HC Deb 19 March 1985 vol 75 cc834-6

Order for Second reading read.

7.27 pm
Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The stray is an invaluable and unique asset to Harrogate. It is a central feature of the town's character, just as Hyde park is a feature of London's. The stray has been jealously guarded down the years and the Bill is to preserve its protection. It wraps around the centre of the town like a vast village green of some 200 acres, and the subsequent development of Harrogate owes much to the great Act of 1770—the Forest of Knaresborough Act— which set out to preserve the open walks which had become an essential feature of the spa. It said: persons resorting to the said waters have always had the benefit of taking the air upon the open parts of the Forest".

The forest disappeared, leaving wide open spaces, but today it is enhanced by trees that have been planted over the years and the remarkable number of crocuses which provide a carpet of colour at this time of year. During the second world war, the stray took on a different use when it was dug up to grow potatoes and vegetables.

In 1792, Dr. Gamett praised both the chalbeate and sulphur waters, "the latter highly esteemed" and the "lively bracing air", not forgetting the "sociability of the company" and the many pleasing and delightful scenes of the district". The growth of the spa was a consequence of private and public enterprise in harness. Similarly today, Harrogate is once again profiting from its role in the growing leisure and conference business and the wealth that we derive from it.

Local doctors, Bain and Edgecombe, argued at the turn of the century that the bracing climate alone was an effective treatment for two conditions: the physical and mental depression resulting from town life and sedentary occupation", and, secondly, that state of brain fag which is the result of prolonged and assiduous mental work without a break". You will understand, Mr. Deputy Speaker, how much I value my weekends and recesses in my constituency. The importance of the stray for recreation cannot be over-emphasised.

The Bill is promoted by the Harrogate borough council. The Local Government Act 1972 provided that with certain exceptions local legislation promoted by local authorities prior to reorganisation should cease. By subsequent order, the cessation date for such legislation in non-metropolitan areas is 1986.

The Act of 1770 directed that the stray be set out as stinted pasture for the benefit and use of the freeholders and copyholders of Harrogate. The Act also directed that the land should thenceforward for ever remain open and unenclosed. By the Harrogate Corporation Act 1893 the powers of control and management of the stray were vested in the corporation of Harrogate, the freehold of the land remaining vested in the Duchy of Lancaster, having been part of the forest of Knaresborough of which His Majesty King George III was seized.

The borough council has management powers over the stray and there are nowadays no individual rights of common over the stray. Section 10 of the Harrogate Corporation Act 1893, from which clause 5 of the Bill is principally imported, provides: The corporation shall (except as in this Act otherwise provided) at all times keep the Stray uninclosed and unbuilt on as an open space for the recreation and enjoyment of the public. Throughout its history, the stray has been widely used by the residents of Harrogate, both individually and in organised groups and teams, for many forms of recreational activity. Those activities include walking, running, picnicking, riding, soccer, rugby, grass-track cycle racing, golf, athletics and polo. Additionally, the stray is a focal point for school activities, events organised by various local and national charities, rallies, exhibitions, festivals, the town bonfire, fairs and circuses. The use of the stray for organised group games and events is subject to the permission of the council.

Being situated in the centre of Harrogate, the stray, particularly during the summer months, is used extensively by, for example, those working in offices nearby who seek a breath of fresh air during their lunch hour. It is vital to preserve its status as open parkland for the free enjoyment of the many residents and visitors to Harrogate.

Most of the Bill is a re-enactment of existing powers, but showing deference to recent common land precedents in local legislation. The management of the stray is maintained in the borough council, which has a duty to maintain the stray and the wells upon it, subject to certain powers to inclose. The powers are contained in clauses 4 and 6 of the Bill.

The new powers are the following: first, to inclose for helicopter landings; secondly, to build new public conveniences — which, incidentally, have already been constructed — and changing rooms on the stray in specified plots. Thirdly, in accordance with approved departmental policy, opportunity has been taken by the promotion of the Bill expressly to repeal relevant provisions which are considered to be redundant.

The borough carried out consultations with the Stray Defence Association and other organisations and individuals. General support for the Bill has now been universally given and full support has come from the Ramblers Association.

A number of constituents have raised important points with me and I am fully satisfied that all representations have been considered. In particular, it was originally proposed to repeal the legislation making provision for water from the wells to be supplied without charge for the public drinking fountain situated outside the royal pump room. The fountain was originally provided in view of the earlier obligation for a free supply of water to be made available from the well inside the royal pump room. I am happy to say that this Bill now incorporates this obligation and perpetuates the only surviving link with Harrogate's great past as a spa.

Local concern was expressed under the following headings: in relation to the stray, over road inprovements and the landing of helicopters; in relation to repeals of sections of earlier Acts, including sections under which low-cost or fine water is supplied to certain landowners in the borough, to alleged interference with piling rights, especially through the repeal of a provision restricting boating on Lumley reservoir, and to the repeal of a provision under which a particular landowner has the right to construct a road over part of the stray.

In relation to repeals, the borough council complied with Standing Orders of the House in giving notice of the intended repeal to those in whom the benefit of protective provisions was vested.

Five petitions were deposited against the Bill, by the Harrogate Society, by a company and by a number of individuals. Negotiations or correspondence have taken place with each of the petitioners through parliamentary agents and a measure of agreement now exists between the parties. Draft undertakings sent to the petitioners have been endorsed by the borough council in return for the withdrawal of the petitions and it has undertaken to amend the Bill so as, first, to provide that land taken elsewhere in the borough as a substitute for any part of the stray used for road or path making improvements shall be no more than 100 m away from the stray border as delineated in the stray plan; secondly, to limit the number of temporary enclosures for the purpose of aircraft landings to 12 in any given year; thirdly, to save from repeal paragraphs 2 and 10 of section 11 of the Harrogate Waterworks Act 1897, relating to water supplies from Scargill reservoir and other matters section 23 of the Harrogate Corporation Act 1893, relating to land in Granby park area, and section 25 of the Ripon Corporation Act, relating to sporting rights.

The promoters have agreed to introduce a new Bill to regulate Bogs field, and I wish to put this on the record. Bogs field was not included in the present Bill, because the council considered that, although historically it may have been part of the stray, it was different from the stray in topography, use and land ownership—the borough council owns the freehold. However, the borough council now accepts that statutory restrictions on its use and management should be enacted.

The House can derive the satisfaction that I feel that this vital part of the heritage and environment of Harrogate will, with the passage of this Bill, be preserved. I am indeed conscious of the desire of the members and officers of the Harrogate borough council to perform their functions in the full spirit of this necessary preservation.

7.35 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Neil Macfarlane)

This Bill is generally acceptable to us. My Department and that of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport have a few minor reservations, which we are discussing with the promoters. There are a number of petitioners against the Bill and they will have a chance to present their objections to the Select Committee, which will be in a much better position than we are tonight to examine the provisions involved and will have the added benefit of expert evidence.

I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading and send it to Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time and referred to the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills.