HL Deb 08 December 1992 vol 541 cc85-8

Lord Hunt asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether additional provision will have to be made in the Otterburn training area for units which will be withdrawn from Germany in 1993 and whether the environmental impact of this training will conflict with the Government's declared policy in regard to military training in national parks.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Viscount Cranborne)

My Lords, the Ministry of Defence is considering its training requirements at Otterburn in the light of Options for Change, but no decisions have yet been taken. However, I can assure the noble Lord that we will continue to keep the objectives of the park authorities very much in mind and will maintain close contact with them in assessing the environmental impact of any further developments that may be assessed to be needed. The Government's declared policy in respect of national parks recognises that training in them remains essential to military preparedness.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. However, does he not agree that notwithstanding the great needs of our national defence, our national parks are of very great importance to our nation? Does he recall that his honourable friend Mr. David Trippier in accepting that fact and in giving the Government's response to the Countryside Commission's review of national parks last January, stated: The Government has a commitment to a wind-down of military activity in National Parks"? Will the training needs of heavy armour and artillery returned from Germany and stationed at Catterick not inevitably intensify and widen the use of Otterburn training area to the detriment of the quiet enjoyment and recreation of the public in the Northumberland National Park?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I draw the noble Lord's attention to the declaration of commitment to the national parks made by the Ministry of Defence. I am sure the noble Lord is familiar with that document. As regards the second part of his question, it is the Government's policy to release land in national parks which becomes surplus to defence requirements. We shall give advance notice of any impending disposal of redundant land to national park authorities. Turning to the third part of his question, one of the reasons why sites devoted to the defence of the state are so remarkable for the variety of their flora and fauna is that they are ideal places in many instances for conservation.

Lord Norrie

My Lords, is the Minister aware that when the Government replied to the national park review panel, it was stated that major developments in national parks were not to be allowed unless there were special circumstances, and certainly not until after a vigorous examination had been made? With that fact in mind does not my noble friend agree that the decision should be taken by the Government as a whole and not just by the Ministry of Defence and that it should be taken after a public inquiry has been conducted so that the need and alternatives can be fully explored?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, certainly it is open to the authorities that are well established to decide whether a public inquiry is appropriate in the light of any application that may arise from a decision under the present review process. I hope that my department will do its best to play a full part in any inquiry that might ensue. I wish to emphasise that I hope we have a good relationship with the national parks and other authorities. We value that relationship and we hope to build on it.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, have the local planning authorities any power in helping to arrive at a decision regarding military training and national parks?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. It is up to the Ministry of Defence to try to decide what its requirements are for military training. It would like very much to stick to that principle. However, if the requirements impinge on land use, clearly there are other interests involved and we must consult with them.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, is it not the case that if the decision is made on operational grounds, it is not strictly necessary for there to be an environmental impact assessment or a public inquiry? Will the Minister reassure the House that such an inquiry and such an impact assessment will be pursued whether or not it is strictly necessary within the letter of the law?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I can reassure the noble Baroness that we expect to see an environmental impact assessment carried out in the event of the eventuality which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, anticipates. I believe I have already addressed the question of the public inquiry.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, is the Minister aware that large-scale exercises along the lines of Exercise Lionheart and Exercise Crusader provide essential training and experience to officers and men of the Territorial Army? There may be problems with BAOR training areas, but can the Minister say whether exercises of this size will take place, and if so when and where?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I think the advantages to the reserve army of training overseas are widely recognised. I believe the noble Earl recognises that. The ACE Rapid Reaction Corps exercise programme is in the process of being formulated, and ARRC designated units within the reserve army will exercise with their parent formations at the appropriate level.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, in view of the fact that the AS90 guns which it is proposed to trundle around the Otterburn training area weigh between 45 and 50 tonnes each, can the Minister tell the House whether there are any proposals for upgrading the road structure in the Northumberland National Park and, if so, how much it will cost, and who pays?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, as I have already made clear to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, any report which I give to your Lordships' House must of necessity be an interim one because the options are still under consideration. If the option which the noble Lord, Lord Morris, anticipates being chosen—and he has the advantage of me in that respect—is chosen, there will be no increase in the military roads in terms of additional roads being built in the Otterburn training area. There would merely need to be reinforcement of existing roads.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that if a choice is to be made, those of us who live in that area would much rather see an extension of military training in Otterburn rather than in the north Pennines area which is much more important than the remote area of Otterburn from the point of view of tourism?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, whose knowledge of his native heath is well known. I should also point out to the noble Lord that if that option is chosen, we expect important economic and employment benefits to the area as a consequence.

Baroness David

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Army has informed the Northumberland National Park Committee that it will need to expand the camp at Redesdale to take an extra 800 troops, and that a great deal more tarmac will have to be laid to provide servicing, wash-down and storage facilities for the AS90 guns? That would be a major intrusion for the residents of the park and those who visit it for pleasure. Can the Minister say whether anything as bad as that could happen?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am sorry if I am beginning to sound rather like a scratched record.

Noble Lords

No, no!

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am grateful to your Lordships for your kindness! I have to say to the noble Baroness that we are only considering options at the moment. So far as concerns the national park itself and the Otterburn training area, it is clear that there will be no addition to the roads within the park. I should also point out to the noble Baroness that, while it may be difficult for our genus to accept the fact, often the presence of fewer people helps flora and fauna. That is an important balance which we have to try to maintain and on which we shall try to consult with other authorities.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, is there not a general problem, which the noble Viscount will recognise, in relation to Ministry of Defence land and the national park concept? Ministry of Defence land is clearly reserved for training, in the proper way; but when Ministry of Defence land is within a national park, a conflict arises. It is perfectly possible that the noble Viscount might say that we should bomb the Brecon Beacons and shell Snowdonia where Ministry of Defence lands are within a national park. Can we not have a clear statement of government policy, following Mr. Trippier's words which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, quoted, on what the Ministry of Defence considers should be the proper use of its land within national parks?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, no more than 3 per cent. of all national park land is used at any time by the Ministry of Defence. We have good relationships and agreements with national park authorities. We try to keep those agreements in good repair, not only with the authorities but also with the local people who live in the area and the visitors to the area. We make considerable efforts to ensure that in all areas Ministry of Defence land is closed to the public only when it is necessary to do so and is open when it is safe. In relation to the rest of the noble Lord's question, I refer him to the second part of my answer to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt.

Back to