HC Deb 16 October 1969 vol 788 cc677-90

Order for consideration, as amended, read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now considered.

Mr. Speaker

I have to inform the House that I have not selected the Amendment which stands in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster). That does not affect the debate in any way. The hon. and gallant Gentleman is free to say what he thinks in the debate.

7.1 p.m.

Mr. Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)

I rise to support the Bill, and I hope that the House will approve it.

This is a General Powers Bill. In addition to some of the matters to which my hon. and gallant Friend will no doubt refer, and which have been causing concern to his constituents, the Bill also contains powers of the kind so often found in Measures of this nature, for example, to manage markets, to regulate sales on the promenade, to borrow, and to deal with lost property.

If I may mention briefly the history of the Bill, it was introduced in another place in January. It was considered by a Select Committee in that place over four days. The Committee heard evidence and allowed the Bill to proceed with some Amendments which were accepted by the promoters. A similar course occurred in this House, where it was considered over four days by a Select Committee and some small Amendments were made, all of which were verbal except one minor Amendment to Clause 9 into which I need not go.

The most useful course for me would be to come straight to the points which I think are causing concern to my hon. and gallant Friend. The Borough of Lytham St. Annes, which is in his constituency, opposed certain Clauses in the Bill because they would authorise the Blackpool Corporation to exercise powers outside its own boundaries. In particular, these are Clause 4, dealing with zoos and botanical gardens, Clause 5, dealing with golf courses, Clause 6, dealing with roller skating rinks, Clause 9, dealing with the provision of entertainments in parks, and Clause 24 which enables the Corporation to construct a hoverport.

Objections to these Clauses were made on behalf of the Lytham St. Annes Corporation in the Committees in both Houses, and evidence was taken on these points, but the Committees felt that the Bill should go forward. I should add that, since the Bill was first promoted, the normal negotiations which occur between interested parties in such cases have taken place, but, since they were without prejudice and were, unfortunately, unsuccessful, it would not be proper for me to go into the details of them.

At first sight, it might seem odd that a Bill should give powers to one corporation to act in the territory of another. But nowadays it is not unusual for that to be done, and the reasons are not difficult to find. The local government boundary map has not been adjusted for a considerable time, and the responsibilities of local authorities everywhere are more complex and wider than they used to be. As a result, one finds that in general Acts of Parliament giving enabling powers to local authorities, for example, the right of local authorities to acquire land is not limited to their own borders.

Another example which is relevant here is the Southampton Corporation Act, 1960, Section 96 of which gives to the corporation extensive powers to do works in Southampton Water regardless of whether those works are inside or outside the boundaries of that authority. If we take the case of zoos and botanical gardens, the Bournemouth Corporation Act, 1960, gives that corporation power to set up zoos and botanical gardens inside or outside its own boundaries.

As for golf courses, Clause 5 of the Bill is a model Clause which has been adopted in many Private Bills. For roller skating, there is a precedent in the Worcester Corporation Act, 1951. In this Session of Parliament there have been five Acts which are already on the Statute Book and which, in one way or another, give local authorities powers which they can exercise outside their own territories.

Coming closer to the matter in hand, the Blackpool Corporation Act, 1935, gives the corporation power to conduct entertainments outside its own boundaries and power to acquire land for the purpose of an airport. While I do not think the former has been exercised, the power to acquire land for the purpose of an airport was exercised, and there has been a very busy airport at Squiresgate for a long time. Although the airport is on the territory of Lytham St. Annes just outside the Blackpool boundary, it is I believe undisputed that it is of benefit to both communities.

The powers in the Bill to act outside the boundaries of Blackpool are not particularly directed at Lytham St. Annes. They are general. Lytham St. Annes happens to be one neighbour of Blackpool. There are five or six others.

The powers are limited to land held by Blackpool. There are two significant areas of land owned by the Blackpool Corporation in the borough of Lytham St. Annes, and these two areas are specially relevant to this debate. They are both immediately next to the Blackpool borough boundaries. One of them is the airport land with one or two adjacent pieces of land outside the airport proper which I think were acquired as part of the same package a good many years ago.

The other area is one of about 40 acres on the sand dunes, again immediately adjacent to the Blackpool boundary and within a few yards of the airport. Almost all of these two areas was proposed by the Local Government Commission in 1965 to be transferred to the Borough of Blackpool, but, of course, that Commission was wound up before any action one way or the other could be taken on that recommendation.

Another feature of them is that they are situated in an area which I understand the Borough of Lytham St. Annes, to which planning authority has been delegated by the Lancashire County Council, would like to keep as a relatively open area. It cannot be entirely an open area because, between the airport and the site on which the hoverport would be built if the Bill were approved, already there is a substantial holiday camp.

Taking the two areas in turn, any use of the airport for the purposes which I have been describing would presuppose that it had ceased to be used as an airport. That is a possibility which has not been considered by the Blackpool Corporation and it can be regarded as extremely hypothetical. As for the sand dunes, it is intended that, if the Bill is approved, this is where the hoverport would be situated, between the airport and the sea. I will return later to the relevance of that situation.

In my view, the anxieties of Lytham St. Annes are not justified. I fully respect and understand its concern, but I believe that it goes too far. What is more, there will be safeguards about the exercise of any of these powers.

The first reason I should like to mention is geography. Not only is the site for the hoverport right against the Blackpool boundary, but it is quite a long way from any substantial residential area of Lytham St. Annes. It is at least 1,000 yards from any such area, apart from a small number of inhabitants in a block of flats who, admittedly, would be fairly close to the hoverport site. But even this block of flats, and one or two houses adjacent to it, is close to the airport. A busy main road runs between the flats and houses and the site for the hoverport; and the beach at this point is fairly sharply sloping, so that will give them a good deal of protection.

The second safeguard is that before any of these developments could be undertaken, planning permission would be required, and the planning authority, for practical purposes, is the Borough of Lytham St. Annes.

The third point, which I think is important, is that the Bill gives to Blackpool Corporation no greater powers than an individual or a company already naturally possess. The House knows well that local authorities have no powers except those given to them by Statute. That is the distinction between local authorities and an individual or a company. Resulting from this situation, it would be possible, if Blackpool was denied the powers in the Bill, for the corporation to let the land in question to an individual or to a company and that individual or company, provided that planning permission could be obtained, would be able to do the things which Blackpool Corporation would be denied the powers to do.

I think that the hoverport particularly is causing concern to my hon. and gallant Friend. There are two questions. First, is it needed? There have been discussions between the Blackpool Corporation and a number of other corporations along the coast and the Isle of Man about the possibility of having a hovercraft service. Those discussions have not been followed up, because at the time—a few years ago—the costs of operation of hovercraft were higher and the technical features not so advanced as now or, indeed, so advanced as they will no doubt be in a few years.

Within the last year a number of companies have approached the Blackpool Corporation with a view to seeing whether a hovercraft service could be started. British Railways want to start a hovercraft service in 1970, so there is clearly a need for a hoverport.

My hon. and gallant Friend may ask why the hoverport should be on this piece of land and not in the territory of Blackpool. There are two reasons why this is the most suitable situation. First, it is close to the airport. Looking to the future of transport, this is an important advantage, because passengers or freight can easily be transferred from one means of transport to another.

Secondly, within the Borough of Blackpool, for the whole length of the coast, there is a high sea wall. At high tide, for four hours, the sea is right up to the sea wall—indeed, at many parts of the sea wall to a considerable depth. While it would be technically possible to cope with that problem by building ramps, and so on, it would be extremely expensive and there would be serious problems of erosion if, for example, a hoverport was built, as it were, on the promenade.

Of course, the closer it is to the centre of the town the more crowded the beaches tend to be. So that whereas hovercraft could be brought on to the beach at low tide, which would be well out from the promenade, the promenade would not be suitable for a park or maintenance area on which hovercraft could rest on a hard standing.

Hon. Members should understand that a hoverport is not enormous. Last year I went to Southsea to take the hovercraft to the Isle of Wight. I had great difficulty in finding the hoverport. I was looking for something fairly large, but what I found was a small square of concrete about 30 yards by 30 yards and one small building.

The hoverport that we have in mind would no doubt he a bit larger than that. But I understand that it would not be more than 100 yards square and it would need only facilities for fuel and maintenance, so it is not a vast edifice.

Apart from the hoverport, I believe that Lytham St. Annes regards the other matters with less concern. The zoo and botanical gardens, according to the present ideas of the Blackpool Corporation, would be developed on land not in Lytham St. Annes, but on the east side of the town. Part of it is outside Blackpool. This is why the relevant Clause is framed so that the powers would be exercisable whether inside or outside the Blackpool boundary.

For the golf course, the area that I have just mentioned has been considered as the possible site for that.

Concerning the roller skating, I understand that the Blackpool Corporation has nothing in mind at present, but it regards it desirable to have the powers to do this in this Bill. The Bill simply gives the corporation power to set aside part of a park, which would have a maximum area of one acre for this purpose.

Concerning the power to provide entertainments in the parks, the Bill simply enables the corporation to enclose not more than one acre for certain classes of entertainment or to close a park for fireworks at night.

For those reasons, I hope that the House will approve the Bill. The most powerful point that I have mentioned is that if Blackpool Corporation is denied the powers it seeks, then it would be able to let the land in question to an individual or to a company and, subject to planning permission, the enterprises to which I have referred could be put under way.

Lytham St. Annes and Blackpool have many mutual interests. Many of my constituents work in Lytham St. Annes, many people who work in Blackpool live in Lytham St. Annes and they share many common services. I have already mentioned the airport.

When some of these enterprises are built, I believe that both Lytham St. Annes and Blackpool will find them an advantage. I fully recognise and respect the desire of Lytham St. Annes to preserve its separate character and its peace and quiet. But even if all the powers given to the corporation by the Bill were exercised, I do not believe that this separate character would be prejudiced.

7.19 p.m.

Colonel C. G. Lancaster (South Fylde)

I rise to oppose the Bill. I am not insensitive to what my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) has said, but I was puzzled to discover why he should feel that Lytham St. Annes was being so unreasonable and why it was opposing the Bill.

Before I enumerate the various Clauses to which my hon. Friend referred, and, in particular, to Clause 24, I should say something about the different character of the two communities. In the realm of entertainment, Blackpool is known throughout the length and breadth of the country. It appeals to a great mass of people who go there every year to have a good time, and I have no doubt that they do. Lytham St. Annes, on the other hand, is a residential area. Many people have gone there to retire in the quiet and pleasant surroundings of the town and foreshore.

Although many people go there during the holiday season, they do so because it is quiet and pleasant, and because it provides the kind of amenities that they like. If the Lytham St. Annes Corporation felt that it needed the type of entertainment which is provided on such a massive scale in Blackpool, I have no doubt that it would do what it could to provide it. The corporation has recognised the charm of the area and its quietness and pleasantness, and it does not want to spoil that.

That is not to say that a great deal is not provided there. I am sure that my hon. Friend is familiar with the Fylde rugby ground, one of the best in the country. Some years ago I was at the opening of the tennis club, and we arranged for an exhibition match between Rosewall and Laver. No doubt my hon. Friend knows that we have no fewer than four golf clubs, I doubt whether he will be elected to that club after his speech.

Lytham St. Annes has always been jealous of retaining the character of its foreshore. It stretches from one end of Lytham to the boundary of Blackpool, and the corporation has been jealous never to allow anything to be done to the foreshore which would affect its character.

It may be, as my hon. Friend said, that several of these Clauses will not be implemented. The main cause of concern to Lytham St. Annes Corporation is the suggestion about hovercraft being operated at the northern extremity of, not the corporation's property, but the property which lies within its municipal area. For many years Blackpool Corporation has been acquiring property within the area of the Lytham St. Annes Corporation, and it is in this regard that the corporation is particularly concerned. The corporation feels that if a hoverport is built there it will spoil the character of that part of the foreshore. It will be noisy. It will attract a number of people, and also many cars.

One thing which my hon. Friend did not mention is the effect that such a hoverport will have on sand yachting. The Fylde International Sand Yacht Club is the centre of all sand yachting in the country. However, the corporation thinks less about that than about the fact that the hoverport will be a noisy intervention, and it does not like the idea of that, and in that I support the corporation.

There have been suggestions that the other Clauses are unlikely to be implemented. The Town Clerk of Blackpool has gone so far as to say that he does not think they will be, but town clerks come and go, and Lytham St. Annes Corporation is not anxious to be left under a continual threat if the powers set out in the Bill are granted to Blackpool Corporation.

Lytham St. Annes does not wish to be fractious, or to be thought of as not wanting to help its neighbour. We want to be on the most friendly terms with Blackpool, but the corporation feels that the principle of the Bill is one which it must oppose. Lytham St. Annes takes the view that one authority should not exercise powers in the area of another authority. If the Bill were passed, it would mean that Blackpool Corporation would be able to exercise power within the municipality of Lytham St. Annes.

The principle of these matters is that the case has to be proved. My hon. Friend has been industrious in arranging his case, and in putting it forward so eloquently, but I do not think that he has proved it, and I therefore have no option but to oppose it.

7.25 p.m.

Mr. Tom Driberg (Barking)

I shall intervene for only a few moments in a debate which is of much more direct interest to hon. Members from the North. I have to go to Blackpool every other year or two for a conference. Although the corporation and the people of Blackpool are renowned, and rightly so, for their most generous hospitality, there is one matter about which I should like to ask the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker).

Zoos and botanical gardens are admirable institutions, but is there any power in the Bill, or has the corporation already got power, perhaps under one of the more general phrases such as "and other attractions", to do anything about the hotels in Blackpool? They are simply terrible. Collectively, they are among the worst hotels of any seaside resort in the world. I end by quoting an aphorism of Mr. Bernard Levin: that the hotels in Blackpool go far to disprove a proposition of Euclid, since it is possible to show that each of them is worse than all the others.

7.26 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Albert Murray)

I think that it might be helpful if I intervene on one or two matters. As the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) said, Clause 24 contains an enabling power for the provision of hovercraft terminals. It does not authorise the erection of one on any particular site. I understand that Blackpool Corporation has under consideration the possibility of establishing such a terminal, which would probably be on land owned by the corporation in the Borough of Lytham St. Annes just to the south of the Blackpool boundary.

If the corporation wishes to exercise the power contained in that Clause it will be necessary for it to obtain planning permission in the normal way. The House will appreciate that it would be improper for me to express a view on behalf of the Government about the merits of any specific proposal, not only because a planning application could lead to an appeal to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, but also because any proposal to develop harbour facilities estimated to cost more than £½ million would require the consent of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport under the Harbours Act, 1964.

In respect of Clause 4, which deals with the provision of zoological and botanical gardens, Clause 5, which deals with golf-courses, Clause 6, which deals with roller-skating rinks and Clause 9, which deals with the provision of entertainment in parks, and so on, it would similarly be necessary for Blackpool Corporation to obtain planning permission, with the attendant right of appeal in the event of a refusal to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government.

7.28 p.m.

Mr. Norman Miscampbell (Blackpool, North)

I rise to support the Bill. Before turning to its main provisions, perhaps I might deal with the request made by the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg). I could not disagree more with him about the quality of the Blackpool hotels. A number of us in the House, particularly myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker), have been trying to help those hotels, and I can think of no one who could help more in that fight than the hon. Gentleman could. The tax system, including S.E.T., needs revising to help us.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are not dealing with a public Bill, but with a very private one.

Mr. Miscampbell

I appreciate that. I was simply helping the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) to see his way forward to helping us with our hotel problems.

I appreciate and fully understand the views expressed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster), representing Lytham St. Annes, which is a charming and wonderful residential area, and it would be strange indeed if that borough was not concerned about the prospect of a change in its environment.

Perhaps at its most extreme the fear and worry expressed in Lytham St. Annes has been put in a letter in the Gazette, in which the writer said: The common danger facing all small local authorities such as Blackpool and Lytham St. Annes is the big grab, and the big lie technique of Big Brother in all his forms. If in the few moments that I intend to address the House tonight, and in the few remarks I make, I can dispel that sort of fear, what I have to say will be worth while. Fortunately, judging from the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend, it is clear that I do not need to dispel any such fear in his mind.

We have heard talk of our powers to build golf courses. Indeed, the threat has even been made that we will not be able to obtain admission to the famous golf courses of Lytham St. Annes if we support the Bill. If the Bill goes through we can build our own golf courses in Lytham St. Annes, if the need arises. But golf courses are covered by a Clause that is in no way unique. Fourteen boroughs in the last ten years have included such a Clause. The provision of zoos, botanical gardens and roller skating all have good precedents—not merely in law but, because of the surrounding boundaries of most of our towns, good precedents in good sense. It is necessary, for good planning reasons, to give boroughs powers and rights to have their amenities in the land of their neighbours.

The factor that concerns my hon. and gallant Friend most is the hovercraft. It is not surprising that should be so. There is no direct precedent for the provision of a hovercraft at this moment, although I suspect that this question will be raised on occasions in the future. As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South has already pointed out, there is a near precedent in the Southampton Corporation Act 1960, in Section 96, which gives the corporation power to provide boating facilities with hards and hard standing for the boats and to provide for the maintenance of slipways, jetties, moorings and other works which may be necessary. The Bill goes further, in enabling the corporation virtually to change the nature of Southampton Water. Blackpool has not yet become so ambitious, but the works provided for in that Bill are of a similar nature to those for which we are asking in this Bill.

We are rightly asked, "Is there a need?" The first and easy answer—perhaps it is a lawyer's answer, in that it is convincing to some—is that this need has been argued in front of Committees in the House of Lords and the House of Commons and those Committees have both accepted the need. There was rigorous cross-examination and inquiry into those points.

I need not go any further than to say that while imagination at the moment may envisage hovercraft being used for trips up and down the coast, or up and down to Southport and other towns, or to the lakeland coast, the future must envisage the prospect of hovercraft needing to go to the Isle of Man. Already more than 100,000 people fly from our airport every year, and the transport of mail and persons to the island will have to be given more consideration by those who run such transport facilities.

It has been emphasised that we ask for nothing more than that which an ordinary private individual could have. If the land were let tomorrow to an entrepreneur who wished to build a hoverport, subject to the careful provision already emphasised by the Minister he would, it he could get planning permission, be allowed to run it. Lytham St. Anne's is asking the House to say, "What is all right for the private person—the person who hires the land from Blackpool and then puts in for planning permission—would not be all right for Blackpool itself." I cannot follow that argument or understand the logic of that situation.

I understand clearly the worry of the borough about noise and disturbance. I shall pass over the question briefly, because my hon. and gallant Friend has already dealt with it in some detail, by simply reminding the House that the area proposed is immediately adjacent to our boundary. It is in an area where there are few people and where the hinterland is made up entirely of Blackpool airfield.

A new objection, to me at any rate, is that sand yachting would be interfered with. That could be serious, and it is an important aspect of the matter. I believe that there are only one or two areas in the country which are suitable for sand yachting. I think that Lytham is one and I believe that there is another in the North of Scotland. I do not think that the number of hovercraft coming in and going out are likely to make much difference to sand yachting races, or to sand yachting exercises. It would be optimistic to imagine that any hoverport would be used to such an extent that it became impossible to use the land in front of it for the usual purpose of land yachting, as at the moment.

The first of the most important points in this matter is that we are asking for no more, as a public authority, than what the private person can have. The other most important point is that one that has already been made by the Minister, namely, that if Blackpool seeks to run hovercraft from this site the very first people they must ask permission from is Lytham St. Annes, which is the delegated planning authority, and which has the right—and no doubt it would exercise it—to say "No".

Colonel Lancaster

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Lancashire County Council is also in agreement with Lytham St. Annes Corporation that the area on which it is proposed to run these hovercraft should be retained as a green wedge between the two municipalities?

Mr. Miscampbell

I am quite prepared to accept that. It reinforces my point. All such objections—the objection of the Lancashire County Council and of Lytham and all other interested parties— would be fully aired at the inquiry run by the Ministry. If Blackpool were to get the right to run the hovercraft it would simply be a permission to ask for permission. That is all that Blackpool is asking for today. It is asking for the right to say to the planning authorities, "The time has come for us seriously to consider running a hovercraft. We have our proposals before our committees. We are ready to go. May we do it?". Then the whole planning position would be considered, first by Lytham and then—anticipating its refusal—by the Minister. What greater assurance of security can Lytham have than that? For that reason and the many others than have been urged, I support the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill considered accordingly.

Standing Order 205 (Notice of Third reading) suspended; Bill to be read the Third time forthwith.—[The Chairman of Ways and Means.]

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with Amendments.

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