1A.—(1) Subsection (4) of section 77 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 (under which the power to acquire land for public access to the open country in a National Park is in certain circumstances exerciseable by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) shall cease to have effect.
The amendment returns to the Bill at a more appropriate place material formerly in schedule 3 which was removed in Committee. At present, both the Secretary of State and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food have power to acquire land for public access to the open country in a national park. By the amendment, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food gives up this power.
I beg to move amendment No. 245, in page 172, line 27, at end insert—
'10A.—(1) In section 290 (1) of that Act the definition of "building operations" contained
therein shall cease to have effect and there shall be substituted the following definition—
'building operations ' includes rebuilding operations, the demolition of buildings structural alterations of, or additions to buildings, and other operations normally undertaken by a person carrying on business as a builder.
(2) The following subsection shall be inserted after section 25 of that Act—
An application for consent to the demolition of a building may be made as a separate application or as part of an application for planning permission to redevelop the site of the building, but consent to demolition shall not be taken to have been given as part of planning permission for redevelopment of the site unless the appropriate authority on granting the permission, states that it includes consent to demolish any building.".'
The purpose of the amendment is to make demolition subject to planning consent. It seems strange that at the moment to convert a house from one unit to two or to extend it one needs to apply for planning consent. Property can be demolished without planning consent. The amendment corrects that anomaly.
I do not wish to impose further restrictions on property owners. The amendment has civil liberty and environmental implications. The London Evening Standard has campaigned against blight that lays waste to precious space. It talks of 25,000 acres of land in London being left derelict by the bulldozer after properties have been demolished without their owners seeking consent.
The recommendation that demolition should be made subject to planning consent was made by the Dobry report in 1976. Not only can local authorities demolish properties without the consent of their planning committees; private developers can demolish property. After they have demolished property and laid waste to land they often apply to the local authority to redevelop. To some extent they pre-empt the local authority's right to refuse planning permission. The alternative to granting planning permission is a derelict piece of land, an eyesore and an environmental nuisance.
Local authorities sometimes demolish properties without planning permission. They do not have to go through the planning process. As a result, local residents who object to what the local authority plans to do with the land on which the demolished properties once stood, have no opportunity to exercise their right to object as they have when normal planning procedures are involved. Public inquiries and all decisions related to the plans are pre-empted by the demolition of the properties.
An example is the activity of the Redbridge Council. Redbridge produced a local plan for the demolition of 400 houses. It planned a town centre development on the site The people objected to the redevelopment, but the council acquired the properties and demolished them before a public inquiry was held. It had no planning permission to demolish the houses or for the town centre development. Objectors protested at the demolition because it took away their planning rights. Many of the objectors were visited by a local authority housing officers. One of them, Mr. Michael Petit visited the objectors and said that if they did not withdraw their campaigning activities against the demolition and the proposed town centre redevelopment plan, they would not be considered for rehousing. The people were due for rehousing. That was reinforced by the leader of the council Keith Salter. The families have not been rehoused.
Because the objectors refused to withdraw their objections to the city centre development, a quaint form of public participation took place and the council finally took the protestors off the housing list. That is harassment. If the provisions of my amendment were on the statute book that would not be allowed. Prior demolition and the gutting of properties and harassment could not occur. The council would be subject to planning procedures and the residents would have a right to protest. Demolition in advance of a public inquiry would not be possible.
I realise that the House wishes to get on, but this is an important amendment. Whether the actual wording reaches the requirements of the Minister or the Government I do not know. I suspect that it probably does not, but the amendment is of considerable importance to me.
I direct the attention of hon. Members to the activities of the city of Portsmouth where the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) was born. If hon. Members visited that city and went to the Cumberland Road area they would almost weep at what has happened there, though I am told that the city has now had second thoughts. All the same, the authority put a bulldozer and a rammer into a number of owner-occupied houses, the owners having previously been forced to sell to the authority. Much damage was done, and floor boards were ripped up.
Those houses, of course, are unlikely to be inhabited again. They were in an area scheduled for road improvement and which was due to change its nature from residential to commercial and industrial use. The city has now had second thoughts, and some of the houses will be reoccupied.
That is an absolute tragedy. I suspect that it cost the ratepayers many hundreds of thousands of pounds and that that action destroyed perfectly adequate housing. I spoke to the residents there, many of whom bought their properties on leaving the Services after the last war. That tragedy could be repeated. The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) mentioned Redbridge, and there are other areas of which hon. Members will know.
At one time I wished to see a ban on demolition in this country unless it had the consent of the Secretary of State. I thought that we had reached that point. We have a real housing crisis in the South of England and we need to keep all property that is in reasonable structural condition. I would have thought that there was something in the amendment that would appeal to the Department of the Environment and the Minister for Housing and Construction, who I realise is not here at the moment.
If there is a way in which something like this can be incorporated into the legislation, I believe that it would be worth while. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bootle for bringing the matter forward.
I listened with interest to the hon. Gentleman, but I have to tell him that there is nothing new in this proposal. In 1974 George Dobry suggested that this measure should be introduced, but successive Governments did not think it right to introduce it. There was a period when this was a major problem, when the creation of vacant and derelict land went on apeace.
The amendment, in relation to planning and the number of applications, is unacceptable to the Government. The proposal runs counter to one of the major proposals of the Bill, which is designed to decongest and speed up the development control machinery. For that reason alone I have to advise the House to resist the amendment.
Will the Minister accept that what happens at the moment is that the statutory right of the Secretary of State for the Environment to determine whether a city centre development in a place such as Redbridge goes ahead or not is pre-empted when local authorities acquire properties and demolish and gut them in advance of a public inquiry?
Surely, if the Secretary of State intends that public inquiries should not be turned into farces the only way in which preemption can be prevented is for demolition to be made subject to planning consent. That would not slow things down. It would mean that at a public inquiry a decision could be taken without the property having previously been demolished. There would be no delay at all.
I take note of what the hon. Gentleman says. There are certain attractions in the case that he has made. The Secretary of State has other safeguards in relation to the type of development the hon. Gentleman referred to, but I shall consider carefully what the hon. Member said and see whether there is anything that we can do in that direction.