§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. John M. Taylor.]11.58 pm
§ Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)
I am very grateful for the opportunity tonight to raise an important matter relating to Cambridgeshire.
We all appreciate the great movement of population which is taking place in our society and which has been happening for some years. Cambridgeshire is the fastest growing county in Britain. We have problems of success. There has been a remarkable growth of industry and commerce, particularly in high technology, in the county, for which we are very grateful and proud, and we have the finest agricultural land in the country. But it is important that, when Ministers are forming environmental policy, they appreciate the effect of all that upon human beings. The Secretary of State must also bear in mind the importance of his decisions on planning. If he makes a mistake the environment can be ruined for ever. For example, the Greater London area and Middlesex suffered as a result of ribbon development between the wars.
My hon. Friend the Minister is always under pressure from amenity groups and residents directly affected but it will not do to say NIMBY—not in my backyard—to justifiably worried house owners and residents. The Minister will also be under possibly stronger and more stealthy pressure from developers and he must be strong enough to resist that. Recently, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has gained a reputation for being the slave of developers and a soft touch when cases go to appeal. That is unfair but he should bear it in mind.
The object of structure plans is to take into account local need, concerns and interests. The Government should give proper weight to local opinion. I shall refer to the Minister's proposed modifications to the Cambridgeshire structure plan. The modifications are illogical and fail lamentably to meet local or national needs. I shall outline some of the objections in brief.
My hon. Friend the Minister's proposals amount to a vast new settlement to the west of Cambridge involving out-of-town shopping. The result will be a new town of 14,000 people, which is equivalent to Huntingdon or St. Ives in the county. That is sheer madness. The object of fresh development, as the Department of the Environment and everyone else agrees, is to provide housing and employment opportunities for the north of Cambridgeshire. The west development will merely attract yet more commuters working in London. I have nothing against people living in Cambridge and working in London because, after all, that is what I do. However, it is contrary to the strategy that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wants. It will do nothing to ease the problems of people working in and around Cambridge, especially to the north in the Fens which is where the problem really lies. By contrast, the panel advising the Minister supports the view that development to the south of Cambridge should be restrained. Paradoxically, that will be the effect if the modifications are confirmed.
The roads of Cambridgeshire are very dangerous. The A45 to the west is as dangerous as any. There have been many horrific accidents and crashes there during the time that I have been a Member of Parliament for the area. A new vast development such as that proposed could only 556 make matters worse and increase the sum of human misery. That will be exacerbated particularly as commercial travel increases in 1992 and vehicles seek to gain access to the M11.
The important regeneration of the villages of Papworth Everard and Caldecote, where new housing is already under construction or planned, will be threatened by the new development. I am informed that in the village of Bourn there are drainage problems and that flooding could occur in Bourn Brook as a result of the development. That is according to the most recent information from the Anglian water authority. To add to all that, three sites of special scientific interest would be damaged.
Those arguments and many more are set out in more detail in the response sent to my right hon. Friend by the new settlement action group involving 14 villages. I beg the Government to study the response with great care. The important point is that there has been no consultation or opportunity for anyone to consider the vast new alteration and all its implications. That is contrary to my idea of local democracy and the freedom to which the Government subscribe.
The proposal for the huge new settlement on the A45 west of Cambridge can be summed up by saying that it is incompatible with the strategy accepted by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his Department. It will be devastating to the amenities of the existing population. It will increase the danger to life and limb, to say nothing of congestion on the A45. It will do nothing to meet the new housing demand generated from the Cambridge area and there has been no opportunity for those affected to make their case. In short, the proposal is stark, staring crazy.
I shall not be merely negative tonight, strong though my arguments are. I recognise the need for housing in the county and I believe that there is a solution. Development to the east of the A45—and I have in mind a site near Nine Mile hill—would conform to the strategy. Employment opportunities are to be found to the east of Cambridge, not to the west. All roads out of Cambridge are operating to full capacity except the 1303 leading east. The area to the west is more costly than the east for services and education needs can also be more easily met.
§ Mr. James Paice (Cambridgeshire, South-East)
As my hon. Friend knows, Nine Mile hill is in my constituency. Does he agree that already a large number of people commute to Cambridge from further north and the Fens? The Fenland district has been allocated only 7,150 houses under the Secretary of State's proposals, although it wants 10,000. Would it not be more sensible to push the proposed development a little further north into the Fens, where it is wanted by the local councils and where the prosperity that it would bring is needed?
§ Sir Anthony Grant
It is quite true that that would be another alternative. Indeed, a development to the north would be exactly the same distance away from Cambridge as a development to the west. It was included in the original structure plan, which took two years of consultation and deliberation to develop. The whole point was muddled by the panel that has reported to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. It is certainly an alternative to the current unsatisfactory proposal.
Not only do I and my hon. Friend vehemently oppose the proposed scheme but the 14 villages immediately 557 affected and the whole of the Cambridgeshire county council, Conservatives, Labour and Democrats, are opposed to the proposal.
The whole planning problem is nationwide, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State knows from the strong representations from my hon. Friends. I am a strong supporter of the Government and I have been a Member of Parliament for many years. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister cannot give any answers tonight, but I want him, my right hon. Friend and the Government to be under no illusions. They are sitting on a keg of dynamite throughout the south and east of our nation, which will explode with devastating results unless the Government heed the wishes of the people they serve. I pray that Ministers will heed my words tonight and think again on the subject of Cambridgeshire.
§ 12.8 am
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Christopher Chope)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant) for the helpful and constructive way in which, as always, he deployed his arguments. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Paice), whose contribution was a gloss on my hon. Friend's speech. The fact that they were not ad idem shows the problems that the Government face in solving difficult planning issues.
This is a one-sided debate in two senses. First, all speakers are on the Conservative Benches, although that is not unusual. Secondly, I cannot tonight answer the points that have been raised. All that I can do is assure my hon. Friends that their submissions and arguments will be taken into account as relevant evidence on the structure plan proposed modifications. I congratulate my hon. Friends on their excellent timing. Ministers will be considering responses to the recent consultation within the next few weeks.
Perhaps in the time available I might briefly remind the House of how the structure plan process operates. It is a long and often painstaking process, but it is designed to produce the right conclusion, and certainly to enable everybody to put their point of view and to have it properly considered.
Structure plans provide the necessary framework for development control and the co-ordination and direction of development. They give a general indication of where development should be located and its size. The end product of the development plan process should be a clear and concise statement of policies and proposals for development which strike a satisfactory balance in land use between immediate availability for development, provision for future contingencies, and conservation. It is essential that the policies contained in an approved plan are closely monitored and kept up to date to cater for the needs of the county.
The existing Cambridgeshire structure plan was approved in 1980. Since then, Cambridgeshire has had to face several significant changes. They are: increasing 558 pressure for more new housing, especially in the Cambridge area and the Huntingdonshire towns and villages of the Ouse valley; the expansion of Stansted airport; the growth of high technology industries in the Cambridge area; and major changes in transport, such as the completion of the M11 and the A45 Cambridge northern bypass.
To respond to those challenges, the county council submitted proposals for a replacement plan. An examination in public was held in October 1987. That process involved people being able to put their views to a public inquiry. The panel's report was presented to the Secretary of State in January 1988.
As my hon. Friends will know, the Secretary of State announced proposed modifications to the plan in July 1988. Those modifications were the subject of consultation. The consultation period was originally to expire at the end of September, but, because of the postal dispute, it was extended until the end of October. As I have said, the points that have been raised tonight will count as points raised in the consultation.
We hope that, by the beginning of next year—probably in January—it will be possible to come forward with our conclusions on what is obviously a difficult issue, as such planning issues normally are.
§ Sir Antony Buck (Colchester, North)
I have a loose connection with the matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant) has made a devastating case. Will my hon. Friend the Minister assure the House that what has been said this evening will be taken fully into consideration when the report is finally made?
§ Mr. Chope
I am able to give an unequivocal assurance that everything that has been said this evening will be taken into account as evidence in the case. That does not mean that, when the conclusions are announced, they will necessarily be word for word what my hon. Friends wish to hear. Obviously, I cannot prejudge the matter. I am at great pains this evening not to say anything that could be taken to demonstrate that we have already reached a conclusion on any of the issues.
This has been a well-timed debate. My hon. Friends have been able to make their points, and they will be taken fully into account. I cannot say more than that. Obviously, the points having been made in such a way, they will carry considerable weight.
The problems of reconciling the need to increase the number of houses in Cambridgeshire with the problems of where to locate them are not easily resolved. We shall have to reach a final conclusion over the next few weeks. It is as frustrating for me as it is for my hon. Friends to know that we cannot take the debate any further this evening, but I assure the House that we shall reach a decision as soon as possible.
Once again I congratulate my hon. Friend on initiating the debate and on getting the timing absolutely right. In his own inimitable style, he ensured that the arguments were cogently put.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at fourteen minutes past Twelve o'clock.