§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 7 pm
§ Sir Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead and Highgate)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
I must announce to the House that Mr. Speaker has not selected the blocking motion or the instructions.
§ Sir Geoffrey Finsberg
My right hon. Friend the Paymaster General is not able to move the Second Reading of this Bill, but I am delighted to do so on his behalf and on behalf of the Corporation of the City of London. I speak wearing three hats on this matter—as one who went to the City of London school, as a freeman, and as a member of the Guild of Freemen of the City of London. I greatly admire what the corporation does for the inhabitants of London. It spends vast sums on London and it deserves to be praised. I am delighted that it is now looking after Hampstead heath and I am sure that it will do so extremely efficiently.
Nothing in the Bill could be called controversial in a party-political sense, although it may well prove controversial across party lines. I shall try first to explain the three parts into which it falls and then, with permission, respond at the end to points on which clarification may be needed. If I have to be away from my place from time to time I hope that my hon. Friends will understand, should any points require further elucidation.
I am sure that hon. Members have read the Bill in great detail and seen that it falls into three sections. Clauses 4 to 8 deal with the need to build the Hackney to the M11 link road. As clause 7 makes clear, the Department of Transport will pay the costs of this part of the Bill, and it must explain the reasoning behind these clauses, which the City has had to include in the Bill. I can take no responsibility for the views of the Department of Transport. The corporation has been merely a vehicle for this part of the Bill.
The background is as follows. This link was first announced in 1979 and was the subject of two public inquiries, in 1983 and 1987, as a result of which the route was fixed. Some Epping forest land has been taken around the Green Man roundabout, and some land near by at George Green will also be affected. The City argued at the 1983 inquiry—by City, I mean the conservators of the forest—that the road at these spots should be in tunnel to protect the environment of the forest, and that happy solution was agreed.
I propose to use measurements with which we are familiar. Six and a quarter acres of forest land will be permanently acquired by the Department of Transport; approximately another half an acre will be subject to the right of access, with seven acres being used during the construction time. These latter 7.5 or 8 acres will be restored and returned to forest use after the completion of the road, and the tunnel tops will be grassed over. The cost of all that will fall on the Department of Transport.
The Department has agreed to add 20 acres of land to the forest adjacent to Wanstead park, representing a net gain of permanent forest land of more than 13 acres. This land will be properly prepared for forest use by the 73 Department. In passing, I may add that those who talk about the speed of road building should note that more than a decade has passed since this idea was first suggested, and not a piece of tarmacadam is yet in place.
During and after construction special access will be provided at the new roundabout for pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders. Horse riders play an important part in the background to this Bill. Access will be provided even during the construction period, and when it is over there will be proper, permanent access for these three groups.
The second part of the Bill, clauses 9 and 10, is about horse riding in the forest and has aroused much local interest. I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) and my hon. Friends the Members for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Arbuthnot) and for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) have been much interested and involved, as was my late friend and colleague Sir John Biggs-Davison. This part has given rise to much detailed discussion. Those who have visited the forest in recent years as I have know that it is used a great deal by horse riders and riding schools. The impact of horse riding was last reviewed about 20 years ago, and the City has been concerned about the implications for the ecology of the forest and for other users, as the area is used much more by riders now.
The City has had a duty since 1878 to maintain the forest for the enjoyment of the public, and to protect it. Most of the forest is due to be designated as a site of special scientific interest under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Because of that, and because of the increased riding use, a working party was set up and there was a review in 1988. The group that undertook the review visited all parts of the forest and consulted widely.
Three major problems were identified. First, a minority of inconsiderate riders were causing damage to others and to the forest and generally showed a lack of concern for the local ecology and environment. Secondly, the intensification of riding has caused adverse ground conditions. That has caused ecological damage and is affecting the pleasure derived by others who use the forest. The increase in riding is churning up parts of the forest and making it less pleasant for walkers. Thirdly, there is the increased cost of trying to keep the rides in acceptable condition.
During the past 15 or 20 years the City has spent about £1 million on the provision and maintenance of rides. The intensification of riding means that substantially more has to be spent on maintenance, additional provision and long-term control. Unless the Bill is enacted the riders will make no contribution to the upkeep, preservation and restoration of the forest. I shall return to those matters.
About two months ago I received a letter from an organisation called the "Friends of Epping Forest". That organisation makes clear that there is a large volume of support for the City in its desire to regulate horse riding in the forest and to make reasonable charges to riders. The honorary secretary, Mrs. Bitten, says in the letter that the organisation sent out petition forms on 8 February to be returned by 28 February. At the date of her letter there were already 3,500 signatures.
§ Mr. Steve Norris (Epping Forest)
I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will be interested to know that there are now more than 5,000 signatures on that petition, which I have taken charge of this very evening.
§ Sir Geoffrey Finsberg
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that update. It shows that those who use the forest accept that the City has been doing its best to look after the interests of all the people who use it.
The review that I mentioned has resulted in two main proposals. The first is that powers must be made available to control the irresponsible and thoughtless activities of a minority. I stress "minority" because the overwhelming bulk of riders are not irresponsible and accept the logic of what the City is suggesting. Secondly, the riders will have to make some contribution, and the money will be specifically ploughed back into facilities, thus enabling the rides to be maintained, added to and improved. The City has made clear that the contributions will not be spent on the general upkeep of the forest, but will be specifically applied to the riding areas.
The concept of contribution and registration is not new. It is already operated elsewhere and was recommended as long ago as 1969 by the Eastern sports council to the then Minister responsible for sport, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell). Power to restrict rides is in the 1971 Act. At that time the proposal to register and to charge was deferred until about 20 miles of surfaced rides were nearing completion. Now those 20 miles are virtually ready for use.
I stress that all the amenity and conservation groups that were consulted support the proposals. There were two objections and both were from riding associations. The objections were mainly that riders should make no contribution. That is a narrow way of looking at things because riders are specialised users of the forest and other specialised users, such as people who fish or people who play football or golf, make a contribution. Therefore, the objection by the riders is impossible to sustain on any logical basis.
The third part of the Bill is much more domestic. It deals with pedestrian safety, emergency access, litter and school staff appointments. I should like to deal with those matters and it might be useful for the House to know some of the background and the reasoning for this part of the Bill. Clause 17 will prohibit pedestrians from using the Blackfriars underpass and the part of Upper Thames street which is in the tunnel. I do not know how many Members have tried to walk through that underpass, but I hope that any who have had heavy life insurance because the underpass is narrow and dangerous and no pedestrian should try to go through it. Quite rightly, the City is saying that because there is no suitable footway provision in the tunnels and the presence of pedestrians is likely to give rise to hazards affecting them and other road users. However, there are perfectly easy and acceptable alternative ways for pedestrians.
Clause 12 allows the corporation temporarily to close walkways for repair or maintenance and to set opening times generally. At the moment the right to use walkways, which is conferred by existing legislation, is confined, strangely enough, to pedestrians. Understandably, the City thinks that it would be helpful if provision for access by emergency services vehicles could be permitted. Present legislation does not permit that but clause 12 of the Bill would make it possible.
Earlier I spoke about the Green Man roundabout and George Green. That shows how green we all are. In a green world we must prevent the dropping of litter and clause 13 tries to tidy up that aspect of legislation. I am sure that hon. Members will know that the practice of giving away 75 magazines and other publicity material is widespread throughout London and certainly in the City. The material is frequently given out near Underground stations, especially during the morning rush hour. As most of us have observed from time to time, the unused material is left unattended in piles on the pavements or elsewhere for passers by to pick up. If it is windy or if someone kicks the pile of material the pieces of paper are scattered. If they are scattered so as to conceal a step tread the result could be highly dangerous. The City wants permission to remove this material when it is deposited in public places adjacent to the highway, such as at street entrances to railway stations and the Underground. Again, that would be accepted as practical and sensible.
Clause 15 makes amendments to the traffic legislation that governs roads in the new Billingsgate market, and clause 16 does the same to permit byelaw-making powers to deal with house boats.
As an old citizen, perhaps I should comment in great detail on clause 17, which makes provision for the staff appointments at the City of London school. In the time that I was there, most of us would have welcomed the chance of having a say in the appointment or removal of certain masters, but times have changed and the City wants to modernise the process. What is suggested in the Bill is practical and, I think, acceptable to any modern thinking organisation.
I hope that that explanation will satisfy those who wish to be satisfied, and will not fuel the fires of those who do not. Legislation affecting the City of London is always a great gamble. Some will use it as a vehicle for the most vehement attack on the City. Others will use it as an opportunity to say, "Bring back the GLC." Others, like the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen), will use it as a genuine reason for making a particular point that is worrying them in their constituency and to advance arguments to which I am sure the House will wish to listen. I believe that the Bill is a good thing, as Sellar and Yeatman would say.
§ Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)
I thank the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) for his comments about me. However, the Bill steals Leyton's forest land, and gives it no proper replacement. That is the nub of the matter and that is why I object to the Bill and so have tabled a blocking motion. My constituency is the only one to be adversely affected by the Bill. Nobody would expect a Member of Parliament worth his or her salt to put up with that state of affairs, and I will not. I shall speak in detail about the iniquity of the Bill and of the Minister for Roads and Traffic, who is forcing the Bill through and robbing Leyton of its land.
§ The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Peter Bottomley)
Whose constituents will gain most by the new road? From where in his constituency does the hon. Gentleman suggest that the replacement land should come?
§ Mr. Cohen
I shall deal with that second aspect in great detail. I have already put that information to the agents, Sherwood and Company, who said when they looked at it, "Oh, crikey! What you want is peanuts, Mr. Cohen, but 76 we'll just have to check with the Department of Transport." They phoned the Department of Transport, which said, "No deal." It ill behoves the Minister to talk about replacements and negotiated land for the forest land taken from my constituency when his Department blocked the suggestion for replacement land.
As to the first point about who benefits from the road, I shall also come to that. My constituents are beginning to wonder, because of the Government's immense meanness in refusing to put nearly all of the road into cut and cover. They are prepared to put tunnels all over the place for their Tory friends but not in an urban area like Leyton which needs them. I will read to the Minister what I said in the public inquiry, which welcomed the road but argued that it needed environmental benefits, which the Department of Transport has sabotaged. My constituents, and even the local council now, are wondering whether the road is worthwhile without those benefits, because it will carve across Leyton and Leytonstone and be a disbenefit overall, especially as it will be there for 100 years or more.
I have tabled a motion suggesting that the Bill should be read a Second time not today but in six months. My real wish is that it will never be given a Second Reading, or at least not until Leyton gets reasonable compensation and a reasonable deal. I asked for what the agents described as peanuts, but the Minister was too mean to provide it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) is ill, and I am sure that the House will wish him a speedy recovery. He sends his apologies for not being here to speak about his instruction, which reads:That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill that they satisfy themselves that none of the provisions contained in the Bill are in conflict with the draft Strategic Guidance for London issued by the Secretary of State for the Environment.My hon. Friend also wants to draw attention to the important environmental aspects over which the Department of Transport is riding roughshod, particularly in my constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West takes it as an important principle that urban areas should have a good environment. In his constituency and my neighbouring constituency he wants to see put into effect the proper environmental guidelines and improvements that the Government claim to be supporting. However, the Minister for Roads and Traffic is ignoring them by forcing through this proposal, which is a scandal.
My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) also sends his apologies. Although he knew that his blocking motion would not be selected, he would have been here, but he has had to go to an important meeting at the Foreign Office to talk about Kurdish refugees, many of whom are coming into his constituency. Therefore, he sends his apologies. His instruction reads:That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill so to amend Clause 11 as to provide for equivalent space elsewhere in Upper Thames Street to compensate for the additional area which will be closed to the movement of pedestrians in order to facilitate access to buildings on the route.Again, he is looking for compensation for his constituency and other parts of London. Perhaps I should not say this as he is not here, but his constituency is not as badly affected as mine. Leyton is being robbed of forest land by the Minister. He is stealing forest land in a built-up urban area without replacing it. I note the point made by my hon. 77 Friend, and I hope that the Committee will pick up his point. However, I shall concentrate on what is happening in Leyton.
A cartoon appeared in the weekend press—in The Guardian—that amused me. Perhaps I should not say that because Steve Bell amuses me quite often with some of his sharp cartoons. In this instance he summed up the Government's environment policy in his usual caustic manner. He showed the Secretary of State for the Environment lazing in a deckchair. He was talking about fast golf—yes—and Socialism—no. Then he outlined his environment policy. In effect, he said, "We stop the working class from voting, breathing, eating and farting. Next, we nuke ourselves up to the eyeballs. Next, we invest in more global weaponry." That is about right for the Government's environment policy. After that, the Secretary of State, through Steve Bell, said, "Then we retire to Gloucestershire to build major extensions to the family seat."
That is the Government's environment policy in a nutshell when it comes to working people. That is why the Minister for Public Transport does not give a fart for forest land in Leyton. That is the truth of the matter. Steve Bell's cartoon summed up the Government's attitude extremely well. A good environment is all right for Ministers, but they do not care about the environment for urban areas such as Leyton.
In his opening remarks the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate described the City of London as the vehicle for the Department of Transport, and that is exactly what it is. This is an appalling abuse of the private Bill procedure. A private Bill is supposed to be exactly that—private. That means that the Bill is something that is wanted, for example, by the City of London, or by the people of Leyton. I can tell the Minister that the people of Leyton did not want him to steal their forest land without proper replacement. We are witnessing an abuse of the private Bill procedure. In reality, we are dealing with a Government measure.
The hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate said, "This is a vehicle for the Department of Transport." Those were his words. That being so, the Department should have come to the House with its own Bill. It should have introduced a Bill entitled, "The Stealing of Land from Leyton Without Proper Replacement Bill". The City of London should not have been used as a pawn.
I tried to negotiate with the City of London. The compensation that I wanted was described by the agents, Sherwood, as peanuts. That being so, I thought that the City of London would settle quickly. I received a telephone call and I was told that the Department had in turn been telephoned. What interest does the Department have in the matter when this measure, apparently, is a private Bill? I was told, "We have phoned the Department and it says, `No deal."' This is an abuse of the private Bill procedure.
§ Sir Geoffrey Finsberg
I wish to make it clear that I said that this part of the Bill was a vehicle because the City has legislative responsibility for the forest. Therefore, if there is to be any change, the matter has to come through Parliament in this way. I have been assured— I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take this from me—that at no stage did Sherwood use the word "peanuts". I am told that 78 that is the word of the hon. Gentleman, and it is one that I understand. Sherwood's representatives are emphatic that they did not use the word.
§ Mr. Cohen
That is a lie. I am not calling the hon. Gentleman a liar, but what he has said is an untruth. I was present at the meeting on the Terrace. The agent is sitting outside the Chamber. Obviously, someone who is not a Member of this place cannot sit in the Chamber. When she considered the compensation for which I was asking, she said, "This is peanuts."
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate for intervening in my speech. It was interesting because I was not sure whether the City of London was neglecting the people of Leyton, whether it had been called upon by the Department of Transport to do the dirty work, or whether it was a bit of both. I was leaning to the view that it was doing the dirty work for the Department in stealing forest land from the people of Leyton without paying compensation. However, it may be that it is acting off its own bat. If that is so, the people of Leyton face an appalling sell-out.
As I have said, the Bill is a Government measure. At least, that can be said of the provisions within it to which I am referring. I accept that other parts of the Bill are the City of London's responsibilities. When it comes to forest land, the motivation lies with the Department of Transport. It is prepared to take forest land from Leyton without providing proper compensation.
We are being presented with a fait accompli. The conservators were put over a barrel by the Department of Transport. If the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate is saying that the City of London gladly colluded in the process of robbing Leyton of forest land without providing proper compensation, that will be remembered by the people of Leyton. If that is so, it is a scathing indictment of the City of London.
The hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate has told us that City of London Bills are always a gamble. Who is he kidding? They are never a gamble. There are always 100 or more Conservative Members who are prepared to crawl out of the woodwork for the City of London. Ministers crawl out of the woodwork when these Bills come before the House. A City of London Bill has never been defeated in this place since way back in the 1800s. That is because Conservative Members are in the pocket of the City. Perhaps they will get a few good dinners at the Guildhall. They do not mind robbing the people of Leyton of their forest land without providing proper compensation. They do not give a toss about that. There is no gamble. We know that 100 Conservative Members, or more, will roll up to vote at the end of the debate. That will not be the end of the matter, however, because the argument will continue.
The statement that was issued on behalf of the promoters in support of the Bill's Second Reading was shameful. If statements and advertisements had to be honest and truthful, the statement would fail those criteria. It is a statement of deception and lies. It seems that the lies will be compounded if the agent says now that she did not say that the compensation that I was seeking was peanuts.
I shall run through parts of the statement. Initially, it states:The Bill is promoted by the Corporation of London for the principal purpose of authorising the Corporation as Conservators of Epping Forest to grant to the Secretary of 79 State for Transport the land, and the rights in land, that he requires for the construction of a part of the Hackney to M11 link road authorised under the Highways Act 1980.That is how the statement starts. It is a sell-out by the City of London and the conservators in that respect. The Bill does not provide compensation for the people of Leyton for the forest land that the Minister is stealing. It is no excuse to quote the Secretary of State's powers to acquire land for the Hackney Wick to M11 link in not providing replacement land to the benefit of people living in Leyton and in Leytonstone. The conservators have sold out in respect of their role to conserve an urban area such as Leyton, which is scandalous.
The statement continues:The Bill would authorise the Conservators of Epping Forest to grant to the Secretary of State out of the open wasteland of the forest the freehold interest in some 27,500 square metres—approximately 6.8 acres—rights to construct and maintain foundations in some 2,500 square metres—approximately 0.62 acres—and rights of temporary occupation for the construction of the roadworks in some 28,500 square metres—approximately 7 acres. The authorisation is subject to the acquisitions of the Secretary of State using the usual statutory powers for compulsory purchase.The Secretary of State will not use those same powers to acquire compensation land. He will not use them to rehouse the homeless in my constituency, who are suffering as a result of the proposal.
The figures of the amount of land that is being taken are interesting. It can be seen that a large area of land will be used, but the statement does not reveal anything like the full picture as to the amount of land that is being nicked—being stolen—for the roundabout. We do not mind the roundabout, provided that land is given in its place as a recompense for the land that is stolen.
Item 4 on page 2 of the statement says:By the Epping Forest Act 1878 the Corporation as conservators of Epping Forest were charged with the duty of preserving as far as possible the natural aspect of the forest.The same should apply to Leyton. The statement continues:By Section 7 of that Act they are required to keep the forest unenclosed and unbuilt on as an open space for the recreation and enjoyment of the public and to resist all encroachments on the forest.The same should apply to Leyton, but the conservators have failed to meet their responsibilities to the people of Leyton as to the forest's natural aspect. The conservators say, "They are only Leyton people. They do not matter that much." That is the conservators' attitude, which echoes that of the Minister for Roads and Traffic. The conservators' attitude is, "The Leyton people can lose their forest land and not receive any compensation."
The conservators have failed over a long period to upgrade the forest for the people of Leyton and Leytonstone, particularly in the Whipps Cross and Hellow Pond area. One of the conditions that I put to Sherwoods, which were described as being "peanuts" until the Department put the boot in, was about upgrading the forest land. It was the conservators' job to do that in any case. They should have upgraded the land over the past 100 years, but they neglected that responsibility, which makes me very angry. That is another reason why the statement is nonsense and represents an abrogation by the conservators of their responsibilities.
80 Item 6 concerns itself with the chosen route doing the least damage to the forest's natural aspect. The conservators have not done that part of their job particularly well either. Nevertheless, item 6 states:It was for this reason that the Conservators argued for the new road to be put in covered cuttings, as previously described, at the Green Man roundabout and George Green.At the last inquiry into the roundabout, Wanstead was given more covered cuttings, but Leyton got none because of the Government's meanness and vindictiveness, saying, "The people of Leyton don't matter. They don't need forest land." The conservators have not tried very hard to secure covered land in Leyton. Their efforts were tokenism in the extreme and reveal another aspect of their neglect.
Item 7 states:The area of land to be given in exchange for the forest land required for construction purposes is to be equally advantageous to the public and to the commoners as the forest land for which it is substituted.That is a straight lie. The forest will be substituted by scrubby old sewage land in Wanstead, two and a half miles away. That land cannot in any way be described as "equally advantageous", not in Leyton it ain't. It will not do. Item 7 has the cheek to continue:This addition will provide a substantial amenity for local people.What a nerve. It will not do so, and that is yet another straight lie, unless one expects the people of Leyton to walk two and a half miles from the Green Man roundabout and risk getting run over on the way. That is one of the biggest stretches of road there is. That will not represent any kind of amenity for the people of Leyton.
§ Sir Geoffrey Finsberg
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not want to depart from the truth. The "scrubby old sewage land" to which he refers will be brought up to the standard of the forest by the Department of Transport. There is no question of there being "scrubby old sewage land."
§ Mr. Cohen
What a big deal for the people of Leyton. They will be provided with substitute land two and a half miles away along a busy motorway, which will not really be of any benefit to them. I still say that it will be scrubby old sewage land. Our experience of Redbridge council showed that it was only too keen to build on land that had toxic waste under it, causing medical problems for the people who subsequently lived there. Who is to say that such a thing will not occur again in respect of the replacement land?
The people of Leyton want open spaces, forest land and parks, yet the Minister is stealing Leyton's forest land. The Government, using the vehicle provided by the Bill, are manipulating the City of London and the conservators, and are stealing Leyton's forest land without replacing it properly. That is the reality of the situation. If the Department of Transport's meanness is anything to go by, that scrubby old sewage land will not be brought up to a proper standard. The Department will spend the barest minimum, unless the other policy comes into play so that, because it is a Tory area, it can have what resources it likes while Labour areas have their forest land stolen from them. If that is the case, we have a Minister whose green and environmental policies are perverse. That is something that the people of Leyton will understand very well.
The Government are supposed to be environmentally minded. The Prime Minister has made a statement saying in effect that, having broken all the pollution laws under 81 the sun for years on end, we are green now. I heard the Minister proclaim that as well on "Any Questions". He must think that people in this country are green. He clearly thinks that the people of Leyton are if he imagines that they will allow their forest land to be stolen without their Member of Parliament protesting.
The Government are not green at all. They have broken more Common Market standards and laws on pollution than any other Government in the EEC. They are the party of law and order—except when it comes to polluting and despoiling our environment. They allow the pollution of beaches up and down the country, and do not provide clean water. They are not green but motorway grey: they are stealing Leyton's forest land for motorway tarmac.
Leyton is a heavily built-up urban area, with houses set close together and not much green space. There is not nearly enough park and forest land. The people who must live in the area have received no help from the Government, and what little green space is available around the perimeters is coming under assault from all directions. The local authority, seeking to maintain its parks, has been savaged by cuts in rate support and capital grants. Kiddies are being hurt in the playground when they fall on to tarmac. The Government have not provided the money for the council to provide safe equipment in the first place, or safe landing facilities in the second.
The parks are becoming devastated and bare. There is more and more wasteland. I am not complaining about the council's employees, who do a wonderful job, but they are increasingly stretched. Jobs, too, have been savaged by the cuts in rate support grant. Those people are working hard just to preserve an amenity—the breath of fresh air that is vital in a heavily built-up area where juggernauts go past pumping out their diesel poison.
As the central London road assessment studies make clear, the Bill is part of a package that puts Walthamstow and Leyton marshes seriously at risk. On 7 April the Yellow Advertiser, a local paper, featured a photograph of Lea Valley park with its symbol. It is a bit like a nuclear symbol, but at least it means fresh air in this instance. Lea Valley park has not done a great deal for my authority, considering the taxpayers' and ratepayers' money that has gone into it; there is an ice rink, but that is about it. In the past it has backed schemes to dig up the marshes for the gravel and to try to make a profit out of it.
The paper headlines its articleNatural beauty road planners' target … concrete future for marsh area?There is a beautiful picture of the marshes. You are welcome to come and walk over those marshes, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that you would enjoy it enormously; it is a wonderful piece of land.
§ Mr. Summerson
As the hon. Gentleman mentioned a part of my constituency, I feel that I must rise to agree entirely with what he has said. The Walthamstow marshes are indeed an ancient part of our heritage, going back 1,000 or 2,000 years.
I saw the article that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, and I am delighted to have the opportunity to put it on record that if any such scheme ever attempted to cover 82 Leyton and Walthamstow marshes with concrete in the way that he has described I would fight it to the limit, and I am sure that my constituents would simply not permit it.
§ Mr. Cohen
It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to say that they would not permit it. He is a relative newcomer to Waltham forest, but when I was on the local council the Conservatives on the council voted for a proposal to dig out the gravel from Walthamstow and Leyton marshes. It was only the Labour group that stopped it from going ahead, despite tremendous pressure from the Conservatives, the Government and the big business interests who wanted the gravel. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's change of heart, but I think that he will have to go back and discuss the matter with his colleagues, and try to persuade them to change their views.
§ Mr. Summerson
The hon. Gentleman must not impute to me views that I simply have not expressed. I do not know what any particular council of any particular political complexion did in the years before I was elected; I am speaking for myself. As a Conservative Member of Parliament, I would fight such a proposal.
§ Mr. Cohen
I welcome the hon. Gentleman's statement. I am merely giving him a bit of the history. I must point out to him that his hon. Friend the Minister is a very mean-minded man when it comes to the Leyton people's forest. He is stealing it from them and refusing to give it back, and he can exert a fantastic amount of pressure.
The hon. Gentleman has not been all that good at fulfilling his pledges in the past. I remember that about a year ago he signed a motion opposing charges for eye tests, and pledged that he would fight them. When it came to the vote, however, he went through the Lobby with the Government, and the eye charges were imposed. While I welcome his promise to oppose the concreting of this land, I wonder how much faith can be put in it. I know that the hon. Gentleman is speaking honestly now, but when the pressure is on and the Government Whips are out, will he do the same as before?
Let me quote from the article in the Yellow Advertiser, which deals with the assault on the green land of Leyton and Leytonstone and the surrounding areas, and the theft of the fresh air and forest land that belong to the local people. It says:Concrete future for marsh area. Outline proposals to ease London's traffic congestion include the idea of ploughing a major road straight through Walthamstow marsh.It has also been referred to as Leyton marsh. Leyton marsh runs into Walthamstow marsh. Both marshes are affected by the plans. The article continues:In the past, the boggy nature of the land has been its best defence against any sort of development but now private consultants, hired by the Department of Transport, have pinpointed the Lea Valley as one of a number of options for new roads. Other neighbouring open spaces that would disappear under concrete if the Lea Valley option is ever taken up are the Warwick reservoir and the Essex filter beds.Those are prime and important areas of land in the area. The article continues:Marie Fallon, conservation officer with Waltham Forest council, said: 'It is at very early stages and the consultants have not clarified what they mean by the proposals."'That is why this is a most dangerous time. We must stamp on the proposal, or attempt to do so. The Minister will not get away with this without finding that he has an enormous fight on his hands. The article then says: 83However, the London ecology committee, which includes councillors from 23 boroughs, has been so alarmed that it has asked for a meeting with roads Minister Peter Bottomley.I bet they got scant joy from him. He is only too keen to take forest land from the people of Leyton and, presumably, from people elsewhere for his pet grey motorway projects. He is a very grey Minister. He would do that without providing any proper replacement for what he takes away. The article goes on to say:Waltham Forest committee member, Councillor Eric Sizer, said, 'When roads are being considered it is often thought easier to push them through open spaces where opposition is thought to be muted. We will stress to the Minister that we regret that so many of the options affect significant sites of value for nature conservation and other much loved open spaces.`I echo Councillor Sizer's comments.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
The hon. Gentleman may be able to remind us whether that councillor was with us when the hon. Gentleman and I went down the high street on the trunk road to within about 150 yards of the Green Man roundabout. I seem to remember being with the hon. Gentleman for about an hour and a half—or was it two hours? We started near Leytonstone station; we walked up towards the Green Man. I introduced the hon. Gentleman to a number of his constituents, many of whom recognised him and paid tribute to his work. We spent a long time together, but I cannot remember the hon. Gentleman, or one of his constituents, or one of his councillors mentioning one word of this. However, I do remember the hon. Gentleman discussing with me whether the Hackney to M11 link would provide the kind of environment improvement, the casualty reduction and the improvement in life required in his constituency.
It seems to me that since that time, when the hon. Gentleman was walking politely around with me, he has discovered an awful lot of things that he might have tried to share with me before this evening. He is talking in general rather than in specific terms. I regret the fact that the hon. Gentleman did not take the opportunity when we were within 150 m of the roundabout—I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was at school when metres were taught rather than yards—to speak to me about one of the main matters that worries him.
§ Mr. Cohen
He put a block on it in the first two minutes. The press were all around him; so were the councillors, the chief executive and the officers. They said, "Could we have a word with you about the tunnel?" The Minister said, "I'm not here to speak about that. I'm here to plant a tree and to walk up and down the road." That is what he said. His statement was a distortion of what happened.
I intend to deal with two specific details. I am just setting the general picture of the Government taking our forest land—our green, open space land—and not giving proper compensation for it. The Minister intervened at that point because he did not want to discuss the effect of the London assessment studies on this beautiful area of 84 land in Leyton and Walthamstow. He had the opportunity when he rose to his feet to say, "In no way will any road touch that beautiful piece of land, those marshes." I invite him to say that.
§ Mr. Bottomley
I do not want to try your patience, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or that of the House, but I suggest that the hon. Gentleman is trying to get rather more support from this side of the House in an effort to keep his speech going than he is getting from his own side. Apart from the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) on the Opposition Front Bench, the hon. Gentleman's speech is being heard not only in total silence by his own side but also in the total absence of his hon. Friends. He makes sweeping accusations that it would be better and more courteous for the House to ignore.
This is one of the hon. Gentleman's typical speeches. It might be better if he turned to specific details that the House might wish to consider at this stage. There are many points that other hon. Members may wish to raise. The hon. Gentleman has been speaking for about three quarters of an hour without making any specific points. It may be that he has not got many specific things to say, but that will be for the House and for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to judge.
§ Mr. Cohen
I have plenty of specific things to say. The Bill affects my constituency. I said at the beginning of my speech that it is being savaged by the Minister who is stealing our forest land. The land is in no other Member's constituency, so how can I expect other hon. Members, who are very busy, to come here? I have not asked them to do so. The Minister thinks that he can pick on one constituency, mine, and get away with it, but he has got another think coming to him.
§ Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)
Of course my hon. Friend knows—but perhaps the Minister would like to know, too—that the London group of Labour Members of Parliament supports what he is doing this evening. We have absolute confidence in our hon. Friend. Other hon. Members in the London group of Labour Members of Parliament do not need to speak on the subject, because no one can speak more eloquently, provide us with more information and best serve the House than my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Bottomley
I would not dream of accepting that invitation. That would be out of order and beyond the scope of the Bill.
I rose to intervene because I have just remembered that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport met the London group of Labour Members of Parliament a short time ago. I think that the hon. Gentleman was at that meeting. I hope that he will confirm that he was there. 85 I do not think that he raised that issue with my right hon. Friend. Again it seems to me that the hon. Gentleman is not getting down to the specifics, that he has not taken advantage of previous opportunities to raise these issues and that for some reason he may be trying to ensure that the House forgets why he rose to speak in the first place. Other hon. Members remember what we are here for. We are not sure that the hon. Gentleman remembers what he is here for.
§ Mr. Cohen
The Minister's tactics are to try to divert hon. Members from considering the specifics, but he will not waylay me in that way. I had the date of the meeting with the London group of Labour Members of Parliament in my diary, but the Secretary of State for Transport cancelled the meeting at the very last minute. He rearranged it at the very last minute, too, by which time I had made other appointments. I shall give the Minister details of those other appointments, if he wants them.
§ Mr. Cohen
Of course he does not want the details, but that is typical of the way that this Government behaves. It will be noted by everybody when they read the report of this debate in Hansard that the Minister refused to give any commitment or any sort of pledge that the central London assessment study will not lead to concrete motorway grey going all over the beautiful Walthamstow and Leytonstone marshes. Local people have been warned of his proposals. That is part of the Bill. It is one of the assaults on the green belt and open spaces that the Government are making on the people of Leyton and Leytonstone. They are stealing the forest land from the local people.
I wish to quote a letter from councillor John Plant—an appropriate name—the chairman of the London ecology committee. He said:You will be aware of the London traffic assessment studies which are currently under way and are due to report to the Minister for Roads and Traffic in May this year. The London Ecology Committee, which has all-party representation from 23 London boroughs, is very concerned at the effects that many of the options may have on London's open spaces and semi-natural environment.The Minister is using Leyton as a guinea pig in taking away our forest land. It is his starting point; it will spread throughout London's open spaces and its natural and semi-natural environment. Mr. Plant continued:These are all places which are vital for the wellbeing of Londoners and give them some relief from the built-up areas where they live and work.That is exactly the point that I made earlier. We are discussing the very air in which people in urban areas have to live. Mr. Plant said:In your constituency the enclosed map indicates the nature of the options, the most significant open spaces of nature conservation which could be affected, including the Essex filter beds site in the Lea Valley. That is part of a complex identification of metropolitan importance by my Committee as being under threat from the Government. An all-party delegation of the Committee, which included representatives of the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission, has asked for a meeting with the Minister. Your support would be invaluable.Needless to say, I gave my support. Here is a threat to Leyton's green and open space.
Water privatisation is another threat. It will have a terrible effect on green land, some of which is designated as sites of special scientific interest. The marshes in my area could be at risk. The Government think that ruins such as 86 the ancient Rose theatre are not worth preserving. They also think that sites of special scientific interest, where rare flora and fauna exist, are irrelevant and not worth saving when put against big business and the people who speculate to make millions out of assets that rightly belong to the people.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
My hon. Friend told me about this Bill only the other day, and explained that there were double standards. He has fully demonstrated that in his remarks. Not long ago constituents from Kent massed outside the House, together with the Mujahideen of Kent—the ex-Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath). The Government found £500 million to accommodate their wishes—not that that will satisfy all of them. When the Minister received representations from my hon. Friend's constituents, he turned a deaf ear to them. Is that what my hon. Friend is explaining to the House?
§ Mr. Cohen
There are not only double standards but hypocrisy in this matter. The £500 million for the Channel tunnel is in addition to the money that the Government are already pumping into Kent to ensure that most of the route is below ground so as not to disturb a few villages. The M11 link in Leyton runs past a densely populated area, but the Minister refused to provide so much as an extra penny so that it could be tunnelled. His insistence that the road should run above ground has carved Leyton and Leytonstone in half. Those are the sorts of double standards to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) rightly referred.
Water privatisation will be a charter for the speculators, who will sell sites of special scientific interest, including the Leyton marshes. It is an assault on our green and open spaces. They are being given to the land speculators instead of being kept for the people of Leyton. In fact, Leyton should have had a great deal more open space. There was once a project for the M11 to be tunnelled along the whole of its route, with a linear park along the top.
§ Mr. Cohen
The M11 would have been underground, so there would have been space on top of the tunnel. It was a wonderfully inventive scheme thought up by two brilliant engineers—the scheme is called "Lister/Goldsmith" after them—which would have provided a park along the length of the M11. That would have meant an enormous improvement to the environment of Leyton. It would have been a wonderful benefit to such a densely built-up area. The project was both feasible and sensible, but the Department of Transport put the boot in it. The Department allowed it in other areas such as Hatfield and, of course, it allowed it in Tory areas. Leyton was savaged by the Tories at the Department of Transport, aided and abetted by their friends at the Department of the Environment. That is now being compounded by this Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover was not present at the beginning of my speech, so I must explain to him that under the Bill the Government are stealing the forest land of Leyton. This attack on the green and open spaces of Leyton has made me very angry.
§ Mr. Skinner
We are supposed to be living in a green political age, with the Prime Minister masquerading as a green veteran in an anorak and sandals and eating brown rice. Yet the Government intend to rip out the forests— 87 what few there are—in Leyton. They are trying to kid the British people that they have suddenly latched on to environmental questions, yet they do not care tuppence about the environment when it comes to lining the pockets of speculators in my hon. Friend's constituency.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. We have already covered that ground in general terms. We cannot recapitulate for the benefit of an hon. Member who was not present at the beginning of the debate.
§ Mr. Cohen
Although I would not wish to repeat my earlier remarks, I must say that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover was right to say that the Prime Minister is masquerading. The reality is at issue, and the reality is that the right hon. Lady is stealing forest land from the people of Leyton and Leytonstone. The people have already been robbed of the proposed linear park, and my heart bleeds because we were denied it. It would have provided a wonderful environment for local people and their kids. We were robbed of it by a pernicious, vicious and anti-green Government who are now compounding their actions.
The so-called replacement land is a joke. I have here a letter from the director of the development office at Waltham Forest council, which explains what the replacement land is about. He wrote that the Department of Transportis to replace the forest land lost at the Green Man with land at Wanstead. The new land at Wanstead comprises two sites owned by the Thames Water Authority which were formerly part of the Wanstead Sewage Works.The land is 2.5 miles away from Leyton on a busy road. It is inaccessible for pedestrians. They do not want to go to an old sewage works in Wanstead—they want their forest and open land near Leyton. The letter continues:As you will realise, they are located 2.2 km (1.5 miles) south-east of the main area of forest land to be lost at the Green Man"—it is actually 2.5 miles.
It could be said that at that distance they are little compensation for local people.He is being deeply ironic. The land is no compensation.
They will adjoin Wanstead park which the City also controls under the Epping Forest Act.So Wanstead gets the green land. The hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Arbuthnot) is here tonight. I do not begrudge him or any other hon. Member the green land. That should be the natural course, but it should not be at the expense of the people of Leyton. It should not be stolen from Leyton and given to Wanstead. That is another example of giving to the already haves. Areas such as Leyton are already deprived of green open space land because they are so heavily built up and because Government cuts do not give the council the opportunity to provide open space land. The letter deals with the replacement land succinctly and shows what a joke it is.
We should remember that sewage land contains many toxic substances. We know from the example of Redbridge that when such land is built upon or walked on it can have 88 an adverse effect. We are offered a scrubby old sewage works. I do not think that we can trust the Department of Transport to put up the money to get it up to a decent standard.
Park land funding has been cut. The Department of Transport says that responsibility lies with the Department of the Environment, and the Department of the Environment says that responsibility lies with the Department of Transport. They both get out of it. That is the cheek of it. The land will not be brought up to a proper standard. That is something for the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford to argue. It cannot be claimed, however, that the land is a replacement for Leyton people.
The Minister is stealing our forest land and not providing an adequate replacement.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
As it is now just over an hour since the hon. Gentleman started his speech, can he tell us how much land is being lost to the public in his constituency? What is the net loss in Leyton?
§ Mr Cohen
I am just about to come to that. I am coming to the specifics now. The Minister was not very specific about the central London assessment study and the land that is being taken from Waltham forest marshes to make a grey motorway. He was not specific when there was a prospect of another robbery of green open space land.
§ Mr. Skinner
Can I get this right? They are getting rid of forest, which they probably would not have done if it were owned by Terry Wogan or one of the other personalities who invest in forests. Are they proposing to replace it with beacons, bollards and the like?
§ Mr. Cohen
My hon. Friend is right about Terry Wogan, but I shall not pursue that line of argument. An amount of forest land is being stolen to make a roundabout for the M11 link road, which could have been a linear park. They are taking several acres of forest land for this roundabout and they are not replacing it with open space land in Leyton. They think Leyton does not matter. They do not care about Leyton. They do not care about built-up areas. They do not give a toss about them.
The Minister will not comment on saving the marshes. All he will say is that I am going on for too long. I will go on demanding my green land, forest land and park land all night if I am given an opportunity—which I know I will not—to stop him cheating the people of Leyton out of it.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
Does the hon. Gentleman know, and will he tell us, what the net loss of land in his constituency is? What is the net addition of land available to people in his constituency?
§ Mr. Skinner
When my hon. Friend does that, will he tell us whether the area is bigger than St. James's park, Buckingham palace grounds or some of the other posh areas which the Minister would not dare to lay his hands on?
§ Mr. Cohen
I confess that the area is not as big as either of those, but it is vital. Whereas Buckingham palace grounds have just a family or two walking over them, my 89 forest land in Leyton, Leytonstone and Whipps Cross has thousands of families walking over it every weekend. It is crucial that that land should not be taken away without a proper replacement.
I shall give the figures as the Minister is so keen to hear them. They are not his Department's figures. I should make it clear that one acre of land is equivalent to 0.4047 hectares, and a hectare is equivalent to about 2.5 acres. The Minister can get his calculator out now, and he will be able to work out what I am talking about whether I use acres or hectares. To start with, 0.55 hectares is being taken. That does not sound much, but is 1.4 acres of prime forest land by the Green Man that is going to tarmac.
The acreage of the roundabout itself is useless as forest or recreational land for the people of Leyton. But that is just the start. The new roundabout will take up 4.13 acres—or 1.67 hectares—more than the present roundabout. In addition, the total open space that will be lost between the roundabout at the Green Man and Leyton high road is 13.6 acres, or 5.5 hectares. That represents an enormous amount of green land in my area, and the gardens and allotments will not be replaced. In an area of housing density such as Leyton, many people do not have their own gardens as they live in flats, and more houses are being converted into flats. They need their allotments to grow vegetables, especially given the prices of food in the Common Market because of the huge surpluses that the Government have accrued. Instead of bringing food prices down, they make people want to grow their own vegetables and to use allotment land for recreation. But that land is being taken away.
In addition to taking away people's gardens and allotments, the Government are taking away a playing field at Leytonstone House hospital without compensation. The truth is that the Government are robbing us of our open spaces. That is only on one side of the roundabout. On the other side of the roundabout, at Temple Mills, on the other side of Leyton high road, we are losing another 3.5 acres, or 1.4 hectares—the Minister can get out his calculator. That includes a slice of Eastway sports centre which is also being nicked. It is part of Lea Valley regional park. A beautiful green area and a vital amenity for local people will be sliced into by the motorway-mad Minister without being replaced. All that green land will be covered in tarmac.
The Minister asked for the figures and I have given him the figures but he is nonchalant. He does not give a damn about all the green land being taken away from Leyton.
The Waltham Forest Guardian, another local paper, stated on 17 February 1989:There will be a 26 ft wide link across the interchange between Leyton and Wanstead Flats, said the conservators.That land is not specifically mentioned in the Bill. I was not consulted and the people of Leyton were not consulted on that. It represents more land being lost without proper compensation. I reiterate that it is a densely urban area where green land, open space and forest land are at an absolute premium. The Minister of Transport is snuffing it out without a thought for the people of Leyton.
I have given the Minister the figures and he has not jumped up to deny them. He is jumped up, but he has not jumped up to deny the figures. It will be noted in Hansard that the Minister could not repudiate the figures.
There is a further adverse aspect of the road scheme and the Bill which is taking forest land from Leyton without compensation to the people who live there. Mr. John 90 Goldsmith FRIBA is behind the Lister Goldsmith plan for that linear park which would have been such a wonderful innovation for the environment and people of Leyton. On 26 April he wrote to the Prime Minister because he felt so strongly about the deleterious effect of the road, saying:I have now witnessed a further 'development' of the A12 London to M11 link road as a result of the engineering particulars being revealed. Instead of the promised permanent landscaping along the fringe of the new routes we are now being told that this space is being required for pipes and ducts.That was supposed to be permanent landscaping. We were promised a little green sward along the edge, but now it will be scrubby old land for the pipes and ducts. Mr. Goldsmith continued:Gardens to surviving housing are being further reduced to postage stamp size to house the extra cabling.
§ Mr. Cohen
He means that the people in those houses will have the smallest gardens imaginable. Yet the Bill will also take away their forest land and they will not even have their own gardens. Postage-stamp size means that their gardens will be minute because the Minister made a cock-up or perhaps deliberately promised landscaping when he knew all the time that the engineering work would require ducts, pipes and cables. He did not want to get into a row at any inquiry with people who have been denied their opportunity to get compensation. The underhand Minister has led them up the garden path, but they will not have much of a garden path left in future because of the Government's approach and their double standards.
If those people are to have such small gardens, there is all the more reason why they should have forest land, parks and open spaces in Leyton as some compensation, but the Minister could not care less.
§ Mr. Cohen
None of the Conservative Members have caught me out, but my hon. Friend has caught me out because I have not counted the trees. They are lovely green trees, oaks and elms, but my hon. Friend is leading me astray. They are beautiful trees. I have to confess to my hon. Friend that he has caught me out. I once tried to learn about trees and their leaves. I pinned a beautiful chart on my wall, but I am not better at identifying any particular trees.
§ Mr Skinner
Quite frankly, if we are talking about saving a small forest or part of it, we should know about it. I think that there should be a site visit before any decision is taken to see what will be destroyed. If we had a site visit we would find out what sort of trees are there. For example, in London there are a lot of plane trees. In my part of the world there are many horse chestnut and sweet chestnuts in Clumber park and Sherwood forest. It all depends on the soil. There are many rhododendrons in this part of the world. I would bet diamonds that there are rhododendrons in that part of' the forest and they will be taken out.
§ Mr Frank Haynes (Ashfield)
Is my hon. Friend aware that in Nottinghamshire we have many trees, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) said? We have one particular tree called the major oak which is supposed to be connected with Robin Hood. With the growth in industry, slowly but surely the forest is being destroyed. There is a programme connected with Europe to replant that forest. The destruction of forests is shocking and I welcome my hon. Friend's speech on that.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. This is not about Clumber park. Let us stick to the City of London (Various Powers) Bill.
§ Mr. Haynes
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I merely mentioned the major oak. That is all. I am talking about my hon. Friend's forest. We are replanting the forest in Nottinghamshire, yet Epping Forest is being destroyed.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Clearly, I misunderstood. I thought that the hon. Gentleman was inviting the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) to comment on Nottinghamshire, which would be out of order.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would it not be more appropriate for the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) to take his two hon. Friends to the forest at the Green Man roundabout?
§ Mr. Cohen
I take heed of your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I would welcome hon. Gentlemen having a look at this part of the forest and, indeed, the whole forest. It is a beautiful amenity for local people. I would welcome a site visit. We need forest preserved in Nottinghamshire just as we do in Leyton. The people of Leyton do not want their forest land taken away.
§ Mr. Haynes
May I suggest that we take a picnic to the area and invite you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because you are not liking my interventions today? That may make you feel a bit better.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I called the hon. Gentleman to order only once and today is the first time that I have ever apologised from the Chair to anyone.
§ Mr. Cohen
It is nice walking land and it is green, unlike everything else which is grey and full of lorries and pollution. That is what is so welcome about it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover is right about the problem of oaks in Nottingham not being replanted properly, and it is the same in Whipps Cross. I had a go at the Conservatives who run the City of London about the neglect of Epping forest, particularly in my area. One aspect of that neglect is that they have not replanted properly, so the forest is being run down. That is happening in many other areas, for example, where people like Terry Wogan plant trees for tax benefits. Areas of natural woodland are beng neglected.
92 I am sure that in Nottinghamshire areas are being run down because the Government are too mean to put up the money for the National Trust and Nature Conservancy Council to replant properly for the future. That is a tragedy. Today we see trees that were planted in the 1850s, not recently planted trees. That is because the Government were too mean to have a proper green policy in the past decade.
§ Mr. Skinner
Does my hon. Friend recall that a couple of years ago we had a hurricane and that many trees fell on that October night? As a result nearly every hon. Member said how sad it was and that a big replacement programme was needed throughout southern England. The Government had to be pushed and shoved to find sufficient money to assist. Hyde park, Kew gardens and many beautiful places in and around London were affected seriously. Less than a year later the same Government are trying to kid us on that their interest in trees and forests at that time was real. They do not care about little old Leyton and its little patch. It is one thing when something affects their people and another for us. Those of us who want to see the greenery and forest remain in Leyton have perfect justification to say to my hon. Friend, "Carry on with this point."
§ Mr. Cohen
They did not refund local authorities in full. All sorts of ancillary costs were left to local authorities, such as Waltham Forest, to meet. Funding certainly was not 100 per cent. Moreover, my local authority is subject to rating penalties. For every pound that it spent, the ratepayers spent £1.60 because of the Government's meanness. That was exacerbated by the Government not funding the cost in full.
§ Mr. Haynes
Where there are trees there are birds, and there is nothing better than getting up in the early morning, particularly in Leyton, and listening to the birds singing. If there are no trees there will be no birds, and that is another reason why my hon. Friend is worried about Leyton.
§ Mr. Cohen
My hon. Friend makes another genuine point, but I shall not go into it, except to say that I agree that birds, indeed all flora and fauna, are important and should be recognised as important. We should not have tarmac spread all over this green land.
The Minister asked for specifics and I have already given him the total acreage, but he failed to respond. I shall continue because I have much more detail. Mr. Goldsmith said:An existing girls' school science block annexe will be perched on the edge of the cutting"—it will right by the side of the road—and a local authority is being made to find the cost of double glazing and the perpetual ventilation cost. This ventilation running cost is the same for the local residents too and they get no relief.That shows how the Minister through the Bill is harming the people of Leyton. Mr. Goldsmith continues:Judging by the treatment that the Beazer Enterprise Route has received"—that was a way of getting at least some cover for the road— 93from the Department where a commuted sum of £4 million has been demanded by the Department"—that is a scandal; the Department should be putting up the £4 million—for future maintenance of the private housing over the road tunnel, now sadly abandoned as a result"—sabotaged by the Minister and his Department—I now believe this precedent should work in reverse and that tenants who are boxed up by sound insulation and can only breathe in their homes via a fan and, or cooler should receive a substantial capital sum to offset the running cost of such equipment together with its replacement cost at some future date. I will suggest through a copy of this letter to the press that such a sum should be half the value of the house at present market prices.Mr. Goldsmith then asks the Prime Minister, "Do you agree?" He concludes the letter:Of course, if these urban roads were properly designed for the 20th Century with protective lids, such costs would not be necessary.The Department demanded money up front from the enterprise group and the council for covering the road, but it will not provide the money for ventilation for local people.
I now come to another aspect of the matter. When I spoke to the negotiators and said what I wanted as compensation for this piece of forest being stolen from the people of Leyton by the Department of Transport, I was told by the agents, "What you are asking for is peanuts, Mr. Cohen." They contacted the Department of Transport, which said, "No deal." That was the very last day before the date was set for debating the Bill. They did not come up with any offer before that, presumably under the orders of the Department of Transport, which did not want to make any deals. What they came up with as a replacement—I have the maps here if any hon. Member wants to see them—was what. I can only describe as "SLOAP"—surplus land left over after planning. It is what is left over after a building has been put up—perhaps a few metres of land, which may be landlocked and which cannot be used in the planning. It is rubbish. With the Department of Transport it is a slippery slope and when we got on to "SLOAP" the negotiations went downhill all the way.
Some hon. Members may think that the offer of replacement land was genuine because there are six items—
§ Mr. Cohen
It was not a genuine offer because it was land at the side of the road to replace the forest land stolen from the people of Leyton.
I shall summarise what is on the map. The first piece of land was by Eastway near Temple Mills marshalling yard. It was a thin slither of land along the road next to industrial land. I was after a proper replacement for forest land, a decent open space or park land, but all I got was this leftover land which must be the responsibility of the Department of Transport anyway because it is part of its plans. The land is inaccessible to local residents and particularly to pedestrians because it is blocked on one side by the marshalling yard and on the other by industrial land. The nearest residents would have to get over two—not one—2m high barriers on each side of the road to have access to the land. Even if they got past one barrier, managed to get across the road without being run over and climbed the other barrier they would need a pair of skis to get down on to the land. That slither of land is useless.
94 The second bit of land was at the back of Trelawn road near the railway station, which is also right next to the link road. That was another narrow sliver of land. Its only use could be as the back gardens of the houses in Trelawn road. The Minister and his Department know that the only common sense use for the land is as the back gardens of the people in that road. It will not be much good to them because it will be right up against the main road, but if it is not used for that, it will just be some leftover land which the Department will be responsible for keeping tidy. It is no compensation for the forest land stolen at the Green Man roundabout.
The third bit of "SLOAP" was another thin sliver of land between Grove Green road and the link road. My hon. Friends do not know the area, so I should tell them that Grove Green road and the link road will run parallel to each other, and even after this major motorway project gets under way, Grove Green road will still carry about 1,000 vehicles an hour. It will still be a busy local road, yet the Department wanted to offer as compensation the bit of land between the two. If children were kicking a ball about, it could run on to either of the two main roads and they could get run over. Yet that was supposed to be a replacement for the forest land stolen from the people of Leyton by the Department of Transport.
§ Mr. Haynes
That is a very interesting point because it raises the question of road safety. The Minister regularly preaches at the Dispatch Box about road safety, yet here the Department is creating a problem for youngsters and adults who could be run down by vehicles on that busy road.
§ Mr. Cohen
I cannot tell my hon. Friend the exact size, but it was not very large. One expects kids to play football in open spaces, but in this case the right and left wings would be main roads. Not many of those kids would end up playing for Leyton Orient because as soon as they put the ball wide, they would get run over.
The fourth bit of "SLOAP" is even more disgusting. That was near Connaught school, abutting directly on the link road. It was shameful that the Department refused to tunnel at least that small part of the road. They would not tunnel any of the rest of it, and they refused at the very minimum to make this little bit of tunnel by the girls' school. That was a disgraceful aspect of the Minister's policy. Parts of the annexe to the school will be only 2 m away from a busy motorway. How can those pupils study properly? The Minister even refused to put up the money to double-glaze the annexe. If the Department must offer this so-called "SLOAP" by the side of the road, it should at least—the local residents may have something to say about it—place compulsory purchase orders on the few houses between that bit of land and the school. The Department would have to pay proper compensation so that those affected could be properly rehoused. At least the residents would then have more land which could be used for dual purposes—as green land for the school and park land for the community. The area would not have been 95 very big even then. I asked the Department to do at least that, but the Department and the Minister were too mean and would not get their act together. The land is useless to the school because there is no proper direct access to it.
In any case, there is a serious housing crisis in my area. If I had time, I would deal with that in greater detail. The council cannot place compulsory purchase orders on the properties and rehouse the occupants to the standard that would be required because it does not have the money or the houses; it has an enormous waiting list. That option, too, was therefore ruled out by the Department of Transport.
The motorway will create enormous problems for the school. The construction of the road is already posing problems. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) talked about road safety and the safety of the children. The teachers and the education authority have expressed their concern and anxiety about the children's safety and about the fact that the Department is doing nothing about it. The Department of Education and Science will come up against the problem. It will have to decide what to do about the site—perhaps on a replacement school. It is the same old story—the machinery of Government working for a mean Government: the Department of Transport says that it is the concern of the Department of Education and Science; the Department of Education and Science says that it is the concern of the Department of Transport and in the meantime those kids are at risk, that school has a rotten environment and the Department of Transport steals our forest land without giving us proper replacement land. That bit of "SLOAP" was also useless.
The fifth bit of "SLOAP" was a small triangle of land in Grove Green road, again abutting on the motorway—the M11 link road—at Nos. 481 to 493 Grove Green road. Yet again the Department would not place compulsory purchase orders on the houses and provide generous compensation for the residents, although that would have allowed us to get a small bit of land together. It would still have been very small and not a good environment. The so-called "SLOAP" is a useless set of blobs of land not linked together and adjacent to the road. That is how the Department tried to brush me off, having nicked the forest land in Leyton. As hon. Members can imagine, I was not prepared to put up with that nonsense.
The last bit of "SLOAP" was a small sliver between Fillebrook road and the link road. It is unusable. It has exactly the same drawbacks as the bit of Grove Green road that I described, where the green land is between the two roads. It was right up against the most dangerous and busiest point of the motorway—the Green Man roundabout interchange, with which the Bill deals.
None of that land could be regarded as a proper replacement for the forest land stolen by the Government from the people of Leyton—not by any stretch of the imagination. There should have been a linear park anyway. All these "SLOAPs—
§ Mr. Cohen
It is a planning term, and I was chairman of planning in the London borough of Waltham Forest. I think that they thought that they could pull the wool over 96 my eyes because I had no planning experience, but I am not so easily fooled when it comes to matters affecting my constituency.
In the end, the Department of Transport will have to hand over all these pieces of land. They are there because the Department refused the linear park option and carved a motorway through Leyton and Leytonstone, with adverse effects on local residents. These little bits of land have been left over. They will go to the local authority, which will have to manage them. If that does not happen, the Department of Transport will be under enormous pressure to keep the land in good shape. I shall be asking questions in the House and, frankly, the Minister's life and that of his successors will be hell. Of course, the Department will palm off the land. We were not going to be fooled by that nonsense.
Let me draw attention to another letter from the director of the development department, who said:My understanding is that you have a meeting with the Department shortly to discuss your objection to the Bill. I understand that the Department intends to draw to your attention the various small open spaces alongside the link road through Leyton—for instance, off Grove Green road, Fillebrook road and Ashbridge road. These total about one hectare—2.4 acres in all. By and large, these are narrow spaces, which are simply undevelopable areas left over from the Department's CPOs.
§ Mr. Cohen
The letter continues:They are of limited visual value only.One would expect that, given that they are right on top of the motorway. It goes on:Few have any recreational potential. These open spaces also include land currently occupied by church land which LRT want for replacement car parking".The officer showed that the offer from the Department of Transport was rubbish.
The Minister and the House will want to know what I specifically asked for to replace the forest land that had been stolen. I am a pragmatist.
§ Mr. Skinner
I do not believe that that is being pragmatic. My hon. Friend should reflect on what he has just said. He was negotiating a deal and I do not believe that that was being pragmatic. He was faced with the machinery of state and realised that he could get something for his constituents—a linear park—where kids could play and which would exist for a lifetime and beyond. My hon. Friend did the right thing. The truth is that it is clear that the Government were only interested in stealing the land and they did not want any conclusion to be reached. I do not believe that my hon. Friend was being pragmatic; he was being sensible. He was working on behalf of his constituents. I hope that my hon. Friend will not use that word, because it has been used by a lot of people just lately. There is a bloke who sits on the Bench near me who has been using it just now.
§ Mr. Cohen
I appreciate my hon. Friend's kind words. I was trying to do a deal. I had wanted a linear park and the road in a tunnel, but I knew that this was a small Bill, and that there was no way in which my request could be 97 granted at this stage in the proceedings and that, therefore, I had to come to a deal. Therefore, what I asked for was limited—just a replacement for that forest land stolen by the Department of Transport, which had given no proper replacement land.
All I wanted was a deal with some quid pro quo in relation to the land stolen—I did not want the whole lot replaced. When I went to the agent for Sherwood and Co.—the agent for the City of London—and described what I wanted, she described it as peanuts in relation to the road scheme. She said that she would take my request back to the Department of Transport to see whether I could get the peanuts that I wanted. I must say that I was rather worried as I thought that I had underbid and that I could have got more for Leyton. For a while I was panic-stricken, but then I thought that I had put in my bid and should stick by it. Then my secretary got a phone call to say that the Department of Transport said "No deal" It would not even offer the peanuts for the forest land stolen from the people of Leyton. That shows just how mean the Government are.
It is right that the House should know what I asked for —that is a genuine request—as a replacement for the forest land stolen—
§ Mr. Cohen
Yes, it was instead of a linear park, but as a replacement for the forestry land stolen by the Department. Green land is at a premium in my area and I appreciate that it is not easy to get a replacement, but at least I thought that the Department could do something about open spaces and parks as compensation. I said that I had Cann Hall park coming on stream in my area. It is meant to be a play area for six to 12-year-olds, a dual use kick-about area. The officers at the council described it asa preliminary scheme for this site which is currently vacant involving a 6 to 12s play area, kick-about area and a sitting-out area, which would cost about £200,000.I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover would agree that that is peanuts. In any case that park should have been provided for by rate support grant and capital funds. The Government are denying the children in that heavily built up area the opportunity of having a little kickabout.
I also asked about Skeltons lane, which is a play area for the six to 12-year-olds, and about servicing work at City farm. The officer said:Improvements at this park, which might involve providing a city farm, a six to 12s play area, and new planting, would cost about £230,000.My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover talked about birds, but it is important that the kids in an urban area should also have a look at the animals, and learn about them. We had the chance to set up such a project. It should have been done straight out of the rate support grant and the capital funds which the Government have cut. However, they refused to put up the money. We are talking about absolute peanuts.
Harrow road is a play area for the under-fives. That small site—
§ Mr. Cohen
Yes. My hon. Friend is right. The money that we are talking about is peanuts compared with the money involved in Common Market fraud.
98 The officer said of Harrow road:This small site next to the Acacia nursery could be laid out as an under-fives play area with planting and new fencing. A scheme here would cost about £50,000.However, we then received a phone call from the Minister saying, "No deal—we cannot afford it." The Government can afford Trident missiles, but they cannot afford £50,000. What a disgrace that is.
That was basically the list for which I asked. I had the forest in mind, because the Government are stealing forest land without giving compensation. Therefore, I wanted something done for the forest in my area. I shall read the list, which might seem long, but is not really. It is a sensible list, detailing what should have been done to the forest if the conservators were doing their jobs properly and if the City of London was really responsible for the forest. It merely has nominal responsibility for it.
I told the officers that there could be improvements to Epping forest land, and amenities in Leyton. First, I asked about improved rubbish clearance, which would be sensible, and would be popular locally. The area gets full of litter because it is heavily used.
§ Mr. Skinner
My hon. Friend has a good list but there is no need for including rubbish clearance because it is covered already. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for the Environment go round clearing up these places. He carries the bag and its "bag it and bin it." Therefore, I do not see why he should worry about that problem.
§ Mr. Cohen
I appreciate what my hon. Friend says, but I am afraid that they do not reach as far as Leyton and Leytonstone. They would be welcome to come along and clear up the rubbish, as would the Minister who is present. I extend an open invitation to the Minister for Roads and Traffic, whose Department is stealing the forest land, to come along and tidy up the area that is being left. Again, we receive an impassive response from the Minister. He certainly will not put up the small amount of money to do that job properly.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
Perhaps, while the hon. Gentleman, together with his hon. Friends the Members for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) and for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), are counting the trees at the Green Man roundabout, which is one of the commitments that have been offered and accepted by the hon. Members, I might come to see what the situation is and, if necessary, help.
May I make it plain that the Government support this part of the Bill, and that 40 per cent. of the cost of the Hackney to M11 link is for environmental projection and improvement. It is plain that it is difficult for the House to consider the details because, in a long speech, the hon. Gentleman has not put them forward. The scheme offers great advantages and much money has been spent on environmental protection. It is also plain that most people believe that the exchange land offered will provide net benefits, both for Leyton and for the forest.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Can I remind the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) that he has been speaking for nearly two hours and there are other hon. Members who wish to participate in this debate?
§ Mr. Cohen
I do not like saying harsh words, so I shall put this gently, Mr. Speaker. You were not here at the beginning of the debate, when I said that this Bill adversely 99 affects my constituency and only my constituency. Others are generally content with it. I need to get that point over, and I appreciate that you did not hear my opening comments—
§ Mr. Skinner
I have been listening carefully to my hon. Friend for the past hour and a half and I think that his is an extraordinary performance by a Member of Parliament fighting on behalf of his constituency. I have seen other examples of this, I remember the Father of the House fighting for almost four hours against a proposition to blight a large part of his area. He got stuck in and somehow managed to succeed. I hope that my hon. Friend will do the same.
I want to know whether the Minister's intervention a moment ago was helpful. Was there anything in it?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The point is that, although the hon. Gentleman has every right to make his points on behalf of his constituents, if he does not give the Minister the chance to reply he will never know whether he is making a concession.
§ Mr. Cohen
If the Minister does not get the chance to speak in this limited debate, he can write to me offering to come and clear away rubbish in this part of the forest. Or he can offer to replace the land. I have already heard the Minister's response from the agent. When he told me that what I had asked for was peanuts, he went to the Department. He may have spoken to the Minister, for all I know—he certainly spoke to one of his minions. The Department said, "No deal."
I am still hoping to change the Minister's mind, but I have no confidence that he will change it, just as I have no confidence in his intervention. The only land replacement that he mentioned was the "SLOAP" that I have referred to—he based his case on it. That does not give me much confidence.
As I was saying, I asked for rubbish clearance. Then I asked for the restoration of the ancient woodlands at Whipps Cross. We have a little patch of ancient woodlands there which has fallen into disuse and been run down due to the Conservatives' and the City of London's neglect of Leyton. It is not a Tory area, so the Government do not want to save those ancient woodlands or give them the respect due to them—
§ Sir Geoffrey Finsberg
I cannot let the hon. Gentleman get away with those remarks, which are an insult to the integrity of the superintendent of the City Corporation. These ancient woodlands have been disappearing as a result of natural soil causes. So he must not talk about costs, because at no stage has any money for the replacement of the woodlands been considered—this is a natural disappearance. The rest of what the hon. Gentleman said may be right, but he must not attack servants of the corporation who are doing a first-class job.
§ Mr. Cohen
Nevertheless, they have allowed the woodlands to decline. What is more, they have not put 100 enough effort into restoring them. Conservatives are much more interested in putting their money into other areas; they do not see Leyton as a priority, with the result that our ancient woodlands are being destroyed more quickly than other areas.
My action plan to save the woodlands was not unreasonable—it should have been implemented anyway. It is a scandal that the Department of Transport rejected it.
Next, I asked for action to plant avenue trees in Ferndale road at Wanstead flats—not an unreasonable request—and to provide proper disposal facilities for the chemical toilets at the fair at Sydney road. That, too, is something that should have been done anyway.
§ Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)
Does my hon. Friend agree that in other parts of the country, for example in the industrial north, slag heaps have been reclaimed and the areas planted with trees and regrassed? The fact that soil has been affected by chemicals is no disincentive to replanting trees, to reseed and redevelop natural woodland areas.
§ Mr. Haynes
Nottinghamshire council is Labour controlled and it is replacing trees right, left and centre in the county. I said on Thursday night that I hope when the Speaker retires he will move into that beautiful county because he likes to go there. He will see that trees are planted. My hon. Friend is right. The Minister will not find the money to replace trees because all that the Government want to do is to destroy them.
§ Mr. Cohen
The Speaker has much respect for trees, green land and open spaces where he likes to ride his horse. He certainly has more respect for open space and forest land than the Minister for Roads and Traffic. The Minister is stealing forest land in Leyton.
I asked about improving the Hellow ponds at Whipps Cross for boating. They have not changed since 1909. The Conservators have not prepared a boating plan for that area. It is a lovely recreational area for local people but it could be improved. However, the Government are too mean to improve it. I asked about providing disability access, decent paths in the forest for wheelchairs. That is a sensible suggestion and Conservatives in the City of London and the Minister should have taken it up. I asked for peanuts and the agents have admitted that. Unfortunately, I underbid because all the things that I asked for were obvious and should have been done before.
I did not ask for a great deal. I asked for improved lighting on the footpaths, especially in Bushwood which is around the forest area. We all know that terrible problems are caused by poor lighting, but I shall not go into that because I know that time is short. I asked for nature trails and educational services for the kiddies to enjoy the forest and for a forest craft centre. That would bring in the Nature Conservancy Council to prepare a plan and upgrade and improve the forest. Those are sensible suggestions and two other possibilities were thrown in.
When the council officers put up the next two suggestions I was not very impressed. They were about 101 land at Riverbourne E11 which is just outside my constituency. It is an area about 1.2 km north of the Green Man off Snaresbrook road. It is open woodland and owned, oddly enough, by the London borough of Redbridge which has done us no favours. It immediately adjoins the forest and is separated from it by a concrete panel fence. Redbridge currently treats it as an amenity open space for its adjoining housing estate. That could have been opened up as a bit of green along with the land to the rear of 6 to 30 Sydney road. That is in my constituency, but right on the border and out of the way. It would be nice to use that and it could be provided at low cost. This is a small vacant site of about 0.2 hectares—0.5 acres.which we understand is privately owned and not fenced off from the adjoining forest land. It is about 1.8 km from the Green Man. That is forest land that could and should be used anyway, although as it is on a small scale, it will not compensate for the forest land that has been stolen from my constituents. That was what I asked for. Does the Minister agree that what I asked for was peanuts?
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
The hon. Gentleman does not need to ask me. I can confirm that both the size of the forest and the amounts of other green land in the vicinity of the route will increase as a result of construction of the road. During this debate, it has been established that the environment will improve in the hon. Gentleman's constituency and outside. We have established that, on my visit to the hon. Gentleman's constituency with him, he did not raise these matters. We have confirmed that he did not raise them with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State when they were at a meeting with the London group of Labour Members of Parliament. When I went to the Green Man roundabout on Friday—a few days ago—I did not see that many trees or people in the middle of the roundabout, which is what the hon. Gentleman has been discussing for the past over two hours.
§ Mr. Cohen
They are stealing the forest land and the green land in my constituency. I have given the figures for which the Minister asked, showing the acreage that is being stolen. At the beginning, the Minister was dead keen for me to give him the figures, but when I did so he shut up. He could not respond to that. All he is offering is slum land, left over after planning. He claims that that is a replacement. That is a mean deception.
When the Minister came to Leytonstone, in the very first few minutes the press asked him whether he would answer questions about the Green Man roundabout and the tunnelling of the road. The local councillors, the chief executive and the planning officer asked the same thing. The Minister said that he was not there to discuss that and he refused to discuss it. He put a block on it. I will get all those who asked him about that, if he wants to see them again. He cannot fool the press. They asked questions and they were mad keen to get the answers, to get something out of the Department of Transport, but he put a block on it. Now he has the cheek to come here and say that the question was not raised.
§ Mr. Bottomley
We have established during this debate, and certainly during the hon. Gentleman's speech, most of the points that might have been made otherwise on behalf of the Department of Transport in support of the Bill and its Second Reading. If the hon. Gentleman brings together these witnesses, whether they confirm what I said or what he claims that I said, they will know that I walked up and 102 down the high street with the hon. Gentleman. I said, "This is Harry Cohen" and one or two said, "Yes, we know." Others said, "Come on, let's go round and see the improvements that the Department of Transport has made on the existing road and, by the way, can we look forward to the Hackney-M11 link, which will provide the major environmental improvement in the constituency, casualty reduction and the opportunity of more jobs?" All three would be well served by the proposed road, which this Bill would help.
§ Mr. Cohen
The Minister came along and did his normal PR exercise, posed for the photos, planted a tree and treated it as fun and games. He made a big show of it. He wanted to stay well in. When it came to the substance, he flopped it. He refused to answer. In the first two minutes, the press asked him questions about the new M11 link, about getting some more tunnels and the Beazer scheme, which would have at least meant more tunnel in various parts of the road, but he said that he was not there to answer such questions and put a block on them, which was a disgrace.
Mr. Keaton wrote to me on 2 May. He explainedPerhaps I could add that as can be seen from the Bill the conservators are required to keep forest land unenclosed and unbuilt on as open space for the recreation and enjoyment of the public. In addition, they are required under the 1978 Act to maintain the forest's natural aspects.I agree with that. I understand that it is difficult to find replacement land in a busy, urban, built-up area. There are planning problems, and they are not solved by the "sloap". However, at the very least, my demand could halve been met. I asked for more open space, for parks to be upgraded and for improvements to be made to the running of the forest in my constituency.
The more I think about these matters and the longer that the debate continues, the more I think that I underbid, especially when the representative of the agents said that I was asking for peanuts. Replacement land should have been provided to take account of the forest land that would be lost. Anyone who reads the report of the debate will understand that what I asked for was reasonable.
One of the results of the scheme is that the Department of Transport is making thousands of pounds every day against the would-be construction costs. The result of high interest rates is that prices are coming down. At the very least, price increases are slowing down. Prices are not as high as were anticipated by the Department. As I have said, the Department is making thousands of pounds every day and every week, if not hundreds of thousands of pounds. It is happy to drag out the matter for that reason. At the same time, it is not prepared to pay peanuts for the improvement of the environment in my constituency.
§ Mr. Cohen
I have provided the figures. I have made it clear that they amount to about £500,000. The agent's representative talked about that as peanuts. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman could put that sum together. I am sure that many of his hon. Friends could do so as well. Let it be understood, however, that it is a lot of money for my area. Forest land is being stolen from my constituency. The money involved is nothing for many Conservative Members. I suppose that it amounts to no more than a few gins and tonic for them.
§ Mr. Skinner
We know that £500 million was offered to the Kent Tory-held constituencies so that the Members concerned could try to hang on to their seats. That was a Government-sponsored move through British Rail. The sum that my hon. Friend is talking about is peanuts when it is set against that. It is about 1,000 per cent. less than the amount which was offered to bail out Tory constituencies. However, my hon. Friend is talking about a working-class area.
§ Mr. Cohen
Absolutely. My hon. Friend has raised a good point. I am asking for less than £500,000 for the replacement of the land. Also involved is a small amount—about £250,000—for the forest land. Even if the total sum reached £1 million overall, it would still be peanuts when set against other items of expenditure. The Government will not give in because of their meanness to working-class people in working-class areas. They are prepared to steal forest land, but they are not prepared to provide a proper replacement.
After the so-called negotiations, during which what I asked for was described as peanuts, I received a letter from the council. It was written by the remembrancer of the Guildhall in the City of London. It is clear that the City of London does not remember Leyton to any great extent. It was the remembrancer but there is not much memory when it comes to decent services for Leyton. The letter to which I refer was headed "City of London (Various Powers) Bill". The body of the letter reads:I am sorry that it was not possible to reach an agreement on the road provisions in this Bill following our meeting of Wednesday.The remembrancer must have been crying into his tea as he wrote that. The letter continues:As you will know from our agents, we put all the points that you raised to the Department of Transport.Those are the points that I raised with the Minister and his Department. The remembrancer explained:They are to look at the land that you referred to but they were not attracted by the other suggestions that you raised.Not attracted!I will be in touch again soon when I have more news.After that I received a phone call, during which I was told that there was no deal. They were not attracted because they are not the ones who will suffer. Their land is not being stolen. They are not the people who will suffer by having their forest land stolen and not replaced. The people of Leyton are very attracted to receiving proper compensation and open land. For them, that represents the air that they breathe and the green land that they walk on. That reply exposes the disgraceful attitude shown by the Minister and his Department.
I shall not make a big speech about horse riding, but it is another aspect of the Bill. I shall speak about it only in so far as it affects the stealing of Leyton's forest land. With the Bill, there is a map of the whole forest, which stretches for an enormous distance, and which shows running through it pathways coloured orange indicating the routes that horse riders can take. If they leave those routes they are in trouble.
Those routes are shown to run through the whole of the forest, except in the Whipps Cross area in my constituency. That shows how little regard the Government have for the people of Leyton. Does that not strike the House and the Minister as being a little funny and as being a dirty, rotten deal for the people of Leyton?
104 I received a letter from Dr. F. B. O'Connor, director of the Nature Conservancy Council, which asks me to support the Bill. It deals mainly with clause 9, concerning the control of horse riding. I shall not be nasty about that particular clause, but Dr. O'Connor writes:Heavy usage by riders is causing severe damage to the flora and fauna in the forest.What about Leyton? As I said, I shall not be nasty about horse riding, and if people want to ride then they should be allowed to do so. Nevertheless, many people walk on the land in Leyton of which I speak. Leyton is a heavily built-up urban area and people come out every weekend to take a stroll there. They could get knocked over by the horses. What about the flora and fauna in that part of the forest? The City of London should put up money to ensure the replanting that I mentioned earlier.
In addition to all the mistreatment I have cited, the Minister is, through the Bill, using the City of London to steal our forest land and not replace it properly. To Dr. O'Connor and the Nature Conservancy Council I say that they should involve themselves in Whipps Cross. I am genuinely green and am happy to support them on environmental matters, but if Dr. O'Connor and the NCC want my support, they should also be concerned about my area and help protect it. They should put pressure on the City of London, the Department and the Minister to devise a plan to upgrade the Whipps Cross area of the forest and to improve the facilities there, so that the people of Leyton and Leytonstone can enjoy them.
I am angry with the City of London for doing the Department's dirty work for it. I acknowledge that the Department is the main culprit, but in selling out in the way that it has the City of London has not performed its role properly. That made me so angry that I went up to the Table Office. I am now preparing a Bill—which I may present as a ten-minute Bill—entitled the City of London (Abolition of Control of Epping Forest) Bill. I have got it in print.
The City of London could easily not have sold out Leyton and Leytonstone. It could have obtained compensation from this mean, motorway-grey Minister; it would have been peanuts to him. We have been let down badly. I am very tempted to present my Bill. I have not got the wording quite right yet—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. That might be a good idea. It would enable others to take part in the debate, particularly the Minister, who could then answer some of the hon. Gentleman's comments.
§ Mr. Cohen
The Minister will have plenty of opportunities. Perhaps another hon. Member may wish to raise the issue on the money resolution because of the strength of feeling that it has aroused, and the Minister will then have a chance to respond. We have a debate tomorrow on the soaring cost of the Government's publicity machine. How about a press release saying that the Government will replace the forest land that they are stealing from Leyton people? The Minister does not need to use the House; millions of pounds are being spent on the publicity machine.
I gather that you do not want me to talk about my Bill, Mr. Speaker, but I shall certainly raise it at a later stage. It has been provoked by the treatment of Leyton and Leytonstone residents. I shall propose that control be 105 taken from the City and redistributed among the local authorities. They will not relinquish their land without a fight and without obtaining proper compensation.
The resources for the running of the forest should be distributed according to how much land is used. In that way Leyton, Leytonstone and Whipps Cross will receive much more, because that land is used heavily by local people. Even if my Bill is not passed because of the Tory majority, at some stage in the future there will not be a Tory majority, and then the reckoning will come. I throw that out as a warning.
§ Mr. Cohen
Yes, as a threat. I get very angry when my forest land is stolen and not replaced. I have a long memory.
Let me come to the substance of my speech. I want to give the House the history that has led to this legislation, and how the M11 link came about. The housing problems are immensely serious. Hundreds of people are about to be thrown on to the streets, but the Department of Transport has not given Waltham Forest the money to rehouse them. The Government claim to have provided the money when there was a Conservative-Liberal local authority in Waltham Forest a few years ago, but on investigation it turned out that the housing investment programme had been cut by only slightly less than the massive cut that had apparently been imposed. The money that the Government provided to rehouse people was really a huge cut in resources. Nobody noticed that this Government had apparently or allegedly given money to decant and rehouse those people.
Instead of putting that money, or that cut, aside to rehouse people, the Conservative-Liberal council used it to keep down the rates. That was its short-term ploy. It has resulted in an immense housing crisis for the people who live along the route. The council has been trying to rehouse those people, but this mean, motorway-mad Minister will not put up a penny to rehouse them. It will create an immense crisis, and I must spend some time on it.
After I have dealt with that crisis, I shall turn to education. I have already said a few words about Connaught school. It faces a real crisis because of the Bill and the provisions concerning the M11 link road. The school deserves a fair deal and proper facilities. The Minister was too mean to provide for tunnelling on one side or the other of that school, as he should have done. We were pressing for tunnelling right along the route, but at the very minimum he should have provided for a tunnel near to Connaught school.
§ Mr. Cohen
It would have been literally a few metres and the cost would have been negligible over the life of the road, which will be there for at least 100 years. By not having a tunnel near the school, the Minister has condemned the pupils and teachers to absolute misery. It could lead to the demise of the school, although it has performed wonderfully well for the local community. It is now under a death threat because of the mean Department of Transport.
The Department has shifted the goal posts. The House knows that I am a simple sort of fellow. Two years ago the Department said that if we wanted a tunnel, private capital would be needed, that the public purse could not fund 106 tunnelling and that there would have to be a partnership with private interests. The local council did just that. It got the Beazer corporation to come up with a scheme.
§ Mr. Cohen
It is a big corporation. I have no specific details about it. It was after the work, and it was keen to get a lot of contracts. That was fair enough. It fitted in with the needs of the community. However, when we met the Minister we faced delaying tactics. Eventually, the Department of Transport put obstacles in the corporation's way. It said that the corporation had to put 4 million quid up front. The corporation refused to do that, so the Department of Transport blocked the bid; it killed it. So much for the Government's stated policy of using private capital. When the Minister's bluff was called, he destroyed the scheme.
§ Mr. Bottomley
I now understand that the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood everything. He has misunderstood the fact that the proposal will make things better in Leyton. Furthermore, I was talking about the hon. Member to his constituents, not about myself. If praising the hon. Gentleman to his own constituents leads him to describe me in that way, we have reached a sorry state of affairs and I am sorry that we have had to listen to him for two and a half hours. If the hon. Gentleman wanted to receive answers to his questions, he ought to have allowed time for them to be answered, or at least debated. The fact that he has monopolised most of the debate means that he thinks that they are worthless points that can easily be rubbished.
§ Mr. Cohen
That is certainly not true. We had phone calls from the Department of Transport saying, "No deal", yet the agents said that the amount involved was peanuts. It shows the Minister's contempt for Leyton. He now tiles to say something rather different. He should pull the other leg; it has bells on. We know that in reality he is still saying, "No deal", however he dresses it up in a public relations exercise. He is rather good at that, as he is rather good at going up and down the high street. He is doing the dirty on Leyton by stealing our forest land and not giving us proper compensation.
I want to deal with the long history—almost 40 years—of the M11, which has blighted the area. It is the longest blight caused by any road scheme. At a public inquiry in 1983, I, local residents, Mr. Goldsmith and others called for a tunnelled route. We did not object to the road in principle, provided that it was environmentally sound through the use of tunnelling. We said quite clearly that the Department of Transport's plans would divide the community and would cut Leyton and Leytonstone in half.
107 The linear route proposed by Mr. Goldsmith would have cost only a few million pounds—not a great deal more than the Department's scheme. It would have been in place for 100 or more years and provided enormous advantages for the local area. Instead, an obscenity of a road will carve up Leyton and Leytonstone. The Minister is mean. The scheme has made conservationists and the residents of Leyton and Leytonstone very angry.
It will be impossible to cross the road and the access to it is appalling. Some 280 homes will have been demolished, Connaught school has been annexed and made unusable, and Westdown road will have a high embankment with the motorway running along it—what a lovely visual aspect. The proposals for the Green Man are dangerous and unsightly.
When we put our case to the inspector at the inquiry, he concluded that tunnelling would be a good idea. He said:It should be a model for future motorways.Yet the project was savaged and destroyed by the Department of Transport. The only concession in the Bill is tunnelling at the Green Man. The Department and the Minister show more concern for the cattle in Epping forest than for the people of Leyton and Leytonstone.
Local people, the council and environmentalist groups have tried to promote tunnelling. They have picked up the Minister's words and the Government's policies, yet they have been rebuffed. Since the M11 inquiry many other schemes have been tunnelled, even though they provide less environmental benefit than would be provided by tunnelling the M11. The A1M tunnel in Tory-controlled Hatfield received a Department of Transport grant of £8.87 million—£2,900 per linear metre. That would more than cover the cost of tunnelling the link road and providing a linear park. That solution is good enough for Hatfield, but too good for Leyton. Moreover, the Department is stealing our forest land and not replacing it.
The document produced by the action group on the link road says:Good enough for others. We are the Cinderella of the road building pantomime. While covered roads protect the forest in Epping, residents in Enfield and industry in Hatfield, thousands of men and women living close to the link road are content to suffer an open road, sometimes yards from their houses. What is good enough for others is good enough for us.It is not, apparently. There is a lovely picture of the Bell common in Epping. It is a lovely bit of green land. The document says:There is a cricket club here where players and spectators can enjoy their game to the accompaniment of birdsong from the nearby forest trees. Late at night we might see some of the forest creatures crossing the common on their ancient paths. A splendidly English beauty spot. Who would guess that the M24 roars beneath the cricket pitch? Six lanes of traffic speeds through a well-lighted tunnel while up above on the surface life goes on as normal. The cricketers and animals are protected.It is good enough for Epping, it should be good enough for Leyton. The Department is to steal a bit of land—
§ Mr. Cohen
Indeed it is. They are stealing a meagre but important bit of forest land. Hatfield got a huge grant from the Department. The document adds:A covered road is being built at Hatfield in Hertfordshire.which, of course, is Tory.
108The A1M at this section is not in a highly residential neighbourhood nor one of natural beauty. It is an industrial district and there was local opposition when the Department of Transport proposed an unnecessary tunnel outside British Aerospace. Now all is revealed. A £15 million commercial complex is to be built on the tunnel lid. At the link road public inquiry, the Department of Transport denied that it would be possible to build on top of a covered road. Why, when they knew that such a scheme was being planned for Hatfield?That is another example of the double standards and hypocrisy that have been employed in the Government's dealings with Leyton, which they have given the worst in a shabby deal. Now the Department of Transport is stealing a small bit of forest land and not giving compensation.
The document mentions Enfield, and shows a picture of a lovely bit of greensward. It is not a sliver. Enfield is Tory, although we hope to make it Labour at the next general election. The document says:You are looking at the M25 motorway. Orbiting London and carrying thousands of vehicles each hour, each car, each van, each lorry emits stinking fumes and makes a great deal of noise. Perhaps you think we got the wrong photograph. We didn't. The M25 at Freezy Water Wall to Enfield runs through the Holmesdale tunnel. A linear park and a school playing field have been constructed on the lid of the tunnel. Residents in the houses on either side need never know the M25 is there. Connaught school in Leytonstone could have a playing field if the M11 link road were covered, and the homes of residents there and in Wanstead would be protected.Precedents exist, but the Department will not give us a linear park. What an exhibition of meanness and callous, grey, motorway mindedness this is from the Minister. He has other plans to rip up the marshes, which are sites of special scientific interest. Twice I gave him the chance to get up to the Dispatch Box to—
§ Question put, That the Question be now put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 125, Noes 24.109
|Division No. 198]||[10 pm|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Currie, Mrs Edwina|
|Amess, David||Day, Stephen|
|Amos, Alan||Devlin, Tim|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Atkins, Robert||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James|
|Atkinson, David||Durant, Tony|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Dykes, Hugh|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Emery, Sir Peter|
|Beith, A. J.||Fallon, Michael|
|Bellingham, Henry||Fenner, Dame Peggy|
|Bendall, Vivian||Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Fishburn, John Dudley|
|Boswell, Tim||Forman, Nigel|
|Bottomley, Peter||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)||Forth, Eric|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Freeman, Roger|
|Brazier, Julian||Gale, Roger|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)||Gill, Christopher|
|Burns, Simon||Glyn, Dr Alan|
|Butler, Chris||Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)|
|Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)||Gregory, Conal|
|Carlisle, John, (Luton N)||Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Hague, William|
|Carrington, Matthew||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Chapman, Sydney||Hannam, John|
|Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)||Harris, David|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Heathcoat-Amory, David|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Heddle, John|
|Cope, Rt Hon John||Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael|
|Couchman, James||Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)|
|Howarth, G. (Cannock & Bwd)||Sackville, Hon Tom|
|Hunt, David (Wirral W)||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Irving, Charles||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Jessel, Toby||Sims, Roger|
|Knapman, Roger||Speller, Tony|
|Knight, Greg (Derby North)||Stern, Michael|
|Lee, John (Pendle)||Stevens, Lewis|
|Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Lightbown, David||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Lilley, Peter||Summerson, Hugo|
|Livsey, Richard||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Lord, Michael||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Maclean, David||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Mans, Keith||Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)|
|Marlow, Tony||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Martin, David (Portsmouth S)||Thorne, Neil|
|Maude, Hon Francis||Thurnham, Peter|
|Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick||Tredinnick, David|
|Mellor, David||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Miller, Sir Hal||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Mitchell, Sir David||Waller, Gary|
|Morrison, Rt Hon P (Chester)||Wheeler, John|
|Neale, Gerrard||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Wolfson, Mark|
|Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley||Wood, Timothy|
|Rathbone, Tim||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Rhodes James, Robert||Mr. Steve Norris and|
|Ridsdale, Sir Julian||Mr. James Arbuthnot.|
|Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)|
|Allen, Graham||McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)|
|Cohen, Harry||Meale, Alan|
|Cook, Robin (Livingston)||Michael, Alun|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Patchett, Terry|
|Cousins, Jim||Pike, Peter L.|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Fisher, Mark||Prescott, John|
|Foster, Derek||Ruddock, Joan|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Skinner, Dennis|
|Gordon, Mildred||Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)|
|Hardy, Peter||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Haynes, Frank||Mr. Harry Barnes and|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Mr. Gerald Bermingham.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 122, Noes 22.110
|Division No. 199]||[10.12 pm|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Bottomley, Peter|
|Amess, David||Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard|
|Atkins, Robert||Brazier, Julian|
|Atkinson, David||Brooke, Rt Hon Peter|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Burns, Simon|
|Beith, A. J.||Butler, Chris|
|Bellingham, Henry||Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)|
|Bendall, Vivian||Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Carlisle, John, (Luton N)|
|Boswell, Tim||Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)|
|Carrington, Matthew||Mans, Keith|
|Chapman, Sydney||Marlow, Tony|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Martin, David (Portsmouth S)|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Maude, Hon Francis|
|Cope, Rt Hon John||Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick|
|Couchman, James||Mellor, David|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Miller, Sir Hal|
|Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)||Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)|
|Day, Stephen||Mitchell, Sir David|
|Devlin, Tim||Morrison, Rt Hon P (Chester)|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Neale, Gerrard|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Durant, Tony||Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley|
|Dykes, Hugh||Paice, James|
|Emery, Sir Peter||Rathbone, Tim|
|Fallon, Michael||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Fenner, Dame Peggy||Ridsdale, Sir Julian|
|Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey||Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)|
|Fishburn, John Dudley||Sackville, Hon Tom|
|Forman, Nigel||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Forth, Eric||Sims, Roger|
|Freeman, Roger||Speller, Tony|
|Gale, Roger||Stern, Michael|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Stevens, Lewis|
|Gill, Christopher||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)||Summerson, Hugo|
|Gregory, Conal||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Hague, William||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Hannam, John||Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)|
|Harris, David||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Thorne, Neil|
|Heddle, John||Thurnham, Peter|
|Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)||Tredinnick, David|
|Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Hunt, David (Wirral W)||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|Jessel, Toby||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Knapman, Roger||Waller, Gary|
|Knight, Greg (Derby North)||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Lee, John (Pendle)||Wells, Bowen|
|Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)||Wheeler, John|
|Lightbown, David||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Lilley, Peter||Wolfson, Mark|
|Livsey, Richard||Wood, Timothy|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Lord, Michael||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Maclean, David||Mr. Steve Norris and|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Mr. James Arbuthnot.|
|Allen, Graham||Meale, Alan|
|Cohen, Harry||Michael, Alun|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Pike, Peter L.|
|Cousins, Jim||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Prescott, John|
|Foster, Derek||Ruddock, Joan|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Skinner, Dennis|
|Gordon, Mildred||Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)|
|Grocott, Bruce||Vaz, Keith|
|Haynes, Frank||Tellers for the Noes:|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Mr. Harry Barnes and|
|McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)||Mr. Gerald Bermingham.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed.