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Whitehall (Redevelopment)

Volume 718: debated on Wednesday 3 November 1965

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With permission, I will make a statement about the Government's plans for the redevelopment of Whitehall.

On 19th July, I announced to the House the Government's attitude towards the Martin and Buchanan Reports and made a declaration of intent about them. I have recently received a letter indicating the strong general support of the Royal Fine Art Commission for the recommendations.

The Government now propose to take firm second steps about the architectural arrangements for three main buildings which will form the first stages of the development. These are the new Parliamentary building, the new Government offices on the Bridge Street and Richmond Terrace site, and the redevelopment of the Foreign Office site.

These three projects form a coherent development. Careful co-ordination is, therefore, essential, and I am glad to say that Sir Leslie Martin has agreed to continue to work with my Department as planning consultant for the area as a whole.

For the individual buildings we need a range of architectural talent. We shall keep in close touch with the views of Parliament about proposals for the Parliamentary building. We propose that the architect for this building should be selected by means of a competition open to the whole Commonwealth. The assessors would include at least one distinguished Commonwealth architect and consideration of the results of the competition would be entrusted to a small Committee of this House.

The design of the Government offices on the Bridge Street-Richmond Terrace site will be entrusted to my Department. For the new building on the Foreign Office site we have in mind that it would be appropriate to commission a distinguished architect in private practice.

The design of all three schemes should be based on a close study of the users' needs and on planning principles evolved in consultation with Sir Leslie Martin. In this work my Directorate General of Research and Development will take a prominent part.

While welcoming certain aspects of the right hon. Gentleman's statement, is it not rather Martin without Buchanan, and should we not be taking the Buchanan part into consideration first in view of the fact that since 1947 traffic in Parliament Square has increased by 175 per cent. and looks like doubling by 1977? Would the right hon. Gentleman say what progress has been made with the Greater London Council on this matter, and will it be possible for him to arrange, with his right hon. Friend, for an early debate on the Martin Report?

It will be seen from the statement which I made on 19th July that we have entered into consultations with the Greater London Council and with the Ministry of Transport on this matter. Consultations on a matter of this sort are naturally lengthy, but we expect to hear about them by the end of the year. At present we are considering the proposals specifically in relation to the priorities laid down by the principal planner.

While warmly welcoming my right hon. Friend's statement for the most part, may I ask him what the Royal Fine Art Commission specifically stated in its letter about the possible preservation of at least part of the existing Foreign Office building?

As far as I remember, the Royal Fine Art Commission blessed the whole concept in principle. I would like notice of the other part of my hon. Friend's question, but I would be prepared to discuss the matter with him or write to him on the subject. The principal recommendation was that we should preserve Parliament and Westminster Abbey as the central precinct, and this has the Commission's warmest blessing.

Does the Minister not realise that it would seem to be a piecemeal approach, and not within the spirit of the whole plan, to plan certain buildings without the others? How does he hope to plan a suitable building in Bridge Street without taking into account the fact that the Report recommends the demolition of the Bryden Buildings on the other side of Whitehall? Is he aware that the acceptance by the Government of the plan to demolish the Foreign Office has met with grave concern outside, and what attention is he paying to the problem of traffic congestion?

As to the destruction of the Foreign Office, that was a decision taken by the previous Administration, about which the hon. Gentleman did not raise a bleet.

I cannot really see that as we are considering three buildings—with the size involved and the sort of cost and time ahead with which we are concerned—it can be said to be a small development. There must be a start, and anyone who has read the Martin plan will know that one must move by stages in a logical sequence, as laid down in the plan. It is then easier to follow on with other stages.

What estimate has the right hon. Gentleman made of the additional traffic which will be generated by this redevelopment, and has any plan, apart from capital expenditure, been made in regard to traffic management schemes, for example, to alleviate the congestion before this redevelopment is completed?

Again, I must refer to the previous statement which I made. In addition to what I said, we have asked for an urgent examination to be made of the riverside tunnel road, which would take off about 40 per cent. of the traffic from the precinct. That examination is taking place. In any case, I cannot make all the announcements at one time. Neither can they be synchronised. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] If hon. Members consider the statement which I made on 19th July and the progress which has been made, they will see that we have gone ahead at a galloping pace. I can only add that traffic studies are receiving urgent day-to-day consideration, and I shall be very glad when other people catch up with us and what has been achieved to date; and I will, of course, make another statement.

Why should the competition for the Parliamentary building be open only to architects from the Commonwealth? Why should it not be open to the whole world, in open competition, to compete for this vitally important Parliament building?

I do not think that many people are as liberal-minded as the hon. Gentleman and I.