HC Deb 24 October 1984 vol 65 cc676-7
4. Mr. Kirkwood

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the environmental implications of the proposed development of the onshore oilfield at Wytch Farm.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

I understand that BP's proposals at Wytch Farm are currently subject to consultation with interested parties, and a planning application is expected in due course. I am well aware of the sensitive environmental issues raised by these proposals, and would expect any application to be subject to rigorous scrutiny by Dorset county council in the first instance.

Mr. Kirkwood

I appreciate the national importance of the sensitive ecological site at Wytch Farm, but will the Minister use his good offices to require British Petroleum, if he thinks that it is not measuring up to the needs of the site, to undertake a complete hydrological survey of the Poole harbour area and an ecological survey of the island and the Studland peninsula?

Mr. Baker

In the first instance, as I said in my original reply, this must be a matter for Dorset county council in the light of the policies of its approved structure plan and other considerations. I am glad that widespread consultation is taking place. I pay tribute to the county council for imposing restrictions on the first development of Wytch Farm which have made it environmentally acceptable.

Mr. Ward

Is my right hon. Friend aware that close consultation and co-operation is already taking place between BP and the local authorities? Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the need to protect the environmental safety of Poole harbour, because it is not only a unique leisure and commercial centre but a source of income for local fishermen? I hope that my right hon. Friend will be reassured that we on the south coast are as concerned about the environment as anyone from the more northern parts of the kingdom.

Mr. Baker

I fully support what my hon. Friend has said. Poole harbour is an important place, for recreation, leisure and environmental reasons. I am glad that widespread consultations are occurring. I would have excepted Dorset county council to undertake those consultatons and to hold the public meetings it has arranged. I assure the House that onshore oil and gas development will not be permitted to proceed unless the proposals are environmentally acceptable.

Mr. David Atkinson

I accept that we need to be ultra vigilant about protecting the environment in south Dorset, but does my hon. Friend agree that BP has shown itself to be a highly responsible organisation in protecting the environment and in its obligations to the local communities, particularly with the Sullom Voe oil terminal in the Shetlands, and that is no reason to suppose that it will not act in the same way at Wytch Farm?

Mr. Baker

I agree with my hon. Friend. There must be responsibility in these matters on all sides. I pay tribute to BP for what it has done in its developments in north Scotland and the islands. I am glad that there are widespread consultations involving the people living locally whom my hon. Friends the Members for Poole (Mr. Ward) and for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) represent.