HC Deb 27 July 1953 vol 518 cc89-90W
83. Mr. Albu

asked the Minister of Supply whether he has received a report from the committee which he set up to consider the future of Woolwich Arsenal.

Mr. Sandys

The Select Committee on Estimates for the Session 1951–52, in its Twelfth Report, recommended thatThe question of the use of the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, and its fuller integration with the whole organisation of the Royal Ordnance Factories should be given immediate consideration by the Royal Ordnance Factory Board"; and that "the possibilities of concentrating the work and releasing as much as possible of the site for other development should be carefully examined.

The Woolwich Arsenal site, which is at present wholly occupied by Government establishments, covers an area of 1,300 acres. The western end is mostly occupied by manufacturing activities, including a gun factory and an ammunition factory. The eastern end consists largely of low-lying marsh land and is used for the storage of explosives. The centre is mainly occupied by a filling factory, research establishments, proof butts, and Service stores. There are altogether nearly 14,000 people employed on the site.

Last January, I set up an Interdepartmental Committee, composed of officials of the Government Departments concerned, to examine the problem raised in the Select Committee's Report. The Interdepartmental Committee, which was instructed to consult with outside parties interested in this question, has now submitted its report to me. In the light of this report and of other representations which I have received, I am considering the following proposals:

  1. 1. That the filling factory, which is in a semi-derelict condition, should be finally closed.
  2. 2. That the site occupied by the filling factory should, when decontaminated and cleared, be made available for other purposes, possibly for use by a public authority.
  3. 3. That the existing gun and ammunition factories should be amalgamated into a single Royal Ordnance Factory, which should be given a special role suited to the local conditions, skill and experience of the Arsenal (namely to concentrate on experimental and development work, batch production, modification and reconditioning of armaments, and 90 the manufacture of tools and gauges); and that work on regular line production should in due course cease.
  4. 4. That a site of about 100 acres on the south side, containing a number of workshops and other buildings, should be offered for use as a civil trading estate to the London County Council, with whom this proposal is being discussed.
  5. 5. That the remainder of the space freed by this re-organisation should be made available to the Service Departments, thus enabling them to bring together their engineering workshops, stores and other facilities which are at present scattered, and to move into the Arsenal certain activities from elsewhere.
  6. 6. That, at the eastern end, without interfering with present activities, arrangements should be made for controlled tipping, to raise the ground above river level.
  7. 7. That, in order to mitigate hardship to the workpeople concerned, the timetable for these various changes should be kept flexible and should be spread over a period of several years; and that in particular the proposed new trading estate should be created at an early stage, so as to help provide employment for persons who might become redundant in other parts of the Arsenal.

I am advised that, whilst these proposals would over a period of time have the effect of reducing the number of Government employees on the Arsenal site from about 14,000 to about 10,500, the introduction of the trading estate and other new activities should ultimately result in an appreciable increase in the total number of persons employed on the site. The House will, I am sure, agree that these proposals represent a constructive effort to find a workable solution to the long-standing problems of Woolwich Arsenal. However, before taking any final decisions, I think it is right to give to the workpeople, to the public authorities and to all others affected a full opportunity to study this plan and to comment upon it. Any such observations should be submitted to me not later than 31st October.