Planning Powers, Haverhill

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th August 1966.

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8.11 a.m.

Photo of Sir Peter Kirk Sir Peter Kirk , Saffron Walden

I am grateful to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government for staying to this late hour. He and I have been up all night, but I think that he will agree that the subject I am to raise is of considerable importance, and not just of local importance. It arises out of the change in the method of granting alterations in development plans brought in by the Ministry's Circular 70 of 19th October, 1965.

That circular made a considerable advance by giving much greater latitude to local planning authorities. This is something which nearly all of us welcome, but in the case which concerns me as a result of this procedure is that the local planning authority has been enabled to do something which I think it should not have been able to do. As I understand Circular 70, it virtually gives three categories of changes in development. The first is where there is no substantial change and the local planning authority can go ahead without reference to the Minister. The second is where there is a substantial change and local authorities have to advertise the application and can go ahead if the Minister makes no objection in a specified period.

The case I am submitting falls in the third category, where there is considerable deviation from the plan which is either not in accord with something laid down by the Minister or there are two views expressed by a Government Department, or the proposal is of a character which would affect the whole of a neighbourhood.

The Minister goes on to say that if the proposal affects a whole neighbourhood certain criteria should be borne in mind. One is: any proposals for a large industrial installation or a major new shopping centre". The proposal in this case affects 36 acres of agricultural land to be changed to industrial use. Another criterion is: any proposal for development of significance in a national park, a green belt, or an area of great landscape, scientific or historic value". This is an area of outstanding natural beauty. I hope that I can convince the Parliamentary Secretary that the third category is clearly one which applies. For the third category it is the local authority's duty to advertise the proposal locally and to send a copy of the advertisement and the application with plans to the Minister. It is also required to send a statement of the issues involved and, when the period for objections is over, copies of any which may have been received and to wait for a further 31 days in the absence of any objection from the Minister.

Haverhill is a small town in the constituency of Bury St. Edmunds and has been for some time extending in a messy way. It is one of the worst examples of overspill I have ever seen, but, nevertheless, in expanding it involves my constituency and affects Cambridgeshire and Essex. For example, there is only one road from Haverhill further on into Suffolk. All the others run into Cambridgeshire or Essex.

We are waiting at the moment for the Minister's decision on an application to building 120 houses in the village of Steeple Bumpstead, where I live, designed to help with the housing of executives on the industrial estate. Therefore, anything that happens in Haverhill is of vital concern to Cambridgeshire and Essex. This was recognised from the start, because the Haverhill town map was agreed with the Essex County Council.

The development runs right up to the boundary near the village of Sturmer, which is familiar to all those who grow apples. Indeed, so close to the line does it come that if the hon. Gentleman will look at the map which I see he has in front of him he will see a field there most of which is in West Suffolk and the rest in Essex. The Essex corner is left out and goodness knows what one will be able to use it for if this goes through. The Essex County Council, the Halstead Rural District Council and the Sturmer Parish Council all objected to this proposal. I want to know were these objections sent to the Ministry and if so, what consideration was given to them?

The hon. Gentleman's hon. Friend, who is also a Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, wrote to me on 21st July and said: In the case you mention West Suffolk County Council referred the application to the Minister as a substantial departure from the Haverhill Town Map. He did not say whether the objections had been referred to the Ministry. The letter goes on: It seemed right to allow the County Council to decide this matter after taking account of the views of local residents and the neighbouring planning authority whom they were obliged to consult. Now it is claimed by the neighbouring planning authority that it was never consulted at all. The Parliamentary Secretary will have seen a letter from the county council, dated 1st August, which makes it quite plain that it was not consulted and that if it had been it would have put forward very strong views on this proposed development.

I have here a letter from the Chairman of the Sturmer Parish Council, who is also on the Halstead Rural District Council. He says: I can assure you that neither the Sturmer Parish Council, Halstead Rural District Council or Essex Planning were consulted and the only intimation of this development known to these bodies was a notice in the local paper. I submit that whatever might have been the intention of the Ministry when it changed the system of planning consents in this way, it surely can never have been intended that in a case where the interests of a neighbouring planning authority are absolutely vitally concerned one planning authority can go ahead without any consultation with the other at all.

What I would like to hear from the hon. Gentleman, first, is why the Minister of Housing and Local Government has not decided not to intervene in this matter despite the fact that there is this very strong opposing interest, and secondly, whether the objections raised by all the local authorities and by other bodies such as the Council for the Preservation of Rural England were one of the factors which decided the Minister not to intervene in this way.

I do not wish to indulge in a brawl between Essex and West Suffolk County Councils, but I must tell the Minister that there is a good deal of feeling in Essex about the way in which this has been done and that if this is the result of the new system—and the new system is a good deal worse than the old from these points of view—I hope that the Minister can tell me that his Department will intervene in this case and have another look at it.

8.20 a.m.

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

Does the hon. Member wish to speak?

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am grateful, at this hour of the morning, to have an opportunity to speak about my constituency, because the town of——

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

I apologise to the hon. Member. I was trying to protect the rights of hon. Members who have been here all night. If the hon. Member has been here all night, I apologise to him.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

Haverhill lies in my constituency and I am, therefore, grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Kirk) for raising this matter. He has shown how assiduous he is in standing up for the rights and the needs of Essex and his own constituency. I hope that he will accept that I shall be no less assiduous in standing up for the rights and necessities of my own.

I agree with my hon. Friend on the two or three points he made at the beginning of his speech that anything that happens in Haverhill certainly affects Essex and Cambridgeshire and, perhaps, affects the areas for which he speaks more than it affects the County of West Suffolk. Secondly, I am bound to accept, also, that the planning to which my hon. Friend has referred seems to fall within category three of the Ministry's circular of last year. I have no doubt about that. To apply to Haverhill, however, the term of "messy" and to say that it is one of the worst examples of overspill development does not accord with the facts.

Haverhill has a lot of problems. It is a town which has grown exceptionally rapidly. A few years ago it was merely 4,000 people, clustered in a valley more or less around one large industry. Today, it is 10,000 strong, intending to go on in 1971 to a total of 18,000 and beyond that, by a recent decision, to perhaps as many as 30,000 by 1981. This expansion has brought some impressive progress.

If one looks at the High Street of Haverhill, the new shops, the industrial estate with its new factories and the new council chamber, where I have had the pleasure of addressing the local council, one cannot help feeling the pride that Haverhill feels in the growth which it has achieved. There is an ambition to become a considerable town in Haverhill. The most important thing, of course, is the new houses that have been put up for families coming from London, families who, in many cases, have left slums and have been given a new opportunity of a wider and a more spacious life in the East Anglian countryside. Having recognised, however, the progress that has been made and, I hope, will continue to be made in Haverhill, I must accept what my hon. Friend has said, namely, that this progress has brought a large number of problems.

These are planners' problems, and I hope that the Minister will recognise that this planning point needs to be tackled urgently. Haverhill is suffering in its growth from too much speed and from a lack of balance. The speed I understand. Under the Greater London Council's arrangements for town expansion, there is always the pressure to put up more and more houses more and more rapidly, but this turn of speed sometimes means that the houses are not always of the highest quality. Indeed, on the Clements Estate, where houses are now being built rapidly, there is a lot of inadequate construction with which the people living there are not satisfied. I hope, as the borough council intends to achieve, that these problems are put right before the winter months set in again.

There is also a lack of balance in Haverhill. It probably is the inevitable result of too great speed. There is a lack of balance between the old Haverhill and the new, between the enormous number of council houses and the comparative lack of private houses, between the rapid growth of population and the far less rapid provision of social amenities and economic opportunities. This lack of balance indicates a lack of co-ordination between the planning authorities, both local, as my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden has mentioned, and nationally as between the various Ministries concerned.

I draw the Minister's attention to just two aspects of this. First, there is the lack of amenities for the new population that has come to Haverhill. Of course, we understand that schools will be crowded when young families arrive with large numbers of children. But there is at least one school in Haverhill with no fewer than 900 children, where the facilities are quite inadequate. I am very glad that the headmaster, instead of sitting down under the problems, has tackled them and is tackling them well. Nevertheless, he is facing a tide of children coming into the town.

Then there is the problem of no hospital. I recently gave the Minister of Health a petition signed by about 3,000 people in Haverhill, a large proportion of a town of that size, pleading for hospital facilities. I quite understand the Minister's answer that it is not possible to provide a general district hospital in a town of that size, and that there are, in any event, large hospitals in Essex, Cambridge and Suffolk to which the people of Haverhill are elegible to go.

Nevertheless, here is a town with a rapid birth rate—indeed the birth rate in Haverhill is very much higher than anywhere else in the Eastern counties. In addition, with industries growing there are more and more industrial accidents requiring hospitalisation. Haverhill people, therefore, worry about the lack of medical facilities. They are also concerned about a lack of adequate recreational grounds.

Where there is a rapidly growing town it is the responsibility of the planning authorities to see that all the many things that go to make up a new community—schools, hospitals, buses, shops and so on—are brought together by some coordinating authority which tries to get them into balance.

In addition, I must mention a shortage of jobs in Haverhill. I believe that this shortage will get worse over the next year or so as a result of the deflationary measures that the Government are taking. But the problem in Haverhill is a special one. We are getting large numbers of people, but we are not so far getting the new factories that are necessary to provide them with employment. Last winter, about 140 people in Haverhill were unemployed; and I think that there will be more this year.

Moreover, many young men are having to travel as far as Cambridge, Colchester and even back to London to find the employment that they need. It is disappointing to a young family coming to Suffolk from the centre of London to find on arrival, with a new home and all the excitement of a new opportunity, that the employment pattern is not adequate for the population.

Turning to the planning point which my hon. Friend raised, I cannot myself speak on behalf of the West Suffolk County Council, but I know the planning officer, Mr. Gorst, and the clerk, Mr. Skinner, very well, and I find it very hard to believe that they failed in their duty in consulting or at least informing the surrounding authorities. I shall be very interested to hear what the Minister has to say on this point, because it would be out of character if West Suffolk had failed to consult.

The point I wish to leave with the Minister today is not that we need more consultation between planners, but rather that we need a much greater co-ordination among them in the things they do and not simply in the things they talk about.

Haverhill now proposes to go to a population of 30,000 by 1981. I myself find this a very daring decision and, perhaps, one which sets a pace which is too fast in present circumstances. For Haverhill lacks raw materials. Its transport pattern is poor. The roads are limited. The railway is threatened with closure. There is a comparatively small market for firms seeking to come to the area. In these circumstances, it is all the more important for the planning authorities to get together locally, regionally and nationally.

It is important that Haverhill should stay very close to the West Suffolk County Council in its plans for expansion. It is more important that the West Suffolk County Council should work with the Essex and Cambridgeshire authorities in planning the use of land in this area. If there has been, as my hon. Friend says, a lack of co-ordination in the permissions given in the particular area to which he refers, I certainly regret it. I hope that it will be possible to ensure that it does not happen again.

But at the national level—the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry is, in the end, responsible—what the Ministry of Housing and Local Government is doing is not always known to the other Ministries concerned. Haverhill has no hospital. The Ministry of Health should have been in consultation with the housing and local government people on that problem. The railway is to be closed. Has the Ministry of Transport been in consultation with the right hon. Gentleman's Department about that? There are not enough jobs and firms. Industrial development certificates are difficult to get. Does the D.E.A. consult the Ministry of Housing and Local Government on that?

It is not just a matter of giving the local authorities more powers to take more land and build more houses. What is important is to see that all the Ministries and the authorities concerned both locally and nationally come together to achieve all the things that are necessary to make a real town instead of each dealing in isolation with one narrow point, such as the change of user of a particular piece of land. I know that the Minister will wish to deal with this wider problem as well as with the question of apparent lack of consultation between local authorities which my hon. Friend, quite rightly, has raised.

8.32 a.m.

Photo of Mr Robert Mellish Mr Robert Mellish , Bermondsey

I thank the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Kirk) for the courteous way in which he introduced this subject, which, I realise, is a difficult local matter for him. The way the hon. Gentleman put it in his speech accords with the information we have in the Department. I shall spend a little time in explaining the position of my right hon. Friend and the Department and why they thought it right that this matter should be left to the local authority rather than be subject to Whitehall's intervention. Before I do that, however, I shall comment on the speech of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths).

The hon. Member widened the debate considerably. I do not blame him for that. It is a subject in which I have a particular interest, because my right hon. Friend has given me certain responsibilities which I was glad to accept, for new and expanded towns, linking with my responsibility for housing programming generally. It may be of interest to the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds and his hon. Friend to know that during the last three months I have visited almost all the new towns, and that I am now in process of visiting some of the expanded towns.

One thing I have learned—if I did not know it before—is that the relationship between the local authority and, in the case of new towns, the development corporation, or in the case of expanded towns, the exporting authority, is often very bad. I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman when he says that close liason between all those interested in these areas is long overdue.

The hon. Gentleman was right to remind the House of the facts in Haverhill. But, first, let us get our priorities right. I am sure that the hon. Member for Saffron Walden will support me when I say that this area is one that has given happiness and joy to thousands of Londoners who were living in shocking slums and had no chance of decent housing conditions in their own right. I happen to know that, in spite of some of the criticisms which have been voiced, this is one of the efforts in which the G.L.C. has been interested. It is a credit to the way in which housing is being provided.

The trouble in all these areas is that it is very difficult to keep housing in pace with industry. I came back only yesterday from a whole day in King's Lynn, for example, and there we have the position that houses are empty because industry has not caught up. That is not necessarily the local authority's fault; it came about partly because private industry has not taken up the options that it had and partly because the local authority went charging ahead and built the houses. However, I hope that what we did yesterday may have eased the position. The cry for co-ordination is obvious between all those concerned.

I promise the hon. Member for Saffron Walden that I will deal with his points, but the argument about Haverhill and the future of the town is so important that I want to concentrate on that for a moment. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds pointed out that the provision of amenities is essential when we talk of new development, whether it be in a new town or in an expanded town. After three of four months' experience, I hold the view that the decision to provide amenities must come from the local authority. It must come from the people who are the elected representatives in the area.

What I have had to do is convince some local authorities, particularly in the new town areas, that this is their job. They tend to regard all development as being done by some outside body and as being no concern of theirs. I have had to explain that new towns, for example, at some stage will belong to their inhabitants and that the amenities which are being provided are things in which they have a vital interest. Every new house which is built creates rate increases for the authority, and it is their job to spend that money wisely and well, not only for the present but future generations and to make suggestions for amenities. It is for the development corporation or exporting authority to consider, if necessary, making a donation for the purpose of those amenities.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

The hon. Gentleman is right when he says that the ex- porting authority frequently makes quite generous donations. But so often the donations are related to the hardware of expansion—the schools, roads and things of that kind. But it is the software—the recreation ground and the library—which cannot be afforded by a small place like Haverhill. Some means must be provided by the Central Government for these things.

Photo of Mr Robert Mellish Mr Robert Mellish , Bermondsey

I do not deny that. I agree that Haverhill would be in a different position from the new towns that I have visited.

The perfect example of co-operation between a corporation, in the case of a new town, and a local authority for the provision of amenities, is Harlow. They got local industry to make a donation, they themselves made a donation and they got a donation from the corporation, so much so that today they have a sports centre which is the finest in Britain. It is something which is of benefit not only to the inhabitants of Harlow, but of the surrounding district. It makes one feel proud to see that sort of initiative, and it is something which I believe can be done by other areas.

So much for the interest which the hon. Gentleman showed in the future of Haverhill. I shall be going to Haverhill, and I will let the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds know when I do. I want to discuss with the local authorities and others interested their problems. If it is practical, I should like to leave behind a liaison committee for the area which will function on a regular basis and on which views will be co-ordinated and exchanged. I hope that that will result in something better for the towns.

The matter which has been raised by the hon. Member for Saffron Walden arises out of the recent decision by the West Suffolk County Council to grant planning permission to Haverhill Urban District Council for the industrial use of 36 acres of farmland at Sturmer Road, Haverhill. This land adjoins the county boundary of Essex. Thirty acres of land required for industrial use on the Haverhill town map have been used for residential development. There was an urgent need for 10 acres to accommodate a substantial firm which the town badly needs, plus a later foreseeable need for more to replace the land lost to the residential development. The urban district council decided that the Sturmer Road area was suitable and applied for planning permission. The county decided that the development constituted a substantial departure from the provisions of the town map and, as it was bound to do, informed my right hon. Friend that an application was before it. It also advertised the proposal in the local press.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food did not object to the proposal and my Department thought that were no planning objections. Therefore, we took no action on the application, leaving it to the county to decide. Although there were objections from the Sturmer Parish Council and Halstead Rural District Council, West Suffolk County Council granted permission. Where a local planning authority proposes to grant permission for development it thinks would be likely to affect the area of any neighbouring local planning authority, it is required to consult that authority. In this case, West Suffolk took the view that no consultation was necessary.

Photo of Sir Peter Kirk Sir Peter Kirk , Saffron Walden

But in a letter to me in July the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friend said that it had consulted its neighbouring authority, as it was bound to do.

Photo of Mr Robert Mellish Mr Robert Mellish , Bermondsey

I am giving the facts of the present situation. I understand that the West Suffolk County Council took the view that no consultation was necessary here, although it had received opposition from some of the local authorities.

I have given the general background. It is right that I should recall the procedure introduced in November, 1965. Before 1954, local planning authorities were free to do with departures exactly as they chose but in 1954 the then Minister made a direction requiring authorities to tell him of any applications for permission to carry out development which, in their view, were a substantial departure from the provisions of the development plan. The Minister was given 21 days in which to make up his mind whether to authorise the authority concerned to go ahead, to direct it not to grant permission, to call in the application for his own decision or to direct it to stay its hand until it heard from him.

In 1965 it was clear that, under these conditions, Whitehall had to consider a great number of applications which were only of importance to the immediate locality and could well be dealt with by the planning authority. My right hon. Friend recognised that substantial departures from a development plan might be important to the neighbours, however, and, therefore, deserved some publicity before a decision was taken. He accordingly issued a new direction which came into operation in November, 1965.

It requires a planning authority to advertise in the local Press any planning proposal that it regards as a substantial departure from the provisions of the development plan and which it is disposed to permit. It must send a copy of the application and of the advertisement to the Minister. A number of categories are covered in these proposals. I understand that the West Suffolk County Council considered that this scheme came within Category B, and when it came to us my right hon. Friend decided that it was a typical case to be decided by the county authority.

Let me put it fairly and honestly. We are often accused of trying to build up empires and take control and remove responsibility at local level. This is a case where my right hon. Friend the Minister took a decision to give to a local authority more power than it has probably ever had before. Yet we have here the perfect example of a situation which always arises in a planning decision—someone is aggrieved and upset. In this instance, two hon. Gentlemen have spoken, one disagreeing with the decision and the other agreeing. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury St. Edmunds cannot have it both ways. He said that Haverhill wants industrial development and more firms, and for that it has to have more land. West Suffolk County Council decided that these needs were great and came down in favour of them.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden is saying that in his view, because of the effect that this change of plan may have on other parts of the area, this is something in which the Minister should have intervened. Our case is that we honestly and sincerely believed that this was a local planning matter, to be decided by the local people and that we honourably delegated the authority to the West Suffolk County Council, which is a very important and authoritative body. We gave it the right to decide this matter, having regard to local needs.

I made the decision which has produced this debate and I can only say, when I look back at this affair, that the one thing which is abundantly clear is that Her Majesty's Government and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government emerge very favourably. The Minister gave the local authority a chance to decide its future, and in that respect I say on his behalf that what he did was the right and proper thing to do.

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Deptford

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. John Silkin) rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.