Motorway Service Stations

Part of Orders of the Day — International Criminal Court Bill [Lords] (Programme) – in the House of Commons at 11:45 pm on 3 April 2001.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Spokesperson (Health) 11:45, 3 April 2001

Indeed. The inspector allowed the Highways Agency to get away with submitting written statements rather than offering a witness who could have been cross-examined. The inspector's report relied heavily on the Highways Agency's views on motorway operational matters, but it gave no evidence that was open to cross-examination on need, the operation of the motorway system, signing or the M42 widening, which is needed to enable the Catherine-de-Barnes site to be developed.

Unless I am much mistaken, that was the first occasion on which the Nicholson principle was not obeyed. Under that principle, it should be possible for cross-examination on the main evidence to be conducted. That is an important point, because the opinion of the Highways Agency is crucial to the interim nature of the decision. As I understand it, its finality will hinge on whether the Highways Agency is satisfied about its agreement to widening the motorway at that point. Its non-appearance for cross-examination fundamentally undermines the value of the inquiry and its findings.

I strongly urge the Government to think again. The site that they have chosen for a motorway service area stands at the narrowest point of the Meriden gap. In the same segment of land, we find Birmingham international airport and the NEC—both public amenities of wider regional, national and international significance. What is needed is clear strategic planning for that vulnerable strip of land. It has suffered for too long from piecemeal planning decisions, such as those that collectively led to the erosion of the Meriden gap.

The projections for the expansion of air travel are bound to lead to pressure to expand such an amenity, yet the service station site would lie at the foot of any runway extension and it would be uncomfortably close to the flight path. That element was not discussed in any great detail at the inquiry, so I simply ask the Minister, is it wise to allow the development to be built in such proximity to the flight path?

To keep pace with international demand for exhibition sites, the NEC had to expand. Although I hated to see green belt consumed in such a way, I recognised that our NEC needed to remain competitive. However, that aspect has to be considered hand in hand with what happens to the transport network at that point in the midlands motorway crossroads.

My constituency contains pockets of deprivation with huge unemployment, but the motorway service station would be yet another employment opportunity plonked down in the countryside with no public transport available, so local residents would get all the hassle, but none of the benefit. Those are strategic issues and I appeal to the Government to stop and think to try, like an eagle, to fly above the Meriden gap and look down at the airport, the NEC, the four-track widening of the west coast main line and the building of the Birmingham northern relief road; and to stop and, in strategic terms, think about whether it is really the right site. The development would stick out like a sore thumb in the green Arden pasture land, next to a gridlocked motorway. It would be a white elephant.

The dome stands as a monument to misplanning; let us not make the same mistake a second time. If the Government want to prove that they listen, if they want to claim their green credentials and if they want to demonstrate that they have strategic planning capability, let them please think again.