HC Deb 19 February 1996 vol 272 cc6-7
5. Mr. Harry Greenway

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what estimate he has made of the number of areas of countryside which have been developed for (a) industrial and (b) other use in each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement. [14160]

Mr. Gwilym Jones

Reliable information on the take-up of land in Wales is not available.

Mr. Greenway

Will my hon. Friend confirm that 15,000 acres have been reclaimed at 900 sites since the Welsh Development Agency was established and that work on a further 100 sites is in hand? Would it not be tragic for Wales and for the whole of Britain if the Pembroke coast was allowed to be disfigured by the oil spillage in recent days from a tanker that ought to have been double-hulled? Will he give an undertaking to the House to do all that he can to ensure that marine life is secured, that beaches are cleaned as thoroughly and as soon as possible and that birdlife is safeguarded?

Mr. Jones

The Welsh Development Agency's land reclamation programme is the largest landscape improvement programme in Europe. Since its formation in 1976, the agency has reclaimed more than 15,000 acres at 900 sites and work has started on a further 100 sites. I share my hon. Friend's concern about what has happened at Milford Haven. We all want to ensure that everything possible is done there and I am advised that all the necessary manpower and materials are available to meet present needs.

Mr. Llwyd

Why has the Welsh Office dragged its heels so terribly over the out-of-town shopping planning policy guidance? It has been enforced in England by the Department of the Environment for the past 18 months, but the Welsh Office is still playing around with it. Meanwhile, our town centres are being run down and virgin land is being used to build out-of-town shopping malls to the detriment of everyone in Wales. The Welsh Office should get its act together.

Mr. Jones

The hon. Gentleman creates a good soundbite, but once again he is not right. There has been no dragging of heels. He will know that we have a draft planning policy guidance and that we are now considering all the responses to it. The draft guidance lays out, very simply, the sequential approach to retailing in Wales. First, consideration should be given to town centres and only then should consideration be given to out-of-town locations.

Mr. Ron Davies

I am disappointed that the Secretary of State chose not to answer this question—he must have known that a question about the Sea Empress would arise. The Opposition are concerned about the potential consequences of the incident to which the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) referred. There is a unique and precious assemblage of bird, sea mammal and marine life in the area affected by the Sea Empress incident. The Pembrokeshire cliffs are a candidate for special protection area status. Skomer is a marine nature reserve. The coast to the east of St. Anne's head is a possible European special area of conservation, as are the islands of Skokholm, Skomer and Grassholm.

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must ask a question, not make a statement.

Mr. Davies

Given that the whole coast is a priceless part of our national heritage, which good fortune has so far protected, will the Minister convey to the Secretary of State the great concern of the Opposition and ensure that the official view of the Welsh Office is that there has to be the fullest possible public inquiry?

Mr. Jones

I have no need to convey that concern to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State because the hon. Gentleman only echoes what my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) has already voiced. We all have the same anxieties about what has happened. The concern of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is amply demonstrated by the fact that, as soon as he heard about the incident, he changed his diary so as to be able to visit Milford Haven straight away on Friday morning to see for himself. Calling for a public inquiry at this stage is, at best, premature. The Department of Transport's marine accident investigation branch will investigate and report.