Previous SectionIndexHome Page

10.50 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Sir Paul Beresford): We have just listened to a traditional rant from the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) which showed an appalling lack of understanding--his traditional lack of understanding of standard spending assessments, education funding, the revised mineral planning guidance 3, the planning system and revenue support grant. The hon. Gentleman laughs, but if what he suggested were applied he would be laughing on the other side of his face for his constituency. However, we are not talking about Holborn.

The subject of today's debate is important and important issues have been raised. The hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) raised one aspect of the vista, although there is much more to it. I regret that I have only a few minutes and will be able to touch on only one or two of the positive things that are happening.

I was interested in some of the points made by the hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Cummings). I shall read them tomorrow, consider them and perhaps write to the hon. Gentleman. I know that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) always sees a light at the end of the tunnel and that it is an oncoming train every single time. I was interested to hear him load the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras with so many promises that he looked like the hunchback of Notre Dame sitting there nodding to them. Fortunately for the hon. Gentleman, he will never be in a position to implement or even answer for them. He will probably remain where he is, in opposition.

We need to emphasise some of the positive points. While I recognise that it has taken some considerable time, particularly with initiatives involving Europe, to put some of the positive ideas into action and make finance available, they are now under way. The coal industry is now privatised, with 29 former British Coal pits in the private sector--many more than were anticipated by the pessimists. They are successful. I am not picking on the hon. Member for Sherwood--every Back-Bench Member looks at his salary patch--but I am sure that it will hurt him to know that according to a newspaper report yesterday on what is received by the mining community, he would be financially better off working for the privatised mining industry than he is sitting on the green Benches at the back.

The success of privatisation is worth recognising, but time does not allow me to push and promote it. We need to look at the efforts that are being put in nationally by the Government. The Government recognise the needs and the deprivation of coalfield areas. Mention has been made of the £200 million package. It was put in place to help communities affected by job losses. It includes £75 million provided

10 Jan 1996 : Column 141

through training and enterprise councils and the Employment Service and £75 million for the three-year English Partnerships programme of factory and site provision. The programme cannot be implemented overnight, as even the hon. Member for Sherwood recognises. We have provided £30 million-worth of other measures and £20 million for various strategic projects.

Regardless of some of the points that have been made, the delay in setting up enterprise zones has been caused by difficulties with the European Community. Considerable efforts have been put into the matter and enterprise zones are now under way. New zones have got off to a good start. To give just one example, in east Durham, 250 jobs are already coming in this year.

Unemployment has fallen nationally by 730,000 since December 1992. It was down again last month. Let us take the east midlands, the hon. Member for Sherwood's area. He mentioned the Robin Hood line. The Government's contribution has increased, as he said, to £9.6 million to meet the cost increases and the cost of the new station at Kirkby in Ashfield. That is welcome and it needs to be pushed. Stages 1 and 2 of the line are now open and doing well. Stage 3 will be funded in 1997-98, subject to the Department of Transport criteria on value for money. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that that is the correct way to go forward.

The North Nottinghamshire training and enterprise council coal plan has brought in £14.8 million as part of the £75 million that went to TECs. Recent consultants' evaluation has shown that the North Nottinghamshire TEC coal plan has delivered several thousand jobs and training places and has reduced unemployment by between 3,600 and 4,500. The hon. Gentleman asked for an assessment. That is an assessment and it shows that regeneration is happening. NNTEC still has some £800,000 to spend during 1996 plus surplus funds generated by coal-related activities. Those funds will be used in future coal activity.

The coalfield areas fund has been mentioned. It will provide £163,000 of grant to two projects in the Newark and Sherwood district. One of them, the Gwendoline Grove training centre in New Clipstone in the constituency of the hon. Member for Sherwood, has produced nine business starts, 88 training places and 50 small businesses. With the growing economy, small businesses now have an opportunity to grow. That is positive.

10 Jan 1996 : Column 142

A round 1 single regeneration budget grant of £1.5 million is under way in the Sherwood part of the Newark and Sherwood district. The total programme value is £8.6 million. It is set to create 1,690 jobs, 300 new businesses and 4,300 sq m of commercial floor space. That is all extremely positive. Jobs and chances for growth have been created, but the hon. Member for Sherwood did not mention that.

A round 2 SRB grant of £1.13 million has recently been announced to regenerate Newstead village. The total value of the programme is £3.3 million. It will result in 4,000 sq m of new business space, another 80 new jobs, 250 improved houses and so on. A total of six SRB programmes are already under way in the former east midlands coalfield area. That is £28.5 million of SRB grant, levering in £146 million of other public and private funding, thus amounting to a total regeneration package of almost £175 million. That was conveniently forgotten by the hon. Member for Sherwood.

The forecast output from those six SRB programmes is 19,000 jobs, 12,500 people trained, almost 28,000 sq m of business floor space and 500 hectares of land reclaimed. It is happening. Three further SRB programmes were approved in the east midlands under round 2, including one in Newstead village, again in the Sherwood constituency. That is £1.13 million of SRB, giving a total programme value of £3.3 million with leverage.

We created new assisted areas under regional selective assistance in 1993 in the wake of the mine closures. There have been 114 offers of grants since then and £12.6 million of RSA will bring about £130 million of investment and create or safeguard almost 5,000 jobs. The biggest RSA grant of £1.7 million went to Johnson Controls in Mansfield--an American company that has built a new factory and is already employing 450 people.

Unemployment in the area has dropped dramatically. It fell by 5,700 in 30 months--it will extrapolate like a logarithmic graph. I will write to Opposition Members to explain as they obviously do not understand what such a graph is.

I can touch on only a fraction of the various points-- the importance of the coalfield areas, the industries there, the hope for the people, housing for the people, the housing investment programme and the housing action grants. Endless volumes of money are going into the areas, with new ideas, strategies and partnerships. There is new hope and there are new jobs and better education. To listen to the gloom and doom described by Opposition Members is to deride the considerable efforts that this nation is making for those communities.

10 Jan 1996 : Column 143

Waste Disposal

11 am

Sir Roger Moate (Faversham): First, I must declare an interest as I am the parliamentary adviser to the British Paper and Board Industry Federation. Just in case I am accused of trespassing on the new rules about advocacy, however, I must make it absolutely clear that it is very much a constituency matter that has caused me to seek this debate on waste disposal and recycling or incineration and it is certainly a matter for the county of Kent.

I should like to take this opportunity to put on record the fact that the borough of Swale, which covers my constituency, can describe itself with some justification as being among the greenest in Britain in terms of recycling. The steel mill at Sheerness is among the most advanced in Europe and recycles 1 million tonnes of steel a year. The United Kingdom paper mills and St. Regis paper mills at Sittingbourne and Kemsley are at the forefront of European technology and also recycle about 1 million tonnes of paper each year.

More than most, the area understands the importance of securing more recycled materials in an environmentally acceptable way. We now face a proposal that is unacceptable environmentally. The draft Kent waste local plan proposes a waste-to-energy incinerator plant at Kemsley, near Sittingbourne, to deal with a large part of the county's municipal waste. It is to be one of four possible proposed sites to handle up to 1 million tonnes of waste each year, as we steadily and rightly move away from reliance on landfill. I suspect that that story is familiar in other parts of the country.

The Government recently published a White Paper, Command Paper 3040, "Making Waste Work", which is, as yet, undebated in the House. That is not a criticism, because it was published only in December. The way in which Government policy relates to proposals such as the one for Kemsley makes it right for the House to study that classic example and the consequences for local areas of Government policy--the way in which such policy translates down to local areas. This House is not a local planning inquiry and hon. Members would be impatient if one tried to treat it as such, but I hope that they will forgive me for dwelling briefly on the Kemsley location, for the reasons that I have just given. I must emphasise that any proposal for a large-scale municipal waste incinerator located at or near Kemsley, or at nearby Ridham, would be totally unacceptable on environmental grounds.

Swale borough council has made its total opposition clear in a cogent and powerful argument against the case. Local residents are united against it and landowners and industrial landowners are opposed, as am I. This is a matter for the Minister. The Government office for the south-east, GOSE, is also critical of the plan. Our area is part of the Thames gateway planning framework which, according to the GOSE document,

In that respect, GOSE calls the waste plan "disappointing".

I repeat that we are part of the Thames gateway planning framework. The work of introducing new environmental standards for the area has been helped in

10 Jan 1996 : Column 144

my locality by a remarkable committee called the Kemsley and district pollution liaison committee, which was formed five years ago. It comprises representatives of 2,000 local residents, the borough council, the National Rivers Authority, local industry and Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution. It has met and has achieved a great deal in an area that has suffered from pollution and a perception of low environmental standards. The House will understand, therefore, why there is such opposition to the proposal. Apart from the host of other environmental objections, the fact is that the plant, like all large plants of the kind, could generate up to 400 vehicle movements per day.

On the opening day of the inquiry into the draft plan, the inspector asked the county council three crucial questions: why incineration, why four locations and why those four locations? I hope that I am not being unduly optimistic in perceiving from those questions that the inspector shrewdly and quickly realised the misconceptions on which the strategy was based. I hope that he will respond accordingly and will assist our county in a major rethink of policy. I also hope that he will take into account debates such as this, as well as the on-going debate that is taking place in the country. I hope that he, and we, will reject the almost blind acceptance that seems to be fashionable--the belief that incineration is, or should be, the principal means of disposing of mixed municipal waste as the principal alternative to landfill.

I shall give some of my evidence, and it is evident that such an assumption is wrong. Better recycling options are available. They are better, cheaper, tried and tested. If Kent and other counties become committed to the long-term contracts needed to support such large and costly incinerators, which have capital costs running into hundreds of millions of pounds, we could be making a strategic mistake that will have profound consequences for many years to come. They will include: first, an appalling waste of valuable, recyclable materials that should and could be recycled; secondly, the generation of large-scale lorry movements to support large, centralised plants; thirdly, excessively high gate fees per tonne of waste, which could consequently waste millions of pounds per annum throughout the country; and, fourthly, the continued fear of dioxin emissions. As for the latter, whether it is perceived or real, the fear will be there. All that is true for Kent and I think that it is also true for the rest of the country.

Next Section

IndexHome Page