HC Deb 15 February 1961 vol 634 cc1718-28

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. J. E. B. Hill.]

7.47 a.m.

Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Cornwall, North)

I wish to raise the case of a constituent of mine, Mr. Ferrett, who lives in the parish of Poundstock, in my constituency. He put in an application to build a bungalow on land which he had purchased in the beginning of last year and that application was refused. He has appealed against refusal and that appeal has also been turned down.

This may seem on the face of it a fairly simple case and one not worth taking up the time of the House, but there are wider implications behind it. To get it more clearly stated, it would be best to give the background of what has happened and the reasons. It started in February, 1960, when Mr. Ferrett bought 17 acres of agricultural land which had belonged to his family for generations, from the existing owner. The reason why he wanted to take up farming was that he had to do so on his doctor's orders. He was a sick man and the doctor advised him that an outdoor life was essential for him.

Mr. Ferrett submitted an application to the planning authority for permission to build a bungalow on the land from which he could farm and supervise the land. The application was put in February, 1960, and was heard by the local sub-committee of the County of Cornwall planning authority in March and turned down. It was turned down because the land adjoins a trunk road and, under the provisions of the Act an application for planning permission which involved a new access to a trunk road had to be submitted to the Minister of Transport for approval before the local planning authority could give its approval.

On the advice of my right hon. Friend's divisional inspector the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport says: Having made enquiries, I find that the Divisional Road Engineer issued a direction on 4th March, that permission should he refused on the grounds that the use of the new access associated with the proposed development will introduce new hazards and cause danger to trunk road traffic on a length of road which is generally undeveloped. Those were the reasons given to the sub-committee before it turned down this application by Mr. Ferrett, and, naturally, the application was thereby turned down.

It is interesting to note that the local planning sub-committee did not express disapproval of this application. On the contrary, it expressed tacitly, by not making any negative statement, approval of this application. Indeed, in the inspector's report at the appeal stage it was stated that the local planning sub-committee did tacitly approve of this application.

The next thing that happened was that Mr. Ferrett started building some farm buildings on those 17 acres. As the House knows full well, there is no restriction at all on any farm building so long as it is a certain distance from the road. Those buildings were built during the summer, and completed in August—piggeries, sheds—and it is proposed to put up cowsheds and the like. At that time, also, Mr. Ferrett acquired a further amount of land, bringing his total holding of land up to 364 acres. That is quite a fair-sized farm for that part of my constituency.

Mr. Ferrett is farming it fully and completely, with the result that there is a good number of farm vehicles going in and out of those buildings to and from the main road. Using the new exit on to the trunk road are meal lorries, cattle lorries, lorries carrying whey to and from the local milk factory, representatives calling, straw and hay lorries, and, of course, many casual visitors as well.

This seems to make complete nonsense of what was said by the divisional road engineer, the representative of my hon. Friend, when he said the point was that the hazards on this road would be caused by vehicles going in and out of the proposed site where Mr. Ferrett was to build his bungalow, because the exit from the farm buildings is exactly the same one as Mr. Ferrett wants to use for his bungalow. Perhaps my hon. Friend will take this point, that at the present there is a considerable number of lorries and ordinary cars there. I myself went to visit there and went in and out of exactly the same exit, which has been refused and turned down by the divisional road engineer, my right hon. Friend's representative.

Of course, over and above that Mr. Ferrett himself is spending a good deal of time going backwards and forwards to his farm from where he is living at the moment. It is most unfortunate that he has not been able to find alternative accommodation, other than with his daughter. There are three bedrooms, and seven people are living in the house, including Mr. Ferrett's family and his daughter and her family as well. It is a really shocking state of affairs. There is nowhere else Mr. Ferrett can find near or convenient to work his farm holding. The inspector's report which came out at the appeal stage showed that the Minister of Agriculture had refused to comment whether it was worth while building a bungalow on this land for the purposes of good farming. I find that conclusion odd, because the conclusion drawn from that was that the Minister was against the proposal to build the bungalow on this land. I find that odd, because Mr. Ferrett had made an application under the Small Farmer Scheme which has been granted. Indeed, the farm is substantial. There are 60 pigs, 600 head of poultry, 40 sheep and 20 bullocks there. It can truly be called a proper and well worked farm with all this traffic going in and out, so it seems that on those two grounds this refusal was misplaced.

Then we come to the final events of this rather sad story. There was an appeal in September, 1960. On that appeal the points that I have put to the House were put forward, and yet the inspector, whilst conducting the inquiry fairly and properly, came to two rather extraordinary conclusions. He re-referred to new hazards which would be created on the trunk road, the A.39, if this bungalow was built on this site. I have already shown that the hazard exists. Farm vehicles are continually using the present exit, and the point I forgot to mention was that these farm vehicles, particularly cattle lorries, have to back in off the main road up to the farm building. What greater hazard could there be than that? Yet there have been no accidents and no traffic hold ups, and no difficulty has been created there.

The local inhabitants, the local rural district council, the local county council and, as I have shown, the local planning sub-committee are all in favour of Mr. Ferrett being granted permission to build his bungalow on his own land. There cannot be much hazard in that.

During the hearing of the appeal a point was made by the county council—which, for some extraordinary reason, suddenly decided to oppose the application although it had previously given tacit agreement—that there has been six accidents on this stretch of road between 1958 and 1960. That figure is slightly misleading, because in fact two accidents occurred about 300 yards away from the site of the proposed exit, and the other four occurred about five miles away from it. By stretching one's imagination a bit the proposed exit could be said to be on that stretch of the A.39, but that does not seem to me to be relevant to the point in question.

Although the A.39 is a twisting road, the stretch of road on which it is proposed to site the exit, and where the form exit is at the moment, is fairly straight. One can see down the road for 300 yards. I cannot believe that my hon. Friend is trying to say that because of the danger to traffic no development will be permitted between Hartland and Warnhouse Corner, a distance of 40 miles.

The inspector gives another and separate ground for refusing this application, which I find quite extraordinary. He says, in paragraph 38 of his report: The trunk road here passes through an attractive rural area in which a certain amount of sporadic development has taken place in the past. Although this stretch of the A.39 trunk mad is one of the principal routes into Cornwall, it is still attractive enough to lack many of the characteristics of busier principal routes, and, in my opinion, any development tending to destroy the open nature of the countryside there and to bring its appearance nearer to that of a built up area, should be discouraged. We gather from that that the other ground for refusing the application is that it is an attractive area. Because it is attractive the Inspector recommends that the application should be refused.

If we accept that the application must be refused because this is an attractive area, that would rule out development from between Hartland and Warnhouse Corner, a distance of 40 miles. If we accept that, we must say that other than allowing two or three hamlets there will be no development between those two points, even for the purpose of good agricultural management.

I cannot believe that my hon. Friend will stand on that ground. There was no mention or question of it before the local planning committee of the Cornwall County Council, nor was it raised until the very last part of the inspector's report. It is really an extraordinary proposition that one must, because of the scenic value of a place, restrict building on an agricultural holding—because people might want to look at the countryside and enjoy the view—and, at the same time, say that there is a road hazard with vehicles whizzing along at 90 miles an hour so that any traffic stopping will cause immediate danger and likely damage. My hon. Friend cannot have it both ways. I hope that he appreciates that point.

I ask my hon. Friend to consider the matter again. I quite appreciate that we have gone through the whole process of application and appeal, and we have been turned down at each stage. But I press my hon. Friend to realise that in this case something has gone wrong. The local people want this to happen. In the interests of agriculture it is necessary for Mr. Ferrett to live on his holding. There is an exit at the moment being used by a great variety of transport, and Mr. Ferrett living there would not increase the amount of transport going into his farm it would decrease it to a certain extent. I have tried to show that one cannot honestly say that the argument based on the beauty of the area holds water, unless the restriction is to extent along the whole length of the A.39.

I ask my hon. Friend to consider this matter sympathetically. It is very important for Mr. Ferrett that he should be able to work his land properly. He is a sick man, living in overcrowded conditions, and I most earnestly ask my hon. Friend to find some way to allow Mr. Ferrett to build on his own land.

8.2 a.m.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

Agricultural communities throughout the country are deeply indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) for bringing this case before the House. They have taken a considerable interest in it. They hope for a favourable outcome from my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. Farming communities are very worried about the apparent lack of sympathy which his Ministry is showing towards them today in the matter of building houses for owner-occupation by small farmers and houses for farm workers.

Those of us who are interested in farming problems are receiving complaints. I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the fact that, although this case hinges on what might be thought to be a small local matter in Cornwall, it has widespread implications, and that his answer will receive wide publicity. I hope that it will be favourable.

8.3 a.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Sir Keith Joseph)

My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells) has suggested that this debate will have wide publicity. I think that it is just in time to get the evening paper headlines.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) for the temperate and cogent way in which he put his constituent's case. His constituent could not have had a more vigorous advocate. I must say at the outset, however, that I cannot possibly accept the general criticism levelled at the Ministry by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone. He suggested that farmers are in some may discriminated against by appeal decisions made by my right hon. Friend. I assure him that, invidious though the decision-making power of my right hon. Friend is, it is exercised in each case scrupulously on the merits.

The fact is that the planning Acts impose upon somebody—in this case my right hon. Friend—the duty of making a decision between factors which have to be balanced and considered one against another in order to achieve the main objectives which the planning system is designed to gain for the country. In some cases the results are very sad for individuals, but that is only because in their particular case the disadvantages of what they propose are, from the public point of view, so great that their inherent right to do what they like with their own land has to be over-ridden.

In this problem I have, in one way, little to say because the appeal decision was made on one ground only. My hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North should dismiss from his mind all suggestions that the beauty of the countryside and the open character of the landscape were factors in the appeal decision. They were referred to by the inspector, as he was entitled to do, in his report to my right hon. Friend. But in reaching a decision my right hon. Friend makes it abundantly plain in his decision letter that he excludes these factors. Paragraph 3 of the letter of 17th January reads: The Minister accepts his inspector's recommendation for the reason that the proposal involves a dangerous access to the trunk road and accordingly he dismisses the appeal. Had my right hon. Friend taken into account any other factor in reaching that decision he would have mentioned it in that sentence. The fact is that it was only on road safety grounds that his appeal decision was reached.

I know that my hon. Friends will agree that traffic safety is a vital, almost a paramount, consideration, and will accept that when we are advised that traffic safety will be infringed by development, we have to think long and hard, and twice and three and four times, before allowing that development to occur. There is, therefore, a strong presumption against allowing new buildings with a new access or new buildings that will increase the use of an existing access to a trunk road. This road, the A.39 from Bude to Coppathorn is amply wide enough for two vehicles, but not wide enough for three vehicles abreast. It is very tortuous as well as undulating. Straight stretches with good visibility are few and far between.

I do not think that my hon. Friend will dispute that. It is the sort of road which is frustrating for drivers who may get caught behind a slow-moving vehicle and danger arises when such a driver decides to take a chance. It is imperative that no additional danger spots should be created on the stretches of road where it is possible to pass. As one breasts the rise at Coppathorn approaching the proposed site from the north there is a clear stretch of 330 yards before the corner at Lyncroft is reached. There is quite a marked dip about halfway along where an opportunity would be taken to pass a vehicle in front and the overtaking vehicles while travelling northwards or southwards would be achieving their maximum speeds at the bottom of the dip, precisely where Mr. Ferrett wishes to erect his bungalow.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

At the bottom?

Sir K. Joseph

At the bottom within that straight stretch.

My hon. Friend accepted some evidence of the danger of additional accesses to this road, but several questions have been raised by him, or might have been raised by him, which I should like to try to meet. It was said during the inquiry that the trunk road was not very busy for about three-quarters of the year. 1 am sure my hon. Friend, who avoided that argument, would not think that the road safety of those who use the road even for a month or for three months, any more than those who use it for twelve months, could be disregarded.

It was suggested at the inquiry that a decision such as my right hon. Friend would subordinate local use to through traffic. The fact is that where a conflict could develop between through traffic and local use—and my hon. Friend made my blood run cold by suggesting that lorries were backing in and out of this access—surely it is the duty of my right hon. Friend to avoid any increase in road danger. My hon. Friend leant heavily on the suggestion that because Mr. Ferrett is already farming on this land and is, therefore, visiting his farm several times daily, and because farm use involves a great deal of traffic in and out already, the addition of a house would not significantly increase the use of that or any other access. I must take issue with him here.

The farm use would continue as now, unaltered either way. Mr. Ferrett would cease to visit the site three or four times a day, and that would be a reduction. More than compensating that reduction, however, would be Mr. Ferrett's own comings and goings, as any occupier of a house comes and goes. In addition, there would be the coming and going of his family, his friends and the tradesmen coming to call on him and all the additional coming and going that is involved by a dwellinghouse.

My hon. Friend might say, "What does it matter? There is already heavy traffic coming in and out of the road from existing development. Why should you balk at a bit more?" Surely, in that way despair lies. We cannot rub the slate clean. We cannot say that we shall eliminate all development that runs beside a trunk road and has access to it. We can, however, do our best to see that no additional danger is added by additional development that intensifies the use of the access.

My hon. Friend threw doubt upon the accident proneness of the vicinity. He said that six accidents had been alleged as having occurred in the previous two years in the immediate neighbourhood, although only two of the accidents had occurred nearby and the other four were five miles away. I must be cautious—my hon. Friend is well informed about the area—but I am advised firmly that six accidents have occurred within 400 yards either side of the access within the last two years, and I have details of all six.

I may be wrong, but that is the advice which I am given by people who should know. One of those accidents involved serious injury to a man. The others did not involve personal injury to a human being but were between vehicle and vehicle or vehicle and animal. There is, therefore, ample evidence of accidents, even on my hon. Friend's own showing of two within a few hundred yards during the last two years.

My right hon. Friend finds these negative decisions which prevent a man from doing what he wants to do with his own land most distasteful, however necessary and justified, and he always struggles to find a constructive solution. In what I say now— and it is a very mild constructive suggestion that I shall make—my hon. Friend will appreciate that I am not in a position to commit anyone, neither the county planning authority, the Ministry of Transport nor my right hon. Friend. I would, however, suggest that if Mr. Ferrett or my hon. Friend have any ideas how they can achieve a development here without adding to traffic danger, it would be wise for them to consult the county planning authority, who could in turn consult the Ministry of Transport.

My right hon. Friend's own idea was that it might be practicable for Mr. Ferrett to consider putting his bungalow in one or other of the northern fields which, I believe, he owns or will own, the sites of which are to be found on Ordnance Survey sheets 1283 or 1284. I am told that there would be difficulties in cost and in engineering works, but obviously, if the development were in those fields, the access would come out on to a side road and there would not be this particular problem.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins


Sir K. Joseph

I have only another minute, so I had better continue.

I recognise that Mr. Ferrett commands our sympathy. He is a man who is seeking to do what the country wants men to do—to develop land constructively. He is a sick man. He lives in overcrowded conditions. I hope, however, that Mr. Ferrett and my hon. Friend will recognise that faced, as he was, by major paramount road safety considerations, my right hon. Friend had no choice except to reach the decision which he did reach on this appeal.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at a quarter past Eight o'clock a.m.