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Land Acquisition, Cheshunt

Volume 485: debated on Friday 9 March 1951

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. Kenneth Robinson.]

4.24 p.m.

The House has spent the day in discussing a matter very vital to the life of this country. The matter which I now seek to raise, albeit in a very narrow and local compass, also raises a matter of great importance, that of housing. I am raising it in regard to the urban district of Cheshunt, which is a very fertile area and one of great importance in the horticultural industry. Let me illustrate its importance by saying that there are some 365 acres of glasshouse in the Cheshunt urban district, employing over 2,000 workers.

Perhaps I should say by way of background that the nurseries of the horticultural industry and houses do not make very good neighbours for two reasons: first, because the smoke from the houses is deleterious to the plants and to the glasshouses; and secondly, because the manure used in horticulture and the gases used in pest control tend to be deleterious to the residents. Those being the considerations and complications involved, it would, I should have thought, have been expected that if such an area could reasonably accommodate its own people that was a very satisfactory situation; and it certainly should not be called upon to house people from London.

In fact, Cheshunt has a formidable housing problem of its own that is urgently awaiting full solution. The position in regard to the waiting list is that—and the figures I shall quote all relate to live applications, since they have been re-submitted since August of last year—the total number of applications is 697, of which 544 are people without any separate home of their own. In addition to this, there is a current rate of new applications of about 8 or 9 weekly. Cheshunt Urban District Council have a very satisfactory record of post-war housing achievement, in that they have built in all some 615 houses or flats, including prefabricated dwellings. But in spite of that good achievement the problem before them relative to their total population is still formidable. It has of late been made infinitely more formidable by the action of the Minister in confirming a very large compulsory purchase order in respect of land in Cheshunt made by the Edmonton Borough Council.

Let me briefly rehearse, for the benefit of the Parliamentary Secretary, the previous history of this conflict of land acquisition between the Cheshunt Urban District Council, in whose area the land is, and the Edmonton Borough Council who are playing the role of the coveters of Naboth's vineyard. The opening exchange was in relation to a site known as the Dark Lane site, in respect of which a compulsory purchase order was made by the Cheshunt Urban District Council on 18th January, 1950, in respect of some 50 acres. The Edmonton Borough Council—determined, I suppose, to show that they do nothing by halves—made a compulsory purchase order in respect of the same land but with additional ancillary land, to the total of some 77½ acres; and they did that without any prior consultation with the Cheshunt Urban District Council. Time passed—indeed, a great deal of time passed—until 23rd September, 1950, when the Minister gave his decision on these compulsory purchase orders, quashing both orders on the ground that the land was necessary for horticultural use.

I hasten to say that I have no quarrel with that decision or the reason for it. I started by emphasising the fertility of the soil in Cheshunt and its great value and importance to horticulture and the food production of the nation. I do not therefore complain of the decision, though I do complain somewhat of the delay. I certainly complain of the sequel to these events, because shortly after giving that decision the Minister, on 10th October, 1950, wrote a letter to the Cheshunt Urban District Council stressing the importance of Cheshunt maintaining a continuous house-building programme.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Local Government and Planning
(Mr. Lindgren)

Hear, hear.

The Parliamentary Secretary says "Hear, hear," Normally, I should be grateful for his applause; but it and the terms of the Minister's letter are very ironical when read in the light of the action which was subsequently taken. In that letter he also expresses his readiness to consider suitable alternative proposals. The Cheshunt Council took him at his word—indeed they anticipated his word—because on the 27th September, 1950, which is a few days after the indication of the decision, they made a further compulsory purchase order once again within the confines of their own urban district, and this time in respect of land at Church Lane. They made their compulsory purchase order in respect of 46½ acres of land, only to find that Edmonton Borough Council—again two minds with but a single thought—had made a compulsory purchase order in respect of the same site for some 38 acres.

This time the Edmonton order was a little less than the Cheshunt order, because I think that they had omitted to make full provision for the necessary ancillary open spaces and so on. Following on these orders, an inquiry was duly held on the 28th November, 1950, and a decision—in this case much quicker—came on 29th January last, in which the Minister confirmed the Edmonton order and, of course, necessarily quashed the Cheshunt order. Therefore, though the decision was much quicker, it was infinitely more unsatisfactory.

In making complaint of this action by the Minister, I want to make it quite clear—and I hope that the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) will appreciate this—that I am not animated by any disregard or disrespect for the needs of Edmonton, and the Cheshunt council have at no time pursued the policy of dog-in-the-manger; very far from it, because Cheshunt does need the land, and, further, it has shown itself in a practical way conscious of, and sympathetic to, the needs of others. Indeed, as far back as the autumn of 1946 a sort of agreement was arrived at whereby Cheshunt made available for acquisition by Edmonton Council approximately 17 acres in Cheshunt for housing and by Tottenham Borough Council about 17½ acres. As a result of this there is local building of some 200 houses at Waltham Cross, which is part of the Cheshunt urban district for Edmonton, and 179 houses and flats for Tottenham. So the Cheshunt council have been as sympathetic and co-operative as their own problems reasonably allow them to be.

Perhaps I may state briefly what are the problems in regard to land availability as they present themselves to the Cheshunt Council now. The total land available—and in the figures which I give this afternoon I am disregarding decimal points as they make the matter rather complicated, especially when it comes to arithmetic done mentally on the Floor of the House—is some 119 acres, exclusive of the.Church Lane site. The Church Lane site is 46 acres so that, having now been lost by the Minister's decision to Edmonton, has to be deducted. Of the residue some 23 acres are unsuited to residential development by reason of siting and so on, another 24 acres are bespoken or required in respect of county council purposes, such as education and the like. Therefore the total of the Church Lane site, unsuitable areas, and the county council areas is some 93 acres; leaving a total of about 26 acres for all future development and re-development.

I should perhaps bring this up to date by saying that, by one of those happy coincidences which sometimes accompany the raising of matters in this House, only yesterday the Minister notified his refusal to confirm a further small compulsory purchase order by Edmonton in Cheshunt—the Edmonton No. 4 compulsory purchase order made in the Urban District of Cheshunt. Though I am grateful that the Minister has the day before I raised the matter in the House, quashed this particular compulsory purchase order, it is a very small one in comparison with the matter of which I complain; being only some nine-and-a-half acres, of which no fewer than four are, in any event, required by the Herts County Council for educational purposes.

In addition to the number of housing applicants, there is also an urgent need of re-development, there being some 211 sub-standard houses in the urban district ripe, or overripe, for demolition in ordinary circumstances. This demolition will in due course require the necessary elbow room which is necessary when re-development schemes are carried out, and fresh accommodation is required.

That being the problem with regard to Cheshunt, may I say in regard to Edmonton that I recognise the gravity of their problem, and have nothing but goodwill towards them. Even so I would say that though their problem is grave, having regard to the respective populations of the Borough of Edmonton and the Urban District of Cheshunt and having regard to these special circumstances of horticulture of which I have been speaking, I doubt whether their problem is really, in essence, graver or greater than that of Cheshunt. In any event may I call the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to these considerations in respect of the need of Edmonton? First I would refer to what the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) said in regard to this problem:
"The number of persons per house in Edmonton has continually gone down."
He then gives the figure and goes on:
"This obviously indicates that there are a very large number of houses which are under-occupied. It rather makes one wonder whether some sort of tax on under-occupation of houses might be a useful Measure."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd February, 1951; Vol. 483, c. 1303–4.]
So we get at one and the same time a disinclination, or refusal, on the part of the people of Edmonton to make full use of their resources and then this considerable policy of invasion of an area lying in another county.

The second point I make is that Edmonton, as the Parliamentary Secretary knows, is closely linked with the projected new town of Harlow. What I wish to ask the Parliamentary Secretary in this regard is: have full efforts been made to solve the Edmonton problem in this way? Has investigation been made to see whether greater results can be obtained from fuller co-operation between the new town corporation of Harlow and the Borough of Edmonton?

In particular, in connection with that, may I ask what consideration has been given to the possibility of using the labour force of Edmonton to build houses for the people of Edmonton in the new town of Harlow? One of the matters always raised is that unless Edmonton has a great many houses to build its labour force may go unemployed. Why should it not build houses where they can be built, in Harlow, for the use of the people of Edmonton? Finally, I suggest, with respect to the Parliamentary Secretary, that the confirmation of this Edmonton Compulsory Purchase Order in Church Lane will be taken by many people as a confession of failure in regard to the Government's new town policy.

Let me summarise the consequences to Cheshunt of the confirmation of this Order. First of all, the largest and most economical area for development in the urban district is now denied to the Cheshunt Council for purposes of housing accommodation. Secondly, the local housing need can probably only be now met by the invasion of the rural or horticultural areas, thus introducing a conflict between food and housing, two basic requirements of the nation. It disregards and over-rules the draft development plan prepared and published by the Hertfordshire County Council, though the hon. Gentleman represents the Ministry of Planning as well as of Local Government. It involves also the ultimate danger of encroachment of development upon the Green Belt Area.

That being the position, I would say to the Parliamentary Secretary that there is a prior right for the people of Cheshunt to have first call on their own land for their own housing, by reason of the very grave problems and special difficulties that they have to encounter. It is also necessary to find accommodation for horticultural workers, if the industry of horticulture is not to suffer. Whereas the Cheshunt housing list contains many applications from horticultural workers, that of Edmonton, so far as I know, contains none at all, from the industry native to the land.

I have raised this matter in an objective and I hope sympathetic way and without in any way besmirching the actions either of the Minister or of the Edmonton Council; but I should be lacking in candour if I did not say that this has resulted in a sense of bitterness in Cheshunt and the feeling that there has been insufficient appreciation of their local needs and a disregard of the proper principles of planning. Since that feeling exists, as long as I have the honour to represent that constituency in this House that feeling will not go without expression. I recommend therefore to the Minister that he should take heed of it and see what he can do to improve their situation.

4.43 p.m.

I make no objection to the fair-minded way in which the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) has raised this matter. I would draw attention to the extremely admirable way in which the Edmonton council have gone about the solution of their housing problem. On the Edmonton Council list there are 4,000 applications, of which 2,000 are considered to be the hard core. In Edmonton, as elsewhere throughout the country, increasing standards of life are increasing the demand for housing.

The only thing I have to add is my information that there is plenty of land in Cheshunt. The county council has already listed for residential development, to satisfy local requirements in Cheshunt as well as in Edmonton, the land which was recommended by the London Plan and accepted by the Minister as suitable for residential purposes in the Green Belt area. The Cheshunt Council should consider whether they are not being rather selfish in their resistance to this development in the decentralisation of the population of London, which is recognised as necessary in the London Plan.

4.45 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Local Government and Planning
(Mr. Lindgren)

Since I have been in this House I have learned to have a very high regard and admiration for the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith), in his advocacy of a case. I know that his profession is one which trains him in that advocacy, but today he has excelled in making the best of a bad case.

The hon. Member said, quite rightly, that Cheshunt have a formidable housing problem. The Cheshunt Urban District Council, although it has riot been entirely inactive, cannot by any stretch of the imagination be considered as a progressive housing authority. The hon. Member referred to the 615 houses built by Cheshunt. Of those, 500 are permanent and 115 are temporaries. Towards the end of the war, Cheshunt secured sufficient land for the 500 permanent houses and whilst they were being built the old Ministry of Health continually pressed them to purchase additional land for further housing schemes to meet the needs of the people within their urban district.

Cheshunt, however, repeatedly and consistently refused to purchase further land. Therefore, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health at the time, said "No land, no houses." As the Cheshunt U.D.C. had said that the 500 houses were sufficient, and as they had not purchased further land, the Minister did not give them an allocation of houses in 1950. If, therefore, there has been any disregard of the needs of the local people, this has been due, not to the Ministry, but to the local urban district council. It is on the record, as the hon. Member admitted, that the Minister of Health pressed the Council to acquire further sites.

Edmonton is a progressive and enthusiastic housing authority but it is severely handicapped by the fact that there are very few sites for building within the borough. On the one hand, Cheshunt, with plenty of land available for building, was not anxious to build; on the other hand, Edmonton, anxious to build, had no land upon which to do so. Therefore, we took those who wanted to build to the land that was available for building, and I am certain the hon. Member for Hertford will admit that that was the correct policy.

Surely the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that the Cheshunt Council did not want to build houses on the Church Lane site, and that the land was acquired merely to be left vacant?

I was suggesting that the Cheshunt U.D.C. were not prepared to build council houses. I believe they were prepared to accept additional licences for private enterprise houses, but the policy of the Government was to provide houses to meet other housing needs—houses for renting; and as the Cheshunt U.D.C. were not prepared to build these houses, they lost their opportunity to build private enterprise houses because of the ratio between council and private enterprise houses.

Edmonton are not only a progressive and enthusiastic housing authority, but they have shown considerable skill in their programming of various schemes and in seeing that the available labour force is kept fully and continually employed. Therefore, as their first scheme was coming to an end in Cheshunt, they immediately began looking round for new sites. As the hon. Member said, they cast envious eyes on the Dark Lane, Cheshunt, site.

When Edmonton made a compulsory purchase order on the Dark Lane site, that awakened Cheshunt from their slumbers, and they too made a compulsory purchase order in respect of it. The Ministry of Agriculture, however, said that it was first-class agricultural land, and therefore neither of them got it. At the public inquiry that was held on the Dark Lane site, the Hertfordshire County Council put a plan showing all available building sites in the area and indicating suitable ones as well. The Edmonton Council, taking advantage of the information which had become available through the inquiry and through the county's plan, put in a further application for 40 acres on the Flamstead End site and for nine acres on the High Street site. Again, the Cheshunt Urban Council put in an application for the 40 acres on the Flam-stead End site, but no application in respect of the High Street site.

Again, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, the Minister gave his decision, following the public inquiry, and in the light of all the facts made available by the inquiry, that Edmonton should be given the 40-acre site. I do not know to what extent the Cheshunt Urban Council were given the information on which the Minister made his decision, but I am quite prepared to give the main factors to the hon. Gentleman now. These main factors were the ones referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu). First, on the grounds of need, Edmonton, with its proved need of 4,000 applicants, and Cheshunt with its proved need of 600 applicants.

The decision was given apart from the question of need, because to meet the needs of Cheshunt there were still sufficient sites available if the Council desired to acquire them. Since that time, the Cheshunt Urban Council have decided to acquire further sites sufficient for 100 houses, and an allocation for 50 houses has been given to them. I say quite frankly, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, that if they show enthusiasm and speed in building these 50 houses, we shall make another 50 quickly available to them.

I do submit that, although the hon. Gentleman suggested that the Cheshunt Council were not adopting a dog-in-the-manger attitude, this House would not accept that the Minister of Health, who is responsible for the housing programme, should allow an authority which has land available and is not using it to penalise a neighbour which wanted to build but lacked the land, and thereby handicap the whole housing programme. I think the attitude of the Minister in making that land available to them was the correct attitude.

Quite rightly, the hon. Gentleman referred to the policy of new towns and expanded towns. I agree straight away that out-borough or out-county building is unsatisfactory, both for the authority which has to carry it out and for the receiving authority. The real solution is the long-term one of the new towns programme, but, after all, it takes some time to get that going, and the immediate problem is to make provision for all those people who are waiting for houses. All hon. Members have individuals in their constituencies who suffer from certain hardships and believe their own cases to be the hardest in the list.

Therefore, at the present time, while the development of the new towns and expanded towns is proceeding, there must be some out-borough or out-county building, but we agree that it should be restricted to the absolute minimum, because of the difficulties that arise in connection with both. The hon. Gentleman referred to Edmonton's building labour force, and asked whether some of it could not be used in the new towns.

It is true that Edmonton has a very good and mobile labour force——

The Question having been proposed after Four o'Clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Six Minutes to Five o'Clock.