HL Deb 17 November 1971 vol 325 cc661-743

3.2 p.m.

TILE LORD BISHOP OF BLACK-BURN rose to call attention to the need for progress in clearing dereliction and to move for Papers. The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, in moving this Motion to draw attention to the need for progress in clearing dereliction, I should like to express my gratitude to those responsible for securing its place on the Order Paper to-day: first, because this is a very important and urgent issue which calls for increased and sustained action on the part of Government, local authorities and industry, in that the amount of derelict land and buildings up to the present has been actually increasing, despite the valiant efforts at reclamation, and has far-reaching and baneful consequences upon our economy, the environment (about which we are so greatly concerned), and what is included in that blessed word "ecology"; and, secondly, because, to my deep regret, this is the last opportunity that I shall have of drawing your Lordships' attention to the particular problem, as my resignation from the See of Blackburn takes effect at the end of this month. In effect, it is my swan song; but, according to the traditional swan, I trust that this will not herald my early decease, because I hope to live long enough to enjoy the facilities of the House which your Lordships have so generously offered to retired Bishops.

I felt a little embarrassment about this Motion, as there are those who have attacked me and said: "What is this 'dereliction'?" Of course, the word is used in a number of senses, as, for example, in "dereliction of duty". But, as your Lordships will be aware, it has now become a technical word, part of an official jargon, which has its own definition. It may be noted, in passing, that the root of: the word is "relic", which means "left behind", and it is associated with the word "relinquish", which means "to abandon utterly". Both these words illustrate the problems which have to be faced and overcome in dereliction. Another cause of embarrassment is that I am conscious of the fact that this debate may be criticized as probably being two years late, in that more progress has been made in clearing dereliction in the past 24 months than in the preceding five years. But this overlooks the fact that, far from catching up on the backlog of past neglect, we are not keeping pace with the present rate at which new dereliction is being created. The figures that I have been given amount to between 3,500 acres to 5,000 acres a year.

Unless there is a determined effort to give this task the highest priority, especially at the local level—because it is at the local level that the problem lies—in ten years' time we may find that we still have an immense backlog of derelict land and buildings to clear. The problem, as I see it, revolves round the need for progress in clearing, controlling and preventing dereliction. The Secretary of State for the Environment has stated: We know what the problem is. Now we must see that we solve it. We need to accelerate much more the efforts of the Government, the local authorities and industry, so that over the next ten years, for the first time, a really substantial impact will he made in removing the disgrace of dereliction. In addition, we must ensure that the industrial operations of to-day are not allowed to leave a further legacy of derelict land behind them. By our vigour in redeeming the industrial scars of the past, and our vigilance in preventing the spread of new spoliation. we can make a valuable and lasting contribution to the conditions in which we and our children live.

I am encouraged by this sense of urgency, and hopeful that if the plans now being formulated by the Department of the Environment can be given the necessary financial help, additional staff can be recruited to implement them, the local authorities concerned can give their immediate attention to this urgent issue, and the situation can then be remedied. But I believe that vigilance is necessary; that we must fully comprehend the total extent of the problem, and be alive to its insidious effects in communities which have had to endure for a century the squalor of a degraded environment in order that the country, as a whole, could enjoy economic prosperity.

Let me now turn to the definition of "dereliction", which is: Land so damaged by industrial or other development that it is incapable of beneficial use without treatment I shall have occasion to note that this definition is too limited, although it is often generously interpreted by the Department in approving grants. It includes disused spoil heaps, worked-out mineral excavations, old industrial sites, unused derelict buildings, disused railways and canals. But it excludes a great deal of land and buildings which to the layman are clearly derelict, such as devastated woodlands, agricultural land which has been so neglected that it is incapable of use, derelict War Department sites, and any land or buildings, however derelict they may appear, if they are in active use for any purpose. So you can take a derelict old mill, put in a man and a boy to chop firewood, and it cannot be dealt with because it is in active use.

My personal concern in this matter is that I live in Lancashire, which has a higher proportion of derelict land and buildings than any other county. In fact, my attention was first attracted to this matter by a very unpleasing spoil heap, a horrid eyesore, adjacent to our splendid motorway, the M.6. For technical reasons, we find that we cannot touch it for another five years. This is but one of many such spoil heaps, some of which have been effectively dealt with by the county council. Only yesterday I saw one which has been levelled off and is now a glorious grass field which will soon be available for agriculture. Again, I could point to scores of blackened and decrepit old mills, no longer in use as such: relics (and I use the word "relics" deliberately) of the Industrial Revolution which disfigure the landscape but technically, for one reason or another, are not derelict. Here are the "dark satanic mills of England's green and pleasant land." There are not many who live below a line drawn, shall we say, between Watford and Cheltenham who appreciate the sordid and unpleasant conditions in which many have to live in parts of the Black Country, the Potteries, parts of Lancashire, the West Riding and County Durham.

Not only does dereliction impose an economic cost in the areas where it is prevalent but it absorbs land which is greatly needed at the present time for constructive purposes at a time when the pressures for more land are increasing. Above all, it is an offence against the decent standards of amenities and civilized living. Derelict buildings and industrial junk are dangerous to life, harmful to health and in part responsible for the migration of a proportion of people from the north to the south of England at a time when it is hoped that new industry might be attracted to the North to meet the growing unemployment problem. But in fact I think there is evidence to show that it discourages modern industries from coming North.

My Lords, I want to turn now to the extent of the problem, but I will not weary your Lordships with a mass of figures. The problem of dereliction is so wide and extensive that it is impossible to estimate it accurately. For this reason we are grateful to the Department of the Environment who at this moment, with the co-operation of the local authorities, are engaged upon a new survey. However. certain figures are available and I will try to present them in a comprehensive manner, recognising that they can, and most probably will, be challenged. The constant confusion arises from the limited use of this word "dereliction". Between the years 1965 and 1968 the acreage of derelict land in England—and I am taking England only—increased from 91.000 acres in round figures to 94,000 acres, although over the same period an average of 1,863 acres were reclaimed each year. In 1970 the figure had risen to 96,697 acres, of which, it is said, 63,000 justify treatment. In 1969, when the increased grants (for which we are profoundly thankful) were made available, the amount of land reclaimed rose to 2,504 acres. In 1970 it rose to 3,645 acres, and it is hoped that in 1971 local authorities will clear a further 6,000 acres—though I think it is fairly evident that this is only a hope and that if they clear 4,000 we nay regard ourselves as lucky.

In spite of the fact that 13,600 acres of derelict land were cleared between 1965 and 1970, the total amount of derelict land in England and Wales rose in this same period to 13,870 acres or, taking England alone, by 6,000 acres. These figures refer only to land and buildings that are included in the official definition of dereliction and relate largely to spoilheaps, excavations, pits and other forms of dereliction. But there are large areas of land and buildings outside this definition which amount to a total ranging from 150,000 to 250,000 acres. It is hoped that the survey that is being undertaken will record the position more accurately, and taking into account these other forms of dereliction I think it is certain to reveal an even greater acreage of derelict land. In such a situation, constantly aggravated by the recent growth of dereliction, land reclamation becomes not only desirable but absolutely vital to the improvement of life in the communities concerned.

Here I want to bear testimony to what is being done by the Department of the Environment in tackling this problem. The increased grants which are now available—85 per cent. in development areas; 75 per cent. in derelict land clearance areas; the continual prodding of the local authorities (and, my word! they need prodding), the expression of the hope that within the next ten years the backlog of dereliction can be overcome and plans made for the prevention of dereliction in the future—all these things are greatly to the credit of the Department of the Environment, and it is clear that if their objective is to be achieved before then additional staff will be required. It is estimated that such a ten-year programme would cost £15 million per annum; but when the Hunt Committee reported in 1969 the figure quoted was about £7 million per annum, and in 1965 the estimated cost was about £5 million per annum. These figures reveal both the escalation of costs and the increase in dereliction, and strengthen the plea for urgent action.

Whilst I pay tribute to the Department of the Environment, for what is being done and what is being planned, I would also congratulate the Lancashire County Council on its own achievements. The current five-year programme, started in 1968, plans to reclaim 1,347 acres at a cost of £1½ million. The next programme, to be completed by 1979, will cover 2,370 acres at a cost of £1¾ million. But your Lordships will see that together, these fall far short of the overall total of 10,000 acres which justify treatment in Lancashire. The Lancashire County Council has a clear guiding principle which is very important. It aims to deal with derelict land and buildings when it has a clear and definite plan for the use of the land reclaimed. To take one example in a place called Bryn a wasteland of derelict collieries and spoilheaps, massive old colliery structures, pit shafts and flooded land was transformed into over 300 acres of new land—140 acres for industry, 20 acres for housing, 9 acres for schools, 27 acres for agriculture and over 100 acres for recreational purposes. Here is new life for dead land: a veritable resurrection. Half the derelict land in Lancashire is being used for recreational purposes. It is obvious that more and more land will be needed for recreation, and a most valuable service can he rendered to the whole community by the reclamation of some of these derelict sites for this purpose.

It seems to me, my Lords, that the use of derelict land should be carefully planned, otherwise there may be a clearance of buildings and a filling of holes which subsequently become derelict again. In our towns in the North there are too many cleared sites left vacant for people to dump their old cars, prams, bedsteads and rubbish; littered with bricks and stones, which become ammunition in the hands of vandals for breaking windows in nearby buildings. One of my churches is in such an area at Preston and has had 34 windows smashed. Derelict land is a magnet for more dereliction. It is like a cancer that slowly but surely lays a death hand upon the locality. I have a cutting from our local paper. In its last issue it says: Vandals making life a misery. Drastic action is needed to clear the black spots and make them fit for decent people to live in". That is the kind of situation we are finding in too many parts of the North, where land is left unused and derelict.

I should also like to bear tribute to what has been achieved in the County of Durham, where the County Council, to encourage the local district councils, has paid their share of the cost of works. This prompts me to ask whether, in certain circumstances, the maximum grant might not be increased to 100 per cent. The smaller local authorities find it very difficult to meet an increased budget for the clearance of derelict land and buildings in an area which, as a result of dereliction, is already impoverished. Therefore there is a tendency to postpone the undertaking of this work so as to avoid the consequent increase in the rates, and so the dereliction remains and the area becomes even more impoverished. I take one example where it will cost a local authority £190,000 to deal with a minimum area of hard core dereliction. The product of the old penny rate in that area was £2,200. This would mean an increase of at least five new pence on the rates for 10 years or more. This is a very high price for a small local authority to have to pay. The other great help for these local authorities would be the inclusion for grant aid of the acquisition and demolition of derelict industrial buildings. At the moment, most of these fall outside the definition of dereliction and are not therefore grant-aided. The West Riding of Yorkshire is also well to the fore, and from a total of 5,000 acres they reclaimed last year 537 acres, and in the current year 684 acres. But there is another interesting statistic relating to the West Riding, that whereas in 1967 6.000 acres were classified as officially derelict, there were in fact 24,000 acres recognised as being unusable, but falling outside this rather narrow definition.

I will take only one other example, of which I should like to hear much more, and that is the plan which is being worked out in the County of Durham and in Northumberland for the use of unemployed young men to clear small areas of derelict land and buildings with the co-operation of the Chambers of Commerce and Trade, the trade unions, the local authorities and the National Association of Youth Clubs. This is an experiment that should receive the fullest support. In the North-East Region in August, 1971, there were about 15,000 unemployed young persons between the ages of 16 and 17 of whom 10,000 were school leavers. Let us hope that the figure has improved—but probably not substantially. These young people could well be used in tidying up what might be called the lesser derelict areas: the old canal beds, the untidy site left after some houses have been demolished, and abandoned allotments. A visit to any of our towns and cities in the North reveals areas crying out for someone to tidy them up. Here is a temporary but possible source of labour, towards the expenses of which I understand grant aid is available.

There is so much that could be said about the control of tipping, the disposal of refuse, including the plans of the London Brick Company which has 3½ thousand acres of pits of which more than half have been or are being reclaimed and reused, some for tipping refuse, others to provide a site in order that fly ash from a generating station may be placed; about the unsightly dumps of abandoned motor cars which are far too evident, the hideous gas works which are going out of use, disused pitheads, one of which is within two miles of the centre of Manchester. There are the china clay spoil heaps which are to be found in Cornwall.

We are rightly conscious of the importance of the environment, and I hope that the words of the County Planning Officer for Durham will not prove true; I have a gloomy foreboding that this generation will go down to history as one which cared about computers and cosmonauts, about sex and soccer, but not very much about creating civilised surroundings for people to live in. Another county planning officer reflected that support for expenditure on the environment sometimes seemed to be in inverse ratio to enthusiasm for beer, betting and bingo.

I am sure that your Lordships, and the Secretary of State for the Environment, care about these matters to which I have ventured to draw your attention: heaps and holes, industrial junkyards, abandoned buildings, disused rail and waterways. For nearly all these dead lands there could be new life: lands made derelict by man's past labours can be recovered by man's ingenuity and man's technology. We need these thousands of acres that lie derelict for housing, new industry, recreation and agriculture. We as a nation cannot afford to allow them to lie wasted and useless, to remain the most characteristic symbol and image of the older industrial areas.

In conclusion, what can be done that is not already being done? In a sentence, what we have started we must pursue with the utmost determination. We must move faster in the reclamation of derelict land and buildings, with a positive plan for the use of that which is being reclaimed. This will mean the expenditure of more public money; but it will be money wisely spent, and will incidentally provide more employment and the possible use of some unemployed persons in dealing with the small and untidy areas of dereliction in our towns and cities.

The local authorities, to whom is committed the responsibility of dealing with dereliction, should be spurred to quicker and fuller action. There are too often long delays at the local level, especially in acquiring the land from owners who have no further use for it but who hold out for the highest possible price. I understand that great delays are often experienced in acquiring land from nationalised undertakings, which seems wrong, in particular from British Rail and British Waterways. The Department of the Environment has its Control Group for Derelict Land Reclamation. But is there not a case to be made for having a derelict land unit, as established in Wales, which has done and is doing such great work as at Aberfan, where the last tip has been removed, in the lower Swansea Valley and elsewhere?

We must recruit and train more staff to do the necessary research and to undertake the overall planning which is so essential. It is important that when the reorganisation of local government takes place the existing teams of planners should be kept together and not dispersed. In the overall planning for the future there must be clear acceptance of the principles that whoever scars the land must be responsible for its restoration in due course. The levy imposed by legislation on the ironstone industry might be extended to other mineral excavations. Some new legislation may also be needed to expedite the acquisition of land and buildings adjacent to derelict sites so that a creative plan can be implemented for a particular area.

My Lords, I hope that I have convinced your Lordships of the seriousness of the problem. Now that the techniques for dealing with it are well understood, we challenge the Government, the local authorities and industry to take the joint action that is necessary to prepare a comprehensive plan, backed by the necessary resources of money and manpower, to reclaim the, bulk of Britain's derelict land in the next 10 years. We are trustees of the land we occupy. We have a moral obligation to bequeath to future generations an environment in which it is fit for them to live and grow up. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.31 p.m.


My Lords, I believe that the service rendered by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn is the last act of its kind that he will undertake in this House indeed, he told us it was his swan song. We are all the more indebted to him for having chosen the subject of the clearance of dereliction as the Motion to be debated this afternoon. The speech in which he has moved it was informative, constructive, appropriate and, if I may say so. illumined throughout by a sense of social purpose and an obvious desire to rid this land of ours of the scars and blemishes which have resulted from industrial exploitation and activities. As I made contacts in various parts of the country I discovered in a number of cases that the right reverend Prelate had been there before me, and had I not learnt that before the debate opened, listening to him this afternoon I should certainly have appreciated it. There will be points at which possibly we shall somewhat overlap, but I will try to avoid repeating at any length some of the points he has made. We thank him very sincerely for the wide range he has provided for debate.

Many have written about the ravages to our landscape and among them is the late John Barr, who wroteDerelict Britain,a book published in 1969. I still find that book of the greatest value. Its concluding paragraph is a challenge, and because the challenge is so well put I take leave to read it: Our grandfathers tore wealth from this land, willing us a prosperity devalued by dereliction. Are we to do the same for our grandchildren? If we do, they will curse us and they will be right to do so. The right reverend Prelate gave the House the official definition of "dereliction". John Barr, dealing with the subject of dereliction, had this to say: The official definition does includedisusedspoil heaps,worked outmineral excavations,abandonedindustrial premises, and landalreadydamaged by subsidence. It even includes 'neglected or unsightly land, which meets the criterion of past and completed dereliction'. But the official definition does not include land in active use for any purpose'. This monumental exception means that land damaged by industry but which is subject to conditions attached to planning permissions or other statutory arrangements requiring restoration or landscaping escapes the definition. This means that land, such as that covered by spoil tips which are still being used for tipping, escapes the definition. This means that land damaged by development but which is subject to planning permission for further development or on which further development will take place under the existing permission 'in the foreseeable future' escapes the definition. If we accept the wider definition implied in what Barr wrote there, we shall have little difficulty in accepting the figures that were produced by Casson and King and as given in the British Association Report of 1960; that is to say, a figure, already quoted by the right reverend Prelate, of some 250,000 acres, or, to put it another way, some 40 square miles. Looking at the clearance figures in the annual survey issued by the Department of the Environment, taking England only, one gets the impression of a satisfactory trend. But the acreage of land needing treatment has gone up every year, and the right reverend Prelate gave figures to back this up. As I understand the position, taking the official definition as the basis, in the five years 1965 to 1970 it had gone up by at least 8,000 acres, and it may well be more. This prompts the question —and I hope that the Minister when he speaks presently is going to be able to reply; I gave him warning that I should be putting some questions—Can the Minister inform us that steps are being taken to ensure that clearance will keep pace with new dereliction?

It has been put to me that governmental estimates of the present and future extent of dereliction severely underestimate it; further, that despite the progress being made, there are large areas where very little progress is being made. It seems to depend upon the activity and enthusiasm of the local authority. And again, I already knew the Minister had paid some visits, but as a result of my contacts I discovered that in point of fact he has been about the country doing quite a bit of what one might term chivvying of local authorities which seem to be somewhat backward. Indeed, I rather gathered that even those with a good record had been pressed by him to see if they could possibly do better. So I am aware that he personally has taken a great interest and indeed has done a great deal to try to secure improvement. I should therefore like to ask him whether he feels and can tell the House from his experience that all local authorities which have a substantial problem of dereliction are tackling it with maximum energy and effect. I shall be rather surprised if he is able, in the light of what I said earlier, to reply in the affirmative.

This raises the matter of resources in terms of staffs, specialists in this field of dereliction clearance, and the general store of capability available. Dr. Michael Chadwick of the University of York wrote to me recently and had this to say: …eventual success depends on the capability available locally. With some authorities this is considerable … In other counties, particularly the smaller county boroughs, the capability just is not there and it falls on the hard-pressed borough surveyor or borough engineer. Many of us are very worried that, with the local government reorganisation, the inevitable cannibalism that may result in terms of personnel and the responsibility for reclamation work passing to the district authorities, there might be an erosion of the capability that already exists. I should like to pursue the anxiety he expresses regarding the effects of local government reorganisation, and to ask the Minister whether he can assure us that it will not in any way hinder the work of clearance.

There is the very special problem of china clay workings. Only this week friends of mine who live in Cornwall have told me how the deposits seem to be encroaching daily. As one of them put it to me, the rate at which these tips grow seems quite terrifying. I believe there is already an area of some 30 square miles which is covered by these tips in Cornwall. Can we be informed what real progress is being made here?

Having pressed in this House for the derating of spoil heaps that are being worked for use for road fill and civil engineering, I was pleased when an Order was made to give 50 per cent. relief, but having regard to the social advantage in usefully employing this industrial waste, the improvement of amenity which follows the opportunity to restore derelict land for use as first-class agricultural land or other good social or industrial purpose and saving thereby grant payment to re-landscape, would it not be sensible completely to derate such workings?

I want now to raise the matter of the Working Party that was set up in 1970. It was appointed by the Ministers of Transport and of Housing and Local Government—an inter-Departmental Working Party to consider what further encouragement can be given to use waste as fill for road building. I asked a Question in this House on July 21, 1970, and was told by the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, that it was too early to say when they would conclude their work. I gave them a little time and I inquired again on February 18, 1971, and was told by the same noble Lord: The Working Party have completed their consultations…. They hope to complete the task in April. or earlier if possible."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18/2/71, col. 705.] I went on until July of this year, when I was told by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, who will later be speaking in this debate: …the report of the Working Party has been received and is being considered. A statement will be made as soon as we are ready."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6/7/71; col. 795.] Towards the end of September I made inquiries at the Printed Paper Office and in reply I received this note: From the Department of the Environment. No publication has been issued of the report of the Inter-Departmental Working Group. As soon as this report is received in the P.P.O. it will be forwarded on to you immediately. My Lords, I am still without that report and I should be very pleased if when the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, speaks he can give some indication as to when we might expect it. It was anticipated by his noble friend that we should have had it—at least, I thought he led us to believe—some time ago.

I could say a great deal on this point, but I will leave it at that. However, may I say this—and I will put it as briefly as I can. Every road scheme that uses material which is gained from borrow pits—in other words, holes dug in the adjoining land—and is otherwise excavated, such as chalk and gravel, represents a lost opportunity to put industrial waste to constructive use, and we shall not be re-engaging in road programmes of the extent and the size of the present programme. Every lost opportunity to use industrial waste is a wasted opportunity.

Recently, something like a million tons of chalk have been quarried at Betchworth, near where I live, and conveyed by lorry for fill on the M.3. Something like 50 huge lorries have been making six journeys a day—and the road near the station being quite inadequate for such traffic there is the consequent inconvenience and hold-ups. In dry weather the road is covered with a white powder; in damp weather with a white paste, and in wet weather it is like driving through whitewash. I should like to complain on personal grounds, my Lords. I have had to have my car washed a number of times after passing through it. The scar on the hillside has been savagely extended. I suppose it all represents good business for somebody: but for England —I wonder?

I should like to raise once again the recommendations of the Hunt Report: that the Government should establish a derelict land reclamation agency to assist local authority schemes in the execution of reclamation. There was at the time, ready to hand, the obvious nucleus of the National Coal Board's Opencast Executive. The right reverend Prelate referred to what the present Secretary of State for the Environment has said about what he will achieve in a decade. I want to place on the record that my right honourable friend Mr. Anthony Crosland, when he was Secretary of State for Local Government and Regional Planning, first set the 10-year target for clearing derelict lands; and derelict land units were set up in Scotland and in Wales. The Welsh unit has done some quite outstanding work. As has been stated, it is true that the present Secretary of the Environment has confirmed the 10-year target, and we welcome all that he has done in that direction. We welcome the speeding up; we welcome every achievement that can be claimed, but we now have some experience behind us and we are anticipating local government reform in the fairly near future. I suggest that it is timely—and this is why I particularly welcome this Motion this afternoon—that there should be a reexamination of the proposal to set up a national agency.

I should like to quote from theReport on Mineral Workingsprepared by the panel of planning officers' Working Party for the East Midlands region. On page 1 they state: It is alarming to find that the overall figure is increasing year by year despite efforts by many local planning authorities to reduce the dereliction within their boundaries. They make this further observation: The unwillingness of many operators to consider restoration as an obligation, and their tendency to accept tipping in excavations only where payment is made, has the effect of jeopardising speedy and successful restoration. On the point about being prepared to accept tipping only where payment is made, a great deal could be said in regard to filling the great holes that have been left after clay has been excavated for brickmaking.

As the right reverend Prelate has said, there is a great deal of expertise available, but there seems to me to be need for more co-ordination. I have found that people like Dr. Chadwick, of the University of York, Professor Goodman, of Swansea, and Professor Bradshaw, of Liverpool, have produced a great deal of valuable information, and the fullest use should be made of it; and, if I may suggest it, the fullest use made of people like them.

I think there is need to re-evaluate the crteria we use in our approach to the problem of bringing areas of dereliction into planned use, to have regard not only to the increase of definable dereliction but also to the peripheral acreage which is blighted by the proximity of the derelict areas themselves. We have at the present time a Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. If any word of mine could reach them, I should like to sug- gest to them that they look at the problem of derelict land and its effect on development of the areas of its location, for I understand that their terms of reference would allow them to do so.

The financial aspect of clearance of past dereliction prompts me to say that there is a strong case for tackling the problem nationally. I appreciate that grants up to 85 per cent. are available to local authorities and rate support grant can take the figure to 95 per cent. This can mean that the local authority has to find only 5 per cent. Even so, as the right reverend Prelate said, for smaller authorities this has proved very expensive indeed. Let us remember that the heritage of disused tins is a national one. and I venture to say that the cost of rehabilitation should be a wholly national one as well.

I should like to read from a letter that Dr. Bradshaw wrote to me quite recently: At the moment there is a heavy grant for the reclamation itself, but there seems to be no system for caring for these areas afterwards. Clearly, despite the reclamation, the soils will be touch and poor; grass and trees will have great difficulty in crowing. There is a very simple solution, that is to care for these for the 10 years after reclamation by the use of fertiliserset cetera.If this is done then the vicious circle is broken and the environment after that can look after itself. But there is no money to do this at the present; this is agreed by all local authorities; so we have plenty of examples of areas which look splendid for two years and since then have become immensely dilapidated. There is something fundamentally wrong here. I hope that some attention may be given to that extract from that letter because it seems to me to raise a quite vital point.

If these areas of dereliction are to be brought into planned use they must be made attractive, and to use the jargon of the expert—and I quote Professor Goodman here: Cosmetic revegetation is often the key to the whole problem of stimulating redevelopment where at present no clear plan exists". Then, as the right reverend Prelate has said, we must ensure that rehabilitation is carried through. In the case of new works, any extraction process ought to be accompanied by a levy on tonnage, or a scheme adopted similar to that operating in connection with the ironstone industry. Here again theReport on Mineral Workingsis most useful. I hold in my hand what is probably the most thorough survey ever undertaken in the world. It is entitledThe Lower Swansea Valley Project.When the whole of our land has been surveyed as thoroughly we may be in sight of the end of our problems. In a foreword written by His Royal Highness, Prince Philip, this is said: It is so easy to justify desecration and pollution in the name of progress. It is so simple to lay ruthless hands on the unresisting countryside in the name of the national interest. It is nothing like such a simple matter to clear up the mess afterwards. My Lords, this is a matter where energy, determination and indeed enthusiasm can recreate around us the green and pleasant land of which the poets have written, the right reverend Prelate spoke and, I venture to hope, all true patriots in this land of ours desire.

3.55 p.m.


My Lords, I am extremely pleased that the right reverend Prelate put down this Motion for debate to-day; it is a subject we have not talked about for a long time and it is one which is very timely at the moment. I am also pleased that he has managed to get it down before the sad day of his retirement from your Lordships' House, because I am sure from the way he moved his Motion to-day that we should all wish he was to be here a great deal longer to move more Motions of a similar character.

Dealing with dereliction—which is a word I am not really fond of: it seems to me to mean something quite different—is of course the responsibility of the local authorities as part of their general planning responsibility, but the trouble is it does not always work very well that way. Planning controls can in some ways help to prevent the spread, but they do not always do enough to stop the spread, of derelict land in the country. This is one point where I would support what the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, said about the curious anomaly of the planning law. Waste heaps on land are considered as chattels on the land rather than part of the land itself; therefore they can escape from planning control and no one can do very much about trying to restore the land. That is a point which should commend itself to any Government trying to deal with this problem: it should be made more easy for local authorities to deal with the heaps of waste material upon land in their areas.

There is another point I should like to inquire about, and that is the behaviour of the National Coal Board. I think I am right in saying that when they take land on lease for opencast mining, they can, when the mining is finished, either pay the landlord a sum in compensation or restore the land to its original character. Many people from whom land has been rented prefer to get cash in compensation, and therefore the land does not get restored. I wonder whether it would be possible, when leases are granted in the future to the Coal Board, to make it obligatory on the Coal Board to restore that land, rather than have the option not to restore it. Arising from that, may I say that the other day I came across a part of the Durham coast which in the 1920s was sandy beach, but has become what is now described as a "black lunar landscape" by the constant dumping of spoil from the pits in the 1920s. It costs, money to remove that kind of material, and the question has always been, who pays—the Government, the local authority or the National Coal Board? I rather come round to the view of the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, that the Government, who pay rather a big sum towards grant, should take on rather more responsibility, and money could be found more easily from central sources than from local authority sources.

I was reading inThe Timesyesterday a report from Chile, where a giant excavator has just been installed to take away waste material from mines left behind by former operators. I am not quite sure who is meant by that, but I have a fairly good idea. The job of removal will cost £1 million, and when Dr. Castro, the Prime Minister of Cuba, who is at present paying a visit to Chile, went and saw the work being done, and noticed on that particular occasion that the work was being done by voluntary operators, he called it an example of the "new heroism of every day". If Chile can do that kind of thing, I do not see why Great Britain cannot follow their example and do something of the same sort, too.

There is another point about the reclamation of derelict land. If it could be restored on as big a scale as possible now, it would prevent other good land from being taken away when land was required for development by the building industry or for recreation. There seems to me to be a good reason for doing it quickly. I should like to raise one small point. Between the two wars certain experiments were carried out in the Manchester part of the world with controlled tipping. It was a means of disposing of domestic refuse, rather than sewage. The plan was that upon suitable parts of the country which were derelict or in some way needed restoring, layers of refuse and layers of earth should be laid. I think the refuse has to be 6 feet deep, with 9 inches of earth on top, so that the result was rather like a Swiss jam roll, or whatever the proper term is. Ouite a lot of land was restored in that way and made suitable for agriculture, playing fields and recreation, and that kind of thing. One wonders whether that sort of restoration is now done on a big scale or is not being done as much as one thought might be possible at the time.

There are one or two small points that I should like to raise. I do not want to follow all of what the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, said, with which I am in complete agreement. I wonder what we are going to do with neglected cemeteries. They can occupy a considerable amount of space. I am not thinking of those that belong to the Church but more of the ones in private hands, and in particular the one at Highgate, where there is an enormous area (I forget the exact size) which I think has not been touched since before the war. If you go into it now it is like a jungle, with all sorts of plants and weeds growing among the tombs and graves. I think it has not been officially closed, and as you go in you pass one part in which people are still being buried. I am told (and I do not know whether this is right or wrong. but perhaps the noble Lord will say) that this cemetery belongs to a private company, and they are waiting for the chance to do some kind of development there. I suppose that it will be sonic kind of very expensive building operation, whereas one would much prefer to see the site kept as an open space. I suppose that a building operation over a cemetery is rather simpler now than it used to be, because under recent legislation it is not necessary to remove from the cemetery all human remains, merely those which the workmen come across in the course of their work. I am sure that there are Dore cemeteries of that type in the country which have become derelict. The only important point about the Highgate Cemetery is that it has become a great haunt of foxes and badgers, which are possibly rather attractive things to find so near the centre of London; but I feel that was not what the cemetery was originally built for.

There are a large number of imaginative schemes which are being carried out on derelict land, and I think that the Lea Valley Scheme, when it comes off and when it is finished, will be extremely successful. If you are going to deal with derelict land generally you should think of it from four points of view. The first is that one should stop land becoming derelict, and stop it becoming something which has an adverse effect on life. Secondly, one should try to take, at the same time, some positive steps to improve and enrich the environment where this land is. Thirdly, one should at the same time preserve what amenities there are. Fourthly, one should try to improve the use of the land which has not been used or which has been reclaimed, even if it means making use of that curious phrase which I think the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, used, "cosmetic re-vegetation".

4.8 p.m.


My Lords, we are all grateful to the right reverend Prelate (and I am especially grateful to him) for introducing this subject to your Lordships' House, and also for describing the problem so well and putting his finger on all the salient and most important points. When they have been carefully studied, his comments will make a significant contribution to the solution of the problem. I am only sorry that we are going to lose his contribution on the Floor of the House henceforward, but I am glad that we are not to lose the benefit of his company at the bar.

My Lords, reclamation is of overriding importance for the areas worst affected by dereliction. For them the continued existence of large amounts of derelict land, hampers, hinders and blights their prospects of economic and social recovery. For the Department of the Environment, any large-scale, persistent dereliction is a scandal and a reproach, and for all of us in this small island, where so little land has to be shared among so many people, any land left derelict is a wicked waste. My right honourable friends and my honourable friends in the Department of the Environment will welcome each and every constructive suggestion that this debate brings out that will enable the Department, our regional officials, the local authorities, and all the other bodies concerned to plan this work more imaginatively, to execute it more efficiently and to finish the job more quickly.

Substantial grant aid, with no limits on the amount from the next financial year, is directed towards the clearance of dereliction. Derelict land, as the right reverend Prelate has said, in this context is regarded as: Land so damaged by industrial and other development that it is incapable of beneficial use without special treatment. I know that that narrow definition has been criticised, but it has the merit of concentrating our attention, and our effort, on the hard core of the problem; though I do not deny that there is a very great deal else to clear up besides the land and the plant so defined.

Most of it, the worst of it, within this definition began in the vast uncontrolled industrial expansion of the last century and the first part of this one. This has resulted in the creation of spoil heaps, chemical waste heaps and mineral excavations worked out and abandoned with little or no attempt at any form of restoration. Later there has been the abandonment of complete plants which have just been left to decay. Thus, at the inception of effective planning control in 1947, there were already huge tracts of inherited dereliction. Since then the problem has been increased as the result, fairly recently, of further colliery closures leaving more tips, more junk, to be dealt with; and these, since they were outside full planning control, must also be regarded as part of the inherited problem. In addition, there have been railway and factory closures; and potteries, chemical works, steel works and others like them have closed down, giving rise to the need for yet further reclamation. The last facet—and I think we shall be hearing a good deal of this during the debate—is those current and continuing tippings and mineral workings which are theoretically under planning control, but where, in fact and in practice therefore, dereliction is still being created.

At the end of last year, the total inherited dereliction in England considered to warrant treatment to fit it for further use was about 63.000 acres. Forty-five thousand acres of those 63,000 acres of dereliction in England are concentrated in seven priority areas. To put the worst affected areas in England first, these are Lancashire, with over 8,000 acres justifying treatment. Durham, the West Riding of Yorkshire—the Yorkshire coalfield—Northumberland, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Stoke-on-Trent. We have thought it right to concentrate our attention on those seven areas, where three-quarters of the problem exists. Generous grants are available—up to 85 per cent. in the development areas, and with rate support grant that amounts to 95 per cent. in some areas—for clearing up these areas, and progress is now accelerating well.

The authorities concerned arc aiming to clear their dereliction in this decade. Three of them have already reached the rate which will do that, and the others are well on their way to doing so. This is the record in these priority areas. In 1969, there were 1,600 acres cleared; in 1970, there were 2,600 acres cleared and, in 1971, the authorities have indicated that they hope some 5,000 acres will be cleared. I fully acknowledge that this last figure may not be wholly achieved. It may prove to have been over-ambitious; similar figures have in the past. But what we do know is what has been approved for grant in the past six months, and that is nearly three times larger than the same period only two years ago. It is on this basis that I say that in these priority areas, where three-quarters of the problem exists, the programmes are accelerating well.

High rates of grant have undoubtedly helped to speed up the reclamation programmes but, as your Lordships have already said, personal concern, involvement and enthusiasm, such as your Lordships are showing to-day, is important also. The Prime Minister has paid a personal visit to Stoke-on-Trent; my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has visited four of these areas—Durham, Lancashire, Cumberland and Northumberland—and plans to make further visits; and I myself have been to all seven of the priority areas, most recently to Nottinghamshire last month and to the Yorkshire coalfield last Friday. It is our aim in these visits not merely to see for ourselves, but to stimulate public interest in reclamation and to encourage all the authorities, big or small, to play an active part in the reclamation drive.

Take Stoke-on-Trent, my Lords. It has a higher proportion of its area derelict than any other county borough. In 1969, it was described by the Hunt Committee as "originally five towns linked by industry; now five towns separated by the dereliction". In September, 1970, I visited Stoke and I saw for myself the energy and the skill with which that immense problem which they have inherited is being tackled. They showed me how what was then their 10-year programme—which is now shorter—drawn up in 1970 will deal with all of this dereliction. In my tour around the city I saw, as many of your Lordships have also seen, the Central Forest Park, formerly a vast tip right in the city centre, which is now a showpiece of reclamation and will eventually cover some 200 acres supporting a wide range of recreational and other activities. I also saw work in progress at Westport Water Park, another imaginative scheme turning a depressing area of dereliction into a 25-acre lake for boating, paddling boats for children. informal parkland and picnic areas.

As the right reverend Prelate has said, Lancashire has the largest absolute area of dereliction of any authority to deal with. One of the first areas selected by the county council for reclamation, which I saw last year, was Whalleys Basin, a former colliery site disfigured by disused pit shafts, shale heaps, rubbish dumps, chemical waste and abandoned plant. A disused branch of a canal joined it, and the whole area had been subject to mining subsidence. There a scheme for playing fields and housing was prepared, under the direction of the county planning officer in consultation with the Ince-in-Makerfield Urban District Council. The rubble and derelict buildings were cleared and tipped into the canal, and the areas of subsidence were filled in with shale and refuse. Silt was dredged from the canal to provide soil for playing fields and the pit shafts were fenced in for safety. This imaginative scheme has provided a football stadium, a running track of A.A.A. standards, a number of pitches for football and facilities for cricket and bowling. It gives pleasure and satisfies social needs far beyond its cost of approximately £17,000.

In Northumberland, as elsewhere, I have seen that reclamation can also be an aid to nature conservation. There, a rewarding scheme has recently been completed to turn 120 acres of colliery workings into a nature reserve. The pit heaps have been regraded and landscaped, subsidence has been filled with water to make a 30-acre lake, and the nature reserve is now in the care of the Northumberland and Durham Naturalist Trust.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn will be glad to know that, in his adjacent diocese of Durham, the Dean and Chapter has been flattened. I refer not to the reverend fathers but to a colliery tip named after them, which I gather they at one time owned, and containing 5 million tons of waste. These have been levelled and contoured to provide 100 acres of pasture land and 40 acres of woodland.

In Nottinghamshire, on land left derelict by sand and gravel workings three miles outside the City of Nottingham, the county council, as many of your Lordships will know, are providing a national water sports centre, the United Kingdom's first Olympic standard rowing course; and in this Holme Pierrepoint Country Park—of almost 250 acres—there will be a variety of facilities in different sectors for picnicking, walking, riding, fishing and water ski-ing. The West Riding are making good progress in the Yorkshire coalfield towards clearance within this decade. One example completed by the county council some three years ago and which I saw last Friday is the Roundwood Colliery scheme. Here we have 76 acres, on both sides of the M.1, formerly occupied by waste tips, now reclaimed, with part under development for light industrial use and with an hotel being built on the other part. In Derbyshire, I recall another site, of about 55 acres, half of which has been reclaimed for agriculture and the other half for industrial development.

But, my Lords, of course there have been, and there still are, problems. I believe the difficulties of finance now appear to have been overcome, at any rate in the priority areas, by means of the increased allocations for the current financial year and the transfer to the key sector for loan sanction purposes for the next year. I believe the rates of grant are adequate to see these programmes forward. I have not heard recently of any complaints on financial grounds. In these. areas, too, strong and efficient staffs have been recruited, have learned the job and are tackling it with considerable enthusiasm. I take the point that has already been made about central agencies, but the present intention—and it seems to be working well—is that the regional offices of the Department should provide the spur and the assistance, the advice and the guidance, which are needed by the individual local authorities.

The main problem now seems to be that of acquiring sufficient derelict land and of acquiring it fast enough to keep the accelerating reclamation programmes moving forward briskly enough. Difficulties over the release of derelict land are certainly occurring. It is a question of negotiating suitable arrangements with the nationalised industries, and other owners of waste heaps and other derelict land, fast enough to keep the programme moving ahead, and we are in consultation with a number of bodies to see what can be done to ensure that bottlenecks do not build up here. Another problem mentioned by several noble Lords already is that of dealing with current tips on active collieries and continued tipping on old sites which are not subject to the degree of planning control which would apply to any new sites authorised today. This also applies to mineral workings which were authorised before local planning authorities had gained the experience that they now have in subjecting such operations to proper control; such control is achieved by attaching suitable conditions to planning permissions and by insisting on appropriate restoration of the sites.

My Lords, I was asked a number of questions by the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, and by the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, which I should like to deal with now, but there are others which I will leave to the end of the debate if, by leave, I am allowed to speak again. The noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, asked: Are the Government satisfied that clearance is keeping pace with new dereliction? I think the answer is "Yes", but the statistical increase which is worrying the noble Lord and other noble Lords is caused by a combination of continuing closures of obsolete plant and by the application of higher criteria. I do not think we can do anything to prevent the closure of obsolete plant. In fact, the sooner it is closed, if it is obsolete, the better. Nor should we want to do anything to restrict the application of higher criteria. But these are the main elements in this statistical increase. I believe we are keeping well ahead of true, new dereliction.


My Lords. I should like to get this quite clear. If new criteria are adopted, then does the 10-year target of which we have heard quite a bit from the present Secretary of State hold good?


My Lords, the figures I gave—and I can enlarge on them in fact, I will enlarge on them now—related to the priority areas. This is where we are concentrating our attention and this is where I think the noble Lord would agree it is right that we should concentrate our attention. Take the West Riding of Yorkshire, with 5,092 acres to be cleared. Last year, they cleared 537 acres. That is within the 10-year target; they are up to their 10-year target. In Nottinghamshire, there are 1,970 acres to he cleared, justifying treatment. In 1970, they cleared 205 acres. That is up to the rate required to clear it in ten years. In Stoke-on-Trent there are 1,544 acres to be cleared. That is the area justifying treatment. It is actually the entire derelict land, because, of course, if it is inside a city it all requires to be cleared. In 1970 they cleared 170 acres. That is well up to the target; and this year Stoke expect to go well beyond that, to 420 acres. So on those grounds I am satisfied that our objective of clearing the derelict land in the priority areas within the decade is coming within our grasp, and in the case of those three authorities is already in our grasp, provided the momentum is maintained and, if possible, accelerated. I hope that answers the second question which the noble Lord asked me, which was: Am I satisfied that the local authorities are tackling the problem with the maximum capability? In the case of the seven priority areas, certainly. This is where we intend to concentrate our attention. I will not speak with the same assurance about the remaining quarter.

The noble Lord then asked: Is the clearance of china clay proceeding satisfactorily? Broadly, no, but I cannot he drawn on that point, because, as the noble Lord will know, there is in Devon an inquiry in session at the moment on that subject, and it would not be right to say any more. Then: Will local authority reform hinder clearance? We are well aware that in certain areas it might well do so, but we are quite determined that it shall not be allowed to do so, and we are giving careful thought to steps that we may take to make sure that this work is not hampered and the staffs are not put off in any way and do not have their eye taken from the ball by prospects of local government reform. Then: Would the problem be better tackled by a national agency? We, like our predecessors, do not take the view that a national reclamation agency is the right answer. It is a combination of supervision and coordination by the Department; guidance, advice and help by the regional offices; and the main drive coming from the local authorities. This is the pattern we took over, and we believe it is the right pattern.

The noble Lord also asked: When will the recommendations of the Working Party on waste material for road fill be ready for him to hear about? The answer is, "Now". As your Lordships know, a Working Party was set up under the last Government to review the scope for the increased use of mineral waste for road fill, and this debate gives me the opportunity to inform your Lordships of the conclusions that have been reached on the Working Party's recommendations, or, rather, better still, to go on to say what we are doing about it. Already a good deal is being done and has been done to secure the use of waste material for road works. Very nearly half of what is required for road-fill is supplied from waste materials; that is to say, of the 14½ million tons required for road fill in the annual programme, 6½ million tons comes from waste material. But if more can be used, so much the better. This applies not only to the Government's own programme, the motorways and trunk roads, but to programmes for which the local highway authorities are responsible. Following on the Report of this Working Party, positive action has been taken as follows: road contractors are being asked to tender on two bases, one on the basis that they find their own sources of bulk fill and the other on the basis of getting it from a specified source, a particular pit heap. In choosing between these two alternative tenders, the cost of having to reclaim a tip, if it did not go into the making of a new road, will be put into the balance with the normal road construction costs together with a broad appraisal of the pros and cons of using each particular opportunity of road works to smarten up the whole area around or near it and of not making more holes and more mess somewhere else in getting the fill from a borrow pit.

As an experiment, tenders involving 2 million cubic yards of till, nearly one-third of what has already been used in the annual programme, have been invited on this basis for the Lofthouse to Ferry-bridge sector of the M.62 in the Yorkshire coalfield. The Department will consider at an early stage in preparation schemes for trunk roads and motorways the possible use of waste material for bulk fill and contractors will be asked to submit their bids on the alternative bases. We shall also invite local highway authorities to do likewise. At the same time, we shall be consulting local authority associations about ways in which stricter control might be exercised over borrow pit applications, particularly where alternative sources of waste material may be available at prices which are economical in the broad sense which I indicated. We shall also discuss with local authority associations the importance of liaison between the planning and engineering staffs of local authorities and between adjacent local authorities so that all concerned are aware of the possibility of using waste material for bulk fill. These measures, effectively and vigorously pursued by all, will implement the conclusions of the recommendations of the Working Party. Through them the road construction programme will be able to make a further contribution to the quality of the environment by means of an extra boost to the reclamation of derelict land. It can have only a marginal effect on the overall national problem of reclamation; but every little helps.


My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that subject, may I say that this is extremely important and good news, and we shall all read it with care. He used the word "experiment". Can he tell us how much of this admirable recommendation is being adopted on an experimental basis and how much on a basis which is final and permanent?


My Lords, I think I used the word "experiment" in the sense that it is the first time that we are doing it. But it is a big experiment. Two million tons is a lot of road fill. But in the light of the first operation we shall probably be able to improve on our performance and to do a number of things better.


My Lords, I welcome what the noble Lord has told us about the findings. May I ask whether, in reference to the Report and the recommendations and when they arc likely to be available to the public, it will be just the recommendations or whether it will be the Report in full that will be available?


My Lords, I think I made the point in answering an earlier question about this matter, that the Report was not going to be published and made available, for it contains a lot of information that was given in confidence. But I am happy to read the recommendations if the noble Lord would like me to do so, because we undertook to make a Statement about it. I had thought that the House would be more interested in what we were doing about them than in what were the recommendations. They are as follows: We accordingly recommend that:

  1. i. local authorities should be encouraged to exercise a purposeful control over planning applications to work borrow pits, particularly where alternative sources of suitable waste material may be available at economic and competitive prices;
  2. ii. the authorities commissioning the road works (D.O.E. and other highway authorities) should consider at an early stage of road proposals the possible use of waste material and should inform contractors of their views;
  3. 690
  4. iii. administrative arrangements within local authorities and between local authorities should be appropriate for these purposes."
We have filled all that in and have given effect to it. I hope that that deals with the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy.

May I turn now to the points raised by Lord Amulree? He mentioned the difficulties in connection with permission for opencast working. We do not feel that there are—I have not encountered them—any difficulties at all with opencast working. The standard of restoration that is asked for and secured is of the very highest. There are several examples I could quote at the risk of being over long where, after opencast working, we have restoration as imaginative and valuable environmentally as any examples I have quoted. The problem resides where I said it resided: where there are active collieries where tipping operations go on under inadequate planning control or under no planning control at all. That is the problem we are up against. The particular instance the noble Lord cited, the Durham beaches, is certainly a graphic instance of it. The Durham beaches are an environmental disgrace, and if we could find a solution where others have sought but failed to do so we should be delighted. The fact is that we are dealing with active collieries and that 17.000 jobs are at stake. Although we are sensitive to the environmental issues, we are also sensitive to the employment issues. This is an instance (there are several others) where one cannot see a clear-cut solution. I would confirm that we shall certainly seek one and that a Working Party is engaged on this problem.

The noble Lord mentioned cemeteries. I am certainly interested in that particular topic, but the right reverend Prelate who is to follow has given me notice that he also is raising this question; so, if the noble Lord does not mind, I shall wait to see what he and others have to say (if others are provoked and stimulated into embarking on this thorny topic) until the end of the debate. There are several aspects on which I shall have more to say but I should like now to sit down and to listen to the rest of the debate before, with your Lordships' leave, speaking again.

4.40 p.m.


My Lords, I rise with some diffidence as this is the first time that I have spoken in your Lordships' House. To do so on a Motion standing in the name of another right reverend Prelate may seem rather excessive; for it means that your Lordships will have to listen to "two of them" in one afternoon. In my maiden speech and, as we have heard, at the probable last appearance—at any rate, to speak—of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, I want to reinforce what he said about the gratitude we on these Benches feel at the action of the House in allowing retired Bishops to come to the House after their retirement, albeit somewhat in the nature of a ghost or the eldest son of a very ancient or Irish Peer.

There are two points that I wish to make this afternoon, from the experience I have had in different parts of the world in which I have worked. The first is a happy one in that non-controversial vein in which I know any maiden speaker ought to address your Lordships. The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, has given us encouraging words about the way in which the seven special areas in the North are being tackled. In the North of my diocese, that very rural diocese, we have a fascinating area, the cradle of the Industrial Revolution. It lies to the North of the gorge of the River Severn and consists of lronbridge, Coalbrookdale and Madeley, and beyond that are parishes in the Diocese of Lichfield. This is still a very beautiful place, though of course it is scarred by the results of that early industry. Much of the land is derelict by reason of some natural landslip and faulting, and a number of disused industrial premises, though more by the largely extinct coalfields which were there. These supported the initial development in Coalbrookdale. In the East of the area, there was deep mining, and to the West shallow pits and underground galleries, many of which are not recorded or, if they are recorded, not very accurately. Here, we are glad to say, the new town of Telford has been sited. The need there for extensive reclamation work was appreciated when the new town was designated, and this seems to me to be one of the very best uses of derelict land. It is no small area for there are over 2,000 known disused pit shafts, and perhaps as many more not recorded, and a large number of pit heaps which, fortunately, are relatively small.

The new town occupies some 20,000 acres, and one quarter of it consists of land which was largely derelict. I believe that the percentage of land to be dealt with is actually more than that requiring treatment in the county boroughs, such as Stoke-on-Trent, or the counties of Lancashire or Durham. It is not possible of course, or wanted this afternoon, to speak about the methods of reclamation being used in the new town of Telford. Suffice it to say that first there is the movement of large quantities of pitspoil and the filling of valleys and hollows. This is in the area of the deeper mine shafts. In the other area over the galleries there is still workable coal and some clay. This is being tackled by opencast mining and so restored; and, being dereliction, it is being dealt with in a way of which I think we shall all approve.

I speak of this with some feeling, my Lords, for apart from this area the diocese which I serve contains some of the best farming land in all the country and areas of great scenic beauty like Clun Forest, Wenlock Edge and the Long Mynd. We hope therefore that all this lovely countryside and farming land may he preserved; and so where derelict land can be used and landscaped, as the new town centre of Telford is going to be, there is very great gain. Telford Corporation will make some 3,000 acres of land, at present of little beneficial use to the community, availabie for intensive development with a consequent reduction in the need for development on undisturbed land. That is the first point I wish to make.

Secondly, I wish to speak from an earlier experience in the East End of London where, before I became a Bishop, I served for nearly 25 years; that part of East London which suffered so cruelly in the time of the unemployment in the early 1930s and again in the bombing from the wartime blitz. I wish that, as a nation, we had been able to get on with reclaiming those areas more swiftly than we have done. I understand that the Lord Mayor of London spoke about it only this week. It is now 31 years since the blitz on London and 26 years since the end of the last war, and there are still parts of this city which would be a disgrace to any civilised city, let alone the great City of London. Derelict land and premises have a very bad effect on morale and on the morals of those who dwell among them.

But I want to draw the attention of your Lordships to one other matter especially from my knowledge of East London, but from observations made elsewhere too. It is a matter which the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, has just mentioned. I suppose that, in a way, it is a controversial matter, but I hope that I can deal with it uncontroversially. In East London, although the population is much reduced from the appalling overcrowding that existed before the last war, people are still packed together, with very few open spaces for recreation. Yet there are many acres of what I can describe only as derelict burial grounds. Can nothing be done to make smaller, decent, beautiful areas for the interment of the ashes in these places and so release a large proportion of the remainder of such areas for recreation purposes? I imagine that this would mean active encouragement by Church and State of cremation rather than burial, but on this little island I believe that we must consider such action very seriously.

I was delighted to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, about the badgers in Highgate Cemetery, and my friends who are keen on conservation constantly tell me that we must reserve a few derelict churchyards so that wild life may be preserved. But, my Lords, what wild life do you conserve in, say, Tower Hamlets by having acres of derelict and broken gravestones? I will tell you. In my first days in Stepney, when I was a very green young curate, an old lady said to me, "Come and watch me feed my pets." So obediently, and thinking I should watch her feeding myriads of pleasant little birds, I went with her. What happened was that out of the tombs came hundreds of cats, exceeding fierce; terrible cats of all sizes and descriptions, and wondrously wild. However much you care for cats I doubt whether you would want to keep a place of many acres preserved for them in their wild state. I speak from experience in East London of the dereliction of land once used for burials but now nothing but depressing wastes of broken tombs. But your Lord- ships will know that this is not a problem confined to the East End of London. I hope, therefore, that this is one kind of dereliction that we all want to see dealt with courageously and imaginatively. I am very pleased to have been allowed to speak in support of the right reverend Prelate's Motion.

4.49 p.m.


My Lords, it is indeed a privilege to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford who has given us a wise and understanding speech, garnished with a delightful and graceful sense of humour. I am sure that your Lordships will look forward to other occasions when we shall have the benefit of the long experience and wisdom of the right reverend Prelate. I would say that 1 know only too well two of the places where he has worked out his purpose, particularly in Stepney. I was delighted to hear the plea that certain parts of London that still after 31 years bear the marks of the blitz should be attended to, and attended to forthwith. I think there is no excuse for this not being done. When I was a Minister, I sometimes had to deal with the junkies —those poor souls who have more or less lost their existence through drinking methylated spirits—and some of the areas about which the right reverend Prelate was talking were haunted by some of these wraiths of twentieth century civilisation, who, as I say, had lost their souls and lost their future and were harboured in these horrible dens that resulted from the blitz. They were a disgrace to London. Other Governments before should have attended to this. I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for bringing that matter up. I shall remember his story about the cats. I nearly dropped into Greek mythology, but I will leave that alone lest I should delay your Lordships for too long. So, with those brief introductory remarks, I hope that we shall often hear from the right reverend Prelate, and I thank him most sincerely for his contribution to-day.

I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, refer to two of the places that I know quite well—my native heath in Wales and the city of Stoke-on-Trent. One-twelfth of the area of the city of Stoke-on-Trent is more or less derelict. T rang up the town clerk, Mr. Keith Robinson, the other day; and I have talked at different times to the reconstruction officer, Mr. Plant, and the Lord Mayor. Whatever the political affiliations of the city of Stoke-on-Trent may be, I may say that the entire council are most keen on clearing up this dereliction and reclaiming the land. I am delighted, too, by three outstanding facts about that city. First, it has won first prize inThe Timescompetition for urban renewal schemes, which is indicative of the enthusiasm of the city. Secondly, in the Six Towns magazine is a glorious picture of a sailor, the Prime Minister, who visited the city of Stoke-on-Trent to look at the marvellous work that has been done in reclamation. The Prime Minister opened one of the reclamation schemes, and they were honoured that he inaugurated another one. I want to say from this side, in fairness to the Government, that they have taken a constructive and, I would say, dynamic interest in this problem of reclamation of land throughout the country. Thirdly, it is worth noting that the town clerk of Stoke-on-Trent, Mr. Keith Robinson, was one of the people appointed on a central group for the reclamation of derelict land, because at least to that group can be brought instantaneous information about the results of the dereliction in the area.

Some twenty-odd years ago I had the privilege of serving on the Mining Subsidence Committee, and knowing something about mines and the mining areas, and farming, I was privileged to go with that departmental committee to nearly all the coalfields in Britain. Those of us who live in areas of great beauty often forget that our technology, our power, our exports and everything else have depended in the past on the winning of coal, iron and steel. I was glad to hear references in speeches that have already been made to the point that, when we are talking about the reclamation of land in these areas that have earned a living for Britain for over a century, since the Industrial Revolution, it behoves us to realise that there is a bounden duty on all income tax payers and ratepayers of Great Britain to help out. There is the old English proverb that, "Where there's muck there's money". The people who have to live in the muck to make money deserve to get the benefits of a little of the taxation to beautify the land which at one time made Britain one of the chief engineering and exporting countries in the world. I hope that, whatever legislation comes in the future, the burden will not be thrown entirely on the ratepayers of areas like Stoke-on-Trent and the seven areas referred to by the Minister.

The Prime Minister, when he was in Stoke-on-Trent, spoke of the opportunity to clear away half a century (I would go further and say an entire century) of neglect. The main point", he said, is that we cannot take half a century to do it. Progress is well under way. I do not want to give many examples, but I will take just the two to which the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, referred. It is quite wonderful to see the Central Forest Park in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent. There, right in the centre of Hanley, is this great tip, bigger than anything that was at Aberfan—and I knew the Aberfan tip only too well. A marvellous individual reclamation is going on there, and it has implemented one of the most successful schemes which will ultimately be called the Central Forest Park. It won first place in a national competition, sponsored, as I have said, byThe Times.The Central Forest Park, formerly 80 acres of pit spoil, provides now for football, hockey, and putting; and primarily it will be a forest area for informal recreation such as walking, cycling and horse-riding.

A lovely thing about this is that local schools are encouraged to plant a tree in this area. This could be done in many places throughout England, where we could have linear reclamation of old railways, too many of which are left derelict. Local schools in areas like this could plant a row of deciduous trees, as opposed to the larch and conifers that we see. We are hurling ourselves into the Common Market: there is no need to hurl conifer trees all round the mountains of Wales or all round the Pennine Chain. I should like to see schools encouraged to plant on some of these old railway sites, for linear planning, some deciduous trees which would be there as a memory to the beautification of areas that once served us.

The Westport Lake area is exciting. I knew this area. It was at one time a stinking area, suffering from the effects of mining subsidence and pollution. Cutting my references to it to a few sentences, we hope to make of it a nature study reserve; and the marshes that were there before will be a sanctuary for birds. There are now 25 acres of lake, where swimming can take place, and a sand beach for the children. This is only part of the hundreds of acres that are being cleared away.

Rapidly, therefore, Stoke-on-Trent, like other parts of Britain, is beginning to build beauty out of squalor. For too many decades have we in Britain forgotten that man cannot live by bread alone; he also need a few roses. In this reclamation of land this is part of the purpose. The first time that I ever went into Stoke-on-Trent was some 40 years ago. I was shattered, coming from West Wales and the country (I lived in areas where I did not want much money: I could swim; I could see the badgers and the foxes in the woods, and I knew the difference between one tree and another), when suddenly I landed in Stoke-on-Trent and saw something of the order of thousands of these what I thought were giant ginger beer bottles, which to-day are not being used. The air now is not polluted, and the pottery industry, at great expense to itself, has done its best to eradicate some of this dereliction. Unfortunately, nobody seems to do anything about it, and those of your Lordships who travel on the central railway from Euston to Manchester and the North sometimes bounce into Stoke-on-Trent by train—as did my noble friend the other night—and pass acres of derelict land littered with old boilers and old steam engines. Nobody seems to be able to clear them away. This is bad, and I hope that somebody will see—even if the Government have to look into it—that the dereliction on the approach to the railway station at Stoke-on-Trent is bulldozed into submissiveness.

I am cutting out a number of comments, my Lords, so do not get worried about the number of sheets you see in my hand. I think a point worth making is that the cost of this to the city at the present moment has been estimated at f3!, million and many M.P.s and others from that area have lobbied the Government. I believe that these costs, as I said at the beginning of my speech, should be spread throughout the whole nation to meet this dereliction problem. Before leaving that part of my speech, I should like to put approximately six points. The first is that, not only do we have the tipping of coal heaps, but some rural areas are finding it difficult to get rid of their waste refuse and ashes. I know some lovely country not far from Dove-dale and the Manifold Valley and around Rudyard Lake where local authorities arc using old quarries and so on to tip ashes and refuse. This needs much more scientific attention. I could take noble Lords tonight around Dovedale and the Manifold Valley and the contiguous lovely moorlands and probably find in two hours 30 or 40 old, rusty motor cars that, by hook or by crook, had been dragged out there and dumped. I think it is time that the Government looked at these areas and at the city areas and encouraged groups of local authorities to get together to find the necessary money for expen-sive car crushing machinery to crush these cars up into small pieces, to throw them into furnaces for smelting and to get whatever steel or iron can be got from them. Something should be done in country areas. We must even impose heavier fines on people for dumping old cars and other things in our lovely countryside. simply because they think nobody will see them there. This dereliction could be prevented without much loss of money.

There is another point which I have never heard anybody else make, but which I do not think is absurd. I still think we could use our canals to get rid of a great deal of refuse and waste, because once you start the pipeline flowing, much of the refuse from these rural areas could be taken to a focal point. I hope that the Committee which is now dealing with environmental pollution, and the Royal Commission, will look into the possibility of the use of our canals for carrying refuse to focal points where it would not be an eyesore.

Another point is that the grants are good, but small authorities are still unable to carry out the work they should do. Consequently, I hope that the Commission will once again look to the whole nation to help with the rehabilitation of reclaimed land. A further point concerns old railway lines. Some of them are becoming a disgrace and are becoming dump holes throughout Britain. When British Railways get rid of some of these areas, there should be some inspection or planting of trees to get linear organisation, and linear nature parks could be put there. Another point is that while we are trying to reclaim land we must tighten up the laws on desecration of land by industrialists. It is no good using the old argument, "We cannot afford to do it"; or, "We are now going into the Common Market and we must be competitive". We must find a way to do it, because we are destroying this little spaceship called the earth, and the room on it is growing less and less.

This is my point. I have been in touch with the town clerks of yesteryear of Caerphilly in South Wales. I will not go into the work that has been done because in Monmouthshire, Gelligaer and Glamorgan in South Wales they are doing a marvellous job of trying to get rid of the scars of the Industrial Revolution—but it hurts my heart, as one who was born on those hills, that in Caerphilly Valley near a lovely mountain called Mynydd dim Laith—"the mountain that gave no milk"—is a tip on Risca, and the tip is at the top of the mountains above the eye level. The valleys are so narrow in some places that when I was a child my grandfather used to say that the rivers ran sideways, and the Coal Board have put these tips right on the top of the mountains above the eye level.

Now in the name of the Lord—if I may appeal to Him on this vital issue, in spite of all the Bishops here—what is happening? Why should these tips go right on the top of these lovely mountains? On many of them I myself as a kid collected whinberries, looked for larks' nests and listened to the larks. There are no more larks and no more whinberries, but acres and acres of tips in the lovely valley and over in the surrounding valley another tip. My Lords, let me read what the Town Clerk of Caerphilly said to me—these are the words in his letter: It seems ironic that while local authorities are making every effort with the help of the Government "— I am glad he gave the Government a pat on the back there— to clear old tipping sites new ones are springing up or are bang extended. On the hills around Caerphilly one can see several tips which are growing and until such time as efforts are made to fit them to the contours of the hills they will remain an eyesore. Could not something be done to ensure that tipping proceeds with the minimum of visual impact? I am quite sure that that should be a major exercise and it should be approached in the same manner as one would approach a military exercise. To destroy these lovely 1,000 ft. hills and those lovely little hills in South Wales without thinking is surely wrong. It would be worth while using money on the canals there to stop tipping on the mountain tops and to remove some of these tips. Finally, may I pay a tribute to the right reverend Prelate, who has taken the trouble, as he has done with so many things, to raise this important debate in our House today, and also I should like to thank the Minister for his constructive replies on what the Government are proposing to do in the future.

5.8 p.m.


My Lords, may I start by adding my congratulations to those of Lord Davies of Leek to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford on his maiden speech. I am sure that all your Lordships will wish to hear more of him and his feline experiences in the future. May I also say how grateful I am to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn for introducing this subject this afternoon. I think he has shown us that in his own case the 40 years that he has spent in the wilder-ness of Lancashire have by no means been wasted. I believe that his experience is indeed valuable to us. Further-more, I believe that this is the right moment for us to be debating this subject, as it is very much in the public interest and in the public eye at this time.

I can claim some detailed knowledge of the subject and its problems as I live in one of the six counties which, as the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, has already described, have the unenviable reputation of being among the worst in England. Indeed, we have just recently qualified for a visit from the Secretary of State for the Environment, which is an honour—or possibly a dishonour—which we greatly value. The first thing I should like to say is that Mr. Peter Walker, in this capacity, has shown by his own untiring energies and his interest in this subject what real leadership can do to help county councils and others concerned in these matters. This type of inspired leadership is something for which we must be grateful. I believe that he and his colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, will long be remembered for it. They have put much energy into the question of the problems we are debating this afternoon.

I do not think we should be quite so pessimistic as speakers so far have led us to be; I do not think that the situation is quite so bad as has been painted. We are, as a nation, trying to reclaim in little more than 20 years what has taken far more than 100 years to create. The worst dereliction in this country—I speak of England; I have no justification for speaking, like the previous speaker, about Wales—comes from the extracting industries and the old areas of the industrial North of England. As has been mentioned, it is a legacy of the Industrial Revolution. Coal mines leave behind them the most obvious form of dereliction, although other industries are also responsible.

We have now got to clear up the mess which the 19th century left behind, and I believe that we are now capable of this task and willing to do it. For instance, for the first time in the current financial year I understand that in the Northern region of England, which does not include Lancashire or Yorkshire, more than 1,000 acres are expected to be cleared. This is not a very large acreage, but it is a great deal larger than has ever been cleared before. I draw your Lordships' attention to the cost of this operation. It is now reckoned that the average cost for this work will be in the order of some-where between £1,500 to £2,000 an acre. I would suggest that this is a very small price indeed to pay for the benefits which will accrue when we have finished the work. It may not be a very high percentage of the classified derelict land in the North, but if this figure can be achieved and improved upon year by year at the end of 10 years few major eye-sores that are capable of being cleared will remain.

Earlier this afternoon we were left somewhat with the impression that the acreage of derelict land was rising faster than the clearance programme. This is true, but there is a slight mistake to which I should like to draw attention. The reason why the acreage of derelict land is rising is because the coalmines are closing. When a coalmine closes the pit heap associated with it moves into the official classification category of derelict land. This is one reason why the acres of officially classified land are growing. This process, obviously, is self-defeating and cannot, we hope, continue much further as most of the mines which have been scheduled for closure are already closed.

I am not one who thinks that the tax-payer should be asked to contribute any more than the 85 or 90 per cent. that he is already paying towards the cost of this work. I believe that the balance could and must be found by local authorities; and this has been made perfectly clear by Mr. Walker. He has also made it clear that there will be no shortage of Government help in cash to assist with this problem. At this stage I would remind him—rather unkindly—that the advent of Circular 270 last year caused some consternation among those responsible for preparing programmes for the reclamation of land. This obstacle has now been swiftly removed.

The trouble with the clearance of dereliction is that it is difficult to appreciate the progress which is being made without seeing it on the ground. Indeed, it is even more difficult if you go and see it on the ground because once an area has been cleared there is literally nothing to see. What are left are areas of dereliction—eyesores previously hidden by the slag heaps—which stand out even more. So one might say that we are obtaining a negative achievement. However, there is great satisfaction, which should never be underestimated, particularly for those who live within sight or smell of these slag heaps.

One hopes that there will be nobody—certainly not in this House—who would not applaud the work that is being done in the worst affected areas of England. We should wish them well. We have to remember that this process only started in 1960, under the Local Employment Act of that year, when the 50 per cent. grant became available. Shortly afterwards, the grant was raised to 85 per cent. because the Government at that time did not find the 50 per cent. grant had been a sufficient incentive. There have been very few years within which the responsible authorities have been able to get to grips with the problem and build up the necessary staff, and so forth. There is no doubt whatever that this subject is by no means a bone of political contention of any kind. That it has been supported by both the previous Government and the present one is of great help to those involved in the work, and for this we must be deeply grateful.

There are many basic obstacles still to be overcome if we are to speed up progress. I have already said that we are trying to do in less than two decades what took more than a century to achieve. I do not feel that we can speed up the clearance of areas of dereliction very much faster. There are the difficulties of obtaining the qualified staff (this is no job for amateurs), the contractors to do the work, and so forth. There is further the problem of maintaining the land which has been cleared because it is no use spreading grass over pitheaps and leaving them, for they will become a mass of unpleasant weeds and may be worse than they were before. One regrets that the language has been destroyed in the reclamation world by the unfortunate introduction of a new word—one that I trust will never be used again—when people speak of "vegetating" a pitheap. I do not believe that such a word should be allowed.

The basic overriding difficulty facing local authorities is still largely the acquisition of land. There are lengthy legal procedures, on the one hand, and there has been, and in some cases still is, a great reluctance on the part of the nationalised industries to part with their land so that it can be dealt with. By a coincidence (or perhaps it is not a coincidence) the nationalised industries are in fact the owners, if not the creators, of the really serious areas of dereliction in this country. The Coal Board probably own more derelict land than anyone else. They have not been willing in the past to co-operate, but I believe that they are much more cooperative now, and I would pay a tribute here to the noble Lord, Lord Robens of Wolding-ham, who during his term of office did much to improve on this state of affairs. But there are still difficulties and delays. Many officials of that Board seem to consider that their pitheaps contain valuable minerals which could be sold for high prices. Indeed, I was slightly disturbed in my noble friend Lord Sandford's remarks this afternoon that the pitheaps will have a certain value for road material, because this will increase the cost to the local authorities of acquiring the pitheaps. There are two sides to every coin. The Opencast Coal Division, which has already been mentioned, and to whose technical and physical assistance I should like to pay the highest possible tribute, has gone far to compensate this country for the terrible if temporary dereliction that it has afflicted on the nation during and after the last war. And well indeed it might! In this battle the Opencast Coal Division is a particularly valuable ally. If the National Coal Board are helpful now, and if they could be persuaded more often that there is not gold in every slag heap, I believe that the clearance of this land could be continued at a rate which is very good indeed. But authorities must have land when they want it and in advance, so that they can enter on to it as needed.

I wish I could be as complimentary about British Railways. If you enter any major city in this country by train and look out of the window you see very much the seamy side of that city: filthy sidings, derelict, deserted lines and stations. The foreigner would gain the impression that the railways do not care about this problem and have not really tried. British Railways have proved particularly obstructive and slow in the matter of selling their land to those who are willing to pay for its reclamation, the local authorities, and are willing to pay for it at the right prices. British Railways have been far more difficult than any other industry. They seem to believe that their own holdings of land are sited on the tops of oil wells which will suddenly gush unlimited gold for their pockets, and they value them accordingly. They must make much greater efforts to brighten up and try to help solve this problem. If anything is to be done in this field I hope that the Government will take steps to wake up British Railways to their responsibilities.

The electricity industry might also be discussed. Everyone will admit that great care has been taken in siting the major grid lines of the C.E.G.B. across the country. I know that this has been done with the best sympathy that can be achieved, but in some cases the smaller electricity wires and poles that disfigure our landscape are the most obnoxious things we can see. I wonder very much how many of them could be removed and how many are in fact derelict and not required.

I have already said that I think the county councils, whose primary responsibility this is, have made great strides in this direction, and my noble friend Lord Sandford has himself said the same thing. County Durham, which I think has the worst problem relative to its size and resources (if the right reverend Pre-late the Bishop of Blackburn will forgive me for putting it first), has led the way in this field. It is the experience of Durham County Council that has been called on by other people and I should like to congratulate them. However, in the smaller areas of dereliction, which are just as offensive, and possibly even more noticeable, we have to look more to the district councils in this country for action. With some very notable exceptions, I do not believe that district councils have done all they might have done. I wonder whether the Secretary of State agrees that more pressure could be put on them. I think it is accepted that the county councils should he responsible for the larger areas, and the very small areas should properly be the responsibility of the smaller councils. The most untidy things to be seen in this country now are allotments, with home-made fences, home-made sheds, weeds and so forth; and they can be just as offensive as a colliery tip. I believe that this is an area where we should look to district councils to play their part in the battle.

My Lords, so far I have been talking about land which is officially classified as derelict. But as has been mentioned, there are many other areas still in use and not so classified. Many of these areas are of course in private hands; they are not only in public ownership. I should not like it to be thought that at this moment this afternoon I am purely against the nationalised industries. Many modern factories will go to great lengths to employ a consultant to advise them on the colour of the curtains in the managing director's office, and on the kind of cups from which they should drink their coffee; but they do not appear to notice that at the back of their factory, which is often visible from the main railway line, is a mass of empty oil drums and drifting newspapers. It is a private as well as a public awareness of these things that needs to be emphasised. Some people may say, rightly, that there are more eyesores and more unattractive messes to be seen in the hands of private industry than in the whole of the public holdings of land.

Campaigns, which I think have been well sponsored by the Civic Trust, by local authorities, and indeed by the Government—and again I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, for his personal part in this—have some effect, but not, I think, enough. Public opinion now makes considerable objection—and rightly so—to those who pollute the air or rivers with effluence. But the unnecessary visual pollution of the environment and of the landscape seems to be much more easily accepted, particularly if it has been there for a very long time. It is disappointing that existing industry so far lags behind in this field. So much can be done with so little resources on this matter. Even one man, with a pot of paint, can have a quite remarkable effect. On a larger scale, perhaps we need some photo-graphic genius in this country who could publish a book of hideous views which could be improved, and shame people into doing something about it. But this solving the problem of private industry is not something, I think, for the local authorities or for the Government.

The last thing I wish to say—and this will be obvious to all—is that the areas of land where dereliction is highest are also, unfortunately, the areas of high unemployment. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn has touched on this subject. The Government at this moment are, quite rightly and perfectly properly, having to spend very large sums on National Assistance paid to these unhappy people who are unable to find work and who have to live in enforced idleness. Worse than the loss of productive capacity is the moral decay which these people suffer when they realise that they have no constructive part to play in their environs ment and are not wanted by society. I believe that here is a chance for us to do something imaginative and helpful. In the Northern Region at this moment there are some 80,000 people out of work, something approaching half of them over 55 years of age. In dole money it is costing the State, in round figures, something like £40 million a year. I am not objecting to that, my Lords; I am only asking whether it is not possible for us to think of some method by which these people who are unemployed and who volunteer to help—and I would again emphasise the word "volunteer"—in this matter can be found work of a minor nature to help in clearing their surroundings and tackling smaller problems. So much could be done with so little extra money if these people could be organised to help; and I believe they would be willing to do so.

The local authorities could play a part in this, I am sure, but it needs Government incentive to start something of this kind. Such things as the clearance of litter, destroying old and redundant buildings, painting eyesores, and even cutting grass, can be done by semiskilled or unskilled people, and I believe it would have an immense effect on these people and would also be helpful and useful to the nation. I have no time to develop this thesis, and indeed would not wish to take up any further time. But if every factory of any size were to take on an extra 10 persons in this way, with Government assistance, a very dramatic change could be seen in one year.

It is perfectly easy for us to reconcile the three things: numbers of people doing nothing; large sums of State money being paid to them, and a large number of tasks which need to be done and which could be done by such persons. Future historians may well conclude that a bureaucratic failure of incomprehensible magnitude to solve this problem took place during this generation, if we are unable to look at this matter a little more constructively. My Lords, I should like to conclude on an optimistic note. As I have already said, on the whole I think that this generation will leave behind it a very remarkable achievement. We have the techniques; we have the machinery; we have the money. And now we have the will. We must ensure that nothing destroys the impetus which this generation has gained in this matter.

5.26 p.m


My Lords, I wish to say to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford how much we enjoyed his maiden speech and how we wish that he would speak on subjects to do with his constituency—or should it be diocese?—in the future to his colleague the Bishop of Blackburn, who now relinquishes his office as Bishop and therefore will not appear as a speaker in this House again. I think the House ought this afternoon to say to him, "Thank you very much for what you have done both inside this House and out of it", because he has been a good Bishop. They are not all good Bishops, but he has been a good one. He has had the measure of a county and the loyalty of a diocese which has been remarkable to see. His inspired action on all fronts for public good has awakened con-sciences not only in Lancashire but else-where. He is a man of many parts and a man of humour—and he has some queer parsons to deal with.

I remember one who came away from a meeting that he had attended in Black-burn late at night. He went for the last bus to go to his vicarage and, as usual, the late night drunk sidled up to him, being attracted by his dog collar, and said, "I know summat thou doesn't." The parson ignored him once, twice, but the third time the parson thought, "Well, he's getting a little bit of an awkward customer. I'd better say something." So he said to him, "And what is that, my man?" And the little man looked at him and said, "My missus takes in washing from thy missus and I've got one of thy best shirts on." The Bishop is retiring to Budleigh Salterton, and the one hope I have is that he will not go into partnership with that chap who sends us all that "bumph" about what we ought to do in Rhodesia, and all the other problems that beset us. I hope that before he goes he will promise that he will not do that.

On the subject of the debate. this afternoon so much has been said, so many facts have been disclosed—and the facts are known. We have really been waiting for a momentum of public opinion to push Governments to get on with the job of cleaning this lot up. Do not let anybody think, simply because we make a noise about what our situation is in Lancashire, that is it not a beautiful county: My God, it is! It is beautiful. The area of dereliction is comparatively vast in content; nevertheless, it is in a comparatively small part of the North-West. That is all the more reason why a really deter-mined effort should be made to get rid of it.

The last speaker knows his stuff on this matter. I have never heard him speak before but I listened to him with great respect. He is like me; he is not as pessimistic as I used to be and probably he used to be. Public opinion is gradually building up on this subject and the public are not going to tolerate dereliction any more. Parties who ignore it will lose votes, and votes are a sharp reminder of what politicians who have the country in their hands need to do. We have heard that much has been done and, of course, we have heard who has done it: in the main, it is the county councils. But your Lordships are going to muck about with the county councils. Lancashire County Council, which has justifiably had so much praise this after-noon, is to be cut down to 40 per cent. of its present size. I say quite definitely that the metropolitan areas which will emerge, leaving the county shorn of 60 per cent., are not as urgently minded on this subject as the counties have been, because in the cities, such as Manchester and Liverpool, they have had a great deal of urban renewal to do for themselves, not knowing quite the role of the city of the future but bulldozing down what has remained of the slums and the old property that should have been sent packing ages ago. I shall be corrected if I am wrong, but I understand that in the return which has been mentioned this afternoon Liverpool did not return any derelict land at all. But there are plenty of derelict areas in cities like Liverpool.

I remember the first time I went into Liverpool as a Lord Lieutenant four years ago, sitting in my uniform in the back of the car—ever so posh ! —arriving at some traffic lights at Upper Parliament Street, with masses of dereliction all around. There were bricks and bats and great heaps of muck and we were stopped there for a long time, when suddently over the top of this dereliction came a gang of lads. They came up to the car and, seeing me as the Establishment personified, one of them made the rudest sign I have ever seen. Do you know, my Lords, I did not know what to do. I saluted. Then the mulatto who was leading this lot saluted, and before you could say "Jack Robinson" all the damned lot were saluting. So I reckon that I was the first Lord Lieutenant ever to go into Liverpool to a general salute!

Be that as it may, they have their vast problems, too. Let us never forget to keep prodding and bringing this subject in front of the authorities. At the moment in the House of Lords we have a good Minister who is looking after this problem; he has the ear and the respect of local authorities in Lancashire. I have no doubt that he believes, as we do, in what we are after. It is not a new problem for such as me, because when I was a Member of Parliament for Ashton-under-Lyne from 1945 onwards for 19 years, I had been the Member for about four years when I took a survey—it is a long time ago now—of the "backs", of the parts that even residents of towns like Ashton-under-Lyne did not want to see. I held a public exhibition about this, and did I catch it ! I nearly lost the seat at the next General Election because at that time they did not want to know. But now they have a society which is looking after the amenities of the river. They have a civic: rust which is contributing to the thinking of the town on the direction it should take regarding amenity. There is a society for the Teme, there is a society for the Medlock. This drive is growing; but it is only by persistence and the real dedication of people to clear up the muck that we shall be able to get where we want to be.

Is it not a salutary situation that on the one side we have the speculation in land and all the money that has been made out of it during the last few years, and on the other side we have this waste of resources that cries out for something to be done about it? Let us all be dedicated in this job. If we are there is no doubt that Britain will be a nicer place to live in.

5.40 p.m.


My Lords, I had it in mind to make two points which seem to me relevant to this debate. One of them was the diseducative affect of dereliction on potential vandals. Both the right reverend Prelates have dealt so adequately with that particular point that I will not weary your Lordships with vain repetition. The other point is the slightly sinister feeling I have when I hear the word "development" used in connection with development areas. I lived for many years in Manchester and I go back to it every year because I love it; and the Manchester that I now go back to is not the Manchester I knew. It consists of a very fine centre of new clean buildings, public buildings, offices and hotels—a fine skyline. Surrounding that centre are the vast areas of dereliction, wasteland, which are cleared areas, full of motor cars and rubbish of all kinds. The sinister thing about these areas is that when they clear one area they do not build it up, and then they clear another area. So you have two vast clearance areas: one on Moss Side, on the main road into Manchester, and the other on the Rusholme side. Why not build up one area before clearing another? Going out of Rochdale I noticed four clearance areas, none of them built up.

Around those areas you see still uncleared terrace houses, not necessarily derelict, but empty and boarded up, waiting to be still further cleared. I have always wondered why they cannot build up some of these terraces as they go along in order that people may live in them. Exactly the same thing can be seen if you explore the streets around the Elephant and Castle; apparently good terraces becoming derelict because some of the houses are empty and are boarded up. They are the kind of places people want to live in, the kind of places which have backyards, which everybody wants to have, and the kind of terraces that do not look derelict when they are lived in. I cannot imagine why it is necessary, for instance in Manchester, or for that matter to a much lesser extent in North Kensington and perhaps the Elephant and Castle, to clear the area of dereliction before building up that which need not necessarily be derelict. But there it is; it is happening all the time. I can only think that our town planning authorities like thinking big; that they like thinking, "This is town planning; this is a great big scheme and we will have an architect". I saw recently that Manchester was boasting of the amount of slum clearance it had done. It certainly has, but it makes a wilderness and calls it slum clearance which, strictly speaking, I suppose it is.

5.44 p.m.


My Lords, I desire to support the right reverend Prelate in everything he said, and as I shall not be able, I am afraid, to hear his concluding remarks this evening, I will remind him that he need not worry about swan songs; it is only the mute swan which is so unvocal, and we have another species of swan, rather smaller but also robed in white, which talks incessantly to all its neighbours in quiet but persuasive tones. I hope, therefore, that he will continue to preach the right doctrine in this matter wherever he may be.

I was particularly glad to hear what he said in his opening remarks. He stressed the urgency of this problem. One point in favour of making progress as quickly as possible is that the more derelict land can be restored, the more pressure will be taken off what remains yet undevastated. The idea of every industrialist—and, I suppose, everybody who wants a house—is to go and take new land just outside the area which has already been spoiled. We must enable the planning officers to stop that happening by taking a stricter line, both with industrialists and with those who want residential property.

The right reverend Prelate also made the point about the need for being very careful about the statistics. Undoubtedly, in the past Ministers and their Departments have been deluded by the statistics into thinking that progress was being made when in point of fact more and more land was becoming derelict each year. That annoyed a great many of the planning officers, who found an opinion growing up that the things they were trying to control need not really be controlled so strictly because things were getting better. I feel that this was not so then, and I very much much doubt whether it is going to be true in the near future, in spite of the optimistic or hopeful indications that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, was able to give us.

All these general points were very thoroughly debated by "The Countryside in 1970" conference in October of last year. I expect that those of your Lordships who are interested in this matter have read the proceedings of that conference. In the course of it someone—I think it was a Government official—said that dereliction will be a growing, not a declining, problem, unless we take positive steps to control it. I wonder whether we are taking enough positive steps, not merely to control it but to recover lost ground. I feel that it is within the resources of Government, central and local, to sec that any new dereliction, of which of course there is a great deal—new coal tips and that sort of thing—is kept within bounds, so that it is offset. But there is the backlog, and what is going to happen to that? Are we really going to get rid of that in the course of the next decade? I should have thought there was very grave doubt about it.

I should like to make one or two points on the very difficult problems of the machinery which can be adopted. In a way, the situation reminds me of the position in regard to our road system 40 years ago. Then a vast number of roads were needed, but there were antiroad people and the older-fashioned Treasury officials who thought that no more money was required to deal with the road system. That, of course, was not true. I was convinced—and I had not much difficulty in convincing my Ministers, of different Parties, or even persuading the county councils themselves—that something special had to be done. And, of course, the first thing to do was what both the recent Administration and the present Administration have done; that was, to offer local authorities bribes in the shape of very high percentage grants. But it still remained the fact that the poorer authorities and some of the remote authorities were not prepared to spend their ratepayers' money on dealing with what they regarded as a legacy from the past and something which was not of direct benefit to them. It seems to me that the present position is very much the same.

My Lords, if the past dereliction through the industrial practices of the 19th century benefited anyone, it benefited the whole community, but the spoliation remains in particular areas. One area that comes to mind, for example, is the old area around Swansea. Even on 85 per cent. grants, and with the most liberal treatment, I doubt whether it will be possible to get a small authority—or even a big one, because it applies to the counties—to budge. For instance, Somerset said, "Why should we pay any part of the cost of doubling the width of a road, in order to enable owners of motor cars to rush through our county without ever waiting to spend a penny in it?" Whatever one may argue on points of financial principle—whether it is sound or unsound to pay a local authority the whole cost of something it does unless you have control—they will not budge. I wonder whether they are really budging now. If we want to enforce national standards and get them adopted in a reasonably short number of years, it will be necessary to move very fast now.

In the case of roads there was a solution. It did not do in those days to talk about nationalising anything. There was a Conservative Government, and it just would not work. One got over the difficulty in that case by saying, "Well, there will be Ministry of Transport roads; we will not call them 'national roads' we will call them 'trunk roads'. We will pay the whole cost, and we will continue to use the machinery of local government for their care and maintenance." Though many people in recent years have urged such a step, I have not felt convinced that we need go to the length of creating a new National Derelict Land Reclamation Authority, or something of that kind. However, what I should like to say to the Minister is that unless he goes some-what further than he has gone at present, he will not be free of the risk of that necessity. I was very glad indeed to hear him say, as I understood it, that the officials in the Department of the Environment will now be able to give all the technical advice that authorities anxious to get on quickly with reclamation want. I am sure that that ought to be so. The Highways Department alone must have many very good civil engineers who can give the local authorities the expert knowledge and help which they have not themselves at their command.

It is on the financial side that I am more doubtful. Can we expect every authority concerned to proceed at the pace of a great and progressive authority such as the Lancashire County Council? It is on that point that I should like to ask the Minister for some further assurance. Probably most people in this House, in the country, and in the local government machine, do not want a new ad hocauthority created if that can possibly be avoided. I should have thought that it could be avoided, given some even greater generosity on the financial side by the Government, and the development of the technical machinery which the noble Lord indicated will be at their disposal. I think that the Treasury need some protection there, but it seems to me that there is a fairly easy line drawn if we say that the local authority must pay a share for future dereliction and what is now occurring. But it is in this legacy of the past, which really is overwhelmingly great for many of the local authorities in the areas where industry developed in the 19th century, that the problem lies. If the line could be drawn that it is only for the legacy of the past that we are prepared to go to this exceptional degree of public support, one might be able to draw a line that would make even 100 per cent. grants less obnoxious to the Treasury than they are, quite rightly, in normal circumstances.

I will not delay your Lordships any more, but I would again say that if any of your Lordships are particularly interested in this problem, the Report of the proceedings of the conference on "The Countryside, 1970", contains a very great deal of interesting matter. One matter I would have referred to but for the fact that probably enough has been said about it is the position of the extractive industries. They are in a difficulty because, as they quite naturally say, "If we want some mineral or china clay it is no good telling us to find an alternative site; there is not an alternative site." All one can say to them, I suggest, is, "Well, you must behave a little more reasonably and carefully in the future than some of you have done in the past." Personally, as someone who ever since I could walk thought that somewhere to fish was the real thing that made life worth living, all this gravel and sand extraction has compensating benefits. After all, if you dig a hole, rain or some-thing will fill it up with water, and where there is water something interesting may happen. What is going to be the result of this mineral survey which is now going on to find lead or copper all over Snowdonia and Heaven knows where? That will require careful watching, and I am sure it is receiving it. The Department must have it very well in mind, and will see that any planning assents they give are given only after exhaustive advice from all the interests concerned—the amenity interests and the naturalists' interests among them.

5.59 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add my tribute to not only the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn but also to the service that he has rendered in bringing this matter forward for debate. I regret, with all your Lordships, that in a short while he will no longer be heard, but we shall be clad to see him.

We have already called this subject of dereliction "pollution". I think that my noble friend Lord Ridley gave it the title "visual pollution"; I think that is a very good term for it. It seems to me that we have twin problems here. In our concern for the environment land already laid waste must have attention, but land that will fall into the same category must also be planned for. I do not really think dereliction can be prevented, but in our study of the environment we need to plan as a whole for both derelict land and land that will become so. In answer to the question regarding what progress has been made, we have already had one fairly good reply from my noble friend Lord Sandford, and we shall hear what he has to say further at the end of the debate. But I was delighted to hear him describe the priorities that are being given to this problem in the northern part of the country.

I have had considerable experience going back over the years, more especially on the recreational side and with playing fields, and I know what great efforts have been made to restore land. It has been a great expense, but in the last 10 years the task has been greatly helped by the enormous earth-moving equipment which has arrived. Reclamation for re-creation has been the most frequent call, and we have already had many examples of this quoted by my noble friend Lord Sandford. I myself have had a little experience of bringing back to farming an airfield, with all the concrete and the rest of it that marred the land. But we have not heard about the very small pieces of derelict land in our towns and cities which have been used most successfully for adventure playgrounds.

The problem is widespread, from china clay tips in Cornwall, to surface coalmine workings, brick works, clay pits, gravel workings and odd areas in towns. My own county of Bedford has a good number of open clay pits and gravel pits, and they are increasing all the time. But a source of great optimism—the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, is not here, but I think we almost made him an optimist, which is really doing something—has been the many imaginative schemes, and the enthusiasm of people who want to have recreation sites on derelict land is the keynote. The high grants available-85 per cent. in the development areas and 75 per cent. elsewhere—take into consideration all the many difficulties in restoring land. But I would ask whether full advantage is being taken of these grants by local authorities.

If I may mention one or two schemes which have not already been referred to, the Lee Valley scheme for recreation I suppose is about five years old. We do not hear much about it, but in another five years' time that will surely he taking its place among the recreational areas. In Bedfordshire, we have coming along the Ouse Valley scheme, and I heard the other day of a very good plan by Milton Keynes, the New Town. They are going to use a gravel pit for dirt track racing, and they are putting it down on a low level to mask the sound. I thought that a very imaginative idea, and it shows that Milton Keynes is planning forward although there is no population there yet.

Another question is: are we really keeping pace? In spite of what my noble friend Lord Sandford has said and the efforts that are being made, I doubt very much whether we are keeping pace, because more land is becoming derelict annually and is not being reconstituted for another useful purpose. So I imagine that the backlog is gaining ground. In addition, good land is being taken all the time for housing, for roads and for other purposes—as well as for amenity, I am glad to say. Land for amenity is saved at the moment—this is a point on which the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, touched—but it could be lost in the future, and I wonder very much whether our green belts are really sacrosanct. It is therefore all the more important to reclaim land which has already been lost, and I hope that research is going on into the economy of land use.

I would make a plea for a lot more general information about the progress being made. Local authorities know, planning authorities know, and they ought to keep the public far more in the picture. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, referred to the railways. Presumably, the railways know what is going on, but they are very reluctant to announce their plans for derelict lines or derelict stations—and my local station is probably the most derelict of all. Must there be so much secrecy, or is it that there is too much unwillingness to be committed to programmes? The public could well be told when plans are likely to operate. I have here the draft of a booklet which the National Playing Fields Association is producing on this whole subject of dereliction, and I hope that it will be distributed in very wide circles. In conclusion, it seems to me that the need for more space for recreation and the need for bringing useless land back merge together and represent an aim which requires urgent action all over the country.

6.7 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to join with many of your Lordships who have thanked the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn for introducing this Motion today. It seems a long time since Dr. Garbett, the late Archbishop of York, was a familiar figure at all planning conferences and all conferences that had to do with the housing and employment of his people. I should like to suggest to the right reverend Prelate that in his quieter days, if he feels like filling that role, the moral authority of the Church can be a very great help in the work that planners, housing managers and people of that sort have to do in our society—and they often need very great help. It is certainly true that, in the years immediately after the war the Archbishop's moral authority behind the early postwar planners was a great help in persuading them to do their duty of public education in the ways of planning which were rather strange to the British people.

I should like to say, too, that timing is appropriate here, because we know that in another place there is a Bill, which I believe has had its First or Second Reading, to reform local government. In my opinion, the reform of local government has a real bearing on this matter and I should like to quote the example of the Lea Valley, which the noble Lord, Lord Luke, mentioned. The Lea Valley scheme was in the eyes of the dreamers for perhaps 20 or 30 years, and one of the benefits that came out of the reorganisation of London government was that it reduced the authorities which had to be brought into the scheme to such an extent that, in the end, the county councils of Greater London, of Hertfordshire and of Essex were able to ask Parliament for a Bill to allow them to set up a joint authority, which had the intention—and I hope still has, although I do not have up to date knowledge—of creating 10,000 acres of land for recreational use at a cost of a penny rate for 15 years. Now this is a worth while objective in itself. It comes about, of course, because London is richer than some of the areas we have been talking about; but it also comes about, I know, because the combination of authorities were able to deal more expeditiously with a scheme of this sort under a new guise. So the reform of local government could have an important bearing on this particular point.

Now while I know and have seen, and have abhorred, the dereliction that the right reverend Prelate talked about in the North of England, I suppose I would have some difficulty in taking him to a derelict mill in the London area, but I have no doubt that I could find one if I looked hard enough. But I must admit that I do not like too confined a definition of "derelict land". I want, if I may, to direct your Lordships' thoughts to derelict land which we are creating—and we are creating it because of the palsy that affects our minds when it comes to planning ahead. To illustrate what I mean I would have to say only two words to your Lordships, and those two words would be "Piccadilly Circus". There is a case where there is dereliction which we have created since the end of the war —not in our lifetimes, even, but since the end of the war—and to my mind it is quite appalling. It is because we cannot have a consensus of opinion of what ought to be done; and, if we could have a consensus of opinion of what ought to be done, we should then have a conflict of views as to what sort of buildings ought to go round Piccadilly Circus.

This is something that certainly in city centres and, I should have thought, every-where in the country, we have got to resolve. I do not think public participation, which some people regard as a panacea, is going to help very much, because public participation merely means that more and more people come in to put forward and propagate their personal ideas on planning, on architecture and on decoration, and even on road layouts. This is an impossible situation into which I think we must not allow ourselves to get. Piccadilly Circus is a bad enough example. I do not know the number of years it has been going on, but it must be at least ten and may very well be more; and I see the example of Piccadilly Circus now creeping into Covent Garden. I think we are likely to have similar controversies on what should go there, who should live there, and, when we have got that far, if we get that far, then on how it should be built. I do not really feel—and I should like to know whether the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, has any views on this—that this is a task to put on the Secretary of State for the Environment. He is, after all, one man with a vast amount of public work to do. I do not know whether we could put this in the hands of some public commission whose findings would be really final, and in that way ensure that the development goes ahead.

In the last resort, derelict land is all tied up in the general problem of land use—and in land use I think we have had some remarkable successes in the last years, in spite of one or two things which have been said about railways. I suppose it must be twelve years ago now —it was certainly when Sir Keith Joseph was the Minister of Housing—that, representing the L.C.C. and with the other local authority associations, we managed to thresh out an agreement to the effect that the Service Departments and the nationalised industries, if they had surplus land, would first offer it to the local authorities in the area in which it was situated. I do not know whether those rulings still stand, but they had some rather dramatic effects, and I should just like to tell your Lordships one or two.

Service Departments, of course, are more susceptible to Government control than nationalised industries, and we must remember about nationalised industries —and I was always very sympathetic of the British Rail's point of view on this—that they are charged with a commercial job of work on which they are supposed to show a profit. So their attitude towards the price of land and what they may expect to get from it would naturally be different from that of a Service Department, because there it tends to be largely a matter of book-keeping. The Navy parts up with a piece of land to a local authority, and they get large subsidies back from the Government on another account; it is merely pages in a ledger which count, and nothing is really affected.

But in the case of the Service Departments, very soon after this agreement the London County Council was able to acquire from the Navy the old Deptford Victualling Yard. This was land which had largely been used for open storage. It was therefore more or less ready for building on, and it had some very historic and substantial warehouses in which Pepys and his successors used to store the Navy's rum. They were good enough to convert into modern dwellings, and very delightful they are, right on the bank of the river. The Army decided that they could give up (and they were in fact in the process of giving up) Woolwich Arsenal. Woolwich Arsenal was able to be combined with a large acreage of swamp which the London County Council already owned to form the area of Thamesmead, which is to be a flourishing township of 60,000 people. This has been done on land which, 15 years ago, nobody would have thought it possible to use. Nobody would have thought of the Army giving up their land, and nobody would have thought of the Woolwich swamps—Plumstead Marshes is their proper name—being turned into adequate building sites. But this, of course, is where the advance of technology comes in, because the swamp has been drained into a pleasure lake, which is perhaps the most important feature of the new Thamesmead development. So it can be done, with the will and with the resources to back it up. The Air Force were also forthcoming. They parted up with a large acreage of land in the Kidbrooke area of Greenwich, and so vast additions to the pool of housing available to Londoners were made available by that simple agreement that the Services should first offer any surplus land they had to the local authorities.

The nationalised industries were in a more difficult position for financial reasons, but nevertheless something was done, and there is now one of London's very handsome housing schemes going up on the site of what used to be the goods yard attached to Marylebone Station. That there is much more derelict land—"derelict" is too strong a word; "unproperly" Or "under-properly" used land—in railway owner-ship I have no doubt whatsoever, and I hope that the process of winkling it out of the railways will go on. But unused land is not found only in the North; it is not found only in the big cities, and in London. It is, in my opinion, in every village and town in the country, and I have often thought that it would be interesting—what we should have to judge is whether it would also be profitable—to do a Domesday survey of all land in the country which has not been used for, shall we say, five years or ten years, or whatever period is appropriate. I think that this would give us some very challenging results from which future action could arise and that people would be startled by the results thrown up. Such an exercise, if it were ever to be under-taken, would best be undertaken between the summer of next year and the summer of 1974, when there will be an abundance—perhaps I should not say "abundance",—or at any rate a body of local government staff displaced by the reorganisation of local government. These are people who will be well qualified to do this work and who could produce a really national document. I should like to see that done. I believe that it would help our thinking for many years ahead.

6.21 p.m.


My Lords, I think this a very suitable moment for the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Black-burn to put down his Motion. It is a considerable number of years since we have had a debate of this nature. It has been an opportunity for my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford to make his maiden speech. For a number of years I had the benefit of his wit and counsel in committees, and I am glad that he has now sought to share them with us here. I agree with his point about the graveyards. I was instrumental in passing a Bill through this House to get four acres of church land near Marble Arch classified for development, but I gather that the graveyards that he has in mind are municipally owned and are not church land at all. Likewise, I should like to associate myself with Lord Fiske's idea of a census of land. I think he is quite right about the amount of derelict land all over the place; but I believe he would be surprised to find how much of it is actually carrying a crop of donkeys and ponies of which the Ministry of Agriculture have no idea whatsoever.

When the right reverend Prelate's Motion was put down I saw the word "dereliction" and I did not know what it meant. I wondered whether it was a new "Blackburn word", culled out of a new version of the Lord's Prayer; but I now see that it is a term of art used in local government circles. I realise that he must be thinking largely of the waste and the tips that disfigure so much of the country, particularly in the North; but, as other speakers have said, we must not forget Cornwall. What for many years I called "the mountains of the Moon" are a horrible line of white peaks stretching across Cornwall which, when looked at close to, are quite hideous, but if you look at them from twenty miles away with a sunset behind them they are really rather beautiful. But there is great unemployment in Cornwall and we must not forget that.

We are indebted to the botanists for progress on this matter of slag reclamation. Governments can issue White Papers and we can talk till the cows come home, but the most important people are those working in greenhouses and producing new grasses and trees that will grow on barren soil. I understand that they have been making great progress in this matter. I could be tempted to return to a "King Charles's head" of mine on the subject of dumping. For many years I have regularly put down Motions on the subject of dumping, and the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, mentioned this particular subject. But although it is quite impossible for a single person to say what overall progress has been made, I think I can say that around my part of the world the situation is definitely better. As I have often pointed out, the chief factor is money to provide a really efficient collection of the large items of waste—to collect them before dumping takes place. That is one of the hopes I have about local government reorganisation: that by combining the urban and rural districts it will be possible to get urban money to clear up urban mess thrown into rural districts, which is not easy at the moment.

My Lords, the 1950s and 1960s were eras when we were constantly beset by problems of lack of labour. Today, in the 1970s, our problem may be lack of occupation; and that means the problem of leisure. I hope that this curing of dereliction may be done very much with the idea of providing more opportunities for leisure for people in the shape of swimming, fishing, sailing and games fields. One has only to go to the outskirts of Portsmouth to see the fine football fields which were tin-can dumps not so very long ago. The noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, said he welcomed water in place of gravel. That was rather a different attitude towards water from the one he used to take whenever we tried to get a water conservation scheme to provide a reservoir. Then, however beautiful our landscaping and however much it was thrown open to the public for leisure, it was always a damnable scheme.

I should like to put in a special plea for golf. Today, there is a tremendous boom in golf in this country, as in Japan, in the U.S.A. and all over the world. People of all ages and in all walks of life are queueing up to pay their £1 or £2 to play a game of golf at the week-end. The facilities are just not adequate because every golf course in the country is taking a terrific battering, a battering that they would never have dreamed of ten years ago. I have heard of farmers turning their farms into golf courses because it was much more profitable than farming. I suspect that the House of Lords is not wholly sympathetic to golf. The sort of traditional image of your Lordships held by the public—it is totally erroneous—is that on the other side of the House the recreation is all "Bass and bowls" and on this side it is "knocking off" wild life. Those are erroneous ideas; but golf does not figure in either concept. Many noble Lords have not had the opportunity for it and many more, I suspect, find it rather too difficult. But there is a most urgent need for more municipal and more private golf courses, full size, small size and miniature. I hope that in reclaiming any of this land, where it is at all suitable that need may be kept in mind. I may remind the Ministry of Agriculture that the poorer the soil, the better the golf.

But everything boils down to filthy lucre in the end, and the Minister must watch for his opportunities. Now is the chance. I remember last June saying to my noble friend the Minister of Defence: "The industrial position is worse than people think. You go and buy some ships. You have a good chance." Well, he has duly bought the ships and the Treasury had to give him permission. But money is piling up and the general public and the industrialists have not the confidence to spend it. It is the duty of the Government in these circumstances to borrow and to spend. The normal task of the Treasury is to stop spending, but I may tell my noble friend that today we have got the Treasury on the run. However, it is only temporary. The noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, even suggested the blasphemy of a 100 per cent. grant; but perhaps that is going a bit too far. I urge my noble friend to forge ahead as fast as he can. The opportunity may not last long; in fact, we must all hope that it will not last long.

6.30 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that we are all deeply indebted to the Bench of Bishops on this occasion; both to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, whom we shall all very much miss, and also to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, whom we warmly welcome. Might I just add that in my younger clays it was, The Bishops in their shovel hats who were: as plentiful as tabby cats. I will not proceed with the rest of the rather derogatory conclusion to that verse, which would be entirely inappropriate in the circumstances.

My Lords, the only reason why I wish briefly to intervene in the debate is that I feel we should have at least one voice from Wales. I was not able to hear the latter part of the speech of my noble friend Lord Davies of Leek and he could possibly have referred at any rate to his native county of Monmouthshire. I think that any debate on derelict land in which there was no great reference to Wales would be entirely out of focus. After all, proportionately in the Principality, I am sorry to say, we have as great a problem of dereliction as any part of the country, although I appreciate that Lancashire runs us very close. Not only that, but I think we may fairly claim to have done some extremely good and valuable pioneering work.

In the first place, as my noble friend Lord Garnsworthy mentioned, we had the survey of the Lower Swansea Valley, with which the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, would be well acquanited, as he once directed the affairs of the University College at Swansea before he was translated to "Balliol by the Sea". He knows the problems of the Lower Swansea Valley and the progress which has been made there. It is by no means yet complete, but any of your Lordships who can recall the hideous prospect when one went by train towards Swansea through Landore will recognise that this really was an area of outstanding and appalling dereliction, and a good deal has been done already by afforestation and vegetation to improve matters.

There is no doubt that for us in Wales public concern was deeply stirred by the tragedy at Aberfan. Anyone who has seen what has been done now in that place of sadness will recognise that, given the will, one can make a transformation which is really quite astonishing. This surely is the pattern that we should be endeavouring to follow in other parts where there has been no such tragic loss of life but where the physical surroundings, though not so dangerous, are every bit as unpleasing as were the surroundings at Aberfan.

I was a little surprised that in his speech the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, made no reference to the Principality: because I took it that he was speaking for the Government, and not merely for the Department of the Environment, and in Wales matters are dealt with on an administrative and legislative basis on the same footing as in England. So I thought that when he was giving us that very interesting information he might at least have said something about the position in the Principality. However, my Lords, I took steps to inform myself of the most recent figures from the Welsh Office so that I may perhaps repair the omission. I should be delighted to know whether the noble Lord has any further or more detailed information that he can give to us.

As I understand it, our latest estimate of present areas of derelict land in Wales, on the definition now current (I should like to say a word about that in a moment), is roughly 19,000 acres, of which a little more than 13,000 are thought to justify remedial treatment. Up to date, we have reclaimed some 8,000 acres of derelict land, and schemes have been formally approved for another 3,350 acres. But, as I understand it, the 8,000 acres arc not included in the total of 19,000 acres still currently in need of reclamation. But as has been said by so many speakers this afternoon, the problem is not static, and unless we can move up from the 3,300 acres, for which schemes have been approved, very much closer to the 13,000 acres said to he suitable for treatment we shall still be well behind, because fresh dereliction occurs all the time.

I was somewhat disturbed by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, because to me he seemed to be at least verging on complacency when he said that the difficulties of finance have been largely overcome. All I can say is that this must be very recent, because my own experience certainly was that the smaller local authorities in whose areas some of the worst dereliction is to be found find that even 5 per cent. of a very substantial sum is more than they are prepared to face. I should be grateful if the noble Lord would explain what has happened regarding the 85 per cent. grant, which with rate support grant, can come up to about 95 per cent. What has altered the picture and how is it that local authorities can now face the 5 per cent. when previously they could not? There may be some good explanation of this, but I know that we had to overcome a good deal of reductance on the part of certain local authorities. What worries one is that the more affluent or enterprising local authorities have put in their schemes, and one would like to know what is the position so far as the others arc concerned.

The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, went on to say that one of the problems facing the Department is that they feel that not enough land is likely to be available for treatment to keep the programme moving. If that is so. it is not because we lack derelict land but because the definition is too narrow. It does not seem to me therefore, that the two sides of this equation really balance. The noble Lord, Lord Sandford. in reply to a point made by my noble friend Lord Garnsworthy, was at pains to assure us that in the priority areas, at least, the staffs were adequate and the regional offices of the Department were able to supply the necessary advice and expertise. I do not for one moment wish to quarrel with the pattern for England, which may well be the right one. All I would say is that in Wales we have a Derelict Land Unit as part of the Welsh Office, and in our circumstances we have found this extremely satisfactory. There we have a body of people who have been gathering experience and expertise and are able to advise the local authorities as to the best way of tackling their particular local problems.

My Lords, I should like to say also how much we arc indebted to the experts at the National Coal Board. Particularly in the Opencast Section they have had very considerable experience in land rehabilitation and reclamation. It was only on the first of this month, as a member of the Prince of Wales' Committee, that I was able to go with the rest of the Committee, including the Prince of Wales himself, to a meeting in Merthyr Tydfil, which we felt was an appropriate centre for land conservation and reclamation. We then went to Dowlais Top, which the noble Lord, Lord Brecon, knows very well indeed, and surveyed the scene there on the site of a very large opencast coal concern. The National Coal Board officials who were with us showed us some of the land which had been dealt with and treated, and I must say that, so far as their work is concerned, they leave the landscape much better than they find it. The quality of the grassland and pasture which they are now able to attain is really excellent. They try to keep it and nurture it long enough for it to be established. I think it was my noble friend Lord Garnsworthy who pointed out that it is no good reclaiming land and then allowing it to go back to a derelict state: one must have some plans for the use of the land. I hope it will be possible for the Minister to say a word or two about that.

I should like to add a word or two about the railways. One sympathises with the problems of British Railways when they have closures either of stations or of railway lines. In most parts of rural Wales, at any rate, they are able to sell the stations either as youth centres or as desirable dwellings. But what worries me very much is the use of the line of route—I do not mean the actual physical track. It is entirely true, as the noble Lord, Lord Fiske, said, that they are under an obligation, if they arc closing down, to offer the land in the first instance to the local authority. But not all local authorities are able or willing to purchase land which, certainly to my mind, should be conserved in the public interest. We have at least two local authorities in Wales that have been very much alive to this. Merioneth, for example, has brought a considerable length of the former railway line running between Llangollen and Barmouth, a most beautiful part of the country; and Monmouth-shire, also I believe, has been active in this matter.

But there are others who have not One of the most saddening things to me was to discover that the railway line which ran up from Brecon to Builth Wells, in the Upper Wye Valley, again one of the most lovely parts of the country, was simply dispersed to local purchasers. The railway line ran on one side of the river and a road on the other. It is impossible to have a walk on the road side of the river, but one could have had, I think, the most exciting longdistance walk or bridle-path on the other side. But because at the time the local authority was unwilling or unable to make that purchase, that opportunity has been lost, so far as we can tell, for ever.


If I may interrupt the noble Baroness, I wonder whether in that particular case they have studied the problem of the bridges. It is very often the maintenance of the bridges that frightens them.


My Lords, I know that people say it is the bridges. But if you are intending it to be used as a footpath, and not trying to take a train across it, it is not beyond the wit of man to provide a bridge. After all, if you are a pedestrian, you can even go down and up again. So I really do not think that the matter of bridges is insuperable, and it ought not to be allowed as an excuse for allowing a length of line of that kind in such attractive country to go.

There was, of course, a study under the Countryside Commission of the whole question of the use for recreational purposes of lines which were no longer used as railway lines, and I think some advice has more recently gone to local authorities. If the noble Lord is able to say anything about that, will he be good enough to do so?

Finally, I wish to refer to other types of dereliction. The noble Lord, Lord Hawke, rightly said that we owe a great deal to botanists. There are some very intractable kinds of waste, much more difficult to deal with than waste from coal pits. For example, in the part of North Wales which I once had the honour to represent in another place, we had old lead mine workings where it was extra-ordinarily difficult to get anything to grow. I was glad to learn that the University of Liverpool has an active research team engaged on trying to find out what will grow on lead waste.

We are all deeply concerned about the prospecting for minerals in the Coed-y-Brenin and Mawoldach Estuary areas which Rio Tinto are proposing to undertake. If the Government are going to encourage this to the tune of £50 million, we hope that they will make certain that, if any extraction ultimately takes place, the rehabilitation of that land is at least as good as the work done by the National Coal Board. Quite frankly, I am not sanguine, because even if one does lay down standards, the type of scenery in the areas in question for this sort of prospecting is so different from the kind of area in which opencast coal mining takes place. I think it will be far more difficult to preserve amenities. But that is for the future. I only wish to express the apprehension which many of us in Wales have about the problems which may arise if we have a fresh, massive desecration of some of the most beautiful parts of the Principality. I hope that in his reply the Minister will be able to touch on at least some of the points that I have raised.

6.45 p.m.


My Lords, I come from a family who used to be coal owners, and therefore I feel some personal sense of responsibility for pitheads. It was for this reason that just over a year ago, last spring, I was sitting on a pit-heap outside Manchester and hammering willow pegs into the soil—if you can call it soil. This was the Swinton-Pendlebury tip, outside Manchester. The soil there is the most horrible stuff that I have ever seen: it is a mixture of stone and clay, and some stuff that looks rather like small coke breeze. The extraordinary thing is that one in four of these willow pegs—they are about eight inches long, and you just hammer them in—do strike and grow into willow bushes. This is the idea of somebody called Michael Graham. who promotes it in co-operation with the Biology Department of the University of Salford. He saw that a lot of these tips, although very ugly, were used as adventure playgrounds by children, and that they could be made much more attractive if they had trees growing on them. His idea is quite simple. All you need is a pair of secateurs to cut some small willow branches; you need a bar to make a hole in the shale, and a hammer to hammer the twig in. The reason why you hammer it in, instead of planting little branches with leaves on them, is that if you leave the leaves on children come along and pull them out, but if you hammer them in they cannot do so. This, as I say, is a simple idea which schoolchildren themselves could carry out. All you need is the enthusiasm, commonsense and super-vision of their teachers. In this way, at practically no cost, life can be reestablished on these tips.

6.48 p.m.


My Lords, the term "derelict land" covers a very wide area, and I am glad that the urgency of doing something, and doing it quickly, is now recognised in this country. I want to speak briefly on one aspect only, and entirely by coincidence what I am going to say follows closely on what my noble friend has just said. I want to speak on this question of planting trees on such sites as they will grow. Some schemes of necessity are large; they must be expensive; they may need the removal of large quantities of material, which is expensive. On the other hand, there are many smaller pit heaps and other old mineral workings where reclamation need not make any such demands on specialist contractors, expensive earthmoving equipment, ambitious contouring and all the rest. I would say that this is so especially when such heaps are situated near old villages.

Here, in particular, I would make this plea for the planting of forest trees. This does not necessarily imply covering whole areas with an even crop, but establishing trees on the easier areas—what foresters would call a pioneer crop—and in time the green cover will spread, even though not over the whole, and the appearance is not necessarily the worse for that. This planting in large clumps, which my noble friend has referred to, need not be despised by local authorities or others. It is a great aid to amenity and not so expensive.

It is unusual in this country to have woods almost within city or village boundaries, but it is quite usual in other countries, particularly in Germany, and such woods provide a very welcome habitat for birds and other wild life and add to the amenities of such places. When it is appropriate to do this sort of work, the money will go a very long way. As I said, there is no need to invoke the aid of expensive specialist contractors and there is no need to think in terms of an expenditure of £1,000 or more per acre—which, frankly, I find frightening. Local surveyors in this country and other local authority officials have, in the nature of their business, far more contact with contractors than with foresters and it is rather sad to see how ignorant, generally speaking, many local authorities (both councillors and their officials) are about the simple principles of forestry and looking after trees.

There is no need to be scared, nor is there any need to have to start with some new specialist research establishment in some new university. There are plenty of examples and experiences of others that people can learn from, and really the mystery is not so great as to be incapable of being solved. The County of Durham has been mentioned today a number of times already. In South-West Durham, in the neighbourhood of West Auckland, there are a number of experimental plantings which were established in the 1930s largely through the initiative of the late Lord Barnard, a Member of your Lordships' House, who was very knowledgeable in this field. These plantings on smaller heaps on the edges of these pit villages in South-West Durham are today very successful indeed. Again, many of your Lordships will know the ironstone area, and here the firm of Stewarts and Lloyds have done a very great deal of work in establishing native forest trees on the old ironstone hill and dale workings, largely under the initiative of a Mr. Newton.

Again, although I know the area less well, I believe that a lot of work has been done in Devon and Cornwall in the area of the china clay and other mineral workings there. In forestry, what one needs more than anything else is a chance to learn from the example of others. One needs to be able to see what others have done twenty to forty years ago and to be able to assess where they have been successful, where they have been less successful or where they have failed completely. To my mind, this is much more valuable than to work from a paper written by a very erudite man in a university. I do not wish in any way to despise such erudition, but it is not the same reliable guide to the practical man as the experience of others who have been working in his field. My Lords, there are many examples of what can be done, established over a number of years, and those who wish to embark on a new field need not be frightened.

The Royal Forestry Society established special competitions at the Royal Show a few years ago—two such classes, one for plantations established by local authorities and one for plantations established on derelict land, I am sorry to say had to be dropped because of lack of support. But I can tell your Lord-ships that it is the intention of that Society to revive these classes, if not this coming year at least in the following year, in the belief and hope that they will attract more entrants and with the firm conviction that they will be of service to the country.

6.54 p.m.


My Lords, I must apologise to the House for intervening at this late hour, not having had the privilege of being present during the earlier part of the debate owing to the fact, as some of my noble friends know, that I was heavily committed at a meeting in Central Hall. My sole purpose in rising at this stage is to draw attention to a matter which I think is of considerable significance in this question of progress in clearing dereliction. I refer to the situation in Hull. In that city, in an area covering about 35 acres from the Humber to the centre of the city are certain old docks. Some of them are among the oldest docks ever constructed in Britain, and over the years they have rendered great service, not only to Hull but to the nation as a whole. Those docks have now been closed and Hull Corporation are in negotiation with the Docks Board for the purchase of those docks. The development of that area of 35 acres, covering water and also the properties adjoining the docks, is of enormous significance, not only to Hull itself but to the whole of Humberside which, as your Lordships know, is likely to see considerable social and economic development in the years ahead; and Hull will be the hub of the Humberside area. Anything could happen to that particular area—probably something bad, but also something good. The potentiality is enormous. An opportunity now offers for improving the amenities of the area as well as for the development of commercial possibilities in certain parts.

Your Lordships on more than one occasion have discussed in this House the importance of improving amenities and social facilities in those cities in the North which seek to attract people to come and join in the economic development that is so desperately needed there. I want to put the point to the Minister opposite who, I am sure, is aware of what is going on in that area. The offer has been made to the Corporation and I believe there is every likelihood of their accepting this responsibility. Already there has been submitted to the Department of the Environment a number of alternative proposals with the idea of securing the 75 per cent. reclamation grant. In the particular case that I wish to stress here we have something different, and that is the development of an area which includes a considerable acreage of water. The situation of that water is, as I said a few moments ago. of tremendous importance—importance to the city and indeed, I would say, to the development of the nation as a whole. Therefore I should like to put in a special plea, quite regardless of the niceties of the regulations of the Government and this 75 per cent. grant. I hope that the Minister will deal sympathetically with the application that is made by the local authority, because I can assure the noble Lord opposite that the decision of the Government on this particular matter will have a considerable bearing upon the development of those 35 acres. I am sure that the matter will be dealt with sympathetically, because I am certain that the noble Lord opposite is just as anxious as I am to secure the development of the amenities made possible by a proper, sensible and intelligent development of this particular acreage. Therefore I welcome this opportunity—and I apologise for intervening—of stressing this particular point. I sincerely hope that the noble Lord opposite and his colleagues will look sympathetically at the claims and requests made by the Hull Corporation.

7.0 p.m.


My Lords, I must follow the example of my noble friend Lord Peddie and apologise for intruding into the debate when I had not put my name down to speak. I feel I owe a special apology because it is not my intention to speak about the subject that we are discussing. With almost unbelievable self control I am resisting the temptation to reply to those of your Lordships who seemed anxious to give the impression that nothing was happening in this field before June 1970, whereas all the foundations had been laid under the previous Government.

But my wish to-night is simply to speak on behalf of the Opposition, and on behalf of the many thousands of people in Lancashire, and to echo on their be-half the thanks that some of your Lord-ships have voiced to the right reverend Prelate, not only for having drawn attention to this most important subject, but also for his services in this House and to the County of Lancaster for a long time. I know that the right reverend Prelate would like to be spared these compliments, but it will be a pity if we allow him to leave the House without knowing how much we value him—and certainly I know that the people of Lancashire feel that very strongly. We have valued his interest in social problems, in the defence of minorities, and his hatred of intolerance. Under his guidance the Church has become something which is living; Christianity has been seen to be a religion of involvement rather than escape. He has healed the wounds of denominational struggles in the past, and will leave the diocese of Blackburn with the love and respect of all denominations, of all ethnic groups, of all political Parties and all the people in the County of Lancaster. We very much hope that the right reverend Prelate will feel able to visit us often in the years that lie ahead.

7.3 p.m.


My Lords, all of us will want to say, "Hear, hear" and "Amen" to that. If I may have your Lordships' leave to speak again, I should like to deal briefly with points that noble Lords have raised in the course of this valuable debate, and add my congratulations to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford on his maiden speech. I was glad that he started with a reference to Telford. It is a project which is absolutely relevant to the theme we have been discusing, and is a shining example of what can be done with a wide expanse of derelict land. I was delighted to visit the New Town myself last June, and also to see that Coalbrookdale. which bears so many of the scars of the Industrial Revolution, has been designated a conservation area. I take away from his remarks the thought of cemeteries for parks; I will ponder it and see that it is fully considered. I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, stressed the achievements of Stoke-on-Trent—they certainly deserve the highest praise. My noble friend Lord Ridley spoke from his very great experience as Chairman of the Northumberland County Council and, having visited the dereliction in his county with him, I know how much he has contributed to it.


My Lords, if I may interrupt, I have not contributed to the dereliction!


My Lords, I am sorry. My noble friend Lord Ridley spoke. and has spoken to me before, about the possibility of the engagement of the unemployed in this field. That is something I should like to return to when I make a short general point to-wards the end of my remarks. The noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, spoke with very profound knowledge of Lancashire, knowledge matched only by the affection in which he is held in that county. I was glad that he made the point about the need for the new metropolitan counties to bestir themselves in this field, and I would not quarrel with anything that he said.

Although she is not in her place at the moment, may I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Stocks, that the idea of carrying out slum clearance rapidly. but in small doses, rather than in large blocks, is now becoming accepted doc-trine in the planning world. There are obvious advantages in doing it in this way, and I think that is a point which is now beginning to be taken. In that connection how right the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, was to stress the importance of not allowing any further industrial or urban sprawl in areas like the Yorkshire coalfield! What they want now are compact built-up areas with houses and light industry packed in as tight as good planning will permit, with the reclaimed land going over to agriculture and green open space wherever possible. Your Lordships will agree that much else of what he said was wise counsel and of the greatest value. I assure him. in his absence, that what he said will be studied. My noble friend Lord Luke drew our attention to the need for more publicity in this field, and I agree with him.

I think what the noble Lord. Lord Fiske, said about the Lea Valley Regional Park makes the same point. Here is a most imaginative scheme which hasbeen going on for a number of years, and we hear only a little of what has been achieved; but I am sure that by now a great deal has been achieved. He also spoke of the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of York. I should like to assure him that the present Arch-bishop of York is a very active President of the Civic Trust of York, which was itself founded by the Dean of York, and so if there was not already evidence that the Church were concerning themselves in these matters, that would provide it. I am not sure that I would go along with the noble Lord if he takes the view that Piccadilly is a place incapable of beneficial use without further treatment. but I think I see the point he was making. I agree with him on the need to winkle out under-used urban land. I am glad to confirm that his idea of a Domesday Book is not something that we are just thinking about but which we have under way. It is chiefly in connection with advancing the housing programme of Greater London, but it serves a lot of other useful purposes. My noble friend Lord Hawke got away with a number of broad, unchallenged generalities about your Lordships' sporting habits, but it is too late now to pursue that. All I would say is that only the other day I was at a golf course —not playing—just outside Corby, the whole of which had been constructed on recovered ironstone fill shale.

We were grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady White, for bringing in the voice of Wales. If I erred—and perhaps I did—in not mentioning Wales, I must say that I am conscious of not having mentioned a great many other places which I could have mentioned in Scotland, England, the South East, the West Midlands and East Anglia, all of which have dereliction and some of which have it almost to the same extent as the areas that I mentioned. I succumbed to the temptation because I wanted to talk about places where I knew what I was talking about. If I had strayed into Wales I should not have been doing that. Nevertheless, we are grateful to the noble Baroness for bringing Wales to our attention and for speaking from her extensive knowledge of it. I would confirm that the pattern of which I spoke in respect of England, and the seven priority areas I have been stressing, of the regional offices providing guidance, advice and co-ordination, is exactly reflected in the Unit in the Welsh Office which serves, so far as I understand it, exactly the same useful function.


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, the English regional offices reflect the Welsh Land Unit which started it.


My Lords, I am glad to be corrected for the second time. The noble Baroness asked about disused railway lines. It is quite correct that we have recently sent out a circular in respect of the treatment of disused railway lines in the countryside, and noble Lords will know of places like Tissington Trail which has been restored by the Peak Park Planning Board and turned into a delightful track for rambling and riding.

My noble friends Lord Inglewood and Lord Ingleby both spoke of planting and the possibilities of reclaimed land for forestry and woodlands. I was particularly glad they did so, because it is a feature of a great deal of reclamation. It also gives me an opportunity to pay a tribute to the extensive research into this and other fields which is going on under the impetus of this whole scheme in many universities and other centres bearing on forestry—what can be planted and what will thrive in various kinds of soil and so on.

The noble Lord, Lord Peddle, introduced the question of the future of redundant docks at Hull. This is a very important point, but of course there are other docks in a similar position: Bristol, the Thames riverside, downstream of Tower, and many others. There is no doubt at all of their importance, but I am sure the noble Lord will agree that these vast schemes of urban renewal cannot be dealt with in the same programme and by the same techniques as dead collieries in Durham villages. I can-not, particularly without notice, say more than that "off the cuff" to-night, and I am sure the noble Lord will not expect me to. The matter is being carefully and thoroughly considered; I can assure him of that.

My Lords, to come to one general point before I close, there has been a great deal of emphasis throughout the debate, rightfully and properly, on the smaller-scale environmental improvements that are just as necessary as the large-scale reclamation schemes that are going on in these areas, and on the use of unemployed people and volunteers in this connection. Among the points made there are the questions of lack of re-sources in the district councils, lack of will in some local communities, and lack of civic pride in some people who have become inured for too long to this frightful dereliction on their doorsteps. All these points we very much welcome, and I certainly confirm that they need study. But I would suggest that the use of the unemployed and of volunteers, valuable as it is here and there, is much more valuable in the small-scale schemes of environmental improvement than on the large-scale reclamation operations which lend themselves only to a marginal ex-tent to the use of voluntary, unemployed and unskilled labour. But certainly in these other respects—the clearing away of derelict cars, the cleaning up of canals, dealing with odd patches of dereliction in some instances, allotments, cemeteries, et cetera—thereis tremendous scope, and it is vital that life in these areas is enhanced by dealing with dereliction of this kind. Of course, what we are already doing in the field of housing improvement, particularly in connection with the designation of general improvement areas, and what we have announced about infra-structure grants for these priority areas, is having its effect. But there is more to be done. More thought needs to be given to this, and I assure your Lordships that it is being given.

My Lords, we have set ourselves the task of clearing up in a single decade the mess of a century or more. The seven priority areas, and others like them in Scotland and Wales, have accepted this challenge and are assured of all the help that Central Government can give them in order to meet it. But the damage has gone very deep. In these black years, something greater has been lost than mere acres of land. What has been lost is civic pride, not everywhere but in some places; and while we are restoring land we must also work for a change of attitude, a change of heart, and restore this civic pride. In the Department of the Environment we are giving a great deal of thought to how we can help in that area. But this is not a task for Government or local government alone, and this is why my right honourable friends and my honourable friends and I so much welcome the extensive evidence that this debate has brought out of the width and the depth and the strength of support that exists for this change of heart and for the conversion of these dark, derelict, satanic mills and tips into a green and pleasant land in which we can all take pride and joy.

7.17 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to express my gratitude to all of your Lordships who have contributed so much to this very interesting and, I hope you will feel, valuable debate. We are grateful to know that all that has been said will be duly not only noted but studied. May I also add my personal thanks for the kind and generous remarks which your Lordships, particularly the right honourable and noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, have made about me. I should like to add my congratulations to what was said about the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, and to say how much I hope he will take a prominent part in the debates in this House. He reminisced about the East End and cemeteries. My mind went back also to the East End because that is where I started my ministry 44 years ago.

One of those memories goes to the funerals which no doubt he used to conduct, and I used to conduct, with those glorious plumed horses which trotted magnificently at a pace slower than walking on the way to the cemetery. I draw that analogy because I am afraid my view of this situation of dereliction, despite the prodding that goes on from the Department, is that there are some—just some—local authorities which are moving forward at a pace slower than walking. It is that encouragement which I understand was spoken about by the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb (I am sorry that I missed part of his speech), which I am sure must be given to these authorities—and I again say the "smaller local authorities", because I am absolutely certain that the county councils and the larger authorities are, for the most part, very alive to the situation and are doing a great deal, and where we get held up again and again is at the local level.

Your Lordships will not expect me to comment on all the speeches this after- noon. We are indeed grateful for the assurance given by the Minister of State, and also for the spirit of optimism which I think has been evident in this debate and which was struck by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley. I was not myself pessimistic in presenting this subject. I only feel that we have to challenge the Government, and the local authorities and industry, to get on with the task faster than they are doing now. With regard to the stimulation of public opinion, how right the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, appears to be; and how right it is to say that we need more information! I very much hope that more thought will be given to what the Minister was saying about the use of the unemployed on the lesser sites. It is true that on the large sites such action is quite out of the question, but on the lesser sites—some of these small pockets of dereliction in our towns and cities—the unemployed could be used, and 1 hope that they will be.

I was grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady White, for what she said about Wales. I did pay a small tribute to Wales, and I suggest their success is largely due to the fact that they had a Derelict Land Unit which applied its whole time to the problem. Whether thought should once again be given by the Department to such a step I do not know. We are glad to hear that the "Domesday survey" is already on the way.

My Lords, the hour is late. There is much more that could be said, but I do not propose to say it. I am quite clear that we have to set ourselves a target of tackling 10,000 acres a year. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, reminded us that it was Ins Government that started on this work, but the noble Lord ought also to be grateful that what was started has been carried on, and I am sure we wish the Department well. I am convinced that there is urgency in this matter, because unless the work is expedited we may be overtaken by the increase in dereliction. But that is not the only reason for action now. Many noble Lords have referred to the effect of dereliction on people's lives and characters. We are realising more and more the effect of the environment; that is why we must do all we can to improve this situation. This is all part of the seriousness of this debate, and I am greatly encouraged by all that I have heard in the various speeches. I hope that they will do much to stimulate public opinion and also the local authorities to get on with the planting of trees, the levelling of the land, to provide the golf courses over which I shall look forward to playing. Last week I saw the colliery at Higher Folds, just outside Manchester, where, the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, will be glad to know, we have been promised a golf course. My Lords, I ask leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers standing in my name.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.