HL Deb 11 March 1975 vol 358 cc144-6

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will investigate the circumstances under which Pike Brothers, Fayle and Co., predecessors of English China Clays, operated for 20 years an open pit, 80 feet in depth, at West Creech, Dorset, within the Lulworth tank ranges, without planning permission from the county council.


My Lords, the planning control of mineral workings is a matter for the local planning authority. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is informed that Dorset County Council granted planning permission for the working of ball clay on this site in February 1974 after due consideration of the circumstances of the case. He sees no cause for any further investigation of the matter.


My Lords, while thanking the Minister for that reply, may I ask whether it does not avoid the Question which I put? Is it not the case that it is only since 1971 that Crown land has been permitted to accept arrangements without the permission of the local authority, and that for 17 years before that excavations were made without any authority at all from the Dorset County Council? During those 17 years were not these actions illegal, and does the matter not justify an inquiry by Her Majesty's Government?

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, in answer to the first part of my noble friend's supplementary question, a private firm operating in this way on Crown land requires normal planning permission, and always has done so. On the second part of his question, I agree it is clearly regret-table that the matter was not dealt with at the proper time. But it must be remembered that the planning authority did not have access to the site, which was then used by the War Office, and it is an unfrequented area of the range. Also at the time there was a moratorium on ball clay workings while this matter was being looked into. It was under-stood that the firm was going to put in a detailed planning application. Also at the same time in the same area, which as I think my noble friend is aware is not accessible to the public, there were other workings. In fact there was an error and this is agreed, but in fact the whole matter was looked into and Dorset County Council, which is the planning authority, gave planning permission in 1974.


My Lords, is it not the duty of the company to make an application to the planning authority, and is it also the case that no application was made until recently, on the recommendation of the adviser of the English Clay Cross, and that it was not until February last year, after 20 years, that planning permission was given to this company?

Baroness B1RK

No, my Lords, that is not quite so. As I understand it, an application was made in 1953. All the things I have already referred to then happened, which complicated the error. Then, in about 1969 it is true that the firm started operations—as I understand it, under the mistaken belief that they had planning permission. It was then found out this was not so after an aerial Ordnance survey, and then they asked for planning permission. If Dorset County Council had not wanted to give planning permission in 1974 they need not have done so, but in fact they did.

The Earl of ONSLOW

My Lords, did the Minister notice that her noble friend said "English Clay Cross" as opposed to "English China Clays"? Perhaps she might advise him to apply the same rules of law to the Clay Cross gentlemen.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, I cannot be responsible for any Freudian errors that might be made.


My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that neither the present occupiers nor their predecessors have acted otherwise than honourably and legally all the way through, and have never in any way deliberately sought to evade planning obligations?

Baroness BIRK

Yes, my Lords. I think that my noble friend, who has great knowlege of this particular area and the company, is right.


My Lords, did I correctly understand the noble Baroness to say that an application for this development was in fact made in 1953? If that is right, may I ask what happened to that application? Was it refused or allowed?

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, there seems to have been some confusion because several things happened together. As I explained, there was a moratorium at the time because there was a standing conference on ball clay; the county council evidently expected a more detailed plan; the land was inaccessible and nobody ever got to see it, and I think the company thought they were doing the right thing. I understand why the noble Lord is shaking his head, because it is very complicated. The company thought that they were in the right. The planning authority were not aware of this. When they became aware of it they gave permission. It is in an area where ball clay quarrying is going on.


My Lords, provided that no tank fell in, did it much matter?

Viscount MONCK

My Lords, in connection with the question of environment, is the noble Baroness aware that we on the "cheaper" seats at the back are suffering from a very cold draught blowing round our legs? What does the noble Baroness propose to do about it?

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, I am happy to say that that is a quite different Question, but I myself have taken the precaution of wearing high boots!