§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Legh.]
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Sir Ian Fraser (Morecambe and Lonsdale)
I am sure this House would wish to cherish the beautiful places in Britain, and the matter which I beg leave to bring to notice is one which concerns one of our most beautiful places, namely, Lake Windermere. It is also a matter which raises a general principle, to which I hope the House will not be unwilling to devote its attention.
There is a proposal to establish a caravan site, or a site where chalets may be built on the lakeside of Lake Windermere. The appropriate authority which deals with these matters is the Lake District Planning Board. I propose to give the House the facts in this case, but, before I go into detail, I wish to summarise by saying that at the moment a proposal is under consideration for the establishment of such a caravan site. There is an acute difference of opinion in my constituency as to whether this is a desirable thing—as to whether it is desirable in itself and also as to whether it may not be the thin end of a wedge which, as time goes on, might change the character of Lake Windermere. That is the way in which my constituents look at the matter and why I have brought it to this House.
Under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, Parliament set up a new local authority called, in this instance, the Lake District Planning Board, to look after these beautiful places, such as the Lake District and other select spots in Britain; to see that no untoward development takes place and that nothing is built or done to destroy their character and beauty.
This Board is a kind of supra-authority. Local authorities are represented on it and also certain societies interested in the amenities of the countryside. When a person desires to create new development in a National Park he goes to this local planning authority and asks for a licence, which may or may not be granted to him. Under Section 16 of the Town and 1484 Country Planning Act, 1947, if an applicant succeeds in securing his licence, there is no more to be said. He goes ahead, and no one can say him nay. No one can question the matter and, for all practical purposes, that is the end of it.
But supposing the applicant fails. Then, under Section 16, he can go to the Minister and say, "I have failed in my application. May I now demand reconsideration of it? May I demand an inquiry?" The Minister may cause the whole matter to be reconsidered. He may set up a public inquiry to go into the merits of the case. But, if the applicant is successful, no objector may appeal to the Minister or, if he does, there is, for all practical purposes, nothing the Minister can do about it.
I will show later that there is one thing the Minister may do and which I will ask him to do, but there is not the same freedom of appeal for the objector who is hurt by the proposed development as there is for the unsuccessful applicant. That would seem to me, and to many of my constituents, to be extremely unfair. I cannot imagine how this House—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
That would seem to be a criticism of legislation and not of administration.
§ Sir I. Fraser
Having regard to the fact that Parliament passed this Act, it seems to me that an obligation rests upon the Minister to deal with the situation which I have outlined by administrative action. That is one of the requests which I wish to make to him.
Hon. Members may be aware that an applicant may come to a committee of this Lake District Planning Board, or similar authority, and that such a committee may sit in private. The applicant may put this case before the committee and no one who is interested or affected need know anything about it. No notice is required to be given, the whole thing can be secretly arranged and practically fixed and settled in the committee of the planning board, and the only time it comes to the notice of the people is if somebody happens to talk about it, or, at the last moment, when it goes to the full Lake District Planning Board and is then discussed in public. But, until that moment, no one whose interest may be affected or is concerned about the 1485 public interest need know anything whatever about it.
A very special responsibility rests upon the Minister, by administrative act, to avoid the consequences of the unfortunate chain of events to which I have referred. The Minister certainly has power to cause a public inquiry to be held, and if we were to cause the local planning authority to give notice when a proposal had been made for a very large and substantial development which might affect a great many people's interest, all those whose interest might be affected or who were concerned about what they thought to be the public interest could attend and make their representations. We should at least be assured that all objections were properly heard. But that is not the way it works. It can be secretly fixed up and practically brought to a final conclusion before being ratified at the public session.
I ask the Minister to give us an assurance that, either now or when such cases arise in future, he will instruct local authorities, or advise them if he cannot instruct them, when development scheme applications are made, to cause the applicants to advertise them and give notice of them with sufficient particulars so that those whose private interests are affected or who think the public interest is affected will know about it. We should thus at least make sure that nothing could occur which would be secret to those whose interests may be affected.
I also ask that where there is a substantial body of local opinion which makes itself known as adverse to or critical of any proposed development, the Minister should, in advance of a decision by, say, the Lake District Planning Board, cause a public inquiry to be held. Due notice having been given, all sides could have their say at the public inquiry. Those who felt that it was good development could attend and say so and those who felt that it was bad and affected their interests or the public interest could also say so.
Having been advised of this matter by a member of the Ulverston Rural District Council, I wrote on 18th December to the Minister of Housing and Local Government bringing these facts to his notice and asking him to set up such a public inquiry. I told him that the Lake 1486 District Planning Board would meet on 5th January and asked him to set up a public inquiry before that date or to defer the date of the meeting if, because of the Christmas vacation, he could not set up the inquiry in time.
I had a letter from the Minister on 6th January, the day after the meeting of the board, and in it he said that he thought that the circumstances of the matter were fairly well known locally and that he did not see any need for a public inquiry. That is very unsatisfactory. The matter was known only because one or two people happened to hear of it. There was widespread feeling of resentment about the matter among my constituents, but the opportunity for making representations at a proper public inquiry was not provided. Who knows but that very much larger numbers of persons might have come forward on either side and given evidence? I am bound to say that I have not as yet heard from one single person in my constituency who desires this caravan site to be encouraged or enlarged, or even allowed at all, whereas very considerable numbers have expressed themselves to me as being opposed to it.
I want to ask the Minister four questions. Firstly, will he do whatever he can do administratively to see that, where an application is made which prima facie touches private interests or the public interest, he will see that public notice is given of it? That is the first thing. Secondly, where as a result of such notice there is a substantial degree of opinion expressed against the application, will he ensure that a public inquiry is held before the decision of the local Planning authority? Thirdly, if I were to suggest that the Town and Country Planning Act should be amended, you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, would say it was out of order, so I will not say it. Fourthly, may I point out to the Minister that, under Section 21of the Town and Country Planning Act, he has power to revoke an order, and that he has used something like that power in the case of the television proposals for Dartmoor? He can use that power, because, although I admit that it is an ultimate sanction, he can revoke an order under Section 21 and cause the whole matter to be reconsidered.
Easier still, I am not at all sure that, technically, the licence applied for must 1487 inevitably be refused and a new licence issued, because what the Lake District Planning Board did was not to refuse the application but to give a modified licence, subject to certain conditions, or, at least, that is what they said they will do. Technically, it may be that they may have to reject the original application and give instead a much more limited licence with these conditions. If that be so, there appears to be a moment at which, the refusal of the original application having been made and the new licence subject to conditions not yet having been granted, there is no licence at all, but a sort of negative vacuum.
During it, it seems to me, the Minister, without invoking the heavy machinery of revocation, could say that a case had been made out for a public inquiry. Let us hear whether the people who are concerned really want it or not, and, therefore, my final request to the Minister is that he should take advantage of the opportunity which is now presented to him either of revoking an order, or, if that is not necessary, ordering a public inquiry at which the whole of the circumstances may be heard.
The Ulverston Rural District Council, which is a very important and well respected local authority, the parish council, the county agricultural executive committee, the Friends of the Lake District, and a very large number of my constituents of all kinds anl classes think that this proposal is not only out of character with the essential nature of Lake Windermere, but that it adversely touches their interests and the public interests.
A final word about the character of Lake Windermere and the tests which local planning boards should apply in judging what developments are desirable. I am the last to say that mass entertainment, or considerable organised holiday camps, or groups of caravan sites, and all the fun of the fair which may go with them are not desirable things. On the contrary, they are most desirable, and contribute greatly to the well-being and happiness of many people. In my constituency the famous watering place of Morecambe provides exactly that for very large numbers of our people. But the people of Morecambe would not wish Windermere to be changed from what Windermere is.
1488 One of the great attractions about going to Morecambe is that one can take a charabanc and go for the day to the Lake District to see something, not necessarily better or worse, but different in character. It would be no contribution to the well-being of the people in the great towns and cities if Windermere were the same as Morecambe. The great and enormous advantage is that these places are different. Morecambe, I think, is the best place of its kind to provide the kind of entertainment, relaxation and rest which its visitors can afford.
Let Windermere remain what it has always been—one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, surrounded by quiet scenery. Do not let it develop into a place where all the fun of the fair can be had, and where caravans, chalets and other developments out of character and out of type may spring up. The promoters may say that nothing could be further from theirthoughts than such development, but directly a new element is introduced it is not known how far it will go. There may be utter confidence in the promoters, but what about their successors, and the vested interests that may be brought into being by possible development at the side of this great lake?
Public interest contains a number of elements. There is the interest of the people living around Lake Windermere—they do not want this proposal. There are those in such places as Blackpool. Morecambe and Southport—they certainly do not want it. There is the interest of the public living in London, Birmingham or other big towns; I confirm that they do not want it. If they want to go to Morecambe, Blackpool or Southport—and I especially commend Morecambe to them—they will enjoy what they expect to enjoy and what is there—the best of its kind and nature that can be provided. But if they want to go to the Lake District they want the attractions of the Lake District—not find some 2,000 people in charabancs polluting the water, killing the fish, annoying their neighbours and changing the character of the place.
For all those reasons, Iask the Minister seriously and earnestly to consider doing the four things for which I asked. I shall repeat them. First, will he see that notice is given of projects of 1489 this kind; secondly, will he see that a proper public inquiry takes place before anything so inimical to the interests of the people concerned is begun; ray third point was out of order, and, lastly, will he use his powers to revoke what has been done and cause a public inquiry to be instituted forthwith?
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Sir Wavell Wakefield (St. Marylebone)
I am indebted to the courtesy of my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser), who advised me that he was going to raise this matter on the Adjournment. I am completely at one with him in his desire to preserve the amenities, the beauty and the loveliness of the southern part of Lake Windermere, in the National Park. For nearly half a century, since I was a small boy, I have spent my holidays on that part of the lake. I continue to do so with my daughters and grandchildren, and there is nothing further from my thoughts than that I should be a party to the lake becoming another Morecambe. Heaven forbid!
It is fantastic to suggest that that beautiful part of the lake is going to be turned into a kind of Morecambe Bay, ringed with Butlin camps and all the rest. Such an idea is quite preposterous, and to suggest that this proposal seeks to do anything of the kind is about as far from the truth as we are from the moon. This site, which it is proposed to develop, on the eastern shore of Lake Windermere, belongs to a company of which I am the chairman. It is a private family company, and this property has belonged to my family for upwards of 150 years.
It is an 80 acre site, 65 acres of which are full of trees and coppice, five acres of rough grazing—and, believe me, it is very rough grazing, consisting mostly of rock and heather—and 10 acres of pasture, some of which is frequently flooded by the lake. This site has been used as a chalet and caravan site for most of this century. My hon. Friend said that the proposal was to establish a caravan site there, or a site where chalets may be built, but the proposal is nothing of the kind. These caravans have been there for 40 years or more. For some time about 40 chalets and caravans have been placed there. The proposed development is to increase the number of caravans to 75, or rather fewer than one per acre.
§ Sir W. Wakefield
That is the proposed development. Originally, the proposal was for up to 300 caravans, or rather more than three caravans per acre.
Let us consider what is required in these National Parks. First, the Lake District Planning Board, which was set up to supervise the planning of these Parks, is there to preserve the amenities, on the one hand, and to provide facilities for public recreation on the other. In its first annual Report the Lake District Planning Board stated that frequently there was difficulty in reconciling the preservation of amenity and the provision of public recreation.
The Board was always in a difficulty in that matter, so my family, when we read of the policy of proposed development, offered to develop this site, because, in the words of the Planning Board, this site wasconforming to their future policy by which organised caravan camping sites should be established roughly on the perimeter of the National Park. They feel that this site by reason of its siting on the edge of Winder-mere, the configuration of the ground and the cover provided by the trees and other vegetation is ideally sited for caravan camping.
§ Colonel Ralph Clarke (East Grin-stead)
Was the intention that this site should be a temporary caravan camp for people on holiday for perhaps a fortnight or a month, or was it for residential purposes, for caravans to be there for, perhaps, six months or a year or longer—really a form of housing?
§ Sir W. Wakefield
The intention was to develop that site in conformity with the Lake District Planning Board's requirements. The offer was made that this site should be used for whatever purpose the board considered to be in the public interest.
§ Colonel Clarke
I thank my hon. Friend. Sir W. Wakefield: The offer was made to plant trees if required; to try out various kinds of chalets, if required; to provide caravans for weekly people, if they were wanted. The company offered to do whatever the Board wanted for carrying out its statutory duty to provide recreational facilities for the public, at the same time 1491 preserving amenity. That was the position. My family and I considered that as landlords in that National Park it was our public duty to do what we could to further the publicly-stated aims of the board and of the National Parks Commission.
I would draw attention to what the National Parks Commission says in page 12 of its Report for the year ended 30th September, 1953. In that report the Commission says that:The Park Planning Authorities, moreover, have given attention to the provision of authorised camp sites, each accommodating a number of caravans or tents appropriately placed or screened. Good new camp-sites to accommodate a limited number of caravans or tents, properly sited and well-run, will be a welcome addition to the facilities in the Parks for open-air recreation: furthermore, such sites when available will be an asset to the Park Planning Authorities in their task of controlling caravanning and camping generally.The Commission refers to the Lake District Planning Board's policy and says:The Planning Officers further recommended the selection of potential small sites on the dales and lake shores for small groups of caravans suitably screened or tucked away into the landscape; encouragement to owners of such sites, when found, to make them available and at the same time to discourage the use of other parts of their land for caravanning.…We considered it our duty as landlords in that part of the National Park to make this site available to assist the planning board to carry out its duties as laid down by Parliament.
The Report goes on:…and the establishment, under the aegis of the Board, of a few suitable sites on a larger scale, properly laid out and serviced, within easy reach of towns or villages.This site is ideally suited for those people who wish to boat or fish or swim or enjoy the walking and other facilities in that part of the National Park. The whole idea of assisting the board in developing the site is to enable such people to have privacy. Anyone who has been to Canada and seen the camps there, in the trees and thickets, where people can find privacy and enjoy fishing and boating, will fully appreciate what could be done with this site so that the amenities which my hon. Friend described in that part of the lake are not destroyed. They can be preserved, while allowing the public to enjoy the boating, fishing 1492 and bathing facilities which exist in the National Park.
My hon. Friend told-us that the local landlords objected. There are only a few local landlords who object, very influential and very powerful landlords; and they have objected to this proposed further development on a long-established site. What are their objections? They were heard at a public hearing. It is true, as my hon. Friend said, that various other public bodies interested in walking, caravanning and similar activities were not given an opportunity to support this development because they knew nothing about it. But the local objectors knew all about it and turned up in force to object as strongly as they could.
What were their objections? I think it is right that the House should know them. First of all, an objection was "damage to amenities." I have already told the House that this site is ideally suited for preserving the amenities. The next objection was that the site was unsuitable, but the planning board itself, after very careful examination of this and other sites, said that it is ideally suited for caravan camping.
Another objection was that the site uses agricultural land. I have explained that out of the 80 acres, five acres are rough grazings and 10 acres are pasture. It will be possible to continue farming on those 15 acres. I do not know what the local landlords told the agricultural executive committee, but there will be no interference with farming on that site.
Finally—and this is supposed to be the trump card—the objectors stated that adequate provision had already been made in the district for caravan campers. If adequate provision exists elsewhere, that means that the site will not be used—so what on earth is all the fuss about? What are they objecting to? If these few, influential constituents of my hon. Friend say that there is already adequate provision for caravan campers and that there is no need for the extra development, what are they worrying about? They want to have their cake and to eat it; and all this shows the hollowness of their case.
§ Sir I. Fraser
Would my hon. Friend permit me to answer his most friendly questions? They are not just a few influential constituents. I consider all my 1493 constituents influential. Many hundreds of them, including of course two local authorities—the rural district council and the parish council—as well as the National Farmers' Union and the county agricultural committee, are involved here, not just a handful of influential constituents. I have not met a single one in favour of the project.
§ Sir W. Wakefield
Has my hon. Friend consulted shopkeepers, garage proprietors, boatkeepers and a lot of others who are interested to see that there should be enjoyment of this National Park by some members of the public other than his few friends?
Why is it that the Ulverston Rural District Council approved this site, approved everything, and then, when pressure was brought on it, changed its mind? On what grounds? I have not heard. I do not know on what grounds in view of these publicly stated facts and in view of the carrying out of the policy of the board, as laid down in its various publications. There have been no adequately stated reasons that I know of why the council should have changed its mind.
As for the parish council, as my hon. Friend knows as well as I do, the parish council is to all intents and purposes the few people on that particular shore of Lake Windermere. I do not want to detain the House longer, but I think that the House should be thankful to the hon. Member for raising this matter, because it shows that if we are not very careful the public will not be allowed to enjoy the National Parks in the way that Parliament has laid down.
There is this Planning Board there, which is doing its duty to the best of its ability, very carefully carrying out the preservation of the amenities and, at the same time, seeing that the public have proper right of access. I hope very much that the Minister will not do what my hon. Friend suggests, and stop this further very modest development for the public to enjoy the amenities of boating, fishing and bathing in that public park, because if the Minister does that he will be going exactly contrary to the wishes of Parliament and, to what the board is trying to carry out in accordance with its declared policy; and it will not be very much encouragement to other owners of property who believe they are doing their duty in furthering the plans of the board if the 1494 Minister says that what they are doing is contrary to public policy.
§ 9.38 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Blenkinsop (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)
I want to intervene for a moment because, like many others I know this area very well, not only the area concerned at Windermere, but the whole of the Lake District, and I am among many who are most anxious that the efforts of the National Parks Commission to maintain proper standards of amenity are fully supported.
It might have been thought that I might very well have intervened in order to prevent development by the addition of further caravans on a site like this. On the other hand, I recognise that if the public are to have an opportunity of enjoying this area it is absolutely essential that suitable sites in the Lake District shall be made available in a proper way for caravans and camping in order to avoid the general spread of caravans, and something very much worse than caravans, shacks of one sort or another, all over the Lake District.
Therefore, I am quite sure that we should want to support the Lake District Board in trying to secure suitable places for camping and for caravans so that people shall have a proper opportunity of enjoying the area, which is indeed part of the whole purpose of the National Parks Act, and to avoid the destruction of amenities elsewhere. Therefore, the point which one has particularly to consider is whether development in this particular spot is right and suitable. I think that we in this House would be very ill-advised to disregard the declared advice of the Lake District Board itself in this matter. We have on the Lake District Board a wide representation of the amenity interests and other bodies representative of the local authorities and so on, who are, I should have thought, in much the best position to decide the actual location of the sites.
Therefore, although I might have had some sympathy for the plea made by the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser), I have a good deal less sympathy after listening to the comments of the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield), and also because of my knowledge of some of the difficulties in the area concerned and, to 1495 my way of thinking, a very difficult attitude that many local residents have put up towards the proper access to the area concerned in the recent past.
For example, I know that it was hoped to establish reasonable access to the path round the lakeside. All kinds of difficulties have been put in the way of this modest and proper desire to establish a right of way by, I suspect, some of the very persons for whom, I fear, the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale has been speaking.
§ Sir W. Wakefield
The Lake District Planning Board asked my company if we would agree to a public right of way along the lake and to a tree preservation order. We gladly agreed to both these requests.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
The fact that these difficulties have been put up by some local owners and residents does not predispose me to support the plea of the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale this evening. We have to hold very carefully the balance between the opportunity of use of the areas and the defence of their amenities. I cannot think of any better body to hold that balance than the body set up by Parliament to do so, and it seems to me that they are doing their best to carry out their duties.
The hon. Member for St. Marylebone referred for a moment to the national parks and the use of them in Canada. I know them and have used some of them in America. There is no doubt that although America has these enormous areas, which, alas, we have not got, we must attempt to find a reasonable compromise so that the enjoyment that many people certainly get in America from that type of holiday can be made possible in this country to the limited extent that our much smaller areas provide. Therefore, although I have the utmost sympathy with the desire to protect the amenities of this area, and even more particularly the amenities of the area lying further into the mountains, I also recognise that if we are to carry out the duties that Parliament laid upon the Lake District Board, we must ensure that people have the opportunity of using caravans and camping sites. This seems to me to be one possible way of doing that.
§ 9.43 p.m.
Mr. W. M. F. Vane (Westmorland)
I apologise to you, Mr. Speaker, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) who raised this question tonight, that I was unfortunately not present when he opened his debate; it began somewhat earlier than we expected.
I was extremely glad to hear the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) make a plea for moderation. I have always felt that the greatest danger to which the National Parks were exposed are the fanatics. If we are to exist happily and to develop along the lines that Parliament hoped the National Parks would develop, the most important thing of all is to save ourselves from the fanatics—and there are a great many on both flanks.
The people who live in such parts of England as have been designated National Parks have been extremely apprehensive of those vociferous elements in what, generally speaking, are called amenity societies. There was one village in the Lake District which, while the Bill was going through the House three years ago, started a society whose aim was to save themselves from the attentions of these people; and I think they had reasonable grounds for doing so, bearing in mind some of the extraordinary things that were said in the Committee upstairs.
On the other side, there are people who look at any tourist areas as a suitable place where they can cash in. What I am sure this House wanted was to steer a middle course between those two extremes. There are far too many examples in this country of beautiful places which have been ruined because no one had second or third thought.
I am not concerned here with any narrow constituency point of view but with the general principle. I feel that the National Parks administration should not be looked at as an extremist code, but as the normal planning code, plus some features appropriate to the character of their areas.
If we go any further we are going to lose the good will of the people living there. We have to earn our living by one means or another. We cannot sit back just to be looked at by the tourist, and on the other hand we do not want 1497 to do anything other than what is our clear, obvious duty to the country at large. As I came into the Chamber tonight I thought I heard a tag end of a speech describing a particular case. I think that most out of place here. Any message going from this House ought to be a message of moderation. Our idea of the future planning of the National Parks should be a reconciliation of all interests and the maintenance of those principles which I know the hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East has very much at heart and which were laid down originally in the Dower Report. If we depart from them we lose everything.
I hope we are not going to become worked up about one particular instance or another. There are planning boards with adequate powers. They represent the local people and the local authorities. They are people who have the district at heart and include members with specialist knowledge.
I hope we will all encourage these planning boards to do their job and discourage them if we should ever find them aiming at extreme courses, whether of the left or of the right.
§ 9.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Noel-Baker (Derby, South)
In a general way, like the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane), I am for moderation, but when I think of the devastation which has been wrought on our countryside in the last 50 years since I first knew it, and recall that the landowners have not been without their share of the guilt, I am also for a little healthy fanaticism as well.
I first walked the hills of Cumberland and swam in its lakes and rivers when I was an undergraduate at Cambridge many years ago. Except during the periods of the two world wars, I visited the Lake District regularly many times a year, and I could find my way over much of it in any weather and in the dark. I regard it as my spiritual home, and I feel very fanatical when people attack the amenities or beauties of that matchless country.
I have supported the Friends of the Lake District in many matters. I have always fought with them against the project of a road across the Styhead Pass. When I was at the Ministry of Fuel and 1498 Power I resisted the suggestion of pylons in Borrowdale and beside Ullswater—
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Yes, and I want everybody to have electricity in their houses. It can be had in Borrowdale without pylons at a little extra cost, which the general body of consumers ought to bear in order to preserve the amenities of the Lake District valleys. I would support that view against anybody, as indeed I did when I stood at that Box a few years ago.
As a matter of general policy I am in agreement with the first two points put forward by the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser). I am not against notice being given to all. They ought to know about this kind of thing and they usually do. I am not against a public inquiry. If it were in order, I would say that I do not oppose an amendment of the law.
On the fourth point, however, of asking the Parliamentary Secretary to revoke what has been done in the matter of this camping site—the permission to allow 75 caravans with a prospect of increase if it proves to be all right—I am strongly against the hon. Gentleman, and I hope that the Minister will do nothing of the kind. And as I know that the Parliamentary Secretary is himself a distinguished mountaineer, who is familiar with all these peaks and valleys, I am sure that he will give the right advice to his Minister after this debate.
Now may I deal with some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale? Deviating from his general line, he said in a courteous aside that he was sure the present developers of this site would be all right, but what about their successors? I hope the successors will not materialise for many years to come because we want the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield) to remain here. The hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale suggested that his successors would bring all the fun of the fair and envisaged Butlin camps around Windermere.
1499 What about the Lake District Planning Board? Are they not going to be there? Will they not keep the successors of the hon. Gentleman in order? Of course they will. The hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale said that since I live in London and do not possess a house near Windermere, I can stay at Morecambe and drive in a motor coach to enjoy the beauties of Windermere and the other lakes. Well, 18 months ago I lived at Morecambe, and the House will not misunderstand me when I say that for other reasons besides the weather, I do not want to go back.
I do not like Morecambe and I detest motor coaches. But is the hon. Gentleman really arguing that I cannot stay in a National Park unless I have enough money to stay in an hotel? I do not like hotels, I much prefer the system of Canadian camps, and with the screening which the hon. Member for St. Marylebone will give to his caravans, and with the woods there, I do not believe they will be an eyesore. They will not be visible from the lake or from the road. They may be visible from the mountain peaks but so far off that they will look about as agreeable as the people sitting on the beach.
This question must be judged in a reasonable spirit but also in the light of the intention of the Act which established the National Parks, and in the light of the principles which the Planning Board itself has laid down. At the cost of repeating one or two sentences used by the hon. Member, I shall quote from the Board's first Annual Report, which covers the period from 1951 to 1953.
It refers to the difficulty ofThe preserving and enhancing of the natural beauty of the areas…and…promoting their enjoyment by the public.On page 22 the Board points to the fact that…much of Windermere's eastern shore has been so developed with private houses that it is now hardly possible to create a footpath along most of its length.And not all the private houses are quite of the kind that a man like me would desire them to be. 1500 In a paragraph dealing with camping and caravans the Board says:Organised sites for tents and caravans are a different matter. Many folk desire the amenities, sanitary or other, which can be found in a well-conducted commercial site. Such sites must inevitably be located well down the dales where they can be sufficiently screened and command the necessary water supplies and proper drainage. Subject to this proviso, they are to be encouraged in that they add to the total accommodation available and enable more fresh visitors to come to the Lake District.Then the Board said, in a communication to the Lake District Estates Company—that is the hon. Member for St. Marylebone—that the Board considered that this site at Hill of Oaks and Blakeholme was…conforming to their future policy by which organised caravan camping sites should be established roughly on the perimeter of the National Park. They feel that this site, by reason of its siting on the edge of Winder-mere, the configuration of the ground and the cover provided by the trees and other vegetation is ideally sited for caravan camping.I think that that makes a pretty strong prima facie case for the contention of the hon. Member for St. Marylebone.
I should like to deal with one or two arguments which have been used in the local Press. I have read these letters.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)
Would the right hon. Gentleman explain what is meant by "fresh visitors"?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
People who have not hitherto been able to find accommodation but who will now be able to do so, thanks to the hon. Member for St. Marylebone and his camp.
§ Sir I. Fraser
If one can provide a few more beds it is, of course, a good thing, but if one develops large numbers of a new kind of place round the lake shore one may perhaps please a few hundred more people, but one will change the character of the district for the thousands who want to see it as it is now. Have we not to balance those two things?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Of course, and we change the character of the place by providing accommodation for a few hundred people by allowing private houses to be built along the shore. The camp which we are considering tonight will not be visible. It will not change 1501 the character of the place from the point of view of the general public who will be visiting there.
I do not want to exaggerate it, but there has been made, by a half-implied innuendo, a rather mean suggestion about the hon. Member for St. Marylebone. It has been said that he wants to exploit this site at Hill of Oaks and Blakeholme for commercial profit. I differ with the hon. Member for St. Marylebone on many matters of public policy, and my hon. Friends and I would say that the words "profit and private enterprise" summarise much of the difference between the hon. Member and us.
But I have known the hon. Member, as we all have, for many years. I have known his work on behalf of the National Playing Fields movement and in support of physical recreation of many kinds. I have served with him on many committees, including the Parliamentary Committee on Sports and Games, and I know that he has done devoted service and given a great part of his life to helping those who have not had a fair chance of enjoying the countryside and manly sports and games, to have a better chance than they have had in times gone by. I hope that that suggestion about the hon. Member for St. Marylebone to which I have referred will be entirely discounted and that evidence from this side of the House will help to end it.
The suggestion has been made, and indeed it is made in the extract from the report of the Planning Board which I have quoted, that it has been difficult to secure a right of way, a walk for visitors along the shores of the lake. I believe that that is true of the eastern side and the southern end of the lake. Thanks to the hon. Member, I think it ought to be less true.
I should like to urge on the Minister that he should see to it—
§ It being Ten o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Kaberry.]
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I urge the Parliamentary Secretary to see to it that the Board should acquire a zone of 50 yards from the shore of the lake so that there 1502 may be a right of way and a place for people to picnic by the lake, to swim, to land from boats, to fish and so on. I cannot believe that that would damnify the owners of private houses in any way which in the 20th century they are entitled to resent. I believe that the houses are all a quarter of a mile or more from the shore of the lake. They are largely screened by woods, shrubs, bushes.
I know Buttermere very well. One can walk all round the lake of Buttermere and there is a private hotel called Hasness, which the Parliamentary Secretary knows. One can walk along the shore along the bottom of the land of Hasness. Does that do anyone harm? I have never heard the people of Hasness complain. I think it is something which visitors to Buttermere value very much indeed. But, to read some of the letters appearing in the local Press, one has the feeling that to some people Windermere is regarded as a private and not a National Park.
This is a National Park dedicated by Parliament to the nation. While we are all agreed that nothing should be done to desecrate the lovely British beauty of this mountain scenery, we on our side of the House are resolved that nothing should be done to keep the people of the country out of this park, which is theirs.
§ 10.2 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Ernest Marples)
We have had a debate which has been more interesting and, perhaps, prolonged than is usual for an Adjournment debate because of the uncertainties which often arise in this House. One thing seems quite clear— that, whatever I say, some people are not going to be pleased. That is quite certain, because so many opinions have been expressed tonight.
I should like to make one or two points in answer to the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker). He asked, if there is a camp by Buttermere, does it do any harm? It depends on how the camp is carried on. If it is carried on under proper conditions and those responsible are reasonable, it does no harm. If it is carried on in a disreputable way, it does harm. Broadly speaking, if conditions are reasonable, it does no harm.
1503 My hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) did not want this planning permission confirmed. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield) wanted the permission confirmed. The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop), who has been courteous enough to send me a note to say that he has to go to Newcastle—which is a considerable distance away—wanted the permission confirmed provided that reasonable precautions were taken. My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) wanted moderation and thought perhaps that on balance it would be a good thing. I can tell him that he will get moderation in certain things, but not when it comes to such things as the discussion we are having tonight, because people feel so passionately about this subject, possibly rightly. They feel passionately because of feelings which govern them in considering National Parks.
I have spent a great deal of my life in the Lake District, and the right hon. Member who represents the Opposition tonight would, I think, agree that I know more personally about this area than any hon. Member who has taken part in the debate.
§ Mr. Marples
The right hon. Member has lived longer, but perhaps not more intimately with the problem. Many of my younger days were spent there living under the very rocks of Gimmer. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland will climb on the Gimmer rocks with me. Then we will have to have a by-election where we shall have a safe majority. I know that I have slept out under these rocks year in and year out when I was—I will not say small and young, because I am still small, but not so young.
The right hon. Member for Derby, South spoke passionately on this matter. For years he has advocated National Parks and devoted a great deal of his lifetime to that cause. When he said that he would stoutly resist the construction of a road over Styhead Pass, I was with him one hundred per cent. If he will resist it, so will I. If ever a road 1504 is suggested over that Pass, I will go into the Division Lobby against any Whips of any party, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will be with me.
To some extent, this debate has been stolen from my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale, to whom hon. Members will be grateful for bringing up the matter. I am grateful to him for giving me notice of the points he intended to raise in a manner both exhaustive and lucid, which enabled me to grasp with ease what he had in mind.
He said he hoped we should all cherish the beautiful places of England, and I agree that, of all the places in England—I do not mention Wales, though there are no Welsh hon. Members thronging the benches opposite—the Lake District is perhaps the most beautiful—and possibly the wettest.
May I ask my hon. Friend if he is aware that over the last two or three weeks, when the greater part of England was suffering from the most intolerable weather, the Lake District has had the most perfect weather in Europe?
§ Mr. Marples
That may be so, but of course the last two or three weeks do not justify the weather over the last 50 years.
§ Mr. Marples
I hope it is, and if so it will be even more beautiful than for the last 50 years. But, in spite of the rain, it is the most beautiful spot and something which we ought to cherish.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Is it not the fact that Seatoller has the highest rainfall in the country and that is why the Lake District is so beautiful?
§ Mr. Marples
It is Seathwaite, and it is the wettest part in England. What has been happening in the last two or three weeks does not detract from the fact that the Lake District is the wettest, though the most beautiful, part of England—at any rate we have reached agreement about that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Morcambe and Lonsdale exhibited considerable skill in skating over the difficulty about mentioning legislation. He presented his case with great Parliamentary ability, and succeeded in representing the 1505 views of his constituents in a most able manner. Morecambe itself, to which he referred, is, in my opinion, a very nice place from certain aspects. It has great Parliamentary sagacity. One can scarcely see the sea there, but one can obtain some excellent shrimps.
I feel bound to say that my hon. Friend rather overstated his case, which is an unusual thing for him to do. He made two points, the first on this particular case which we are discussing, and the second on the general principle. He argued that when a planning authority allowed an application, third parties who might be adversely affected if development took place could not object to the decision arrived at, or even have the matter ventilated. My hon. Friend asked that in such cases the planning permission should be revoked and a public inquiry held to hear representations from both sides. In general, he said that the planning board should give public notice that they had received such an application and, if there was strong opposition, that the Minister should order a public inquiry before the planning board determined the matter. I believe that summarises the case made by my hon. Friend. One ought to say what happened in this case, and so I will deal with the case first and the general issue afterwards.
The Ministry first knew of this case from a letter from a firm of solicitors which explained that an application for planning permission to develop as a caravan site 80 acres of land on the eastern shore of Windermere was under submission to the Lake District Planning Board. It also stated that the land was leased to a client of the solicitors who owned other property nearby as well. The letter asked the Minister to call in the application under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, for the Solicitors represented the application as a serious threat to the most beautiful parts of the Lake District.
I have two points to make on that. The first is that no such representation was received from any of the several organisations which normally protect the amenities of the Lake District from any attentions which they consider to be unwelcome. As far as my personal experience goes, if there is any district in the country which has friends who will stoutly resist any encroachment upon their 1506 area, it is the Lake District. I should place the Lake District first, Wales second, and the Peak District third or joint second. Certainly the first place would go to the Lake District. Yet none of the societies made representations to the Minister, which in itself showed that those concerned with the amenity interest—I do not use the term offensively—were quite happy that the project was reasonable.
Secondly, six of the18 members of the Lake District Planning Board are appointed by the Minister after consultation with the National Park Commission, and they are persons resident in or near the Lake District who are familiar with its traditions and have a special interest in preserving its amenities.
The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East, a former Parliamentary Secretary and a far better one than I shall ever be, said that he thought that this power ought to be left in the hands of the local planning board. I feel great sympathy with his point of view. There is no point in a Minister setting up a planning board and then over-riding any decision which an individual hon. Member thinks is disagreeable. What should be done is to reconstitute the board rather than continue to reverse its decisions, because its members will then lose confidence in themselves. These two points are most powerful.
I will now describe how the board dealt with the application. In all fairness, I must straight away say that the information which I have has been obtained from the planning board. I have no doubt that it will be accurate and not over-stated, but I have not had sufficient time to check whether or not both sides agree on the statements that I shall make. The application was considered by the board's development committee, who at an early stage consulted the appropriate committee of the rural district council.
The first reS5CV0523P0I0761action of the rural district council was favourable, although later it changed its mind slightly. For its part, the committee was disposed at that stage to favour the proposals, subject to safeguards, which one can understand, and further discussion with the applicants followed. Certain criticisms were then ventilated, and so the committee invited to an informal meeting all who had expressed an interest in the matter.
1507 The meeting was held in November. The critics were given a short but reasonably comprehensive statement of the applicants' proposal and had an opportunity of putting forward their views. I am told thatat the meeting there were representatives of the rural district council and the parish council, the Friends of the Lake District, the Lancashire branch of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and a number of private residents. I think most of the interested parties had some opportunity of taking their point of view, and, after all that, the committee decided not to take a final decision on the application, as it was one which the board themselves ought to take.
§ Mr. Marples
No; the committee decided that they could not themselves grant this application, and that the decision should be made by the board itself. The responsibility for this decision rests upon the board and not upon any committee. The matter came before the board on 5th January, and was debated in public at great length, the Press being present throughout. The board decided to instruct the committee to grant the application, subject to a number of safeguards, and, in the "Westmorland Gazette" of 9th January, four days after the board met, this appeared in black type:After one of the longest discussions since the inception of the Board two years ago, an application for the use of the site was granted with a number of conditions, including one which limits the number of caravans to 75.So that it seems to me that it was a long discussion, and that all interested parties were represented. I understand that a meeting will be held next week to discuss further details, and that the Rural District Council has been invited to send representatives. So far, no planning consent has been given, so that the question of revocation does not arise.
Those are the facts, and I honestly think—and I think that on reflection my hon. Friend will agree․that, in view of the notice in the Press and of what I have said, every person who had any interest in this matter has had ample opportunity of representing his or her objections.
§ Sir I. Fraser
Will my hon. Friend allow me again? He makes the point that the "Westmorland Gazette" says that a long discussion took place, but no evidence was given. This matter was discussed between two elements in the committee who were opposed, and it was only by a majority that the decision was reached. No evidence was given there.
§ Mr. Marples
All I am saying is that it was a long discussion and that every person really interested had an opportunity of putting his point of view forward.
We must remember when we are discussing local interests that we on this side of the House have always stood by local government, and have said that the people adversely affected have themselves voted for the county council or rural district council, and that by doing so they put their representatives on these authorities. The council then place their members on the committee which is to decide what shall happen, so that all the people who really object have already voted in the election of their particular representatives.
Therefore, if they are dissatisfied with the way in which their representatives carry out their duties, they should use their opportunities to remove those representatives and replace them by someone else. They should not, when they have given a particular decision, want to find some other method of reversing it when they are dissatisfied. We have always stood by the policy of local government, and I suggest to my hon. Friend, who has been very tenacious and skilful in the presentation of his argument, that particular objectors, who have voted people on to the rural council, the county council and the planning committee, really have not much complaint afterwards if those representatives decide to vote in favour of a particular proposal.
May I now come to the general question involved? My hon. Friend said that there should 'be notification to and a right of appeal by third parties. The 1947 Act gave developers a right of appeal if they are refused permission, or if they object or feel aggrieved by any conditions imposed by the planning authority. There is no provision for third parties to appeal against the granting of a permission to an applicant. My hon. Friend suggests that there should be such a right of appeal 1509 —perhaps that could be done without legislation, though maybe I am out of order in briefly referring to it. One will never, in any human society, get 100 per cent, of the people agreeing to any particular course of action. Even Hitler was Only able to get 98.7 per cent. of the people voting for him; Stalin did slightly better—he got 99 per cent., but never 100 per cent.
If my hon. Friend really thinks that anyone in disagreement with a planning proposal should have the right of a public inquiry it would mean a public inquiry in every single, solitary case of planning, which would bring the whole procedure to a standstill. I tell my hon. Friend that last year, at the Ministry we had nearly 4,500 appeals lodged, and, therefore, it looks as if there are hundreds of thousands of planning decisions made throughout the country by local planning authorities. If we are to have a public inquiry in every case where anyone disagrees, the whole procedure would have to be thrown over. It could not be done.
We have always said that we would rather the local people—the town hall—decide it than Whitehall, and I think the right hon. Member for Derby, South who represents the Opposition in this matter, would agree that it is better that the central Government should not step in every time there is disagreement about something which the man next door may want to do.
§ Mr. Marples
The R.D.C. has a great influence now. It is able to sway the county council, and if sufficiently well known, and stimulated by my hon. Friend, I have no doubt it would have an opportunity to make its views known.
§ Mr. Marples
No, I said that its views could be properly represented to the county council, which is the planning authority. Any individual can, through his local councillor, or direct, make representations to his local authority. The local authority is bound to consider those representations, for many reasons; first of all is that its members might not get 1510 elected next time if they took no notice, because they are democratically elected.
My hon. Friend asked if public notice could be given when planning decisions were made. The 1947 Act requires local planning authorities to keep a register of applications for planning permission. This is available for public inspection, including inspection by the Press, so that the very notice he wants, is, in fact, already given, providing people will take the trouble to look at it. One cannot really circularise everybody and say, "Something is going to happen in your district." There is a register which they can look at, just as they can look at the register for births, marriages and divorce—which seems to be pretty fruitful judging from the Sunday Press. There is no reason why this register should not be popular also.
The planning authorities in practice often invite the views of organisations and people, whom they think might be interested, before reaching a decision. In this case that is exactly what the board did. They asked everyone who they thought was interested in this case to give their views, to ventilate them fully before the board. The matter was ventilated fully in the Press. I have three columns here from the "Westmorland Gazette"—an excellent newspaper—with double column headlines. It is a most revealing report; it was discussed in the Press and elsewhere.
I do not think that the Minister can interfere in this particular case. Certainly I do not think he could use the procedure of the Town and Country Planning Act for calling in an application. That is a very drastic step and any Minister must be frightfully careful before using such a severe measure. I think the message that this House should give to the country is what my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland said—that we should be moderate in our approach to the National Parks and unanimous on three points.
I feel deeply on this question, not only as a Parliamentary Secretary but as a person who has enjoyed in these National Parks a great deal of the best of my younger days, and I hope that in the late summer—I will not say the autumn—of my life I shall enjoy them a little more, perhaps with more decorum and less 1511 vigour than before, but none the less with a certain amount of enjoyment. I have spent many months of my life among the lakes of North Wales, and I owe them a great deal.
There are three things which we must do—and I say this more as a human being than as a Parliamentary Secretary, who is never considered to be a human being; he is considered as perhaps the lowest form of political life. First, the district as a whole should retain the characteristics which have made it beautiful. Second, the inhabitants should have the amenities which are enjoyed by the rest of the country. That is most important. I have stayed in Borrowdale and I have heard the protests of the inhabitants because they are denied electricity. The inhabitants of that district should not be deprived of the inventions and improvements which modern society in the 20th century has brought about, merely because other people want that district to remain as it was in the 18th or 19th century.
Third, people should be enabled to enjoy the beauties of our Island, and the National Parks in particular, by having suitable accommodation provided for them. I disagree with the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) in this respect. I do not think that we can compare this country with Canada or America. I have been to both those countries—the Rockies in Canada and the National Parks in America—and there is simply no comparison between conditions there and here. Here we have 50 million people crowded into a very small island, and Canada has 14 million people in an area I do not know how many times larger.
As we are a smaller country we should be all the more careful to see that pro- 1512 vision for accommodation is given to the people nationally and that it is in accordance with the characteristics of the particular district. In the Lake District this can be done tastefully. The right hon. Member for Derby, South and I are members of the Climbers' Club. It is the only club of which we are both members. He is not in the Conservative Party, and I am not in Transport House, but we meet together as members of the Climbers' Club. In North Wales this club has a number of huts which merge and harmonise with the landscape. Development in regard to accommodation for visitors to the Lake District should follow that example.
§ Mr. Marples
Nobody on this side of the House has anything to do with crime. That is confined to hon. Members opposite.
I hope and pray that the planning boards will be given a chance to do their work. I think they are the right instrument. I appreciate the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale, and I know that he feels deeply about the matter. He has deployed his case skilfully, moderately, and very tenaciously, but in this case I do not think that my right hon. Friend can intervene, nor can he, in general, alter the Act as it now stands. In any case, a discussion on that would be out of order. I hope that my remarks have met most of the points which have been raised in this debate.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine Minutes past Ten o'Clock.