HL Deb 06 February 1992 vol 535 cc341-3

3.17 p.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they expect to reach a decision on the future of No. 2 Marsham Street which at present houses the Department of the Environment.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is today announcing that the building at 2 Marsham Street is to be demolished.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, I most warmly thank my noble friend for that reply which for a moment left me speechless. Will she accept my warmest congratulations on her part in this first step towards removing an eyesore and—this is not unimportant —on persuading the Treasury to abandon for once the short-term view, to which it is addicted?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, first, I thank my noble friend for his congratulations. It is right to say that it has been a co-operative effort.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, perhaps I may associate my party with the hearty congratulations offered from all sides of the House to the Government on the major success of their policy. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, and everyone associated with the matter, except the architect. May we know who the architect was? Is it a precedent that may be followed in other parts of London? Will a list of demolishable buildings now be provided?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I join with the noble Lord in thanking my noble friend Lord Peyton. He has kept a robust, downward pressure on the department to expedite matters. The architect was an in-house architect. I believe that his name was Mr. Bedford. He both designed and managed the building. It was in fact approved by the Royal Fine Art Commission.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, will the architect for the new building be chosen by competition so that the public have a chance to see what is proposed, bearing in mind the very poor quality of government buildings that for the most part have been put up since the war?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the noble Lord makes an important point. It is too early to say anything about a new building on that site or about what will happen on the site. The present Secretary of State is very much in favour of competition and therefore if there is to be a new building on the site, I believe that will be a way forward.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, what will happen to the present occupants of the building pending reconstruction?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, a study will be carried out in relation to the people who presently work in the building. Not all may require a Westminster presence and it is possible that there will be relocations for those people.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, we too offer our congratulations to the Secretary of State on his momentous and welcome decision. Is there any truth in the story in this morning's newspapers that Arup Associates have advised that on that site it would be possible better to accommodate as many people in a building of between only nine and 11 storeys?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, a study carried out by Arup was considered. However, I cannot comment on a specific part of that recommendation. If I can write in more detail to the noble Lord I shall do so. I believe that we are starting with a clean sheet in considering the future of this site and the Arup report will not be part of that consideration.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, will the Minister consider publishing the names of the members of the Royal Fine Art Commission who, back in the mists of time, approved this ghastly building, if only to warn their successors?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I hope that the information is in the public domain. I am afraid that I do not know the answer.

Lord Marsh

My Lords, will the Minister give the House an estimate of the cost of the site clearance and the demolition of the building, given the other calls on public expenditure in these difficult times?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot do so. The building was in need of substantial repair and that was the starting point of the study which led to the view that it should be demolished. The costs of repairing the building considerably outweigh the sensible economics of replacing it.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, will my noble friend bear in mind that many people carry on business and live in the vicinity of the building? Its demolition will create a great deal of noise and dust and I suspect that it will take a long time. Will she bear in mind that other people will be affected by the manoeuvre?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, my noble friend has made a serious point. Of course the demolition will have to be managed in a way that causes the least disruption to those living in the vicinity. On a note of slight cynicism, I suspect that this is the point at which the members of the committee for the preservation of Marsham Street will come out of the woodwork.

Lord Annan

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Royal Fine Art Commission was in an impossible position during the 1950s and 1960s? At that time property developers demanded so much per square metre that no decent building could ever be erected. Had the Royal Fine Art Commission done its job properly, virtually no commercial building would have been built in London during the 1950s and 1960s. I believe that that was one of the reasons Sir John Betjeman resigned from the Royal Fine Art Commission.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, it is true to say that that it was not the best era of all time for architecture. By and large the buildings which were then erected have not stood the test of time.