HL Deb 10 June 2002 vol 636 cc6-8

2.52 p.m.

Lord Renton

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they can take with regard to the unused building on the island site east of Westminster Bridge, which used to be occupied by the Greater London Council.

The Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Lord Rooker)

My Lords, the short Answer to the Question is, very little. The Government are unable directly to take action to secure the reuse of this site. There is an application for redevelopment of the site currently with the local planning authority, Lambeth Council, following refusal of earlier schemes. I cannot comment on the proposals as they might be the subject of an appeal to the Secretary of State were they to be refused.

Lord Renton

My Lords, while welcoming the noble Lord to his new appointment and thanking him for his Answer as far as it goes, may I ask him to bear in mind that it is in the national interest that this unusable eyesore and architectural monstrosity should be demolished? There are two reasons for this. First, the building spoils the appearance of an historic part of London. Secondly, three highways converge at the site, each bearing a large amount of traffic, and traffic does not move freely because of the space taken up by that monstrosity.

Lord Rooker

My Lords, as my learned friends have already been on at me about commenting on planning applications, I have to be careful about this. I can, however, comment freely on the traffic situation. I think that traffic management round the site is absolutely appalling. However, that matter is solely under the control of the Mayor and not the control of my department or the Government. We take the view that, in principle, it is best not to demolish sites until there is agreement on what should replace them. There is no prospect of demolishing this site and simply replacing it with a traffic island, as I think the Question suggests. As I said, Lambeth Council is considering a planning application. I understand that, in July, it will make a decision on the future of both the island and the accompanying former hospital site.

Lord Richard

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that this site at Westminster is not the only one in London which deserves to be looked at by his ministry? I wonder whether he could get the Government to cease advocating, or at least try to persuade Mr Livingstone to cease advocating, what are absurdly called "traffic calming measures". My own experience of driving in London for 47 years now is that it has never been worse than it is at present. The traffic calming measures do not calm the traffic and they certainly do not calm the drivers. They seem designed to produce the maximum disruption in the minimum time. While I entirely appreciate the division of responsibility between my noble friend's ministry and the Greater London Authority, I wonder whether the Government could perhaps be a little more forthright about it.

Lord Rooker

My Lords, the idea behind the changes made a fortnight ago was to separate transport from housing and planning. As there is now a separate Department for Transport, the issue is not between the London authority and my department. One of my noble friends will be answering questions on transport—which is something that I shall not do.

Lord Elton

My Lords, leaving aside the indivisibility of government responsibility for questions, is the Minister aware that, according to my noble friend Lord Plummer, who was in charge when the eyesore was put up, there is under the eyesore an extremely useful and very important underpass? Can the Minister tell us whether plans are being made to open it at each end so that it fulfils its intended purpose?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, I cannot comment on the detail or general principle of applications currently before the planning authorities. The authorities will decide this application in July and I do not know whether the decision will be yes or no. However, it would be wrong for me to comment on any of the detail. The planning application is a matter of public knowledge and everyone can see the details submitted by the developers. There is therefore nothing for me to add to what is already before the council.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, regardless of whether noble Lords feel calmed by the traffic management measures or offended by the site/sight, the matter is devolved both to the borough and to London government? The Conservatives seem to think that that should not be the case. Does the Minister agree that the time to have dealt with that matter was when what was left of the GLC was transferred to the London Residuary Body?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, the noble Baroness is perfectly right. It is not as though there have not been ideas for use of the site—which was used by the GLC until 1986. Between 1987 and 1991, two sets of planning permissions were granted in relation to the site. In 1998, planning applications were issued but did not come to fruition. As I understand it, the current situation is the result of variations and reviews. One year ago there was a refusal after the Mayor instructed the council not to approve an application. That matter is being appealed but is in abeyance because of the current application—which was made only this March. The site has long been empty and is an asset to London. The matter should he dealt with as quickly as possible.

Baroness Hanham

My Lords, I welcome the Minister to his new role. Is he aware that the new glass building being constructed for the Greater London Authority is reported to be far too small for the authority's purposes? Does he believe that that may be a result of the GLA following its predecessors' bureaucratic tendencies in increasing its membership?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, it is news to me that the glass building is on the island site to the east of Westminster Bridge.

Lord Renton

My Lords—

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, we must get on; otherwise, it is not fair to the Question in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft.

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