HL Deb 22 March 1983 vol 440 cc1006-11

2.55 p.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a third time.—(Lord Lucas of Chilworth.)

Baroness White

My Lords, before I turn to the subject of the Conwy Tunnel (Supplementary Powers) Bill, perhaps I might be permitted to refer to the loss that we have suffered through the death last weekend of our Welsh spokesman in another place, Mr. Alec Jones. This, added to the death of the Parliamentary Secretary for Wales, on the Government side, and to that of the chairman of our Welsh Development Agency, which is the major instrument for public works in the Principality, means that within three weeks we have lost three of our leading public figures in Wales, all of them in their fifties. I thought it would be only appropriate, this being the first Welsh business that we have had, to mention that fact and to express our distress and sense of loss.

If I may now turn to this short and, on the whole, very welcome Bill, there are one or two points which ought to be made before it leaves your Lordships' House. I think it would be fair to say that there are no objections to the Bill itself. The objections which had been raised locally have, I understand, now been resolved. The one remaining concern with which I am acquainted is a very natural one, and that is that this major construction exercise in North Wales, which is expected to last some four to five years, shall rely, so far as it is at all possible, upon labour from the locality. North Wales has suffered grievously in the last few years from industrial decline, and, although it is at the edge of the historic holiday area of Wales, nevertheless it is within travelling distance of areas which have lost their industrial enterprises, and we hope very much that this will be taken into account in the arrangements made for the construction work in the area.

But further than that, I hope very much that we may be able to receive some assurance from the Minister, to whom the matter has been mentioned, that, in addition to the construction of the tunnel, full account is already being taken of the other cognate and related works which are needed, if we are to receive the full benefit from this entirely desirable enterprise. I was myself very much concerned in the whole exercise of changing the mind of the Secretary of State for Wales, who originally thought he wanted a fourth bridge in parallel with the three existing bridges, one of which, at least, disfigures the Conwy estuary. The one constructed by Telford, and the other constructed by Stephenson, might be regarded as historic ornaments, but not, I fear, the rather mediocre construction of 1959.

But valuable though it is to have the tunnel construction, which is broadly welcomed, and for which this Bill makes provision, its value will be very greatly reduced for the historic city of Conwy itself, although it will be of great value to the holiday areas to the west and to those proceeding to Snowdonia, unless other undertakings are realised which will protect Conwy, which is designated an area of special conservation value. It is a mediaeval walled town, almost complete. We lack, I fear, the colour and the sunshine of Carcassonne, but our walls are a good deal more authentic than some of those and they are adjacent to one of the most splendid historic castles in the whole Kingdom. It is an architectural triumph. It is also, historically, one of the leading monuments in Europe and of international standing.

It is of the utmost importance that when one is securing a better traffic flow to Llandudno and other resorts to the west one should pay the fullest possible attention to maximising the benefits for the town of Conwy itself. The tunnel enables through traffic to by-pass this precious monument, but unless further steps are taken, on traffic management and car parking in particular, the town itself, although it will certainly be relieved of a good deal of through traffic, will not realise its full potential as a quite splendid example of almost unspoiled mediaeval architecture.

It is for this reason that those of us who advocated the tunnel in the first place also have both hopes and apprehensions about the other arrangements which may be made. From the exit of the tunnel to what is now called the North Wales expressway—not a term I myself particularly like: possibly my noble friend Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos can turn it into more musical Welsh—there is a slipway which will bring the traffic across the estuary and then hack towards the northwest entrance in the great wall through which pedestrians can pass with ease, but only if adequate provision is made for them to park their vehicles on the outside of the walls. This will be a very expensive project. I am concerned that the Government should recognise the international status of Conwy. I doubt whether the district or, in this case, the county council would undertake works on the kind of scale which will be needed if one is to maximise the advantages of this alternative entry to the town.

If one is going to see Conwy as it should be seen, it is also essential that there should be a degree of pedestrianisation of the main street. If one entered from the north-west instead of from the south-east, which one does at present, one would then have a magnificent, almost processional way from the gate down the main street to the great castle below. I believe that this is of very considerable importance if one is to maximise the value of the tunnel approach, by contrast with the original bridge proposal. I shall not weary your Lordships with the details. Those who know Conwy know exactly what I mean. Therefore I ask noble Lords to take my word for it that unless great care is taken over traffic management and car parking one will lose a good deal of the value for Conwy itself of the construction with which this Bill is concerned.

I am really saying, through the noble Lord the Minister to his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales, that the Government should recognise that this is an internaional situation and not one for which local authorities, unaided, should be expected to take full financial responsibility. It is a situation where one has something which should be safeguarded by the fullest and most imaginative treatment of the totality of the scheme, not merely the construction of the tunnel, which in itself we fully welcome.

3.5 P. M.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, I join with my noble friend in saying how very greatly we shall miss Alec Jones who was held in such high regard and affection in Wales and, indeed, in the House of Commons, where his services were so much appreciated on all sides of the House. His contribution to Welsh public life over the last 20 years or so has been significant. We sympathise with his wife in her bereavement.

We are grateful to my noble friend for raising these questions about the Conwy Tunnel (Supplementary Powers) Bill. Some of the matters which my noble friend raised were referred to during the Second Reading debate which, because of other commitments, she was unable to attend. The point about local unemployment and the need for work was stressed at that stage. We were glad to receive the assurance of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House who replied on that occasion that strenuous efforts were being made to ensure that the builders, and any subcontractors, would use local labour, wherever possible. We also urged that the Government should look at the Dinorwic hydro-electric scheme as an example of a case where over 2,000 men were employed and the locality was able to find well over 80 per cent. of the workforce. Those men are now available. Because of the rundown of the construction of the hydro-electric scheme they are unemployed. We all hope that new opportunities will arise here for those men.

My noble friend was also right to remind us that Aberconwy Castle is concerned, because of the inevitable problems that will arise during the four years of construction. As my noble friend has reminded the House, we are considering a walled town and castle of outstanding historic importance. I should remind the House that 1983 is designated in Wales as the Year of the Castle. Certainly we have a duty to preserve our castles. I agree with what my noble friend said about making part of Conwy a pedestrian area. I do not propose to make the rest of this speech in Welsh, as my noble friend suggested, however interesting that might be. My noble friend Lord PrysDavies took the Oath in Welsh recently and I shall be content with that for the time being. But pedestrianisation of an area of Conwy would be extremely helpful. It is also interesting to learn that the advisory committee has met only twice since 1976. In view of this major scheme, that seems to me to be quite remarkable. Perhaps the noble Lord can tell us why the committee has not been so active as it might have been.

I agree also with what my noble friend said about parking facilities. I know Conwy very well indeed. I know that the need to plan parking facilities with the utmost care is vital in the interests not only of the residents of Conwy but of the enormous numbers of people who come to Conwy for tourist purposes during the summer months. The A55 is one of the most important roads in Wales. Parking facilities are, therefore, of the first importance. I hope that the scheme will now go forward speedily and successfully.

3.9 p.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, we all share the sorrow expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady White, at the sad news of the death over the week-end of Mr. Alec Jones. As the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition has said, he played a most valuable part in the life of Wales and will be sorely missed by his friends.

I now turn to the Bill before us. It might be as well if I reminded noble Lords that we have to take into account a number of factors. Certainly to make the best use of the improvements which the Government are making to this strategic A55 trunk road it is necessary for the local authorities to make their own arrangements to gain maximum benefit for their localities. In the context of the scheme that is the subject of this Bill, Gwynedd County Council and Aberconwy Borough Council have jointly produced a local plan that takes account of the changes resulting from the scheme. The needs of the tourist industry have figured large in the planning process because it is so vital to the area, and recognised as being such. For example, I understand that among the traffic management schemes which are being contemplated there is certainly a new car park proposed for construction in Conwy.

Another feature of the proposals for dealing with the traffic is the proposed Llandudno Link Road. Noble Lords will understand if I pass no comment on this matter, because my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales has to act in a quasi-judicial capacity in confirming or otherwise the compulsory purchase order and side roads order promoted by the local highway authority. I can say in general terms, however, that the local authorities have already demonstrated an awareness to do what is necessary to complement the Secretary of State's improvement works in the interest of their areas. I myself can recall having been stationed at Bangor, unhappily many years ago. I recall the area as being one of very great beauty and charm. There is no doubt that the Welsh Office and my right honourable friend will have the general significance of the area well in mind when discussing this matter with the local authorities.

With regard to the pedestrianisation of Conwy, to which both the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, and the noble Baroness referred, this matter has to be treated most sympathetically. The environment of the ancient town of Conwy, with its magnificent castle and town walls, to which the noble Lords, the Leader of the Opposition and Lord Hooson, referred eloquently at Second Reading, will benefit enormously when this scheme has been completed, by allowing through traffic to by-pass the town. It is estimated that the town will be relieved of more than 60 per cent. of its traffic in consequence. In such circumstances, the conditions for pedestrians will be significantly improved and the possibility of pedestrianisation, or other ways of giving pedestrians greater priority, come to mind. Such proposals are obviously for consideration by the local authorities in the first instance. I understand that Aberconwy Borough Council is very conscious of the need to plan ahead for the situation when the tunnel is completed, at which time I hope—and I am sure that all noble Lords hope—that the numbers of tourists and visitors to Conwy may be even greater than those coming to the town at the moment.

This development provides a unique opportunity for all the bodies concerned—not least central Government—and the points that have been made this afternoon will of course be taken into account in all the considerations. The noble Baroness made a particular point with regard to local labour. We have had debates quite frequently in your Lordships' House—even last night—with regard to the employment situation. Clause 17 of the Bill gives encouragement for the use of local labour in the construction works, and my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal made a particular point of this during the course of the Second Reading. I am happy that the Bill has been given a very favourable reception in both Houses. The improvement scheme that this Bill will enable has been widely welcomed, both because it will remove a bottleneck to trunk road traffic and because it is an imaginative solution which will preserve and enhance the environment of the ancient town of Conwy. Incidentally, it will be the first time that a road tunnel of the immersed tube type has been constructed in this country and I know that the project will attract a great deal of interest.

As noble Lords are aware, a number of features of this Bill reflect various points put to the Welsh Office in consultation with the statutory authorities and with local bodies having an interest in the scheme. I know that the Welsh Office will continue to liaise very closely with all parties to ensure that the work is carried out with as little disruption as possible in the area, and will lead to the satisfactory conclusion of a matter which has been long outstanding.

On Question, Bill read a third time, and passed.