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Caroline Flint (Don Valley): It gives me the greatest pleasure to present to the House a petition from 21,000 residents of my constituency and the surrounding area, including Mr. Andrew Bosmans of 14 Strutton close, Cantley, Doncaster, who is a member of the Finningley "Say Yes" campaign, which organised the petition.
The Petition of residents of the Don Valley Constituency and surrounding area
Declares that Doncaster and the Yorkshire and Humber Region will greatly benefit from the employment and services generated by the proposed Doncaster-Finningley airport.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons calls on the Secretary of State for the Environment to allow the application for the proposed Doncaster-Finningley airport to proceed without a public inquiry.
And the petitioners remain, etc.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex): It is a great honour to present the House with a much humbler petition, which, though signed by a mere 370 people, comes from a village in my constituency that is home to a mere 800 or so souls.
The humble Petition of the Residents of the Parish of Thorrington and the surrounding area.
that, while the United Kingdom should always remain a safe haven for genuine refugees who are fleeing persecution, the Silver Springs Motel on Tenpenny Hill is a completely unsuitable facility for the accommodation of up to 120 asylum seekers, because--
it is in a rural area, where the nearest settlement of Thorrington has a resident population of only 850 souls, only one shop and none of the necessary facilities or available jobs to accommodate a major influx of new people;
it does not comply with the criteria laid down by the government's policy of dispersal of asylum seekers, namely that there is no ready access to the legal advice, English language support, mental health services and refugee community organisations which offer practical and social support that asylum seekers need, and which the recent Audit Commission report cited as necessary in order to achieve the Government's social inclusion objective;
it comprises only wooden structures that comprise nothing more than the most basic bed and breakfast accommodation;
and because there has been no local consultation whatsoever with local people, who are shocked to learn that planning law provides no protection from the change of use of the premises;
and, notwithstanding any central government grant assistance to local authorities for the costs of asylum seekers, the use of Silver Springs is likely to give rise to additional costs that will be borne by local taxpayers;
and that the announcement that Silver Springs is being considered has not unnaturally given rise to exactly the kind of adverse reaction in the community and hostile press reaction that those seeking to protect the genuine interests of asylum seekers would wish to avoid;.
Wherefore your petitioners pray that your honourable House urge the Secretary of State for the Home Department to prevent the housing of asylum seekers at Silver Springs in Thorrington.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, etc.
Sir David Madel (South-West Bedfordshire): It is three years since I had an Adjournment debate on the position of industry in Dunstable. That was in May 1997 and, while I did not expect immediate action in the first month of a new Labour Government, I hoped to put Dunstable's industrial problems at the top of Minister's in-trays and I think that I achieved that.
Three years on, however, industry and employment in Dunstable are again sliding backwards. By that I mean that there have been job losses and no improvement in the infrastructure, which harms local industry in Dunstable and the next-door town of Houghton Regis. Last year, the TRW steering group left the area, with almost 300 jobs losses. Of immediate concern to Dunstable and the surrounding area was an announcement on 4 July by Automotive Sealings Systems, BTR. In a press statement the company announced
Other auto-component manufacturers in the town are not finding it at all easy. One cause is the high value of the pound. One month ago in June, Mr. Richard Marton, the chief executive of Britax plc, made the most ominous comment on the sale of his company's automotive components business. On 26 June, he said:
The good news in the past 24 hours was the announcement of the new assisted area map, and I am grateful to the Minister for Trade, who is to answer the debate, and to his civil servants for keeping me informed as to local developments. The Minister says in his letter to me of 27 July:
qualify for Tier 2 funding. The company--
Also, I draw to the Minister's attention the fact that we want the London road site to be redeveloped, but for industry. I do not want another derelict site in Dunstable. I want someone to go to the London road site and provide jobs. If such a company needs help to restructure and alter the site, I hope that there will be a way of finding that help. BTR has said that it will have a new site locally, with 130 jobs. That is fine, but finding a new employer for the other site is equally important.
In our area, we are not merely sitting back and wondering what on earth to do after these employment difficulties. As I understand it, the East of England development agency is involved in an infrastructure benchmarking study--a fair bit of jargon, but I hope that it means that the development agency will help us in the Dunstable area to re-use a number of brownfield sites for industry.
If our assisted area status is to be of lasting benefit to south Bedfordshire, we must use this opportunity to make those sites suitable for 21st century usage. That means high-tech companies. However, as the study notes, infrastructure funding must also be provided. We need help from the EEDA on that problem.
Furthermore, we are considering a scheme described as an Oxford-Cambridge technology arc. That too is jargon; it means a proposal to build on the international reputation of Oxford and Cambridge universities to create an English silicon valley. It offers a possible way to spread the pressures and benefits of the Cambridge phenomenon sub-regionally to areas such as Bedfordshire, Luton and, of course, Dunstable-Houghton Regis by the provision of suitable infrastructure links.
The proposal is fine, but the EEDA has not yet agreed to part-fund the study. I hope that it will do so, because I think that our area can become a silicon valley between Oxford and Cambridge. When the Minister replies, will he say whether he can give the EEDA a shove forward?
I want to go into a little more detail on the infrastructure. There is a disused railway line between Dunstable and Luton. Detailed proposals for its conversion into a busway are on their way to the Government; work will be completed and submitted within the next few months. Do the Government think that it would better for us to restore the rail link between those two industrial towns? In Dunstable, there is strong opinion in favour of reopening the disused line. In one parish poll, 80 per cent. of people said yes. There will
A much bigger infrastructure problem for industry and individuals is the complete lack of progress on Dunstable's bypass and the effect that it has on industry. I have studied the glossy publication issued by the Deputy Prime Minister last week. I searched it until I was dizzy for a mention of Dunstable's bypass, but there is none, so I asked the right hon. Gentleman a question. He replied that
I shall not seek re-election to Parliament at the next general election. After 30 of the happiest and most challenging years of my life, it is time for a new person to represent my constituency. It has been the greatest privilege for me to have served my constituents for those 30 years. While this Parliament continues, however, I am drawing up a list of leaving presents; not for myself--because I do not want to wreck my parliamentary career by having a row with the sleaze buster, or the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards--but for my constituents. Here is one which I hope the Government will consider, and which I think will help us in our difficulties.
I refer to the final report by the Rover taskforce, which the Minister now has. The taskforce identified five areas in which action was needed to help industry in the Birmingham area: modernisation of the automotive base, diversification of the regional economy, regeneration and creation of new opportunities, support for the work force and support for families and communities. All of those apply to Dunstable and Houghton Regis. That is almost tailor made for our area in view of the industrial setbacks that we have had. There would need to be some modification. Those are five excellent aims that are just as relevant for us.
What I hope the Government can do--they will get my full support if they can--is to take Dunstable and Houghton Regis and the industrial area next door forward on the basis of those recommendations. We need to diversify our local economy. We need regeneration and creation of new opportunities. My goodness, we need support for the work force in view of what has happened
Therefore, I am reaching out to the Government and the Minister this evening, as this Session almost comes to an end, to ask him for help, because if the Government will give such help they will get a superb response from people in Dunstable and Houghton Regis, who want to rebuild their industry and economy and who want to go on doing what they have done for years--making a substantial contribution to the economy and well-being of this country.