HC Deb 17 March 1971 vol 813 cc1417-20

The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:


To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, when he expects to be able to announce his conclusion on the recommendations of the Water Resources Board desk study entitled The Wash Estuary Storage.


To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, whether he is able to announce his decisions on the proposals for a desalination plant at Ipswich and for a feasibility study of a Wash Barrage Scheme.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Peter Walker)

I will, with permission answer Oral Question 71 and Written Question 55 together.

I have carefully examined both these projects and I have decided that they both have sufficient potential to justify the public expenditure necessary for both proposals to proceed.

In total, about £4 million will be spent on these two projects, the £4 million being divided equally between the two.

The desalination scheme at Ipswich will be carried out in conjunction with the Atomic Energy Authority and Simon Engineering Limited. The pilot plant will extend the work on the freezing process and eventually will operate with a capacity of about one million gallons per day. The authorised expenditure will include provision for a thorough investigation of any ecological effects of the disposal of concentrated cold brine into the estuary.

If a satisfactory quality of water is produced it will be used to augment Ipswich County Borough's water supplies.

The feasibility study of a Wash barrage was recommended by the Water Resources Board. The last Government authorised a desk study only, which was submitted to me on 17th July, 1970. It recommended authorisation forthwith of a feasibility study of up to four pumped storage bunded reservoirs. If the study is successful, water could be produced from the scheme in the early 1980s. If such a scheme was carried out it would, of course, have important regional planning aspects and would be of assistance in diminishing the need for the use of good agricultural land for the purpose of reservoirs.

Sir G. de Freitas

I welcome the Minister's statement. When considering this Wash Estuary storage scheme, will the Minister remember that it is not so much a barrage scheme as more possibly a financially acceptable reservoir scheme, and also that the need in the East Midlands, which is developing industrially so rapidly, is as great as in East Anglia?

Mr. Walker

I recognise this need and I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for pointing it out. If the first of the reservoirs is successful it could produce up to between 50 million and 100 million gallons of water a day, so it is of immense importance.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Whilst greatly welcoming my right hon Friend's decision today, may I ask, if the time scale necessary to produce increased supplies of water is likely to take us into the 1980s, to what extent my right hon. Friend feels that it will be necessary to review the various reservoir schemes which have been put before him?

Mr. Walker

I must make it clear that no matter how successful these schemes are there is a serious nation-wide water problem. I cannot say that there will not be a need for further reservoirs. If these schemes are successful they will diminish the need.

Dr. Miller

Will the right hon. Gentleman, when considering this matter, take advice from his biochemical experts to ensure that there is enough calcium in the water, if it is to be used for drinking purposes, to prevent deaths from low calcium due to a sudden heart disease?

Mr. Walker

Yes. I shall take the best possible advice.

Mr. Turton

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for what appears to be a great advance in producing the foundation of a water policy. Will my right hon. Friend tell us whether he has any plans for the Morecambe Bay Barrage Scheme, which would make a more complete water policy than that which he has announced today?

Mr. Walker

I am still awaiting the report of the feasibility study which is taking place on the Morecambe Bay Barrage Scheme. I shall have to await this report to decide what action can be taken.

Mr. Denis Howell

Does the desk study which has been received satisfy the Minister about the engineering difficulties, particularly the question of shifting sand, and so on?

Secondly, will the Secretary of State tell us, if this scheme prospers, as all would hope, what will be the total quantities of water which will be available; what will be the cost per 1,000 gallons compared with the traditional methods of obtaining water; and as the amount of water involved is likely to be enormous, as we hope, will this not mean that we shall need some new system, such as the grid system, in order that these large quantities which we are likely to get from the Wash can be got to the Midlands and London and other places quite a distance away from the area?

Mr. Walker

We are examining the whole policy towards water resources, and I shall be making a statement on that after the report of the Central Advisory Water Committee.

The object of the feasibility study is to give us the answers to the kind of questions asked by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Money

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this forward-looking decision will be most warmly welcomed in the Ipswich area both with regard to the potential involved in it and the work which it will bring for the construction industry in the district? For the unemployed in the area, this is probably the best piece of news we have had this week.

Mr. Walker

I hope that it will be of assistance and that the people of Ipswich will enjoy their water.

Mr. Farr

As it has been forecast that in the South-East there will be a shortage of fresh water within the foreseeable future, will my right hon. Friend tell us what plans he has for further desalination schemes there?

Mr. Walker

This is the most important development yet. This plant will be the biggest of its type in the world and, if successful, obviously we could copy it elsewhere.

Mr. Ron Lewis

Will the Minister now go further and have a look at the Solway Barrage Scheme?

Mr. Walker

Not today.

Mr. Body

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the feasibility study of the Wash will have regard to the interests of the ports, especially the Port of Boston, which has tremendous possibilities of expanding its traffic for the growth of trade with Europe, which we all welcome? Will my right hon. Friend also give an assurance that the fishermen who use these ports will not be adversely affected, as they are in danger of being adversely affected by the common fisheries policy?

Mr. Walker

I do not think that the feasibility study which I have announced today will have any drastic effects on the Port of Boston.

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