HC Deb 30 March 1987 vol 113 cc746-8
5. Mr. Ashton

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what recent representations he has received from the Central Electricity Generating Board regarding requests to build coal-fired power stations.

13. Mr. Sean Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he has recently received any new applications from the Central Electricity Generating Board regarding construction of new coal-fired power stations.

Mr. Peter Walker

The chairman of the CEGB has informed me that the board has concentrated its investigation of possible locations for new coal-fired power stations on five sites which it owns. Subject to the satisfactory completion of site investigations and other work, the board expects to select West Burton and Fawley and to make formal applications for consent to these stations by the end of this year. My intention on receiving such applications would be to consider each decision as quickly as possible.

Mr. Ashton

I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. Is he aware that West Burton is in my constituency and that there will be no problems from the county or district council with regard to planning permission for a development that will be eagerly welcomed? As unemployment is now touching 20 per cent., is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that if he can speed up his decision and give it full force he will receive the maximum backing from the area?

Mr. Walker

I am pleased that the project will be of benefit to the area in terms of jobs and everything else. It also reflects the availability of coal in the area, where all productivity records are being broken. I believe that the feasibility of coal-fired power stations has resulted from the massive improvement in productivity under this Government.

Mr. Hannam

Will my right hon. Friend accept the congratulations of all who believe in a balanced energy programme? Is he aware that his announcement will be greatly welcomed by the hard-pressed power construction industry? Are there any proposals in the pipeline for a coal-fired power station in the far south-west of England?

Mr. Walker

On the latter point, I have received no application and I know of no immediate proposal by the CEGB, which has informed me of its likely choices for the first two stations. It has already announced its intention to go ahead with Sizewell and to apply for one further PWR, so I think that that is the programme for the foreseeable future.

Mr. Dormand

Does that exclude the possibility of a coal-fired power station in the north-east, which has the strongest case of all, in having higher unemployment than any other part of the United Kingdom except Northern Ireland? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that British Coal Enterprise Ltd. seems to be having no effect whatever in the north-east of England, and will he give some attention to that?

Mr. Walker

That is simply not true, as a substantial number of jobs have already been provided in the north-east. I referred to the siting of the first two power stations, but I did not say that the north-east was excluded for the future. The hon. Gentleman, with his great knowledge of the area, will know that orders for power stations, both nuclear and coal-fired, are of considerable benefit to the north-east.

Mr. Colvin

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there will be relief in my constituency that he has plumped for one site in Waterside and not for two, although there is still considerable debate as to whether the Fawley B side or the Marchwood side is best? Is he aware that there will also be relief that it is to be a coal-fired station rather than a nuclear one? Will he, nevertheless, give an undertaking that there will be the fullest public debate before the final go-ahead is given, as there are other anxieties, first, about the future of the north Solent area of outstanding natural beauty, secondly, about sulphur dioxide emissions from coal-fired power stations and, thirdly, about the appalling infrastructure of Waterside, which for too long has been a dumping ground for developments in Hampshire that others did not want? Does my right hon. Friend accept that if the development is to get past the planning hurdles as smoothly as one trusts will be the case in Burton there must be some trade-off in terms of improving the infrastructure and in particular the killer A326 road?

Mr. Walker

I am aware of my hon. Friend's great interest in possible developments in his constituency and the CEGB is anxious to recognise the environmental issues that he has raised. I am sure that in their discussions the planning authorities will not be disappointed at the interest shown by the board in those issues.

Mr. Forth

Before my right hon. Friend rushes off to approve too many coal-fired power stations, will he bear in mind the problem of emissions and acid rain, which concerns people, not only in this country, but our partners abroad, especially in Europe? Will he bear in mind also the regrettably much higher fatality rate for those mining coal and using it in various ways, compared to nuclear power? Will he bear all those factors in mind before he considers approving too many coal-fired power stations?

Mr. Walker

Yes. My hon. Friend has raised two important issues. On his environmental point about acid rain, all new coal-fired power stations have the best equipment to ensure that such problems are met as far as possible. The accident and fatality rates in the coal industry are serious problems which everybody hopes to improve in the years to come.

Mr. Orme

We welcome the proposed development of these new coal-fired power stations, which are long overdue. However, to return to a point made earlier by some of my hon. Friends, can the Secretary of State give an undertaking that British coal will be used in these new stations?

Mr. Walker

Such power stations would probably not have been possible but for the improved performance of British Coal during the lifetime of this Government. Provided that performance continues, and is enhanced, I am sure that the CEGB will continue to buy the bulk of its coal from the British coal industry as it does at present. It is in its vested interest to do so, provided it remains a safe and secure form of supply.