HL Deb 21 November 1995 vol 567 cc230-2

2.54 p.m.

Lord Ezra asked Her Majesty's Government:

What are their plans for the Treasury building.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, Property Holdings is seeking a private sector partner for the redevelopment of the Treasury building. Two consortia have been short-listed to bid for the project. On completion of the scheme, Her Majesty's Treasury will reoccupy approximately 22,000 square metres of the building. The balance will be marketed by the private sector partner.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that information. Does he agree that it is about time that something was done about that building as it is reported to be in an advanced stage of decrepitude due to lack of maintenance over the years—for example, the electric wiring has not been renewed since 1917 when it was first installed and the cellars are frequently flooded? Is that an example of what goes on in public buildings under government control or has the Treasury been singled out for special treatment?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, if I may say so, the noble Lord asks an astonishing first supplementary question when he asks whether it is time that something was done. Something is being done. It is time. The noble Lord is perfectly right that the electric wiring needs rehabilitation. It is also a fact that some of the concrete is not in the state that it should be. The concrete is about 10 feet thick over the war cabinet rooms and is reinforced by tramlines. That has caused stress on the building and, as the architects would put it, ingress of water has been noted. We agree with the noble Lord that it is time that something was done—and something is being done.

Lord Barnett

My Lords, perhaps I may declare an interest as a past tenant for more than five years. Can the Minister tell us the maximum rate of yield that the Government would be prepared to accept?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, that is another extraordinary question, coming as it does from a former Chief Secretary to the Treasury. The noble Lord was in the building for a long time—for five years—and I have no doubt that, as the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, would suggest, the noble Lord was responsible for some of the damage that has been done. The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, really cannot expect me to give him an answer to his question. It all depends on the bids. If I were to give the noble Lord the indication that he would like, that would give those bidding an indication of the sort of price that they might bid.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, my noble friend used the word "redevelopment". Was I right in detecting in that word the idea that the building might be rebuilt and therefore might not be recognisable on completion? If I was right, does my noble friend accept that the art of politics includes at least an element of recognition of public perceptions, sensitivities and good taste? It would be unpardonable to redevelop a building which is an important relic of the time when London was the capital of the world.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, not for the first time, my noble friend Lord Marlesford is not right. It is a Grade II starred listed building and English Heritage has been involved. My noble friend knows perfectly well that one cannot knock down old buildings without all sorts of permission. That is not intended. What is intended is that better use should be made of the space available within the building, which consists of large rooms and very nearly equally large corridors. My noble friend might care to know that at the moment 40,000 square metres of the building can be used, whereas after the titivating has been carried out, there will be 60,000 square metres which can be used.