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Orders of the Day — Land Compensation Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th November 1972.

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Photo of Mr Julius Silverman Mr Julius Silverman , Birmingham Aston 12:00 am, 27th November 1972

I agree with many of the points mentioned by the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart), especially in relation to compensation for injurious affection while a road is being built. The problem has affected my constituency considerably. The Aston Expressway, and the interchange, have been built there. They took years to build and during that time there was noise, vibration, dirt and mud, and the people affected have received no compensation for it. There is no provision in the law for compensation in such circumstances and there is none in the Bill. I hope the matter will be taken up in Committee.

In the middle of my constituency is the Gravelly Hill interchange, where the M6 runs through Birmingham. I believe that it is the biggest interchange in Europe. It has been named by certain local wags Spaghetti Junction and the name has stuck. It is the source of intolerable noise, fumes and dirt. As an engineering construction it is superb, but as a work of art it is one of the greatest monstrosities ever inflicted by any Government on the residents of any part of this country. I should hate to live anywhere near it, quite apart from the noise and fumes.

I welcome the Bill as have many other hon. Members, but with reservations. It would be churlish of me to deny that it takes a major step forward, but it has many serious gaps. In the philosophy of the treatment of the person who receives compensation, one principle should apply—he should suffer no loss and he should be fully compensated for any damage that he incurs. I say that unreservedly. I do not accept the principle that there should be a balance. It is not a question of a balance between the community and the individual. This major engineering work has been constructed through Birmingham. Undoubtedly it is an enormous boon to the motorist who travels from London to the North-West by motorway. I shall not go into the argument as to whether motorways should be built or not, but if they are to be built for the benefit of the motorist, residents should not suffer one whit. That is the philosophy on which I base my approach to the Bill, and that is why I raise several points.

The first is one that I made in an intervention in the Secretary of State's speech, concerning visual damage. The right hon. and learned Gentleman suggested that that was dealt with in the Bill. With respect, it is not. Clause 1 deals with physical damage entirely and sets out the items of physical damage for which compensation shall be paid: noise, vibration, smell, fumes, smoke and artificial lighting and … discharge on to the land". It does not deal with visual damage at all.

The hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Idris Owen) said that it has always been assumed that a person is not entitled to the view from his house. I accept that that is a principle of law, but I do not accept that it can have any application to constructions like Spaghetti Junction. It is not merely a question of the owner-occupiers around Spaghetti Junction having a nice view from their houses. They are mainly working-class people, the whole of whose capital is sunk in the house that they own. Its value is vitally important to them if they want to sell it and buy another.

Therefore, they should be compensated for any loss, for any injurious affection, however it arises. Clause 1(1) should say, "Where the value of an interest in land is depreciated by the use of public works, however that depreciation arises". That would mean that visual factors were included with the physical factors. That is my first point, which is very important in relation to my own constituency.

My second point must concern other areas as well. What is the position of feeder roads? For example, feeding the interchange in my constituency there is a road called Tyburn Road. As an immediate consequence of the opening of the motorway, the traffic on that road has doubled, and a large part of that traffic consists of heavy vehicles—not as heavy as those we shall discuss on Wednesday, but noisy, dirty, smelly and smoky vehicles. The noise and nuisance which were acceptable a few months ago have increased to a level at which they are no longer acceptable. The people in that road describe their situation to me as hell. Do they come under the provisions of Clause 1? I should like to be assured that they do.

It seemed to me from paragraph 25 of the White Paper that such people were excluded. I am not now sure. At any rate, the position is ambiguous and should be cleared up. I hope the Minister will say something about it tonight. The present wording is not clear, and the matter could perhaps be argued one way or the other before the courts.

The situation I have described is an injurious affection which, although not arising from the motorway itself, is the immediate consequence of the motorway's being opened. It applies not merely to Tyburn Road but to many other areas adjacent to the motorway, where a large part of the noise comes not from the motorway but from the roads feeding it; from motorists pulling out of the motorway or into it.

My other point concerns the noise limit at which compensation can be fixed. The Secretary of State suggested—I think he gets this from the Urban Motorways Committee Report—that 70 decibels is a suitable limit. Having listened to 70 decibels at the Aston University and elsewhere, I can assure him that it is quite unacceptable. It must be remembered that it is a level of noise that has to be borne, not for one or two hours, but throughout the day and night—worse at peak hours but bad during the whole day. I consider it an intolerable level for the vast majority of people. Seventy decibels is not a reasonable limit.

The seven years' residential qualification for compensation for the loss of a home is unreasonable. I can understand why a period for qualification is inserted, although I am not sure that I agree with having any such qualification. What is said in substance is that if a person occupies a house in an area that he knows will be subject to the nuisance of a motorway, he has taken up residence of his own accord, and should bear the consequences. I am not sure that that is a valid argument, but it is probably what is in the minds of civil servants. It might have some validity in some cases, but the period of seven years is much too long. I believe that there should be no qualifying period, because the person who sold the house would certainly have received the benefit of compensation if he had stayed. Why on earth should the person who rents it subsequently not receive that compensation?

The unfurnished tenant is excluded from the benefits of any compensation under the Bill. Financial compensation may be inappropriate, but I should like the Minister's assurance that Clause 31, which provides for the provision—I assume the mandatory provision—of accommodation for people who are displaced in this way, will apply to the unfurnished tenant in the same way as it applies to the furnished tenant.

We broadly welcome the principles of the Bill, but in many respects it will have to go a good deal further to meet the needs and interests of those affected by motorways and other roads. I hope that it will be amended in Committee so that those improvements will be effected and that the Government will allow themselves a good deal of flexibility.