HC Deb 31 January 1949 vol 460 cc1381-4
61 Mr. Mott-Radclyffe

asked the Minister of Agriculture (1) what advice was tendered to his Department by the land utilisation officer in respect of the draft designation order for the new town at Bracknell;

(2) upon what date the last Ministry of Agriculture survey was carried out by his Department on farm land in the Bracknell area for the purposes of classification;

(3) why the Berkshire A.E.C. were not consulted before the draft designation order for the new town at Bracknell was made.

Mr. T. Williams

The Abercrombie Plan for Greater London recommended the creation of a new town in the neighbourhood of White Waltham. My Department strongly objected to this proposal on account of the high agricultural value of the land, and in 1946, interdepartmental consideration was given to possible alternative sites in the same region which would be less damaging to agricultural interests. A special investigation was then carried out by the Ministry's technical officers, and the only site found which met this requirement and was also suitable on general planning grounds was one centred on Bracknell. The designation order was drafted in the light of this investigation, and in accordance with the procedure laid down in the Act there will be opportunity for a local public inquiry. It will not be appropriate for the county agricultural executive committee, who are my agents, to take part in the inquiry, but they have received a copy of the designation order and have at my invitation given me their views which will be taken into account when my Department is consulted again by the Minister of Town and Country Planning after the public inquiry, and before a final decision is reached.

Mr. Mott-Radclyffe

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the area affected by the draft designation order is yielding crops well above the national average, that more than 36 agricultural holdings are involved, and that the area is producing annually about 125,000 gallons of milk and 860 tons of corn? Can he tell the House from what source his Department derives information as to local conditions in any given area where agricultural interests are involved, if it is not from agricultural executive committees, before any such draft designation is agreed upon?

Mr. Williams

As the hon. Member is aware, I spend at least one-third of my life resisting encroachments upon agricultural land. If it does not happen to be a new town, it is water, and if it is not water it is perhaps the Army or the Air Force, or somebody else. That is one of the prices that we have to pay for this continued development. With regard to information on agricultural values of land out in the country, as the hon. Member will be aware there are land commissioners in each area and we have recently established a technical land service, and both of those sources are available to give what information they can to the Minister of Agriculture.

Major Sir Thomas Dugdale

Is the Minister aware that cases of this kind make the rural community despair of the sincerity of the Government in asking for increased food production? Although the Minister says that the Berkshire Agricultural Executive Committee cannot themselves intervene in this case, will he give an assurance that he will watch the case carefully?

Mr. Williams

Yes, Sir, certainly, in the light of information I receive from county agricultural committees in the areas designated.

Mr. Hurd

Is the Minister telling us that this site at Bracknell is one which his officials chose as doing least damage to food production in that area?

Mr. Williams

My Department resisted the suggested for a new town at White Waltham, where it was felt that the agricultural land was of the highest possible value. Therefore, alternative sites had to be looked at. This site at Bracknell is one of the alternatives, but the public inquiry will ultimately determine, if a new town must be laid out somewhere, whether this is the right spot.

Brigadier Head

Can the Minister assure the House that the loss in terms of food production is less than it would have been if the site had remained at White Waltham.

Mr. Williams

That is the advice of my technical advisers out in the country.

Mr. Mott-Radclyffe

Will the Minister give an assurance that the land utilisation officer personally visited both the sites selected and the alternatives before he made his report?

Mr. Williams

I can assure the hon. Member that my land commissioner visited both and all the alternative sites that have been suggested.

Mr. York

Has the Minister's Department pressed upon the authorities responsible for the new town alternative sites near Bracknell, where the agricultural land value is very small?

Mr. Williams

I have already indicated to the hon. Member and to the House that my Department's technical officers have visited all the alternative areas. We protested against the White Waltham site because of its first-class agricultural land. I understand that among the alternatives that have been recommended the agricultural land is not nearly so valuable as the land at White Waltham.

Mr. Joynson-Hicks

In view of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman protested against the site at White Waltham and that that has been abandoned, and in view of the further fact that the Bracknell site is being proceeded with, can the Minister assure the House that he will protest in regard to the Bracknell site?

Mr. Williams

If there must be a new town somewhere within that region, we can only protest against the absorption of the best agricultural land within the area.