§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Martin Maddan (Hitchin)
I beg to move, in page 1, line 20, at the end to insert:Provided that no part of the money to be advanced under this Act shall be applied to operations in connection with the development of Stevenage outside its existing designated area.I should like to begin by thanking the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government for the considerable courtesy and patience which he has shown me during the conduct of this affair, of which tonight's proceedings will be another chapter. We may hope that they will be the final chapter, but that will depend upon my hon. Friend.
The general objections of those of us who tabled the Amendment were expressed on Second Reading, but it is significant and worth repeating that every Hertfordshire back-bench Member, 429 and, indeed, other hon. Members with a knowledge of new towns and planning matters, have subscribed their names to the Amendment. The basic objection is that if the plans which the Ministry now has in mind come to reality they will be creating with the money advanced under the Bill a vast conurbation within 20 to 30 miles of London. This will include Stevenage itself, Hatfield, Welwyn New Town, Hitchin, Letchworth, Baldock, Luton, Dunstable, and perhaps even fusing with Hertford and Ware and other towns. What has been proposed is the expansion of Stevenage to limits which will bring it within 4 miles of the County Borough of Luton, 3 miles of the new town of Welwyn and 1½ miles of Hitchin. This can hardly sail under the flag of planning.
All the industries which are moving into the area are growing industries and they contain the seed of further growth within them. The people coming in are young people who, in the modern jargon, have a greater natural increase than the typical population. By continuing the forced expansion of Stevenage right at the nodal point of the area, which is what is proposed, we shall, if the Amendment is not passed, be authorising the expenditure of money on an object which all those familiar with the facts, other than, apparently, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and its officials, believe to be wholly objectionable.
There are also local planning considerations, but I shall mention only the major one. A motorway bypass running westward of the town has just been constructed, but, no sooner than it is finished, we have the proposal to extend Stevenage for 4, 5, or 6 square miles beyond that new motorway bypass. More than the motorway bypass will separate the two residential areas of the town. Owing to the way the town is set out, they will be separated also by the industrial area, by a main line railway, by the commercial area, by the Great North Road and by the town centre as well. The idea of creating a town composed of two distinct parts separated in this way seems to be against all the principles of planning.
My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has been kind enough to send me a letter which explains more precisely 430 what is envisaged. He tells me that what the Minister has in mind, if he should proceed with the expansion of Stevenage, is a growth to approximately 80,000 population by 1973. That is the aim of the county development plan period. But my hon. Friend goes on to say that further expansion is envisagedto about 100,000 by 1981, by which time planned immigration would cease".My hon. Friend says that he would expect the corporation to be wound up at that time, but there will be need to make allowance for natural growth and future roads and services also must be planned for what he envisages as an ultimate total population, in due course, of 130,000 or 140,000.
It all gets odder and odder. One might, from what my hon. Friend has said, assume that the present designated area was full to bursting point and that it was necessary to take further action. In fact, however, the present designated area, according to the published appraisal of the Stevenage Development Corporation, can accommodate 100,000 people, and the present population of the town is only just over 50,000. So we are only half way to the capacity of the present designated area.
Planning is fine, but I feel sure that my right hon. Friend, my hon. Friend and hon. Members opposite will agree that, while planning is fine, prophecy is impossible. Indeed, my hon. Friend said this on Second Reading:No one would think it right, particularly in the light of past mistakes in forecasting, that we should not take the longer view rather than the shorter."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th January, 1964; Vol. 687, c. 817.]I think I understand what my hon. Friend was trying to say, but I thought that he rather turned it upside down, because, if forecasting contains mistakes, it is clearly better to take the shorter view rather than the longer. If mistakes are made in forecasts, it is upon those forecasts that one is basing one's longer view.
I believe that this confused thinking lies behind a good deal of the trouble. Forecasts are made of what is to happen in 1981 and afterwards, 20 or 30 years from now. It seems absurd that we should take an irrevocable step now about what will happen in a generation's time, when a thousand and one things 431 may have happened to change the situation entirely, and, moreover, it is all being done against a background in which it can hardly be said, on regional or local planning grounds, that the proposal could have intrinsic merit. At very best, it could be regarded as a pis aller; it certainly has no intrinsic merit.
If expansion is to be carried out west-ward of the motorway, it must be carried out quickly. Otherwise, the very heavy capital expenditure involved in bridging the motorway, laying out roads, laying a new trunk sewer, developing new sewerage works and bringing water and other services cannot be justified. There is no question of taking a decision now in case, in twenty years, one wants to do something. If the decision is taken now and any action is started on it, the whole action will have to be taken. This emphasises the irrevocable nature of what we are considering. There can be no such thing as a little expansion west-ward of the bypass. There will either be the whole hog or nothing at all.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Sir Keith Joseph)
I did not quite follow the logic behind the last point which my hon. Friend made, that it is all or nothing to the west of the bypass. Could he repeat it or develop it a little?
§ Mr. Maddan
If one is to be involved in spending £500,000 on extra bridges over the bypass, if one is to be involved in spending another £500,000 on triple-tier road structures, as the consulting engineers, Messrs. Atkins, showed to be essential if the development is to take place, if one has to lay a new trunk sewer to drain into the Ouse, as my hon Friend the Parliamentary Secretary said on Second Reading, instead of draining to the Lea as originally proposed in the technical appraisal, and if one has to bring water also from the Ouse instead of from the Lea, as apparently will be necessary, one will be involved in very heavy capital expenditure indeed. In fact, it will be development in a different catchment area.
As regards sewage disposal, for instance, what is now proposed, apparently, is not what the Stevenage Development Corporation proposed, which was to pump the sewage back into the Lea catchment.
432 I am quite sure that, whatever my right hon. Friend may think, his right hon. Friend at the Treasury will insist that, if this heavy initial capital expenditure is to be undertaken, the area must be developed fully and rapidly in order to make the expenditure fructify. As I have said, there can be no question, on economic as well as on technical grounds, of a trickle of expansion westward of the bypass. If it starts, it must be undertaken in a wholehearted and rapid way.
My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary made another point which really supports my contention, and one finds this at column 728 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of the same Second Reading debate. We were discussing whether it was possible to change the size and infrastructure of a town during the course of its development. My hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) suggested that it was not possible, but my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary insisted that it was. My hon. Friend said:… it does not follow that because it is a new town it is not possible to adjust what my hon. Friend referred to as the infrastructure for an increase in population."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 20th January, 1964; Vol. 687, c. 728.]This underlines that we are not at the point where we have to take irrevocable decisions. The Parliamentary Secretary said that in the past many towns had been planned admirably. It is not being suggested that towns of this character are now substantially expanding. It cannot be true that a decision has to be taken now on assumptions, thin as they are, about what will happen in a generation's time.
I know that the main consideration applies to the town centre of Stevenage, which perhaps would have to be a different centre in order to cope with a town of 140,000 rather than a town of 80,000 or 100,000. But I do not think that even that is beyond achievement through the capacity and ingenuity of the planners. Many towns with fixed centres are expanding, and that can be done if it is necessary. If it is borne in mind that there is the possibility of further expansion in a generation's time, that should be easier still.
My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary made a further point about the background of this matter on 433 Second Reading. I had said that the population density in Hertfordshire was equal to that of the Home Counties as a whole excluding Greater London. My hon. Friend said, "Yes, but not if you go close to London". The reason that the population a Hertfordshire is less dense close to London compared with other counties is that it has been well developed and planned and the green belt has been adhered to. The area close to London is not statutory green belt. Therefore, I do not understand the relevance of my hon. Friend's comment.
It has been indicated that there is no argument between the Ministry and the county planning authority on this matter. But there is a very substantial argument, and I made a telephone call to County Hall today to make sure that I was not mistaken. The county's proposals for the period from 1961 to 1973 envisage an increase in population of 200,000 in the County of Hertfordshire. Of this, three-fifths will be immigrants from outside the county. As to the period after that, it thinks that the country should cope only with its own natural increase which, because of the young population already in the county, would amount to approximately a further 70,000 by 1981.
My hon. Friend was talking of an increase of over 330,000, whereas the county is considering a substantially smaller increase because it considers that, by the time 1973 is reached, and since three-fifths of the increase of 200,000 people brought in during the present review period will be immigrants, it will have made its contribution to expanding the population of the region and that thereafter the proper rôle for the county, being so near London, is to cope with its own natural increase in population only.
This seems to be different from the Minister's thinking and the figures which he gave on Second Reading. The county has assumed that by 1973 Stevenage's population will have reached a figure of 80,000. It hopes that the forced immigration will stop before that figure is reached because if that figure is reached the natural increase in population will make the town even bigger. But it is instructive that even if that happens a population of 100,000 can be 434 accommodated within the present designated area. Therefore, why do we now, a generation away from a remote possibility, have to take these irrevocable steps?
A point which I want to emphasise is that 30 per cent. of the population of Stevenage comes from places other than Hertfordshire or Greater London, mostly from the North. This cannot be consistent with the national policy we are trying to achieve of rehabilitating areas in the North. If there is a tremendous expansion in the South at a forced rate it will inevitably suck in more people from the North.
In his letter to me, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary spoke about development to the east of the town of Stevenage. He said:The Minister's examination of the possibility of expanding Stevenage to the west of A.600 derives from a desire to limit the further development of Stevenage to the east inside the present designated area in order to prevent the development of good agricultural land within the boundary and to ensure a better long term pattern, particularly from a traffic point of view, in the town as a whole".I do not understand this. The present designated area was marked out after a public inquiry and has been the basis of planning in the county. It may now be suggested that some of the designated area will not be developed at all and that we shall have expansion westwards instead. I do not know whether this is true, but it serves to underline the folly of trying to predict what will happen in a generation's time. The designated area was settled about 12 years ago and no proposals have been entertained to change it. I therefore cannot understand why it is necessary to make this drastic change based on an estimate of the situation which will obtain a long time in the future.
I conclude by dealing with the position of Parliament. Stevenage is a current example of a more general issue which stems from the fact that in the New Towns Act, 1946, no provision was made for the Orders made by the Minister designating areas of new towns to come before Parliament under either the affirmative or negative Resolution procedure. It is inconceivable to me that had this Act been passed later in the life of the Labour Government, or in 435 the life of the Conservative Government, some such provision would not have been made. I am certain that it would. We are, therefore, asked to vote money for purposes over which we have no say and which are not clear to us. We do not know whether the Minister will expand Stevenage. We do not know what he will do about other towns, although he has told us what he proposes in some cases.
It may be that this is all very well, but a new situation has arisen since we last advanced money to the new town corporations. It has arisen in two ways. It has arisen partly through the designation of entirely new second generation new towns. That is wholly admirable. Proposals for new towns are debated at length and there is a great deal of discussion before they are agreed, but, with regard to the existing new towns, because of the vested interest which exists by reason of the machinery of a development corporation, it could easily come about that there are more and more extensions of existing new towns. This is why I think that Parliament must take unto itself power to have a say in whether the money being voted should be spent on extending present designated areas.
In the Amendment we particularly refer to Stevenage, but, if my right hon. Friend wishes to take the point more generally, we should be very pleased. I realise that we cannot put a complete stop on changing designated areas, but we might have an understanding that they should not be changed by more than 10 per cent. in acreage between one Bill advancing money and the next. That would give us a chance to debate these matters.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will agree to the Amendment at least in spirit. He may wish to redraft it. I realise that many considerations have arisen since the passage of the 1946 Act. I hope at least that my right hon. Friend will assure the House that no extension to Stevenage will be made without its first being debated and voted upon by this House. That, at least, we can ask. It would be better still if my right hon. Friend told us that in view of my eloquent plea and its inherent logic the 436 whole proposition of expansion would be dropped. Then we could all go home.
I hope that if my right hon. Friend cannot accede to that request, he will at least propose that we should report Progress so that he may consider what is being said not only by myself, but the view which is held strongly by all the Members of Parliament for the county and many other interested Members, too. This is a matter in which Parliament must raise its voice and exert its authority. When money is being advanced, it cannot be advanced in the form of a blank cheque for purposes which are unknown.
§ Mr. Gilbert Longden (Hertfordshire, South-West)
Stevenage is not in my constituency, but it is in the County of Hertford, part of which I have the honour to represent in the House of Commons, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mr. Maddan) has said, the Amendment has the support of all the Members of Parliament on the back benches for the county and has the strong support also, as my right hon. Friend the Minister knows, of the Hertfordshire County Council.
I have been seriously disturbed for many years about the possible spoliation of the County of Hertford. When our successors come along, they will not consider that we have been very good trustees for posterity when they look either at the capital city in which we live or at its environs.
After the war, unless London was to be allowed to spread indefinitely, it was understood and appreciated by all that it was necessary to have the new towns process—in other words, to leapfrog the surplus population of London out over the green belt and into the countryside of London. Everybody must, however, admit that the County of Hertford has taken more than its fair share of overspill, not only from London but from other parts of England.
We have two new towns and two large London County Council estates. The difficulty is that the whole object of the exercise, which was to stop London spreading, is rapidly not being achieved. The object of that exerise is being vitiated by bad planning. London is beginning to spread far too much and if the town of Stevenage, for one thing, 437 is allowed to increase on the other side of the new road, it will become a conurbation, which is a hideous term for a hideous thing.
The county authorities have agreed generously, but, I think, unwisely—although it is not for me to gainsay them—to accept another 120,000 population from outside alone. We have, of course, to make provision in the county for natural increase, and this the county is more than prepared to do, but it has agreed to take another 120,000 population.
I suggest to my right hon. Friend that that is enough. He must not force upon the County of Hertford any more people than the county is prepared to take. The county, with all its expert advice—which, of course, is not available to me—thinks that it cannot provision to service any more people. I do not know how it will be able to deal with this proposal as it is from the point of view of sewerage, water and schools. However, the county says that it can take that number and we must accept it, but I hope that there will be no more.
Incidentally, if I may take the opportunity of mentioning it again to my right hon. Friend, we in the County of Hertford are being meanly and badly treated over the block grant. Therefore, I support the Amendment and hope that it will, or something like it will, be accepted by my right hon. Friend.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. F. P. Crowder (Ruislip-Northwood)
I hesitate to take part in this debate, because I am not a Hertfordshire Member. I am, however, a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mr. Maddan) and as such I should like warmly to congratulate him on the erudite, forceful, carefully-prepared and eloquent speech that he has made on this problem.
Let me at once declare my interests. They are twofold. First, I live at Kneb-worth, on a hill—I am sorry to say, in sight of the sprawling new town, hideous as it is, of Stevenage. Secondly, I have another interest in Hertfordshire, which I do not expect has yet been raised in these matters, and that is as chairman of the Hertfordshire Quarter Sessions. Whether or not crime has any interest to my right hon. Friend the Minister in a 438 debate of this sort, I do not know. I can only tell him that the crime rate in Hertfordshire, as we are finding at quarter sessions to our cost, is growing daily and is growing almost entirely because of the growth of the new towns.
Stevenage is 28 or 29 miles from the centre of London. Most of the new inhabitants there have come either from the North or from London. Unfortunately, their friends, often described as raiders, have an inclination to come and visit them on raiding expeditions on private and business property within the county. I am quite certain that as these new towns, with new inhabitants, grow and become unwieldy, as Stevenage is, they are tending to become a hotbed for criminal activities. I know that this does not go to the root of the problem which faces my right hon. Friend the Minister, but it is a consideration which concerns the inhabitants of the county and I can speak of it with professional knowledge as chairman of Hertfordshire Quarter Sessions.
Hertfordshire is a large county. In effect, it is principally divided by what is sometimes jokingly called the iron curtain, which is the Great North Road. To the west of the Great North Road, the country has in the main been spoilt and built over without, perhaps, sufficient planning in the past. To the east of the Great North Road, there is a very different situation. One can ride a horse across country all the way from Walkern, which is now being touched also by Stevenage, and Datchworth as far as Bishop's Scortford, which, I suppose, would be a distance of 15 or 16 miles, without encountering a main road of any consequence. I hope that the Buntingford country, the Brent Pelham country and all that surrounds it, will remain untouched.
Unfortunately, the situation in the Stevenage area is this. Three old small villages, completely rural hitherto and completely unspoilt—Knebworth, Datchworth and Walkern, which is little more than a hamlet—have the tentacles of Stevenage almost upon them. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend has had the advantage of seeing a most helpful and excellent article in The Times this morning. If he looks at that map, I think that he would agree with me that, at the rate things are going, Luton and 439 Dunstable, Stevenage, Welwyn and Welwyn, North, and Harpenden with the possibility of St. Albans, all of which in themselves comprise a circle, will find the whole centre of that circle almost completely filled in within a very few years if these plans are followed.
I have been there only nine years and even the effect of the most necessary Stevenage bypass is already being felt. One can hear, night and day, the constant drum and hum of the traffic which must, of necessity, proceed along it.
It is rather unfortunate that Stevenage should be increased in size because, in the opinion of those who live near there and those who love the countryside and go there for peace and quiet, the area has now been ruined by Stevenage. What used to be most beautiful country almost within sight of London—only 28 miles—has become, in the new town of Stevenage, an industrial area. Indeed, there are notices up describing it as such.
As the distance between the centre of London and this rural area is so very small—London begins at Apex Corner which is, I believe, only 21½ miles from Stevenage—there is really very little room left indeed. I can understand it being necessary to start these new towns. There have been a number of them, including Hatfield and Stevenage, in Hertfordshire. But I cannot see the point of making them too big, of making them into cities when they happen to be quite so close to London.
If we go on at this rate not only will the green belt, for what it is worth, gradually disappear, but in 10 or 20 years time Stevenage will be the north of London. That is the sort of thing that I, as a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchen and a resident of that area, wish to avoid. I ask my right hon. Friend most earnestly to consider the views of the local residents who love Hertfordshire and who want at all costs, so far as is reasonable, equitable and practical, to preserve such rural interests as can be maintained.
§ 7.15 p.m.
Mr. Jasper Mare (Ludlow)
I, too, have an interest to declare. At a very tender age it was at Stevenage that I 440 was initiated into the sport of fox hunting. It was with great pleasure that I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Crowder) say that it is still possible, at any rate in one direction, to ride across country on a horse from Stevenage. But listening to the rest of his speech a feeling of depression inevitably assailed me, as one who is interested in that noble sport, because, clearly, a very large area around Stevenage must now be ruled out for anything of that kind.
Those who read today's article in The Times, to which my hon. Friend referred, cannot but feel great sympathy for the people of Hertfordshire and, indeed, for those who, though not living there, love it as a country. The area north of London, the centre of which on that map, was, I think, Stevenage, is already largely occupied by large blocks of towns or built over areas, some of which seem inevitably destined to expand to take in existing villages. It would be a sad consumation of the wonderful Stevenage enterprise if the result were to be a new conurbation of North London.
The point of principle raised by the Amendment is the great degree of latitude my right hon. Friend has in the matter of finance, and perhaps other things also, under the New Towns Act. I was disturbed to hear the exposition by my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mr. Maddan) as to the small degree of Parliamentary control which remains over the development of the new town plans.
My hon. Friend refers in the Amendment to the question of development outside a designated area. Of course, this is only one of the possible alterations that can be made to a new town plan and the implications can be quite serious if the size of the new town or its population is to be increased or multiplied within a designated area.
The implications of any extension of that kind cover a number of things, some of which have been referred to already in this discussion, but one aspect which I do not believe has been mentioned, but which is very relevant, is demonstrated by a case in my constituency, where a new town is in the initial stages of planning. The question which arises 441 for the county council is that of co-operating and assisting in the provision of services necessary.
When we hear of proposals, such as are apparently contemplated in the case of Stevenage, for increasing the population of a new town from 60,000 to 140,000, the immediate reaction of the county council is that the town is destined to be a county borough and that it will no longer form part of the county. The implications of that are obviously serious and can be more serious in some cases than in others. They could be less serious in a county like Hertfordshire, which already has a very large population, but in a county like Shropshire, where the total population is comparatively small, we might be faced with the prospect of a county borough with a population as large as the rest of the county.
I want to say at once—and I think that my hon. Friend knows this because we have corresponded and discussed it—that I have no a priori feelings on the matter. If he and his advisers think it right to launch a new town of 100,000, or 200,000, or 500,000, and the need can be proved, then by all means let it be launched. But it is important that a decision should be taken at the outset and that it should be made clear that that decision is not to be altered at a later stage.
But what is really demoralising in a situation of this kind is the feeling of uncertainty. My right hon. Friend knows me well enough to realise that I am not accusing him in any way of any lack of sincerity or of candour, but what impresses me is the knowledge we all have of the appalling size of the problem which is confronting us, and him in particular, the tremendous demands that exists in the London and West Midlands areas. If that is the situation that has to be faced, and which ultimately will need a different answer, all I ask is that the question be faced now so that uncertainties may be eliminated and we know at the outset what is to be done.
I am sorry if, in the course of my speech, I have been led away from the question of Hertford and Hitchin and the purpose of the Amendment. It would be for the comfort of all of us if it could be provided in this new town legislation that there was a greater 442 degree of opportunity for Parliament to control and decide at all these stages instead of the whole thing being, as I understand it is now, largely in the control of my right hon. Friend without any specific reference to Parliament.
I hope very much that my right hon. Friend will have taken serious note of what has been urged in this connection and that he may be able to give us some words of comfort applicable not only to the case of Stevenage, but in the whole context of new town legislation.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Crowder) mentioned that although he lived in one of the constituencies concerned, he did not represent any of them. I am not sure that those who represent them would be as ready as he was to describe the new towns as a hotbed of crime. That is not the way one usually refers to one's own constituency. Nor are the restrictions on the opportunities for fox-hunting in the neighbourhood one of our major anxieties in this question.
Here is a proposal to expand to 140,000, with the possibility of further expansion later, a town which to begin with was not designed for anything like that number. It is a proposal which, on the face of it, needs to be defended by the person making it. It does not appear, at first sight, to be a happy example that we should suddenly take a town not intended to be of this size and announce that it is to be expanded on this scale.
We must also look at the many objections which have come from people in the locality I admit that when we consider them, we must always be prepared to do a certain amount of discounting. We remember the objections which were raised to the creation of the new town of Stevenage in the beginning. Nearly all of us as some time or another have had letters from country dwellers who believe that the main purpose of town and country planning legislation is to prevent anyone else from doing what they have done themselves—building a nice house in a country district.
§ Mr. Longden
The original objections to stevenage came from those who had lived all their lives in the small country village of Stevenage, 443 and they were understandable; but they were not shared by the people who realised the necessity for the new town, certainly not by the planners in the country, as these new objections are.
§ Mr. Stewart
I accept that. I was saying only that when considering local objections, we had to be prepared to allow for the fact that there might be some who simply did not want any further changes.
What the Government must notice in this instance is that the objections cannot be dismissed in that manner. I need not rehearse all these objections, because I have no doubt that the Minister is familiar with the observations of the Urban District Council of Stevenage and the other local objectors and the anxieties about what happens when a town is expanding in a way which adds a new residential area on the other side of the main road and railway, that makes what used to be a bypass a road running through the centre of the town, and which adds at one point a new area designated for industry which, if it caters for people working in the town at all, will probably cater for those right on the other side of the town and opposite the main road.
No doubt, he is familiar with the anxieties about the proposed expansion's effect on the High Street and the town centre and the adequacy of the services to meet the new population, the problem of the education services and the disposal of sewage and the construction of reservoirs which may be needed. We are entitled to ask from the Government an answer to these and other precise and serious objections advanced by people in the locality.
We must also have an assurance from the Government that this kind of thing will not become frequent. I have often said that the new towns policy over the past years ought to have been the creation of far more new towns than we have. If that had been the case, we might not have had these rather hasty proposals for the expansion of new towns near London. Those who support the expansion might point to the growing population of the South-East and say, "They must go somewhere". The answer to that is partly that if proper provision had been made for new 444 town development in these years, it would not be necessary to meet that need now in this rather unhappy manner, and partly to ask what certainty we have, as the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mr. Maddan) asked, that the additional accommodation provided in Stevenage will serve the purpose of meeting the growth of population in the South-East. Might it not be a further factor drawing population from the North?
If this proposal is to be justified at all, it can be justified only by a Government showing a clear national policy for the distribution of industry and the spread of population over the country as a whole. That is one of the things which the Government have not yet produced. It is one of the things which we are told is just about coming to birth, like so much else at the end of this Parliament and this Government. It seems that the Government have a good deal of explaining and justification to do if the Committee is to be at all happy about this proposal.
Mention has been made of the extent to which Parliament can control new towns policy. Our present difficulty is that nobody wants to impede the passage of a Bill of this kind, which is providing funds that are needed for new towns as a whole. The mechanism of a parliamentary debate such as this is not adapted to dealing with such questions as whether Stevenage should be expanded at this moment. Questions like that can be answered only as the result of a detailed survey, possibly the examination of witnesses, and in the light of a national policy for new towns.
What this suggests is that, just as the House of Commons has a Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, it might be useful to have a Select Committee regularly considering and issuing periodic reports about the development of new towns policy as a whole. This would not be a matter on which there would be divisions of opinion rigidly determined by party lines. A Select Committee of that kind would have the opportunity to examine the evidence and of relating particular proposals to new towns policy as a whole. The House of Commons would probably be better equipped to debate and decide such issues if it had before it the Reports of a Select Committee of that kind.
445 I am very glad that the hon. Member for Hitchin has raised this matter. We shall want to hear rather more from the Government in justification of a policy which has been so ill received by most of the people whom it will concern.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I cannot claim to know every inch of this area, but in my youth I was at school in the neighbourhood for five years, and immediately after leaving my O.C.T.U. in 1939–40 I spent six months training around the area, so I know its beauty fairly well.
The idea of enlarging Stevenage New Town has found an eloquent, persistent, and studious opponent in my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mr. Maddan), and I shall try to answer not only what he said during this debate, but what he has said by way of letter, and in previous debates. I shall also seriously take into account the views of other hon. Members representing Hertfordshire constituencies which they have not been slow in putting before me on many occasions, and the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Longden) reminded me of the prolonged discussions that we have had on this subject.
I hope that those hon. Members will not think me discourteous if I turn at once, because it is a slightly isolated point, to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. More). My hon. Friend spoke nominally of Stevenage, but his heart was in his own constituency, and he had in mind the prospects of Dawley. I know that my hon. Friend feels that the Government should be able to say categorically for decades, and even scores of years, ahead exactly what the population of Dawley will be. My hon. Friend was good enough to say that I have not tried to evade the issue in any way, and I have told him that, so far as the Government have any facts, the present ceiling of population for that town is firmly established.
What I cannot tell my hon. Friend is whether the population growth and movement in this country will make that population ceiling immutable for all time. The whole task of Governments is to look ahead as far as possible. Just 446 because we cannot be certain for scores of years ahead, we must not be intimidated from making the necessary decisions on the uncertain data that we have when it is necessary to decide.
§ Mr. Maddan
Part of my objection to what my right hon. Friend has in mind is precisely that he is trying to base his plan on what is to happen decades ahead. If he cannot see it for Dawley, he cannot see it for Stevenage.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I hope that my hon. Friend will allow me to develop my argument. I shall deal with what he said.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow broadened his argument to say that it was unfair on counties to expect them to foster and nurture new towns, and expanded towns, within their periphery if they are to find that as they grow these new communities take county borough status and remove their valuable prosperity and enterprise from the county's benefit.
We have to face that problem. At the moment the magic figure is about the 100,000 mark, and at about that mark the community has at least a prima facie case for being considered for county borough status, though there are many other factors to be borne in mind. In a speech last year to the County Councils Association, the very people who are worried about this, I made the point that this figure of 100,000 could not be considered immutable for all time, and that it might be necessary to look at it again, though I stressed that it would not make sense to look at it again during this round of local government reorganisation. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept, therefore, that his point is taken.
Now I come to the Amendment. First, I am afraid that on a technical point I must say that an Amendment to the New Towns Bill, which is to provide extra money for new towns in general, is not really the basis either for trying to change the procedure for the designation of new towns or for securing control oven a particular new town proposal which Parliament never intended.
I am not, however, going to rely heavily on that technical argument. I shall try to deal with the case on its merits, but it leads me to the point 447 made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin, and stressed by the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart), that Parliamentary control over new towns—I suppose they would say over large town expansion projects as well—might need to be reconsidered. That point of view has not been strongly recommended to me in the past.
Parliament has laid down a statutory process which requires that after the Minister concerned has decided that there is a prima facie case for the establishment of a new town, or of a large town expansion, he is required first to carry out consultations with the local authorities concerned, and then make a draft designation order which must be followed, if there are objections—and there are almost invariably bound to be—by a public inquiry. It is on the basis of the public inquiry that the final decision is made.
I think that hon. Members ought to recognise that if we were to depart from that procedure—I doubt whether the Select Committee to which the hon. Member for Fulham referred would be the right alternative—we should almost certainly be forced into some such procedure as we must use for local government reorganisation, that is, a series of consultations, followed almost invariably by a public inquiry, and the process completed by Order either on the affirmative Resolution or the negative Resolution procedure in this House. Be that as it may, the fact is that there is a Parliamentary procedure, and that unless Parliament decides to alter it, this Bill does not seem to be the vehicle for changing it even in the case of Stevenage.
Now I come nearer to the substance of the argument. I thought that the hon. Member for Fulham brought out the case quite well, that it would be one thing if we were considering expanding Stevenage, and doing nothing else about the seething population growth in this country, and of the South-East in particular. It would be quite another if the Stevenage proposal could be seen against the background of an overall plan for dealing with population growth in the country as a whole.
I think that it is common ground that we face a population explosion in this 448 country. I think that the figure can be given in its most dramatic form in a couple of sentences. In 1955 the Registrar-General projected that the population of England and Wales in the year 2000 would be 46 million. In the second half of the fifties the birth rate began to rise, and continued to do so even in 1963. In 1963 the Registrar-General projected that the population of England and Wales in the year 2,000 would be not 46 million, but 64 million, an increase of 18 million simply by the implication of the increasing birth rate between 1955 and 1963. That is a measure of the population growth that we face on present evidence, and it may mount higher.
It is wrong of the hon. Member for Fulham to tease the Government with having only recently started to take action about that problem, I think that he and the Committee must recognise that it is the rapid rise of the birth rate in the last few years, starting in the last years of the 1950 decade, that has made it necessary to revise so dramatically the need for land for development purposes. As soon as the Government had enough population trend information on which to go they initiated studies of the land needs of the areas of maximum congestion, and, as the Committee knows, my right hon. Friend the present Home Secretary initiated the South-East Study, which is the relevant one in this case, in 1961. I hope that the South-East Study, which should emerge soon, will give the public and hon. Members the background against which to judge this particular Stevenage proposal.
The next thing that I should do is to set out what facts there are, before coming to the comments. It is common ground that the original population target for the Stevenage New Town was 60,000. It is common ground that that target was recently raised to 80,000. It is common ground that its population is now over 50,000, and it is known that the Government have in mind a proposal to raise the target to 100,000, to be reached by about 1981, and that thereafter they would expect—if that target were officially accepted—that by natural growth the town of Stevenage would in due course have a population of between 130,000 and 140,000. It is a fact common to both sides of the 449 argument that the growth of the population of Stevenage by 1973 will probably result in the figure by then being 80,000, whether the Government's existing plan or an increased population plan were adopted.
Let me put it another way. Were they to be adopted, both the Hertfordshire proposals for Stevenage and the Government's increased proposals for Stevenage would result in a population of 80,000 by 1973. The issue between the Hertford County Council—and those who agree with the Council—and those who advocate an increased target for Stevenage, is the rate of growth after 1973.
I now come to the comments. There are four main headings under which criticisms and questions can be marshalled. They can be referred to telegraphically as "fair shares", "coalescence", "quality", and "costs". I shall deal with each in turn. First, the argument has been powerfully put to me by all the Hertfordshire Members that enough is enough and that Hertfordshire has done its fair share in dealing with rising population, especially London's overspill. If we look at the postwar figures alone, we are inclined to feel that this argument has much weight. Coupled with this argument is the view, put by my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Crowder) and echoed by my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow, that Hertfordshire is such a beautiful county—and we all agree about that—that any extra population will be bound to ruin it. I can only meet both arguments by saying that Hertfordshire, perhaps, had to take more of the population rise and overspill after the war because it had not taken its fair share before the war.
We can see what happened to a county that took a great deal of the population rise, overspill and sprawl before the war, and before planning was effective. If Hertfordshire had taken its fair share before the war much of the county today might be like Middlesex, and to those who sometimes criticise the effects of planning I would say, "Consider whether you would rather have a Hertfordshire with all the extra population accommodated there and all the beautiful country left, or the urban sprawl which Middlesex was unfortunately allowed to become."
450 But I am not merely anxious to justify the share that Hertfordshire has taken by looking at the pre-war as well as the post-war situation; we must also consider the future. Here, I come back to the South-East Study. In that Study both public and hon. Members will recognise that the Government have tried to foresee what population growth has to be provided for in the South-East, and to spread it in the most sensible way. If my hon. Friends compare the population increase that will have been taken by each home county not between 1951 and 1961 but between 1951 and 1981—that is, between the post-war period and the period covered by the South-East Study—I think that I can confidently assure them that they will find that in terms of percentage of growth of relative population Hertfordshire will be playing only its fair part. I acknowledge that in the immediate post-war period it played more than its fair part, and I have commented on the pre-war situation.
I acknowledge that if things were to continue as now Hertfordshire might continue to bear an unfair share of the burden, but in the light of the South-East Study I hope that my hon. Friends will accept—they will be able to judge this for themselves when they see it—that that situation will not continue, and that in terms of the longer period that we are considering Hertfordshire's share will be only a fair one.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Maddan
Can my right hon. Friend say what the 1981 postulated figure is? Is it the present 900,000 plus 333,000—the figure mentioned by his hon. Friend?
§ Sir K. Joseph
I want to be cautious, in two ways. First, because the South-East Study is not yet published and, secondly, because the population figures are often compared on a basis that is not comparable, I would rather write to my hon. Friend tomorrow and give him that figure, but I think that he is broadly correct. What I am worried about is whether the figure includes natural increase, and over what period.
I leave the "fair shares" line of argument, with which I have dealt at sufficient length, and turn to the second 451 important argument, which is that any expansion of Stevenage, particularly to the west, would threaten coalescence. My hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin knows the familiar jargon that is used in these matters. I will not accuse him of misusing the word "conurbation", in an emotional sense, but I think that he is slightly ashamed of bringing in the idea of conurbation in this countryside. Again, I introduce the idea of the South-East Study. If there were no South-East Study pending, and if my hon. Friend did not have evidence that there will be a planned dispersal of the overspill from London, I agree that he would have some grounds for suspicion that we might be going to take the easiest path of allowing even commuter overspill on any railway line that was available, and that this might threaten that certain communities which are now separate would join up.
I assure my hon. Friends again that when they examine the Study they will see that we are not going to take this casual and adventitious way of dealing with the vast population problem facing us. On the evidence that there is I see not the least reason for worry merely because the gap between an expanded Stevenage and a neighbouring community might be a matter of only five miles. Many gaps between communities are smaller than that. There are only three miles between Hemel Hempstead New Town and Watford, and so far as I know the county has expressed no fears about green belt encroachment. The distance between Hatfield New Town and St. Albans is less than 1½ miles. I see no reason why the lovely countryside between even an extended Stevenage and its neighbouring communities should be at risk. There will always be the possibility of approving a green belt notation for that land if the county council puts it forward, and if the Minister at the time judges it right to approve it. Therefore, I do not see that the case for coalescence is made out.
I now come to the question of quality. Here, I suppose that I must accept that my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin is not a die-in-the-last-ditch defender of the present ceiling population. Indeed, I hope that he is not a die-in-the-last-ditch defender of anything. But I understand that he is a 452 determined antagonist of any extension to the west of the present new town area. He said today, and he has said on other occasions, that if we must expand Stevenage we should pack the extra people in—to use a colloquialism—only upon the new designated area. That would no doubt be practicable, but it seems to me that the quality of the town would be far worse if we sought expansion in that way.
At the moment, the town appears to be unbalanced. The larger number of people live to the east of the industrial area and east of the town centre. Were we to increase the population internally there would have to be the sacrifice of some excellent agricultural land and open spaces within the existing boundary which I believe that all interested in farming would deplore. There would, of course, have to be a considerable expenditure over a considerable extent of the town to make it fit for this one-car-per-household age. There would have to be expenditure on water supplies and education, however the town was expanded.
But, in terms of pure town planning, I am told that there are strong arguments for expanding—if it is to be expanded—not, as it were by thickening it up, but by expansion to the west. This would balance the town so that the population would live about evenly to the east and to the west respectively of the town centre and the industrial area. This would possibly allow a subsidiary shopping centre in the western district.
There would be a motorway running through it, but one of the lessons of the Buchanan Report is that with one car per household, more and more towns will have to have a road network on a motorway scale at least for internal use. Skelmersdale New Town shows this in its preliminary planning and I do not think that we should be frightened about that consequence here.
My hon. Friend moved on from quality to cost and he asked me a number of questions about water and bridging over the motorway and sewage disposal. I think that he will accept that these questions would mostly need to be answered, even if we took his idea of thickening up the town. But I 453 think that detailed questions of comparative cost are more the subject of a public inquiry and evidence and consultation than for answers which I could give from this Box. I have answers which seem satisfactory on each of the technical points. But I do not propose to go into them now. All the Committee would wish is that I should go on to some reference to the future.
I do not wish to mislead the Committee in any way. The evidence before me leads me strongly to initiate a process to designate this new town for expansion. That would require that I should consult the local authorities concerned, and after consultation a draft designation map would have to be laid. Following that, there would be a public inquiry—and all before a decision was reached. I wish to stress that were that process started, the decision would not be one to be taken for granted. It is quite conceivable that evidence either from the consultation or the inquiry would be such as to lead the Minister to abandon his provisional proposal, but we have not got quite that far yet.
I am anxious not to mislead my hon. Friends and I must tell them that despite the arguments which I have heard, which, as I think they would agree, were largely a repetition of what has been said before, I must still adhere to the view that in the light of the South-East Study and the rest of the arrangements to be made for the inordinately large population needs in the South-East—or the land needs for the population there—in the light of that, I still see it as a sensible course to expand the target population of Stevenage to 100,000 by 1981. But it would have been desirable to await the publication of the South-East Study, so that public opinion and this House could see the background as a whole, before initiating the process to which I have referred.
My trouble—I hope that it will be appreciated by my hon. Friends—is that there is a momentum in all these enterprises. At present, the momentum of Stevenage is running down. If the decision to initiate this process were to be made, in the light of the publication of the South-East Study, in a matter of months, and if, during those few months, the momentum ran down 454 further, we should lose valuable staff, the cohesion of a team and, what is more important, houses and jobs at a nearer stage than if we had not waited.
I am bound to warn my hon. Friends and the Committee that I may still judge it necessary to initiate this process even before the South-East Study is published. But I can assure them that there would be no possible question of consultation, let alone an inquiry, being carried out or completed before the South-East Study is published and known. I may wish to start the process, but there can be no possible question of the process being completed before the picture is fully available.
I fear that what I have said will disappoint my hon. Friends. I hope that they recognise that there are strong arguments against the case which they have put forward. I hope that in the light of what I have said, my hon. Friends will not press the Amendment. But I must retain freedom to consider the case on the merits, which include all the arguments which they have faithfully, persuasively and diligently, over a period of months, so strongly put to me.
§ Mr. Longden
Can my right hon. Friend dissipate some of the gloom which he has cast over us by the prospect of this South-East Study, which appears to me merely to be going to see that all the other beautiful counties in the South-East are to be wrecked like Hertfordshire? Has he any plans or have the Government any plans for deflecting the drift to the South-East?
§ Sir K. Joseph
My hon. Friend almost tempts me to say that, as a bachelor, he is one of the few people not responsible for the problem in the South-East which is caused by the excessive number of births over deaths.
The problem of this country is not one of drift. The movement between regions affects a very small element in the population so far as the South-East is concerned. There is a regular procession of people to the South who come here on retirement, and there is, of course, a migration for work, which I do not question. But both these are comparatively small elements in the total picture. The problem is the sheer 455 fecundity of the population, particularly in the South-East.
§ Mr. W. R. van Straubenzee (Wokingham)
I wish to make a brief intervention as one who also is not responsible for the difficulties of the Minister. It is married men like my right hon. Friend who are giving us all this trouble. He referred over and over again to the understandable basis of this South-East Study. He said that we should receive this soon? May I ask, how soon is "soon"? Is he aware that in areas outside Hertfordshire—I must not stray far from the Amendment, but may I slip in Berkshire, for example—we are stymied—
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
Yes, but Shropshire does not come into the South-East study.
Until this survey is issued, may respectfully, but firmly, urge on my right hon. Friend, and, through him, on those responsible for advising him, that planning requirements are being held up and very considerable inconvenience caused while we wait for what I quite realise is a very complex report? Will he give us an assurance before we come to a decision that he will do everything possible to expedite it?
§ Sir K. Joseph
I can certainly give that assurance. I am well aware that until we produce this Study, as my hon. Friend says, operations of planning in the South-East are to a great extent stymied. It is a complex affair and we must get it right. It is an important document and will have to bear the closest examination. "Soon" is, alas, not very soon—but it is still "soon".
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Maddan
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for what he said in explanation and clarification, both of the facts, which I think, we do not argue about, and his views upon them, but there are two or three points I wish to take up with him.
This is illustrative of the sort of thing which worries us. We do not think the planning thoughts behind the proposal to expand Stevenage will have very much authority or internal coherence. My right 456 hon. Friend talked about the South-East Study and its proposals being a safeguard against coalescence of Stevenage with surrounding towns such as Luton and Welwyn, but can he quote an example—either during the time he has been Minister or since there was a Minister of Housing and Local Government—in which planning has succeeded in stopping areas where there is industry from growing?
§ Mr. Maddan
My right hon. Friend says that it is very easy. I shall be interested to hear him continue.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I think that the green belt is the best possible example. Broadly, it has been substantially held against enormous pressures.
§ Mr. Maddan
But in the green belt there are no industrial towns. My complaint is that in a green belt of 1½ miles wide it will be much harder to resist those pressures than in a green belt which is several miles wide.
Factories in towns such as Stevenage, Luton and Welwyn are in growing industries. They bring their own momentum and needs from expanding companies. They bring new people to the area to work. Those people are usually young and they are enterprising enough to move to the area. They bring further natural increase with them. It seems no more than a pious hope to think that if once we get expanding industrial towns reaching to within a mile or two of each other any planning can help.
My second point is that my right hon. Friend said that my proposal is in Stevenage to "pack them into the designated area", to "thicken them up" and not to have them "sprawled over the countryside". I am not at all against using the designated area to its maximum potential, but let us be quite clear about it. When it comes to the question of trying to solve the problem of the increasing population, to 64 million which he told us about, I am not impressed by this argument about Stevenage, but for the record I shall explain what "packing in" in my sense means.
I am basing myself on the technical appraisal of the Stevenage Corporation of the expansion, which at the moment 457 seems to have been entirely forgotten by most people. It says that there are within the present designated area 1,193 acres of white land and about 880 acres, not including the Lea Valley, which will be used for expansion purposes. How many will be needed to reach the 150,000 my right hon. Friend was talking about? This is not my idea, but the idea of Stevenage Corporation itself, which says that the designated area can hold 100,000.
§ Sir K. Joseph
My hon. Friend does not need to defend himself against a charge of that kind, but I said that he would accept the expansion if it were achieved by that means.
§ Mr. Maddan
Perhaps I would, but the designated area has room for grounds for amenity, schools, and so on, and for 100,000, whereas the present population is nearly 50,000. We are not half-way to using up what was designated when the party opposite was in power. It makes nonsense of the proposal entirely to change the shape and weight of the town.
My right hon. Friend talked about cost and said that there would be the cost of sewerage if the present designated area were used. The technical appraisal of the development corporation and a very able report from consulting engineers showed that in their opinion the problem of expansion could be contained within the present trunk sewer at Rymeads works, provided there was no substantial expansion of other areas served by the trunk sewer. I am proposing a comparatively small increase beyond the 80,000 originally proposed, perhaps to 100,000 in due course, I daresay that the present trunk sewerage works could take the expansion of other towns in the county. I do not concede that it is just as expensive to have 100,000 in the present designated area as to increase the designated area and to halve the 100,000.
My right hon. Friend explained the present procedures and brought in the question of Town and Country Planning Acts, saying that it was not his intention to amend them. I agree with that. We are trying to do the best we can within the framework in which we have to work. We are trying to expand something for which plans were not made in 1946. Does not my right hon. Friend 458 think that these procedures should be changed so that Parliament itself should have some say in these matters and some control over the use of the money which it votes?
§ Sir K. Joseph
I do not want to be discourteous, but in all the press of things which need to be done I do not think that amending the parliamentary procedure for the expansion of towns, either by way of new towns or by development, is something which needs to be considered in the near future. I have no strong evidence about this. I shall certainly consider it, but the short answer to my hon. Friend on that point is "No".
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Schedule agreed to.
§ Bill reported, without Amendment.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. M. Stewart
The Parliamentary Secretary might like to take the opportunity to comment on a letter appearing yesterday in The Times from Sir Frederic Osborn, a very distinguished authority on these matters. In the debate on Second Reading, the Parliamentary Secretary gave certain figures about the profitability of new towns. Sir Frederic Osborn pointed out that an examination of the accounts of the new towns does not seem to bear out the conclusions which the Parliamentary Secretary came to. I think he would like an opportunity to comment on this view.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. F. V. Corfield)
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart). Very shortly, the answer is that Sir Frederic Osborn—who, as the hon. Member rightly says, is a great expert and, I have no doubt, knows all about these figures—has taken the gross figures and I have taken the net figures. I have checked up and find 459 that at least when I first used the figure of £360,000 I most carefully used the word "net". That appears in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I fully admit that every other time that I referred to it I did not always put in the word "net". However, it is there, and the sums work out, bearing in mind that I rounded up and that one can easily be a hundred pounds or two out when the detailed figures are added up.
The general revenue surplus which I gave was £730,000, from which had to be deducted sewerage revenue deficit of £370,000. If to the £730,000 as the general revenue surplus is added back repair and maintenance provisions, amounts written off, and amounts transferred to general reserve of the Commission, we get approximately, to within £1 or so, of Sir Frederic's figure of £967,000.
The only figure the origin of which I am completely at a loss to discover is Sir Frederic's figure of sewerage revenue deficit of £138,000. I can only imagine that he worked backwards and decided that this was the figure which would balance and therefore must be the right one. I have no doubt that there is an explanation for that.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart). I am sure that neither he nor the House would wish me to make a long speech. Despite the reservations of some of my hon. Friends with regard to Stevenage, everybody has welcomed the concept of the new towns, and nobody has suggested for one moment that it is not a worthy purpose for which we should vote more money.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.