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 Sir Adam Maitland Sir Adam Maitland , Faversham

It is obvious that the House is almost prepared to come to a decision upon this Bill and in accordance with what I take to be the wishes of hon. Members I shall not speak at great length. The opposition offered to this Bill by some of my hon. Friends on this side was so fair and moderate that it has almost disarmed those of us who are supporting the Bill and I rise merely for the purpose of giving an assurance on one point which has been raised and not of entering into any of the other details involved—although some of those I am quite prepared to discuss. Some criticism has arisen regarding the possible closing of a footpath in the Norbury Park Estate. The council is asking Parliament for powers by which it is hoped it will be possible to preserve the estate for the benefit of the public for all time. A matter of £85,000 is involved, which for the time being, has been borrowed by the council for this purpose. The council believe that they are not justified in expending from public funds such a large sum but they are prepared to make a substantial contribution and the fact that they have received very considerable public and private support has justified their action in preventing this estate from becoming the subject of speculative building.

In connection with the development of that estate they are acting under the advice of the most eminent town-planning and estate development experts. It is not possible at this moment to say exactly what form the development may ultimately take. To some extent that will be governed by the final financial operations which are involved but in consultation with competent authorities and representatives of societies interested in the preservation of the English countryside they have prepared a scheme. There is nothing definite or binding about that scheme except to provide for the fact that in certain eventualities it may be necessary for the borders of the estate to be developed on sound artistic lines. If that should be so it may also be found that the finances are not such as to warrant the council in keeping the whole of the estate, and it may be neces- sary to sell the mansion, but that is a matter of conjecture and I do not make it as a definite statement.

If it should be found necessary they are advised by the authorities to whom I have referred that it may be necessary to close up one of the footpaths. This suggestion has aroused criticism both in the London and the county Press but I am authorised to say that before that suggestion has been put into practice, before, indeed, a Committee of this House is asked to give power to the county council to close that particular footpath, the council will give an undertaking that an alternative will be provided. I need not go into details of the scheme, this part of which has been subjected to some criticism, except to say that it will enable the estate to be developed in such a way that the public will have a much better opportunity of enjoying its beauties than the present footpaths and general arrangements provide. Almost daily Parliament is putting on local authorities heavy responsibilities, and I am sure that this House would not at any time think it right and proper to put on local authorities responsibilities and duties without necessary powers to carry out those duties and to bear the burden of those responsibilities. It will be admitted that the county authorities are the best judges of the kind of powers which they need. This House is the authority that should and does decide the form in which those powers are granted. The opposition has been very fairly and moderately directed to the particular aspect of the subject, and I am sure that any points which have been raised and which can reasonably be met on Committee stage, will be willingly met by those who are promoting the Bill.