HC Deb 24 February 1965 vol 707 cc398-406
The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Richard Crossman)

The Government have been considering as a matter of urgency how they can help Manchester to deal with its housing problems in a way that would contribute positively to the general prosperity and growth of the North-West.

Like other great conurbations, Manchester cannot hope to provide houses within its own boundaries for all those living in slums and for its total natural increase. If decent living conditions are to be achieved in its bold schemes for central redevelopment, a substantial number of those rehoused must be found homes outside the city. In addition to all its secondary efforts to find sites for dealing with overspill, therefore, Manchester needs at least the equivalent of two new towns.

The search for suitable sites took several years. Finally, last year, the choice fell on Risley—12 miles from Manchester and only two miles from Warrington. This announcement was received with a good deal of doubt and criticism. I must now inform the House that a detailed survey has revealed that serious subsidence and other geological defects rule out a large part of the area. It has been strongly urged that the whole Risley project should be abandoned. But in view of Manchester's urgent needs and the fact that about 13,000 houses can be built quickly here, I feel that, on balance, the right course is to provide these houses as soon as possible and to use the New Towns Act for this purpose.

In view of its nearness to Warrington, it seems to me essential that the new development of the Risley area should form part of a comprehensive plan for the whole Warrington area. I propose, therefore, to start consultations at once in order to see how this can best be achieved. In particular, I propose to discuss with the local authorities whether it would not be possible, in carrying out this comprehensive operation, to achieve a partnership of the kind we are now working out in Ipswich, Northampton and Peterborough.

In addition to the Warrington-Risley project, Manchester will be able to rely on its own development scheme at Westhoughton, which I have now approved, with some important modifications. This should provide for about 13,000 houses. Manchester would itself carry out this scheme in co-operation with the local authorities concerned.

But, by themselves, these short-term partial solutions—for that is all they are—would still leave Manchester without the assurance of long-term relief. To meet this need, the Government have decided to designate a site in the Leyland-Chorley area for a large new town. In addition to providing for the long-term overspill needs of Manchester, this new town—strategically well placed in relation to the road-rail network—should contribute to the industrial revival of the whole region, and form a new focus for urban renewal.

I will shortly be discussing with Lancashire and the other authorities the appointment of consultants to carry out a detailed survey as a preliminary to designating the site under the New Towns Act.

Mr. Corfield

While expressing some disappointment that Risley has proved unsuitable as a site for a major new town, may I ask the Minister one or two questions with regard to the alternative he proposes, although, of course, reserving the point that we shall want to consider his proposals rather more thoroughly than we have so far had an opportunity to do?

The right hon. Gentleman says that, in any case, it will be possible to build 13,000 houses immediately. Is that an absolute maximum, or is it merely the maximum number that can be built quickly? If it is the latter, what maximum has the right hon. Gentleman in mind that can be built when suitable site works have been carried out to counteract the deficiencies to which he has referred?

Secondly, can the Minister tell us what preliminary surveys have been carried out in the Leyland-Chorley area, and what consultations, if any, have taken place with the local authorities or—perhaps more particularly, having regard to the agricultural value of the land—with his right hon. Friend? Would he not agree that the experience at Risley rather indicates that, at any rate, a fairly detailed survey is desirable before designation rather than the other way round?

Will the right hon. Gentleman also tell us what total population he has in mind for what he himself describes as a large new town in this area?

Mr. Crossman

The calculation we have made for the Risley-Warrington project is absolute in that it makes no allowance for the natural increase in the area. We reckon that about half of the area that had been intended for the new town is affected by subsidence, and by what I believe is called the Warburton fault. Also, the peat is somewhat deeper than we thought. Half the area has gone in regard to the new town, therefore, but it could be open space for the town and so remain a good amenity. But, for housing, I have given the absolute figure. That is why I consider this to be suitable for planning with Warrington, and I hope that it will help to develop the city centre, in which Warrington is interested, as a shopping area to which the people will go.

With regard to the Chorley-Leyland part, we have, of course, consulted the local authorities. This has been something on which Lancashire as an authority has been keen and has been discussing for some time, but the actual site has yet to be designated. The most careful survey will be undertaken before the actual site is designated.

The question of the total population will have to be a matter for discussion, but I reckon on its being on a scale similar to that of the new town in Buckinghamshire, which is a great deal larger than the run of new towns so far.

Mr. W. T. Williams

My right hon. Friend has spoken of the Warrington civic development. Can he tell us what effect his proposals for the new town will have upon the plans that have already been begun for the redevelopment of Warrington? In particular, can he give us an assurance that these new developments will not mean delaying the Warrington redevelopment scheme? Will this Warrington development now also attract Government help under the new towns procedure?

The Minister speaks of Risley now being orientated towards Warrington. Can he tell us how quickly he proposes to modify the local authority structure in order to give control of this new development to the Warrington County Borough? In the meantime, can he assure us that Warrington County Borough will be strongly represented on the new town corporation?

Finally, since Risley is, according to his statement, being redeveloped largely to relieve Manchester's overspill, what consideration has been given to the employment of that expanded population in the Warrington area? In particular, will he now have consultations with his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade in order to modify the restricted view that the Board of Trade has hitherto taken to the setting up of new industries in the Warrington area?

Mr. Crossman

I will try to be as concise as I can in answering those five questions. The effect this will have on Warrington's plans will be to accelerate them, since the new towns procedure will be applied. Warrington will gain all the benefits of the New Towns Act in terms of capital investment and other advantages. I would say, therefore, that it will definitely be of assistance to Warrington, which I should have thought was the kind of county borough which would benefit considerably by an addition of 40,000 to its population.

Control is something which we are to discuss. I want to tell the House, as I said when I mentioned Ipswich, Peter-borough and Northampton, that this is a new experiment in new town technique. We are actually only beginning consultations with each of these ancient and respected boroughs on the best way to collaborate. Clearly, a new town corporation, acting de novo in open fields, behaves in an entirely different way from a new town corporation working with a borough, but we have to work this out in detail. All I say is that we shall work it out with each, and no doubt according to the special conditions in each, of the areas.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

No dictatorship.

Mr. Crossman

The hon. Gentleman says, "No dictatorship". My suspicion is that we know enough to know that it would be very unwise to start in a dictatorial fashion in dealing with the respected county boroughs which we are now discussing.

That is why I say that this is a new experiment. We were dealing with the open countryside before, whereas we are here dealing with a built-up area, with its own residential area, with its own shopping areas, and with its own town hall. This means that things will have to be worked out. Therefore, I cannot make precise statements on it.

Sir R. Cary

May I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on confirming the decision of his predecessor in office that Risley would be a suitable site for a new town? Part of it has now been proved to have a flaw, which makes it impossible to proceed in that area. At least one part of the plan can be completed. I was myself always a little nervous that its close proximity to Warrington would drive us into a joint partnership. I think that relations between Warrington and Manchester are such that we could happily work out suitable plans for the new town authority.

I do not wish to be unfair to the right hon. Gentleman, but, in view of what he said about activities elsewhere, would I be right in assuming that he has come to any conclusions at all about the recommendations of the Local Government Commission in regard to the special areas?

Mr. Crossman

In answer to the hon. Gentleman's second question, no deduction of that sort would be in any way justifiable. In answer to the first question, I should like to correct the hon. Gentleman. It is not true that we have decided to designate Risley as a new town, and it would be deceiving the House if I said that we had. Since about half the area was found to be unsuitable, 40,000 is too small for this. What we have decided is to reorganise the plan as a comprehensive Warrington-Risley development. So it will not be a Risley new town. It will be Risley as an area, working in with Warrington. Warrington will remain the centre of the new complex.

Mr. Charles Morris

Is my right hon. Friend aware that those who have had the onerous task of planning Manchester's rehousing needs will be most appreciative of the detailed consideration which my right hon. Friend has given to this problem during the four months in which he has been Minister? Is he further aware that in September, 1959, when Lancashire County Council and Manchester City Council were considering the Leyland area as a possible site for the designation of a new town, Lancashire County Council at that time made the point that the provision of adequate employment for the incoming population was central to the designation of that area as a new town?

In regard to Risley, is my right hon. Friend further aware that it has now taken two years for what one would have thought would have been a simple task, for soil surveys to be carried out? If these new designated areas are themselves to be the subject of further soil surveys, may I have an assurance that these surveys will be expedited? Finally, will my right hon. Friend accept that urgency has never been more urgent in regard to Manchester's rehousing needs?

Mr. Crossman

On the final question, about speed, I should say that there were other factors besides the extent of the survey which accounted for the delay before we took over. However, we have decided it now. This teaches us the lesson that one should do soil surveys, particularly in mining areas, before one designates new sites.

With regard to the future of Chorley-Leyland and the problem of jobs, it is true that jobs will have to go there. This is a large area. However, they will be attracted, after all, from the North—from Preston, I think also from Manchester and also to some extent from Merseyside. This, to my mind, should be regarded as a growth point for the whole of the north-west region.

The importance we attach to it is that we see it as a point for the industrial revival of the whole region, which I think will inspire the region to feel that the South does not get it all. So, in short, the answer is that it will mean jobs and I hope that they will come.

What was said in 1959 by Lancashire about this was said a long time ago, but I think that we shall do it better than was said then.

Mr. Lubbock

With regard to the two short-term schemes, can the Minister say when the contracts for them are likely to be let? Could he also say whether these two schemes do not provide an excellent opportunity for the use of industrialised building systems?

Mr. Crossman

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has said that, because a great deal of the timing of the start will depend on our readiness to move forward to a large-scale use of industrialised building. If we do that, there is no reason why we should not start building in the Warrington-Risley area by 1968 at least. I have every hope that we can cut by a year to 18 months the usual period of five years, which seems to me to be intolerable, between the announcement of a new town and the real substantial building. I believe that we can achieve this if we go ahead in this way. This is something which the Government are determined to do.

Mr. Will Griffiths

Is my right hon. Friend telling the House that his predecessor designated Risley as a site for a new town of the size which was then envisaged before a geological or soil survey had been carried out? When my right hon. Friend was reviewing again, during the very short time he has been in office, Manchester's urgent housing needs, did he have a look at the sites in North Cheshire, and, in particular, around Lymm, which have been highly regarded by Manchester for many years, but about which successive Tory Ministers of Housing, from the days of Mr. Harold Macmillan, have done nothing; nor, indeed, have they done anything about Manchester's housing needs for other sites?

Mr. Crossman

It is not fair to say that Risley was designated by my predecessor. It was considered as possible. Research was going on when we came into office, and the matter came to me after six or seven weeks. We had the first final results. They were checked again so that we could be quite sure, because they were rather disconcerting.

I appreciate that there are hon. Members from Manchester who are spoiling for a fight with the Cheshire County Council. My main preoccupation is not the pleasure of local polemics, but to get some houses built. In my view, the amount of Manchester's overspill which will have a chance of getting settled in Cheshire will be substantially increased by the announcement which I have made today, which excludes the proposal on which my hon. Friend has set his heart.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We must get on.

Mr. J. T. Price

On a point of order. May I draw your attention to the fact, Sir, that I have a strong constituency interest in the statement made by the Minister? Should I not be called?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman will forgive me. The burden on the Chair is not to be ignored on these occasions, when I have to try to get the House to business. The City of Manchester is represented, for instance, by nine Members, so it is almost impossible not to disappoint somebody. Mr. Blackburn.

Mr. J. T. Price

With great respect, Mr. Speaker, and further to that point of order. [HoN. MEMBERS: "It is not a point of order."] I am the only Member in the House with a constituency interest in this who has stood up but who has not been called. I protest that I am entitled to be called on this issue, as there is great bitterness in my part of Lancashire and I ought to be able to ventilate it in the House.

Mr. Speaker

I am very sorry. This is the trouble about my burden. I cannot call on these occasions everybody who has constituency interests, or who greatly desires to represent a point of view, otherwise we should never get to business at all. I am very sorry. I do not like having to disappoint the hon. Member or anybody else, but I just have to.

Mr. J. T. Price

Further to that point of order. In view of your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, may I give notice that I will take the earliest opportunity of raising this matter on the Adjournment.

Mr. Speaker

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not make it more difficult for us to get on with the business. Mr. Blackburn.