Road Developments, Bournemouth

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th July 1968.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Arthur Skeffington Mr Arthur Skeffington , Hayes and Harlington 12:00 am, 26th July 1968

May I first of all express my appreciation to the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden), not only for the way in which he has moved this Motion, but for the Motion itself. He has brought quite clearly before the House, Ministers and planners, the fact that one of the consequences of planning, which we must never forget, is the human effects flowing from it, particularly when we deal with the sort of changes that he has indicated are taking place in Bournemouth.

It is sometimes put forward as a criticism of planners that they look ahead to marvellous schemes, on paper, but sometimes forget that the whole purpose of planning is about people. My right hon. Friend, in introducing the Town and Country Planning Bill, which will make a number of significant changes in this respect, said "Planning is about people." We must make sure that plans are not likely to be wrong and to cause a great deal of unnecessary hardship. The hon. Gentleman has performed a great service in raising this matter.

I have a personal interest, and additional pleasure in replying in that in my very early days I lived in Christ-church. Some of the happiest days of my life were spent there, so I know something about this area and surrounding districts, and can appreciate the problems that the hon. Member has mentioned. When I was last in that part of Hampshire—I try to go there whenever I can —I was astonished at the change which had taken place even in the two years since I last went. We are up against profound changes, and the hon. Gentleman's constituency and a number of other constituencies will have suffered uncertainty and anxiety which I hope this debate will allay to some extent.

We are in a period of rapid transition. The hon. Gentleman referred to the number of motor cars. I said the other day that the number is almost frightening. It does not do any good to be frightened about it, but the thought of 20 million motor cars being on the road by 1980 is not one which I exactly welcome. Unless we are very careful in our forward planning, we shall do untold harm not only to the hearts of our cities and countryside, as I said in the speech which has been quoted, but to the lives of people in other communities. Every time we create a one-way street we may bring traffic into quiet side streets which previously were peaceful. We must do this only if we are absolutely sure that it is essential.

I mention those preliminary points because they are very much in our minds. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman realises, we are in constant consultation with the Ministry of Transport on these points and both Departments bear them in mind. There is the utmost coordination. I am not sure whether in the early days the Departments should have got together more than they did. We must provide in the best way possible for technological changes, including changes in transport. It has been said by the British Road Federation—I do not know whether it is right—that there are about 55 cars per mile of road in this country. This poses enormous problems.

In general, there are three ways in which we can broadly attempt to minimise the damage which sometimes changes may bring to groups of people. There must be very long-term planning. There must be the greatest possible amount of information available about those plans so that those most affected know about them at a very early stage. I expect that the hon. Gentleman knows that at the moment I am chairing a committee which is giving particular attention to the problem not only of acquainting people with proposals but of asking them to take part in making plans. This is essential in the sort of technological democracy in which we live.

It is sometimes said that we spent 200 years or more in achieving representative government. What we must achieve now is the active participation of people. It is not good enough to leave it to the hon. Gentleman and myself. People must not only know about plans but take their share in them. That is our attitude. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that in the Planning Bill which is going through another place a number of steps are being taken whereby there will be early notification of plans and the opportunity for participation and by which new statutory obligations will be placed on local authorities. This is a course which I am sure the hon. Gentleman will appreciate and which will be supported by public opinion.

In addition, we have taken action to conserve those things which should be conserved almost at any price because they are part of our heritage—whether they are priceless, irreplaceable old buildings or the equally irreplaceable beauties of the countryside. If they have gone, they are gone for ever. Man cannot live by the motor car or bricks alone. He needs his valuable heritage and environment.

I know that the hon. Gentleman was not making a case against road developments. He referred to anxieties which have worried a number of his constituents. He first raised the general question of compensation. He will know that on 23rd July my right hon. Friend said that there is to be a change in the compensation payable to owner-occupiers whose houses are demolished under a clearance scheme. They will be entitled in future to supplementary payments over and above the site value which hitherto has been regarded as the normal basis of compensation. I mention that as an example of our earnest intention that this matter is being seriously considered.

What we have been able to announce indicates the sort of study which we have been making. We are considering also other proposals. It would be quite unwise for me to go further than this, because we do not want to raise false hopes. It is a matter which we are considering seriously. I am glad that the hon. Baronet has raised it and we will see that the specific points which he has made will go before those in the Ministry who are studying these problems.

The hon. Member made some other interesting suggestions on which I should like to comment. The first is the question of a central place where people can go to get information, and this is right. The hon. Member paid tribute to the Citizens' Advice Bureau, which does a magnificent job. In changes of this scale with which we have been confronted, the voluntary bodies must very often be supported by central action by the community.

The town hall is often in a position to have information, and to have it quickly, which the voluntary body cannot know. The town hall is a place where many of the problems can be dealt with simultaneously, whereas only one or two can be dealt with by the Citizens' Advice Bureau. Some authorities are already active in this direction in the provision of information, not only about schemes, but concerning places where other details can be obtained—lists, for example, of other agencies which may be able to help or of experts of one kind or another— and can often at the one interview give the citizen who is worried, whatever pieces of information are needed, thus helping him to make up his mind. By doing everything that we can in the Ministry, we greatly encourage this. I am sure that this is right.

I hope that when my Committee's recommendations come forward, although they will deal only with the planning side, we shall be able to reinforce some of the suggestions which have been made, and not only include them in our recommendations, but also, possibly, give them some kind of statutory provision under orders which we may be able to issue under the planning legislation.

The hon. Baronet made a number of other points. There is the question of the local authority acquiring property in advance of schemes so that those who are displaced, particularly the elderly, may be able to be accommodated within the area. I know that the hon. Member has raised with the Department the case of a lady—to save embarrassment, I shall not mention her name—who is rather elderly and wants to remain near the church with which she has been associated for a good many years and near her neighbours. If we fail to recognise that sort of human problem, even though we may not always be able to solve it, we shall be failing in our responsibilities.

It is a very good thing if the local authority can, in advance, acquire property which is available in the locality. This depends, of course, upon the circumstances. Sometimes there is no alternative property. Sometimes it is necessary to have an alternative scheme before it is possible to rebuild, or people may have to be removed from the area, which can be distressing.

Local authorities have power to acquire property which is available in order to do this. The way in which they do it is a matter for them. I am, however, glad that the hon. Baronet has put it on record, because that is what we encourage local authorities to do. We are always studying whether we can make specific suggestions to local authorities about this in a way which may be helpful to them in getting advice, for example, from other authorities which have pioneered in this way.

I should like to consider all the remarks which the hon. Member has made. They seem to us to be helpful and constructive. If we can supplement what we have said, we will do so. I assure him that we are looking closely at the whole problem of compensation.