HL Deb 17 July 1969 vol 304 cc466-9

3.18 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make known to local authorities the desirability of improving the amenities of the countryside by securing the removal of disused colliery spoil heaps and will encourage them not to levy rates on such spoil heaps that are being used to provide fill material for civil engineering projects and motorway construction.]


My Lords, no further specific advice is needed. Local authorities are well aware of the importance attached by the Government to the reclamation of derelict land in urban areas as well as in the countryside and of the high rate of grants which are available from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, the Scottish Development Department and the Welsh Office for removing or landscaping disused heaps. The Government are at present encouraging local authorities to increase their reclamation programmes. The Government have no power to absolve local authorities from their obligations to levy rates on spoil heaps from which material is being taken away and sold, since this makes it a beneficial occupation of land. My honourable friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary recently met a deputation to discuss the situation in the North East; he has asked for more detailed information, and the Government will consider in the light of this whether there is a case for a change in the present position. Legislation would be required.


My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. May I ask him whether he would agree that the clearance of disused colliery spoil heaps for purposes of road filling has the advantage of helping to improve amenities, whereas borrow tips operated by contractors on which they do not pay rates may well mean savage scars on the landscape? Further, may I ask him whether he is aware that the rates levy on these spoil heaps which has to be paid by contractors is placing their businesses in considerable jeopardy, particularly in cases where they are being called upon to pay rates retrospectively?


My Lords, I am well aware that if one has to pay a rate on some activity on land it makes it less profitable to carry out the activity. With regard to the general question of the removal of what is in the tips and their use for some good purpose, much to my regret this use is going to make only a very small impression on the problem, which is quite colossal, and I think the high rates of grant, ranging from 85 to 50 per cent., which are payable by the Government are likely to make a bigger one, though I welcome the economic use of the material.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that this is a "penny wise, pound foolish" policy? Is he further aware that the contractors in Durham, due to this decision being retrospective have to find £500, 000, and are likely to go into bankruptcy, in which case no rates will be received? Is this policy not stopping us from reclaiming land and seeing the abolition of the monstrosities that surround our countryside in Durham? Is he aware that some day the taxpayer will have to pay for this? Is it not better to get it done now for nothing than to have this imposition and see these hideous heaps growing? Is he further aware that the longer a heap lives, the bigger it gets, and the more likely we are to see slips as we did at Aberfan?


My Lords, as I have already said, my honourable friend is waiting for further details about the situation in the North-East, and he hopes to get them soon. The taxpayer is, of course, already paying for this problem to the tune of 85 per cent. of the cost.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that over all these years rates have been levied on the collieries on global output? Some of that output went to the spoil tips. Is it not wrong to levy rates to take it away?


My Lords, that is a rather abstruse point, and I must ask for time to consider it.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, whereas, as he says, where these spoil heaps are removed for the purposes of amenity benefit there is a charge to the extent of 85 per cent. on national resources, and 15 per cent. on the local authority, when the disused spoil heap is used for the purposes of road filling there is no charge at either national level or local level?


Yes, indeed, my Lords. The use of this for road filling is a jolly good thing, as I have already said; but I am afraid that, even if one were to make all roads exclusively of this material—which one cannot—it would still make only a small impression on the enormous problem.