HC Deb 22 March 1965 vol 709 cc29-33

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:


To ask the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs whether he will make a feasibility study of the Morecambe Barrage project and other barrage schemes; and if he will make a statement.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Economic Affairs (Mr. William Rodgers)

With permission, I will now answer Question No. 83.

The Government have considered all the information currently available about the economic and social benefits which these schemes might create and about their likely costs. We have concluded that no final assessment of the merits of these ambitious and imaginative proposals can be made until further technical studies have been carried out.

The work already done has shown that the justification for a barrage across Morecambe Bay or Solway Firth would rest primarily on the conservation of water on a scale large enough to meet the long term needs of north-west England and south-west Scotland. Advantages for communications, power generation and amenity would arise, but would be subsidiary. We have, therefore, decided to commission further technical work with a view to determining the feasibility and probable cost of constructing barrages, and more precisely what quantity and quality of water each of these two schemes might make available.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Land and Natural Resources is asking the Water Resources Board to take charge of these studies, but in view of the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland for water resources and regional development in Scotland, the Scottish Office will work jointly with the Board on the Solway project.

As for the Dee, we welcome the initiative which local authorities in the area have already shown in beginning investigations into the possibility of constructing a new crossing of the lower estuary which might take the form of a barrage. It is possible that a scheme of this kind by substantially improving communications between Merseyside and North Wales might enable part of the conurbation's future population and industrial growth to be accommodated in Flintshire. Some land reclamation might also be possible.

The Dee and Clwyd River Board has already commissioned a hydraulic study of such a crossing at a point about halfway down the estuary and the Government are considering, in consultation with the Board and the Cheshire and Flintshire County Councils, whether the scope of this study might be usefully widened.

All three schemes are very expensive, long-term proposals. The programme of initial feasibility studies which I have announced will take some time to complete. The subsequent steps to be taken will have to be decided in the light of the results of these studies and the situation at the time.

Mr. Monslow

Is my hon. Friend aware that this decision will be very welcome not only in the Barrow-in-Furness area, but throughout the whole of the North-West and, indeed, in all the other areas affected by the schemes he has enumerated? I sincerely hope that, now that the Government have agreed to feasibility studies, we shall, ere long—not overlong, I hope—be able to implement the projects I have in mind.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

While congratulating the Joint Under-Secretary of State on putting forward these studies, may I ask whether he realises that there is great urgency about this, particularly as regards water, because the whole of the North-West, in spite of what hon. Members from other parts of the country may think, has a deficiency of water and needs water very soon?

The hon. Gentleman did not explain what sort of body it is to be, but will he induce his study group to push on with energy, if only for the reason that, although there are many other considerations which are important in this very imaginative scheme, other and smaller countries, such as Holland, have managed to carry out such developments many years before us and more quickly?

Mr. Rodgers

We fully appreciate the urgency of these schemes. That is why we wanted to consider them together. These are technical studies as the first step to full feasibility studies. We hope to have the first results of the study for Morecambe and Solway at least within two years.

Mr. Howe

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Government's increasing interest in the proposed Dee barrage scheme will be warmly welcomed on Merseyside? May we have an assurance that the investigation of the feasibility side of that scheme will be pressed forward with as much urgency as the investigations into the other schemes? In this case, will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind the possible impact on road alterations and perhaps the road structure in the Wirral and in Merseyside generally?

Mr. Rodgers

We shall certainly bear the latter point in mind. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the initiative for this scheme came from the local authorities. Under the present arrangements, they do not expect to have the results of their technical studies before 1969, but, of course, if the results can be available sooner all of us will be a great deal happier.

Mr. Dell

Are the results of the studies likely to be available in time to prevent any further invasion of the Lake District by water authorities, such as Manchester?

Mr. Rodgers

I should make it clear that, in the case of Morecambe and Solway, we have long-term needs in mind. These preliminary surveys will take up to two years, and it would be a great mistake to assume that the short term and very pressing needs of Manchester, for example, can be met by these longterm proposals.

Mr. Barber

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath)—who is, unfortunately, absent today—will be pleased at this development, which was envisaged in a statement he made last July? As I understand, the hon. Gentleman says that the technical studies might, all being well, be completed within two years, but that the full feasibility studies would take longer. Can he say how long the full feasibility studies might take, assuming that the technical study is saisfactory at the end of the two years?

Mr. Rodgers

No, it is not possible to do so, for obvious reasons. We are starting these technical studies to find out the prospects for the projects. Until we know the results of the studies, we cannot measure the extent of further studies which may be required, any more than we can measure the cost of them. We have been anxious to look at all three schemes together and this statement will be far more satisfactory than a rapid decision on any one project in isolation.

Mr. Heffer

Is my hon. Friend aware that his statement about the Dee will be very welcome to Merseyside as well, and that I echo what was said by the hon. Member for Bebington (Mr. Howe) about this? When is there likely to be a definite decision on this matter? When the decision is made, will a meeting of the local authorities of the area be called?

Mr. Rodgers

I do not think that it would be right for me to anticipate the procedure that may be followed when the results of the initial studies are complete. If the local authorities have any representations to make, we should be delighted to receive them.

Mr. Lubbock

Who will carry out these Technical studies? Will they be made by technical officers of the Ministries, or by outside consultants? Will the report of the technical consultants or of the officials be published?

Mr. Rodgers

I cannot give an answer to the second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. Since these are technical studies I do not imagine that they will be of the widest possible interest, but we can decide on that when their results become available. No decision has yet been made on who are to carry out the studies. Our anxiety is to get the studies done in the quickest possible way and with the greatest efficiency and expertise.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We must progress, otherwise we do not make any.