HC Deb 05 February 1970 vol 795 cc755-66

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

10.10 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)

My hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) and I had some discussions with my hon. Friend the Minister shortly before Christmas on the very serious and developing problem of unemployment in our area, and particularly about how one could best speed up sites for the new industry which is so badly needed there.

The situation in South Shields at least—it is different in Jarrow—has not improved. We now have about 2,944 men out of work in South Shields at the moment, including 550 or more older miners, who have been affected by some of the serious pit closures which we have suffered. In addition, we have a heavy number of ship repair workers, and a particularly large number of building and constructional engineering workers who are also out of work, including 108 joiners. In addition to the older men, 150 young men under 30 have been out of work for longer than six months. This is a serious position, in spite of the encouraging development of shipbuilding in the area and on the river generally.

There is, clearly, an urgent need for new major industry in South Shields or in the immediate vicinity to employ a considerable number of men. Fortunately, there is a whole range of Government incentives to encourage industry to come in, and these have been very successful over large parts of the area, particularly further inland and up towards Newcastle itself. So far, they have not been successful in the South Shields area, partly because there are very few adequate sites available for major industry. Small sites are available, and one does not discount these, but for the kind of large industry which we want to attract, there is very little opportunity at the moment.

I want to ask for my hon. Friend's support in getting sites cleared and made available as quickly as possible. There are three or four major proposals, some of which affect Jarrow. First, there is the Tyne Dock area in my constituency, where the Port of Tyne Authority is now beginning to reclaim part of the area for an industrial site. About 21 acres will eventually become available.

Immediately adjoining is the much larger area in my hon. Friend's constituency, Jarrow Slake, which, historically, has been talked of as a possible redevelopment area almost from the time of the Romans. The Venerable Bede looked out from his church just at the edge of Jarrow Slake and no doubt commented on the waste area which lay before him. Now, the Port of Tyne Authority has decided that it can go ahead and reclaim that area, too. If that were done it would provide a magnificent industrial site of well over 100 acres, which would be of real importance.

At the back of that, over the main road, is another useful area, called Middlefields, part of which has just been obtained by the South Shields Corporation from British Rail for a big incinerator plant. Part further back could no doubt also be obtained from British Rail and would make available 20 or 30 acres for potential industrial development.

We have to add to that the other possible site in the future, the area which has been occupied by Harton Pit, lying a little further inland, and which now has had to be abandoned. The last men and ponies came out a few days ago. We need to speed up there, to clear the headgear and make arrangements for clearance because, there again is another potential site for light industry. It is close to a very important new residential area.

The other sites I mentioned earlier, Tyne Dock and the Middlefields regions, are particularly valuable industrial sites. They are right up to the river on very good road communications, particularly now with the new roads north and south under the river. As work is proceeding, I doubt whether we could get some of those sites ready for a few years ahead. We cannot afford to wait that long. Other work is likely to diminish. There are grave fears about the future of the iron ore industry trade into Tyne Dock which may end in two or three years' time and add further to unemployment in the area.

We must have new industry in quickly. Discussions are taking place with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government about how this reclamation work can be speeded up. The difficulty at the moment, the Port of Tyne Authority tells me, is that as things stand it is not entitled to a grant for this work, although if the land were in the hands of the local authority it would be able to claim a grant. My first question must be: is this true? Is there no grant available for this important reclamation work? There can be no doubt that some of the area, particularly in the Jarrow Slake area, is particularly derelict, as anyone who goes there can see.

It seems extraordinary if there is no way of helping financially with this job of reclamation. If there is not, the danger is that the P.T.A. will simply have to wait until suitable infilling material becomes available nearby. This may take a number of years, and we cannot afford to wait.

We must have some answer about the possibility of support to get the work carried through much more quickly. Is it not possible to divert some of the waste from the Westoe Pit, the very successful modern pit that is employing 2,000 men in South Shields? Waste from that pit goes into hoppers and out to sea from Tyne Dock. Why not use that waste at Tyne Dock and Jarrow Slake to speed up the reclamation work? Can we not use some of the land immediately behind which has to be cleared anyhow to get ahead with the building of the incinerator?

Can we not speed up some of the road plans for the entry into South Shields? At the moment there is a plan which has been approved by the Government costing £1 million altogether, which would clear away the old archways and the rather dark and gloomy entrance to the town, making way for a new carriageway. If that were done we would immediately get further material which could be used for Jarrow Slake and Tyne Dock infilling. We would also get an alternative entry into the potential new industrial sites lying at the back, in Middlefields.

This seems to me sensible, but the local authority feels at the moment that it cannot afford the £250,000 it would have to find. I understand some of its difficulties and I therefore ask the Government—I have already been in touch with the responsible Ministry—to see whether they cannot find some additional funds to help get on with the job, which was scheduled to start this year but, I fear, may be delayed for a year or two, possibly longer. Can the Government help us in speeding up the clearance of the Harton Pit site, which is the other site available?

Would it be possible, in conjunction with the Ministries concerned, to start up a further mid-Tyne industrial estate on the areas that may be available, or some which I think may be available in Hebburn and Jarrow, bringing together some of these not wholly used sites in order to develop a new trading estate? Or cannot we at least have this Middle-fields site added to the existing Bede industrial estate as an annexe to it, perhaps run by the Industrial Estates Corporation?

Finally, cannot the Government review the possibility of making South Shields a special development area with special status? Shields has been hit to a quite exceptional extent, just as other small towns inland have been hit, by pit closures, and we have had to suffer this very heavy unemployment, in spite of the helpful and encouraging developments elsewhere, for far too long. We admit fully that we now have far better welfare provisions for those out of work, but that is no answer to the demands of the large number of men we have in South Shields who desperately want work to do.

10.22 p.m.

Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) for curtailing his remarks so that I may speak. I am aware that my hon. Friend the Minister of State understands our problems completely. We have made private representations to him but there is so much interest in this matter in our respective constituencies that I hope that it will be possible for him to give us some satisfying information, particularly about Jarrow Slake.

This is an area of 117 acres. At one time it was equivalent to what I would call the River Don. A visit was made by a Government Minister to Jarrow, and in consequence we got that eyesore cleaned up. If this other eyesore could be cleaned up as well and made available for industry, it would be a great attraction. I believe that, no matter how the existing industries may expand, there will never be enough jobs unless new industry is attracted, and here is a piece of land which, with the surrounding land, makes a total of 154 acres, which would make an ideal industrial site.

In view of what we are doing now, particularly about environment, I would not like to think that we were going to be slow in dealing with this matter; so I hope my hon. Friend will do all he can to speed up the reclamation of the land.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields mentioned Harton. I am in a similar position in relation to Whitburn Colliery, which closed about two years ago. Here again, there might be, if a really good job were done, land which would give employment to the people of Whitburn. When the colliery, which employed 700 or 800 people, closed, it was a deathly blow to that community.

We still have a great need for the renewal of our social furniture. In the last two months I have been in two schools which are literally a disgrace. Many hon. Members would not permit their children to go to such schools. I know that this is not my hon. Friend's problem, but I hope that he will try to get the Department of Education and Science and other Departments which are involved in the building of social furniture to look at these areas. This is one way in which many of the unemployed building workers could be found the jobs which they require. If the Port of Tyne Authority feels that for financial reasons it cannot do the job as quickly as it should be done, I hope my hon. Friend will be able to persuade the Board of Trade to purchase the land and erect upon it the factories which will bring the employment which South Shields and Jarrow so badly need.

10.26 p.m.

The Minister of State (Mr. T. W. Urwin)

I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) on raising this important matter, and my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) on his participation. They have for some time been pressing these issues privately with me.

The Government fully appreciate that South Shields and the neighbouring areas are facing a difficult problem from the loss of jobs in their traditional industries and they share the concern that is felt at the current high level of unemployment there and on Tyneside generally.

The situation, although partly a reflection of the national level of economic activity and of pressures to increase productivity, is largely a consequence of the rapid transition now taking place in the industrial structure of the North-East, and, in particular, of the run-down in coalmining employment.

I have no desire to enter into conflict with my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields about the statistics which he quoted, but he referred to the number of older miners on the unemployment register. This is the measure of the problem that has manifested itself in the Northern Region over the last few years. Since December 1965, the number of "wage-earners" employed in coal mining on Tyneside has fallen from 15,100 to 7,850, a reduction of 7,250 jobs. It is a formidable task for the Government to keep pace with this measure of job loss, and to create the new opportunity which is required.

If South Shields shares in the problems of structural change now taking place on Tyneside, it shares also in the benefits of the Government's regional policy for the attraction of new industry to that area and the encouragement of expansion in existing industry, and—of particular relevance to South Shields—the financial assistance given to shipbuilding.

My hon. Friend properly draws attention to the benefits of the incentives applied by central Government. Everything possible is being done by the Ministry of Technology to attract industry into the area. Since January, 1966, 191 industrial development certificates have been approved for Tyneside, from which it is estimated that nearly 9,600 jobs will accrue. There are currently some 6,300 jobs in prospect there over the next four years in manufacturing industry alone, including 3,800 for males. In the South Shields, Jarrow and Hebburn areas, the number of I.D.Cs. and factories allocated, which do not require I.D.Cs., totalled 36 over the same period, with estimated additional employment of 3,400 including 1,630 male jobs. Additionally, construction of a 15,000 sq. ft. advance factory on the Bede Estate will begin shortly.

That these efforts are meeting with considerable success is seen in the fact that in the South Shields, Jarrow and Hebburn areas there were 655 fewer people unemployed this January than there were in January last year, despite the fact that some 850 jobs were lost there as recently as last September when the Harton Colliery closed.

In looking at the problems of the area, my hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the scarcity of developable industrial land. The decline of coalmining on Tyneside, and, in consequence, the decline of coal shipments and the fall in the numbers employed in shipbuilding and ship-repairing, has contributed in recent years to creating a sizeable problem in providing land for new industry. Moreover, not only are the sites that were suitable for the old industry not always suitable for the new, but modern industry tends to require ever larger areas to employ a given number of workers.

In South Shields itself, which is almost completely built up within its existing boundaries, there is indeed only a very limited amount of land available for new industry, and such as there is consists of sites which are very small.

There is, however, a distinct possibility that land at Middlefields, to which my hon. Friend made reference, might become available; but not, unfortunately, immediately. This is an area comprising about 40 acres of derelict land which was formerly used as railway sidings and feeders to the coal staithes projecting into Tyne dock.

The South Shields County Borough Council is acquiring part of it—about 18 acres—on which to build a new incinerator for use jointly by the South Shields, Jarrow and Hebburn authorities. I also understand that the council is now considering acquisition of the whole Middle-fields site, and it is discussing with the Port of Tyne Authority the possibility of combining clearance of the site with the infilling of part of Tyne dock. The port authority has in mind that if sufficient material can be obtained—about 1.2 million tons will be needed—the newly created land can be offered for development by industry requiring river facilities.

If the council acquires the whole site it will be able to deal with its reclamation in one operation, and the 21 acres not needed for the incinerator plant could be put into a condition suitable for new industrial development. An application from the council for grant for dealing with the dereliction would certainly receive sympathetic consideration.

Both my hon. Friends have referred to the Jarrow Slake. The Port of Tyne Authority has been exploring this fairly large area of land with the object of producing some 92 acres for new industrial development. The present position is that no sources of waste material in the quantities required—nearly 2 million tons will be needed altogether—are readily available within a financially acceptable distance. The port authority will be keeping the situation under review, however, and it is understood that it is now in touch with the Coal Board to see whether any cheaper methods of obtaining filling material can be found than have so far been considered, including the possibility—this is my hon. Friend's point—of using colliery waste now being dumped at sea.

The Port of Tyne Authority has asked the Minister of Transport whether he is able to pay grant under Section 12 of the Harbours Act, 1964, towards the cost of reclamation. This raises certain difficult issues of policy which are still being considered. I understand that my right hon. Friend has recently written to my hon. Friend on this matter explaining that his Department will be in touch with the port authority as soon as possible.

My hon. Friend has also referred to the possibility of a derelict land reclamation grant being given to the port authority. Under existing legislation, derelict land reclamation grants are payable only to local authorities. However, as Jarrow Slake is in its natural state and is not derelict in the legal sense of the term as a result of damage by industrial or other development, the question of a derelict land reclamation grant under the Industrial Development Act, 1966, does not and cannot arise. It also equally rules out the powers conferred on the Ministry of Technology to acquire the Slake and carry out work on it.

In the closely built up Tyneside area it becomes increasingly necessary to look beyond the immediate area for industrial space and, therefore, for employment. The Ministry of Technology has considered the possibility of a mid-Tyne trading estate, but at present sees no need to develop a new Government trading estate in the area. The employment needs of South Shields must be looked at in the light of South Tyneside as a whole. I do not need to remind my hon. Friends of the industrial developments taking place further afield at Team Valley and the Washington new town. Nevertheless, the Government will give sympathetic consideration, within their statutory powers, to proposals aimed at speeding the clearance and development of sites suitable for industry in South Shields and neighbouring areas.

My hon. Friend referred to the Harton colliery site. Here the local authority, whilst concentrating on the Middlefields area, has also indicated to the owners that industrial development on the Harton site would be considered favourably. The industry would obviously have to be of the right kind as there are a hospital and housing very near the site.

My hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow properly raised the question of the Whit-burn colliery site. I understand that the site has been cleared of buildings, but it is in the approved Green Belt. This would present a formidable difficulty in the way of any proposal for conversion to industrial use.

In looking at the whole question of industrial development and the availability of industrial land, my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields is obviously right to draw attention to what is a natural corollary—communications. As for the timing of road schemes in South Shields, it is true that the county borough council, as the highway authority, has decided to defer the start of works on Part I of a programmed principal road improvement scheme, known as the Western Approach extension. The estimated cost is £384,000. Stage II, which is also programmed, is estimated to cost £700,000. I am aware of the point my hon. Friend makes about the financial circumstances of the local authority. This applies to quite a number of others. Nevertheless, he has written to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, I understand, asking that South Shields should be given special financial assistance for this scheme by way of a grant in excess of the normal 75 per cent.

My hon. Friend makes the point that this road improvement would produce waste material which could be used as in-fill for the Jarrow Slake reclamation. Doubtless he is referring to old mineral lines and unused bridges, some of which are on the line of the proposed road improvement. But in-fill from this source is not dependent on a start of work on the road improvement scheme.

My hon. Friend also referred to unemployment in the construction industry. This is not singular to the Northern region. It is discouraging, but it is a national trend, due in some measure to the decline in the number of houses approved for tender in the local authority sector, which is, to say the least, quite disappointing.

But the Government have no power to dictate to local authorities what the level of their housing programmes must be. One would hope that they would pay due regard, in considering such important matters, to the social responsibility devolving upon them in relation to the provision of new housing.

Finally, my hon. Friend referred to the desirability, at least, of bestowing S.D.A. status on the South Shields area and adjoining areas. I must remind him that on the introduction of the special development area policy the criteria which applied, and still apply, were heavy job loss in the coalmining industry and persistent unemployment as a result of colliery closures where there are few opportunities for alternative employment. Despite the high unemployment in the South Shields and adjoining areas, they still do not measure up to those criteria for designation as special development areas.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Is my hon. Friend aware that male unemployment there is 10 per cent., and has been for two years?

Mr. Urwin

Yes, but it is not wholly attributable to the declining job opportunity in the coalmining industry, which is applicable to other parts of the Northern region, as my hon. Friend very well knows.

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at twenty minutes to Eleven o'clock.