HL Deb 24 July 1996 vol 574 cc1374-5

2.41 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether recent advances in technology make it unnecessary to build high chimneys for discharging emissions from factories and plants in respect of particular processes in certain industries.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, chimneys are needed in order to disperse any atmospheric emissions which cannot reasonably be controlled in other ways. The height of any particular factory chimney will depend on calculations which take into account a number of factors, including improvements in technology and quality of the air in the area.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am grateful, as always, to my noble friend for his reply. if pollution of the air can now be controlled in certain processes—for example, modern incineration and recycling of refuse—without the need for tall chimneys, can that be turned to the public's advantage by adapting regulations relating to industrial buildings so that there will be fewer excrescences scarring our landscape and so that new factories can more easily harmonise with their surroundings?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I agree that where it is possible, it is obviously better to have smaller chimneys. Where there are technological improvements those factors will be taken into account when deciding the height of the chimney which is necessary. Even after many of the cleaning processes have been undertaken, it is necessary to ensure that any pollutants, such as there are, are dispersed in the air and away from human beings. A great deal depends on the lie of the surrounding land, and the emissions from the chimney.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I am as baffled by the portent of the Question as he showed he was by his answer? The Question seems to be very Delphic. Will the Minister comment, because I am sure that he has been given notice by his noble friend of what this is all about, upon which particular factories and plants are referred to in the Question, what processes are referred to, and which are the "certain industries" referred to? We greatly look forward to hearing the Minister's response.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I do not know what has come over the noble Lord, Lord Williams, this afternoon. He says that he cannot understand the Question. Well, I am very sorry for him. I understood it perfectly. Perhaps I can explain in terms of one syllable. My noble friend is worried, because he thinks that large chimneys affect the visual amenity. He asks whether it would not be nice if we could have smaller chimneys. My reply was that if the technological improvements in dealing with emissions are such that we can have smaller chimneys, then we will have them.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, given the fact that none of the reasons for high chimneys applies to Battersea Power Station, can those chimneys be taken down now?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am not too familiar with the details of individual places. I shall find out about what my noble friend refers to, but my guess is that it is a listed building.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, does not the Minister agree that most modern factories do not have any chimneys? Is not that an end to be very much applauded?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Baroness must go to some pretty funny factories if they do not have any chimneys. Most of the factories I see have some form of process, whether it is heating or manufacturing, and most of them require to get rid of the emissions.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, in order to assist the noble Lord, Lord Williams, may I ask my noble friend whether he is aware of the modern plant built in south-east London for the incineration and efficient recycling of municipal waste, to which a number of us and Members of another place were invited about four weeks ago, where we were told that in future, due to the great technological advances, tall chimneys, like the one there, will not be necessary?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I do hope that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, understands that question. I am glad that my noble friends went to the place to which I, too, have been. It is a remarkable building. There are enormous technological improvements which enable there to be fewer emissions from chimneys. The chimney has to be high enough to enable the emissions to be dispersed in the atmosphere so as not to harm human beings.