Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury): Thank you for letting me catch your eye this evening, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I want to say a few words because the Minister's contribution was so brief. I had hoped to intervene in his speech, but having failed to do so I am now forced to make a speech of my own.


Column 892

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on the success of the scheme. There is no doubt that for a comparatively small sum--about £150 million--it has radically reduced the number of pollution incidents, and that is a creditable success. As a result, the worst cases have already been grant-aided and pollution prevention facilities have been installed; but there are still farmers at the margins, whose profitability is not great, who have not yet managed to install facilities.

Some farmers in my constituency are not covered by the nitrate-vulnerable zone category but may be covered by others, such as environmentally sensitive areas or nitrate-vulnerable areas. I urge the Minister to consider whether farmers in areas presently zoned--they are already in a fairly special area, otherwise they would not be covered--could have their grants continued as if they were in nitrate-vulnerable zones. I ask him to think seriously about that idea, so that farmers on the margins, with low profitability, are covered. They are often using stock farming systems, with no other farming methods that they could use, so, for the sake of the environment, it would be worth while to include them.

6.15 pm

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): In the last words of his speech, the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) emphasised the importance of the schemes. They exist not to support farm incomes or to help farmers to be more productive but to help the environment. It has been something of a misnomer that, in the past, they have been treated as farm schemes. It is right that they are administered by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and by the equivalent bodies for Wales and Scotland, but we should really regard them as part of the armoury for protecting the environment, not as part of the farm grant system--I see the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury nodding.

The irony is that cuts are being made precisely at the time when we are told on every other front that farming policy should be turned towards a wider rural policy, with more effective support for conservation and environmental protection. We are asked to take a step backwards when everyone else is saying that we should take a step forwards.

While congratulating the Minister on the success of the scheme, I must tell him that this is the last moment when he should accept Treasury cuts. We all know why cuts are being made. The reason has nothing to do with a change of attitude within MAFF--or, if it is, MAFF must be deaf and blind. It has to do with the fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has mighty little that he can get his hands on in MAFF's budget; the huge sums that pass through the Ministry are largely determined by our participation in the European Union common agricultural policy, so they are saved from the Chancellor's axe and left almost intact. The millions of pounds currently going into the area aid and the set-aside schemes remain beyond the scope of the House, of the Ministry and even of the Chancellor, yet what is, by comparison, the tiny sum available for the conservation grant scheme is up for grabs; in the usual polite terms that the Minister uses to describe such events, he says that the scheme will have "expired" by this time next year.


Column 893

We must ensure that, even if the Minister pursues that policy now, he must also introduce alternatives to take the place of the scheme. As other hon. Members have said, its main purpose was to ensure that the handling, storage and treatment of farm waste were effectively tackled. That does nothing for the productivity of the dairy farmer or the beef farmer; indeed, having installed facilities, farmers may find that the running costs make their holdings less productive. The scheme is designed to protect the wider community and the environment. It is not a farm support scheme.

The money made available for those who claim for the maintenance of hedgerows and stone walls can have the same effect. Once a farmer has taken up the scheme, he will have to maintain his hedgerows and walls again and again. Without financial support, that will be a continuing drain on his productivity. In my travels around the country in the past few years, I have seen dry stone walls in the Pennines that stop suddenly because at a certain point the grant support was reduced. That does not help the farmer; even worse, it is of real damage to the managed landscape which so many people want to protect, conserve and enhance.

I ask the Minister to explain what will be in place for farmers who do not happen to fall within the ESAs--I ask not for their sake but for the sake of future generations and the landscape. What will be in place to ensure that the useful initiatives taken under the hedgerow incentive scheme are extended to all field boundaries, including Cornish banks? Owing to an absurdity of bureaucratic bungling, Cornish banks--they do not happen to have massive growth on top, but they are otherwise identical to hedges in other parts of the country; they just happen to be our local variation-- have been excluded from the hedgerow incentive scheme.

It is true that two thirds of pollution incidents have originated from beef or dairy farms. If, in future, they do not happen to be sited in nitrate- vulnerable zones, they will not be eligible for any sort of assistance. Who suffers from that? It is not so much the farmers, although they may be put to considerable expenditure, as the wider community and the environment.

Of course, those who had ready money in the years between 1989 and 1993, when they could obtain 50 per cent. grants toward expenditure on waste water schemes, were, on the whole, the more profitable farmers. Similarly, those who were able to take advantage of the scheme when support was reduced to 25 per cent. were still people with ready money. The people who are now left--the National Rivers Authority is desperately worried about them--are those with no financial resources with which to support this sort of expensive project. Some hon. Members may not be aware that the sums involved run into thousands of pounds, often on the holdings least able to stand that sort of expenditure--even less so without financial support of any kind.

The estimated savings amount to £8 million a year. I believe that the tax-paying public would cheerfully contribute £8 million to that purpose if they knew that the money was coming from the area assistance programme or from set-aside. Tonight, we should be weighing up the costs to the environment, not the costs to the farming community. That is why the Minister must take seriously the various questions put to us, and no doubt to him, by


Column 894

organisations such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Council for the Protection of Rural England --not because they support the farming industry but because they are concerned about the impact on the environment.

I hope, too, that the Minister will give us--we cannot obtain it direct-- the advantage of the advice that he has received from the NRA. All my contact with the authority, at the sharp end and on the farm, persuades me that it is desperately worried about the impact of these cuts.

It is surely symbolic of the attitude of the Government and of this Ministry that these cuts are made now. Support for agriculture is taking a wrong turning. It is "Alice in Wonderland" thinking to encourage set-aside at the same time as discouraging both the prevention of pollution and the enhancement of traditional features such as field boundaries.

It is also damaging and dangerous to suppose that, in future, policies such as these should be applied only to designated areas. As the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury said, there will always be marginal cases. If only areas designated as special, or as ESAs, or as nitrate-vulnerable zones, are the ones that get the support, there will always be a large number of hard cases that fall outside such categories. The public at large will feel, moreover, that pollution can have just as bad an effect on, say, the aquatic life cycle in other areas.

In the south-west, dairy farmers have had a great deal of trouble in recent months due to extensive flooding--flash floods, storms and rain. The rain of the past 24 hours has greatly increased the risks associated with overflows of slurry. There have been damaging incidents for which no particular blame should attach to the farmers concerned, but they clearly need the attention of the NRA. If we are to have effective conservation and landscape management, and if we are also to ensure the sort of pollution prevention measures required of us by the EU, we cannot proceed on a designated area basis. There has to be a national policy. We cannot meet the requirements of the European directives, or of our home audience, if these grants are applied only to specific geographical areas. That is over- restrictive and could be extremely damaging.

I believe that this is a very sad step. Had the Minister been frank with the House, he would have admitted that he did not want to take it, but that he had the Treasury just down the road looking over his shoulder. He can redeem himself this evening, however, if he tells us what he hopes will be in place by this time next year, when the last residues of this valuable scheme are swept away by these measures. I hope that the Minister will be forward looking and will make positive suggestions to put in place national policies. It will not be sufficient to say that only limited, designated areas will require this sort of attention in future.

6.25 pm

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington): I had not intended to speak in the debate until I received, earlier today, a book written by Gordon Conway, former professor of environmental technology at Imperial College of Science and Technology in London, and by Jules M. Pretty, director of the sustainable agricultural programme at the International Institute for Environment and Development, also in London. The book, entitled


Column 895

"Unwelcome Harvest: Agriculture and Pollution", contains an interesting section dealing with this issue and describing the scale of the problem that we face. I believe that the House should bear the size of the problem in mind when deciding to cut £8 million of public money from this area of expenditure.

In the section entitled "Livestock Waste and Slurry" on page 276--I am sure researchers will want to look it up--we read:

"Specialised livestock operations are a very potent source of pollution. The worst problems arise from the slurry systems of pig and dairy farms in the UK . . . The livestock are housed in such a way that their faeces and urine fall through slatted floors into channels or pits from where they are periodically transferred into storage tanks or lagoons. The resulting nutrient load can be enormous: on the largest feedlots, with 900 to 2,000 animals per hectare, assuming an average animal size of 450 kg, each excreting 0.17 kilos of nitrate a day, the loading to each hectare is between 150 and 250 kgN per day.

The total national pollution load from livestock excretion is thus very large. In the United Kingdom it is equivalent to 150 million people, about two and a half times the human population, while in the USA it is 10 times greater, that is, equivalent to 2 billion people, or 40 per cent. of the world's population. As the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution put it, `a modern farm of 40 hectares carrying a dairy herd of 50 cows and a pig population based on 50 sows has a potential pollution load equivalent to that of a village of 1,000 inhabitants.'"

I interpret all this to mean that we are dealing with a vast problem--a huge amount of slurry. The public will want legislation in place to ensure that it is all properly disposed of and that, if farmers are not prepared to invest in the equipment needed to comply with the legislation, a regime is put in place to help them, not just in sensitive areas, but in others too. Only thus can we avoid polluting and damaging our environment. That is my case this evening. I am not altogether convinced that Ministers have fully taken into account the huge scale of the problem with which the farming community is required to deal.

I understand that all my hon. Friends have received a fax this afternoon from the National Farmers Union. Its case is that this is an unreasonable economy on the part of the Government and it rejects it.

6.29 pm

Mr. Nick Ainger (Pembroke): I represent a constituency which, like that of the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), is a high rainfall area. The impact of any heavy periods of rain in a high rainfall area exacerbates the problems that farmers have in controlling the slurry that my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) has so eloquently described in all its enormity. I should hate to say that it was a load of crap, but basically that is what we are talking about--a large load of crap. One of the disappointing features of this matter, which is certainly reflected in the communications that we have received from the National Farmers Union, is that the scheme that the Government are trying to dismantle almost lock, stock and barrel has been so successful. Perhaps if the Minister replies to the debate, which I hope that he will, he will touch on the fact that the scheme is basically self-regulating. As farmers make the investment and the work is completed, there is no further call by them on any central grant system. As the improvements take place, the grant required slowly but surely reduces except perhaps in areas where we have new entrants into the


Column 896

dairy industry. Sadly, new entrants are few and far between, but they may wish to take up the opportunity to make the improvements, particularly as it is difficult to make capital investment when one is starting out and as there is great instability in the dairy industry at present.

Another issue could perhaps increase the loads to which my hon. Friend the Member for Workington referred in Britain. There is a possibility--I put it no stronger than that--that with the public outcry against the export of veal calves we may see a change in legislation that would bring about an increase in the British veal industry. I hope that we do, but that would only add to the problem that the British agricultural industry currently faces.

As other hon. Members have said, the grants are basically for environmental purposes. They do not directly assist the farming industry or improve its profitability. My area is not only a great dairy livestock area but an important tourist area. We are seeing the development of more eco-tourism and activity-based holidays, including both coarse and fly fishing. The cleanliness of our rivers is vital. We know what impact a spillage of nutrient-rich slurry can have on a waterway. It devastates it.

What advice, if any, has the Minister received from the National Rivers Authority on what impact the ending of the grants will have on the quality of our rivers and the level of fish in them? A slurry tank can spill over purely as a result of a sudden enormous downpour in a thunderstorm. It is literally an act of God. A whole river can be devastated. It takes a long time to restock a river with fish. The Preseli area of my constituency is now an environmentally sensitive area. There is a possibility that farmers in such areas will continue to receive some form of grant aid. Designation as an ESA is an arbitrary way of deciding which areas should receive assistance. The rainfall on one side of the border of the ESA is exactly the same as on the other side. Whether the cows winter for four or five months indoors or not, they produce the same volume of slurry in Preseli as in South Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion or wherever. Ceredigion and South Pembrokeshire are not designated as environmentally sensitive, yet they have exactly the same problems. It is arbitrary to use designation as a nitrate-vulnerable zone or environmentally sensitive area as the means of determining which areas qualify for grant aid.

As you will be aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the British public want their environment and particularly rivers and the sea to be as clean as possible. A great deal of pressure has been brought to bear on the authorities to upgrade the human sewage discharges into our environment. Yet here we have the Government in the face of this enormous problem--the figures have been quoted to us, and it is the equivalent of the sewage of millions of people- -saying that they will in only a few odd areas assist the environment by providing grant aid and the relatively small amounts of money needed to ensure that we have no serious accidents.

Great pressure has been brought to bear on the water companies by the regulators and the European Union to improve sewage discharges. Sadly, it is not the whole nation that is contributing to the clean-up. The poor old water customers, particularly in the south-west of England, face massive bills to clean up sewage discharges. The Government's action seems to fly in the face of public opinion on other forms of environmental pollution. I urge the Minister to reconsider.


Column 897

6.37 pm

Mr. Jack: This has been a useful debate. I thank hon. Members on both sides of the House for their praise and support for what the scheme has achieved. Expenditure of some £150 million on encouraging 11,500 farmers to improve their waste disposal practices is a significant achievement. With respect to the hon. Members for Workington (Mr. Campbell- Savours) and for Pembroke (Mr. Ainger), in their graphic description of the rising tide, as they put it, of farm waste-- [Interruption.] --even in the book which the hon. Member for Workington waves at me--there was perhaps a lack of appreciation of one of the fundamentals of good agricultural practice. All that waste is not bad. It is the way in which it is used that causes the problem.

Through the scheme we have encouraged farmers with good practice to control the use of that waste and prevent it from finding its way into the watercourses. All hon. Members rightly adverted to that as a problem. It is right that part of the advice on good agricultural practice, which will continue to be available free of charge from ADAS, notes that it is possible to make proper agricultural use of waste.

Mr. Ainger rose --

Mr. Jack: Let me answer the questions that have been raised before more are put to me. The hon. Gentleman asked about the National Rivers Authority. The NRA would be the first to admit that we have made progress. It also knows that we have not abandoned ship over the problem. We are concentrating our efforts on nitrate-vulnerable zones. We will continue to allow £2 million for research and development, and to deal with farm waste handling systems and acknowledge our responsibilities in that area.

Mr. Ainger: The Minister did not appreciate my argument and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). We are not saying that the industry needs advice on how to use slurry. The grants were to enable it to be collected safely so that it did not pollute waterways. Farmers fully appreciate the advantages of slurry-- less need for artificial fertilisers, for example-- and want to collect it safely, which is why they need the grant. They do not need advice on how to use it.

Mr. Jack: With respect, I pointed out that we spent three times as much as we set out to do--£150 million of public money--to encourage farmers to pursue what should be their responsibility, as good husbanders of the land, not to pollute. All hon. Members will understand the principle that the polluter pays. We have been paying to help potential polluters not to pollute.

The hon. Member for Workington should remember that, on the other side of the equation, fines of up to £20,000 can be imposed if people do not fulfil their responsibility not to pollute.

Mr. Tyler rose --

Mr. Jack: I will give way, but this will be the last time.

Mr. Tyler: The Minister referred briefly to advice from the National Rivers Authority and I hope that he will expand on it. I understand that it believes that only a comparatively small proportion of the work that needs to


Column 898

be done on farms--on dairy holdings in particular, but also on beef holdings--has been done. It does not believe that the danger will be restricted to nitrate-vulnerable zones, but that it is much more widespread. The less well-equipped and financed farms will find it difficult. What advice has he received from the NRA on those three matters?

Mr. Jack: I hope that I will not be guilty of misleading the House, but I have not received any advice from the NRA. It might have sent us some thoughts, but I do not know without examining the correspondence files in detail, and I hope that hon. Members will accept that as an honest statement from the Dispatch Box. The National Rivers Authority may continue to underscore the importance of preventing pollution, which it polices. We genuinely think that we have played our part, in the way that I described, in achieving better control of pollution. We have not walked away from our responsibilities--the advice, good practice and research and development are all still there. We understand the problem. Mr. Ainger rose --

Mr. Jack: I must press on. My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) informed me that he could not be in his place for my closing speech. I understand that he is meeting some farmers. He emphasised the importance of the role of small farmers in these matters. The measures were designed for the small farmer and that support remains for plans that have already been approved. Many small farmers will have benefited from part of the £150 million that we spent and many in the nitrate-vulnerable zones will continue to be able to benefit.

As I said in my opening speech, part of the package of measures that my right hon. Friend the Minister said would form part of the Ministry's future programme will offer support in those difficult rural areas. As the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) will understand, under objective 5b assistance, we are able to use resources to strengthen the rural economy and opportunities for new forms of economic activity in such areas--the hon. Member for Pembroke mentioned farm holidays. That is one way in which our resources can help the farmers whom my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury mentioned.

Farmers have had five years to take advantage of the scheme and have been aware of many of the important messages on pollution. The fact that 11,500 have taken advantage of it is a clear sign of its success.

The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) asked several questions and I hope that he will have noted from my remarks that ADAS will remain in place and will continue to offer advice. I also told him about some of the plus points, such as the way in which we managed to redistribute our resources. I do not want this debate to be quite as rumbustious as that of last night, but the hon. Gentleman did not commit his party to restoring the money, or tell us whether it would consider any scheme if, God forbid, it were ever to form a Government. He criticised us for examining our priorities and deciding that, if we had achieved our objectives, the time was right to move on to other schemes--I demonstrated that we had done so when I mentioned the reduction in pollution incidents. He would live in a world


Column 899

where all schemes stayed in place for ever and a day, and we would never have the resources to find new opportunities to assist the farming industry.

Mr. Campbell-Savours rose --

Mr. Jack: I will give way as the hon. Gentleman is such a nice chap.

Mr. Campbell-Savours: May I ask a simple question? If during the next few years after the scheme has ended, it is reported to Ministers that farmers are not complying and are expressing their difficulties to the enforcement authorities--perhaps telling them that they cannot afford to install the equipment--and that there has been a decline in standards, will they review the position?

Mr. Jack: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not expect me to trap myself or my right hon. Friends with a commitment on future expenditure.

Mr. Ainger: The hon. Gentleman asked my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) to do so.

Mr. Jack: Hear me out. We are committed-- [Interruption.] I want to tell the House what we are committed to spending our money on. We are committed to providing information to farmers and we will continue to monitor the number of pollution incidents--the Conservatives are sensible and flexible on such matters--and will obviously keep them under review.

On wider developments in the environment, the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe asked me how it would all fit together. The new environment agency will combine the NRA and Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution. As the hon. Member for North Cornwall said, the NRA has a keen interest in and will continue to take responsibility for pollution as part of the new agency. The inspectorate has a role, but it will be concentrated on large industry and not on agriculture. It will be up to us to monitor and listen to what the NRA and others have to say.

Clearly, the grants programme was a response to a high level of pollution and we have shown that, when there is a problem, we are prepared to act.

The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe asked several more questions. Help with farm waste systems will still be available. When the nitrate- vulnerable zones are defined, we will have a clear idea of the type of help and scheme that will be required. He will be aware that the consultation process and the consideration of representations is continuing. We are listening and talking carefully to farmers. They will have another opportunity to comment on the revised areas. Once we have all that information, we will know what type of scheme will be necessary. Resources will be provided to assist farmers facing difficulties in those areas.

I thank all hon. Members who contributed to the debate. I shall reflect carefully on what they said and I commend the order to the House.

Question put and agreed to .

Resolved,

That the Farm and Conservation Grant (Variation) (No. 2) Scheme 1994 (S.I., 1994, No. 3002), dated 25th November 1994, a copy of which was laid before this House on 29th November, be approved.


Column 900

Trunk Roads (Airedale and Wharfedale)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Kirkhope.]

6.49 pm

Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley): I am delighted to have this opportunity to raise a number of important issues relating to trunk road schemes in Airedale and Wharfedale.

The saga of trunk road proposals in those two valleys is long; indeed, some may think of it as interminable. A plan to bypass Ilkley on the River Wharfe was drawn up as long ago as the 1930s, while the original public inquiry on the Airedale route in 1975 and 1976 was a landmark in that the inspector ultimately abandoned it following nine days of disruption, initiated by the famous or notorious--depending on one's viewpoint--Mr. John Tyme and others, resulting in changes to the rules governing such public inquiries.

Nothing that I intend to say tonight is intended to cast aspersions on my hon. Friend the Minister. He is carrying the baton passed to him by others. However, I cannot help thinking that part of the problem has been the fact that so many Ministers have had responsibility for roads since the mid- 1980s. As they have come and gone, continuity has been lacking. There has certainly never been an opportunity for the public to participate in a proper public debate about all the possible solutions, especially to the problems relating to Saltaire and Shipley, to which reference will be made later. It is significant that two of the most important decisions affecting the area were taken in the early 1980s on their own initiative by Ministers who both held office for a considerable period and thus had had time to become fully familiar with the position.

My right hon. and learned friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) came as the then Roads Minister to the town of Ilkley and decided to remove from the programme the riverside bypass route, which had been in place for some 40 years. He was followed at a later date by my noble Friend, now the Baroness Chalker, who walked up the narrow main street in Addingham village, saw the heavy lorries forcing pedestrians aside, and decided there and then that the Addingham bypass on the A65, long delayed by the former Labour Administration, must be restored to the programme as soon as possible.

Ministers can have that impact on the roads programme in particular areas. I wish my hon. Friend the present Minister for Railways and Roads a long and distinguished career in his present role. I share an interest in both the A629-A650 Airedale route and the A65 through Wharfedale with my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Sir M. Fox), who has carried this burden for even longer than I have, and he hopes to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, during this debate.

First, may I deal with the problem of the A650 route, parts 1 and 2 of which have now been completed, but which stops abruptly at Crossflatts, almost on the boundary between the Keighley and Shipley constituencies. Because the missing section represents an essential link with the major West Riding cities and the motorway network to the south of Bradford, my


Column 901

constituents and companies in my constituency have suffered the unacceptable delays and economic disadvantage represented by the bottleneck in Bingley.

The case for building the Bingley bypass as soon as possible can be simply stated. The road is justified on economic, environmental and road safety grounds. A further key factor in this case, however, is that the advance engineering work, costing up to £12 million, has already been completed. It involved the diversion of the Leeds and Liverpool canal, new bridges and engineering work on the adjoining railway line. In effect, we now have a linear building site through the town of Bingley, with no work taking place on it.

I shall outline in detail the economic case for the road from Keighley's viewpoint in a moment. In environmental terms, too, the argument is strong. The quality of people's lives would certainly improve if many vehicles, including a steady stream of heavy lorries, were removed from the town centre.

Exhaust emissions increase dramatically when vehicles are stationary or just crawl along, which happens in Bingley every day. The many blighted shops that have stood with their fronts boarded up for months, illustrated graphically by the Bingley Civic Society, might reopen if the bypass were built. In road safety terms, too, there must be obvious advantages in keeping through traffic and pedestrians apart, and there would also be scope for traffic management measures.

It would be easy to spend the rest of my time and that of the Minister reading out letters from individuals, companies and organisations in my constituency pleading for the completion of the Bingley bypass. I shall not do so, partly because my hon. Friend's Department received copies of most of them in the latter part of last year--regrettably, it failed to heed them--but also because I want to leave my hon. Friend sufficient time to respond, even given that this Adjournment debate is taking place at an hour which, in the past, would have been regarded as exceptionally early.

To set those letters in context, I should say that Keighley's unemployment problem is severe in the inner part of the town and on some of its estates. It may not be apparent from the bald figures, which take into account the hinterland of the travel-to-work area. Unlike Bradford, Keighley has not benefited from regional assistance, from city challenge or so far from the unitary regeneration budget. On 1 July 1988--nearly seven years ago--I initiated a debate on local trunk road construction and referred to a survey of local companies that I had conducted, showing that more than 90 per cent. of companies responding had stated that completion of that road was vital to their future development; that figure would be just as high today.

Last week, Peter Black, a public company based in Keighley for many years, announced the unavoidable but no less shocking news of 285 local redundancies, which the company has done its best to avoid. The absence of a good road link may not have been the decisive factor but it certainly did not help. Peter Black is now developing its distribution business, and the managing director of that subsidiary, Mr. H. E. Johnson, writes:

"In 1994 we appointed the consulting arm of KPMG Peat Marwick to carry out an exercise to review the feasibility of expanding our distribution business. One of the major conclusions


Column 902

was that there is a cost disadvantage of approximately £200,000 per annum as a result of being based in Keighley. Currently it takes an hour to cover the journey between the motorway network and our distribution centre and as we make a significant number of journeys per annum this amounts to a substantial excess cost. In this increasingly competitive world this cost cannot be ignored. We have found the labour market in Keighley to be very flexible and competitive. This is certain to be attractive to any company considering establishing a new base or expanding an existing business. However, the lack of an effective road network will almost certainly discourage them. We frequently receive comments from our customers as to the inaccessibility of our site and as a consequence they visit far less frequently than they would otherwise like. It takes as long to drive the 18 miles from the M62 to Keighley as it does to cover the 75 miles from Nottingham to the M62.

An additional problem is that of recruitment. Occasionally we are unable to fill a vacancy with a local person and in this circumstance we have experienced difficulty in recruiting key members of our team because of the extended travelling time to and from Keighley". I emphasise the estimated annual cost of £200,000 per annum to just one firm. How can we attract new companies to Keighley and help existing ones expand when they carry such a burden? Where do we find new jobs for the 285 people soon to be out of work?

The president of the Bradford chamber of commerce, Mr. Andrew Wade, writes:

"The Bingley By-pass is desperately needed--the character of the town centre which is divided by the main A650 is rapidly being ruined as the uncertainty continues and shoppers go elsewhere . . . journey times between Keighley and Bradford, the two main centres within the metropolitan district, are impossible to predict, with the result that delivery times and meeting times can only be achieved with certainty by allotting additional travelling time or using rat runs".

Charles Forgan, the chief executive of Bradford Breakthrough--the organisation that brings together the public and private sectors throughout the district--writes of

"the dismay and incomprehension which will be felt"

about the continuing delay

"not only by the business community in Bradford, Bingley and Keighley but also by residential and commercial groups who have been united in their determination that the Bingley relief road should be built".

Mr. Geoffrey Lister, chief executive of the Bradford and Bingley building society, states that construction is

"a matter of extreme urgency."

The society, he writes, may have to "consider other options" for the centralisation of its computer operations, especially if there is a further significant delay.

Professor David Johns, vice-chancellor of Bradford university, states:

"the lack of progress means that more damage is done to the environment the longer the traffic jams remain".

He believes that delay is causing widespread economic harm. Mr. Norman Finnigan, personnel and operations director of Grattan plc, the largest private employer in Bradford; Mr. J. P. Taylor, company secretary of Allied Colloids plc, with 2,000 local staff; and the Very Reverend John Richardson, Provost of Bradford cathedral, are united in complaining that it is ridiculous to spend £12 million on advance works and then to gain no benefit from the investment because the job is left half-done.

The local newspapers, the Keighley News and the Telegraph and Argus , have pleaded for action, for the sake of all sections of the community. Mr. Geoff Smith and Mr. Iain Copping, chairman and director of the


Column 903

Keighley Business Forum, have added their voices to the clamour. All the parties on Bradford council are united in their support for the bypass. The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), who cannot be present tonight, is a resident of Bingley, and he has asked me to tell the Minister that he too supports the call for the bypass.

Perhaps it would be appropriate to refer finally to someone who has good cause to look to the future--16-year-old John Robinson, who showed me the letter he wrote to the Prime Minister just a few days ago, in which he said:

"I know from watching the news that the Department of Transport is cutting back its road building plans for the future. I feel that the new road is a desperate need not just because of traffic congestion but also to secure jobs at major companies, which may have to move because of a poor transport link out of Keighley through Bradford, to the rest of the country."

During the 1988 debate, to which I have already referred, l described the situation as intolerable. The then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), responded by saying:

"We intend to press on. Our aim is to provide a new continuous high standard route to link Bradford and Skipton . . . The only option that we must reject is doing nothing. The area deserves better than that."--[ Official Report , 1 July 1988; Vol. 136, c. 709-10.] Well, things may have happened since 1988, but still no road exists. The area indeed deserves better than that. Furthermore, it is totally inexplicable that, when the Department categorised road schemes last year, the Bingley bypass, which must be considered by anybody with anything about him to be extremely urgent after all those years, was only placed in the second group of less urgent schemes. It is no good anybody saying that some priority 2 roads may be built before some priority 1 schemes, because that grading sends out a clear signal--one which I utterly reject.

I would like to see the comparative COBA--cost-benefit analysis--work carried out by the Department and the Highways Agency, because I will take some convincing that, on economic, environmental and road safety grounds, the route is not extremely urgent--even if the half-completed advance works are discounted. If one takes them into account, it is frankly scandalous and farcical not to press ahead as quickly as possible.

If the Department has left undone for more than 20 years what it should have done for the Bingley bypass, many residents of the Wharfe valley feel that it has done what it should not have done on the A65. Bypasses have been provided on that road for, among other places, Settle, Skipton, Draughton, Addingham, and Burley-in-Wharfedale. There are now proposals to construct further schemes soon at Chelker and Manor Park.

I am sure that all those places deserve and need bypasses, but it is hardly surprising that many people in Ilkley, for which much preparatory work on a bypass has also been done, suspect that there is a plan to divert traffic on to the A65. There is even talk of a motorway through Wharfedale, although that term is more than slightly misleading, since much of the road is single-carriageway standard only.

Assuming, as I do, that there is no such conspiracy, nevertheless the Department and the Highways Agency should accept that major improvement schemes to


Next Section

  Home Page