HL Deb 18 November 1970 vol 312 cc1213-34

7.57 p.m.

LORD MOLSON rose to ask Her Majesty's Government why the Minister of Housing and Local Government rejected the advice of his inspector and gave planning permission for the building of a brewery by Messrs. Whitbread in the rural area between Preston and Blackburn. The noble Lord said: My Lords, when Messrs. Whitbread wished to build a large new brewery in the village of Samlesbury, the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, who was at that time Minister of Housing and Local Government, called in the planning application. He did so on the ground—and I quote his words—that The proposal involves a substantial departure from the development plan and objections have been raised locally. The inspector held a local public inquiry which lasted for some six days. He recommended that permission be refused.

After setting out the facts as he saw them, at very considerable length he wrote as follows—and I do not quote his conclusions in full, but none of what I omit in any way invalidates or even modifies what I am quoting: Bearing in mind the above facts I am of the opinion that:

  1. i. the proposal would result in a gross intrusion of industrial development into a pleasant rural area forming a valuable break of open country separating Preston and Blackburn.
  2. iii. The provision of kerbs to carriageways paved footpaths and street lights, bearing in mind night work, would urbanise the area.
  3. v. Preston would form the likely place of habitation for employees and they would be likely to use Vicarage Lane.
  4. vi. There would be pressure to have access to that road or cars would be left on the roadside verges.
  5. vii. Future development within the site would create pressure to locate car parking for employees outside the brewery perimeter …
  6. viii. These results, if they arise, would cause further detriment to the countryside and tend towards an undesirable coalescence of Preston with Blackburn.
  7. ix. The whole project is out of balance with the projected New Town where housing and industry should go hand-in-hand."

My Lords, the Minister wrote a letter of decision, of which this is the decisive paragraph: On balance, therefore, the Minister has come to the conclusion that the Inspector has not given sufficient weight to the special site requirements of the brewery and the evidence of the site inspection. He has decided, contrary to the recommendation of his Inspector, that the brewery should be permitted to proceed. I want to make plain at the outset that I, the Council for the Protection of Rural England, and the amenity interests for which I speak, and also Mr. Edward Gardner, the local Member of Parliament who raised this matter in another place, dissociate ourselves entirely from the improper suggestions that have been made in various quarters that the Minister was actuated by financial inducements and particularly by a gift made earlier by Whitbread's to the Conservative Party. I recognise that this was a difficult decision, but I hope to persuade your Lordships in what I am now going to say that on balance the Minister's decision was wrong.

Nor do I question the right and indeed the duty of any Minister to reject the advice of his inspector, for an inspector's report in this connection is only advice, and the Minister is discharging quasi-judicial functions where he must be influenced by his own independent judgment after reading the report. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, had on a previous occasion, very properly, if I may say so, done exactly the same thing. If he had not in one important respect departed from his inspector's report, Samlesbury itself would have been incorporated in the central Lancashire New Town. I recognise with gratification and gratitude that in two recent cases Mr. Walker has disregarded, overruled, the advice of his inspectors in a way that is highly acceptable to the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. We are grateful to him and we congratulate him upon it. One was where he refused permission for drilling for oil in the North Yorkshire National Park, and the other was his refusal to allow dumping of urban rubbish in a Green Belt.

So I make no complaint that Mr. Walker made up his own mind. I merely advance reasons why I am convinced that he was wrong, and my arguments are these: (1) that this pleasant open country between two expanding industrial towns should have been preserved; (2) that it is unjust unexpectedly to depart from an established custom of refusing planning permission for industrial development and suddenly and unexpectedly to grant planning permission in one particular case; (3) that one of the neighbouring New Towns should have had the benefit of this industrial development; and (4) that the whole system of State encouragement to industry should be brought into harmony with planning policy and not be in conflict with it, as now it too often is. I will add no words of my own on the first point. I have quoted the opinion of the independent inspector who had visited the whole area and had heard evidence for nearly six days, whose opinion was in favour of preserving what he called this "pleasant rural area." His words are enough.

In the second place, I want to show that this is not technically Green Belt, and I regret that some of my friends should have mistakenly so described it. It is "white land". The planners have a jargon of their own, and the definition of "white land" is land of which the existing use is intended for the most part to remain undisturbed. It has been the practice of the planning authority over a considerable period of time to refuse permission for industrial development in this area. I do not say that there have been no exceptions, but that has been the accepted policy in conformity with the accepted development plan.

Land which it is intended to keep undeveloped is of three kinds, with varying degrees of sanctity. First, there is approved Green Belt; secondly, there is proposed Green Belt; and thirdly, there is white land, of which I have read the definition. When planners propose, with good intentions and for plausible reasons, to permit development in any of these areas, they almost always inflict an injustice on the local owners of land. If, while permission for development is normally being refused, Jones sells land to Smith, he can only sell it at the agricultural price. If, after Smith has bought the land, unexpectedly planning permission is given for industrial development, the value of that land suddenly increases in his hands. It is therefore, a great injustice as between the man who sold it and the man who bought it. That is one of the many reasons why it is usually wrong for the Minister or for any other planning authority to depart from what I may call the case law in these matters, which has been built up by past decisions and which are reported. This Samlesbury decision errs in this respect. It was a sudden departure from the practice of not giving planning consent to development in this area and it was a departure from the agreed development plan.

I come to the third point. Ministers often find themselves in an extremely difficult position when planning permission is sought in one of these areas and that is the only possible site. This arises, of course, particularly in the case of mineral development. The inspector, in one of his conclusions that I have not read out, indicates that there was a suitable alternative site. He wrote: If urgent attention be given to the sewerage of the New Town, and in particular the area suggested by the Preston Rural District Council for the brewery at Walton-le-Dale, this enterprise can no doubt be accommodated there to meet the requirements of the company and in conformity with sound planning principles. So not only was it wrong to locate the brewery in a rural area; it should have been located on a neighbouring site, included within the designated area of the New Town of Walton-le-Dale.

It has always been an essential feature of New Towns that they should not be dormitories, but that they should have their own industries. It is the urgent and anxious hope of the manager of a New Town to attract some important and prosperous industrial concern into the New Town to assure employment for the people there and indeed to encourage people to move in. The central Lancashire New Town at Walton-le-Dale is close to Samlesbury and was the proper site for the brewery. The obstacle which was mentioned by the inspector, but which surely the Government could have overcome, was the need to speed the establishment of the administration of that New Town and the building of a 10 mile sewer to Freckleton, where there are already sewage works provided by the Preston County Borough.

So far I have been criticising the past. I have indicated reasons why I am convinced that the decision of the Minister was a wrong one. Some factors which led to this unfortunate decision call, I think, for an adjustment of the machinery of government. The factors to which I refer are these. Under the Local Employment Act 1970, Samlesbury was designated as an intermediate area by the Ministry of Employment; secondly, in accordance with that policy of the Ministry of Employment, the Board of Trade granted an industrial development certificate for the brewery to be built at Samlesbury. In this matter it is quite clear that the right hand of the Government does not know what the left hand is doing. Under the planning code, over which the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (now the Department of the Environment) presides, Samlesbury was a white area; yet, at the same time, these special inducements are provided by the Department of Employ- ment, supported by the Board of Trade, to encourage industrial concerns to go into an area of that kind.

I have been at pains to find out whether this anomaly will be ended by the new White Paper Investment Incentives. A letter I have had from the Treasury—and I am deeply grateful to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury for speeding up his answer to my question in time for this debate—plainly indicates that under present arrangements the anomaly will continue, and may indeed become greater.

By building at Samlesbury, under the last Government and its actions, Whit-bread's became entitled to two Government grants. One was a building grant which was, and is, payable only in the development areas and intermediate areas and requires the Government's prior approval. The present Government are increasing these building grants in development areas and continuing them! at the same level in intermediate areas. Investment grants paid to selected industries on plant and machinery have, in the past, been payable automatically any where in Great Britain. Under the new policy they have been discontinued; but I they have been replaced by tax allowances on industrial plant and machinery throughout the country, with higher rates specially for development and intermediate areas. Apparently, the present Government think that these tax concessions are going to be even more effective than the grants they have done away with for the purpose of encouraging industry to establish itself in these places.

The Prime Minister has set up two great Departments, that of the Environment and that of Trade and Industry, to secure co-ordination of the functions which were previously earned out by separate Ministries. I hope he will carry the principle of co-ordination one stage further and ensure co-ordination between these two new Departments. It is surely the height of absurdity that the Departments concerned with employment and industry should offer building grants and tax concesssions to industries if they can establish themselves in areas which the planning authorities, whether they be the local planning authorities or the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in its new guise, have zoned in the development plans as rural areas.

This is what happened in the case of Samlesbury. I greatly regret that decision. I believe it was a mistaken decision. But it would at any rate be some consolation if we can have an assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary when he replies, that under the new Government it is intended that the encouragement to employment given by the Ministry for Trade and Industry will be brought into harmony with the planning code of the country as a whole.

8.18 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has for a very long period rendered great service to the amenity movement, and to-night I think he has placed further in his debt all those of us who want to see a more civilised approach to the environmental problems that we have to solve. I am grateful to him for having brought to the attention of your Lordships' House a case which was described by Mr. Edward Gardner, Q.C., M.P., at the Conservative Party Conference as a monument to muddled planning. I want to associate myself with what the noble Lord said about Mr. Peter Walker. I think that a Minister of Housing and Local Government is one of the loneliest men in a Government. I early reconciled myself to the fact that every time I made a friend I could count upon making two enemies at the same time. That worked out pretty accurately, because I am afraid that, unlike the Almighty, the public are swift to chide and slow to bless". Before the Minister reaches a decision, and when he takes the decision, he has to behave with the same detachment and objectivity as one of Her Majesty's Judges. To suggest that Mr. Peter Walker did otherwise in this case is unfair to him and—this is no less important—I think it is derogatory to public life in general. The Samlesbury decision was, in my view (and I agree with the noble Lord), a deplorably bad decision on purely planning grounds. But it is quite wrong to argue—and I was glad that the noble Lord resisted the temptation—that a Minister should not overrule his inspector. It happens, I think I am right in saying, about 100 times every year. When I was a Minister I frequently, after the most careful consideration, rejected the advice that my inspector had given. I am certain that no Minister does so lightly, for inspectors like Mr. Harcourt, who conducted this Inquiry, are men of sound judgment and great experience.

But in a major case of this kind, I am certain that it is right that the Minister, with the aid of his officials, should be able to sit back, to take a less localised view than the inspector, and should be free to decide to overrule the inspector's recommendations. Indeed—and I was grateful to the noble Lord for mentioning this—if I had not rejected the advice of Sir Andrew Wheatley, whom I had appointed to conduct the inquiry into the area to be designated for the Central Lancashire New Town, Samlesbury would have been included in the New Town area. As it was, I accepted his advice on the Longridge Spur and rejected his advice on Samlesbury.

So my criticism of Mr. Walker's decision is not that it was improperly reached—I utterly reject that suggestion—or that he should have accepted his inspector's advice without question. My complaint is that the decision, on strictly planning grounds, was an utterly wrong decision. Because of the importance of this application, I decided to call it in for the Minister's decision. I know the site reasonably well—I visited it earlier this year—and I know very well the need to avoid further industrial sprawl in Lancashire, and to preserve for quiet enjoyment the areas which industry has left comparatively unimpaired.

The site which we are discussing tonight would not, of course, qualify as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, in the technical sense of the word and using capitals at the beginning of each word, because that is a technical term which applies to the Norfolk Broads and applies to Dedham Vale, but does not apply to Samlesbury. Nevertheless, it is a pleasant and peaceful stretch of country, and it provides a great amenity for the people both of Blackburn and of Preston. That is why, in general, applications for development in the area have been refused.

I read with special interest paragraphs 69 and 70 of the inspector's report, and if your Lordships will bear with me I should like to read you most of what is said in those two paragraphs. This is based upon the views of the Preston Rural District Council, which was represented at the inquiry by the surveyor and also by the clerk, whom I had the privilege to know well when he was the Town Clerk of Rawtenstall in my old constituency of Rossendale. The Preston Rural District Council made various points. Paragraph 69: The Lancashire County Council as local planning authority have been consistent in refusing industrial, commercial and residential development in the surrounding rural area and in this they have had strong support from the Rural District Council. Those applications for residential development which have been granted permission represent either the conversion of existing buildings to residential use or applications supported by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The approved application for commercial development on the site of the disused Paper Mill at Samlesbury Bottoms is one where the building had existing use rights for general industry. Then paragraph 70: The policy of resisting development in the area has had the support of the Minister as the following appeal decisions show:— 1. In dismissing an Appeal against the refusal of permission for an Agricultural Joiner's Workshop one mile south of the inquiry site in October 1969, the Minister stated:— It is to be expected that the use will grow and in these circumstances the use proposed is inappropriate and would constitute an unjustified intrusion into a predominantly rural area. 2. In dismissing an appeal against the refusal of permission for a Motel Licensed Restaurant and Bar on the A.59 Trunk Road, less than a third of a mile north-west of the inquiry site in June 1966, the Minister stated:— 'The establishment of a Motel Public Restaurant and Bar, and associated car parking area on the appeal site, could hardly fail to detract from the pleasant rural character and appearance of the Ribble Valley where it formed a valuable open foreground at the approaches to Preston.' It was no doubt on account of considerations of that kind that the proposal to put a brewery there—a much more serious intrusion into the peaceful surroundings—was objected to by—and I quote now from paragraph 46 of the Inspector's Report: Preston County Borough Council, Preston Rural District Council, the Samlesbury and Cuerdale Parish Council, the Central Lancashire New Town Consultants, the Lancashire Branch of the National Farmers' Union, the Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire Branches of the Country Landowners' Association, and the local branch of the Council for the Protection of Rural England …". There is the further and, I think, overwhelming reason why, in my view, the application should have been rejected. I cannot for the life of me understand why the Lancashire County Council did not ask for its rejection—indeed, as the Samlesbury Parish Council has commented, the County Council has made a complete volte face. The reason for rejection I have in mind is the importance of the Central Lancashire New Town as a growth point for the whole of Lancashire. I do not believe there is any validity whatsoever in the arguments advanced by the Minister and his colleagues against having the brewery in the New Town area, for example, in Walton-le-Dale, as the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has suggested. It would in fact have got the New Town off to an extremely good start, and there is no administrative reason that I know of why the development should not have been expedited in that area.

In fairness to the noble Lord, Lord Molson, I must confess that I am not wholly convinced by his arguments about the confusion which exists within the Government's machine, but I agree with him that it would be well worth while seeing whether any more efficient procedures can be devised. But we must remember that the criteria for designating an Intermediate Area and for granting a planning application are quite different. I, in all modesty, claim some credit for the scheduling of North-East Lancashire as an Intermediate Area, with all the benefits that that can bring. But the employment that is provided there must, in my submission, be provided in a way which does not destroy the environment which the workers are entitled to enjoy.

The strategy of the last Government for the North-West was three-fold: first, to provide additional employment in North-East Lancashire, and proposals for advance factories in Nelson, Altham and Rossendale were approved; secondly, to establish the Central Lancashire New Town as a growth centre for the whole counly; thirdly, to preserve and, where possible, to enhance the pleasant countryside between the towns. I believe that that strategy is right, and I deplore the abysmally bad decision which I believe the Minister has made.

8.30 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Molson, for putting down this Question. It is obviously a very important matter, not only from the point of view of Central Lancashire but also from the point of view of the planning arrangements of the country as a whole. Also, there has been the great advantage of our receiving a speech from the former Minister, who won golden opinions for the way he dealt with matters of this kind and who has certainly treated us to an extraordinarily impartial and, indeed, sympathetic account of this case.

I was impressed—although not so impressed as I might have been, because I should have expected it of him—by hearing that he took the opportunity of visiting this area himself; and no doubt he knew it to some extent, because his constituency was not so very far away. As he has told us, he visited the area at the time when this matter was becoming important, and I should be grateful if the Minister who is replying to the Question would tell us whether the present Minister followed his example and inspected this site before coming to his decision, which—and I agree with what has been said so far—is a deplorable one. Of course the milk has been spilled here and it cannot be got back into the bottle. Some people may ask, "What is the good of bemoaning it after the event, when nothing can be done about it?" But I think it is very valuable indeed to spend some time looking at cases of this importance when they have gone wrong, particularly in the case of a new Minister who is the first Minister for the Environment.

I have been in this business of trying to protect rural England for a very long time. It is a heartbreaking job, and this is one of those cases which tend to break one's heart. My impression is that Ministers are much more likely to go wrong at the beginning of their régime than when they have really begun to understand the problems with which they have to deal. Therefore it will be valuable if the Minister will consider not only this debate here but what has been said about this subject in the Town and Country Planning Journal and, generally, in informed areas. It may well be that that will help him to get the sort of expertise which the noble Lord who has just resumed his seat undoubtedly acquired.

I remember that Mr. Richard Crossman went badly wrong in the Kent Green Belt. Perhaps I shall be called to order for describing it as a Green Belt, since, technically, it was not really a Green Belt although it was treated as one by most of the amenity societies and by the planners. He was criticised a good deal and I criticised him myself, although some of my friends on this side felt that I was not altogether right. But I never have any hesitation in dealing with these matters, since I do not think they are Party issues; they are issues in which the national interest has to come first. I am sure that Mr. Richard Crossman's later decisions were very much better.

Not very long after that he gave a very good decision in the Birmingham pseudo-Green Belt, and I have a feeling that what was said about his Kent decision influenced him to some extent. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Molson, pointed out, the present Minister has given at least two very satisfactory decisions, one of which I was particularly pleased about, because the dumping site which the noble Lord mentioned was situated within a quarter-of-a-mile of my own house. So I welcomed that decision with considerable enthusiasm.

The trouble is that at the beginning a Minister tends to judge these matters by the light of nature. Whitbread's, who have three biggish breweries situated in different parts of Lancashire, wanted to reorganise their business and establish one large brewery somewhere else. Whether that was a wise decision has not really been brought into this debate very much, but the result of that decision is that a very large area will be affected. There will be 55 acres for the brewery site, but when one considers the amount of additional country which is going to be taken up by building new houses for all the workers there, together with car parks—because many of the workers will have to travel long distances to get there—this decision is going to have the effect of murdering what has been described as a very pleasant rural piece of England. It will cease to be a very pleasant rural piece of country, and many farmers who have carried on their business, on which the country depends so much at the present time when we are continually in difficulties about the balance of payments and so on, are going to be most adversely affected by this decision.

It was particularly ironic to sit in the Guildhall recently at the splendid Conference on the Countryside in 1970, which was so wonderfully and inspiringly presided over by the Duke of Edinburgh, listening to the Prime Minister himself, who made a very inspiring speech, the burden of which was that in future environment was going to receive much more consideration than it had received in the past. When economic considerations clashed with environmental considerations—this was the burden of his speech, which was tremendously well received—only in cases where the national interest obviously required the economic considerations to be put first should environment be put at the bottom of the list.

That has not been the case, and if it could be we in the amenities movement would be very happy. We have always regarded it as our duty, in cases where it was clear that the national interest, in the shape of Defence or something of that kind, came first, to feel that our own enthusiasm for defending the countryside should take second place. But this decision takes a completely different line, because while I like my glass of beer and have no feeling at all against breweries, particularly Whitbread's who make a very good beer, nobody could say that that was an economic matter of such great national importance that everything environmental ought to be put on one side in order that this large tract of land might be made available in this part of Lancashire, which is still rural. In Liverpool and Blackburn there are other branches of this brewery, in an area which is already completely industrialised, and the argument would have been all in favour of confining this activity to that part of Lancashire.

This case has been analysed with great skill and great moderation by both of the previous speakers, and I do not want to go over all that ground again. I quite agree that the inspector's view of the matter is not to be regarded as final. It is interesting to note—and it appears perfectly clearly from what the inspector said, which was read out by the noble Lord, Lord Molson—that this was not one of those cases where the inspector had any doubts. Sometimes an inspector balances what he says and concludes, "On the whole, I come down on this side or that" This was a case where he had no doubt whatever, and that is one of the reasons why I am so interested to know whether the Minister himself saw this place before he came to his decision.

Then, of course, there is the effect on the proposed New Town, which is a very important matter in this part of Lancashire. Instead of getting off to a good start, it may well be that this decision will interfere with its progress so seriously that it will never really become a first-class New Town. That was a very obvious danger, and I find it extraordinarily difficult to understand how the Minister could have overlooked it.

As I have said, this decision alters the whole environment of a very important, remaining part. There is not much of this sort of country left in Lancashire. Unfortunately, while there is practically no country of outstanding natural beauty in Lancashire at all, there is a good deal of very pleasant rural country of this kind, and this is one of the areas which is particularly so. Not very far away we have Clitheroe, the Trough of Bowland and other country which is really of fairly high quality, all of which will look down upon this. It really is a very great pity that a decision of this kind, which has now got to be accepted, has been reached, because it will undoubtedly very seriously affect and damage the environment of this particularly pleasant part of the countryside.

8.41 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble Lord replies, perhaps I may follow on from what the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, was saying, because I happened to be in Burnley just after this decision was announced. I thought I might "chip in", because the noble Lord mentioned the scarcity of decent countryside in Lancashire. Somebody in Burnley said to me, "This decision will destroy one of the only real bits of countryside"—in fact, I think be said "the only real bit of countryside"—"between Burnley and the sea"; and for people who happen to be lucky enough to live in the Southern part of England, even if it happens to be London, it is worth while bearing in mind the sort of implications that a decision of this sort can have on those people who have to live with the refuse of the Industrial Revolution.

There is one question that I should like to ask the Minister, and that is whether he can give us some indication of the amount of money available to Whitbreads in the way of grants in the case of the site that they have now been allowed, and whether he can compare that with what they would have got if they had gone to the New Town.

8.42 p.m.


My Lords, I think your Lordships would wish me, before I answer the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Molson, to express a welcome to the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, on the occasion of his first speech from the Front Bench of the Opposition. I think, also, that your Lordships will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Molson, for having initiated this debate and provided us with a chance, not only to discuss this particular case but to consider some general points of importance which relate to planning, and to do so in the company of a number of noble Lords who have spoken and who have all made such great contributions in this field in their different ways at different times.

I thought it might be helpful if I began my remarks by giving your Lordships a few statistics which might help to put this case into perspective. I shall deal first of all with the figures to do with the scale of the whole planning exercise—and these are figures for England for the year 1969. In that year, in England, 7,000 planning applications a week were going to the local authorities, of which 160 a week were received in the Department, largely as a result of appeals but also as a result of the matter having been referred to the Department by the local planning authority, as was the case in this instance. There were 60 decisions a week taken by Ministers after inquiry—12 each working day—and of those 60 a week there were one or two occasions per week when the Minister disagreed with his inspector. I think that corroborates what the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, was saying. So it is nothing out of the way, unusual or improper for a Minister to disagree with his inspector.

I come now to two other general points about planning and the relationship between planning and industrial considerations—the point that the noble Lord, Lord Molson, asked me to clarify if I could; and I am very glad to be able to do so. I think that this, too, bears out what the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, was saying. All applications for planning permission for large industrial buildings have to be accompanied by an industrial development certificate. That is laid down in the Town and Country Planning Act 1962. But, my Lords, the consideration of the planning merits of the application is affected by the existence of that industrial development certificate only to the extent that it is not then open to anyone—the local planning authority or anyone else—to claim objections to that application on the ground that the proposed building is contrary to the national distribution of industry and employment. That being so, I do not really believe that there is the discord or the conflict between these two separate considerations which the noble Lord, Lord Molson, led us to suppose. It is, nevertheless, a matter which needs constant attention if there is not to be a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. I will come back to the industrial certificate which was awarded by our predecessors in this particular case, but I hope that that deals with the general point.

The next general point on which I should like to spend a little time is to rehearse (and I am afraid this will be very familiar ground to a number of noble Lords) the different grades of countryside which are used within the planning world in order to ensure that the most precious parts of our countryside are given the greatest attention and the greatest care, and that places of lesser significance are given rather less, in order to keep the whole thing in balance.

First of all, we have the National Parks—and, of course, it is worth noting that close to this site, not far away, are the famous Yorkshire Dales. These are extensive tracts of country, mostly uplands, designated by the Countryside Commission, confirmed by the Minister, for the special purposes of preserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the areas concerned. Then, slightly less in the degree of sanctity accorded to them, we have the areas of outstanding natural beauty—and almost adjacent to this site we have the Forest of Bowland in this category. These are areas, outside the National Parks, also designated by the Countryside Commission as being of outstanding beauty, and again a designation confirmed by the Minister. In relation to both these categories special provisions are made in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, and although normal life continues within them there is naturally a presumption against development and a very special concentration of attention by all the planning authorities concerned.

We then come to the country parks. Provision is made in the Countryside Act 1968 for local authorities to provide these, and the idea is that these should be areas specifically intended for public enjoyment, and often developed for that purpose, unlike National Parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty. Still descending in the scale, we come to the green belts—and, of course, as every noble Lord has said, this was not a green belt. A green belt is an area of land, near to and sometimes surrounding a town, which is kept open by permanent and severe restrictions on building. The main purpose is to prevent the spread and the coalescence of towns, and the secondary purpose is to provide opportunities for recreation. Now we come to yet a further grade down the scale, which is still not Samlesbury: an area marked on a development plan for the quality of the landscape and carrying a restrictive implication for development. This is usually known as an area of great landscape value. The written statement attached to a development plan usually contains a policy statement of the degree of control to be exercised.

Lastly, my Lords, in the categories applicable to the countryside we come to white land—and this is the category in which Samlesbury lies. "White land", if I may remind your Lordships, concerns a whole variety of areas having in common only the presumption that the areas in general will remain undisturbed throughout the period of the plan to which they refer. This will cover some land on the edge of towns that is generally accepted as being right for develop ment in due time and also much wider areas of open country which are not of great landscape value. All I have to add to that to demonstrate the relevance in this particular case is that the development plan in question is dated 1960.

It is against that general background that I should like to say now a few words about the particular factors that bore expressly on this case and led my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to make the decision he did make. First, there was an industrial development certificate for this factory given by the previous Government relating not to Samlesbury or Blackburn or any particular place but to the whole of the North-East Lancashire intermediate area, which the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, designated. Secondly, this application from Whitbreads, although objected to by all the people whom the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, cited and catalogued, was in fact approved by the people who have the greatest standing in this matter; namely, the democratically-elected Lancashire County Council, and was strongly supported by the democratically-elected Council of Blackburn. Very full evidence was given in favour of this application by the Lancashire County Council planning officer who is of the greatest standing of anybody in this particular case. Thirdly, and this has been said many times already, this area is not green belt nor is it designated as an area of great landscape value, the two lowest categories that can be accorded to the countryside for its special protection. The site adjoins a sewage works; it is a few hundred yards from a large paper mill (and any noble Lord who has seen the site, as I have, will know this to be the case) with numerous lorries coming from the paper mill; it adjoins a dual carriageway; it is less than one mile from two enormous hangars which are used for industrial purposes and the main vista from the site is the two large chimneys of Courtauld's factory.

But in addition to all this, this particular site met the very stringent industrial requirements of land stability, water availability, transport and effluent disposal, better and sooner than any of the many other alternative sites which had been considered, many of which were rejected on landscape grounds. The village of Samlesbury, the area most affected by this, is on the other side of the dual carriageway from this development and, apart from the village hall which happens to be outside the village, you cannot see this site from anywhere in the village. It was for these reasons that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State made the decision that he did although it involved disagreeing with his inspector.

Now, my Lords, I should like to turn to some of the advantages that flow from this decision. First—and this was the reason why the industrial development certificate was granted—600 new jobs in an area designated as an intermediate area have been created, only four miles on a good road from the centre of Blackburn, thus helping significantly with the unemployment situation in the area.


My Lords, could the Minister tell us how many jobs will be lost in Liverpool, which is an even worse place for unemployment?


My Lords, I am coming on to the effects on Liverpool and elsewhere in a moment. It is the fact that of the new jobs on that site, the net, as distinct from the gross, gain will probably be in the region of 200. I readily admit that jobs have been lost elsewhere in other breweries owned by the same company.

The second advantage which flows from this decision is that the development of the brewery will result in the closing of two other breweries. There is a considerable pollution of the rivers Irwell and Mersey resulting from the activities of these old breweries, where effluent was not properly dealt with. On the new site no pollution whatever will take place due to the effluent being properly treated in the new sewage works adjoining it. The third advantage flowing from this decision is that by putting the brewery on this site where it is near the A.59 dual carriageway and one mile only from a motorway, the brewery will be able to deliver throughout Lancashire causing the minimum of congestion; whereas in the previously sited breweries in the middle of the towns of Salford, Liverpool and Blackburn large brewery lorries were going to and from the breweries, causing a considerable amount of congestion in the streets and damage to the environment.

The fourth advantage is that all the parking of cars and lorries associated with those congested sites within the towns—contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, feared—will be contained within this site. The conditions that have been put on the approval of this application include landscaping and the condition that all car parking should be provided within the site. The inspector who reported on this case was very properly concerned with the congestion that might be caused by cars parking on the adjacent roads and that point has been dealt with by that condition. The one final advantage that flows from this is that the vicarage, at no cost to the Ecclesiastical authorities, can be moved into the parish. It has existed so far on the border.

Before I come to the end of what I want to say, perhaps your Lordships will permit me a few reflections upon this case. My first reflection is on how easy it is for people to be led astray—in this case to the effect that this was in a Green Belt. These were the headlines immediately after this decision was issued by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. In the Daily Telegraph on August 29: "Plan for Brewery in Green Belt Approved". There was no Green Belt at all. In the Guardian on the same day: "Brewery for Green Belt". Then a little later, under the influence of a number of bodies and people who might have known better, on September 13 in the Observer we get, "M.P.s Fight Green Belt Brewery Plan". Another letter in the Observer a week later was headed, "Green Belt Brewery". In the Guardian on September 21 as a headline over a letter which had no reference to the Green Belt in it, we get: "End of the Green Belt?". In another letter, again without any reference in it to the Green Belt, we have. "Brewery and the Green Belt". There were other letters under the same heading from a clergyman in Bayswater and from an architect in Manchester.

It is fair to say that, when issues like this are being discussed, this kind of misrepresentation really does not help. Of course, the noble Lord himself would never make mistakes of this kind nor, I hope, would members of the Council for the Protection of Rural England. But the damage has been done; and if, because of this misrepresentation, it is thought that this Government have any lack of care for the countryside, that is a view that I would emphatically rebut. However, inasmuch as this case has helped to focus and inform public concern for the preservation of the countryside there has been a gain. In that connection I should like to mention one among a number of conservation policies to which we, in the Department of the Environment, are currently giving particular attention.

The Secretary of State has recently made it very clear that the intention of the present Government is to bring forward decisions on outstanding Green Belt submissions as quickly as possible within the context of the regional policies which will provide a proper basis for decision on Green Belts. It may surprise many members of the public, but it will not surprise your Lordships, certainly not those who have spoken, to know that in fact there are only four major approved Green Bells; one for Greater London; one for Bristol and Bath; one for Sheffield and Leeds and one for North Tyne-side. There is a small approved Green Belt between Cheltenham and Gloucester. There are outstanding submissions, many of them long outstanding, for extensions to the London Green Belt and for Green Belts in South Hampshire, the West Midlands, the country round Liverpool and Manchester, and a number of others. To take one example, the proposed Green Belt for South Lancashire was submitted as long ago as 1960. No submission has been made for Central Lancashire, the area around Preston and Blackburn.

The Government regard all policies for the preservation of the countryside as of the greatest importance, and I should like to end my speech by quoting the Prime Minister on this theme. At the Countryside in 1970 Conference at the end of October, he said: The protection of our countryside, the avoidance of pollution and the striking of a right balance between the needs of conservation and development are now among the most important and difficult tasks of Government. … The protection of our countryside and the prevention of pollution are among the highest priorities of the 1970s and are essential for any decent sort of living. It is in that spirit, my Lords, that the Government will tackle these problems.


My Lords, is the noble Lord able to answer the question I put, whether the Secretary of State has inspected this area?


My Lords, I cannot speak for the Secretary of State. The Minister for Local Government and Development, I know, has visited the site and I have visited the site myself.