HL Deb 25 February 1969 vol 299 cc1004-19

2.53 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Listowel.)

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Select Committee.

LORD ST. OSWALD moved, That it be an Instruction to the Committee to whom the Bill is committed that, having regard to the high amenity value of the Hard-castle Crags Valley and to the rejection of a previous Bill to authorise the construction of a reservoir in the valley, special consideration should be given by the Committee as to whether there is a need for additional supplies of water and as to the availability of alternative sources. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper, in the form of an Instruction to the Committee to whom this Bill will be committed. Let me first declare what interest I have, though I think your Lordships will regard it as a suitably unselfish interest. I own none of the land which the Promoters are setting out to acquire by compulsory powers under this Bill. I live some 27 miles as the crow flies, and something like 43 miles as the river Calder flows, from the area affected.

My interest is simple enough. As a Yorkshireman, I wish to prevent a serious blow to the amenities of my county—a blow which I perceive as both grievous and unnecessary. A large part of the land which the Promoters are trying to acquire was handed over to the National Trust to preserve in its existing state for the nation. That provides another reason for my concern. I am an admirer, and indeed a devotee, of the cause of the National Trust. By way of concrete proof, I have handed over my own home, Nostell Priory, also in Yorkshire, to the Trust so that they may hold it for the nation. The directors and officers of the Trust have never given me the faintest cause to regret that considerable decision made in 1952: in fact, the reverse. Their sense of responsibility towards the properties made over to the Trust is, in my experience, faultless.

What this Bill seek to do is to give the promoters power to take 307 acres in the Hardcastle Crags Valley, there to construct a reservoir at a cost of some £4¼ million. The reservoir would be built by throwing a dam 200 feet high across this lovely valley and flooding 1¾ miles above the dam. There can be no doubt whatever that this would destroy a very great deal of the beauty of the valley. Today the whole length of Hardcastle Crags Valley is of outstanding beauty—a deep gorge, thickly wooded, with the Hebden Water flowing along its floor. Three donors, acting in the same spirit and confidence as mine—my noble friend Lord Savile, Mr. H. M. Ingham and Mr. Abraham Gibson—gave or devised this land to the National Trust to preserve it for the pleasure of the many thousands who go there every year to enjoy it in its present unspoiled state. This dam will alter the whole character and prospect of the valley. Walking up it as it is now, the beholder sees the wooded valley rising before him all the way until it emerges into the open moor. If this scheme were implemented, the view would be blocked by the intrusion of a totally artificial barrier 200 feet high, an earth dam cutting off any sight of the upper valley. The wooded slopes of the upper valley would themselves, of course, disappear, drowned under the waters of the reservoir. They might total some 3,500 trees under the water.

In the minds of those who know it well, there is no doubt as to the æsthetic value, the essential and irreplaceable value, of what they regard as one of the remaining scenic jewels in our part of England. I use the word "essential" as well as the word "irreplaceable" thoughtfully and deliberately. In a densely populated oblong of territory in northern England, this is one of the few places untouched by the cold aseptic hand of the planner, or the sooty and sulphurous grasp of industry. It is a reminder of what nature is like—and, fortunately, there are many who find it good, who find it inspiring.

This is an area containing to the South, Liverpool, Wigan, Manchester and Sheffield, and to the North, Preston, Blackburn, Burnley, Bradford and Leeds. Many thousands from these and other towns have signed the petition forms made available in the valley to visitors. In this area, where perhaps 15 million people live and work, there is a superfluity of man-made structures without adding another wall 200 feet high, a scarcity of open country without enclosing another stretch of what remains.

I had intended last week-end to drive up and remind myself in daylight of the country in which Hardcastle Crags Valley lies. I had arranged to do so, but I was warned that all the approaches to the district were choked with both fog and snow, and I was unable to carry out that plan. But two fellow Yorkshiremen came to speak to me, two men who live in that area and who are immediately concerned in its preservation. Neither of them would call himself a poet, and they spoke in unemotive phrases of the splendour they are trying to protect. These were some of the points they made. They said that this place is unique in our part of England in respect of its form and size. The latter enables hundreds of people at a time to roam or rest in the valley out of sight and sound of each other. It is remote from motor roads and the noise and smells which motor traffic carries with it. It has the tranquillity of a huge cathedral open to the sky. The upper end, which is the part to be submerged, is gladly frequented by parents because of its safety for children. They can paddle and play in the pools and shallows without danger. They could hardly be allowed near the deep waters of the reservoir.

We think of this place as being a delight in summer. But last week there appeared a small descriptive piece in the Yorkshire Post, the writer giving only his or her initials. Here are one or two passages from it: It might have been Switzerland, Austria—perhaps even Norway. Trudging up the gorge, for the most part along the barely discernible riverside path, one half expected to come across a party of ski-ers … or hear a horse-drawn sleigh jingling the broader way between the shivering trees. As it was, the only human exercise in evidence was the invigorating walk, usually to canine accompaniment; though some hardy Scouts were braving winter in their stone-built Crags headquarters, and a couple of snow-covered bivouacs were spotted close by. Apart from the hark of the occasional dog, as it submerged in a drift or misjudged the leap across a frozen stream, the only other sound to attract attention was the call of a grouse, fluttering to join half a dozen others on a slope. Yet there was another sound; heard but not listened to, because it is ever present and the ear dismisses it until the brain begs concentration. It is the hiss of the river faltering beneath ice, over rocks, around stepping stones. Yes, it might have been Switzerland or Austria; perhaps even Norway.

My Lords, those words were written, presumably last week, describing a place eight miles from Halifax, thirteen miles from Rochdale, each with 90,000 inhabitants, and nearly as close to six or seven other great centres of industry: Huddersfield, Bradford, Keighley, Burnley, Oldham and Ashton-under-Lyne. They were written by somebody totally unconnected with any of the Petitioners against this Bill, perhaps even ignorant of the threat. They were inspired by something more incalculable. It is not only nature lovers as such who object to this scheme. The late Sir John Cockcroft in 1967, shortly before he died, signed the Petition against the project. Belonging, as he did, to a Todmorden family nearby, he knew the valley; but he was, of course, famed as a leader and champion of technological progress. He had his priorities right.

My Lords, I have probably said more than is necessary to demonstrate the beauty of this piece of country. It is acknowledged in the Preamble to the Bill. The Promoters, however, claim that by landscaping their works they will actually enhance the beauty. Making the fullest allowance for enthusiastic advocacy, this seems to me a fairly astounding claim. They say that by the opening up of new roads more people will be enabled to come and their pleasure will be increased by being able to sail on the reservoir and to picnic round it. The urge to provide more opportunities for sailing in Yorkshire is no doubt benevolent; but, my Lords, I ask: Why here, and at such vast expense?

If the water board wish to encourage it they have nine reservoirs already built in the upper regions of the river. For instance, there is Widdup Reservoir, 90 acres in extent. The existing road from Colne to Heptonstall and Halifax runs along one of its banks for about a mile. The charm of Hardcastle Crags is its peace and its freedom from the motor car. It should be left as a haven for those who enjoy it as it is now, close to industrial towns but with superb access for walkers. My Motion asks for an Instruction to the Committee which will examine the Bill, to establish two facts: first, whether there is a need for additional supplies of water; secondly, if this could be proven, whether there are not alternative sources available.

Is the need established? I submit that it is not. So far from there being any likelihood of an increase in population within the area supplied by this water authority, a decrease is expected, according to the survey of the Yorkshire and Humberside Development Committee. In 1948, when a Bill was introduced, to which I will refer in a moment, to establish a reservoir a few hundred yards away from the site now proposed, the water authority sought to justify their proposal by a forecast that there would be a shortage of water in the area. My Lords, twenty years have passed. In those twenty years there has been no shortage and existing supplies have throughout been sufficient for a whole six months' requirements. Why ought we to believe that the water authority's prognostications are any more realistic now than they were then? It is also pertinent to mention that within a ten-mile radius of the proposed site two large reservoirs are already under construction; one to lie beside the trans-Pennine motorway close to Huddersfield; the other at Ripponden, near Halifax.

Even if, despite all this, it could be argued that a shortage was possible, could not the water be provided by other means, avoiding damage to this beautiful valley? My noble friend Lord Ilford, calling on his great experience of the earlier Bill, may say that all other possibilities have been explored. But is it not now recognised by all water engineers that the right way to increase capacity is not by pocking the country with additional reservoirs, but by a more modern method? I mean, abstracting water from the lower reaches of rivers and pumping this into conduits leading directly to the filtration plants supplying the districts themselves.

My Lords, I will go a little further. We are all waiting for the report this summer by the Water Resources Board, in which, let us hope, we shall see plans for the development of a national water grid and other imaginative schemes for increasing our supplies in a large-scale way. Some years of work may be needed before these supplies could be tapped and co-ordinated to meet the needs of this area. In the meantime, if the water authority must insure against what seems a most unlikely short-term contingency, I submit that they would do better to turn their attention to the abstraction system I have mentioned.

One notable feature of this scheme is that it is nearly a carbon copy of a scheme included in a Bill—the Halifax Corporation Bill—introduced in the Session of 1948–49. The difference is that under that Bill the reservoir would have been some hundreds of yards further downstream. The relevant section of that Bill was, understandably, rejected by the Select Committee of your Lordships' House, and I will quote the Finding: The Committee are not satisfied that the Promoters have made out their case, and we are of the opinion that insufficient effort has been made to find alternatives. They have decided that Part IV is struck out of the Bill. After careful study, I cannot see that the Promoters have been any more successful in making out their case this time. I am convinced that they have still not made adequate efforts to find alternatives, if indeed there is any realistic need for any such scheme. It is worth noting that in the twenty years since that Bill was presented the number of people coming to enjoy this valley every year has more than doubled, so that twice as many would be adversely affected by this Bill.

In these circumstances, my Lords, I might have felt justified in asking your Lordships to refuse a Second Reading to this Bill. That is not the action I am seeking; and in view of what I am sure will be the very reasonable attitude of my noble friend Lord Ilford, I think that it would have been improper. I am personally confident that if the Committee examine the effects of the scheme on the amenities, and go into the questions of whether the need has been proven and the alternative sources of water explored, they will find once again that the case for the Promoters has not been made. The National Trust are petitioning to be heard by the Committee; so are the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. Side by side with them are the Hepton Rural District Council and my noble friend Lord Savile. All these Petitioners, as myself, think it most probable that, once the Committee go into the aspects of the scheme mentioned in my Motion, the construction of a reservoir in this lovely valley will be avoided, and avoided for all time. My Lords, I therefore beg to move my Motion.

Moved, That it be an Instruction to the Committee to whom the Bill is committed that, having regard to the high amenity value of the Hardcastle Crags Valley and to the rejection of a previous Bill to authorise the construction of a reservoir in the Valley, special consideration should be given by the Committee as to whether there is a need for additional supplies of water and as to the availability of alternative sources.—(Lord St. Oswald.)

3.9 p.m.


My Lords, I think it might be for the convenience of the House if I were to say a few words now about the procedural aspects of the Instruction which has been moved in a most interesting and well-informed speech by the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald. I can see no procedural objection whatever to the acceptance by the House of this Instruction since it does no more than reinforce the points which will be made by the Petitioners against the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, has pointed out, there are four Petitions against the Bill. Among those Petitions are the Petitions of the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty, and of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and the Hardcastle Crags Preservation Committee.

I am sure that, even if this Instruction had not been moved by the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, the Select Committee to which the Instruction will be referred, if your Lordships agree to it, would require to be satisfied both that there was a need for the powers proposed in the Bill and, if so, that suitable alternative sources of water supply are not available, before they reported to your Lordships that the Bill ought to proceed. I think those were the two points to which the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, drew the attention of the House.

However, I should like to point out to your Lordships that whereas Select Committees on Private Bills in this House do not normally set out in their Report the considerations and reasons which have led to their recommendations, in cases where an Instruction to the Select Committee has been passed by the House the Committee usually makes a Special Report dealing with the points raised in the Instruction. I have every reason to suppose that this would probably be the procedure of the Select Committee in this case.


My Lords, it might be for the convenience of the House if I were to say that the Government also welcome this Instruction. I share the convictions of the Lord Chairman of Committees that the Committee would, without doubt, have done what is asked in the Instruction, even in its absence, but the presence of the Instruction marks the particularity of this proposal of the Calderdale Water Board, which is, above all things, that they propose to take National Trust Land, which is not a thing that happens every day in the experience of this House and its Committees.


My Lords, I should like very much to support this Motion. As we have already heard, the National Trust is strongly opposed to what it is proposed to do, and so is the Rural District Council, and it seems to me that what they have brought forward as an objection is unanswerable. I should like to emphasise, however, that it is up to all of us to give the National Trust all the support we can. After all, it is the guardian of our amenities and it is doing its best to fulfil that function. It would seem rather silly at this moment to give in to this demand. When the National Grid comes to maturity it may well produce a satisfactory solution to the problem and so prevent the possible despoliation of a natural beauty spot which is used for amenity purposes. So I hope that the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, will have the full support of the House in respect of this land, which belongs to the National Trust and over which local authorities seem a little careless in taking compulsory action.

3.14 p.m.


My Lords, I have put down my name this afternoon, not for the purpose of opposing the Motion of my noble friend Lord St. Oswald but rather to help to ensure—if help were needed—that this Bill gets a Second Reading. It is obvious that such help is not required, so I will I cut short my speech, but I think something should be said so that there is not on the record apparently only one side of the case. Having had over twenty years' experience of the water supply industry, I have in that period seen a great many changes, and in the particular context in which this question is being debated this afternoon changes, I think, almost universally for the better. I believe—and I share the belief with many others—that in this day and age a reservoir, properly constructed, properly landscaped, can be, and frequently is, an enhancement of the amenities of the area in which it lies.

In this particular case I appreciate the concern which has been expressed by my noble friend Lord St. Oswald and the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, on the amenity aspect, more particularly since this area lies so close to many densely populated areas on the South and West and East, but in conjunction with the construction of a properly landscaped reservoir, often beautified by surrounding trees, there is also the provision of boating and fishing facilities and facilities for birdwatching—all under proper control—that can be of great public benefit. I should like to feel that in due course the Committee, when they are considering the question of amenities, will also bear in mind that aspect.

The other point mentioned by my noble friend, Lord St. Oswald was that nowadays it is becoming more and more common and desirable that water companies should draw their supplies from the lower waters of rivers. That is not so in every case. I will not dogmatise about this particular case, because I think that it should be a matter for the consideration of the Committee, but when we talk about other sources being available here I hope we understand that by "available" we mean available in the truly economic sense.

3.17 p.m.


My Lords, I have a rather special interest in this case because I recall, twenty years ago, when I was in active practice at the Bar, promoting a Bill for the Halifax Corporation to construct a reservoir in this valley. We got it through in another place but we failed in your Lordships' House, and I will not this afternoon say whether I think the decision which your Lordships gave then was right or wrong. As has been pointed out, the matters mentioned in this Instruction are all matters which the Committee will in any event have to take into account. When the Petitioners make out their case they will have to deal with all these matters.

The Petitioners are, of course, well aware of the natural beauty of this place. Everything possible which can be done to safeguard the natural beauty of this valley will be done by the Promoters. They are anxious to do that. I have only one comment to make on my noble Friend's speech this afternoon which, if I may say so, was a very reasonable and moderate speech—much more moderate than some of the criticisms which water authorities encounter. My noble friend refer- red more than once to what he described as "a 200 ft. wall". The days when one dammed a valley by building a wall across it are gone. To-day an earth dam is substituted for a wall, and I understand that this dam will be terraced up to the height of the embankment and planted with trees, and everything possible will be done to ensure that it fades into the natural surroundings in which it stands. I think there will be no great difficulty in ensuring that the natural beauty of this spot, although perhaps it may be disturbed to some extent, will not by any means be destroyed.

As my noble friend Lord Sinclair of Cleeve has pointed out, the construction of waterworks involves only limited interference with the natural appearance of the place where they are constructed, unlike the construction of buildings, and in particular industrial buildings. All that is done is that where there has been an open valley—and it may he a rough and rather intractable valley, as I recollect this one is—it is turned into a lake; and many people consider that the scenery, so far from being damaged by substituting a lake for an empty valley, may very well be improved. I hope it will be so in this case. The Promoters have engaged an experienced and well-known landscape architect who will apply all the methods of landscaping which are now commonly used to ensure that there is the minimum of interference with natural surroundings.

May I say one word about the need? The need for this additional water is urgent and insistent. The yield from the existing undertaking is at present less than the supply requirements of the undertakers. In a dry year there might well be a shortage. Faced with that contingency, I cannot think that, if every effort is made to preserve the natural character of this valley, there should be any serious objection to the construction of this reservoir.

3.21 p.m.


My Lords, in view of the fact that my noble friend Lord Ilford is not opposing this Instruction and the noble Earl the Lord Chairman of Committees has agreed that from the procedural point of view there can be no objection to it at all, it is not necessary for me to add anything further to what has been said. The noble Lord, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, mentioned that in order to make a new reservoir, if there be one, more attractive they could plant trees round the edge. It is rather an undesirable precedent for that to submerge the large number of beautiful trees that are there at the present time.

The argument for the beauty of the reservoir is one which is advanced on all occasions. I am reminded of a remark made by the late Mr. Lloyd George when he was sitting on a Committee of this kind. It was proposed to submerge a beautiful Welsh valley in order to provide water for Warrington, and it was argued by counsel that in point of fact submerging the valley would make it look very much better. Mr. Lloyd George said, "If Warrington were submerged under water it also would look very much better, but that in itself is not sufficient reason for submerging it".

As for what my noble friend Lord Ilford called the urgent and insistent need for this water, that of course will have to be proved to the satisfaction of the Committee. I have very little doubt that Lord Ilford is quoting exactly what he said some twenty years ago when he tried unsuccessfully to persuade a Committee of this House to agree to a reservoir being made at that time. As my noble friend Lord St. Oswald has pointed out, the insistent and urgent need of water in 1948 has not shown itself in the intervening twenty years. It is quite true that the Committee would no doubt give attention to these points in its consideration of the Bill. But your Lordships' House has a high and honourable reputation for seeking to preserve the amenities and beauty of the countryside, and I am sure that it is desirable that the Committee should be instructed to give special attention to these points. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will agree to pass this Instruction.

3.24 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add a few words to what has been said about this matter this afternoon, if only to thank the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, on behalf of the National Trust and its 160,000 members for having presented one of our most lovely country houses, which is appreciated by the thousands of visitors who go to St. Nostell's every year. I suppose that I ought to declare an interest, although to some extent it is probably an interest which is shared with almost every Member of this House—at least, I should be rather ashamed if it were not so; that is, membership of the National Trust, which, as your Lordships know, is petitioning against this Bill. I am also a member of the Council of the National Trust and of its Executive Committee, and to that extent I speak with perhaps a rather special interest.

I can assure your Lordships that the National Trust attaches very great importance indeed to this particular property, which was in fact presented to us partly by Lord Savile and partly by other generous donors after the rejection of a previous Bill. So that it was not a question of its being given to the National Trust so that the Trust could fight a Bill which was coming on. Sometimes people try to make use of us in that way. I can assure your Lordships (and I have been on the Committee for about forty years), that we look very carefully at all gifts of this kind to make sure that we are not being used in this way. If we come to the conclusion, as we have done from time to time, that we are being offered a property in order that we may take on the job of resisting the requirements of some national authority, then we turn it down.

I had thought of moving an addition to this Instruction; namely, to add some words requiring the Select Committee to pay particular attention to the position of the National Trust as an institution which has been specially established by Parliament for the purpose of keeping inviolate the most outstanding pieces of natural beauty which this country of very great beauty indeed has inherited from the past—and this is undoubtedly an area of much more than just local significance. Among all the beautiful places in the great Pennine Range, this is a peculiar piece of country with a very special interest and value of its own. In the end, I decided that an addition of this kind was not necessary, because I am sure the Select Committee will take a wide view of this matter and not just treat it as a matter of local interest and significance. It is, indeed, as I have said, a piece of country of outstanding value and importance. The Savile family have been extraordinarily generous, not only in giving this wide area to the nation, to their fellow-countrymen, but in treating it in the most careful, sympathetic and anxious manner over a long period of years, keeping it as a real place of rest and recreation for the thousands of people who live so near by. All these are matters of very great significance.

I feel also that the Select Committee are entitled to—indeed, I would submit that they should—pay special attention to the problem of the National Trust at the present time. Although the Trust was established sixty years ago for the purpose of protecting the historic buildings and natural beauty of this country, it has been only within the last year or two that really serious attacks have been made upon the inalienability of the properties which it owns. Indeed, within the last twelve months three properties of outstanding value have been attacked, and the only one on which a decision has been announced is Saltram Park. In that case, after a very careful hearing, the decision went against the National Trust. Right as that may be, it has caused a very great loss to the National Trust in the eyes of its supporters up and down the country, because people are beginning to feel that what they had thought absolutely secure is no longer secure. While no doubt it is right that if the national interest, as opposed to some local need, requires that encroachment should be permitted, that should be so, nevertheless I think it does mean that the Select Committee should take a national attitude in this matter arid not regard it as a matter of purely local significance and interest.

3.28 p.m.


My Lords, this is an important and controversial Bill. It is a Bill which requires careful examination by your Lordships' House, and I think the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, has done well to draw special attention to it. Normally your Lordships' House is reluctant to issue Instructions to Select Committees. The argument is that Select Committees can be trusted to take all relevant considerations into account, and it could be argued that this is the case here. The points mentioned in the proposed Instruction are obvious. There are four Petitions against the Bill. The Petitioners can surely be counted upon to make their case von those points.

However, as I have said, this is an important and controversial Bill. Experience shows that these water Bills are often extremely complex in their circumstances and that very often there is conflict of evidence on crucial points. The Lord Chairman of Committees has pointed out that one consequence of an Instruction is that the Committee may well be moved to submit a Special Report to the House giving their reasons for the conclusion reached on the point referred to them. It would in my view be of great utility to the House to have a Special Report on this Bill, and for that reason, among others, I support the Motion.

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, it is clear, I think, that this Instruction is going to be passed with universal approval. I should simply like to thank the noble Earl, the Lord Chairman of Committees, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for their clear and reasoned statements of why the Instruction would be quite welcome. If it is necessary to disclose as an interest membership and work for the National Trust, I must do so. Indeed, it was during the thirty years in which I had the honour of serving on the Executive Committee, that the property, some of which this Bill proposes to take from the National Trust, was given to the Trust. The value of this property to the National Trust and to the country has been ably stated by my noble friend Lord St. Oswald, and although this Instruction, for the reasons that have been given, may not be strictly necessary, it is desirable for the reason given by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and I am very glad that it has been welcomed in the way in which it has been.


My Lords, may I add a few words supporting the Instruction to this Bill? I do so for two reasons. The first is because I watched with great interest the building of the Derwent Dam on the Derwent on the borders of Northumberland and Durham. That is what I think the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, had in mind. It is all mud and concrete. A lovely gentle sloping valley now ends in a straight line of concrete arid mud, and although it was constructed some years ago, the dam still looks the monstrosity it did when it was first built. We can have reservoirs that beautify the countryside and look lovely, but I think we have to decide whether we want real countryside like the Calder-dale project is at the moment, or whether we want urbanised countryside. An amenity such as sailing means that all sorts of other buildings have to be built on the side of the dam, and this immediately takes away the countryside aspect. At the moment Upper Teesdale is suffering the same fate, and I would beg the Government to give all the consideration they can to the other schemes concerning water—the barrage schemes and desalination—in the case of all the other dams. For those reasons, I support the Motion.

On Question, Motion agreed to.