HC Deb 20 February 1969 vol 778 cc912-32

10.46 p.m.

Mr. Jasper More (Ludlow)

I beg to move, That the Dawley New Town (Designation) Amendment (Telford) Order 1968 (S.I., 1968, No. 1912), dated 29th November 1968, a copy of which was laid before this House on 5th December, be withdrawn. This Order is a revision of an Order made in 1963. Perhaps I may briefly give the background. The present Order was made on 29th November, 1968, it was laid on 5th December, 1968, and it came into operation on 13th December, 1968. The normal time for launching a Prayer against it has expired, and I thank the Government for having made it possible to move the Prayer tonight, the normal time having expired through a succession of accidents which were nobody's fault.

The story of the new town started with the Order of 1963 which is referred to in paragraph 2 of the present Order, and which contemplated a town of an ultimate population of 125,000, which is hatched in the plan attached to the present Order. The object of the present Order is to enlarge that town, roughly doubling it both in area and in ultimate population, and therefore contemplating a town of about a quarter-of-a-million people. The Motion is directed against the enlargement which is envisaged because, apart from the enlargement, if the population and the development targets are to be attained, it will mean a considerable intensification of the development which the development corporation will have to undertake.

The Motion is designed for the protection of the ratepayers of Shropshire as a whole, and I am moving it, frankly, at the request of the responsible authority, the Salop County Council. The council was drawn into this matter at an early stage, when they were first approached about the possibility of a new town in this part of Shropshire. It was put to them as a request to do something for the benefit of the West Midlands industrial area. We are all acquainted with the housing problem, in particular, of Birmingham and parts of the Black Country. The object of the new town was to help Birmingham and the industrial area by enabling a major exportation of population to take place, involving the provision of new houses in very large quantities in the designated area, and—this is basic to the whole scheme—the exportation, too, from Birmingham and the West Midlands of the factories and industries to provide the jobs for the new residents in the town to be called Telford.

It was obvious that a scheme of this kind would mean a tremendous upheaval for those people already living in this area which is to be the site of the new town. The county council, nevertheless, decided that, in spite of the hardship which will be faced by the present generation, in the long run this is a scheme which they should support, not only to help the problems of Birmingham and the industrial area, but also because the great expenditure of money and the great development which would be involved in the designated area would mean the regeneration of a large area of Shropshire which had greatly suffered from the devastation of the industrial age.

This has always been the attitude of the county council, and my attitude. I cannot speak for my hon. Friends, but I am sure that they will not be insensible to the strong arguments in favour of the new town. I launched this motion on the basis that it is my wish and that of the county council that this large and ambitious project shall succeed.

The reason for launching the Motion is that, in so far as the development has happened in the original designated area, it is fair to say that expectations have not been realised. The industry and factories which were to have come from Birmingham and the West Midlands industrial area have not come in anything like the quantity anticipated and intended.

I want to focus on the implication of this to the county council. They have statutory liabilities in the provision of services on a large scale. It is not necessary to mention all the services, but three among them give some idea of the expenditure involved for a population of 250,000: schools, roads and local welfare services. These will be greatly increased in scale and importance by the doubling of the area and population of the town by the present Order.

When the county council has to make these large expenditures, it looks for recoupment from the rates of the people coming to live in the area in question. If the necessary population does not arrive, there is bound to be a serious burden on the council because the recoupment hoped for is not achieved. There are three ways this can happen: houses can be built by the development corporation, but not occupied merely because there are no jobs available to attract people who will occupy them; they may not be occupied because they are deliberately kept empty, and reasonably so, by the development corporation, which considers it essential to have available a stock of houses in case an industry suddenly wishes to come to the new town and says that it must have housing facilities for its employees. The third factor is most serious for the county council; that the houses may be occupied not by people from outside the county boundary, but by those from inside Shropshire.

This results in the county council getting no new rate support grant and being left to bear the standing charges in the area from which the Shropshire people have moved, and these problems will be made so much more acute by the proposed enlargement of the new town. For all these reasons, and for the sake of protecting its ratepayers, the county council has felt impelled to ask the Minister of Housing and Local Government for certain guarantees.

The cost of providing services for which the county council is responsible is estimated, with reasonable accuracy, at about £100,000 for each 1,000 houses, and the council has been asking for some time that it should be given a financial guarantee of recoupment if the houses are not occupied and do not become rate producing as the services are provided.

The Minister knows the history since he took up his present position. He will know that a meeting took place which was attended by all four Members of Parliament from Shropshire at which this question was discussed. At an early stage his Ministry gave the county council an undertaking in somewhat bureaucratic language which, condensed, was that any reasonable case for financial contribution would be sympathetically considered, and that an undue burden in the council's finances would be regarded by the Department as a factor to be taken into account for the purposes of the undertaking. Without intending to be rude or critical, I would describe that as a vague and woolly form of words and, not unreasonably, the county council did not find it very satisfactory. It wanted a guarantee in the terms of a financial formula.

The Minister will remember that the chairman, and the vice-chairman and other representatives of the county council came to his Ministry to meet him, with the Shropshire Members of Parliament, on 13th November, when the matter was again discussed, with the result that the Ministry has now offered what it calls standing machinery that contemplates the formation of a committee of representatives of the Ministry and the council to discuss a possible guarantee on the basis of a large number of assessments and figures. Without prejudice to the standing machinery, the council asks for something much more specific, for two reasons.

First, there is an additional financial burden on the Shropshire ratepayers if there is under-occupation of houses in the new town. Secondly, what is visually more important and likely to cause trouble, is that if a new town is built in a derelict industrial area the population will see within the designated area schools, welfare buildings, and so on, of a standard much higher than outside the designated area.

The council will obviously come under heavy criticism if the rest of the population of Shropshire finds itself paying financially in order that this designated area can have much better standards in these things. It is a real problem and the council, rightly, says that it cannot ignore it.

The council asks for two separate guarantees. First—and this has been discussed with the Ministry and it is well understood what is meant—a general guarantee against an undue burden; and, secondly, a specific guarantee in the event of the failure of the population intake, to use a rather unpleasant expression; that is, people not arriving.

The difficulty in a project of this kind is that it is necessary to make very large financial ccmmitments in advance. Some of these schools that are being planned cost more than £250,000. Things must be done well in advance, because we cannot run the risk of services not being there if the population has arrived. Therefore, it is necessary to make very large forward assessments.

The expenditure to which the county council will have to commit itself includes, first, the actual construction of the buildings, and, secondly, in the event of the buildings not being fully utilised by the arriving population, the cost of staffing any that are unused.

The county treasurer has suggested what seems a very practical formula to protect the interests of the other ratepayers. It means that certain fairly broad assessments have to be made. First, a time-table must be agreed with the development corporation, which is the Minister's agent in this area, for planning the various stages. Secondly, the commitments that the county council must undertake within each period must be agreed. Thirdly, within each of those periods the corporation must say v/hat population it expects to arrive in accordance with its plan. This formula would have to apply to all expenditure which, once the county council had been committed to it, cannot, as a practical matter, either be avoided or reduced—and that may be a very large sum.

The suggestion is that this assessment should be made at quarterly intervals. At the risk of inflicting algebra on the House, it is possible to reduce this to a fairly simple formula. The quarterly expenditure, at the rate of £100,000 for 1,000 houses, works out at £25,000. That is multiplied by the number of unoccupied houses and divided by 1,000, thus giving the formula. I think that this is a reasonable demand.

I put this forward because this new town will not succeed and go forward as planned unless it goes forward on the basis of mutual trust and confidence. Unfortunately, that is now what is lacking. I am sorry to say that there is an increasing feeling in the council that the Ministry in this matter is deliberately dragging its feet, is unwilling to come to any specific agreement, and, as far as possible, is delaying everything.

As an instance of that perhaps I could mention a letter written by the clerk of the council on 3rd December. When we had a debate on new towns on 19th December, I informed the Minister that the council had not by then had a reply. In fact, a reply was received on 30th December. Admittedly, Christmas had intervened, but that was a delay of 27 days in sending a reply to a not very complicated question on a matter which the county council regarded as of considerable importance.

I ask, apart from the acceptance by the Minister of the guarantee on the formula which I have suggested, that the Department should show more zeal, and a desire to bring this to a speedy and amicable conclusion.

11.6 p.m.

Mr. John Biffen (Oswestry)

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. More) in thanking the Government for making time available for this debate, because it touches on a subject of immense consequences for the Members of Parliament for Shropshire, and I think that it is a subject which will be of increasing, rather than diminishing, concern.

My hon. Friend, with characteristic charity, welcomed the idea of a new town in east central Shropshire. There is no doubt that some years ago the idea of Dawley being created as a new town on the site of that area which had cradled the First Industrial Revolution was given a welcome in the county. I venture to suggest that if it had been known what would be the course of events, and that failure was to be reinforced by doubling the size of the new town, which is what is now proposed, the reactions of the county council could well have been somewhat different, and that the welcome that was originally accorded to Dawley would have been a great deal more searching and sceptical than it was.

My hon. Friend said that it was assumed that the development of the new town would see a complementary growth in industry and population, both presuming to be based upon interests which hitherto had been concentrated in the West Midlands industrial area. Experience so far has been that industry has not come in on the scale which originally had been assessed, and that the population has fallen, not merely below expectations, but has been drawn not so much from the industrial Midlands as from within the county itself.

Miscalculations of that character have substantial consequences for the county authorities, and, confronted with this experience, to be presented with an Order which doubles the size of the new town, naturally enough raises considerable anxiety among many people in Shropshire, and it is an anxiety which I feel particularly. I feel this even more than some of my hon. Friends do, because the Oswestry division is situated at some modest distance from the new town, and unlike my hon. Friend I am not directly affected in a constituency way by the new boundaries which have been designated in this Order.

But one of the consequences of the new town is that there will be increasing emphasis to try to make this enlarged area more successful in attracting industry. It is disingenuous to suggest that this could be proceeded with without it having an effect on other parts of Shropshire.

By far the most effective weapon for the location of industry is the use of I.D.C.s. It will, therefore, be interesting to see if there will be a different test applied for industries applying for certificates for location in Telford new town as opposed to the rest of Shropshire, and particularly rural Shropshire which has problems of above national average unemployment in many areas— in the Oswestry employment exchange area the rate is over 5 per cent.—and which has declining industries in the sense that coal-mining, agriculture, the railways and War Departments all have the prospect of diminishing rather than increasing unemployment.

In these circumstances, there is a natural apprehension that Telford new town will become a rival for what industrial growth there may be for Shropshire, to the major disadvantage of the rural areas. I say this notwithstanding what I said earlier about the new town of Dawley in its original conception not being as successful in obtaining industry as the optimists had originally imagined. However, there are signs that industry may be moving to Telford.

There was a notice in the Shropshire Star about Fulton T.I. planning to build a tube factory in the area. I do not know whether there would have been any chance of such a factory being located at Bridgnorth, Oswestry, Wem, or any of the small market towns which must either obtain industry through their own efforts—because they get precious little encouragement from the Government—or accept an employment prospect which can be described as nothing but bleak.

On 15th February the Border Counties Advertiser quoted the view of the Clerk of the Oswestry Rural District Council, who had said: … the new town of Telford was … as effective a barrier to new industry coming to Oswestry as the Berlin Wall was in preventing the inhabitants of the east passing to the west. They may be powerful words, but this is an issue on which the people of Oswestry hold powerful views. So they should, since the social infrastructure of of the county—its roads, welfare and education services, and so on—are likely to be prejudiced from the point of view of the remainder of the county in favour of the Telford designated new town.

My constituents therefore not only feel that they may find the Board of Trade intervening to discriminate in favour of Telford and against Oswestry, but that Oswestry will also suffer in respect of its schools, roads and social services. It should be remembered that the reverse situation might at least give it a chance to offer to industry the opportunity of coming to an area with a reasonable social infrastructure. The points that concern it are of major consequence, and I say this particularly on a day when the Hunt Committee's Report has, we understand, been received by the Government, although we have to wait six or eight weeks before its publication.

The development corporation has now developed an institutional interest. It has powerful people. It is staffed by men of distinction who know well how to tread the corridors of power. We know what we are up against in rural Shropshire, and we have to fight with what modest weapons are available. I hope that this debate will at least give us a chance, by virtue of a sympathetic Ministerial answer, to demonstrate that rural Shropshire in the development of Telford new town is not to be a forgotten area, shunned by Whitehall in its anxiety to make the new town a success, which all too often has eluded other new towns.

I hope, therefore, that when the Minister comes to answer this debate he will show a sensitivity to the very real difficulties which I believe are implicit to rural Shropshire in the development of the new town, and that he will show himself acutely sympathetic and will undertake to transmit that sympathy to the other Government Departments which, with his, will be involved in the whole question of allowing industrialists to go to whichever part of Shropshire they find most attractive.

There is widespread anxiety, and I believe that it is an anxiety that the right hon. Gentleman should be anxious to allay.

11.17 p.m

Sir John Langford-Holt (Shrewsbury)

With my hon. Friends the Members for Ludlow (Mr. More) and for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen), I should like to express my thanks to the Minister for enabling this Motion to be debated tonight. I also undertake to delay the House for only a very short time.

In considering a matter like this one must remember that whereas these types of Orders seem of little significance to anybody else, they are very important to those people who live in the areas affected by the Orders, as this Order is to the part of the county which I represent.

There are many factors which are necessary for the success of a new town venture. First, a need must be proved. Second, the question of communications must be well thought out and covered. Third, there must be confidence, and, of course, educational services must be provided, as my hon. Friends have mentioned. I will not go further into this matter than to say that the Salop County Council wrote to the Minister on 19th November expressing, among other things, its misgivings in the sphere of education.

So far as need is concerned, one can only say that one of the basic needs is the arrival in far greater strength of industry into this new town. Industry is showing a singular lack of enthusiasm at this time, and I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry in hoping that this will improve in the future.

I turn to the question of communications, to which I will basically address myself. One only has to look at the railway maps of England to see what is happening in West Shropshire and Central Wales. This is very relevant at the moment, for two reasons. First, there are under construction two new towns—one at Telford, which we are now discussing, and another further west, on the borders of Wales, at Newtown. Shrewsbury is the gateway to Central Wales. At the very moment when Telford is beginning to get under way British Railways have cut off the electrification to the whole area, at Wolverhampton. I have fought, together with my hon. Friends, on many occasions at meetings with British Railways, but very little help has come from the right hon. Gentleman's Department.

I ask the right hon. Gentleman to use what influence he can, if he wants Telford and Newtown to be a success, and to take up with British Railways the whole question of communications between Shrewsbury and the main electrified railway arteries of this country.

It is rumoured that even further isolation of this area is to take place. If the right hon. Gentleman does nothing else I invite him to look for a moment at a railway map and see what will be done if this whole area is cut off, right to the Welsh coast——

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

Order. The hon. Member is getting wide of the Order. It is concerned only with Dawley and its consequences on the surrounding areas. The hon. Gentleman cannot mention any other new town, or get on to wider policy matters.

Sir J. Langford-Holt

I completely accept your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I am using Newtown only as an example, because it emphasises what the effect will be on Telford. If Newtown is not a success, I do not think that Telford will be.

As for confidence, mine is limited. I said that we have to have the confidence of the people and of industry, as well as of the communications authorities— which means British Railways. The Government expect confidence on the part of the county council; they expect it on the part of industry, and they expect it on the part of the people—but they express only pious hopes themselves. I can see no reason why everybody else should be expected to carry this confidence into effect when the Government themselves are not yet prepared to do so. I should like to have a chance to vote in order to express my feelings on this matter in the absence of a more forthcoming reply from the Minister, but I appreciate that this will not take place. I ask the Minister to believe that these matters are very important to us to the north and west of London. We are beginning to feel cut off already, and if the Minister cuts off this new town he will be doing great damage to its prospects and to the prospects for the whole county.

11.24 p.m.

Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)

I shall not detain the House for more than a few minutes. I would have hesitated to intervene in a debate connected with Shropshire if I did not have a certain connection with the county. I also have a connection with the new towns in my area. I am an enthusiastic supporter of new towns, but it seems to me that they cannot be successful except when they have a growing economy.

One of the problems, as my hon. Friend has made quite clear tonight in talking about Telford——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman really is going into the question of new town policy, which is not in the Order.

Sir D. Glover

With the greatest respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I wish to direct all my remarks to Telford.

The problem which my hon. Friends are pointing out in relation to Telford is endemic to the whole problem. When one has not got as big a growth as one would like, and one has not got it in Shropshire, then the worry is that the new town creates additional problems in the old towns. Every factory that goes to Telford cannot go to Oswestry, or Ludlow, or Shrewsbury, and, therefore, a growing problem is created in the old- established areas. I do not think that this is an isolated problem in Telford. It applies over the whole field——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is ingenious, but I am afraid he is outside the Order.

Sir D. Glover

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I thought I was doing damned well. In fact I thought that was being rather hostile, because I thought I was sailing one point to the wind. I am surprised that you thought I was one point outside the wind, because I was linking Telford with the problems of Shropshire.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. One can talk only about Telford tonight. One cannot talk about the wider problem, even relating it to Telford.

Mr. Biffen

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have listened with much fascination to my hon. Friend, because I understood that he was linking the fortunes of Telford with those of Oswestry. Can you, for our guidance, say whether it is in order for my hon. Friend to deploy his argument relating the condition of rural Shropshire to the development of Telford new town?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I can only repeat the comments I have made to the hon. Member, that it is Telford that is under discussion tonight. Therefore, all remarks must be specifically related to Telford, to Dawley, and to the consequences of Dawley on the surrounding area. The hon. Gentleman cannot discuss any other new town, or new town policy in general, and I am of the opinion that he is doing that, however ingeniously.

Sir D. Glover

I promise you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I will not mention any other area outside Shropshire, and I hope that if I do not mention any other area I shall remain in order.

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend, but from the speeches I have heard, the growth of Telford, or Dawley, will—because the growth of the national economy is proceeding at a very slow rate—work to the disadvantage of Ludlow and all the other old towns round about.

This is something which the Government have got to take into account in the whole policy of new towns, for which I am very enthusiastic. When they are dealing with the problem of Telford, if, because they are providing the facilities and the thrust to build up that town they are creating poverty and stagnation in the other older towns around it, they are not really achieving any worth-while improvement in the community of Shropshire.

As there is a semi-stagnant economy, this is only too likely to happen with any new town, and it appears to be happening in Telford.

The drive is going into new factories in that area, with the result that people are being put out of work in Ludlow——

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Technology (Mr. Gerry Fowler)


Sir D. Glover

It is not nonsense. It is true. The growth in these areas is not nearly as great as it would be, but for Telford. This is a problem which I do not think the Government have quite got into balance.

I must not go too far, or I should be out of order, but this is not an isolated problem; it applies all over the country, wherever there is a new town. It has been exemplified here tonight by the problems being created in Shropshire by the development of the new town of Telford.

11.30 p.m.

Mr. John Smith (Cities of London and Westminster)

The enlargement of this new town makes more important than ever a matter to which I have referred from time to time in the House, and I hope that those hon. Members whose constituencies are rather closer to the new town than mine will forgive me if I intervene in this debate.

One of the most important things that any new town has to have, let alone a new town which is to be enlarged to the extent of this one, is a spirit of its own. This is an old and honourable part of England. It has, to me, great attractions. It is one of the cradles of the Industrial Revolution. But it is an area which is somewhat lacking in a centre or in any particular object to which all its people will look. It does not, for example, have a crooked spire like Chesterfield. It does, however, have one object within its boundaries which is not only unique to that neighbourhood or to England, but is unique in the world. That is the Iron Bridge, in Coalbrookdale.

I have served for many years, even before the subject became fashionable, on the Research Committee for Industrial Archaeology of the British Council of Archaeology. I am its worst attender, but that does not diminish my enthusiasm. It is a subject which attracts the attention of more and more people. Indeed, this new town itself is now to be named after Telford, who was, if not one of the pioneers, one of the engineers who gave the Industrial Revolution great impetus. I feel that the choice of that name shows that industrial archaeology is a particular interest of the neighbourhood.

The Iron Bridge in Coalbrookdale could give this new town the focus and cachet which any new enterprise needs to knit it together. It could put the town of Telford not only on the map of England, which will have to be done with a new name. It could put the town of Telford on the map of the world. If this bridge is cherished, people from abroad who have not only never heard of Telford but, perhaps, have never heard even of Shropshire, will come to this new town.

At the moment, however, this priceless possession, which could be such a help to the new town, is being completely neglected, partly by muddle and partly by fear of the cost. There have even been wrangles over who should pay such a small sum as £500 to have the bridge surveyed to decide what needs to be done to it. It is, as the House knows, the first iron structure in the world. It is the absolute origin of the whole of our modern age. For the sake of a small sum of money, it may well fall into the River Severn tomorrow.

I urge the Government not to deprive this new town of something of which all its new citizens will be proud but, instead, to divert a fraction of their attention to ensuring that this national possession, which is within the boundaries of this new town, is properly cared for.

11.35 p.m.

The Minister for Planning and Land (Mr. Kenneth Robinson)

Perhaps I could begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. More) on his recovery from the ailment that precluded him, earlier, from moving his Prayer— when it would have been a Prayer. I should go on to congratulate him upon his negotiations, or machinations, with the usual channels to enable this somewhat unorthodox method of debating the Order to take place. I regret that this debate arose from an objection to the Dawley Order by the county council, but I am encouraged by what the hon. Gentleman said, and by what I knew already, that this is not, on his part or on the part of the county council, an objection in principle to the new town.

I want to put on record my appreciation of the good will and support in the West Midlands generally, and, in particular, in the area concerned, for this new town project, and I may add, for the name Telford which has been chosen for it. This has been widely welcomed, and it is something of an inspiration as a name. Perhaps in this connection I could refer to the speech of the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. John Smith), whose enthusiasm for industrial archaeology I had good reason to know of before he became a Member of the House. I am sure that the authorities concerned will take due note of what he has said about the Iron Bridge at Coalbrookdale, the importance of which I fully accept.

Mr. John Smith

Is that a promise?

Mr. Robinson

I will take it up with the authorities concerned; that is a promise.

I want to reaffirm the Government's commitment to this Telford project and our belief that the decision to go ahead with the larger new town is the right one. It will help to ensure success. We have heard from three hon. Members representing the County of Shropshire in which Telford is situated. It is perhaps a little ironical that we have not heard, for reasons which will be obvious to the House, from my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Fowler), whose constituency comprises the whole of the additional part of Telford which has been added by this Order. My hon. Friend is no doubt straining at the leash.

I feel confident that everyone concerned, certainly the Government, and the development corporation and the local authorities, will work together to achieve a successful new town. Some of the remarks by the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) were a little jaundiced in this respect. His phrase was "the success that has all too often eluded new towns elsewhere". I would remind him that new towns in general are a success story. It is a social project of which we have good reason to be proud.

Sir D. Glover rose——

Mr. Robinson

The hon. Gentleman has had a jolly good go at talking about Skelmersdale—I know that he did not mention it once—but he ought to let me get on with my speech. This town, too, will be a success.

The reason we have expanded the boundaries of what used to be Dawley and is now Telford, is to bring that success about more certainly and quickly. The real nub of what the hon. Member for Ludlow had to say was about the difference of view—I would put it no higher—between the county council and my Department over the nature of the assurances which we have given to the county council about assistance, should some of its worst fears be realised.

The hon. Member described very fairly what the anxieties of Salop County Council are. The county council has to provide certain services for the new town; it obviously cannot risk these services arriving late, but if the new town's progress is slower than was expected, or planned, these services might arrive early, and there would be that much larger a burden upon the county council.

These anxieties have been expressed by other county councils where other new towns have been established in their midst; and, generally speaking, they have not been realised in the event. However, I have given assurances, particularly at the meeting with the county council to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and those assurances about financial contributions by the development corporation were given in good faith. We certainly will ensure that sympathetic consideration is given to all local authorities providing services for new towns wherever an undue burden on their finances results.

It has been perfectly normal in new town development to operate in this way. It is only this county council which has been so insistent on trying to work out and develop and enshrine some advance formula, which we do not think is workable, which we certainly do not think is necessary, and which no other county similarly placed in the whole history of the new town movement has found it necessary to insist upon. This council wants this formula to be agreed for determining special contributions should there be this shortfall in the use of the services which it has to provide because the population fails to arrive at the expected rate.

I repeat that we do not believe that the situation which the council fears will arise. Nevertheless, I have given the assurance that, if the situation does arise, we will certainly give it every consideration, but I am convinced that an advance formula is not the way to deal with it. One cannot just set down in advance all the relevant factors which might arise, nor assess in advance their impact on the council's finances. The situation can be tackled only when it arises, if it does.

I believe that the council's fears can best be tackled, first, by a careful and flexible programme of development in agreement between the development corporation and the council itself; and then, if the council feels that it has incurred loss for the reasons which have been explained, by a most careful assessment of the position then reached. It was to facilitate this that we proposed the establishment of standing machinery—standing machinery in the sense of permanent machinery—of representatives of the Department, the county council and the development corporation. Discussions about the scope of and procedure for this machinery are now proceeding.

I agree that Dawley did not attract industry as quickly as we would have wished, but there has undoubtedly been a marked improvement over the last few months. With the expansion and the arrival of Telford, so to speak, the development corporation has now, under a new chairman, Sir Frank Price, who is a dynamic personality, been making renewed efforts to attract industry. These efforts are already showing results. I can assure hon. Members that the Board of Trade is doing all it can to help within the Government's location of industry policy.

I totally reject the assertion of the hon. Member for Oswestry that the expansion of the new town would only increase the scale of its failure. It is now recognised that it was the original shape and size of the new town which was its handicap and all who have any contact or connection with the new town are far more confident in the context of the expanded designated area. It is not unusual for a new town to take some time before it becomes really attractive to industry. It is easy to forget that the London new towns, now recognised as highly successful, had the same kind of difficulty in their early years. In some respects, Telford has a considerable advantage over them. It will be larger and it has a very substantial commercial and industrial base with the area now added, Wellington and Oakengates. If more development takes place, the whole area will steadily become more attractive to industry.

I find it difficult to understand where the hon. Member for Oswestry stands on this point. One moment he forecast that the enlarging of the designated area would only increase the scale of failure; next, he expressed the horrified fear that the success of Telford would have disadvantageous effects on the rest of Shropshire. I believe that neither his prophecy of doom nor his fear has any basis.

Mr. Biffen

The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that, at this late stage, an intervention on my part would be a very inadequate way of trying to deal with that misrepresentation of what I said. Surely I observed, first, that the original new town had not been a success and that it seemed ironic that doubling the size was a reaction to what had not been thought a success. Secondly, I said that if all the energy of the Government was now directed to the end of promoting the success of Telford, it seemed to me that it was bound to have a consequence upon the likelihood that industries seeking development certificates will be granted certificates in rural Shropshire with the same ease as they will be granted certificates in the new town.

Mr. Robinson

I agree that there is not quite the same contradiction in what the hon. Gentleman has just said now as there appeared to be in his speech, and I am sure that, when he reads his speech in HANSARD, he will be glad that he got the opportunity to put the record a little straighter.

Mr. More

I am on the Minister's side, but he frightens me by what seems to be his thinking. Merely by doubling the size of the new town one does not make it easier. I welcome the challenge, but it is much bigger than it was originally.

Mr. Robinson

In a sense, the scale is larger, but everyone who has studied it believes that, for attractiveness to industry, the new area of Wellington and Oakengates is much better than the old area of Dawley alone.

The hon. Member for Shrewsbury (Sir J. Langford-Holt) referred to a rumour about the railways. I think I know that rumour, but I shall not specify it because I do not like to give credence to rumours. If I am right, I am assured that there is no truth in it whatever.

I come now to road communications. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport is showing great co-operation in this matter. The Government fully accept the need for improved links between Telford and the conurbation of Birmingham. When the need was recognised, in July, 1967, my right hon. Friend commissioned a study from consultants into the question of a link between the new town and the M 6.

Sir J. Langford-Holt

Can the right hon. Gentleman give some grounds for hope, because the cutting off of the electrification to Shrewsbury was regarded as a great shock by Shrewsbury industry? This may be one of the contributory reasons to the difficulty of getting industry to go to Telford. Because of this awful change which has taken place, is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to hold discussions between his Department, British Railways and the Board of Trade to see whether there are any grounds for my fears?

Mr. Robinson

I will certainly give the undertaking that I will discuss this point with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, who would be primarily responsible.

In talking about the road links I would like to tell the House that my right hon. Friend expects to receive the consultants' report at any time now. As soon as he has studied it and a scheme has been formulated and costed, he will give urgent consideration to its inclusion in the firm road programme.

Mr. More rose——

Mr. Robinson

Did the hon. Gentleman wish to intervene about the "Rabbit run"?

Mr. More


Mr. Robinson

I was coming to that.

Before I do, I had better just say, on the M 6 and the link with the new town, that the statutory procedures that must be gone through make it unlikely that we can give a start before 1972. But my right hon. Friend has already provided for a proposed new link road in the trunk road preparation pool. I think that the House can take it that first-class road communications between Telford, the motorway system and the conurbations are assured.

When I met the county council and the hon. Member for Ludlow they represented to me that the existing minor road, affectionately, or otherwise, known locally as the "Rabbit run", between the southern part of the new town and Dudley, should be upgraded and improved. The county council's representations to my right hon. Friend will be most carefully considered. I know the importance that many people in the county attach to this road.

Mr. More

The right hon. Gentleman says that this study is being made by the Minister of Transport. More than three years ago I went with the chairman of our roads and bridges committee to see the Minister of Transport to discuss this specific matter, and impressed on him its importance. That is more than three years ago, and nothing has been done. Would the right hon. Gentleman at least ensure that on Monday, when his colleague the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade visits Telford, she is taken by the "Rabbit run"?

Mr. Robinson

I have no doubt that when my hon. Friend visits Telford all the problems, communications and otherwise, will be brought to her notice. I am sure that any that are my concern or that of the Minister of Transport will be brought to our notice in due course. This has been a helpful debate. I am grateful for the general support for the idea of this new town that hon. Members have shown. I understand the fears of the county council, but genuinely believe that they are exaggerated. We have seen that before in the case of earlier new towns, and they have not been realised in the event. I hope and trust that this will be the case in Telford, and that this enlarged new town will go forward to greater and greater success, and will attract—which is perhaps the most important thing—the industry it needs and the jobs for its people.

Question put and negatived.

  2. c932
  4. c932