as those who have studied it will remember, deeply indented, with large open spaces between its projecting wings.

The architects inform me that the highest pinnacle of the building will be 280 ft. above the ground, which in the light of earlier projects is really not high, and is, I may say, substantially lower than the Millbank Tower. I think the article in The Times this morning must have had a misprint, because, far from being 8 ft. lower than the tower, the architects inform me that the figure should have been 80.

I am given to understand that the average height of the building will be 150 ft.—that is 15 storeys roughly—which is approximately the height of the St. Thomas' Hospital block across the river from this House. At no point will the building be as high as the building, which noble Lords may be familiar with, which you see from Westminister Bridge looking upstream, known as Market Towers, I believe—a sort of zig-zag shape which at the moment is at the far end of that vista. This building will be at all points lower than that. So I think the image that we have been given, of an oppressive, solid curtain of dark shadow stretching across the distance, is really not one that we should take too seriously.

All three of these shortlisted winning firms are, I am convinced, architects of sensibility; and I should like to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, that there really are now architects of his generation every bit as sensitive to architecture as he is himself. The Royal Fine Art Commission, of which I was a member for many years, dealing with the three winners, had this to say: It is a fact that this"— meaning the chosen winner— and the other two short-listed entries are so superior in quality of thought and design to any of the previous schemes for the Vauxhall Cross site seen by the Commission as to fully justify the decision"— "the decision" being to use this procedure.

The commission was set up to give advice in difficult public matters of this kind. Its membership through the years has been chosen from people who, I think I can say, devoted their lives to trying to understand and to make judgments on visual matters of this sort. Noble Lords who know the membership of this committee must agree that it contains people who, if anyone can be trusted in matters of this sort, can be trusted. My own experience on the commission was that many past mistakes, of which we are now so well aware, occurred because people in positions of power thought that they knew better than the commission. The Hilton Hotel in Park Lane was one of the many examples of buildings rejected by the commission but, despite that, supported by the Government.

I urge noble Lords to remember the sentence that I quoted from the commission's view of the three schemes and to feel confident that when the scheme is fully developed—and, goodness knows, the architects had little time to do it—as it works out, and as the weeks go by, they will get a group of buildings, a development, which will be of extreme sensitivity and something of which London will eventually be able to feel proud.

9.10 p.m.

Baroness Airey of Abingdon

My Lords, I have just come from the Heritage meeting and therefore my heart is with the heritage. The city of London is our living heritage and I would like to underline that word "living" because where there is a gap or possibility some people would seek to rebuild with some sort of idea of the past. Maybe they would like to have a sort of Wren building, a Wren church or some such building on a site like this. I fight hard to preserve the heritage of the past but our children must live and work in the future.

We here work in a building which I find fascinating and for which I have the greatest admiration, but, with due respect to the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, there were great deliberations and, I think, arguments when it was first suggested how it should be built. Many thought that it should be a classical building. I think that we should look to the future as our ancestors have done, and therefore we should think in terms of a modern building.

There is one thing which has not been mentioned during this very interesting debate this evening. It has not been mentioned that there is a great network of roads and also a great network of railways behind this building and this site, and it is not a question of a beautiful vista. To my mind, it is a question of a screen. That is why when I looked at the plans (and I have looked at the plans and models carefully) it seemed to me that it carried out what was needed in this way: a screen against what can never be a beautiful vista. The other point was that it was not just a question of offices. I feel deeply about this.

I live in Marsham Street and late at night it is absolutely empty. Here there are now going to be people living, and not only people living but, I hope, people walking along that (as it appears to me) beautifully designed pathway with trees and, I believe, with lamps from an old design which will light the way. So it will not only be of use during the day but will, I hope, be a living place by night as well. So, my Lords, I would advocate that there could be perhaps some alterations for the better in some of the plans, but that there are a great many good things in this plan and I would advocate that we should in general accept it. I hope that some of the improvements would also be made.

9.14 p.m.

Lord Wynne-Jones

My Lords, it is rather difficult to rise at the end of a debate like this where so many people have spoken so sensitively and with such care about the whole problem. I particularly agreed with a lot of what the noble Baroness, Lady Airey, has just said. I think one has to think of this matter in terms of the whole of the development which takes place on the banks of the River Thames.

I am not a Londoner; I have lived in London now for only eight years. I came here from Newcastle and originated from North Wales. So if a Welshman can be a foreigner in Britain, I am a foreigner here in London. But London has something of great significance and importance. One cannot live in London, one cannot visit London, without having some feeling for this great city. One first may resent it—I think I did when I first came to London. One then gradually acquires some humility—if a Welshman can ever be humble.

I then began to feel that I was living here in a city which existed long before I did—a city which has governed history throughout this country, throughout Europe and throughout the world. I think because of all this one cannot help feeling that one has a responsibility—we in Parliament have a responsibility—towards this city of London.

I am lucky enough at the present time to be living on the banks of the Thames immediately opposite Battersea Park. I have grown to love the River Thames. One of the things which have shocked me has been to see the massive block of buildings which have been going up on the banks of the river Thames.

The noble Viscount, Lord Esher, said that the average height of a building was—I forgot his exact figure—about two-thirds of the real height. But what do you mean by an average height? If something is built shaped as I indicate with the paper in my hands, it can blot out a view. However, if something is shaped in the way I indicate now with the paper in my hands then the average height has not changed but it does not blot out the view. It is not the average height that matters, it is the dominating blocks that matter. One really has to be careful about this use of terminology. One can easily trick people by talking about certain things like average heights. As a scientist, I learned a long time ago that there are many different meanings of the word "average" and you should be careful when you use the word "average" and define what is meant by it.

Today I was in a not very high building on the other side of the river. I had been asked by the Chemical Industries Association to be present at a seminar they were conducting, because by accident I happen to be a chemist. We were discussing all sorts of problems. I looked out across the river and I saw the Tate Gallery and I also saw a monstrous building which is at the end of Vauxhall Bridge. That building blots out a lot of the view. If one looked over to the right hand side one could see the spires of City churches, but this building blots everything out.

The real point that one has to bear in mind when considering the development on the banks of the River Thames is that the Thames is a river that winds and you can cut off the view of St. Pauls; you can cut off the view of Westminster; you can cut off many of the views by putting up a building which is too high and too close to the banks of the Thames. It makes a great deal of difference if an angle is created such as I have demonstrated. One can afford to put up a building, a high building, about a quarter of a mile away from the river. But put the same building on the banks of the River Thames and you cannot see a thing. You have blotted everything out. This was pointed out in a very important article in The Times, I think, on the 10th of this month, in which the author, Moggridge, pointed out that the views of St. Paul's could be entirely blotted out by putting a building that was too high in between. He suggested that a scheme which had already been devised years ago in order to look at the way in which you considered the elevations of buildings ought to be applied to looking at the whole development.

Of course, as always happens, someone wrote to The Times only a couple of days ago. It was Sir John Welch, who is chairman of the Planning and Communications Committee of the City of London. He pooh-poohed the whole thing and said: "We do all this already, and in fact we have been doing it since 1939". And he adds: "I can assure your readers that the corporation will give full consideration to the impact of the Liverpool Street Station and Mansion House Square development proposals on key views in carrying out its statutory obligations". Did they do that when they allowed the building to be put up in front of St. Paul's at the top of Ludgate Hill, which blots out St. Paul's? That was long after 1939; yet he says, "Leave it to us because we have nice, cosy little ways of dealing with these things".

I have become extremely distrustful and sceptical of "cosy little ways of dealing with things". These cosy little ways are always delightful methods of allowing some person with influence, with money, to get away with murder. I think the real objection that one has today against this special development order is that it gives a cosy little consent to a developer to do something which might not have been consented to if he had come forward previously and come to a proper inquiry. The noble Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, would say, "Ah, but I have all the facts and all the words put down in statutes which govern special development orders". But they do not govern the way in which a special development order can operate, and the fact is that if we pass this special development order we take the first step towards allowing further special development orders which can take place piecemeal all the way down the river, and the river will become a culvert and not the Thames that we know.

Viscount Dilhorne

My Lords, I should like, if I may, to remedy an answer I gave to the noble Baroness after my speech to her question. I think we were both right. Planning permission is not personal to the applicant: it does go with the land, and the answer that I gave also applies, because it is a special development order; so that if anybody sold that land they would be tied to the conditions under which the planning permission was granted. I was afraid I had not made myself absolutely clear, and I hope that what I have just said resolves the matter.

9.25 p.m.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, before I turn to the specific points, I should like to explain both the broad policy context of this special development order, and the particular series of events which have led to the use of this procedure, and thereby for asking the House to grant planning permission for development of the Vaxhaull Cross site. On the policy front, I should draw attention to three main themes. First, there is the determination of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to secure a higher quality of development on the banks of the Thames in central London. I do not think this is a case that I need to argue very hard. We have all talked about it this evening. We must all of us have been depressed by some of the drab and dreary blocks which our generation is passing on, as part of its contribution to the historical heritage displayed along the capital's river. It is our intention to make amends during the 1980s and 1990s.

Secondly, there is the concern—again, widely shared—about the length of time and the amount of expense involved in getting decisions about major sites. I shall come to this in more detail shortly, but the lion's share of this site has been empty for over two decades. Thirdly, my right honourable friend has circulated a consultation paper exploring the scope for wider use of the special development order procedure in improving the operation of the planning system. The provisions for making development orders have been an integral part of the planning system from the very beginning—either general orders applying throughout England and Wales, or special orders applicable only to specified land. I am grateful, as I am sure is the House, to my noble friend Lord Dilhorne for his exposition on this subject.

They have been used for a variety of purposes, although this is the first time that they have been used to grant planning permission for a specific scheme in such detail. We see this case as a use of one of the ideas in the consultation paper. For reasons which I will come to later, this was a particularly appropriate case for taking this course. The paper elicited a wide variety of responses, and the Government have not yet taken general decisions on the issues raised.

I turn now to the site which is the subject of this SDO—or, as it would have been described a year ago, the three sites. In the early parts of this century, the south bank at Vauxhall was used for industrial purposes. The site immediately downstream of Vauxhall Bridge now known as the "European Ferries" site or, more popularly, the Green Giant site, once contained an oil works. It has been unused for at least 25 years, and the buildings were cleared from it nearly 20 years ago. A photograph of it had the dubious distinction of being used as the cover of the Civic Trust publication entitled Urban Wasteland in 1977. The site immediately upstream is known as the Effra site, after an ancient creek whose waters entered the Thames there. Until the 1950s, it was occupied by a gasworks; it is now an open car and lorry park. Upstream of this is the Nine Elms Cold Store, a windowless rectangular block which is also redundant. Since the industrial uses disappeared, the sites have been consistently earmarked for offices or public buildings, with pedestrian access to the riverside and open space beside it.

The statutory development plans for the area, which have been mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Esher, are the Greater London Development Plan, approved by the then Secretary of State in 1976, and Lambeth Council's Waterloo District Plan, which the council adopted in 1977. The Waterloo District Plan provided a more detailed interpretation of the Greater London Development Plan. It recognised that all components of the site were suitable for office development, subject to detailed design constraints and the provision of riverside open space, residential accommodation and other facilities for the benefit of the public. As statutory documents, the Greater London Development Plan and the Waterloo District Plan have had to go through substantial consultation procedures. Lambeth Council have also provided more detailed, though non-statutory, guidance for the development of the Effra and European Ferries sites. This hardly shows a lack of local consultation.

Towards the end of 1979, my right honourable friend called-in for his own decision the planning application for the construction of what was dubbed the Green Giant on the European Ferries site. There was a public inquiry and enormous public interest. My right honourable friend accepted the proposals in so far as the uses proposed for the site were concerned, but refused the application on the grounds that the proposed building was too massive and overbearing. He emphasised the importance of the site and suggested that alternative possible forms of development should be explored, perhaps by means of architectural competition.

He also stressed the importance of securing compatibility between the development of the European Ferries site and the Effra site upstream. He was not alone in this point. It was a consistent theme of both local authority and amenity interests. Subsequently, my right honourable friend called in a planning application for development of the Effra site and, as we have already heard, another public inquiry was held in 1981.

I apologise for taking so much of the time of the House in going over rather complicated details, but I do believe it is important to explain how the use of the land was established by the relevant development plans and to point to the extensive public debate which has taken place over it. This, together with the consultation letter on possible wider use of SDOs, was the background against which, at the end of last year, Arunbridge Limited approached the department with an imaginative scheme for an architectural competition for the comprehensive development of all three sites.

Provided that a scheme of proven merit emerged from the competition, a decision to proceed by SDO offered, first, the advantage of speed—an important consideration, I suggest, when sites of this significance have lain derelict for a quarter of a century. Secondly, it enabled our officials to give guidance on the planning background to the competition brief to see that it conformed with the statutory development plan.

Third, it enabled them to see that the brief took account of the reasons for rejecting the so-called Green Giant.

The competition was organised and run on behalf of the promoters by a panel of assessors appointed by the Royal Institute of British Architects. At this stage I should like to welcome the words of the noble Earl, Lord Perth, and assure him that our minds are not closed to any of the suggestions which he made. It was a "promoter choice" competition. In this, the promoter has a minority involvement in running the competition, and the final choice between a small number of schemes—in this case three—put forward by the assessors as the best. Competitions generally have the great attraction of offering choice and of allowing new ideas and talents to surface. The "promoter choice" format is designed to avoid the likelihood of the competition producing a winning scheme which the developer would find impractical or uneconomic to build. It is one of the RIBA's standard competition formats. This is perhaps an appropriate moment at which to thank the RIBA for the effort I know they have put into this competition and, more generally, for their support in encouraging the wider use of competitions.

There has been talk of this being a put-up job. That is ridiculous. Architectural competitions are deliberately organised to preserve the anonymity of the entrants so that the designs may be judged objectively. This competition was carried out scrupulously in accordance with conditions devised by the RIBA, and there can be no question of collusion. In any case, I have a categoric assurance that the architects were in no way associated with the developer before their success in the competition. Four invitations were issued to join the panel of assessors. Two were issued to distinguished independent architects nominated by the RIBA, one to the developer's architects and one to the local planning authority, Lambeth Council. Lambeth Council, unfortunately, decided not to accept this invitation.

All architects registered in the United Kingdom could enter the first stage of the competition, to draw up outline plans. No fewer than 128 chose to do so, investing very considerable effort in the process. The assessors chose a short list of eight who went on to the second stage of the competition, producing detailed designs. These were put on public display, giving the assessors the benefit of the public's views on the schemes. The assessors then chose the three schemes which they thought best on the basis of all the evidence before them, and the developer chose the one with which he wished to proceed. I should emphasise that the winners had no previous association with the developers.

Noble Lords have criticised the SDO procedure. I have already said that the powers have been in the planning system since its inception. It must also be accepted that decisions on sites of national importance will generally be taken by the Secretary of State rather than by the local authority. He has been involved in a number of applications for planning permission for development beside the Thames in London and, indeed, twice in relation to this site. The Secretary of State is, of course, ultimately answerable to Parliament. I have taken note of the suggestions of my noble friend Lord Duncan-Sandys and shall of course see that they are presented to my right honourable friend. His ideas are indeed interesting and I recognise their constructive approach, particularly about the guidelines. I shall ensure that they are carefully evaluated. I believe that our aims are the same.

The public's view on the sites in question have been explored in the preparation of the local plan and at two public inquiries. As I have said, they have had too the opportunity to comment on the 8 short-listed schemes. Normally, like the local planning authority or the Secretary of State, the public see only one option. The comments of the public were taken into account by the assessors.

There has been a good deal of debate about whether the winning scheme did or did not attract the most votes. I am not privy to the public comments, but I think this particular concern is misplaced. As I have explained, the format of the competition was a standard one designed to give the promoter a reasonable assurance of emerging with a scheme he was prepared to build, while seeing that a good range of alternatives were explored, and the choice was made from those selected by a panel in which independent judges were in the majority. It would, I submit, be wrong in this context, as well as impractical as a general principle, to expect to force a developer to build a scheme chosen by public vote at an exhibition. Although I am sure the assessors did their best to ensure that the schemes were presented on a fair and equal basis, there is no way in which all of the very many people who visited the exhibition could be expected to have weighed up all the complex factors involved in the choice. I visited the exhibition myself, and I hasten to add that I did not vote, but I should have found the choice a difficult one between several worthy schemes—in particular, four of them.

May I emphasise that I am not making these remarks in a spirit of professional elitism—I do not for one moment suggest that judgement of competitions should be confined to professional architects. In the competitions that the PSA run, for instance, we include laymen among the panel of assessors. I note the remarks of my noble friend Lord Sudeley, and he may like to know that the Government's thinking there is so open. If I may just take up one point, my noble friend also mentioned—I believe in his concluding remarks—that tonight we must represent the public. I would just like to remind him that the public's Members of Parliament have already voted on this, and they voted 128 votes to 91 to accept it. I am rather doubting that they will take kindly to a remark saying that we know more about public opinion than they do.

May I turn briefly to the role of the local planning authority. I regret Lambeth Council's decision not to participate fully in the competition process, but it was their decision. Nevertheless, their views contributed largely to the brief for the competition, and hence to the characteristics of the winning scheme. The Waterloo District Plan is theirs and the scheme complies with it.

Among the documents given to all entrants to the competition were the decision on the Green Giant proposals, and the inspectors' reports on the public inquiries into the Green Giant proposals and the proposals for the Effra site. These reports contained a substantial account of the views of the borough council and the GLC. They indicated, for example, the view that an appropriate maximum height would be 300 feet. The present scheme is within that maximum at its highest point and steps down to 200 feet and 150 feet on the two flanks. The highest point of this scheme is lower than one of the adjacent blocks, Market Towers, and is almost exactly 100 feet lower than Millbank Tower on the North Bank. The noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, will no doubt note that I am talking about the highest point and not the nearest.

To those who do not like the particular scheme which has been selected, I must repeat that this was not a case of the Secretary of State seeking to impose his tastes on London. It would be indefensible for an individual to seek to impose his personal views. The chosen scheme emerged from a rigorous process run by distinguished experts. Personal tastes are bound to differ, and inevitably not everyone likes the final choice. And I fear it is universal experience in the planning system that objections are infinitely easier to obtain than is support.

I was asked one or two specific questions, particularly by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk. When she was talking about the speed, I thought that she said at one stage that things would become out of date before they were finished; and in the next breath I thought she said we are going too fast. If I say that this is a "cannot win" position, I really think it is, because the site has been vacant for 25 years, and of course normal criticism is on the opposite score.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, may I briefly clarify that point? When I was talking about going too fast I was talking about giving permission and building over the whole 13 acres: that it would have been better to have done it in smaller pieces.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, the noble Baroness said she would have liked it in smaller pieces. I think it is exciting to have available a site of this size. "Will the developer build it?" I was asked. Of course he can never be forced to in planning cases, but the competition brief stated, "It is the promoter's intention to build the project", and the promoter reaffirmed his intention in asking my right honourable friend for an SDO. "Will they build the offices and go away?" No, the SDO is so drafted as to prevent this, by phasing conditions linked to zones. "Can they be forced to adhere to conditions?" Yes, all the same enforcement powers and duties rest for the local planning authority as for any other planning permission. "What if they need to modify?" I think this was Lord Hampton's point. They must go back to Lambeth Council for a new permission for all or part of the site incorporating modifications.

I was also asked about the 5.52 agreements. The answer to that is, No, they can still be made between the developer and the local planning authority. I understand that such agreements are at the moment in the stage of negotiation. I think examples of that are that the community benefits; that is to say, the riverside walk and open space are firmly enshrined in the drawings referred to in the SDO. The noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, and I think also the noble Viscount, Lord Esher, mentioned land use issues. These have been settled already in the normal way—you may or may not agree with them—both in the Greater London development plan and the Waterloo district plan prepared by the GLC and Lambeth Council respectively.

The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, mentioned cutting off the river. No doubt we have in a way cut off the river visually from the busy roads of Vauxhall Cross, but I believe, in a wider sense, so far from cutting off the river, this scheme enormously increases public access. The noble Baroness mentioned that the conditions are vague. I would say, with respect, that if the order is studied in conjunction with the drawings referred to in it, the phasing conditions in the order and the great degree of detail in the drawings tie down very tightly indeed whoever wishes to implement the permission and the powers of enforcement for this permission are the same as for any other.

So, in conclusion, what does this special development order offer? I submit that it is an exciting opportunity to end 25 years of uncertainty and dereliction with a scheme of high architectural quality which meets the conditions of the approved development plan. It will provide places of work for several thousand people. It will provide 210 residential units. And it will benefit the general public. It will provide 1,800 feet or new riverside walk. At present, the walk along Albert Embankment stops at Alembic House, but this scheme will extend it to a point beyond Vauxhall Bridge. I the European Ferries and Effra sites had been developed separately, the link between these two houses, which passes in front of two other office blocks, could have been delayed indefinitely. That would be a great loss to Londoners. This scheme will also provide riverside open space, and thereby encourage the public to enjoy their river. It will provide two public houses, shops and a leisure centre. It will provide a substantial addition to Lambeth's rate base; if it existed now, it would probably be £5-£10 million per year. While the scheme is being constructed, it will provide a substantial boost to the construction industry. I should declare an interest in that I am a Londoner and I believe this building will add great visual beauty to the South Bank.

The Government hope the scheme will set an example in encouraging higher architectural quality and the use of competitions to secure it, both on the banks of the Thames and elsewhere. The last competition on this scale in the United Kingdom was for this House. It also was on the banks of our capital city's greatest natural asset. Not everyone thought the winning scheme was the best one then—but the choice has stood the test of time. I am convinced that the Vauxhall Cross site too will stand the test of time. I hope, with these explanations and with encouragement from noble Lords on all sides, that the noble Baroness may see fit to withdraw her prayer.

9.45 p.m.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, first let me thank those noble Lords who spoke in support of my prayer and also those noble Lords who did not speak in support of it but were very interesting to listen to. I thought that the Minister certainly gave a very full and broad answer to the many points that were raised. I only wish that I felt the plan was anything as good as the way in which he expressed it. However, the feeling and the concern goes far beyond this House and even beyond the people who have great concern in another place. One only has to see and hear what has been said about this by people of all political parties and various views. I am certainly not convinced that this was an occasion to use the SDO. I am still extremely concerned about the way in which the competition was conducted, although that is no reflection on the RIBA; it concerned, I think, the way in which the brief was drawn up and the final stage.

However, it is late and I do not want to open the debate again. So I finish by saying that, although I speak on behalf of my party on this matter in expressing our very deep concern, we on this Bench take the view that we should not fly in the face of an unfortunate decision that was taken in another place, which is an elected Chamber; however, I cannot speak for other noble Lords in this House.

9.47 p.m.

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

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 14; Not-Contents, 48.

Beaumont of Whilley, L. Kilmarnock, L.
Buckmaster, V. Milford, L.—[Teller.]
Combermere, V. Monson, L.
Hampton, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Sudeley, L.
Jeger, B. Whaddon, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Wynne-Jones, L.—[Teller.]
Airey of Abingdon, B. Hornsby-Smith, B.
Avon, E. Hylton-Foster, B.
Bellwin, L. Long, V.
Beloff, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Boardman, L. Lyell, L.
Caithness, E. McFadzean, L.
Cockfield, L. Mersey, V.
Cork and Orrery, E. Mottistone, L.
Crathorne, L. Newall, L.
Davidson, V. Northchurch, B.
Denham, L.—[Teller.] Perth, E.
Dilhorne, V. Platt of Writtle, B.
Drumalbyn, L. Radnor, E.
Duncan-Sandys, L. Reigate, L.
Elphinstone, L. Sandford, L.
Elton, L. Sandys, L.—[Teller.]
Faithfull, B. Selsdon, L.
Ferrers, E. Skelmersdale, L.
Gainford, L. Strathclyde, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Trefgarne, L.
Glanusk, L. Trenchard, V.
Glenarthur, L. Vivian, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Ward of Witley, V.
Young, B.
Hives, L.

Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.