Orders of the Day — Surrey County Council Bill.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 17th February 1931.

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Photo of Mr Robert Bourne Mr Robert Bourne , Oxford

I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day six months."

It is with regret that I rise to move this Amendment. I have long felt that a Private Bill should not be objected to as a general rule, and more especially in the case of a Bill, such as the one presented by the Surrey County Council, which contains a large number of purely local provisions which are not the concern of anyone who resides outside the council area, and with which I have no concern, and it is solely because of one big point of principle that this Bill contains that I move its rejection at this stage. So far as the general provisions of the Bill are concerned I have no comment to make, but in Part VIII of the Bill, which deals with town plan- ning, the Surrey County Council is taking a line that seems to me to be undesirable at the present time. I wish to make it quite plain that I am not opposed to town planning or, rather, as I gather this Bill proposes, regional planning, as such. I believe that it is necessary in order to preserve the amenities of our countryside that a considerable measure of regional planning should take place, but I wish to protest against any one single local authority bringing in a Bill and seeking to obtain very far-reaching powers dealing with town planning, more especially as there is at the present time a Departmental Committee sitting in this connection at the Ministry of Health which I believe has achieved a very large measure of agreement.

Anything that is done in the way of regional planning should be done by a Government Department and applied to the whole country. Any attempt to deal with this very important question piece-meal, one county perhaps taking one set of powers and the next county perhaps taking another set of powers, is likely to make confusion worse confounded. Everyone admits that our present system of regional or town planning is in a very unsatisfactory condition, and if one authority is to be given special powers which are not applicable to another county it will mean that those who own land those who wish to develop land will be put into a state of hopeless confusion as between one county and the next. Any action taken merely by one authority in this respect is inadequate, and it is in order to call the attention of the House to the undesirability of any local authority, no matter how powerful or how important it may be, taking separate action at this moment, that I have taken the course I am taking to-night.

Among other Clauses in the Bill there is one, Clause 61, which makes elaborate arrangements for the prevention of ribbon development. I do not know anyone in this House who is in favour of ribbons development. A great deal of work is being done up and down the country in the making of new roads, and there can be no doubt that ribbon development has created eyesores on the countryside. We should all welcome some comprehensive Measure for getting rid of it, but when we look at Clause 61 we notice that it contains several very peculiar powers. In the first place, the council seek authority to declare any county road a main road for the purposes of this Section. I am not certain how that conflicts with the existing Statutes relating to he powers of the Ministry of Transport in regard to roads. If and when that is done, it is provided that nobody may build within a certain distance of the road.

Then comes a proposition to which I take strong exception, namely, that any person who says that his property is injuriously affected under this Section is entitled to apply for compensation from the county council. If we are going to pay compensation out of the rates in respect of improvements and regional planning, we are going to create for ourselves a great amount of trouble. One of the very difficult problems in dealing with any question of regional planning is on what basis the compensation shall be paid. If we are going to place on the rates of one county the liability for compensation, which in similar cases may not be accepted by another county, I feel that we are going to get into the most hopeless confusion, and that things will be left undone in one county that are done in another, simply because of the financial consideration. This financial consideration cuts at the very root of developments, and it is for that reason that I think it is absolutely necessary and essential that whatever method of compensation is adopted it should be a uniform one that applies to the whole country and not one that applies to one county, whose scheme may cut completely across the plans that may be submitted by the Government. I do not know the Government's scheme, but I do know that in America in many States a system has been introduced whereby when certain lands are being developed certain portions are set aside for open spaces. A levy is made upon those whose land is scheduled for building, and the finances derived there-from provides very favourable compensation for those whose interests have been affected. I think that is a very fair system. If the Surrey County Council is to be allowed to put compensation on the rates as a method of stopping ribbon development, another county council may introduce another and perhaps a better system for dealing with the question, and we shall get confusion. That is another reason why I think these particular powers should not be granted to any one local authority at the present time.

There is a very long and very elaborate Clause dealing with petrol stations. I do not know how Surrey may suffer in this respect, but I think that a Clause of this length and complexity ought not to be introduced by a single council. Then there are various powers sought for acquiring land? I hope that it will not be necessary for local authorities to acquire land to preserve views. There is no reason why a vast amount of land in the country should not be used for normal agricultural occupation and be scheduled for agricultural occupation only, and at the same time be preserved for the enjoyment of views. If a local authority is to be allowed to acquire every new piece of land which might give access to every beauty spot, the financial burden that will be thrown upon local authorities will be very great. I am certain that in a vast number of counties this particular system would be accompanied by very heavy cost. That is another reason why this particular power should not be granted to one local authority, but that it should be part of a national scheme dealing with the subject on general lines rather than in the particular Clause of any County Council Bill.

There is another Clause to which I should like to draw attention, namely, Clause 144, which deals with the preservation of woodlands. That, again, is not desirable. There may be, and there very often are, good reasons for felling woodlands. It may be desirable that land which has been under forest should be used for other purposes, agricultural or otherwise, but we do not want stray powers of this kind incorporated in the local Act of any one authority, no matter how big or important that authority may be. Lastly, this Bill applies to one county. So far as I know there is no other county at the present time which is proposing to use these powers. Obviously, it must mean in the case of people who own estates partly inside and partly outside, but adjoining the county, will experience considerable difficulty in the development of their estates. In respect of that part of their estate which lies in the county of Surrey they will be tied by the regulations of this Bill, but they will be left in complete perplexity as to what may happen to that portion of the estate which is outside the county of Surrey. There is a provision in the Bill enabling the county council to alter the boundaries of existing estates. I do not know whether that should be of universal application, but if you apply that principle of the alteration of estate boundaries only in Surrey you may not be able to apply it to another portion of the same estate, and it will make for much confusion and inconvenience. It may lead to a very large amount of that ribbon development and that lack of skilled planning in counties which are fairly close to London and adjacent to Surrey, merely because by going over the county border people will he able to escape these regulations. If we have a national scheme dealing with the whole country it will be impossible for people to avoid the regulations in that way. I fear very much that one effect of this Bill will be to produce undesirable development in adjoining counties. It is in order that we may hear the views of the Surrey County Council and the Ministry of Health that I move my Amendment.