HC Deb 02 November 1998 vol 318 cc539-40
1. Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

If he will make a statement on the disposal of redundant MOD land (a) generally and (b) with specific regard to HMS Osprey on Portland. [55877]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. John Spellar)

My Department keeps the size of the defence estate under continual review. Any property that is declared surplus to operational requirements is sold, as soon as possible, on the open market, with the benefit of planning permission.

My Department is considering alternative uses to which the HMS Osprey site may be put. Our title to part of the land at HMS Osprey allows prescriptive rights of purchase to the Crown Estate, to which it originally belonged. A disposal strategy for those parts of the site that are not subject to these prescriptive rights is in progress. No final decisions have yet been taken.

Mr. Bruce

I thank the Minister for his visit to Portland and his attention to the problem. As he knows, I wrote to him as soon as he took office to ask whether it was necessary to close the air station and whether the site could be put to an alternative use. I was told that there was no alternative use. At least three companies are willing to buy the site and create jobs, but they have been told that they cannot even talk about making a bid until March next year. I would be happy if the Minister came forward with an alternative MOD use, but it is not good enough that, at this late stage, the Ministry is halting all its negotiations with the Crown Estate, among others.

Mr. Spellar

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that he has raised the issue with me, as has the local council. I thank him for his kind comments on my visit to Weymouth and Portland, where I had an excellent meeting with the local council, chaired by Councillor Kay Wilcox. I fully understand the concerns that have been expressed, but the hon. Gentleman must understand that we have to explore every other possible defence use for the site. Given the concern expressed by the community, which has rendered enormous service to the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces for many years—indeed, centuries—I have asked the Department to try to speed up the process to ensure that the site is returned to productive use, in one way or another, as soon as possible.

Ms Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire)

May I refer the Minister to the site of Trecwn in my constituency, which was declared redundant by the previous Government, and sold earlier this year? Have any discussions taken place between the Ministry of Defence and any company or individual about the possible storage of nuclear waste, including decommissioned nuclear submarines, at the site?

Mr. Spellar

We are aware that the company that bought the site has submitted to the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology some proposals for the management of radioactive waste. However, the Committee is not due to report for 12 months, when we will publish a White Paper proposing a national strategy. After that, local council planning permission would have to be obtained. My hon. Friend will know that Pembrokeshire county council has revealed that it is implacably opposed to any proposals to store nuclear waste of any type at Trecwn. The matter is no longer in our hands, as the previous owner, but is in the hands of the various radiological regulation agencies and the local council. Both the local council and the local Member of Parliament have made their views clear.

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