HC Deb 31 March 1971 vol 814 cc1493-4
26. Mr. Blenkinsop

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he has now authorised the Joint Tyneside Sewerage Treatment and Disposal Scheme.

Mr. Peter Walker

As the hon. Member will now be aware, on 9th March I agreed to a capital spending programme of some £30 million to clean up the Tyne, and to an immediate start on the scheme for the south western part of the Tyneside Joint Sewerage Board's area. Since then, with a view to approval of other works, my Department has begun discussions with the Board on technical questions arising from the investigation of the Board's scheme—including the question of the method of disposal to be adopted for the rest of the Board's area.

Mr. Blenkinsop

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's statement that, after a considerable delay, a start is to be made on this major scheme. Why has the long-term technical investigation been set aside for what we regard as a retrograde proposal that great masses of untreated sewage should be pumped out to sea on the north side of the river?

Mr. Walker

It will not be completely untreated sewage. I am advised that technically, from the point of view of pollution of the river and the coast, the suggestion which we have made is the best. The sewerage board thinks otherwise. Therefore, I thought that the best thing to do was to enable the experts of both sides to get together quickly and to come to a conclusion. They got together on 25th March, and as soon as they decide the best scheme to deal with pollution I shall approve it.

Dame Irene Ward

I thank my right hon. Friend for his last statement and for receiving the representations which I made on behalf of my constituents who were frightened about the flow-back on the beaches. Can he say how long he thinks the experts on both sides will take to resolve this question, which is very important for the whole of Tyneside and all our beaches?

Mr. Walker

I have instructed the officials in my Department to be as speedy as possible. I am grateful for my hon. Friend's remarks. I can assure her that the final decision will be taken on the basis of which system causes the least pollution to her constituency.

Mr. Bob Brown

I am grateful for the original reply and for the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has committed his Department to look at the secondary problem, but would he now give an undertaking that the best solution is the solution which has been arrived at after many years of filth on Tyneside and that the best solution, not the cheapest, will be the one for which he goes?

Mr. Walker

Certainly the best, not necessarily the cheapest.

Dame Irene Ward

Hon. Members should congratulate the Minister.

Mr. R. W. Elliott

May I also thank the Minister for his initiative in this regard? This is a problem which has been with us for far too long. Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is considerable professional support for the Howden disposal scheme?

Mr. Walker

I am anxious to make the best technical assessment I can and then to get on with the job.