HL Deb 27 February 1991 vol 526 cc969-72

2.38 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they are taking to save Battersea Power Station from further dereliction.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, in matters such as this the Government have no direct involvement. However, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State uses his statutory advisers, English Heritage, and they are in regular touch with the owner and his agents and are monitoring the situation closely.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the more comprehensive Answer than she was able to give earlier to my Written Question. Is she aware that it is fortunate that the Department of the Environment is taking an interest in this matter? As I understand the position—and perhaps she will tell the House whether I am right or wrong—negotiations are taking place on the future of the Battersea Power Station and I believe that they are taking place between the owner, Wandsworth Borough Council, and English Heritage. Can she give the House any information on the present state of affairs? Are things going well? Is the building likely to be protected or is it deteriorating? In fact is the situation dangerous?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the noble Lord is right. Negotiations are taking place. It is important to understand the Secretary of State's powers in this matter. The negotiations are on the basis of an application for a specific proposal between Wandsworth Council and the agent, and English Heritage is advising. I know that English Heritage has pressed and continues to press for urgent repairs. My understanding is that the building is not dangerous and that John Broome and his company are responding to that request.

Lord Jay

My Lords, can the Minister explain why 10 years of combined effort by all the resources of private enterprise and the Conservative Wandsworth Borough Council, have so far produced only a muddle?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, it needs to be understood that this is an extraordinarily expensive project. It is very much in the hands of an applicant who has a particular plan, has submitted it and received listed building consent. Negotiations are continuing in that vein.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that if the desire is that private enterprise should develop this important site in a way that will be beneficial to the nation as a whole, the less that the Government have to do with it the better and they ought not to give the impression of stepping in to meddle at all?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am not in agreement with that sentiment, but it would be entirely inappropriate and in fact not constitutionally right for the Government to interfere.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, are the Government aware that some 40 years ago, when the power station was erected, it drew wide protest from the environment lobby? It is a hideous building which looks more like an upturned table than anything else. As it no longer has any practical use, does she agree that it would be better to let it be demolished?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, that is about the best example that I can think of as to how one cannot win on these matters. There is a project being pursued and we hope that it will come to fruition. However, any application for demolition would have to be considered on its merits.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the view that this concerns just four hideous industrial chimneys is quite widespread? Does she agree that it would be much better to have the whole structure pulled down and have an excellent building in its own right put up instead?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I understand that the application that is the subject now of this Question is in fact a very interesting one. Should it come to fruition I think that it will be a pleasing project.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the situation at Battersea Power Station is only symptomatic of what is taking place in many of the other ambitious inner city developments that were triggered off by the Government's policies? Urban and city development councils must now abandon plans or slow them down because of the present economic situation. What do the Government intend to do about that? Are the inner cities to be left as deserts?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the Government's record on inner city regeneration is a very good one and is wholly comparable with anything that has gone before. In terms of the economy, I believe that the news that we have had today is a very good indication that that is under control.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that no foundations were built under Battersea Power Station which makes it rather difficult for redevelopment?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, that is a technical question. I am unable to answer it but I shall write to my noble friend.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, before yielding to the blandishments of those who wish to pull down this large building, will the Government bear in mind that however ugly it may be it is certain that whatever takes its place will be uglier still?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I have no comment.

Lord Moyne

My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that not everyone agrees with the two noble Lords who have criticised the architecture? Is she aware that many people feel that by its simplicity this building by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott is particularly fine and worthy of preservation?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that comment. The purpose of listing is not necessarily to list beautiful buildings but also important buildings which are significant at the time at which they were built.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is there no possibility that Battersea Power Station might revert to its previous use, perhaps being gas-fired with a combined heat and power system?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, that is the subject of another Question—and another application.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, we have heard differing views in the House about the merits of the building. It is nonetheless a building by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, who is an architect of considerable esteem. Does the Minister agree that it is not a building to be despised? Will she ask her right honourable friend to keep an eye on matters? If negotiations drag on for too long so that the building deteriorates, that will not please anybody.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, of course we shall keep an eye on matters. With regard to the first comment of the noble Lord, feelings run high on whether or not it is desirable, but it is an important building.