Page images

planning movement received through this Act the seal of national recognition and approval; and a new chapter was opened. It is obvious that, except in such cases as the Garden City at Letchworth, private individuals or voluntary corporate bodies can only handle the development of estates. Town-planning requires the co-operation of the public authority, which alone has powers extending over the whole area of the land coming within the boundary of a town. The Act makes the possibility of co-operation complete. The town can lay down the broad lines of development; it can encourage owners of urban land to harmonise the plan of development for their estates with the larger scheme for the town as a whole; and it can make concessions, in the matter of regulations and bye-laws, to builders who are prepared to carry on their enterprise by methods which secure the public welfare as well as private profit. It was not to be expected that rapid progress could be made in the application of the town-planning clauses of this Act in the first year or two. Where so many interests are concerned, experience as to the best methods of conciliating them must first be obtained. To quote the latest White Paper issued by the Local Government Board on the subject:

'the Act, while creating a new relationship between owners and local authorities in connexion with the development of land, contemplates the co-operation of one with the other for the purpose of promoting the general interest. Co-operation and agreement are important features in connexion with the preparation of any town-planning scheme which is to be both successful and economical; and it follows that in many cases much time will be necessarily absorbed in negotiations preliminary to the stage at which formal application is made for the Board's approval of the preparation of a scheme. Abundant evidence is forthcoming as to the widespread interest which is taken in the subject.

'Section 54 (2) of the Act provides that the Board (1) may authorise a local authority to prepare a town-planning scheme with reference to any land within or in the neighbourhood of their area if the authority satisfy the Board that there is a prima facie case for making such a scheme; or (2) may authorise a local authority to adopt with or without any modifications any such scheme proposed by all or any of the Vol. 216.-No. 431.

2 L

owners of any land with respect to which the local authority might themselves have been authorised to prepare a scheme.'

If the vital importance of getting experience before adopting schemes on a large scale be borne in mind, it cannot be said that those responsible have been idle. The Board has already given authority for the preparation of schemes in the following cases, viz. the Corporations of Birmingham, Rochdale, Chesterfield and Bournemouth, and the Urban District Councils of North Bromsgrove, Ruislip-Northwood and Oldbury. The Hanwell Urban District Council and the Liverpool Corporation have also asked for authority to prepare schemes under the Act. Preliminary notices, as provided in the regulations in connexion with the preparation of schemes, have been given by eleven other public authorities, including Huddersfield, Newcastle-on-Tyne and Sheffield. No less than twenty-two public authorities have practically arrived at the decision to proceed under the Act, although the formal steps have not been taken; while twentyeight other authorities have the preparation of schemes under consideration. The Maldon and Combe Council has scheduled the whole of its unbuilt-on area; and Surbiton is contemplating the same course. Finally, conferences are taking place between a number of authorities on the outskirts of London with a view to co-operation under the powers conferred by the Act.

Those who have not come into direct contact with the task of carrying out housing schemes, or developing estates on rational lines, have no conception of the difficulties to be overcome. Nothing less than a revolution is needed in the attitude of mind of the average public official towards the problem. There are, of course, splendid and encouraging exceptions to this, some officials being far in advance of the opinion either of the governing body or the town itself. Again, the number of men in the professions of architecture and surveying who are equal to a bold handling of the problem are extremely few, although the number is rapidly increasing in response to the growing demand. Further, those engaged in the business of dealing with urban estates, whether as ground-landlords or builders, have much to learn. Retail land-buying, planning, designing and building have to give way to wholesale buying, planning,

designing and building. The agents of urban land-owners, who have been in the habit of handling their land in 'penny numbers,' with all the waste of retail legal expenses and commissions, not to speak of extravagant prices per acre, must be prepared for bigger deals on wholesale terms. There will be more profit out of it for everyone, not per house or per acre, but on the whole. Many owners of urban land are losing large incomes to-day through the anti-economic policy of their representatives. Hindrances to development are to be found not only in the prices asked, but also in restrictions and regulations which seldom promote the owners' interests, but tend to hold up negotiation and prevent development. Owners of urban land are slowly waking up to these facts, and may be expected, in the future, to give more encouragement to far-sighted schemes of estate development than they have done in the past.

On the question of bye-laws and regulations governing new streets and roads, it is to be wished that Mr Burns may see his way to appoint a strong Departmental Committee to take evidence on this question, and submit suggestions for reform. The rules enforced by Local Authorities with regard to new streets and buildings are of two kinds, viz. bye-laws and statutory provisions. Statutory provisions may be contained either in General Acts, such, for example, as the rule relating to the size of flues, or in Private Acts. By far the greater number are contained in Private Acts, each of which deals with a particular city or urban area. In many towns provisions relating to new streets and buildings are contained in Acts of Parliament dealing also with tramways, watersupply, gas and electric-light works, and other local affairs. In many cases some of the statutory provisions still in force were framed more than fifty years ago. A large part of the Liverpool Building Act of 1842 is still in force; and other provisions are to be found in other Liverpool Acts of 1854, 1864, 1867, 1871, 1882, 1889, 1890, 1893, 1902 and 1908. In Liverpool, as in some other towns, statutory provisions and bye-laws coexist.

Private legislation of this kind invariably results in confusion, and renders it a matter of considerable difficulty to ascertain what are the exact rules in force with regard to any particular detail of estate development

and building construction. In addition to this, there is the disadvantage that obsolete or obsolescent provisions are often retained for many years, because the Local Authority does not wish to incur the cost of obtaining new powers. A statutory provision cannot be repealed or modified, except by another Act of Parliament or by a Provisional Order followed by an Act of Parliament. It is not possible for a Local Authority to amend a statutory provision by means of a bye-law. The Local Government Board will not grant to a Local Authority a bye-law dealing with any matter which forms the subject of a statutory provision in force in that Authority's area, however indefinite or out-of-date the statutory provision may be. In spite of these disadvantages, some Local Authorities, particularly those in large towns, prefer to deal with estate development and building construction by means of statutory provisions rather than bye-laws, because, as a rule, Parliament will allow in an Act greater latitude to the Local Authority than can be allowed by the Local Government Board in a bye-law. Many provisions in Private Acts contain clauses permitting the Local Authority to enforce the provisions if they think it desirable so to do, either with or without modifications. A bye-law, on the other hand, is definite. It may be said that in many cases Private Acts provide that the Local Authority may exercise certain powers, while a bye-law says that they shall comply with its requirements. One great advantage of a bye-law is that it requires the approval of the Local Government Board only, and can be altered at little cost and with very little delay with the consent of the Board. It is indeed possible to obtain the Local Government Board's consent to special bye-laws being made applicable to a particular area within the district of the Local Authority.

It is not an easy matter to put an end to the existing confusion. The regulations relating to estate development and building construction in some towns are hopelessly out-of-date, and are quite unsuited to town-planning and to garden-suburb development. For example, the Local Authority, as a rule, has no power to insist on any road being made wider than the minimum width prescribed by the regulations. What is required, writes Mr G. Lister Sutcliffe, architect to Co-partnership Tenants, is

greater elasticity; and this can be obtained in various ways. In the first place, it would be a benefit to the community if a short Act of Parliament could be passed, by which all statutory provisions relating to new streets and buildings would, after a certain date, be converted into bye-laws. The Act might also provide that within (say) two years after such conversion all the bye-laws of each Local Authority should be codified, amended as desired by the Local Authority, and submitted to the Local Government Board for alteration or approval. It would also be useful if bye-laws were granted for a term of years only, and not for an indefinite period. If this were done, bye-laws could be kept abreast of modern thought, and might be made to encourage the development of estates on the best garden-suburb lines, instead of being, as they often are to-day, a hindrance to progress, and a drag on the efforts of the most enlightened landowners. Powers ought also to be freely given for modified bye-laws, relating to the width and construction of streets and the grouping and construction of buildings, applicable to building areas comprising not fewer than a specified number of acres, where the owner is willing to give the land for making through-roads or main-traffic routes of more than the minimum bye-law width, and to restrict the number of houses per acre, and to set apart a specified proportion of the area for open spaces.

The necessity for altering the existing bye-laws is also pointed out by Mr J. T. Alexander, the City Building Surveyor of Liverpool in his Annual Report for the year 1910 (p. 4). Writing of the work done on the estate of the Liverpool Garden Suburb Tenants, Limited, he says:

'The erection of these "Garden City" houses in a manner which makes it possible to lay out only a very limited number of houses to the acre has accentuated the fact that the existing bye-laws may operate somewhat needlessly in respect of such houses. It is probable, therefore, that the Corporation will during this year obtain powers to modify or relax in some respects the bye-laws, the purposes of which are fully achieved in a garden city without the actual requirements being observed in every literal particular.'

There should be a simple court of appeal on the matter of bye-laws at the Local Government Board. I pressed

« PreviousContinue »