HC Deb 19 February 1973 vol 851 cc31-40

3.35 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Geoffrey Rippon)

I will, with permission, make a statement about the report of the Panel of Inquiry into the Greater London Development Plan.

In August 1969 the Greater London Council submitted their Development Plan to the right hon. Gentleman now the Lord Greenwood. In December 1969 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) told the House that he had decided to refer the plan to an independent Panel of Inquiry with wide terms of reference.

The Panel of Inquiry, under the Chairmanship of Mr. Frank Layfield, QC, sat on 237 days over a period of nearly two years, and considered over 28,000 objections. It had its last hearing on 9th May 1972 and its Chairman presented a report of nearly 1,200 pages to me on 18th December.

I would like to express the Government's gratitude to the Chairman, members and assessors of the Panel of Inquiry for undertaking a process that was without precedent, and for presenting such a robust and comprehensive report covering, as it does, a multitude of complex matters.

Major issues of policy are discussed which in many cases go beyond the normal scope of a development plan inquiry. These are of great public interest directly bearing on the way in which the many problems of great modern cities need to be tackled. Decisions taken on this plan will directly affect the lives and wellbeing of millions of Londoners, and the Government have, in common with the Greater London Council and the Panel, the wish to arrive at such decisions on a comprehensive basis. Above all, we are determined that planning decisions should manifestly have regard to their human implications.

I am accordingly publishing this afternoon the full report of the Panel of Inquiry and a first statement of the Government's views both on certain general issues of policy and, where appropriate at this stage, on specific proposals in the plan.

Copies of these two documents have been placed in the Vote Office. I cannot summarise either one of them adequately without encroaching unacceptably on the business of the day.

In coming months I propose to make further statements on matters arising on the plan and the inquiry report. They will all have the same two objectives—to keep the public informed, and to introduce a greater measure of certainty into the planning of the capital.

Mr. Crosland

I would join with the right hon. and learned Gentleman in expressing the thanks of this side of the House to Mr. Layfield and his colleagues for their Herculean efforts which they put into preparing this report. I would also thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for so expeditiously carrying out his promise to publish the report at the earliest possible moment.

It is widely understood that the Government's only firm decision is the acceptance of Ringway 1, and I would like to put three questions to the Secretary of State on that subject. First, does not this decision fly completely in the face of a mounting tide of opinion against grandiose urban motorways—as expressed, for example, by the all-party report of the Select Committee on Expenditure?

Secondly, can the right hon. and learned Gentleman give us an approximate—a very approximate—estimate of the likely total cost of Ringway 1? First Maplin, and then Ringway 1—we are taking leave of our senses.

Third, what will be his view if, as is highly likely, Labour takes control of the Greater London Council on 12th April, in view of the fact that the leader of the Labour Group, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman well knows, committed himself almost totally last Saturday, and I quote his words: A Labour-controlled Greater London Council will refuse to build the motorway box. Will the Secretary of State, in that event, impose a box by Government diktat, or will the Government then be willing to respect local democracy and the opinion of people who live in London?

This is by far the biggest and most significant recommendation in the report, and it is a great pity, to put it mildly, that the Government have taken a decision on this before the matter has been properly debated in this House.

Mr. Rippon

I do not like to give answers to hypothetical questions about what might happen in future, but I would suggest that the leader of the Labour Group on the GLC, like everyone else, might take the trouble to study the report before deciding so rapidly what they will do about it. It is important to understand that the report, when dealing with transport matters, deals with public transport, traffic restraint and management in the context of the need for some orbital road. One must look at the position as a whole and bear in mind that what the panel was trying to do, what the GLC and the Government are trying to do, is to contain the motor car and to ensure that there is relief from congestion in inner areas and that there is a possibility of cars and lorries having alternative routes.

It is important to study these matters. I thought that it was right to publish this report as early as possible, so that people should see it. I have made certain decisions in principle—they are not, of course, in detail—in order to provide the framework for a public discussion. It is not possible, with plans which will take 20 to 30 years to implement, to give overall estimates of cost, and it is necessary for me to emphasise that there will have to be more detailed discussion of the details of roadways. It is an abandonment of the normal practice of waiting, say, two years until one can make all the modifications before the report itself is published, but there will have to be a series of further statements on particular matters.

Mr. Worsley

Will my right hon. and learned Friend accept that all who have the interests of London at heart will believe that one central ring road in inner London will be of inestimable benefit to the capital city—[HON. MEMBERS "No."]—combined, as it will be, with schemes of restraint of traffic in central London, which are otherwise quite impossible? Would he therefore agree that to build the west cross route except as part of such an inner ring road would be a great error?

Mr. Rippon

Yes, I do agree with that. We have to see this as part of a whole. It makes sense to have the orbital road only if it is considered in conjunction with other possibilities of public transport and traffic restraint. I have, for instance, indicated in the statement that we agree with the report that there should be keeper liability in inner London, and we shall bring forward legislation for that purpose as soon as possible.

One must see these matters in a broad context. What the report suggests is not Ringway 1 and Ringway 2. It suggests Ringway 1 in principle and it says "No" to the southern route of Ringway 2. The northern route of Ringway 2 exists now. It is the North Circular Road. The GLC itself has suggested that the north cross route might be shelved, but that was not before me. Indeed, when the report is published and people can see what the panel recommended, it is conceivable that the GLC may come forward with proposals for, in effect, treating the North Circular Road as part of Ringway 1.

Mr. Barnes

The Secretary of State said that people should study the report before deciding what to do about it. Why, then, have the Government rushed out their own statement of decisions in principle, which apparently include a decision to go ahead with the Box? Would it not be much better to let the whole thing be properly debated—as it will be—during the coming GLC election campaign, and let the people of London decide which party's approach they believe to be the sounder on the basis of the arguments put forward in that campaign? Then is the time for the Government to take their decisions.

Mr. Rippon

Some people will say that I have not decided enough and others that nothing should be decided at all. I have tried to strike a balance and to indicate where, in principle, we accept the report's advice. This will provide a framework in which further public discussion can take place, particularly on the details of the proposals.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

Would my right hon. and learned Friend not agree that, if there had not been a Labour LCC and, at first, a Labour GLC, this ringway plan would never have seen the light of day? Would he agree that those who have consistently opposed Ringway 1 have been justified in that by what Lay-field appears to have said? Would my right hon. and learned Friend try to recall that at least those who have been consistent deserve slightly more support than the Labour Party, who are now doing it for purely political motives?

Mr. Rippon

As I say, the Layfield panel sat for over 200 days and produced a report which I think is of great public importance and will repay a lot of careful study. The report comes out in favour basically of the principle of Ringway 1, but if one bears in mind what it has said about the southern part of Ringway 2 and the fact that the northern part already exists, in the North Circular Road, one can see that there is room for the GLC, if it wishes—this has not come up formally—to propose its own modifications in that regard.

The panel also suggests that one should look again at the exact alignment of the eastern side of Ringway 1, which is helpful in view of the likely development of dockland. But the details, the exact alignment of the routes, must be the subject of further discussion. What I have tried to avoid is sitting on this report for two years, as happened with the LCC development plan, and then suddenly producing 1,000 modifications.

Mr. Jay: Is the Secretary of State aware that any decision to go ahead with Ringway 1 would be clean contrary to the report of the Sub-Committee of this House on urban transport planning, which we have not yet even discussed—that it would cost about £700 million or £800 million, that it would destroy homes in London for 25,000 or 30,000 people and that it is opposed by the great majority of Londoners, including a number of borough councils? Is he also aware that he gave me an undertaking in a letter of 20th December that no final decisions would be taken by the Government until there had been time for public comment on any suggested modifications in the plan? May I assume that that undertaking will be honoured and that therefore the Government have taken no final decisions?

Mr. Rippon

I explained that, on a statutory development plan, I can give some indications in principle and certain decisions on matters outside the scope of the plan, such as whether there will be legislation for keeper liability or traffic restraint, but there will be formal opportunity to make representations and, if necessary, there may have to be a further public inquiry after I publish my draft modifications and before I can take any formal decisions on the plan.

When the right hon. Gentleman reads the report and my statement in full, he will see that there is no conflict with what the Select Committee said about urban motorways. Very much of what the panel says is entirely in keeping with what the GLC said in its Green Paper on Transport and the Environment, and with what the Select Committee is saying on the need to combine one's road policy with proper arrangements for urban restraint. Then the Committee says, "Let us do nothing: let us stop all the contracts while we have another look." But this will take some time, and the details, of course, have to be the subject of further discussion.

It is therefore absurd to suggest how many thousands of houses might or might not be affected. The right hon. Gentleman's estimate is higher than any given before. Until the details are gone into, one cannot make a statement of that kind. The panel quotes with approval Sir Colin Buchanan's statement that, so far from a ringway of this kind affecting the environment adversely, it will in fact improve it—[Laughter.]—that is what is said—because it will provide better housing in replacement of bad housing.

Mr. Jessel

Has my right hon. and learned Friend reached any conclusions about the idea of Ringway 3, the outer London ringway?

Mr. Rippon

No, I have said that further time is needed to consider this. Both parties on the GLC want something of the nature of Ringway 3 in the end, and I have left that open.

Mr. Mellish

Would the Secretary of State clear up the ambiguity about whether the Government are supporting the Ringway 1 proposal, seeing that thousands of people are affected, and property development has now become stifled? To quote the right hon. and learned Gentleman's statement, The Government agree that an inner motorway is needed to relieve congestion in central London, and accept in principle that Ringway 1 should remain in the Plan. Can we not therefore assume that the Government do support Ringway 1? Or does that statement mean nothing at all?

Mr. Rippon

Of course one can assume exactly what I have said. I was pressed by this House—rightly—not to follow the normal procedure of sitting on a report like this until I could produce all the modifications, after which the formal machinery would take place. So I accepted the pressure, largely from the Labour Party, to publish as soon as printed. Now they have it, and if they do not like it, I cannot help that.

I felt it necessary to give an indication, as far as I could in a short space of time, on certain matters of principle. We have agreed Ringway 1 in principle. The panel has commented on the plan as it exists but the GLC, for example, has indicated certain views about the North Cross Route. That will be carried further forward as time goes on if representations are made about that or about the phasing of it. All that is for the future.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have to protect the business of the House. We have an important debate—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Order. We have an important debate on education ahead of us. There are not many debates on education, and I can therefore allow only a limited time for supplementary questions on the Secretary of State's statement. I hope that they will be short.

Mr. Atkinson

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that on the matters of employment and population most Londoners will regard this report as outrageously offensive to their intelligence? How can the panel arrive at a decision that the decline in population and jobs in London has not reached acute proportions when throughout the country there has been a 12 per cent. loss in the production industries whereas in six years Londoners have lost about 25 per cent. of their jobs in these industries? How can the Layfield Panel say that the situation is not acute? Surely the Minister ought to be assuring the House that there is to be no continuous rundown in jobs for Londoners.

Mr. Rippon

The Labour Government set up the Layfield Inquiry and appointed its members. They have done a good job and reported to the best of their ability, and they ought to be congratulated.

Decisions on matters such as population and employment will be the subject of further discussions. The census figures for 1971 show that not only in London but in the country as a whole we tend to be wrong in our estimates of population and employment. Layfield is agreeing with the GLC on the need to identify the growth areas and within these areas to consider how properly to keep in balance residential accommodation and commercial and industrial development. I think that if the hon. Gentleman reads the whole report he will realise that it makes a great contribution to the debate.

Mr. Mayhew

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that in Woolwich and the surrounding areas there is a great deal of wasted industrial skill owing to the exodus of industry? Will he state plainly that it is the Government's policy to maintain and restore that employment?

Mr. Rippon

No one is suggesting that the proposals in the Layfield Report will not be further considered. I have to accept the report as it is. I cannot rewrite it but there will be discussions. The report does not say that there should be a total rundown of industry or office accommodation in London. All it says is that the plans of the Conservative GLC were ambitious about retaining them. Perhaps the Conservative GLC is not over-ambitious. I hope that that may be so.

Mr. Lipton

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that any proposal about Ringway 1 which involves tearing the heart out of Brixton will be opposed by every possible means? Let him not think that he will have his own way on that.

Mr. Rippon

Nobody wants to tear the heart out of Brixton. Even if there were no new roads, some rehousing would have to take place.

Mr. George Cunningham

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman help the House by saying whether the decision that he has taken is a decision in principle or, as one would have hoped, a provisional decision? Is it a decision, which will stand, to have Ringway 1, or is it a provisional decision to have it which could be rearranged at a later date? Which of the two is it?

Mr. Rippon

I have announced that in principle the Government accept the Layfield views on Ringway 1, but this is clearly a matter for further discussion and consideration. At least it provides a framework. I have tried to produce some degree of certainty by saying that the view on Ringway 2 South, which the report suggests should not be built, is something that I accept in principle. Over a period of 20 to 30 years it may be that other views will be expressed.

Mr. Shelton

May I ask my right hon. and learned Friend whether, if Ringway 1 is not proceeded with, a decision will be taken about motorways coming into London? For instance, will the M23 come into Ringway 1 or stop at Ringway 3.

Mr. Rippon

A series of decisions will have to be taken in the light of the Layfield Report and other circumstances, including the views of the Select Committee, as to what we do. The trouble in London has been that all the orbital roads have brought traffic into the centre. The report says that there is a case for a number of orbital roads. In the case of Ringway 2—and this applies to many road proposals—the northern part is the North Circular Road. What one is discussing is the degree to which it needs to be improved.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman look at the effects of West Way and the West Cross Route on the North Circular Road? I am not talking about the destruction of communities or the aggravation of housing stress. I am talking about the increase in traffic congestion that has resulted from these roads which were intended to relieve it.

Mr. Rippon

That is the sort of detailed question that has to be con- sidered. What the Layfield Report is saying is that the West Cross Route as part of Ringway 1 makes sense. The question has been asked whether one can consider the West Cross Route in isolation from the concept of Ringway 1. My view is that one cannot.

Mr. Tugendhat

Would not my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the Layfield Report covers many subjects apart from ringways and that it is important that the whole matter should be considered rather than that there should be over-emphasis on one point before anybody has had a chance to read the report?

Mr. Rippon

It is important to realise that the report breaks down the transport side into three parts. It deals with public transport, with traffic management and with restraint, and then goes on to say that whatever one thinks about those matters—and the Government have broadly agreed with this conclusion—there ought to be some provision for orbital roads in inner London.

Mr. Michael Foot

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman appreciate that he is not dealing with a simple matter such as the Common Market which he can ram down the people's throats? What will he do if people say "No"? Will he ask his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to arrange for a debate on this matter before 12th April?

Mr. Rippon

The arrangement of a debate in the House is not a matter for me, but the more public discussion there is of the report the better. Because of the importance of the report, I was pressed to publish it as soon as possible. It runs to 1,200 pages and covers not only transport but housing, population, employment, leisure, and a whole host of other matters, on all of which I believe there ought to be full public discussion.

Mr. Foot

In the House.

Mr. Rippon

If necessary. I do not mind where it takes place. On the whole it is helpful when Members of the Labour Party speak, because they do the Government so much good.

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