HC Deb 13 April 1999 vol 329 cc6-7
4. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

If he will make a statement about his plans to introduce new legislation affecting the status of the New forest. [78819]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Alan Meale)

We are still looking very carefully at all the issues connected with a possible change in status for the New forest. We hope to announce some conclusions soon.

Mr. Swayne

Over the last 30 years, on every issue of conservation against development, one or other of the local authorities has backed the developers only to be thwarted by the verderers, exercising their existing powers under the New Forest Acts. Can the Minister assure me, therefore, that he will not produce proposals setting up a new park authority with statutory powers that could restrain in any way the freedom of action of the verderers court?

Mr. Meale

I assure the hon. Gentleman—as I did in the recent debate in the House, which he initiated—that full consideration will be given to the verderers' views and that we envisage no likely change in the role that they undertake at present.

Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test)

Does the Minister accept that it is quite possible to establish national park status for the New forest, which would be very much welcomed by many people living in the area, without necessarily removing the powers of the verderers under certain circumstances or many of the planning powers of the local authority, and that many people would welcome that way forward for the New forest?

Mr. Meale

I am aware that there is a wide variety of views. Indeed, we have received many hundreds of letters on this subject. There are those who are strongly in favour of national park status and those who are against it in the area concerned.

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)

Does the Minister agree that in areas such as the New forest and the south downs, it is far better to build on existing structures that have been proved successful rather than listen to noisy minorities that want national park status? When will the hon. Gentleman announce his final decision on these issues?

Mr. Meale

I repeat that that will be soon. We are determined to get the decision-making process right rather than to accommodate one side or the other. The hon. Gentleman might consider the views of the Leader of the Opposition who, when recently interviewed by the Southampton Daily Echo, expressed the view that he had no difficulties with national park status in the two relevant areas which adjoin his constituency.

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