HL Deb 24 March 1988 vol 495 cc320-38

5.10 p.m.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a second time.

Although I have been in the House for 24 years I still fall into the trap of believing that a Bill that looks simple is simple when it is anything but simple.

I am president of the health and safety officers and I was approached by the fire officers who asked whether I would move a Bill in your Lordships' House—and who better than the fire officers to fight for us in difficult situations? I therefore assumed that the Bill was simple. I am beginning to think that I must have been simple. I went to meet the officers and asked how many clauses this Private Members' Bill had—was it two? I was told that it had 20 clauses. That should have alerted me. I then found that a Bill that seemed simple, straightforward and acceptable by everybody was in fact very complicated. That was highlighted by a Clerk of the Table who said, "You're a brave lady to move the Bill". I am not a brave lady; I am one who wishes to put forward a simple proposition in the hope that your Lordships will accept it.

I did not realise even then that all the inhabitants of Hampstead would be alerted to it, including the Opposition Chief Whip, who lives there. I shall be described as the enemy of the people. I can only say to your Lordships that I come to the House with this simple proposition of a Private Members' Bill.

The London fire brigade covers the whole of the Greater London area. It has 100 fire stations, with some 250 fire engines and specialist vehicles available on immediate call, which any one of us might need at any time. The current establishment is in excess of 7,000 firefighters. It is essential, as is self-evident, that the fire engines should be able to reach the scene of a fire in the shortest time possible. The fire brigade considers it essential that there should be efficient radio communications between mobilising controls and fire engines to meet the strict requirements of the Home Office as to the time between the call and the arrival of the fire appliances.

We know that if those who serve us—the police, ambulances and the fire service—do not come at the time they are called, they are under criticism. The mobilising controls must be able to communicate with the fire engines as soon as they have left the station. It is also important that communications should be available to request further assistance, including specialist equipment and other emergency services. That much is beyond dispute.

It would not be helpful in the debate to appeal to the emotions. It is tempting, but not what I am trying to do. I am endeavouring to put forward the factual evidence. It is important to bear in mind the facts about availability of fire fighters and fire fighting equipment. That is the background of the proposals in the Bill.

To achieve communications between the mobilising controls and the fire engines it is necessary to have radio stations which must have radio access to every part of London. The fire brigade has four radio stations. One is in Hampstead in the grounds of Queen Mary's Hospital. For several reasons the existing mast at Queen Mary's Hospital is no longer adequate to meet the needs of the brigade. I shall give some of the reasons, but I beg noble Lords not to press me to give others. I am here as an innocent abroad dealing with facts that have been given me by people on the spot. Major technical changes imposed by international agreement require a frequency change. A recent report has given rise to concern about the continued stability of the mast. The temporary planning permission for the mast has expired and an application for full planning permission has been rejected on appeal. The fourth reason we all know: the lease has expired.

There is at present a radio mast some 46 metres high on the Whitestone triangle site on Hampstead Heath. The mast has several users. One is the London ambulance service. The Department of the Environment in a circular states that the Secretary of State attaches considerable importance to keeping to a minimum the number of radio and telecommunications masts and sites. The circular continues: Sharing of masts where practicable will help to achieve this". This is probably only a statement of the obvious but will clearly be agreed by your Lordships.

The proposal in the Bill would authorise the construction of a new mast on the Triangle site. This would be 52 metres high; that is, 6 metres higher than the present one. The extra height is needed to accommodate both the London ambulance service and the fire brigade on the same mast as well as leaving room for other important users. Because it is important that London ambulance service—and we are speaking not of people making frivolous telephone calls but of a vital service—communications should not be interrupted, the Bill provides for the construction of a temporary radio mast, to which existing users can be transferred. When they have been satisfactorily rehoused, the Bill provides that the extra mast can be pulled down and a permanent radio tower erected.

The Bill is essential because without it the erection of the mast would be unlawful under the provisions of the Hampstead Heath Acts. I understand that there are three petitions against the Bill, apart from the people who write the Hampstead and Highgate Express. One is the London Residuary Body, which is responsible for Hampstead Heath. The three petitioners have raised some interesting points. Because there are petitions against the Bill, it will be referred to a Select Committee. The Select Committee will be able to test the case for the Bill and the case for the petitioners by assessing the evidence. The evidence is likely to include a wide range of technical data.

One asks oneself whether it is more important to have access to vital services or to worry about the effect of a mast overlooking Hampstead residents. The fire service is asking that the Bill be now read a second time so that it can be put to the proof of the Bill in Committee.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time—(Baroness Phillips.)

5.18 p.m.

Lord Jay

My Lords, I rise to give my reasons for having placed the instruction that stands in my name on the Order Paper. I fully agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, that the Bill is not as simple as it looks at first sight. I am asking your Lordships today to ensure that the needs of the London fire service, the civil defence service and the ambulance service are met without damage by encroachment on Hampstead Heath, which we all agree is a unique stretch of country fully open to the public and which has been enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people for generations past.

No one wishes to curtail the facilities genuinely needed by the fire and civil defence authorities. The opponents of the Bill contend that they can be met without encroachment on the Heath as proposed in the Bill. Because of the damage threatened, the Bill is opposed by the London Residuary Body, which is the owner of the Heath and responsible for its preservation and which presented a Petition to your Lordships' House, as my noble friend said, by the Heath and Old Hampstead Society (which has protected the Heath since 1871), by the Hampstead Conservation Area Advisory Committee and last but not least by the Corporation of the City of London. The corporation describes the Bill as a very significant intrusion into the Heath at one of its highest and most sensitive points.

As I believe my noble friend explained, the Bill proposes the compulsory purchase by the fire authority of two parts of the Heath now owned by the London Residuary Body. These two sites are not some minor fringes of the Heath but are both situated at the summit of the ridge, 400 feet above sea level, bordering on the Whitestone Pond, and commanding some of the finest views in North London towards the Hertfordshire countryside in the north and to south London itself. At that point it is proposed to erect a 150 foot high radio tower combined with various other complex pieces of apparatus which I shall not try to describe.

The first site, known as the Shrubbery or Triangle site in these documents, is now planted with flowering shrubs surrounded by a light fence and includes the present simple and specially designed radio mast. This site is owned by the London Residuary Body and forms a background of bushes and trees to the whole of the Whitestone Pond summit. The existing radio mast is already owned by the fire authority and other bodies that use it. It is on this Shrubbery site that the authority wants to build the new, much more ambitious 150 foot high tower and associated buildings.

The second site, known as the open site, is even more crucial from the point of view of free access to the public. It is virgin heathland on the brow of the ridge between Whitestone Pond and Judges Walk. It dominates this part of the Heath and commands an unbroken view to the north-west. It is incidentally the precise spot at which John Constable painted some of his most famous pictures. The Bill proposes that this open site should be used for building operations and a temporary radio mast with associated temporary buildings. This is a particularly precious part of the Heath and the proposed encroachment on this site, even temporarily, is in my view unnecessary and indefensible.

These proposals must be seen in the light of the history of the conservation of Hampstead Heath. The 1871 Hampstead Heath Act which followed a 32-year parliamentary struggle to save the Heath from encroachment contained the following words:

"The board"—that is, the Metropolitan Board of Works as it was then, later the LCC, the GLC and presently the London Residuary Body— shall for ever keep the Heath uninclosed and unbuilt on"— except for any existing buildings— and shall by all lawful means prevent, resist and abate all encroachments and attempted encroachments on the Heath, and protect the Heath, and preserve it as an open space, and resist all proceedings tending to the inclosure or appropriation for any purpose of any part thereof". They do seem to have been able to draft Bills in those days in a way that ordinary people could understand, but that is incidental.

Apart from temporary wartime gun emplacements, that promise has been faithfully kept for 115 years to the enormous benefit of the London public. Only once so far as I know has even an attempt at serious encroachment been made. That was by the first Lord Leverhulme in the early 1920s who proposed a small exchange of land. It was firmly resisted as a matter of principle by everyone concerned, because it alienated quite a small part of Hampstead Heath from public access. In the event it was Lord Leverhulme himself who died rather than that part of the Heath. Since 1871 the Heath has always grown and never been diminished.

It is the view of the London Residuary Body and of most who know the facts closely that a practical compromise can be worked out on this issue, which would meet the legitimate needs of the fire service and of the other services concerned without the compulsory purchase of these parts of the Heath. It is to that aspect that I hope the Select Committee on the Bill will turn its mind.

Unfortunately the fire authority seems to have made no approach for really serious negotiations with the London Residuary Body before the Bill was presented, which might perhaps have made all this debate unnecessary. The case for these drastic proposals has simply not been made out. Indeed, it is not even clear that the present mast is inadequate for the essential public service involved. Even if that were proved and it was certain that the radio apparatus had to be modernised, it is still not clear that that could not be done without major disturbance or encroachment on the Heath. For example, only 30 or 50 yards from the mast, and not on the Heath proper, is the so-called Queen Mary nursing home site, which itself includes a radio mast which is already owned and used by the fire authority. The possible use of that mast as part of a solution should be pursued.

There is one other part of the Bill, however, which arouses special anxiety in Hampstead, Highgate and the surrounding area. Clause 18, on what it calls the "shared facilities", would authorise the fire authority to permit the shared use of the new mast and the temporary mast: by other persons on such terms and conditions, including terms as to payment, as may be agreed". That does not seem to have been explained. Does it mean that the fire authority is proposing its use, not just for public services, but that these drastic encroachments should be made so that more revenue may be earned, perhaps from private profit-making interests using the mast? It is not at all clear that that is not the case, and that is the suspicion which has been aroused. That too should be thoroughly investigated.

In order that these possibilities can be dispassionately examined it is no doubt best that the Bill should be sent to the appropriate committee rather than opposed on Second Reading. However, in the outcome I am sure that this House will show itself no less public-spirited than did the Parliament of 1871. For one thing, any breach of the principle of preservation of the Heath would be, many people think, a most dangerous precedent both for the rest of the Heath and other open spaces.

The piece of virgin heathland threatened by this Bill and the view from it are the precise subjects of one of John Constable's very finest paintings, of which I have a copy here if any noble Lord wishes to see it. I am sure that your Lordships would not wish to turn John Constable's favourite viewpoint into a builder's yard.

5.30 p.m.

The Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Serota)

My Lords, it may be helpful if I were to speak at this stage on behalf of the Chairman of Committees so as to set before your Lordships such advice as I can offer on what course of action the House might wish to take on this Bill and the Instruction in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Jay.

It is not for me to comment on the merits of the Bill, but I hope that your Lordships will agree that it should be given a Second Reading today. I realise that some strong feelings have already been expressed as to the principle of the Bill. There may well be more to come as the debate proceeds. I do not deny that there may well be an occasion when the principle of a Bill is so objectionable that the proper course would be to reject it at Second Reading. However, I must remind your Lordships, as the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, the Lord Chairman of Committees, has done on so many previous occasions, that giving a Second Reading to a Private Bill does not, as in the case of a public Bill, imply approval of its purposes. It does allow the Bill to be considered by a Select Committee.

I suggest that is the appropriate place for a full investigation of the merits of this particular Bill and the petitions against it to take place. If the Bill returns to the House for a Third Reading after the Committee has considered it, that would be the most appropriate opportunity for your Lordships to decide whether or not the Bill should proceed. As the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, indicated, three petitions have been lodged against this Bill. These raise a wide number of issues, and in examining them the Select Committee will be able to consider both sides of the question as to whether or not the Bill should proceed.

In this connection, I recommend your Lordships to accept the Instruction on the Order Paper in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Jay. I have no comments on the merits of the Instruction; but it is procedurally correct and an appropriate Instruction to give to the Select Committee. To sum up, my advice to the House is that the Bill should be given a Second Reading now and should be referred to a Select Committee. Because there is an Instruction to the Committee, the practice is that the Select Committee will in due course make a special report to the House setting out all the facts which then can be fully considered by your Lordships at Third Reading.

5.32 p.m.

Lord Cottesloe

My Lords, I am glad for two reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Jay, has moved this Instruction. I should like to support it. I lived in Hampstead for 40 years and for most of the time within a few yards of the Whitestone Pond so I know the location well. In the first place, it seems to me a totally unnecessary Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Jay, has told the House, it proposes to set upon the top of Hampstead Hill in a conspicuous position what is described as a massive radio tower. What is the purpose? The purpose is for communication with the fire service and other services in an emergency. Those are the purposes for which the Greater London Council set up the existing mast. It has served the purposes required for several years without criticism. Why cannot the existing mast continue those services?

It is said that the wavelength is being changed. I am no expert in these matters. My understanding is that the change is to a microwave. I am advised that there is no reason why the necessary microwave antennae cannot be affixed to the existing mast. Incidentally, the design of the existing mast—a slender and not ungraceful structure—was the result of a competition, whereas the proposed tower would be a massive and not (I am informed) aesthetically pleasing affair. It seems to me to be a totally unnecessary Bill. It is also a highly undesirable Bill and not only on aesthetic grounds. It is undesirable on grounds which are much more serious. For the purposes of this new radio tower it is proposed to deprive the public of two areas of the Heath, admittedly very small, but they are in a conspicuous position and command unrivalled views to the North and North-West. As the noble Lord, Lord Jay, has said they were views so much enjoyed by the artist John Constable that he painted them 10 or 12 times with varying effects of light and cloud. Those paintings are very beautiful.

If this Bill is approved, public access to the viewpoints from which those paintings were made (and which have been open to the public for more than a century as part of Hampstead Heath), will no longer be a part of the Heath and will no longer be available to the public. The proposal is not merely unnecessary but it is vandalism of a public amenity secured for the public in perpetuity by an Act of Parliament of 1871. I hope that the House will accept the Instruction of the noble Lord, Lord Jay, and that the Committee will recommend the rejection of the Bill. It will be for the Committee to decide after having considered every aspect of it.

5.36 p.m.

Baroness Stedman

My Lords, I rise to support the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, in her moving of the Second Reading. For "an innocent abroad" I think she showed a pretty commanding understanding of what the Bill was about. I welcome the Instruction proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Jay, though I hope that it might prove to be superfluous. I should have thought that the issues he raised are ones which one would expect a Select Committee of your Lordships' House to have in mind and to take into account.

No one likes pylons or masts, but in our modern day and age they are a necessary adjunct to the technological services which we all have to use. I class myself as a conservationist and one who is concerned with environmental protection. I hope that I am also a realist. As a former senior fire service officer responsible for communications, I have a concern about the best and proper use of our emergency services. I have been on site to see what this was all about. As the noble Baroness has said, the present tower is 46 metres high and it serves the ambulance service, the Heath Ranger, the Amber Network and flood control. That tower needs to be taken down and a new one some 52 metres high is proposed to go onto that site. The fire authority has undertaken to pay for these services to be transferred to the temporary site while the proposed new tower is being built. The existing mast for the ambulance and other services will not be moved until all those services are satisfied that the reception afforded by the new temporary mast is satisfactory. Eventually, all these services will be able to operate from the one mast to be erected by the fire authority. There will be room for some other services if they come along. I am assured that this is not a money-raising, fund-raising effort to put up a tall mast in Hampstead in order to raise extra money.

The fire authority is concerned about the safety of its present mast in the grounds of Queen Mary's Hospital. The period for planning permission for that mast has ended; and the fire authority's lease is expiring. All these proposals have been brought about because the World Administration Radio Conference made an international agreement that new frequencies should come into use on 1st January 1990. It is not only the fire authority in London which is concerned about these changes of wavelengths. Most of the local radio stations, both the BBC and independent, have also been affected by this change of frequency. The Home Office regulations on this subject cannot be complied with on the existing fire authority mast.

Camden Council is the local authority involved in the area and it has directed the fire authority to the site which is now proposed in the Bill. This morning I had a letter from the chief executive of the council. It said: Camden has been consistent since the abolition of the GLC in resisting proposals which would result in the loss of Heath land and to this end the Council believes that the Bill could only be supported if an equivalent area of land were to be acquired as a replacement. Camden has discussed with the LFCDA"— the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority— various potential sites for such replacement land. Camden has also been consistent in seeking to achieve a rationalisation in the number of masts in the Hampstead area but has accepted that a common services mast (which combines the requirements of all users) could be located at Whitestone Pond subject to a high standard of design. On this basis, this Council gave planning permission to a mast of high quality design in 1986". The letter goes on to say that the present proposals fall short of this design quality. I shall return to that later.

The letter continues: The Council is also totally opposed to the siting of a replacement common services mast on land in the grounds of Queen Mary's maternity home as this would protrude unacceptably into Hampstead Village and would be detrimental to the character of the area. This view is also shared by the DoE, local residents and the Royal Fine Art Commission. For the above reasons, the Council does not object to the Bill, per se, but believes that agreement should be reached to ensure that conditions relating to (a) satisfactory design, and (b) replacement land, are included in the Bill". Under the Bill the general development order will confer planning permission and will enable the authority to acquire the land. As the noble Baroness illustrated, the proposed mast will give total cover over three-quarters of Greater London, and the rest of London is already covered by the satellites at Hillingdon, Shooters Hill and at Gravelly Hill. But the most important very high risk, high density areas of central London will be covered by a mast sited where it is proposed to put the mast at Hampstead. On the Hampstead site when work is completed, there will be need for only one mast, shared by all the services, rather than several masts as at present.

I understand that there are three petitioners against the Bill. I am sure that their views will be heard with interest and will be given full and proper consideration before the Select Committee reports back to your Lordships. The health authority is naturally concerned about its obligation to provide speedy and efficient radio communication throughout Greater London. As I said earlier, the fire authority has to be satisfied that both the temporary mast and the new one meet the requirements of the London Ambulance Service. The fire authority will meet all the costs, including landscaping the Triangle site which is now sparsely planted with very ordinary shrubs. When I first came to the House I was the director of a landscape contracting company. I was not as impressed as the noble Lord, Lord Jay, appears to be by the planting of the Triangle site, which I saw on Monday of this week.

The London Residuary Body is rightly petitioning to safeguard the position of the eventual owner of Hampstead Heath. Sections 12 and 13 of the Hampstead Heath Act 1871 make it necessary for this Bill to be promoted. Although in paragraph 22 of its petition the London Residuary Body tries to justify the erection of the present mast, I have to say that, in the light of the wording of Section 12 of the 1871 Act, the promoters are not convinced that the existing mast is lawfully there. No doubt this is one of the points which the Select Committee will have to consider.

The third petitioner, Hampstead Heath Ltd., is the developer concerned with demolition and rebuilding on the site of Hawthorne House. In order to enable demolition and development to continue while the fire authority works are also going on, the fire authority proposes to acquire a temporary site (and the powers to close part of the road adjacent to Hawthorne House) for dumper trucks, materials and so on for fire authority works, and to provide access for materials and equipment for the Hawthorne House redevelopment.

The proposed Triangle site is very limited and the acquisition of the materials and equipment site should make it easier for the construction on both sites to be carried out more expeditiously. When the work is completed the site will be landscaped entirely at the fire authority's expense to meet the wishes of Camden Council. In my view the restoration work would be a vast improvement on the present rough area of land and would enable proper provision to be made for a bridle path and real public enjoyment.

I am satisfied that the fire authority will be able to work closely with Camden Council, both in respect of the restoration work and of the design of the mast. This Bill will give only outline planning permission, and before planning consent is granted all those concerned will have an opportunity for consultation and agreement on the design of the mast, on the landscaping of the site and on the reinstatement of the materials and equipment site.

I said at the beginning of the debate that I am a conservationist at heart. This is not a party political matter and I speak personally today. I accept that there will be concern while the work is in progress, but I also believe that at times one has to weigh the ideals of conservation against the public need. I believe that life and property in London must take priority and that the emergency services must have the best possible support and equipment to do their job.

5.47 p.m.

Lord Birkett

My Lords, I rise most warmly to support the Instruction to be moved by the noble Lord, Lord Jay. To be truthful, I came here this afternoon hoping that your Lordships would be persuaded not to give this Bill a Second Reading. However, the reasonableness and extreme clarity of the advice given by the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, has quite cured me of that impetuosity. Nevertheless, I find the Bill extremely troubling.

I sympathise with the problems of the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, in presenting the Bill. Like all noble Lords, I am sure, I sympathise with the need for the London Fire Brigade to have an adequate communication system. Everyone in your Lordships' House recognises the importance of that. With only two years to go, I also understand the problems about wavelengths. I expect that it is the shortness of time between now and the introduction of the new wavelengths that is causing the London Fire Brigade to seek desperately for whatever solution it can find in that time.

I am not persuaded that the combination of the present site at Whitestone Pond and the hospital site is beyond providing a solution to this problem. I suspect—and I hope that it is not an unworthy suspicion—that the collaboration and the co operation between the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority and the London Residuary Body has not been as complete or as enthusiastic as it should have been. At this moment it is absolutely vital that those two parties get together to sort the matter out. They are, above all, the two which can.

The British Isles have one of the most varied and marvellous countrysides and sets of landscape anywhere in the world. Though we may be happy in our good fortune in that respect, I put it to your Lordships that we are not entitled to congratulate ourselves upon it. All that we might be allowed to congratulate ourselves on is our treatment of that inherited landscape. I am not sure that we have a very good case to congratulate ourselves in that regard especially as regards London.

I hesitate to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Cottesloe, about the present mast, especially as he has been looking at it for a long time and I have not been living in the area. However, I do not find it as grateful or elegant as he does; I find it, even now, rather an unlovely sight. Nevertheless, I am convinced that the new one will be much worse. It will be six metres higher; the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, mentioned it being six metres higher as though six metres on top of 42 was a small matter. So there will be a considerable difference in height. It will be fatter and it will also be covered in all those antennae and dishes that the telecommunications industry of the world have decided that we should have on almost all new installations. So it seems to me that the new mast must be considered as an eyesore. Therefore, to propose the compulsory purchase of a piece of public open space in order to erect such an eyesore is, I think, quite beyond the pale.

The noble Lord, Lord Jay, spoke of the precedent involved and the danger that such a precedent might cause. We must all be aware that development is a danger and has constantly been so to our most favoured landscapes. I am not speaking solely of private development for profit. It is not merely the greedy and unacceptable face of the developer with which I am concerned, but developments of all types.

Any development carried out at the expense of one of the glories of our landscape cannot be allowed. Surely Hampstead Heath is one such glory. Furthermore, it is one of the glories of the London landscape. London is under more pressure than anywhere else in the country in terms of sheer space. There is not just the price of the land but the sheer demand for it and the number of people who would like to develop areas of London in one way or another.

I suppose that once upon a time I should have had to declare an interest, but now I merely declare a piece of history. Up until 1986 I was a director of the department of GLC which ran Hampstead Heath, plus 5,000 other acres of London open space. Indeed, I am happy to say that the London Residuary Board's staff who now run that department are, by and large, my old devoted staff and it is generally agreed that they are not making a bad job of it.

Because of the historical context I know just how vital open space is to London. Everyone thinks of open space as merely a place for relaxation, where the landscape is attractive, where the spirit can relax and where relaxation can take place in its proper sense. However, Hampstead Heath is much more than that; it is unique. It has a wildness about it that no other park has. Indeed it has a variety of attractions. Perhaps I am wrong to call it a park; it is a heath, and something quite special to London. I have always thought that open space meant more than just a place with recreational possibilities. I think that open space, especially in a crowded city, stands as a symbol and a reminder of the greater and wilder landscapes that roll all around us. That is something that we should not damage. Therefore I urge your Lordships to support the noble Lord, Lord Jay, in his Instruction and I hope that the Committee, when taking note of it, will look at it with a fairly glittering eye.

5.55 p.m.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, like everyone who has spoken thus far on this Bill, I naturally accept that proper radio communication for London's fire service is absolutely essential. However, I think we all appreciate that that factor is not in doubt. Indeed my noble friend Lady Phillips, who quite rightly said that this could be a very emotional matter, did not rely on emotion when she made her proposal.

However, the question is where the mast should be located and what form it should take. Any extension to make the London fire service more efficient and enable its work to be done more expeditiously is to be welcomed. Since 1871 both the sites that would be adversely affected on Hampstead Heath, which have been referred to in detail by the noble Lord, Lord Jay, have enjoyed the protection of the Hampstead Heath Act which forbids development there.

I could not help feeling from the remarks made by my noble friend Lady Phillips that she was under the impression that the Heath was really rather the prerogative of a small or large group of Hampstead residents. That, however, is not true. The Heath, as has been pointed out by the noble Lords, Lord Cottesloe and Lord Birkett, is a London landmark and its facilities are enjoyed not only by people who live in the city but also by those who live outside London. It is as national—almost international if you like—as Battersea Park, with all the festivals and activities that are held there.

Therefore, when we are talking about the Heath I think it only fair that we should not rely on an argument that pressure is being brought by people who live, or who have lived, in Hampstead, or, that there is a nostalgic or possessive feeling from a small group of houseowners. It is something which is important to London and even to the whole country.

One of the matters that worries me, which was also referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Jay, is the undesirable precedent which would be set by the Bill. I believe its enactment would serve as a signal to others that circumvention of the 1871 Act, by means of a private Bill, might again be worth attempting. The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, said that as well as being a conservationist she is also a realist—I shall come back to that point later. However, having worked closely with her in days gone by in the environment, I should have thought that she would also be rather worried about a precedent that would be set—especially in the climate in which we live today — as regards development and environmental matters.

My noble friend Lady Phillips referred to the planning policy guidance which is contained in a brochure entitled Telecommunications. She quoted from one paragraph which deals with the sharing of facilities. However, at the end of paragraph 5 there is another sentence which I think we should remember. It reads: However, the Government is also fully committed to preserving the national heritage, and the growth of telecommunications does not mean that the appearance of buildings, towns and the countryside can be allowed to suffer serious damage. The policies described in this guidance attempt to balance these requirements". The Triangle site—I think we all know where it is now, as it has been well and carefully explained to us—has under Section 17 of the 1871 Act enjoyed particular protection as an enclosed and planted ornamental shrubbery. I shall not cross swords with the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, as to whether the landscaping is as good as it should be. I am quite sure that she would do an excellent job with it if it were to be given to her. However, there is a legal obligation to retain it as a shrubbery.

The so-called temporary site is at present virginal heathland which will be subject to disfigurement and further upheaval for at least two years. A great deal of that, as I understand it, will be permanent; it will not be possible to put it right again. I think that I should ask about the donkeys, although I am not sure whether they are still there. What will happen to them?

However, my main concern is that the case has not yet been sufficiently made out and we should be grateful if the Select Committee will investigate this.

The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, said that she did not think that it was necessary to have a Select Committee. She then proceeded to develop a number of points which all cried out for examination by a Select Committee.

Baroness Stedman

My Lords, would the noble Baroness give way? I said that I thought that the Instruction was superfluous because these were the kind of matters at which a Select Committee would look.

Baroness Birk

I beg the noble Baroness's pardon. That is right, but the same point applies. The Instruction is necessary or the Bill would be sent on without any comments about what took place on Second Reading in this House.

As we know, the authority already has a radio station mast. The authority and its predecessors have used it for radio communication for many years. I do not know who is right or who is wrong, because I do not understand the technical matters involved, but evidently the LRB believes that the present radio mast is sufficient to accommodate the changes required. That is something that the Select Committee should look into, especially bearing in mind the Instruction that I hope it will have before it.

The authority does not appear to have made a detailed survey of the availability of other sites around North London which would be less sensitive than the Triangle site or the proposed temporary site. That is important, because then one could argue, if the evidence supports it, that there is a need for extra facilities for the fire service. The question then arises as to why the facilities should be placed at these especially sensitive environmental sites instead of somewhere where they would do less visual harm.

The point about height is important. The noble Lord, Lord Birkett, was right about that matter. As it is on a high ridge, the mast is extremely visible from beyond Hampstead. It is not seen only by people standing on the Heath. We have talked about sharing facilities. My noble friend Lady Phillips referred to that matter and quoted from the planning policy guidance. I do not understand why the authority has not pursued the possibility of sharing the existing mast, which is set on the Triangle site, with the residuary body to which it belongs.

The mast has many users. There is evidence that it could accommodate the authority's current and likely needs. If it cannot, that is something which should be argued before the Select Committee. I understand that the authority has investigated the possibility of sharing the mast with other users. Clause 18 refers to the arrangements for sharing and how payment should be worked out.

I see nothing against an authority trying to find revenue or to recover the costs of its exercises and work, but I question whether it is right for Parliament to legislate to allow a public body to use an especially sensitive site, against which there are many objections, as a money-making venture when the environmental costs are devastatingly high. If the mast were to be somewhere else, the authority could make out a good case for a larger mast and for letting out extra capacity to other users. Here, where the environmental considerations are so great, it is highly questionable whether it should ask to have this extra capacity to be used for profit-making purposes.

Whatever view is taken of the Bill's provisions, one matter is certain: the mast must have an adverse environmental impact. This may be the point on which the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, said that she is being a realist while also being a conservationist. The proposed mast will substantially mar the public's visual enjoyment of this part of the Heath. The ornamental shrubbery would cease to exist. The existing building is well concealed, but it would not be possible to conceal the new building because it will be so much larger. As I pointed out, the proposed work would leave the temporary site completely spoilt.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, I cannot help wondering why many of these matters have not been cleared in advance through genuine consultations between the authority and the LRB. There may then have been no need for the Bill.

I cannot help my mind going back to our debates on the abolition of the GLC. I believe that the subject of the Heath came up late one night. The noble Lord, Lord Cottesloe, argued on behalf of Hampstead Heath. It was not a party matter; it was a question of one's views about open spaces and conservation. Incidentally, we still do not know who will take over the care and charge of the Heath. Perhaps we shall hear more about that in the not too distant future.

The problem has arisen because there is no longer a body responsible for London. If there had been, however hard it may have been, the problem of the fire authority and the demands of the Heath would have been worked out internally by that body, whether it was the GLC or another body. This is one of the problems with which we are left.

The planning side does not concern us. It is premature to talk about it. As the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, pointed out, there is outline planning permission only. The conditions laid down in the letter, which I imagine we have all received, provide that an equivalent area of land must be acquired as a replacement. One cannot merely say, "O.K. This is fine". I do not have the slightest idea where, when or how the land would be found. Is it suggested that parts of people's gardens around the Heath should be taken? Any other land within the Heath already belongs to the Heath. That is something about which the Committee will surely wish to inquire.

There is a question about the design. The current proposal falls far short of the required design quality. I am worried about design generally, and in particular, about the design of some of the buildings which are now put up. People may not like the design of the present mast. However, it has the advantage of being slender and fairly elegant. It is probably no more beautiful than any other mast. It is important to have the best design possible; that is also something which should be looked into.

Apart from the specific points that I and other noble Lords have raised, a principle is at stake. The protection of the Heath was embodied in the Hampstead Heath Act 1871 when development pressures were far less than they are today. That foresight is something from which we can all benefit.

It is for this reason that I feel that all noble Lords will support Lord Jay's Instruction to the Select Committee to whom the Bill will surely be committed. Now that development pressures are so much greater and open spaces are so often at risk, let us face the fact that we have seen this happen in other fields; we live in a very greedy society where development profit-making very often comes out on top. It is our duty and responsibility to make sure that we preserve and look after the existing open spaces. They may sound a lot in acreage, but there are not so many spaces available for a heavily populated country. Therefore we should jealously guard what our predecessors obtained for what they saw as posterity. We, too, should be doing the same.

6.10 p.m.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I think that it would be helpful at this stage if I were to give the House a brief summary of the Government's attitude to this Bill, the main features of which have been so admirably and lucidly outlined by the noble Baronesses, Lady Phillips and Lady Stedman. In particular I should pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Cottesloe, for his immensely long and affectionate association with the Heath.

First, I should declare that the Government have a fairly substantial interest in the Bill. This is because, among his many functions, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, through the Home Office Directorate of Telecommunications, is responsible for supplying and maintaining the radio equipment used by the London fire brigade. As the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, has said, the essential purpose of this Bill is to provide the brigade with a system of radio communications which will enable it to continue to deploy its fire-fighting equipment effectively. It is for that reason that the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority has brought this Bill before your Lordships' House.

For many years the London fire brigade has relied for most of its radio communications on the radio station situated on a site which it has held under a temporary lease at Queen Mary's Hospital, Hampstead. The station was built on the Hampstead Ridge because it is only from there that broadcasts can reach out over 80 per cent. of Greater London. The existing structure is insufficient to support the aerials which will be required when the brigade moves over to the new frequencies required by the World Administrative Radio Conference. The WARC decisions demand that any mobile radio services which currently occupy the frequency band 87–108 megahertz—that is the band which is shown as VHF on the radio sets we have at home and in our cars—must vacate that band so that it can used by the BBC and other broadcasting services. The fire brigades and the police are some of the users of mobile services who have been given until 31st December 1989 to move over to new frequency bands. The fire brigades will require new equipment to operate on these bands and in many instances new masts will be required to support the heavier aerials, a point which was raised by my noble friend Lord Cottesloe.

When the need to replace the mast at Queen Mary's Hospital first became apparent about eight years ago, it was felt that the best solution would be for the brigade to combine forces with the London Ambulance Service in the construction of a new station on the triangle site. This would have had the aesthetic advantage of reducing the number of masts on the Heath. The ambulance service did not wish to co-operate and the fire brigade therefore had no alternative but to apply for planning permission to redevelop its existing site. This was refused both by the local planning authority and on appeal to the Secretary of State.

The planning authority, which in this case is the London Borough of Camden, said, however, that it would consider sympathetically a proposal to redevelop the triangle site on a shared basis. The ambulance service was not happy with this proposal because—as the petition of the South-West Thames Regional Health Authority states—it fears that there are technical considerations which prevent the satisfactory shared use of a single tower.

That is a technical matter which I think is more suitable for the Opposed Bill Committee, but I am advised that modern technology can construct a radio station where the requirements of the fire brigade, the ambulance service and the other public service users of the triangle site can all be satisfactorily met. Indeed, elsewhere in England and Wales there are a number of radio stations which are shared perfectly satisfactorily by the police, fire and ambulance services.

If the Bill is not allowed the fire brigade will be forced to make alternative arrangements. Because no other site in north London provides the same broadcasting coverage, this will require the construction of at least three radio stations broadly similar to the one proposed by this Bill. Inevitably the acquisition of the sites, obtaining planning permission and building the stations will take some time. It will mean that when the brigade goes over to the new equipment—as it is bound to by 31st December 1989—it will be necessary to make contingency arrangements using a series of temporary masts. Although Home Office engineers will do all they can to maintain the quality of the service, inevitably it will suffer during the construction of the new permanent station or stations.

Those then are what I might describe as the pragmatic considerations which have brought this Bill before your Lordships' House. I turn now to the profound concerns which have been expressed this evening by the noble Lord, Lord Jay, and other noble Lords and which also reflect the fears expressed in the petition of the London Residuary Body. The first of these is that the leasing of the land required for the construction of the temporary radio station will create a precedent which might encourage others to use the Private Bill procedures to acquire parts of Hampstead Heath. Secondly the new radio station will be more obtrustive than the present one. I also accept that my noble friend Lord Elton, then Minister of State for the Environment, gave an undertaking to the House on 14th May 1985 that Hampstead Heath would continue to be managed as an entity, and that the Bill would appear to contradict his statement. However, that was in the context of concerns which had been expressed by several noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Cottesloe, that the Heath might be divided up among several local authorities; for example, the three London boroughs whose boundaries are straddled by the Heath.

The London Residuary Body will shortly be putting recommendations to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment on the future ownership and management of the Heath. Whichever body acquires these responsibilities will, however, still be bound by Section 13 of the Hampstead Heath Act 1871 and will be prohibited from disposing of any part of the Heath unless authorised to do so by an Act of Parliament, as in the case of the triangle site.

These are very important considerations and it is right that they should be fully considered. The Government have no difficulty in supporting the Instruction that the Select Committee should have particular regard to these issues. In passing I would, however, mention that if the Bill is allowed, it will reduce the number of radio masts on the Heath by one, and possibly three if other radio stations agree to join the project. On the encroachment on the Heath, I think it is important to emphasise that this will be of comparatively short and temporary duration, and the site will be restored for public use as soon as the new radio station is fully operational.

The petitions of the South-West Thames Regional Health Authority and the London Residuary Body raise a number of technical issues which I am sure your Lordships would agree are more suitable for the Opposed Bill Committee. If your Lordships agree to give this Bill a Second Reading, the Home Office will prepare a technical memorandum which will be annexed to the report of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary.

In conclusion, the Government believe that the promoters have a good case for building a new radio station on Hampstead Heath. But we fully recognise the environmental concerns which have been expressed by the petitioners and by noble Lords this evening. It is for your Lordships to decide whether the needs of the fire brigade outweigh the environmental considerations. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will agree to commit the Bill to a Select Committee so that the promoters can be put to the proof of the Bill.

6.20 p.m.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, I should like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, particularly my noble friend Lady Stedman. I would not attempt to answer the technical points that the Minister mentioned. Equally, I hope and I feel certain that the House would not deprive a Select Committee of the opportunity to pass the Bill. The technical points can be worked out.

In the end this matter comes down to a conflict between the conservationists and the interests of the citizens. I am the chairman of an amenity trust in my own borough. We fought to have certain amenities on Wormwood Scrubs. They were very simple amenities. That area is not very beautiful, but ill may say so even to the noble Lord, Lord Cottesloe, Hampstead Heath is not particularly beautiful. It is open and vast and I have walked on it many times, but it is not particularly beautiful. Wormwood Scrubs is not particularly beautiful but it is open and vast, and it is one of the lungs of the Londoner.

The conservationists were very worried that we would destroy the wildlife on Wormwood Scrubs. I never actually discovered what that wildlife was. I do not think that it could have been foxes because foxes want cover and there is no cover on an open space. If it was rats I was not too bothered. I can only say that the activities of the objectors deprived children of a natural wild park which was in the minds of the people who had set up the scheme.

The fire authority would not bother to go through all this if it was not essential. One of your Lordships suggested something about money-raising activities. There is certainly no suggestion of that. This is a suggestion that the services, whether they be the fire services, the ambulance services, the police services or the civil defence service, should be able to use this facility.

Like many other people I have a very ugly telegraph pole outside my house. I do not like looking at it but it affords the opportunity for people to have telephones. If one lives in a city, there will always be the conflict between the needs of the citizen and what is beautiful, elegant and acceptable to the eye. I noted that the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, said that masts were an eyesore. I think that one could find worse eyesores than masts in this city. Personally, I think that the Lloyd's building in the City of London is an eyesore, and that does not provide a service to anybody.

Most of us are a little hypocritical about these matters. We are all in favour of homes for the homeless, the mentally handicapped and children, but we do not want them situated next to us. We want them put in the next borough or the next town but not on our heath or on our space. I hope that the Select Committee will bear in mind that this provision is not an attempt to destroy the beauty of London but simply an attempt to provide a vital service. I beg to move.

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

6.23 p.m.

Lord Jay rose to move, That it be an Instruction to the Committee to whom the Bill is committed that they should have particular regard (a) to the need in the public interest to protect Hampstead Heath from encroachments and to preserve its character and natural aspect; and (b) to the effect of a precedent being set by a Private Act overriding the protection afforded to the Heath by the Hampstead Heath Act 1871.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Instruction standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.