Orders of the Day — Planning and Development, North Buckinghamshire

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st May 1963.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Batsford]

1.48 a.m.

Photo of Major Sir Frank Markham Major Sir Frank Markham , Buckingham

I would much rather be asleep at this hour of the morning than be making a speech in the House of Commons, but this is the only way in which, and perhaps the only time at which, I can raise a matter which has been rather baffling to many people. The subject is the planning and development of north Buckinghamshire, which I have the honour to represent in the House.

One of the outstanding features of our pleasant corner of Buckinghamshire is the way in which the River Ouse meanders through it and its various tributaries help to create a vision of pastoral beauty such as is excelled by very few other counties. Nevertheless, there is in this fair land quite an element of discontent in the town of Wolverton, where the British Railways Carriage and Wagon works are situated. Up to quite recently one might say Wolverton has been famous throughout the world for nearly a century because of its railway genius and skill.

But over the last fifteen years the working population in the railway workshops has declined from 4,200 to 2,800. There is no alternative industry. This, of course, has meant not only an appreciable decline in the number employed in the town, but also a decline in the prosperity and the population of the area. Wolverton has sought by every practical means to attract new industries, but each time it has been faced either with a direct refusal, or with the threat of a refusal, of the necessary I.D.C. from the Board of Trade.

Yet while Wolverton is not allowed to have a new industry to make up the loss of jobs in the railway workshops, there is, within seven or eight miles of it, the town of Bletchley, also in the River Ouse area—I want to emphasise the river because it is sometimes argued that Wolverton must not expand because it is in the upper Ouse catchment area.

Ten years ago Bletchley was made an overspill town for London. Since then, its population has increased from 11,000 to 19,000. It is going ahead very fast. I am delighted that it is and I hope that this development, which began with the approval of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when he was Minister of Housing and Local Government, will go ahead as fast as anything that we have heard about in today's debates.

However, it seems unfair that whilst one town in my constituency should be given every encouragement another town, eight miles away, is smacked down every time it tries to get a new industry in compensation for the loss of work in the railway workshops. Bletchley has had 25 industrial development certificates during the last three or four years. These include seven which cover entirely new industries. In all, there is provision for 1,500 new jobs. Wolverton does not want to emulate Bletchley. It does not want to expand by 10,000 or 20,000 population. All it wants is a moderate development, perhaps a total of 500 jobs, bringing its population up from 13,000 to 15,000. Thus, a couple of I.D.C.s could make good the loss of work at the railway works.

Bletchley, of course, has had to build new schools, new houses, new roads and new sewerage farms for its developments. But Wolverton has empty houses and empty places in its schools. It already has all the other facilities a small township needs. The Ministry of Education spent £750,000 in building the new Radcliffe School, the College of Further Education and other colleges and schools in the vicinity. It is one of the best equipped towns educationally in the South Midlands. Yet it is a declining area with vacant places in those schools.

Rightly, Wolverton asks why it cannot have an additional industry or two and an increased population which will be able to use the facilities already there. It does not ask to swell to the size of Bletchley. It only wants a moderate development and has already taken steps to try to secure it. As is generally known, the town has already applied to the L.C.C. for its consideration and help and the L.C.C. has, not once but four times, reiterated its desire to help Wolverton to become an area for moderate expansion under the Town Development Act. 1952. But the L.C.C. minute of 12th February, 1963. significantly added that before the L.C.C. could do anything, Government approval was necessary. That is the point of my comments tonight. I want Government approval to be given to the link between the L.C.C. and Wolverton, so as to secure a moderate expansion of an area which is ready for it and which deserves it.

Also in my constituency is the town of Olney, which has quite reasonably asked to be allowed to expand from a population of 2,700 to approximately 4,000. Permission has been refused and Olney is not to be allowed to develop. On the other hand, a few miles away is the township of Towcester, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones) and which has also asked to be allowed to increase from 2,750 to 5,000. Towcester is in the same river catchment area and in the same sort of countryside. Olney is turned down, but Towcester is approved.

These decisions make one wonder how crazy our planners can get. Who decides that one small township should have the green light and the other the everlasting red? These decisions puzzle us greatly. I am certain that, with his known sympathetic attitude towards planning and development, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to show us a way out of this impasse both for Wolverton and Olney. We are not asking for the moon, but for appropriate, reasonable and moderate developments, and I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to point out some way in which these recurring negatives for both Wolverton and Olney can be overcome and we can get the green light for good development in a very pleasant and lovely part of England.

1.58 a.m.

Photo of Mr Frederick Corfield Mr Frederick Corfield , Gloucestershire South

I appreciate the concern of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckingham (Sir F. Markham) for his constituents and I would not wish to minimise their anxieties or his, but there seems to be some misunderstanding as to the basis of planning problems and planning procedures. It is important to remember that the primary responsibility for planning an area rests with the local planning authority, which in this case is the Buckinghamshire County Council.

In accordance with the statutory requirements, Buckinghamshire County Council submitted a development plan to the Minister and marked on it certain areas which would be dealt with by way of a separate town map. In this area the town map for Wolverton included areas of Stony Stratford, Wolverton itself, New Bradwell, all in the Wolverton urban district. and some parts of Newport Pagnell rural district.

This town map was certified on the Minister's behalf at the end of 1959 and it is due for review in the ordinary quinquennial cycle early in 1965. The written statement with the town map provides for a population increasing in the period 1951 to 1974 from about 14,300 to 15,780. As my hon. and gallant Friend said, the population has gone down somewhat. I cannot give an accurate set of figures because the census figures refer only to the whole urban district and that is not coincident with the town map, but the population appears to have gone down by about 400.

In this town map, amongst the major proposals was the retention of 109 acres of land allocated for industry, which I assume to be almost entirely the railway workshops, and an additional five acres for further industrial development. I am sure my hon. Friend will recall that when the town map was available for discussion and objections and so on the Wolverton Urban District Council did not raise any objections to the town map itself, although I appreciate that that was probably before there was fear of the run down of the employment provided by the railway workshops.

In 1962, the urban district council began to grow anxious about the prospect of unemployment, and it suggested to the Buckinghamshire County Council that the position should be inquired into with a view to taking the necessary steps to amend the town map and arrange the importation of new industries. I understand that this request was in the form of a letter addressed to the county council, quite properly, as the responsible local planning authority. Copies were sent to my Ministry and to the Board of Trade.

It is important to make the point that an I.D.C. is an absolute pre-requisite to planning permission. It is laid down in the Act that my right hon. Friend the Minister is not even empowered to give planning permission for industrial purposes for an area over 5,000 sq. ft. unless the application is accompanied by an up-to-date I.D.C. issued by the Board of Trade.

So far as my researches and my inquiries from the Board of Trade go, there has been only one application for an I.D.C. to the Board of Trade in regard to development at Wolverton. I understand that this was a sizeable development. A firm applied for initial permission for 300,000 sq. ft., with the object of expanding that to about 1 million sq. ft. by 1966.

I understand from my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade that the reasons for refusal were due almost entirely to the fact that it was felt that this sort of development should be channelled, if possible, to one of the development districts under the Local Employment Act, bearing in mind that in the North-East and other development districts there are unemployment figures of 5 and 6 per cent. whereas in this area the unemployment figure is only 0·8 per cent. I think, therefore, that my hon. and gallant Friend will appreciate that, disappointing as this may be to him and to the people of Wolverton, there are pretty strong claims elsewhere for industrial developments of this sort.

As regards the present planning position, the approved town map makes provision for some small increase in the population and for new industry. The urban district council has suggested that the town map should be reviewed with the object of increasing the allocation for industry, but there is no procedural or statutory bar to action being taken in the meantime for an application to be put in for planning permission for development of some land which is not necessarily now included in the town map as allocated for industry.

In other words, it is open to any firm wishing to move to Wolverton to put in an application, and of course the Buckinghamshire County Council would forward this to my right hon. Friend simply because it represented a departure from the development plan. But there are no reasons that we know of why there should be an automatic refusal of that permission. We have no records of any refusals up to date—anyhow, in reasonably recent times. My hon. and gallant Friend should, therefore, not be too despairing about the prospects of planning for further industrial development.

The problem is first to catch the firm, but when a firm has become interested in developing at Wolverton, and has had the opportunity to obtain the necessary land, although I would not wish to prejudge any planning appeal there are no reasons that I know of why it should be assumed that planning permission will not be forthcoming, bearing in mind all the time that we are statutorily barred from considering an application—as is the county council—if it is not accompanied by an I.D.C. obtained from the Board of Trade.

As for the town development scheme, my hon and gallant Friend has referred to applications to, or negotiations with, the L.C.C. Again, although I have had the necessary researches carried out, I can find no trace of any application to my Ministry for the approval which was mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend in quoting from the L.C.C. minutes. We would certainly not close our minds to the suggestion of a moderate town development at Wolverton, with the warning that town development schemes operated by relatively small authorities give rise to certain difficulties, and where they have been operated successfully it has been almost universally as a result of close co-operation with and a good deal of financial assistance from the county council concerned.

If the Wolverton Urban District Council is still anxious to take part in a town development scheme, its first move should be to discuss the matter with the Buckinghamshire County Council and from then move on to triangular negotiations with the County Council and the London County Council. There again, if arrangements can be made between the three local authorities concerned—the exporting authority, the county, and the importing urban authority—my right hon. Friend will most certainly consider the whole proposals on their merits, and with no closed mind towards them.

We are anxious to increase the contribution that town development can make towards solving the overcrowding problems and the difficult land problems in the tighter conurbations, especially around London. I have looked at the case carefully, and cannot find any trace of any action on the part of the Ministry which would give rise to a fear that we have set our minds against any form of development at Wolverton.

My hon. and gallant Friend mentioned Olney and Towcester. Here again, I understand that the planning proposals were put forward to the county councils, which dealt with them entirely within their powers. There was no question of these proposals going to my right hon. Friend either for approval or rejection. If I can look again at the matter with a little more care, in what we normally regard as the morning, I will write to my hon. and gallant Friend if I am wrong about this, but we have not firmly closed our minds to the possibilities that he mentioned. But the initiative must come upwards, and the first initiative must be to find an industrial firm that is willing to move and to put in an application accompanied by an I.D.C.

Photo of Major Sir Frank Markham Major Sir Frank Markham , Buckingham

May I thank my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for his helpful reply and say that it would be easier to get an I.D.C. if Wolverton were regarded by the Ministry in the same light as Bletchley. I hope that we may be able to get over this hurdle in the near future.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at ten minutes past Two o'clock.