HL Deb 04 March 1997 vol 578 cc1704-6

3.2 p.m.

Lord Marlesford asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will consider fresh alternatives for the Salisbury bypass in view of the recent submission of the Countryside Commission that "no form of mitigation would be sufficient to offset the significant damage to a landscape of heritage importance" which would be caused by the present proposals.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen)

My Lords, the Highways Agency report on the scope for realigning the section of the route across the sensitive area of the River Avon floodplain south of Salisbury, produced in consultation with the Countryside Commission and others, has just been received. The Secretaries of State for the Environment and for Transport will consider the commission's views as part of their consideration of the report.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, does my noble friend understand my distress that having this morning been to Salisbury for an on-the-spot look at the proposed routes—and I am sorry that he was not able to accept my invitation to accompany me—I found that the present proposal is to build the road across the water meadows of both the River Avon and the River Nadder; to build it on three sides of Salisbury Cathedral, within a mile of the cathedral, and to build it on embankments which are between 20 and 30 feet high? Does my noble friend agree that that would devastate a landscape which, as a result of Constable's paintings, is sacred not only to Britain but to much of the western world? Will he urge his colleagues to go back to the drawing board and try to solve Salisbury's traffic problems in a more civilised manner?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I accept that my noble friend has strong views on this subject; but I am sure that he will accept that there was a year-long public inquiry and that the inspector concluded that the provision of a bypass was justified. I am sure also that my noble friend recognises that there is a real problem which requires a real solution.

The planning process is still under way. My right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for Transport and for the Environment are considering the Highways Agency report. That report will be published and comments invited upon it. Beyond that, it would not be appropriate for me to comment in more detail at this stage of the planning process.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, will the noble Viscount accept that in addition to the anxieties expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, there is anxiety also about the site of special scientific interest in the meadows, and about the fact that the River Avon and its tributaries is in line to be declared as a site of a special area of conservation? I understand that English Nature has undertaken an examination of the problem. Has English Nature reported; and, if so, what has been its advice? Will that advice be available for us to see?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, yes. English Nature was part of the review and its comments will be published. I understand also that the environmental and landscape impacts of the bypass were explored in depth at the public inquiry and that the Countryside Commission and English Nature did not object to the bypass proposals at the time of the inquiry.

Lord Congleton

My Lords, I have lived in or near Salisbury for 35 years and I am well acquainted with the problem alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, with whose views I agree entirely. I managed to obtain a copy of the Countryside Commission's letter sent to the Department of the Environment and the Department of Transport. It is a very strong letter. Does the Minister understand how strong that letter is? It refers to environmental, scenic and ecological matters which have been underlined by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. Will the Minister confirm that it does not refer to the traffic situation, and there is much anxiety—

Noble Lords

Speech, speech! Question, question!

Lord Congleton

My Lords, I am coming to my question. I hope that the Minister will understand that there is much local anxiety concerning the effectiveness of the proposed bypass. Can he assure your Lordships and those who live locally that the bypass will have the effect which it was proposed to have?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, there is a very real traffic problem in the area and the inspector concluded that the provision of a bypass was justified. My right honourable friends were minded to accept that view but they commissioned further work on the specific points which I mentioned. They will be consulting further on those points and the views of the commission and the noble Lord, Lord Congleton, will be taken into account.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, I have some experience of what happens when a new road is to be built. This is to be an 11-mile road. It is not a short bypass. I have never received quite as many representations as I have received in relation to this proposal. The site of special scientific interest is also of vital importance. People are asking whether the public inquiry was convinced that the only way to relieve the traffic in Salisbury was by this proposed bypass. Will the Minister not take back this scheme and re-examine it within the Government's new and very welcome proposal for planning on a regional basis instead of on such a local basis as it seems to have been prepared?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I can merely restate the position that I gave earlier. I direct the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, to paragraph 43 of the letter to which I referred in which it stated that after taking into account the inspector's views on the possible alternative options put before the inquiry, the Secretaries of State are not persuaded by objectors' arguments that alternative solutions are available. The Secretaries of State felt that it was important to commission further work on those environmentally sensitive questions. That detailed work has now been done. It has arrived only recently in the department. It is extremely important that that should be considered fully and comments are invited upon that work. However, we recognise that there are strongly held views on both sides of the argument and we do not wish to see any unnecessary delay.