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Mr. Cohen : What a big deal for the people of Leyton. They will be provided with substitute land two and a half miles away along a busy motorway, which will not really be of any benefit to them. I still say that it will be scrubby old sewage land. Our experience of Redbridge council showed that it was only too keen to build on land that had toxic waste under it, causing medical problems for the people who subsequently lived there. Who is to say that such a thing will not occur again in respect of the replacement land?
The people of Leyton want open spaces, forest land and parks, yet the Minister is stealing Leyton's forest land. The Government, using the vehicle provided by the Bill, are manipulating the City of London and the conservators, and are stealing Leyton's forest land without replacing it properly. That is the reality of the situation. If the Department of Transport's meanness is anything to go by, that scrubby old sewage land will not be brought up to a proper standard. The Department will spend the barest minimum, unless the other policy comes into play so that, because it is a Tory area, it can have what resources it likes while Labour areas have their forest land stolen from them. If that is the case, we have a Minister whose green and environmental policies are perverse. That is something that the people of Leyton will understand very well.
The Government are supposed to be environmentally minded. The Prime Minister has made a statement saying in effect that, having broken all the pollution laws under
Column 81the sun for years on end, we are green now. I heard the Minister proclaim that as well on "Any Questions". He must think that people in this country are green. He clearly thinks that the people of Leyton are if he imagines that they will allow their forest land to be stolen without their Member of Parliament protesting.
The Government are not green at all. They have broken more Common Market standards and laws on pollution than any other Government in the EEC. They are the party of law and order--except when it comes to polluting and despoiling our environment. They allow the pollution of beaches up and down the country, and do not provide clean water. They are not green but motorway grey : they are stealing Leyton's forest land for motorway tarmac.
Leyton is a heavily built-up urban area, with houses set close together and not much green space. There is not nearly enough park and forest land. The people who must live in the area have received no help from the Government, and what little green space is available around the perimeters is coming under assault from all directions. The local authority, seeking to maintain its parks, has been savaged by cuts in rate support and capital grants. Kiddies are being hurt in the playground when they fall on to tarmac. The Government have not provided the money for the council to provide safe equipment in the first place, or safe landing facilities in the second.
The parks are becoming devastated and bare. There is more and more wasteland. I am not complaining about the council's employees, who do a wonderful job, but they are increasingly stretched. Jobs, too, have been savaged by the cuts in rate support grant. Those people are working hard just to preserve an amenity--the breath of fresh air that is vital in a heavily built-up area where juggernauts go past pumping out their diesel poison.
As the central London road assessment studies make clear, the Bill is part of a package that puts Walthamstow and Leyton marshes seriously at risk. On 7 April the Yellow Advertiser, a local paper, featured a photograph of Lea Valley park with its symbol. It is a bit like a nuclear symbol, but at least it means fresh air in this instance. Lea Valley park has not done a great deal for my authority, considering the taxpayers' and ratepayers' money that has gone into it ; there is an ice rink, but that is about it. In the past it has backed schemes to dig up the marshes for the gravel and to try to make a profit out of it.
The paper headlines its article
"Natural beauty road planners' target concrete future for marsh area?"
There is a beautiful picture of the marshes. You are welcome to come and walk over those marshes, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that you would enjoy it enormously ; it is a wonderful piece of land. Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow) rose --
Mr. Summerson : As the hon. Gentleman mentioned a part of my constituency, I feel that I must rise to agree entirely with what he has said. The Walthamstow marshes are indeed an ancient part of our heritage, going back 1,000 or 2,000 years.
I saw the article that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, and I am delighted to have the opportunity to put it on record that if any such scheme ever attempted to cover
Column 82Leyton and Walthamstow marshes with concrete in the way that he has described I would fight it to the limit, and I am sure that my constituents would simply not permit it.
Mr. Cohen : It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to say that they would not permit it. He is a relative newcomer to Waltham forest, but when I was on the local council the Conservatives on the council voted for a proposal to dig out the gravel from Walthamstow and Leyton marshes. It was only the Labour group that stopped it from going ahead, despite tremendous pressure from the Conservatives, the Government and the big business interests who wanted the gravel. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's change of heart, but I think that he will have to go back and discuss the matter with his colleagues, and try to persuade them to change their views.
Mr. Summerson : The hon. Gentleman must not impute to me views that I simply have not expressed. I do not know what any particular council of any particular political complexion did in the years before I was elected ; I am speaking for myself. As a Conservative Member of Parliament, I would fight such a proposal.
Mr. Cohen : I welcome the hon. Gentleman's statement. I am merely giving him a bit of the history. I must point out to him that his hon. Friend the Minister is a very mean-minded man when it comes to the Leyton people's forest. He is stealing it from them and refusing to give it back, and he can exert a fantastic amount of pressure. The hon. Gentleman has not been all that good at fulfilling his pledges in the past. I remember that about a year ago he signed a motion opposing charges for eye tests, and pledged that he would fight them. When it came to the vote, however, he went through the Lobby with the Government, and the eye charges were imposed. While I welcome his promise to oppose the concreting of this land, I wonder how much faith can be put in it. I know that the hon. Gentleman is speaking honestly now, but when the pressure is on and the Government Whips are out, will he do the same as before?
Let me quote from the article in the Yellow Advertiser , which deals with the assault on the green land of Leyton and Leytonstone and the surrounding areas, and the theft of the fresh air and forest land that belong to the local people. It says :
"Concrete future for marsh area. Outline proposals to ease London's traffic congestion include the idea of ploughing a major road straight through Walthamstow marsh."
It has also been referred to as Leyton marsh. Leyton marsh runs into Walthamstow marsh. Both marshes are affected by the plans. The article continues :
"In the past, the boggy nature of the land has been its best defence against any sort of development but now private consultants, hired by the Department of Transport, have pinpointed the Lea Valley as one of a number of options for new roads. Other neighbouring open spaces that would disappear under concrete if the Lea Valley option is ever taken up are the Warwick reservoir and the Essex filter beds."
Those are prime and important areas of land in the area. The article continues :
"Marie Fallon, conservation officer with Waltham Forest council, said : It is at very early stages and the consultants have not clarified what they mean by the proposals.' "
That is why this is a most dangerous time. We must stamp on the proposal, or attempt to do so. The Minister will not get away with this without finding that he has an enormous fight on his hands. The article then says :
Column 83"However, the London ecology committee, which includes councillors from 23 boroughs, has been so alarmed that it has asked for a meeting with roads Minister Peter Bottomley."
I bet they got scant joy from him. He is only too keen to take forest land from the people of Leyton and, presumably, from people elsewhere for his pet grey motorway projects. He is a very grey Minister. He would do that without providing any proper replacement for what he takes away. The article goes on to say :
"Waltham Forest committee member, Councillor Eric Sizer, said, When roads are being considered it is often thought easier to push them through open spaces where opposition is thought to be muted. We will stress to the Minister that we regret that so many of the options affect significant sites of value for nature conservation and other much loved open spaces.' "
I echo Councillor Sizer's comments.
Mr. Peter Bottomley : The hon. Gentleman may be able to remind us whether that councillor was with us when the hon. Gentleman and I went down the high street on the trunk road to within about 150 yards of the Green Man roundabout. I seem to remember being with the hon. Gentleman for about an hour and a half--or was it two hours? We started near Leytonstone station ; we walked up towards the Green Man. I introduced the hon. Gentleman to a number of his constituents, many of whom recognised him and paid tribute to his work. We spent a long time together, but I cannot remember the hon. Gentleman, or one of his constituents, or one of his councillors mentioning one word of this. However, I do remember the hon. Gentleman discussing with me whether the Hackney to M11 link would provide the kind of environment improvement, the casualty reduction and the improvement in life required in his constituency.
It seems to me that since that time, when the hon. Gentleman was walking politely around with me, he has discovered an awful lot of things that he might have tried to share with me before this evening. He is talking in general rather than in specific terms. I regret the fact that the hon. Gentleman did not take the opportunity when we were within 150 m of the roundabout--I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was at school when metres were taught rather than yards--to speak to me about one of the main matters that worries him.
Mr. Cohen : What a distortion that was, Mr. Deputy Speaker. At that meeting the chief executive, as well as myself and others, including the local press, said, "Could we speak about the M11 link and the tunnelling options?" The Minister replied, "I'm not here to speak about that."
Mr. Bottomley indicated dissent.
Mr. Cohen : He put a block on it in the first two minutes. The press were all around him ; so were the councillors, the chief executive and the officers. They said, "Could we have a word with you about the tunnel?" The Minister said, "I'm not here to speak about that. I'm here to plant a tree and to walk up and down the road." That is what he said. His statement was a distortion of what happened.
I intend to deal with two specific details. I am just setting the general picture of the Government taking our forest land--our green, open space land--and not giving proper compensation for it. The Minister intervened at that point because he did not want to discuss the effect of the London assessment studies on this beautiful area of
Column 84land in Leyton and Walthamstow. He had the opportunity when he rose to his feet to say, "In no way will any road touch that beautiful piece of land, those marshes." I invite him to say that.
Mr. Bottomley rose --
Mr. Bottomley : I do not want to try your patience, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or that of the House, but I suggest that the hon. Gentleman is trying to get rather more support from this side of the House in an effort to keep his speech going than he is getting from his own side. Apart from the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) on the Opposition Front Bench, the hon. Gentleman's speech is being heard not only in total silence by his own side but also in the total absence of his hon. Friends. He makes sweeping accusations that it would be better and more courteous for the House to ignore. This is one of the hon. Gentleman's typical speeches. It might be better if he turned to specific details that the House might wish to consider at this stage. There are many points that other hon. Members may wish to raise. The hon. Gentleman has been speaking for about three quarters of an hour without making any specific points. It may be that he has not got many specific things to say, but that will be for the House and for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to judge.
Mr. Cohen : I have plenty of specific things to say. The Bill affects my constituency. I said at the beginning of my speech that it is being savaged by the Minister who is stealing our forest land. The land is in no other Member's constituency, so how can I expect other hon. Members, who are very busy, to come here? I have not asked them to do so. The Minister thinks that he can pick on one constituency, mine, and get away with it, but he has got another think coming to him.
Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) : Of course my hon. Friend knows--but perhaps the Minister would like to know, too--that the London group of Labour Members of Parliament supports what he is doing this evening. We have absolute confidence in our hon. Friend. Other hon. Members in the London group of Labour Members of Parliament do not need to speak on the subject, because no one can speak more eloquently, provide us with more information and best serve the House than my hon. Friend.
Mr. Cohen : I shall gladly give way to the Minister. I hope that he will address this point of the central London assessment study and give a pledge that not an inch of his proposed roads will touch the Walthamstow and Leyton marshes.
Mr. Bottomley : I would not dream of accepting that invitation. That would be out of order and beyond the scope of the Bill. I rose to intervene because I have just remembered that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport met the London group of Labour Members of Parliament a short time ago. I think that the hon. Gentleman was at that meeting. I hope that he will confirm that he was there.
Column 85I do not think that he raised that issue with my right hon. Friend. Again it seems to me that the hon. Gentleman is not getting down to the specifics, that he has not taken advantage of previous opportunities to raise these issues and that for some reason he may be trying to ensure that the House forgets why he rose to speak in the first place. Other hon. Members remember what we are here for. We are not sure that the hon. Gentleman remembers what he is here for.
Mr. Cohen : The Minister's tactics are to try to divert hon. Members from considering the specifics, but he will not waylay me in that way. I had the date of the meeting with the London group of Labour Members of Parliament in my diary, but the Secretary of State for Transport cancelled the meeting at the very last minute. He rearranged it at the very last minute, too, by which time I had made other appointments. I shall give the Minister details of those other appointments, if he wants them.
Mr. Bottomley indicated dissent.
Mr. Cohen : Of course he does not want the details, but that is typical of the way that this Government behaves. It will be noted by everybody when they read the report of this debate in Hansard that the Minister refused to give any commitment or any sort of pledge that the central London assessment study will not lead to concrete motorway grey going all over the beautiful Walthamstow and Leytonstone marshes. Local people have been warned of his proposals. That is part of the Bill. It is one of the assaults on the green belt and open spaces that the Government are making on the people of Leyton and Leytonstone. They are stealing the forest land from the local people.
I wish to quote a letter from councillor John Plant--an appropriate name-- the chairman of the London ecology committee. He said : "You will be aware of the London traffic assessment studies which are currently under way and are due to report to the Minister for Roads and Traffic in May this year. The London Ecology Committee, which has all-party representation from 23 London boroughs, is very concerned at the effects that many of the options may have on London's open spaces and semi-natural environment."
The Minister is using Leyton as a guinea pig in taking away our forest land. It is his starting point ; it will spread throughout London's open spaces and its natural and semi-natural environment. Mr. Plant continued :
"These are all places which are vital for the wellbeing of Londoners and give them some relief from the built-up areas where they live and work."
That is exactly the point that I made earlier. We are discussing the very air in which people in urban areas have to live. Mr. Plant said :
"In your constituency the enclosed map indicates the nature of the options, the most significant open spaces of nature conservation which could be affected, including the Essex filter beds site in the Lea Valley. That is part of a complex identification of metropolitan importance by my Committee as being under threat from the Government. An all-party delegation of the Committee, which included representatives of the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission, has asked for a meeting with the Minister. Your support would be invaluable."
Needless to say, I gave my support. Here is a threat to Leyton's green and open space.
Water privatisation is another threat. It will have a terrible effect on green land, some of which is designated as sites of special scientific interest. The marshes in my area could be at risk. The Government think that ruins such as
Column 86the ancient Rose theatre are not worth preserving. They also think that sites of special scientific interest, where rare flora and fauna exist, are irrelevant and not worth saving when put against big business and the people who speculate to make millions out of assets that rightly belong to the people.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : My hon. Friend told me about this Bill only the other day, and explained that there were double standards. He has fully demonstrated that in his remarks. Not long ago constituents from Kent massed outside the House, together with the Mujahideen of Kent--the ex -Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath). The Government found £500 million to accommodate their wishes- -not that that will satisfy all of them. When the Minister received representations from my hon. Friend's constituents, he turned a deaf ear to them. Is that what my hon. Friend is explaining to the House?
Mr. Cohen : There are not only double standards but hypocrisy in this matter. The £500 million for the Channel tunnel is in addition to the money that the Government are already pumping into Kent to ensure that most of the route is below ground so as not to disturb a few villages. The M11 link in Leyton runs past a densely populated area, but the Minister refused to provide so much as an extra penny so that it could be tunnelled. His insistence that the road should run above ground has carved Leyton and Leytonstone in half. Those are the sorts of double standards to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) rightly referred.
Water privatisation will be a charter for the speculators, who will sell sites of special scientific interest, including the Leyton marshes. It is an assault on our green and open spaces. They are being given to the land speculators instead of being kept for the people of Leyton. In fact, Leyton should have had a great deal more open space. There was once a project for the M11 to be tunnelled along the whole of its route, with a linear park along the top.
Mr. Cohen : The M11 would have been underground, so there would have been space on top of the tunnel. It was a wonderfully inventive scheme thought up by two brilliant engineers--the scheme is called "Lister/Goldsmith" after them--which would have provided a park along the length of the M11. That would have meant an enormous improvement to the environment of Leyton. It would have been a wonderful benefit to such a densely built-up area. The project was both feasible and sensible, but the Department of Transport put the boot in it. The Department allowed it in other areas such as Hatfield and, of course, it allowed it in Tory areas. Leyton was savaged by the Tories at the Department of Transport, aided and abetted by their friends at the Department of the Environment. That is now being compounded by this Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover was not present at the beginning of my speech, so I must explain to him that under the Bill the Government are stealing the forest land of Leyton. This attack on the green and open spaces of Leyton has made me very angry.
Mr. Skinner : We are supposed to be living in a green political age, with the Prime Minister masquerading as a green veteran in an anorak and sandals and eating brown rice. Yet the Government intend to rip out the forests--
Column 87what few there are--in Leyton. They are trying to kid the British people that they have suddenly latched on to environmental questions, yet they do not care tuppence about the environment when it comes to lining the pockets of speculators in my hon. Friend's constituency.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker) : Order. We have already covered that ground in general terms. We cannot recapitulate for the benefit of an hon. Member who was not present at the beginning of the debate.
Mr. Cohen : Although I would not wish to repeat my earlier remarks, I must say that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover was right to say that the Prime Minister is masquerading. The reality is at issue, and the reality is that the right hon. Lady is stealing forest land from the people of Leyton and Leytonstone. The people have already been robbed of the proposed linear park, and my heart bleeds because we were denied it. It would have provided a wonderful environment for local people and their kids. We were robbed of it by a pernicious, vicious and anti-green Government who are now compounding their actions.
The so-called replacement land is a joke. I have here a letter from the director of the development office at Waltham Forest council, which explains what the replacement land is about. He wrote that the Department of Transport
"is to replace the forest land lost at the Green Man with land at Wanstead. The new land at Wanstead comprises two sites owned by the Thames Water Authority which were formerly part of the Wanstead Sewage Works."
The land is 2.5 miles away from Leyton on a busy road. It is inaccessible for pedestrians. They do not want to go to an old sewage works in Wanstead- -they want their forest and open land near Leyton. The letter continues :
"As you will realise, they are located 2.2 km (1.5 miles) south-east of the main area of forest land to be lost at the Green Man"--
it is actually 2.5 miles.
"It could be said that at that distance they are little compensation for local people."
He is being deeply ironic. The land is no compensation. "They will adjoin Wanstead park which the City also controls under the Epping Forest Act."
So Wanstead gets the green land. The hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Arbuthnot) is here tonight. I do not begrudge him or any other hon. Member the green land. That should be the natural course, but it should not be at the expense of the people of Leyton. It should not be stolen from Leyton and given to Wanstead. That is another example of giving to the already haves. Areas such as Leyton are already deprived of green open space land because they are so heavily built up and because Government cuts do not give the council the opportunity to provide open space land. The letter deals with the replacement land succinctly and shows what a joke it is.
We should remember that sewage land contains many toxic substances. We know from the example of Redbridge that when such land is built upon or walked on it can have
Column 88an adverse effect. We are offered a scrubby old sewage works. I do not think that we can trust the Department of Transport to put up the money to get it up to a decent standard.
Park land funding has been cut. The Department of Transport says that responsibility lies with the Department of the Environment, and the Department of the Environment says that responsibility lies with the Department of Transport. They both get out of it. That is the cheek of it. The land will not be brought up to a proper standard. That is something for the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford to argue. It cannot be claimed, however, that the land is a replacement for Leyton people.
The Minister is stealing our forest land and not providing an adequate replacement.
Mr. Peter Bottomley : As it is now just over an hour since the hon. Gentleman started his speech, can he tell us how much land is being lost to the public in his constituency? What is the net loss in Leyton?
Mr Cohen : I am just about to come to that. I am coming to the specifics now. The Minister was not very specific about the central London assessment study and the land that is being taken from Waltham forest marshes to make a grey motorway. He was not specific when there was a prospect of another robbery of green open space land.
Mr. Skinner : Can I get this right? They are getting rid of forest, which they probably would not have done if it were owned by Terry Wogan or one of the other personalities who invest in forests. Are they proposing to replace it with beacons, bollards and the like?
Mr. Cohen : My hon. Friend is right about Terry Wogan, but I shall not pursue that line of argument. An amount of forest land is being stolen to make a roundabout for the M11 link road, which could have been a linear park. They are taking several acres of forest land for this roundabout and they are not replacing it with open space land in Leyton. They think Leyton does not matter. They do not care about Leyton. They do not care about built-up areas. They do not give a toss about them.
The Minister will not comment on saving the marshes. All he will say is that I am going on for too long. I will go on demanding my green land, forest land and park land all night if I am given an opportunity--which I know I will not--to stop him cheating the people of Leyton out of it.
Mr. Cohen : I am coming to that. My figures, however, are not manipulated, distorted and cheated figures which the agents tried to bounce on me in the negotiations. The figures were the biggest distortion I have seen for a long time. I will give the real figures.
Mr. Skinner : When my hon. Friend does that, will he tell us whether the area is bigger than St. James's park, Buckingham palace grounds or some of the other posh areas which the Minister would not dare to lay his hands on?
Column 89forest land in Leyton, Leytonstone and Whipps Cross has thousands of families walking over it every weekend. It is crucial that that land should not be taken away without a proper replacement. I shall give the figures as the Minister is so keen to hear them. They are not his Department's figures. I should make it clear that one acre of land is equivalent to 0.4047 hectares, and a hectare is equivalent to about 2.5 acres. The Minister can get his calculator out now, and he will be able to work out what I am talking about whether I use acres or hectares. To start with, 0.55 hectares is being taken. That does not sound much, but is 1.4 acres of prime forest land by the Green Man that is going to tarmac.
The acreage of the roundabout itself is useless as forest or recreational land for the people of Leyton. But that is just the start. The new roundabout will take up 4.13 acres--or 1.67 hectares--more than the present roundabout. In addition, the total open space that will be lost between the roundabout at the Green Man and Leyton high road is 13.6 acres, or 5.5 hectares. That represents an enormous amount of green land in my area, and the gardens and allotments will not be replaced. In an area of housing density such as Leyton, many people do not have their own gardens as they live in flats, and more houses are being converted into flats. They need their allotments to grow vegetables, especially given the prices of food in the Common Market because of the huge surpluses that the Government have accrued. Instead of bringing food prices down, they make people want to grow their own vegetables and to use allotment land for recreation. But that land is being taken away.
In addition to taking away people's gardens and allotments, the Government are taking away a playing field at Leytonstone House hospital without compensation. The truth is that the Government are robbing us of our open spaces. That is only on one side of the roundabout. On the other side of the roundabout, at Temple Mills, on the other side of Leyton high road, we are losing another 3.5 acres, or 1.4 hectares--the Minister can get out his calculator. That includes a slice of Eastway sports centre which is also being nicked. It is part of Lea Valley regional park. A beautiful green area and a vital amenity for local people will be sliced into by the motorway-mad Minister without being replaced. All that green land will be covered in tarmac.
The Minister asked for the figures and I have given him the figures but he is nonchalant. He does not give a damn about all the green land being taken away from Leyton.
The Waltham Forest Guardian, another local paper, stated on 17 February 1989 :
"There will be a 26 ft wide link across the interchange between Leyton and Wanstead Flats, said the conservators."
That land is not specifically mentioned in the Bill. I was not consulted and the people of Leyton were not consulted on that. It represents more land being lost without proper compensation. I reiterate that it is a densely urban area where green land, open space and forest land are at an absolute premium. The Minister of Transport is snuffing it out without a thought for the people of Leyton.
I have given the Minister the figures and he has not jumped up to deny them. He is jumped up, but he has not jumped up to deny the figures. It will be noted in Hansard that the Minister could not repudiate the figures.
There is a further adverse aspect of the road scheme and the Bill which is taking forest land from Leyton without compensation to the people who live there. Mr. John