HL Deb 17 January 1989 vol 503 cc107-10

2.50 p.m.

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

Whether it is their policy to ensure that the exercise of planning control takes account of aesthetic considerations.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The Government's advice stresses that local planning authorities should not impose their own tastes on developers simply because they believe them to be superior. Local planning authorities should not seek to control the external appearance of new developments except where there is a clear justification; for example, because the development is out of scale or out of character with its surroundings.

Lord St. John of Fawsley

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I am marginally grateful for that reply? Will he bear in mind that beauty is not only in the eye of the beholder; it is an attribute of the deity? Does he agree that most people think that Chartres cathedral, for example, is superior to a pre-fabricated bungalow? Pending divine illumination, will he encourage local authorities to issue guidelines on questions such as the bulk, scale, massing and context of buildings within their area? Will he encourage them to appoint local panels along the lines of the Fine Art Commission to advise them in such matters?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I am obviously grateful for any marginal agreement from my noble friend Lord St. John of Fawsley. It would not be profitable to dwell upon certain aspects of buildings and the merits thereof. The planning policy guidelines are clearly laid out in planning policy note No. 1.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, will the Government consider rejecting on aesthetic grounds the ill-judged proposal to build in London Wall near to St. Paul's a 31-storey skyscraper which will be as high as the cathedral, in view of the total unsuitability of that project?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I am endeavouring to be helpful to the noble Lord. I have said that I think it would be inappropriate to comment upon certain buildings, but if he is referring to the Paternoster Square/St. Paul's Precinct development, I can say that as yet there has been no planning application.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, I am talking about Winchester House in London Wall, of which the noble Earl should be aware.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, it would still be unwise to discuss the merits or otherwise of certain buildings.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, while I acknowledge that my noble friend Lord St. John of Fawsley speaks from Sinai on matters of faith and morals, and also as arbiter elegantiarum—a sort of modern Maecenas—will my noble friend decline the office of censorship which he seems to be having imposed upon him?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, that point is in danger of getting above my head. I regret that I am neither a Latin nor a Greek scholar, but I take the point that my noble and learned friend has made.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, is not the degree of modesty shown by the Minister welcome not only to the noble and learned Lord but to us, especially when we look at the building of the Department of the Environment, which is a strong candidate for being the ugliest building in Great Britain?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then ugliness too is in the eye of the beholder. Although I understand what the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, has said, I can assure him that it is a comfortable and convenient building in which to work.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that if the considerations now taken into account are added to in any way, it will make it even more difficult to get planning permission for anything and he will not be doing anyone a good turn?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the best way forward for good design is to have close co-operation and understanding between planner and developer.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, is the Minister aware that his first Answer will cause some dismay to those people who are concerned with local conditions for development and that it could almost be taken to mean a licence for developers to go their own way and do what they want? Is he also aware of the increasing concern felt in certain areas about the use of private parliamentary Bills by developers in order to bypass the normal planning procedures? Finally, what is the situation in some city centres where such buildings have been taken out of the control of the local authority and placed under the control of the urban development corporation, which also becomes the planning authority? What procedural vehicle is left open for someone who wants to object to that type of development by an urban development corporation other than to go cap in hand to the Secretary of State?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, perhaps I may remind the noble Lord that we are dealing with aesthetic considerations. The type of building materials to be used externally are of interest to both the planning authority and the developer; it is the building's eventual use which is important to the client.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, the noble Earl has reminded us that planning authorities are not supposed to take account of aesthetic factors. Bearing in mind the recent court decision which said that they were not allowed to take account of social factors either, is there not some risk that the Government may conclude that there is nothing left worth having in the planning system and seek to abolish it? If there is such a risk, will they resist that temptation in view of the fact that we shall fairly soon remember why we set it up in the first place?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, it is extremely difficult to legislate for good design. I believe that the way I answered a previous question is appropriate. Good design cannot he achieved merely by controls and regulations.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, will the noble Earl reconsider his replies to the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley, and recommend a review of the notes of guidance? He must be aware, as I am. that it is almost impossible in my area to find a beholder who finds any beauty in the concrete monster that is being built for the British Library or For Sainsbury's "oil rig" which has been opened in Camden Town. Some guidance must be given to local authorities if we are to avoid a repetition of those monstrous buildings which are being put up in central London.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I take the noble Lord's point that it is always important to see that notes of guidance are updated. I shall draw his remarks to the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, will the Government bear in mind that when the British Rail Channel Tunnel scheme comes forward there will be a need to avoid the desecration of Kent, which at the moment is only too obvious?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, at the end of the day that will not necessarily be the case.