HL Deb 18 October 1973 vol 345 cc384-90

3.2 p.m.


My Lords, in asking the House to give this Bill a Third Reading, I should first of all like to thank my noble friends who have helped me so much on this Bill—first, my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn, who has borne the brunt of the most controversial issues, as always, with great conscientiousness and care; and then my noble friend Lord Sandford, whose experience and knowledge of the background of this Bill has been invaluable. I should also like to thank my noble friend Lord Nugent for what he has said about planning aspects of the problem, my noble friend Lord Aldington for his speech on the Port of London Authority's proposals for the new seaport, and other noble Lords who have given their support. To the Opposition my thanks for initiating me into the rigours of political controversy in the House!

I should, too, like here to pay tribute to the Select Committee and to their exhaustive inquiry into the Bill as it affects particular local interests, and to thank them for the Amendments they have made to the Bill. I hope they can take some credit also for the Amendments which my noble friend Lord Sandford moved yesterday concerning Havengore Creek.

My Lords, it is natural with a major project of this kind that public attention should be concentrated on the disadvantages rather than on points in favour. But we must remember that the Maplin site was chosen on planning and environmental grounds. This Bill is an enabling Bill—essentially to reclaim land from the sea to build an airport and a seaport. By giving the Bill a Third Reading we are able to keep our options open to go ahead with it if after the full study that has been promised it is confirmed that this is the right course. Nor must we fall into the trap of thinking that there is any "do nothing" solution to the problem of increasing air traffic. The British Airports Authority have described vividly, in their recent annual report, the likely consequences for their airports at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted if the Maplin project is abandoned.

In the course of these debates there has been a great deal of interest expressed over the problem of public consultation, and I will if I may go outside the terms of the Bill and say that a consultation document on alternative possible routes for a new motorway and high-speed link to Maplin was published on July 23, and comments were invited by October 12. This has been added as an additional process of consultation. We have had some 2,800 replies to our questionnaire from individuals, and we have also had the views of some sixty local authorities and other bodies. These views are now being analysed and the Secretary of State will be making a Statement when this process is complete. We shall clearly want to make public the Secretary of State's conclusion on a preferred corridor as soon as possible in order to remove blight on property along those routes which are not selected. In parallel we are considering the comments that we have received on our consultation document on the designation area for the New Town.

In addition to the major access to the site, we have been considering how best communications with the Maplin site could be improved to serve the period before the major access routes are available. I understand that it remains the intention of the British Railways Board to bring forward in a Private Bill in the coming Session proposals for an extension into the Maplin site of the existing railway line—the Thorpe Bay Link. We have also asked the Essex County Council, as the highway authority, to investigate the feasibility of finding a new route for the A.127 round the North of Southend so as to keep Maplin traffic off the built-up section of the A.127/A.13 route. We are now studying the results of these investigations and a statement will be made as soon as possible.

In conclusion, I think all those who have taken part in the debates on this Bill have recognised that the siting of the Third London Airport is a singularly intractable problem. When the Government announced their decision to go to Maplin in April, 1971, there was a general feeling that we had at last got an answer which represented a reasonable compromise. The co-ordination of the project then became a matter for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, and following the important Government Statements in February and August, 1972, the drafting of this Bill as an essential part of the mechanics for implementing the project was put in hand. Meanwhile, the Maplin decision has been challenged, but no one has produced an alternative strategy which we could now say is feasible and acceptable. These issues will be considered in our further study of the project.

Meanwhile, I cannot emphasise too strongly the Government's views that it would be totally irresponsible to slacken our efforts on the planning of Maplin. We need this Bill so that the Maplin Development Authority can be set up, and to take over all the detailed work that will be needed before a contract for the reclamation of the Maplin site can be let. It is only in this way that we can keep open the option of bringing the Maplin Airport into operation in 1982 if our objective study confirms that this is necessary and this conclusion is acceptable to Parliament. It is on this basis that I invite the House to give the Bill a Third Reading. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3ª. —(Baroness Young.)


My Lords, I should like to say a word about this, because unfortunately I was unable to be present yesterday. I want to congratulate the noble Baroness on what has happened, and to congratulate the Government upon having taken such steps as were required, particularly with regard to the matter of Havengore Creek, to relieve the matter and to make it much better to enable things to go on. I personally, although I am not in agreement with all the principles of the Bill, think that very good steps have been taken and I congratulate the Government on this.

On Question. Bill read 3ª, with the Amendment.

3.38 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass. —(Baroness Young.)


My Lords, I think the House is indebted to the noble Baroness and to her colleagues for the pleasant and courteous way in which they have piloted through a thoroughly unpleasant piece of legislation. There is only one redeeming feature to this Bill, and that is the provision in Clause 2, as amended—and against the advice of the Government—requiring the Government to come back to Parliament for permission to get work started. I should qualify that to the extent that, although it was against the original advice of the Government, to do them credit they did eventually accept the wish of the other place and of this House and insert this Amendment. Before they ask for that permission, they are now committed to consultation with stated authorities and to putting before Parliament all the information which emerges from those consultations together with the Government's own assessment of the possibilities disclosed. The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, yesterday himself acknowledged the sense of frustration of his own side as well as of this at the inadequate and incomplete facts which had so far been given. I sincerely hope that when we get the revised reports the Government will contrive to dispel this sense of frustration, and indeed the distrust which they have created.

My Lords, there is one other aspect of this Bill to which I would refer. I have thanked the noble Baroness for the courteous and competent way in which she has dealt with the Bill, and I do not detract from those thanks, but only criticise the tactics of the Government when I explain that hitherto all my inquiries about access routes have been met with a statement that the Bill itself dealt only with the reclamation of land and therefore it was not in order to deal with the access routes. But we cannot possibly make a sensible decision about the one matter unless there is full information about the other. For example, one argument for this Bill—and indeed an admitted merit of the Bill—is that it proposes to create new land, something which appeals to me and I think to everyone. But the fact of the matter is that with the new motorways and railways going down to the reclaimed land we possibly take away from existing users far more land than in fact we take from the sea. It really is an absurd saving to reclaim land on the one part and then have to use up so much land to get to it. I understand that so far in this consultative process about the access routes the Rochford District Council, the Rochford Rural District Council, the Chelmsford Borough Council, the Basildon District Council, the Brightlingsea Rural District Council, the Chigwell Urban District Council, the Castlepoint District Council and the Thurrocak Rural District Council have all declared themselves opposed to the Government's proposals. The Essex Association of Parish Councils and the Community Councils Association are also opposed to this wasteful and reactionary attempt to deal with a nuisance at their expense instead of having the imagination to deal with it and reduce the noise at source.

My Lords, I give notice to the Government that I shall put down a Question asking for the total cost of these proposals, including road and rail access—and in 1974 monetary terms, as being the only date on which we shall be looking at this matter again, not in the 1972 terms by which so far the Government have insisted on camouflaging the actual cost. The Bill now goes back to another place, significantly amended, but it is still concerned with what the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, picturesquely called yesterday "a dead duck". I hope that the other place will now ensure, either on the Bill or on the Order, that the deceased bird will receive an appropriate interment.

3.45 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, for his very kind remarks about what we have been able to do for the yachting and sailing community and I am glad that he feels that 'we have met the Select Committee's points. On the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, I should like to say that I think in the course of this debate we have been discussing the facts, a great many of which are known. What we are all concerned about is the forecast. That of course is a much more difficult thing to achieve and that is largely what we shall he concerned with in future study. I should like to confirm that although we have discussed the access routes these are not part of the Bill. The Bill is concerned exclusively with the reclamation of land for a seaport and an airport. I stress the point about consultation because I am quite certain, although I have not seen the results of all the returns from our consultation process, that some will be against it—it does not help the issue to read out a list of authorities which are against it until we have a complete picture on which we can make a judgment. All that I wish to stress in making my remarks is that we have carried out the most extensive consultative process on this matter, and we have taken a great deal of trouble to try to ascertain the views of all the people concerned.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.