Tory plea for Naval College

A senior Tory yesterday urged the Government not to allow the historic Royal Naval College at Greenwich to "suffer a similar fate" as the axed Greater London Council's County Hall.

The question time call by Sir Patrick Cormack, the Staffordshire South MP, came after Tony Banks, Labour MP for Newham North West and the GLC's chairman when it was axed in 1986, said its former headquarters building on the Thames opposite Westminster was now "an empty shell from the second floor upwards" and protested it was a "scandal" and a "catastrophe".

Sir Patrick asked John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment: "Would you assure the House that Greenwich and the glorious buildings there will not suffer a similar fate?"

Michael Portillo, the Secretary of State for Defence, has said the college will be offered to a commercial buyer - but promised it would not become a superstore, golf course or hotel. Mr Gummer told Sir Patrick: "I am quite sure that the plans to try to make that exciting world heritage site even better will in fact proceed as well as they possibly can with the largest amount of partnership possible".

The college was designed by Sir Christopher Wren 300 years ago. Mr Portillo insisted earlier this year that, despite offering a 150-year lease, it would continue to be held in trust for the Crown by the Secretary of State for Defence.

Earlier, Mr Banks told the House that County Hall's present owner, the Japanese Shirayama Corporation, proposed to put an aquarium in the basement, but he said it had not yet applied for a licence or approached the Department of the Environment with plans.

"The whole thing is a catastrophe over there. It is a scandal and the Government is entirely responsible for this," Mr Banks said, and he warned ministers: "When Labour is in government we are going to hang this round your neck."

Mr Gummer said: "We are keeping a very close eye on it."