I wish at the outset to congratulate warmly my three hon. Friends who have made maiden speeches. My hon. Friends the Members for High Peak (Mr. Hendry) and for Havant (Mr. Willetts) are both well known on these Benches for their previous service, before arriving here, to the Government—to the Leader of the House in one respect—and to the Conservative party. Their speeches were elegant, witty and effective, and we have high hopes of them. My hon. Friend the Member for Havant was the author of a pamphlet on the Government's national health service reforms which was the only presentation at the time that I found comprehensible in explaining those reforms.
My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Mr. Trend) raised in his maiden speech a number of matters of interest to all hon. Members, such as whales, battery hens and low-flying aircraft. He also, justifiably, criticised in part the way in which Government grant to local government is assessed and the standard spending assessment arrangements, and many of my hon. Friends will appreciate those remarks.
All three maiden speakers showed great interest in raising problems affecting their constituencies. I shall raise three matters affecting my constituency, all of which have wider implications. Two of them have been long-standing matters of concern.
The first issue involves the problems faced by a number of my constituents in a part of Taunton called Galmington. They are owner-occupiers, and living in Woolaway homes that were constructed in the early 1950s. There was a public sector connection at the time, as almost all the people who originally lived in the homes were public servants of one sort or another, but they were ineligible for specific grants for repairs or improvements by virtue of the original arrangements drawn up by the company that built the homes.
The problem is that those homes are non-traditional build. They do not have faults now, but their owners are finding it extraordinarily difficult to sell them. I believe that there are 29 such homes involved: they are three and four-bedroomed houses. Ten of them are occupied by elderly people, several of whom want to sell them to move to smaller residential accommodation, and six are occupied by single people. Therefore, there is this unused housing space in Taunton, but people cannot move due to the problems associated with non-traditional build houses.
An estate agent wrote to one of the couples stating that last year,
there were a number of viewings, ranging between 25 and 30 applicants, although for one reason or another none of these applicants wished to proceed further. Some of these applicants, as you know, were concerned that the property was not of traditional construction.
The estate agent spoke of another applicant who had discussions with a surveyor and builder. He said that, while they did not inspect the property, they said:
the type of construction may prove to have problems in the future and … there was some doubt with regard to the saleability of properties of this type.
Last year, another couple with a similar residence found that several sales fell through once purchasers discovered the nature of the construction. An estate agent from a different firm told them:
I entirely concur with your views regarding the saleability of the properties you occupy in that the construction of the properties is deemed by Building Societies and other lending Institutions to be of a standard which is unacceptable to them as a security, unless, of course, remedial works"—
which would cost large sums of money—
have been carried out to the main structure and a certificate to that effect presented. It would, therefore, not be unreasonable to state that the properties. in their present condition and at this time, are unmortgageable.
Those are the problems that my constituents face. Due to various rules on the use of its resources, the local authority cannot take over those properties, although a number of the occupiers wish it to do so. I have been in correspondence with my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for housing construction, but we are faced with a growing dilemma, which has existed since before I was elected to the House.
The second problem I wish to raise has also existed for some time. I spoke about it just before Christmas, when we discussed the Competition and Service (Utilities) Bill in Committee. As Mr. Moynihan, then the Minister with responsibility for energy, confirmed in Committee, 2,400 properties in the United Kingdom are not connected to the electricity grid. Quite a concentration of those properties exist in the south-west, including some dozen or more on the edge of Exmoor in my constituency.
Since I raised the matter before Christmas and it attracted publicity, South West Electricity has offered to connect those properties to the grid. However, in return, it requires an extraordinarily rigorous mortgage, which is unattractive to those involved. The cost required by SWEB is far too high for my constituents to contemplate, and I fear that there may be no likelihood that their properties or others in the south-west will be linked to the grid. I know that my hon. Friends who represent constituencies with the same problem are trying to pursue the matter. In the year of grace 1992, I think that properties—apart from those that are very remote, and those involved in this case are not—should he connected to the electricity grid.
The third problem has recently developed and typifies debates that we have had, and will have, in the House on the future arrangements of the railway system. particularly freight transport. I think that many hon. Members will have heard of Taunton Cider. A day or so ago, Taunton Cider floated its shares on the market after a successful management buy-out last year. But it faces problems in transporting its excellent—and in summer, very popular—goods about the country by rail freight.
Since the withdrawal of British Rail's Speedlink, which served Taunton Cider well, and the collapse of Tiger Rail. Taunton Cider is allowed to move by rail one full train load a week. That is adequate for its purposes in winter, but inadequate in the summer months. Only this Monday, my wife and I were driving through the village of Norton Fitzwarren, where Taunton Cider is based, when we passed in the space of four or five minutes three large lorries transporting the company's products. The village has a winding main street and those large lorries will pound up and down it, clogging up the roads of Taunton as they pass to the motorway.
As the Government consider the future of British Rail, particularly its freight as the channel tunnel conies on stream, I am anxious that we should find a way of servicing not only Taunton Cider in my constituency but the many other companies in the south-west that face similar difficulties transporting their goods by British Rail. I was informed of the wider scope of the problem by Taunton Cider this week. I hope that those problems will be addressed.