HL Deb 30 April 1985 vol 463 cc195-204

House again in Committee on Clause 3.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Aberdare)

Amendment No. 13, Baroness Stedman.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

As I am a member of the same party as the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, I think I can without much danger say that this amendment has been covered by the previous discussion and is therefore not moved.

[Amendment No. 13 not moved.]

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran moved Amendment No. 13A: Page 2, line 20, at end insert— ("save in the case of Holland Park for which the Department of the Environment shall exercise the powers of a local planning authority." ").

The noble Lord said: The management of the parks in London, hitherto managed by the GLC and certain countryside areas in the metropolitan districts, appear to be anxious about their future situation because they seem to be left high and dry by the Government's proposals for the abolition of the GLC, the metropolitan district councils and other existing authorities.

It is fortunate that today I read a leader in The Times which referred to the problems of future management particularly of London parks including Hampstead Heath and the famous historic area known as Holland Park. Although that area is not referred directly in that article it is referred to as one of the parks other than Hampstead Heath. To shorten my speech I should like to incorporate part of that article into my remarks this evening. The Times says this: London's parks … are a public resort, tourist attraction and beneficial inheritance of the philanthropy and the municipal self confidence of earlier generations. As the Local Government Bill—the measure for the abolition of the Greater London Council—moves into the committee stage this week, the fate of some of the capital's best-loved parks is worth the closest oversight of peers of all parties". With that introduction, for which I am grateful to The Times, I find myself for reasons which I need not elaborate as a kind of advocate on behalf of the Kensington Society, a distinguished society concerned with the welfare of Holland Park. I have no other interest in Holland Park except as a member of the public.

I feel that it is my duty to describe this historic area known as Holland Park because I anticipate that many noble Lords here tonight have come a long way to be present and therefore will not be aware of the pleasures and beauty of Holland Park. It is of more than ordinary interest and possesses some unique features. The property was bought by the London County Council in 1952 for £¼ million. To make it available for the enjoyment of a much wider public a number of changes had to be made, and since then there has been further development in keeping with the general character of the grounds. Some of the most attractive features, however, date back to the original estate and have been carefully restored. It is an area of just over 54 acres, and though only part of the original estate most of the distinctive features of the grounds have been preserved.

Horticulturally, surprisingly enough in these days, Holland Park is still an interesting place. I am told that in 1901 there were 4,000 separate species and varieties of plant recorded there and many still survived in the neglected grounds in 1952. These have been carefully conserved and increased and there are now well over 3,000 different plants still in this historic area. It includes 1,500 varieties of trees and shrubs. A new collection of native British plants was started in 1959 and this now amounts to about 400 plants.

Amendment No. 13A is a probing amendment. One of my difficulties was to decide in what category Holland Park should be assessed. Should it be assessed as a conservation area or should it just be considered as a London park, one of many London parks in general terms? Holland Park has also an interesting history in the past few years. In 1968 the question arose whether Holland Park and other parks in London should be transferred to the boroughs in which they are situated. A distinguished member of your Lordships' House, Lord Hurcomb, who was the president of this Kensington Society, wrote to The Times in February 1968. To shorten my speech, I shall read again from The Times of February 1968 extracts from the letter written by the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb. It reads: Strong arguments against such a transfer"— that is a transfer of Holland Park and other parks to the boroughs in which they were situated— have been advanced in favour of leaving things as they are on Hampstead Heath. Much the same considerations apply to Holland Park. Its history, its extent, its natural interest as a remnant of the country still surrounding inner London even a century or so ago, and its present character as maintained by the late Lord Ilchester, and by the admirable care of the London Council, all make Holland Park an open space comparable to the Royal Parks themselves. Like the Royal Parks, it is used constantly by vast numbers of Londoners who do not live in the Borough, and the importance of keeping unimpaired its natural appearance, so different from that familiar in most municipal parks"— I stress that this park differs in its aspects from most municipal parks— distinguishes it from most open spaces which may properly be subjects of transfer to local management. That is an adequate selection from the letter to support my case that some different way of dealing with Holland Park should be introduced by the Government.

The question arises: what kind of management should be adopted for this purpose? It could be considered to come within the ambit of the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission perhaps. It would be in a very happy position if it could become a Royal Park, but I am sure that is impossible. Nevertheless it is and has been controlled similar to a Royal Park under the administration of the GLC. I have ascertained that Royal Parks are directly managed by a division of the Department of the Environment. Therefore, when it is being considered in this clause who should be the planning authority, it should be not the borough in which this park is situated, but—in the words of my amendment—the Department of the Environment which shall exercise the powers of a local planning authority.

9 p.m.

This is a probing amendment. I am aware that there are discussions going on about the position of Hampstead Heath. I know that the Common Council has been consulted as to whether it should take over the administration of Hampstead Heath. It has been suggested that perhaps Holland Park would be a place for the Common Council to take over, although one of the trustees of the Kensington Society is, like myself, a past master of a livery company and he assures me that perhaps the Common Council is not quite the body to take it over.

Therefore, I should like to emphasise the unique nature of Holland Park and respectfully to suggest that Holland Park—together with some other London Parks—is in a unique position, being open to the public, a public from a far wider area than the borough in which it is situated. In the special circumstances of Holland Park the Department of the Environment should exercise the powers of a local planning authority when, or if, this Bill passes through both Houses. I beg to move.

Lord Elton

I should like to start by saying to the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, that I share his admiration for Holland Park. For a long time I lived quite close to it. I was a frequent visitor to its charming facilities. It does not in any way resemble Hampstead Heath. Holland Park exists within the confines of one London borough. Hampstead Heath is within the confines of three. I suspect that it was for that reason, and perhaps some others, that it was not mentioned in the article to which the noble Lord referred at the beginning of the debate.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

I thank the noble Lord very much for giving way. If he reads the article, he will see that it refers to London parks, although it emphasises and particularises Hampstead Heath solely.

Lord Elton

And one or two others, I think. But that is not the point. The point is that the noble Lord is concerned for the future of Holland Park, which he believes is now very admirably served and protected by, for instance, the planning authority within the area which it is to be found. That planning authority is already the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and it is within the care of that planning authority that the Bill will leave Holland Park. There will therefore be absolutely no change in what he proposes.

Amendment No. 13A to Clause 3 seeks to make the Department of the Environment the local planning authority for Holland Park. Clause 3 of the Bill provides for the borough and district councils to be the local planning authorities for their areas. Under Clause 3, as I say, Kensington and Chelsea will as at present be the local planning authority for Holland Park and responsible for development control. In this respect nothing will change. The Royal Borough's intended new responsibilities as owner will of course be circumscribed, just as those of the GLC's are now by virtue of the London County Council (Holland House) Act 1952. The park is held, and will continue to be held, for use by the public as an open space. I hope therefore that I can reassure the noble Lord on what I think is the central point of his concern: that there is absolutely no threat posed to Holland Park by the provisions of Clause 3 of the Bill or any other part. I can also tell him that the borough council welcomes the fact that the park will remain within its borough and will be content to look after it.

Therefore, I am not sure that there is a great deal of point in my running through the other items in the noble Lord's list of amendments which will create, for instance, a special rating panel for Holland Park—I am not sure whether that was his intention, but that is what it does—or make the Department of the Environment the surveying authority for Holland Park, which is the effect. I remind him that a surveying authority is responsible for the preparation of any definitive map or statement of public rights of way for the area. Under paragraph 7(6) in Schedule 3 to the Bill this function is transferred from the metropolitan county councils to the metropolitan district councils. By virtue of Section 58 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, however, the requirement to prepare a definitive map and statement does not extend to the former area of the LCC, the present inner London boroughs. Instead, each London borough at present may already adopt by resolution the relevant provisions of the 1981 Act in relation to the whole or any part of their area. The amendment which specifies the department as the surveying authority for Holland Park could not therefore take effect unless Kensington and Chelsea adopted the relevant provision. I would emphasise that Kensington and Chelsea already have the option of adopting the requirement to prepare a definitive map and statement of public rights of way for their area in any case.

The noble Lord's amendments therefore would not in practice achieve any useful change or protection for Holland Park. But I think what is needed here, and I am glad to give it, is an assurance that the future of Holland Park is in no way threatened by the provisions of the Bill which will have remarkably little effect upon the planning and protective provisions on the statute book with regard to it. It is a question of the management; and I do not think the ability of the Royal Borough is in question as to that. I hope that the noble Lord will be reassured.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

I rise briefly to say that when the Minister closed his notes and spoke from the heart he gave more reassurance in his last two or three paragraphs than he did in reading out how this matter is seen in another place. I am bound to say that the point which the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, has raised could smack of special pleading and of introducing a reason for making special arrangements in certain circumstances. Although in this instance the normal arrangements for looking after the interests of an area which has a special place in the hearts of many people are adequately taken care of, and the borough recognises its special responsibility in making sure that in all sorts of ways the interests of Holland Park are well looked after, I hope that the Minister will also be prepared to listen to every case which might smack of special pleading and assure the Committee and the pleaders that their misgivings are unfounded.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, for drawing attention to one or two comparable areas such as Hampstead, in regard to which he mentioned a possible solution and the caveats. There are complicated planning issues which are capable of being dealt with, provided that we apply a certain logic, but this is an attempt to create a special set of circumstances. I am never afraid to be quite open if a special case has to be made in certain circumstances, but I wait to hear what the noble Lord will do. As we proceed through the amendments on this clause and in the schedules, we may get a clearer idea of what we want; and of course, there are the later stages of the Bill.

Lord Banks

If I may add to what my noble friend has said on this matter, it seems to me that the two matters which concern the Kensington Society, who are worried about the future of Holland Park, are, first, whether the borough will have the resources necessary in order to deal with that park, which is more than just an ordinary park and therefore might make a drain on their resources which an ordinary park would not. I wonder whether the noble Lord the Minister can assure us that the resources are available, and that there will not be any lessening of the amenities which at present exist on account of financial stringency on the part of the borough.

The second point, which I also believe—and I quote from a letter from the president of the Kensington Society—is that: Holland Park's numerous and large enclosures, kept in their natural state, with many fine trees and a wealth of bluebells and other wild flowers, require a treatment and a specialised knowledge not normally possessed by those whose job it is to see to the cutting of grass and the planting of tulips". That point was elaborated by the president, Lord Hurcomb. I wonder whether the noble Lord the Minister can assure us that the specialised knowledge to which he referred is available to the borough, in order to deal adquately with what is required to maintain the amenities in Holland Park.

Lord Elton

In answer to the two specific points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Banks, and also in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, I am obviously anxious to reassure everybody who is needlessly alarmed. I am involved in a series of discussions on a whole range of what to others may seem minor issues, but which I regard as important for that purpose. On this issue, I can say that allowance will be made in the grant-related expenditure assessment, or GREA, for the borough, which will mean that the resources should be available. Of course, I am not myself the Royal Borough and I cannot undertake the way in which they will look after the park. But I have seen enough of their work to feel that the noble Lord need not be disquieted. If he is disquieted, I suggest that he talks to the leader of the council, or to some other person at the centre of things, who will be able to tell him what they propose.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

I thank the noble Lords, Lord Graham and Lord Banks, for their support in this matter, and I am grateful to the noble Lord the Minister for the lucid way in which he has approached the matter and particularly for the details he has given me relating to this park. But the point I am raising and the difficulties that my noble friend Lord Banks raised with regard to resources and specialised knowledge have not been dealt with by the noble Lord the Minister. I would ask: how can he give any assurances—and he was very careful not to—with regard to the resources that will be available in respect of Holland Park?

Lord Elton

I thought I had done so in terms: there will be provision in the GRE for this function.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

There will be provision adequate for the purposes of maintaining Holland Park in at least its present condition and that specialised knowledge will be available through the GRE arrangements?

9.15 p.m.

Lord Elton

The GRE is a quantity of money and that obviously does not represent expertise. What I was trying to say was that it will be for the borough to decide how it looks after the park and who it entrusts with the care of the park. That will be the expertise, will it not? They can also have recourse to advice from other sources. But unless the noble Lord is more precise, I do not think that I can be more precise; and if he is more precise, I suspect that the further questions he will ask me will be questions which he could properly ask, from his distinguished position, of the people who will inherit the responsibility and the care of the park, which I am assured they are happy and able to do.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

I have a very high regard for the noble Lord the Minister and in his reply to my speech he indicated his great sympathy with the area. However, I have developed the case that this is one of the unique parks in London and therefore, in those circumstances, it requires special attention. What the noble Lord is saying to me is, "We have now a borough who I or my right honourable friends will go along and see and we will ask them what they are going to do". Surely that does not take me anywhere on the point that I raised. This is an area of great national importance and of great historical interest which requires special attention in order that resources shall be provided at least to maintain the area in its present condition.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

Will the noble Lord allow me to intervene?

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran


Lord Graham of Edmonton

I wonder whether it is within the memory of the noble Lord that the Royal Borough of Kensington, I believe, lost no time at all in knocking down its town hall to avoid its becoming a listed building. It is experience of that kind that I believe the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, is entitled to bear in mind when listening to what the Minister has to say.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

I am deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Graham, for mentioning that. I was fully aware of that unhappy situation, the details of which I do not know now, in which a historic building (the town hall) was pulled down rather rapidly at very short notice and destroyed by the present Royal Borough of Kensington. I did not want to introduce at this late stage of the evening any acrid atmosphere of municipal or borough controversy in relation to the past; but I ask the noble Lord the Minister to recognise that although he agrees that resources should be available and that the Government also agree that resources should be available, he has said that the matter is entirely in the hands of the borough. The borough may change, of course; we may even have an Alliance borough there one day. I do not know what would happen in those circumstances, but I am certainly not being tempted, in the presence of the right reverend Prelate, to make any prophecies on these matters. Nevertheless, I am afraid that the Minister has not adequately considered the fact that this is a special area and that in view of its unique position it should be more closely within the control of the Department of the Environment and that the Department of the Environment should be the planning authority. I do not think I am going to get very far this evening on this point—

Lord Molson

You are not.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

I am unhappy to see the noble Lord nodding his head in agreement with me over the fact that I am not going to make any headway, but—

Lord Elton

I do not wish to seem discourteous to the noble Lord, but I really have gone to the limits of reassurance that any Minister could give without committing a local authority to a policy which ought properly to be in its hands. The noble Lord may have some great scheme to entrust every piece of greenery in the whole of the metropolis to the Department of the Environment; I know not. But he put a scheme in his amendments on the Marshalled List to which I addressed myself. I thought I had dealt with them both courteously and effectively, if I may say so. I have also given him every reassurance that the Government will see that the GRE system provides the resources that he says should be available and that is not in their hands but in the hands of others. But once those resources are given to the successor body the noble Lord would not expect me to tell that body how to conduct itself. I could do that only if I were the Minister responsible for all the green spaces in London. If he would like me to be that, that is a separate amendment and of course another debate.

Baroness Stedman

The noble Lord has given some reassurance by saying that there is some money, or there will be some money, allocated through GREA. Is he also able to tell us how the Royal Boroughs, GREA and target act one against the other, because there are occasions in the counties and the boroughs throughout the country where their GREA is much higher than their targets and they then come to be rate capped?

Lord Elton

I think that the noble Baroness is trying to lead me, unwilling, suspicious and with flared nostrils, into the subject of rate capping and suchlike. I do not think that that applies to the Royal Borough of Kensington. That is the first point. I am sorry, the noble Baroness asked about targets. I do not think that the sort of intersection between the two sets of figures which the noble Baroness fears would apply in this case, but I really think that after dinner is not the time to embark upon the complexities of the target system.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

May I agree with one matter? The noble Lord has dealt with my submissions very courteously and in a great deal of detail and he has given certain assurances. I am sure that the noble Lord will not mind me saying that in my view those assurances do not go far enough in relation to this matter. The noble Lord the Minister gives his case away when he refers to me as perhaps having an ulterior motive in this—

Lord Elton

That was not me. It was the noble Lord opposite.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

The noble Lord the Minister suggested that I might be here—not necessarily tonight but perhaps later on—trying to get some protection for all green spaces in London. When he refers to Holland Park merely as a green space, he really gives his case away. But I am not proposing to pursue this matter any further. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 14 to 16 not moved.]

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 16A: ("(2A) In the case of applications for planning permission for the development of land of any class described in Schedule (Planning consultations), consultations shall be carried out by the relevant local planning authority in Greater London or a metropolitan county with local planning authorities as specified in that Schedule, and in the event that any authority consulted under this subsection objects to the grant of planning permission for such development, then the local planning authority shall hold a local public inquiry into the matter to which such an application relates before determining it. (2B) For the purposes of subsection (2A) above Part I of Schedule (Planning consultations) shall have effect in relation to applications for planning permission for the development of land in Greater London and Part II of that Schedule shall have effect in relation to such applications for the development of land in a metropolitan county.").

The noble Lord said: I move the amendment in the terms in which it appears on the Marshalled List. The aim of this amendment is to illustrate the complete lack of any mechanism in the Bill for dealing with planning applications which have an impact across borough boundaries. Indeed many types of development have a wider than borough impact and are currently referred by the borough council to the GLC under regulations made by the Secretary of State for either direction or decision because they are considered by the Government to raise issues of more than local interest.

London is well understood in this Committee as a very large complex metropolitan area in which borough boundaries make no sense in planning terms, as is true of Paris, New York, Rome, Tokyo and many other cities. The present planning regulations define the types of planning application which must be referred to the GLC for direction or decision. Broadly, they are developments which impact across borough boundaries or even beyond—for instance, shopping centres—which require consistent attitudes in decisions—in other words, green belt—or need more specialist expertise or knowledge to consider them—for instance, traffic generation. They are a source of inter-borough conflict which needs to be resolved by a London-wide authority, a role which the GLC presently performs in respect of less than 1 per cent. of all planning applications in Greater London.

Currently, arbitrations over developments such as these are the responsibility of the GLC. Under this Bill, however, the boroughs will not have the remit, nor, very likely, the inclination, given the differences in political control, to take a wider view. Effectively this Bill will institutionalise conflict between boroughs with the potential situation that the 33 planning authorities in London will follow divergent and disparate approaches to the type of major development to which they grant planning permission.

The Bill provides for the Secretary of State to call in these planning applications, but the record of the present Secretary of State's intervention is that it has been ad hoc and arbitrary. A public inquiry would, in our view, at least provide an opportunity for local authorities, residents and other interests to argue their case. I suggest that this would be a small concession to public accountability as an extension of local democracy.

At Committee stage in another place on 15th January, Sir George Young argued (at col. 290 of Hansard) that the General Development Order sets out the procedures to be taken by a local planning authority in consulting with other authorities on certain types of planning applications. However, the schedule defining the types of development is essential because 33 boroughs will have different ideas about what is of more than local significance.

The schedule with the amendment broadly reflects the current regulations but with amendments to make them more useful given the other provisions of the Bill. Moreover, the amendment proposes a means of solving inter-borough disputes—a local public inquiry—which is not provided for in the Bill and which would avoid the Secretary of State's involvement. A mechanism for resolving issues such as that outlined in our amendment needs to be provided because as the Royal Town Planning Institute, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and the Royal Institute of British Architects wrote in their joint submission to the Commons Standing Committee (and I quote): No amount of voluntary co-operation or advisory bodies can form an effective substitute for an authority having defined statutory responsibilities and adequate professional staff and financial resources". I beg to move.

Lord Skelmersdale

I recognise the fear expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Graham, in this matter, but I hope I can show that his fear is unfounded. Amendments Nos. 16A and 25A would substantially increase the complexity of the existing planning system. Amendment No. 25A: Before Schedule 1, insert the following new schedule:

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