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Column 99affects my constituency and only my constituency. Others are generally content with it. I need to get that point over, and I appreciate that you did not hear my opening comments--
Mr. Skinner : I have been listening carefully to my hon. Friend for the past hour and a half and I think that his is an extraordinary performance by a Member of Parliament fighting on behalf of his constituency. I have seen other examples of this, I remember the Father of the House fighting for almost four hours against a proposition to blight a large part of his area. He got stuck in and somehow managed to succeed. I hope that my hon. Friend will do the same.
I want to know whether the Minister's intervention a moment ago was helpful. Was there anything in it?
Mr. Speaker : Order. The point is that, although the hon. Gentleman has every right to make his points on behalf of his constituents, if he does not give the Minister the chance to reply he will never know whether he is making a concession.
Mr. Cohen : If the Minister does not get the chance to speak in this limited debate, he can write to me offering to come and clear away rubbish in this part of the forest. Or he can offer to replace the land. I have already heard the Minister's response from the agent. When he told me that what I had asked for was peanuts, he went to the Department. He may have spoken to the Minister, for all I know--he certainly spoke to one of his minions. The Department said, "No deal."
I am still hoping to change the Minister's mind, but I have no confidence that he will change it, just as I have no confidence in his intervention. The only land replacement that he mentioned was the "SLOAP" that I have referred to--he based his case on it. That does not give me much confidence.
As I was saying, I asked for rubbish clearance. Then I asked for the restoration of the ancient woodlands at Whipps Cross. We have a little patch of ancient woodlands there which has fallen into disuse and been run down due to the Conservatives' and the City of London's neglect of Leyton. It is not a Tory area, so the Government do not want to save those ancient woodlands or give them the respect due to them--
Sir Geoffrey Finsberg : I cannot let the hon. Gentleman get away with those remarks, which are an insult to the integrity of the superintendent of the City Corporation. These ancient woodlands have been disappearing as a result of natural soil causes. So he must not talk about costs, because at no stage has any money for the replacement of the woodlands been considered--this is a natural disappearance. The rest of what the hon. Gentleman said may be right, but he must not attack servants of the corporation who are doing a first-class job.
Column 100enough effort into restoring them. Conservatives are much more interested in putting their money into other areas ; they do not see Leyton as a priority, with the result that our ancient woodlands are being destroyed more quickly than other areas.
My action plan to save the woodlands was not unreasonable--it should have been implemented anyway. It is a scandal that the Department of Transport rejected it.
Next, I asked for action to plant avenue trees in Ferndale road at Wanstead flats--not an unreasonable request--and to provide proper disposal facilities for the chemical toilets at the fair at Sydney road. That, too, is something that should have been done anyway.
Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South) : Does my hon. Friend agree that in other parts of the country, for example in the industrial north, slag heaps have been reclaimed and the areas planted with trees and regrassed? The fact that soil has been affected by chemicals is no disincentive to replanting trees, to reseed and redevelop natural woodland areas.
Mr. Cohen : My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The disincentive to the Government is money and they will not put up a penny for areas such as mine. They say that proper replacement is a bit of old sewage land 2.5 miles away in Wanstead. They should be replanting trees.
Mr. Haynes : Nottinghamshire council is Labour controlled and it is replacing trees right, left and centre in the county. I said on Thursday night that I hope when the Speaker retires he will move into that beautiful county because he likes to go there. He will see that trees are planted. My hon. Friend is right. The Minister will not find the money to replace trees because all that the Government want to do is to destroy them.
Mr. Cohen : The Speaker has much respect for trees, green land and open spaces where he likes to ride his horse. He certainly has more respect for open space and forest land than the Minister for Roads and Traffic. The Minister is stealing forest land in Leyton. I asked about improving the Hellow ponds at Whipps Cross for boating. They have not changed since 1909. The Conservators have not prepared a boating plan for that area. It is a lovely recreational area for local people but it could be improved. However, the Government are too mean to improve it. I asked about providing disability access, decent paths in the forest for wheelchairs. That is a sensible suggestion and Conservatives in the City of London and the Minister should have taken it up. I asked for peanuts and the agents have admitted that. Unfortunately, I underbid because all the things that I asked for were obvious and should have been done before.
I did not ask for a great deal. I asked for improved lighting on the footpaths, especially in Bushwood which is around the forest area. We all know that terrible problems are caused by poor lighting, but I shall not go into that because I know that time is short. I asked for nature trails and educational services for the kiddies to enjoy the forest and for a forest craft centre. That would bring in the Nature Conservancy Council to prepare a plan and upgrade and improve the forest. Those are sensible suggestions and two other possibilities were thrown in.
When the council officers put up the next two suggestions I was not very impressed. They were about
Column 101land at Riverbourne E11 which is just outside my constituency. It is an area about 1.2 km north of the Green Man off Snaresbrook road. It is open woodland and owned, oddly enough, by the London borough of Redbridge which has done us no favours. It immediately adjoins the forest and is separated from it by a concrete panel fence. Redbridge currently treats it as an amenity open space for its adjoining housing estate. That could have been opened up as a bit of green along with the land to the rear of 6 to 30 Sydney road. That is in my constituency, but right on the border and out of the way. It would be nice to use that and it could be provided at low cost. This is a small vacant site of about 0.2 hectares--0.5 acres--which we understand is privately owned and not fenced off from the adjoining forest land. It is about 1.8 km from the Green Man. That is forest land that could and should be used anyway, although as it is on a small scale, it will not compensate for the forest land that has been stolen from my constituents. That was what I asked for. Does the Minister agree that what I asked for was peanuts?
Mr. Peter Bottomley : The hon. Gentleman does not need to ask me. I can confirm that both the size of the forest and the amounts of other green land in the vicinity of the route will increase as a result of construction of the road. During this debate, it has been established that the environment will improve in the hon. Gentleman's constituency and outside. We have established that, on my visit to the hon. Gentleman's constituency with him, he did not raise these matters. We have confirmed that he did not raise them with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State when they were at a meeting with the London group of Labour Members of Parliament. When I went to the Green Man roundabout on Friday--a few days ago--I did not see that many trees or people in the middle of the roundabout, which is what the hon. Gentleman has been discussing for the past over two hours.
Mr. Cohen : They are stealing the forest land and the green land in my constituency. I have given the figures for which the Minister asked, showing the acreage that is being stolen. At the beginning, the Minister was dead keen for me to give him the figures, but when I did so he shut up. He could not respond to that. All he is offering is slum land, left over after planning. He claims that that is a replacement. That is a mean deception.
When the Minister came to Leytonstone, in the very first few minutes the press asked him whether he would answer questions about the Green Man roundabout and the tunnelling of the road. The local councillors, the chief executive and the planning officer asked the same thing. The Minister said that he was not there to discuss that and he refused to discuss it. He put a block on it. I will get all those who asked him about that, if he wants to see them again. He cannot fool the press. They asked questions and they were mad keen to get the answers, to get something out of the Department of Transport, but he put a block on it. Now he has the cheek to come here and say that the question was not raised.
Mr. Bottomley : We have established during this debate, and certainly during the hon. Gentleman's speech, most of the points that might have been made otherwise on behalf of the Department of Transport in support of the Bill and its Second Reading. If the hon. Gentleman brings together these witnesses, whether they confirm what I said or what he claims that I said, they will know that I walked up and
Column 102down the high street with the hon. Gentleman. I said, "This is Harry Cohen" and one or two said, "Yes, we know." Others said, "Come on, let's go round and see the improvements that the Department of Transport has made on the existing road and, by the way, can we look forward to the Hackney-M11 link, which will provide the major environmental improvement in the constituency, casualty reduction and the opportunity of more jobs?" All three would be well served by the proposed road, which this Bill would help.
Mr. Cohen : The Minister came along and did his normal PR exercise, posed for the photos, planted a tree and treated it as fun and games. He made a big show of it. He wanted to stay well in. When it came to the substance, he flopped it. He refused to answer. In the first two minutes, the press asked him questions about the new M11 link, about getting some more tunnels and the Beazer scheme, which would have at least meant more tunnel in various parts of the road, but he said that he was not there to answer such questions and put a block on them, which was a disgrace.
Mr. Keaton wrote to me on 2 May. He explained :
"Perhaps I could add that as can be seen from the Bill the conservators are required to keep forest land unenclosed and unbuilt on as open space for the recreation and enjoyment of the public. In addition, they are required under the 1978 Act to maintain the forest's natural aspects."
I agree with that. I understand that it is difficult to find replacement land in a busy, urban, built-up area. There are planning problems, and they are not solved by the "sloap". However, at the very least, my demand could have been met. I asked for more open space, for parks to be upgraded and for improvements to be made to the running of the forest in my constituency.
The more I think about these matters and the longer that the debate continues, the more I think that I underbid, especially when the representative of the agents said that I was asking for peanuts. Replacement land should have been provided to take account of the forest land that would be lost. Anyone who reads the report of the debate will understand that what I asked for was reasonable. One of the results of the scheme is that the Department of Transport is making thousands of pounds every day against the would-be construction costs. The result of high interest rates is that prices are coming down. At the very least, price increases are slowing down. Prices are not as high as were anticipated by the Department. As I have said, the Department is making thousands of pounds every day and every week, if not hundreds of thousands of pounds. It is happy to drag out the matter for that reason. At the same time, it is not prepared to pay peanuts for the improvement of the environment in my constituency.
Mr. Cohen : I have provided the figures. I have made it clear that they amount to about £500,000. The agent's representative talked about that as peanuts. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman could put that sum together. I am sure that many of his hon. Friends could do so as well. Let it be understood, however, that it is a lot of money for my area. Forest land is being stolen from my constituency. The money involved is nothing for many Conservative Members. I suppose that it amounts to no more than a few gins and tonic for them.
Mr. Skinner : We know that £500 million was offered to the Kent Tory-held constituencies so that the Members concerned could try to hang on to their seats. That was a Government-sponsored move through British Rail. The sum that my hon. Friend is talking about is peanuts when it is set against that. It is about 1,000 per cent. less than the amount which was offered to bail out Tory constituencies. However, my hon. Friend is talking about a working-class area.
Mr. Cohen : Absolutely. My hon. Friend has raised a good point. I am asking for less than £500,000 for the replacement of the land. Also involved is a small amount--about £250,000--for the forest land. Even if the total sum reached £1 million overall, it would still be peanuts when set against other items of expenditure. The Government will not give in because of their meanness to working-class people in working-class areas. They are prepared to steal forest land, but they are not prepared to provide a proper replacement.
After the so-called negotiations, during which what I asked for was described as peanuts, I received a letter from the council. It was written by the remembrancer of the Guildhall in the City of London. It is clear that the City of London does not remember Leyton to any great extent. It was the remembrancer but there is not much memory when it comes to decent services for Leyton. The letter to which I refer was headed "City of London (Various Powers) Bill". The body of the letter reads :
"I am sorry that it was not possible to reach an agreement on the road provisions in this Bill following our meeting of Wednesday." The remembrancer must have been crying into his tea as he wrote that. The letter continues :
"As you will know from our agents, we put all the points that you raised to the Department of Transport."
Those are the points that I raised with the Minister and his Department. The remembrancer explained :
"They are to look at the land that you referred to but they were not attracted by the other suggestions that you raised."
"I will be in touch again soon when I have more news."
After that I received a phone call, during which I was told that there was no deal. They were not attracted because they are not the ones who will suffer. Their land is not being stolen. They are not the people who will suffer by having their forest land stolen and not replaced. The people of Leyton are very attracted to receiving proper compensation and open land. For them, that represents the air that they breathe and the green land that they walk on. That reply exposes the disgraceful attitude shown by the Minister and his Department. I shall not make a big speech about horse riding, but it is another aspect of the Bill. I shall speak about it only in so far as it affects the stealing of Leyton's forest land. With the Bill, there is a map of the whole forest, which stretches for an enormous distance, and which shows running through it pathways coloured orange indicating the routes that horse riders can take. If they leave those routes they are in trouble.
Those routes are shown to run through the whole of the forest, except in the Whipps Cross area in my constituency. That shows how little regard the Government have for the people of Leyton. Does that not strike the House and the Minister as being a little funny and as being a dirty, rotten deal for the people of Leyton?
Column 104I received a letter from Dr. F. B. O'Connor, director of the Nature Conservancy Council, which asks me to support the Bill. It deals mainly with clause 9, concerning the control of horse riding. I shall not be nasty about that particular clause, but Dr. O'Connor writes : "Heavy usage by riders is causing severe damage to the flora and fauna in the forest."
What about Leyton? As I said, I shall not be nasty about horse riding, and if people want to ride then they should be allowed to do so. Nevertheless, many people walk on the land in Leyton of which I speak. Leyton is a heavily built-up urban area and people come out every weekend to take a stroll there. They could get knocked over by the horses. What about the flora and fauna in that part of the forest? The City of London should put up money to ensure the replanting that I mentioned earlier.
In addition to all the mistreatment I have cited, the Minister is, through the Bill, using the City of London to steal our forest land and not replace it properly. To Dr. O'Connor and the Nature Conservancy Council I say that they should involve themselves in Whipps Cross. I am genuinely green and am happy to support them on environmental matters, but if Dr. O'Connor and the NCC want my support, they should also be concerned about my area and help protect it. They should put pressure on the City of London, the Department and the Minister to devise a plan to upgrade the Whipps Cross area of the forest and to improve the facilities there, so that the people of Leyton and Leytonstone can enjoy them.
I am angry with the City of London for doing the Department's dirty work for it. I acknowledge that the Department is the main culprit, but in selling out in the way that it has the City of London has not performed its role properly. That made me so angry that I went up to the Table Office. I am now preparing a Bill--which I may present as a ten-minute Bill--entitled the City of London (Abolition of Control of Epping Forest) Bill. I have got it in print.
The City of London could easily not have sold out Leyton and Leytonstone. It could have obtained compensation from this mean, motorway-grey Minister ; it would have been peanuts to him. We have been let down badly. I am very tempted to present my Bill. I have not got the wording quite right yet--
Mr. Cohen : The Minister will have plenty of opportunities. Perhaps another hon. Member may wish to raise the issue on the money resolution because of the strength of feeling that it has aroused, and the Minister will then have a chance to respond. We have a debate tomorrow on the soaring cost of the Government's publicity machine. How about a press release saying that the Government will replace the forest land that they are stealing from Leyton people? The Minister does not need to use the House ; millions of pounds are being spent on the publicity machine.
I gather that you do not want me to talk about my Bill, Mr. Speaker, but I shall certainly raise it at a later stage. It has been provoked by the treatment of Leyton and Leytonstone residents. I shall propose that control be
Column 105taken from the City and redistributed among the local authorities. They will not relinquish their land without a fight and without obtaining proper compensation.
The resources for the running of the forest should be distributed according to how much land is used. In that way Leyton, Leytonstone and Whipps Cross will receive much more, because that land is used heavily by local people. Even if my Bill is not passed because of the Tory majority, at some stage in the future there will not be a Tory majority, and then the reckoning will come. I throw that out as a warning.
Let me come to the substance of my speech. I want to give the House the history that has led to this legislation, and how the M11 link came about. The housing problems are immensely serious. Hundreds of people are about to be thrown on to the streets, but the Department of Transport has not given Waltham Forest the money to rehouse them. The Government claim to have provided the money when there was a Conservative-Liberal local authority in Waltham Forest a few years ago, but on investigation it turned out that the housing investment programme had been cut by only slightly less than the massive cut that had apparently been imposed. The money that the Government provided to rehouse people was really a huge cut in resources. Nobody noticed that this Government had apparently or allegedly given money to decant and rehouse those people.
Instead of putting that money, or that cut, aside to rehouse people, the Conservative-Liberal council used it to keep down the rates. That was its short-term ploy. It has resulted in an immense housing crisis for the people who live along the route. The council has been trying to rehouse those people, but this mean, motorway-mad Minister will not put up a penny to rehouse them. It will create an immense crisis, and I must spend some time on it.
After I have dealt with that crisis, I shall turn to education. I have already said a few words about Connaught school. It faces a real crisis because of the Bill and the provisions concerning the M11 link road. The school deserves a fair deal and proper facilities. The Minister was too mean to provide for tunnelling on one side or the other of that school, as he should have done. We were pressing for tunnelling right along the route, but at the very minimum he should have provided for a tunnel near to Connaught school.
Mr. Cohen : It would have been literally a few metres and the cost would have been negligible over the life of the road, which will be there for at least 100 years. By not having a tunnel near the school, the Minister has condemned the pupils and teachers to absolute misery. It could lead to the demise of the school, although it has performed wonderfully well for the local community. It is now under a death threat because of the mean Department of Transport. The Department has shifted the goal posts. The House knows that I am a simple sort of fellow. Two years ago the Department said that if we wanted a tunnel, private capital would be needed, that the public purse could not fund
Column 106tunnelling and that there would have to be a partnership with private interests. The local council did just that. It got the Beazer corporation to come up with a scheme.
Mr. Cohen : It is a big corporation. I have no specific details about it. It was after the work, and it was keen to get a lot of contracts. That was fair enough. It fitted in with the needs of the community. However, when we met the Minister we faced delaying tactics. Eventually, the Department of Transport put obstacles in the corporation's way. It said that the corporation had to put 4 million quid up front. The corporation refused to do that, so the Department of Transport blocked the bid ; it killed it. So much for the Government's stated policy of using private capital. When the Minister's bluff was called, he destroyed the scheme.
The Government do not want working-class areas to benefit. Working-class areas such as Leyton can be cut up. They do not matter to this Minister, so long as he can ponce about the high street saying what a wonderful fellow he is by planting a few trees. Mr. Peter Bottomley rose --
Mr. Bottomley : I now understand that the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood everything. He has misunderstood the fact that the proposal will make things better in Leyton. Furthermore, I was talking about the hon. Member to his constituents, not about myself. If praising the hon. Gentleman to his own constituents leads him to describe me in that way, we have reached a sorry state of affairs and I am sorry that we have had to listen to him for two and a half hours. If the hon. Gentleman wanted to receive answers to his questions, he ought to have allowed time for them to be answered, or at least debated. The fact that he has monopolised most of the debate means that he thinks that they are worthless points that can easily be rubbished.
Mr. Cohen : That is certainly not true. We had phone calls from the Department of Transport saying, "No deal", yet the agents said that the amount involved was peanuts. It shows the Minister's contempt for Leyton. He now tries to say something rather different. He should pull the other leg ; it has bells on. We know that in reality he is still saying, "No deal", however he dresses it up in a public relations exercise. He is rather good at that, as he is rather good at going up and down the high street. He is doing the dirty on Leyton by stealing our forest land and not giving us proper compensation. I want to deal with the long history--almost 40 years--of the M11, which has blighted the area. It is the longest blight caused by any road scheme. At a public inquiry in 1983, I, local residents, Mr. Goldsmith and others called for a tunnelled route. We did not object to the road in principle, provided that it was environmentally sound through the use of tunnelling. We said quite clearly that the Department of Transport's plans would divide the community and would cut Leyton and Leytonstone in half.
Column 107The linear route proposed by Mr. Goldsmith would have cost only a few million pounds--not a great deal more than the Department's scheme. It would have been in place for 100 or more years and provided enormous advantages for the local area. Instead, an obscenity of a road will carve up Leyton and Leytonstone. The Minister is mean. The scheme has made conservationists and the residents of Leyton and Leytonstone very angry.
It will be impossible to cross the road and the access to it is appalling. Some 280 homes will have been demolished, Connaught school has been annexed and made unusable, and Westdown road will have a high embankment with the motorway running along it--what a lovely visual aspect. The proposals for the Green Man are dangerous and unsightly.
When we put our case to the inspector at the inquiry, he concluded that tunnelling would be a good idea. He said :
"It should be a model for future motorways."
Yet the project was savaged and destroyed by the Department of Transport. The only concession in the Bill is tunnelling at the Green Man. The Department and the Minister show more concern for the cattle in Epping forest than for the people of Leyton and Leytonstone. Local people, the council and environmentalist groups have tried to promote tunnelling. They have picked up the Minister's words and the Government's policies, yet they have been rebuffed. Since the M11 inquiry many other schemes have been tunnelled, even though they provide less environmental benefit than would be provided by tunnelling the M11. The A1M tunnel in Tory-controlled Hatfield received a Department of Transport grant of £8.87 million-- £2,900 per linear metre. That would more than cover the cost of tunnelling the link road and providing a linear park. That solution is good enough for Hatfield, but too good for Leyton. Moreover, the Department is stealing our forest land and not replacing it.
The document produced by the action group on the link road says : "Good enough for others. We are the Cinderella of the road building pantomime. While covered roads protect the forest in Epping, residents in Enfield and industry in Hatfield, thousands of men and women living close to the link road are content to suffer an open road, sometimes yards from their houses. What is good enough for others is good enough for us."
It is not, apparently. There is a lovely picture of the Bell common in Epping. It is a lovely bit of green land. The document says : "There is a cricket club here where players and spectators can enjoy their game to the accompaniment of birdsong from the nearby forest trees. Late at night we might see some of the forest creatures crossing the common on their ancient paths. A splendidly English beauty spot. Who would guess that the M24 roars beneath the cricket pitch? Six lanes of traffic speeds through a well- lighted tunnel while up above on the surface life goes on as normal. The cricketers and animals are protected."
It is good enough for Epping, it should be good enough for Leyton. The Department is to steal a bit of land--
"A covered road is being built at Hatfield in Hertfordshire." which, of course, is Tory.
Column 108"The A1M at this section is not in a highly residential neighbourhood nor one of natural beauty. It is an industrial district and there was local opposition when the Department of Transport proposed an unnecessary tunnel outside British Aerospace. Now all is revealed. A £15 million commercial complex is to be built on the tunnel lid. At the link road public inquiry, the Department of Transport denied that it would be possible to build on top of a covered road. Why, when they knew that such a scheme was being planned for Hatfield?"
That is another example of the double standards and hypocrisy that have been employed in the Government's dealings with Leyton, which they have given the worst in a shabby deal. Now the Department of Transport is stealing a small bit of forest land and not giving compensation.
The document mentions Enfield, and shows a picture of a lovely bit of greensward. It is not a sliver. Enfield is Tory, although we hope to make it Labour at the next general election. The document says : "You are looking at the M25 motorway. Orbiting London and carrying thousands of vehicles each hour, each car, each van, each lorry emits stinking fumes and makes a great deal of noise. Perhaps you think we got the wrong photograph. We didn't. The M25 at Freezy Water Wall to Enfield runs through the Holmesdale tunnel. A linear park and a school playing field have been constructed on the lid of the tunnel. Residents in the houses on either side need never know the M25 is there. Connaught school in Leytonstone could have a playing field if the M11 link road were covered, and the homes of residents there and in Wanstead would be protected."
Precedents exist, but the Department will not give us a linear park. What an exhibition of meanness and callous, grey, motorway mindedness this is from the Minister. He has other plans to rip up the marshes, which are sites of special scientific interest. Twice I gave him the chance to get up to the Dispatch Box to--
Sir Geoffrey Finsberg rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
Question put, That the Question be now put :--
The House divided : Ayes 125, Noes 24.
Division No. 198] [10 pm
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)
Beith, A. J.
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)
Carlisle, John, (Luton N)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Cope, Rt Hon John
Currie, Mrs Edwina
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Emery, Sir Peter
Fenner, Dame Peggy
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Fishburn, John Dudley
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Glyn, Dr Alan
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)