§ 3.27 p.m.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
This Bill is promoted by Hampshire County Council, supported by New Forest District Council and enthusiastically supported by Lyndhurst Residents Association, which numbers some 1,200 people out of the limited population of that attractive village. It proposes the construction of a bypass round Lyndhurst of approximately one-and-three-quarter miles in length with a single carriageway each way, well landscaped, and with four underpasses either for human or for animal use. It will serve, as I am sure those familiar with the area will immediately recognise, both traffic on the A.35, which is the Southampton-Christchurch Road, and the A.337 Cadnam-Lymington Road, the traffic on the latter now being the heavier of the two.
Your Lordships will hardly believe it but the need for a bypass of Lyndhurst has been recognised for very nearly 50 years. There was discussion about it before the war. There have been two public inquiries and there has been immense consultation with all concerned. Whatever else the county council can be accused of, it cannot be accused of indecent haste.
Anyone who knows the area will know, too, the appalling congestion which spoils life in this attractive large village or small town. Lyndhurst has a population of 3,000. The traffic is solid through most of the day. It has had to be operated on a one-way system which itself makes life difficult in the town. It would be impossible to find anybody in Lyndhurst who was not only not anxious to have the bypass constructed but was not perhaps becoming increasingly impatient over the delay in constructing it.
That is the background. Anything touching the New Forest is, of course, rightly regarded by your Lordships and other people as a sensitive subject. It is one of the loveliest areas in the country and one which I have known since I attended a preparatory school on the edge of it—a year or two ago, I must admit to your Lordships! The matter is being handled by the local authority, which is, after all, responsible for the whole county, with some sensitivity. For example, I refer to the use of land. I do not want to weary your Lordships with statistics but it will perhaps put the matter a little in perspective if I mention that, for the purpose of constructing the bypass, altogether 23.6 acres of land will be required, of which the greater, but not the whole, part comes from the land of the forest and about 4.4 acres from private property.
330 Of the land required for construction of the bypass, 10.6 acres will be required permanently from the forest. A further 8.6 acres will not be required once the work has been done. As the verderers of the New Forest have indicated that they would prefer to be given land in lieu of the land taken rather than receive monetary compensation, the county council has acquired 18 acres of land which will be handed over to the verderers and incorporated in the New Forest. Consequently, though there may be argument as to how the land relates to other land, on a calculation simply of acreage the net effect will be that, once the work is finished, there will be a net increase, since 18 acres are being handed over and only 10.6 acres retained for the bypass, of about 74 acres of land which will be incorporated into the forest. I think your Lordships will feel that that shows perhaps better than anything else the sensitive way in which the Hampshire County Council has sought to handle the matter.
I understand that there are no arguments against the need for a bypass. I do not think that such arguments have been expressed anywhere. However, there are two points which I understand will be taken in your Lordships' House and which have certainly been taken outside. It may save time if I touch on these quickly now, though I will seek your Lordships' permission to deal with them when I wind up the debate a little later. The first of the two questions concerns the exact route chosen for the bypass. This is the outcome of prolonged consultation and discussion, and it amounts to a compromise.
The inhabitants of Lyndhurst would like to see the bypass further out into the forest, taking the traffic further away from them and their homes. As I understand it, the verderers of the New Forest—and they will, of course, speak for themselves—would like to see the bypass actually inside Lyndhurst and not occupying or intruding on any land of the forest. I need only say that it would do a small town extremely little good to offer it a bypass and then provide that the bypass simply cut off one part of the town from the other. Therefore, there is a clash of interests and there is no particular reason why one should not comment on that.
By drawing a line fairly close to the town and not obtruding to any great extent into forest land, the county council has tried to meet to the greatest possible extent the substance of both the competing viewpoints. I am not sure that your Lordships will want to go into great detail as to the exact route chosen. I need only say that it is the result of long consultation, long and expert discussion, and a genuine attempt to achieve a compromise.
The only other major issue which I understand is likely to be raised is that it is apparently the view of the verderers of the New Forest that, instead of proceeding, as the county council has decided to do, by way of a Private Bill in Parliament, they should have operated under the machinery of the New Forest Act 1949, under which the matter goes to what is called the Verderers Court and in the event of disagreement it is submitted to arbitration.
There are a number of fundamental—in my view, conclusive—objections to following that course. In the first place, it is plainly necessary to fence the bypass, as 331 all fast or major roads in the New Forest are fenced, for the very obvious reason that those attractive ponies, the delightful animals which frequent the place, will run on to the road and will cause accidents as well as imperilling their own lives if the roads are not fenced. It is a fact that the major roads in the New Forest which carry fast traffic are fenced.
I understand—and, more importantly, the county council understands—that it is not possible in the 1949 Act to provide for fencing of the bypass. It is the general law that, without Parliamentary approval, roads in the New Forest cannot be fenced. Therefore, the first argument for proceeding by way of a Private Bill is that only in that way can legal authority be obtained to fence the bypass when it is built.
It has been objected that we could produce a Private Bill just to do that and operate the Verderers Court procedure under the 1949 Act for the whole of the rest of the proposal. That proposition does not stand up to analysis. First, until one has determined the line of the road the line of the fencing cannot be settled. Secondly, it would be wrong to present Parliament with a very limited part of the picture while the rest of the matter is being settled, if it is settled, elsewhere. Surely the proper way to treat the legislature, the ultimate authority in this country, is to give it the whole of the project to consider and not cut out the parts that could possibly be dealt with otherwise while only troubling Parliament with the parts that can only be dealt with by legislation.
There are also other very serious objections. As I have already said, it is not only forest land which is to be taken for the bypass. There is also some private land. That is not, of course, a matter for the Verderers Court. Nor is the machinery in the 1949 Act appropriate, because it provides that in the event of disagreement in the Verderers Court the matter goes to arbitration, but under the terms of the Act arbitration is only between the promoter of the scheme and the verderers: it entirely excludes the participation of any other persons. Given not only the interest of the inhabitants of Lyndhurst, which is a major consideration, but the interests also of the owners of the small amount of land—about four-and-a-half acres—that it is proposed shall be taken, that does not seem to the county council, or to me, to be an acceptable procedure.
Finally, under the Act, arbitration is not, apparently, to determine the rightness or wrongness of the proposal but merely to rule as to whether the verderers, in coming to the decision appealed against, have acted reasonably. I would never attribute unreasonable action to the verderers, many of whom I have known for many years, but it is not a question of whether their action is unreasonable that matters but a decision on what is the right action to take given the demanding need for a bypass and the attempts made over the years to secure that one is provided.
I shall not enter into any further details nor detain your Lordships at this stage. Your Lordships may well feel that objections and questions that arise may most profitably be determined in the Private Bill Committee to which the Bill will go should it be given a Second Reading, and that when it has been argued 332 out in that Committee, in which all the parties concerned can discuss the matter fully and take part in the admirable procedure for Private Bills, then the Bill may come back amended or not as the case may be for a final view and the final decision of your Lordships. I hope that the House will feel that that is the right and sensible way to deal with the matter rather than for us to attempt in debate to decide at Second Reading all the complex issues which arise on a Bill like this before it has been discussed in Committee.
I suggest that the time that your Lordships may want to come to a final decision will be when they have the report of the Private Bill Committee and know the outcome and the arguments put forward by all the parties concerned. Perhaps I may now move the formal Motion for Second Reading, although of course I shall answer—or rather try to answer—any points raised by your Lordships when I come to reply. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Boyd-Carpenter.)
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ The Earl of Malmesbury
My Lords, I must commence by declaring my interests in the New Forest. My family enjoys forest rights of pasture and I was the Official Verderer for some eight years a few years ago. I should also like to say what a pleasure it is for me to have beside me the noble Lord, Lord Manners, who is the present Official Verderer. As your Lordships know, he took the oath earlier this week. He is not proposing to speak because he will be giving evidence to the Select Committee, though he may say something if he is sufficiently provoked.
My reasons for speaking are threefold. First, I wish to make it absolutely clear that the verderers appreciate the need for measures to relieve the traffic at Lyndhurst. They have always seen the need. They feel that the route proposed by the Bill cannot be justified and they have put forward suggestions for an alternative route which would be more acceptable environmentally and in economic terms.
Secondly, I should like to tell your Lordships something about the verderers, their establishment, their powers and their responsibilities. They are the guardians of the forest—and that is important. It is their duty to see that the forest remains open and protected from development, and to ensure that it is so kept for the enjoyment of the visiting public and for the protection of the grazing of the New Forest ponies and cattle upon which depends the entire character of the open forest.
Section 15 of the 1964 Act places a duty on the verderers to protect the amenities of the forest. Were the verderers to give consent to the county's route, it is clear that the verderers would have failed properly to perform their obligations and could even be challenged in the courts. In short, the proposals in the Bill conflict with the duties already placed upon the verderers by Parliament. On the other hand, the county has chosen a route entirely to suit the sectional interests of some of the residents of Lyndhurst. I say "some of the residents" with emphasis.
Although the Verderers' Court has an ancient title and meets in the traditional Verderers' Hall, it is in 333 fact a very modern body, most of its powers having been granted by Parliament since the last war. Those powers are derived from the New Forest Acts of 1949, 1964 and 1970. One of the important parts of this Hampshire County Council Bill concerns the fragmentation of the forest. Need I say that the pressures from requests which encourage fragmentation of the forest have increased. Fragmentation has been threatened more and more during the past 12 years.
Half the court's members are appointed by public bodies, one of which is Hampshire County Council. The other appointing bodies are the Crown, the Minister of Agriculture, the Countryside Commission and the Forestry Commission. The remaining members are elected by the commoners and are usually authorities on some aspect of the forest's farming, conservation or history.
A few weeks ago I received a paper from a member of Hampshire County Council which obviously emanated from the council offices in Winchester. It mentions the status of the New Forest and that it requires a Private Bill to enable the bypass to be built where it crosses the open forest. My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter referred to that matter. In that letter there were four points that I should like to deal with one by one.
The first point concerns the need for a Bill to authorise the construction of the bypass, including incidental works. I suggest that a parliamentary Bill is not necessary to construct the bypass. Hampshire County Council already has planning permission for the road. It should now seek the consent of the verderers under Section 17 of the 1949 Act.
The second point raised by this paper, which has been sent out to many people, concerns fencing the bypass, including temporary fencing for earthworks, temporary works and offices, landscaping and accommodation works. Fencing of the roads in the New Forest has been authorised at least on two occasions recently by Public Acts: the New Forest Act 1964 and the New Forest Act 1970. The expensive means—and I emphasise the word "expensive"—of a Private Bill is not necessary. In any event, fencing would not be opposed.
The third point mentioned in that paper concerns the compulsory acquisition of land for the bypass, which includes Crown land and land in private ownership, as my noble friend mentioned. Since the works themselves do not need to be included in the Bill, the powers of compulsory acquisition do not need to be included either. Hampshire County Council already has such powers under the Highways Act. A parliamentary Bill is not therefore necessary.
The fourth point relates to authorising the provision of exchange lands and acquiring compulsorily the interests of the Lord of the Manor of Minstead in an area of land at Minstead, in order to gain access to the open forest from land owned by the county council, which it is suggested should be exchanged. The land offered in exchange, which was purchased by the county council some few years ago, is separated from the forest by a small area of land belonging to a Mr. Peter Green.
334 When the Official Verderer learnt that the Court of Verderers may be offered Acres Down land in exchange, he went with another verderer to see the owner of the land, who was happy to sell that piece of land to the verderers or the Crown for the benefit of the New Forest. No compulsory purchase order is necessary. I do not think that the verderers wish to be committed to having land in exchange or compensation.
Finally, I wish to make the House aware of the fact that there is substantial opposition to the Bill. I believe that there are no fewer than 11 petitioners objecting to the suggested route for the Lyndhurst bypass. All petitions acknowledge and agree that there is an urgent need for a bypass of some kind.
The petitioners include several well-known commissions and societies of national importance. They include the Nature Conservancy Council, the Countryside Commission, which emphasises that the forest is of national importance, and the Ramblers' Association, with a membership of over 53,000. The Ramblers' Association is also objecting to the exchange land which the noble Lord has mentioned, because it is not easily available to walkers from Lyndhurst or other car parks. The Forestry Commission has indicated that it would prefer an inner route as being less detrimental to the forest. That was made clear at the public inquiry in 1983.
The New Forest is not just another area of land in Hampshire. It is not just another area of land in England. It is the most important and largest remaining such area in Western Europe because a series of habitat types elsewhere has in recent years been rapidly destroyed. It is a large designated area. Because of its size, it seems permanently threatened by suggestions of fragmentation for many different reasons. The Hampshire Country Council bypass route is one which could create potential for further development.
It may interest your Lordships to know that in 1971 the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food mandated the Forestry Commission, which acts as his agent in the New Forest, to the effect that the New Forest must be regarded as a national heritage, with priority given to the conservation of its traditional character.
Following that, the New Forest has been designated as a site of special scientific interest. The verderers are responsible for safeguarding the New Forest from fragmentation. There are overwhelming reasons why Hampshire County Council's proposed Lyndhurst bypass is in the wrong place. I should like to ask my noble and learned friend Lord Denning and my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, who mentioned that he knew it from his private school, to visit that area of the forest if they have not done so already. The thousands of petitioners would appreciate it if they got to know the area even better than they know it now.
§ The Earl of Malmesbury
My Lords, the Bill's promoters are proceeding with it with alacrity. They requested an early date for this debate and they have pressed for a committee before Easter. That is their 335 privilege, but given the great cost to the ratepayers and to the petitioners of a lengthy hearing before a Select Committee, I suggest that there should be a breathing space to allow the parties to explore together a possible solution. I thank you, my Lords, for listening to me.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ The Chairman of Committees (Lord Aberdare)
My Lords, perhaps I may express an interest in the Bill because my great, great grandfather was the first and last Lord Lyndhurst. He was Lord Chancellor in three reigns which I think is a unique record. He was one of Disraeli's early sponsors. However that may be, I am in no position to express any comment on the Bill's merits, but I thought it may be for the convenience of the House if, as usual on these occasions, I say a few words about the procedure on the Bill.
At the moment, there are four petitions against the Bill. As the noble Earl, Lord Malmesbury, so clearly explained, one of them comes from the New Forest verderers. He also mentioned two other petitioners—the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission. It should be noted on this occasion that this is the first time that such statutory amenity bodies have petitioned against a Private Bill. In the past, their views have been conveyed to the Select Committees by means of government reports. I should add that both those bodies have recently petitioned against the Channel Tunnel Bill (which of course is a hybrid Bill) in another place and more recently in your Lordships' House.
That led to consideration being given by Officers of both Houses as to whether that was the right thing for them to do. The conclusion was that where bodies such as the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission are not exercising their functions on behalf of the Crown. no objection would be made in either House to them petitioning against Private Bills. I believe that where such bodies have a responsibility for ensuring the preservation of an amenity, they should have the right to petition in either House.
If I may repeat what has already been clearly put by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter: if your Lordships give the Bill a Second Reading, it will be referred to a Select Committee which will carefully consider the evidence given by its promoters and by the petitioners. I should also explain, as I have before, that unlike a Public Bill, by giving a Second Reading to a Private Bill the House does not necessarily accept the principle behind it. All a Second Reading decides is that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee for further consideration. That committee will then decide whether the Bill should proceed and, if so, whether it should be amended. The committee will report back in due course to this House.
For those reasons, I would advise the House to give the Bill a Second Reading and to allow a Select Committee to consider its provisions in the light of the petitions against it.
§ 3.59 p.m.
§ Lord Jacques
My Lords, if there were a time when someone should say, "Enough is enough, and now we 336 must decide", this is it. As the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, pointed out, this matter has been going on for almost 50 years. We should have great sympathy for the people of Lyndhurst in their patient suffering. We should also compliment the county council on the way it has approached the question. For the benefit of Members of the other side of the House, I should say that it is a Conservative-controlled county council.
The county council has been carefully, extensively and deeply probing and researching this question for 12 years. It has considered six different routes and after researching the whole matter in depth has come forward with this compromise. It took some persuasion before the compromise was accepted by the New Forest District Council. It was not easily accepted. In its local plan of last year the district council had included a route which would have been a much greater intrusion on the forest. Consequently the county council made a very serious attempt to achieve a compromise hoping that it would be accepted by all parties. That has been our objective over the last 10 or 12 years.
I believe that this is a matter which should be decided by Parliament. The principal reasons were given by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, but the noble Earl gave another. He said that if the verderers were going to agree to a route as in this Bill, they would not be doing their duty given to them-by Parliament. All right, that can only mean one thing. Parliament should make the decision and then the verderers are not put in that position.
The county council will try to show to your committee that unlike some other proposals this compromise avoids severing the village. Also, like some other proposals, it is not a major intrusion on the forest; it is only a minor intrusion. The county council will show that it proposes to take the minimum amount of land. There will be only a single track two-way road which I believe will be regretted in the future. It will probably be shown to be inadequate. But in its anxiety to meet the views of everybody and to gain acceptance by everybody, the county council has been prepared to go so far. It is prepared also to spend a great deal of money. The road including the part which goes through the village is only one and three-quarter miles long. It will cost £2.5 million.
Some of the money will go towards providing adequate crossings for animals and pedestrians; there will be four suitable crossings for that purpose. There will be a minimum loss of quality woodland. That has been taken very fully into account. There will be no loss of rare species of plants. In places like the New Forest there are always such species which must be protected. There will be no loss of those plants as a result of the bypass.
The verderers, some time ago, said that they would prefer to have land exchanged rather than money if there were to be a bypass, which they admitted was necessary. In consequence, the county council has shown foresight by buying land in advance ready for some kind of agreement on the bypass. It has 18 acres of land which will be exchanged for the 10.6 acres which are required from the verderers for the purpose of the bypass. The land which has been purchased and which will go to the verderers is a far better quality 337 pasture land than the land which will be used for the purpose of the bypass.
Careful attention will be given to the making good. The county council is taking the advice of the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology in all its plans for making good after the bypass is finished. It is also engaging a consultant architect for the landscaping of the bypass. It has done everything possible and I think that the Government department concerned knows that. The department had two opportunities last year to raise objections or to have a public inquiry. It could have raised objections when the local plan was passed to the Ministry last year, but it did not do so. Apparently it thought, as I do, "enough is enough, the time has come to get on with the job."
Later in the year there was another opportunity when the Ministry could have called in the plan. When the county council gave planning approval, the Ministry could have called in the plan but it did not do so. I am convinced that the department concerned is of the opinion that this has been going to and fro long enough and the time has come for a decision. There has been an honest attempt to get a satisfactory compromise. It is for the committee of your Lordships' House to make the decision and to bring it back to us. I hope that we shall get the bypass without undue delay.
§ 4.6 p.m.
§ Lord Montagu of Beaulieu
My Lords, I think it is hardly necessary for me to tell you that my home, Beaulieu, is very close to Lyndhurst, and I, like the noble Earl, Lord Malmesbury, am able to exercise common rights in the forest. It is therefore very natural that I should he most concerned about and interested in this Bill. In fact, the majority of people living in the New Forest are very concerned. They have been concerned with attempts to solve this problem for the past 50 years, having endured two public inquiries, three local consultation exercises and numerous public meetings; not forgetting enduring the appalling traffic jams which strangle Lyndhurst and the immediate surrounding area daily throughout the year and to an intolerable degree in the summer.
The noble Lord who introduced the Bill has expertly elucidated the problem and my noble friend Lord Malmesbury has done equally well on behalf of the verderers and the amenity societies. For some years now I have been in a little difficulty in forming an objective view, particularly as my father and grand-father were both members of the Court of Verderers and were always to the fore in their vigilance to protect the New Forest from unnecessary intrusions which might act against the good of the forest as a whole.
So I ask myself: is this intrusion really necessary? Does it act against the long-term interests of the forest as a whole? Are the verderers and amenity societies, after so many inquiries and so many agonising years for Lyndhurst and the general public, being reasonable in objecting so strongly to this Bill and to the route chosen by the county council and supported by New Forest Rural District Council? I think we should all recognise the right of the verderers to protect the forest from harm, and indeed we salute them for invariably exercising their statutory duty. Long may they do so. 338 But over this particular bypass issue, unless there is a speedy agreement between the parties on an agreed route, I feel the matter must go to a Select Committee.
For now, at long last, and with the greatest respect to the noble Earl, Lord Malmsbury—and it has not always been so—everyone concerned agrees that a bypass is necessary, in spite of overwhelming evidence of the need for many years. So the question is: which route? As has been said, both routes are in fact compromises—an outer route which the county council favours and which it claims preserves the cohesion of the small town of Lyndhurst and causes less damage to the open forest; or the inner route proposed by the verderers, which is more of an inner ring road which many think will split a third of the town from the main part of Lyndhurst and make access more difficult for visitors and the local population to its main local green space.
Much has been said about the land which the county council's proposal follows, some of it, incidentally, over the pre-war bypass route, the construction of which was never finished. The first section skirts the edge of a golf course. itself an incursion into the forest, and ends up crossing unexceptional forest scrub and undistinguished private agricultural land.
It is universally accepted that many parts of the New Forest are uniquely beautiful, unspoilt, remote and very important for flora and fauna. But by no stretch of the imagination can the land in question be described as,an area of great beauty or ecological interestor can it he said that the bypass,certainly seriously curtail the quiet enjoyment of both residents and the thousands of visitors to the forest".With the greatest respect, this overstating of the case seriously impairs the credibility of those who oppose the route. Whatever route is chosen, the whole environs of Lyndhurst will overnight become greatly enhanced and offer quieter enjoyment especially to the residents of Lyndhurst who have suffered for years seeing their small town strangled. Indeed, I have been astonished over the years to see what little regard has been shown, by those opposing the bypasses, to the residents of Lyndhurst who find increasing difficulty in walking or driving around their town or indeed using it for shopping. After all, Lyndhurst is the capital of the New Forest, an area which consists not only of woods, open spaces, ponies and deer, but also of villages, hamlets and people without which the New Forest would not be the unique but nevertheless lived-in place that it is today.
In addition, as chairman of English Heritage, I must mention the 13 listed buildings in the High Street itself whose foundations are being shattered daily by thundering traffic. It also puzzles many people that so much concern is expressed now about these 10 acres of forest. Where were the amenity societies and the petitions when 130 acres of much finer land was agreed without protest—so far as I know—for the dualling of the A.3 I and another 30 for other bypasses at Marchwood?
I do not know whether the verderers were compensated for those almost 200 acres at the time but no doubt the noble Earl, Lord Malmesbury, will know. I appreciate that the verderers' main objective, 339 as stated by the noble Earl, Lord Malmesbury, in opposing this Bill, is to register their protest about not following the arbitration procedure as laid down in the 1949 Act.
I too was much concerned that the county council's Bill could be construed as a device to avoid arbitration procedure. But after private consultations with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning—and we look forward to listening to him this afternoon—I have no doubt that the county council is within its rights to introduce such a Bill, supported as it is almost unanimously by members of the county council and the local authority.
§ Lord Montagu of Beaulieu
My Lords, historically the county council has always kept such matters to be resolved within the county boundaries and I agree that this is a sad departure from such a tradition. However, perhaps another reason for the county council's resolve was that it seemed to it that such a Bill was the only way out after years of obstruction by many who until recently opposed a bypass.
I believe that the great majority of people who live in the forest support the county council because the prospect of incurring more delay in solving an intolerable situation would have been irresponsible on behalf of the county and unacceptable to the people of Lyndhurst and indeed many others who live in the New Forest who have to drive through Lyndhurst in the course of their daily lives.
Even now opponents want yet another public inquiry. I accept that this proposed scheme is only half a bypass and will not solve Lyndhurst's problems. One thing that I shall prophesy is that when the bypass is built—and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, that time has gone on long enough—on whatever route is chosen, in a few years people will look back and wonder what all the fuss was about. Within a very short time the roads will have established themselves in the forest scene as other roads have done and nature of all sorts will flourish on the grass banks and verges as it does on all newly-fenced roads.
Lyndhurst will once again regain its heart and soul: and best of all, visitors to the New Forest will be able to visit, shop, and wander round its capital, as well as gaining easy access to the proposed New Forest museum at the moment being set up in the centre of Lyndhurst and which, in present circumstances, will be extremely difficult to reach.
I accept the absolute sincerity of all those involved in proposing and in opposing this Bill. Even at this late stage—I agree with my noble friend Lord Malmesbury—there is a great opportunity to show that here is a situation where it behoves everyone to take a contructive and positive attitude for the good of the whole. It is a difficult choice, but to perpetuate the 340 present situation will cause much greater harm to the forest and to Lyndhurst than the solution contained in this Bill. Surely two miles of traffic jams on most days of the summer are hardly good for the forest ecology; and not even the ramblers will be able to get through that.
The future conservation of the New Forest, now over 900 years old, depends on a partnership between the verderers, the Forestry Commission, the local authorities and, above all, all those who live in the forest. The main problem is caused by the leisure boom which means ensuring that tourism contributes to and does not destroy the fragile environment of the area. The traffic that tourism generates must be managed and controlled intelligently with as much foresight as possible. Account must be taken of the future management of the ever-growing traffic leading to and from the motorways, through Lyndhurst, to the neighbouring areas such as Brockenhurst, Lymington, Beaulieu, Cadnam and Southampton.
I believe that the county council route is acceptable, even in these circumstances, but it certainly deserves to be examined by a Select Committee. In the meantime, if the verderers and the petitioners can suggest a more effective and less destructive route which will fit into the overall traffic scheme for the forest then I hope that the promoters of the Bill, and indeed the Select Committee, will listen carefully to their proposals and make great efforts to achieve an agreed solution. This is the wish of everyone who lives in the forest. But let us waste no more time.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ Lord Congleton
My Lords, we stand at the threshold of the season we call Spring. It is a time of excitement and promise. The excitement seldom fails; but—alas!—the promise is sometimes unfulfilled. A poet forebear of mine began one of his pieces like this:When spring came on with fresh delight, to cheer the soul and charm the sight".This Bill, emerging at this time of the year-50 years on from the first attempts to provide a bypass relief for the village of Lyndhurst—indeed cheers my soul and I have expectations that its fruits will restore a measure at least of the former state of peace and tranquillity with which once long ago the village of Lyndhurst was invested until the time of increasing traffic problems so dispelled that happy situation. Of course it will get the traffic moving. Such things will in their differing ways charm my sight.
I was born shortly before the first attempts were made to build a bypass—and indeed a beginning was made. I was born in the Parish of Minstead and there spent the first nine years of my life, returning to it after the war, but leaving it for good about 28 years ago. In my early life it was home. I have hacked my way around the golf course at Lyndhurst. My endeavours would not have pleased noble Lords, who might have thought that here was one who was endeavouring to turn the first sod for a bypass round Lyndhurst, such was the tonnage of earth that I moved and the short distance that the ball was moved. I played cricket at Swan Green. I have had the privilege of watching Dartford warblers on the Ocknell Plain not far from Acres Down, which is mentioned in the Bill. I have 341 listened to and observed redstarts in the Shave Green area and I remember the return of the buzzards in middle and late 'forties.
I do not visit the New Forest very often these days; I am there about three or four times a year. However, I still maintain a small property in the village of Minstead and so pay a rate to the New Forest District Council. I mention those matters to indicate that I believe I can claim to know what the Bill is about, the needs for it, the objections to it (they seem to me to be quite proper objections) and the likely effects which will stem from the Bill if it passes through the minefields of the appropriate Parliamentary process.
I have listened most carefully to the preceding speakers; to the introduction by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, and to the noble Lords, Lord Jacques and Lord Montagu of Beaulieu. I agree with pretty well everything that has been said hitherto. I look forward to hearing the view of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, about the legality and constitutional propriety of the manner in which the Bill has been promoted and brought before your Lordships at this time. I am led to believe that we shall be given a view which exonerates the Hampshire County Council from transgressing in any way what the various New Forest Bills have laid down in the past. However, I am concerned about that matter.
What are we left with if the legal and constitutional matters are in order? We are left with a possibility of the construction of a bypass so dearly sought—one might also say so desperately sought—by the citizens of Lyndhurst. It has been sought not only by them, but by all those people whose journeyings demand a passage currently through rather than round Lyndhurst to reach perhaps Lymington, the Isle of Wight, or the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu.
What is the possibility? It is that the construction of a bypass might in some way upset the balance of nature in that particular part of a very special area. I fully accept that fact, and I hope that I have explained to the satisfaction of your Lordships my sensitivity and abiding interest in natural history and the ecological situation in that area. I doubt whether the case which may be put forward by the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission, will stand up. The noble Lord, Lord Montagu, referred to the route proposed by the County Council. I know it pretty well. It is a poor area. As pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, it is not richly endowed with rare species. Having regard to the totality of the New Forest, and the special nature of the rest of the New Forest, it seems to me that it is a small, poor area which the New Forest would not miss if it were taken away for the construction of a bypass. Set against the needs of the road users and the residents, I think that the case does not succeed.
I should like to end on a positive note. A feature of the Bill which impresses me almost more than any other, is the fact that it is supported by three separate local authorities, together with the Lyndhurst Resident's Association. For 10 years I was an elected member of a local authority in South Wiltshire. I have seen at first hand the difficulties and concerns that can, that may and that do arise as between different local authorities where their attention is focused upon the 342 same objective. That is especially the case where authorities are charged with varying degrees of responsibility. Sadly it has become fashionable these days to dismiss local government with something approaching contempt and I think that that is greatly to be regretted.
The position of the local authority councillor is never any easy one. He or she is at the beck and call of the electorate every day of the week and lives in close proximity to that electorate. He or she is subject to the slings and arrows of outraged citizens whether that sense of outrage is justified or not. Not for the local councillor is the comparatively comfortable cocooning in the Palace of Westminster, away from so many of the electors for so long.
Surely it is greatly to the credit of those three local authorities—the Lyndhurst Parish Council, the New Forest District Council and the Hampshire County Council—that they have found it possible to agree the matter among themselves. They are the three democratically elected bodies charged with the responsibilities and duties in these matters and they agree.
I believe that what the three local authorities have put together, after 50 years of turmoil and travail in what has been an arduous and wearisome courtship, Parliament should not put asunder. I support the Bill. Let us get it moving speedily along its parliamentary road. In so doing, let us get the traffic moving around and not through the once peaceful village of Lyndhurst whose charms, for so long submerged in the dreadful noise and fumes of motorised traffic, should once again become apparent for residents and visitors alike to enjoy and appreciate.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Baroness Nicol
My Lords, all noble Lords who have spoken so far have agreed that there is a need to relieve the traffic congestion in Lyndhurst. I speak as a "consumer" in that I have been the victim of traffic jams in the area on many occasions, although I confess that I have lived only in Burley which is some distance away. We are agreed on that matter, and I believe that we should make that quite clear from the start.
However, what we are not quite agreed on is how to reach a solution to the problem. What considerations shall be weighed in reaching that solution? After many years serving on a roads and traffic committee I am well aware that nothing is more emotional than a road proposal and that at the end of that proposal someone is always disappointed. I sympathise with the local authorities because it is a difficult problem for them. I sympathise with their anxiety to find a solution. I am aware that discussion has been continuing on this matter for 50 years or so. However, I do not think that it is fair to say that discussions on this particular solution have been continuing for that length of time; this problem is a comparatively recent one.
I believe that the local authority has not chosen the most constructive method of approach on this occasion. I should like to say how delighted I am that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, defended a local authority. That is something which we are not used to hearing in this House and I compliment the noble Lord on that. However, on this occasion I find 343 myself on the opposite side of the House because I think that the local authority has not been as constructive as it might have been. Why try to bypass the verderers' right to object? My understanding of the situation is that on this occasion there was a possibility that a route could have been agreed with the verderers. That would have avoided the ratepayers footing the bill for this very expensive procedure. That is another point upon which the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, has been very vocal in the past. However, we seem to be incurring unnecessary expense for the ratepayers on this occasion.
I agree with previous speakers that now we have come this far we should give the Bill a Second Reading and let it go to the Select Committee. I believe that only in that committee can all the different arguments be examined and the proper evidence given. I hope that this afternoon the House will decide to give the Bill a Second Reading.
However, it surely endangers the future of the New Forest if its appointed guardians, the verderers, can be set aside in this way. If the Bill succeeds, it will establish an unhappy precedent. Therefore, although I think that the Bill must go to the Committee, I am hoping for a different outcome from that hoped for by the noble Lord who proposed the Bill.
The merits of the chosen route will no doubt be scrutinised thoroughly by the Select Committee. I hope that it will also consider whether there are any viable alternatives at the moment. Route 5A, the route being proposed, constitutues an unnecessary incursion on to heathland. Apart from the disturbance caused by the road itself, it would isolate a sizeable pocket of heathland which has hitherto been untouched and which would then become vulnerable to development Your Lordships will remember that there was considerable argument in respect of the M.25 and the pockets of green belt which were isolated. Arguments then followed about the fact that the area was suitable for development because the road was there. No doubt that argument would be used in the future if this particular route was approved. Perhaps the noble Lord who is proposing the Bill can say whether other routes have been evaluated and costed. That is another point which is not clear from the literature that I have received.
We have to look at the quality of the objectors to Route 5A. The noble Earl, Lord Malmesbury, gave a very comprehensive and impressive list. I was even more impressed when the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, explained that this was the first time the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission had sought to give evidence and to petition against a Private Bill. That is a very telling argument and one that I hope the committee will take on board. The two bodies which are charged with responsibility to act in the interests of our natural environment do not give their advice lightly and surely it should not be ignored. The Ramblers' Association and the Open Spaces Society are national bodies with large memberships and they also should be seriously considered.
The New Forest is a unique area of great natural beauty and historic interest. As has been said, it is also 344 a site of special scientific interest of national and European value. Its importance has been recognised in the Acts of Parliament which control its operation and, from time to time, in ministerial comment since the last Act of Parliament. Therefore, those who are responsible for it have a special duty to exercise those responsibilities, not only with regard to local opposition and local opinion (important though that may be) but also on behalf of the whole nation. They have in their care a fragile heritage—and its fragility has been mentioned by a number of speakers this afternoon—which belongs to the future as well as to the present, and which the present guardians hold in trust for only a very short time.
Any changes which are made must be made with an acceptance of that duty—the duty to the future as well as to the present. I hope that when the Select Committee makes its decision it will measure the proposals in the Bill against that background.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ Baroness Elliot of Harwood
My Lords, I rise to support the noble Earl, Lord Malmsbury, and also the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol. It is not often that I am entirely in agreement with what the noble Baroness says. I am not in the least opposed to the proposal of a bypass at Lyndhurst. During the First World War when I was very young my mother had a house near Lyndhurst. Although it was such a long time ago I remember how lovely it was, and how pleasant it was to live in the New Forest. Today, we are not opposing the idea of a bypass. We are suggesting that the bypass route which has been chosen is not the best route for the New Forest and all its amenities. I subscribe to everyone who has described the New Forest as one of the greatest examples of our national heritage, one that we must all preserve and which we must all support. At no point would I disagree with any of those views.
I do not know the route, although I have looked very carefully at the map. As I understand it, there are three other routes which could be followed and which would be less detrimental to the amenities of the area. Like most people, I have received information from Hampshire County Council and from the societies opposed to the present route as selected. The information has come from the Verderers of the New Forest, the New Forest Association, the CPRE, the Nature Conservancy Council and the Ramblers' Association. My own particulr interest stems from the fact that for a number of years I was chairman of the National Association of Youth Clubs. We established in the New Forest at Avon Tyrrel a centre for youth holidays and conferences. That centre is going extremely well. Hundreds of young people go there every year and have done so for many years. They enjoy and support all the amenities available there. On their behalf I should like to say that we should do everything possible to help to preserve and encourage the New Forest and its inhabitants.
Therefore, it would be wise for the Bill to go to a Select Committee to be looked at and then a decision taken. That need not take a very long time. I agree that the matter has taken a long time to come before your Lordships' House. However, it has now come before us and we have the proposal. I can see no reason why it should not be accepted. I hope that in the discussion 345 and in the way in which it is regarded in Committee, all the opposition will be given a fair hearing and that in the end we shall have a proposal with which everyone agrees. On this occasion everyone wants a bypass of some kind.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Lord Denning
My Lords, I also hope that your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading and that the particular issues involved can be considered by a Select Committee.
I should like to say a word or two concerning the legal position which has been raised in our debate. Before doing so. I should like to say that, like the noble Baroness, I go back before the motor age—I go back to the horse and cart. I go back to the days when, before the First World War, my brother and I cycled down the road from Cadnam to Lyndhurst and on to Beaulieu. There was another road going across from Southampton to Christchurch. They were quite pleasant, delightful roads along which to cycle. As Lyndhurst was the capital of the New Forest all five roads met there, and so of course we went through Lyndhurst which dates back earlier than the Normans.
There was a manor at Lyndhurst and a manor at Minstead long before the Normans came. Much of the discussion today concerns feudal law. At Lyndhurst there was a manor house where the lord of the manor lived. Around him there would be his own demesne lands. The tenants of the manor would have their holdings which they could plough and cultivate with their permitted instruments. Beyond all that were the wastes of the manor—acres and miles of them—where the commoners, the tenants, did not own the soil but they had the right of commoners to graze their animals on that open wasteland. That is a right which has come clown today. They had rights to cut turf; but their most important right was to graze their animals on the open wastelands of the forest.
There is also the additional point that no one was allowed to erect a fence or an enclosure in the forest or in those open wastelands, because that would interfere with the free access and egress of their animals. So it is the right to graze which has come down today with the commoners, and also the right to pull down any fence or enclosure which is erected in the forest and which prevents their animals grazing. Those were the great rights of the commoners. Historically, and by statute, the verderers are there to protect the rights of the commoners and to make by-laws in regard to them and to ensure that the animals are properly marked. The verderers protect the rights of the commoners. That is the legal position.
In my day there was no trouble about traffic or the need for bypasses. However, in 1937 it was becoming apparent that the old highways and roads would not carry the new traffic. There was a learned eminent King's Counsel, Mr. W. H. Upjohn, living at Lyndhurst. He gave a most learned opinion in 1937 saying that no one had a right to make a new highway through the forest unless Parliament approved it because any highway would obstruct and interfere with the rights of commoners, take away their grazing land and prevent their going from one place to the other.
346 The war came. The forest was encroached upon by the sawmills and all the other things that came in during the war. In 1947 a committee was appointed under Mr. Harold Baker and others. The committee made an excellent report covering over 100 pages. It was the best historical and analytical report that anyone has ever seen. The committee said what was to be done in the forest, realising the great danger that was coming in the form of motor traffic. The committee having approved it, the great trunk road, the A.31, was approved by Parliament.
The committee also considered the other two roads passing through, the A.337 from Cadnam to Lyndhurst and beyond, and the A.35. The committee said that each could be widened but otherwise should remain as they were. The committee sent on to say in 1947 that a bypass for Lyndhurst was essential.
In the years that have passed the question has been where the bypass should go. Everybody agrees that there should be a bypass. Much of the traffic has been taken away by the new trunk roads and by the M.27 further up. Nevertheless, even with the two roads, North to South and East to West, meeting in Lyndhurst, and the Beaulieu road going off, the congestion is such that a bypass is essential. Oh, what controversy there has been!
I come now to the legal point under Section 17 of the New Forest Act 1949. Section 17 has no application to this situation. The trunk roads were provided for by the statute. The section provides that any future roads could be applied for and, with the verderers' consent, constructed by the highway authority. Subsection (2) clearly said:nothing in this section shall authorise the fencing or other enclosure of the land".Any of the new roads that were to be made were not to be fenced. Any application under Section 17 had to be wholly in respect of an unfenced road. That is, of course, quite inapplicable in modern times. All roads through the forest must be fenced for the sake of the animals and, indeed, of the motorists. The section deals only with unfenced roads going across open lands.
With regard to unfenced road, it is Section 17(8) that is relied upon. It states:The verderers shall not unreasonably withhold their agreement on any application under this section by a highway authority: and if any dispute arises as to whether their agreement has been unreasonably withheld the matter shall be referred to … arbitrator".There it is. That is in regard to unfenced roads only. If the highway authority seeks to do this, it has to get the consent of the verderers.
That has nothing whatever to do with a fenced bypass, which is essential in this case. There is no doubt that the highway authority, Hampshire County Council, has to come to Parliament because Parliament is the only authority that can authorise a fenced bypass road round Lyndhurst. Planning permission has been given by the county council, the residents want it and the only remaining issue is the route—how much discussion to and fro, inquiries, and the like.
Hampshire County Council has come up with a compromise route going a little but not far into the forest while keeping Lyndhurst as a village or small 347 town. It seems to me, as it does to the county council and all the local authorities, that that is the best solution possible. It is necessary for the protection of the residents of Lyndhurst and, indeed, for the enjoyment of passing motorists. It is essential that there be a bypass. For Hampshire County Council, the only course is the one that it has suggested.
So let the matter go to a Select Committee! I would, however, say this. If the Bill should fail and there is no bypass, when is a bypass ever to be constructed? Is it to be another 50 years before it can be got through? I hope that your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading. I hope further that the Select Committee, following all the discussion, will confirm the county council's proposals.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal
My Lords, I have a scant claim to be speaking in the debate except that, on one occasion, I contributed to the congestion in Lyndhurst by breaking down when I was towing a steam launch which is even older than either my noble godmother, the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, or indeed the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning.
I think that all of us can agree—and we should seek agreement in the matter so far as we can—that some means need to be found to relieve the congestion in Lyndhurst. I have not been in great detail into the various routes, but I understand that one of the arguments—I think that it has not been mentioned this afternoon—is whether the proposals for a bypass have been related to the broader issues of the needs of the county road system as a whole. This was alluded to in passing by the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, and by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning. It seems to me that those are questions which have to be answered.
However, the fact that there is a dispute about the details of the route leads us to what is perhaps the more fundamental problem that troubles the objectors to this Bill. Is it really necessary to spend something like a quarter of a million pounds, which will add perhaps 10 per cent. to a project that the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, says will cost £21/2 million? Is it really necessary to add 10 per cent. to the cost of this operation by promoting this Bill? Furthermore, I wonder whether at the end of the day it will in fact save time.
The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill said in his usual persuasive way that there had been a great deal of consultation, and he mentioned incidentally the private owners of some of the land. My understanding is that some of the land belongs to the Forestry Commission. If I am right, may I ask the noble Lord whether it is a fact that the Forestry Commission has not been consulted? If that is so, is it not extraordinary? Can we really claim that the consultative process has been exhausted?
The noble Lord did not mention arbitration. He did not say why that route was rejected. Some of us who have friends down there have a strong feeling that we are here participating in the use of a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Admittedly it is a crusty and ancient nut, 348 but nevertheless one wonders whether we should be in this situation. In the words of the Welshman, "If I was going there, I wouldn't start from here".
§ Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal
My Lords, I recognise that we have now to give this Bill a Second Reading. I can only say that I hope that all the arguments will be pursued rigorously and as quickly as possible in order to minimise the extra expense with which the county council is faced.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Lord Dulverton
My Lords, I did not put my name down but I hope that I may have permission to intervene briefly in this debate. Although I do not live in the New Forest I know it a bit. I have had massive correspondence from people down there—including the verderers—in the past week or two, and I feel inclined to speak up.
Nobody questions the necessity for a bypass route around or through Lyndhurst. Nobody questions that, and I know that it is urgent, but I cannot help feeling from such information as has come my way that the verderers, with all their responsibilities, powers and obligations for guarding and looking after that special area of Hampshire, the New Forest—indeed a special area of Britain—are being ridden over roughshod. They have made clear what they object to, and they have been ignored.
During this debate it has been briefly mentioned that they have been able to produce ideas for an alternative route for this bypass. I requested a map, which was sent to me. I have not visited the place but it looks to me, from the data which was supplied with it, that that alternative route is well worth looking at. For one thing, it is shorter, and for another, part of it is down an existing route which only needs widening, and it does not infringe on the wonderful New Forest area which is so much valued by the whole country, the verderers themselves, the Nature Conservancy Council, the Countryside Commission and a host of non-governmental organisations. I do not believe that that alternative route has been carefully looked at, and certainly it was hardly mentioned this afternoon.
For all these reasons I should have felt inclined to oppose this Second Reading were it not for the authoritative statement made by my noble friend who sits on the Front Bench, the Chairman of Committees, as to what will happen if we give the Bill a Second Reading. I accept completely his word that it will go to a Select Committee. I hope that the Select Committee, with the usual wisdom of Select Committees of your Lordships' House, will look thoroughly at the whole thing, and hopefully arrive at a less unsatisfactory answer.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, for the explanation he gave of this Bill and the justification for it. I must be among the minority of noble Lords who have taken part in this debate who have no direct interest in Lyndhurst or the New Forest. My interest in speaking 349 here is partly because of the transport responsibilities that I have for the Front Bench, and, secondly, as one who seeks to enjoy an open environment anywhere one possibly can, and to ensure that it is preserved not just for ourselves but for future generations. Therefore the issue goes far beyond Lyndhurst and far beyond Hampshire. It becomes a national issue with which we are dealing.
I was impressed by the figures given in the county council document that 80 per cent. of vehicles entering the village is through traffic. I have often been part of that through traffic, and therefore I can realise what everybody has agreed is the essential need for a bypass at Lyndhurst.
The noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, said that the New Forest is not just a forest; it is a collection of delightful villages. I wonder whether I could mischievously be irreverent and say that I wish that some of those speeches had been made when we dealt with the Stansted Bill, because I have a feeling for all the lovely Roding villages within 30 miles of London which were in danger.
I believe that we ought to give a Second Reading to this Bill, but there are certain matters which I should like to indicate are of some concern. I recall our long debate on the Okehampton Bypass Order in December 1985. A lot of consideration was given to Lord Sandford's report on national parks in 1974. This declared clearly:No new route for long-distance traffic should be constructed through a national parketc., unless there was,a compelling need which would not be met by any reasonable alternative means".I know that we are dealing with the New Forest, but surely the same principles must apply.
I have not walked over the proposed route—I believe that some noble Lords have—neither do I know the details of the alternative routes, but if one accepts the principle laid down for national parks and believes that the same sort of principle ought to apply to an area such as the New Forest, then we must give some serious consideration to possible alternatives.
Reference has been made to the exchange of some 18 acres which will be given to the New Forest. What we have not heard clearly is the nature of the land. Will this exchange land fit in with the New Forest? Will it fit in with all the natural areas of the New Forest? I should like somebody to explain that at some time.
The statement that many noble Lords will have seen issued by the promoters in support of the Bill refers to the fact that the verderers wanted exchange land rather than monetary compensation. And yet, as has been made clear to us, nevertheless the verderers still have put in a petition on this matter. The noble Earl, Lord Malmesbury, explained the responsibilities of the verderers, which I hope will be expressed before the Select Committee.
Paragraph 11 of this document frankly concerned me considerably. Reference has been made to the fact that the Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council have adopted the unusual step of issuing petitions. I was concerned that paragraph 11 informs us of, 350The Petitions of The Countryside Commission and of The Nature Conservancy Council being amenity bodies created by statute and financed from public funds".I hope that does not imply criticism that those bodies because they are creatures of statute using public funds should not carry out the responsibilities for which they are appointed: respectively to look after the countryside or to look after nature conservation. This responsibility is placed upon them.
I have already said that a bypass is essential, but the issue goes far beyond the people of Lyndhurst and far beyond even Hampshire. What has to be decided is not whether there should be a bypass, but whether the selected route is the right route or whether there is an alternative route which is preferable from the standpoint of the countryside and the environment. That seems to be the issue and it can only be determined by giving a Second Reading to the Bill and sending it to a Select Committee.
I hope that this debate and the points expressed will help the committee to arrive at satisfactory conclusions and that whatever happens any decision that may be taken on a bypass will be one that does either no damage or minimal damage to the environment. That should be our main consideration.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Skelmersdale)
My Lords, because of the intense interest that has been aroused by this Bill, it would, I feel, be rather odd if I did not, on behalf of the Government, make the Government's position clear. It is traditional on a Private Bill that the Government take a neutral stance and this Bill is no exception to that tradition. The Government have no objection in principle to the proposals in the Bill. It is for the promoters to persuade Parliament that the powers they are seeking are both necessary and justified. The question therefore is how and when?
The village of Lyndhurst lies at the heart of the New Forest and has for 50 years suffered from increasing traffic congestion, as we have heard, particularly in the summer months. Much of this congestion is caused by visitors who wish to enjoy the unique character of the forest. It is therefore ironic that the provision of a bypass for the village will inevitably encroach to some extent into the forest which the visitors have come to enjoy. The need for a bypass is generally accepted, but the route which it should take has been the subject of much controversy over many years and there have been two public inquiries and several other local consultations. The route now adopted, known as route 5A, for which parliamentary authority is sought by Hampshire County Council in this Bill, is a compromise but is nonetheless controversial.
The department I have the honour to serve has been involved in certain planning aspects of this proposal whch exemplifies the Government's neutral stance on this issue. We did not use powers available to us to require Hampshire County Council to submit its proposals for decision by the Secretary of State, and it has therefore been suggested, not today I am glad to say, that that view expressed has implied approval of the proposals by the department. That is not the case. On the two occasions when it was asked to intervene in 351 the proposals the Department considered all the relevant aspects very carefully. The Secretary of State accepted the environmental concerns, but concluded that the matter could be decided locally. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, that that implied neither approval nor disapproval of the proposals.
The Forestry Commission, which is responsible to my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, is also concerned about the proposal. As managers of the forest, the Forestry Commission has publicly expressed its opposition to any route which crosses the open forest on the grounds of damage to the character of the landscape, of intrusive noise and disturbance and the effect it would have on livestock and wildlife—all points that have been made in the debate today. The commission accepts, however, that these known views would have been taken into account by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State when he decided not to call in the local plan. The commission is content, therefore, that the fate of this Private Bill should be decided by the will of Parliament.
My noble friend Lord Malmesbury raised the question of the duties of the verderers laid upon them by the will of Parliament and the conflicts raised by the proposals in the Bill. I take note of my noble friend's point, but equally one could say that conflicts also arise from the views expressed by the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission on the status of the forest. All these points can best be considered by the Select Committee, but it is clear that the county council was aware of these factors and it is for that reason that it has presented this Private Bill to Parliament. The Government's view therefore is that it is the promoters and not the Government who should justify their case.
I hope therefore that the House will not think it impudent of me to quote from theCompanion to Standing Orders. page 124:The Second Reading of a Private Bill is usually formal, though it is the first occasion on which the Bill is brought before the House otherwise than pro lianaor in connection with the Standing Orders. It does not, as in the case of Public Bills, affirm the principle of the Bill, which may therefore be called in question before a committee".Page 128 goes on to say:A decision of the Committee 'that it is not expedient to proceed further with the Bill' brings the proceedings to an end".To conclude, the Government do not wish to take sides on this issue. It is a matter for Parliament to decide. Despite the reservations expressed in many quarters about the environmental impact of the proposed route 5A, I hope the House will give the Bill a Second Reading, to allow it to proceed in the usual way to committee for detailed consideration of the whole matter, which could indeed include a change of route.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, all of your Lordships who have spoken, with the possible exception of my noble friend Lord Malmesbury, have expressed the view, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, that the Bill should be given a Second Reading and sent to a Private Bill Committee. In the light of that consensus, your Lordships would not 352 expect me to respond at any length. Indeed, were I to do so, that might well be counter-productive. I shall therefore confine myself to answering, or trying to answer, those specific points which were raised by a number of noble Lords.
I come first to my noble friend Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal who said with his habitual vigour that he did not see why the county council should waste a quarter of a million pounds in promoting a Bill. I am glad to be able to reassure my noble friend that the latest advice I have—it is very recent advice indeed—is that the figure he has quoted is happily grossly exaggerated. It is unlikely to exceed 100,000. That is quite enough. It leads me straight to the point as to why it is necessary to legislate. I need only refer my noble friend Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal to the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning. He made it quite clear that apart from anything else it would not be legally possible to construct a bypass properly fenced—as this one plainly must be—without legislation. Therefore, quite apart from all the other points that arise, which I recapitulated in my earlier speech and will not repeat, legislation is necessary, though the county council and I regret any expense incurred. Indeed the longer the proceedings of the Select Committee are prolonged no doubt the higher the expense. But that is for the objectors to have in mind. The fact remains that progress cannot be made on an operation which all of your Lordships who have spoken have regarded as necessary—the construction of a bypass—without legislation.
Legislation is therefore crucial. On my noble friend's other point, the Forestry Commission has been kept closely in touch. It has been consulted and is aware of the whole matter.
In reply to my noble friend Lord Dulverton, it is quite wrong and unfair to all concerned to say that the verderers have been ignored. I noticed that my noble friend Lord Malmesbury did not take that point, because he is aware of the position. There has been constant discussion and consultation with the verderers, including correspondence with the chairman of the county council and my noble friend Lord Manners. Even up to the last few weeks there has been constant discussion.
Although there is a difference of opinion—it would be silly to pretend the contrary—between the elected local authority and the verderers, neither can possibly say that the other has been ignored. I know that the county council would very much regret it if it was thought that any action it had taken indicated lack of respect or good manners towards the verderers whose important role the county council, like the rest of us, acknowledges. I should like very much to clear up that point.
The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, asked whether other routes had been looked at and evaluated. The answer is, yes—if I may engage in a colloquialism—and how! There have been innumerable routes looked at. The fact that the one finally chosen by the county council is labelled 5A perhaps speaks for itself. Of course there has been discussion, but, as I tried to say when I opened this debate, the problem has been to achieve the best possible reconciliation of the clash of interests.
353 From the verderers' point of view and the wish to ensure protection of the forest, the closer to Lyndhurst the bypass is the better. From the point of view of the citizens of Lyndhurst, it is of extreme importance that the route should be just a little bit out from the town. My noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood said that it is not the best route. I can only say that it is the route which, in the judgment of those who have worked on it assiduously over, not months, but years, represents the best possible compromise.
If it is suggested that amenities will be spoiled, I invite your Lordships to give attention to the fact, as you will see if you look at the papers, that it is a route that conducts you straight past not only the golf course but also the cemetery. Perhaps. therefore, it can be looked at as not necessarily being a violation of beautiful countryside.
Again, it would be a great mistake to believe that the Hampshire County Council, or, still more perhaps, the New Forest District Council, had any less regard for the amenities of this wonderful forest, for its beauties. for the important part it plays in the life of the whole of the south of England, than the verderers, your Lordships or anybody else. They regard it as of the greatest importance. But, as your Lordships know, the problem of administration, whether it is local or central, is that you have to balance to the best of your ability considerations of that kind against the practical needs of running and organising a country, a county or a small town.
I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, brought out very effectively the miseries that traffic congestion causes to what used to be, as I remember it as a boy, a most attractive and peaceful small town or large village, and how these amenities have been eroded and the inhabitants subjected to something not far short of torture by the mass of traffic surging through their streets. So it is the job of a responsible local authority to try to balance that.
Having said that. no one, least of all the Hampshire County Council, is going to claim omniscience on these matters. Therefore, it seems to me, and I think it seems to them, a very useful thing that this matter should go to what I think all your Lordships regard as one of the most effective bodies in our system of government—a committee of your Lordships' House. There, those who take the view strongly held by my noble friend Lord Malmesbury and those who take the view that I have ventured to express, can all seek to argue them out. We have an amount of time that would not be available on the Floor of your Lordships' House with opportunities for cross-examination, the tendering of evidence and all the very effective procedure of our committee system. That is where these matters can be ironed out.
I can tell your Lordships, in response to the requests of two or three noble Lords, that the county council is not rigid or dogmatic in its views. It feels that it has done its best following years of research, years of consultation and years of examination of the problem. It does not claim infallibility and, if the committee of your Lordships' House sees fit to vary the Bill in response to objections which have been made, I am sure that the county council will most loyally carry out what is resolved. But having said that, I hope your 354 Lordships will not accept the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Malmesbury that there should be further delay. I think this matter—
§ The Earl of Malmesbury
I have not argued for further delay. I suggested closer co-operation before the Select Committee.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
I am much obliged, though my noble friend will find when he reads Hansardthat he asked for a delay, as I understood it, before going to the Select Committee. I hope your Lordships and the Select Committee will not respond to that. I can assure my noble friend, knowing a little of our Select Committee procedure, that there will be ample time for discussion.
The county council's attitude I have already described and I do not need to repeat it. I hope also—if I may express this view—that the verderers may show similar flexibility. I am sure they will. But I hope that we shall not go for delay for delay's sake. This is a matter which really needs dealing with now. I hope that our Select Committee will proceed to work as soon as the system operates and will give the Bill the thorough analytical inspection and study that it deserves and that the feelings which have been expressed in this debate show it deserves. Therefore, unless I have omitted to reply to any of your Lordships who have a point they wish me to answer, I formally beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Select Committee.