HL Deb 11 April 1988 vol 495 cc915-6

3.57 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

For what purpose they propose to use the buildings of County Hall in London, S.E.1.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government do not propose to use the County Hall complex. The buildings are owned by the London Residuary Body, in which they vested on abolition of the GLC and which is currently marketing the complex. The future use of the buildings will be for the new owners to determine, subject to the appropriate planning and listed building consents.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that if that Answer means—as it seems to mean—that the site is to be sold, that will be a matter for great congratulation for the ratepayers of London?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I can tell my noble friend that the closing date for bids for County Hall was 5th April.

Lord St. John of Fawsley

My Lords, could not the Government themselves acquire the site? Could not the Minister persuade the Government to move his own department out of the present buildings in Marsham Street, thus enabling one of the most hideous structures in London and indeed in the kingdom to be demolished? In any case, can he give the House an assurance that, whoever acquires the building, the great ceremonial rooms and ceremonial hall will be preserved?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am sorry that my noble friend considers the DoE to be the worst building in the world. It was commended by the Royal Fine Art Commission when it was being built. As to the future use of County Hall, I think that it would be wrong for me to speculate.

Lord St. John of Fawsley

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the Royal Fine Art Commission is now under entirely new management?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, indeed; and I congratulate my noble friend on his new role.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, no doubt the Minister will have in front of him the judgment of Mr. Justice Simon Brown of 28th March in which he found for the ILEA and London local government against the Secretary of State. Will the Minister confirm to the House that Mr. Justice Simon Brown noted the fact that the Secretary of State accepted the inspector's conclusion that there was neither need nor desirability for the main building of County Hall to be used in future as offices?

Is the Minister also aware that in the course of a series of scathing criticisms of the Secretary of State's overturning of the Minister's decision Mr. Justice Simon Brown recorded that there was a plain failure by the Secretary of State to give proper reasons for his decision? Will the Minister confirm that it is now the case not only that County Hall is designated for local government use and not for office use but also that the Secretary of State himself has accepted that, and quite rightly so?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, obviously has seen the judgment. It was received at the department on Friday. It consists of 50 pages of closely typed sheets and is fairly complex. My right honourable friend is studying it at the moment.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, in view of the fact that there are so many rumours in both responsible and irresponsible newspapers concerning the future of County Hall, I should like to ask the Minister whether it would be possible when the time approaches for Parliament to examine what is proposed for this famous building, the contents of which at one time held together Greater London, which has been ruthlessly destroyed. Is he aware that there could well be some other local government use which could enhance London and the youth of London in the future?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the future of County Hall is a matter for the London Residuary Body, which has invited offers for it.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, during our exchanges, the building at Marsham Street was mentioned as an example of the worst architecture in the whole of Britain; and the Minister seemed to refute that view. Would he be good enough to tell the House what is the worst?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I do not think 1 refuted it. My noble friend said that it was the worst.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that County Hall is listed as a grade 1 building?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, not all of County Hall is listed. The riverside block is listed grade 2.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, as the judgment was announced in the press before the recess, is it not rather peculiar that the Minister saw it only on Friday?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, it is up to the court to send the judgment and up to the post to deliver it to us.

Forward to