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Clause 20—(Amounts And Payment Of Improvement Grants)

Volume 465: debated on Monday 30 May 1949

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3.31 p.m.

I beg to move, in page 15, line 45, at the end, to insert:

Provided that, in the case of an improvement grant to be made in pursuance of an application which could not have been entertained by the local authority but for the proviso to subsection (4) of the last foregoing section, the amount thereof may be such fraction of the approved expense of executing works, in excess of one-half thereof, as may, with the consent of the Minister, be determined as aforesaid.
The Bill already provides in Clause 20 (4) for improvement works with a local authority grant to exceed in certain cases the maximum figure of £600, which is the normal maximum figure in the Bill, provided that the approval of the Minister is given. This provision was included to meet the case of houses of special architectural and historic interest where it was regarded as of special importance that they should be brought up to a proper standard of maintenance and repair, and indeed a proper standard of condition.

Under this proposed proviso provision is made so that the local authority may be able to make a larger grant than 50 per cent. towards the special expenditure for this purpose. It is felt that in many cases it is highly desirable indeed that this work should be carried out in the interests of the nation as a whole, and it is felt only reasonable that the local authority ought in this case to make a grant somewhat in excess of the 50 per cent. which is the normal provision in the Bill.

To give an example of the way in which this would work out a proposal coming before a local authority might cost a total sum of £900. The first £600 of that £900 would be treated under the normal process of the Bill; that is to say, the owner would be expected to make his contribution of £300 and the local authority would make a grant in respect of the remaining £300. In relation to the excess £300, in addition to the total of £600, the local authority would be enabled under this provision to make a grant larger to than 50 per cent. Indeed, they would be enabled, subject to the approval of the Minister, to make a grant up to the total excess £300 which in the case I have instanced would arise. We believe this is a reasonable provision and will help us to ensure that this category of houses of special interest to the nation will be maintained.

We consider that this is a reasonable proposal. For that reason we did not object to the recommital of the Bill. I think it is not unreasonable that the local community also should make some contribution towards the expense, since it derives a considerable advantage from the preservation of historic buildings within its own area.

Could the Parliamentary Secretary say whether the decision of the local authority is absolutely final in a case of this sort? Suppose that an owner thinks that a cottage is of architectural and historic merit. If he applies for a reconditioning grant under this provision, but the local authority take a different view, is there any appeal from the local authority's decision, or is their decision completely final?

No, we must leave it to the local authority to make the decision in the first place. After they have made their decision and have decided to make a grant, it is for the Minister to confirm it.

That leaves a heavy responsibility on the shoulders of local authorities who are not always the most enlightened in these matters. I trust that by circular or otherwise the Minister will indicate to the local authorities that such matters should, at any rate, be discussed with his Department since he is very closely concerned in the later financial arrangements. If he indicated that he is likely to look with a genial eye upon such applications, it would encourage the preservation of such property, which I am sure the whole Committee desires.

As the Committee will know, I have put in the Bill for the first time in the history of housing legislation, these special provisions to try to rescue houses of historic merit from passing out of existence. I should be most unhappy if a local authority was not sufficiently enthusiastic to carry out the provisions of the Bill, and of course we should try to ensure administratively that if the local authority was inclined to be negligent its attention would be called to its duties in the matter.

I only mean that since the recent pronouncement of the President of the Royal Academy, it is clear that conceptions as to beauty and the desirability of preserving certain works may differ greatly among many different people. It may be that what appeals to one generation may not appeal so strongly to another. This is a matter upon which we shall all have to keep a vigilant eye.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.