Clause 2. — (Restriction, of building development along frontages of certain roads.)

Orders of the Day — RESTRICTION OF RIBBON DEVELOPMENT BILL [Lords]. – in the House of Commons on 29th July 1935.

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4.14 p.m.

Photo of Mr Charles Williams Mr Charles Williams , Torquay

I beg to move, in page 3, line 22, after "the," to insert: planning authority or, until such authority is in operation, the. As the Bill stands, the authority which has to be appealed to in this matter is the highway authority. Many of us on the Committee thought, and I think almost everyone in the country thinks, that the obvious authority for the purpose is the planning authority. We have heard from the Minister again and again during these Debates that one of the great objects of the Bill is to have some sort of regard for the amenities of a district as a whole. If you are to have regard to the amenities of the district as a whole, quite clearly the planning authority, when set up, is the authority which should deal with the matter.

The reason given by the Minister for not making any change in the Bill when it was in Committee was that there were many areas in which a planning authority had not been set up so far. But those areas are getting fewer and fewer every day. It has been laid down by Parliament that in the development of every locality there should be a planning authority, to look at these matters from a broad point of view, to consider the amenities and needs of a district, and the whole of the other things which should be considered in the development of roads or house-building. We ask the Minister of Transport to make the planning authority the authority to deal with this matter. We recognise that it is essential that there should be all possible speed in this matter. If the Minister accepts the Amendment he will not only help himself and his Department, but will encourage the feeling that the planning which we desire is a real effort which must be encouraged at every stage. If the Minister turns down the Amendment he will strike a blow at the value of the Bill, and will make it, more difficult for the planning authorities to realise that they are carrying out a most valuable work.

4.17 p.m.

Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton

I beg to second the Amendment.

I wish to draw attention to my fears about the confusion that may result from this Bill if this Amendment, or some words similar to it, be not accepted. Only three years ago this House passed the Town and Country Planning Act for the planning of our countryside, and in the carrying out of that Act there are already some 17,000,000 acres being planned under certain planning authorities. Here the Minister of Transport comes on the scene with a Bill running parallel to the Town and Country Planning Act, which is looked after by the Minister of Health. The Minister of Transport says: "I will put the whole of the scope of this Bill in the hands of new authorities, who will be the authorities for carrying it out." Quite naturally the Minister of Transport puts the work into the hands of the highway authorities. He is more acquainted with and more sympathetic to the aims of the highway authorities.

If the Bill goes through in its present form what will happen will be that some authorities which have now a planning authority will find that planning authority different from and hostile to the highway authority which the Minister of Transport is putting up. We have to do one thing or another: We have either to say that the Town and Country Planning Act must be repealed and the whole of the work of planning given to the highway authority as under this Bill, or we have to link the Act and this Bill together and say, "Where you have a planning authority which is carrying out its obligations under the Town and Country Planning Act that will be the authority in charge of Clause 2 of this Bill, but where there is no planning authority in operation we shall choose the highway authority to do this new work."

I would draw attention to what will occur in my own part of Yorkshire. There we are forward in our planning. We are carrying out the Town and Country Planning Act energetically—more energetically than the rest of England, I believe. Some of the North Riding is under the planning of the rural district councils, and some of it is under the planning of the county council. If this Bill goes through in its present form what will happen will be that for the restriction of ribbon development the whole of an area will be under the county council, although for Town and Country Planning Act purposes great parts of it are under the rural district councils. Hon. Members known that there is a considerable amount of jealousy between county councils and rural district councils. If we do not provide for that jealousy we shall find that this Bill will not be carried out as well as we wish it to be.

4.22 p.m.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Arnold Wilson Lieut-Colonel Sir Arnold Wilson , Hitchin

I would like to speak in support of the Amendment, as my name is attached to it. The planning authorities are selected on a much wider basis than the highway authorities. Very frequently they cover a wider area than the highway authorities, and in view of all that has been said they seem to me to be the obvious bodies to which this question should be referred if possible. I can see no serious administrative objection to the Amendment, and I hope that the Minister will give us at least some hope that the planning authorities will be encouraged. They have not the prestige of the highway authorities, but I believe the future of England is in their hands and not in those of the highway authorities.

4.23 p.m.

Photo of Sir Percy Harris Sir Percy Harris , Bethnal Green South West

Nearly every Member of the House is in sympathy with the Amendment, which suggests that road development should be part of town planning. The whole foundation of the Bill is that it is a road and transport Bill. I always thought that that was a mistake, and that the approach should be rather on new town-planning lines. I am afraid that if the Amendment is accepted it will undermine the whole foundation of the Bill. Clause 8 does make some provision for co-operation between the highway authority and the town-planning authority. If it is not possible to accept the words of the Amendment, it should be made clear at some later stage or by an assurance from the Minister that there is proper provision for co-operation between the two agencies.

4.24 p.m.

Captain HUDSON:

As my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) said, the point as to whether it should be the planning authority or the highway authority was very fully discussed on Second Reading, when a number of speakers mentioned it, and also when we were in Standing Committee.

Photo of Mr Charles Williams Mr Charles Williams , Torquay

I said it was briefly discussed.

Captain HUDSON:

This Bill is essentially a Bill to deal with the highways and with traffic problems. I see that later on the Order Paper certain hon. Members have an Amendment to alter the title of the Bill. We consider that it would be impossible to divide between two different bodies the carrying out of the provisions of the Bill. Clause 1 is purely a traffic Clause. Clause 2 is what we call an amenities Clause. The two are continually overlapping. In fact, as regards access, under both Clause 1 and Clause 2, by an Amendment moved in Committee, the Road Fund is to be avail- able for use when access is brought into consideration, as it would be utterly impossible to have two separate authorities. We had the point made continually on Second Reading that the planning authorities have already got certain powers but have not succeeded in stopping ribbon development. It was for that very reason that the House asked for a Bill of this kind to be introduced. If we go back to the planning authority now we merely go back to the very authority which for various reasons has not stopped ribbon development. We have arranged for co-operation between the planning authorities and the highway authorities under Clause 7, Sub-section (2), and under Clause 8. I am sure the House will agree, as it agreed on Second Reading, that this must be a Highway Bill, and that you must have one authority acting under oth Clauses 1 and 2, in order to stop ribbon development, and to give power to a separate authority.

4.27 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Wilmot Mr John Wilmot , Fulham East

I think the House will regret very much, after all that has been said on Second Reading and in Committee about this aspect of the question, that the Minister has not seen fit to do something to meet the point of view expressed in the Amendment. The Parliamentary Secretary says that this is primarily and fundamentally a traffic Bill.

Captain HUDSON:

A highway Bill.

Photo of Mr John Wilmot Mr John Wilmot , Fulham East

But it is not fundamentally and primarily a highway problem. The main and fundamental problem is the wanton destruction of the amenities of rural England. Part of the disadvantages which flow from the attempt to profiteer at the expense of Britain's landscape is that the use of the highway is obstructed or rendered dangerous. That is one of the evils which flow from ribbon development. It is not a traffic problem or a highway problem; it is a town-planning problem. The Minister made another very important admission. He told us what we all knew, that the planning authorities under the Town and Country Planning Act already have powers to do nearly everything which this Bill sets out in the amenity Clauses to do. It is very curious legislation that, having by one Act empowered one set of authorities to do a certain thing, because for some reason that Act has not been worked, you pass another Bill empowering an entirely different authority to do the same thing. It is bound to create confusion and overlapping, and the result of that confusion and overlapping will be that nothing will be done, because this part of the Bill is permissive and not obligatory. If for any reason the powers of this Bill are not used—whether for the same reason that the powers of the Town and Country Planning Act have not been used, or any other reason—it will mean that the ribbon builder will go on. Time is running against us, for every week that goes by fresh miles of England's beauty are being irreparably destroyed.

Why is it that the planning authorities have not used the powers that we gave them to stop ribbon development? The answer, of course, is finance. Here, the Minister is making a grant out of the Road Fund to the highway authority of expect he will argue that he cannot give money out of the Road Fund to anybody but the highway authority. Why not? Surely the House can authorise the Minister, for this special and urgent purpose, to make a grant out of the Road Fund to the authority which is already entrusted with this work, thereby revitalising the Town and Country Planning Act, and separating the two aspects of this problem—the destruction of the highway and the destruction of rural England. They are separate problems, and must be treated in separate ways. The highway authority is the proper authority to deal with access, and the town planning authority should be the people to be entrusted with the preservation of the amenities of the district. They have been appointed for that purpose. The Town Planning Act gives them the powers, and so far as powers are widened by this Bill it should be a widening of the powers of the existing authority, and they should also have the necessary financial assistance to enable them to carry out the work. I feel certain that the Bill would work much better if some arrangement of that kind were made.

4.32 p.m.

Photo of Sir Joseph Lamb Sir Joseph Lamb , Stone

I hope the Minister will not accept the Amendment. The Bill is much better left, as it is. I do not think the Bill will lead to confusion and overlapping, because the highway authority is a much larger body than the town planning authority. Many local authorities, rural councils, will be the planning authority, whereas the highway authority in county areas is a much larger body, and consequently you would get more uniformity and less overlapping if you left it to the highway authority.

Photo of Mr Charles Williams Mr Charles Williams , Torquay

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment, not because I have been convinced by the arguments of the Government. I must, indeed, express my regret that the Minister insists on leaving the Bill worse than I should have made it by my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.34 p.m.

Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton

I beg to move, in page 3, line 43, after "house," to insert "not erected adjacent to such a building."

In the Committee stage there was a good deal of discussion as to whether the words "otherwise than as a dwelling house," should be left in the Bill. The Parliamentary Secretary made the strong point that it would be impossible to take them out, because you could not tell whether the man who was living in the house was really an agriculturist. In our leisure moments we all like to imagine ourselves as farmers, and might desire to build houses by the roadside, saying that they were for the purposes of agriculture. It is no good having the concession to be allowed to put up agricultural buildings if we are not allowed to put up farmworkers' cottages, or farm houses in the middle of these buildings. You cannot keep stock away from the dwelling-house. You must have your farmworkers living near the stock in order to look after them. It is not a good answer to say that no highway authority in their senses would refuse to give consent, and I think we should spare the highway authority that test of their sanity. At the moment when we are trying to get more houses built on the land, it is a pity that Parliament by any measure should do anything to stop the erection of houses for those who are working on the land.

4.36 p.m.

Photo of Mr Charles Williams Mr Charles Williams , Torquay

I beg to second the Amendment.

It is a proposal which must have the sympathy of every hon. Member in the House. We fully realise the difficulties of getting people on the land. If you are building agricultural labourers' cottages very little harm is done to the highway, and there is no likelihood of additional danger. Further, if people have to go a considerable way from their home in order to get on to the main road, it is a consideration which is likely to discourage labour living on the land. I am putting the purely rural point of view. There are other questions like the care of cattle, but I think there can be only one possible objection, and that is the safety of children, but that is a difficulty which, I think, might be got over quite easily. I feel sure that the Minister who has so far met us with great fairness, with his colossal Department will be able to get over that small objection. I consider that the Amendment is in the best interests of the smooth working of the Bill in agricultural districts, and unless it is favourably received by the agricultural community, it will not do that good which we all want. I hope the Minister will take the common sense view and accept the Amendment.

4.38 p.m.

Photo of Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha , Plymouth, Devonport

The hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) has staked out a claim on me for this concession by thanking me liberally in advance for what the Government have done. I find it extremely difficult to resist his appeal, but he has himself made it all the easier by pointing out some of the difficulties in accepting the Amendment—the risks which will be run by children. I express some surprise that the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) should have moved this Amendment, as only a moment or two ago he was anxious that the town planning authority should have complete jurisdiction. Presumably, he was anxious to do what the Bill in part does, namely, plan the development by the roadside. We have placed restrictions upon buildings by whomsoever undertaken except for the purposes of agriculture and in connection with the occupation of agricultural land. We have placed restrictions upon access by whomsoever required except for the purposes of agriculture, for which purposes access cannot be refused. In these and other respects we have shown our solicitude for an industry indigenous to the soil. In the course of drafting the Bill we were in close touch with agricultural interests, who expressed themselves as being entirely satisfied, if not grateful, for the manner in which they have been regarded in this Measure. No agricultural Member has in the course of the discussions expressed himself as being otherwise than pleased, and it is not within my recollection that any agricultural Member has asked for more for his industry than is contained in the Bill.

Photo of Mr Charles Williams Mr Charles Williams , Torquay

I represent agriculture.

Photo of Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha , Plymouth, Devonport

The hon. Member represents many other interests, and I was speaking exclusively of those who represent agriculture. I meant no reflection upon the hon. Member, and if he wishes me to withdraw and apologise I will do so. The reason is that agriculture does not wish these concessions to the industry to be capable of abuse. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton in his Amendment asks that not only agricultural buildings should be exempt but dwelling houses when they are adjacent to such buildings. He did not favour us with the definition of "adjacent" for this purpose, and I do not gather from the wording of the Amendment how near to the agricultural buildings these houses are to be.

Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton

The words "adjacent to" occur in nearly every Act of Parliament, and if the Minister will consult the Solicitor-General who is next door to him he will give him the interpretation.

Photo of Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha , Plymouth, Devonport

The words "adjacent to" in other Acts of Parliament may have a general application, but here it is something specific; it is to be adjacent to the building. However, I do not wish to stand upon any technical objection to the Amendment. What my hon. Friend is asking for is that any number of houses or cottages, provided they are fortunate enough to have agricultural buildings near them, shall be erected without the consent of the highway authority. It is to be observed that anybody may obtain consent for the erection of what is reasonable; all they have to do is to apply to the highway authority. My hon. Friend wishes to dispense with this formal consent, and to dispense with it in a manner which might give rise to considerable building on the side of the road, with all its consequent dangers which by this Measure we are anxious to circumscribe. I hope that my hon. Friend, despite his keen feeling that these agricultural dwellings should be erected, will not seek to insert this further exemption in the Bill, which must be a cause of weakness rather than strength.

4.44 p.m.

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

The Minister of Transport has said that no agricultural member has asked for more. On behalf of a certain agricultural body I did thank the Minister very much for the way he has met us in this Bill, but I do not think it is quite right to say that no agriculturist has asked for more. If he thought he could have got more, no doubt he would have asked for more. We feel that under this Bill you can get the consent of the highway authority. In my own county a good many agriculturists will ask for consent, and we are justified in believing that the highway authority will give consent where it does not interfere with their road. Agriculturists, on the whole, are satisfied with what the Minister has done for them.

Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.