HL Deb 20 July 1989 vol 510 cc909-11

3.9 p.m.

Baroness Birk asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in the light of the decision to allow the redevelopment of the Mappin & Webb site in the City of London, they will reaffirm the principles applying to applications for consent to demolish listed buildings set out in Circular 8/87; and, in particular, the exceptional nature of the decision to depart from these principles.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Hesketh)

My Lords, there has been no change in the principles applying to such applications. As the Department of the Environment circular states, there is a general presumption in favour of preserving listed buildings. But the fact that a building is listed does not inevitably mean that it will be preserved. In this case, for reasons set out very fully in the decision letter, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State was satisfied that it was right in the special circumstances to grant listed building consent for demolition.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, while thanking the Minister for that Answer, is he aware that the decision to destroy the best surviving collection of Victorian commercial buildings in the City based on a mediaeval street pattern overturns the Secretary of State's own direction that listed buildings should not be demolished if use can be found for them? Is he also aware that replacement, even by an alleged "masterpiece", is not one of the criteria set out in the historic buildings and conservation areas circular? Therefore, do the Government intend to give supplementary advice and clarification to deal with the uncertainty arising from that decision?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, with regard to the latter part of the noble Baroness's question, I refer her to the second part of my original Answer. Each listed building consent decided by my right honourable friend is, always has been and will continue to be determined on its individual merits. The requirements of listed building consent legislation remain unchanged.

Lord St. John of Fawsley

My Lords, would my noble friend agree that, while it is extremely important to preserve our past heritage, it is equally important to ensure that our own generation adds worthily to it? Is not Mr. Peter Palumbo to be congratulated on commissioning a first-rate building from a major British architect? Is he not also to be congratulated on his persistence, determination and tenacity, which make Bruce and the spider seem pusillanimous?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I am not too sure about my noble friend's spiders. However, he is correct that we must strive constantly to achieve the right balance between preserving the past and allowing new development for the future to go ahead. We must look forward as well as back. That inevitably involves making judgments which will not be universally shared.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

My Lords, is it not the case that that particular site has been one of the most discussed and widely canvassed planning applications of the decade? Is it not also the case that as a result of the earlier refusal, as recommended by the inspector, of the original Mies Van Der Rohe building, a very much better building is now to be erected? It has always been recognised, as my noble friend on the Front Bench said, that this is a matter of balancing the desire to preserve the heritage of the past with the need to provide for the requirements of the present and the future. If we are to have a dynamic city, it cannot be ossified.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Jenkin. I suppose that in less than a century someone else will have to stand at this Dispatch Box in order to explain why a further possible change may be taking place in Poultry.

Lord Monson

My Lords, notwithstanding the last two supplementary questions, will the Minister concede that the Mappin & Webb building is far more pleasing to the eye than will be the building scheduled to replace it and, for that matter, far more pleasing to the eye than are the remains of the Rose Theatre? With that in mind, will not Her Majesty's Government have second thoughts bearing in mind that attractive buildings in London are already far too thin on the ground?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, my brief does not go as far as taste.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the remains of the Rose Theatre are not so much pleasing to the eye as important for what they represent?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend is aware that she has tabled a Question on that subject which will be dealt with on Monday. I hope that I shall be able to answer it satisfactorily.

Lord Sandys

My Lords, returning to the Mappin & Webb site, does my noble friend agree that the ingenuity displayed by architects in the demolition of part of the Nash terraces, and the reconstruction of a building behind the facade, would be a solution which would commend itself to many of those who appreciate the facades of fine buildings and who also recognise the urgent need to be able to occupy the space behind for commercial purposes?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, this matter was discussed at length at the inquiry. I draw my noble friend's attention to the inspector's report, which goes into the matter at greater length and in greater technical detail than I am able to do this afternoon.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu

My Lords, in welcoming the Minister's statement, is he not aware of the confusion caused in planning circles by this decision? Will he do whatever he can to ensure that the statement he made today will be communicated to local authorities?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, of course the department will always try to avoid creating a state of confusion. However, I believe that English Heritage has sent a circular to local authorities indicating its position on this matter.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, in replying to what the noble Lords, Lord St. John of Fawsley, and Lord Jenkin of Roding said, is it not true—and it was the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, who, when he was Secretary of State, gave a green light to a further development after the original planning application was turned down—that there are plenty of places where a replacement of some rather mediocre modern or not-so-old buildings would be very welcome? Are we not here discussing whether in this paticular part of the City listed buildings should be destroyed in order to make way for a new building?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Baroness would not expect me to become the Minister for suggested demolition, even though I have an office in Marsham Street! However, I listened with care and attention to what she said and will draw it to the attention of my right honourable friend.