HC Deb 02 May 1973 vol 855 cc1236-40
10. Mr. Lambie

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what is the number of planning applications that are presently being considered by him and local planning authorities for permission to define future Scottish and foreign oil.

Mr. Gordon Campbell

Two, as indicated in my reply to the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) on 5th March, in which also I gave particulars. —[Vol. 852, c. 53.]

Mr. Lambie

When will the Secretary of State start to give permission for construction of oil refineries in Scotland to allow the estimated production by 1980 of 75 million tons of North Sea oil to be refined in Scotland? Is it Government policy to prevent oil refineries being built in Scotland so as to allow Scottish oil to be refined in England and on the continent? Are the Scots destined to become the Arabs of Europe—situated among the richest oil-producing nations in Europe but with the poorest population?

Mr. Campbell

On the question of timing I must make clear that I wish to proceed as quickly as possible with these two applications, but they are being revised by the applicants. I cannot consider them because they have been withdrawn by the applicants for revision and resubmission. Once applications are in the planning machinery, I cannot comment on the merits or demerits of particular proposals. In general, however, my right hon. Friends in the Government and I are making sure that the maximum benefits from this new oil industry, which has begun only in the last two years, will come to Scotland.

Mr. Douglas

Will the Secretary of State give the House an overall view of the problem of oil refining in Scotland, because the applications that are before him are for export-oriented refineries? Does he appreciate that those of us who represent Stirling and Grangemouth are concerned about the expansion of existing refineries in Scotland? When will he do something about the situation?

Mr. Campbell

The hon. Gentleman will note that the original Question refers to both Scottish and foreign oil and that is the Question I have answered. I was also asked what applications were before me. The proposal for the extension of the existing oil refinery at Grangemouth is not in the planning machinery, but statements have been made on this topic by BP.

18. Mr. Grimond

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will set up a commission to co-ordinate planning decisions about oil development in the North and North East of Scotland.

Mr. Gordon Campbell

At present the normal machinery of the planning Acts passed by this House applies and responsibilities are clearly allocated. In addition I have commissioned overall surveys of coastal sites and the impact of oil developments on Scotland.

Mr. Grimond

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I am grateful for his letter, which I received after putting down my Question, and for the interesting discussion document on rig building? However it bears out my point. The document deals with the geographical aspects of rig building and does not take into account many of the social and economic aspects. It will not, I suppose, be kept up to date. It indicates that there is no suitable site north of Cromarty Firth for deep sea rig building. Practically everyone concerned with planning, such as the National Trust, says that the present procedures all need supplementation and should cover the whole area.

Mr. Campbell

The present procedures are governed by Acts passed by this House. The right hon. Gentleman has acknowledged, I think, that I have used these as flexibly as possible to deal with very unusual situations sometimes requiring great speed and other situations where there is a huge dilemma between the requirements of a new industry and the new and valuable jobs which can be brought in and the need to conserve the environment. Technical points come up all the time such as whether it is possible to build a certain kind of rig north of a certain area. But a special issue of the Scottish Economic Bulletin is to be published on Monday which will give a great deal of up-to-date information on the Scottish onshore aspects of the new industry and that will supplement what was presented to Parliament in January by the Department of Trade and Industry.

Mr. Wolrige-Gordon

When will the overall survey be ready? Is my right hon. Friend aware that, as most planning decisions are liable to be held to be wrong by some sections of the population, there is still a need to keep the responsibility for these planning decisions as local as possible?

Mr. Campbell

That is the object of the Acts passed by this House. It is the local planning authorities which start considering applications. Then, depending upon the objections or the nature and magnitude of the questions involved, they come to the Secretary of State. As planning Minister for Scotland I am very much aware that this is an area where the most difficult decisions referred to the Minister are bound to cause offence whatever decisions he takes. Some people will be pleased, others may not. This House has recognised that because it is such an important responsibility it must lie with the Government of the day and cannot be handed over to an appointed body outside the elected representatives.

Mr. Maclennan

Without reflecting upon the actions of local authorities in this matter, may I ask whether the Secretary of State realises that there is genuine and growing concern that before the reorganisation of local government there will be a critical period during which the resources of local authorities will be stretched? We need from the Government some general indications of their planning criteria which we have not had so far. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the urgency of this in the light of the growing interest of American oil companies in finding refining sites in the north of Scotland because they are unable to find suitable sites in their own country?

Mr. Campbell

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. I think we have widely publicised the general criteria involved in these planning decisions. In that way we have been able to give guidance to those who are setting up projects so that they go to sensible places initially and do not choose something like a bird sanctuary as a place for an industrial project. Once an application has been put in under the Act, it has to go through the procedures. No one can definitely say before an application has formally been lodged and gone through the procedures, with opportunities being given for objection, whether something will be successful at a certain site. It is impossible for the Government to give more than general guidance. This we have done. If hon. Members will await the document that is to be published on Monday they will find a great deal more guidance of this kind in it.

Sir J. Gilmour

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in the legislation before Parliament there are means for providing the necessary co-ordination between the regions in Scotland and that he has so far refused to take them?

Mr. Campbell

No. I should be glad to pursue this matter with my hon. Friend if he would care to suggest further ways in which we can flexibly deal with the situation, particularly the North Sea oil developments, under the Act. I think we have been able to help in a number of cases. Otherwise, projects now producing hundreds of jobs in certain parts of Scotland would not be there—for example at Nigg Bay, Ardiseer and Methil, in Fife.

Mr. Ross

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that voices are being raised particularly in these areas, not least by his colleague who has to sit silent beside him, suggesting that it is time to call a halt for a reassessment? Is he satisfied that there is power to regulate these developments in a way that will enable local authorities, weak as they are, and the local population to cope with the embarrassing problems that apply to them during the construction period because of the local authorities' failure to get adequate information to make permanent long-term arrangements?

Secondly, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider this matter in a wider sense than the North of Scotland? Will he have another look at the proposals in the IMEG report which suggest that we should be looking at the extent to which other parts of Scotland could participate in these developments and might therefore save us from some of the embarrassing decisions that he has to make concerning a part of Scotland which is part of our heritage?

Mr. Campbell

On the last point, the right hon. Gentleman will have noticed that I gave planning permission for the project at Ardyne Point which is near enough to West-Central Scotland to be of value in that area. There are applications for development in other parts of Scotland as well as the North-East.

I should never say that I am satisfied with the procedures. However, I have to work within them because they have been laid down by this House. It is not possible for me, in a few weeks or months, to put through a new planning Act. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I have to work within the present procedures, but I am prepared to consider anything which might improve the situation and to get this House, if it will, to endorse it.

Mr. Ross

Surely the right hon. Gentleman has power within the planning Act to do what he did regarding Hunterston.

Mr. Campbell

I have done that. On appropriate occasions I have called in. On other occasions local authorities have applied to me so that, under the Article 8 procedure, I could give accelerated planning permissions so that they could change their development plans. In two of the projects that I mentioned, which provided hundreds of jobs, I have been able to deal with the planning permission within six weeks.