HC Deb 20 May 1996 vol 278 cc5-6
4. Sir Teddy Taylor

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage if she will make a statement on her initiative in establishing 1996 as the year of the pier. [28760]

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

Nineteen ninety-six has been designated as year of the pier by the British Piers Society and the British Association of Leisure Parks, Piers and Attractions. I welcome that initiative. Piers at seaside resorts represent an important part of Britain's built and cultural heritage and a unique element of our national tourism product. I was at the launch of the year of the pier at Brighton a few weeks ago.

Sir Teddy Taylor

While I welcome my right hon. Friend's exciting initiative, will she pursue with Lord Rothschild and Jocelyn Stevens of English Heritage the irrational and unfair policy of denying grants to piers that do not have grade 1 or 2 listed status and that are not located in conservation areas? Would it not be fairer and more in accordance with her excellent policies if they considered every case on its merits rather than trying to create a new bureaucracy through English Heritage?

Mrs. Bottomley

I shall pass on my hon. Friend's comments to Lord Rothschild and Jocelyn Stevens. Several piers have already been supported by English Heritage and by the lottery fund. However, given the success of the heritage lottery fund which has already made 303 awards, it may see scope for extending its remit to incorporate more piers. I very much hope so.

Mr. Olner

I do not know whether a pier is needed in Greenwich for the planned millennium exhibition, but may I advise the right hon. Lady that no pier is required for the national exhibition centre to mount the exhibition? In view of Greenwich's problems, will she seriously consider having the exhibition at the NEC in Birmingham?

Mrs. Bottomley

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's comments and I suspect that they would be echoed by some of my right hon. and hon. Friends. I understand the House's impatience for further definite announcements about the millennium festival. Much work is under way and I hope that it will be possible to make clear announcements before long. I am well aware of the great advantages of the hon. Gentleman's part of the country.

Mr. Waterson

Will my right hon. Friend find time during the year of the pier to visit that pearl of the south coast, Eastbourne pier, which is excellently operated by First Leisure? When she comes, will she also find time to meet local hoteliers and guest house operators to hear their views about the potentially disastrous effects on their businesses of the social chapter and the national minimum wage?

Mrs. Bottomley

I look forward to visiting Eastbourne again and to seeing the Euginius Birch pier which, I believe, was opened in 1872. Like piers around the country it is very much a seaside attraction. I am only sorry that when I visited Worthing pier, which is the only one to have been burnt down, blown up and blown down, I was not then able to visit Eastbourne.

When I meet my hon. Friend's constituents, I expect that I will hear from them about their mounting anxiety at the threat to tourism of Labour's proposals. A minimum wage and its approach to endless regulation and the social chapter are the biggest threat to the tourist industry that the country has known.