HC Deb 02 March 1966 vol 725 cc1276-8
12. Mr. Braine

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will state the date upon which the Essex River Authority submitted its scheme for the prevention of flooding in the Rochford area, the date upon which his Department agreed on the technical soundness of the scheme, and the date on which the actual work began; and if he will make a statement on the progress of this project, which is essential for the protection of life and property.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Mackie)

The Essex River Board made a preliminary approach in August, 1963, about a grant towards the cost of the Rochford drainage works; but the full information needed to consider the merits of the scheme was not received until March, 1965; and the technical soundness of the scheme was established by the end of May, 1965. The outline scheme was approved in principle on 15th December, 1965. As soon as the Authority has obtained our agreement to its detailed estimates and drawings it will be in order to start work.

Mr. Braine

Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that, owing to the Government's refusal to make an adequate grant, this scheme, which is regarded by everybody as technically feasible and most urgent, will be either delayed or cut, unless the burden is put on the ratepayers? Is not this in conflict with the Government's declared policy on rates, and will he look into the matter?

Mr. Mackie

The hon. Member raised this matter on the Adjournment some weeks ago. We discussed it fully then, but I am glad to return to the subject as that is his wish. We have a worth-whileness test, of course, which reduced the grant to a certain figure and that test is being looked into. As soon as we come back, we will look into it again.

33. Sir R. Nugent

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in view of the fact that the delay in dealing with the Essex River Authority's Rochford flood prevention scheme and with many other such river authority schemes is due to the operation of the worth-whileness test, when he will resume discussions with the Association of River Authorities on a change to a new system without this test.

Mr. John Mackie

While not necessarily agreeing that the delay has been caused by the worth-whileness test to the extent that the right hon. Member suggests, we hope to resume discussions with the Association shortly.

Sir R. Nugent

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the delay of two years, which has doubled the cost in the Rochford case, is typical of the delay caused by this system? As the hon. Gentleman has already cancelled his intention to start a new scheme this year, will he say when he will be ready to start talks with the Association of River Authorities?

Mr. Mackie

As regards the Rochford scheme, if the right hon. Gentleman will carefuly read the Adjournment debate, he will see that the worth-whileness test was not all the cause of the delay. With the worth-whileness test, generally speaking, the cases are dealt with inside of three months on average and, as I have said, we are starting discussions again with the association as soon as possible.

34. Sir R. Nugent

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food by what authority he is prevented from giving a grant of more than 45 per cent. to the Essex River Authority for their flood prevention scheme in the Rochford area.

Mr. John Mackie

We are only able to offer grants towards expenditure incurred by river authorities in accordance with the arrangements sanctioned under Section 55 of the Land Drainage Act, 1930. These arrangements at present include a worth-whileness test, the application of which prevented us from offering grant on the full estimated cost of the scheme which the right hon. Member has in mind.

Sir R. Nugent

Is the Joint Parliamentary Secretary aware that in the Adjournment debate referred to he told the House that he was prevented by law from increasing the rate of grant of 45 per cent.; and that the House will be glad to know that it now lies within his power to make the schemes whatever he wishes? Will he therefore see that he comes forward with a more generous scheme?

Mr. Mackie

We are always prepared to be as generous as possible.

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