HL Deb 19 April 1990 vol 518 cc172-83

7.32 p.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. It is interesting that the Bill has a history going back to 1851 and there is a common thread from that time up to the present. Your Lordships will probably recall that a building was erected in Hyde Park in 1851 on the occasion of the Great Exhibition. Between 1851 and 1854 when the building was removed, it was dubbed the Crystal Palace, I understand by a cartoon in Punch, some time during the nine or 12 months during which the Great Exhibition took place.

During the move to the present site the great building was substantially altered. It was extended by some 30 per cent. So whatever we may talk about today in terms of an original building, we must recall that the Crystal Palace that was opened by Queen Victoria in 1854 and burned down in 1936 was a different building from that erected in Hyde Park in 1851.

The Crystal Palace company ran the building in the park before the first world war. Under the Crystal Palace Act 1914 a body of trustees was set up to acquire the palace and the park and the trustees were required "to hold and manage it as a place of public resort and recreation."

During the first world war the palace was used by the Admiralty as a training depot and in 1919 as a demobilisation centre. After the war the park and the grounds were partly restored. In June 1920 the palace was reopened by King George V and Queen Mary. As I said, in 1936 the palace was burned down although most of the park was untouched. When the second world war came along, again the park and those premises then in situ were used for defence purposes.

The next most important landmark was 1951 when, under the London County Council (Crystal Palace I Act of that year, the park and palace were transferred to the then LCC. Parts of the park were reopened to the public in 1952 and 1953. The National Sports Centre was opened in 1964 by His Royal Highness Prince Philip.

The 1951 Act substantially repealed the 1914 Act although certain sections of the latter Act survived. While the 1951 Act repealed the trust created by the earlier Act, the functions of the LCC were extended to include holding the park "as a place of education and recreation and for the promotion of industry, commerce and art." That theme runs from 1851 to the present day. Your Lordships will recall that in 1965 the Greater London Council succeeded the London County Coucil and thereby became the managing authority. On the abolition of the Greater London Council, the whole of the Crystal Palace and the park were transferred to the London Borough of Bromley by the London Government Reorganisation (Property etc.) Order 1986.

As soon as the palace and the park were transferred to Bromley, the council started work on a draft landscape plan. That was published in 1986. The nature and scale of the proposals were such that in addition to the considerable works that it was envisaged the council would carry out itself, it was realised that it would be necessary to involve commercial organisations.

Alongside the need for funding is the unusual requirement in the restoration of a park that a substantial and certainly a prominent building would be desirable in a manner perhaps to replace the Crystal Palace building that was destroyed in 1936. Consideration was given to the form and possible uses of the proposed building. Apart from the leisure elements, with both the local business community—and there is a considerable business community in the London borough of Bromley area—and the National Sports Centre Authority, it was decided that a hotel was required in the vicinity.

It is interesting and important to note that both the English and the London tourist boards have stressed the need for considerable additional hotel accommodation in outer London. This has also been emphasised in the strategic planning guidance for London issued by the Department of the Environment. So the council invited developers to submit schemes in accordance with a written brief for which planning permission had already been obtained, both from the London borough of Bromley and, in respect of some land in the London borough of Southwark, from that authority as well.

Perhaps I may turn now to the Bill itself The substantive provisions are contained in Clauses 3, 4 and 5. These three clauses entitle the council for purposes, in connection with the provision of an hotel, restaurant, shops, licensed premises, leisure facilities, entertainment facilities or other associated uses", to lease the land within the relevant part of the park—that is only 13 acres of some 200 acres—for a term not exceeding 125 years and to, grant easements, rights, privileges or licences for those purposes in respect of land within the park.

The Bill was introduced in another place by my honourable friend the Member for Beckenham, Sir Philip Goodhart. It passed through its various stages in another place but I should remind your Lordships that there was one petition. When the Bill was considered by a committee of another place certain amendments were agreed. Those have been incorporated into the Bill which is before your Lordships today. In addition the council gave certain undertakings which I can describe if that is the wish of your Lordships.

It is important to appreciate that since it acquired control of Crystal Palace park in 1986, the council has carried out considerable improvements. There is an ambitious programme of further renovation work, particularly in connection with the magnificent terraces in the upper part of the park. It is necessary to involve a commercial developer to complete the restoration work. As the park was designed to set off a prominent building, it points to the need for some development on the site of the original palace. As heavy costs are involved and because the proposed facilities are not of a kind which local authorities would normally provide—for example, hotels and cinemas—the powers requested in this Bill are necessary to allow for their provision.

I have referred to the fact that the development of the 13 acres will enable the borough council of Bromley to achieve over a period of time, through the funding that such a development will generate, the restoration of the remaining terraces and the provision of additional gardens, all of which will be of direct benefit to the general public.

I have probably said sufficient by way of background to the Bill and in terms of the relevant clauses of it. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.— (Lord Lucas of Chilworth.)

7.42 p.m.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, for explaining the Bill and the motives of the promoters so clearly, and also for saving me the trouble of providing the history of the matter and making the House, such as it is, listen to that all over again. I shall come straight to the aims of the Bill. Paragraph (4) on page 1 of the Bill states that the council, should be empowered to lease land at Crystal Palace and Park to promote the use and enjoyment of the said Crystal Palace and Park by the public". I stress the words "by the public". There is no hint in those objectives of the real purpose of the Bill which is contained in Clauses 3 and 4, together with the changes which have been made as a result of a petition in another place. That was explained by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. Clause 3 would override the provisions of the London County Council (Crystal Palace) Act 1951 to which the noble Lord referred, which charged the London County Council, and therefore Bromley as its successor, to hold the Crystal Palace Park, as a place of education and recreation and for the promotion of industry, commerce and art". However, Clause 3(1) of this Bill overrides that provision and states that the council may, for the purpose of or in connection with the provision of an hotel, restaurant, shops, licensed premises, leisure facilities, entertainment facilities or other associated uses … lease … land … grant easements, rights, privileges … in respect of land within the Crystal Palace and Park". It then designates the "pink land" as the area on which buildings may be constructed.

Mr. Adrian Stungo, the Director of Land and General Services at the London borough of Bromley, stated in a letter to me of 8th March that the, purpose of our Bill is to do no more and no less than give us the powers to lease land in the Park for a hotel and leisure centre". However, the Bill does not specify that the park will be used for those purposes as opposed to a number of others. Therefore, I find the claim slightly disingenuous. In his letter, Mr. Stungo further states that proposals for detailed buildings would be a matter to be dealt with under planning procedures, when all objections would be considered and a decision taken. There is no doubt in anyone's mind that the London borough of Bromley intends to permit this development to go ahead and has selected one of four shortlisted entrants and will no doubt give the selected entrant planning permission. It has the right to do that.

The proposal by the A1 Houda Hotel and Tourism Company of Kuwait is for a Holiday Inn hotel and leisure centre. It will contain 150 beds, a health and leisure centre, a cinema, conference rooms, restaurants and a large number of shops. The council's design brief required the building to be "in the spirit" of the original Crystal Palace. However, that is not quite the same as the wording in Clause 4 of the Bill which states: The principal building … shall reflect the architectural style of the original Crystal Palace". There is quite a difference between those two statements.

The council expressed a preference, for a building which consists of a predominance of metal and transparent material … incorporating the outline form of one of the original transepts". The transepts were the distinctive arched parts of the original Crystal Palace building. The proposed new building, however, is too small. It is half the length and one-quarter of the volume of the Crystal Palace and because of height restrictions will stand considerably lower than the original palace. The height restrictions arise partly from the transmission needs of the BBC mast, but also from the terms of the Greater London Development Plan.

There are two issues here. The new building is not a replica and bears only a passing resemblance to the original Paxton/Barry design. It will not be as ornate and it is not made of transparent materials as it is intended to be covered in mirror glass. The Royal Fine Art Commission had to ask to be consulted when outline planning permission had already been given, as the council had given itself planning permission. I find that rather amazing. Before I quote what the Royal Fine Art Commission said about this matter, I must say that I find it strange that the Royal Fine Art Commission had to be asked to be consulted when the usual practice is that a council or other body approaches the commission with its designs and asks for the commission's comments. It is difficult for one not to assume that the council was pushing the matter through rather rapidly and that it neither welcomed nor wanted any intervention from the Royal Fine Art Commission.

The commission sent a group of commissioners to see the site. The commission considered that the size and scale of the new building would be much too small for such a prominent site and that it would be out of scale with Paxton's terraces which would form its podium. The site is prominent as it is on the tallest hill in South London.

The Royal Fine Art Commission welcomes, as I do, the restoration of Paxton's terraces—which I thought when I visited the site were absolutely magnificent—and also the proposal to find a new use for E.M. Barry's underpass. The commission considers that the construction of steel and glass, while appropriate enough for an exhibition hall, is wholly unsuitable for multi-storey cellular accommodation which the hotel and leisure centre will clearly contain. In a letter dated 5th December 1988 the chairman of the commission, the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley, says that the, wrong size, scale and expression of the new building will falsify what was there before, and that to do this with such an important and famous building as the Crystal Palace is particularly regrettable". The Crystal Palace Act 1951 specified that the site should be used, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, pointed out, for the purposes of art, recreation, leisure, commerce and industry". The original Crystal Palace was itself a palace of the people. The function of the new building, on the other hand, will be certainly rather more private than public. It will have a public function only to the extent that it serves the need for the National Sports Centre. However, it seems to be geared more to the demands of the business communities of Bromley and Croydon than to the needs of the public.

As the Crystal Palace Foundation, founded in 1979, put it: if this is to be the new 'palace of the people' should there not be space created for public meetings, conferences, concerts and so on? For the new proposed complex to become just another hotel does not reflect what the original Crystal Palace stood for". The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, quoted the Lor don Tourist Board and the English Tourist Board as expressing a need for more hotel accommodation. I am sure that that is so but it does not mean that a hotel has to be built on that site. There are alternative sites for a hotel in Bromley if that is what is wanted, adjacent to the site.

As we know, the scheme is going ahead only because the GLC was abolished. Bromley designated the land as metropolitan open land in 1985, one year before abolition. That means that at present no building may be erected on it, with certain minor exceptions. The proposed hotel and leisure centre would conflict with that requirement; hence the need for a Bill. It is a great pity that the matter did not go to public inquiry. Many of us would have felt much happier. Instead it has been dealt with very much in-house.

The GLC was the inheritor of the LCC's responsibilities. The Crystal Palace Park was vested in the LCC under the 1951 Act because a place of wide importance needed more than local trust management. The purpose of the 1951 Act in recognising the regional importance of Crystal Palace was overturned by abolition and the results are now plain to see. The council, having acquired the park, gave itself planning permission to build a hotel and leisure centre on the palace site and is now promoting a Bill to make it lawful to do so. We must face the fact that a national site of historic importance and high architectural significance is being turned over to the private sector barely five years after Bromley council designated it as metropolitan open land. If the proposal goes through, the council should be asked to give an undertaking that some of the earnings from the development will be ploughed back into the park itself.

An article by Gavin Stamp in the Independent magazine of 22nd October 1988 makes it clear that Bromley council ignored an application by New Crystal Palace Ltd. for an exhibition and theme park based on the empire experience—a history of the British empire. It is true that that scheme was less well developed than that submitted for a Holiday Inn. On the other hand, it included a number of positive points, including a large theatre for dance, which is badly needed in London. It also intended to exploit the existing and functioning low-level railway station to bring visitors from Victoria or London Bridge. The scheme was not even short-listed and the leader of the council declined to discuss its possibilities with its promoters.

David Prout, the architectural adviser to the Victorian Society, has expressed the following views on behalf of that society: We are extremely worried about the cynical exploitation of the dream of rebuilding the Crystal Palace in order to promote the use of the site for the construction of a luxury hotel and shopping centre. We wish to condemn the present scheme and emphasise that the lip-service paid by the developers to the old palace should not prejudice opinion in their favour". He goes on to say: Rather than a great public building, however, the present plans envisage a typical suburban commercial development with luxury hotel, shopping facilities, and leisure centre…. As if in compensation for this, the developers propose to build a 'new' Crystal Palace. The resulting 'conservation modernism', however, is totally unacceptable. The curtain wall structure with a mirror glass skin is pastiche revivalism of the very worst kind. Not only is it a pastiche architecturally, but it is a fraudulent use of the Crystal Palace dream". As Gavin Stamp points out in the Independent article, recreating any destroyed building involves both philosophical and aesthetic restoration problems. There is not only the question of whether it can be done but also the question of whether it ought to be done and whether it is an exercise in nostalgia or in the creation of pastiche. He argues, however, that the Crystal Palace may be an ideal candidate for recreation. It was a great and popular landmark in Victorian London and was itself re-erected once. The design is well documented and has been copied in a number of public and private buildings. Paxton's design is revered by engineers who see it (perhaps wrongly) as the first modern building. More truthfully, it probably represents one of the great engineering feats of Victorian design. Yet if recreation, for reasons of height or usefulness, cannot be attempted, there is a consensus among concerned organisations that the development ought not to go ahead.

The Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society also objected and has made similar statements that the facilities of the development would not be available to the general public—that is the nub of my argument—and would be contrary to the ethos of the original Crystal Palace and park. The society argues that the Clause 3 enabling power should not be allowed to pass into law unless the Bill is amended to provide a far greater degree of public benefit and to limit the extent and nature of the development of the land to a considerable extent.

Although it can be argued—and has been argued by some of the officials of Bromley council who were kind enough to come and see me here and were extremely helpful in answering questions—that the swimming pool at the Holiday Inn would be open to non-residents, as the pools are at most Holiday Inns, on the whole they are extremely expensive. They are very much more expensive than a public swimming bath.

The lack of public access worries me considerably. I know that the park has not been open to the public for some time. However, the fence is broken. When I visited the park I got in very easily without feeling that I was trespassing because most of the fencing was broken. It is not a valid argument that because the land has not been open to the public for all that time it should not be open in the future. Why was it not open to the public? The park should have been open in the past as it was open land.

I received this information only today, otherwise I should have told the noble Lord about it. The Royal Fine Art Commission has recently received plans for a new scheme. The proposal for a new Crystal Palace exhibition centre—I gather that this has emerged within the last month—by T. P. Bennett is for a single-span, vaulted structure of steel and glass covering the Paxton terraces and therefore below the site of the Crystal Palace. The terraces as well as the site will be excavated to provide additional exhibition rooms, circulation routes, offices, shops and cafes and two tiers of car parking. The site over the car park would be reinstated with grass and trees.

Unfortunately, so far the scheme has no backing, but has been prepared in defiance of Bromley Council's proposal to build a hotel and leisure centre on the site. I believe that the architects feel that, if that scheme becomes known and is more acceptable all round, they will attract backing to it. The commission has congratulated the architects on producing an appropriate, dramatic solution which will also keep the site of the former Crystal Palace open.

The Chairman of the Royal Fine Art Commission—the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley—speaking on 2nd April at a press conference said that the commission wished to congratulate the architects who had produced an appropriately dramatic solution which also kept open the site of the former Crystal Palace. He said that the commission greatly preferred that design to the inept proposal of Bromley Council to build a hotel and leisure centre on the site. The commission admired the bold approach, but believed that it should be even bolder and should discard the Victorian trimmings. The Royal Fine Art Commission suggested that, if nothing appropriate was to be built, it would be better to use the site to lay out the ground plan of the Crystal Palace and to put the hotel and leisure centre elsewhere, for example, in the grounds of the present park. Alternatively, the site should be used for a grand, modem building appropriate to its significance. That is the suggestion of Gavin Stamp.

I have taken time over this matter because it is an important one affecting Bromley Council which believes that it is doing the best it can for the area. I and other people believe that that is not the right solution and that it should think again. I reserve the right to table an instruction to the Committee, depending on the reply of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. It might be difficult for him to reply immediately, so perhaps he can let me have a considered reply in the near future so that I can decide what I shall do.

8.4 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Aberdare)

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Reay for allowing me to chip in at this time just for a few minutes, particularly in view of the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and some of the points of considerable interest which she raised.

There are no petitions against the Bill. There will therefore be no opportunity for a Select Committee to hear evidence from the promoters and from those who, like the noble Baroness, have objections to the Bill. In my view, that is the normal and sensible procedure when a Private Bill is opposed. However, if given a Second Reading this evening, the Bill will go to an Unopposed Bill Committee of which I have the privilege to be the Chairman.

My only reason for saying anything is that I have listened with great care to all that has been said this evening and I shall also listen to what is said after I sit down. The committee will give due regard to the points made. However, I should emphasise that questions of design are quite outside the scope of anything that could be done by the Unopposed Bill Committee. These are matters for the planning authority. That is all that I wish to say. I have listened carefully and I shall give due regard to what has been said where we can be of some use.

8.5 p.m.

Lord Reay

My Lords, it might be helpful if I state briefly the Government's view of the Bill.

It is traditional on Private Bills that the Government take a neutral stance and this Bill is no exception to that rule. The Government have considered the content of the Bill and have no objection in principle to the powers being sought by the London Borough of Bromley. No department has any points outstanding on the Bill.

It is, of course, for the promoters to persuade Parliament that the powers they are seeking are justified. As the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees said, there are no petitions against the Bill in your Lordships' House. I hope that in the usual way the Bill will be allowed to proceed to the Unopposed Bill Committee for its consideration.

8.6 p.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, for raising matters which I readily concede are of great importance. Before I respond to some of the points, perhaps I may thank the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees for his guidance about the way in which the Bill will develop, provided that noble Lords give it a Second Reading tonight about which I am quite optimistic.

I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for putting the Government's point of view; namely, that there is no objection in principle and that no Department of State has any matters outstanding. However, he reminded us that it is for the promoters, through myself, to persuade Parliament that this is a right and proper Bill. I sought to do that in my opening remarks. I shall so continue in responding to many of the points raised by the noble Baroness. I thank her in advance for her invitation to communicate with her later if I omit some of the points. I shall consider carefully what she has said when Hansard is printed and shall take up any points that I omit now.

The noble Baroness started by referring to Clause 4 of the Bill which she quoted. I shall not quote it other than to remind her that it states that it is expedient that the council should do certain things to promote the use and enjoyment of the said Crystal Palace and Park by the public". That is the common strand to which I referred in my opening remarks. That is precisely what the Bill seeks to do by the leasing of some 13 acres out of 200 acres for development, part of which will be a commercial development, including an hotel, shops, boutiques, bars, a leisure centre, an exhibition centre, a conference centre and so on, all of which implements some 40-odd years on that which the 1951 legislation provided. The 1951 Act provided that the park was to be used as a place for education and recreation and for the promotion of industry, commerce and arts". That is precisely what is proposed in the Bill.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, will the noble Lord tell me where education facilities come into that? My notes have been whisked away to Hansard so I cannot check. The noble Lord quoted the 1951 Act correctly, but I cannot see any educational facilities in the plans that have been put forward by the council

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, an exhibition and conference centre can provide for seminars, lectures and artistic displays, whether they be of painted works, poetry readings or anything else. I should have thought that would come into an educational context in today's usage.

I do not believe that Clause 3, to which the noble Baroness referred, overrides the 1951 Act. Indeed, in the original Bill before the other place, amended at the request of the committee in response to the petitioners at the time that the Bill was before that House, the amendment to Clause 3(1) was inserted at the request of the Commons Committee during their proceedings to clarify the limitations which should be imposed on the power in Clause 3(1). Clauses 3(2) and 3(3) were offered to the committee by the Borough Council in order to meet the criticism of the petitioners. They confirm in statutory form the intentions of the council.

There is no question of the public being deprived of access to the facilities under the council's current projections and the developer's ideas for the shops and so on. I cannot involve myself in matters over which I have no control, such as planning. Whether the original plan was called in for inquiry is not within my scope. Suffice it to say that the proper routes were followed in the outline planning permission. The detail of the developer's plan is still subject 10 that planning authority.

As for the question of volume, I do not think that one can reasonably expect a building, however funded, to replicate a building built in 1851 and then some three or four years later have it extended by 30 per cent., particularly in view of the changes that have occurred, one of which relates to the broadcasting transmitting station and the other to the London development plan on height, to which the noble Baroness referred.

The noble Baroness referred to the importance of spirit and style. This has been embraced because it was sti]5ulated in the outline planning consent granted in 1987 that the development should contain a predominance of glass and metal and reflect such spirit. Again, the Bill was amended to provide that the principal buildings to be constructed in any development should reflect the architectural style of the original Crystal Palace.

I have seen some of the drawings. I am not an architect; nor am I an artist. However I recognised a great archway with what I would call a walkway through it, reflecting that style in some part anyway.

I knew of the concern of the Royal Fine Art Commission. Perhaps on reflection the borough council might have wished that it had extended an invitation at an earlier stage. Be that as it may, the Royal Fine Art Commission has made its comments and dealt with the Bennett proposal, mentioned by the noble Baroness. As I understand it the Bennett scheme was a speculative scheme. Certainly it does not comply with either the Bill or the undertakings that were given in another place during the committee stage.

I emphasise that although the noble Baroness declares that the park should be open and should have been opened a long time ago, it is unsafe and requires a considerable amount of money to be spent on restoration work. As the noble Baroness will agree, I do not normally make party political points. To me it is very sad that neither the LCC nor the GLC expended any real amounts of money to ensure that the park was open to the public. Only parts of it were opened in 1952 and 1953. It is on record that a greater part of the park has been restored and developed since 1986—since its management fell to the Bromley borough council. I am satisfied and Members of Parliament for that area—Beckenham, Croydon North-East, Norwood and Dulwich—who include members of all parties, have raised no major objections. Indeed, some have commended the reopening of various parts of the park.

Certainly I am satisfied that should the Bill be granted a Second Reading this evening and should Parliament approve it, much of the moneys that will accrue from the development that the borough council envisages will be devoted to further improvements of the park, which I have been across quite recently, and to restore it to much of its former glory for the greater enjoyment not only of the people of the borough but others such as tourists from all over the world and indeed our own country. When there is greater usage of the park for recreational and educational purposes, I think the purposes for which the Bill has been promoted will have been well satisfied.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down perhaps he will answer a question. What he said about the amounts of money being spent on the park was very heartening. Was he speaking on his own behalf and with hopefulness or was he speaking on behalf of Bromley borough council.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, my honourable friend the Member for Beckenham who promoted the Bill in the other place has talked with me, as have officials of Bromley borough council. They envisage that some £30 million will be spent if Parliament passes the Bill and the various planning requirements are met. That kind of money will be spent, the bulk of it within three or four years of the enactment and subsequently.

We are talking about an enormous amount of money which I do not believe, with the best will in the world, any local authority could undertake to expend without the assistance of commercial activities. That is what the Bill seeks to achieve. I hope that I have answered all the other major points raised by the noble Baroness. As I said, I shall certainly read our exchange and if I have missed anything, I shall write to her. I commend the Bill to your Lordships.

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

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.30 p.m.

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

[The sitting was suspended from 8.19 to 8.30 p.m.]