HC Deb 07 December 1972 vol 847 cc1768-96

8.6 p.m.

Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

It cannot be disputed that South-East Essex, which I have had the honour to represent for many years, has grown faster than almost any other part of the country in the past decade, or that it will continue to grow very rapidly in the decade ahead. The process of growth will be accelerated by the development of the third London airport and a new container seaport on land reclaimed from the sea off Foulness Island, which is also in my constituency.

All this will bring massive change to the environment in which our existing and future population will live. It is my intention, as the constituency Member most closely concerned, to ensure that as far as is humanly possible such change is for the better rather than for the worse. That is why I have consistently argued that planning decisions in South-East Essex should be made not in isolation but with regard to the totality of their effect upon our environment as a whole, bearing in mind that the capacity of the area to take growth on the scale expected is limited. It is because there is still some doubt in my mind about this that I raise the matter now and seek from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State certain specific assurances.

Our environment in South-East Essex is already under assault from a number of directions. I should like to give the House just four examples. I could give more, but I shall concentrate on those. First, my hon. Friend will recall the decision last year to permit Occidental Oil to establish a large refinery on Canvey Island, where over 28,000 of my constituents have their homes. That was despite strong opposition from both the residents and the local authorities. My hon. Friend will be aware that all around my constituency there is a steady buildup of refinery capacity, that the neighbouring refineries at Coryton and Shell-haven are being allowed to double their output that the refinery opposite us on the Isle of Grain is being allowed to treble its output and that a new refinery is to be built at Cliffe.

Whether or not all that means an increase in atmospheric pollution harmful to health, it certainly means an increase in unpleasantness. On certain days noxious smells extend over a wide area. It means too an increase in the heavy tanker traffic in our congested river lanes and the building up of industrial fire risks in an area where the existing level is already too high. I am mentioning only the refineries, but I could talk also about oil-fired power stations.

Yet against that background we are faced with another application from another international oil company, United Refineries, to build a second refinery on Canvey Island, where, I repeat, 28,000 people have their homes, next door to the Occidental site and even nearer to the residential areas. This application, too, is opposed by the public and the local authorities, and in this connection we are waiting to see whether, when it comes to the point, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will demonstrate his concern for our environment.

On this I have one very simple question to put to my hon. Friend. Is there no limit to the number of installations of this kind, with all their attendant environmental disadvantages and risks, that can be planted down within sight and smell of residential areas, or will my hon. Friend concede that we already have more than our fair share of them?

Already we are alarmed by public statements made by a Mr. John Black, who I understand is the Port of London Authority's Maplin Director, which were published in the Evening Echo on 24th November. When questioned on the proposal to site an oil terminal at the Maplin container port, which would be constructed alongside the new airport, Mr. Black is reported to have agreed that this would eventually result in a vast increase in the throughput of oil through the Thamesside refineries". He asserted that while at present the amount of oil processed via the Thames was limited by the size of tankers using the estuary and the Channel, the establishment of an oil terminal at Maplin would do much to remove these restrictions and eventually fully-laden tankers of up to half a million tons could be handled there. That would mean that the need for Thamesside oil refineries would be even greater.

Mr. Black admitted that before any actual work can start we must of course submit detailed plans and give information concerning anticipated traffic, costs and financial estimates showing whether the suggested developments were viable propositions, but we have not yet got approval to start actual construction work". I hope that, against the threat that Mr. Black's earlier words implied, approval will certainly not be given.

Mr. Black is clearly warning us to expect an increase in the number of refineries we must suffer. Who authorised him to make such statements? I ask my hon. Friend to repudiate any suggestion that the Port of London Authority can predetermine the pattern of refineries in an area where hundreds of thousands of people have established their homes and where, when the airport is developed, hundreds of thousands more are coming to live.

If extra refinery capacity is needed—and I have no doubt that the economy of the country needs it—I suggest that it be at Maplin itself, although other hon. Members may suggest that there are other parts of the country where such installations would be warmly welcomed. It is imperative that my hon. Friend takes firm control of the situation.

My second example is linked with the first. For some years we have been witnessing, unhappily, a steady deterioration of standards of navigation in the busy Thames estuary. Inevitably, as the tanker traffic in oil products and dangerous chemicals grows, so the hazards to the riverside communities grow too. On Canvey Island we already have a high concentration of oil wharves, oil storage tanks and a methane plant, and we are to have at least one refinery. Next door, at Coryton and Shellhaven, we have two major oil refineries with their wharves and storage tanks.

I have raised this matter of safety before and do not propose to go into it in detail tonight, save to say that we had a serious warning in July 1970, when a 10,000-ton passenger vessel on its way to Tilbury veered off course, hit an oil jetty at Coryton, fractured fuel lines and caused a great quantity of crude oil to gush into the Thames, setting in motion a terrifying train of events. The oil burst into flames. It snaked around Canvey Island and set light to two barges which broke loose from their moorings, menaced a wharf on Canvey Island and bore down on a tanker unloading hundreds of tons of highly inflammable fuel oil.

But for the splendid exertions of the Essex Fire Brigade and the fact that the wind and the tide favoured the fire fighters, it is almost certain that there would have been a major disaster. Indeed, a spokesman for the Port of London Authority was reported in the Evening Echo as saying: We have been very lucky. There has been nothing like this since the war. It went off like a bomb. There was a terrible risk involved with so much fuel around I would remind hon. Members that he was talking about a place where 28,000 of my constituents have their homes.

Since then we have had tankers slipping their mooring ropes and going aground, tankers arriving with none of the crew able to speak English and incapable of understanding simple instructions. Yet against that background we have had instances in recent months of tanker captains coming into the estuary and refusing to accept the services of experienced Trinity House pilots when berthing in these crowded waters. By whose authority are these risks taken? Are the oil companies a law unto themselves?

Qualified pilots have said to me that the byelaws governing the handling of oil tankers are not always closely enforced, that more hazardous chemicals are now being shipped than ever before, and that the risks if anything goes wrong in the estuary could be appalling. I do not wish tonight to name anyone in particular, but I shall provide my hon. Friend with chapter and verse, and I trust that he will look into this disturbing state of affairs without delay.

My third example concerns the growing chaos on our roads in South-East Essex. I do not propose for the moment to discuss the direct impact on our environment of the third London Airport when it opens in 1980. We should have an early opportunity to consider that when we debate the Maplin Development Bill. It is essential, however, that the Government fully grasp the implications that the construction of the airport will have for our road communications in the intervening period between now and 1980.

Our main road system in South-East Essex is inadequate now. It cannot possibly cope with the construction traffic which must soon start to flow. When we had the one-day rail strike recently the A127 was blocked from Southend to London. At every major intersection there was a mile-long queue of vehicles moving at about an average of five miles an hour.

One would have thought that the highest priority would be given to the construction of a new motorway linking Maplin with London. But to our consternation we learnt early last month that it cannot be ready until 1979, one year before the first runway at Maplin will be operational. At least that is what the clerks of my local authorities have been told by the officials in my hon. Friend's Department.

I wrote to my hon. Friend about this matter. On 17th November he assured me that the new motorway would be given "the highest priority", that it would be open to traffic as soon as possible and before the opening of the new airport and that in the meantime improvements would be carried out on the A127.

I sent a copy of my hon. Friend's letter to the Clerk to the Rayleigh Urban District Council. He replied: That sounds all very well but when the surveyor and myself were last up at the Department of the Environment on this matter we were told quite clearly there was no hope at all that the access road etc. would be available before 1979, assuming that the airport opened in 1980. If that is the programme the road apparently will be open say one year before the airport opens, but how does all the construction traffic get to the site in the meantime? My hon. Friend's letter did not answer the question.

Let us assume that the new airport starts to operate in 1980. Mr. Black of the PLA was also reported in the Press on 24th November as saying that the new motorway would not be ready before the sea-port is operational in 1978. That can only mean that our existing inadequate roads will not only have to take a great deal of construction traffic to the air and sea ports up to 1978 but will have to take heavy container traffic for the port as well after that. My hon. Friend may well say that the railways can help. I am a great believer in railways. Much more traffic should go on to the railways. But Mr. Black, who keeps popping up in this situation, was reported in the same newspaper as saying that all container traffic from Maplin for destinations within a 100-mile radius will go by road. Whom are we to believe?

If Mr. Black is right, the situation which he described is wholly unacceptable to my constituents. It is unacceptable to the local authorities, in particular to the Essex County Council, which have made strong representations to my hon. Friend's Department on the subject, and it is wholly unacceptable to me. The Government will have to do some fresh thinking about the timing of the airport, the seaport and the necessary access routes. They will have to do their thinking quickly before the situation gets out of hand.

Perhaps my hon. Friend will now see the sense of the proposal I made some time ago that a planning inquiry commission should be set up to investigate all these problems and to make some coordinated recommendations. That proposal was turned down by my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State. The onus is therefore on his successor to prove that his Department knows what it is doing and that a corporate planning approach will be adopted in respect of these problems without further delay.

My right hon. and learned Friend can begin, for example, by calling a halt to the building of any more oil refineries in South-East Essex; in demanding an explanation why risks can be taken with shipping in the estuary and insisting upon proper navigation discipline; in calling for an investigation into how quickly the new motorway can be built; or, if the situation warrants it, postponing the date by which Maplin is to be operational.

Ministers at the Department of the Environment frequently protest that planning decisions, at least in my part of the world, will be taken with the best environmental considerations in mind. I believe they mean it. However, I should like to put their assurances to a simple test.

Improvements to the much-congested A127, one of the two main roads linking South-East Essex to London, are long overdue. At the important Weir Junction at Rayleigh it is proposed to install a flyover and to destroy a large part of the only established woodland in the Rayleigh urban district. I believe there will be some small compensation in land. But if one destroys woodland it will be a number of years before the trees on the compensation land become mature.

The flyover will undoubtedly destroy the peace of mind and happiness of scores of my constituents. Houses run close to the A127 on one side and within 200 yards or so on the other. I have asked my right hon. and learned Friend to consider an underpass which would greatly minimise the nuisance and, to give him credit, he has promised to consider this. But already, in a communication I have received, a line of retreat has been laid down by the statement that an underpass would be very much more expensive". Oddly enough, an underpass is planned for a junction further to the east where fewer residents are involved, and for that reason alone there is a case for an underpass at the Rayleigh Weir.

Let us be clear about this. I am striking a blow tonight not merely for people in South-East Essex but for people anywhere in the kingdom who are threatened by massive developments and changes of this kind. Safeguarding the environment will be a costly business One cannot do it on the cheap. But since the nation and Parliament have willed that the third London airport is to be built not in the Vale of Aylesbury but in my constituency, the means of mitigating its ill effects on the large numbers of people who live in South-East Essex must be willed too. My constituents have just as much right to be considered in this context as the people who live in the Vale of Aylesbury or those who live around existing inland airports.

I now come to my last example, the proposed new motorway which is to link the Maplin complex with London. I know that my hon. Friend is awaiting at the moment a report from the engineering consultants whom the Government commissioned to study the feasibility of a number of routes. I think they were appointed last February. I know that no decision can be made on this until the consultants have reported and there has been an opportunity for consultation with the local authorities, but this does not prevent a great deal of speculation about where the routes might run and, indeed, some distress to people who may feel that they may be affected.

Yesterday's Daily Telegraph, not for the first time, featured a story on the subject, accompanied by a detailed map showing three possible routes One of these passed through what would be the very heart and lungs of the new airport city, dividing the settled communities of Southend in the east to Canvey, Thundersley, Benfleet and Rayleigh in the west from the new urban development that must come about as a result of the Maplin project. If this idea of punching a major motorway, and perhaps a new rail link, through the heart of what is to be a new city were allowed, it would be the worst kind of planning that one could envisage and I ask my hon. Friend to note that such an idea is totally unacceptable to the people whom I represent.

As Sir Colin Buchanan—I suppose one of the most distinguished traffic planners in the world, and a member of the Roskill Commission—said in his minority report, there is no reason at all why the new motorway should not run well north of any new urban development. I beg my hon. Friend to get this question settled just about as quickly as possible in order to put an end to speculation in newspapers about where the route may run, with diagrams and maps drawn by people who have not the faintest idea of the geography of the area, its social patterns and the unhappiness being caused by such speculation to large numbers of people.

My purpose tonight has been to issue a warning about our environment in South-East Essex while there is still time to do something about protecting and enhancing it. But time is running out. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will be able to advise me that he is alert to all these related problems and is determined to do something about them, not in piecemeal fashion but with an eye to their total impact upon our community.

8.32 p.m.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)

I do not propose to detain the House very long. We are indebted to the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine) for raising this subject on the Adjournment. He has done it in admirable fashion and indicated the complexity of planning and development in an area which already has a high density of population in certain sectors.

The Minister knows that although I represent a Scottish constituency, some time ago in an Adjournment debate I raised the whole issue of the development of port facilities at Maplin. Tonight I shall confine myself in the main to those aspects of the remarks of the hon. Member for Essex, South-East which relate to port development and refineries and the dangers involved there.

I have consistently argued—and in the not too distant future there will be an opportunity to raise the matter again when we debate the Maplin Development Bill—that there should not be a third London airport at Maplin. I have also argued the dangers of the build-up of port facilities and adjacent industrial development. In his reply to my Adjournment debate the Minister tried to assuage my fears by saying that there would be certain constrictions on the industrial development that was likely to take place adjacent to the port but we know—and as the plans of the Port of London Authority emerge piece by piece we see this—that there is a gigantic plan based on the airport to build up port facilities and a tanker terminal to satisfy both existing and new oil refineries in the South-East.

The dangers to the public are environmental, but they relate also to ocean traffic. We are talking in terms of 250,000-ton tankers in stage one and 500,000-ton tankers in stage two. I do not wish to go over the "Torrey Canyon" incident again but my recollection of the evidence—I have not had ready access to it recently—is that the captain of that ship, apart from certain difficulties among the officers, made one fatal mistake in that he did not slow down, and because of the tide going against him he was brought on to the rocks.

We have the prospect before us of 500,000 tons in size, the dangers in that the Channel, greatly increasing the dangers of collision in an already congested area. In the next phase, when tankers go up to 500,000 tons in size, the dangers in that congested area will be enormous. Not only are port facilities and refinery facilities in contemplation at Maplin. They are in Rotterdam, too. The two have to be seen together in a European context.

I am appalled that vast refinery expansion is under way or projected in the South-East while we in Scotland cannot get firm plans from BP for the expansion of an existing refinery at Grangemouth so that capacity there may go up from about 10 million tons to about 19 million tons a year, which is what we need to take some, though not all, of the North Sea oil which might be available.

We in Scotland are as concerned about the environment as the hon. Member for Essex, South-East is, but we are able to point already to the presence of deep-water facilities at Hunterston. No dredging there would be needed, but the dredging necessary to give access for a 500,000-ton tanker at Maplin would cost millions of pounds. It can be justified at Maplin only if the airport development is bounced up. That is the justification for it in port terms. In the oil companies' terms, the justification is that they have to be near the market for their refined products.

What about the social cost? The hon. Gentleman gave some indication of it but it has never been quantified. The Under- Secretary of State speaks for the Department of the Environment. Can he tell us the cost which the community will have to pay so that the oil companies may justify their argument that they must refine their products near the market? What will be the cost in social disruption and danger? These are difficult matters to quantify in terms of cost-benefit. In Scotland, on the other hand, we have facilities open to us. An imaginative project at Hunterston could act as a land energy bridge for Europe and for other markets, and it ought to be considered in relation to the build-up of refining capacity in the South-East.

The Port of London Authority is in difficulty because of the nature of the dock system at present, but the House ought not to let these plans go without searching criticism. I have always doubted—I shall remain utterly sceptical—the need for the development of the third London airport at Maplin, and I should wholeheartedly oppose the buildup of port facilities there. Such facilities will be a danger, potentially a very great danger to the community in the South-East, and they are not necessary unless, of course, the House and the Government accept the oil companies' own analysis of their demands.

I hope, therefore, that when looking at this matter generally the Minister will give searching thought to the points I have raised. I want him to assure the House that the Department will require the oil companies to do some basic cost-benefit analysis on social grounds rather than on the narrow micro-economic grounds which they use to justify their expansion plans.

8.39 p.m.

Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)

The debate is directed to the situation in South-East Essex, but the subject was presented by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine) in a way which almost gave a crying invitation to comment from the wider point of view. I do not argue that all the troubles of which the hon. Gentleman spoke should be transferred to Scotland, but I wish to relate what he said to the broader picture.

The Under-Secretary of State is a Minister at the Department of the Environment. The recent adoption of that title, "Department of the Environment", suggests that from a governmental standpoint we have moved a good way from the position which obtained a few years ago. Until not so very long ago even Governments virtually washed their hands of economics. In my younger days we were told that unemployment was something over which Governments had no possible control. I recall that one learned professor argued that spots on the sun were the direct cause of unemployment. Various other professors had all sorts of arguments in those terms on the economy of the country and how the economies of this country and other countries were completely outwith any powers of governmental influence or control. But those days are past. There is virtually complete acceptance, even by the present Conservative Government, of responsibility for considerable measures of economic control.

I am in line with what the hon. Member for Essex, South-East has so admirably said, that the time has clearly come when our horizons should be lifted beyond mere economics so that we should be thinking in terms of the whole environmental structure within which we live. That includes economics, but it includes a different approach to economics than the one to which we have been accustomed. It means taking proper account of those costs which were previously never taken into account—for example, environmental, pollution and other costs. It is not just pollution; it is the injury we do to the wild life of our country.

I feel very distressed when I hear responsible people say that if it comes to a choice between a flight of wild ducks and some job-producing agency, they would always choose the job-producing agency as if it were the choice between a flight of ducks and a number of jobs. Almost the whole environmental set-up is in danger of being destroyed. The flight of ducks is merely an expression of this. It may be possible for the ducks to continue, but if it is not, so much else is not possible for us in this country. I take it that that is the plea being made tonight, and I endorse it completely.

I shall not go into the same detail as my hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Douglas). He has paid great attention to this. I will make one point. It is important that we should recognise that the fact of going into Europe alters the importance of different localities of the United Kingdom. When we were thinking in terms of the Commonwealth reaching round the world, with London principally as the centre, many parts were peripheral. In my judgment, for example, Scotland was peripheral. But when one is thinking in terms of Europe, especially the northern industrial areas of Europe and the great rivers coming right into the centre of Europe, one realises that the whole of the North Sea is an inland lake for Europe and the whole of the eastern side of the British Isles bounded by the North Sea, for the whole length of England and Scotland is part of an inland lake. It is all part of what can be seen as the front street in terms of the flow of traffic and ease of coming in and out, because this part of Europe lies right astride Europe's exit and entry to the world, either up the Channel, around the north coast or across from one or other of the various points on the east coast of Scotland or the east coast of England to a concentrated and small area down in the extreme South-East.

We should be thinking of the whole of that coastline and making the best use of it—an organised use and not leaving it haphazardly to groups of industrialists or oil people who usually like to concentrate their energies at Rotterdam. If one comes in, they all want to come in. We want none of that. If we think carefully of how best to locate, we should have a substantial say in deciding where industrialists, oil and others, locate their works. We are thinking in terms of making the best use we can of our country in a whole range of ways and making the proper charge for what is being done or for that which is being despoiled.

I should like to make a special plea for my part of the country, that narrow waist of territory, only 40 miles wide, between Glasgow and Edinburgh, with the Clyde in the west and the Forth in the east offering deep-water shelter to big ships. It is capable of considerable industrial development. Instead of overcrowding and destroying the South-East, we could utilise this area.

I hope that the Minister will say that his Department is aware of the many other possibilities and that some of these developments cost more than can be shown on balance sheets. It is said that the polluter should pay for his pollution. But pollution can mean more than atmospheric or water pollution—it can mean spoiling the whole environment. We should insist on being paid for any such spoilation. Such destruction should not be permitted unnecessarily. I, too, back the hon. Member for Essex, South-East in his efforts to safeguard that already overcrowded part of what, measured against other nations, is a very small country.

8.47 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Eldon Griffiths)

I congratulate the hon. Members for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Douglas) on managing to hang on to the South-East corner of Essex a number of advertisements for the advantages of Scotland in the location of industry. I admire their tenacity in doing this while waiting for their trains.

But the debate was initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine), who said that it could not be disputed that South-East Essex has been growing more rapidly than most other parts of the country. I hope that he will allow me to say that I do not think that South-East Essex has had a Member more assiduous in protecting its interests and raising them in this House than my hon. Friend. In preparation for this debate, I looked up a number of the Adjournment debates that he has initiated over the years and I found that there are few matters concerning the environment of the people in his area which he has not at one time or another, eloquently and forcefully brought to the attention of the House.

He raised many matters of concern to his constituents with his usual thoroughness and eloquence. My right hon. Friend and I, in our approach to the Maplin project and to all the associated and ancillary developments, are first and foremost conscious of the impact on the environment in South-East Essex, particularly on the constituencies of my hon. Friend and his immediate neighbours.

I agree with my hon. Friend that where change is necessary it must be for the better rather than for the worse. That is the whole intention of our policy. My hon. Friend referred to the need for a comprehensive approach to all these matters. He stressed the importance of the approach not being of a piecemeal fashion. Once again, I completely agree with him. I can assure my hon. Friend that the structure of the Department of the Environment has been set up to achieve a comprehensive or a corporate approach to the planning that he espouses. For the first time we have within one Department executive control over the whole range of transport, land use planning and other aspects of policy.

The general sponsoriship of the local authorities within the complex, which has been brought together for the first time, means that we have the ability to take a total approach to environmental management and planning. My hon. Friend will recognise that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry set up with the approval of his colleagues in the Government, a directorate within my Department which brings together all the disciplines which are needed to achieve a coporate approach.

We have within my Department the Third London Airport Directorate which is partly staffed from the Department of the Trade and Industry. It is staffed by experts in many aspects of navigation, many other maritime and air aspects. We have from my Department those who are expert in rail matters, land use planning, relations with the local authorities and the management of ports. For the first time they have been brought together within one directorate. We are taking a total approach to this very large project. The directorate is, of course, presiding over the work of the project.

There is also the Progress Review Committee, which I chair, which includes representatives of the major authorities with an interest in the project. That is to say, we have serving on the committee representatives from the Third London Airport Directorate, the British Airports Authority, the Port of London Authority, the Essex County Council, Southend, Civil Aviation Authority and a number of independent experts. At all times we are able to take a total view and to ensure that the many arms of policy are working along the same lines.

I should add that we must not forget the crucial role of the Essex County Council, which is the planning and structure plan authority. I understand that it will be producing a new structure plan which will take into account all the momentous changes arising from Maplin and the associated developments.

I can assure by hon. Friend that the Government are fully alive to the need to tackle the momentous developments as a totality. That is precisely what we are seeking to do. I should also like my hon. Friend to accept from me that it is the enviromental considerations that are uppermost in our minds and the minds of the local authorities.

Perhaps I should refer to some of the comments which the hon. Member for Motherwell made in an eloquent and thoughtful intervention. I hope that the hon. Member will accept that the reason that the Government chose to go to Maplin in the first place was precisely that of the environmental considerations which he put forward. It would have been so easy to secure a large portion of middle England somewhere between London and Birmingham and lay a vast area of concrete, with all the noise and the communications problems of a vast new airport.

Instead, at considerable additional cost in economic terms, we have chosen to go to Maplin so that the majority of the noise and most of the nuisance will be dispersed over the sea and will not affect the people of this country. It was an environmental rather than an economic consideration that led us to choose Maplin.

It should also be recognised that within the site of the proposed airport it would have been less expensive to choose a position for the runways in a more southerly situation. But that inevitably would have meant, though the cost would have been lower, that the noise impact, particularly upon the people of Southend and North Kent, would have been much greater. Again it was the environmental and not the economic consideration that led my right hon. Friend to agree that the site should be site C taking into account the very human and environmental considerations that the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

The House is fortunate perhaps in having a little more time than is normally available for Adjournment debates. Therefore, it is right for me to give one or two additional facts about the whole environmental aspect which may be of interest to my hon. Friend. For example, he will know that my right hon. Friend has already made available substantial sums for investigation and re-allocation of the bird life in the area. I am happy to be able to say tonight that a 630-acre site at the Leigh Marshes, part of it on Two Tree island, is being offered by the Southend Corporation to the National Environmental Research Council as a nature reserve. This council is undertaking research into methods of conserving wild life in the Maplin area. The Progress Review Committee, which advises the Government on all aspects of the Maplin project, will shortly be enlarged by the addition of a member specifically concerned with environmental matters, and I hope to be able to announce his name early in the New Year.

I must not go into further detail about the Maplin project because there will be an opportunity when we debate the Bill, but I think I must deal briefly with a number of suggestions which have recently received publicity in the Press to the effect that there is no need for the Maplin airport at all, or, if there is a need, it should come later. The need for this airport by about 1980 was fully established by the unanimous recommendation of the Roskill Commission. The Americans invented the word "overkill". We invented the word "Roskill", which means tens of millions of words of testimony in arriving at what is, I think by any measure, a well-researched decision. The Government have accepted that recommendation, and all the forecasts of air traffic still bear it out completely.

Thus the air transport movements in the London area have been growing at about 6 per cent. per year since Roskill started work, and there can be no doubt that more and more difficulties are being encountered and will be encountered in handling the traffic into London, especially at peak periods. There can be no doubt that even if there is a rather lower rate of growth in the future, we shall need this new airport as soon as we can possibly get it, for we must give some relief to the increasing noise and environmental problems that are being created at existing airports in the London area.

It has also been suggested that the Channel tunnel will be a significant rival to the airport, casting doubts on whether it is necessary. I can only say that if the tunnel were to be built, let us say, by 1980, and if high-speed trains were to run on either side of the Channel carrying passengers to it, and if they captured two-thirds of the traffic on the short-haul routes to Europe, they would still take away from the London airports only the equivalent of one year's growth in traffic. These estimates are not mine. They are estimates of the Roskill Commission, and I think they put into perspective the suggestion that the Channel tunnel can make this very large project unnecessary.

Mr. Douglas

Would the hon. Gentleman explain whether he means one year's growth in short-haul traffic or one year's growth in total traffic?

Mr. Griffiths

One year's growth in the traffic which needs to be handled at that airport. It is a mix which is very difficult to make precisely because of changes among airlines.

There has also been the suggestion made in some parts of the Press that somehow this airport could be avoided if by a severe pricing policy charter flights and the holiday trade were forced out of London to go somewhere else, but I hope that before anyone in this House endorses that suggestion he will ask himself the question, whether in the South-East of England, where some 13 million to 15 million people live, it would be fair or, indeed, even acceptable to the public to force large numbers of people to travel out of the region in which they live in order to go on charter flights for their holidays. I believe that would be creating a ground congestion problem and would be requiring people to go to airports in different parts of the country in a fashion which would be quite unacceptable.

Mr. Lawson

Is this strictly the way to describe it? Is it not the case that people are brought to areas such as this from other parts of the country?

Mr. Griffiths

I am sure that if the hon. Member takes a package tour nowadays he will get on the aircraft in Glasgow or Edinburgh—at an airport more suitable for him. Increasingly, leisure travel operators are offering flights from a variety of places. However, it must surely be wrong to ask the large numbers of people in South-Eastern England to remove themselves from South-Eastern England to go to another airport to obtain package flights.

Mr. Lawson

Surely this is not the argument. The argument is that by this build up one is bringing so many more people to the South-East of England than would otherwise live there.

Mr. Griffiths

I thought that was the point the hon. Member was making. I must tell him that all the evidence is that 80 per cent. of the Maplin passengers, that is, four out of every five, are likely to live in the area or to be visiting the South-East region, including London, and an important point is that very large numbers of foreign visitors who come to this country inevitably come to the London area. So 80 per cent. of the traffic will not be coming from other parts of the country. There will be more who, for one reason or another, are already in the South-East. One must accept that airlines, especially foreign airlines, which we cannot push around, are not likely to serve the very large amount of traffic generated in the South-East region by offering services from other airports in other parts of the country than the South-East. One must come back to the central point that there will be no hope of giving relief to those already living round the existing airports in the South-East region unless we can bring Maplin into operation as soon as possible.

I must come to the points raised by my hon. Friend. I start with the oil refinery. He referred to the permission given in November, 1971 for an oil refinery at Canvey Island. This decision was taken after a public inquiry at which all concerned had a chance to make known their views, and the permission was subject to certain conditions intended, in particular, to safeguard the amenities of the area. I have looked up some of the results of the inquiry. My hon. Friend will recall that at the inquiry the pollution assessor was satisfied that neither the air nor the water pollution likely to arise from the refinery could justify refusal of the application; that the medical assessor said that there was no reason—no reason at all—to conclude that the increase in ground level concentration of sulphur dioxide likely to result from the refinery would have any harmful effects on the health of the people on Canvey Island or the neighbouring areas; and that the navigational assessor advised that the increase in shipping would not cause congestion on the river, and that it would not materially increase the risk of collision. The navigation assessor, in fairness, also said that whilst there was also the risk of accident, the danger of serious oil pollution would be only marginally greater as a result of the construction of the refinery.

Sir Bernard Braine

With great respect, my hon. Friend is not answering an argument which I put. I did not refer to the oil refinery for which authority has already been given. I am referring to the application for a second oil refinery next door to it. While it may be that danger to health from one, two, three, four or five refineries may be said by many experts not to be as great as perhaps some members of the public fear, that was not the point I made. My point was that a concentration of refineries produces a smell nuisance, but, more important than that, it builds up a concentration of high fire risks, and we already have too many of them.

Mr. Griffiths

I shall come to the points my hon. Friend mentions. But it is important to demonstrate that the report of the public inquiry which recommended—a recommendation to which my right hon. Friend agreed—the establishment of the 1971 refinery was examined with the greatest care. The technical evidence was very sound.

My hon. Friend rightly says that it is not one refinery that matters but the concatenation of a whole series of refineries. All these refineries are subject to inspection by my Department's Alkali and Clean Air Inspectorate. The major pollution problem which refineries can create is the emission of sulphur dioxide. I suspect that this is the smell to which my hon. Friend is referring. But the levels of sulphur dioxide are going down, both nationally and in the Southend area. Indeed, I am advised that there is no indication that Southend is being affected by sulphur dioxide from the existing installations on Thameside.

Now I must pass on to the installations that do not exist on Thamesside. My hon. Friend referred to the build-up of refineries and raised the question of Mr. Black's comments in recent newspaper articles. It is not for me to comment on what may or may not appear in the Press. But lest my hon. Friend be in any doubt, I simply say that Mr. Black is not the planning authority or the authority charged with putting oil refineries in one place or another. The decision as to where refineries shall be is a decision in the end for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and not for Mr. Black or anyone else.

I must put the facts of the present situation, as briefly as I can. First, we have not given any decision on the application for a new refinery at Cliffe. No decision has been made about Cliffe. Secondly, I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has not been made aware of any proposals for expansion at Shellhaven or on the Isle of Grain. No such proposals have been presented to him. Thirdly, the expansion at Coryton allows for an increase in an annual throughput from 6.6 million tons to 8.3 million tons a year, which is a significant increase, although not a rise of the kind which is beyond the capacity of the environment of the area to handle against the background I have described.

Fourthly, there is a new application by United Refineries Ltd. to build a refinery on Canvey Island next to the Occidental refinery site. A public local inquiry on this application is due to start on 3rd January. I should like to give my hon. Friend at least the assurance that my right hon. Friend will take most fully into account the environmental factors and the views of the local people and of my hon. Friend before reaching any decision upon that application.

Sir Bernard Braine

I am grateful for what my hon. Friend has just said. He spoke about an earlier public inquiry but he did not mention that on that occasion all the local authorities concerned were opposed to the Occidental refinery. They were overruled. I hope that when the second application is the subject of an inquiry the Secretary of State will take note that the local authorities are still opposed and I hope that this time due attention will be paid to the feelings of the local people.

Mr. Griffiths

I have given my hon. Friend that assurance and I hope he will accept it from me. A working party within my Department has just completed an important paper on the selection of sites for oil refineries in this country. It is, I believe, a document of some importance and I shall ensure that the three hon. Members who have spoken in the debate this evening are each provided with a copy. It has just been circulated to the planning authorities.

I turn to what my hon. Friend said about navigation in the Thames. He will appreciate that this is a matter in the first instance for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I can say on his behalf, however, that he realises that this problem is significant. He is in no sense complacent about it and he accepts the need to improve the arrangements for navigation in the Thames Estuary. I hope that my hon. Friend will recognise that that is an important statement by the Secretary of State. To this end discussions have been held recently by the Thames Joint Consultative Committee, the members of which include representatives of all interests concerned with navigation in the estuary. I am advised that agreement has now been reached on a new General Direction for navigation in the Thames. This is good news and I am advised that a Notice to Mariners following on that General Direction will be issued early in the new year.

I understand also that discussions between all the parties concerned about the berthing of tankers are now in progress. My hon. Friend mentioned examples of tanker captains refusing to accept pilots when berthing in these crowded waters. Of course, if it were the case it would be a serious matter. But I am advised that no incidents of tanker captains refusing pilots on entering the river are known to my right hon. Friend. My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East said that he would let us have chapter and verse on this point and if he will do so I will undertake that the matter will be looked at urgently by the Department of Trade and Industry who are responsible in this sphere.

Sir Bernard Braine

I am grateful for what my hon. Friend said and I am sure the House is reassured. I would not have raised this matter unless I had had actual proof in my hand that serious risks were being taken. I have seen letters from two channel pilots which were sent to the Channel Pilots General Purposes Committee. The first referred to an incident in the early hours of 17th October when the services of a pilot were refused. The pilot reported: Whatever the reasons for not wishing to have assistance at unberthing operations I feel that unnecessary risks are being taken and that safety margins are being reduced to below an acceptable minimum. In the second case, the pilot said, his services having been refused, Fortunately the unberthing was carried out successfully and the vessel proceeded to sea as planned. The Master … is no doubt a very competent shipmaster and certainly knows his own ship's capabilities, but I detected a certain lack of consideration in his attitude to other shipping which could have been endangered if the operaton had gone wrong, e.g., engine or steering failure with no tugs to rectify the situation. I therefore feel concerned as to the safety of life and property in the vicinity of … jetties if the practice of 'no tugs' is to become a regular practice, especially in the case of loaded ships with dangerous cargoes. The dangers have therefore been spelled out very clearly. I hope that the instructions will be issued quickly that there will be no argument about them, and that discipline will be enforced in the Thames Estuary.

Mr. Griffiths

I take note of what my hon. Friend said and I repeat that if he will give me chapter and verse on these points I shall look into them at once.

Perhaps I could return to his further point about the impact on his constituency of the communication links to the Maplin site. In this connection he mentioned reports of a meeting in Southend at which the somewhat ubiquitous Mr. John Black was outlining proposals for the seaport. It is, of course, perfectly reasonable for the Port of London officials to outline their ideas for the future in public. I welcome the fact that they are entering into the spirit of public participation in this way. But I must make it crystal clear that Mr. Black and the Port of London Authority, if he is speaking on their behalf, are talking here only about their own proposals or their own aspirations. It is for them to propose and it is for the Government to dispose.

The Government have accepted in principle the case for a seaport at Maplin. But we are not committed in any way to any particular proposal or to any particular timing. The Port of London Authority knows that perfectly well. The timetable for all the work connected with the Maplin project, site reclamation, the plans of the British Airports Authority, the Civil Aviation Authority and even the Port of London Authority, the organisation, the links all these things remain under the Government's control and not under the control of the Port of London Authority.

Therefore anxieties that the port will somehow be ahead of the communication facilities may well be generated by speeches by officials of one organisation or another. But it is my duty to say on behalf of the Government that the timetable rests with us and the decision whether there will be a port, what kind of a port and when is a matter on which we would first require the advice of the National Ports Council and then under, I believe, Section 9 of the Harbours Act we would have to take into account a lot of other considerations, including the impact on other ports in the area and on the whole regional economic policy of the country.

I hope that my hon. Friend will accept my assurance, and that his constituents will accept my assurance through him, that whatever may be said by one official or another, the decisions on the timetable and on the port are with the Government and they have not yet been taken. I hope, therefore, that he will disregard much of the scarey headlines that have been engendered by Mr. Black's speech.

I must distinguish between two quite separate problems on communications that appear to be mixed up. One is the motorway, or the combination of motorway and rail link, which has the task of joining London to the new project as it is completed. The second is the problem of the traffic during the construction period, which undoubtedly could place an additional strain on the existing road structure of Essex.

On the first point, the new motorway and rapid transit corridor, my hon. Friend referred to recent reports on this subject in the Daily Telegraph. The Daily Telegraph is a newspaper that he and I admire. It might be that the newspaper did such a good job in objecting to the airport being sited at Cublington that it feels it must now give a fairer share of space to those who object to having it at Maplin. Whatever the reason, these articles and the alleged routes for the motorway that appeared in the map are sheer speculation.

The feasibility of the various possible routes between London and Maplin is being studied in depth by our consultants. They have not yet completed that work and their recommendations are not yet available to us. They have been told to put environmental considerations high among their priorities, but until we have their report we cannot make any proposal. Once we have the report, we shall put forward proposals as soon as we can. On the one hand, we have to avoid blight and on the other we have to bear in mind the improved arrangements for compensation under the new Land Compensation Bill. We also have a desire, which I know the House will support, that there should be wide public discussion in advance of any official decision.

In the early hours of this morning my hon. Friend, speaking on behalf of my Department, said that the Secretary of State had in mind to impose arrangements for consulting the public about all future motorways and to give an undertaking to publish consultation documents within about a month's time. We shall do all we can to allow full discussion by the public of the routes to Maplin.

I turn to the question of the local routes and the problem of construction traffic before the new motorway is completed. I ask my hon. Friend to tell those of his local authorities which he has consulted that to imagine the motorways need to be completed before the construction is begun is a reductio ad absurdum. To a great extent the construction will be going on long before the question of the motorway can be decided. We must first pick up the missiles from the sands, begin the job of dredging, build the sea wall and do all the other necessary jobs to get the port and the airport under way. The heavy construction traffic in the early stages of the project will be carried as far as possible by sea—I think largely by sea. That is one of the great advantages of the coastal site.

British Rail have told me that they are hoping to extend the existing Shoeburyness line on to the reclaimed land. That would be helpful not only in dealing with the construction traffic but also as a permanent addition to Maplin's communications. I do not accept the statement, whoever made it, that container traffic travelling less than 100 miles must go by road. It does not necessarily do so from Harwich or Felixstowe and there is no reason to expect that it will do so from Maplin.

We shall do our best to make sure that construction traffic is carried by sea or rail, but there is bound to be some extra loading on the existing roads. We are now giving urgent consideration to what further works may be needed to deal with this increase in traffic without imposing an unbearable strain upon the roads of the area. In so doing we are consulting the local authorities concerned.

We do not expect any major construction traffic problem before 1976, and by that time we expect to have completed the junction improvements, the grade separation, on the A127 and to have improved the east-west route through Southend. In doing so we shall have regard to making preparations for the new town.

My hon. Friend referred to the proposal to build a fly-over at Rayleigh Weir. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries has announced that there will be a public inquiry on this proposal. I am sure that my hon. Friend will attend the inquiry, if he is able to do so, to express his strong feelings in favour of the underpass rather than the fly-over. The inquiry will be held on 18th January and it will provide an opportunity for all the arguments, including those mentioned by my hon. Friend, to be put forward.

I have quite deliberately taken my time this evening in a fashion not normally possible in an Adjournment debate. I think that it has been useful to have a fairly wide-ranging discussion about the Maplin project, but I only hope that my hon. Friend will accept at the end that we are indeed approaching this whole project in a comprehensive way, looking at it as a total challenge to a Department of the Environment.

I ask the House to accept that, far from wringing our hands and lamenting this very challenging project, we should be relishing the prospect of what is arguably the largest single engineering project ever undertaken in Europe, and certainly one of the greatest projects that this country has ever taken on. By building the new airport at Maplin, we shall relieve millions of people who at present are suffering from noise; we shall avoid obliterating large communities which would have had to be obliterated if this airport had been put anywhere else in the kingdom; we shall be embarking on the construction on the south Essex coast of a new city whose whole environment we must ensure is built to the highest possible standards. In all this, of course, we must have regard to all those who are already living in the area, and I undertake that we shall do our utmost to do so.

Sir Bernard Braine

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the assurance that he has just given. But I made no reference to the impact of the third London airport at Maplin. That is a matter for another occasion. What I am concerned about is that, if the best environmental conditions are to obtain as the Maplin project develops, the environment is not ruined in the meantime by allowing piecemeal decisions to be made in regard to oil refineries, of which we already have far too many.

My plea to my hon. Friend tonight is that he should see the whole problem in the round. I have no quarrel with Maplin. I think that it provides great opportunity for our community and the nation. But there are so many other things happening in South-East Essex which may turn the whole development into a nightmare unless the right decisions are taken now. I beg him to see that adding one more oil refinery to the concentration we already have is totally unacceptable to our people. That will be the test of the good faith of much of what he has said tonight.

Mr. Griffiths

I thank my hon. Friend for underlining that point, which I recog- nise and which of course I shall bear very much in mind.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-eight minutes past Nine o'clock.