§ 6.33 p.m.
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Bill is promoted by the Bristol Corporation, who are not only the local authority for the city but also the port and harbour authority for the port and harbour of Bristol and, as such, the owners of the City Docks, the Avon-mouth Docks and the Portishead Docks. It is rather unusual for a Private Bill to be debated on Second Reading, for, as your Lordships will know, the House does not affirm the principle of such a Bill by giving it a Second Reading. I have no doubt that the Lord Chairman of Committees will be calling our attention to certain procedural points in due course.
I cannot help feeling that the pressure for a debate on this Bill may be due to a failure on the part of certain interests to appreciate the underlying purposes of the Bill and perhaps to a misunderstanding of the true intentions of the Promoters. I make no complaint about that, and I welcome the opportunity of explaining the Bill in the hope that in the process a number of unnecessary fears may be allayed.
Your Lordships will have seen the very clear statement on behalf of the Promoters of this Bill and will therefore be aware that the Bill is concerned with the closure of the old City Docks in the centre of Bristol. It has nothing to do with the docks at Avonmouth and Portishead. It confers powers which will enable the Corporation to cease the operation and maintenance of port installations in the City Docks, which are now obsolescent, and therefore will enable the Corporation to replan the waterfronts and the roads and develop and enhance the great potential for amenity which those stretches of water in the centre of the city will provide when 548 they are no longer needed for commercial dock purposes. The Bill is only the first step, but it is an essential one, for what will inevitably be a long-term programme of planning and redevelopment for the centre of the city. It is essential because so long as existing statutory obligations remain in force, navigation rights cannot be extinguished and vessels can continue to demand access and harbour facilities in this section of the port.
I must now attempt to describe and identify the various docks and waterways in the city of Bristol as they exist today. The City Docks, known as the Floating Harbour, are situated along the original course of the River Avon which flows through the centre of the city. The docks as we know them today were created under an Act of 1803. A barrier and lock system was then constructed at Cumberland Basin where the river begins to flow into the Avon Gorge at Hotwells, just upstream of Brunei's famous suspension bridge. This barrier enabled a "floating"—as it has always been called since—tide-free harbour to be created above the Cumberland Basin along the old course of the River Avon in the heart of the city.
The course of the river itself was at that time diverted through a "new cut" about two miles along, which is still called New Cut and is still tidal right up as far as Netham Dam in the East end of the city. That dam was constructed at the same time. There were other ancillary works in the 1803 plan, but the only one I think I need mention to your Lordships now is the Feeder Canal which was dug from Netham back to Temple Meads to ensure a supply of fresh water to the Floating Harbour and to make that harbour independent of the tidal waters of the lower Avon. The result of this was to create two parallel water systems right through the centre of the city. One, the Floating Harbour, which incidentally at its lower or western end picks up the small River Frome where it is culverted into a section of the harbour known as St. Augustine's Reach —about which we shall hear more this evening—and the other, the tidal New Cut, taking the main flow of the river.
The Floating Harbour can accommodate ships of up to about 3,000 net registered tons. All this seemed very modern and ambitious 160 years ago, but by the turn of the century, a hundred 549 years later, this dock was already proving inadequate. Ships were getting much bigger, and about seventy years ago the Avonmouth and Portishead Docks were constructed for the Port of Bristol in the deep water at the mouth of the river where it flows into the Bristol Channel. Now it is thought by many that a new deep water dock is needed at Portbury. So what we have to-day in the centre of Bristol is an obsolete dock system, which is 170 years old, which can be reached only by small ships of 3,000 tons—ships which are prepared to navigate seven or eight miles up the winding Avon Gorge, which happens to have one of the most dramatic tidal variations in the world, exceeded only, I believe, by the tides in the Bay of Fundy in Northern Canada. Frankly, my Lords, there can be no viable commercial future for these docks, which can only serve an ever decreasing number of what are to-day very small ships; docks whose existence renders impossible the proper development of the centre of the city which, incidentally, is the only level part of this great and growing city, and docks which have made impossible, or immensely more difficult and expensive, the solution of the city's acute modern traffic problems.
Quite apart from the fact that there simply is not sufficient ancillary land available in the centre of Bristol to meet modern dock requirements for containers, and so on, the financial implications of trying to maintain the City Docks are really frightening. Operating costs are bound to rise and revenue is certain to fall. The annual deficit, before charging interest and depreciation, for the year ended March, 1969. had grown to over £200,000. The cost of maintenance and dredging in 1960 was £60,000, but for the last five years it has averaged over £100,000 a year. During the decade, dry cargo imports have fallen from 400,000 tons per annum to 300,000 tons per annum. During the last six years no fewer than seven shipping lines have ceased to use the City Docks, and in 1969 the last undertaking upstream which relied upon barge transport, a pulp mill, turned over to road transport. Over and above the direct loss on the docks if they are kept open, the Corporation will be faced with the enormously increased costs in making high-level or swing bridges in the centre of the City, instead of normal 550 bridges. This is a point which I think my noble friend Lord Sinclair of Cleeve will elaborate, when he comes to address your Lordships.
My Lords, it is surely obvious that the future of the Port of Bristol lies in the deep water at the mouth of the Avon— at Avonmouth, at Portishead, and perhaps at the new dock at Portbury; but not in the centre of the city. Indeed, I do not think that there is disagreement in any responsible quarter about this.
The opposition to this Bill comes from quite a different angle. Those who have petitioned against the Bill can be grouped, I think, into two main categories. First, there are those who are anxious about the disruption that the closure of this section of the port must cause to their existing businesses. These are perfectly responsible and understandable anxieties, and I can say at once that the Corporation fully accept that proper compensation and alternative arrangements must be provided for such firms and individuals. This is the subject of the majority of the Petitions. I think that it is a tribute to the Corporation's care and efforts that so few Petitions on this score have been deposited. 1 am advised that the Corporation are very hopeful that most, if not all, of these matters can be resolved by negotiations with the affected parties which are already in progress, and that some, perhaps all, of the Petitions on this score may be with-drawn before the Bill reaches Committee.
I do not, therefore, propose to spend more time on this aspect of the opposition, except to add that the Bill allows a 10-year period for adjustment and phased withdrawal. With the exception of one comparatively small section of the harbour, St. Augustine's Reach, the closure proposals will not come into operation until 1980. Therefore there should be plenty of time to make satisfactory arrangements for re-location and compensation.
I think we shall find, when other noble Lords come to speak, particularly the noble Lords, Lord Henley and Lord Methuen (I am sure that we are all looking forward with keen anticipation to what they have to say, and to the advice that they will be able to give us), that the main opposition to this Bill comes from those who fear that the Bill does not contain adequate or satisfactory provisions for the uses to which the 551 waterways and land in the centre of the city should be put when they are no longer required for commercial docks.
It is at this juncture, my Lords, that I think I can no longer put off the difficult task of trying to describe to your Lordships the engineering works and rearrangement of waterways that are proposed in the Bill. Incidentally, I think this is a good example of why normally it is better that a Private Bill of this nature should be examined in a Select Committee, where maps and plans and expert witnesses can be available rather than on the Floor of the House, where these facilities are not available, so making it difficult for us to go into this sort of detail. Be that as it may, I hope that I may be able to convince your Lordships that the proposed works and rearrangements are necessary, sensible and economical, will bring benefit to the city and really ought to satisfy the reasonable demands of such bodies as the Bristol Civic Society, the Cruising Club and the South-Western Branch of the Inland Waterways Association, who have deposited Petitions against this Bill.
I shall try to simplify and shorten as much as I can my description of the nature and effect of the proposed works, set out in the Bill between Clauses 13 and 28. I should say first that the Cumberland Basin, at the downstream end of the City Docks, will remain as it is, swing bridges and all, available for ships as at present. Secondly, the New Cut will become a non-tidal river, controlled downstream by a barrage and lock at Ashton, quite close to the Cumberland Basin. This is Work 1 in Clause 13. Upstream at Netham the dam will be removed. That is Work 4 in Clause 13. I hope that in future we in Bristol shall forget the name" New Cut" and call this the "New River", because that is what it will be. "New River" sounds better than "New Cut" and, my goodness!, it will be better than the "New Cut".
As this barrage at Ashton will prevent the heavily silt-laden Severn waters from sweeping up into the New Cut, as they do at present, the quality of water above the barrage can be maintained at a high standard. This great improvement will extend right into the Floating Harbour itself, and fish are expected to return to all the Bristol central waterways. This 552 New River will enable pleasure craft to sail right up from the Bristol Channel through the Avon Gorge, right through Bristol to the Kennet and Avon Canal. There will be undisputed navigation rights for craft of the maximum dimensions appropriate to the Avon navigation stretch from Hanham, on the City boundary, to Bath, a stretch which was scheduled as a cruiseway by the Minister of Transport in 1968. The prescribed dimensions given in Clause 4 of the Bill are: length, 75 ft.; width, 16 ft.; overall height, 9 ft. from water level, and draught, 4 ft. 6 in.
This improved New River will be linked to the Floating Harbour at two points, Underfall Yard and Bathurst Basin. These are Works 2 and 5 in Clause 13. This in fact represents a very substantial additional benefit both to boaters and to the public, because there will be at least a 50 per cent, increase of tide-free waters in the centre of Bristol, all of which will be available for amenity and recreational use. At the moment the Floating Harbour, laid out as a commercial dock, is perhaps only a minor attraction to such boaters, and I can assure your Lordships that neither boatmen nor the citizens of Bristol can get any pleasure whatever from the New Cut as it is to-day at low tide, in hot weather, a trickle of muddy water between evil-smelling mudbanks, far below the surface of the surrounding land, a noisome ditch. It really shows a certain lack of imagination, to put it kindly, when those who oppose this Bill continue to refer to the New Cut as if it will remain as an un-attractive muddy backwater when the proposals of this Bill are designed absolutely to transform this waterway into a fine new river.
Thirdly, there are the proposals for the Floating Harbour. The surface area of water in the Floating Harbour will re-main unchanged up as far as St. Philip's Bridge (which is further upstream than the Bristol Bridge, which those of your Lordships who visit Bristol probably know better), but as there will be no commercial navigation rights it will not have to be so deeply dredged, and the dock installations, wharves, warehouses and all that unsightly paraphernalia will go. It is not proposed to fill in any part of the Floating Harbour between Cumberland Basin and St. Philip's Bridge. Apart from 553 anything else, this section of the harbour forms an essential part of the city's storm water drainage system.
It is true that by Clause 24 of the Bill the Corporation seek to take powers which would enable them to fill in part, or all of the Floating Harbour. But as soon as it became clear to the Corporation that such wide permissive powers might be mistaken for mandatory powers they made it known, widely and publicly, that they would seek leave to introduce, at the appropriate stage in the Bill's passage through Parliament, Amendments to Clause 24 of the Bill, to allay any such fears.
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl why, if they never wanted to have these powers, they were put into the Bill?
I think I should say that they did not want these powers to be misunderstood. As I say, they will produce Amendments at a later stage in the Bill which will omit such powers, and will spell out the fact that they will not fill in or reclaim any part of the Floating Harbour between Cumberland Basin and St. Philip's Bridge. These Amendments will also make it quite clear that pleasure craft up to the dimensions I have just mentioned to your Lordships have a right of passage throughout the harbour from the Junction Lock at Cumberland Basin to St. Philip's Bridge and to the New Cut (or the New River, as I prefer to call it) via both the proposed waterway links that I have already described.
The provisions of the Bill do not, and as amended will not, include obligations to reclaim or to leave as waterway either the portion of the harbour above St. Philip's Bridge or the Feeder Canal which connects the harbour at Temple Meads with the Avon at Netham Lock. When the New Cut is transformed into the New River there will be no need for this freshwater feed from the Avon into the Floating Harbour via the Feeder Canal. As it stands to-day, this is not an attractive stretch of water, from St. Philip's Bridge up to Totterdown, and then through the Feeder Canal, and it may well be that, after consideration and negotiation, and studies of the needs of traffic and commercial development, the Corporation will come to the conclu- 554 sion that this section of the waterway may well be abandoned to the advantage of the city and without detriment to those whose interests are in small craft.
I ask your Lordships to believe that the small-craft interests have been more than amply catered for. There will be 60 acres of water remaining in the harbour below St. Philip's Bridge, and if we include the New River proposals there will be a total of 120 acres of tide-free waters all available for pleasure boating. This compares with about 80 acres of tide-free waters today—that 80 acres including the public canal at the top of the harbour. And there will be this pleasant through-route from the sea to the Kennet and Avon Canal.
My Lords, this Bill has been described by some of its opponents as premature in town planning terms. Do people who level that criticism realise that realistic planning cannot begin until it is known that the existing statutory navigation rights are extinguished? Have these people realised, or do they fully remember, that the deficit on docks account is already in excess of £200,000 per annum? And have they ever tried to drive through the centre of Bristol in the rush hour? This Bill is not premature.
Nor would I wish to leave your Lordships with the impression that the programme is unnecessarily long-drawn-out. It is proposed to proceed straight away with one section of these works; that is to say, the bridge over the portion of the Floating Harbour known as St. Augustine's Reach—Work No. 3 in Clause 13. The statutory harbour rights in this section of the Floating Harbour will be extinguished as soon as this Bill passes into law. It will not be necessary to wait until 1980 (January 1, 1980 being the second appointed day) before this absolutely essential new bridge can be constructed, so that the traffic need no longer go through Queen Square and negotiate the notorious scissor crossing at the tramway centre and the bottom of Park Street. This bridge will leave a minimum headroom of 11 feet, and cruising vessels up to the prescribed dimensions will therefore be able to use St. Augustine's Reach and sail right into the heart of the city.
Finally, the cost of all these alterations and works, including the new St. Augustine's Bridge, is really very moderate in relation to the advantages they will bring 555 —some £5 million spread over ten years. Moreover, this figure includes provision for contingencies, and makes allowance for costs to rise annually during the period of the works. My Lords, I hope I have been able to show you that the provisions of this Bill are necessary and sensible; that they will bring great benefits to the city; that their cost is reasonable, and that if this Bill goes through, amenity and boating interests, far from being diminished, will be greatly enhanced. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a. —(Earl Waldegrave.)
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, I hope it will be convenient if I rise at this moment to make a short statement on behalf of Her Majesty's Government. I propose to deal only with those aspects of this Bill which impinge on Government policy. The Bill is a local measure promoted privately by Bristol Corporation. The primary purposes of the Bill are to confer on the Corporation powers to carry out the works listed in Clause 13 (barrage, locks, a bridge, et cetera) and to abandon and discontinue the maintenance and use, first, of St. Augustine's Reach on or after the passing of the Bill, and, later, the rest of the Floating Harbour (except Cumberland Basin), the Feeder Canal and Netham Lock, on and after January 1, 1980. I understand that the Floating Harbour and the City Docks are in effect two names for the same thing.
I am informed that, in addition to the Bill before your Lordships, the Corporation propose to introduce at Committee stage an Amendment under which they will accept an obligation to maintain through part of the length of the Floating Harbour a passage for vessels up to 75 feet long, 16 feet wide, 9 feet high and with a draught of up to 4 feet 6 inches. I gather that they have agreed to this primarily in response to pressure to cater for recreational craft.
The closure of the City Docks is a matter which falls behind the field of concern of my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport, who has general responsibilities for ports. But essentially the closure is a matter of management for the port authority. In common with 556 a general trend, connected largely with the increase in the size of ships, traffic at Bristol has moved downstream, and the vast bulk of trade is now handled at Avonmouth and Portishead Docks. The cargo handled annually at these two facilities amounts to a total of over 7 million tons. At the City Docks appreciably less than 1 million tons per year is now handled; and the City Docks are losing—as the noble Earl has said—some £200,000 a year. With the navigational difficulties presented by the River Avon for modern ships which have to go to and from the City Docks by way of the river, there seems to be no prospect of this trend being reversed and of there being an upsurge of trade in the docks. The evidence available certainly suggests that the City Docks are no longer an economic proposition and that closure to commercial shipping would make good sense. That is the conclusion that the Bristol Corporation have reached, and my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport sees no reason to dissent.
There have been general criticisms of the Bill on the ground that it gives the Corporation power to develop the site of the City Docks without proper planning. I understand from my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government that the works specifically authorised by the Bill would be "permitted development" and would not require planning permission. The Bill, however, does not specify how the Corporation may use the vacated dock land. They will in consequence need planning permission for any development of that land. The Corporation are themselves the planning authority, but my right honourable friend tells me that he would be able to call the matter in for his decision if there were circumstances which justified his so doing. Unless the Corporation already have general statutory powers to carry out whatever development they ultimately decide on they would, of course, have to seek new statutory powers at the time.
Among the works which the Bill would authorise is a bridge across St. Augustine's Reach. This would enable new roads to be constructed. The inclusion of these in Preparation Lists, and the availability of Government grant for them, are matters which Bristol Corporation will in due 557 course have to discuss with my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport. These roads and the monies involved are not, however, dealt with in the Bill, and this Second Reading debate on the Bill is not the opportunity for the Government to make any comment on them. Construction of the bridge across St. Augustine's Reach would involve the demolition of three early 18th century buildings (Numbers 66, 68 and 70 Prince Street) which are listed as historic buildings.
The siting of the bridge is, of course, linked with the road proposals, and I understand that altering them might be difficult because of other buildings of special interest. But my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government has the matter under consideration. His view is that the Bill does not override the need for separate consent before the buildings can be demolished, a matter which he would almost certainly call in for decision by himself. And, of course, if he decided that the buildings should be preserved, it would be open to him to recommend to that effect in the Report which he will be making to Parliament on this Bill. The point would then be considered, appropriately, in Committee. In short, the Minister does not consider that the Bill's effect on listed buildings is a reason for denying it a Second Reading.
I mentioned earlier that Bristol Corporation have undertaken to maintain a navigable passage for pleasure craft through part of the existing waters of the City Docks. My Lords, the Government certainly take no exception to the provision of such an amenity in the city of Bristol. The question of providing amenities in the city of Bristol is, of course, essentially one that should be considered locally. To sum up, my Lords, the Government see no reason of national policy for opposing the Second Reading of this local Bill.
§ 7.6 p.m.
My Lords, I hope that noble Lords are not confused by the order of speakers that they have on the lists before them. I am speaking third on the list now, although my name is down to speak fifth. This is because the noble Earl, the Lord Chairman of Committees, felt he would like to hear 558 what I had to say first, and because the noble Lord who speaks for the Government felt that he wanted to make it quite clear where the Government stood before I opposed this Bill. So now your Lordships know why the order is somewhat contused. You will also know that when noble Lords speak from the Government Benches they do not speak for a particular Department but for the Government, and to some extent for themselves. Nevertheless, the noble Lord quoted his right honourable friend the Minister of Transport and, as it were, addressed himself to what his right honourable friend the Minister of Transport might have thought with regard to the Bill. I am sorry about that, because this is not a transport issue; it is an issue of great amenity consequence. We are not dealing with just an old dock, we are dealing with an old townscape, as one of the citizens of Bristol said. This is no affront to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, but I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, is not answering this speech with his great experience of land use. This is a great land issue, and I fear that Bristol may be throwing away a chance to make something new of their great harbour lying in the heart of the city, a lost opportunity which they will bitterly regret.
The noble Earl introduced the Bill with his customary charm, ability and moderation, and I was very much impressed with his speech. There is no question about the viability of the City Docks here; we are not talking about the viability of the City Docks. We all accept the fact that they are obsolete and will take vessels of only 3,000 tons, and even if there was a revolution in the techniques of carrying containers, and things like that, Bristol, seven to eight miles up a markedly tidal river, is not going to come into that kind of world again. The noble Lord, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, will elaborate on that point. Viability is not an issue here, and any debate upon the economics of the matter is really superfluous.
So far as the City Docks themselves are concerned, if the city of Bristol wish to divest themselves of their statutory right to run these docks, then it is quite easy to do so; they merely make a statutory disclaimer, and say so. I want to take up the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, 559 on one point. We are talking now not about the City Docks but about the Floating Harbour. The noble Lord, in his speech, said that these were in effect two names for the same thing. My Lords, be careful, for that is not altogether true; it is only a half-truth. The City Dock can be closed, and the City Docks may no longer be viable. The Floating Harbour in the heart of the city of Bristol is unique in England, and possibly unique in Europe. We are discussing what we are going to do with this. That is why I feel that Bristol itself may be throwing away something the loss of which it will bitterly regret.
The noble Earl in the course of his speech said that those of us who felt that this Bill was premature in town planning terms had not really understood what those terms were. I do not accept that at all. He spoke about the deficit. I have already said there is no question here about the financial viability of the Bristol City Docks. He spoke about highways. I know there are highway problems, and I know that there are many cities in the world which have wrecked their town by thinking only in terms of how to cope with their highway problems. So I do not for one moment accept the proposition of the noble Earl that when I say that in town planning terms this Bill is premature, I do not know what I am talking about, or that my friends have not understood the issue. It is premature in town planning terms, and this is the whole gravamen of what I wish to say to your Lordships. The Corporation are asking for carte blanche; they are asking for powers to do absolutely anything. They have not worked out what they want to do when they have the Bill.
We have heard it said, quite rightly, that a Second Reading in your Lordships' House does not mean that we accept the Bill's proposals. We do not. We put them forward for further examination by a Select Committee; and this is what I think we shall have to do, because the City Council themselves have not the faintest idea, so it seems to me, what they are going to do with the Bill when they get it. They have already changed their earlier plans, their original plans, for filling in or decking over the Floating Harbour and redeveloping part of it. They said so, my Lords. They said so 560 in their Civic News, and when this raised such an outcry they had to deny it in The Times; and after it has been denied in The Times we find it is back here again in the Bill, in Clause 24. They are still proposing the most extraordinary pro-positions, and are still saying that they are not proposing them. They do not know what they are doing.
They are saying that they are presenting this Bill with these powers and that they will immediately produce Amendments for it. The noble Earl spoke about the Amendments. So far as I and my friends are concerned, those Amendments are totally unsatisfactory. The Corporation of Bristol are still left with powers—even if the Amendments were satisfactory so far as the Bill is con-cerned—under earlier Statutes, which enable them to do absolutely everything they want. They may well say that they cannot make a plan until they have this Bill which gives them these powers. It seems to me a very remarkable statement. I should have thought that one made a plan and, having decided what the plan was, one asked for a Bill.
There has been the most extraordinary speed and secrecy about the whole of this Bill in Bristol, and I really do not know why. The first reason that was put forward by a good many councillors, both on television and in the Press, was to the effect that if this Bill was not pushed through very quickly, the Government would nationalise the ports of Bristol, and then cause poor old Bristol to have to buy back its own land at an inflated price. That is what a good many councillors said. The town clerk had to deny this. He had to say that this Bill has absolutely no relevance to nationalisation at all. There has been no proper consultation beforehand. I understand that at any rate some of the six Members of Parliament for the City of Bristol felt a little aggrieved that they had not even been consulted about these problems beforehand. All that has been done is that a plan has been produced and people have been offered a chance to object to the plan.
The plans involved have not been subjected to expert evidence. May I give your Lordships an example of the whole hydraulics problem? What is going to be done when the hydraulics system, the way the water flows in these docks, is 561 altered? What will happen? Nobody has looked at this. No outside experts have looked at what will happen when the flow of the water is altered. There has been no proper costing. Nobody has suggested what the cost might be of the original plan of filling the Floating Harbour in or decking it over. No alternatives have been costed. The noble Earl said that the cost was very moderate. Very moderate it may well be, but the cost of the Corporation's proposals looks to me formidable com-pared to the cost of maintaining the Floating Harbour and Feeder Canal. It is about £4 million. Nobody has said what the cost of maintaining the Floating Harbour and Feeder Canal, as opposed to that £4 million—to doing the New Cut —will be.
The whole thing looks to me like one of those calculations which one does on the back of an envelope. We all know that sometimes people with great financial genius and imagination can produce on the back of an envelope a calculation which is all right. But is this? I wonder. It looks to me like a pet scheme, somebody's "baby", which they now do not want to give way on and lose face. This is Stansted over again. I do not know how many of your Lordships remember the circumstances of Stansted. What in fact happened was that some-body in some back room produced a little idea on the back of an envelope which appeared on the face of it to be plausible, and would not go back on it. It took one of the most remarkable democratic demonstrations to reverse that proposal, to have it examined properly, that modern politics has seen. All that had happened was that somebody in a back room had an idea and would not go back on it because it was his "baby", his pet scheme. Is it not possible that this could have happened in Bristol? Is it not possible that somebody has drawn up a scheme on the back of an envelope and will not go back on it? It looks very much like it to me, my Lords.
What do we know about it? How was the original plan to reclaim, to deck over, to fill in, taken in the Council? We do not know. Was amenity considered? We do not know. Why was it abandoned? We do not know. Has it been abandoned? We do not know. What was the justification for this major planning decision to transfer the navigation rights 562 to the New Cut from the Floating Harbour at a cost of £4 million? We do not know. Was it possibly because some money could be made on redevelopment of the Floating Harbour when it was filled in, or was it just because it made the business of road works easier? My Lords, we do not know. The Council have never told us. So far as I can make out, the Corporation's plans (the noble Earl will answer this point when he winds up) appear to be no plans at all. They involve vaguely an abandonment of the Floating Harbour. As I said before, none of us objects to abandoning the idea of the City Docks—this probably must hap-pen—but abandoning them to the Floating Harbour is something quite different. As to Clause 24, even as amended, it is clear that they propose to abandon it. They assign to the Floating Harbour a rather minor role, as a place of water recreation, and the whole idea is dominated by a quick solution to the highway problem—bridges and all that.
All of this has aroused very consider-able concern among a considerable section of the citizens of Bristol. Those citizens, who are my friends, think that Bristol could be unique; that it has this large stretch of water which could be available for recreation in the heart of the City, and that all that water will be needed by 1980, when it is conceivable (the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, may say something about this matter) that the Kennet and Avon Canal may well provide a link between Bristol and London. This may be a little farfetched and the amount of money involved is possibly greater than is conceivably possible of production in ten years, but it is possible within the lifetime of our children. If a boatway—a cruiseway, I think it is called— from Bristol to London is possible in the life-time of our children, what have you done if you have abandoned and filled in those wonderful docks in the middle of Bristol? What indeed!
The Corporation's suggestion is, "Oh, it is all right. We are giving you another 40 acres of tide-free water in the middle of the town". What are those tide-free acres they are giving? A kind of dead lagoon—and at a cost of £4 million. I would not buy that one!
The noble Earl said that we should not call it the "New Cut", which sounds 563 bad, but that we should call it the "New River". What else did he say? The noble Earl said that it was unimaginative of the opponents of the Bill to think that the New Cut will remain a muddy backwater. I know that the Corporation are proposing to fill it up with water so that the mud will be covered up, but one will still be sailing in a sort of underground river. I know that the noble Earl will correct me on this point, but it will not be very attractive. What is attractive about Bristol, and what is unique in Europe, is this fantastic setting with the Floating Harbour dock in the middle. Are we going to sacrifice those for the New Cut, which the noble Earl wants to call the New River?
My Lords, I want to object to only one word: it is not an "underground" river. I do not know why the noble Lord speaks of this as an underground river, and, of course, if he will not accept the undertaking of the Bristol Corporation that they are not going to fill in the Floating Harbour then he can go on flogging this dead horse with great fun for a long time.
My Lords, a Corporation lasts for a relatively short time. This Bill, on their undertaking, they want put through in ten years. It may not be ten years—it may be twenty years; it may be more than that. How can you accept the word of an individual councillor, even though he is your best friend and you know him and admire him and respect him? How can you accept this over a period of a generation? You cannot: it must be in a Bill.
But, my Lords, is will be in a Bill. The Corporation have said that they will amend this Bill. They have said, to make no mistake about it, that they will not fill in the Floating Harbour as far as St. Philip's Bridge. It is only the little ditch to the feeder canal and a very nasty part of the river from St. Philip's Bridge to Totterdown that might get filled in by these untrustworthy councillors of whom the noble Lord has spoken.
My Lords, they have given an acceptance not to fill in certain parts of the Floating Harbour up to St. Philip's Bridge. I wrote the 564 actual words down as the noble Earl was speaking —between St. Augustine's Reach and St. Philip's Bridge. That is a very small undertaking. What I am saying is that they can make this particular part of the Bill as tight as they like but it still is not tight enough for me, because they have powers under earlier Statutes which allow them to do almost exactly what they want to do, and I simply could not accept that.
If I may say so, the whole thinking of the council seems to be blinkered in the short term. They are saying, "We must save the ratepayers a bit of money". They do not even go into that; they have not costed the alternatives, and in addition they say, "We must have a bridge over this part of St. Augustine's Reach because traffic problems are difficult". They have never really thought about it. They have never produced any alternatives; they have never opened any discussion. Nor indeed have they opened to discussion and expert advice the whole subject of the hydraulic problems, which are immense. What will happen to the flow of water if they disrupt the whole hydraulic system? What will the cost of it be? Nothing like the sum that has been worked out. There has been no expert advice. Ought not this problem to have been simulated at Wallingford, if I am correct in thinking that it is there that these experiments are carried out?
This ought to have been simulated at Wallingford. This has not been done, and nobody can answer these questions unless there has been really expert advice given on the hydraulics problems. The Corporation of Bristol do not have any hydraulics experts, and they have certainly not called in any such experts, let alone asked for it to be tested at Wallingford. There have been one or two last minute costings on detidalisation, but they have come so late that nobody can appraise them properly.
Nothing has been said on the whole problem of the new flow and what would happen to the Floating Harbour. May I remind your Lordships that the Floating Harbour is the old river Avon and the 565 old river Frome. What will happen to the flow here when the half-considered plans of the Corporation are put into action? What are you going to do about the diversion of sewers? What are you going to do about alternative arrangements for the people who abstract water from the river? I want to stress that none of these things has been considered by the Corporation. They just have not looked at these problems: they have had no expert advice and no alternative costings.
My Lords, I have been very rude about the Bill but I hope not unkindly so. I am not asking your Lordships to throw this Bill out. Quite clearly Bristol needs a Bill of some sort. I think it needs a different Bill from this and it needs more thought. I am sorry that it has reached the stage when it is going to receive a Second Reading in your Lordships' House and that it is going before a Select Committee. The Select Committee procedure is extremely expensive. The Corporation will have to spend a great deal of money, with counsel presenting their case. The eight Petitioners will have to spend a great deal of money in briefing counsel to present their case, and further-more I am not at all sure that the Select Committee is the right instrument. No doubt the noble Earl the Lord Chairman of Committees will advise me on this, but I have never felt that a Select Committee of your Lordships' House is the ideal method to use for arriving at a proper compromise on a matter such as this. A Select Committee can do a number of things: it can arrive at certain compromises; it can produce certain amendments, but none of these is really helpful in a Bill such as this.
All one could do which I feel would be helpful is what I am not going to do; that is, to throw the Bill out and say to the Corporation, "Think the whole thing over again". Obviously they have not thought about it at all. It seems to me that the right solution can be produced only by the Corporation producing proper long-term land use plans and making them available for public discussion; and that those plans should be based upon proper costings (which have not been produced) and upon expert advice. The area of the docks in Bristol is unique and if the Floating Harbour is to be abandoned it must be shown that there is no other 566 alternative. This has not been done. No calculations to that effect have been made. I know that amenity costs a great deal of money, but can the Corporation show that it is more expensive to retain the Floating Harbour than to improve the New Cut? They have not tried to do that. No doubt the noble Earl will try to show that they have, but they have not. At any rate, so far as my friends are concerned they are all waiting to try to get some figures and propositions from the Corporation which they can examine. They are not there. My Lords, there is no parallel issue in England, and possibly in Europe. Somebody in Bristol said that this was a stupendous waterway, and somebody else said, "It is crazy to throw it away".
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (THE EARL OF LISTOWEL)
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, has explained why some of us have gone up and others have gone down on the list of speakers. I would only add that I am grateful to him for speaking before me because I was anxious to know whether there were any noble Lords who had objections to the Bill—and, if so, what the objections were—as well as to listen to the arguments of the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, in support of the Bill.
I think it may be for the convenience of the House if I follow my usual practice of saying a few words about the procedure on the Bill. There are at the moment eight Petitions against this Bill, each of them directed against various provisions authorising the acquisition of land and the construction of works. The Petition deposited by the Bristol Civic Society and others, including the South Western Branch of the Inland Waterways Association Limited, specifically opposes the provisions in Part IV of the Bill, which deal with the abandonment of certain works. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, referred to this matter, as also I think did the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave. If your Lordships give this Bill a Second Reading it will then be referred to a Select Committee, and in view of the scope and number of these Petitions the House need have no doubt at all that both the Bill and the Petitions against it will receive the fullest consideration.
The noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, and the noble Lord, Lord Henley, were of course entirely right in saying that the 567 House does not affirm the principle of a Private Bill in giving it a Second Reading. All it does is to decide to refer the Bill for consideration by a Select Committee. That Committee will hear argument and evidence adduced both by the Promoters and by the Petitioners, which of course is something that the House itself is not able to do. The noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, pointed out, again I thought quite rightly, that this is one of the outstanding advantages of sending a Private Bill to a Select Committee. The Committee will then decide whether the Bill should proceed, and, if so, whether it should be amended to meet the objections of the Petitioners. I would also emphasise that the Committee have the power to recommend the House to reject the Bill; that is to say, that the Bill should not proceed. If they were to take the view that that is what should happen they would submit a Special Report to this effect to the House; and this I understand is what the noble Lord, Lord Henley, would like the Select Committee to do.
For these reasons, my Lords, I would advise the House to give this Bill a Second Reading.
§ LORD WYNNE-JONES
My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl the Lord Chairman of Committees whether it is not appropriate to reject the Bill entirely at the present stage if one thinks it quite unsuitable for amendment?
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, with the permission of the House (I can-not speak again otherwise) I think I replied to that point in effect, when I said that the House does not affirm the principle of the Bill in giving it a Second Reading. And in this respect, of course, its procedure is entirely different from the procedure on a Public Bill, where a Second Reading decides the principle of the Bill.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
My Lords, may I thank the noble Earl the Lord Chairman of Committees for explaining so clearly the position and the procedure of this Bill? I would also thank the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for explaining to us where the Government stand in this matter. It is clear that this Bill is not a concern of the Minister 568 of Transport; the whole issue here is one of development, and one, therefore, for the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. I must thank my noble friend Lord Waldegrave for giving us such a clear exposition of the Bill and its intentions, and I must also thank the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for explaining so vividly the objections to it. My intervention will be very brief because I do not feel that this is the occasion for me, at any rate, to attempt a discussion of the merits of the Bill. I shall look forward in due course to studying the Report of the Select Committee, and, when I have that before me, to making up my mind how I think I should like to see the Bill when it comes back to this House.
I feel, if I may make a brief comment, that Bristol has a great problem. I am certain that whatever plan is put before the citizens of Bristol will not please everybody, and I greatly sympathise with them, because it seems to me, having a slight knowledge of Bristol, that the very greatness of its history makes it all the more difficult now for the City Corporation to reach a solution that will satisfy everybody. The traditional layout of the docks, which has been referred to so vividly by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, is something which leaves an impact on the human mind in a way that nothing else does. I know nothing so exciting as seeing large ships tied up in the middle of a city, with the brightly painted funnels jostling with the roofs of houses and the masts soaring up above them. It is one of the most exciting things one can see; and if I were a citizen of Bristol it would strike me to the quick to think that this sight was coming to an end.
It seems, however, that all of us here have recognised that there is no alternative; that the docks which were so outstanding 150 years ago have now lost their place in the highly competitive modern world and that, as with other ports, the traffic is moving down the river to deeper waters where the bigger vessels can tie up. We see it happening in London, too. Then there is the great problem of how to redevelop the areas where the old docks were. Do you fill them in and build new buildings? Do you leave some water open; and, if so, what do you put on it? My Lords, these are extremely difficult problems. My noble friend Lord Waldegrave gave us a 569 clear description of the basic ideas that the City Fathers have in mind, but it was quite obvious that he did not satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and I do not doubt that the views that were expressed so strongly by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, are the views of many of the citizens of Bristol.
It occurred to me that when the time comes for Bristol to produce its whole development plan, that plan, however well it is drawn, will equally come in for heavy criticism from somebody: because with a scheme of this kind one cannot satisfy everybody. One thing I feel is absolutely clear—and I think the noble Lord, Lord Henley, has conceded this. That is that the City Corporation of Bristol have the duty in principle to come forward with a Bill for redevelopment of this area. Nobody can deny that. Whether this is the right Bill, whether it contains the right features is something that can be determined only by detailed examination; and for that our Select Committee procedure is quite admirable. In due course, when this Bill has been considered by this Select Committee (and it should be a very fascinating Select Committee to sit on; already there are a good many Select Committees sitting, but I do not doubt that the noble Earl the Lord Chairman will find candidates for this one) the Committee will produce their Report, and in the light of that Report we shall be able to determine the merits of the Bill. In the meantime, so far as I am concerned, I am glad to support the Motion for Second Reading.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ LORD SINCLAIR OF CLEEVE
My Lords, I rise to support the Motion for Second Reading proposed by my noble friend Lord Waldegrave. My reason for doing so is that from my own knowledge of Bristol—and I have had a pretty close connection with that city and its industry for 50 years—I am convinced that what the Corporation are proposing in this Bill is very much in the interests of the city and of those who live in it. I hope that I may say, without any semblance of offence, that my appreciation of the circumstances of this Bill and the situation of the Floating Harbour and the New Cut (or the New River, as Lord Waldegrave has termed it) would compare not unfavourably with the experience and knowledge in this respect of the noble Lord, Lord Henley.
570 In many respects Bristol is one of the most beautiful cities in the country, and I should be the last to wish to see any of its attractive features impaired, or any damage done to its amenities. But this Bill, I believe, does neither, save only for the fact that large ships will no longer be seen in the centre of Bristol. And I must say that on that point I fully share the sentiments expressed by my noble friend Lord Nugent. This is one of the things that I regret about the Bill, if indeed the only one. As regards facilities for boating, the Corporation have done everything possible— indeed, were it not for the context I would have said that they have leant over backwards—to maintain and even to improve them. I cannot speak with any authority on this aspect, but my noble friend Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal can and will.
The noble Earl, in introducing this Motion, has described the essential features of the Bill fully and very fairly. There is no need for me to repeat or to elaborate upon that description, but it might be helpful if I briefly touch on some of the more economic aspects of the proposals as I see them. I say that, even though the noble Lord, Lord Henley, at one stage seemed to imply that the economic case was not in dispute—I hope that I heard him right when he said that—but, later on, produced some assertions about the way in which this scheme had been formulated, on the back of an envelope, that perhaps makes it not so irrelevant to refer to the economic aspects at this stage.
My Lords, if the noble Lord will give way, may I point out that what I said was that the economics of giving up the City Docks were not in dispute—we all accept that—but that what was in dispute was that no costings had been produced by the Corporation for what they propose to do with the different aspects of the scheme —that is, with the Floating Harbour.
§ LORD SINCLAIR OF CLEEVE
My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord and will endeavour to give some figures which I hope may suffice to establish in your Lordships' minds the strength of the economic case. On the one hand, we have the cost, as the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said, estimated at £4 million. 571 These figures, I may say, have been very carefully gone into over a long period of time; for this scheme was, I believe, actively worked on for two years before it first appeared before the Docks Committee a year or so ago. On the other hand, there are the savings and advantages which, even although some, such as the resulting improvements of communications, are not capable of precise evaluation in £.s.d., will, as I hope to show, clearly exceed the cost by a very large margin.
I do not think it is possible to describe this economic case without reference to some of the inevitably necessary road developments which can only be made possible and economic by this scheme. First, there is the fact that, when the scheme is complete, of the 57 acres of land in the centre of the city which can be said to be occupied by or for the City Docks, some 33 acres will become avail-able for redevelopment—an asset the value of which, on any reasonable basis, must be well in excess of £1 million and, as I have said, can be made available only by this scheme. As has already been pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, necessarily the redevelopment would be subject to proper planning, and, with proper planning, I believe that re-development would produce over those 33 acres a much better picture from the amenity point of view than would other-wise be the case with the remains of derelict dock buildings and disused railway lines.
Secondly, there will be a saving of the greater part of the current cost of maintaining and operating the Floating Harbour. It would, I believe, be conservative to put that figure at £250,000 per annum. Saving in the maintenance of quays enters largely into this. There are some 9½ miles of quays in the harbour and the Feeder Canal. Most of those in the harbour are high and go down deep into the water, and it is estimated that the overall vertical surfaces of these quay walls within the impounded area between Cumberland Basin and Netham Lock represent an area of approximately 20 acres. These walls, including as they do structures and foundations of great age, and sections which are in poor or uncertain condition, contain about 80 acres of impounded water. They constitute a 572 responsibility that cannot be ignored, and the Corporation do not intend to ignore them.
The Council will be in a much better position to modify the existing structures if it is no longer necessary to maintain all the existing deep channels in the harbour, the present height of walls above the water level and the long length of waterway and canal above St. Philip's Bridge. Within the harbour, only 8 ft. depth of water will need to be maintained for storm water drainage and flood control purposes, and that is more than adequate for navigation by craft of the prescribed dimensions. It will only be by reducing unnecessary liabilities that the resources will be found to provide the various amenities so generally desired and to enable the preservation and enhancement of the remaining waterways. I believe that the surface attrac-tions of the Floating Harbour will not be prejudiced. It would in fact remain as it is to-day, a great and most agreeable feature of the city.
Thirdly, there will be the saving derived from the eventual closure of the Feeder Canal. This will not be fully achieved for ten years, but in the meantime expenditure on maintenance can be substantially reduced. This Canal, one mile long, with stone banks on both sides, is undoubtedly in a poor condition. It is certainly not a thing of beauty. It will serve no useful purpose. With the transformation of the New Cut into a non-tidal, constant-level waterway from which the fresh Avon water can be fed into the Floating Harbour area, the Feeder Canal will not be required, either for that purpose, the fresh water feed, or as a navigable link between the tidal and upper reaches of the Avon.
The feeder road, running along the South side of the Canal, carries a great deal of heavy traffic. At present, the widening of that road, so badly needed, can be achieved only by reducing the width of the Canal to a maximum of 40 ft. The cost of that is estimated to be at least £2 million. Moreover, if the Canal were to be retained, large and costly bridge works would be required to take the projected outer circuit road and intermediate ring road. Even if the inadequate width of the existing feeder road could be tolerated for long, which I understand to be unlikely, and if the 573 high cost of the bridges I have referred to were accepted, the walls of the South bank of the Canal will have to be renewed within 15 years, which would involve a capital cost of £14 million.
Fourthly, without a scheme for the New Cut and the closing of the Floating Harbour to large ships, a new high-level bridge would require to be constructed to take the outer circuit road across the lower end of the Floating Harbour. This, of course, involves building elevated roads on either side—an immensely costly operation which could be avoided by a simple low-level bridge within the scheme proposed. Fifthly, if the scheme is approved, the routing of the necessary railways through the southern part of the city, round to the point of crossing the lower end of the Floating Harbour, can be greatly simplified; that section of the outer circuit road could be shortened by two-thirds of a mile, and the purchase and demolition of many houses could be avoided, so reducing the disturbance of residential areas. This clearly means a further very substantial saving and a great improvement in the general amenities of the city. Sixthly, there are many other easements of traffic congestion that become possible with the adoption of this scheme—for example, at the junction of the Bath and Wells roads, South of Temple Meads, and the improvement, by the construction of the Totterdown junction, of the Temple Meads area itself.
All these things, my Lords, hang together. They are interdependent. They can be appreciated and adequately evaluated only by the detailed study which a Select Committee can give, and I have attempted no more to-day than to highlight some of the essential features. But I should like, if I may, to emphasise the importance of making an early start. And the first work to be undertaken is, as the noble Earl said, the construction of the St. Augustine's Bridge (Work No. 3 on the Schedule of Works in the Bill).
As the noble Earl explained, this re-quires the extinction of navigational rights in St. Augustine's Reach above the bridge. The water, of course, will remain, but it will be available only for craft of the prescribed dimensions. Assuming, as I hope may be the case, that the Corporation will be successful in reaching agree- 574 ment with the planning authorities in regard to the three houses to which the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, referred, the work on this bridge could be begun immediately on the Bill's receiving the Royal Assent; so the first major easement of the traffic congestion in the centre of the city could be effected with the minimum of delay. For the reasons I have given, the proposals under this Bill appear to me to be overwhelmingly justified on economic grounds, and I warmly support the Motion.
§ 7.52 p.m.
My Lords, at this stage of the debate it is very difficult not to repeat what many noble Lords have already said, and if I do so I hope to be excused. It is very difficult to redraft a speech of this kind with so much technical matter in it. First, I should like to say that, as we all know, the City of Bristol is situated at the Western end of the Kennet and Avon Canal, which may provide in the future a most important leisure route to and from London. The country, as a whole, now regards its inland waterways as one of its most important and attractive assets, particularly in respect of its tourist trade and the facilities the Government have guaranteed in the matter of cruiseways—a recent development arising out of their White Papers Leisure in the Countryside, England and Wales, published in 1966, and British Waterways: Recreation and Amenity, published in 1967, which have given many inland waterways a new lease of life.
So it was with considerable mortification, especially during the year known as "Conservation Year", that I read last November, in the present Bill before your Lordships, the Corporation's decision to seek Parliamentary sanction to relieve Bristol Corporation of the duty of operating the Docks and to extinguish the right of navigation in the Floating Harbour and to replan the whole dockland area. We have already been given the reasons, and I need not repeat them. There is the tremendous debt that is being incurred on account of keeping the docks going, and understandably much of the trade has passed from Bristol to Avonmouth and Portishead, at the mouth of the Avon, where large vessels can berth. Even so, if the docks were closed, the Floating Harbour, as a flood reservoir, 575 would require to be maintained, dredged, and the necessary water control exercised, with the resulting high expenditure. No expert opinion has been offered; nor was there any indication of the probable costs, nor of the future course which is to be adopted should this Bill become law. I feel it is extraordinary for a responsible body, such as the Corporation of Bristol, to seek Parliamentary assent to a Bill in which so little of their intentions are disclosed.
Those of your Lordships who know Bristol will readily appreciate the amenity value of that part of the Floating Harbour, with Clifton and Hotwells on its right bank; the whole scene being one of entrancing beauty. In fact, before the war I enjoyed doing quite a lot of painting down there. Now, of course, there are not quite so many boats. It is very natural, therefore, that the Inland Waterways Association, the Bristol Civic Society, the Clifton and Hotwells Improvement Society and the Cabot Cruising Club agree that, though the City Docks may have to close, they emphatically wish the Floating Harbour to be preserved intact, with the right for craft to navigate through and moor in the Harbour. I emphasise "moor" be-cause that is important.
They are not impressed by the alternative course proposed in this Bill, to divert craft visiting Bristol into the New Cut. As Dr. Buchanan has pointed out, soon after the New Cut had been dug in 1809, the Floating Harbour started to stink, as the flow from the Feeder Canal had been reduced and the Floating Harbour had begun to silt up. So that is the prospect for the New Cut, about which we have heard so much. Now that a proper balance has been achieved over the years, it would be dangerous to start a new system without knowing how it will work.
Lovers of Bristol and users of small craft wish the Floating Harbour to be retained, and the navigation rights for small craft to be preserved. They argue, with justification, that,the present waterways could be maintained and improved for a pittance, by comparison with the millions of pounds the Corporation have in mind spending, largely to provide an alternative routewhen the scene could be made into one of entrancing beauty, with a lido, plenty 576 of small craft, and even regular regattas, by retaining the Floating Harbour intact. What they were saying was, "Why not build on what you have instead of spending a lot of money on something which is wholly problematical and may entirely ruin the whole show?" Also, it would seem to be folly to exclude masted vessels, as they do much to enliven the scene and bring business.
I had an interesting account from a Bristol correspondent of a visit by various craft including, during last December, two submarines, which looked magnificent in St. Augustine's Reach, the obvious high- light of their Bristol visit. My correspondent went on to say that if the bridge across St. Augustine's Reach comes, the Bill states categorically that it will be fixed. We shall have no chance, therefore. of ever seeing large vessels of any kind visiting the centre again, and we feel that this would be an immeasurable loss. She suggested an amendment, replacing "fixed" by "moveable". I do not think that that is an entirely silly suggestion. If it is moveable it can, on certain occasions, be opened for certain visiting craft, such as the submarines she mentioned, and it does not mean they are opening and shutting all the time, which used to be the case with Princes Bridge. It was certainly a nuisance when you were late for a meeting and found the bridge against you, but I have not seen it against traffic for many years. My correspondent, who obviously has very carefully studied the subject, reminds me that if navigational rights in the Floating Harbour were extinguished, a future council, if it chose, could fill in the Harbour, thanks to a mediaeval Charter which grave Bristol ownership of the bed of the river.
My Lords, if I have wearied you with many details, it is because this is a complicated subject and one full of pitfalls, but one vital to the beauty of one of our historic cities. Why cannot Bristol follow the fine example of Birmingham, where old waterways have been transformed into civic assets at moderate cost? In Bristol there is a danger of destroying what we have. I appeal to your Lordships to have this Bill amended in such a way that the best that is in it can be retained, but that the rights of navigation, and restoration and upkeep of the Floating Harbour, in all its length, be insisted on, realising that, if the nation wishes 577 to retain this fine waterway as a national monument, it should be prepared to give it the same financial assistance as it gives to other places and buildings of national importance. The Floating Harbour should, in fact, be scheduled as an industrial monument of historic importance.
It seems to me, as a lay person with no special knowledge, that there is a grave risk of the general water system of Bristol getting out of control by ill-advised calculations, unless the highest technical advice is invited. And, so far as I can understand, no such advice has as yet been thought necessary. Flood water and drainage are, however, both concerned. Would it not be prudent, before the matter goes any further, for Bristol Corporation to invite a top-ranking specialist in these matters to advise as to the adoption of an all-over plan, as Bath has recently done? The Dutch know, I expect, far more than most of us about these problems, and might well be able to offer some invaluable advice. An all-over planner of known ability and experience is, to my mind, clearly indicated in this case; and we might then look forward to a Bill fortified by sound arguments, a plan, and some approach to real costs, and be rid of the defeatist and short-sighted approach inherent in the Bill as it now stands.
No one, I think, questions the right of the Corporation to close down the Docks which have become such an expense: but the Floating Harbour and the rest of the navigable waterway is quite another matter and the two should be kept separate in the discussion. As regards the Feeder Canal, I do not quite agree with what has been said. It stinks in the summer, and I am told that something else stinks as well. But the banks need strengthening and it would be a very good idea to double the size of the road running alongside, because it is far too narrow at present.
I should therefore like to suggest what I hope will be a constructive Amendment to this Bill, so that Clause 24 could be re-drafted to allow the Corporation to abandon the City Docks, but not the Floating Harbour; that is, the actual waterway. The Amendment might read as follows:The Corporation and any successor in title to the Floating Harbour, Feeder Canal or Netham Lock, 578I hope that this Bill will be passed, but I think that an Amendment on those lines will make the whole scheme possible and desirable.
- (1) Shall not diminish nor permit the diminution of the existing surface area of the Floating Harbour or Feeder Canal,
- (2) Save for the purposes of dredging and maintenance shall not restrict or in any way interfere with the access to or passage through or egress from such harbour, canal, or lock by craft of the prescribed dimensions and shall maintain such harbour, canal and lock accordingly,
- (3) Subject as aforesaid may construct across such harbour, canal and lock such bridges as the Minister may approve and may replace such bridges or any existing bridges."
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords. I should like to say at the outset that I approach this matter entirely from the national aspect. I have no axe to grind in Bristol: I never set foot in the City of Bristol until I had passed my fiftieth year. But in the interval since, I have been there on a number of occasions, and, like, I think, any sensitive person, I have developed a tremendous admiration for this splendid old city. I feel, however, that this matter is not merely one of moment to the citizens of Bristol, very many of whom are greatly up in arms against this Bill; it is of great significance from the point of view of the national heritage of England. I was very glad indeed to hear the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, who we all know is so particularly well equipped to discuss matters of architecture and artistic beauty, throwing his weight on to the side of the arguments which the noble Lord, Lord Henley, had been advancing against this Bill at an earlier stage.
This is undoubtedly one of those Bills which are coming to us more and more frequently. Although they are Private Bills, in a sense they involve matters of very considerable national concern; and this fact has been commented on from time to time in recent months. I think that we shall before long have to evolve some sort of procedure which deals with this aspect of these Bills. This is not the time to go into that matter, and I am quite sure that your Lordships would be very annoyed with me were I to attempt to do so now, but I think it is quite clear that the Bill before us to-night falls within that class.
579 Even with Bills which affect the national interest to a substantial extent, as I am sure this one does, I accept the view that normally they can be most effectively dealt with by the Select Committee, sometimes on the basis of an Instruction. I am sorry, in a way, that an Instruction has not been put down in this case (I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Henley, would have drafted a very effective one) because, although I know that some Members of your Lordships' House feel that these Instructions are useless, since a Select Committee works with such care, nevertheless I think one can pinpoint the particular aspects of a Bill—and this is a substantial Bill with many clauses, which has been drafted locally—which to us here, who should be looking at these matters from a national point of view, seem to require particular attention from the Select Committee.
It is most unusual that we should reject a Bill of this kind on Second Reading, but it is not beyond our powers to do so, and it will be within the recollection of some of your Lordships that it has happened. The last comparable occasion, in my recollection, is the famous occasion when the City of Manchester attempted to take possession of Ullswater, for the purpose of providing themselves with one more reservoir to add to their many reservoirs. That pro-posal—not the Bill as a whole, but the most substantial part of it—was thrown out after a great Second Reading debate in which the late Lord Birkett made one of the finest speeches I have ever heard in your Lordships' House.
I have a feeling that this Bill is not far off that type of Bill which ought to be thrown out on the Second Reading, because, as the noble Lord, Lord Henley, indicated, it is so unsatisfactory in so many ways; and if there is a Division I shall certainly go into the Lobby against it If the Bill is to be given a Second Reading, then I hope that the Select Committee will look at it very carefully and very jealously, because there are so many unsatisfactory aspects of it; and there is much in what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, when he argued that the Bill had not been properly thought out before it was committed to paper. As I said, on the whole this Bill falls into the Manchester category.
580 Bristol, with its combination of history and architecture and fine scenery, has claims perhaps to be the greatest of our great provincial cities; and if that claim is not admitted there are certainly not more than two or three others that would be in the competing class. Bristol is clearly one of the finest cities we have. There are few of our great provincial cities which maintain so much of their historic character. Few of them have as many splendid churches and other fine public buildings. Then we have the wonderful Floating Harbour, which is unique in England, and probably unique in Europe.
This Bill confers upon the Corporation the right to put an end to navigation and to fill in the Floating Harbour. That is perfectly clear. It has been admitted by the noble Earl who introduced the Bill, and it is in the Bill as it stands. Of course, he told us that the Corporation intended to move an Amendment, as they think people might misunderstand what is in the Bill, because they never intended to use that power. I do not believe that a draftsman puts a clause like that into a Bill which is coming before Parliament without instructions to do so. This is a large and valuable area, and if it were filled in and drained in the way that I am quite clear was contemplated in the first instance it would be of tremendous financial value to the Corporation of Bristol; and it was obviously only under very considerable pressure of local feeling that they announced that they were going to bring in this Amendment.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Henley, has said, that Amendment is really quite an unsatisfactory one. Indeed, it is a trap. It is deliberately—perhaps "deliberately" is a strong word, but as the Amendment has been drafted and published it provides:The Corporation shall not under the provisions of this Act diminish the surface of the water as at present existing.Why do they want to put in the words "under this Act"? It is because the draftsman knows perfectly well that they have powers independently of this Act under which they can do this. If they are genuine about it, will they leave out the words "under this Act" and say,The Corporation shall not diminish the surface of the water"?581 That would be a very considerable improvement on the Amendment which they propose to put forward. What do they get out of the words "under this Act", unless they are put in for a purpose of that kind? As a lawyer, I perfectly well appreciate what the draftsman was after and what those who were instructing him told him to try to secure. Therefore I think Lord Henley is perfectly right when he says that this is a thoroughly unsatisfactory Amendment, and I hope that the Select Committee will look at it carefully to see that it is not allowed to go through with the words which I have just read out.
In the past, the harbour, as the noble Earl has made clear, was of considerable value to the city of Bristol. Now, equally, from what he has said, it is very much in the nature of a millstone round its financial neck; and one can quite understand and indeed welcome the steps which the Corporation are now taking on the economic side. Indeed, when the noble Earl points them out really he is knocking at an open door. Nobody has suggested that these old docks should be kept going. That is not the point of this debate at all. The point of this debate is the amenity of the Floating Harbour and what is to be done with this wide area of land in the immediate vicinity which is going to be made available for development—and these are matters of very great importance. Obviously, as has been pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, the Corporation are going to save at least a quarter of a million pounds a year on what they have had to expend in the past in order to keep up these docks. Not only are they going to gain this by cutting down expenditure, but they are also going to get this large piece of very valuable land right in the heart of Bristol.
What are they giving in return for it? What is the quid pro quo? Surely it ought at least to be something much stronger than an undertaking: it ought to be in the form of a statutory obligation to keep up the Floating Harbour, and also some-thing much stronger, in the nature indeed of a statutory obligation to develop this land in a proper and effective manner. It is no good coming here and criticising the statement that the town planning side of this scheme is premature, and trying to persuade knowledgeable people who have been concerned with planning ever 582 since it started, pretty well, that there are not a dozen, twenty, or even fifty expert town planners in this country who could plan this area before it has been cleared. You do not have to have an area cleared in order to prepare a proper plan for it. Really, I am surprised that the people who prepared the noble Earl's brief for him should have told him to criticise us on these particular lines.
What they are in effect asking for, of course, is carte blanche, so that they can do what they like with this piece of land. As Lord Henley points out, they have produced no sort of plans about it. If this Bill goes through as it is, they would then, as I understand it, be able to put this area out to the highest bidder— perhaps a development company—who could then put it out in bits, piecemeal, with a bit here and a bit there to somebody else; and some enormous great multiple store could be erected, or other unsightly building. In this Bill there is nothing to stop that. I suggest that the Bill should be tightened up in such a way as to make this sort of thing quite impossible. So there are these two aspects of the matter. First of all, they still have powers, when navigation by the bigger ships is brought to an end, to close and fill in the Floating Harbour; and they are going to get the control of this very important area, which will be open to development, in the very heart of Bristol. Really, my Lords, this is not good enough, in the national interest as well as in the interest of the people of Bristol.
I have referred on a number of occasions to the national interest, and there is one other aspect of that which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, particularly. It is the tremendous importance of this part of the Avon from the point of view of pleasure craft. I sat here night after night, as others of your Lordships did, when we were passing the Transport Act in 1968, two years ago, and I am sorry that the noble Viscount. Lord St. Davids, is not here this evening, because he took a very prominent part in that discussion and will remember it all very well. One large and very important section of this Statute was devoted to inland navigation, and we succeeded in persuading the Government to make—as Mrs. Castle had already done to a large extent at an earlier stage—as many improvements in 583 the Bill for the purpose of strengthening the Inland Waterways movement and its many supporters, who have over these last years (it has all developed within my lifetime and within my knowledge) developed this tremendously valuable sport of sailing small boats along the canals and rivers of England—health-giving and of great value in keeping up the splendid traditions of the people of our country. Here is another chance to contribute towards this: by making the Floating Harbour available to those small craft.
What are we given? We are given the New Cut. I do not know Bristol as well as the noble Earl does, but I would challenge him to suggest that the view of anybody sailing his boat through the Floating Harbour is in any way comparable with the view he would get from the New Cut, even when it is a New River.
My Lords, would the noble Lord forgive me for one moment? All this might apply if there were not going to be any navigation rights for small boats in the Floating Harbour. But there will be—extending right the way up as far as St. Philip's Bridge. Where they may not have rights in the future is up the Feeder Canal. Does the noble Lord really think that that is a very jolly place to go boating?
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, I am glad to hear the noble Earl say that. But it is not in the Bill. Will he give us an undertaking now, on behalf of the Promoters of this Bill?
My Lords, I gave an undertaking in my speech. We are all knocking at open doors. I gave an undertaking that the Corporation would seek leave to introduce an Amendment to make this perfectly clear. The noble Lord appears to have a copy of that Amendment in his hand. He pro-poses to make fun of it because he says— and I say it is really rubbish—that because it uses the words "this Act" means that this wicked Corporation will bring in another Act to cancel it.
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, if the noble Earl is trying to persuade me that the Amendment that I read out secures this, then I am afraid that, as a lawyer. 584 I must tell him he is wrong. If he will give an undertaking that some words will be put into the Bill to secure this then I shall be grateful to him. I regard this as very important indeed. If the small boats are not to be confined to the New Cut which, even when improved in the way he suggested, will not be much more than a canal from which the splendid architectural features of Bristol are, so fas ar I know, completely invisible, we shall be pleased. When this area of the Old Dock and warehouses has been swept away, the view from the Floating Harbour across the land will be very fine. And, provided that the planning is done properly and effectively and expertly, and that the people of Bristol—and not only they but the planning experts of England —are enabled to see in advance, before it is all finally settled so that it cannot be altered, what is proposed, then I am sure we shall be pleased. If all this can be got into the Bill, it will be a very different sort of Bill from that to which we are now being asked to give a Second Reading.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ LORD STRATHCONA AND MOUNT ROYAL
My Lords, as the owner of a small launch in which I have in fact steamed through the Floating Harbour and which I take up and down the River Avon, I start by being impressed by the very emotive name of Lord Henley. I find myself in great sympathy with many points that he has raised. That applies also to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Methuen. I feel that both Lord Henley and Lord Chorley have perhaps been a little hard on the Corporation, and I am in the same difficulty as the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, was, in that I do not want to repeat all that has been said in a debate which has lasted until quite late. I feel, however, that I must try to round up one or two points, and one in particular. The noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, has given us two principal reasons why it is necessary, but very regrettable, to exclude ocean-going ships from the major part of the Floating Harbour of the City Docks. We have heard figures quoted for the reductions in maintenance that this will make possible. Those figures varied quite a bit. One would have hoped that we might have had some authoritative figures. I dare say that the noble Lord, Lord Sinclair 585 of Cleeve, would say that his were the "True Cross" in this respect.
The second reason is the matter of the simplification of road and bridge building that is made possible if ocean-going ships are excluded from the Floating Harbour. That is the point about which I feel there has been some confusion; because this is the small boat issue. As I understand the situation, both these advantages would still accrue if we allowed small craft to continue to navigate through the Floating Harbour. All the bridges proposed would have a head room of 12 feet, the maintenance of these expensive wharves and walls could cease and the amount of expenditure on dredging could be reduced. I feel that there is a possibility of confusing the issues if we try to claim that it is necessary totally to extinguish the rights of navigation through the Floating Harbour if we want to achieve these two objectives. Therefore I think that to some extent we can say that the provisions of this Bill must be justified for reasons other than those two. In a way, therefore, it is rather unkind to the Corporation to "knock them" when they are proposing to spend £4 million, a large part of which must surely be to improve the amenities of this city.
When one comes down to details, I agree with many noble Lords who spoke that we shall, I hope, have a great many opportunities to discuss them; for I should think that the Select Committee is going to be a fairly busy and long-drawn-out affair, judging by some of the things that have been said, particularly by Lord Henley. As I see it, £2 million is to be expended on—the expression used is "floating the New Cut". That is rather a pretty picture; but I think we all know what it means: to make it navigable. Clearly there are advantages in doing that. I do not want to overplay those advantages, because you must envisage the New Cut, even when it is flooded, as looking something like a flooded central reservation in the middle of a motor-way, seeing that it is going to have two major roads, one on either side.
If I might follow the noble Lord, Lord Henley, I would say that this is an opportunity for Bristol to create something new in the Floating Harbour at the same time as extinguishing the rights of major navigation; and if I may introduce a personal 586 note, some of us hope to encourage the city to do just that. Also—to pick up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, of the evocative nature of masts and funnels sited in a city like this— some of us are proposing that we should bring back a ship built there 127 years ago. We feel that possibly this would also point the way in which Bristol might retain some ships in its central area. I hope that this notion may be expanded by having other ships to join this most noble of ships. I hope that I may be forgiven for flying my own particular flag.
Higher up the system, the floating of the New Cut makes possible two other provisions in the Bill. One is the closing of the Feeder, the other the potential closing of St. Philip's Reach. I work in a factory which overlooks the Feeder and I know it fairly well. I cannot shed any tears for it. I share the suspicion of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, about some of the figures being adduced—I say that with due respect to the noble Lord, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve. He said there was going to be a potential liability of £1½ million for works associated with the Feeder. He also produced a figure about which I was not very clear. He said that we were going to save 33 acres which perhaps could be valued at £1½ million. I imagine these to be the area covered by the Feeder and St. Philip's Reach.
§ LORD SINCLAIR OF CLEEVE
My Lords, I was referring to the fact that in the whole of the area occupied by the docks in Bristol and the Feeder Canal of 57 acres—that is to say, occupied by or for the docks—33 acres of that total (including the centre, including the area covered by the dock buildings) would be available for redevelopment with due planning permission.
§ LORD STRATHCONA AND MOUNT ROYAL
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. The point was that the floating of the New Cut is suggested as making it possible to fill in the Feeder Canal and the St. Philip's Reach. I thought that that was the 33 acres we were talking about, which conceivably could be put on the other side of the balance sheet against the cost to be incurred in achieving the closing of these two parts of the water. I cannot work up any great enthusiasm for the Feeder Canal. I 587 should not be very sorry to see it go. I can well believe that the original course of the Avon, which would then become navigable (there are some problems about the height of bridges, but this is not really the moment to mention them) could be a more attractive waterway.
But I think we are on much more delicate ground when we talk about the closing of St. Philip's Reach. I do not believe that a very impressive case has yet been made out for doing this. For instance, my understanding is that you need a very large culvert underneath the Reach, for two reasons; first, for the storm-water angle and also because there is a danger that the cul-de-sac arm which will be created in the Floating Harbour by closing up St. Philip's Bridge may become a stagnant area. This is quite aside from the important issue which the noble Lord, Lord Henley, raised about the whole question of hydraulic balance. Obviously, that is a very important angle, though I confess it is a phrase which I use without any deep understanding of exactly what is implied by it.
My Lords, it may be said that the Corporation have not gone far enough in this Bill; but at the stage at which we have arrived I should prefer to see an approach on the lines suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, whereby we simply say that the major achievements they need can be arrived at by limiting the rights of navigation, rather than by extinguishing them altogether; and all the other associated works seem to me to be a separate issue.
§ 8.32 p.m.
My Lords, I think we have had an interesting debate. At this time in the evening I do not propose to go through all the speeches that we have heard. I think the important things were said in the early stages, when the Government speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, pointed out that there was no Government objection to the Bill and, what was almost more important from the way the debate developed later, that the planning considerations (Bristol Corporation is, of course, a planning authority) could, like all other planning proposals, be called in by the Minister if it was not thought to be satisfactory.
588 I was surprised to hear some of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, with all his experience of planning. The noble Lord seemed to suppose that this Bill would have in it a detailed town map or plan. My Lords, this is not how we proceed at all. This Private Bill is to enable the Corporation to have navigational rights extinguished in the Floating Harbour and that is all. At the same time, they want—I think rightly—to do other works connected with the Floating Harbour, and these are set out in Clause 13.
The noble Lord, Lord Henley—I agree with a great deal of what he said— made an impassioned plea about not stopping the Floating Harbour. We are not going to stop the Floating Harbour and we do not get anywhere by discussing that. We are both knocking at an open door. I am authorised by the Corporation to say that they propose to make an amendment—and nobody could be sorrier than I that it is not already in the Bill. The Corporation propose to produce an Amendment to guarantee that all the Floating Harbour except this little small bit of St. Philip's Reach (which the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, seems to like but which nobody else seems frightfully enamoured of) must be left open. Indeed, St. Philip's Reach may be left open—it is not settled —and the Feeder Canal may be shut.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, got quite excited about the Bristol Corporation having done all this on the back of an envelope without any thought. I do not know where the noble Lord gets that idea, because the Bill was deposited in November, 1969. It has been carefully thought out. The Corporation, having deposited the Bill in November are now proposing to bring in an amendment. I am grateful to your Lordships for having raised this debate so that I may say that, and that the one thing that all your Lordships are frightened may be going to happen, the closing of the Floating Harbour, is not going to happen.
My Lords, if a Bill is produced without any evidence to substantiate the things that are put in it, then it is implicit in the minds of those of us who read it that it has been produced on the back of an envelope.
My Lords, whether it is necessary to put a Preamble in the Bill about the town clerk having spent so many hours thinking about the Bill, I do not know. But this Bill has been studied carefully. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, said that we ought to go to Wallingford. I would say that the Bristol Avon River Authority is satisfied with the proposals from the technical standpoint. After all, the City Docks were constructed before Wallingford had ever been heard of. It would be very expensive to go to Wallingford and it would mean a great deal of delay; but presumably that is a matter which might be considered in Committee.
My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned two Amendments to the Bill which the Corporation are put-ting in. I happen to have read what I presume to be the Amendments and they do not quite bear out what the noble Earl says.
My Lords, I do not know whether I should be out of order in reading what are only draft Amendments at this stage, but one Amendment states:The Corporation shall not under the provisions of this Act "—and the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, had doubts about whether the expression "under the provisions of this Act" is right or not. All I can say is that this Amendment was drafted by Parliamentary draftsmen who may have experience that might match even Lord Chorley's on this kind of legal drafting. It goes on:diminish the surface area of water as at present existing which shall be available for the passage "—and so on.
My Lords, if the noble Lord wishes to read out the pro-visions of the Amendment, may I read out the gloss put upon it by people like the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, who disapprove of it? The words "under the provisions of this Act" enable the Corporation to do so under any other power which may exist; and once the right to navigate is extinguished the Corporation can then diminish the present surface area by filling in or decking over, because under an ancient charter it owns the bed of the Floating Harbour. The point that the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, was mak- 590 ing was is that there is no safeguard whatever, by putting in an Amendment "under the provisions of this Act", be-cause once that Act is through there are provisions of earlier Statutes, earlier Charters, which enable the Corporation to do what it damned well likes.
My Lords, I do not think that Corporations can "do what they damned well like"—if I may use that language in your Lordships' House. I am advised that that statement, which I had hoped was not going to be raised in this House, is not an accurate interpretation of the law. This is a legal point and I am not a lawyer, but my advice from lawyers, and I think reputable lawyers—Parliamentary agents and people of that sort—is that this question that the Corporation first of all puts in an Amendment to undertake that it will not fill in a certain section of the harbour and can then get out of it because it owns the fundus of the harbour, is not frightfully "hot" law. Well, my Lords, it would be "hot" law, but I am told that it is not very likely.
My Lords, may I move to another point? The noble Lord, Lord Henley, said that no thought had been given, for instance, to the drainage works or the discharge of effluent. There is a very long clause in the Bill, Clause 25, which deals specifically with that point. I was grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for explaining the procedure to us and to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, who stressed the sadness that we all have that times have changed and that we cannot any longer have tall ships in the centre of the town. We are all knocking at an open door here. We know we can-not bring in these great ships any longer, and the whole point of this discussion and controversy is: What are you going to do with this famous piece of water in the middle of the city of Bristol when you do not have the big ships there?
My Lords, I can do no more than say that I have the greatest sympathy with the noble Lord Lord Methuen, and the points which he has made. I am very sorry indeed to be in any kind of dispute with the noble Lord on a matter of æsthetics because of—
—his very great knowledge and experience, which I very much respect, in all æsthetic matters of this kind. He asked about regattas at Bristol. That is just what we can do. If we knock down the old warehouses no longer used, we shall still have the harbour, with cleaner water and without silt from the Severn. Incident-ally, I am advised that the New Cut will not silt up half so fast as it does now, because the barrage at Ashton will prevent the muddy water (which looks like cocoa) from coming up into the Cut. Personally, I think that this is an imaginative idea and I hope that when my noble friend Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal goes up there in his boat, he will find it so. This is similar to the difficulty that always bothered me on the Forestry Commission: that half the people did not want us to cut down the trees and the other half were furious if we planted them.
My Lords, I am told by keen canoeists that once in the New Cut, it is like being in a communication trench. One cannot see out of it.
My Lords, that is so at the moment. The New Cut is tidal; and when the tide is out and the drains in there are enormous stretches of mud bank and no canoeist, except a very brave one in a rubber suit, would go along the New Cut. We now propose to take away the dam or weir at Netham and to put in a barrage at Ashton, so that there will always be a constant water level of clear water.
My Lords, but I am told by those who know the place that the water level will never be high enough to be able to see out.
My Lords, this is what we intend and hope to do. We intend by the provisions of this Bill to make this a New River from the old Floating Harbour up to St. Philip's Bridge. Most people coming to Bristol ask where St. Philip's Bridge is. It is round the corner among the slums which the Bristol Corporation are trying to redevelop.
I have other notes but it is late, and I do not think your Lordships want to hear much more from me. I believe that this 592 is a good and imaginative scheme. The point has constantly been made that we ought to have come here before your Lordships' House with a full layout of the Bristol development plan, showing where we are going to put the six-storey flats, and this, that and the other. That is not the purpose of this Bill.
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, I did not say that we here in this House should have been told, but the people of Bristol. They do not know what the plan is going to be.
My Lords, of course the people of Bristol are the very people who will do this. It is they, through their elected Council, who will produce a development plan; and if the plan is bad, the Minister will call it in. But this plan cannot sensibly be started until we know that it is viable; and it cannot be viable until we extinguish the existing navigation rights in the harbour. And that is the purpose of this Private Bill.
My Lords, we do not want a Bill to give this overriding power in every direction merely to extinguish the right to run the docks. That can be done by disclaimer.
§ LORD BESWICK
My Lords, I wonder if I may point out to your Lordships that this is not the Committee stage and we are verging upon that. It is the Second Reading of the Bill.
My Lords, perhaps I have been too good in giving way. I do not think this Bill gives this carte blanche. It is a perfectly proper Bill, properly drawn, to extinguish navigation rights and give powers to undertake certain works that are necessary to maintain the harbour in a new condition and to turn the New Cut into a New River. I think that these points had now better be discussed with the necessary plans and all the experts and counsel, at much expense and time, and I am sure to the great enjoyment of some people, upstairs.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Select Committee.
§ House adjourned at fourteen minutes before nine o'clock.