HL Deb 30 April 1969 vol 301 cc868-74

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to repeat a Statement being made by the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs on the Humberside Feasibility Study, which was published to-day by the Stationery Office and copies of which are available in the Printed Paper Office. The Statement is as follows:

"This is the first Report of the Central Unit for Environmental Planning—a planning team drawn from five Government Departments under the chairmanship of one of my senior officials."—

that is, one of the senior officials from the Department of Economic Affairs—

"It is an important document dealing with issues of concern to people in all parts of the country. By the end of the century the population of Great Britain is expected to increase by nearly 15 million, a scale of increase without precedent. Regional and sub-regional strategies for population growth are being developed in all regions with the advice of the Regional Economic Planning Councils. In order, however, to consider well in advance the possibility of placing some part of this great increase in population in major new centres, three areas were selected for detailed study—Humberside, Severnside and Tayside.

"The Humberside Study accordingly makes a detailed factual appraisal of the costs and benefits to the nation of promoting a major influx of population into that area which is well clear of the country's main existing concentrations of industry and population.

"The Report concludes that Humberside has the physical potential to absorb three-quarters of a million people and so become an attractive community of nearly 2 million people by the end of the century. It estimates, however, that existing plans, including new towns and town expansion schemes, should be adequate to cope with the increase in the country's population until about 1980, so that an immediate decision whether or not to go ahead on Humberside is not required. Moreover, further study is needed of how the costs and benefits of Humberside would compare with those of other possible ways of locating the same population. Nevertheless, Humberside should be regarded as an area which may well be needed as a site of major population growth after 1980. Accordingly, the Report recommends that measures should be taken in the interim to sustain the area's momentum of economic growth and preserve its potential as a major growth centre. A key factor here is the unification of the two sides of the Humber into a single economic area. To this end the Report recommends early completion of a Humber Bridge.

"The Government are consulting the Yorkshire and Humberside Council and the local planning authorities about the Report and its recommendations.

"The Government accept the Report's conclusion that the Humber Bridge and associated linking roads should be constructed in time for service in 1976. To meet this timetable, the necessary preparatory work will be continued so that construction can start in 1972.

"Like other major estuarial crossings, the bridge will be financed by loan, and tolled. The greater part of the cost will count against the road programme in the usual way, whilst the remainder will form part of the roads element in the programme for additional expenditure in intermediate areas which I announced in the House last Thursday."—

and this was circulated in our own OFFICIAL REPORT.

"When completed, the Humber Bridge will be the longest suspension bridge in the country, and one of the longest in the world."


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for repeating this Statement, which is of particular interest to me for its reference to the Central Unit for Environmental Planning—the planning team. I should be very grateful if the noble Lord could give us any further information about the composition of that particular Unit, and the Departments from which its members were drawn. For myself, I believe that these great estuarial sites are of tremendous potential importance. I should also be grateful if the noble Lord would let us know when we may expect to receive the other two Studies, the Studies on Severnside and Tayside.

My Lords, I am quite certain that all those on Humberside who are affected, who have been so long pressing for this bridge, will greatly welcome the Government's decision to implement this particular recommendation in the Study. I should like to ask just two questions related to that decision. In the first place, can the noble Lord give us an estimate of the cost of this scheme, the bridge; and, secondly, when the Statement talks of "associated linking roads" is it there referring to the eastward extensions of the M.62? Is that what is intended?

3.55 p.m.


My Lords, I will do my best to answer the noble Earl. I know that he is deeply interested in this type of activity. The composition of the Central Unit consists of economists, statisticians, planners and administrators seconded from Goverment Departments. I am afraid that I cannot tell the noble Earl which particular Departments, though I think he could probably guess as easily as I could. I would assume that, obviously, the D.E.A. is very much in the lead, with such Departments as Transport, and Housing and Local Government; and I should be surprised it the Treasury were not around somewhere. But I speak now without any clear authorisation, because the important thing is that these members do not act as representatives of these Departments. The idea of the Unit and its techniques are its own, and it commits neither the parent Departments nor the Government. It also has help from other bodies, in particular the Physical Planning Unit; and when the noble Earl sees this really very attractive and fascinating Report he will see that a number of individuals from the Physical Planning Unit, very largely from local authorities, have participated.

On the particular points which the noble Earl put to me, I would say that it is likely that the bridge and associated linking roads will together cost something of the order of £23 million; but an accurate estimate must await detailed decisions on the design and method of construction. On the point about the connection with other roads, I am not absolutely certain of the particular road to which the noble Earl refers, but certainly the Government's decision on the Humber Bridge in no way lessens our determination also to secure major improvements as quickly as possible in the East—West roads of both North and South Humberside. I hope that this answers the question. The noble Earl asked, finally, when the other Reports would be available. I am sorry; but I cannot tell him. These are very exhaustive Studies; and, obviously, the sooner we have the Reports the better. I will inquire when the others are likely to appear, but I do not think it will be just yet.


My Lords, I, too, greatly welcome the Government's immediate acceptance of the main recommendation of the Study, because it seems to me that even if it were to turn out that Humberside was not the right site for this kind of development—and we do not have to arrive at that decision until 1972—this bridge linking up the two sides of the Humber will nevertheless be a very important and valuable step in helping the North-East. I hope that the Government will also follow up the other preparatory recommendations of the Report—those on ancillary roads, and also those on housing—and that they will keep in the forefront of their mind the continued economic growth of this area: for without its continuance there might be a loss of confidence which would defeat the possibility of this scheme's eventually coming to fruition. With regard to the other Studies, I note that the noble Lord cannot give us a date for Tayside or Severnside, but I hope that the other estuarial propositions will not be completely forgotten—places like the Solway, for example.


My Lords, if I may briefly reply to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, I am grateful to him—indeed, I should have expressed toy appreciation, also, to the noble Earl. I have checked again. I cannot say when Severnside or Tayside will be complete, I am afraid. I now find that the answer which I gave "off the cuff" accords, in fact, with my brief, so that is correct. I do not know, I fear, the answer as to Solway, but I fully take the noble Lord's point. One of the purposes of this announcement, and the way the Government are intending to proceed, is in fact to ensure that the options really are open, and that the necessary development work does go on. Obviously, the decision on the bridge, which stands whatever happens, provides the incentive for the continued progress which is anticipated. so that at the new time a proper decision will be made and that progress will not have been held up meanwhile.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that it might be inferred from this Statement that the completion of the East—West motorways towards Hull—the M.62 and the M.18—is going to be delayed until 1976; and that, if that is so, it will certainly come as a disappointment to those who are interested in Humberside development? Can he tell us, since none of us has had time to read this Report, whether there is attention given to the possibility of developing Spurn Bight as a MIDA? Further, what attention is given to the question of water supply, in view of the rather limited resources of the Yorkshire Ouse and Hull Authority? Finally, when the noble Lord refers to further development in the region meantime, is he supporting the Hunt Committee's suggestion that the Yorkshire and Humberside Council should nick out prospective development areas, having in mind that they have already picked out the Ferrybridge area on the A.1?


My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, has obviously more expert knowledge of the area than I have. I should like to make it very clear on this rather crucial issue of the East—West roads that the Government were concerned that this Statement might possibly lead to precisely the questions that have been asked, and therefore I stated categorically that the Government's policy in regard to that (and I must say that I have not had an opportunity to probe into the previous statements of policy) is in no way diminished or influenced in a contrary way: it is their determination to secure as quickly as possible the major improvements in the East—West roads of both North and South Humberside.

On the particular point relating to the Hunt Report, the noble Earl will recall that the Government did in fact make a Statement (to which I drew attenion in this House last week) which did not fully accept all the Hunt proposals. It was a more selective approach and the proposal for the special arrangements for the so-called intermediate area should apply, in the Government's view, only to North Humberside. They will be having discussions as to the exact limits of the area involved. This is properly a matter for discussion with local regional planning and economic councils. I hope that I have answered all the noble Earl's questions. If there are any more and I do not have the answers now, I will gladly let him know.


My Lords, I am confident that the promise contained in the Statement that we have just heard, that the Government will proceed with the construction of the Humber Bridge will be the most popular news, the most welcome news, that the people of Hull and Humbersome will have heard in many years. It comes as a culmination of a long hard struggle. I am personally particularly grateful that this decision means the fulfilment of the implied promises made in the debate on Humberside which I introduced some months ago. It is interesting to realise, as the Government obviously do, that this bridge will make the Humberside area into a composite whole. I remember the arguments urged when I was a small boy, that the bridge should be constructed for making contact between the North and the South. But the real argument, which is now accepted by the Government, is that that area will be developed as a complete unity. Although it is suggested that the cost of £23 million—


My Lords, the noble Lord is making a very helpful speech; but we are always on the borderline area with discussions on Statements, where, although certain relaxations are permitted, it is contrary to our procedure to have speeches on Statements. Encouraging remarks are welcome, but perhaps the noble Lord could now ask a question.


My Lords, I think the Government are entitled to the encouraging remarks; but I personally should find greater encouragement if the noble Lord were able to tell me the precise date when work on the bridge will commence.


My Lords. I have in fact given it. I said that it was proposed that it should start in 1972. I think it is 1972 but I had better make sure. I think I may have to refer the noble Lord to the Statement which he will see in the Official Report. I think it is to start in 1972 with the intention of completion in 1976. He will find that it is in fact a positive statement