Easter Adjournment

Part of Deferred Division No. 85 – in the House of Commons at 3:42 pm on 29th March 2007.

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Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac PPS (Caroline Flint, Minister of State), Department of Health 3:42 pm, 29th March 2007

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that information. I think that that Adjournment debate was held this week. [Interruption.] Apparently, it was an earlier debate. I shall certainly take a look at it, and if there is more that I can do on this issue, I will certainly do it. I will join other Members who are campaigning to stop the "sat nav" invasion of our residential streets. I do not suppose that I shall get any free satellite navigation systems in the post after having said that—besides, I much prefer using a traditional map. Angela Browning talked about water earlier; I would rather have a traditional jug of water with my meal, and I prefer to use a traditional map than satellite navigation.

Sadly, Immingham has a large landfill site on the outskirts of town, and unfortunately, because it is in a particularly flat part of Lincolnshire, that site is probably the highest bit of ground for miles around. I noticed that under the Budget there will be increased landfill taxes. That worries me because, sadly, my area is still not recycling as much as it should be. Given that the increase has been announced, I hope that the local council takes on board more initiatives. I have many ideas for initiatives to reduce the amount of waste that our area generates and the amount of it that goes into landfill, thereby reducing some of the blot on the landscape that the residents of Immingham have to live with.

I want to move on to a couple of other issues that are causing residents in my constituency some concern. I have raised them in the House before, off and on. I warn my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House that I shall continue to do so until Ministers kindly get the message, give way and try to come up with solutions to these problems.

The Humber bridge is a marvellous, superb piece of engineering; unfortunately, the level of toll that people have to pay each way to cross it is not so marvellous. Because of the way in which health services in my part of the country have been reorganised, thousands more people who live in the towns and villages on the south bank of the River Humber have to travel north to the hospitals in Hull for essential treatment, particularly cancer sufferers. It is a very long journey, which is always problematic for those travelling for chemotherapy or radiotherapy. On top of that, there is this added charge. Because of the way that the benefit system works, although those in a certain income group can get recompense, those just above that threshold—that includes a lot of pensioners—cannot get any assistance. As those who have to travel for such treatment or to visit someone in hospital regularly know, it costs a lot of money to cross the Humber bridge.

All the local MPs have been working on a cross-party basis to find a solution to this problem. Two private Members' Bills were introduced on this issue, one by my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend Mr. Cawsey. As a Whip, he cannot speak in the House for himself any more, so I have to do so. Sadly, his Bill was caught by the ticking clock and we simply ran out of available Fridays to debate it. I was lucky in the draw, so I took up the measures in that Bill, but yet again we crashed into the parliamentary barriers and ran out of time. The Government have a role to play. I hope that, by bringing together all the parties concerned, we can examine the serious issue of the increasing cost of accessing essential life-saving health care.

I turn to antisocial behaviour and police community support officers. One of my local newspapers, the Grimsby Telegraph, recently ran a strong campaign on the respect agenda and tackling various antisocial behaviour issues in our towns. Sadly, north-east Lincolnshire did not become a respect action zone, which was a great disappointment to people in our area. However, on analysis, it was clear that many things on antisocial behaviour were not being done as well as they could be. I hope that, by taking on board some of the suggestions that were made, we can move forward and become a respect action zone in the next round. I will certainly support that move, and I hope to come up with some suggestions for the council—based on what colleagues in the House have told me is happening in their areas—that might speed up our application to become a respect action zone.

There is one small difficulty relating to police community support officers. I am not going to get into a debate today about numbers. However, our problem in Grimsby and Cleethorpes concerns recruitment: not enough people are coming forward to fill the places available. In the wider area, yes, we can get people to apply, but in the towns, where we want PCSOs to patrol, people are not coming forward. I hope that the Home Office—or whichever bit of the divided Home Office will be responsible—can consider providing extra assistance if an area is struggling to recruit people. Our problems may be because we were late in recruiting PCSOs. We are perhaps four years behind other parts of the country, because the previous chief constable did not want PCSOs. That time lag has created many difficulties. I have raised the issue with Ministers before, but we are trying to recruit at the moment. That serious issue must be addressed so that people can obtain some sort of relief from the hellish antisocial behaviour that can occur.

Cleethorpes winter gardens does not quite compare to the winter gardens in Blackpool, but it is still very special to Cleethorpes residents. It is the only venue of any particular size in the resort. Planning permission has been granted to demolish the winter gardens and build flats on the site. Yes, of course we need accommodation, but it must be affordable. High-rise executive flats on the sea front are not the type of home sought by most people in Cleethorpes. Some of the prices that I have seen are akin to London prices, but the average house price in Cleethorpes is well below them. I am not sure who would buy those properties.

The winter gardens is iconic to the residents of Cleethorpes, as the winter gardens in Blackpool is to its residents. After the planning permission, we had the sad sight of fences being put up around the winter gardens with "Construction Site" notices slapped on them. The guts have been ripped out of the winter gardens and sold off. However, we now hear that the sale of the winter gardens and land, to which the planning permission was linked, has fallen through. I do not know whether there is any way to save the winter gardens, but there have been marches through the town. I understand that independent candidates will even be put up at the elections on a "save the winter gardens" ticket.

Now that the sale has fallen through, perhaps the Department for Culture, Media and Sport can advise on what we can do next. We have tried to get the building listed, which might have helped, but apparently it had been altered a little too much to get a listing. However, there must be some way in which we can save the only real venue of any size in which entertainment can be put on in our seaside resort. Mr. Amess mentioned the report about the problems in seaside resorts, but we have just lost our only major venue and that will have a severe impact on the economy of the area and tourism in the resort. I hope that the matter can be taken up with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

For those with vivid imaginations, my next subject may sound a little odd, but it is referred to locally as the problem of the grass on the beach. I am getting some quizzical looks from hon. Members, but I am not talking about the smokable type of grass. I mean the salt marsh growing on the beach. The Humber estuary has shallow areas and salt marsh has grown, causing concern in the tourist industry in the area that it will eat up the whole beach and kill off tourism in Cleethorpes as we know it. If one considers the detailed botany, biology and ecosystems involved, that is not likely to happen, but we are having some battles with various Government agencies as to how to resolve the problem.

The Humber estuary is a site of special scientific interest. Further south, the salt marsh areas are excellent for visiting birds. Donna Nook is one of the biggest seal colonies on the east coast of Britain. The area is certainly attractive, yet we must get the balance between that more natural part and the more traditional beach with its donkey rides and seaside. We need Ministers to broker some understanding between the two sides to see whether we can contain the growth of the salt marsh and maintain the nice sandy area of the resort that people love.

The final issue of concern to my residents is time dependent and concerns the Humberston fitties. Ironically the name "fitties" comes from a Lincolnshire word for salt marsh. The fitties lie behind the sand dunes and are a most wonderful chalet village. The chalets are painted white and the village is the jewel in the crown of the Lincolnshire coast. It is a conservation area. The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton extolled the virtues of Devon, but I will extol the virtues of Lincolnshire. The scent of wild roses by the sand dunes on east-coast Britain is a delight in the summer months and certainly worth a visit.

The chalet development has its problems. The chalets are classified as holiday homes and there are serious problems with the leases. They all vary and have different conditions. We have had fights about ground rents. The residents are paying ground rent, 90 per cent. of council tax and a service charge, so they are paying more in local charges than many local residents, yet according to their leases they may sleep there overnight for only 10 months a year. These are people's main homes, yet for two months there is a closed period. They may spend time in their home, for which they pay a mortgage, but may not sleep there overnight.

This year people have been peeping through windows to see whether residents are breaking the terms of their lease and, heaven forbid, sleeping in their own beds at night. Various residents will, unfortunately, be taken to court by the local authority. I feel that that reaction is too extreme. One resident who is being taken to court for having the temerity to stay overnight is terminally ill. The court case was due to be heard a few weeks ago, but has been adjourned until mid-April. I hope that something can be done to prevent the case from going ahead. Another person who stayed in their property during the so-called closed period passed away, so the council did not issue them with a summons. Another person has documentary proof that they were not anywhere near their chalet, but as a sensible resident they had lights on timer switches to make it look as though someone was in the chalet to deter burglars, so the council has issued a summons to take them to court. The summons is ludicrous. It was issued a couple of days before the new season started at the beginning of March and it is to evict the residents for the remainder of the closed period, which finished at the end of February.

It is ludicrous to call people to court in mid-April to evict them from their properties until the end of February. That is a complete waste of time, and it is an extreme reaction. I hope that the local authority will see sense and will stop taking terminally ill people, and people who were not in their home, to court. I hope that the authority will work with the residents of the Humberston fitties to sort out the terms and conditions of the leases and get them up to date. It could consider a shorter closed season. Nobody who lives in the fitties wants a 52-week-a-year residency, but if we could reduce the closed season to, say, two or three weeks a year, people could go away on holiday for those weeks. It is hard finding somewhere for two months. If we did that, we could avoid the silly situation that we seem to end up with every single year.

I thank the House for bearing with me while I raised issues of concern to residents in my constituency. Like other hon. Members, I wish everyone a wonderful Easter, including the staff of the House and all the teachers in our schools. I probably will not visit Devon this Easter, despite the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton extolling the virtues of her constituency. I tell the hon. Lady that despite my very Scottish name, my great-granny was born and brought up in Tiverton. I know the area well; in fact, last year I popped down to Tiverton on my way to seeing my mother, who lives in another part of Devon. I hope that the hon. Lady is able to reciprocate by visiting the wonderful east coast resorts of Britain, particularly the beautiful resort of Cleethorpes. I wish everybody a wonderful Easter.