HC Deb 28 April 1971 vol 816 cc423-5
43. Mr. David Stoddart

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what new steps he intends to take to prevent the further despoiling of the countryside by gravel workings.

Mr. Graham Page

Suitably stringent conditions attached to planning permissions for new workings can reduce environmental effects and secure suitable after-treatment. I have asked the local authority associations to furnish me with any evidence of difficulties over such conditions.

Mr. Stoddart

Is the Minister aware that that answer is completely unsatisfactory? Is he also aware that many areas, including the Thames Valley and parts of Wiltshire, in which my constituency lies, have become vast stagnant lakes despoiling the country? Will he give further advice to local authorities telling them that they should not be "conned" by gravel-working contractors into allowing "water parks" to go on in perpetuity and that they should insist that these workings are in-filled when the gravel has been extracted?

Mr. Page

It is within the power of the local authorities to impose restoration conditions of this sort on planning permissions for gravel workings. We have recently received the three reports of the local authority working party studying the problem of sand and gravel production in parts of south-east England, and other working parties are being set up to study this. If the local authority associations can produce to me evidence that there are occasions of difficulty in enforcing the conditions I will try to assist.

Mr. John Hall

Is my hon. Friend aware that that lovely part of the Thames Valley that runs through my constituency is being increasingly pockmarked by gravel workings? Is he further aware that it will be many years, certainly beyond the lifetime of many residents, before these gravel workings are restored? Would he not agree that the present known sources of gravel are likely to run out by 1980? Should we not now be looking at alternatives?

Mr. Page

This is exactly what we are looking at in the working parties set up to cover almost the whole of the South-East. We have a departmental official working party looking into the question of the use of waste material—instead of gravel and good material—for road filling, for example.

Mr. J. T. Price

Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that I and other hon. Members share the apprehensions of my hon. Friend who tabled this Question about uncontrollable despoliation of the countryside? Is he aware that some of the finest scenery in England is being destroyed by unregulated and illogical developments of this kind? Is he further aware that, in the opinion of myself and other hon. Members who have taken the trouble to study this question, the delegation of planning power to rural authorities, without any control by the county authorities, which have proper expertise to form a judgment on these matters, is a very bad thing which ought to be reconsidered by the central Government?

Mr. Page

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we share his anxiety about gravel pit workings as they are at present. We believe that the local authorities have power to enforce conditions which will restore the workings to an environmentally good condition, and we are willing to help where it is necessary. But legal powers exist.

Mr. Charles Morrison

Will my hon. Friend pay particular attention to the use of slag heaps as an alternative source of hard core instead of gravel? Will he also remember that gravel pits can be usefully developed for the general good as recreational facilities? Will he give every encouragement to local authorities to further the use of gravel pits in that way?

Mr. Page

We are permitting the use of the product of slag heaps for certain road fill. There are two very good examples of gravel pits being used for recreational purposes: at the Cotswolds Water Park and at Wraysbury.

Mr. Leonard

Will the hon. Gentleman reconsider his recent decision to include gravel workings in the partial derating of mineral hereditaments?

Mr. Page

No, Sir.

Mr. Emery

Will my hon. Friend consider the problems involved when local authorities do not take into consideration the long-term factors of gravel workings and will not give approval for long-term usage? It is only if planning permission is given for long-term use that the necessary natural barriers can be created and landscaping can be carried out by firms to stop the type of despoliation to which we all object?

Mr. Page

Yes, Sir. I should like to see local authorities impose conditions for restoration in the course of workings and not wait until the end of the workings.