HL Deb 10 February 1994 vol 551 cc1748-57

7.3 p.m.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a third time.

First, I must say that I am delighted to see that the noble Lord, Lord Saint Oswald, has chosen this as the occasion upon which to make his maiden speech. We all look forward with much interest to hearing him speak.

As your Lordships will recall, the Welbeck project is an integrated scheme of land reclamation and land raising, over a square-mile area of the lower Calder Valley which was ravaged by old mineral workings. The scheme is using colliery spoil to bury existing dereliction under an attractive new landscape, and to prepare a screened void for the disposal of household and trade wastes.

The Welbeck project has already been under way for eight years, with the site being progressively reclaimed, working from its outer areas inwards. Much of the infrastructure is now in place for the spoil and waste intakes. Indeed, over one-third of the site is already permanently restored to countryside, thus much enhancing the environment.

The purpose of the Bill is to enable the diversion of the River Calder to one side of the Welbeck site. That will accelerate the restoration of the river corridor, and its reopening as a public asset. It will also enable the creation of a new landform to higher levels, which will more than double the void space available for spoil and waste within the site.

The Bill was opposed by only two petitioners, one of whom, the Stanley Forum Committee, withdrew its petition early in the Committee proceedings. The Warmfield Company, who are landowners affected by the Welbeck project, thus became the sole petitioner.

The Select Committee heard some 23 days of evidence and argument involving 16 expert witnesses, spanning over nearly a 12-month period. I am sure that your Lordships will wish to join me in expressing gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, and his committee for their dedication and, indeed, stamina in the matter.

As I understand it, the petitioners' case was very wide ranging but made only limited critique of the river diversion itself. The main thrust of their case, rather, was that the despoiled ground of the river loop area, where household and industrial waste is to be put under the Welbeck project, is unsuitable for that purpose. The petitioners argued that an artificial containment site could not be built there; or, if it could, it would not work; or, if it worked, it would be too costly. The promoters have access to expertise in land reclamation, and showed that the land could be, and indeed was being, successfully prepared and pre-treated for that purpose. They demonstrated that a waste containment site could be built, would work, and would be viable.

The Select Committee recommended to the House that the Bill be allowed to proceed subject only to the giving of an undertaking by the promoters to the effect that, in the event of their also obtaining compulsory purchase powers, they would offer to purchase certain residual land. The latter is an area of degraded agriculture, woodlands and historic buildings which remains in the ownership of the petitioners, and which would then be of little use to them. Such an undertaking has been given to the satisfaction of the Select Committee and it may be inspected in the Printed Paper Office.

At this point, I turn to acknowledge, with the promoters' support, the constructive action by the noble Lord, Lord Spens, in withdrawing his amendment. The background to that withdrawal is that negotiations between the promoters and the petitioners have very recently been making good progress. The noble Lord's action will help in taking those discussions forward.

In conclusion, I should make it clear that the Welbeck project is going and will go ahead in some form anyway, including waste disposal on reclaimed ground in the river loop. It has a long-established planning permission. The land is there, the access provisions are being made, and it needs no parliamentary approval. As I said, the scheme has already been in progress for eight years and has incurred capital expenditure in excess of£10 million.

What is at issue as regards the enactment of the Bill is the diversion of the river and the additional void space which would be created over that land. The capacity of the Welbeck project for waste disposal over the council's own land would, thereby, more than double. The Welbeck project also makes positive engineering and environmental use of great quantities of colliery spoil, which would otherwise have to be tipped on greenfield sites elsewhere.

The passage of the Bill will help to secure a long-term spoil disposal outlet for the Selby coalfield, with which I was personally much connected in my days in the coal industry and which is now central to the future of the British coal industry.

The Welbeck project and its river diversion have been justified in economic, engineering and environmental terms. The project has been pursued from the beginning on an all-party, inter-agency and partnership basis.

At Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, expressed the hope that the Bill would have a successful and speedy passage: in the face of that virtual unanimity and in the face of the very restricted objections put forward".—[Official Report, 14/5/91, col. 1548.] Nearly three years later one is bound to reflect that the speed has been a little elusive, and I hope that not too much further time will be lost. This is a substantial environmental scheme and it deserves our backing. I beg to move.

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

7.13 p.m.

Lord Merlyn-Rees

My Lords, I rise to support the Bill. It occurred to me, in the light of the explanation given by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, of the fact that there is no amendment and, therefore, no vote, that the simplest thing would be for all noble Lords to sit down and let the Bill go through. That view is reinforced by the fact that the Bill will go back to the other place where local Members will have their say. My honourable friend the Member for Normanton, will raise a number of issues, not least that of Newland Park, about which the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, will say a word. When I read that he represents the Wakefield Historical Society, I am on his side. It is very important that local history is not forgotten when such schemes are passed.

For most of today I have been involved with the Welsh local government Bill, which concerns my roots; my interest now is as a former Member of Parliament for Leeds. I am supported by my noble friend Lord Milner of Leeds whose father represented part of the area that I represented for 30 years. So between us we go back to the First World War. I look forward to Welbeck, which is next door to Wakefield, becoming a place for wildlife to thrive, for extensive recreation and leisure and becoming a good deal better than it is now.

I am chairman of the South Leeds Groundwork Trust which is a "greening" organisation. The Bill has the support of that organisation.

As the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, stated, holes left by mining must be filled in, scars must be covered up and new hills and valleys created. We shall use coalmining waste and increase the amount of household waste.

It is on the subject of household waste that I wish to speak. The origins of the Welbeck project go back 10 years and a good deal further than that to when the West Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council was formed. That council inherited waste disposal arrangements which varied widely, but they were inadequate. The crisis in landfill grew to such a proportion that in 1975 there was an emergency programme on solid waste disposal. The plain fact is that the Welbeck project became one important element of the new approach which sought to create at least a 10-year supply of strategic landfill capacity. The Welbeck project is expected to offer 20 years of waste disposal and it is now by far the most important household waste facility in West Yorkshire. It is important because so little additional capacity has been created elsewhere in the county in recent years.

The Welbeck project has been in planning for approximately 10 years, and £10 million of public money has been spent in preparatory work. Despite the recession and all the efforts in relation to recycling, West Yorkshire Waste Management still has to arrange for the disposal of three-quarters of a million tonnes of household waste per annum as a statutory responsibility. It also faces demands to provide for a similar tonnage of industrial and trade waste, as it traditionally has provided. Landfill capacity is vitally necessary. The river diversion scheme is the important part of the project.

I understand that times have changed since 1986. The Government are privatising waste disposal. It is easy to say that we should leave the market to take care of future provisions, and render to the market that which is for the market, but the scars which I found in West Yorkshire 30 years ago were the results of free market forces. Those scars were not the result of public concern; they were the result of "where there is muck there is money". A lot of money must have come out of that situation and a lot of muck was left.

The scheme has the support of all parties not only here but in the Wakefield district council and the Leeds district council. The procedures of the Bill take a long time. We in West Yorkshire are second to none in our support of democratic methods, but the Bill is taking a long time. When I noted the proper concern in the Garden of England, in Kent, about the effect of the Channel Tunnel line, I wished that we could have had as much support about the effect of many other things in West Yorkshire over the years. We want to see progress.

I realise that there has been a change in the law; namely, the Environmental Protection Act. However, I understand that the promoters have left a clear offer on the table and are awaiting a response. In any event, the outcome would in no way affect the need for the river diversion. As the noble Lord, Lord Ezra stated, the enactment of the Bill would more than double the capacity of the site for waste disposal.

Against that background I hope that the Bill will get a Third Reading. It will go to another place and be looked at by local Members of Parliament who know the area a good deal better than most noble Lords. That is an important part of the democratic process. We have already looked at the project in our Select Committee. I support the Third Reading of the Bill as moved by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra.

7.16 p.m.

Lord Saint Oswald

My Lords, I understand that it is unusual for a maiden speech to be heard during a Third Reading debate on an amendment. However, as the amendment has been withdrawn, perhaps I am bending the rules less than I would otherwise be doing. It is because I have a special interest and concern for the Welbeck project that I have entered my name on the list of speakers for the debate.

My family house is only six miles from the Wakefield city centre. It is known as Nostell Priory and is about seven miles from the Welbeck site. Nostell was given to the National Trust in 1952 but my family has continued to live there and I hope that it will continue to do so for many generations to come. It is only natural that we should consider the house and perhaps the family to be an integral part of the historical, cultural and environmental heritage of Wakefield.

There was a time when our countryside was all too frequently devastated by mineral workings after the fields had been exhausted and abandoned. They were allowed to become overgrown and were put to no further use. I welcome wholeheartedly the fact that throughout our country these problems are being handled with a vastly improved attitude as such sites are being restored and, where necessary, landscaped for practical and scenic values.

The Welbeck project concerns one of those areas which, instead of being left as useless and abandoned land, is being put to a very different purpose. I would not support the Welbeck project, nor the proposed version of the River Calder, unless I was sure that what has been envisaged will be carried out to the highest standards both for scenic and safety measures.

I do not intend to spend any time speaking on the technical issues which have arisen at the planning stage of the proposed diversion. Not only would it be completely wrong of me to do so, but also I would be interfering in matters which the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, understands and has explained so well since his experience of these matters goes back many years.

It says much about the concept and the conduct of the Welbeck project that there has been so little local opposition to so great an undertaking. I have to admit that until I visited the site several months ago it was only a name in the newspapers to me. I was ignorant of the true scale and complexity of the endeavour and, indeed, of the fact that it had already been under way for many years.

The Welbeck project is one of those things that has to be seen to be believed, and I mean that literally. I have visited it on more than one occasion and it is open to any members of the public who are interested in going there. In the past 12 months it has had no fewer than 1,400 visitors, including 600 children and their teachers, 200 students and lecturers, and sundry other people, including professionals who come to see it from their own point of view.

To me the project is remarkable for two reasons: its vision and its care. First, as regards its vision, somehow at Welbeck the engineers and planners have broken free from the constraints of their specialist roles and responsibilities and produced a concept possibly never before attempted. Basically, that concept says, let us take three problems—derelict land, waste and spoil disposal—and solve them together, to mutual advantage, at the same location.

The project does that by enhancing today's technologies in an economic way: the ability to discharge a 1,500 tonne payload train of spoil in half an hour; the ability to move material by machine at a fraction of historic costs, dealing with quantities and qualities which eclipse even the Channel Tunnel muckshift; and perhaps most critical to this Bill, the ability to design and construct a new river corridor with a predictable performance in flood or drought conditions.

Secondly, there is the care with which this vision is being carried out, and especially its care for the environment. Perhaps most central in the context of the Bill is the detail with which the river diversion is being engineered and landscaped. This is not only from the viewpoint of the stability of the new channel. The aim is also to create a wider river valley which will offer a rich variety of habitats for nature to recolonise, and a recreational asset for generations to enjoy. Already one can see on site at Welbeck a quality of restoration which not only puts right the years of mineral working dereliction, but truly vies with the attractiveness of the pre-existing countryside.

It is for your Lordships to decide whether the promoters' scheme would become a viable and valuable asset to the region. A mass of evidence has been produced and perhaps it is not an easy decision to reach, but it has been summarised by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, who will doubtless have more to say in his final speech tonight. Certainly, I have no hesitation in saying that in my opinion every step has been taken to ensure the highest standards of technical excellence for a scheme that could become a precedent for comprehensive planning on other sites, not only in this country but also overseas.

There is only a short amount of time at our disposal so I shall not continue at any greater length, except to add this. There is one overriding problem about coal spoil and household waste which no one can possibly argue is not with us all the time. Both have to be disposed of somehow. It is essential that they should be disposed of as efficiently as possible. If that process can be used to advantage, what can be better than that?

To put it bluntly, the problem is this. Is the scheme for the diversion of the River Calder to form a loop for the containment of additional waste matter well conceived and, above all, is it safe and to the advantage of public interests? If your Lordships decide that the high standard required cannot be attained, the promoters may well have to sacrifice the river diversion scheme and the loop for the containment of the additional spoil and be satisfied to carry on with the Welbeck project as it is now being worked. That would be a great disappointment to many and I hope that it will not occur. However, if your Lordships agree that those standards will be attained, I hope that the Bill can be enacted in the other place as expeditiously as possible.

7.25 p.m.

Lady Kinloss

My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to congratulate on behalf of the whole House the noble Lord, Lord Saint Oswald, on his excellent maiden speech. As everyone will have realised, he spoke with great knowledge of the area which is under discussion. He spoke with feeling, he was interesting and non-controversial, all of which are excellent in a maiden speech. We look forward to hearing the noble Lord on many future occasions.

It is now nearly three years since we debated the Second Reading of the Bill. One of the reasons for the dereliction of some of the land under consideration is the result of uncontrolled mineral working in the past. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, that, although not a Yorkshirewoman, I have lived there for many years, and I have always been told that where there's muck, there's brass, not money.

The enhanced colliery spoil is being used to prepare and screen containment cells for waste disposal and to help restore the derelict land to fields, hills, lakes, woods and for recreational purposes, not forgetting wildlife and the environment generally.

North Yorkshire County Council finds that electricity generators have recently added to its spoil disposal problems by tightening their fuel specification. Whereas previously 18 per cent. of ash content was allowed, this has now been reduced to 16 per cent. This leads to the generation of more waste overall, and within that there is a proportion of wet, fine waste which is difficult to handle. There is not a one-way traffic in waste disposal from North Yorkshire to West Yorkshire, it occurs both ways. Some West Yorkshire domestic waste goes to Darrington in North Yorkshire for disposal and in exchange some North Yorkshire colliery spoil will go to the Welbeck site in West Yorkshire. If the Welbeck scheme fails, North Yorkshire County Council fears that the size of the tipping proposal at Gascoigne Wood would have to be increased.

There will always be industrial waste and household waste to be disposed of somewhere. Utilising the Welbeck site would not only improve the environment with controlled waste disposal but would provide many amenities for Wakefield and the surrounding area.

I hope that the Bill will succeed, and I warmly support the noble Lord, Lord Ezra.

7.28 p.m.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton

My Lords, I wish to say just a few words in support of the Bill. I say them as a Yorkshirewoman born and bred. I want to deal particularly with the social and environmental dimensions of the project and the river diversion, not the technical matters.

The progressive reclamation of Welbeck for leisure and recreational activities represents one of the most significant regeneration programmes in the country. This is at a time when we hear of so many other natural environments being destroyed by road programmes and other development activities. The project will create a recreational and environmental asset on the doorsteps of Wakefield and Normanton, an area—as my noble friend Lord Merlyn-Rees said—not noted at present for its beauty. It provides more and better lakes, wetlands, view points, river banks and waterways, some of which are already being discovered and enjoyed by local families, fishing clubs, boaters and bird watchers.

On the question of access and after-use, the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, has reported on the assurances given to the residents' group, the Stanley Forum, which originally objected to the scheme.

Concern has also been voiced on the future of the Newland Hall area. The Wakefield council has given an undertaking that in the event of its purchasing the area from the Warmfield petitioners, it will be retained as an area for countryside and leisure purposes. There is no intention by the local authority to use this historic area for the deposit of controlled waste. However, like my noble friend Lord Merlyn-Rees, I trust that the ancient monument situated on the banks of the River Calder will be protected and that the Wakefield Historical Society will be involved in the discussions on the reinstatement of the ancient monument.

The local authority has been prepared to address all the details in its planning with the utmost care for nature and for community concerns. That has been done since the inception of the project some eight years ago, not only in terms of both technical studies and achievement on the ground, but also through an extensive programme of public liaison, information and education.

There has been close involvement with both English Nature and the Countryside Commission throughout the project. The project has been welcomed by the Council for the Protection of Rural England. It welcomed it on the basis that, large scale measures are necessary to deal with the large scale problems of the area". The project has the support of the other four district authorities in West Yorkshire because it will provide a major leisure and environmental amenity to the area —an amenity that will benefit not only the residents of the immediate locality in Wakefield but all the residents of West Yorkshire.

I hope that your Lordships' House will support the Third Reading of the Bill.

7.32 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I rise with great sadness because my appearance at the Dispatch Box is due to the absence of my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey. Sadly, he received the news this afternoon that his father has died. As a consequence, he had immediately to attend to his duties. I wish to say, I am sure on behalf of the whole House, that we understand why he is unable to be present and express our deepest sympathy to him and his family at this time.

I know that my noble friend would have enjoyed appearing at the Dispatch Box on the subject because he did so three years ago. I indicate, as he would have done, that by convention the Labour Party has no partisan view on the issue. We are neutral on the matter. We hope that the findings of the committee will be forwarded to another place. Any remarks that I make are from a purely personal point of view.

First, I wish to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, on an impressive, masterly and brief outline of the issues. I was present three years ago at the Second Reading of the Bill. Those who take an interest in such matters will have followed the Bill's progress over the past years—if progress is the right word for a Bill that has been in Committee for such a lengthy period. Nevertheless, I was impressed by what the noble Lord stated about the outcome if the Bill was passed not only in this House but in another place.

Reference has been made to the economic, environmental and financial aspects. Those issues have been dealt with fairly and kindly. There is no doubt that there will be economic advantage to the communities in the area. We ought not to be mealy-mouthed. There are definite advantages in transforming a derelict and obsolete piece of land into an environment which will produce jobs and will be supported by the communities.

On the social aspect, people living nearby will undoubtedly be affected by the operation of the new scheme. It is right and proper that we should listen carefully to what will undoubtedly be said—we may not hear it at first hand but at second hand—by the Member of Parliament, Mr. Bill O'Brien. Quite rightly, he wishes to ensure that the worries of his constituents are fully taken into account. Not only is that the proper thing to do, but many noble Lords in this Chamber may have served, as I have done, on a planning committee and will recognise that it is pointless not to listen to the views of any sector of the community affected. Their views hold weight. Those who are affected by the operation of the scheme are entitled to have their view taken fully into consideration.

I have been impressed by the dedication and determination of local councils, which recognise that an opportunity has occurred in the past few years to take advantage of a situation which was not of their making but which can be transformed, environmentally and economically, to the advantage of the people whom they represent.

I was pleased to hear my noble friend Lord Merlyn-Rees indicate the all-party nature of the issue. It is not simply the authorities, as I understand it, but the members of authorities of all political complexions who favour the scheme making progress. When I read the papers I was impressed at the genuine effort to achieve the agreement of all the interests which are affected, including business and industry. Such people are perfectly entitled to make sure that their interests are protected and well looked after. I was pleased to hear in the past two days that the councils' determined efforts to make progress through agreement appear to have borne fruit. Therefore I believe that the communities in the environs of Wakefield, Bradford and Calderdale, Kirklees and Leeds have been well served by their councils.

In this Chamber tonight we have been well served by our procedures. They have been somewhat exhaustive, but I hope that at the end of the day the people who will be affected will feel that their voice has been heard.

A number of people will take a keen interest in the Bill when it goes to another place. Although I am a Geordie and know the mining area, I cannot remotely claim the interests indicated by those who have spoken in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Saint Oswald, is to be congratulated on making his maiden speech on such an important issue—many of us speak in general terms in our maiden speeches. The noble Lord made a great impression on the House. When the Bill passes to another place, Members of Parliament who serve the interests of the people of the Wakefield area will wish to ensure that the views of their constituents are fully taken into account. We know that those Members will not be backward in coming forward to ensure that their points are taken up by the Committee. Even at the Third Reading of the Bill in another place they will have their opportunity.

We have been well served in this House. I speak in an individual capacity, but we on the Labour Front Bench hope that the Minister will say kind things about the Bill and speed it on its way.

7.39 p.m.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, perhaps I, too, may first congratulate my noble friend Lord Saint Oswald on his maiden speech. He spoke with enormous lucidity and sensitivity about land which he obviously knows well and about which he feels passionately.

As my noble friend Lady Blatch said during the Second Reading of the Bill in May 1991, the Government have considered the content of the Bill and have no objection in principle to the powers being sought by the council. I am glad to be able to say that remains the position today.

The Government have given financial assistance and encouragement for the Welbeck project; but in view of the so far unresolved matter of the compulsory purchase order associated with the project, which is still to be decided by the Secretary of State, I trust that noble Lords will understand why the Government's position must remain essentially one of neutrality.

However, I hope that your Lordships will give the Bill a Third Reading so that it may proceed to another place where I am certain that all the points raised by your Lordships' House will be most carefully considered.

7.40 p.m.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, I wish to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, including the noble Earl, Lord Arran, whom I thank for his benevolent neutrality. I hope that I can use the word "benevolent" without causing any offence. All the speeches have been important; but included in them were two particularly important ones from the noble Lord, Lord Saint Oswald, to whom reference has already been made. His speech was all the more relevant to our proceedings because of his great knowledge of the area, stretching back a long time through his family.

I also wish to express appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. At short notice and in the sad circumstances affecting the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, which prevented his appearance, the noble Lord, Lord Graham, took on his role and carried it out admirably, expressing his personal opinions.

Rarely has there been such a unanimous view from all speakers in the debate. Most of those who spoke have probably seen the site and could not fail to have been impressed with all that has been done. I wish to pay tribute to the City of Wakefield for the work that it has done. We have all been extremely well-served by them, with every form of assistance that we could have required in order to conduct proceedings in this House. I wish particularly to express appreciation to Doctor Chris Macdonald who provided the briefing to all of us. He will, I hope, be totally satisfied with the satisfactory outcome, if I may anticipate the conclusion of proceedings.

On Question, Bill read a third time, and passed, and sent to the Commons.

Viscount Long

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until five minutes past eight.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.43 to 8.5 p.m..]