HL Deb 11 November 1996 vol 575 cc786-8

2.47 p.m.

The Earl of Kinnoull asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress is being made on the proposals for the millennium development at Greenwich; and whether British Gas, the owners of the polluted site, are co-operating in accordance with the principles of best environmental practice.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of National Heritage (Lord Inglewood)

My Lords, British Gas is decontaminating the site in line with its responsibilities under the Environment Act 1995. The Environment Agency and the London Borough of Greenwich have approved the remediation strategy and are monitoring the ongoing works. An outline planning application was submitted by W.S. Atkins to the borough council on 31st October 1996 for the construction of the dome and allied buildings.

The Earl of Kinnoull

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his encouraging reply, particularly the progress of British Gas in cleaning up its heavily polluted sites. In view of the massive funding required from public and private sources amounting to something like £400 million, what is the long-term future for the millennium project beyond the exhibition of two years? Can my noble friend confirm that British Gas has offered the land for long-term benefit as part of its contribution? Finally, does my noble friend agree that among the considerable gains to the Greenwich area, one may be the return of commercial traffic to the river Thames, which was lost about a century ago?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, the planning application which was submitted on the 31st October on behalf of the operating company was for temporary exhibition use. The purpose is to build durable low-cost structures on the site which have a long-term use. Over the next few years the operating company will liaise with British Gas, English Partnerships and the London Borough of Greenwich about the long-term use of the whole site. It is important to be clear that the proposed use of the site for the exhibition is temporary. The site will then have been decontaminated and have had infrastructure put into it to enable it to have a use beyond the lifetime of the exhibition. Obviously, this depends upon the aspirations of the landowner and the London Borough of Greenwich.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, in his supplementary question, the noble Lord who put the Question on the Order Paper mentioned the required sum of £400 million. I understand from press reports that there has been a governmental promise through Mr. Heseltine that half of that sum will come from lottery funds. Will the Minister ask the Secretary of State for the Department of the Environment, who is handling this matter, whether he will be as generous towards Manchester, whose heart has been blown out by the IRA, and which, so far, has received only peanuts?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I shall certainly pass on the noble Lord's comments to my right honourable friend. As your Lordships know, the Government are most concerned about Manchester. Last week some announcements were made to help bring forward the proposals to redevelop the city centre where it was blown up.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, if one might go a little wider than pollution, does the Minister agree that this has about it the smell of an impending muddle? Here we have a project running late, with a fixed and very public completion date. That seems to me to be a recipe for putting the contractors in control and for cost overrun. I have a basic question that I should like to ask the Minister. With about half a billion pounds to be spent on cleansing the site and a mainly temporary enjoyment of the site, is there nothing in the areas concerning children, the sick, the elderly, or anything else upon which £500 million could be spent which would be of more permanent benefit to the British public?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, the figure that the noble Lord has given is one that I cannot accept. I want to be absolutely clear for the benefit of your Lordships that we are talking here about a 300-acre site within a 15 minute Tube journey from the centre of London. It was a gasworks, and is seriously contaminated. The proposals have two separate parts to them: this 300-acre site will be decontaminated, infrastructure will be installed, and it will be available to be used in the future. In the short term there is a proposal to put the millennium exhibition on the site. That involves the construction of a dome and other buildings together with a large area of car parking. It is proposed that that will be in place until the end of 2000. Thereafter, the detailed future of the site is unclear; but, as I have already explained, that is a matter for the landowners and the London Borough of Greenwich. The noble Lord expresses some scepticism about the ability to bring this project to fruition within the inevitably constrained time scale. I have every confidence that it will be a case of just-in-time delivery.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may ask this question. He questioned my figure, which was roughly half a billion. Since nothing has been announced to the public, perhaps he could be helpful to the House. We are led to believe that the commission has put a maximum of some £200 million on the expenditure; the Deputy Prime Minister is attempting to raise large sums from private industry. Will he help us with what will be the sum that will be spent on this project? Is there a maximum, and what is it? Can he guarantee that it will be less than half a billion pounds?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I am advised that the cost of the exhibition, which does not include the cost of the infrastructure or the decontamination work, is likely to be of the order of £350 million.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, the Minister said earlier that a planning application had been submitted. Later he said that there would be the building of a dome and a car park. Are not the Government prejudging the outcome of the decision on the planning application?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I hope that I made it clear that the uses to be made of the site were a matter for the London Borough of Greenwich. I have a copy of the consultation document which has been circulated to many thousands of those living in the borough.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, perhaps your Lordships will permit me to speak again, because it will be helpful to the House. Can we confirm that what the Minister has said is that the cost of the temporary structures will be no more than £350 million? Did he say earlier that the cost of decontamination would be about £400 million? If that is the case, does that make three-quarters of a billion pounds?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, the arithmetic in which the noble Lord has engaged comes to approximately three-quarters of a billion pounds, but the figures that he has given are not those directly relevant to the points that he made. It is my understanding that the cost of the exhibition, which includes the construction of the various buildings and decking them out—if that is the right phrase—amounts to about £350 million. I am not in a position to give your Lordships an exact figure for the cost of the decontamination, the installation of the infrastructure and any improvements that may be necessary to the Tube system.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, will the Minister say how much is to be spent on the millennium in Edinburgh and Cardiff?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I regret to say that I do not have the figures immediately to hand; but I shall willingly write to the noble Lord and give him the information that he seeks.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, does the polluter pays principle apply in this case? If so, surely all the decontamination costs should be borne by British Gas? Is that not so?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, the answer to both the noble Baroness's questions is yes.