Duties with Regard to Nature Conservation and Amenity

Orders of the Day — Channel Tunnel Bill – in the House of Commons at 9:30 pm on 3rd February 1987.

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'In formulating or considering any proposals relating to the discharge of their functions under the Act, the concessionaries, the Railway Board, the Kent County Council, the Planning Authorities and the appropriate Minister or Ministers shall have regard to the desirability of preserving natural beauty, of conserving flora, fauna and geological or physiographical features of special interest, and of protecting buildings and other objects of architectural, archaeological or historical interest and shall take into account any effect which the proposals would have on the beauty of, or amenity in, any rural or urban area or on any such flora, fauna, features, building or objects, and without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing shall consider in particular:

  1. (i) the effect of any such proposals on the heritage coast of Kent; and
  2. (ii) the desirability of securing that, in the construction of the works authorised by the Act, the movement of minestone from sources in Kent shall, to the greatest extent practicable, be carried out by rail.'.—1[Mr. Snape.]
Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Mr Peter Snape Mr Peter Snape , West Bromwich East

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

With this it will be convenient to consider new clause 6—Disposal of surplus spoil—

  1. '(1) The Secretary of State and the Concessionaires shall arrange for an independent study to be carried out in order to determine the best means of disposing of surplus spoil produced as a result of the construction of the tunnels referred to in section 1(7)(a) of this Act.
  2. (2) In this section "surplus spoil" means spoil which is intended to be disposed of in the United Kingdom, other than the one million tons to be deposited at Cheriton, Folkestone in connection with the construction of the terminal referred to in section 1(7)(b) of this Act.'.
New clause 7—Restriction on carrying out certain environmentally sensitive development—

'(1) Notwithstanding that planning permission has been, or is deemed to have been granted under Part III of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, the Concessionaires shall not, within the Shakespeare Cliff Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, carry out any development in connection with the construction or operation of the tunnel system, unless that development—

  1. (a) consists of the construction of any of their scheduled works; or
  2. (b) has been approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.

(2) In this section "development" has the same meaning as in the said Act of 1971.'.

Photo of Mr Peter Snape Mr Peter Snape , West Bromwich East

I shall concentrate my brief remarks on paragraph (ii) of the new clause, the carriage of minestone and other bulk substances from sources in Kent by rail to the greatest extent practicable". The other matters in the new clause are flora, fauna and geological or physiographical features of special interest,". I pray in aid the assistance of my expert hon. Friend the Member for the rolling and green uplands of Fulham (Mr. Raynsford) who will entertain the House as he entertained the Committee about this part of the clause.

Those of us who served on the Select Committee on the Channel Tunnel Bill and the Standing Committee will be aware of the importance that the people of Kent attach to the problem of curbing the number of heavy goods vehicles that would be unleashed on Kent roads as a result of this project. Hon. Members on both Committees did what they could to see that as much bulk material as possible was carried by rail in order to reduce the amount of nuisance spoken about at great length by an understandably enormous number of petitioners to the Select Committee.

The Select Committee drew to the attention of local planning authorities and parish councils the likely difficulties that would be caused by the transport of minestone and other bulk fill material. Early in the sittings of the Committee we managed to get an undertaking from the concessionaires that initially all the minestone would be carried by rail. Many petitioners said that a loaded juggernaut is an environmental intrusion whether it is carrying minestone or any other bulk material. To that end, the Committee sought to reopen the matter with the concessionaires. I think that it was on the last day of our public hearings that a supplementary paper on this matter prepared by Eurotunnel was presented to us.

The concessionaires suggested that, in order to increase the proportion of bulk materials to be carried by rail, a railhead might be built a relatively short distance from the terminal with immediate access to the M20, so that lorries would complete the transport of bulk materials to the working sites along the motorway rather than by ordinary roads. We were aware that that assurance conflicted with the earlier assurance to which I have referred that minestone would be moved only by rail. However, the Select Committee rightly felt that the priority was that as little bulk material as possible should be carried by lorries along the ordinary roads of the area. For that reason, the majority of the Select Committee accepted the compromise, and that was behind the drafting of new clause 4.

9.45 pm

There will be difficulties even if, as we hope, the Minister accepts the provisions of the new clause. Both Committees involved in the Bill expect Kent county council to exercise its powers to ensure that as few lorries as possible carry bulk materials by any other road than the M20 to the working sites. The Select Committee emphasised the importance of Kent county council actively enforcing the regime that is agreed with Eurotunnel and its contractors so that it can be made to work properly.

In commending this new clause to the House, I express the hope that it will be possible for lorries engaged on this particular project to be clearly marked in order that their movement can be effectively policed by the residents in the area whose environment and lifestyle will be considerably disturbed if the provisions of the agreement between the concessionaires and the planning authority are not adequately adhered to.

I hope that the Minister will look as sympathetically on new clause 4 as he did on new clause 3, and if he feels that new clause 4 needs strengthening in a similar way to the previous clause, I can assure him of the Opposition's full co-operation, because we are as anxious as I am sure that he and other Ministers in the Department are to see that, while this scheme progresses, the environment of the people of Kent is adequately protected at all times.

Photo of Mr David Crouch Mr David Crouch , Canterbury

When the Bill was considered in Standing Committee I was interested in the constant reference to the Shakespeare cliff and the constant reference by my hon. Friend the Minister of State to Edgar in King Lear. It was picked up, followed and even distorted a bit by the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Raynsford). I have sat here the live-long day to make one short intervention on a matter which has concerned me for all the time that we have talked about the Channel tunnel. The House and my constituents know that I have been a supporter of the tunnel, and in some ways they have been dismayed by that. Some of my colleagues immediately around me representing the county of Kent have been dismayed at my enthusiasm for the tunnel.

I shall say something briefly about environmental considerations. New clause 4 is about nature conservation and amenities, and it attracts me. I am not wise enough with words—unlike a craftsman—to say whether the clause is well drafted or strong enough. The last clause came in for some criticism from my right hon. Friend the Minister in that regard. I like the wording of the clause, particularly the first paragraph, because it covers all of my worries and anxieties, and those of my constituents as well as the great majority of people who live in Kent, whether they welcome the tunnel or whether they do not want the tunnel. What they are concerned about is that if we build it we should not destroy what has often been called the garden of England. It is somewhat wrongly named. It is the hop garden of England, not necessarily the beautiful garden of England, but that has come to be the term used to describe Kent, and it is a good one, too.

As we proceed with this great engineering project, I do not want to see the sort of disastrous environmental mistakes that we made between the wars. I can remember the building of the Great West road out of London. It was a great idea to have a good exit from London, but we allowed industrial development to sprawl all along it. I remember the Firestone factory being built. I remember it being nearly destroyed recently, but today it is a building of industrial architectural interest.

In this day and age, when we embark on a major engineering project—this is the biggest in Europe this century—we must get it right, not only in engineering and economic terms—those have been considered in great detail by the House, in Select Committee and in Standing Committee, and rightly so—but environmentally. We can build something big that is economically advantageous, but we could in the process destroy the environment which makes Kent attractive. That is the first sight of England for the visitor from the continent. If we are not careful, we could destroy that. We could allow London to sprawl out all the way down to Folkestone if we are not careful.

In a loose moment the former Secretary of State for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), told me that my people in Kent need not worry because 100,000 jobs would be created one day. I think that that might be so and I know that that causes dismay in some quarters of the House. Some hon. Members from the north, Scotland and elsewhere fear that the tunnel will be such a magnet that those 100,000 jobs will be a reality in perhaps 30 years' time. I shall not complain, but it will raise problems in other parts of the country, which I respect.

However, I shall complain bitterly if we allow the Bill to go forward without some real protection for our environment and amenities, and we could do so. I have here the briefing papers from Eurotunnel which contain several hundred paragraphs, yet there are only 24 words out of thousands from the engineers on the environment. That is not good enough for me. The Bill runs to 100 pages, yet I cannot find one clause out of the 47, and not one schedule, which covers this important need.

I know that my hon. Friend the Minister and the Secretary of State are not far behind me in supporting the need to protect the environment. I know that the House feels that we must do that. But somehow, in the welter of words that have gone to make up discussion on the Bill, it seems to have been left out of the record. I have studied some of the Committee reports and I have noticed how reference to the environment emerged on the first day. The hon. Member for Fulham raised it and my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) also spoke about it. But they referred essentially to what might happen to Shakespeare cliff if the spoil was deposited there.

I am concerned about what the rich industrial spoil of industrial growth might do to Kent. That is what I want to see protection against. I do not want to lose the flora and fauna and architectural and archeaological interest that exists in Kent today. There is an enormous amount of history there. In my constituency, one can see, if one searches, where Caesar stood at Harbledown, north of Canterbury, and realised that he was on his way to victory. In another part of Kent one can see where the Duke of Normandy landed and went on to conquer our country. One can see those places over the border perhaps in Hastings, but one can see reminders of the landing in Sandwich Bay, too.

I do not want to lose those things and I am sure that we can protect them. There are so many words in the briefing on economic aspects, on employment aspects, on the market for the tunnel, on the link of the British and French rail networks, on land acquisition and compensation, on safety and fire-fighting. Those are all terribly important points. Protection against rabies is mentioned, security, frontier controls, control and protection against the illegal movement of drugs, ventilation and so on.

However, unfortunately, there is no mention in the Bill of environmental protection, except perhaps right at the very end in schedule 7 which contains a list of seven protective provisions for highways, for the railway board, for navigation, for the Dover harbour board, for the statutory authorities, the water authorities, gas, electricity and sewerage, for the Folkestone and District water company and for telecommunications operators. There was a chance to put in a provision to protect the environment. So why was it not put in?

Developers, engineers, concessionaires, builders and planners can and do and have in the past run ahead with their great profits and forgotten about the environment. As a supporter of the tunnel I may have dismayed my constituents, but their main concern all along has been its effect on the environment. I have argued that it is possible to have a modern engineering project and protect the environment. Of course the tunnel will change the environment at the terminal at Cheriton outside Folkestone which is in the immediate vicinity of the tunnel. The tunnel will take 350 acres of land.

The M20 that will lead to the tunnel will be a six-lane motorway. It will no doubt be like the M25 today, packed with traffic, but at least the traffic will be funnelled to the tunnel and concentrated there rather than sprawling on many other roads to that terminal.

This Bill should say something to engineers and concessionaires about protecting the environment as they go along. The Minister and the Secretary of State have frequently stated their interest in this matter. I am sure that the Minister is determined that the environment should be protected. An environment protection requirement should be laid on Eurotunnel in this Bill. I commend this new clause. Whether it is sufficiently well drafted I do not know, but it would do the trick. if my hon. Friend the Minister thinks that it should perhaps be made even stricter, new provisions should be written into the Bill and it should be taken on board in the other place too if it is neglected here. It is an important matter. The whole of the people of Kent would welcome that addition and they would say "Parliament at least stood up for us and for the environment. Parliament protected us. We may not agree with some of the things that Parliament and Government have decided and the fact that Parliament decided to endorse what the Government proposed, but here is something important which we, the people of Kent, have been saying all along. We want protection of our environment which we think is good."

This will perhaps be my last song about the Channel tunnel, the Eurotunnel, but I have made an important point.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford , Fulham

The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) rightly focused on the importance of environmental issues. He may have rather underestimated the extent to which they featured in the work of the Standing Committee. Shakespeare cliff alone was not debated. There were repeated and frequent debates on environmental issues, mostly initiated by Labour Members but with the support of the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken). They were not successful because repeatedly, in Division after Division, the Government showed themselves reluctant to accept amendments which were designed to protect the environment from some of the worst effects of this scheme.

We saw that with the impact on the villages of Newington and Frogholt, on the site of special interest along the north downs escarpment, with the protection of Holywell coombe and Dollands moor, and with a large number of other sites—not only in Kent, but equally in London. It is wrong to suggest that environmental matters relate only to Kent. People in London greatly value their access to relatively small areas of natural land where they can follow the interests—

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.