Orders of the Day — Peak District National Park

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 10th February 1970.

Alert me about debates like this

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

10.19 p.m.

Photo of Mr Peter Jackson Mr Peter Jackson , High Peak

The matter I wish to bring to the attention of the House tonight concerns the proposed extensions of the Peak District National Park. One of the first letters that I wrote on being elected to this House was on this subject. That was in May, 1966. I suspect that I shall be writing letters to the Minister after a date in 1971 when, I believe, I shall cease to be an hon. Member.

It is hardly surprising that I have sought leave to raise this matter on the Adjournment. It has taken five years to resolve. In fact, it has not been resolved; but then perhaps I should qualify that statement: it has taken five years so far and has still not been resolved.

As my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will know, the proposed extensions were first brought to his attention by the Voluntary Joint Committee for the Peak District National Park in the autumn of 1965. The proposals were to the effect that the park boundaries, which were designated in the early fifties, should be extended in respect of 16 areas. I draw the attention of my hon. Friend to some facts which no doubt he already knows. These areas would have been within the park boundaries had the original proposals put forward by the Joint Voluntary Committee been accepted, but, due to very considerable objections from the mineral working industry, the interests concerned decided that it would be wise to make certain modifications, and this was done.

I think it proper to remind my hon. Friend of one or two salient facts. The Peak District is very near heavily populated industrial areas, the conurbation of Stockport and Manchester in the West, Rotherham and Sheffield in the East, and Derby and Nottingham in the south. Because of its proximity to these communities it has special recreational value. On the last count, which admittedly is three years old, it received over 4 million day visitors. Yet it is a very small park in comparison with others. My hon. Friend should take note of these figures. It has 542 square miles, and in comparison with other national parks it is rather small. The Lake District has 866 square miles and Snowdonia has 845 square miles.

The Chairman of the Voluntary Joint Committee wrote to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), the then Minister for Land and Natural Resources, on 4th October, 1965, to press the claims made in his committee's report. Because it shows the significance of these proposals, I will quote from one paragraph of the letter. Hon. Members should note the date, 5th October, 1965. The letter said: There are large areas of relatively wild and beautiful countryside contiguous with the present boundaries of the Park which are being spoiled by unsuitable development. One of these areas contains the famous climbing areas of Harboro' and Rainster Rocks which should have been included in the first place. This area is about to be spoiled by the opening of a large magnesium quarry. Another area on the north-east containing a fine stretch of moorland around Mid Hopestones has been invaded by a big extension of Messrs. Samuel Fox and Company Ltd., of the United Steel Company Group. This same area is also threatened by unsuitable urban development from Stocks-bridge. The other areas which we have suggested for incorporation in the National Park are in one way or another subjected to dangers of this kind. The threat was a very real one, and one would have hoped that prompt action would have been taken.

The letter was acknowledged by the Minister's assistant secretary. On 9th April, Lord Strang, then Chairman of the National Parks Commission, wrote acknowledging communications of 23rd November 1965, and assuring Mr. Thompson, the chairman, that the matter would be brought to the attention of the commission.

The next letter from which I quote was from the Minister to Mr. Thompson. In the meantime the Minister had had an opportunity to consider the proposals. Again the date should be noted, 6th December, 1965. The letter said: I have read your carefully prepared report with the greatest interest and I find myself in sympathy with many of your objectives. You will, no doubt, be aware of the content of my speech to 'the Countryside in 1970' Conference in which I outlined the Government's proposals for the countryside. Many of these proposals are designed to combat the problems which are giving you concern, including pressure on recreational facilities in National Parks, congestion of the road systems within parks and deterioration of the landscape. My right hon. Friend concluded: I have found the concern and interest for the future of the National Parks and the countryside, which your report displays, most encouraging and I am grateful for the great amount of work on the part of your Committee which it represents. On 9th May, 1966—we are making a little progress—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services, then Minister of Housing and Local Government, wrote to Lieutenant-Colonel Gerald Haythornthwaite acknowledging a communication from him on the matter: I hope that the National Parks Commission will report on your Committee's proposals for enlarging the Park very soon now. I emphasise those last three words. The Commission took rather a long time to make its inspection, which was carried out on 11th and 12th October, 1966. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North made an informal visit to the Park later in the year.

Several months were taken by the Commission to visit the area. Its secretary wrote to the Clerk of the Peak Park Planning Board making certain preliminary observations following the visit. It was not in complete sympathy with all the proposals, but it had great sympathy for many of them. The commissioners said:

  1. "(1) They consider that the period of fifteen years, elapsed since designation, justifies in principle a reappraisal of the boundaries of the National Park. Of the changes proposed, they think that
  2. "(2) on the western side there are parts of the proposed extension which might well prove acceptable as bringing into the National Park stretches of countryside homogeneous in character with that already included.
  3. "(3) On the southern side, the country proposed for inclusion does not appeal to hold out the same intrinsic justifications, but there might nevertheless be a case for extension of the boundary in some parts so as to bring into play the recreational provision thus entailed."
I quote that to indicate that, while the National Parks Commission had certain reservations, it was in general sympathy with the proposal.

The next communication to which I wish to draw attention is a letter to me from my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North, dated 8th May 1967, in reply to a note I sent him inquiring what progress he was making. He said: As you realise, these inspections and consultations are inevitably time-consuming, but we are making steady progress. Steady progress indeed! We are now in 1970.

The next letter was one to me from my hon. Friend who is to reply to the debate. In this letter, dated 23rd April, 1968, my hon. Friend informed me that the informal consultations had been completed, and wrote: …steady progress is being made but a good deal of work remains to be done and it would be unrealistic to give you an assurance that an early decision might be expected. That is a very cautious comment, and in view of what has happened subsequently I can perhaps understand that my hon. Friend should reply in those terms.

I pressed my hon. Friend on the matter again, and on 14th May he wrote: While we shall certainly do all we can to expedite the necessary consultations, we cannot hope to take the final decision in this matter for some time yet. This matter has been before the Ministry for nearly five years, and I think that I have been very patient. My hon. Friend said in a manuscript addition to his letter: I am sorry, but I will expedite the matter as far as I can. He has been singularly unsuccessful. I greatly regret that.

The last letter which I wish to quote is one from my hon. Friend to Colonel Haythornthwaite dated 4th December, 1969, saying: It will not be long before I can let you know what I have decided to do, and I will write again then. Colonel Haythornthwaite, having received that letter, presumed, perhaps naïvely, that decision was imminent. When the contents of the letter were brought to my attention, I thought that within a month or two we should have a decision. On seeing the terms of an answer to a Question I tabled on 3rd February of this year, I knew that a decision was not imminent. My hon. Friend said that he would write to the Voluntary Joint Committee shortly. There was no commitment as to when a decision would be taken. It is very easy to write, but when my hon. Friend writes I suspect that he will have nothing helpful to say.

It would be churlish of me to take my hon. Friend to task. I suspect that he is not individually responsible for this matter. I certainly hope he is not. Nevertheless, I should like him to draw the attention of those responsible to one or two rather perceptive comments which the Prime Minister made in Swansea on 10th January of this year. The Prime Minister was talking of the countryside and of the successive generations of industry which have systematically—or, rather, unsystematically—despoiled or defiled it. Later in his speech, when referring to the polluters, to the men who resisted the extension of boundaries, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said this: The polluters are powerful and organised. They can point not only to profits, but the short-run interests of the consumers of their products. The protesters, the anti-pollution lobby, are less organised, less powerful. Therefore, the community must step in to redress the balance. This is what I have been pressing for, and I hope that action will be taken.

My friends in the High Peak, members of the committee, are getting rather fed up. They remember the speeches which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the rest of us made in which we talked about purposive and dynamic government. They wonder whether this is an example of purposive and dynamic government. Proposals submitted in 1965 are still awaiting a decision. I hardly think that my hon. Friend would claim that this matter would fall into that category.

Finally, my hon. Friend chaired an excellent committee on public participation in the planning process. This is an early example of public participation in the planning process and my hon. Friend is not doing his cause and my cause much credit by not expediting these proposals, to which much care and attention were given and on which the Joint Voluntary Committee was congratulated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North.

The delay is causing great concern. Before the Peak Park Planning Board decides on the location of country parks, the boundaries of the park must be fixed. I should like my hon. Friend to give immediate attention to this question. I hope that he will not say that this matter is to be deferred until we make changes in local government.

10.35 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Skeffington Mr Arthur Skeffington , Hayes and Harlington

I should like to begin by saying that my hon. Friend the Member for the High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson) and other hon. Members have been extremely patient about the length of time that the matter of the extension of the Peak District National Park has been under consideration. I must admit that it has taken far too long, and I shall certainly not attempt to justify the time. I hope that I may give some brief explanation of how some of the time has been consumed. In part, it is due to the procedure itself, but there is no doubt that the matter should have been settled long before now. As far as I can, I hope to be in a position to see that never again when there is a case of this character will so much time elapse.

May I briefly put the matter into perspective. I begin by referring, as did my hon. Friend, to the most interesting and well worked-out proposals put forward by the Voluntary Joint Committee. They were of some magnitude. The area of this national park is small—some 542 square miles. The Voluntary Committee's suggestions would mean adding no fewer than 16 new areas, totalling 110 square miles—a substantial addition.

The committee believed that these areas should be added partly because they contained landscape of high quality and partly because this would bring some relief to this small but heavily used park. Here we come up against the first of the procedural points. When a national park is to be designated, the Countryside Commission, or, in the old days, the National Parks Commission, undertakes the inquiries, prepares the order and sends it to my right hon. Friend for confirmation. Under Section 7 of the 1949 Act, for some reason which is not clear to me, when there is an extension it has to be incorporated in an order prepared by my right hon. Friend and not by the National Parks Commission or the Countryside Commission. This means that my right hon. Friend and his staff have to do this work, which is time consuming. They have to have consultations, and, if there are objections, there may have to be a local inquiry. We must certainly consider for the future whether we ought not to standardise the procedure in order to save time. That would require legislation, and I am not certain when it will be possible to do something about it.

However, in this matter it was necessary when the proposals came forward to have fairly wide consultations. The first reason is that the original boundaries of the Peak area were most carefully delineated by the Hobhouse Committee, and, clearly, all the interests, the Countryside Commission and the local authorities, must be satisfied that the extension, taking all factors into consideration, would be appropriate. That work has been undertaken.

If my hon. Friend thinks that those informal consultations were non-contentious, he is in for a considerable surprise. I do not want to make this an alibi, but part of the time spent in consultations has been used in finding possible ways round some of the difficulties. I hope that that will not be regarded as a waste of time.

These informal consultations with the Countryside Commission, the Peak Planning Committee itself and other bodies have taken place, and other consultations with the local authorities have followed.

Here again there was great delay before we were able to follow up with these authorities. I must point out that perhaps we are all in a sense to blame for this. We have never had, although the position is now vastly improved, the staff to do all the work and meet the new obligations that we have been putting on the Countryside Commission and the Department. I can remember my surprise when I found that in the Ministry of Housing in 1965 there was a fraction of a person allocated to looking after the whole of the considerations of our coastline. When this was started the staff of the commission was very small. It is much better now. I personally hope that in this European Conservation Year it may be possible to strengthen the staff. I know that the chairman would welcome this.

We are now in the position of having had all the informal consultations. If my right hon. Friend is able to go ahead he will have to consult with the other Government Departments. We have done all the consultations with our regional office. When a draft order is published, if there are objections, then an inquiry may have to be held.

Photo of Mr Peter Jackson Mr Peter Jackson , High Peak

Could my hon. Friend be more specific in giving a timetable? Will it happen this year? Will these further consultations which have to be held with other Departments take place some time in the 1970s?

Photo of Mr Arthur Skeffington Mr Arthur Skeffington , Hayes and Harlington

I can assure my hon. Friend that having gone through all the informal consultations, having gone through our departmental structure, the Countryside Commission and so forth, the next stage with the other Departments should not take long. We are almost in a position, if the Minister desires to act in this way, to go ahead. In the meantime my hon. Friend will be glad to know that, while at one stage the Countryside Act—when it was going through this House—rather put this matter back because it took rather longer in Committee than we expected, although it was perhaps a better Measure as a result, under that Act some helpful action has been taken.

I am glad to say that the Elvaston Castle County Park will be opened in the spring. I said in a letter to my hon. Friend on 3rd February that my right hon. Friend hoped to write to the Joint Parks Committee soon. I fully understand my hon. Friend's justified impatience and have not attempted to make excuses. I simply emphasise that we are at last seeing some action.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at sixteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.