HC Deb 24 March 1965 vol 709 cc641-90

Order for Second Reading read.

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

Mr. Speaker

Before we proceed, I should explain that I am selecting the Amendment standing in the names of the hon. Lady the Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet) and of the hon. Member for Nottingham, Central (Mr. Dunnett) if they wish to move it.

7.5 p.m.

Mr. Jack Dunnett (Nottingham, Central)

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

We all agree with the basic principles of the Bill and recognise that the present Covent Garden Market site is highly unsatisfactory. The market has been there for many years and there is no doubt that, when it was first placed there, it was in a highly convenient, central place and did not cause the congestion and chaos that it does today. Those were the days when London was far smaller and congestion far less.

Today, however, there is no justification for siting the market at Covent Garden. The object of the Bill is to transfer the market to Nine Elms on the other side of the river. The Runciman Committee, set up in 1955, reported in 1957 that, while there was a case for moving the bulk of the market away, some of it should remain on the present site but only as a centre for price fixing. The Committee recommended that the bulk of the wholesale trade should be moved away.

The Covent Garden Market Act, 1961, vested the present market and its administration in the Covent Garden Market Authority, but required the extent of the land used by the market to be reduced to a maximum of 10 acres. The Authority has now concluded that the site in these terms would be inadequate and that the market should be removed. It accordingly proposed to move it to Nine Elms.

But Nine Elms is highly unsatisfactory for the site of the market. The Authority's recommendation does not have regard to traffic and planning problems in relation to the retail and wholesale markets throughout the London area that the Covent Garden Market is intended to serve.

The main reason for altering the present site is the great congestion, but there is also the considerable traffic congestion which it engenders. Should we be very much better off if the site were moved to Nine Elms? In the vicinity of the proposed site there is the London County Council Vauxhall Cross highway improvement scheme, which has yet to be implemented and which was approved by Parliament only a year or two ago. By the time the Covent Garden scheme had been implemented, that road improvement scheme would be out of date and would have to be recast, recast not only with consequent delay, but with much greater expenditure which, unless subsidised by some Government agency, would involve a lesser expenditure on highways throughout the remainder of the Greater London Council area.

Furthermore, the need to get products moved from the new site to the North London retail outlets would inevitably cause increased congestion across the Thames bridges, and this at a time when it is undesirable further to congest these rather narrow outlets. I also understand that the Ministry of Aviation is proposing a helicopter port just to the north of the proposed new market site. That would be another generator of traffic on a considerable scale and the combination of the two would create a traffic problem out of all proportion to the easement of the situation occasioned by moving the market from Covent Garden to Nine Elms.

Traffic congestion is not the only reason for opposing the proposed transfer to Nine Elms. Other difficulties and problems arise. As London has spread out, the centre has become increasingly congested and if the new site is tem- porarily of some better value than the present site, it is clear that in the foreseeable future yet another move would have to be considered.

Apart from the general principle that markets for London should be situated nearer the periphery, where there is more space, more land and less congestion, there are particular objections to the Bill. It is recognised increasingly that planning controls are necessary, particularly in congested areas, but Clause 18 makes any development, with very minor exceptions, a permitted development within the meaning of the planning regulations. That would mean that planning authorities could not exercise any control over the way in which the site area was developed. I hope that the House will agree that it would be highly undesirable, in an era when, in the interests of all, we are seeking to have a reasonable degree of planning authority, to give an Authority, albeit a statutory one, complete discretion to develop as it pleases with only very minor limitations.

I also draw to the attention of the House the absence of any provisions to impose on the Authority a duty to take particular care against the danger from fire on the proposed site. It increasingly takes longer for fire appliances to get to the scene of fires, and in an area which will inevitably be congested there are to be no regulations imposing on the Authority the duty to minimise such congestion.

Furthermore, the land is being acquired on a somewhat unusually generous scale. The Bill asks for the acquisition of an area of about 83 acres. This includes, among other pieces of land, three schools and colleges, several blocks of flats, some built since the war, a large clearance area, at present vested in the London County Council, and a temporary housing site. If the Bill were passed with little or no amendment, it would be possible to give up the temporary housing area and the clearance area without undue inconvenience, but it would be wrong for the schools and homes to be acquired and no longer used for their present purposes, thus adding to the present educational and housing difficulties of the authorities concerned.

I therefore ask for the Bill to be withdrawn for reconsideration. I can only repeat that its principle is entirely satisfactory, but that it seems not to have been worked in sufficient detail and with sufficient care. I cannot believe that the Nine Elms site is the only feasible site in the Greater London area for this project. If the Bill is withdrawn with a view to seeking other sites and they cannot be found, if the Nine Elms site has to be selected, let us at least have a proper degree of planning control and fire control and the greatest care to see that no more land than is needed is required, land which in this city is at a premium, not in a monetary but in a social sense.

7.17 p.m.

Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson (Lewisham, West)

I must confess to being very disappointed by the remarks of the hon. Member for Nottingham, Central (Mr. Dunnett). Not only was what he said extremely reactionary, but it was also extremely backward looking. The hon. Lady the Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet), for whom I have the greatest respect both here and in her other capacity on London County Council, must be well aware that the present Covent Garden Market is completely out of date for the needs which is now has to meet.

One of my earliest recollections is as a small boy being taken round the markets of London, I think in 1936, and going to Covent Garden and seeing my father get into the most appalling argument with one of the porters because his car was jamming the traffic. That is a long time ago and the traffic conditions in the market have got much worse since then. Indeed, the market has an average movement of traffic of about 4,000 vehicles a day.

The other defects of the market are that the buildings are totally out of date and totally inadequate. There is no provision for the use of mechanical handling of foodstuffs and there is a considerable fire danger from the empty crates which are left in the area, which would never have been designated as a market if it had not been for Charles II giving the Earl of Bedford the opportunity to use it as a market place. I am sure that every hon. Member must agree that as now Constituted Covent Garden Market is inadequate and out of date.

If one accepts that premise, one must admit in the context of the new London, which the hon. Lady and I agree to be essential, that a new site must be found and found quickly. Ever since the Covent Garden Market Authority came into being, in 1961, endless reports have been produced, two very effective and pointing to the need for some change.

Various sites have been considered and various objections have been made to some of them. The main problem with most of the sites considered was the traffic problem. A site near King's Cross was considered and another at Wood Lane, but both were dismissed out of hand as being not only bad for traffic but in the wrong place. There was a possible site at Beckton, in the East Ham—West Ham area, which had the possible advantage of being north of the river. However, it was on the wrong side of London in that it was considerably to the east while most of the market's customers are in the north-west and south-west of the city. It was eventually decided once again to look at the site at Nine Elms, not far from here.

The Nine Elms site has a number of very considerable advantages not only over the present site, but particularly over any other sites considered. First, it has very good rail facilities. This is important because of the produce coming to Covent Garden, about half of which is imported and half home grown. A lot of the home-grown produce comes from the area south of the Thames—from Kent, Hampshire and other areas in the south of England. Traffic bringing produce to the market would not have to use roads to anything like the extent that they are being used at present to feed Covent Garden. Handling between the rail head and the market would be that much easier.

Secondly, it has the advantage, which I think is the most important advantage of all, that it is really near the River Thames. At a time when traffic congestion in London is growing every day, surely it must be wise to site a market where it can use the River Thames as an artery through which to bring produce to it. Under the new plan it would be possible to unload imported produce in the docks and bring it by lighter to a wharf which will have direct linkage with the market by overhead conveyor. This would also look to the day when those customers wanting to take their produce to the west of London could also use the river as a main artery. Therefore, from the river and rail point of view, Nine Elms scores over any other possible site.

How does one get to the present market today? One goes via Piccadilly Circus, the Strand, Kingsway and Oxford Circus. All the most congested areas of London are being used as through routes to Covent Garden. At a time when we are trying to rationalise London's serious traffic problem, we should be looking for a site where we can take some of the load off these thoroughfares.

I therefore ask the hon. Lady the Member for Peckham to think again. If we throw out the Bill and put our heads in the sand and say, "We will look for another site", what will happen? It will take perhaps years to find an alternative site. Even if we find one, will it have the obvious merit which the proposed site has? I believe that with the disappearance of the London County Council next month—or shall we say, its translation into the Greater London Council—and the planning of the new London, which I hope we all take seriously, it would be wise to start by taking the bull by the horns concerning this extremely controversial market place.

Let us start the era of the Greater London Council, not by being reactionary and against advance and progress, but by saying that here is a good plan to deal with a market which is so out of date, so handicapped by lack of facilities, and so harmful to the life blood of our Metropolis and indeed of the customers who use it, that we should welcome the opportunity to put this market somewhere where it is more likely not only to be of benefit to Londoners for the traffic reason and others which I have given, but will be able to give its customers an efficient up-to-date service free of the hazards of out-of-date equipment, buildings and congestion, which will go down as one of the marks of the Greater London Council accepting its new rôle, looking to the future and improving the life of our city which would be of great advantage to its customers and to every Londoner.

7.25 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)

I do not think that any hon. Member doubts that it is desirable to move the Covent Garden Market from its present site. Speaking for myself, I have no doubt that the right new site is in the Nine Elms area, but that does not mean that I agree with the proposals in the Bill and the layout in the deposited plan. I believe that that plan has serious defects and that there are grave objections to the scheme which the promoters are bringing before the House. Indeed, I consider it wholly unacceptable, and I want very briefly to say why.

I speak not only as a Member of Parliament directly involved because a portion of the area in the proposed plan is in my constituency, but as one who is interested in London matters as a whole, and particularly the transport problems of London.

My first point, which is similar to the one made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, Central (Mr. Dunnett), is that I do not think that the case has yet been made—possibly it will be made to the Select Committee—for the need to acquire 80 acres of land in this or any other area. It is far beyond the acreage of land now being used by the Covent Garden Market Authority, even if one takes into account the land occupied by the offices of those who have business there. I should want very strong evidence to convince me that an area of this size is required, particularly when it is proposed to build the new market in a fairly central London area—and one urgently required for housing. Moreover, I doubt whether it is right, in view of the pressure for housing accommodation and the priority which is generally accorded to building houses on surplus railway land, that the surplus land here should be allocated for marketing.

It is claimed by the promoters of the Bill, in the statement which they issued to us, that 2,000 people will lose their homes as a result of this proposal, but that, on the other hand, additional dwellings for 3,000 will be built under their plan. I have two comments to make on that. First, I am informed by the Lambeth Borough Council and the Wandsworth Borough Council that not 2,000, but about 2,500 people, will be displaced. Secondly, the Authority proposes to build accommodation for the 3,000 people on large podiums above the parking area. The lorries coming in and out in the early hours of the morning, will cause an awful din to the intolerable annoyance of all those living there.

That seems to be ridiculous planning and it should be condemned. The Lambeth Borough Council, like myself, feels very strongly about this.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Robert Mellish)

If the Bill gets a Second Reading, and assuming that in Select Committee it is left as it is now, the developers could not just do the sort of things which my right hon. Friend is saying. They would have to submit to my Ministry a rehousing scheme under the Schedule of the Housing Act, 1957, and my right hon. Friend the Minister would have to approve it before any such work could go ahead.

Mr. Strauss

This, nevertheless, is the present Covent Garden proposal which is embodied in the promoters' plan. I feel confident that neither this House nor the Select Committee will accept it. Their housing proposals are wholly objectionable.

My other point on housing is this. If this land were developed for housing by the Lambeth Borough Council and the Wandsworth Borough Council jointly, as they would wish to do, accommodation would be provided not for 3,000, but for 4,000 people. Obviously, that is an important factor which should be borne in mind.

My next point is that there might be no need for many of the objections which are being put forward by myself and others if, at some stage, the Lambeth and Wandsworth Borough Councils had been consulted. They were never consulted at all. They never had an opportunity to put forward alternative plans. They have a very good alternative plan which I have carefully studied.

The new market is to be divided into various sections, some north of the railway and some to the south. I do not think that any objection could be advanced to those north of the railway. It is an area which is already developed for commercial and industrial purposes. The southern site, however, is a residential area, and to inject into it a big commercial undertaking such as this is wholly wrong in principle.

If the Covent Garden Market is to be moved into that area, is it necessary to develop in the large area which it is proposed in this Bill to take over south of the railway? The answer is, no. A glance at the map shows that there is a considerable site on the northern side of the railway which is partly undeveloped derelict land and partly occupied by two old breweries, in fairly bad condition, adjoining Nine Elms depot.

Surely it would be much better that this area should be used for market purposes, involving no rehousing and no displacement, instead of the area south of the railway, which would cause considerable disturbance to the neighbourhood. Serious consideration should be given to this alternative proposal.

Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

What is the approximate acreage of the land to which the right hon. Gentleman is referring?

Mr. Strauss

It is almost, but not quite, as big as the area to the south which it is proposed to turn over to market purposes.

That brings me to another point. I do not know whether consideration has been given to the possibility of developing the market, not on one floor, but on several floors. With modern devices of lifts and ramps, it should be quite possible to devise a system whereby some of the disposal of the produce is done at second-floor instead of ground-floor level. I do not know whether that is a reasonable suggestion—I do not know whether it has been considered—but when such a big development scheme is proposed in so congested an area where housing development is so desirable, the point is one which should be considered. I do not put it any stronger than that.

My next point concerns transport facilities. It is generally agreed that the existing transport facilities are wholly inadequate to deal with the new market. A large amount of new traffic will be generated by it and, moreover, most of the lorries carrying the produce will be entering the streets adjoining the site in the rush hours between 8 and 10 a.m. and will add seriously to the congestion. The figures which have been produced as a result of a careful survey by the promoters of the Bill show that there might be an extra 1,000 or so vehicles per hour. This, on top of the naturally growing volume of traffic on the roads, would cause traffic chaos.

Certainly, the main road serving the market, the Nine Elms Road, would have to be widened. It is also certain that the existing bridge accommodation over the river would be unable to cope with the new traffic which the market will generate. The London Traffic Survey, published a short time ago, made this comment: There is little reserve Thames crossing capacity in peak traffic hours between Vauxhall Bridge and Tower Bridge. Anybody who has had the experience of crossing those bridges at peak traffic hours knows that they are full already, and they will have more traffic because of the natural increase in motor transport taking place.

If we are to have these additional 1,000 vehicles per hour attempting to cross the Thames bridges at the same time, impossible jams will be created. I do not put that forward as an argument against locating the market in the proposed area. It is however, an argument, and it is for this reason that I put it forward, that the market should not be permitted to operate until the necessary road improvements have taken place.

The Lambeth Borough Council urges, I think rightly, that the new market buildings should not be commenced until the issues and problems affecting traffic have been decided, so that we know, before any building for the new market takes place, that when it is ready the road facilities will be sufficient; and, secondly, that the market should not operate until the new traffic facilities have been completed. The improvement of the traffic facilities would inevitably mean either increasing the capacity of the existing bridges, which is a considerable matter in itself, or, as probably will have to be done one of these days anyhow, constructing a new bridge across the river. Unless that is done, the traffic congestion in that part of London will be so serious as to bring vehicle movement literally to a standstill for a long period every morning.

I urge that my right hon. Friend the Minister and the Select Committee should seriously consider the undesirability of permitting London's bridges to be blocked and the traffic flow impeded and made impossible by the development of a market in this area, and that the market should be allowed to function only when the traffic facilities are adequate.

My next point is one which was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, Central, in moving the rejection of the Bill. It seems to me to be quite wrong, indeed indefensible, that the layout of the new market should not be subject to planning authority and control. There is specific mention in Clause 18(3) of the Bill that development by the Authority shall be deemed to be permitted development", which means that no local authority will will have control over it. The Authority is primarily a commercial body. Its interests and objectives will be functional and it may give no, or very little, consideration to general aesthetic matters, or, indeed, any other matters, other than to promote the best development from the viewpoint of marketing.

It may well be that the buildings to be erected will be aesthetic monstrosities. It may be that petrol pumps and all sorts of installations might be built which from a planning point of view are highly undesirable. Under the Bill, no planning authority will be able to say nay.

Mr. Mellish

With respect to my right hon. Friend, that is not quite right. Under Clause 18(3) development for market purposes would be deemed to be development within Class XII of Part I of Schedule 1 of the Town and Country Planning General Development Order, 1963, but Class XII confers planning permission, and reserves certain matters—design, external appearance, means of access, siting within limits of deviation, and so on—for the decision of the local planning authority, and at the end of the day it would have a great deal to say about this.

Mr. Strauss

I hope that my hon. Friend is right, but the legal authorities who have advised the Lambeth Town Council and the town clerk are specific in the matter and they take the view that Clause 18, which reads as follows, is conclusive: Development on the Nine Elms lands for the provision thereon of such facilities as aforesaid shall be deemed to be permitted development within Class XII of Part I of Schedule 1 of the Town and Country Planning General Development Order 1963. They have been legally advised that neither the Lambeth authority nor the Wandsworth authority need be asked to give planning permission for any development which is proposed. My hon. Friend says that that is wrong, and I must naturally accept what he says is the advice which has been given to him.

Dr. David Kerr (Wandsworth, Central)

It seems to me that both my right hon. and my hon. Friend are right. The difference lies in the division of powers between the Covent Garden Market Authority and the local authority. What is giving my hon. Friend and me great concern is that the "end of the day" referred to by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary may be a little late to produce the necessary planning changes which the local authority wants.

Mr. Strauss

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I put this forward as something which should be given careful consideration by the Select Committee, and I think that my hon. Friend will agree that it is important.

The other point which worries my council a little is that permission is given under the Bill to the Authority to acquire additional lands wherever it likes, whenever it likes, without any time limit. That does not seem to be right. If it requires additional land for some unforeseen purpose, no one will object. It may be very proper that it should be accorded that right, but it should be subject to some control, and, in particular, that it should be subject to some time limit.

My main objection to the Measure as it stands is that the siting plan of the proposed market is wrong. It is putting the main market building in an area which is at present devoted to housing. It is displacing a large number of people unnecessarily, and consequently causing them grave inconvenience. I believe that the market could be put elsewhere in the area at no more cost, in a way which would be equally convenient, and, from the planning point of view, more desirable. This matter was not considered by the promoters, and the local councils were never consulted about whether they had alternative plans which they would like to have considered.

I suggest that the points which my hon. Friends and I have put forward are points of importance, and not of detail. We all agree that the market should be moved. I agree that this is probably the best area which can be found as an alternative. I am, however, exceedingly worried about the transport implications, and I want to be sure that the market will not operate until the transport problems have been solved. I want to be sure that the traffic flow over bridges and along Nine Elms Road will continue, and that there will not be intolerable jams in that part of London. In particular, I want to be sure that the best use is being made of the land available.

Above all, I want to be sure that the areas on the commercial and industrial side of the railways, which at present are not much used, are given priority for all this development. It may well be that if the Committee finds that there ought to be a change—and I am sure that strong arguments will be advanced for it—it will be necessary to bring in a supplementary Bill, but I think that it is better to have some delay in order to get the matter right.

I am sure that the Select Committee will give all these matters that intensive consideration which the importance of the Bill justifies. This is not a local question. It is a London problem. The new siting of this important market is a matter affecting all Londoners, not for a few years or decades, but for a 100 years or more, and if the decisions which are made are wrong, as a result of insufficient examination of alternative sites, it will be a tragedy.

I am prepared, as I am sure my hon. Friend is, to let the Bill go forward for the purpose of having all these problems considered, but if it comes back without some of the existing serious defects being remedied, we will have to look at it again carefully.

7.46 p.m.

Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

I had the honour of being a Member of the Select Committee when the Bill came before the House previously. I was then very much a new boy in this House, and I had very strong doubts about where Covent Garden Market should be placed. I did not then have sufficient experience of the ways of the House to put the case over as strongly as I would have wished. I rejoice that for once in my life I have a second chance, because I am certain that all hon. Members agree that the present siting is the wrong one. The problem is where is the right one?

I follow the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) with some trepidation, because everyone respects very much a person's judgment of his own constituency, particularly when he is a right hon. Member. My knowledge of that constituency is that I go through it every day in my car. I am well aware of the traffic problems. I am well aware of the problems of crossing Vauxhall Bridge. I have learnt these to my cost in hours of delay.

From a road traffic point of view this proposal gives us an excellent opportunity to replan an area which is one of the worst bottlenecks in the whole of the south of London. The right hon. Gentleman rightly said that we are short of bridges. I suggest that we are short of bridges because too many cars pile up at Vauxhall Bridge waiting for the lights to change. I see in this scheme an exciting prospect of putting a tunnel as a fly-under under Vauxhall Bridge, and this redesigned market plan provides an excellent reason for doing that.

Instead of widening Nine Elms Road, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested, I would leave it as it is, or consider shutting it altogether. I would divert that road along the river front into a tunnel under Vauxhall Bridge, coming up the other side. That would treble, if not quadruple, the effective use of Vauxhall Bridge. Furthermore, this site is particularly good because of its rail access.

I have another bee in my bonnet, which is that we do not export enough of our fruit. We always import fruit, but never export it. Through my Kent growers I have suggested that we should send apples back in the trains which bring oranges and lemons to this country. If we had Covent Garden at a rail terminal, there would be better facilities for the cheaper exporting of fruit and vegetables, particularly our special fresh English lettuce and apples which the Continent ought to want, and, if it does not want them now, we should do something to make sure that it wants them in future. There are real possibilities.

The right hon. Member for Vauxhall has put forward alternative proposals. He has suggested that the market is in too big an area. I have some comparative figures concerning the areas of markets in other parts of the world. I am interested to see that the Nine Elms Market is planned for 92 acres, with a planned turnover of 1¼ million tons, plus £10 million worth of flowers. That gives an annual volume of trade per acre of 13,600 tons. The equivalent figures for New York are 1½ million tons and 126 acres, giving an annual volume of only 11,900 tons. In Paris the equivalent in tonnage per acre drops to the low figure of 3,000. Following that pattern of trade-to-area, which is the practical way of looking at it, we find the figures for Sheffield, Lyons, Stuttgart, Hamburg and Toronto are about 6,000 or 7,000 tons per acre.

I agree that the question should be examined to see whether we could not have a multi-storey building. The question of a helicopter site on the roof should also be considered. That would provide great advantages, because we have so few areas available in London for this sort of thing. Perhaps it could be planned as a future heliport.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government has given us an assurance that the Ministry will look at the plans most carefully. Nobody would ever accuse the Ministry of being negligent in respect of housing accommodation, and that question, besides the question of traffic and of a heliport, will have to be answered as part of the solution of this problem. But we shall not be able to make progress with any of these items unless the Bill is allowed to go forward. We have wasted three years already because it has not been possible to arrive at a decision.

I blame myself for not doing more, three years ago, to make it apparent that the market at Covent Garden was not in the right place. I ease my conscience with the thought that that was the first Select Committee on which I sat, and, furthermore, that we had some learned counsel against us, and I did not feel so confident in my opinions then as I do now. In my view the Bill ought to be allowed to go through. The planning possibilities, both rail and road, besides the question of a heliport, should be considered. I support what the right hon. Member for Vauxhall said; let the Bill go to a Select Committee, together with the advice that has been put forward in the debate, and let us get this market going. It is long overdue.

7.53 p.m.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Fred Peart)

The House may find it convenient if I intervene at this stage to give an indication of the Government's attitude towards the Bill. It is a pleasant change from the controversy about farm prices. But since we are dealing with a matter which affects the horticulture industry, I am involved as the Minister responsible for that industry.

The Covent Garden Market Act, 1961, required the Covent Garden Market Authority either to improve the present market or to provide a new one within the Covent Garden area. Even in 1961 some of us thought that the wrong course was being followed. In this respect I was interested in the remarks of the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain). We would all probably agree that the market must be moved from the Covent Garden area. I am sorry that I was not present to hear the beginning of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, Central (Mr. Dunnett), but I am sure that he will agree that we need a new market. This was argued by the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. McNair-Wilson).

A point of view was also put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss). In the end, however, I think that he will agree that many of the matters which he raised, which I know are important and which affect many boroughs in this area, must be considered in detail in the Select Committee. He will surely agree that we need a major market. It is, therefore, right to do something. For a long time, even when in opposition, I argued that there was a need to create a new major market along the lines which have been suggested today.

I assert that we all now agree that the market must be moved from the Covent Garden area. The present arrangements are hopelessly inefficient, and costs are unnecessarily high. I cannot see how anyone can disagree about that. It would be prohibitively expensive to build a new market within the Covent Garden area, and even if this were done it would not solve the traffic problems of the present market.

The Bill would enable the Authority to build what will, in effect, be a new "Covent Garden Market" at Nine Elms. The Government fully support this proposal, and they gave their consent to the introduction of the Bill. The site at Nine Elms is also generally agreed. My predecessor announced in the House on 13th July, 1964, that the Authority has been told that it was reasonable for it to proceed with the drafting of a Private Bill for this purpose.

I am advised that the site of the proposed new market at Nine Elms is acceptable to all those who will earn their livelihoods in the new market, whether they are market tenants, porters, retailers or other buyers, or growers or importers who consign produce to the market. It is important to have that on the record. All these interests are frustrated by the conditions in the present market, and I am sure that they are looking forward to the opportunity of trading in a modern market on a new site.

All my colleagues who have been involved in this matter for a long time have argued for new conditions and new arrangements, and for a new market on a new site. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government is satisfied that there is no more suitable competing use for the Nine Elms site as a whole, and that there are no objections on general planning grounds to locating the new market there. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government has been present during the debate and has already intervened to clear up some matters in respect of which there will be discussions in the Select Committee.

Furthermore, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport has concluded that Nine Elms is acceptable from the traffic point of view, especially having regard to the general pattern of road and rail facilities likely in London in the longer-term. Like the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe, I have been through this area daily and have been doing so for a long time. I know the area well. I therefore hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading. In our support of the Authority's choice of the Nine Elms site we are not committed to the detailed provisions of the Bill, which it will be the duty of the Authority to defend when the Bill is considered by the Select Committee, together with the petitions that have been lodged against it.

Mr. Strauss

My right hon. Friend has said that the Minister of Transport had agreed that from the transport point of view the market might well be located here. Would he go further along the lines that I argued earlier? Is he aware that in preparing this scheme the traffic experts reported—and the report has been published—that in adopting an improvement programme it was essential that the traffic programme should be completed before the market programme was developed? Does he know whether or not the Minister of Transport agrees with that? It is all-important.

Mr. Peart

As Minister of Agriculture, and being responsible for marketing, I have had discussions over a long period with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport. One of the major decisions that I took when I became Minister was to initiate discussions on this matter. We have had those discussions.

All I can say to my right hon. Friend is that if we do not not introduce the Bill until we are completely satisfied, there will be no Bill. No action will be taken. There will be delay and frustration. If there are still details to be worked out, they can be discussed by the Select Committee and representations made. There is no reason why further discussion should not go on. I do not want further discussion to be a reason for the frustration of the introduction of this Bill. Although there are problems at present, their nature will change. Even if we come to an agreement now on traffic problems, who knows what the situation may be in five, six or seven years' time. There are wider matters affecting the transport position.

If we do not do anything now, that would be fatal. I advise my hon. Friends who are saying that approval should not be given to the Bill that that would be a terrible disaster not only for horticulture and the planning of the new market, but for London itself. I mean that sincerely and I hope that these matters may be considered by the Select Committee.

There is the problem of petitions which have been lodged against the Bill. These will be considered. There have been petitions regarding the precise boundaries of the land proposed for acquisition. The matter was raised by my right hon. Friend. I do not wish to comment on that. I make the general comment that 70 or 80 acres which the Authority wishes to acquire is none too large an area in which to construct a modern market where it is essential to provide plenty of elbow room. I have made a study of marketing conditions in other countries, where the provision of modern markets has been embarked on while this country has been left behind. An area of 70 acres is not unreasonable for the construction of a modern market where it is essential to have proper facilities.

Mrs. Freda Corbet (Peckham)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that this is the only case where a modern market is being recited so close to the heart of a great city?

Mr. Peart

This has been the subject of many reports and studies. The simple fact is that in the centre of London we have an outdated market which should be removed. I have considered all the sites and the evidence and I consider that in all the circumstances a market at Nine Elms, where there are road and rail communications and other facilities, would be correct and sensible. It will improve the trading and commercial position in London. For many reasons, and because of the need to use the area which will be vacated for other purposes and provide opportunities for progressive development, the Government take the view that I have put forward.

I have said that the first step will be for the Authority to obtain the powers which it is now seeking. The Government are not committed at this stage on financial details or timing regarding the construction of the new market. The Authority cannot frame precise estimates and draw up plans until it knows just what area of land it will be authorised to acquire. I should have thought that every hon. Member would accept that. Clause 30 of the Bill increases the borrowing powers of the Authority to a total of £45 million. It has been estimated that a market, with the layout and design adopted for the purpose of the Authority's feasibility study, would cost between £31 million and £36 million. Provision must also be made for the Authority's indebtedness in respect of its present property at Covent Garden, and, allowing for a safety margin, the Authority considers—and the Government have accepted—that a total provision of £45 million is reasonable.

There may be views about the wisdom of dealing with Covent Garden in isolation. Certainly, we should like to consider the distribution of markets for fruit and vegetables, both within the Greater London Area and nationally, but whatever conclusion we may come to, the Government are satisfied that there is a case for a major central market performing the same functions as the present Covent Garden market. Whatever arguments we may have about the future of regional planning the Government have come to the conclusion that there is a need for a major central market.

It remains for me to say something in general terms about the future of the Covent Garden site when the market is moved to Nine Elms. This move will open up an exciting possibility of the proper redevelopment of one of the most important areas in the very heart of Central London. I ask my hon. Friends to bear in mind that here is an opportunity to do something which could capture the imagination not only of the people of London, but of the country as a whole. I stress this because I think it important. This is a matter for the planning authorities and I have no doubt that the Greater London Council, in consultation with the new Camden and Westminster Councils, will seize the opportunity to produce a really bold and imaginative plan for the comprehensive redevelopment of the area.

There have been certain criticisms in petitions against the Bill of the powers which the Authority is seeking in Clause 29. That will be for consideration by the Select Committee and I make the point that, while the Authority has no functions in relation to the redevelopment of the Covent Garden area when it ceases to be used for the marketing of fruit and vegetables, we cannot deny its interest in the future as an owner of property in the area. Clearly, the Authority will be concerned with the price realised on the disposal of this site, since if a loss were incurred, additional charges would have to be paid by the tenants of the new market at Nine Elms.

My hope will be that the proposals of the planning authorities for the future of the Covent Garden area will proceed in step with the plans of the Authority for moving the market to Nine Elms. These are important questions which we are discussing and I hope what I have said will be helpful to hon. Members in clarifying a number of issues. I invite the House to agree that the purposes of the present Bill are right and acceptable, and that we should allow it to proceed for detailed examination by the Select Committee. We shall certainly consider—it will be our duty to consider—any detailed criticisms, but the main principle is right, that we should move the market from the existing site to a new site at Nine Elms, and provide opportunities for some imaginative redevelopment to be carried out in the centre of London.

For these reasons, I hope that hon. Members will allow the Bill to go forward on Second Reading.

8.8 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

I work what the railwaymen used to call a "double home turn". I wish to support the Second Reading of the Bill not only as a resident in Cornwall and a Member for Parliament for a Cornish constituency representing an area which sends a great deal of agriculture and horticulture produce to London, but also as a resident in Kennington and a constituent of the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss). I was interested in the point made by the right hon. Gentleman. Every hon. Member who has spoken has mentioned the hopeless unsuitability of the present Covent Garden market and how outdated it is.

However, they have not stressed the point that this is not merely a matter of inconvenience to London; it actually results in a loss of income to those living in the remoter parts of the country. If there is any delay in the rail or road transport conveying produce from the remoter areas on the way to London, it results in the lorry taking such produce from the terminal to Covent Garden arriving late in the queue in market area and a lower price obtained by that producer who loses the best of the market because of the congestion round Covent Garden. That presents a serious problem to growers in my constituency.

The right hon. Member for Vauxhall raised a number of points. I think that he was exaggerating road congestion to some extent, because, as I see it, the great advantage of the Nine Elms site is that a great deal of the traffic can come direct by rail. At present, nothing can come direct by rail to Covent Garden. It all has to be transhipped, put into a lorry and added to the congestion in the queue of other lorry traffic from other parts of the country waiting to unload at Covent Garden. But at new Nine Elms, as has been pointed out, not only would the rail traffic which at present goes to Hill Green, Bishopsgate and Nine Elms go there direct, but there are lines down to the West Country.

It would be possible to bring rail traffic from the West Country into Nine Elms and deliver there direct. We have heard also reference to traffic from the docks by water, which would relieve the lorry congestion into Nine Elms. The right hon. Gentleman talked about the number of extra vehicles going into Nine Elms, mentioned in the Report. I have not been able, while he was talking, to check the figures, but my recollection is that a great deal of that estimated extra traffic consisted of the motor cars of persons to be employed at Nine Elms. It was argued that there would be an increase in that traffic.

Mr. Strauss

I was referring to the number of lorries leaving the market in the morning to deliver the goods to the shops all over London, particularly in the West End.

Mr. Wilson

There was also a reference in that Report, to which I think the right hon. Gentleman referred, about the number of employees' motor cars. I think that one hon. Member mentioned the possibility of there being several markets other than in the central area. Of course, the answer to that is that in London there is a large population in the central area and a large number of retailers catering for them. It is estimated that there are 1¾ million people resident in the central area and 1½ million commuters coming in every day. They have to be supplied with fruit and vegetables, and it is convenient that there should be a central market to supply these retailers. It would be most inconvenient and lead to greater traffic congestion if the market were on the perimeter and these central retailers had to be supplied from a greater distance. In that respect, Nine Elms would be a considerable improvement.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the difficulties of having a car park underneath residential accommodation. I was surprised at his saying that, because, as he knows, he and I and other Members of Parliament have been to a great number of continental countries to see traffic conditions there. If he casts his mind back to Stockholm, I think that he will remember that one of the things which they showed us was a considerable car park underneath a block of flats.

I do not see why, if it is properly constructed, it is necessarily either noisy or inconvenient to have a car park below residential property. It is something which we shall have to accept in London in the future if we are to have more space and at the same time to provide for living accommodation in the central areas. We shall have to allow car parking beneath buildings which are inhabited. It already takes place to a considerable extent.

I do not think that we should assume that the lorries which carry horticultural and agricultural produce must necessarily be noisy and objectionable. It is surely a matter for the Minister of Transport to see that that does not happen, that they are properly maintained and do not issue vast clouds of black smoke or make horrible noises. I should have thought that that difficulty could have been overcome.

I agree that there are many points which need looking at in Committee or during later stages of the Bill, but I am quite sure that it would be most unfortunate to delay the Bill. There has been too much talk about the future of Covent Garden already and I should have thought that the proper course would be to give the Bill a Second Reading. If there is any necessity to have alternative arrangements, at least we will have made a start by having on the Statute Book the necessary legal provisions, so that there will not be any delay if this scheme is carried out, even if it is necessary to alter it to some extent.

3.16 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)

Many of us will have been enormously relieved to hear my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture give expression to the view that all which is being required of us this evening is to give approval to the broad principles of the Bill. Had he not said that, I think that a number of us might have found it necessary to advise my hon. Friend to press his Motion to its logical conclusion.

As it is, he may feel that the assurances which he has been given are sufficient to enable him to allow the Bill to go to the next stage. As a newcomer to the House, I understand that a Select Committee is capable of examining a Bill much more in general principle than an ordinary Standing Committee. If this is the case, a number of us will feel a good deal happier than we otherwise might have felt.

When one examines the Bill in detail, one finds more Clauses which have something wrong with them than Clauses which have something right with them. I think that the Select Committee will have a big job on its hands. The only point on which I could go along with the Bill is to say that I am persuaded that it is right that Covent Garden should be moved from its present site to a site somewhere in the vicinity of that suggested in the Bill.

I shall not follow the course of my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss), who was suggesting that the site should be located solely in in Wandsworth, by returning the compliment and suggesting that it should be located solely in Lambeth. I feel that we might reasonably say that the Bill is a very good Bill from the point of view of the Minister of Agriculture, but far from being a good Bill from the point of view of the Minister of Housing and Local Government.

In balancing the necessities in this very crowded area of London, the necessities of a large and efficient market have outweighed the very great necessity of a large amount of residential accommodation in that area. When we find ourselves faced with the position that large numbers of people will be moved from their residences to another area, we have to be satisfied that what is being done is right. The Authority is seeking powers of compulsory acquisition, very wide powers, which I should have thought would have exercised the minds of some hon. Members opposite. These are, of course, necessary in some degree, but it seems to me that these powers are not sufficiently covered by the other powers which are to be exercised by the local authorities responsible for the area.

Let me give one example of that point. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government gave us an assurance from the Front Bench, but I think that, when it comes down to it, what will determine the matter is the law. I think that people who, with me, have served on the town planning committee of the London County Council, would agree that the consequences of giving an authority permitted development powers is that it removes from the local authority—from the Greater London Council and from the borough councils—all-over planning control altogether. It leaves only some powers in relation to the aesthetic appearance of buildings and an extremely limited power, which could only be exercised in certain circumstances, in relation to siting.

Therefore, this is a loss of all-over planning control, which, in a metropolis of the size of London, is the essential basis of planning control. The loss of all-over planning control is something which should be looked at carefully by the Select Committee.

A number of points have been made and I will not repeat them. Under the Bill the new Authority will acquire compulsory powers to purchase not only residences, but also schools—for example, Springfield Primary School and blocks of flats. in Deeley Road. Some of them are post-war blocks of flats. They will be compulsorily acquired and demolished. This will create serious difficulties both for the Greater London Council and for the Inner London Education Authority, for there will be the problem not only of rehousing people, but of making educational provision for their children. These matters need to be looked at very carefully in the Select Committee.

Perhaps the most important point is that this marketing authority is asking in the Bill not only for these enormous powers, which it may need, subject to control, in south-west London, but also to retain the power to plan and control its old Covent Garden area. That is utterly and totally wrong. I would go as far as to say that it is monstrous to ask for such powers. That the Covent Garden Market Authority, not content with doing what is necessary in the new area, should seek to retain planning authority and should abrogate the power of the Greater London Council and the new London boroughs in that area would be to make nonsense of the imaginative suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture that this is a very great opportunity.

Of course it is, but this great opportunity can be made the most of only by planning authorities which have all the machinery of planning and all the experience of planning in their hands—by authorities such as the Greater London Council and the new London boroughs, which will have architects and town planning departments and which have the experience and "know-how" and, indeed, the public incentive to make of the present Covent Garden area a new entertainment area in London containing a substantial residential proportion, a new shopping area, and some new theatres. This would create the sort of place which would make London a metropolis of which we should be even more proud than we are already.

I therefore hope that when my right hon. Friend said that the Government were not committed to the details of the Bill he was using the word "details" in a very broad sense, and was telling us that it will be the intention in Select Committee to look at some of these matters—to accept, as we all do, the absolute necessity of getting Covent Garden Market out of its present position, but making sure that in doing so we do it to the advantage of London and Londoners and not to their disadvantage.

8.24 p.m.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

We on this side of the House welcome the Bill, which in our view is the logical outcome of the 1959 White Paper on Horticulture and the 1961 Act establishing the Covent Garden Market Authority. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Soames), the former Minister of Agriculture, gave a clear assurance in Committee on the 1961 Act that if the Authority found a better site outside Covent Garden the Minister would not stand in the way of the Authority if it proposed the legislation which we are tonight considering.

The Authority has found it impossible to develop the small 10-acre site at Covent Garden because of the traffic congestion and lack of space. For a modern market, size must be adequate. Motor vehicles are still getting bigger in this country; we are coming more and more to Continental sizes. Before the 1961 Act the Nine Elms site was not seriously considered because it was thought that 23 acres of an inconvenient shape and a bad position, cut in half by the main road, were all that was available. Since then, a further examination has shown quite a different situation. As a result of the electrification of large parts of the Southern Region, old railway accommodation and sheds are no longer required, which makes this much larger site available.

The right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) doubted the necessity of a large size, but I can assure him from Continental markets which I have studied and from all experience of modern market construction that a substantial floor space is essential. The 60 acres which would be available for fruit and vegetables south of the main line, plus nine acres of the flower market north of Nine Elms Lane and 11 acres for car parking, is a very reasonable and modest size. In addition to those 80 acres, there will be a further 12 acres continuing in railway hands which will be closely associated with the market.

The Minister agreed with me on the need for this sizeable floor space. The hon. Lady the Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet) queried whether this was the only modern market being built in the centre of a great City. London is very much bigger than other great cities. Paris obviously springs to mind as the other city going for a modern market at present, and the overall size of the city is very different from that of London, so that the problem cannot be considered on all-fours.

Having said that, we must realise that the annual volume of trade in tons per acre on this new site of a total of 92 acres will be such that London will get a greater through-put of tonnage per acre than any other modern market in the world. It is hoped to get through 13,600 tons per acre per year, whereas New York gets through less than 12,000 tons per acre per year and the figure for Paris is as low as 3,300 tons per acre. This very heavy loading per acre is a certain justification for this site.

It is hoped that if the House gives the Bill a Second Reading tonight the various points which have been put forward will be considered in Select Committee. The hon. Member for Nottingham, Central (Mr. Dunnett) moved his Amendment in a most reasonable and acceptable way, looking forward, I feel, to the Select Committee. But the viability of this scheme depends not only on the size being adequate but also on two financial provisions. First, the Authority must be free to dispose of its present site at a realistic price; and my hon. Friends and I welcomed the remarks of the Minister on this point. Secondly, provision was made in the Act that the Treasury would meet one-third of the cost. This must continue, because it the capital cost were to rise the rental to the traders would rise. This would have the adverse effect of raising the price of produce, something which we must avoid at all cost.

Much of the debate has turned on the transport situation. It must be remembered that there has been a complete change in the transport view since the 1961 Act came into being. The river is being used to a far greater extent for the carriage of goods from the docks, which makes Nine Elms a particularly attractive site and which rules out King's Cross, which has been mentioned.

Then there is the possibility of the Channel Tunnel. My hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) mentioned the possibility of horticultural exports. It is essential, therefore, that the railhead should be convenient both for the Channel Tunnel and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. Geoffrey Wilson) said, for the West Country. I happened about this time last night to be standing on the platform at Taunton Station when a vast train load of broccoli coming from my hon. Friend's constituency came through. How much more convenient had it been able to go to the Nine Elms site rather than having to offload and be dealt with at Covent Garden.

The market should not only be convenient for rail and water deliveries, but Nine Elms has the great advantage that the site is handy for the majority of the traders concerned. It is handy for west, north-west, south and central London. This is vital because while hon. Members have been complaining about traffic congestion, they must remember that the alternative sites which were offered would, in their turn, have caused worse traffic congestion in London.

Had the market gone to the Beckton site, retailers' vehicles would have had to cross the whole of east London at the rush hour and back again, whereas this is the shortest possible van mileage. I stress "van mileage" because I am dealing now with retailers coming to collect goods from the market, since suppliers in the main deliver out of rush hours. There is, therefore, no serious problem for them.

The right hon. Member for Vauxhall mentioned that there would be an extra 1,000 vehicles on our roads. We all recognise that the roads in the immediate vicinity are overdue for improvement and by 1971 they must have been replaced.

Mr. George Jeger (Goole)

Has the hon. Gentleman realised that retailers who go to the market to collect their produce also travel outside the rush hour, since they want to get their produce back to their shops so that they may open their premises before the rush hour commences?

Mr. Wells

I appreciate that, but that would not be the case were they going to Beckton because of the long haul. It is one of the advantages of the Nine Elms site.

Another vital consideration must be the bridges. There can be no doubt that Kent traffic and southern traffic coming to and returning from the existing Covent Garden site must cross the Thames bridges. Further, since the Channel Tunnel is envisaged, any goods going to any alternative site, except the one we are discussing, would have to go over a rail bridge and, as hon. Members who have knowledge of south-east England realise, the Thames bridges of the railway system are already seriously overloaded. Thus, from the point of view of the rail bridge system as well as the road bridge situation—assuming that there will be a big improvement in the immediate vicinity there—Nine Elms is again the optimum site.

Some doubt has been expressed about whether the flower market will also be moved. If the right hon. Member for Vauxhall had his way, and there was a smaller site, it would be difficult to move the flower market, but if we left it behind there would be the unhappy shuffling to and fro of vehicles. This is virtually unavoidable because in the height of the summer at least one-fifth of all market vehicles carry a mixture of flowers, fruit and vegetables. Therefore, unless the flower market can go, too, there will be this shuffling. I hope that when the Bill is considered in Select Committee it will be agreed that the flower market should also be moved. There is, of course, the heliport possibility, which has been mentioned as an export potential. I believe that a heliport on the site would help traders to get exotic fruit into their shops in much fresher condition, so there are considerable advantages.

Besides being the great national price-setting market, there is no doubt that the location of the principal national market is vital to the traders and the people of western and central London. My hon. Friend the Member for Truro, has reminded us of the large number of people in this area who have to be fed daily, but in addition to those resident there, we have between 8,000 and 9,000 catering establishments as well as hospitals and schools.

Naturally, this site will attract some of the market trade away from the Borough Market, but I believe that this would be no bad thing in the long-term because there is already serious traffic congestion in the Borough, while the market there has only some £10 million value of through-put a year as compared with the £73 million at Covent Garden. Therefore, if we are to build a great national market, it is sensible that it should be concentrated in the proposed area. Various hon. Members have raised town planning considerations. The hon. Member for Nottingham, Central complained that the development powers would be taken out of the hands of the local authority, but the position is that the Market Authority will develop its site fully for its commercial purposes. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall complained that there was a risk of buildings going up that were not in line with aesthetic taste. From what we have seen of the various plans and models that have been available to hon. Members, I do not think that we need have excessive fears on this point. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman's own borough council has seen these models, so it should not have any real doubts in the long-term about aesthetic suitability—

Mr. Strauss

I gathered from what my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government has said that the boroughs are the planning authorities, and will have planning responsibility and control of this development. If he can give me that assurance, I am entirely satisfied.

Mr. Wells

I heard all that the hon. Gentleman said, and I am sure that he was quite right. I think that we are all content with his assurance.

Housing has been particularly mentioned by the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins), the hon. Member for Nottingham, Central and by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall. We have to face the fact that the great bulk of the housing in this area is, as the Authority says, nearly all old, of very little value and already due for renewal, so the rather more than 2,000 people who have to be rehoused will be rehoused in very much better conditions than they enjoy at present.

In answer to the criticism about buildings on stilts, we have the resolution which the London County Council passed at its meeting on 14th July last: We do not think that it can necessarily be assumed that residential development in the area would be desirable. It also referred to the difficulty of creating a tolerable residential environment so close to Battersea Power Station and the Nine Elms Gasworks. The right hon. Gentleman's constituents will be much better off.

It is necessary to remember that a market must be located where there is an adequate pool of labour available to service it in the very uncongenial hours that have to be worked. The possibility of siting a market at the northern or the north-western fringe of London would raise grave difficulties from the point of view of a pool of labour. From the housing and siting point of view there is little to complain about.

The Nine Elms site would fit realistically into any larger plan for the reorganisation of London markets of the type envisaged by the Runciman Committee. Naturally the recommendations of the Runciman Committee were rejected on a variety of grounds, which all hon. Members appreciate. It is an underlying thought that the day may come, due to the changed methods of trading, when something kindred to the Runciman Committee's suggestions may have to be adopted. This would make an admirable site for a start.

The alternative sites were not considered by the Select Committee on the 1961 Act. My hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe served on that Committee. Tonight he has urged on us the value of this site. The question has been asked, not in the House tonight, but elsewhere on many previous occasions, if it is necessary to have a new market at all in view of the changed patterns of trading, with the tendency of wholesalers and growers to by-pass markets and deal with other outlets. It is surely necessary on two scores to keep a great national market—first, as a price- setting mechanism; and, secondly, it has been clearly shown that over the past 12 years there has been no decline in trade in Covent Garden itself. This is partly due to the increased population in the South-East.

These changing conditions of trading must be faced. Nearly all horticulturists are anxious to have better grading. The Minister of Agriculture is training people at present in this relatively new art. The fact remains that, when grades come, produce will also sell on quality and condition as well as on grade. For this reason, it is essential that there should be a price-setting central market readily available to all who are interested.

The French system of modern horticultural markets includes a supply of shops and wholesale establishments which offer other foodstuffs for sale to retailers who come to buy. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall suggested that the Authority should look again at the possibility of a two-storey market. In the modern Continental markets I have visited in the past three years I have seen in every case the necessity for a single-storey market, and I do not think that we can escape from this in Great Britain today. What we can learn from the Continental markets is the possibility of combining this with other foodstuffs in addition to horticultural produce in the future. We must accept this as a reasonable thought for some future date.

At the time of the 1961 Act it would have been very difficult to have given the Authority the wide powers to seek other sites which it is now doing, because the 1961 Act was a hybrid Measure and, had the Authority which was then being created had very much wider powers, it would have been almost impossible for the objectors to know to what they were objecting. The right hon. Gentleman for Vauxhall objected tonight to the new Clause offering the Authority wide powers to require land elsewhere. The right hon. Gentleman is, in a way, echoing the thought that must have passed through the minds of those who drafted the 1961 Act. I believe that, if the Authority is to have a free hand, it should not have to come to Parliament for new legislation every four years. Naturally, my right hon. Friends and hon. Friends are anxious that the Authority should have as wide powers today as are realistic for its needs.

We on this side of the House view this as a great scheme for the benefit of horticulture and the consumer and as of inestimable benefit to central London. I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.

8.45 p.m.

Dr. David Kerr (Wandsworth, Central)

I agree, of course, that faced with the situation with which we are faced in Covent Garden today, with this insupportable monstrosity of a market, it is no wonder that we are all in a terrible hurry to get out. It is no wonder that, whatever site is chosen, one can easily point out its superior qualities in relation to the existing site. There is nothing exciting or particularly convincing about this. What we object to in the Bill is the great danger we see in it that in about five or 10 years' tie precisely the same condition of traffic congestion, overcrowding and bad planning will be happening in this new site after the expenditure of several scores of millions of pounds and the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Geoffrey Wilson) will then be complaining that he is taking telephone messages from lorry drivers that they have been stuck on Battersea Bridge for two hours, even two days, trying to get into the market.

This is our basic concern. We acknowledge the difficulty of finding sites, and that of all the sites examined this is outstandingly the best and offers the greatest possibilities. But not enough has yet been said about the traffic problem. Let us get one thing right. The traffic consulting engineers who advised the market Authority pointed out that the peak hours of traffic for the market were between 8 and 10 o'clock, corresponding very closely with the peak hour of commuter traffic.

Moreover, there is the quality of this traffic. Some of us who drive on London roads have great cause to fear it, not because the vehicles are not skilfully driven but because their size, dimensions, speed and acceleration mean that their effect on traffic is not to be measured solely by the number of vehicles involved. It is estimated that there will be about 800 of these vehicles per hour at peak market hours, and this time is roughly the peak hour of traffic on Southwark Bridge. To add this peak hour traffic to the existing system round Nine Elms would be quite ludicrous.

We have said on London County Council that we must have some assurance about the road development programme which we are at present undertaking. I recognise that London County Council is a dying authority, but it has said during its lifetime that, with the road programme building up towards £20 million a year, the road authority, whether L.C.C. or G.L.C., will be faced with a difficult dilemma. Either it will have to rephase this road programme to produce urgently the necessary improvements in the Nine Elms area, or it must expect a considerable increase in spending powers and Government grants to add the urgently needed programme to its existing one. I do not have to emphasise the great difficulties which the Bill will impose upon the roads authority even in terms of the existing programme.

There are, however, two related matters to which I should like to draw the attention of the House. Firstly, I will not go into the question of the bridges. This has been discussed and I cannot usefully add to it, but I want to refer to the proposed road development at Vauxhall Cross. This is absolutely strategic to the road pattern around Nine Elms. On the London County Council we were anticipating with a certain amount of excitement this two-tier development which we had had on the stocks for a long time. It was to cost about £3½ million.

Recently, about a year or so ago, owing to the town planning provisions involved at the time and the need to acquire a building, the costs rocketed to about £7½ million. I ask the House to bear this in mind—£7½ million when the road programme of the London County Council at this moment is less than £20 million annually. This new development, if it is decided to go ahead with it on the basis of there being a reasonable return on such a large investment, will still, in terms of the plans originally considered by the council, not be adequate in its reserve capacity to cope with the additional traffic generated by the Nine Elms site for the market.

I take, next, the point about the heliport, which has been referred to but not in sufficient detail. The proposed heliport is bang on top of the Nine Elms market site. When I say that, I do not mean that it is physically on top of the market, but the suggestion we have from the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain), that we should develop the market site by having the heliport on the roof, really demonstrates that the quality of the problem is not fully appreciated.

It has been calculated in the studies of the proposed heliport that, in 10 years, passenger traffic would develop to about 1½ million passengers a year. One would need a jolly big roof with a great deal of reinforcement to cope with that number of passengers. But, more than that, it would engender road traffic and traffic problems within the market site to add to the general run-around problems of the ordinary delivery, pick up and take away business of the market, and this would make the whole situation within the market site quite intolerable. I do not think that the suggestion is serious. I describe it in those terms merely in order to put the record straight.

What is now proposed is to have the heliport not actually within the 92 acres of the new market site but so adjacent to it that the roads authority must regard the heliport and the market site as virtually one in terms of traffic generation. if the heliport reaches anything like its expected level of development, traffic generation will be of the order of 400 or 500 vehicles, that is, approximately equivalent to the traffic generated at peak hours at one of London's main line stations. Clearly, then, there is a demand not only for extra bridge capacity over the Thames but for a very considerable improvement in existing road capacity in the immediate area.

Without going into questions of expense, I observe merely that the market authority will not have the expense imposed upon it. The expense will fall upon the roads authority and, presumably, 75 per cent. will fall upon the Exchequer. This is something which the market Authority will be getting away with a little on the cheap.

There has been reference to planning responsibility in respect of both the new market site and the existing market site. I take the latter first. It is no secret that the problems of redeveloping the existing site, so far from being exciting, as described by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, are daunting. As far as I can judge from my fringe studies of the matter on the London County Council, about the only thing we can hope to do on the Covent Garden site is to pull down every building and turn it into public open space. Every other consideration could well lead to a generation of traffic which would nullify any attempt to improve amenity in this much abused area. I do not say that this is the only solution, but it seems to be the easy solution. Everything else would be extremely difficult.

There are certain problems which should be dealt with by the Bill but which are not. To begin with, the existing use rights in the Covent Garden area, if they are not extinguished under the Bill, could lead to a perpetuation of office development, even under the existing control of office policy which the Government are trying to push through. It could still leave us with a level of office development which, again, would produce a congestion and loss of amenity in the area which none of us wants to see. The Bill should extinguish existing use rights.

As for the development of the Covent Garden area as it exists, it is my firm view—this is, perhaps, not something which one could put in the Bill—that the only course to take is for the Greater London Council to slap a compulsory purchase order on it at the first possible moment and develop it in a responsible way, with—this is so important—all the adjacent developments. Just down the road we are still thinking and worrying about the Piccadilly Circus development. Are we to have a development here right on top of that which will not take into account all the problems of traffic and amenity which will be thrown up by the Piccadilly Circus development?

Mr. Mellish

I should like to put on the record that my right hon. Friend the Minister is issuing planning regulations which will make certain that it is the Greater London Council which will be the planning authority for this very important area to facilitate the planning of redevelopment.

Dr. Kerr

If the debate has done nothing else, the fact that it has brought forth that news makes our rather patient rest on the back benches very well worth while. I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for that announcement.

But there are other problems of planning at the new market site. I do not wish to make things too difficult for the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, but these are points which are worrying us. On the new market site the problems which arise are similar to those that I have already described in relation to the old one. There is a county primary school. There is a site reserved for the future progress and development of the Brixton School of Building, one of London's most important colleges of further education. Both sites will be lost. What—this is the question which concerns us—is to be the responsibility of the new market Authority for replacing those sites? Is it once again to fall on the shoulders of the local authority? More than this, the market Authority is proposing to develop 3,000 dwellings holding perhaps 10,000–12,000 population.

Mr. John Wells

It is 3,000 people.

Dr. Kerr

I am much obliged. It is 3,000 people who will require the amenities of education, health services and open spaces, which must always be the responsibility of the local authority. We are asking that a much clearer division of planning powers should be laid down in the Bill to enable this to continue, and until this is done, we have the very gravest misgivings about giving a Second Reading to the Bill when it is in a form which will damage the interests of people living in the area.

Reference has been made—I am sorry to go back to the question of traffic, but it is part of the planning problem—to carriage of goods on the river. This, again, displays a certain lack of technical sophistication in approaching the problem. Every barge that comes up the river has to be loaded somewhere. The produce is not loaded straight on to the barge from the farm. One has to bear in mind the traffic from the farm to the riverside. Similarly, one not only has to off-load the barge for delivery of goods at the new market site but one generates very much more road traffic in those terms than appears to be suspected.

Mr. John Wells

The hon. Gentleman has it completely wrong. The barge traffic is not barge traffic in that sense. It is lighter traffic from the docks dealing with imported goods. Far from increasing the burden on the roads, the great increase which we have seen in recent months and years in the use of the Thames will lessen the road traffic. It is not traffic from the farms at all. It is direct from the docks. This is already taking place.

Dr. Kerr

I take the hon. Gentleman's point and thank him for the correction.

I turn now to housing. We could argue about densities interminably. However, the housing density proposed for the new site is 150 persons per acre. This is higher than is customary in London, where the maximum for most purposes is usually regarded as being 136 per acre. If one takes into account the loss of railway land which might be available, the net increase, if we go ahead on the present basis, will scarcely make anyone happy, particularly in this area.

Moreover, the local authorities once again will have to "carry the can" for the interim overspill while the site is being developed. About 2,500 people are being involved in the rehousing problem, although, to be fair, one must take into account the development schemes already in the pipeline, so that perhaps, in the end, the number of people involved through the overspill aspect will probably be about 1,300. But, again, this is not something that the market Authority has to bear in terms of cost or of finding the physical accommodation to deal with those who are at the moment adequately housed but who will add to the housing difficulties already extant in London.

Then, of course, if we put the existing population out, so to speak, to grass by making them part of the overspill housing problem, we are faced with the necessity of having nomination rights on the market Authority's housing. We shall all want an assurance that the local authorities, particularly if they deal with the overspill problem, will have the first nomination rights to at least an equivalent number of dwellings on the market Authority site.

The question of Battersea Power Station cannot be overlooked. This is not only in relation to housing development on a site in close proximity to the power station and the railways but particularly to the scarcely silent possibilities of a heliport, Mr. Speaker, in your back garden. I am not at all convinced that the principles of town planning requirements will be satisfied by siting 3,000 people in dwellings on such a site.

Lastly, there is the question of stopping up roads and this is a matter of very considerable concern to the local authorities, and not only in terms of traffic movement. There are, beneath the proposed site, a number of extremely important sewers, including one of the main sewers of no less than 12 ft. in diameter. Access to these sewers for adequate maintenance, cleansing and replacement must be cardinal in any sort of planning.

Certainly, we in the local authorities in this area want much more reassurance than is contained in the Bill on this aspect. We must be assured that we shall have adequate access for this purpose, and, moreover, a very big say about which roads are to be stopped and which are to be developed and where. Those of us who have had any responsibility for road development in London will be only too unhappily aware of how plagued we are by our ignorance on where sewers, telephone cables and gas mains lie in relation to new roads. This is something which must not be allowed to happen on a site as large as 92 acres in an area which has not, I believe, been explored at this depth for very many years.

I hope that I have conveyed to the House, if I have not convinced it of them, the shortcomings of a Bill which gives to a new and scarcely democratically responsible Authority very important new powers. It may exercise those powers responsibly, and I believe that it will. But it will do so without the very careful control and democratic responsibility which alone is the right of a local authority. This underlies our argument against giving the Bill its Second Reading today. I ask the House to bear in mind the considerable potential danger of handing to a market Authority powers in terms of this Bill without some sort of check and countercheck to which we in this House are so welt accustomed.

9.5 p.m.

Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)

The hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr) has given us a long and, of course, interesting dissertation on the powers of local authorities. I am certain that in whatever part of London or any other town it was sought to put this market, local authorities would raise exactly the same objections. Exactly the same thing occurs when the Ministry of Transport tries to build a new trunk road. Everybody says, "We want bigger and wider arterial roads, but do not bring them anywhere near the part of the country which I happen to control".

The hon. Member will forgive me if I do not follow his remarks, because I am sure that in this large Metropolis we are quite capable of tackling the planning problems of the local authority, or of what, the day after tomorrow, I think it is, will be—

Mr. Mellish

1st April.

Mr. Doughty

A very suitable date—the Greater London Council.

I am glad that the Bill has come before the House because it implements a great deal of what I suggested in 1961. The original Measure proposed the reconstruction of the market on the present Covent Garden site. Hon. Members who were Members at the time will recollect that there was to be a kind of depot some distance away, where the bulk of the goods was to be stored. I completely disagreed with that proposal and I declined to vote on the Second Reading of the Bill. I will not weary the House by repeating my speech on the subject when the Bill came into Committee, but anybody who is interested can find it in Volume 640 of HANSARD, column 251.

Hon. Members will forgive me if I greatly paraphrase that speech. I described the impossible situation in the Covent Garden area, with its lack of transport facilities except that, if people could get through the narrow streets, they could drive a lorry there and then drive it away with the goods which they had bought. The idea that Covent Garden could be reconstructed into a market where goods were sold only by samples, which was the idea at the time, while there would be another site where goods could be delivered in bulk and where purchasers would collect bulkier goods I described as being unworkable and quite contrary to the practice of agriculturists. I said that another site would have to be found.

A number of possible sites were suggested—King's Cross, the Caledonian Market, the Marylebone goods yard, and so on. I said at the time that those who were interested and concerned in the matter must take their time to find another site and I am glad that they have now done so.

Much of our imported fruit of the more expensive kind is flown in today, much more than people realise. I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. John Wells) that it will come in by helicopter, any more than I agree with the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central that in a short time we will have 1 million or 1½ million helicopter passengers a year. A helicopter takes only a very few passengers, is a very expensive form of transport and finds it difficult to compete with the railways or planes. However, I must not wander off into the argument of helicopters versus aeroplanes.

This is undoubtedly the best possible site which could be found in London. There has been reference to the congestion on the roads which may or may not exist. I say that it may not exist, because to this site much produce will be brought by rail, which is the best way of bringing bulky heavy articles from one part of the country to another, and I hope that much of the imported fruits and vegetables will be brought up the Thames from the docks by lighter, which will relieve much of the road transport.

Of course, there will have to be deliveries from the market to the shops, but I believe that there will be a tremendous relief of the congestion of traffic which now takes place in the Covent Garden area. That is the thing which hon. Members should bear very much in mind. One has only to go there in the morning, or, indeed, much later after the principal work of the market has been done, to see the chaos, with vehicles blocking every road round the market and causing obstructions in the roads leading to and from it.

This is a move in the right direction. Points can be raised, and have been raised in this debate, on the matters which will have to be discussed before the Select Committee. A project of this size will require a good deal of detailed discussion in the Select Committee. I do not propose to deal with points which will be raised there. The Committee will go into them fully and will hear all the objectors and those who have petitioned against certain parts of the Bill.

This is a wonderful opportunity for the redevelopment not only of the 10 acres of the Covent Garden site, but of the rather mean places around it largely occupied by the wholesale dealers who buy and sell in the market and have their depots and shops just outside. They will not want such conditions when they follow the market somewhere else. This provides a great opportunity for clearing and reconstructing a very large area. There should be a certain amount of office accommodation—I do not mind saying that—a certain amount of housing and theatres, opera houses and concert halls. I am sure that the planning will be wisely carried out in this great city of ours.

I hope that the Bill will receive an unopposed Second Reading and that all the matters which have been raised today and others will be fully considered by the Select Committee.

9.12 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Robert Mellish)

I hope that the House will forgive me if I make the second speech from the Government Front Bench on this very important matter. The reason is that in the Bill there are so many considerations outside the orbit of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture which concern my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government. I have tried to make about four little speeches by interjections, but as these matters are so important I should get it on record that the many people who are concerned with the future redevelopment of this area have the right, apart from my hon. Friends who have asked questions, to know the position of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in this matter.

The case for siting the market at Nine Elms has been challenged—we have heard the arguments—on the ground that it is too close to Central London for a market of the scale proposed and that the additional traffic it would create will worsen conditions in the area. I know that the Greater London Council is very anxious about the effect on its road proposals for the area and the liability of the cost of the additional improvements. The answer to this is that the siting of the market is something which the Market Authority will have to justify in Committee on the Bill.

Meanwhile, it must be said that my Minister has no objection in principle on planning grounds to the siting of the market at Nine Elms. Something has been said in the debate about the heliport site. There has been no firm decision on the heliport site. Nine Elms was thought to be the most suitable site by a Committee which considered possible helicopter sites in inner London. But, again, the question of the heliport site must be thrashed out in Committee.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) talked about the possibility of people now living on the Nine Elms site being turned out of their homes without proper provision being made for rehousing. If the Bill were approved in its present form, the developers could not do this. They would have to submit a rehousing scheme under the Ninth Schedule of the Housing Act, 1957, which my Ministry would have to approve before any work could go ahead. So we have the last word on this.

There has been a number of inquiries about the extent of planning control. My right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall said that he had certain legal advice. I have taken legal advice from my Ministry and, with great respect, I think that the advice of our advisers might be considered to be a little more authentic than advice taken from other sources.

Sir Martin Redmayne (Rushcliffe)

The hon. Gentleman must not be arrogant.

Mr. Mellish

I am not arrogant. I am just proud that we have a first-class staff. I have always thought that it was the job of any Minister at least to defend his own people. Those in Whitehall get enough attacks from ill-informed people and I do not see why I should not defend them when I can.

I am told that under Clause 18(3) of the Bill, development for market purposes would be deemed to be development within Class XII of Schedule 1 to the Town and Country Planning General Development Order, 1963. Class XII confers planning permission but reserves certain matters—design, external appearance, means of access and siting within the limits of deviation—for the decision of the local planning authority.

As drafted, Clause 19, which would give the Market Authority power to build on the Nine Elms site a great variety of buildings—houses, shops, offices, etc.—for purposes other than the market, would also, in all probability, attract Class XII. There may well be a case for bringing these non-market buildings wholly within the control of the local planning authority. Discussions are at present taking place between my Ministry and the Market Authority.

As to the Covent Garden Market itself, I want to get it clear and on the record—

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Before my hon. Friend deals with the Covent Garden Market site, on which, I am sure, he will give us all the assurances that we require, I should like to make this point concerning the powers of the authorities in the Nine Elms area. I am not questioning the advice which has been tendered to my hon. Friend, but I think that he has drawn incorrect conclusions from that advice.

Mr. Mellish

That is a matter of opinion. Simply because my hon. Friend has uttered that comment it does not necessarily mean that it is correct.

Mr. John Wells

Before leaving the housing aspect, will the hon. Gentleman kindly comment on the report by the committee of the London County Council from which I quoted, because his hon. Friend, the Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr), who has since left us, seemed to get this somewhat confused, as to the unsuitability of the area near the Battersea power station? Can the hon. Gentleman confirm that his Ministry would agree with the London County Council that this is probably an unsuitable area for housing?

Mr. Mellish

Indeed, that is why we conceded the Nine Elms site from the planning point of view for this purpose. We first considered the site from a housing viewpoint and there were a number of grave problems which certainly were not favourable to my Ministry. I repeat that this was why we gave planning permission, or, at any rate, why we had no opposition on planning grounds to the use of the site for market purposes.

I know that the Greater London Council, the City of Westminster and the Borough of Camden are advocating comprehensive redevelopment of a wider area around Covent Garden. I can only say that my right hon. Friend intends in planning regulations to make the Greater London Council the planning authority for this important area to facilitate the planning of redevelopment and that the Greater London Council will act on behalf of a proposed consortium of the Greater London Council, the new City of Westminster and the Borough of Camden.

I cannot go beyond this except to say that the Greater London Council will be given these powers. If, at the end of the day, any proposals are submitted to the Council, they will, I have no doubt, be submitted to my right hon. Friend, who would then exercise his judicial capacity. It would not be right for me to say what his final decision would be.

I give the assurance that there need be no fear that, somehow, all this will be done by private individuals, that local authorities will have no say in the matter and that the Greater London Council will stand aside wondering why it is all going on. The position is not like that at all.

9.19 p.m.

Mrs. Freda Corbet (Peckham)

At last, I venture to hope that we have come to the end of what I shall regard as a most useful and illuminating debate. I have been engaged in this business of the Covent Garden Market for a great many years. When my hon. Friend the Minister without Portfolio sat himself at the end of the Government Front Bench, he recalled vividly to me the night when he and a colleague of his from the Borough of Islington kept me, in defence of the then Covent Garden Market Bill that was before the House, out of my bed until a very late hour.

I recall that occasion to instance the natural violent local opposition that is apt to arise when proposals of a comprehensive nature are being made for the introduction of buildings and so on on a vast scale within certain local areas. I say this advisedly because, having heard the illumined speeches of hon. Members today, I have become almost convinced of the inestimable value of the scheme to such an extent that it seems that nobody ought to oppose it. On the other hand, I think that my hon. Friend and I were right to suggest that the Second Reading of the Bill should be suspended for six months, to make it quite clear to the House that, advantageous though the scheme may be in some respects, it nevertheless has, and can have, serious disadvantages for the amenities of that part of London.

Those who represent the area concerned, such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss), my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, Central (Mr. Dunnett)—who represents a constituency on the Greater London Council, which after next Wednesday will be taking over from the L.C.C. and will be following me in the jobs that I have been doing in the House on behalf of that about-to-die body—my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr), have all been doing the right thing in drawing the attention of the House to the serious planning and traffic problems which are likely to confront us with the scheme which I am only too glad to say has been found to be possible.

In the early days we on the L.C.C. were concerned about the intense fire risks at Covent Garden after a number of men had lost their lives, and we were looking for a place in which the empty containers might be stored. We were looking for a place where we could advise the Minister of Agriculture to build a new market. How great was the search, how many places were looked at and dismissed as being impossible for the purpose, I could not possibly enumerate, there were so many of them. The fact is that there now appears to be a site at which the possibilities are reasonably good.

I took to heart what was said about the traders themselves being in favour of this. They were very much against a scheme that we had previously put forward. I also realise that if it is the South-West that is being served it can be very convenient, but I add this caveat from my experience, that to go from the South-East by road up to that point is not going to be easy. The vast new Elephant and Castle improvement is beginning to be too small for the vast volume of traffic now on the roads. In the near future another authority is going to be responsible not only for the roads but also for the traffic control in the London area and it will have to carry out all this business of traffic engineering, turning people right, and not letting them turn left when they want to do so.

Mr. John Wells

The hon. Lady said that there will be difficulty for transport coming from the South-East. I take her point about the Elephant and Castle, but she must hear in mind that the growers who supply the market will bring in their produce long before the rush hours. It will arrive in the middle of the night. The south-eastern approach from Kent is adequate by road to Nine Elms. The point about the convenience of traders in West and Central London is really the more valid of her two points.

Mrs. Corbet

I am very glad to be somewhat reassured. I like this optimism. It is very nice to be optimistic, but we have had a great deal of optimism about the traffic situation in the past, and all our forecasts have proved false. We can all forecast various things. We have such divergent views that some of us are hound to be right from time to time—and in this respect I think particularly of the hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty). We cannot be sure about these things, but when we see the growing volume of traffic and know that the lorries have to return, we remember that it is not easy to get out of Central London during the morning peak hours as it used to be. Neither is it as easy as it used to be to get into London during the evening peak hours. It is extraordinary how the volume of traffic seems to be growing in both the morning and evening peak hours.

We were glad of the assurances given by the Parliamentary Secretary. We are sure that the details of the question will be thrashed out in the Select Committee, where we shall have the advantage of being represented by very learned counsel and experts. We are a little on the lay side. We are particularly glad to have assurances concerning the redevelopment of the Covent Garden area. Nevertheless, I still have some qualms about the traffic situation. We must remember that the Vauxhall Cross improvement has been planned and is ready to proceed without any consideration having been given to the increase in the volume of traffic which will result from this scheme.

The Parliamentary Secretary said that the heliport project was only in the minds of people. I know something about the history of this matter. I can recall a former Minister of Transport—not the same political colour as myself—putting up this proposal to the London County Council and the Lambeth Borough Council. I was informed that under no circumstances would the people of that area be subjected to the continuous noise that a heliport would entail. However, as a result of persuasion and some kind words from the Minister, the council decided to allow the scheme to go forward. The result is that certain buildings within the area are being notified to the Minister and, as a result, are not eligible for planning permission.

Should this scheme and the market scheme proceed together the councils responsible will have to take a very serious view of the matter. The Greater London Council feels that the Ministry of Transport should go very carefully into the question of the road traffic improvements that may be necessary, and that if it should be found necessary to spend a great deal of money during the period when the market is being constructed, in order to make sure that proper traffic facilities are there in time for the opening of the market, the Minister ought to give an assurance to the council that money will be available to enable it to proceed without having to drop other improvement schemes in other parts of London.

Having said that, and having expressed my satisfaction with the debate, I should like to say that I am authorised by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, Central 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.