HL Deb 15 December 1983 vol 446 cc351-6

3.33 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Aberdare)

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

In moving the Second Reading, may I say a brief word in explanation. The Bill results from the establishment of the London Docklands Development Corporation and its object is to link the docklands area by rail to the existing Underground system. The new railway will run above ground from the Isle of Dogs to a new station at the Minories making use of an existing but disused railway viaduct. The new station at the Minories will be within walking distance of Tower Hill Underground Station. Owing to the pressure that builds up on the Tower Hill Underground Station, especially, obviously, in the tourist season, the Bill, as deposited and as it is at this moment before your Lordships, provides for the enlargement of the present ticket hall.

However, this proposal met with considerable opposition from various local bodies on amenity and environmental grounds. The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, put down an Instruction on the subject in the No Day Named list. As a result, the promoters of the Bill have re-examined the scheme and have undertaken to drop their proposals for an enlarged ticket hall at Tower Hill and instead propose to build an additional ticket hall as a separate entity.

The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, has now withdrawn his Instruction and I understand that the other petitioners on this point are satisfied. The Bill therefore will be amended by the promoters in Committee so as to take out the Tower Hill works and the new proposals for a separate ticket hall are included in a new Bill promoted this Session—that is, the London Transport (Tower Hill) Bill. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Aberdare.)

The Earl of Kinnoull

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Chairman of Committees for explaining briefly the purpose of my original Instruction and the subsequent action taken by London Transport, the promoters of the Bill. Perhaps I may add a few words on the history of this controversy and seek advice from my noble friend on the question of abortive costs. I say at once that I have no quarrel at all with the main purpose of the Bill, which is to provide a new rail link between the London docklands area and the City of London. It is a vital communication to the successful rebirth of the thousands of acres of derelict dockland area which is now underway with housing schemes, industrial enterprise zones and now even the possibility of a short take-off and landing airport. It is an exciting concept. I, and I am sure the whole House, wish the corporation responsible every success in the development of the area.

As the Chairman of Committees said, this Bill covers the new rail link from the Isle of Dogs to the Minories in the City. At that point, there is no direct connection into the London Underground service. London Transport has chosen—not, I think, the happiest solution—to provide a 400 yard pedestrianway connection to Tower Hill Underground station as the one positive link for travellers to the Underground service from this rail link. This connection into Tower Hill Underground station would naturally involve certain major improvement works. It was the design of the works that caused so much controversy and opposition on the grounds of adverse environmental impact.

Tower Hill station stands in a corner of the remarkably beautiful and ancient Trinity Square Gardens and Wakefield Gardens, directly opposite the Tower of London. It is perhaps one of the most important historical and environmentally sensitive landmarks in London and is most popular with visitors to London. It includes the site of the old Tower Hill scaffold with which forebears of many of your Lordships may have been too well familiar. Trinity Square Gardens has been a responsibility for the past 200 years of the Tower Hill Trust, an ancient charitable trust with distinguished trustees, including the governor of the Tower of London.

Trinity Square is also the home and headquarters of Trinity House, a much respected body that provides such a superb service of pilotage of ships around our coastal waters. Trinity House owns a number of buildings in Trinity Square, including Tower Hill station.

It was, to put it mildly, somewhat of a surprise to both these bodies when London Transport, with unusaul discourtesy, made no approach nor held any prior consultation with them before depositing its Private Bill last November year. Nor had it shown, I understand, any design plans of the proposals to either the local planning authority that is Tower Hamlets, or even notified the governor of the Tower of London. I understand, in making this point, that it is an unwritten rule of any planning scheme within 800 metres of the Tower that the governor is notified.

When London Transport eventually produced its proposals for the extended booking hall, the design proved a cheap, ugly, glass box construction wholly incompatible with this historic landmark which we all should cherish. As the parliamentary procedures only require a deposited plan showing the limit of deviation on site plans, and as the Bill will grant both compulsory purchase powers and planning consent to London Transport for this horrible glass box, Trinity House and the Tower Hill Trust decided that they were forced to take positive steps to persuade London Transport to rethink its awful design. They embarked upon the expensive course of putting forward an alternative scheme with the help of a team of professionals. It goes almost without saying that to London Transport that proved to be an unacceptable alternative, but at least it shamed them into engaging their own independent architect and consultants on what has now become scheme 3. I am glad to say that after further alterations, discussions, and meetings, scheme 3 has been accepted as being compatible in design with this very sensitive area. It is now the subject of a separate Private Bill entitled, London Transport (Tower Hill) Bill, which has been deposited.

So this environmental fight has ended, happily, on the right side. But should it ever have happened? I believe that if London Transport had held consultations in a civilised way before the Bill was launched over a year ago, the fight could have been avoided. I also believe that Trinity House were more than justified to go to the very considerable expense to which they went in order to achieve what they did. They saw the danger of London Transport seeking planning consent through the quick way of a Private Bill and, as custodians of the area, they felt the need to act positively, and they did so. However, the professional costs have proved enormous; indeed, as a result of all the negotiations that have ensued with London Transport, they have been above average. I believe that Trinity House should be entitled to seek from London Transport some proportion of these abortive costs.

My noble friend the Chairman of Committees has considerable influence and persuasive powers as regards Private Bills. This case will not now go to a Select Committee, which I understand on certain special occasions has powers in respect of costs. However, I believe that if the matter had gone to a Select Committee, they would have been more than sympathetic. So I ask my noble friend to see what influence he can bring to bear on London Transport to meet some of the costs that the charitable trusts have borne in a fight that should never have been, and the outcome of which is to the benefit of our very heritage.

3.43 p.m.

Lord Beswick

My Lords, we should be grateful to the noble Earl for giving us the background to the Bill. The question of costs—or, as the noble Earl put it, the abortive costs—which may arise for an interested party as a result of somebody promoting a Private Bill is one that this House ought to consider quite carefully. It is a narrow aspect in considering the Bill, but it is an important aspect; it is certainly important to the charity about which the noble Earl spoke. However, I suggest that it is a principle that has arisen before and could conceivably arise again.

The House may recall that in the last Parliament I opposed a Bill promoted by the Shrewsbury local authority. The planning proposals in that Bill had very serious consequences for the Shrewsbury Town Football Club, and they had to go through all the lengthy and costly process of petitioning against the Bill. The point that was made from both sides of the House in regard to that Bill was that there should have been a genuine effort through consultation, and possibly through local planning procedures, to obtain some agreement locally and, therefore, obviate a good deal of the expense which was incurred by following the Private Bill procedure. However, in that case the local authority chose to promote a Private Bill in Parliament. The Shrewsbury Town Football Club tell me that the legal cost incurred in arguing their case in those parliamentary proceedings amounted to £50,000. Their total costs were £70,000, but of that £50,000 was directly the result of their going through the Private Bill procedure. That Bill is still not on the statute book. It may or may not get on the statute book, but the costs have been incurred.

We now seem to have a somewhat similar case—certainly not a dissimilar case. The public authority chose to go to Parliament without first seeking consultation with the interests affected by their proposals. I gather that in this case after considerable effort—about which the noble Earl has given us some very interesting details—there has been a measure of agreement. But the costs have been incurred; and they have been incurred by what one might call an innocent party.

What about those costs? Ought there not to be some compensatory payment to the Tower Hill Trust? I remember being told on a previous occasion—and I suppose that I shall be told again—that it would be most unusual for Parliament to award costs. But I suggest that if it were not an unusual procedure to award costs, there would be a good deal more caution and care on the part of some of these public authorities before they come to Parliament to follow the Private Bill procedure. There would be an attempt to reach agreement with those who conceivably could be affected, or who certainly had a point of view. It is also conceivable that there might he a more serious attempt to proceed with some planning application through processes other than the Private Bill procedure. Certainly in son-le cases it might be less costly and more satisfactory to all concerned.

If the Bill now drafted is not opposed, then may be it would not be appropriate for the House to award costs. But I suggest that there is amoral obligation on London Transport to meet part of the costs, at any rate. If it is possible, as the noble Earl suggested, for the Chairman of Committees or for this House to suggest to London Transport that they have this obligation to meet part of the costs that have been incurred by the charity concerned, I hope that there will be some support for that concept this afternoon.

3.48 p.m.

Lord Teviot

My Lords, I was going to keep fairly quiet until I heard the noble Lord, Lord Beswick. I agree entirely with all that has been said by my noble friend the Chairman of Committees. This is a most necessary Bill which will provide a railway link from the Minories, from what was Fenchurch Street, to the Isle of Dogs. It will also lead to development of a rather derelict area, and that is a most important aspect. Nobody disagrees at all with that.

I believe that the argument arises over the aesthetics of the station that is to be located at Tower Hill. Speaking about London Transport totally apolitically, I would say that there might be a question of costs, but perhaps not great costs. They had to get busy and get the station under way. One only has to look at the City where there are some rather "unpretty" buildings. Whether this one would be the "unprettiest" of the lot, I do not know. But I do not think that we should argue about whether this building will be more or less elegant. However, I think that they have behaved fairly well and they might agree that there is a certain margin.

I rose to my feet after I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, had to say, following my noble friend Lord Kinnoull, whom I have known for ever and who put an extremely good case. I do not think that London Transport have behaved terribly badly. They have withdrawn the Tower Hill station. They are putting forward another Bill which will be totally acceptable. I have walked every inch of the railway. I went down at the Isle of Dogs and walked right through to Poplar and Limehouse, and through all the buddleias and so on. Once the project gets under way that part of London, which is at present absolutely derelict, will become an excellent area. It will be of great benefit to the community. I honestly do not think that we need worry too much. I do not think that London Transport have behaved terribly badly.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I am grateful to the three noble Lords who have spoken on this Bill. I should like to make quite plain one point which I do not think has been completely understood because I did not mention it in my opening speech. The Bill is opposed. There are other petitions against it, so it will go to a Select Committee. Therefore, if the trust concerned wish to carry their case forward to that committee, they could continue with their petition and could be heard by the Select Committee.

I should like to make the formal position quite clear. Costs can be awarded to parties appearing before Select Committees on Private Bills. They are governed by the Parliamentary Costs Act 1865, which provides that. in cases where a committee reports unanimously that a petitioner against a Bill has been unreasonably or vexatiously subjected to expense in opposing the Bill, the petitioner is entitled to recover his costs, or part of them, from the promoters. Similarly, a committee may report that a promoter has been vexatiously subjected to expense by the opposition of a petitioner, in which case the promoter can recover costs from that petitioner. However, it is rare for either promoters of Bills or petitioners against them to be found, in the opinion of a Select Committee, to have been unreasonably or vexatiously subjected to expense, and hence costs are very rarely awarded.

I am sorry to hear that there has been a certain amount of criticism of the way in which the matter has been handled by London Transport. I am sure that London Transport will pay due attention to what has been said here this afternoon. In my experience, once a Bill has been promoted and there are petitions against it, normally the promoters are the first to seek to come to some accommodation with the petitioners. At that stage high costs should not really be involved. It is only when one comes before the Select Committee and one is paying counsel's fees that legal costs arise.

Lord Beswick

My Lords, would it not make for greater convenience all round if the consultation took place before the Bill was promoted?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I simply cannot comment on that. It is a matter for the promoters in the particular circumstances. I am not here to defend the Bill, and I do not know what consultations were or were not held. However, I would agree with the noble Lord that obviously that is much the better way; the sooner the consultations can take place. the better. That is the formal situation. As I said, I am quite sure that London Transport will pay due heed to what has been said here this afternoon.

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