HC Deb 12 July 1965 vol 716 cc241-50

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Lawson.]

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Dr. Horace King)

Order. I shall be grateful if hon. Members will leave the Chamber quietly and allow the hon. Member for Dagen-ham (Mr. Parker) to address the House.

1.18 a.m.

Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)

; Ten years ago I raised on the Adjournment the need for a national park to be created in the Broads. On that occasion I did not get very much support from the Government spokesman, Mr. Hugh Molson. Since 1955, I have taken a number of family holidays on the Broads and East Anglian rivers, including one last year. When the Hobhouse Report on National Parks was produced it recommended that 12 areas in the country should be made into national parks. Most of these have been set up, but there is not one for the Broads.

On 29th June, 1954, I put a Question to the Minister responsible asking what steps he proposed to take to prevent further deterioration of the Broads. The Answer was that it was a matter for the Minister only if the Broads were designated as a national park. It went on to say that the cost of clearing weeds and silt was very heavy and that it would not be right to contemplate so major an undertaking. I estimated 10 years ago that the cost of reasonable clearance of the Broads would be about £1 million. Mr. Molson suggested that it might be £¾ million, possibly £890,000, over 20 years, but neither he nor the Government were prepared to recommend that anything should be done. I now wish to reopen the matter.

We recently had an excellent Report by the Nature Conservancy on the whole question of the Broads. It is of great interest to learn that the Broads, it is now agreed, were originally established in the Middle Ages by people who wanted to dig turf and peat for burning because in that part of East Anglia there was very little timber which could be used as fuel.

The various diggings subsequently became flooded, and became known as the Broads. Most of them have been linked up by rivers or by dykes, and, as a result, there is a whole network of waterways through that part of the world which, although tidal, are only really affected by the tide near the sea, with very few locks or sluices. It is, therefore, an admirable area for people to negotiate with small craft.

Adjoining the actual waterways, some of the marsh has been reclaimed and is now used for cattle grazing. There is also a considerable amount of fen left which, in the past, was used for the cutting of sedge and rush for thatching, and so on. However, over the last 100 years, there has been a continual silting up of the waterways, many of which were never very deep, and there is very little cargo traffic now, save up to Norwich.

The drainage of the surrounding land has improved, and as a result, the fens have grown up with woodland, and so on, and the stopping of the cutting of sedge and reeds has also led to the seeding of woodland. So there is now a large amount of scrub among many of the fens. There has been a revival of the use of reed thatching, but, unfortunately, very often supplies cannot be obtained locally and some of them are imported from Holland.

Since the war, there has been an enormous increase of holiday traffic in the area. According to figures given by "Country Life", 80,000 holidaymakers were in the area in 1947, and last year the figure was a quarter of a million, which is a really enormous increase. The number of boats for which licences have been issued by the Great Yarmouth Port and Haven Commissioners has also enormously increased.

The total number licensed in 1947 was 3,400; in 1957 it was 6,318; and in 1964 it rose to 9,247. There has been an enormous increase in the number of motor cruisers particularly, from 1,250 in 1947 to 5,116 last year. Many of these are auxiliary sailing boats, but, in the main, one can now say that the motor cruiser is the dominant form of craft on the Broads. There are boats which are registered as sailing boats, but many of them are small dinghies which are really used in association with motor cruisers.

The enormous growth in holiday traffic in the Broads has produced a number of very serious problems. There are the problems of sewerage and of water shortage in local towns, and it is also the fact that large quantities of water are drawn out for spraying crops in parts of the area. Another problem is that of overcrowding by boats, especially in the upper part of the river on the River Bure.

Then there is the problem of undesirable riverside development. Anyone who has seen the shacks at Potter Heigham would be horrified to think that they might spread. Further, on the Broads, we even have a form of shack on the water, known as the "flat-afloat". Both these and the shacks along the riverside are becoming quite a serious problem, in that they are ugly in appearance and their sewage goes into the water.

There is a real need for a positive policy with regard to the whole question of the Broads, in the interests both of holiday makers and of residents in the area. Most of the suggestions made in the Nature Conservancy Report are admirable, and I hope that it will be possible to get the new East Anglian University interested in the problems of the area, to help in research, and so on. We already have some nature reserves, and more are proposed.

Many suggestions are made from time to time about pollution, particularly by sewage. It is suggested there should be an increase in reed cutting both by a conservation corps, and by mechanised cutting, the difficulty being the shortage of labour. Certainly, the reed could be used if it could be cut. Then there is the carr, which is the scrub growing over the fens. Most of it could be cleared with advantage by a conservation corps.

However, I would like to make one suggestion which is not made in the report. In some parts of the Broads, woods are a great advantage. Around some of the smaller Broads, like South Walsham Broad, they add to the charm of the scenery. In other parts, some of the woodland already established could be thinned out, adding to the scenery and making possible other forms of natural life. One does not want too much woodland, because it shuts out the winds and makes sailing difficult.

I also suggest that there are some areas where trees could with advantage be planted as an amenity, not immediately along the waterways but away from them, in the middle distance, where they would improve the scenery, certainly on the seaward area, around Yarmouth and along the A.47 road where the traffic is visible from the River Bure. Certainly, there are some areas where this would be an advantage from the agricultural point of view and also would help to obscure caravan sites.

Other problems mentioned in the Report which need dealing with are limiting speed on the waterways, adding better moorings and undertaking further dredging. Useful dredging has already been done during the last few years. Two small Broads, South Walsham and Malt-house, have been dredged and are now open for use. In addition, the main channels of the rivers have been opened up. But this is only a beginning. There is still an enormous amount which requires to be done if the area is to take full advantage of it.

Of the suggestions made in the Report, I welcome the proposed reopening of the North Walsham Canal, the opening of the River Waveney between Bungay and Geldeston lock, and the new cut between the Bure and the Yare which would enable boats to by-pass Bredon Water. It would make for easier navigation; it would make a round tour possible, and would open up the southern part of the Broads. I feel that the implementation of these suggestions would go a long way towards developing the area.

One of the most spectacular suggestions is the idea of constructing a number of new broads either in the marshland or in the fens. This would be a practicable proposition and well worth while. A case could sometimes be made out for digging peat for horticultural use, where the land is not particularly good and where it could easily be dug out and the area flooded, the spoil could be used for reclamation work along the river banks, and so on.

If we are to have these big improvements which are suggested in the Report, where is the money to come from? The increased number of boats licensed has increased licence fee receipts substantially, and this would be a big help in carrying out some of the improvements which I have already mentioned. But there is need for Government help from the centre, and not only from local resources. I estimate that 10 years ago a radical reconstruction scheme would have cost £1 million and that it would probably cost £1¼ million now.

One of the most interesting points in the Report is the practical suggestions from a costing point of view. There is a very strong case for making better use of the Broads, and some body should be made responsible for co-ordinating the various activities in connection with carrying out the improvements. That is why I suggest that there should be a National Park. A number of bodies are trying to deal with these various problems, such as development planning and public health. There is the Broads Joint Advisory Planning Committee and also the Oulton Broads Joint Committee. The navigation authority is the Great Yarmouth Port and Haven Commission. Then there is the River Board for Norfolk and East Suffolk.

I would have thought that to have proper co-ordination we ought to have a national park. It is also desirable that the authority that looks after this area should not only be staffed by local people, but should have people appointed from a national point of view to represent the holidaymakers as well as residents. Therefore, I would suggest that if we are to get a scheme of this kind carried through, the Government needs to come in and set up a national park committee and provide the necessary finance over a twenty years period to enable these various excellent proposals to be carried out.

1.31 a.m.

Mr. Bert Hazell (Norfolk, North)

I have read with great interest the report in HANSARD of 10 years ago when my hon. Friend for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) raised this issue in debate. I noticed that one of the Members who spoke was that hon. Member for that old constituency of East Norfolk. That constituency has disappeared under redistribution and much of the Broadland area to which he made reference at that time is embodied in my constituency of North Norfolk. Therefore, I have a great and intimate knowledge of the area of the Broads, particularly that which borders and is actually in my constituency.

This debate is timely, as is also the report to which my hon. Friend made reference. With him, I hope that the plea which is being made today will not fall on deaf ears, but that there will be a response from the Government to the plea that has already been put forward.

During the last decade the growth of business on the Broads has been phenomenal. More and more people find in the Broads and the various facilities offered an opportunity for a holiday in the fresh air. It is interesting to note that the season on the Broads extends at both ends and that during the height of the summer season there are parts of the Broads that are distinctly overcrowded. The Report put forward various suggestions whereby it might be possible to spread the holiday population attracted to the Broads over a much larger area. My hon. Friend has referred to the points raised in the course of the Report.

I should like to draw attention to one particular phrase on page 55 of the Report where there is stress on the need for a "Strategic Plan for Broadland". The Report adds: Such a plan must contain both short and long-term features. It has to deal with the unsatisfactory elements in the immediate situation, and it must provide for the expansion the realisation of Broadland's potential to meet the likely demands of the year 2,000 A.D. My hon. Friend has referred to the Hobhouse Report, which recommended that there should be a national park for the Broadland area. If this was true when the Report was prepared, how much more true is the position at present? There are many problems in the Broad-land district, not the least of which is the need for substantially improved mooring facilities, not just mooring facilities along the riverside but mooring facilities provided off the main rivers so that the danger of collision between traffic moving up and down the river and those moored by the side of the river might not become too severe.

There is need for greater provision of shore-based toilets. At present, in the small hamlets one finds that the rural district councils have made some provision, but this is completely inadequate in relation to the traffic that uses the rivers and Broads of Norfolk. Properly constructed toilet provision, well screened, would do much to help to mitigate the pollution that already exists as a result of the increase in traffic along the rivers and the Broads.

There is also need for proper screening provision for tents and caravan camps. At present, these are scattered haphazard over the Broadland district. There is need also for new broads and a new cut. My hon. Friend referred to the reopening of the North Walsham and Dilham Canal. In view of the fact that there is likely to be a big holiday centre development at North Walsham the reopening of the canal would be an asset to the town and to Broadland traffic as a whole. The increasing interest in the broads over recent years has created within the area a substantial boat-building industry and we should not overlook the fact that such an industry provides alternative employment in a rural area.

The "Report on Broadland" states, in paragraph 194, that East Anglia pioneered the agricultural revolution. There is now an opportunity for Broadland to be a pioneer in Great Britain in the multipurpose use of land and water on a large scale. I warmly support the case which my hon. Friend has put before the House tonight.

1.36 a.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources (Mr. Arthur Skeffington)

It gives me great pleasure to reply to this short debate, first, because I have known my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) for many years and have been associated with him at various times in a number of projects. I know his keen interest and concern for the countryside. I have walked a good deal of it with him from time to time in the past. Secondly, my hon. Friend has raised the question of this unique and important area about which he has cared for a long time, and he has been most persistent in trying to get something constructive done for it.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on timing this Adjournment debate to occur almost simultaneously with the publication of the "Report on Broadland". I take this opportunity of saying that in the Ministry we regard the Report as most stimulating, knowledgeable and imaginative and that we are studying it with great interest. I also noted the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell).

It is absolutely necessary for the nation to look afresh at the whole future of the countryside and the future of this very area in the light of a rapidly-changing situation which is fraught with massive problems. There is a population increase of quite dramatic significance. It is estimated that the population, which now numbers about 52 million, will reach 60 million by mid-1981 and 70 million by the year 2000, which is only 35 years away.

At the same time, this population is becoming much more mobile. Motor cars now number about 7 million. It is estimated that they will number about 24 million in 1981 and possibly 30 million in the year 2000. The estimate may be wrong, but it would be unwise for us to assume that it will prove to be in any sense an underestimate. Consequently, the task of maintaining a balance between the use of land in the countryside and land in the towns is becoming more complex and difficult and the "Report on Broadland" points out that in the last two decades the demands on the area for all purposes have increased by about three times.

This is significant of the sort of problem which we shall face in this kind of area. Even at the present time, while the population explosion is still going on, we have in England and Wales only about three-quarters of an acre left for every man, woman and child. So the position at the end of the century will be very difficult indeed unless we plan carefully now for the various uses to which land can be put.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Land and Natural Resources who is responsible for the strategic availability of resources, including land, is making a thorough and comprehensive review of all the problems associated with the countryside. It is long overdue. During the last decade, virtually nothing was done to follow up the great advance made in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, 1949. This was a remarkable Act which blazed the way, opening up the country and giving us quite new concepts. Over the last 10 years—I am not trying to make a party political point here—very little was done. There has been no new initiative, and the last Administration, no doubt for very good reasons, did not have a great deal of interest in this subject.

This can be seen in the level of expenditure on national parks. In 1963–64, all the expenditure, that is, expenditure by the National Parks Commission and under the Act itself, was only £43,000 for the 10 national parks. True, this was better than the £11,000 in 1959, but even £43,000 is quite derisory. The attitude of the country and of this House must change. It will have to vote the resources if we are to maintain what we have, let alone extend to other parks or areas of recreation.

As regards the Broadland area, there are some limitations in the Act as at present drawn. Section 5 provides that a national park is an extensive tract of country in England and Wales as to which it appears to the Commission that by reason of … natural beauty, and the opportunity … for open-air recreation, having regard to … character and to … position in relation to centres of population certain measures should be taken.

For the reasons which my hon. Friend gave, the National Parks Commission declined to take action when suggestions were made regarding the Broadland area. Technically, it might have been right, but its attitude was very different from the attitude of the Hobhouse Report, which waxed quite lyrical about this quite unique area in certain passages, for instance, in paragraph 38 and on page 114.

In the review to which I have referred, my right hon. Friend is considering not only what can be done for the, so to call them, old style national parks, but also what should be done with reference to new style national parks which may, perhaps, be termed, as the Hobhouse Report suggests, areas of recreation—areas, that is, which may have greater accessibility or will certainly cater for greater accessibility than has always been the case in the national parks hitherto. One would have to recognise that people will go there in large numbers, and ought to be encouraged to do so, by motor car, so that there must be provision for them to leave their cars and go off for relaxation and enjoyment without, at the same time, damaging the natural beauties of the areas themselves.

In such a concept of a recreation area, the Broads would figure very largely indeed. This is the most remarkable inland sailing area in England, and, when one remembers that it is only about 3½ hours journey by train from London, one realises its unique character and true significance.

My right hon. Friend is now conducting his comprehensive review of all the matters relating to the national parks and the countryside and the wider questions of preserving a balance betwen town and country, the maintenance of amenity, and how to provide in this period of growing population and more motor cars for the preservation of natural features while, at the same time, making proper provision for recreation.

My right hon. Friend hopes to reach his conclusions very shortly. In fact, the review is substantially completed in the Department. He hopes that the public will have his schemes for the new countryside policy before it soon.

Mr. Parker

Will there be a White Paper setting out the proposals?

Mr. Skeffington

That is one of the ways in which the matter could be put before the public, but this is a matter for Cabinet decision and policy. However, I can here give the undertaking that in this review, the claim of the Broads will be very fully considered. Future countryside policy is of the greatest importance because the decisions we make about land use will certainly determine general living conditions and whether they will be tolerable and will also have an effect upon the very quality of living itself.

We realise this, and hope to present a scheme which will have a great attraction for the public and maintain the right balance. I think that my hon. Friend will find that paragraph 193, on page 60 of the Report, states that: Time is not on the side of Broadland. To do nothing is to abandon the region to erosion, conflict, and decay. What is said of the Broads is true of other areas, and I hope that we can look forward to an enthusiastic response to my right hon. Friend's plans in due course.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at fourteen minutes to Two o'clock.