HC Deb 23 May 1960 vol 624 cc136-64

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

8.20 p.m.

Commander Harry Pursey (Hull, East)

I beg to move, to leave out "now" and at the end of the Question to add "upon this day six months."

The Bill seeks the authority of Parliament for one purpose only, that is, for the Essex County Council to reduce the headway under the new Fullbridge, over the River Chelmer, at Maldon, by not more than 13 inches. Clause 3 of the Bill reads: Notwithstanding anything in any enactment or any agreement or any rule of law or otherwise to the contrary the Council in carrying out the reconstruction under the powers conferred on them by the Highways Act 1959 of the bridge over the River Chelmer known as Fullbridge in the borough of Maldon in the administrative county of Essex may reduce the headway under the bridge as existing at the date of the passing of this Act by not more than thirteen inches at any point between the abutments of the bridge. The county council, however, has authority to build a new bridge with the same headway as the present one. Had it decided to do so, there would have been no need for the Bill, and no controversy about the new bridge as such.

Among the many reasons given for the decision of the council to reduce the headway—all of which are controversial and which I shall deal with in due course —the major one appears to be the question of cost. But a saving now of a few thousand pounds on a£54,000 bridge, by the reduction of the headway, may well cause additional serious flooding in the future and the additional loss of many thousands of pounds in the event of another great North Sea surge.

In my submission, the county council is taking an unnecessary gamble against three unpredictable elements, namely, an extraordinarily high spring tide, which may occur several times a year; a northwesterly gale, and a low barometer, a combination of which has on several occasions caused serious floods along the East Coast, particularly in 1928 and 1953, when they resulted in loss of life and caused millions of pounds' worth of damage.

There are serious objections to the reduction of the headway of any bridge over a river, and to this one in particular, seeing that it is likely to be immersed in the river at extraordinarily high spring tides. Consequently, if a policy of the reduction of headway of bridges, especially with immersion in rivers, is to be accepted by the Ministry of Transport, it should be generally known by all up river freeholders that their properties may be depreciated or damaged if new bridges are built below them.

On the face of it, the Bill appears to be an innocent little Measure and this question of headway a simple matter, but certain important principles arise which require to be thrashed out in the public interest. Moreover, if the Bill had been allowed to go through without a debate, other councils might have been encouraged to promote similar Bills for the reduction of headway of bridges, to the detriment of their up-river property owners. First, there is the general principle that the headway of all new bridges should be increased and not reduced; secondly, the common law right of navigation on a river; thirdly, the principle that the future development of up-river land should not be restricted; fourthly, that compensation should be paid for depreciation of land values and loss of or damage to property; and, fifthly, that the flood risk should not be increased by a bridge becoming immersed in the river.

Unlike many Private Bills which come before this House, with little or no Ministerial responsibility, the Bill now before us has a large share of Ministerial responsibility, because the Ministry of Transport is to make a 60 per cent. grant, amounting to£32,000. There is also a petition against the Bill from an up-river landowner who will be adversely affected by the reduction of headway. This petition is more a matter for the Committee stage than for a Second Reading debate, but even if it had been withdrawn I should still have opposed the Second Reading on the general principles that I have mentioned.

Since the first principle, that the headway of all new bridges should be increased and not reduced, is generally accepted, I need not debate it at length. In the case of this bridge, however, con- trary to the general principle of raising the deck the council has decided to reduce the headway of the old bridge, which was decided over eighty years ago.

The common law right of navigation is an important one, which should not lightly be interfered with. I assume that the council and the Ministry do not dispute that point. It would appear that the fear of claims for compensation from up-river freeholders caused the council to promote the Bill, in an attempt to make lawful what would otherwise be unlawful.

The council appears to have two arguments to try to justify interfering with the common law right of navigation. First, the small amount of traffic under the bridge and, secondly, that only one up-river landowner has objected to the Bill. The lighthearted attitude of the council to this common law right is indicated in a letter to me on 26th March, in which it stated: The River Chelmer is a very small river and the Fullbridge carries a road over it in the Borough of Maldon, which is a comparatively small borough in the east of the county. The traffic under the bridge is negligible, consisting of a few small boats and pleasure craft, and at the present time it is impossible to proceed very far upstream of the bridge owing to the existence of a weir. This is a typically inaccurate statement, because Beeleigh Weir is a mile above Fullbridge, which is no small distance.

The letter continues: The present proposals have been approved by all persons and bodies (including the River Board, the Borough Council and the Ministry of Transport) and the sole objector is the petitioner. I will not debate that statement except to say it is one thing not to object and another to approve. I suggest that the answer to the council's letter is, why should not the little man be able to sail his little boat up the little river and under the little bridge as he has done for two or three centuries?

In 1800, which is a day or two ago— [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—this House passed an Act for the building of a new bridge. I will not quote the rather interesting statements which I have extracted from that Act, but I will simply make two relevant points. First, it was stated that they could not act without the authority of Parliament, which, fortunately, regarding the reduction of headway is still the same position today. Secondly, there was a requirement for barges to pass under the bridge, in other words, in those days they were out to take care of the navigation of the river which, apparently, the local authorities are not keen to do at present.

This bridge, built in 1800, appears to have lasted for seventy-seven years. In 1877, when the present bridge was built barges were still going up to Beeleigh Mill and fishing, boating and bathing occurred above the bridge. Had the local authorities and the landowners concerned been river-minded, which they have not been, these conditions would have continued and may well have been improved. Instead, the river above the bridge has become a cesspit for about half-a-dozen sewers, including, at the bridge, the sewer from the Maldon Borough Council offices. Yet other people have to treat their sewage before allowing it to pass into a river. But even these conditions provide no reason why an increased stranglehold should be placed on the future development of up-river land.

The only occasion on which the tide and the headway of the bridge has been measured was on 14th April for the high tide. The Essex River Board, after making calculations and playing with its little instrument to get any answer that came out of the bag, stated that the tide was 12 feet 9 inches, that is, the level of the river, and the headway of the old bridge was only 2 feet 10 inches. Therefore, the question of inches is one of importance. At low water there is little depth and consequently larger craft have to use two tides, one to get to the bridge and the second to get under it. Without going into further technical details it is obvious that even now passage is restricted both at high water and low water and is only possible for certain limited periods of time.

Nevertheless, craft of four to five feet draught pass under the bridge and the previous owner of the petitioner's land moored launches off the quay wall and carried out repairs with a substantial crane which is still in existence. Disused barges are taken up river under the bridge to be broken up, albeit at some risk to life and limb. Why should this employment be denied to freeholders and tenants?

In recent years, three fairly large naval motor launches passed up river under the bridge, admittedly to be used as houseboats, and other motor launches, such as the "Red Devil," went up for pleasure purposes and for mooring up river. Obviously, a further reduction in the headway, even by only another 13 inches, would seriously restrict passage both up and down the river. There can be no doubt about this fact. The question which arises is, why should this traffic be further restricted and the owners endangered?

The third principle, that of aiding and not halting the further development of up-river properties on all rivers, is obviously an important matter for all parties concerned, owners, local authorities and ratepayers. Unfortunately, however, at Maldon it would appear that certain up-river land has been purchased with the object of sterilising it and the borough council is content to allow the whole area to continue to deteriorate.

There is a mile of riparian land on either side of the river between Full-bridge and Beeleigh Weir. At present, that land consists largely of saltings which are flooded by extraordinarily high water spring tides, but, obviously, it could be raised and developed in several ways, for example, for residential, recreational or even industrial purposes, to the advantage of Maldon, its residents, and the rates. Admittedly, on the south side there are a few houses, but on the north side there is only one old and somewhat dilapidated inn, "The Welcome Sailor", with which I shall deal later. It is the duty of both the county council and the borough council (a) not further to restrict up-river development by a lower bridge and (b) not to cause further deterioration in the value of up-river properties, but to facilitate development.

The fourth principle of compensation for depreciation in land values and loss of or damage to property, is also one which is generally accepted. Nevertheless, there is as yet no compensation clause in the Bill, I am informed that the county council has indicated in writing to the petitioner that a new Clause will be added to the Bill in Committee, although this Clause has not yet been agreed with the petitioner. If the council had not agreed to include a compensation Clause, I would have put down a second Amendment stating: That it be an Instruction to the Committee to insert provision for adequate compensation to be paid in the case of anyone adversely affected by the Bill. Such a compensation Clause is necessary for the future safeguard of all up-river landowners on all rivers.

The fifth principle I am arguing is that the flooding risk of a river should not be increased by a new bridge which is to be immersed in the river. So far, I assume that both sides, the promoters of the Bill and the opponents, have been on common ground and accepted the general principles, although at times arguing a contrary case. When we consider the increased flooding risk, however, although both sides may agree in principle, we are not on common ground because there is a serious absence of official factual information and even more serious conflict of evidence. What is also remarkable is the amount and weight of factual information which can be called against the council's theoretical information and lack of factual information.

Several persons with an intimate know-lodge of the bridge over many years contend that the Ministry's version is wrong arid that the bridge has (a) been immersed on numerous occasions and (b) at times to a depth of several inches and even over 1 ft. If this is correct, the new bridge will be immersed for 2 ft. or more. The Ministry argues that as the water area under the bridge will be increased by 10 per cent. by setting back the piers, there is no increased risk. This remains to be seen, because rivers do not always work to the calculations of officials. Both in the 1928 and the 1953 great floods, the experts, with their little instruments and calculations, were proved hopelessly wrong. Once the North Sea starts to flood, we cannot stop it with a calculating machine, a broom or a bit of putty.

The Ministry also argues that it can find no witnesses of the bridge's immersion. This may be a matter of question. Asked, "Have you ever seen the river up to the bridge?" a person may answer, "No", because he has never looked at the bridge at extraordinarily high water, spring tides. Moreover, the 1953 surge and other high tides were at night, and not many people would be concerned at that time about an old bridge condemned twenty years ago. They would be more likely to be concerned about the safety of life and property.

The two more important conflicts of argument are, first, the number of times the undercart of the old bridge has been immersed and, secondly, to what depth it has been immersed. These important points require some serious consideration and discussion. The Ministry's argument is that the immersions have been few—in fact only two in forty years—and a matter of a few inches. Opponents of the Bill argue that the immersions have been many and of several inches. The crux of the problem, as I said before, is a matter of inches, because the Bill deals with 13 in. The Ministry accepts the bridge was immersed in the 1928 and 1953 great North Sea surges but argues that it was only a few inches. It further accepts that under similar circumstances the bridge would be immersed by about 18 in.

The logical development is that in worse conditions, as there may well be, there would be worse immersion. Unfortunately, no records have been taken of the height of the tide and the headway of the bridge at Fullbridge, and all the figures of the Ministry of Transport are theoretical calculations, and a large number of them differ considerably from the personal observations of several people.

A further difficulty is that although certain parties are concerned with either the bridge or the river, no authority is concerned with both the bridge and the river. The county council is the bridge authority and the Ministry is that of transport; but neither is interested in the river, or has any information about it, and both argue quite rightly that they are not concerned with drainage or floods. The Essex River Board is the river authority and the Ministry is the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but neither has any information about the bridge and neither is interested in it.

The local authority is the Maldon Borough Council, but it has no information about the river, and it suggested to me that tidal information should be obtained from Harwich, which is wrong. The council does not even know where to get its own information. The nearest Admiralty tide recording station for the naval tide tables used all over the world was Sheerness—and it may still be, but the Admiralty has evacuated Sheerness —with a constant for Maldon, but Sheerness is on the south side of the Thames. In fact, the relevant recording station is at Southend, under the Port of London Authority, which issues the flooding warnings for the Thames and East Coast, including the River Chelmer and Fullbridge.

Another complication is the number of tide tables. Locally, a tide table is issued based on London Bridge. In addition, the local paper, the Maldon Standard publishes another tide table based on Liverpool. As I have said, the Admiralty tables are based on Sheerness. Therefore, "you pays your money and you takes your choice"; if you toss the coin up, it will come down heads or tails, but you have still got a chance with the three-card trick.

I will pass on now to some of the evidence which is available, but I shall restrict myself to some half-dozen statements from persons with first-hand knowledge, to show the difference between actual facts and the river board's theoretical calculations. Statements from four of the persons were recently taken by a solicitor. I have them here, but I can take their main point without spending time on reading the whole of their statements.

First, the family—five people—of the previous tenant of the "Welcome Sailor", which is adjacent to the bridge, said that during their residence the inn was frequently flooded out to a depth of several feet, so often that it was accepted as common practice. To relate the "Welcome Sailor" to the bridge, I point out that when the headway was measured at 2 ft. 3 ins, the water was lapping the quay of the "Welcome Sailor". Consequently, anything above 2 ft. 3 ins. in the "Welcome Sailor" should mean that the bridge is immersed.

In the 1928 big surge one man helped salvage some of the hundreds of empty beer barrels washed off the brewery quay upstream and jammed against the bridge because there was no headway for them to go under. This man was paid 10s. for his services. There are other men alive who helped him, or witnessed the salvage of some of the barrels. The others went out to sea. Incidentally, the brewery then built a cage for their barrels, and they are still caged in to prevent them being washed up against the bridge on the flood tide and then down the river and out to sea on the ebb tide. On this occasion, the river is reported as having risen a good 12 ins. up the bridge.

Secondly, another person with intimate knowledge of the river states that in the fifteen years 1940–55 there were over half a dozen exceptionally high tides with serious flooding and the bridge immersed, of which the river board appears to have heard only of the one, namely the 1953 great tide.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Hay)

I do not want to spoil the hon. Gentleman's speech, but I should be grateful if he would give us the names of these people, because we have tried to find evidence along these same lines and have not succeeded. If he will be kind enough to mention the names, we shall be glad to check up on this.

Commander Pursey

I will, naturally, consider that with the people concerned, but I thought that everybody made up their minds lock, stock and barre1,100 per cent., that it was no good going on with the argument. As the Joint Parliamentary Secretary knows, he and I have had quite an argumentative, but I hope friendly, correspondence about this for the last two months. We have a vast collection of figures. It wants an expert to relate some of them together. I am trying to avoid figures in order not to make it too complicated for the House tonight.

The third case is this. Customers of the "Welcome Sailor" recall that on one occasion during the rationing period—and that would not be the 1953 great tide—water was up to the mantelpiece, a matter of some 4 ft. and that, therefore, the bridge was immersed to the 1 ft. I mentioned earlier. Someone in thigh boots went to the cupboard, because it was suddenly realised that it might be found that the rations had gone down the scupper. As the door of the cupboard was opened the ration tin floated out.

The fourth instance takes us to the 1953 great tide. The Ministry disputes that the temporary bridge and its approaches were flooded, yet at least three persons have been found—and there may be others—who say that this was the case. The county council's own book on the great tide, a volume of about 800 pages of which the Parliamentary Secretary is aware, refers, on page 136, to News of flooding at the bottom of Maldon Hill at Fullbridge. One person has stated that he saw both approaches to the temporary bridge, and the bridge itself flooded right through as one sheet of water. I know that that is disputed. The argument there is that it has never been up like that but, in addition, two London photographers, who have no vested interest in Maldon, have described how they drove through water on the bridge and its approaches.

Here is the fifth case. The owner of a caravan on the "Welcome Sailor" quay has described how, on this occasion in 1953, his caravan was flooded out, and he found himself in 4 ft. of water. For decency's sake, I shall not relate what happened to his wife, or how he got her out of bed. If that is correct, the river would have been 1 ft. over the bridge. The man's report on his caravan is supported by the fact that the insurance company paid out for the damage. Whatever other arguments the authorities will throw back at me, I hope that it will not be suggested that an insurance company paid out for flood damage if the caravan was not flooded.

I turn to the sixth case. The river board contends that in 1959 the river did not rise up to the bridge. I put down a Question to the Minister of Agriculture, who replied that the town quay had not been flooded. The plain fact is that down there they do not know what is going on, and do not care. It is understood that if there are exceptionally high waters the area will be flooded. Moreover, regularly in September the police put up a big red warning notice so that people will be warned of possible floods, when they should either evacuate their properties or take refuge in the rooms upstairs. I have asked the police to give me a list of the properties in the areas concerned, but they tell me that they have not a list. I admit that there are a lot of properties around Fullbridge, and that the majority of Maldon is up the hill.

The flooding is obviously on the river banks, and is, and can be in the future, a far more serious problem than is appreciated by the local authority. Men who work on the riverside claim that the bridge was immersed during both the March and September equinoxial gales, and that in recent years the bridge has often been immersed. I have told the Minister that, and I have told the local authority, but they say that the bridge was not immersed last year. That is another example of a conflict of opinion.

Now for the seventh case. A person with first-hand experience of the river wrote to me: Of course it is stupid to lower Fullbridge 13 in. One has only to witness the excess freshwaters"— That is a new point—the freshwater floods coming down the river as distinct from the saltwater floods coming up it: with a north-westerly gale and high tide to realise that the present height is sometimes inadequate to let the water through. I have seen from my window, the water pouring under the present bridge with no clearance Another writer tells a very good story about what happens when one goes bathing as a result of the river being turned into a cesspool. I think it is only decent that I should omit that as well, because, quite frankly, that river stinks.

The eighth case is this. Another writer states: I have found that upon certain high water spring tides it is possible to shoot or drift under Fullbridge in a dinghy provided one crouches down in the boat"— like the Redskins one reads about in books. It would, therefore, appear that any lowering of the bridge will make it even more difficult to pass under, on the top of a tide, as headroom will become even more restricted; and, in the event of a tidal surge, it could well act as a form of dam, thus aggravating such flooding as may occur in the Fullbridge area. That, in the words of "one who knows", is the picture in a nutshell—a lower bridge and increased flooding.

I submit that people do not make such statements with graphic details unless they are true. They have no axe to grind. Moreover, they cannot all be wrong. I hope, therefore, that I have given sufficient information to show that the bridge has been immersed on several occasions to a depth of several inches and the problem is more serious than the Ministry of Transport, the county council and the Essex River Board appreciate.

There is another important point to consider in connection with this illogical idea of lowering Fullbridge. Since the 1953 great tide, the Essex River Board has increased the height of the river defences, the barriers on the river banks, on the quays of certain firms just below Fullbridge. Why this has been done on some and not on others I do not know. It looks as if there may be preferential treatment but I shall not suggest for what reason.

Mr. Brian Harrison (Maldon)

Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman specify the firms and which parts of the bank have been preferentially treated?

Commander Pursey

I am rather interested in that intervention because one of them happens to be the hon. Member's "boss", the recently elected Chairman of the Maldon Conservative Party, John Sadd.

Mr. Harrison


Commander Pursey

Just a moment. I was hoping that the hon. Member and I would have a bit of argument about this. After all, this is the hon. Member's constituency; it is not mine. I will give him a lead. If he asks me why I am dealing with the bridge, the answer is because he would not. I do not blame him for that. I have been trying not to be technical, because this is rather a technical subject, but I doubt whether you have followed it up to now.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray)

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear in mind that when he says "you" he means me. I have followed it perfectly.

Commander Pursey

I apologise, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Naturally, I would not suggest that you had not followed it. But the hon. Gentleman, having contained himself until now, wants to get in on two or three points.

I can give him the figures. As a matter of fact, there is no reason for me to do so because, in the last paragraph of the letter on four pages of foolscap which the Parliamentary Secretary sent to me. the hon. Gentleman in his own fair hand added at the bottom the words: I am also sending a copy of this letter to Brian Harrison because of his constituency interest. That was obviously the right thing to do, and I am quite happy about that. But let us have it on the record. When the hon. Gentleman the Member for Maldon (Mr. B. Harrison) asks me the names of the firms which have had their barricades raised, he knows the details because he has the list and he has the heights.

Mr. Harrison


Commander Pursey

I want to finish one point at a time.

Since we are dealing with this point, Mr. Sadd has a large timber shed and usually, in a big flood, it is flooded from behind and the timber floats about up to the "Railway Bell" where, with the water from other places, the level has been up to the counter. Many people in Maldon today are asking whether the timber shed barrier has been raised so high—I shall come to this point—to keep the water out or to prevent John Sadd's trees and timber floating out to the North Sea.

The funny thing is that a moat has not been built around John Sadd's timber yards. The barrier has not been completed either upstream or downstream. Consequently, one wonders whether the barrier is there as a protection against the river flooding the quay itself which is still liable to flooding elsewhere, whether it has been raised to keep the river out where it can come in from the other side or from the back, or whether it is there to prevent the timber floating off and out into the North Sea as the brewery beer barrels did in 1928. Having made that point, I am quite happy to give way.

Mr. Harrison

Will the hon. and gallant Member be prepared to repeat those allegations that he makes about preferential treatment outside the House?

Commander Pursey

You are the one who led me into this.

Mr. Harrison

Did you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, lead the hon. and gallant Member into it?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey) has the Floor.

Commander Pursey

If the hon. Member wants me to go on and deal with these bad manners and bad businesses, I am quite prepared to do so. In order to satisfy the hon. Member, I am quite happy to go to Maldon and for him to arrange a meeting so that we may debate the subject of the reduction of the headway of Fullbridge at a public meeting of his constituents so that they may have the advantage of expressing their opposition to the reduction of the headway.

Under our Parliamentary procedure, quite rightly, the only people who can object to the Bill and the reduction of the headway are landowners above the bridge. In order to be quite clear about John Sadd, I went to see him in his office. He told me that he is one of the owners of land above the bridge. Has he bought that land to develop it or has he bought it to sterilise it? If we want to go on with this, it is wide open. Let us have a public meeting in Maldon. The hon. Member can select his own chairman. Obviously, it cannot be the chairman of the local Conservative Association because he is an interested person. The hon. Member and I can toss for whether he moves the motion for the reconstruction of the bridge first and I oppose it, or whether I move the motion against it and he opposes that.

Let me get back to the question of the barriers. Some of these new defences are higher than the underpart of the bridge. There is, therefore, the somewhat illogical position of raising defences to keep the river out and then lowering the bridge below the defence level for immersion in the river. The major question is: what will be the height of the next serious North Sea surge at Fullbridge? That is the 60,000 dollar question. No one can answer it. It is a matter of pure speculation.

The 1928 surge was 6 ft. and the 1953 surge 6 ft. 7½in. above the predicted levels for the day at the tide recording stations at London Bridge and Southend. I do not argue that the extra 6 ft. of water at Southend was carried through to Maldon, but who know how much will be carried through next time, with the sea walls and other defences being heightened and sealed and the only openings being the estuaries and the rivers?

We have as a comparison the greatest river in the country, namely, the nearby Thames, with the same warning station at Southend. The Thames authorities consider that the defences should be raised by 2 to 3 ft. for the whole length of the river up to Teddington Weir. Even so, they state that to afford complete protection, the defences would have to be raised at least 6 ft. Moreover, it is reported that the Minister of Housing and Local Government has set up a panel of consulting engineers to consider the alternative of a movable barrier near the Dartford-Purfleet tunnel at a cost of£10 million, which is about the same cost as raising the defences of the Thames. We have, therefore, the farcical position of a 6 ft. increase in the defences of the Thames being considered at the same time as the lowering of Fullbridge by 13 in. It would seem that the Ministry of Transport ought to refer the Fullbridge problem to the Thames consulting engineers for a report.

Among the arguments for not raising the deck of the new bridge by 13 ins. are these. First, to avoid a hump, and, secondly, the approach would have to be raised for some distance, property frontages would be affected and compensation would have to be paid. Let me deal with the first of these. On the south side the approach is to be improved for 37 yards. Any increase in the height would improve the approach to the steep Market Hill. One would go off the bridge, down the switchback and then one would face the steep hill. On the north side the approach is to be improved for 60 yards and an increase of 13 in. would be 1 in. in 5 yards, which is practically negligible.

Now let me deal with the frontages. At the southern approach the council has purchased the land on both sides of the road, so that there is no frontage problem at that end. At the northern approach, on the eastern side of the road, there is a wide open space to the mill and the garden of Fullbridge House. On the western side there are, admittedly, the two inns, the "Welcome Sailor" and the "White Hart", and a few old cottages. There all get flooded, however, and are due for demolition and rebuilding at higher levels which could well be adjusted to a higher approach road with the deck of the bridge raised.

A question which arises is whether the problem of compensation for the "Welcome Sailor" is a major factor in the difference of cost in the alternatives of reducing the headway or raising the deck. I have reliable information from more than one source that, first, the river flows into the inn at practically all extraordinary high-water spring tides; secondly, water has on occasion risen to the mantelpiece in the kitchen, which is 4 feet above floor level; and, thirdly, very little trade is done and for some years the brewers and not the tenant have paid the rates, licence, etc., and have charged no rent.

So that I should not be taken up on that by the hon. Member for Maldon, to try to get factual information one way or the other I wrote to the chairman of the brewery company stating that I had been given this information and asking whether he would like to comment. After two letters, I have received no reply. I am, however, forming no conclusion on that.

If these reports are correct, the valuation of the inn cannot be much. The general impression locally is that the brewers are only waiting for the new bridge to be built to obtain as much compensation as possible and then to demolish or dispose of the property. There is an idea locally that the "Welcome Sailor" is protected either as an ancient monument or is listed as of historical or architectural interest, but Questions to Ministers have elicited negative replies. So it simply stands on its own foundations, which are far from solid. I would not like to carry the matter any further than the suggestion which was made to me not to lean against it too firmly. Are we to see the headway of the bridge reduced partly because of the low level of the "Welcome Sailor" and then, when the new bridge is built, find a new property erected some feet higher which would have enabled the deck of the bridge to be raised?

The question of frontages is dealt with by different authorities in different ways. Recently, however, there has been the announcement of how the London County Council is to deal with the approaches to Waterloo Bridge. Although properties in the vicinity are listed as being of architectural or historical interest, four of them will be demolished. The cost of terminating the tenancies and of demolition work will be£25,000. I admit that Waterloo Bridge is somewhat more important than Fullbridge at Maldon, although Fullbridge at Maldon is of importance to Maldon because it is the first bridge up the river from the River Blackwater and it has to carry alternative traffic to the coast instead of it all going through Chelmsford and Colchester.

I assume that the hon. Member for Maldon will have something to say and that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will reply. I hope that, in addition to arguing that the bridge should be built, for there can be no argument against it—the council could have done it off its own bat—they will also give the reasons why it was decided to reduce the headway instead of increase the height of the deck, as well as deal with the five principles whch I have argued. Almost every independent authority on bridges would advocate that generally, and certainly in the case of this bridge, the deck should be raised and not the headway reduced.

I wish to ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary the following four questions of which I have given him notice in writing. First, when is the compensation Clause to be added to the Bill? Secondly, how many bridges in the country have been immersed? How many to be immersed have been approved, and is this to be the future policy? Thirdly, what is the difference in cost if the deck is raised, instead of the headway being reduced? Fourthly, what is the compensation which is being discussed for the "Welcome Sailor" in both cases, that is, if the headway is reduced or if the deck is raised?

After dealing with this for two months, and going down there twice and dealing with much correspondence from people in Maldon and with the various authorities concerned, the whole thing still remains a mystery to me. I speak with some technical and nautical language, after thirty years in the Navy. All one is concerned about at sea is the lowest low water. All one is concerned about with a bridge is the minimum headway. In some of the correspondence there has been talk about the average height. If there is to be an average, and that is to be the height decided upon, what happens when a maximum comes along? A maximum waits for no one.

I end with this question: is it worth the gamble of saving a few thousand pounds now by reducing the headway when this may result in additional flooding, further losses and damage to property, and, it may be, risk to life on a future occasion?

9.17 p.m.

Mr. Brian Harrison (Maldon)

I have listened with considerable interest to the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey). As he said in his final remarks, he was talking about this matter with experience and knowledge of thirty years at sea. It enables him to assess, as he thinks, the situation at Maldon. It would, I should have thought, have given him some knowledge in sifting the information from people living in the vicinity of a waterfront.

I, of course, have known this bridge for a long time and known the people down there. Before I come to the main points which I want to make, I want to say most emphatically that I very much regret the accusations and imputations of one of his remarks, not only against somebody who happens to be an acquaintance or friend of mine, but against other firms who have riparian rights and advantages farther down the river. I think that on further reflection the hon. and gallant Gentleman will regret that he made them. At any rate, I hope he will.

The bridge with which this Bill is concerned at Fullbridge is a necessity for the Borough of Maldon, not for the reason which the hon. and gallant Gentleman mentioned, because it was necessary to syphon off trade through Colchester and Chelmsford or make it easier to get between Colchester and Chelmsford. The line between Colchester and Chelmsford is well to the north of the Borough of Maldon where this bridge is.

It is an important bridge because it connects Maldon with Heybridge, which is the industrial suburb of the Borough of Maldon. It also connects with the rich farming land to the north. The old iron bridge across the river was declared unsafe during or just before the last war and traffic was diverted to a temporary bridge built for the purpose. This temporary bridge, which has an S-bend at its beginning and its end, is dangerous. It is a great surprise to me that there have not been unpleasant accidents there, such as a bus going over as it approached from either the Market Hill or the lower end of the bridge.

The temporary bridge has been condemned. Before the war plans were approved to replace the old bridge, but owing to the abandonment of all such projects when hostilities commenced the temporary bridge has been used ever since. A great deal of much heavier traffic uses the bridge today. To cope with that traffic it is necessary to have a bridge of Ministry of Transport standards capable of bearing the loads of modern traffic. This would mean a new bridge made of prestressed concrete built with thirteen inches greater depth of construction. If such a bridge is to be built the approaches will also have to be raised. That will involve alterations to properties which are close to the roadway and also the raising of three access roads.

I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East that the actual increase in gradient would be very slight, but the raising of the roadway and the building up of the walls of some of the old buildings close to the road would cause considerable difficulties and it would involve considerable damages. No doubt there is something to be said for having to climb about four feet out of the bar of a public house after a night out, and that is exactly what would have to be done if the roadway were raised, because "The Welcome Sailor" would then be four feet below the footpath.

The only practical solution seems to be to lower the bridge the requisite amount, and that means that there would be less headway between the water level and the bridge. There are not many riparian owners above the bridge, but all, with one exception, have agreed to this. It is an important point also that the sailing clubs which use the waters round Maldon have agreed, in view of the fact that they do not use this reach because it is unsuitable and, indeed, dangerous for sailing.

The hon. and Gallant Member for Hull East referred to barge traffic on the river. I have checked up and I have talked with a gentleman who has sailed regularly on the river since about 1907. He tells me that the last barge to go up the river was the "Eva Annie" of 100 tons, and she went through on 23rd February, 1922. The hon. and gallant Member referred to wheat and so on going up to Beeleigh Mill. That is also rather out of date, because that mill was burned down in 1876.

The county council, however, has taken into account the fact that there are sailing clubs in the area which might want to use the river, but only one objector has been found, a man who owns an area of land for which the county council has given permission for use as a caravan site. As yet, there is no town map for Maldon, but I am informed that this area may be scheduled for industrial use. Nevertheless, it is improbable that permission to use the objector's actual land for industrial purposes will be granted, unless he can make satisfactory arrangements for improved road access and loading, unloading and car parking.

Just to make sure that nobody suffers financially from these proposals, the county council is prepared to insert a Clause to give adequate compensation to riparian owners for any decrease in the value of their properties by the bridge which is attributable to the reduction in headway.

The hon. Member said that at times the approaches to the bridge had been flooded and that the water level had come up to the level of the underpart of the bridge. It is difficult for instruments to measure the exact height of the water in flood time, but the records of the Essex River Board—which is responsible for protection against flooding—show that that has occurred only on occasions of exceptional surges experienced on the east coast during times like the 1953 flood.

In any event, even if the bridge were lowered, the piers are to be moved further back and there will be a clearer run for the water to get away under the bridge. The area under the bridge will be increased by about 90 sq. ft., or about 9 per cent. The river board is quite satisfied that the proposed bridge will not adversely affect tidal or fresh water flooding in that area.

Not only is the Bill supported by the vast majority of the people who live in Maldon and its environs, but we have had considerable difficulty trying to find opponents of it, with the exception of the one objector who has been mentioned. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that this is a non-party Measure and is supported by the Essex County Council, which is Labour-controlled, and has the full support of the Maldon Borough Council, which was Labour-controlled until a few days ago. The last mayor, a Labour mayor, wrote to the hon. Member, as headlined in the Maldon and Burnham Standard, "Don't delay the bridge scheme" and tried to persuade the hon. Member not to go on with these objections because it was regarded as in the benefit of the people of Maldon that the bridge should be built as soon as possible.

The hon. and gallant Member mentioned five points. First, the general headway. The fact is that that bridge is not used, except that since the end of the war it has been used occasionally for a barge to come up to be broken up, or, in one case, for a boat to go alongside where the crane is on the one objector's piece of land. That crane is there solely to remove the auxiliary engine from a boat and is not there as part of an industrial shipyard. The river, with its piles and other hazards, is not used, and is not of sufficient depth to be safe for navigational purposes. When it is necessary to move a barge up there for holding and so on, it will still be possible for it to be done under the new bridge by using two tides in the same way as is done at present. So much for the principle of rights of navigation and for the general headway. I hope that the House will take note of the extra area under the bridge.

The hon. and gallant Member mentioned the future of the up river landowners. They have been consulted. They understood fully what was involved in the scheme, and, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman knows, there was only one objector. Compensation, which was the hon. and gallant Gentleman's fourth point, is dealt with in the Clause which it is intended to propose at a later stage should be added to the Bill.

The fifth point related to the immersion of the bridge in the event of flooding. The House ought to be clear that the immersion to which the hon. and gallant Member referred is merely the immersion of the supports and not the surface of the bridge.

Commander Pursey

I had made up my mind not to intervene, but I must get this right. There is a question of the soffits and a question of the surface of the bridge. When I said that the bridge had been submerged, I meant that the water had been up to the under-part of the bridge, but I made it clear that in 1953 there was a sheet of water from one approach across the temporary bridge to the other approach. We must get that clear, because that is in dispute.

Mr. Harrison

I beg the hon. and gallant Gentleman's pardon. I understood him to mean the surface of the bridge. As the hon. and gallant Member said, it is very much in dispute whether the roadway of the bridge has ever been flooded, even in the floods of 1953. All the evidence that I have shows that it has not been so flooded. The hon. and gallant Gentleman quoted what two photographers from London had seen. I leave it to the House to decide.

I will not detain the House any longer. The five points that I have made in reply to what the hon. and gallant Gentleman said, the story of the importance of this bridge, the care which the county council has taken, and the desire of the people of Maldon that this bridge should be put in, ought to convince the House not to accept the Amendment proposed by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, and to pass the Bill.

9.34 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Hay)

In the year 991, which is a long time ago, there occurred an event which has been subsequently recorded, so I am informed, in fable and song as The First Battle of Maldon. I have obtained some information about it, and I mention it to the House because it is appropriate to the debate that we have had tonight.

According to the Oxford Companion to English Literature, The Battle of Maldon is a poem in Old English, perhaps of the tenth century, dealing with the raid of the Northmen under Anlaf, at Maldon in Essex, in 991. The North-men were drawn up on the shore of the Black water. The ealdorman Byrhtnoth, the friend of Aelfric, exhorted his men to stand firm. I can cast my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. B. Harrison) for that rÔle. An offer by the herald of the Northmen that their attack should be bought off by payment of tribute was scornfully rejected. The fight was delayed by the rising tide, which separated the two armies. Then Byrhtnoth was slain with a poisoned spear and some of his men fled. A fresh attack was led by Aelfwine, son of Aelfric. Godric fell. The end of the poem is lost.

I may have gone back a long way in history, but there are certain parallels between that historic event and the second battle of Maldon, which the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey) has been fighting for some months against the almost united opposition of Maldon, led by the mayor and corporation and my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon. I conceive my duty tonight to be to give what advice I can upon two matters—first, whether or not it is right that, in principle at any rate, the House should accept the proposal in the Bill that the headroom on the new bridge should be reduced notwithstanding that some of the riparian owners may be prejudicially affected and, secondly—and it was on this point that I first came into contact with the hon. and gallant Member—whether or not it is right that a large sum of public money should be paid to the Essex County Council which will be building the bridge, before we are absolutely sure that the calculations that have been made as to the risk of the bridge being flooded are proved to be correct or incorrect.

The brief recent history of the bridge, as my hon. Friend has said, is that it is on the class II road between Maldon and Colchester. Before the war it was fairly clear that the old bridge was becoming defective and it was decided that it should be replaced. In 1939 it was intended to make a grant, but because of the war this was stopped. The bridge was closed to traffic because it speedily became unable to support the traffic passing across it, and a temporary bridge was put up in 1943. This bridge is still being used. Both bridges lie at the foot of a steep hill on the south, but I am told that the temporary bridge is badly aligned, because of the two S-bends to which reference has already been made. The temporary bridge is devoted entirely to a carriageway, and it is possible for pedestrians to cross the old bridge. According to the records the traffic over the bridge is not heavy and the accident record is not bad.

In 1958 we were approached by the Essex County Council which said that it wished to replace the bridge, and asked for a grant, and in April, 1959, we promised that we would give the council a grant of£32,000 towards the estimated total cost of about£54,000 for the supply of a new bridge.

I now come to the first issue upon which I wish to offer some advice to the House, namely, the question raised directly by the Bill as to the common law rights which are being affected by Clause 3. Under the Coast Protection Act, 1949, limitations are placed on the rights of people to carry out certain types of work, in, upon, under or over tidal waters. Under Section 34 of the Act the Minister of Transport was approached to give his consent for the headroom of the new bridge to be 13 inches below that of the existing one.

As is our normal practice, as we are obliged to do by statute, we advertised the proposal and consulted a number of interested bodies. At that stage we had no objections, and accordingly, in November, 1958, the Minister gave his consent to the lowering of the headroom. As a result of its inquiries the council decided, none the less, that it was not covered in common law, that is to say that although the Minister had given his consent to the work done and for the headroom being lowered, his consent would be no statutory bar to a possible action at common law by someone who might be affected, for example, the riparian owners upstream.

Accordingly the council approached all the owners of land upstream of the bridge to see whether they had any objection. One owner did object, so I am advised, on the ground that the value of his land would be depreciated. The council therefore decided that it must seek to promote a Bill in Parliament, and the Bill before the House tonight is that Bill.

I should next tell the House that the issue which it has to decide is whether or not it is right that the possible interests of people upstream should be affected by the legislation which we are asked to agree. I need only remark on this that it is, of course, quite the normal practice for the House to give a Second Reading to a Private Bill of this kind affecting private interests and to leave it to colleagues sitting in Committee to decide whether any limitation should be placed on that cover, whether any safeguards should be wrtten in for the protection of individuals or whether any provision should be made as to compensation. But as the main issue before the House tonight is whether or not that common law right should be overridden in this connection, I must advise the House that I think this a proposal which we ought to accept and to agree to.

I come next to the second issue, whether or not it is right that a considerable sum of public money should be spent by way of grant to the county council for the building of this bridge unless we are absolutely satisfied that, when erected, the bridge will not be subject to flooding in such a way as either to render it useless for the purpose of free passage across the river, or in such a way that it might be damaged and perhaps collapse into the river. That was the issue on which the hon. and gallant Gentleman first approached me. I am grateful to him for having done so, because I think it quite right that a matter of this kind should be investigated. He gave me certain information which I passed on to my Department, and a very full investigation has been made of this matter. I can assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman of that. I have personally seen to it that a proper study was made of all the relevant facts, figures and data which he gave to us.

An investigation was conducted on the spot by two senior officials of the Ministry of transport. They interviewed a large number of people in the district. They interviewed members of the county council and other local authorities and members of the river board. They also interviewed a number of local residents, and all had something interesting to tell them. I must say now that on the issue of whether or not it is right that public money should be spent on the building of this new bridge to replace the old one, we are satisfied beyond any doubt —I ask the hon. and gallant Member to accept it—that this is the right course to take and that many of the fears he has expressed are unlikely—I put it no higher—to come to pass.

I must next tell the House that the principal responsibility for keeping the river safe and protecting the land above the banks from flooding is that of the river board. The board has informed us that it is completely satisfied with the design of this new bridge. It is convinced that if the new bridge is built in this way and according to these designs, there will be no increased risk of flooding. I think that fairly powerful evidence.

If the people who stand to lose from the compensation point of view, the river board, are satisfied that the design is right, I think it probably is so. If they had any doubt at all there is no question that they would instantly have objected to it and probably have been petitioners against the Bill. The county council, as the promoters of the Bill and builders of the bridge, obviously are satisfied. The bridge engineers of my right hon. Friend's Department have gone exhaustively into the question of the design with the question of flooding in mind and are equally satisfied that it is a satisfactory one. The Royal Fine Art Commission has had a look at the design and has no objection to raise on amenity or aesthetic grounds.

Finally, I say a word or two about some of the criticisms raised by the hon. and gallant Member. His first point was that in the past the present bridge, which has a headroom 13 in. higher than the new bridge will have, has frequently been immersed at 'times of flooding. He said he had found a number of people who say this, but so far he has not disclosed their names, despite the request I made when he was speaking. I am afraid I cannot argue with him about that. I can only say that from inquiries I made, except for one occasion in 1953 about which there is no dispute between us, the bridge has never been immersed to anyone's knowledge and belief. Beyond that I cannot go. It is possible that on other occasions than in 1953 the water may have come close to the soffit of the bridge, but scarcely anyone was prepared to say he had actually seen the soffit being lapped with water.

In regard to the water level generally at this point, it is important to realise that in some places the banks are much lower than the soffit of the old bridge or that proposed for the new bridge. It would follow that the banks would flood before the bridge would be lapped or covered by water. Even if the soffit of the new bridge were immersed from time to time, the advice available to me, the best I can get, is that it would not be harmful to the new bridge, which is to be made of pre-stressed concrete, nor would it cause more flooding to the surrounding land than would be the case with the old bridge.

The reason for this is important, and I beg the hon. and Gallant Member to understand and appreciate our point of view. The cross-sectional area of the waterway when the new bridge is built will be at least 10 per cent. greater than at the old bridge. That is to say, there will be more space for water to pass through the opening. The reason is that the piers of the temporary bridge—which, we must remember, has been there since 1943—will be moved when the new bridge is completed. At the same time the abutments of the new bridge will be set back compared with the abutments of the present and the old bridge. This means that over all there should be an additional 10 per cent. area available for the same volume of water.

The hon. and gallant Member suggested that we ought not to lower the soffit of the new bridge but to keep to the present level, in other words, to raise by 13 ins. the level of the new bridge. I am advised that to do so would cost at least£8,500, but more probably it would cost something like£15,000, or even more. Over and above that expense in money there would be a considerable loss of time, about nine months. The reason why this extra expenditure would have to be incurred is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon said, that to raise the level of the bridge the approaches would have to be raised, particularly on the north side of the river. On the northern approach, the road is of insufficient width to enable the raising of the level and still to leave at both sides of the raised embankment sufficient room for people to pass on foot. Certainly there would not be room for vehicles to pass.

This would, therefore, mean possibly some property demolition but in any event a considerable amount of extra accommodation work to be done, and in all probability a good deal of difficulty in compensating the people who live in or own property nearby. For those reasons we have come to the conclusion that this bridge, as proposed to be built by the county council, should be built. The county council and the borough council firmly favour our continuing with the scheme as it is proposed.

Commander Pursey

Does the hon. Member agree that only on one corner out of the four does the question of frontage arise, and that is the corner occupied by the "Welcome Sailor", which is about four feet below the level it ought to have? Consequently, demolition and development there would be in everybody's interests, and without it we are likely to have a new bridge and then a new building on the "Welcome Sailor" site above the new bridge.

Mr. Hay

I cannot agree. On the other side of the "Welcome Sailor" public house there is a farm. If the level were to be raised, as the hon. and gallant Member has suggested, and an embankment were built to carry the carriageway, not only would that cause problems for the "Welcome Sailor" public house and the other public house next door but, where the farm stands on the other side of the road, there would be the problem of lorries coming out of the grounds of that farm, with a steep gradient to climb and a sharp left-hand turn at the top to enter the carriageway. I am advised that it would be extremely dangerous and that it would be very difficult for a lorry driver driving a laden lorry to pull up to the carriageway.

Commander Pursey

There is a large open space and then the corner of Full-bridge House. There is no question of lorries coming on to the road. They do not come out that way but go round the flour mill, at the back.

Mr. Hay

I do not think there is much point in the hon. and gallant Member and I trying to argue this matter across the Floor of the House. I said that on the advice available to me there is a difficulty about accepting the suggestion which he has made.

I have tried to cover all the points raised in the time available to me, but this is the sort of matter for which the procedure of the House on Private Bills is admirably suited. The hon. and gallant Member and any other hon. Member interested can no doubt spend many interesting hours with the plans and the maps spread out and with a whole sheaf of photographs. We could argue interminably about this, but that is not the job of the House; it is a matter for our colleagues, who will meet on the Bill upstairs. All we have to decide tonight is whether, in principle, it is right that Clause 3, which is the crux of the Bill, should be approved in general terms. We must leave it to the Committee on the Bill to write in any safeguards and to undertake any investigations it wishes.

That is the course which I invite the House to take. The hon. Member, for the best reasons in the world, has felt it right and his duty to have this very searching investigation made. I have personally seen that it has been made, and I am personally satisfied that the proposals in the Bill and the proposals made by the county council for the building of this new bridge are proposals which the House should endorse. I therefore invite the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.

Commander Pursey

Under the circumstances, as we have taken the right and proper means of ventilating this matter and enabling the debate to take place and more information to be given, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed.