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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 Michael Shaw Mr Michael Shaw , Scarborough and Whitby 12:00 am, 27th November 1972

I have a good deal of sympathy with the case that the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Coleman) has been making for the travelling showmen. We have a considerable number of them in Yorkshire. The hon. Member is absolutely right that when winter comes they go back to base, and if that base is compulsorily acquired they are put in a very unfair position. I must say I would support him in the views he has expressed on this point.

I was interested to hear him tell us about the extension of a motorway which was taking place in or near his constituency for I myself am having this embarrassing experience of traffic flow arising from a motorway which is not quite complete—where two M roads come together but the middle is missing; and when the traffic finds its way around the bottom of one's garden it is obvious how urgently needed are the provisions of this Bill.

I am glad to feel that the Bill has been generally welcomed this afternoon. It is a Bill which is overdue. Obviously, ours is a small island; obviously we have a large population; equally obviously, that will create the need for change and development throughout the country. If we are to get the change and the development we need we must make sure that the property, the homes, which we acquire to bring about the general good are acquired fairly, with proper compensation paid to the individuals who have to suffer for the general good.

It is being realised that it is no longer necessary to move from the centre of cities and great industrial areas and create residential deserts in the cities. We are finding once again, with planning, modern development and, above all, smoke abatement, the pleasure of living in cities. It is apparent on visiting the big cities that there is a reawakening of a desire to live in the older parts of those cities. That does nothing but good for our national life. But now those cities are endangered not by the old dangers of smoke and filth, but by great concrete roads suddenly being placed right through them. If planners make decisions to build these roads, which we accept are necessary, they must take into account every consideration, not least the well being and the convenience of those who live in the area.

I am sure that the Bill will go far to put into effect a much closer and realistic cost/benefit analysis of the true costing of motorways and of other public works We must ensure that the new-found life of our cities is not destroyed by the careless building of roads as we have seen in the past. The value of the peace and quiet of a family's home can be destroyed and the value of their property reduced. The income from a business can vanish. If that must happen, then let proper compensation be paid and let the planners consider that before they make their final decision.

Similar considerations apply, although often in a different way, to the countryside. Adequate compensation must go, not only to those whose land is acquired, but to those whose rights are affected in any way. Most of us have seen the National Farmers' Union's criticisms. The union makes the valid point that each year 70,000 acres of agricultural land goes out of production. Therefore, every time that land is bought for public works there is less land available for the farmer whose land has been compulsorily acquired to choose from when he seeks his new farm.

I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Sir F. Corfield). In the city or in the country, the provision of fair and adequate compensation gives the planning authorities a much truer cost of the development. That is particularly important when a decision has to be made about whether to go through an easy route of rich farmland or to take a more difficult route through some less prosperous and less hard-worked hilly country.

There are some matters not covered by the Bill—for example, development in country areas, particularly in the national parks. Part of my constituency is in a national park. It is important to maintain the attractiveness and character of the villages in national parks. The difficulty is that the more attractive the villages are the more people want to live in them. The more people want to live in them the more difficult it becomes for the local people, who have lived and worked there and who have their roots there, to continue to live there. Sometimes it becomes more difficult for employment to continue.

Farming communities must change and they must grow if they are to remain alive. But often they are ossified by too much well-meant planning. They become havens for the retired and for weekenders but a deprivation for the original villagers and their children.

My next point concerns planning blight. In Scarborough there is very serious planning blight and, as the Bill stands, I do not think that the situation will be helped. For many years the future of the centre of Scarborough has been under discussion. After many years of discussion plans were put forward for central development areas. A public inquiry was held in 1965. After that inquiry the then Minister of Housing and Local Government turned down the plans. There are still no plans agreed for the centre of Scarborough, although I understand that much work has gone into their preparation.

Many heartbreaking cases have come to me which I have passed to the Minister. I have been unable, because of the state of the law, to get any satisfaction. Elderly people seeking to sell up and to move because they can no longer live alone often fail to find a buyer and so in large measure fail to preserve what has been their life savings, their house. People with the offer of new and better jobs have not been able to move away from the district to take them because they have not been able to sell their house. And, most tragic of all, people who have small businesses have had to work harder each year as the business has been going down hill because the district has been going down hill. They have had to get rid of their assistants because they could no longer afford them. They have worked longer and longer hours. Some of them, alas, in the end have been told by their doctors that they will have to give up their business or else they will pass out of this world.

Those are real tragedies which have gone on for far too long in places like Scarborough. If something can be done through the Bill to help cases such as that, the Bill will bring tremendous relief. It is largely a question of time and speeding the processes of planning and, when they cannot be speeded, attempting to bring some alleviation by compensation. Until a plan has been prepared and approved no loan sanction or grant will be made to a local authority to enable it to help in deserving cases.

I welcome the principles embodied in the Bill. I hope that it will be possible to amend it in some of its detail. But I hope, above all, that we shall give it a speedy passage through its various stages.