HC Deb 30 April 1969 vol 782 cc1437-42
The Secretary of State for Economic Affairs (Mr. Peter Shore)

With permission, I wish to make a Statement on the Humberside Feasibility Study which was published by the Stationery Office today. Copies are available in the Vote Office.

This is the first Report of the Central Unit for Environmental Planning—a planning team drawn from five Government Departments under the chairmanship of one of my senior officials. It is an important document, dealing with issues of concern to people in all parts of the country.

By the end of the century the population of Great Britain is expected to increase by nearly 15 million, a scale of increase without precedent. Regional and sub-regional strategies for population growth are being developed in all regions with the advice of the regional economic planning councils. In order, however, to consider well in advance the possibility of placing some part of this great increase in population in major new centres, three areas were selected for detailed study—Humberside, Severnside and Tayside.

The Humberside Study accordingly makes a detailed factual appraisal of the costs and benefits to the nation of promoting a major influx of population into that area which is well clear of the country's main existing concentrations of industry and population.

The Report concludes that Humberside has the physical potential to absorb three quarters of a million people and so become an attractive community of nearly 2 million people by the end of the century. It estimates, however, that existing plans, including new towns and town expansion schemes, should be adequate to cope with the increase in the country's population until about 1980, so that an immediate decision whether or not to go ahead on Humberside is not required. Moreover, further study is needed of how the costs and benefits of Humberside would compare with those of other possible ways of locating the same population.

Nevertheless, Humberside should be regarded as an area which may well be needed as a site of major population growth after 1980. Accordingly, the Report recommends that measures should be taken in the interim to sustain the area's momentum of economic growth and preserve its potential as a major growth centre. A key factor here is the unification of the two sides of the Humber into a single economic area. To this end the Report recommends early completion of a Humber Bridge.

The Government are consulting the Yorkshire and Humberside Council and the local planning authorities about the Report and its recommendations.

The Government accept the Report's conclusion that the Humber Bridge and associated linking roads should be constructed in time for service in 1976. To meet this timetable, the necessary preparatory work will be continued so that construction can start in 1972.

Like other major estuarial crossings, the bridge will be financed by loan, and tolled. The greater part of the cost will count against the road programme in the usual way, while the remainder will form part of the roads element in the programme for additional expenditure in intermediate areas which I announced in the House last Thursday.

When completed, the Humber Bridge will be the longest suspension bridge in the country, and one of the longest in the world.

Sir K. Joseph

Is the Minister aware that we welcome the commitment to the Hull bridge, the longest suspension bridge in the country, even if its start is to be deferred until 1972, when the next Government will be in office? Does the Minister agree that there has been a very long period of suspense since the right hon. Lady the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity dangled the bridge before the electorate of Hull at a by-election four years ago?

Mr. Shore

The suspense has been nothing like so long as the time which passed between the passage of the Humber Bridge Act, 1959 and the announcement that I have made.

Mr. E. L. Mallalieu

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the necessity to go ahead as soon as he can with the construction of roads necessary to serve this bridge, particularly from the South?

Mr. Shore

The building of the bridge will necessitate certain link roads and these are covered by the statement I have made.

Mr. Wall

Is this decision absolutely final and will work start this year and be completed in 1976 in accordance with the Humberside Feasibility Study?

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the completion of the M62 and M18 roads will be through to Hull by that date to link with the bridge?

Will the right hon. Gentleman congratulate those who have compiled this voluminous and excellent Report?

Mr. Shore

I thank the hon. Member for his closing remarks.

Preparatory work on the bridge will take a considerable time to complete, but I have in mind a programme which will allow the bridge to be completed and in use by 1976. The other roads in the road programme will go ahead according to the time-tables already announced.

Mr. James Johnson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the whole of Hull and Humberside will warmly welcome the findings of the Humberside Feasibility Study, and particularly his statement that he will implement the pledges made in Hull some years ago? Without this bridge linking the economic units on the north and south banks, Hull itself would never gain its full stature nor would the people of Humberside enjoy the full life which they deserve.

Mr. Shore

I have no doubt at all that the completion of the Humber Bridge will be of great benefit on both sides of the estuary. Even apart from the projected expansion of the whole Humberside area as a major centre for population location, it will be of great help to the communities and the economic viability of both sides of the Humber.

Mr. Bryan

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the most dangerous immediate problem is the road east and west of Hull and the lack of a crossing to Selby, where traffic is building up to a dangerous degree? Will he give a date for the building of that road and a bridge in the Selby area?

Mr. Shore

That is a different question. If the hon. Member puts it to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport I am certain he will be glad to answer.

Mr. George Jeger

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this Report takes a very narrow view of Humberside and almost ignores completely the hinterland, particularly Goole and Thorne, where there are large areas of unemployment and much potential growth? Is he aware that road access to the Humber Bridge across Lincolnshire will cost almost as much as the bridge itself and will make the North Hull by-election the most expensive by-election that we have ever had?

Mr. Shore

I think that my hon. Friend has taken, for him, a surprisingly parochial view of the benefits of the Humber Bridge to the whole Humberside area.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

While the incorporation of a Humber bridge into the exciting scheme for Humberside north and south is greatly to be welcomed, has full consideration been given in the Report to the very high quality of much of the agricultural land on the south bank of the Humber? Is the right hon. Gentleman certain that the most economic use will be made of that?

Mr. Shore

When he studies the Report I think that the hon. Member will find, on page 50 a very admirable balance of advantages and disadvantages, including, of course, the price to be paid in terms of loss of agricultural land. This is clearly one of the factors which must be weighed in coming to a conclusion about the case for such an expansion on Humberside.

Mr. McNamara

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I welcome his announcement, and, in particular, the general underlying tone of confidence which appears in the Report? Further, I congratulate him and his Department on the work that has been done, which follows the pattern outlined by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity when she spoke in Hull on that occasion.

Mr. Shore

My hon. Friend has more direct experience of these events than most hon. Members in the House. I am grateful to him for his commendation and his remarks.

Mr. Hooley

Will my right hon. Friend resist the temptation, if so dazzled by the Humber Bridge, important as it is, to overlook the consequences for other parts of the Yorkshire and Humberside region of the development, or lack of it, in the Scunthorpe and Immingham area, which could have repercussions on the steel producing centres in other parts of the region?

Does he also agree that Yorkshire and Humberside is the only area which has no new town growth centre and that the deferment of such growth to 1980, as suggested in the Report, might be adverse to the development of the region as a whole?

Mr. Shore

I do not think that this would have the adverse effect on the towns on the south bank that my hon. Friend has mentioned. On the contrary, I think that it will give them considerable indirect benefit as it will help the whole of the Humberside area.