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I join the welcome that has been extended to the Bill, although with some qualifications, by hon. Members from both sides of the House. It is a major measure which must be welcomed and I congratulate the Secretary of State in being able to bring before the House a Bill of this character. I look forward with great interest to the wind up by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Development. It is a matter which has occupied his mind and his energy during the whole time that the Department of the Environment has been established and I offer him my congratulations as well.
It is no mean achievement that a measure of this nature got through the Cabinet. I am not quite sure what the Treasury could have had to say about it. The Secretary of State has given some indication of the costs which will be involved but I am not clear to what extent they are realistic. In that respect I think that I share some of the qualifications expressed by the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay). The issue of the costs is very much like the arrow in the air. It is a little unpredictable where it will fall and just what will be the total cost to the public purse of the wide commitments which will be taken on if the Bill goes forward as now proposed, which I hope it will.
The Secretary of State quoted the two most effective paragraphs in the White Paper, paragraphs 1 and 2 headed "The New Approach". We see there that the Bill tries to deal with the conflict between the public's undoubted right to have new roads, new schools and waterworks on the one hand and the private person's right to enjoy, as the White Paper puts it,
his home and garden, undisturbed
on the other. We cannot adopt a scientific approach to this matter. I was
interested to hear the Secretary of State accept that the very wide-sweeping proposals would apply with a remarkable degree of comprehensiveness to the disabled, taking account of their special requirements, and that their requirements would be replaced where they were compelled to move into other accommodation.
In the circumstances outlined in the White Paper we are therefore seeking a fair settlement of conflicting interests and the Bill is a bold attempt to do just that. I am sure that it will be warmly received in the country generally. Of course, varying circumstances give rise to complications and problems and that applies particularly of the Greater London area. There, in looking into the problems of blight, the authorities have discovered that although amenity values might be greatly affected, and in some cases disastrously so, by highway proposals and road schemes because of traffic noise, fumes and the general loss of amenity, property values have followed the same inflationary spiral as elsewhere. In other words, although property values might be expected to depreciate, that has not proved to be the case. Much the same situation applies at Heathrow where for many years, in spite of the loss of amenity because of the noise factor, property values have not depreciated to the extent that one might have expected. Therefore, when considering the loss of values this added degree of complication and these unpredictable factors must be taken into account.
The extension of classes of blighted land in Part V are to be welcomed and they have wide implications and effects on the rights of property owner and occupiers. I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State say that the first priority should be to avoid the creation of blight. I support what he says that highway engineers and planners will be required, because of their financial commitment, to reduce to the very minimum the effect of blight on amenities by their acquisition policy. I pay tribute to the work of the Urban Motorways Committee which is of particular significance and must be greatly applauded.
The extended purchasing power to local authorities to include properties which are affected by but not included in a scheme is undoubtedly the most import- ant single step forward in the relief of non-statutory blight. This is a new development. Between 1947 and 1959 no remedy for blight was available and it did not come until the provisions of section 39(1) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1959 which first defined categories of blighted land, restricting remedies to owner occupiers. It is only fair to recognise that it has been under a Conservative Administration that the problem of blight has been faced up to and legislation introduced.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] It is not rubbish; it is correct. This is no criticism of other Administrations. The Socialists introduced the 1947 Act upon which so many benefits that we enjoyed in planning in post-war years were based. But a Bill such as this must be seen as a tribute to Conservative Ministers who were prepared to engage themselves in the highly technical subjects involved with the intention of doing what they could to ensure a greater degree of equity between the public and private interests.
I am a little concerned about the position of the tenant in furnished accommodation. In the Explanatory Memorandum they are excluded from the Bill. I take note of the point made earlier by the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) about the seven-year period for tenants in unfurnished accommodation. If tenants in furnished accommodation are not to be included it may be possible for the Government to give helpful directives to local authorities requiring them to offer alternative and suitable accommodation to tenants in furnished premises.
I also recognise the difficulty involved in the proper assesment of compensation for owner-occupiers. I am glad that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Sir F. Corfield) emphasised particularly the position of tenant farmers. I join with him in expressing the view that they are in an unfavourable and grossly unfair situation. They are faced with the extinguishment of their business and that carries compensation, I believe, on the basis of about five or six years rent.
We are discussing here a radical measure which goes far in its intention to redress the balance between the rights of the individual and of the State, providing remedies for many areas which previously have not been compensated. In that respect, I am sure it will be welcomed on both sides.
Planning authorities' proposals must be subject to far greater and closer scrutiny in future. I support those who have already advocated public discussion, particularly on highway proposals, at a very early stage. The right hon. Member for Battersea, North advocated it in relation to London, but it is equally important in the countryside, with regard to the corridors that are first declared through which the motorways and principal highways go. Widespread concern is caused, but much of it is unnecessary, because when a definite corridor is known it is found to be much less damaging over the wider field, although it is, understandably, equally damaging to those immediately involved.
Now the principle has been accepted that we must look for ways and means to control and prevent widespread misuse of both our land and amenities. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend can have the assurance, from what has already been said in the debate, that the Bill will have a fair wind.