HL Deb 20 April 1989 vol 506 cc869-72

3.14 p.m.

Lord St. John of Fawsley asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to preserve the area of oustanding architectural and community value to the south-east of King's Cross which British Rail propose to demolish to facilitate railway works connected with the Channel Tunnel.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

My Lords, British Rail is seeking statutory authority for its proposed works at King's Cross in the King's Cross Railways Bill, which is currently before Parliament. It will be for Parliament to decide whether BR's proposals are justified.

Lord St. John of Fawsley

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that interim Answer. Does he not think that this is a case where the Government should make their views known clearly and at once? Does he not realise that British Rail is proposing an act of vandalism to sweep away 13 acres of good housing, shops, small businesses and offices which constitute a real community; not yuppiedom but a real, rooted, working class community? Is not the existence of such communities what living in a city is all about?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the Government are aware of the concern which has been expressed by my noble friend. We are considering the position. Ultimately, it will be for Parliament to decide the contents of the Bill.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, can the noble Lord confirm that the conservation area to the south-east of King's Cross, which includes Lloyd Square and Percy Circus and is of great artistic and architectural merit, will be preserved?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I cannot give details of the names of the streets concerned. I understand that the area has a number of listed buildings which might be affected. It will be for British Rail to explain why there is no alternative.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the deep concern felt by English Heritage about Clause 19 of the Bill, which would virtually drive a coach and horses through all planning legislation to protect historic buildings and ancient monuments, and would provide a bad precedent for the future? Is he also aware that British Rail is challenging English Heritage's right to petition against the Bill?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, we are aware of the concern about Clause 19, and we are considering the position. Parliament will wish closely to consider this point when the Bill becomes before the House.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, is not the noble Lord being slightly contradictory? When I first referred to Clause 19 of the Bill in a supplementary question to a Question on 23rd February, he gave the same reply as he gave just now to the original Question. He said that it was for Parliament to decide. He also said on 23rd February, in answer to other supplementary questions to the original Question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Strange: I have said that British Rail have to go through the proper planning procedures if they want to demolish the building".—[Official Report, 23/2/89; col. 757] If that is so, surely the Minister can be firmer on the Government's attitude to this clause, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, has said, will drive a coach and horses through the legislation on conservation and the protection of listed buildings. Will it not create a dangerous and damaging, precedent for British Rail, and also for the public utilities, to bring forward further Bills? I am sure that a great many listed buildings and conservation areas are getting in the way of their plans.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I cannot say any more than I have just said. We are aware of the concern about Clause 19, and we are considering the position.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that buildings are listed in order to preserve them and not for British Rail to trample them down like a bull in a china shop?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I accept that they are listed for a purpose. We are considering this point at the moment and British Rail will have to justify its proposals.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, in addition to the concerns in the area referred to by the noble Lord, Lord St. John, there is also a great deal of concern and anger among the local community about the use of the Private Bill procedure instead of the inquiry procedure? Is he further aware that an alternative site is available with plenty of land and no historic buildings? Stratford council is asking for this development to be transferred and is prepared to co-operate. Would it not have been a better proposition to enter consultations about an alternative site and also to use the inquiry procedure normally laid down for developments of this nature?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am afraid that the Private Bill procedure is the only procedure available for the authorisation of new railway works. Of course, objectors have the opportunity to petition against the Bill and to be heard by Select Committees in both Houses.

Lord Annan

My Lords, can the noble Lord confirm—or will he deny—that the reason British Rail is insisting upon this link being driven above ground is that the plethora of tunnels from the Circle and Northern Lines in that area prevent the link being put underground? Further, does not the Minister feel that this very negative attitude which is emanating from the department is rather disappointing to people who care about the environment?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, as I understand it, the proposals involved in that area are for a subsurface link and not an overground link. However, the problem is that the development would involve demolition in order to put in the link, and then reinstatement of some kind would be necessary. That appears to be the issue at stake.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, can the Minister say how much travelling time will be saved by virtue of these sweeping proposals? Is it true that such saving will in fact be only about ten minutes?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, if the noble Lord is referring to the proposed Channel Tunnel link, it is not just a question of time saved; it is a question of the overall capacity of the line.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, does the noble Lord remember that when the House was discussing the Channel Tunnel we were told that Waterloo was the only possible terminus for that traffic? Why then has the proposal for the development of the King's Cross area suddenly emerged from the blackness? As the noble Lord will perhaps remember, we made suggestions on that occasion that there should be a split between the two. However, we were told then that we were talking rubbish.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the capacity of Waterloo station is not unlimited. Indeed, British Rail estimates that its capacity would be about 15 million passengers a year. However, British Rail feels that there is a need for a second terminal to cope with traffic growth beyond that figure.

Lord Elton

My Lords, will my noble friend agree that probably the proper time and place to discuss the merits of what is proposed in the Bill would be in a discussion on the Bill itself?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I very much agree with what my noble friend has said. In fact, that is what I have been trying to say in answer to many of the supplementary questions.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, nevertheless, since we are having something of a discussion now, will the Government agree that whatever special consideration is to be given to the very attractive area of (as it has been described) homes, shops, workshops and offices, the same degree of consideration should be accorded to another very attractive area—namely, Peckham—which consists of nothing but homes?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, we are now going a long way beyond the scope of the original Question. The Peckham proposal is concerned with the fast Channel Tunnel rail link, and a Bill in that connection has not yet been submitted.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, I am well aware that the noble Lord is the Minister for transport, but can he tell the House whether this project has been discussed, or is constantly discussed, with his right honourable friend and his colleagues in the Department of the Environment? I ask this question because that department is the one which is responsible for the matter about which we have all shown great concern.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I can indeed confirm that discussions take place between the Department of the Environment and the Department of Transport on such issues. In fact, when I was briefed on this Question, I was briefed by officials from both departments.