Orders of the Day — Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:59 pm on 25th November 1991.

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Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael , Cardiff South and Penarth 5:59 pm, 25th November 1991

I was looking forward to saying what a good-tempered debate we were having, but then the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones) was mischievous at the end of his speech. I am sure that, deep down under that mischievous surface, he appreciates that to support a reasoned amendment is to make a reasoned argument. He knows the enthusiasm with which I have supported the barrage project since its earliest days. He will not succeed in dividing the Labour party. He did not help his case by accusing Labour Members of being Luddites when all of us know the tremendous work that has been done by Labour members of local authorities to encourage inward investment and the redevelopment of south Wales. That is true not only of Cardiff city council and South Glamorgan county council but of other Labour-controlled county councils in south Wales.

When I spoke at the end of the debate on the private Bill, in response to the comments of a number of my hon. Friends, I pledged my support for the needs of the valleys. I appealed to my hon. Friends not to deny Cardiff the development associated with the barrage and said that in return I would support, with every possible effort, the redevelopment of the valleys. Despite the efforts to bring jobs into Cardiff, unemployment is very high there. Cardiff, Central is the constituency with the highest unemployment in Wales while Cardiff, South and Penarth and Cardiff, West are among the 10 constituencies with the most unemployment. There is a considerable unemployment problem to be overcome, and the regeneration of Cardiff is as essential as the regeneration of the valley communities represented by my hon. Friends.

Our amendment states three important principles. The first is that nothing should be done to weaken the protections available to any who might—I stress "might"—be adversely affected by groundwater. Secondly, it says that the results of the public consultation on the Secretary of State's expert advice should be available to the House at this stage, but that the exercise is not yet finished. Thirdly, it says that there should be independent scrutiny involved in the event of any disagreement between the National Rivers Authority and the Cardiff Bay development corporation over water quality. Other issues have been touched on in the debate, but are not part of the reasoned amendment and I want to ensure that the House is not misled and that the voice of my constituents does not go unheard on these points.

I welcome the Secretary of State's reference to additional finance. We have been worried by the impact of the recession at a time when there is a danger that the development might be distorted because of the need to keep moving and to retain confidence.

Three issues have not yet been fully dealt with. The first is housing. The development corporation has given an undertaking that 25 per cent. of the housing constructed will be social housing for rent. That percentage does not include student housing, which was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan), or sheltered housing for the elderly for sale. That undertaking is important because it gives the existing community an undertaking that its children and grandchildren will have the opportunity to stay in south Cardiff. In view of the housing crisis in Cardiff, that contribution is not insignificant, although many of us would like the proportion to be even higher.

The second issue is training. People living in the area, especially young people, should be given the opportunity to have the training necessary to give them the chance to get the jobs that will result from the redevelopment. An important start has been made through work between the development corporation and the private sector employers; it is a fragile start, but it should be encouraged and placed at the forefront of people's minds as the development proceeds.

The third issue is relocation of existing businesses. That has been particularly difficult, because many businesses in older areas where the rental levels and the value of the land are low are having problems because of the impact of the recession. I hope that the Secretary of State will take to his Cabinet colleagues the experience of Cardiff and suggest that there be a change in compensation legislation. In France, for example, compensation for a public development is value plus 20 per cent., which allows an element of flexibility to encourage movement when that is in the greater public interest.

The civil servants in the Welsh Office, the people working in the Cardiff Bay development corporation, and those in local authorities who have helped firms to relocate without the loss of jobs have been in difficulties because of the system that we have. A change is necessary, and I hope that we learn from this. Because of existing legislation, the Secretary of State cannot be more flexible, but I hope that he will continue to be as positive as he can and will encourage his civil servants to be as positive as they can on all these issues.

Hon. Members have spoken about representation on the development corporation. The Labour party has always said that there is no need for a development corporation. We redeveloped the centre of Cardiff on a cross-party basis and in co-operation with the private sector. The hon. Member for Cardiff, North was, like me, a member of the council during that important time. It is sad that the undertaking given by a previous Secretary of State, Lord Crickhowell—to provide five places to be decided by the local authorities—should be cast in doubt. I had not intended to touch on this matter today, but I must correct the hon. Member for Cardiff, North. It may have been a mistake by the then Secretary of State, but he gave a promise and I hope that, when the opportunity arises, the hon. Member for Cardiff, North will recognise the benefit that the councillor who was not accepted, councillor Geoff Mungham, would have brought to the operation of the development corporation. I am sure that it was not a personal decision, but it was a mistake.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) referred to the advertising budget. The main criticism of the Cardiff Bay development corporation is that it has not made its case locally as sensitively as it might have done, and has left it up to me, the county councils and others to do so. It is that rather than the spending of money in the area that is open to criticism.

My hon. Friend made a number of telling points. I understand his point about the location of the Welsh health common services authority. I would hardly not welcome jobs coming to my constituency, but I recognise the validity of his case. I remind him that I have given an undertaking that I will work hard in co-operation with him and other colleagues to regenerate the economy of the whole area.