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CLYDE PORT AUTHORITY (HUNTERSTON ORE TERMINAL) ORDER CONFIRMATION BILL (By Order)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th December 1973.

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Photo of Hon. Thomas Galbraith Hon. Thomas Galbraith , Glasgow Hillhead 12:00 am, 11th December 1973

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor) is not his usual perspicacious self. He well knows the damage that this development will do to the foreshore and to the view from Largs, and the smell, and all the rest of it, which the development will bring. He must not be disingenuous, because it spoils his case.

It is the development on this precise spot which I wish to prevent. I believe that to develop in this area would be a piece of wanton and irresponsible vandalism. But because I am opposed to development on the proposed site it does not mean that I am opposed to development elsewhere. I very much hope the House will appreciate this. Therefore, I hope that there will be none of the ridiculous misrepresentation which has often occurred in the past, to the effect that people cannot live on beauty alone. Of course, one cannot live on beauty alone, but neither can one live the good life without beauty. It is not a question of beauty or the beast. We need beauty and the beast. Let us keep the beast in chains and not allow it to wander at will and despoil each earthly paradise as it chooses.

We seem to have been considering the future of Hunterston for a good many years, and a great deal has happened in that time to change the picture from what was originally conceived—and there have been changes recently. What is interesting, however, is that these changes do not seem to have been recognised, at least in the statement that the promoters were kind enough to send me this morning. They refer to the increase in the number of oil tankers, but that conception is surely as dead as the dodo. Who thinks that there is any chance of an increase in the number of oil tankers now and into the far distant future? If there is to be oil it will come ashore by pipe from the Continental Shelf surrounding Scotland, and if by some happy chance, as a result of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's negotiations oil occasionally arrives in this country by sea in bulk, then surely Finart, with its pipe to Grangemouth, is capable of dealing with it. It is unnecessary to duplicate facilities for oil in the way originally envisaged, particularly when the flow of oil is likely to be less rather than more. Therefore, I think we can wash out oil from our calculations.

If there is to be no oil there will be no petrochemical industry, either. All that will be left is the iron ore terminal—and it is for that alone that this area is to be despoiled.

The promoters' statement goes on to say that the Hunterston peninsula provides the only "satisfactory" location. It does not say the only technically possible location, but the only "satisfactory" one. It is extraordinarily self-centred of the developers to think only about their own satisfaction—their convenience as port operators or as steel manufacturers—and entirely to ignore the views of the local inhabitants, whose whole way of life will be most grievously affected if the development takes place, to say nothing of holidaymakers from the rest of Scotland and, indeed, from elsewhere.

The scheme is named after Hunterston, but Fairlie would be a much more accurate description. The centre of gravity has been moved increasingly northwards and the ore terminal is only a few hundred yards away from the houses of Fairlie. The fact that the quality of the local people's lives is being ignored is not, I am sorry to say, an isolated phenomenon. It is happening the whole time. The Government should pay a little more attention to the views of local inhabitants instead of careering on regardless, like a huge juggernaut. It is this unnecessary—and I stress the word "unnecessary" disregard for the wishes of people as individuals which has caused the growth of what is called community politics.

A distressing feature, which Ministers should certainly be considering, is how often the planning machine seems to come down on the side of mammon and the big battalions, and how rarely it espouses the less powerful cause of people, as individuals. Why is this regarded as the only satisfactory location? It is "satisfactory" simply because it costs less money. It is certainly not the only location, nor is it the only place where there is deep water. Just a few miles to the south there is equally deep water, off Ardrossan. Admittedly the jetty would be a little longer there, but what would the marginally extra cost matter compared to the avoidable devastation which will be caused by going ahead at Hunterston?

Usually, when pure commercial judgment points in one way and social needs in another, a cost benefit study is commissioned. There would have been no Victoria Line and no Maplin development on pure commercial grounds, but they were found to be justified after cost-benefit studies had taken place. Can the Minister say why no cost-benefit study has been carried out in this respect? Why is the harshness of commercial decision applied to Scotland while the much more generous assessment of a cost-benefit study is applied to England? The proposed jetty it itself a little old-fashioned.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Sir F. Maclean) referred to fighting last year's battles. In future, so I am informed, it will be possible to pump iron ore in slurry into a buoy in mid-stream. There will be no need for a jetty at all. Were any calculations and assessments of this method of transporting ore carried out by an independent firm? We do not want only the views of the Clyde Port Authority, which is an interested party, or the British Steel Corporation.

Surely if we have learned one thing in recent times it is that the days of prodigality are over. We cannot afford to squander our raw materials or our high-class agricultural land at Hunterston for industrial purposes. We need that land to produce food. Industry does not require high quality agricultural land; nor does it require a site of high scenic value. Yet these two things—high scenic value and high quality agricultural land—are precisely what the Bill is unnecessarily providing for industry.

To my mind it is quite monstrous. It is the utter negation of good planning, which should ensure that development takes place without damaging beauty. The whole purpose of having a planning law is to get the two—not one at the expense of the other.

There is nothing technically against moving to Ardrossan. What is against it is that the Clyde Port Authority, the British Steel Corporation and, I am sorry to say, the Government—represented by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Development, Scottish Office, for whom, despite the harsh remarks I am making tonight, I have the highest private regard—are behaving with the same ruthless irresponsibility for the long-term welfare of Scotland as the most grasping of nineteenth century private industrialists. Hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition benches should recognise this fact. All that has happened is that the profiteering of individuals has been replaced by the ruthlessness of bureaucrats who think of what is administratively easy for themselves, not what is good for the community as a whole.

I suppose that one cannot unduly blame the Clyde Port Authority or the British Steel Corporation. Their responsibility is primarily of a commercial kind. I do not want to be unfair to them. I merely point out that their hands are no cleaner than those of their private enterprise predecessors. But I most definitely blame the Government for what I regard as their appalling short-sightedness and failure to steer the development—perhaps at some cost in cash, but at great saving in social terms—to a less vulnerable area.

I should not feel nearly so strongly on this matter, or feel that the Government were at fault, if the choice were between steel or beauty. But that is not the choice, and it makes me very angry when people try to suggest that that is the choice. The choice is between an iron ore jetty that is cheap, at the expense of the abolition of beauty, or an iron ore jetty marginally more expensive a few miles down the coast, and the preservation of that beauty.

We can, in fact, have our cake and eat it. For goodness sake—I appeal to the House before it is too late—let us stop this needless desecration of our precious heritage. Let us take the development to the right place and keep the beauty where God put it.