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Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, can my noble friend inform the House of the original cost of this building? To write off a building of this size after such a short lifespan indicates that whoever advised the then government on the construction gave bad advice. Is it not the case that this building was constructed at the same time that the huge local government housing programme was under way when the architects also failed us? Is this not another case? If this building must be written off can that be put down to the same failure of the architects at that time?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, if the original architect is still alive I would not wish to offend his sensibilities. The building was finally occupied in 1971 after a number of delays. I do not know the original cost of the building, but I can say that Arup Associates carried out an investigation for the government in 1990. They took the view that demolition was the best as well as the most aesthetically attractive option.
Lord Ezra: My Lords, the fact that this was an old gas works site prompts me to ask the noble Lord whether he can give an assurance that the heating of the new building will be as up to date as possible. If possible, will combined heat and power be used? I suggest that one feedstock may well be the waste paper from the Palace of Westminster.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am sure that PACE will be very interested in the noble Lord's question. The intention is that when the site is redeveloped it will be for offices, retail and residential accommodation with some provision for open space.
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, do the Government really need to demolish the building? Is it not falling down anyway? I have read many reports about bits falling off it. That possibly poses greater danger to public health than to the public purse. Can the Minister give an assurance that the building is still safe?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, there are bits falling off the building. The building is encased in scaffolding at the moment for the protection of the public. As to the need to demolish it, I understand it is likely that the profits from disposal of the site will be greater than the costs of demolition, so it is to the Government's advantage to demolish the building. It is also an advantage to the neighbours that demolition should be carried out in a controlled way.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, will the noble Lord go a little further into the interesting notion that he introduced about decanted accommodation? What is to be decanted: the building or the contents?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it is neither the building nor the contents but the people. I understand that there are two government departments both of which have accommodation that is badly in need of refurbishment. If this plan proceeded, the staff from those departments would be decanted into Marsham Street while their existing buildings were refurbished.
Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, I thank and congratulate my noble friend Lord Peyton upon tabling the Question. Can the Minister inform the House of the cost of security of the building? Does the noble Lord believe that it is suitable for development perhaps as a greyfield site if not a brownfield site?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the building is still occupied by staff from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, and therefore there are no exceptional security costs. If demolition were to take place this summer, security costs would be relatively limited.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I think that I have made my position on that clear in agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, that aesthetically the best option is for the building to be demolished as soon as possible. It is not an efficient building.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am not sure that I understand what my noble friend means by "disevacuated". If he is asking whether the building will be replaced by a government building if it is demolished, the answer is, probably not. If he is asking whether it will be held on to for decanting purposes, the answer is that staff from other departments will work there.
Lord Burnham: My Lords, as the Government are keen to enshrine the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law, how does that tie in with the Minister's stated intention to discriminate against freemasons, and freemasons alone?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it is not a case of discriminating against freemasons. I take it that the noble Lord is referring to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights which concerns respect for private and family life, but that is within the corresponding balance of the freedom and rights of others.
Lord McNally: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Bangladesh Government and the JSS, representatives of the Chittagong Hill tribes which have been fighting the Bangladesh Government, deserve congratulations on reaching that agreement? Is not that a perfect example of where the international community needs to respond with speed and adaptability so that a fragile peace is underpinned by aid assistance? Does he further agree that the Bangladesh Government, in particular, have considerable difficulties not just in Chittagong but with the Bihari refugees, which needs that kind of specific support for resettlement and, as I said, the underpinning of peace accords when they are reached?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am pleased to agree that both sides in the conflict deserve congratulations on reaching the accord at the end of a long period of difficulty in the Chittagong Tract area. Those agreements will need support from the international community. As regards development aid, the DfID will be working with the joint donor/government of Bangladesh working team to identify needs and priorities, and to identify appropriate implementation arrangements. As the noble Lord said, it is in everyone's interest that that happens rapidly. On the separate point of the Biharis, that is a different situation. It is not just a matter of Bangladesh and the internal dissidents; it is a matter between the governments of Bangladesh and Pakistan. That has also been running for some time. We were encouraged by the Pakistan Government's statement in January that they were willing to do all they could to bring the Biharis to Pakistan, subject to funding being found. We would be ready to help if there were a constructive framework in which to do so. Bilateral dialogue between Bangladesh and Pakistan is the immediate way forward.
Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will want to join the Minister in expressing its satisfaction at the end of this most difficult and damaging dispute between the government of Bangladesh and the hill tract people. It has not been easy to find a way to solve the dispute. I am sure that congratulations are due to the government of Bangladesh and, in particular, the Prime Minister, as well as the leaders of the rebels, as they were described, in the Chittagong Hill Tract. In considering the contribution that I am glad to hear Her Majesty's Government are willing to make, will the Minister bear in mind that something over 37,000 former refugees have already returned to what is quite a small
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