HL Deb 02 February 1988 vol 492 cc985-7
Lord Kennet

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have considered the impact on the environment of the proposed new Westminster Pier development.

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

My Lords, a planning application for a new pier is currently with Westminster City Council, which is the local planning authority. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment was recently asked to call in this application for his own decision, and after most careful consideration decided not to intervene. In arriving at his decision my right honourable friend took account of the various issues raised by the proposed development, including its impact on the environment. He concluded that Westminster City Council was well aware of the issues involved in this sensitive location and should be left to determine the application.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, this is a two-storey floating tourist trap which at high tide will come above the tops of the lamp posts on the embankment. Can the Government tell us what advice they have received from their statutory advisers in these matters, English Heritage? What steps have they taken to consult either House of Parliament, but especially this House, about their decision not to call in the application?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, as the noble Lord will be aware, English Heritage advised on the listed building consent, but as that is a matter which is before my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, I cannot comment further on it.

As to the advice which has been given, I understand that the House of Commons Accommodation and Administration Sub-Committee resolved yesterday to endorse its predecessor's resolution of 30th March 1987 and approve in principle the revised plans for the new Westminster Pier, as submitted by the Thames Water Authority. This resolution now goes for approval by the House of Commons Services Committee, which is meeting later this afternoon. I understand that no comment has been submitted to the equivalent committee in your Lordships' House.

Lord St. John of Fawsley

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the design of this hideous pier has been before the Royal Fine Art Commission, in which I should declare my interest, as chairman, for 18 months? We have found it totally unacceptable. Will the Minister, even after what he has said, use his influence with the Secretary of State for the Environment so that we can get a pier there which will respect and not destroy one of the most beautiful views in the kingdom?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend, quite rightly, has made full representations to Westminster City Council, which is the planning authority on this matter.

Lord Strabolgi

Yes, my Lords; but as this is a site of national importance why should it be left to Westminster City Council? Will the Secretary of State not change his mind? Are the Government relinquishing all responsibility?

The Earl of Caithness

No, my Lords. Governments of various parties over the years have delegated powers to local authorities, who have been able to undertake those powers quite responsibly. My right honourable friend has given this matter careful consideration, as I said in my original Answer, and he also gave the reasons his decision was made.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, it is not a question of whether there should be a pier. Why must it be such a damned ugly one? In this case, we have the advantage that the site has been drawn and painted by one of the greatest artists of all time, Monet. Could we not get the Monet pictures of this lovely site, sketch in the pier and see what it looks like? Could we not then sketch in something else and see whether we can get something which would look better? We have a great basis to work on, and we should not rush.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite able to make representations to Westminster City Council. He has doubtless seen sketches in the planning application. I remind the House that Westminster City Council has to have regard, as all local authorities have to have regard in considering the environmental impact in such a sensitive location, to the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, as amended by the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, is there not clear evidence that Westminster City Council is either unwilling or unable to exercise its responsibilities as a planning authority for such a sensitive site? I do not wish to reopen in full the subject of the existence of the GLC, but I recall for the Government that when a similar question arose under the GLC about 10 years ago concerning the dilapidation and possibly horrific replacement of Westminster Pier, my noble friend Lady Denington bought the pier for the GLC in order to avoid such a situation. Is it not extraordinary that the applicant in this matter should be Sir Christopher Lever? He is chairman of London Tourist Board, vice-chairman of Thames Water and chairman of Thames Line, the boat operators.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, of course this matter is up to Westminster City Council when it looks at all the facts and indeed the planning application. It must bear in mind its responsibilities under the various planning Acts, some of which I have already mentioned. I am sure that the council will consider the matter and indeed your Lordships' representations made in this debate today.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, does the Minister realise that the Westminster City Council voters, of whom I am one having owned property in that area for more than 50 years, have never been consulted about this matter? We have never been asked whether we approved of it. We have had nothing to do with it at all. The first I heard of the matter was when I saw the drawing that was circulated. The city council has not consulted the electors at all.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I know that there has been considerable concern voiced about this proposed development. Indeed my noble friend said that it had been going on for 18 months. I am sure that local authorities would not be in a position to consult each of their electors on any planning application and particularly on one such as this which goes wider than just the ratepayers and electors of the Westminster City Council.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that successive Secretaries of State have called in far less significant planning applications than this one? In view of the opinions expressed by noble Lords in all parts of the House will the Minister convey the disquiet felt by them and by the House as a whole about this decision? Will he ask the Secretary of State whether he will take account of the interest of Parliament in this site and its great historic significance?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am very pleased of course to convey the feelings of the House to my right honourable friend.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, does the Minister agree that if this pier is built the words of Wordsworth should be amended to: Earth hath not anything to show less fair"?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I note the comments of my noble friend on that.

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