HC Deb 26 June 1973 vol 858 cc1471-93

Order for consideration, as amended, read.

10.25 p.m.

Mr. Goronwy Roberts (Caernarvon)

I beg to move, That the Bill, as amended, be now considered.

This Bill authorises the Central Electricity Generating Board to construct a pumped storage works at Dinorwic in my constituency of Caernarvonshire. This works will use off-peak surplus energy from other power stations to pump water to an existing reservoir called Marchllyn Mawr. Supplies of electricity can then be produced when needed by releasing the water and discharging it through an underground power station to a low-level existing reservoir located 1,650 feet below at Llyn Penis. All full power the station will produce not less than 1,500 megawatts. At March 1972 prices the works authorised by the Bill will cost about £75 million. The associated works provided by the Bill include an alternative water supply in agreement with the river authority and the water board, considerable improvements in the public road system in the area, one river diversion and by-passes to take construction traffic around the principal villages.

Under the Electricity Act 1957 the board has a statutory duty to: develop and maintain an efficient, coordinated and economical supply of electricity in bulk for all parts of England and Wales. Under the same Act it has a statutory duty to take into account any effect that its proposals would have on the natural beauty of the countryside and on buildings of architectural or historic interest.

I invite the House to examine with me how the project enables the board to discharge these two statutory duties. Let us consider the first, that of maintaining supplies. To do that it must plan forward and anticipate the growth of demand for electricity. This demand tends to double in about every 10 years. The rate of increase in this country is similar to that in other European countries. We are by no means within sight of the end of this trend of increase. The United States consumes twice as much electricity per head as we do in England and Wales. That is the kind of horizon of demand that we must anticipate and the board must satisfy.

Consumption must not only increase, it must be maintained. This takes us to the need to provide what is called the "spinning reserve". This is available to meet sudden or exceptionally heavy demands from time to time or to replace power losses because of some failure in a plant in the large and varied system operated by the board. It is here that the advantages of the pumped storage system are most marked. It can produce electricity within seconds of being started up. No other plant can match it for speed in regulating the balance between production and consumption.

The board has an existing pump storage plant at Ffestiniog in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Merioneth (Mr. William Edwards), about 20 miles away from Dinorwic, and since that plant started in 1963 it has proved invaluable for the reasons and purposes I have given. Moreover the pumped storage system is cheaper to build and operate than any other method. This came out clearly in the protracted examination of the Bill in Committee.

I turn to the second of the duties laid on the board, that it should have effective regard for amenity in locating its works. The fact that a pumped storage scheme requires a difference in levels between the upper and lower reservoirs means that consideration must be given to sites in hill and mountain areas.

These are almost invariably areas of high amenity value. Before deciding on Dinorwic, the board engaged in a prolonged and exhaustive search for a suitable site, and Dinorwic emerged as not only the most suitable but also the one where the minimum of damage to amenity would be done. Indeed, in some respects the scheme will improve the amenities of the area.

Some hon. Members who are not perhaps familiar with Snowdonia may not know that the mountains around Llanberis, Bethesda, Ffestiniog and the Nantlle Valley have been the scene for centuries of large-scale slate quarrying, with the result that the area, indeed the national park, abounds in massive and unsightly slate tips. When the boundaries of the Snowdonia National Park were drawn up by the National Parks Committee in 1947, it deliberately excluded these areas, including the site and the area I am talking about, from the national park. Indeed, the entire belt of slate bed areas, including Dinorwic, were excluded from the national park.

For reasons which I shall state later, these massive opencast slate quarries have now almost all ceased to operate, but the debris and dereliction remain. This project, among other things, will result in the clearance of a substantial part of that unsightly dereliction with which the national park is scarred. In meeting a national necessity, the Bill will improve local amenity.

Plainly a project of this magnitude must have some impact on amenity, and I say at once that my hon. Friends and I who represent the four constituencies of Snowdonia and who support the Bill deeply respect the concern of our colleagues on both sides of the House, of the amenity societies and of individuals who are concerned about the question of amenity. Indeed, we more than share that concern: we have a vested interest in maintaining the amenity of the area. We live there, as do 218,000 people who have to earn their livelihood in the area. We are not visitors; we are residents. When projects of this sort are proposed for Snowdonia, we are the first to examine them meticulously to ensure that they do no serious damage to the amenities among which we live and from which we derive a great part of our livelihood in the matter of tourism. In our area tourism has increased, and we expect that it will increase further as a result of the creation of the power station in the district.

Usually in schemes of this kind a principal and proper objection has been to the construction of obtrusive buildings and pylons. In this case the power station and the transmission lines will be entirely underground. Moreover, existing obtrusive electricity poles are to be removed in creating the new station. This is a bonus, and as one who supports amenity I much welcome it. A great deal of dereliction is to be cleared away for the first time and at some cost to the board but with great benefit to the district and the country as a whole.

Furthermore, schemes of this kind involving the use of water often involve the inundation of valleys and the displacement of communities in order to create reservoirs. That is not the case here. Two existing lakes are to be used. The only above-ground features will be two embankments—one 29½ feet high, and the other, replacing a most unsightly existing dam and creating a new dam completely landscaped from the natural stone and flora of the area, which will be 130 feet. They will not be bald concrete constructions and, finally, there will be absolutely no pollution as a result of the scheme.

The board has an excellent record in having regard to amenity. It has won awards in North-West Wales for this aspect of its work from the Wales Tourist Board and the Civic Trust, and some of its works in North Wales are major tourist attractions. My hon. Friend the Member for Merioneth will confirm that 40,000 people visit annually the pumped storage scheme in Ffestiniog in his constituency. Half a million pounds will be spent on improving the roads for the district, making access to the threshold of the national park easier for the people we welcome every year. No climb or ramble will be lost, and that has been clearly brought out in evidence.

This brings me to the question of employment. We are discussing an area that, however beautiful, has suffered for years some of the highest percentage unemployment in the country. It ranges in high summer from 6 to 8 per cent. and in winter it reaches between 12 and 15 per cent. Construction on this site will take about seven years, and at peak about 1,000 workers will be employed. Of these we confidently expect that 70 per cent. will be locally recruited, for that has been the level of local recruitment at other similar undertakings in North Wales, so we speak from experience.

To those who say that this is temporary employment I can only reply that seven years of well-paid work is a very long time for a man who has been unemployed for seven years and more, and we have many such in Snowdonia. Some of them have been out of work for 17 years. It is an area where it is very difficult for men to uproot themselves and to move with their families to other districts where even the language is strange to them. This kind of project is a godsend to an area like mine.

There is, of course, the argument—advanced in particular in the study which the objectors, the Protection Society, commissioned and to which I pay my respect —that construction schemes like this often leave more unemployment when they are completed than existed in the district before they began. With all respect, I and my hon. Friends who have had to study and grapple with this problem for so long must point out that the fundamental reason for the strong trend to unemployment in North-West Wales is that for some centuries a substantial population has been sustained almost entirely by two big labour-intensive industries—agriculture and slate quarrying—both of which over the past decades have declined at an alarming rate for reasons which I will not go into tonight—automation in agriculture and changing markets and cost in slate. Today we have only 300 or 400 quarrymen whereas a few decades ago we had 16,000.

In an area like mine which is so far away from the main centres of industry it is extremely difficult to attract new industry, but we have succeeded to a certain extent, and that has helped to keep the levels of unemployment from being much higher than they are even now.

The second factor in keeping the levels of unemployment as low as they are—and they are high enough, in all conscience—is that for the past 20 years we have had an almost unbroken series of large-scale civil engineering works of which this proposed works is the latest. Therefore the argument that such works create more unemployment than they displace is fundamentally fallacious. If we look closely at the trends, we see that it is this kind of civil engineering work which has helped keep the levels where they are.

The people of the area concerned—I believe the people of the whole of North Wales—strongly support the Bill. It will be of benefit to us and to the whole country. The Caernarvonshire County Council, the Caernarvonshire Planning Committee and the Gwyrfai Rural Dis- trict Council all support it. There are no objections from the Department of the Environment, the Department of Trade and Industry or the Welsh Office, as I am sure Ministers present can confirm if they intervene in the debate. Nor does the Countryside Commission oppose it, although naturally it would prefer to have works of this kind outside the national park area.

These proposals have been examined by a Committee of this House in a total of nine sittings. At the will of the House, the Committee actually visited the site—a somewhat unusual procedure. I pay a warm tribute to the chairman and members of the Committee for the meticulous manner in which they examined the technical, economic and amenity aspects of this large and complicated measure. No Bill has been given Committee approval after a more conscientious examination.

It is a Bill greatly welcomed in North Wales. Its benefits will be felt by millions of consumers throughout the country in homes, factories, offices and farms. It will only minimally impair amenity, and in many more respects will improve it. I hope that it will be allowed its passage through this House to go on to become a statute.

10.43 p.m.

Mr. Wyn Roberts (Conway)

I rise to participate in this debate primarily because some of the works involved in it are located in my constituency. They are the upper reservoir of Marchlyn Mawr and the CEGB substation at Pentir to which the transmission lines from the underground generating station will lead, and various water works necessitated by the change of use proposed for the Marchlyn Mawr reservoir at present being utilised by the Eryri Water Board for water storage and supply. Incidentally, these sections of the scheme are the only ones within the Snowdonia National Park.

Even if I did not have this significant constituency interest, I should seek to participate in the debate because, having been born and bred in Anglesey, I have lived with these mountains as my south-westerly horizon for a quarter of my life, and I can claim a fairly intimate knowledge of the area and its people. But, as an insular onlooker, I am bound to defer in this matter of local knowledge to the right hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Goronwy Roberts), who has his roots among the very people whose locality we are discussing.

I do not propose to question the national need for the Bill. That was accepted by the Select Committee, and I add my tribute to it. But I cannot imagine the board involving itself in expenditure of this magnitude if it is not totally convinced of the necessity for the scheme. If there is any doubt about the need for it, I hope that a Minister will set our minds at rest fairly early in the debate.

Assuming that the scheme is necessary, why should not it be located in the Dinorwic-Llanberis area? We know that the board considered three other sites in Snowdonia. One was at Dolwyddelan, in the heart of my constituency. That would have involved the desecration of an unscarred valley of quite exceptional beauty and the erection of a dam overlooking and dangerously near a village community. Very wisely, the board rejected that proposal, and on present knowledge I should have resisted such a proposal had it been made to this House, although the local inhabitants were largely in favour of it.

We, in Wales, are very sensitive to the danger factor in this type of development as a result of the Dolgarrog dam disaster in the early 1920s and subsequent scares. There is no hint of danger in the Bill's proposals. Dinorwic is a safe location, and that is a very important point indeed.

Secondly, the area is already deeply scarred by quarry workings. Some people like to think of the whole of North Wales as being totally beautiful and unspoilt, and they wish that it should be totally preserved, rather like New York Central Park. All I can say is that they must wander about there in blinkers. We have many areas that could and should be improved visually.

Let us consider, for example, the upper reservoir of Marchlyn Mawr, within the Snowdonia National Park, which is currently used by the Eryri Water Board. It already has a dam across it, and a pretty unsightly one, too, at close quarters, with a very rough and obtrusive access road, constructed, I believe, within the last four years as a result of one of our periodic dam break scares. It is far from being a much-frequented spot, but development under the Bill could change that situation.

In time, if the Bill goes through, I would hope to see a new grass and heather dam which tones in with the landscape better than the concrete Stwlan Dam in Merionethshire, a good access road, much less obtrusive from a distance than the present jeep track, and the half-dozen cottages and farmsteads now seen on the way up to the lake made habitable again. There is no reason why this should not happen. I am not alone in taking this view. The Countryside Commission takes a similar view.

I must say at this point that I have been impressed by the board's willingness to meet the visual amenity objections. It has agreed to the undergrounding of transmission lines to the Pentir substation, at an extra cost of £44¼ million. I hope that this wise decision will be the cue to other organisations, such as the Merseyside and North Wales Electricity Board and the Post Office, to tidy up the litter of poles and wires in the Pentir area. I understand that some low-power transmission lines are to be under-grounded.

In short, I see in the Bill an opportunity to clear up some existing eyesores and to open up, with improved roads, some comparatively neglected but potentially very beautiful spots.

In this connection one is bound to recall how the road network in the Trawsfynydd area has improved considerably since the opening of the nuclear power station there and how the Stwlan Dam at Blaenau Ffestiniog has become a tourist attraction visited by about 40,000 people a year. We have every reason to believe that the development under consideration will have similar effects in the Llanberis area.

I have referred to the board's willingness to meet objections. The Eryri Water Board petitioned against the Bill for the very proper reason that it had to be absolutely certain of an alternative source of water supply to Marchlyn Mawr, at the expense of the CEGB, in the event of the Bill being passed. Ffynon Lugwy was proposed as an alternative source with the attendant works, and between them the two boards and the river authority have worked out a mutually satisfactory scheme, which has also met the Bethesda objection to some tree felling envisaged at one time at Coed Bryn Meurig, which is of high amenity value to the town. I received a letter of assurance on these points from the Chairman of the Generating Board last February.

The new water supply system will be rather better than the present. The 12-inch pipe from Lugwy to the board's new Douglas Hill reservoir will be under-grounded all the way and there will be no detriment to the environment.

Finally, the right hon. Member for Caernarvon has stressed the employment value of the proposed scheme, as did the county council in its petition. I join them in this. In May, we still had 1,167 people unemployed in the Caernarvon, Bangor, Bethesda and Penygroes area, despite a very welcome reduction of 350 in a single month. Of that total, 988 were men—a percentage male unemployment of 9.5 per cent.

Here, I must take a very heavy sideswipe at the county authority which has a very heavy responsibility for employment in North-West Wales. On two occasions in recent weeks, I have been faced with small businessmen in the Bangor area, one employing a dozen men and the other between 20 and 30, who are threatened with expulsion from their existing premises and who cannot, despite every effort on their part, find suitable alternative sites. This is a ridiculous state of affairs; we are in danger of missing the benefits of the present economic boom through lack of space for indigenous industries.

I am bound to tell those who oppose the Bill on visual amenity grounds that we cannot in North-West Wales live on the scenery alone. Until we have adequate space for light industry and small business development and have more employment, amenity arguments will cut no ice with our electors. I dearly wish that this argument could be conducted against a background of full employment in the area, but that is not the case. There is consequently great expectation, not only of employment but of other incidental benefits, from the board's investment of £80 million.

This scheme is clearly justified in terms of the national interest. There is no viable alternative. I much prefer Llanberis to the other sites which were under consideration. I warn the board now that, if it still has its eyes on Dolwyddelan, it will find it impossible to justify because of the environmental objections. It has largely met the objections to the Dinorwic scheme, which is extensively located in a heavily scarred area, parts of which will be improved by the scheme.

There is a tendency for conservationists in name to become preservationists in fact, to oppose blindly any modern development and to do so ruthlessly because they tend to play on imaginary fears in an effort to arouse the public. There is little justification for that kind of attitude in this instance. This is a safe scheme.

Nationally, we clearly need the scheme; locally we need the employment and the ancillary benefits of a vast investment—the trade, the roads and the other improvements. If the board is wise it will pay close attention to these things and make absolutely sure that its scheme will be something we can be proud of.

I support the Bill because this scheme is the last step in completing the North Wales generation and transmission complex of the CEGB. But I am bound to tell the board that it should look elsewhere for its future development, because the board, too, has aroused fears that before long we shall have another set of power stations and pump storage schemes and a new line of overhead cables stringing our skyline. That cannot be right. It cannot be. The board must seek other alternatives.

10.55 p.m.

Mr. Carol Johnson (Lewisham, South)

I should begin by declaring an interest, for the Commons Society, of which I am chairman, was one of the joint petitioners against the Bill, and I am also a member of the Standing Committee on National Parks and the Ramblers Association, both of which are constituent members of the North Wales Hydro-Electricity Protection Committee, which was the other joint petitioner.

What I need not do, however, is to apologise for joining with other hon. Members in all parts of the House in forcing tonight's debate, for if ever an issue of national importance were raised by a Private Bill it is this issue—the construction of what, if allowed, would be the largest pump-storage hydro-electricity complex in Europe, and that partly within one of our most precious national possessions, the Snowdonia National Park. I would suggest that the ordinary Private Bill procedure is in these days inappropriate for legislation which raises such broad and important matters of national interest and, indeed, of national need, to which previous speakers have referred.

I would only add, without pursuing the point, that it is ironical, and quite archaic and unjustifiable, that it should be left to small amenity groups and other public-minded bodies and persons, who have limited resources and meagre funds, to act as public defenders of what they consider to be the public interest, and that against public bodies with unlimited public funds and expertise at their disposal. I am glad to note that some right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to bring this particular problem to the attention of this House.

I do not intend to make a long speech because I know that many hon. Members wish to take part in the debate and there is nothing to be gained by an unnecessarily prolonged debate.

I must take up some of the amenity matters which have been referred to somewhat brusquely by the previous speakers. Before doing so, however, I should like to record the fact that I appreciate and understand the natural bias that exists with the board in favour of generating electricity by water power. It is cleaner and in many ways more attractive than coal or coke burning and is often thought to be much less environmentally harmful than conventionally powered stations. But it cannot be disputed that hydro-electric schemes have a very substantial impact on the environment, and the Bill proposes considerable works in Snowdonia, works on such a scale that they challenge and undermine the purposes for which Snowdonia National Park was designated.

That area is undoubtedly one of outstanding beauty and importance. It cannot be better described than in words used by the promoters' own landscape consultant, Sir Frederick Gibberd, when he appeared before the Committee. I hope that the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Wyn Roberts) will listen carefully to this.

This is what the consultant said: I say that most of it, and certainly the sites of these reservoirs, is largely wild and untamed landscape. It is an area of exceptional scenic importance". A little later, when talking of the Llanberis Pass, which is affected by the scheme, he said: The views through the valley pass towards the Snowdon range are absolutely magnificent and unique. To most people they typify Welsh landscape. Any interference with them would be critical.… Those quotations from a distinguished architect, planner and landscape consultant express succinctly and demonstrate forcefully that there is no valid argument against the proposition that this Bill inevitably threatens the natural beauty of the Snowdon area.

Mr. Wyn Roberts

Would the hon. Member not accept that Sir Frederick Gibberd, in giving evidence before the Select Committee, was giving evidence in toto for the Bill rather than against it?

Mr. Johnson

Of course. He was called as consultant on behalf of the Bill. What I was trying to say was that being called as an expert he expressed in language much better than I can use the vital amenity aspects of this scheme.

Scenery such as that found in Snowdonia is not merely something that pleases people's aesthetic sense or renews their links with nature: it has a monetary value to the nation as a whole. In this case I need not rely on the generalisation that tourism has become an important currency earner, because the Committee was told that the three North Wales counties of Merioneth, Caernarvon and Denbigh earned from the tourist trade in 1971 no less than £51½ million, and the Llanberis Valley is one of the key attractions for visitors to Snowdonia. Indeed, it has been estimated that 80 per cent. of all visitors to North Wales will pass through the valley during their stay.

Their enjoyment and those rising revenues which they provide would inevitably be disturbed by the works set out in the Bill, which will last at least seven years. It is significant, therefore, in considering the Welsh attitude to the Bill to keep in mind that the Welsh Tourist Board is opposed to it. Despite the fact, which my right hon. Friend has pointed out, that awards have been made to the board, the Welsh Tourist Board is opposed to it, and for the obvious reason that the thousands of people who go there to see that beautiful valley do not go there to see pump storage.

We have to ask ourselves, is this scheme essential? I understand that the pro-motors of the Bill accept that the roles to be performed by pump storage can be performed by other means. It is true that, at a price, if they were forced to it, they would have to utilise other forms of electricity generation—for example, gas turbines. As a layman I do not feel competent to comment profitably on them, but it is not disputed, I believe, that a pumped storage scheme is only one of a number of alternatives, and that there is technical evidence available on the feasibility of alternative schemes. If this is so, should not the board be asked to pursue these alternatives rather than that Parliament should sanction permanent damage to an area which is admittedly unique?

I should say a few words about the arguments which have been put forward about employment. I am rather surprised that both the previous speakers in the debate dealt so cursorily with the report of the Economist unit on this matter. This is a commercial concern which was dealing effectively with the matter and which took previous experience into account. If they study the report they should ask themselves whether they are completely satisfied that the project will provide steady local employment for their constituents for the future. There is strong evidence in the report that other major projects such as Trawsfynydd and Wylfa nuclear power stations and the Ffestiniog pumped storage scheme where similar claims were made have led to few permanent opportunities for local people. There is a risk, I am informed, that the situation will get worse if the building labourers attracted to the area for the construction work stay on in the area after they have been laid off, thereby adding to the local employment pool.

I hope that I have said enough to make the House hesitate before granting these new powers which seem to over-ride a broad national interest which it is the duty of Parliament to protect. Our stock of wild mountainous areas like Snowdonia is coming under increasing pressure and we should remember that it was designated as a national park for the enhancement of its natural beauty and the promotion of its enjoyment by the public.

The Bill is undoubtedly a major threat to such purposes. The bias of successive Parliaments has been against sanctioning such development unless there is an overriding case for it and unless the House is so satisfied it should respect the principle laid down many years ago by Mr. Harold Macmillan, then Minister of Housing and Local Government, who said that, subject to indisputable evidence about an over-riding national interest, in national parks amenity must be paramount.

In one of the illuminating phrases Sir Frederick Gibberd used before the Committee he said of areas such as Snow-donia— they are of more and more concern to the nation to protect them from the hands of man. I ask the House tonight to give Snowdonia that protection.

11.7 p.m.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I declare immediately that I have no vested interest in this subject. I was not born with my feet on Welsh soil or in Anglesey within sight of the Snowdonia mountains. I was born in Staffordshire.

Not many months ago a group of hon. Members from both sides argued a case—not successfully, I regret to say—to prevent the establishment of a single mooring buoy oil terminal in Anglesey. The hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) presented a superbly documented case against the terminal which went virtually unanswered by those who supported that Bill and also by Government spokesmen.

The case which the hon. Gentleman presented missed being brilliant only because of the unnecessary bias it displayed as part of his argument against private enterprise industry. This evening the monster we are arguing against is not private enterprise industry but a faceless public board.

Just as the construction of the oil terminal in Anglesey will be a vicious and disastrous scar upon the outstandingly beautiful coastline of North Wales—this view was to some degree shared by my hon. Friend the Member for Conway (Mr. Wyn Roberts), who spoke in that debate—so the construction of a 1,500 megawatt electricity pumped storage scheme at Dinorwic, and partly within the Snowdonia National Park, will be an unnecessary and savage invasion of an area of great natural and untamed beauty causing extensive damage to what can only be described as an area of unrivalled majestic mountain scenery irrespective of what hon. Members who support the Bill have said about the problems created by the slate quarries which have existed in that area for many years.

The construction work proposed by the Central Electricity Generating Board will radically alter the natural formation of the Llanberis Pass and the mountainous surrounds of the Marchleyn Mawr, irreparably damaging their natural beauty and reducing public enjoyment of the area. The proposals as they affect Snowdonia would, I believe, be inconsistent with the maintenance of the area as a national park which should be enjoyed by thousands of people coming from the large conurbations.

My opposition to and interest in the Bill fall under four headings. First I represent Macclesfield which is situated in the North-West and many of my constituents visit North Wales at the weekend and holiday there, bringing much employment to the area. They visit the area because of its scenic beauty and in spite of the crowds, they are able to enjoy the peace and quiet. They do not go to view the technological advances which were referred to by the right hon. Member for Caernarvon. Secondly, the environment in this country has been neglected for too long by successive Governments and much of our greatest natural heritage has been eaten away by the cancerous growth of gigantic technological and commercial projects of steel, concrete, glass and tar-macadam. Always these projects are explained away on the grounds that they will cost less than a similar project located elsewhere, or that they meet the national need.

Those catchphrases of "cost" and "national need" have hidden until too late a multitude of sins and it is vital that the closest scrutiny should be given to any proposals in the future which would be detrimental to the few remain- ing unspoilt areas of the United Kingdom. My third reason is that part of my constituency lies in the Peak National Park and we are continually having to fight there, albeit at time unsuccessfully, against unfortunate intrusions of motorways or of industry. All those things reduce the attraction of the Peak National Park for the many thousands of visitors who go there.

Fourthly, I remain unconvinced that the CEGB has made out an overwhelmingly proven case for the scheme. During the Select Committee stage the board accepted most readily that all the rôles to be performed by pumped storage could be performed by other means, but many of the alternative means did not appear in the board's comparison of costs. The estimated financial saving forms a significant part of the board's case but if the project goes ahead the saving will be less than 1½p per year for 30 years for each individual in the country. Does that saving justify the desecration of this area of outstanding beauty? I do not believe that it does.

There is no evidence either to indicate that the scheme would bring long-term economic benefits to the area, but rather that it would tend to aggravate the unemployment situation. That fact can be substantiated by studying the effects of recent large construction works on the economy of North Wales. The Welsh Tourist Board opposes the proposals because it feels that substantial revenue from the tourist trade might be jeopardised by the spoliation of the area and the increased industrialisation which a project like this would bring. The economic disadvantages of the scheme could well be considerable.

However, my main objection to the proposals is basically environmental, particularly as there is a blatant lack of evidence of any absolute need for the Dinorwic scheme to justify over-riding the purposes of the Snowdonia National Park. The hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. Carol Johnson) read out part of the evidence given by Sir Frederick Gibberd, the landscape consultant to the promoters, the CEGB, in cross-examination. When questioned on the general character of the Snowdonia Park, Sir Frederick said: I say that most of it—and certainly the sites of these reservoirs—is largely a wild untamed landscape. It is an area of exceptional scenic importance. I am of the opinion that as areas of wild and untamed landscape are becoming increasingly scarce they are of more and more concern to the nation to protect them from the hand of man. My view is that any landscape architect would regret the intrusion of engineering works into a National Park. It does not matter how well these works might be designed. That was said by a respected man, working for the promoters, in the full knowledge of the sort of camouflage that the CEGB and the construction workers will add to the face of the dam and other construction works. He continued: On the other hand, I am bound to say that it was not the intention of the National Parks Act that it should determine land use until Doomsday. He added that very sensibly. I acknowledge the reason for, and validity of, the last sentence. Sir Frederick has said what needs to be said, and he says it as an eminent and acknowledged expert.

In the glaring absence of a proven need for the scheme, I hope that the House will very carefully consider the pros and cons before reaching a decision.

11.18 p.m.

Mr. Thomas Oswald (Edinburgh, Central)

It is a rare occasion for me to address this august House. As a Scotsman, I make no apology for taking part in a purely Welsh debate. We may pronounce the word "Celt" differently, but there is an affinity between us.

I am forced to my feet because I was selected to be the chairman of the Committee whose duty it was to hear the evidence for and against the proposal to create a hydro-electric complex in North Wales.

It is with deep regret that I record that Sir Malcom Stoddar-Scott, who was the hon. and gallant Member for Ripon and a member of my Committee, has passed away. I consider it my duty tonight to pay my deepest respects to him for his advice and for his submissions on the matter before the House, and to convey our deepest sympathy to his bereaved family in this, their hour of sorrow.

I am more than surprised at the hon. Members who have the temerity to oppose the consideration of the Bill. I say that advisedly, because every consideration was taken into account in the submissions made by the promoters and the petitioners.

The three other members of my Committee, besides myself, were deeply interested in the Bill and were at all times open to be convinced by evidence from either side.

I am personally interested in the subject and I claim to have more knowledge of hydro-electric projects than any hon. Member. I was involved in the North British Aluminium projects at Kinlochleven, Fort William—that is Ben Nevis—and at Foyers at the outbreak of the last world war. I have more than a passing knowledge of the subject, which I hope I showed in no uncertain fashion when I was cross-examining the witnesses before the Committee.

It is a well-known fact that a chairman is required to be neutral and to listen to every word which is said and to any submission which is made. I claim that I was more than fair and more than generous to both sides of the Committee. No one can say that I was unfair to either side. I can publicly state that I gave the petitioners every opportunity to progress their case. Hon. Members may laugh, but if they look at the minutes it will be seen that I stopped the Committee's proceedings to give the Queen's Counsel representing the petitioners the opportunity to consult with the promoters. That is something which has never happened during the proceedings of a Select Committee in the past.

Apparently the main point in this short debate is what damage is likely to accrue to the landscape in the region in which the project is planned. That is laughable in the extreme. It must be appreciated that the promoters have gone out of their way to appease the objectors. It is passing strange that the petitioners accepted the promoters' evidence that more generating plant must be constructed in the late 1970s.

In the course of the petitioners' evidence the Committee was asked to consider an alternative to hydro-electricity. It was suggested that a gas turbine installation would be preferable to hydro-electricity. There was no actual objection to the site at that stage.

A further alternative was that we should introduce a compressed air storage system. The Committee then learned that the compressed air storage system was purely theoretical. Two days out of the nine days which the Committee sat were lost as a result of discussing that theoretical proposal. It was proposed that the system should be brought about by finding caves in Cheshire where there are some salt mines. The proposal was that there should be sealed off any porous system of rock salt and then by installing a pipe we should pump compressed air into the cave and thereby use the compressed air for the purpose of propelling the turbines to drive the dynamos to make electricity.

I asked the expert, who was brought all the way from Sweden, whether he could tell me where the Committee could inspect such an installation. He had to confess that it was purely theoretical and that there was no such installation anywhere in the wide world.

It was important to consider this theoretical proposition, but the Committee also appreciated that the cost of the proposed installation would be about £75 million and that the project would give employment in the first two years for some 1,000 persons and that on completion some 40 to 50 local people would have permanent employment, mostly from North Wales.

One has to visit the site. I want to put it on record that this was only the second occasion upon which a Select Committee by permission of the House has been enabled to leave this august building to view a site. The first occasion was in dealing with the Thames barrier system not so many weeks ago. I took the opportunity, because of the conflicting arguments, to decide that my Committee should visit the site in Wales, which we did. We saw at first hand what was being proposed by the promoters and by the objectors.

We had had written evidence which was very convincing but on site it was found wanting. We found that to be the case in no uncertain fashion. I will give an instance. A colleague of mine on this side of the House will confirm it. I remind hon. Members that on the Committee were two Members from each side of the House.

In the written evidence it had been pointed out that there was a very interesting hand-made wall which contained some very interesting specimens of the flora in the area, and that there was also a rowan tree in this individual's garden.

When we arrived at the site, my hon. Friend, who was in the first car, immediately asked the individual concerned, who had been riding in my car, to show us this magnificent specimen of lovely hand-made wall containing these magnificent specimes of flora. The person showed us. It was what is called in Scotland a "dry stane dyke". It was explained that the deposit was blown up from time to time and that birds could carry the seeds on the breeze of the day and the evening and deposit them on the "dry stane dyke".

My hon. Friend pointed out that he had noticed all these flora on his way to the village. He was tremendously interested in the rowan tree. By this time the objector's wife had entered the cottage and my hon. Friend went into the so-called garden to inspect the rowan tree.

May I never leave this Chamber if I am exaggerating—my hon. Friend can bear me out—when I say that the rowan tree was no more than 20 inches high, with two tiny splinters of leaf on one side and three tiny leaves on the other side.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)

Order. Whether rowan trees grow as time goes on, we should try to keep more closely to the terms of the Bill.

Mr. Oswald

I am keeping close to it, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I have the evidence submitted to the Select Committee. I want to show in no uncertain fashion that the Committee had to make a determination. I apologise if I am boring you.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I assure the hon. Gentleman that that is the last thing he is doing.

Mr. Oswald

Thank you. I could enlarge on this aspect, but suffice to say that my colleagues and I were not impressed after visiting the site.

The promoters have in my opinion gone out of their way to tidy up the area. The area certainly requires tidying up. It is only necessary to view it. The waste from the slate quarries is an eyesore for the ordinary citizen. To talk gliby about tourists coming in is visionary talk. It is disgusting in the extreme at present. It is worse than the slate quarries at Ballachulish in Argyllshire—although I concede that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

The promoters have given an undertaking that there will be no pylons to desecrate the view. All the cables will be underground. The scheme is not unique. In Scotland we have pumped storage schemes. The power-house is built inside the mountain, not at all visible until one enters the portals. At off-peak hours the turbines are thrown into reverse and the water is pumped back to the higher reservoir instead of being allowed to flow out to the sea.

The desecration point has been overstated by the objectors. We have only to look at the obsolete slate quarries, the slate waste and the derelict buildings, to appreciate the man-made desolation of the area. The proposals in this Bill will mean that this area will be improved by the removal of the waste and the buildings, and by the production of electricity for the region for at least the next 50 years.

I have no desire to prolong the night's sitting, although with a captive audience it is a great temptation. I am sorely tempted to rebut the submissions of my hon. Friends who are against the Bill. We must consider the evidence, weigh it and be convinced for or against the scheme. Having sat for nine long days listening to all the evidence, and having visited the site and questioned all the witnesses, we must come to a verdict. I trust that the House will approve this Bill.

11.33 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Bray (Rossendale)

It was my pleasure to sit on the Committee which examined this Bill with the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Oswald) and I endorse every word he has spoken. I also ask the leave of the House to raise certain points which he mentioned. I will deal first with the compressed air storage scheme, the so-called alternative. This was an unproved project which it was proposed should use industrial turbines of a size as yet unknown. It would be located at Winsford, Cheshire. The whole of the caverns would be leached out hydraulically. No suggestions were made as to how the brine should be disposed of or what would be the ecological effects of this substance. Further the Committee was not really told that it would also involve a tank farm, an almost conventional power station plus railway sidings and other things—all to be wished on the county of Cheshire by the petitioners. That was just one issue.

Great play was also made of the effect on the flora and fauna and of how contractor's plant would damage the soil and the general terrain. During the consideration of that Bill I travelled up to the area in Westmorland on the M6 between Tebay and Orton where the conditions are somewhat similar. At that point the M6 had been constructed for only about three years, but it had already been integrated into the landscape.

If one looks beyond the M6 to where tanks had run during and after the Second World War, one sees that the damage is still evident. I suggest that that supports the claims of the promoters that they could landscape the land, clean up the damage which may have been caused and, in effect, produce a better environment, and I agree entirely with them.

There was also presented to the Committee a petition which was claimed to have the best part of 5,000 signatures appended to it. These had been collected by the petitioners over a period of about 12 months. Some interesting things come out of that. Only 544 local people, that is those resident in the whole of North Wales, bothered to sign the petition, and that out of a population of 218,000. In other wards, this petition was not worth the paper on which it was written, particularly when one views the sentiments given to those who had been asked to sign it. They were emotive—I nearly said erotic—and they were definitely misleading.

A number of signatures have been added to the early-day motion against the Bill. As far as I can recollect—and I took careful note of this in Committee —only one of those petitioners sat in for a few minutes on the consideration of the Bill. In other words, whilst the petitioners may make emotive noises tonight, the fact is that only one was present at the hearing. I suggest that the petitioners could have learned more if they had spent more time in the Committee

This is the sixth or seventh Private Bill Committee on which I have served. The petitions offered against the Bill are, without reservation, the weakest that I have heard to date.

11.38 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)

I propose to intervene only briefly, but I believe that, both on the grounds of cost of the proposal involved and the significance of the area concerned, an issue of such importance as this should be brought to the Chamber for debate. I should not like there to be any suggestion that it was in some way improper to put down a motion to ensure that there was a right to debate a matter of this significance in this Chamber. Indeed, we should not have heard the delightful speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Oswald) had we not done so.

The other matter that concerns me is that, knowing this area very well, and knowing the slate quarries of Ballachulish, I am far from convinced that this is the last inroad that the CEGB intends to make in this area. I ask my Welsh friends to realise that we are concerned not only about this proposal by itself but also about the other proposals which I am certain will come forward, whatever the CEGB may say now. I say that bearing in mind the other developments that have taken place in the mountain area of North Wales.

I should like the House to make it clear that, whatever decision we take tonight, we are saying to the CEGB that it shall not bring forward further proposals of this character to ruin permanently that great heritage of the whole mountain area of North Wales. That is what would happen if further proposals which are in its pigeon holes were brought forward.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, considered accordingly; to be read the Third time.

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