HL Deb 13 October 1969 vol 304 cc1207-8

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

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the treatment of East Grimstead, Wiltshire, is an indication of their attitude towards the preservation of the countryside.]


My Lords, the decision taken last year to allow quarrying of chalk at East Grimstead. to which I think the noble Lord refers, was taken by my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government after a most careful weighing up of the needs of industry and the export trade against the damage to amenity. The permission lasts five years, and for the details I will send the noble Lord copies of the inspector's report and the decision letter which were issued in September last year.


My Lords, while thanking the Minister for that reply, may I ask whether he is aware that this was the first planning application ever to be held in secret? Will he tell your Lordships under which section of which Act these proceedings were authorised? Would not the noble Lord agree that, as half a million planning applications a year are held in public, objectors should have been warned that on this occasion they had no chance?


My Lords, the appeal was not, as such, heard in camera. Out of a hearing which lasted a great many hours, twenty minutes of the pro- ceedings were in camera. The inspector was perfectly within the law—I am sorry that I cannot quote chapter and clause—in agreeing to that course, which was proposed by the company. The reason he agreed to it was that the justification for working chalk in this beautiful area was that the chalk was of a special kind, and the company could not answer the question of what special kind without divulging commercial secrets, which would have put them at a disadvantage with foreign competitors. That was the justification for the unusual course of taking a small part—I emphasise a very small part—of the hearing in camera.


My Lords, this is not the first time that chalk quarrying has caused trouble. Can the noble Lord tell us whether, under this procedure, there was any opportunity at all for the objectors to bring geological evidence to rebut the evidence which was given on behalf of the company in secret? If there was not, there must be something wrong with the procedure.


My Lords, if I remember rightly some of the geological evidence was not heard in camera, and of course there the normal procedure applied. However, the matter was looked at with the help of Government scientists, and this may be some reassurance to those who doubt the validity of the testing which was given to this evidence.

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