HC Deb 28 January 1992 vol 202 cc881-91
Mr. Chris Smith

I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 7, leave out lines 10 and 11.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 3, in clause 20, page 11, line 27, at end insert— '(5) Nothing in this Act shall authorise the Board or the Company to purchase or use the land in the London Borough of Camden numbered 88–101 on the deposited plans.'. No. 4, in clause 23, page 13, line 31, at end insert— '(3A) On completion of Works Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4A and 4B, the Board shall, within six months, reinstate on the land numbered on the deposited plans 25 in the London Borough of Camden, the natural park known as Camley Street Natural Park, with all necessary facilities and conveniences.'. No. 5, in clause 23, page 13, line 38, at end insert— '(5) Within six months of completion of Work No. 2, the Board shall reinstate on the site of 13–17 Caledonian Road in the London Borough of Islington, land numbered 76 in the deposited plans, a hostel of at least 33 bedspaces for homeless people.'. No. 11, in schedule 4, page 26, line 8, column 3, leave out 'for the general purposes of the Board' and insert 'to be returned to the freeholder'. No. 12, in schedule 4, page 26, line 10, at end insert— '39–70 For the provision of a construction site and thereafter to be returned to the freeholder.'.

Mr. Smith

This group of amendments deals with a number of detailed aspects of the works that British Rail is proposing and especially with what should happen to land or property once British Rail's need to use them in carrying out the works has expired.

Amendments Nos. 2, 11 and 12 are very much of a piece. The key point concerns use of land. If British Rail requires land not for its railway purposes, such as putting a track or station on it, but simply to assist with building work—for example, to gain access to the great box that it intends to create below level, as a place to put site huts on, or to keep some of the ancillary equipment that it needs to carry out the basic railway works—once the work is finished and the station is complete, those bits of land should be returned to their original owners. The Bill does not say that. In such cases, British Rail can retain land when the work is finished even when there is no railway-specific need to retain it, and presumably undertake property development and make a profit on it.

The amendments argue that, instead of British Rail acting as a property developer and profiting from land when its need to use it has ended, that land should be returned to its former owners for whatever better potential use they may decide.

Mr. Derek Stuckey wrote to me in considerable detail about the land that is in his ownership. I can best set the scene by explaining that Mr. Stuckey is a 75-year-old barrister who retains chambers at No. 3 Dr. Johnson's buildings in the Temple. Mr. Stuckey lives at No. 2 to 2a Keystone crescent, which property is directly subject to the Bill.

Mr. Stuckey was born at No. 2 Keystone crescent, and his family have owned land at King's Cross—including that now sought to be acquired—for more than 100 years. His son Robert and his family live at No. 9 Keystone crescent, and his other son, George, lives at No. 1 Omega place. Therefore, the family have deep roots in the area affected by the Bill.

Mr. Stuckey writes that the total area of land that he owns, and which is in the purview of the amendments, is about half an acre, and includes within the limits of deviation of the Bill nine shops in Caledonian road—Nos. 10 to 26, even, inclusive. They include a health food shop, cafe, toiletries, florists, newsagent and confectioner, men's and women's outfitters, greengrocer, barber shop, and an Italian delicatessen. The upper parts of those shops are used mainly for residential purposes.

Mr. Stuckey writes: The construction of the low-level station would result in the demolition of the parade of shops, and of the garage at the rear. Yet, according to the plans submitted to the Select Committee of the House of Commons, on the most unfavourable view, only a small part of this land would be occupied by the proposed low-level station. By far the greater part of the land would be used solely as a site for the purposes of the construction of the low-level station. At the end of the day, it is proposed that British Railways Board shall retain, not simply the proposed low-level station but the remainder of the land taken as a construction site. In other words, after British Rail had used the land as a construction site, and, although it would not thereafter need it for any specific railway or station purposes, British Rail would continue to own it.

Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 seek to ensure that those parts of the site currently owned by Mr. Stuckey and not required for the railway or the station are returned to him, so that he may decide on proposals for its subsequent use. If British Rail Property Board makes that decision, I suspect that we will see not a return to the small, human-scale shopping facilities that currently exist, but a British Rail office block. It is suggested that British Railways Board should not be permitted by private Bill to acquire land for development, but only for the operational purposes of their railway, and that the persons from whom it is compulsorily acquired should have the opportunity of redeveloping it, once the primary purpose of acquiring the land—the construction of the low-level station—has been accomplished … None the less, the return to me of the remaining one third of the site"— the other two thirds are not owned by Mr. Stuckey— would enable me or my successors to influence the development of the former coach station, in the interests of the residents of Keystone Crescent, and to endeavour to secure the rebuilding of the parade of shops, in substantially the same form, though with such modifications and improvements as might be necessary and practicable. Mr. Stuckey says that, if the land is not required by British Rail after the development has been completed were returned to him, he would be sensitive to the traditions of the area—in terms of the kind of shops that currently exist and the need to replace them. You can bet your boots, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that if British Rail Property Board retains ownership of the land, it will not have the same interests of the local people and community at heart.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Does my hon. Friend see a link between the case that he describes and that of Crichel Down, in which—in almost exactly parallel circumstances—land was not returned for agricultural purposes until a court decided that that was just what the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was required to do? It might be better to accept my hon. Friend's amendment to ensure that Mr. Stuckey, who is a barrister, does not delay matters by indulging in litigation—particularly as there may be a major precedent to help him.

Mr. Smith

My hon. Friend draws an extremely important analogy. The Bill provides for British Rail to retain the ownership of the sites when the development is completed for the general purposes of the board. They cover a multifarious array of activities, including office development, to maximise British Rail's profit. That is not necessarily a fair way of dealing with someone such as Mr. Stuckey, whose family has had land in the area for a substantial length of time.

Amendment No. 2 will delete from clause 10 the proposed road closure of Omega place. Even if that closure is temporarily required for works to be undertaken, it is wrong to write into the Bill the permanent closure of Omega place, when that is not a requirement for the completed station's operation. Mr. Stuckey writes: future development is likely to lead to the construction of a single, large building or block of buildings, which will materially alter the character of the district, to the prejudice of the residents and of the neighbourhood. By seeking the permanent closure of Omega place, British Rail aims to ensure that subsequent development can spread on either side, while including Omega place itself, and a bigger office block can be built subsequently. That would substantially alter the character of the neighbourhood.

Mr. Stuckey continues: The time for considering the closure of Omega Place is when plans for future redevelopment of the site are put forward. If those plans are of sufficient merit to warrant it, the closure of Omega Place can then be considered, and effected by the usual procedure, which provides for objections by owners of land adjoining the highway. Until such plans are put forward, and shown to be an improvement on what exists at present, the bias should be towards a redevelopment of the land substantially in its present, useful form.

That puts the case very succinctly. So far, British Rail has told us nothing about what it will put in place of the land that it is grabbing by means of the Bill, and the additional land that will result from the closure of Omega place. I fear, however, that we shall see a substantial commercial office development.

8.30 pm

If that is so, by enabling Omega place to be closed and ensuring that British Rail can hang on to bits of land that it will not need after the completion of the station, we are allowing British Rail carte blanche to present whatever proposals it wishes to present. We ought to be saying, "Let us look specifically at what British Rail proposes—or what the present owners propose—at the time when the proposals are presented."

British Rail does not need the powers that it seeks in the Bill to build its station. We should ensure that such matters as the closure of Omega place are decided on their merits, at the appropriate time, rather than being dealt with now, on a permanent basis, when British Rail requires only a temporary closure to carry out its work.

Amendment No. 11 relates to other working sites, which are not owned by Mr. Stuckey to the same extent. Schedule 4 concerns a large area of land in both Camden and Islington, towards the north of the site. Here again we confront the problem referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer). The schedule would enable that piece of land to be used for the provision of a construction site, and thereafter for the general purposes of the Board. Most of the land should be returned to its former owners, under the Great Northern Railways Act of 1846, if it ceases to be used for railway purposes.

The Camden land is currently the subject of litigation by its former owners, the St. Bartholomew's hospital trustees. I shall not say too much about that, because the matter is sub judice; suffice it to say that the trustees are arguing powerfully that the land which, under the 1846 Act, ought to be returned to them, should not end up in the hands of British Rail if British Rail has no specific railway purpose in mind for it. They feel that that principle ought to apply when land is needed for construction purposes, but is not required when the construction is over.

According to the book of reference attached to the 1846 Act, the equivalent land in Islington used to be owned by a gentleman called Mr. Leigh Keck. Mr. Keck's descendants, or assignees, may be interested in getting their land back, just as the St. Bartholomew's trustees are interested in getting theirs back. Amendment No. 11 would resolve all those problems by ensuring that working sites that are required for works but not for the station that will subsequently be built should be returned to their freeholders, or to the descendants of the original owners.

Amendment No. 4 seeks to ensure that the Camley street natural park is reinstated within six months of the completion of the works that will destroy it. The park was created, as a superb natural ecological environment, by the Greater London Council, and has been much appreciated by many hundreds of local school children. It has been used as an educational resource by both Camden and Islington education authorities. The park, which is located beside the canal, will be destroyed if the Bill is enacted. British Rail intends to build a series of railway tracks there.

I should be fair to British Rail: it has consistently said that the park will subsequently be reinstated. That will be difficult; it is impossible to develop a fragile ecological environment overnight. British Rail, however, claims that it may even make the park a little bigger.

My amendment effectively says to British Rail, "Once you no longer need the area for the works, the Camley street park must be reinstated immediately". I do not want British Rail to drag its feet, feeling—when the station is completed and the railway lines are in place, and it is time to turn to the property development that London Regeneration may then be beginning to undertake—that office blocks come first and Camley street comes last.

I want Camley street to come first; I want to ensure that that precious educational and environmental resource is restored at the first opportunity for the benefit of local children. I hope that, even if the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) will not accept amendment No. 4, he will give a firm commitment that British Rail will embark immediately on the job of reinstating Camley street once the land is no longer required for works.

Amendment No. 5 concerns a hostel for the homeless, now located at 13–17 Caledonian road. The hostel was opened in May last year by the Minister for Housing and Planning, with a considerable fanfare of trumpets. The local newspaper was very positive about the affair. It interviewed a young woman called Tracy Atkinson, who was being housed in the hostel. The report stated: Housing minister George Young, opening the 33-bed hostel in Caledonian Road on Thursday last week, was shown Tracy's room and heard first hand how she"— oh, I beg the House's pardon—Tracy Atkinson is a man, not a woman— how he had ended up there. The point is that that hostel for the homeless was created with assistance from the Church housing association and was sponsored by the Government and opened by the Minister only seven or eight months ago, yet it is one of the properties affected by the Bill.

As soon as British Rail gets permission to start compulsorily purchasing and demolishing property, the hostel will be one of the properties to go. At most, the hostel will have had a life of two years or perhaps three years if it is lucky. Surely provision for homeless people should not be made on the basis that a facility will be up and running for only two or three years. My amendment does not seek to stop it being knocked down, because that would fundamentally breach the Bill, but it seeks to ensure that once the work is finished a hostel for the homeless will be recreated by British Rail.

British Rail will have the necessary land because it will have the land on top of the station box which it will try to redevelop. It will also have all the railway land behind King's Cross and St. Pancras stations which London Regeneration is likely to develop and all the land that it is taking for construction purposes but which it will not need for the station. Therefore, British Rail will have the land and the amendment would ensure that a hostel for the homeless would be recreated in any subsequent development undertaken by British Rail.

Amendment No. 3 seeks to delete from the land used by the promoters what is known as the lighthouse block. Hon. Members who frequently go through King's Cross will know that the lighthouse block is the building at the apex of the triangle as one faces along the Euston road towards Pentonville road with King's Cross on the left. The building immediately in front of one at the apex of the triangle has a structure on top of it which is reminiscent of a lighthouse, and it has always been known as the lighthouse block.

The triangular block of which the lighthouse is the apex is bounded by Grays Inn road, Pentonville road and King's Cross bridge just to the east of King's Cross station. Although it is included in the Bill, British Rail announced on the first day of the Committee hearings—on 22 June 1989—that it was not needed for any of the work included in the Bill. British Rail is saying—and has been saying for the past two years—that it does not need to take the lighthouse block. In that case, the promoters should be able to accept my amendment immediately, because it seeks only to delete that block from the Bill.

This detailed series of amendments relates to specific pieces of land which British Rail may in some instances require temporarily but not subsequently. In the case of the lighthouse block, it is land that it does not require at all. Camley street and the hostel for the homeless are important social facilities on existing property and pieces of land in the area which I seek to have reinstated or recreated by British Rail as rapidly as possible after it has completed its works. Those are reasonable points, and I hope that they will receive a reasonable response from the Bill's sponsor.

8.45 pm
Mr. Waller

I shall deal with the amendments in the order chosen by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith). The promoters are not able to accept amendment No. 12. Its effect would be to prevent the British Railways Board from permanently acquiring the major portion of an area of land which is known locally as the coach station block, and it would limit the board's powers to acquire the block temporarily as a construction site.

The coach station is not required by the British Railways Board merely as a construction site. The proposed low-level station and its approach tracks from the south-east will be located on or under the block and, therefore, the board requires permanently to acquire and retain the freehold of the block to enable the construction and maintenance of the works so that the block will become operational land over which the board will retain permanent access and control.

The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) drew what I considered a spurious comparison with the Crichel Down case, but, as he will know, in that case the land was not used for the purposes for which it was acquired, and the scandal arose because, in the meantime, its price had inflated considerably and the original owner did not benefit. In this case, of course, the land will definitely be used and is required not for property development but for the railway works themselves.

If the amendment were accepted, it would create significant difficulties, because it includes all the properties in the coach station block except four in the row of shops facing Caledonian road, which are omitted for some unaccountable reason known only to the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury. Perhaps he will explain why the owners of those properties should not also enjoy the benefit of his proposed amendment. There seems to be a defect in the drafting of the amendment, which I think, would ensure a result entirely contrary to that which he intends.

Mr. Cryer

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that my analogy with the Crichel Down case is mistaken because, in this instance, British Rail has no intention of undertaking any development after the purchase of the land, the use of it as a construction site and its restoration as there will be a need for some of the land—in whole or in part—to be in operational use underneath to allow for the approach of other tracks? If so, is he also saying that, if British Rail gets hold of land which is superfluous to requirements for construction purposes, it would be parallel to the Crichel Down case if British Rail then obtained the enhanced value of the land and retained it for entirely different purposes?

Mr. Waller

No, I am saying that British Rail would not be seeking to acquire the land for its temporary or permanent purposes if it were not for the railway development work that it intends to carry out. There is no comparison with the Crichel Down case, which involved different issues and in which the land was not used at all, but in which the original owner did not benefit.

I must disappoint the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury by saying that amendment No. 2 cannot be accepted. It would take from the Bill the power permanently to stop up Omega place between points X8 and X9 as shown on the deposited plans. It is considered that Omega place is too narrow and is located too near Pentonville road to be capable of being used as a means of access to the coach station block following the construction of the works, and that it must therefore be stopped up permanently. Indeed, the Department of Transport King's Cross highways improvement scheme has been prepared on the basis that Omega place will remain stopped up and that access to the coach station block will instead be via Northdown street.

Amendment No. 11, too, is unacceptable. It relates to properties in Camden forming part of the railway lands at King's Cross that are owned by the British Railways Board and are occupied partly by the board and partly by the operators of concrete mixing plant and other industrial users. Schedule 4 to the Bill will enable these properties to be used for the provision of a construction site and, therefore, for the general purposes of the board. This amendment would revise that provision so that it would read: For the provision of a construction site and thereafter to be returned to the freeholder. But the amendment is misconceived, since all these properties are already in the ownership of the board. This is another point that the hon. Gentleman seems to have neglected to check before tabling his amendment.

Amendment No. 4 would require the British Railways Board to reinstate the Camley street natural park in its present position after completion of the relevant works. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the board accepts the importance of preserving this facility, and detailed discussions between the board, the London Wildlife Trust and the London borough of Camden have been taking place over a long period. It is expected that a satisfactory agreement will be reached between the board, the trust and the borough with respect to the natural park. This will cover a number of matters, including the park's resiting during and after completion of the works.

As was said during a previous debate, it is intended that, during the construction work, there will be a small natural park. This will ensure an element of continuity, which would otherwise be lost. The amendment is inappropriate in that, its limitations would impose too simplistic a solution on a complex problem—a solution that would not entirely meet the wishes of any of the parties most closely concerned with these sensitive issues.

Mr. Chris Smith

I should like to put two questions to the hon. Gentleman. First, he says that there are proposals for the re-creation of Camley street to a limited extent during the course of the works. Is that the project in respect of which British Rail very recently submitted an application for planning permission to knock down a building in Goods way, in the Regent's canal conservation area, to make way for a car park and study centre? If that is indeed the case, it is a very small site, which in no way represents a replacement, even on a temporary basis, for Camley street.

Secondly, in the discussions with Camden and the London Wildlife Trust, has any account been taken of the time scale for the re-creation of Camley street on a permanent basis after the work has been done? It is time scale that my amendment seeks most actively to promote.

Mr. Waller

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's first question is yes. The temporary park is indeed related to the application to which he has referred. I do not think I used the word "replacement". It is not intended that that temporary facility should be an adequate replacement. That is why the promoters propose replacing the existing natural park with a rather larger one in a slightly altered position.

The existing park came into existence very quickly. The hon. Gentleman has referred to the fragile ecological environment. Anyone who has examined the site of the Camley street natural park will be aware that the environment in which it developed was not propitious so far as the intentions of the people who devised it were concerned. In many ways, it is a tribute to their imagination that it came into existence, and the board is certainly determined that there should be developed something that is just as much an asset to the area and to the schoolchildren who visit it.

It is not possible at this stage to give an exact time scale, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that the board is determined that the facility that comes into existence following completion of the works will be at least as good as that which currently exists. In fact, because it is larger, it will be ecologically suitable for a wider variety of species. I do not believe that the people of the locality will be disappointed with the park that they are ultimately able to enjoy. The hon. Gentleman's narrow amendment does not really accord with the wishes of those parties most closely concerned with these issues, and I do not believe that they would necessarily support the amendment in its present form.

I am afraid that I am unable, on behalf of the promoters, to accept amendment No. 5, which relates to a building known as 13–17 Caledonian road, Islington, which is owned by a finance company, Gleniffer Finance Corporation Ltd. When the Bill was deposited, that building was vacant, and it will be demolished for the purposes of the works. Pending demolition, the owners made arrangements to enable the building to be used as temporary residential accommodation for homeless persons, but that temporary use will cease on demolition.

I submit that it would be unreasonable to require the board to provide on that site a permanent hostel for homeless persons. In any event, there must be doubt as to whether this is a suitable place for such a hostel. The suggestion that it is suitable is not reflected in the land uses contained in the planning brief recently approved by the Islington council.

Mr. Cryer

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Government are seriously in error in having as their flagship the conquest of homelessness in London and the removal of some of the cardboard cities? Have we simply had a plaster to cover the terrible policies that resulted in the creation of cardboard cities in London and other major urban areas? Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Government are mistaken in undertaking the work at this site?

Mr. Waller

The task of providing accommodation for homeless people in London is a vital one. What I am saying is that it is not a task for the British Railways Board. Arrangements were made to ensure that this building would not stand empty during the period of construction. However, that concession—if I may call it a concession—was not intended to suggest that there should be a permanent requirement on the board to provide a hostel for homeless people. That is a desirable objective, but one to be addressed by other agencies.

I am happy to say that amendment No. 3 is acceptable. It would disapply the powers of compulsory purchase which would otherwise apply to the properties referred to in the Select Committee proceedings as the island triangular block—the so-called lighthouse block. As the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury knows, since the Bill was deposited, the design for the works has been further refined, and the promoters are now satisfied that they will not need to purchase compulsorily any property in the island triangular block. The promoters are therefore prepared to accept amendment No. 3.

9 pm

Mr. Chris Smith

Before turning to the welcome news about amendment No. 3, I shall comment briefly on the other amendments. The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) castigated me in relation to amendment No. 11 for seeming to be unaware that some of the land to which the amendment referred and which it required to be returned to the freeholder was at present in British Rail ownership. I was, of course, aware of that.

The point that I sought to make through the amendment was that the provisions of the Great Northern Railways Act of 1846 have still not been fully resolved in relation to those portions of land. We shall shortly discuss the specific provisions of the 1846 Act and the rights of reversion. It is possible that, if the land ceases to be required for railway purposes, under the provisions of the 1846 Act, it immediately has to leave the hands of British Rail and be returned to the original owners. I was conscious of that point, and that is why the amendment is drafted in its present form.

I am disappointed to hear that it is not possible to give a time scale for the replacement of Camley street natural park. We all hope that, when it is replaced, Camley street will be bigger and better, and even more of an educational resource for local children and local people than the existing natural park is. There is a lot of local concern about how rapidly, or slowly, that will happen.

The purpose of amendment No. 4 was to spur British Rail on to say that Camley street must be replaced as quickly as possible, rather than have the matter dragged out until the very end of any development on the railway land. That is a danger, because Camley street will not be profitable for BR. It is an obligation that BR will have to undertake for the benefit of the community. I hope that British Rail will not say that, because the natural park is a community benefit and because the board will not reap a profit from it, it will wait for years before it recreates the park. I am disappointed that the hon. Member for Keighley did not give a commitment about the time scale.

Mr. Gordon McMaster (Paisley, South)

Many of us from Scotland are keen that the Bill should make progress because of the benefits that it will bring to Scotland. However, as a supporter I say that I, too, am disappointed that there has not been a better commitment about Camley street natural park. I wish my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) well in his campaign because, although we support the Bill, I assure him that we also support Camley street natural park.

Mr. Smith

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he just said. His comment shows that, even among colleagues who strongly support the location of the new international station at King's Cross, there is concern about the impact on local people and on the local environment, and on the extremely valuable resource of Camley street natural park which was created by the Greater London council.

On amendment No. 5, the hon. Member for Keighley said that it was not in the purview of BR to create permanent accommodation for homeless persons. If, as I suspect, the hon. Gentleman was suggesting that he believes that BR's purpose is fundamentally to run a railway, and to provide stations, trains and transport, I agree. It is not in the purview of BR to seek to make profit out of property speculation and property development.

If the hon. Member for Keighley is taking the attitude that he has taken on the question of any re-creation of a hostel for the homeless, I urge him to take precisely the same attitude on the future of the land referred to in amendments Nos. 2, 11 and 12, because the land and the property mentioned there are not required by British Rail for running a railway either. If British Rail is not in the business of providing hostels for the homeless, it should not be in the business of speculating on land which it will, in effect, have expropriated from the land's existing owners.

The basis of amendments Nos. 2, 11 and 12 is that, if British Rail does not require a particular piece of land once the station is completed—it has to have that land for access, construction or some other purpose while the work goes on but the purpose ceases once the station is completed—it should not be able to make a killing out of having compulsorily purchased that land in the first instance and then subsequently seeking to develop it. That is an important point of principle.

The House should protect the interests of existing owners rather than handing over land that British Rail does not need permanently. If BR needs the land temporarily, we should give it temporarily to BR in the Bill, but we should not allow BR to take permanently something that it does not need permanently.

Having said that, however, and having explained why I think that the hon. Member for Keighley and British Rail are wrong to seek the powers that my amendments would delete, there is good news on amendment No. 3. As the hon. Member for Keighley said, BR has said that it does not now require the lighthouse block. In that case, I hope that we can now proceed to vote on amendment No. 3 to ensure that that provision is indeed deleted from the Bill.

You may be able to guide me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on how this can be done under our procedures. Instead of voting on amendment No. 2, which I moved, I wish to ensure that we can put amendment No. 3 to a vote.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Does the hon. Member seek the leave of the House to withdraw his amendment No. 2?

Mr. Smith

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdraw.

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