HC Deb 25 February 1947 vol 433 cc1894-900
The Prime Minister

The Government have under close consideration the demands of the Service Departments for land for training and defence purposes. Particular matters under examination are the amount of land required, the extent to which training can be carried out abroad, the feasibility of utilising the more remote and less populated parts of the country, particularly Scotland, and the effect of the proposals on agriculture, amenity and other interests. When this examination is completed, a White Paper will be issued.

Meanwhile, through inter-departmental machinery, consideration has now been given to certain areas of particular importance, namely, Harlech, Dartmoor, Braunton Burrows, Ashdown Forest, Purbeck, Castlemartin, and Martindale. Decisions have been reached as follows, references to acreages being approximate:

  1. (i) In the case of Harlech, the Government have reached the conclusion that the harm to the public interest, if it were retained, would be so grave that its use for peacetime training purposes must be abandoned.
  2. (ii) The original proposals of the War Office and the Admiralty in respect of Dartmoor, involving about 75,000 acres in all, have been modified with the result that the amount of land required has been reduced to 58,000 acres. It may be possible to reduce this even more by up to 11,000 acres by arrangements for joint use. Of the 58,000 acres, the public would be excluded from 28,000, as compared with 49,000 under the original proposals. Over 14,000 acres there would be not only prohibition of access to the public, but some restriction on grazing. A public local inquiry will be held into the proposals in their modified form before a decision on the retention of the area is reached.
  3. (iii) As regards Braunton Burrows (including Northern Burrows) the area has been reduced from 1,200 to 700 acres, the land to be surrendered including a rifle range. No agricultural land would be involved and service use would not prevent public access to any part of the area apart from eight acres at Instow except for a total of 12 days in the year when firing takes place. Use of the area save for a very small portion would involve training rights only. The proposal, as modified, will be the subject of a' public local inquiry before a decision on the !etention of the area is taken.
  4. (iv) The area of land required in the Ashdown Forest has been reduced from 7,500 to 7,000 acres, and public access and the use of the land for grazing purposes would be the same as before the war. In this case also a public local inquiry will be held before a decision on the retention of the area is taken.
  5. (v) As regards the Purbeck area, comprising 6,940 acres, no reconciliation of military and civil interests has been found possible. The retention of the land for tank training purposes would involve the loss of 1,500 acres of cultivatable land, 3,000 acres of rough grazing land, and exclusion of 1896 the public from 6,540 acres, including the coastline from Worbarrow Tout to the west of Kimmeridge Bay. A public local inquiry will be held before a decision on the retention of this area is taken.
  6. (vi) The use of the Castlemartin area as a tank training area was approved by the Government of the day in 1938, after full consideration of all the factors, and the land involved has, save for a very small portion, already been acquired by the War Office. The area is most suitable as a tank training range and considerable sums of money have been spent on the necessary installations. Moreover, as the result of discussions with the interests concerned, modifications of the original proposals have been made which would greatly reduce the detriment to civilian interests. Out of a total of 5,960 acres, about 5,000 are suitable for cultivation and grazing. Of this amount, 1,500 acres would be likely to remain permanently available for agricultural use, while some 2,500 would still be usable for these purposes until such time as the tank range came into full use. Limited access to the coastline by the public would also be possible. About A miles of the coastline would be open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays and on any other day when firing is not in progress, and special arrangements would be made for visits by scientific bodies to the remaining three miles of coastline which would otherwise have to remain closed on account of the danger of unexploded shells; but though much has been done to safeguard civilian interests, the Government have decided that a public local inquiry should be held before decision is taken.
  7. (vii) A decision regarding the Martindale field firing range awaits the result of a search for an alternative area in which local interests are co-operating. This search has been delayed by the weather, but is likely to be successful.

Sir C. Headlam

Can the Prime Minister tell me whether anything has been decided with regard to the Redesdale artillery range?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir, I cannot make an announcement on that particular area at the present moment.

Mr. Clement Davies

May I ask the Prime Minister whether, apart from the specific cases to which he has referred, a local public inquiry will be held in every case before any land is taken, and whether such inquiries will be heard as near to the locality as possible; and may I add that there will be great satisfaction in Wales with regard to the decision concerning Harlech?

The Prime Minister

If it is a major matter there will be a public inquiry, but I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will realise that if the case were that of a small site such a procedure might not be worth while.

Mr. Medland

Will the Prime Minister bear in mind the necessity for fixing a very early date for the public inquiry on Dartmoor, having regard to the importance of arranging for the summer holiday tourist traffic?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, it will be arranged as soon as possible.

Mr. Eden

Although the right hon. Gentleman's announcement in regard to a number of cases in which public inquiries are to be held will no doubt be welcomed, may I ask him to give the House an assurance that no action will be taken by Government Departments in respect of any of this land until after the conclusion of the public inquiry?

The Prime Minister

Where land is already in occupation it will continue to be occupied as at present until the inquiry is held, but if there is a case which involves taking something new it would obviously be improper to do so before the inquiry was concluded.

Mr. Eden

I am much obliged to the Prime Minister, but does he realise that this has in fact happened?

Sir G. Jeffreys

Will the Prime Minister tell the House what will be the approximate increase in the acreage on Dartmoor as compared with what was occupied by the War Office before the war in the Okehampton range and the background to it, and in the Purbeck area, because both were occupied by the War Office to a certain extent before the war?

The Prime Minister

I am sorry, but I have not that prewar figure with me. If the hon. and gallant Member puts down a Question I will give him the information.

Mr. Driberg

Although it has not so far been found practicable, would my right hon. Friend re-examine the possibility of training in Canada, bearing in mind not only the question of expense of transport, etc., but the positively good effect on inter-Commonwealth relations of the Empire Air Training Scheme during the war?

The Prime Minister

All these matters have already been given close examination, but there are obvious difficulties such as expense and trouble of movements, etc., and I do not think it is possible at the moment.

Mr. Emrys Roberts

While expressing deep appreciation of the decision to release Harlech, which will be widely welcomed in my constituency and throughout Wales, may I ask the Prime Minister if consideration will be given to the position of Wales as a whole and not merely to particular camps, bearing in mind that the percentage of land occupied by military camps in Wales is about 10 per cent. of the whole as against 3 per cent. in England and 3 per cent. in Scotland; can we have an overall plan for Wales?

The Prime Minister

We shall consider the country as a whole and shall try to take areas which will do the least harm to agricultural amenities and other economic activities, and of course there are parts of Wales that are not very cultivable.

Mr. Vane

Could not the Prime Minister say a little more about the Lake District, because he has only mentioned Martindale, which is a small area, and there are many larger areas also involved?

The Prime Minister

I have given the information about areas where decisions have already been reached. I am awaiting a full report before other decisions are taken. Further decisions will be announced as soon as possible.

Mr. Skeffington-Lodge

Can my right lion. Friend say to what extent the proposed national parks areas are affected by what he has announced today?

The Prime Minister

Not without notice.

Mr. Keeling

At the beginning of his statement the Prime Minister referred to Service requirements of land for training and defence. May I ask him whether that includes land for experiments on new weapons, or is that on a different footing?

The Prime Minister

This includes training and defence. I cannot give specific details as to whether the weapons are new or old, but the training must go on.

Miss Jennie Lee

While we cannot expect a reply from the Prime Minister now, may I ask him to keep in mind when reducing the amount of land used in England, Wales and elsewhere that it would be a good idea to exclude areas like Cannock Chase, which is in the heart of an industrial area? I mention that because I heard a rumour that the Chase was going to be closed, which would be contrary to the policy of making the mining areas more attractive.

The Prime Minister

I will bear that in mind. I had not heard that rumour.

Mr. H. Strauss

Can the Prime Minister say anything about the public inquiry, which Department will hold it and will those who advocate that these territories should be taken over submit themselves to cross-examination?

The Prime Minister

The Ministry of Town and Country Planning will hold the inquiry. I could not give an answer specifically without notice in regard to the exact way in which it will be conducted.

Mr. David Grenfell

Having regard to the sites that are being taken in Scotland, Wales and other districts, will the Prime Minister undertake that the views of the people in the immediate district shall be fully heard?

The Prime Minister

I can assure my hon. Friend that we are having a public inquiry for precisely the purpose of obtaining the local views.

Mr. Grenfell

I could not hear what the Prime Minister said. Could he give us that assurance?

Mr. Charles Williams

How long does the right hon. Gentleman expect the Dartmoor inquiry to take, and can he assure us that real consideration will be given to local feeling on the matter?

The Prime Minister

Certainly. I think the House will realise that there are conflicting interests and that the Army, the Navy and the Air Force have got to he trained. Therefore, we have to consider these areas with regard to amenities, defence and agriculture. An endeavour will be made to hold a fair balance between these considerations, but if I were to say that one should be absolutely overwhelming, obviously it would not get us anywhere.

Brigadier Prior-Palmer

In view of the fact that it was under the wartime regulations that these large training areas were taken over and are held by the War Department, will the right hon. Gentleman state how soon we might expect the White Paper and a decision on these matters?

The Prime Minister

I cannot give a date, but as soon as possible.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

We have got a very important Debate coming on and I think we should get on.