Skip to main content

Skyline Protection Bill

Volume 932: debated on Friday 20 May 1977

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

Order for Second Reading read.

1.50 p.m.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to move the Second Reading of the Bill. It is perhaps rare for someone who has introduced a Bill under the Ten Minutes Rule then to have the prospect of upwards of two hours of debate on the measure. I hope that the Bill will receive from the Minister the same enthusiastic acclamation afforded to the Rentcharges Bill from the Government Front Bench. I congratulate the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Evans) on his success.

My Bill is another step on the road to protecting our remaining architectural and scenic heritage. Concern for this heritage has, I think, become more articulate during the last decade than at almost any time since William Morris founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings a century ago. This concern has been reflected in this House and in another place in a number of important legislative milestones, probably the most notable of which are the Civic Amenities Act and the Town and Country Amenities Act.

I pay tribute to Lord Duncan-Sandys, who was responsible for the first of these measures, and to those who assisted him in getting it on to the statute book. That gives me the opportunity of mentioning in parentheses that although at the moment the House as usual on a Friday is absolutely crowded, nevertheless there is considerable support in all sections of all parties for the sort of measure that I am proposing.

Although a great deal has been achieved in this area, and although it would be wrong to criticise and denigrate what has been done, since our country has done more than most, there is no cause for complacency. From the Eustou Arch to the emptying of Mentmore, by way of the demolition of hundreds of listed buildings, the inadequacies and deficiencies of our system of heritage safeguards have been revealed.

One of the greatest single deficiencies is our lack of protection for the skyline. The broad vista and the noble view have all too often been obliterated or deformed by unsightly and obtrusive new development. No one who lives in this fair city—and it still is the fairest of all capital cities, with the possible exception of Cardiff, Mr. Speaker—can avoid feeling a sense of shame and remorse on looking around.

It is in London that the distortion of the skyline at its most grotesque is most readily apparent. Perhaps that is the most unhappy feature of post-war development. Even in the last century there were many battles between those who wished to redevelop and pull down and those who wished to conserve. It was the activities of the developers which inspired William Morris and his fellows to found their society in 1877 and no one who has seen the collections of prints and aquatints we have in this Palace can but feel great regret when he realises what has been lost in London.

Nash's Regent Street, the great buildings like Norfolk House and Grosvenor House, such places as Grosvenor Square and Berkeley Square, and the great Adelphi itself have all disappeared in the last century. But the point is that when they were replaced, the buildings that replaced them were of a scale which did not distort and dominate such glories as remained.

The reason for that was the London Building Act 1888. This had its origin—it is perhaps appropriate to record in this year of all years—in the Royal displeasure of Queen Victoria who saw her privacy being threatened by developments adjacent to Buckingham Palace. The Act restricted the height of new buildings in the city to 80 feet or the width of the street on which the building stood. These restrictions had a most powerful, salutary, and inhibiting effect.

The restrictions were removed only in 1956—at the beginning of the period of post-war redevelopment when, after a third of the city had been destroyed by enemy action, the developers moved in. We all know the result. All we have to do is look towards St. Paul's Cathedral. From most points we cannot see it because that most magnificent of all national monuments has been caged in and hedged about by unsightly and overpowering developments.

When we consider what has happened we could be forgiven for suggesting that it is now too late in the day to call a halt and introduce a Bill such as this. I would be among the first to regret that nothing was done to keep the centre of London low scale and to preserve as many vistas as possible as has been the case in Paris, with one or two notably ugly exceptions.

However, much remains. While doing my homework for this Bill I jotted down some of the views that still delight and enchant. There are 200 of them and I shall not bore the House by reading out the full list, although it would no doubt be useful to have such a list inserted in the Official Report. One can think of the Temple roofs from the Victoria Embankment, the Gray's Inn roofscapes, and, still in a legal context, the Law Courts and St. Dunstan's in the West from Ludgate Circus and Fleet Street, or the Law Courts from the Strand, or of Nelson's Column from the Strand, the National Gallery from Whitehall, and the Houses of Parliament from Lambeth Bridge. When I drive in from that side of the river, as I frequently do, and suddenly see what I consider to be one of the most glorious buildings ever created, it is an uplifting experience. It is an experience which is not always assisted by what goes on inside.

I think of the view of the Houses of Parliament from the Albert Embankment, and of this building from Westminster Abbey. There are also some little-known buildings of great charm. There is the view of the Ukranian church in Duke Street from Oxford Street, One could go on, and I am glad to see the Minister nodding in agreement. I am particularly glad that it is he who is to reply to this debate. There may be differences of emphasis on what we think and say, but I believe that at heart we are at one on this issue.

These and many more buildings remain, and therefore the aim of the Bill is to ensure added protection for the views. I say "added protection" advisedly because it would be churlish not to admit that the LCC and the GLC have had a high buildings policy for more than 20 years. Although much of what I say is critical, I would not like to question the underlying sincerity of those who sought to evolve this policy and struggled to implement it. However, in its early days it did not prevent the construction of the Shell Building. Many of us can remember the controversy over that. The plans were exhibited at the Royal Academy. There was universal condemnation, but the building went up.

There was a great argument over the Hilton hotel. The Royal Fine Art Commission produced a paper in which it said that if the building were erected it would be the beginning of a scheme of things which would lead to the ruining of the pastoral character of our London parks. How right it was. The London County Council refused initially, but on appeal, with certain modifications, the Minister gave his sanction, the building went up and we know the result.

When the GLC was created, it was given a strategic prerogative by the London Government Act. Proposals for building higher than 150 ft. within Central London or 125 ft. elsewhere had to be submitted by the appropriate borough authority for the GLC's approval. So far, so good. In 1970, the GLC published a high buildings policy, to which was appended a list of protected views and skylines, including Buckingham Palace from the Mall, Kensington Palace from Kensington Gardens, the towers of this Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey from the Serpentine, and others. Yet in that same year, the GLC approved plans for the 600 ft. National Westminster Tower, which, seven years and £72 million later, was finally topped out a few weeks ago.

In 1973, the Layfield Committee recommended that statutory high building maps and policies should be part of all development and structure plans, but legislation has not followed. I emphasise again that I am making no party political point. From the dates that I have given, the House will understand that parties have come and gone, both in County Hall and in this place, but that those recommendations have not been acted upon.

Admittedly, last year the Greater London Development Plan included a high buildings policy, but, considering the policy and the urban landscape diagram which accompanied it, one cannot help wondering whether it will stand up to the assaults of the developers.

Those doubts are reinforced by any consideration of what has happened around St. Paul's. It is now 42 years since views of St. Paul's were first given certain consideration and protection, yet all we have now is the odd exhilarating glimpse; the broad vista has gone. Anyone studying aerial photographs or photographs taken from some of the monstro buildings around cannot but wonder what Sir Christopher Wren would think about what twentieth century architects have done. His famous epitaph is, "If you want my monument, look around." If one wants the monument of twentieth century architecture one should look around St. Paul's, where one will not feel so elevated and uplifted as did those who looked upon it when he built it.

Today, 55 sites in the City alone have, in the official phrase, been "deemed appropriate" for high buildings and a mini-Manhattan is burgeoning down Victoria Street, not far from the House of Commons. Since 1956, 2,089 buildings over 150 ft. high have been erected in the GLC's area. Anyone who doubts the need for stronger control must surely reflect on those facts and figures.

No one should reflect with more chagrin than a Minister who has the misfortune to have an office in perhaps the ugliest building within sight of the Palace of Westminster. It is a supreme irony that the Department of the Environment, created to protect the quality of life, is housed in the most insensitive of all the temples of bureaucracy. I doubt whether the Minister would shed a tear if it was suddenly suggested that he should move into one of the nobler buildings in Whitehall.

The Bill seeks to give the sort of stronger control that I hope my speech so far shows is needed. It would place a duty upon county planning authorities, first, to designate skyline views when they were either preparing or reviewing their structure plans and, second, to formulate policies to protect those views. In making the designations, they would be obliged to consult the appropriate district council.

That is an important provision, because the district council has a key rôle to play. Among the letters that I have received about the Bill are a number from officers and elected members of district councils, agreeing in outline with my suggestions but pleading to be given a proper say. The Bill seeks to give them just that.

Any district council would have the power to suggest which views should be protected and to include them in the structure plan. There is always the problem of the reluctant or even philistine authority, and in such cases the Secretary of State himself would have reserve powers to designate skyline views.

There is also provision for proper public notice and for consultation. In the schedule, I have tried—imperfectly, I know—to give examples of the criteria for designation of views and control of development. The kind of view which may be designated includes national monuments, listed buildings whose architectural effect depends on or includes skyline views, and groups of buildings whose skyline depends upon their remaining as a group.

I say that my attempts have been imperfect. This is the fifth Private Members' Bill that I have introduced and in varying forms a couple have got on to the statute book, one of them having been taken over by the Minister's own Government. I therefore realise the limitations of Private Members, particularly when one has not been lucky enough to draw a place in the Ballot and therefore does not have all the facilities of parliamentary draftsmen. I pay tribute to those in the Public Bill Office who have helped me with the Bill, but it is imperfect; it needs amendment and change.

No one could suggest that the Bill does not need detailed and critical scrutiny, because it does. If the Minister wishes to suggest amendments which do not alter the essential purpose of the Bill, he will find me more than ready to listen to him and to enter into discussions about their form. I stress, however, that the Bill has been given a real welcome. When I wrote an article about it in the magazine Country Life, it produced many letters from all over England from people who said that something along these lines was needed.

I also suggest that the list of sponsors of the Bill shows not only the breadth of support but also the experience and expertise involved. I am particularly glad to see in the Chamber today our new colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for the City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) because it is within his constituency that so many of the enormities have been perpetrated. I am flattered that he should have lent his name to the Bill.

The sponsors include a previous Secretary of State for the Environment, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) and the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Thomas), in whose city a great deal has been done to deface, obliterate and despoil. They also include the Leader of the Scottish National Party, the right hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) and the right hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Prentice), who had a ministerial responsibility for historic buildings—as did my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), another sponsor. These right hon. and hon. Members and others have lent their support because they feel that something along these lines is necessary.

It is an impressive list. These Members, many of whom have indicated that they would be more than happy to serve on a Standing Committee to consider the Bill, could transform the Bill into an acceptable vehicle for what we want to achieve.

I said that I have received letters from local authority elected representatives and officials. The officials have, for understandable reasons, asked to remain anonymous. I respect their wish. However, in discussions with the Minister I should be more than happy to show him letters that I have received.

I urge that the Bill be given careful consideration and be allowed to go to Committee. I know that there are objections. Only yesterday an article in The Guardian said that there was
"a considerable body of professional opinion"
which considers this sort of legislation to be superfluous and that existing laws are adequate to protect important views.

I find that an extraordinary argument. In the light of what I have said, I sug- gest that the facts are unambiguous. Our existing legislation contains no reference to the protection of skyline or other views. The words do not appear in any of our planning laws. The present system of leaving the protection or the designation of such views to the total discretion of the planners is inadequate.

In recent years thousands of fine views—not all of them in London by any means—have been ruined or marred by insensitive development. It would be a daunting and gloomy task to have to catalogue them. They provide ample evidence that the present arrangements are insufficient. It is not that the intentions are wrong. It is not that the motivation of those who introduced them or the dedication of those who seek to implement them is wrong. It is that the arrangements that are at fault.

The argument that there will be no more high buildings in London—even if it were true—which it is not—is not entirely relevant. A relatively low building can be just as destructive of the beauty and scale of a scene as a relatively high one. We have only to go out on to the Terrace and look across at the vulgarly insensitive St. Thomas's Hospital to know what that means. Even to look at it, if one has the sort of soul of which Wordsworth wrote when he wrote "Upon Westminster Bridge", is sufficient to make one want to be an inmate there. It is a terrible building.

The GLC's protection of buildings is limited by law to buildings in excess of 150 ft. and the number of views which the council has chosen to place under its limited protection is pitifully small. When I was trying to draw up the list from which I quoted a little earlier I think that I reached 200. I do not pretend that my list is exhaustive. However, the GLC's current high buildings policy actually names only six of those views.

Those six views are—the Houses of Parliament from St. James's, Buckingham Palace from the Mall, the towers of Westminster from the Serpentine, Kensington Palace from Kensington Gardens, St. Paul's from Parliament Hill, and St. Paul's from Westminster Pier.

Projects that have recently been approved or which are now threatened suggest strongly that the pattern of the past two decades will continue. Among the current plans within London there are the following—the new Fresh Wharf development, the Monument Street block and Liverpool Street Station—many hon. Members will have followed the argument about that—and the Cannon Street building near St. Paul's.

It is not just a question of what happened early in the past two decades or what is threatened now. Recent constructions built under the current protective legislation include Guy's Hospital, Southwark, which impedes the view of St. Paul's from Parliament Hill; the towers of South Bank, which dwarf the National Theatre—I am not talking just about ancient buildings which need protection—and the views of St. Paul's from the Monument. All these have been encroached upon or spoiled in varying degrees.

Only last week a number of hon. Members from both sides were disturbed and exercised about the Holloway Prison proposals. I speak with the full support of the hon. Member whose constituency is concerned, who regrets that he cannot be here today. We saw the Minister two or three times and we made representations. I do not blame Lord Harris or the Home Secretary, because much of this was decided a long time ago. The fact is that in an area of London which is particularly deprived, where there is little to uplift the soul or enliven the view, this extraordinarily interesting and, some would say, beautiful facade is being ripped down completely and replaced by something which can hardly inspire the residents living nearby.

So it is still going on. Again I refer to the National Westminster Tower. I have not yet been invited up the tower, and after what I have said today I doubt whether I ever shall be. I am glad that my account does not remain with the bank. I am told that the view from the tower is stupendous, but certainly the view of it is terrible.

I am delighted to have the enthusiastic support in this matter, as in all these cultural matters, of my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell). When considering what experts other than my hon. Friend have said about this matter, I looked at something written by Louis Kahn, the celebrated American architect, whose recent building—the English Literature Library at Yale—drew rave notices, if I may use the terms in this context, in The Times two weeks ago. Mr. Kahn was writing about high buildings in Jerusalem. He said:

"It isn't so much whether it is eight storeys or ten storeys. There is a point at which a building becomes so assertive that everything around it is crushed…. This is not only a developing city, but something which has a trust, which has qualities you can't easily measure…. It hasn't to do with the aesthetic value of high and low, nothing at all; it is a matter of heart."
Those are moving and significant words from a modern architect of enormous repute.

I say that because some people might get the idea that what I am suggesting is a stop on all modern architecture, that I am saying "A plague on everything that has been built since 1945". I say nothing of the sort. I do not think that architecture, which is the queen of the arts, has been particularly nobly represented or enshrined since 1945, but there have been notable exceptions, and the really sensitive architects are just as concerned about these things as I am.

I have had tremendous help in the work I have been doing from a very remarkable man called Arthur Kutcher, who was city planner for Jerusalem for a time but who could not abide what was going on there, so he did not remain city planner. He wrote a remarkable book about it. He wrote to me about the Bill. He said that he did not think that it went far enough. He said:
"I think it important that local authorities be required to make policies suited to their own situations, and that the material which explains policies, maps, photos, diagrams, etc. be made available for public inspection."
Mr. Kutcher detailed how and why it should be done.

Again, Mr. Kutcher drew my attention to a rather interesting quotation from perhaps the greatest of all experts on the city and its development—Lewis Mumford.
"Actually the skyscraper, from first to last, has been largely an obstacle to intelligent city planning or architectural progress. Its chief use was to overcrowd the land for private financial advantage, at no matter what cost to the municipality, and to provide, in the form of the meretricious towers that graced successive boom periods, a costly means of publicity and advertisement, conceived without any prudent calculation of the return on the investment."
That was Mumford in 1956.

I hazard a guess that there are many families living in tower blocks in this city and elsewhere in this country who only wish that Lewis Mumford's words had been taken more carefully to heart by those who decided to incarcerate them on the twenty-first storey.

This Bill is not just about high buildings. It is about protecting what is beautiful and delightful to look upon and what gives an extra dimension to life. We often talk in Parliament about the quality of life, but it is equally often a meaningless slogan until we start to put it into a real context. What I am seeking to do is to put it into a particularly real and appropriate context.

Although, inevitably, I have drawn most of my examples from London, this is not merely a question of my seeking to trespass on the territory of colleagues on both sides of the House who have the honour to sit for London constituences. This is a national problem. Fine buildings and beautiful views are not confined to the capital; they stand in equal need of protection elsewhere.

I think here of my own part of the country, the West Midlands, and of the new town of Redditch. In the village of Ipsley, there was a delightful pastoral scene of which the village church was the focal point. It is now totally dominated by a vast office block. I think, too, of the sadly disfigured skyline of Tamworth—I am sure that Peel would turn in his grave if he could see it now. I think of Lincoln Cathedral, in my native county, where some of the most beautiful views from Brayford Pool have been significantly disturbed or destroyed, or the rape of Worcester and Gloucester, where two of our supreme medieval buildings have had their environs mutilated and desecrated to an almost unprecedented degree since the war.

It is not just in the towns. In the countryside, too, pastoral beauty and tranquillity are not always immune to insensitive developments. The Countryside Commission, in a report in 1974, called "New Agricultural Landscapes" said:
"siting, scale and materials used in new farm buildings in the more open countryside continue to be controversial".
Indeed they do, and in many cases the sylvan scene has been rudely shattered by the concert intruder.

The Bill seeks in effect to extend the conservation area concept. It does not say that nowhere, no how, shall any new building be erected or any old building pulled down. It seeks to make the planners look through a microscope at such proposals as would endanger the beauties that remain.

I believe that the Bill needs detailed examination. I hope that it will go into Committee and be examined, not only in detail in this place but also in the other place, where there are so many people, such as my noble Friend Lord Duncan-Sandys, who have a great deal to contribute and an enormous expertise at their command.

On the statute book, the Bill would be another milestone in the road towards a true conservation policy. I think that it would also inspire people in other countries. We can learn from other countries in some respects. For example, Switzerland has a regulation that one has to erect in scaffolding the shape of the building for so many days so that people can look upon it and reflect before final approval is given. That might have been difficult in the case of the National Westminster Tower, but I approve of the general philosophy. In Berlin, a gentleman rejoicing in the title of Landskonservator has the power of veto over certain developments.

Every country has its own means, and we have no need to be ashamed of what we have achieved. We have in many ways blazed the trail. But there is a deficiency. Let no one say that our laws are adequate. They are all right so far as they go. To take some of Canaletto's views, some nineteenth century drawings, and photographs taken before and just after the last war and superimpose them on views of London in 1977 must make everyone shudder. What can be done in London can be done in Lincoln, Gloucester, Worcester and many other parts of the kingdom.

Therefore, I urge the Minister to approach this Bill, as I am sure he will, in a constructive way and to allow it to go into Committee, where it can be examined in detail in the hope that, at the end of the day, we shall have a workable piece of legislation which will afford adequate protection to the buildings and views that we have, and therefore ensure for our children a delight that we enjoy, and equally ensure that the millions of tourists who come here, not for our food or weather but for our heritage and history, will still be able to admire in a way that we cannot admire when we go to Naples or Jerusalem.

2.27 p.m.

It is a great pleasure to support the Bill. The House and the country owe my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) a great deal for the constructive vigilance that he maintains on behalf of us all and the national heritage. As I have pointed out before in the House, the majority of the monuments that the non-Londoner thinks of as London are in my constituency, so I have a natural constituency interest in the Bill.

I imagine that I should declare what one's biographical data would describe as an outside interest. I am a card-carrying member of all the national conservation societies and a fair number of the local ecclesiastical and specialised ones as well. I hold my membership of these societies for the purposes that they have, and I hope that it will not be thought frivolous in a Friday debate if I say that their annual reports make ideal bedside reading—in shape, because they are easy to handle, in length, because they ideally occupy the 15 minutes that one needs before going to sleep, and in content, in that they concentrate the mind not only on the past but on the vigilance which will be needed tomorrow.

I am delighted that the movement of conservation societies should have seen the growth that it has seen in recent years. It has been one of the happier developments in our national life. At a time when the pressures of the economy are encroaching on the amount of time that volunteers are giving to conservation, I pay tribute to the amount of free and voluntary time given by members of such societies to make our planning procedures more effective.

I am also conscious, in the context of the Bill, that I should be wearing a filial hair shirt, at least as far as my hon. Friend is concerned. My father—I suppose that I should call him my noble father, and in so doing I am following the usage and etiquette of the House rather than expressing undue pietas—was not Minister of Housing and Local Government when the restrictions of the London Building Act 1888 were removed. But I fear that he was the Minister of Housing and Local Government the following year when a decision was taken about the Hilton Hotel in Park Lane.

I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West was not totally fair to my father when he described the modifications as having been slight. In fact 80 ft. was taken off the top of the building which, ironically, was the height formerly allowed under the London Building Act. That represented about a quarter of the present height, so it was more than a slight modification.

I offer my hon. Friend as a small olive branch the fact that later my father, as the then Member for Hampstead, intervened to prevent a development to the North-West of St. Paul's affecting and interrupting the famous view of St. Paul's from the Whitestone Pond in Hampstead. That is a totally incidental example of the vigilance of hon. Members in cases of this sort.

I have lived for the past 12 years in a Georgian terrace on the southern side of Highgate Hill. I should not like to speculate whether my hon. Friend's Bill would have prevented my Georgian terrace being built, but, apart from the cedars growing on the old estate of Baroness Burdett Coutts, where the Chancellor of the Exchequer used to live before moving to Downing Street, the view across to Crystal Palace on the far side of the Thames is entirely uninterrupted. Therefore, for the past 12 years I have had a vivid illustration of what has been happening to the skyline of London. This illustration has been even more vivid as a consequence of the clean air legislation passed in the middle 1950s, in which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton), who is also a supporter of this Bill, played such a part in the old Ministry of Power.

The impact of that legislation has had costs as well as blessings. It has increased average visibility from 1½ miles to 4½ miles. In line with Balfour's remark to Asquith—that his well-known lucidity of style was a positive disadvantage when he had nothing to say—the greater clarity that we have in consequence of the Clean Air Act means that we are much more conscious of the eyesores than we might otherwise have been. With binoculars, on a clear day, I can see Big Ben, which is six or seven miles away from my home, but the same process has brought the Shell Building into much clearer focus than it would otherwise have been—and, even at that distance, it is not a pretty sight.

The great problem is how to introduce large modern buildings into an environment where the scale belongs to past centuries. The English parish church has been a remarkable example of how buildings have evolved over the years and have embraced a whole series of architectural styles, but that is within the context of a single building and the limited space that it implies.

The only city that is absolutely rigorous about the height of buildings is Vienna, where I believe there is a total ceiling of less than 100 ft. embracing the whole city. It is not a city that I know well. I do not know what constraints that places on developers there, or what demands there are for development.

Amsterdam and Helsinki have always seemed to be cities where concern for the skyline has been sensibly observed. I do not think I should be as charitable as my hon. Friend about Paris, where, at least in recent years, developments have been going in the wrong direction. But Paris has always had a different planning tradition from ours, deriving no doubt from the legendary Haussmann. It is a city of boulevards and vistas rather than, as London is, essentially a city of villages with little planned connection.

I remember driving in my constituency with Oscar Stonorov, the architect and city planner from Philadelphia who did so much for that city and who was tragically killed with Walther Reuther when advising the United Automobile Workers on the great union complex in Michigan. As we were driving down a one-way street, he sagely remarked that, although one-way streets might dramatically accelerate the traffic, they had one consequence for which architects had never allowed—that the buildings would be seen by motorists from only one direction and from one side, whereas they had been planned to be looked at from every side.

His great friend Ed Bacon, the city planner of Philadelphia, who earned a rare distinction among city planners by appearing on the front cover of Time magazine and who has latterly served as adviser to the Grosvenor Estate, has expressed the view that planning procedures and arrangements in this country are perhaps over-cumbersome. In supporting this Bill, I shall at some stage have to ask his indulgence for having sought to make procedures even more complicated. Philadelphia is a city where the marriage of old and new has been very successfully accomplished.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West, I have also taken soundings among those who have to pass judgment on these matters. Though I did not read the article in The Guardian to which he referred, I sense that there would be enthusiasm for stricter legislation in the area covered by the Bill.

I remember a comment in the long-running serial on the conservation of Bath—that it was very difficult for laymen to know what effect new developments would have on a view in advance of the buildings being put up. That was a problem for those who were making the decisions, essentially as laymen, as members of the local planning authority. Once the buildings have gone up, it is too late. One is put in the ludicrous situation of a man who has cramp and is told that the best cure would have been to take salt three days beforehand. By then it is too late and the damage has been done.

Whatever view one takes about the Bath controversy, I cannot help thinking that if legislation such as my hon. Friend's Bill had been in force and it had caused people to ponder a moment longer before perpetrating the Beaufort Hotel behind Robert Adam's Pulteney Bridge, we should all have been beneficiaries.

The Speaker of another House, the House of Representatives in the United States Congress, that great Texan Sam Rayburn, sagely said that the three wisest words in the English language are "Wait a minute". It is in the spirit of that remark that I enthusiastically support the Bill brought forward by my hon. Friend.

2.38 p.m.

I have great sympathy with the Bill proposed by the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack). I apologise for not being here earlier. The hon. Gentleman managed to ruin the lunch that I was hosting, because my eyes could not stray from the monitor. It may be that he has covered some of the comments I wish to make on the Bill.

I have sympathy with the Bill, but it would be wrong if the impression were to get about that nothing is done in this area. The hon. Gentleman will know that this country has a good record with regard to listed buildings. I live in the old area of a new town. The local authority has been diligent in putting orders on old buildings. That is most important in a new town.

I understand that there are about 250,000 listed buildings in England alone. That means that the consent of the local planning authority or the Secretary of State is required before any of those buildings can be altered, extended or demolished. I suspect that hon. Members welcome that, but I am not sure that some of those who live in listed buildings have as sympathetic an attitude towards them as they should have.

We have an extremely good record on national parks. About 9 per cent.—quite a sizeable chunk—of England and Wales has been designated as 10 national parks. I was about to say that it is almost impossible to cut a blade of grass in them. It is right that we should pay proper attention to our environment. I agree with the hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) that once brick has been put on brick damage is done to the environment in a way that makes it extremely difficulty to put right.

One of my worries about the Bill is that it seeks to impose yet another responsibility and duty on local government when, as the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West will know as well as I do, the comment which perhaps is most often made to hon. Members is "Stop passing laws which give us things to do and then cutting back on the money which you give us to do them with". Local authorities have discretion in this matter. They may formulate policies appropriate to their areas.

I envisage problems arising, especially perhaps in the larger cities where more than one local authority is concerned. There is evidence in London of the difficulty, to put it no higher, of achieving agreement between, for example, borough councils and the GLC on certain matters. The Covent Garden redevelopment is a good case in point. I am not sure of the stage that that has reached, but for donkey's years there have been arguments between the local authorities interested in it.

I am generally in favour of giving local authorities as much discretion as possible in the hope that they will sensibly exercise it in response to the wishes of the people they are in business to represent and to serve. The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West will know as well as I do that there is immense delay in the submission of structure plans. Many of the plans are hopelessly out of date. With the work on the structure plans nearing completion, if the Bill were to go on the statute book it would impose a new duty on local authorities to take this matter into account and it could have the effect of delaying the submission of structure plans, which could have undesirable consequences in other respects. I am sure that that is not the hon. Gentleman's intention, but that would be a practical effect. Perhaps he will think about it.

Because the Bill would impose an extra obligation on local authorities, there would be a cost consequence in terms of time. In the past two years my district council—indeed, the county council—has frozen posts which are vacant and has a general policy of non-replacement of posts which become vacant as a result of people leaving or retiring. A smaller number of people than would normally be employed in our town halls and county halls are expected to carry out an increasing amount of work, and the Bill would put an added burden on them. That is not a particularly serious objection, but it is a factor. What worries me more is that the submission of structure plans would be delayed.

Clause 6(1)(a) provides:
"the local planning authority shall publish in a local newspaper circulating in the locality in which the land is situated a notice indicating the nature of the development in question and naming a place"
where the plans can be inspected. This highlights a general problem with planning applications. My view, for what it is worth, is that existing legislation and practice in this matter are totally inadequate. The provision is based on the assumption that most people in a locality regularly read a local newspaper and cannot wait for their eyes to light upon a notice on the submission of a planning application or an advertisement.

Usually such notices are displayed in such a way that, although they may be legally beautiful, they are extremely difficult to read. I have had many complaints about proposed developments, not in the new town which forms the major part of my constituency, but in a village called Bovingdon, a community of about 1,500 souls. Even people living six doors away from a development may not be told by the local authority that a planning application has been made which, if approved, would have a great effect on the environment in which they live.

I dislike the assumption that everybody reads the local newspaper. I dislike the assumption that, if they do so, they will pore through the fine print of the advertisements. I should much prefer a duty to be laid on the proposed developer to have not only to cause publication in a newspaper but to ensure that a leaflet is put through the letter boxes in houses of people who will be affected by the development. I should be generous about the interpretation of the area to be defined. We have all had experience of people saying to us "I did not know that it would happen". The first they know about it is when the bulldozers move in and the work starts and they appeal to their Member of Parliament to get on a white horse and try to slam the bulldozers into reverse. By that time it is far too late.

I acknowledge that there is a dilemma. People generally wish to involve themselves in the making of decisions on planning applications. Both those who wish to see the development go ahead and those involved in its construction argue that involvement of this kind inevitably means delay which adds to the expense of the development. That is a dilemma. However, I come down on the side of saying that a choice must be made. We must accept that there will be delay, and it is right that there should be delay. If as a consequence the developer is involved in extra costs, the developer should be prepared to bear it.

Perhaps that would make some developers think a little more about what they propose to do, particularly in areas where developments are especially serious. I have in mind, not just Bovingdon, but another village in my constituency where the erection of one building of the wrong sort in the wrong place can ruin the aspect and the environment. I refer to Wilstone, on the edge of my constituency. It had a village school and the houses had been built around it, but it was no longer needed and was demolished. An appalling block of flats, an absolute eyesore, was put up in its place. The development went though the planning procedures. People objected, and I did my best to help them, but it is the elected councillors who have the voice and votes in these matters.

That is why I dislike the way in which Clause 6 is presently written. I hope that if the hon. Member gets his Bill a Second Reading he will have further thought about this in Committee to see whether we can put better teeth into it.

2.50 p.m.

I speak briefly in support of a Bill embodying a principle that will be of immense benefit to the people of this country in years to come. It is a principle that will certainly enhance the quality of life and help the cause of conserving all that is good in our British heritage. I emphasise the word "principle", because there could well be details in the Bill that might not be perfectly appropriate, and I do not claim to have studied it in that sort of depth.

I concur with those hon. Members who have emphasised the undesirability of adding yet further burdens to the already complex and tortuous business of getting planning permission. We have to get the balance right. But in essence it is a desirable principle and it will fill a gap that undoubtedly exists in our planning laws at the present time.

In making a case for a Bill of this kind there is always a tendency to point to the failures which have occurred and to the mistakes, and by so doing to distort the picture slightly. It is true, as the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett) said, that there have been very great conservation successes. While I cannot make comparisons with other countries, the conservation of historic buildings in this country is something of which we can be proud.

If that is so, it is due to the very considerable efforts of certain societies and organisations and the efforts of a number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack), who has been diligent in this cause ever since he came into this House. It is right to point to the successes. There are many areas in which the skyline has been well preserved and where local authorities have been enlightened in preventing skylines, landscaping and the like from being ruined by the wrong buildings.

I pay particular tribute to the landscape work done by the county councils and by many of the road authorities. I have in mind particularly a bypass through my own constituency—the A2, which bypasses Boughton. I was immensely struck by the care taken by the road authority in ensuring that the road cut through a high wooded hillside at such an angle and with such grading that it did not produce an unsightly scar on the landscape.

This sort of effort has been reproduced in many other road plans throughout the nation in recent years. At the same time as urging a need for greater skyline planning we should pay tribute to the many architects and planners who have always taken this factor into account.

While I would be somewhat critical of many modern buildings, we should emphasise the immense success of British architecture in the post-war years. The success of British architecture at home and abroad is one of the unsung success stories of this country. British architecture and planning are admired throughout the world, and in this respect we are seen as something of a world leader. This puts into perspective one's criticisms of some of the undesirable things which have taken place.

I welcome the Bill and hope very much that it will receive a Second Reading. I hope that it will go into Committee and that when it is considered there great care will be taken to ensure that it is made workable in practice. This is the essential thing. The principle is right. Let us make sure that it is acceptable in practice and does not place unreasonable burdens on architects and others.

The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead probably exaggerated the difficulties and delays that would ensue. Surely all we are saying is that in a certain number of cases—probably a limited number—the skyline impact would have to be taken into account. I cannot believe that once that principle is established it would cause particular delays in planning or in producing structure plans. Be that as it may, this is a matter that should be considered in Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West mentioned the report that someone had criticised the Bill as being superfluous. Frankly, I cannot agree with that proposition. I believe that the Bill is needed and I hope that it will get on the statute book for that reason. I am sorry that I missed my hon. Friend's opening remarks and he may well have said what I now say about the skyline of London. If anyone believes that this Bill is superfluous, he has only to look at what has happened to the skyline of London in the last two decades. Had we had the foresight to plan on the lines suggested by my hon. Friend, we should have preserved much of what we have traditionally regarded as fine and beautiful, and which has been substantially obliterated.

That unique and characterful skyline with which we are so familiar, portrayed so often by Canaletto, dominated by St. Paul's and dozens of church spires, is now very largely submerged among high-rise buildings. Its appearance is almost the same as that to be seen in any other city. This change from the city of Christopher Wren to a skyline more typical of a third-rate New York has not happened because somebody willed it. The planners did not say "We will make it a high-rise London." It happened almost by default.

Certainly there would have been planning of individual sites and the authorities would have refused to have a high-rise building in a particular place, or said that it must not be as high as the builders! desired to make it because of its impact on a particular locality. But I do not believe that the planners said after the war "We will have a high-rise London and change its skyline". It did not happen in that way but by default and neglect.

It is tragic that some of the things of which we are proud and which have been built up over centuries have changed their character in only 20 years. I believe that the Bill will prevent this sort of thing.

It is easy to quote London as an outstanding and glaring example, but there are many examples in the villages and towns throughout the country. In my own town of Faversham we take pride in the fact that from a number of vantage points we can still see basically the old town dominated by a church spire. I have no doubt that the planning authorities will maintain that particular vista for many years to come—for ever, I hope. But it does not follow that that is happening in all other towns and villages. We destroy something very valuable if we allow buildings to ruin skylines. To do so can alter the whole quality of life in a particular area.

Earlier I mentioned roads and the importance of road planning to ensure that we maintain attractive landscapes. I am not quite sure whether the Bill relates only to structures or whether "structure" includes roads. This is a point to be considered in Committee, unless I have misunderstood the position.

Another feature of the Bill is that it extends somewhat the need to protect conservation areas. I can think of specific examples of a designated conservation area where there is no effective control over construction or demolition of buildings outside the conservation area, but which have a considerable visual impact on the conservation area itself. I can think of specific examples where industrial buildings have been allowed beyond the conservation area.

Sometimes when one is standing in a narrow street looking at ancient buildings one can see industrial buildings that spoil the skyline. The Bill extends the area of control and will mean that a developer will not be allowed to consruct or demolish buildings that affect the skyline outside and beyond the conservation area.

I am a believer in the concept that at same stage planning control must be extended to demolition generally—to almost all demolition. This is one of the recommendations of the Dobry Report, but it is also a recommendation that has not commanded total support. It is an integral part of planning to require permission for the demolition of a building, and I cannot believe that it could present insuperable problems. The Bill takes a step in the right direction, because it proposes to extend demolition control to areas outside conservation areas, which could have a considerable impact on the conservation area itself.

I believe that the present laws are not adequate. I cannot say that the Bill is perfect in all respects, but it might be that, because my hon. Friend is sponsoring this measure, there is a fair chance of its being very good in detail as well as in principle. It will be of immense benefit to the people of this country if this principle of the skyline protection is embodied in statutory form, and I hope that the Bill will receive a Second Reading and go on to receive the Royal Assent.

3.0 p.m.

I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) on introducing, if I might so call it, such an ambitious Bill. I am not surprised that it is the hon. Gentleman who has introduced it, not because the measure is ambitious but because of its content. He is well known in the House as the founder and secretary, I believe, of the all-party heritage group and for his continuing and positive interest in conservation matters. Therefore, as I say, I am not surprised to see his name as the sponsor of the Bill.

The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) and the hon. Member for the City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) mentioned the growth and importance of conservation societies and postive interest in this direction. I have a number of societies in my constituency, and one of the reasons for my interest in conservation is that I happen to represent Greenwich where, to use the words of the hon. Member, we have a very noble vista.

We also have—and this is an interesting illustration of the point that I am making—a building known as the Paragon. It is one of the finest buildings in the area. I am told that not long after the war there was a serious proposal to demolish that building. The fact that conservation societies are as active as they are is an important change from the situation that existed 10 or 20 years ago.

I can understand why the hon. Gentleman has tried to pin down and control the elusive phenomenon of the sykline. I can understand it partly because I occupy an office on the seventeenth floor of the building to which he referred, where the Department of the Environment works. I believe I am correct in saying that the late Tony Crosland once said that the greatest advantage of being Secretary of State for the Environment was that he did not have to look at the building. At any rate, I see the skyline from my room. Indeed, I see on the horizon many of the buildings that were described by the hon. Gentleman. If I were on the fifth floor or the tenth floor, I should see a different horizon and a different skyline, and this is an issue that I want to raise in a moment.

I referred a moment ago to the skyline as an elusive phenomenon, and that is one of the difficulties with which we are faced. It is the reason why, speaking on behalf of the Government, I cannot lend support to the measures that are proposed in the Bill. What I want to do is to try to show that desirable though the proposals in the Bill may appear, they may, in fact, achieve very little besides the duplication of existing power.

I think it right to remind the House of the means that can already be used to protect both whole areas and individual buildings. Starting with built-up areas, the Secretary of State for the Environment is required, under Section 54 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, to compile lists of buildings of special architectural or historic interest for the guidance of local planning authorities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett) referred to the fact that nearly 250,000 buildings have been listed in England alone. Listing means not only that the consent of either the local planning authority or the Secretary of State is obtained before the building in question is altered, extended or demolished, but also, under Section 28 of the 1971 Act, that local planning authorities must publicise any proposal that would affect its setting. DOE Circular 23/77 which was issued to all local planning authorities in March gives advice on the interpretation of the word "setting", and I think that it might be helpful if I quote that advice:
"The 'setting' of a building may be limited to the immediate surroundings of the building, but often may include land some distance from it. For example, where a listed building forms an important visual element in a street, it would probably be right to regard any development in the street as being within the setting of the building. A proposed high building might also affect the setting of a listed building some distance away. This provision—that is, that relating to the advertisement of proposals affecting the setting of a listed building—should therefore not be interpreted too narrowly, and, if there is doubt, in favour of publicity."
In the same circular, authorities were asked to ensure that they
"bring fully instructed opinion to bear on any development which, by its character and/or location, might be held to have an adverse effect on buildings of special architectural or historic interest".
In specially important cases authorities were advised to consider seeking independent professional advice on the proposals before reaching a decision on them and they were reminded that the advice of the Royal Fine Art Commission could also be sought in such cases.

Buildings which are not considered worthy of listing individually are often listed for their value as a group and are thereby given all the protection "listing" confers. But local authorities do not have to depend entirely on the Secretary of State to introduce protective measures for particular areas. Instead, under Section 277 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 they can themselves designate conservation areas, which are defined as
"areas of special architectural or historic interest the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance."
This definition is clearly very broad, indeed Circular 23/77, to which I have already referred, suggests that areas appropriate for designation as conservation areas will be found in almost every town and many villages. Such areas may be large or small, from whole town centres to squares, terraces and smaller groups of buildings; they are often centred on listed buildings but not always, for exampe, peasant groups of other buildings, open spaces, trees or a village green may equally well contribute to the special character of an area. There are aready more than 4,000 conservation areas in Engand.

The designation of a conservation area has three main consequences: first, under Section 277A of the Act, the demolition of all buildings within it is brought under control; second, under Section 277B, the local planning authority may be required to prepare a scheme for its preservation and enhancement, and, third, proposals for new development which is likely to affect the character of the area to any significant extent must be advertised, under Section 28(2) of the Act. As regards the latter, the planning authority is required to consider any representations it receives in response to the advertisement.

I know that criticism has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead about the effect of advertising and so on. One could well find that many conservation societies favour the monitoring of advertisements to make sure that new proposals are brought to the attention of not just those people immediately affected but also anyone further afield who may be concerned. More generally, in determining applications for development in conservation areas, planning authorities have been advised that special regard should be had to such matters as bulk, height, materials, colour, vertical or horizontal emphasis and design.

I turn to the subject of ancient monuments. Noteworthy buildings not suitable for occupation may be scheduled as "ancient monuments", a term which can include almost any building or structure of historic interest made or occupied by man in ancient times and a number are still occupied today.

There are now about 11,700 scheduled ancient monuments in England. Local planning authorities have been asked to consult my Department about any applications for planning permission to carry out development which would affect an ancient monument, and they have been advised that the desirability of preserving both the monument and its setting should be a material consideration when determining such applications.

There has, rightly, been some mention of rural areas, not least because they are also covered in the Bill. But I am afraid that I do not believe that the Bill will add anything useful to the existing comprehensive machinery for safeguarding the landscape of the countryside which has been created since the war in the Town and Country Planning Acts, the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 and the Countryside Act 1968. Many of the most valuable skyline views in the countryside are in areas of great landscape importance already designated either as national parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty by the Countryside Commission, where they are of national significance, or as areas of great landscape value by local planning authorities. These areas are very extensive. National parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty between them already cover almost 20 per cent. of the land area of England and Wales. Although these designations do not, any more than does this Bill, confer extra powers of control on local planning authorities, they are indicators of where special attention should and will be paid to development and the basic framework around which, with the advice and help of the Countryside Commission, local planning authorities evolve policies in their structure and local plans for the care of the countryside.

To add a further designation for special skyline views might, I believe, detract from the importance of the rest. Indeed, when the report of the National Park Policy Review Committee suggested, with some hesitation, the idea of a special new "national heritage area" designation for especially sacrosanct parts of the national parks, the Government view expressed in Circular 4/76 was that to add another designation within an existing one would tend to reduce the status of, and therefore the protection afforded in practice to, the remainder of the area already under designation. This danger is obviously also inherent in the measures this Bill seeks to introduce.

In that connection, I was interested to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Faversham in which he referred to roads. When one is looking at a view, it is not just the skyline which is important. The scarring effect of a motorway or new bypass on the landscape can be equally damaging.

Absence of designation does not, of couse, mean no control, and all the powers to control development referred to in this Bill are already available to be used if local authorities wish to use them. Although it may be valuable to remind all concerned that skyline views are important in the countryside, I do not think that legislation is the right way to do it. Though I have not been asked for it, I think that it is not unreasonable to give an assurance that, in the light of the interesting speech by the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West, we shall look at the circulars and see whether there are new wordings which may be of use to draw more attention perhaps than is the case at the moment to the importance of the skyline, because I think that the hon. Gentleman's case has been well made. However, there are other aspects of country landscape which need conserving, and I cannot see any reason to single out the skyline for exceptional mention, because of other vitally important factors.

Before I leave the subject of the countryside, I should also say that I am sorry to see a Bill affecting the rural landscape drawn up in such a way as to exclude the Countryside Commission. I know that the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West apologised for mistakes in and omissions from the Bill, and I well understand that. But it is important to place on record that the Countryside Commission is not only the Government's statutory adviser on country matters but is also responsible for the designation of areas of national importance. It has statutory functions, too, in helping local planning authorities on the designations that are their responsibility and on countryside policy generally. I have received no indication from the Commission that it sees any need for legislation of this sort to protect skyline views.

Apart from all these formal designations I have described which afford some protection to skylines, there is nothing to prevent local planning authorities from designating specific skyline views that they want to protect. Structure plans are prepared by the county planning authorities, or, in the case of the Peak District National Park and the Lake District National Park, by the relevant planning board. It is for the planning authority to decide what matters should be dealt with in the plan, although the Secretary of State is concerned with the relationship of the plan to national and regional policies, the policies of neighbouring authorities, with the reconciliation of conflict within the plan and with the resolution of substantial controversy.

The county planning authority can therefore use the structure plan to set out policies and proposals for protecting the skyline. These could only be described in broad terms because a structure plan is not the place for the specific indication of sites. The identification of precise areas of land affected would be left to be settled in the local plans which are prepared by district planning authorities. But the new development plan system does provide the necessary machinery.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned London a good deal. As he knows, the Greater London Council, as the strategic planning authority for London, has already taken action to protect skyline views in the Greater London Development Plan which, now that it has been approved, is the structure plan for Greater London. The plan lays down the principles which local planning authorities should follow when considering planning applications for high buildings. London is divided into three categories for this purpose—first, areas where high buildings are inappropriate, and these areas are described as including those within or with a visual relationship to famous areas of special character, such as Whitehall and Trafalgar Square; those within or with a visual relationship to other areas of high environmental quality, such as the central Royal Parks; those situations in which high buildings would spoil traditional viewpoints of, for example, the Houses of Parliament or St. Paul's Cathedral, and, finally, major high points and ridges such as Sydenham Hill. The plans policy for these areas is that proposals for high buildings within them should normally be refused.

The second category of areas is those which are particularly sensitive to the impact of high buildings and includes areas of visual significance such as high points and ridges, like Alexandra Palace ridge, not included in the first category; areas of rural character such as Epping Forest; certain Thames-side areas and areas of architectural or historic interest, or other special character. Among the conditions under which high buildings may be allowed in such areas is that they would not harm the essential character of the surrounding area.

The third category of areas includes the rest of Greater London and here, as in areas in the second category, one of the seven necessary conditions for approval of a high building is that it should not mar the skyline nor intrude to the detriment of any famous or pleasant view. The Greater London Council is able to enforce these policies because the Town and Country Planning (Local Planning in Greater London) Regulations 1965, made in pursuance of the London Government Act 1963, provide that planning applications for development exceeding 150 ft. in a specified area of Central London, or exceeding 125 ft. elsewhere in London, shall be referred by the appropriate borough to the GLC before approval is given. The GLC can then give a direction as to how the application should be dealt with.

The hon. Gentleman has suggested that applications for planning permission for development affecting skyline views should be advertised in local newspapers. But local newspaper coverage of planning applications is already substantial, as shown by a survey undertaken in 1974 in connection with the Dobry review. This showed that in more than a third of districts local papers printed fists of all applications and in another 43 per cent. of districts a selection from these lists was published.

This brings me to the specific proposals in the hon. Gentleman's Bill. As well as duplicating existing powers which I have already described, they are, frankly, in many respects impracticable. First, structure plans should not be used for precise designation of skyline views. As I have explained, such plans are intended to be used to set out policies and proposals in general terms, and these are then worked out in detail in local plans. Thus, the Greater London Development Plan gives only a general diagramatic indication of the distribution and extent of the three categories of area described in its high buildings policy.

Second, I am a bit puzzled by what is intended by Clause 6(2);
"Any buildings, structures or landscape features which have been designated as constituting an integral part of a designated skyline view shall be protected as if they were unlisted buildings in a conservation area."
The major protection afforded to such buildings is that they may not be demolished without the permission of the local planning authority, yet Clause 6(3) provides:
"The demolition or alteration of buildings, structures or landscape features which constitute an integral part of designated skyline views shall not be prohibited "—
with some exceptions.

Third, I can foresee problems arising particularly in rural areas where sight lines can be very long because the designated viewpoint, the skyline, and the proposed development are all in the areas of different district councils. This could well lead to conflict among the councils and would reduce the value of advertising proposals for development in the area where it would be located.

In that connection, I have already hinted at the difficulty of defining a skyline. The hon. Gentleman attempts to do it in his Bill, but, as I read it, it suggests that the definition of a skyline is what the local authority defines it as.

Let me read the definition in the interpretation clause:

"'skyline view' means the visible horizon, or part thereof, as seen from viewpoints to be designated by the local planning authority….".
The skyline depends on the point from which one happens to be looking at it. The same is true of the horizon; it changes as one moves along. One is almost tempted to ask "Where does the rainbow end?"

Inevitably, there is difficulty in defining precisely what one is aiming to do, and this also would impose considerable difficulty on the Secretary of State or, indeed, on anyone else in attempting to require a local authority to do something which depended for its definition on what happened to be the viewpoint at the time.

There is another point to be raised here, and I raise it quite seriously. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have great sympathy with the Bill and with his objectives, but I have to be careful in what I say because this is a matter of taste. No doubt, there are some people who admire some of the high buildings which we now have. It is difficult to bring matters of taste into our planning law. I think that it was the hon. Member for Faversham who spoke about the conflict which may exist—indeed, it always does exist—in planning decisions between what may be aesthetically desirable and the other considerations which have to be borne in mind. One can only hope that planning committees at county and district level take decisions in the light of all the considerations rather than in the light of only a few.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead referred to the timing of the Bill, and he spoke of it first in terms of local government expenditure. I underline his point in that respect. He spoke of it also—this is important—in relation to the present structure planning exercise. It seems to me that, if the Bill were to become law, it would make that exercise more complicated.

County planning authorities have been asked to determine and concentrate on issues of key structural importance and their inter-relationship in preparing the structure plan for their area, and to leave the less important issues, even though structural, to be dealt with later in the review of their plan. They have been requested to submit their structure plans to the Secretary of State by 1st April next year. The preparation of plans is well advanced in most parts of the country. I do not wish to place unnecessary hurdles in the way of planning authorities preparing their initial structure plans.

To conclude then, my main argument against this Bill is that it seeks to introduce measures which would duplicate those already in existence. Some hon. Members may feel that local authorities have not used their present powers effectively to safeguard the skyline. Much of the speech of the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West described the results of past decisions. But the need to protect a particular skyline must always be balanced against the need for development which would intrude upon it. I am sure that local planning authorities are well aware when these issues arise and are well placed to take a carefully-balanced decision.

If they are not aware, the answer lies in the work of the conservation societies and bodies of one kind or another and the work of the excellent all-party heritage group, to which I referred at the beginning of my speech and of which the hon. Member is the secretary.

3.26 p.m.

I apologise for not having been here for the beginning of the Minister's speech. My absence was not because of skyline problems, but the problems of traffic congestion in certain parts of London.

I wish to support the purposes of the Bill and to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) on introducing it. Almost no one has been more dedicated to the problems of conserving the best of our built and natural heritage than my hon. Friend. This Bill is very much in the tradition of his great pursuit in that sphere.

I understood the many points of hesitancy expressed by the Under-Secretary about the drafting of the Bill. I can remember receiving that type of brief from the Department setting out the complications that a measure such as this would create and the increased volume of work it might involve if it reached the statute book.

However, I hope that the Bill will go to Committee and be discussed in detail, and I hope that during the Committee stage the planning departments of the local authorities will take a great deal of interest in what is said and in the aims of the Bill. If in some changed form the Bill reaches the statute book and has an impact in this sphere, that, I believe, would be all to the good.

By their very nature, planning departments certainly tend to avoid the wider impact of individual planning decisions. Perhaps too many planning decisions of every possible kind are taken in committee with members looking at pieces of paper and failing properly to visualise the effect of the development on the immediate neighbouring districts and the long-term effect on the skyline itself.

Two frequent pleasures of my life are constantly interrupted by the products of planning decisions on the skyline. One of my greatest pleasures as the hon. Member for Worcester is sitting in our famous county cricket ground, which is illustrated in calendar after calendar and in picture after picture as one of the most beautiful sites in England—or, at least it was until the new technical college was built.

Now many of the best calendars carry the pre-war picture of the ground, not the post-war picture. This beautiful location, with the cathedral as a fore-cloth, now has this quite hideous building alongside it, giving a permanent reproduction of a war-time pillbox. This is one illustration of how the impact of a development on the skyline was ignored by the planners.

The second normal routine of my life is exercising my Old English sheepdog—or rather he exercising me—through Hyde Park each morning. Permanent damage has been done to Park Lane by the Hilton Hotel and its incredible intrusion on that skyline now affects one of the most used facilities in Greater London.

These are two examples of where, if provisions such as those contained in this Bill had applied, the decision taken by the planners would have been markedly different.

The skyline is one of the great pleasures of this country, both in the countryside and in many of the older and more historic towns. Without benefit of planning committees, our predecessors showed a remarkable ability to keep a consistent skyline and to use similar building materials.

Another factor which I hope will enter the thinking of planning committees is the use of certain materials. The constant insistence of Cotswold planning authorities on Cotswold stone as facing material on buildings has helped to retain the characteristic beauty of that area. If the same insistence had been applied in other areas, far less of our skyline would have been ruined.

As a former Secretary of State for the Environment and one who is as enthusiastic as my hon. Friend for preserving the best of the British environment, I hope that the Bill will be given a Second Reading, that it will be carefully discussed in Committee, and that as a result the quality of planning decisions will be enhanced.

3.32 p.m.

By leave of the House, I should like first to thank those colleagues, on both sides of the House, who have supported the Bill. I am particularly grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker). When he entered the Chamber, I reflected with some trepidation on what I had said about Worcester and was delighted to hear him confirm what I had said. That fair city has indeed been considerably despoiled.

My right hon. Friend's support was refreshing after the Minister's somewhat guarded remarks. I greatly appreciated his personal good will but regretted that he had had to rely so heavily upon a certain document. One felt that, while the words were the words of the Minister, the thoughts had come from elsewhere. I make no real criticism, because I know that the hon. Gentleman is greatly overworked, as are all Ministers in his Department. If I may make a plug, that merely shows the absolute necessity for a Minister whose total responsibility is our heritage.

I fully accept what the Minister said about circulars, but they are not Acts of Parliament.

I am glad to see the Minister nodding.

I appreciate the Minister's promise to look at the circulars again to see whether they deal properly with the skyline, but, although I hope that that will be done soon, it is no substitute for extending protective legislation.

Although the Minister gave an adequate and lucid summary of our planning laws so far as they affect conservation, he did not adequately deal with the points made about disfigurement of the skyline. Although authorities can do certain things, they manifestly have not done them. The enormous damage to the built environment in London and outside during the last two decades is clear testimony to the inadequacy of our present regulations.

I would again point to the sponsors of the Bill. After an eloquent speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester, I would remind the House that one sponsor is another former Secretary of State for the Environment, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), and that two others are former Ministers who had similar responsibility. That shows that this area needs investigaion and that the Bill should receive detailed consideration in Committee.

I refer again to what I said earlier about the report of the Layfield Committee, which recommended that statutory provision should be made along these lines. In view of the weight of experience that the sponsors of the Bill collectively represent and of the remarks of Layfield, it is not an adequate answer to refer to circulars and to promise to amend them, much as I appreciate the promise.

I therefore greatly hope that the Bill will receive a Second Reading. I reiterate my promise to consider all amendments that the Minister feels constrained to suggest. I hope that we shall be able to sit down together and work out amendments in a true all-party spirit. This is very much an all-party Bill. I accept what the hon. Gentleman said about taste, but taste is no particular answer. In the very listing of a building one is expressing taste, and in that respect the concept of taste is already enshrined on the statute book.

I hope that the Bill will be given a Second Reading and allowed to go to a Committee. It is my earnest hope that from that Committee will emerge the Act that will safeguard such beauties as we in this country can still enjoy, and thank God there are many of them.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 ( Committal of Bills).