HC Deb 21 July 1970 vol 804 cc500-6

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

5.3 a.m.

Sir Richard Thompson (Croydon, South)

After the wide-ranging debates in the early part of this morning and last night, I turn without apology to a more earthy and domestic theme—the smells and noises which oppress my constituents in Therapia Lane. I hope that the presence of my hon. Friend the Minister means that we shall be able to do something about it.

Therapia Lane is a pleasant road built in the early 1930s at a time when the houses in it formed a pleasant secluded residential oasis off the busy Mitcham Road. That is the sort of condition that the inhabitants would like to see it in now, but, alas, times have changed.

A small industrial estate has been established just outside the Croydon border which has had the effect of turning this formerly peaceful road into something like a motorway. The only access to the estate is through Therapia Lane, and the nature of the activity carried on there results in a constant stream of heavy lorries going through which have entirely destroyed the former peaceful character of that road.

Various firms have set up in the estate and one which has given rise to a great deal of criticism in the area is a refuse disposal firm. Its lorries, many of them 14-tonners, go to and fro making sometimes 80 trips a day, working on Saturday mornings, late at night and sometimes on Sundays. They have transformed peaceful Therapia Lane into a veritable hell of noise, vibration, danger to pedestrians and children, smells and general disturbance.

My constituents did not buy their houses for this. They hoped that they would be living in a peaceful, quiet and orderly environment. This is not what they pay rates for. Their protests about all this nuisance up to now have been ineffectual. They have been driven to holding a street demonstration blocking the road so that the lorries cannot go down it, in their frustration because nothing has been done to mitigate the situation.

Matters were brought to a head a week or two ago when the firm which operated the lorries, F.J.E. Refuse Disposal Ltd., put in an application to Sutton Council to be allowed to enlarge its activities by the construction of a loading ramp for the lorries. This could only mean more traffic in an area already overburdened and where the roads were not built to carry it.

Originally planning consent for this was granted, but subsequently, following residents' protests, Sutton decided at a higher level to defer the matter. I am determined to get a satisfactory solution to this very unsatisfactory situation. It can be done. I have found that all the parties involved are ready to co-operate. Sutton obviously has had second thoughts about the wisdom of giving further planning consent. Croydon has a duty to its ratepayers to do all it can for them and has already indicated to me that it might be able to provide an alternative site for this firm of refuse disposers which might settle the problem.

I am glad that the firm, with whom I have been in direct touch, is ready to co-operate. It has told me that if a suitable alternative site can be found it is prepared to move in a week. There is only one answer; an alternative site must be found—not in a few years time, that will not do, we have waited long enough—it must be found speedily. The ideal site cannot be put in proper shape overnight to receive industry. There are services,—drainage, sewers, water supply, and so on—to be provided. I am told that this is possible. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to tell me that when Croydon puts in for loan sanction to provide these necessary works his Department will grant it. This would be a great help to us.

I therefore hope that by the end of this debate my hon. Friend will be able to give assurances which will have the effect of my being able to tell my constituents that at last we have managed to break this impasse, that at last the local authorities concerned have agreed on a suitable alternative site for the refuse disposal unit, and that the effect of moving to the new site will be to stop the excessive industrial traffic and all that goes with it that now passes through Therapia Lane.

If my hon. Friend can give me an assurance such as that, I can tell him that a long-standing grievance among my constituents will have been removed. It is particularly appropriate in conservation year, when we talk so much of the quality of our environment, that my hon. Friend should be able to tell me what steps he can take to restore a decent civilised environment to my sorely tried constituents in Therapia Lane. If he can do this—I believe that the problem can be solved—he will certainly earn their gratitude and mine.

5.12 a.m.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Graham Page)

My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Sir R. Thompson) is to be congratulated on calling the attention of the House to the very real hardships which are being suffered by his constituents who reside in the vicinity of Therapia Lane, Croydon, which he said was previously a happy and peaceful oasis. I understand that these hardships have already been aired in a formidable street demonstration and also in a public meeting where there were present 250 of the residents and the representatives of Croydon and Sutton.

These hardships arise from the fact that Therapia Lane is the only access to and egress from the industrial estate to which my hon. Friend has referred known as the New Britannia Wharf. I believe that there is no other practical route to this site. New Britannia Wharf is a former railway goods yard and it is used not only by the undertaking to which my hon. Friend referred—the refuse disposal company—but also by a concrete mixing plant company, Readymix Concrete Limited, and by a plant hire depot, Dudley Vale Metal Union Plant Hire Limited. I understand that each of these undertakings uses vehicles which make what my hon. Friend has called a hell of a noise, disturbance and smell, and which have turned peaceful Therapia Lane into something like a motorway to the distress of the residents there.

The residents can be thankful that they have in my hon. Friend an advocate who will bring their case to the attention of the House, as he has this morning.

Although sympathising with those residents in the serious loss of amenity which they are suffering, one cannot overlook the fact that the firms whose business is on this industrial site are going about their lawful business to the advantage of the public, and I suppose particularly of Croydon and Sutton, in providing cement, in providing contractors' equipment, and in disposing of waste. I say "go about their lawful business", but there is doubt whether the refuse disposal company had planning permission to carry on that business on that site.

The case is complicated by the fact that the residents concerned are in Croydon and the industrial estate where the work is carried on is in Sutton. It is said that the refuse disposal company has been operating without the benefit of planning permission and, therefore, it recently applied for such permission, its application being to Sutton. The House will appreciate that I cannot express any opinion on that application or on any other application which may be made for other sites. These applications for planning permission might be refused and they might, therefore, come to my right hon. Friend the Minister in a quasi-judicial capacity. I must, therefore, refrain from making any comments on their merits in this debate.

I can, however, record the facts and express hopes as to the solution of the problem which is set by the conflict between the amenities of a residential area and the business interests of certain useful undertakings which I have mentioned. Upon learning of the disposal company's application to Sutton, Croydon, as my hon. Friend has said, proposed alternative sites. I understand that if the parties agree, there will first be a temporary site for the disposal company which will later be moved to a more permanent site. These sites are in Sutton but they belong to Croydon. I understand that negotiations are proceeding well and may be finalised even, perhaps, at a meeting today, or, at least, at a meeting in the early part of August. I hope that the negotiations will succeed.

They will not solve all the difficulties because these negotiations concern the disposal company alone and there are still the other two companies concerned. It is, however, the disposal company, with the 14-ton lorries which my hon. Friend has described, which I think is causing the most disturbance to the residents. This will, therefore, be a substantial solution, if not the whole solution to the problem. At least, it is a start in relieving the residents without putting valuable undertakings out of business.

I said that I could express hopes about the solution. I must disappoint my hon. Friend when I say that I can do no more than express hopes. This is not a case in which the Minister can interfere at this stage. The issues are purely local and in due course my right hon. Friend the Minister will see the propositions put before him by the local authorities concerned. It certainly is not at this stage a case for the Minister to call in for his own decision. It is not a case of substantial departure from the development plan which would have to be brought before the Minister and it is not a case in which there could be discontinuance of the permitted user, which, again, would come before the Minister.

It may be that my hon. Friend's activity and energy over this case has spurred the two councils to coming to an agreement on an appropriate and adequate site for these businesses which will relieve the residents of the hardships which they are suffering.

If the solution to the problem costs money, my hon. Friend asks, will Croydon receive loan sanction? I cannot commit my right hon. Friend to payment of a blank cheque. As I said, this is a local issue, and any decision on loan sanction must depend upon the proposals put forward by the local authorities concerned, the sort of proposals which they desire to make for drainage, for access, and so on, for the new alternative sites. But I am sure that I can go so far as to say that the two councils seem now to be acting in an eminently sensible way in offering alternative sites, particularly for the disposal company's business, and my right hon. Friend the Minister would be most reluctant to find himself as a stumbling block to a solution of the problem so lucidly and forcefully presented by my hon. Friend this morning.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty minutes past Five o'clock a.m.