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11.3 am

Mr. Christopher Leslie (Shipley): I want to raise with the Minister an issue that is important to my constituency: the proposal for a landfill site at a former quarry, known as Buck Park quarry, in Denholme.

The history of the problem is long and complex, but I firmly believe that the proposal should not go ahead, for a number of reasons. The first is the harsh environmental impact that its implementation would have on the surrounding water courses, especially as the disused quarry--an enormous hole in the ground--is immediately above the Hewenden reservoir, which eventually seeps into the drinking water serving the surrounding locality.

I am concerned not just about the effect of leachates on the reservoir, but about gases and other problems associated with landfill sites. The nearby Manywells quarry and landfill site has demonstrated those problems to many residents--environmental hazards, as well as, for instance, the mess caused by seagulls.

I am also worried about the traffic that the scheme would generate. I am thinking of all the heavy lorries and other vehicles going to and from the site, and the

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congestion that would develop on local roads. Moreover, residential amenities would be blighted. In short, there are many reasons why the proposal should be rejected.

I think it was back in 1992 that permission was given for the original Buck Park quarry. A number of conditions were imposed in connection with landscaping on a phased basis. As local people know, many of those conditions have been breached. Rather than "backfill" taking place as stone was removed, the hole has got bigger and bigger. There is now an enormous scar on our landscape, and--in contrast to the original intention of landscaping and filling in the hole bit by bit--the current proposal is to fill it with waste and rubbish, over the brim, in a very visible area.

Many residents are very upset and angry. Around this time last year, a referendum took place. There was a turnout of 53 per cent.--which is unusual in the case of local referendums--97 per cent. of whom voted against the proposal. I myself am angry that the local council has failed for so long to enforce properly the conditions attached to the quarrying operations. There is a history not just of poor monitoring and insufficient landscaping, but of a host of problems relating to the removal of footpaths and a failure to provide adequate bunds to mask the area. I have had many letters and calls from worried constituents. Although they were not surprised when the proposal came along, they are worried nevertheless. There have been several big marches through Denholme, one of which I was able to join.

This is a not a party political matter locally; there is all-party opposition. Any planning application, however, involves difficulties relating to local democracy. The local council has to deal with such matters. The original planning application for this landfill site was submitted to the council recently--in the past year--and I was pleased when it was rejected for reasons connected with highways and residential amenities. Unfortunately, the council hired barristers to give an opinion about the likelihood that the refusal could be defended at an appeal. The barristers suggested, wrongly in my view, that the rejection was unsustainable. The council declared that at any public inquiry, it would be unable to defend its grounds for rejection. We were left in limbo, uncertain whether the applicant would pursue the matter in view of the council's failure to defend its rejection of the application.

For some reason, the applicant then decided to lodge a fresh application. The council considered it last Monday, 24 July, and rejected it again. However, the rejection was based not on the reasons of the environment, highways or residential amenity that I have described, but on the ground that the landfill would be detrimental to visual amenity.

I agree with that conclusion, but I am disappointed that it is now the only reason for the rejection. Given the big business interests behind the landfill development, it is likely that an appeal will be made to a planning inspector, who will be able to determine the case only with reference to visual amenity. I am worried about the outcome of that appeal. I despair about our chances, as I fear that the inspector will not decide for the local authority. We will try to persuade him of our case, but the council has a lot to answer for.

Why did the council give only reasons of visual amenity when it rejected the application? Surely it should have raised the serious environmental problems and

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highway dangers created by the proposal? What about the views of residents? I fear that the council's decision to turn down the application on the ground of visual amenity alone will be hard to defend.

Although I do not hold out much hope about the appeal, there is still a chance that the Environment Agency, which licenses landfill sites, will reconsider the environmental argument. Bradford council should have raised the question of licensing with the Environment Agency before the case began, and I am disappointed that it did not even take account of the proposals for further quarrying. The behaviour of the council's planning committee needs to be reviewed later, but I hope that the council will refer the matter to the Environment Agency.

I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to convey my strong feeling that the Environment Agency must call in the licence application for the landfill site. I believe that the site's impact on local watercourses means that the licence application should be rejected.

The residents have done stirling work in opposing the landfill proposal, which I considered important enough to bring to the House's attention. The fight goes on to try to stop the proposal.

11.13 am

Mr. David Amess (Southend, West): I want to raise several points with the Minister. He is always courteous, and although I do not expect him to respond today, I hope that on my behalf he will gee up the relevant Government Departments over the summer.

I misread the Order Paper earlier, and what I thought was a three-hour debate will in fact last until 2.30 pm. I apologise for that, and for the fact that a surgery that I am holding in my constituency at 3 o'clock means that I will not be present to hear the Minister's response. I do not want to be done for speeding, nor to be caught on film by the cameras along the A127. I hope that the Minister accepts my apology.

In addressing the House this morning, I want to secure help for Southend, and for some organisations there. The Minister will recall that the result of the local elections was that the Conservative party took control of the council from the previous Liberal Democrat-Labour administration. I was delighted at that, and the new administration has done a remarkable job in just two months, restoring all the difficulties suffered by residents under its predecessor.

However, the new council is keen to get a Government response on several matters. First, the Deputy Prime Minister announced that £180 billion would be spent on the transport system. Such sums are so huge that they go over people's heads. The right hon. Gentleman said that there would be cash for 100 new bypasses--70 local schemes and 30 national schemes.

The Minister knows that people are queueing up to visit Southend, the country's premier seaside resort. As a result, we are experiencing dreadful traffic congestion. Councillor Roger Weaver, deputy leader of Southend council, advises me that the best relief for that congestion would be a new bypass. I should be grateful if the Minister would find out how much of the £180 billion will find its way to Southend. I am glad that the previous administration's barmy schemes--for a dedicated bus lane along the length of the A13, and for traffic calming measures--have been dropped or moderated.

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I was delighted by the comments of the hon. Member for Upminster (Mr. Darvill). I agree with him about the swimming pool, and although I am sick of his local swimming squad beating Southend's, I shall not dwell on that matter. However, the hon. Gentleman made some very well judged remarks about telephone masts.

As the Minister will recall, the problems associated with telephone masts were aired in the Whitsun Adjournment debate. Although all hon. Members will welcome the Government's proposals in that regard, the masts are still being erected at great speed. I hope that the Minister will gee up the relevant Department, as action must be taken quickly. Many local residents are upset about the masts.

Southend is undertaking a review of special needs provision. Under the previous administration the officers appear to have decided to take advantage of the Government's plans to include such provision in mainstream schools. As a result, all hell has broken loose; try as we might to reassure them, parents of children at the five special schools in Southend are distraught, and feel that their children will not receive proper treatment in mainstream schools.

We have tried to tell parents that officers under the previous local administration had only launched a consultation scheme, but they are very upset. Other hon. Members with Essex constituencies will find that some children from their areas are educated at the five special schools in Southend, four of which are in my constituency.

I know that the Secretary of State for Education and Employment feels strongly about this issue. The House will be aware of the right hon. Gentleman's experiences in a special school, but such experiences are not always shared by people who attend such schools. My brother-in-law is blind, and my wife's sister has very little sight; they were educated in special schools. It is incredible that anyone could think that the children who go to the schools in the area that I represent, such as Lancaster, St. Christopher, Kingsdown and Fairway, or the school in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor), could be helped in mainstream schools.

I shall quote from a letter that I received from a constituent, who says:

Will the Minister find out from the appropriate Department how we can reassure those parents that after Southend has gone through the special needs review, the Government will not insist that those children are taken out of the schools that they are so delighted with at the moment?

The next local issue that I wish to raise is socially affordable housing. Mrs. Gwen Horrigan, the chairman of our housing committee, was delighted with the Green Paper on housing. She welcomes the proposals for affordable housing. However, she is right to draw my attention to the document, because she wonders how the

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Government intend to fund their proposal. Southend is such a popular place in which to live that house prices have rocketed over the past year. Yesterday I phoned an estate agent, who reckoned that there had been an increase of 20 to 30 per cent. in the past year. Young professional people cannot afford the mortgage on a flat. An efficient implementation of the programme--with enough funding--would certainly benefit the Southend economy, which continues to struggle; that is why we have objective 2 status. I should be grateful if, during the summer recess, the Minister could find out how the Green Paper will help Southend.

The Kennel Club is concerned about the distressing situation in Germany regarding the treatment of some dogs. It has advised me that the German Government are attempting to pass legislation to ban the breeding and import of bull breeds, including the Staffordshire bull terrier. I should be grateful if the Minister could find out from the appropriate Department whether we are in talks with our German opposite numbers, because this issue is causing great distress to dog owners in this country.

The dogs that the German Government are classifying as dangerous are mainly British breeds--Staffordshire bull terriers, bull terriers, bull mastiffs, old English mastiffs, Neapolitan mastiffs and Rhodesian ridgebacks. I think that the British bulldog is not included. Those breeds are registered in the United Kingdom, and the Government do not consider them to be fighting dogs or a threat to public safety. I should be grateful if the Minister could find out what our response will be if the German Government go ahead with that legislation.

A little while ago we had a debate in Westminster Hall on volunteering, and I was told that I had spoilt the party. I suspect that that debate was planned to coincide with the Prime Minister's address to the Women's Institute. Much as I welcome the opportunity to rejoice in volunteering, I found it nauseating that although everyone was praising volunteers, voluntary organisations in my constituency had undoubtedly struggled under this Government. I shall bring to the Minister's attention the problems of two voluntary organisations, the first of which is the scouts.

We all enjoyed a splendid tea party in Speaker's House recently. The scouts in particular will be affected by the imposition of the requirement for a criminal records certificate, which will cost £10. I listened carefully to the response of the Minister of State, Home Office, the right hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) when we had the debate in Westminster Hall, and I have received much correspondence from the Scout Association. The Minister's response has been unconvincing, and the scouts reported him as having said that free checks would be an unsustainable burden on the public purse. If funding checks would be an unsustainable burden on the public purse, it will be even more of an unsustainable burden on voluntary organisations. It is ridiculous to expect voluntary organisations to cough up £10 a time.

We all understand that carrying out those checks is not compulsory, but we know only too well what the reaction would be if organisations did not do it. The Scout Association said:

Voluntary organisations in areas of social exclusion will find a charge of £10 per person difficult to pay.

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The Home Secretary apparently told voluntary organisations to apply from grant assistance from the lottery. That is either naive or disingenuous. I cannot see how those organisations can apply for £750,000 a year in additional core costs. Will the Minister gee up the Home Office on this important issue, because Members' postbags will be flooded with letters about this problem when the project goes ahead?

The other voluntary organisation to which I pay tribute is the Women's Royal Voluntary Service. I had the honour to be attached to it for a few days, and it has 115,000 members, including 18,000 men. Last week I went to St. James's park on the morning of the Queen Mother's pageant, and I saw the volunteers preparing the food for the people who were taking part in the pageant. Those people do a magnificent job. We turn up when they ask us to present badges, and we say they are marvellous, but what on earth do we do to help them?

Since 1 May 1997, the Government have done everything they can to undermine such people. Will the Minister persuade the appropriate Department to embark on a television advertising campaign to encourage more recruits to voluntary organisations, because they cannot afford to do it themselves? They tell us that volunteers are getting older and that there are not enough new volunteers coming through. If all those voluntary organisations dry up, we will be in a difficult situation.

I shall end my speech with a few thoughts. The hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Dr. Turner) is no longer present, but he waxed lyrical about the Government. I do not have a good word to say about them. I find Wednesday afternoons increasingly difficult to cope with when I listen to the patronising claptrap spoken at the Dispatch Box.

Today murderers are being released, which the relatives of the victims will find difficult to cope with. Yesterday we had a statement about the health service. My goodness, Southend, West is 31st out of the 659 constituencies--but it cannot wait until 2005 or 2008 to get help. I recently visited St. Thomas's hospital, and it was interesting to talk to nurses who had met the leader of the Labour party when he was involved in that public relations exercise a few weeks ago. They were deeply unconvinced by what he had to say.

Morning, noon and night, we listen to soundbites, and all the talk of "billions of pounds", and "joined-up government". In reality, however, the general public and the media no longer accept anything that the Government say about any issue.

This time last week, however, was a great occasion, because of the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Bill. I do thank the Government, and hon. Members on both sides of the House, for their support for that measure. I also hope that it is a very happy summer recess for everyone.

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