HL Deb 01 February 1955 vol 190 cc807-18

Read 2a.

LORD CHORLEY rose to move, That it be an instruction to the Committee to whom the Bill may be referred that before authorising the powers sought by the Bill they should satisfy themselves that due consideration has been given to:—

  1. (a)the desirability of preserving the natural beauty of the areas affected by the proposals of the Bill one of which (Festiniog) is almost wholly within the Snowdonia National Park, while the other (Rheidol) was listed in the Report of the National Parks Committee (1947) as an area calling for special conservation;
  2. (b)the quantity of compensation water to be discharged from the reservoirs to be constructed under the powers of the Bill, into the rivers proposed to be impounded to form such reservoirs or to be diverted; and
  3. (c) minimising the area of hill pastures and agricultural land to be acquired for the purposes of the Bill.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the instruction which stands in my name on the Order Paper. The criticism which met the rather similar instruction of the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, to the Select Committee which is to deal with the Kent Water Bill made me a little apprehensive that some unkind remarks of a like nature might be forthcoming this afternoon about this particular instruction also; but, on consideration, I feel that this subject comes within the criterion of "a big national interest" which was referred to by my noble and learned Leader, Lord Jowitt, as justifying an instruction of this kind. I hope that your Lordships will agree with me in that view.

The Bill which is before your Lordships this afternoon is promoted to enable civil engineering works of an extensive and substantial character to be carried out in two particularly lovely parts of Wales, two areas of really outstanding natural beauty, one of them, it is true, a little marred by the works of man but the other, I think, in effect unspoiled. As projected, I think that this scheme must inevitably result in serious disfigurement to these two areas, but, if certain amendments can be made, it should be possible to curtail that disfigurement so substantially that anyone, except perhaps a fanatical person who thinks that the whole countryside should be quite untouchable by works of this kind, should be reasonably satisfied.

No doubt these amendments will lead to additional cost, and in the case of the Rheidol scheme it may lead to a certain diminution of output, but that is a price which I think any civilised community ought to be prepared to pay, and certainly a community like ours which honours Wordsworth among its greatest poets. Therefore I make no apology for bringing these matters to your Lordships' House and asking that this instruction may go forward. So far as I understand them, the Standing Orders do not provide for the consideration of such matters by the Select Committees to whom Bills of this kind are referred. That is not unnatural, because in the ordinary way this type of Bill is concerned with projects which are in industrial or semi-industrial areas in which a priceless natural beauty is not at stake.

These two areas are obviously of great importance. The Festiniog area is almost entirely within the Snowdonia National Park, and although the Rheidol area is situated in what the Hobhouse Committee on National Parks (of which I had the honour to be a member) dubbed a "conservation area," that rather prosaic description did not mean that the Hobhouse Committee were not quite sure that the scenery in these areas was of the highest quality, certainly in many cases of quite as high a quality as that of the National Parks themselves. The Rheidol area is too small an area to justify its being made into a National Park, but its beauty is certainly of high quality. I think most people would say that the threat is more serious in the case of the Rheidol scheme than in that of Festiniog. Therefore, I propose to devote most of the time which I shall ask your Lordships to give to me on this matter to a consideration of the main points which are involved in the Rheidol scheme.

This is not, of course, the place for a detailed discussion or criticism of the project in respect of the Rheidol Valley, but I think I ought to say enough to make it clear that there is a real danger to the beauty of this outstanding valley. The stream which runs through it will be familiar to many of your Lordships as one of the loveliest in Wales and, therefore, in the whole of the British Isles, with waterfalls and cascades. Thousands of visitors go every year to see it and to admire the beauties of nature. It is proposed in this comparatively small area to erect three new reservoirs, one of them a very large affair indeed, no less than four miles from end to end and covering an area of 650 acres: all this to be a drowned valley within easy reach of roads which are much used and areas which are much visited by the public. This, I believe, will be the largest reservoir constructed by the British Electricity Authority. It will be obvious that the shore line which will be created by this enormous reservoir, as it rises and falls—as it will be bound to do, for it will be there for the purpose of providing water for hydro-electric power—will lead to a high degree of disfigurement. The three reservoirs naturally require three dams, one of which is to be of no less a height than 150 feet. Your Lordships will appreciate that a dam, especially a large white concrete dam of a height of some 150 feet, can be very disfiguring indeed. Because this dam will be visible from all around, I suggest that the greatest care must be taken to see that it is properly built, and built in such a way as to fit in, so far as is humanly possible, with the countryside.

There is to be a large, open pipeline bringing the water from the reservoir to the power station, coming down the exposed hillside some 250 yards where it will be open and obvious to everybody. There are problems, obviously, in relation to the power stations themselves, and particularly in relation to the transforming stations. These transforming and switching stations, as I am sure your Lordships will agree, are perhaps the greatest problem of all in connection with the use of hydro-electric power in beautiful countryside. Careful, and generously careful, as the Electricity Authority has been in Scotland, for example, where much of its work merits the highest praise, it has unfortunately failed, certainly in one or two instances, such as at Loch Sloy in making a transforming and switching station which is at all conformable with the needs of the countryside. In Wales, if the big transforming and switching station at the lower end of the Rheidol Valley is not carefully sited and camouflaged, I foresee the risk that the whole of the lower end of this lovely valley will be completely ruined.

Then there is the question of the water of the Rheidol River—this is the second part of the instruction which I am asking your Lordships to accept. The Clerk of the Parliaments kindly drew my attention to Standing Order 144, which deals with compensation water, and, as a result, at first sight I thought it might be better to drop this part of the instruction. On looking more carefully at the Standing Order, however, I find that the matters to which it directs the attention of the Select Committee are concerned with interests in property; nowhere does it direct them to pay attention to the effect on natural beauty of the abstraction of large quantities of water from the river. Therefore I suggest that it would be most proper that, in addition to those matters to which the Standing Order directs the Committee to have regard, the Committee should also have regard to the question of the effect of the abstraction of water from the Rheidol River upon the natural beauty of that valley.

When we consider that the proposal is to reduce the flow of the water, which I believe is now in the nature of 78 million gallons a day, to some 4 million gallons a day, it is obvious that if this scheme goes through as at present proposed it will reduce the flow of water down the river to a mere trickle, and all these splendid waterfalls and cascades, which many hundreds of people enjoy watching each year, will be completely lost and destroyed. I remember that when the National Trust, of whose Executive Committee I have the honour to be a member, were offered a large and lovely property in the mid-reaches of the Rheidol valley running down to the stream, the beautiful character of the wooded slopes of the land, and of the stream itself, with these cascades, was very much present in the minds of the Committee when, with gratitude, they accepted that gift. I suggest that it is quite obvious that this question is one of great importance, and that it is most proper that the Select Committee should give attention to it.

There is also the question of the sheep. The south-westerly slopes of Plynlimmon, which is the area with which we are concerned in connection with this scheme, is splendid sheep-rearing country, on which thousands of sheep graze every year and from which great quantities of mutton and wool are obtained. I am informed that the construction of this large reservoir will cut the sheep drive in half, and will lead to great difficulties from the point of view of the shepherds, while by drowning 650 acres of valuable pasturage in the valley bottoms it will lead to great difficulties in connection with winter pasturage. I suggest that those are matters to which the Select Committee should give careful attention.

With regard to the Festiniog scheme, I want to say only a few words. Of course, this scheme is not really a hydro-electric project at all. It is an ingenious device for bringing electricity, generated from coal in the ordinary way, from Lancashire and Cheshire down into Wales when it is not required, during the middle of the night, using it to pump water from a lower reservoir into a higher reservoir, then running it back during the day to reconvert it into electricity and take it back to Lancashire. From the engineering point of view it is obviously a most ingenious scheme, though commercially, I should have thought, wasteful of electricity. But, as I say, it is not really a hydro-electric scheme at all. However, these are not matters with which I am concerned here.

There are three points in regard to which this scheme vitally affects the beauty of the Festiniog valley, and I should like to refer to them very shortly. The first is that a new reservoir is projected at a considerable height, some 1,500 or 1,600 feet up, just under the Moelwyn ridge, with a dam from 90 to 100 feet high. The Moelwyn ridge is one of the finest precipices in the whole of North Wales, rising sheer for some 2,000 feet from the ground to the east and dominating the whole landscape. Undoubtedly, to put right up against it a 90-foot dam of this kind means that it will command the whole prospect; and unless the dam is very carefully built, and, one might say, neutralised, command it to its ruin. I suggest that this is a matter which requires very careful attention.

Then, it is proposed to bring the water down from this upper reservoir, first of all, by a tunnel underground; but then it will come out on to the exposed hillside, where it will be obvious to everybody, in a series of no fewer than six seven-foot pipes which will run down the hillside for a distance of 600 yards. I imagine that from time to time most of your Lordships have seen, in Switzerland and elsewhere, these enormous black pipes running down the hillside, and most have thought that there could hardly be anything more hideous. Clearly, great care and attention should be given to this matter. So far as possible, the water should continue to be brought underground, but if it has to come into a pipe then that pipe should be properly camouflaged.

Then, my Lords, it is proposed to build a tremendous power station in this secluded Welsh valley. I am told that it will be some 300 yards long and of a great height. I have heard that the height will be as much as 70 feet. It is difficult to believe that it will be as large as that; but at any rate, it is going to be a really tremendous building—almost a Battersea Power Station—built in that secluded Welsh valley. I am sure your Lordships will agree that if this power station is to be put there and is not to be a complete blot upon that lovely landscape, the greatest care must be taken over the siting and the architecture.

Those are the main points in regard to the Festiniog scheme. There is one other point which I think is of some interest, and although it is not entirely relevant, it is perhaps worth mentioning. Your Lordships may have noticed going forward during the last year or two a project to revive and reconstruct the mountain railway to Festiniog, which I believe is the oldest narrow-gauge railway in the world. This is a project which has created great enthusiasm among railway lovers, of whom there are very many—after all, this country gave the railway system to the world. I understand that if the scheme goes forward in its present form it will kill this project for reviving the mountain railway at Festiniog. I hope that I have said enough to convince your Lordships that it is right and proper that this instruction should go to the Committee, and I ask your Lordships to decide to that effect. I beg to move.

Moved, That it be an instruction to the Committee to whom the Bill may be referred that before authorising the powers sought by the Bill they should satisfy themselves that due consideration has been given to:

  1. (a) the desirability of preserving the natural beauty of the areas affected by the proposals of the Bill one of which (Festiniog) is almost wholly within the Snowdonia National Park, while the other (Rheidol) was listed in the Report of the National Parks Committee (1947) as an area calling for special conservation;
  2. (b) the quantity of compensation water to be discharged from the reservoirs to be constructed under the powers of the Bill, into the rivers proposed to be impounded to form such reservoirs or to be diverted; and
  3. (c) minimising the area of hill pastures and agricultural land to be acquired for the purposes of the Bill.—(Lord Chorley.)

3.8 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say a word or two in support of this Motion. I know the Rheidol Valley and I know it to be a most beautiful valley. We are coming to realise that the preservation of our countryside is not merely of æsthetic, but also of economic, importance. The danger is, however, that where such projects as this come before Parliament, importance is attached to purely technical considerations. A few years ago a scheme was proposed for the building of an enormous power station in the lower Usk Valley, in one of its most rural parts. This station would have dominated the entire countryside and would, in fact, have industrialised a purely rural and agricultural area. The local inhabitants objected and an inquiry was held, and in the event the scheme was turned down by the then responsible Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude for what he did in this matter.

The authorities had said that there was no other suitable site; but another site was found at the mouth of the Usk, not far from the town of Newport, adjacent to other industrial properties, far from any beauty spot, and as little of an eyesore as such a building can be. It cost a great deal more to build there because the station was built in a marsh instead of on some of the best agricultural land in the county, but the situation is so much more convenient that I should not be surprised if, in the long run, it proves to be cheaper. This shows, I hope, that there is sometimes a good case for amending the schemes of the experts in these matters. I hope your Lordships will agree to this motion and that those noble Lords to whom it is committed wilt pay full attention to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley.


My Lords, the Motion standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, differs slightly from that which my noble friend Lord Teynham introduced in connection with the Kent Water Bill a few days ago. We shall, therefore, look to the noble Earl the Lord Chairman of Committees to advise the House precisely how the Motion should be handled. I should like to intervene for a few minutes, as I have some responsibility to the House for Welsh affairs, and I think your Lordships would wish me first to thank the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, for having brought the matter forward and to congratulate him and my noble friend, Lord Raglan, for the sincere way in which they have put their case. I think nobody would deny that it is right and proper that these matters, affecting the amenities and beauty of our countryside, should be threshed out soundly and in considerable detail, and, further, that they should be discussed sufficiently early to enable such changes as may be necessary to be made before it is too late.

I do not propose to enter into the details of this scheme or to discuss any of the points which have been advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, for that would be an abuse of procedure and quite wrong. It is for that purpose that we have Select Committees. I am confident, however, that these points have been borne in mind by the proposers of the scheme, who would be fully aware of the objections to which the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, has drawn attention, and conscious of their duty towards the people of this part of Wales not unnecessarily to desecrate the countryside and to take no more land than is really needed. Perhaps not many noble Lords will have looked at the Bill in detail, but, were they to do so, they would be impressed by the safeguards put into it, notably in Clause 25. I should also like to draw attention, particularly with reference to paragraphc) of the noble Lord's Motion, to the fact that the amount of land involved in both schemes is not very considerable—little more than a square mile. I make no points on those topics at all.

I know this part of Wales well and can roughly envisage, as one can occasionally from plans, what it would look like. I remember, however, the Glen Affric Scheme in Scotland and how opposed I personally was to the original Tummel—Garry and Glen Affric hydro-electric scheme. I recall the widespread opposition raised at the time. One or two noble Lords who may have visited that part of Scotland recently will have been impressed by what can be done by public-spirited people with the same considerations in mind as the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, and the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, and the rest of us who are determined to combine both necessary public facilities and respect for the amenity of the neighbourhood. The Highland Scheme has shown that it is perfectly possible to confine an artificial stage within a beautiful natural setting with surprisingly fine and effective results. But great care is needed and great perspicacity must be exercised in an examination of all the safeguards. That is what the noble Lord wants today, and he is perfectly right in asking for it. It only remains for the noble Earl, Lord Drogheda, the Lord Chairman of Committees, to explain to the House how the intentions of the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, can best be carried out.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Mancroft is quite right in saying that the proposed instruction to the Committee to whom this Bill will be referred differs from the suggested instruction to the Committee on the Kent Water Bill, which we discussed last Tuesday, in this respect: that this instruction specifies certain considerations on which the Committee should satisfy themselves, whereas the instruction proposed on the Kent Water Bill was that the Committee should not pass certain clauses without special attention. It is a very important difference because, in the case of the Kent Water Bill, every clause of which, so far as we know, is being opposed, the instruction to the Select Committee would have told them to do what they would inevitably have had to do in any case, whereas the proposed instruction upon this Bill is that before the Committee authorise powers sought by the Bill they should satisfy themselves that due consideration has been given to certain matters of national interest which otherwise might be overlooked.

The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, has divided his Motion into three parts (a), (b) and (c). Paragraph (b) proposes an instruction as to compensation water. As the noble Lord has pointed out, the duties of Committees considering compensation water are fully covered by Standing Order 144 of the Standing Orders of the House in relation to Private Bills, and I should have thought that, read in conjunction with Clause 25 of this Bill, those duties would include everything suggested in paragraph (b) of the noble Lord's Motion. We do not yet know which of the clauses of this Bill are to be opposed, although we are told that some parts of it may be. The Bill will therefore go to a Select Committee, and I think that the same Select Committee which deals with unopposed clauses should deal also with Clauses 15 and 16, which refer to compensation water. If it will satisfy the noble Lord, I will gladly give an undertaking that I will refer these two clauses to the Committee, who will then be bound by our Standing Orders to satisfy themselves on many of the points covered by paragraph (b).

Then, taken in conjunction with Clause 25 of the Bill, I think that will also cover the points about preserving the natural beauty of the area, because, under Clause 25 of the Bill, the Authority are very strictly instructed as to how they shall preserve to the public the natural beauty of the district. After consultations with the National Parks Commission, they have to appoint a landscape consultant whom the Authority shall consult generally in regard to these matters, and they have to consult the National Parks Commission with respect to the situation design and external appearance of any dam aqueduct building or bridge or any wall embankment or fence forming part of or constructed in connection with any building bridge or aqueduct. I should be perfectly prepared to give an undertaking to refer Clause 25 to the Select Committee as well, so that all the points contained in paragraphs (a) and (b) of the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, would be fully covered and taken into consideration by the Select Committee.

As doubtless the noble Lord would be as loath as all of us would be to instruct the Committee to do anything which they would have to do in any case, I rather hope he will confine his instruction to the last paragraph of his Motion, paragraph (c). That paragraph deals with the limitations, so far as possible, of the hill pastures and agricultural land to be acquired for building purposes, a point not touched upon in the Bill but which obviously is one of national interest. The instructions suggested by my noble friend would not, in my view, in any way tie the hands of the Committee but would leave them perfectly free to exercise their functions in a judicial manner. There is a precedent for such an instruction in the Tend-ring Water and Gas Bill, 1947. If, on the undertakings I have given, the noble Lord would be prepared to limit the instruction as I have suggested, and if the House would agree, I would myself accept the Motion in the limited form which I have ventured to suggest.

3.20 p.m


My Lords, the noble Earl puts me in a little difficulty. I am not altogether convinced by his arguments. If your Lordships will look at Standing Order 144 you will see that it deals specifically with five different points, none of which really is a point with which I am specially concerned in my Motion. The first point deals with the character and flow of the stream—which, I should have thought, means spates and storms and things of that sort, rather than the natural beauty of the countryside through which the stream flows and its own natural character. The second deals with use by industry and fisheries; the third with probable industrial development; the fourth with the minimum flow needed for public health, and the fifth with rights and interests of riparian and other owners. I do not see that the point to which I devoted my attention is, in fact, covered by the Standing Order.


I suggest that it would be covered when taken in conjunction with Clause 25 of the Bill.


On the assurance of the noble Earl, who, after all, has so much more experience than I, or indeed than any others of your Lordships, have of these matters, and in the light of the very helpful speech from the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, I am prepared to accept the noble Earl's advice and to act in the manner that he suggests.


Does the noble Lord then withdraw paragraphs (a) and (b) of his Motion?


Yes, my Lords, I do. With your Lordships' leave, I now beg to withdraw my Motion and to move paragraph (c) as it stands on the Order Paper.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Moved, That it he an instruction to the Committee to whom the Bill may be referred that before authorising the powers sought by the Bill they should satisfy themselves that due consideration has been given to minimising the area of hill pastures and agricultural land to be acquired for the purposes of the Bill.—(Lord Chorley.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.