HC Deb 28 June 1967 vol 749 cc711-6

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

12.59 p.m.

Mr. Bernard Conlan (Gateshead, East)

I am glad to have this opportunity to raise a very important question affecting a substantial number of my constituents.

The matter complained of is a serious nuisance arising from a factory that has been built recently in my constituency in the centre of first-class residential property. The factory belongs to Wailes Dove (Bitumastic) Limited, which is engaged on the bitumenising of large steel pipes which, I understand, are required for North Sea gas. The original planning application was made in the name of Robert Bowran and Co., who have had established for many years a paint factory on a site in this area. The application was made at the beginning of last year and approved by the county planning authority. The factory was duly constructed in June and July, 1966.

I know that there are procedures to be adopted for planning applications and it is necessary for publications to be made in local newspapers. I know that the planning Acts lay down these procedures, but it is not always possible for people who are to be affected by planning applications to be fully aware of the exact consequences if the applications are approved. Indeed, rightly or wrongly, the local people were of the opinion that this construction was a warehouse and an addition to the paint factory that had been there for many years. As things have transpired, we find that it is not an addition but a completely new factory processing an entirely different product.

I understand that the bitumen used in this process is heated to a high temperature, and the process is registered under the Alkali, etc. Works Act. Consequently, the Ministry's staff become involved in supervising the process. I will explain the sort of nuisance of which complaint is made. The factory has been constructed in the centre of a first-class residential area, and the factory is within 25 yards of some of this property. Frequently, there is smoke, fumes, smells and, worse still, there are droppings. There is fallout of tar which damages the paintwork of the houses, affects the washing hanging out to dry and generally pervades the area. These are conditions in which people should not be expected to live.

I want to say something about the work being conducted by the firm itself. I wrote to the chairman of the company informing him that I intended to raise this question in the House. In fairness to him, I should say that he has been unable to let me have his views because he was abroad on company business. I should also say in fairness to the company that it has gone to a great deal of trouble and expense to install equipment to eliminate the nuisance which has been going on for months and months. In spite of this new equipment, the nuisance remains.

I also pay tribute to the work of the officers of the local authority. The clerk of the council and the chief public health inspector, even though they have no direct responsibility—and it should be made clear that the local council carries no responsibility either for planning or supervision of the processing of the plant—have, on an informal basis, in discussion with the firm, been able to encourage it to install all sorts of gadgets and new equipment to remove the nuisance. But all to no avail. The nuisance persists.

It is clear that, no matter what is done, this nuisance will continue in the area and that a mistake was made in permitting the factory to be built there in the first place. It is true that the site was zoned for industrial purposes many years before the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, but there is a distinct difference between one type of industrial development and another.

If this had been, as the residents thought, a warehouse, there would have been no objection, because there would have been no nuisance. But, as things have turned out, the processing carried out in the factory is a registered process. So it is clear that the factory should never have been put there. It is wrong that processes of this kind can be carried out within 25 yards of residential property. If town and country planning means anything, it is that we should segregate offensive industry from residential property. That has not happened in this case.

I think that I have made it clear that a mistake has been made and I do not apportion the blame. The company established its factory having received planning permission. Whether the planning authority fully comprehended the nuisance that might arise from this type of processing, I do not know. But I do know that a large number of my constituents are living in conditions in which this House should not expect them to live.

No matter how much expenditure is made or what new equipment is installed, the nuisance will persist. Therefore, it seems to me that the only solution is to close the factory and transfer the works to one of the two industrial estates in the area—either the Team Valley industrial estate, which would have been admirable for this type of development, or the East Gateshead industrial estate, which could also have easily accommodated it.

The people of my constituency are as entitled as anyone else to live in a clean atmosphere. As long as this factory remains where it is, they will not have the sort of environment or conditions we expect people to live in today. I urge my hon. Friend to take notice of what I have said and to take whatever steps he can to ensure the discontinuance of this foul and intolerable nuisance.

1.10 a.m.

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

Everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East (Mr. Conlan) has said is correct. No one who has read, as I have, the story of the conditions here and looked at the plan and seen how close the new process is to the houses can believe that there is not a strong case for seeing whether something cannot be done about it.

My hon. Friend paid tribute to the part that has been played by the local authority inspectors and officials in looking into this matter to see what could be done. I think he might also have added the part that has been played by my right hon. Friend's alkali inspectors who have been most concerned about this.

Mr. Conlan

That was an omission on my part. The Ministry's alkali inspectors have been extremely co-operative and helpful and the work they have done is to be commended.

Mr. MacColl

I thank my hon. Friend for saying that, because it confirms my own impression. They came into this at a late stage when the trouble had been caused and their first report about the conditions implied that they were deplorable. There is now a substantial improvement, because a good deal has been done to improve the situation.

One of the main problems is the coating of the pipes. The fume is now collected and passed through a scrubber with reasonably satisfactory elimination of the fume and prevention of the emission of the droplets. Another source of trouble is the tar boiler in which the coating material is heated before application to the pipes. This is now taken to the scrubber dealing with the fume from the coating and there is further work which is going on which should be completed within the next two weeks.

There is another smell from the pre-coating of the pipes, but this is not likely to cause offence near the houses. There is rust emission coming from the cleaning of the pipes with rotary brushes. This is due to inadequate arrestment plant, but a bag filter unit is to be provided shortly.

Under the Alkali Acts it is a defence if the firm is doing all that it can reasonably do to meet the difficulties. The position is the same under the 1960 Act dealing with prevention of noise. If action is taken under that Act, but the firm is doing all that it can reasonably be expected to do to abate the noise, that is a statutory defence to proceedings.

My hon. Friend is not accurate in saying that the urban district council has no responsibility in the matter. There is a delegation agreement whereby the county council or the planning authority delegates certain responsibilities to the Felling Urban District Council to give planning approvals. In this case, the application form says that this building was to be used for the application of protective covering to steel pipes and fittings. It did not say that it was going to employ this process which is being used, but it was clear from the application that it was not to be used for storage purposes.

As my hon. Friend said, the difficulty is that the old-established existing use for industrial purposes has been extended to a different type of process which comes under a different class in the Use Classes Order. This is a new planning permission and not merely an extension of the old existing use. A planning approval has been given and is valid. The inspectors think that the firm is doing all it can to follow their advice, and I understand, although it is not a direct responsibility, that the firm is doing what it can to abate some of the noise which the process is causing. I would not challenge my hon. Friend, with his greater local knowledge, when he says that this is an awkward and difficult situation and that what has been done will improve the position, although not solve the problem.

It is for my hon. Friend to advise his constituents, but they might be able to take proceedings in the courts on a private nuisance as opposed to a public nuisance, when the statutory defence of having taken reasonable steps to reduce the cause would not apply. Nobody would want to take legal proceedings even on a civil action without good legal advice, but that is one possible source of remedy.

My hon. Friend also mentioned the possibility of getting the process stopped. It is true that under town and country planning law it is possible to make a discontinuance order for something for which there is planning permission. The initiative should be taken by the planning authority, which would have to make a discontinuance order not necessarily stopping the use of the building altogether, but stopping its use for this kind of process. I do not want to say whether that would be the right thing to do, because confirmation of that order might come to my right hon. Friend, and I must therefore reserve to him his quasi-judicial position He must not commit himself, for there would probably have to be an inquiry if the order were resisted.

It would involve compensation. What that would be is a matter for speculation, because it would depend on what alternative use there was for the site, but in planning law there is this remedy in this kind of situation. It is for the planning authority to assess whether the harm caused by this use in the situation of this new process so close to these houses is such that it would be prepared to pay compensation to get rid of it. My hon. Friend would be well advised to take it up with the planning authority if, as he says, he wishes to take the matter further.

I conclude by again expressing my sympathy about this situation. I appreciate that those concerned are suffering great inconvenience. Like my hon. Friend, I would not be rash enough to try to apportion blame. We are doing all we can, primarily through the Alkali Inspectorate, to watch the situation, and we are in almost daily touch to see what can be done and to see that there is no deterioration. That is our main function. Both noise and discontinuance are primarily matters for the local authorities.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty minutes past One o'clock.