HC Deb 23 April 1986 vol 96 cc289-91
10. Mr. Adley

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what further steps he intends to take to protect the rural environment; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Kenneth Baker)

We have decided to support the Broads Bill and to extend the landscape areas special development order to cover the design, appearance and siting of farm and forestry buildings and roads in all national parks. The House will be aware of my various statements about the importance of preserving the green belt.

Mr. Adley

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. I thank him also for what has been a perceived and noticeable change of attitude on the part of his Department towards the protection of the environment over the past few months. Will he accept from me that if the Government fail to recognise the rising tide of anger that is felt when many local authority planning decisions are overthrown by his Department, the Government will reap a whirlwind and will deserve everything that they get?

Mr. Baker

I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. I assure him that I consider that the protection of the countryside is one of my major responsibilities. We have a uniquely beautiful inheritance in the English countryside which we must cherish and protect.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the increasing concern that is being expressed in rural areas about the insensitive planting of coniferious trees and the effect that it is having on fishing interests and on acid ground water levels, which are destroying spawning beds and the fish population and having a considerable impact on the environment and the rural economy?

Mr. Baker

I am grateful to a Scottish Member for drawing this to my attention, but it is not an exclusively Scottish problem, because there have been quite large plantings of what are virtually conifer forests in the south of England and I and my colleagues are having a look at the effect of that.

Mr. David Clark

As the Government now appear to have conceded that acid rain from British power stations is causing damage to our Scandinavian neighbours, will the right hon. Gentleman also accept that those same emissions are causing great damage to our own United Kingdom environment, with the result that we have dead lochs in Galloway, dying lakes in Cumbria and waterways in central Wales which can no longer support fish? Will he accept his responsibility and take some action to reduce the level of acidic emissions and thus try to protect a little more our precious British countryside?

Mr. Baker

The hon. Gentleman, who follows these matters very closely, will know that there is a complicated causal link between the emissions from factories and the increase in acidity of lakes and damage to forests. I would only point out—and I think that the hon. Gentleman would be the first to recognise this—that in our country we have a very good record of reducing the sulphur dioxide and nitric oxide emissions from heavy plants. In fact, we have reduced them by over 40 per cent.

Mr. Chapman

I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's commitment to the protection of the green belts, which is surely the best way to protect 4.5 million acres of England's countryside. Will he accept the thanks of many environment organisations for accepting an amendment to the Housing and Planning Bill that will ensure that simplified planning zones cannot be set up in green belts, national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and, of course, green belt conservation areas?

Mr. Baker

My hon. Friend is correct to say that in the amendments to the Housing and Planning Bill we have made it clear that simplified zones will not be applied in the areas that he has mentioned. I believe that there is widespread agreement in the House on the importance of preserving the green belt, which is one of the most successful planning inventions of this century. It was devised in Britain and green belts now extend to some 4.5 million acres. In fact, we have doubled the size of green belts since 1979.

Back to