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Queen's recommendation having been signified--

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52(1)(a),

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52(1)(a),

    That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Transport Bill, it is expedient to authorise--

    (1) the inclusion in licences granted under the Act of provisions requiring payments to be made;
    (2) the imposition of charges to corporation tax by provisions relating to transfer schemes;
    (3) the making of road user charging schemes and workplace parking levy licensing schemes;
    (4) payments into the Consolidated Fund and the National Loans Fund.--[Mr. Robert Ainsworth.] Question agreed to.

Mitrokhin Archive

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Further to your ruling earlier today on the matter ofthe Solicitor-General and the announcement about prosecutions against spies, it has been confirmed that the answer was placed in the Library considerably after3.30 pm and considerably after the information was given to the press. Given that there was no statement today, can I seek your advice about what remains to Members to get Ministers to observe the rule that you laid down and, if possible, to get the Solicitor-General to the House before we rise for Christmas to make a statement tomorrow?

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Madam Speaker: As I told the House, the rule is that such questions must be answered no earlier than 3.30 pm. Perhaps I can look into the matter. I cannot command a Minister to come to the House to make a statement, but no doubt Ministers on the Treasury Bench heard what the hon. Gentleman had to say.

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Cane Hill, Coulsdon

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

10.29 pm

Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South): Before the House adjourns, I should like to raise the issue of the future development of the Cane Hill site in Coulsdon. Cane Hill represents more than 200 acres of green belt. It is a prime site of outstanding beauty and location. It sits on a hill top in the metropolitan greenbelt area to the south of London, adjacent to the A23 Brighton road. It is in the southern part of my constituency, in the southern part of the borough of Croydon, and it abuts the London-Surrey boundary and the seat of my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), whom I am pleased to see in his place.

As a site, Cane Hill is attractive to any developer under any circumstances, and it offers first-class links to the motorway network and to Gatwick, Heathrow and Biggin Hill. It has a mainline rail station by its front entrance. It is, in short, a world-class site. Most of the site is agricultural, farmed by a local farmer. On about 20 per cent. of the site there is a small 23-bed medium secure unit for those with severe mental health problems, and there used to be a hospital, formerly for those with mental health needs, which closed in 1988.

Now, to the concern of my constituents, the NHS wishes to build a 120-bed medium secure unit. The matter is being considered by the planning committee of Croydon council at an open meeting early next year. The object of tonight's debate is to highlight to the Secretary of State, through his Minister, why I believe it should be the subject of a public inquiry.

The debate is not about the treatment of the mentally ill. It is about the determination of Labour-controlled Croydon borough council to push the project through, regardless of greenbelt regulations. There is a small group opposed to any mental health facilities on the site, but in my judgment, considering the presence of a small unit there already, that is unrealistic. I congratulate the Croydon Advertiser on its balanced articles on the work of the medium secure unit and on promoting awareness of its work.

The overwhelming majority of the people of Coulsdon and the surrounding area object to the dramatic expansion of the facility, the abuse of greenbelt procedures, and above all the elimination of any hope of worthwhile economic development on the site.

When the present administration on Croydon council--the Labour party--took control in 1994, it did so with a pledge to build a science and technology park on the site. Although that was not everyone's first preference, it was an acceptable proposal. Sadly, the council dithered, and in 1997 the Lambeth health authority stepped into the vacuum and proposed the construction of a 120-bed medium secure unit.

The recent history of the Cane Hill site is highly pertinent. In January 1996 a draft development brief for Cane Hill hospital was produced. In it, there was an indication from the South Thames regional health authority that the unit would need to be expanded to accommodate future health care needs. Relocation was a

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clear option, and a number of possible alternative sites were mooted. The health authority was asked to investigate further.

Against that background, on 30 January 1997 the borough of Croydon adopted its unitary development plan. It recognised in paragraph RO 10 that Cane Hill could be redeveloped, and set out clear factors to be taken into account, as well the need to comply with planning policy guidance note 2, more commonly known as PPG2.

The plan recognised that there was a development brief for a science and technology park, but set out other uses consistent with policy RO 10 and listed them in descending order of preference as

As a throwaway at the end, the plan stated:

    "The Development brief may allow for other uses or a combination of uses."

There was no reference to a new medium secure unit, let alone one on the scale that is currently being considered.

On the map in the UDP, the area is marked as a metropolitan greenbelt site of borough-wide importance for nature conservation.

If further evidence were needed of the council's position when the unitary development plan was adopted, it is available in a letter dated 8 January 1997 from the leader of the council, who is now the hon. Memberfor Croydon, Central (Mr. Davies). He wrote to the Government on behalf of the council about the medium secure unit. The letter stated:

The letter tellingly continued:

    "I would suggest, therefore, that Cane Hill should be excluded from any search for a site for a new MSU."

It is ironic that, having lumbered us with a science park, the hon. Gentleman has abandoned that view and now supports a park and ride scheme. However, that is another story.

Further evidence of the council's opposition to a medium secure unit and the lack of any intention to include it in the science park is found in a briefing to Members of Parliament and councillors, dated 24 January 1997. It emphasised that the aim was to establish a successful science park at Cane Hill, and stated that, in the council's judgment, a medium secure unit would be detrimental to a successful park development. The briefing stated:

That view, which the council expressed, highlights the impact of a medium secure unit on a science park. It is somewhat surprising to find that the council has now changed its mind.

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After the general election in May 1997 and the change of Government, the council and I jointly sought a meeting with the Secretary of State for Health to discuss the site. Before the meeting, the new council leader, Councillor Shawcross, issued a press release in July. It stated that she hoped that the meeting with the Department would result in the

That is, not on Cane Hill. That was the position before the meeting with the Department.

The meeting took place with a junior Health Minister, the right hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), who is now a Minister of State in the Home Office. At the meeting, he confirmed that he intended a medium secure unit for approximately 50 beds to be built on the site. The application for a 120-bed medium secure unit was therefore a surprise. That happened despite the representations that had been made to me at the meeting. It is disappointing to find that a Minister misled a constituency Member of Parliament in that way.

The most devastating blow to the plan was the subsequent U-turn by the leader of the council. After the meeting, she wrote to the Minister to thank him for his positive attitude. She said that she left the meeting feeling

That was written by someone who had been told that she would get the opposite of what she had requested. The letter continued:

    "the proposed MSU on the old Portnalls House part of the site is certain to be controversial with local residents. But I personally accept these are necessary facilities to fulfil the healthcare needs of the community. Although naturally disappointed that the scope for economic development has been substantially reduced, the Council will be as supportive as possible."

The council changed its position at that point--quite a U-turn in only a few weeks. From that moment, the die was cast.

Croydon council planning committee is due to consider the application to build a medium secure unit early next year. The Minister will probably be as surprised as me to hear that the number of protesters against the application is believed to be more than 4,000. That shows the importance and relevance of the matter to the local community.

The Minister may not fully appreciate that the medium secure unit will not be built on the footprint of the old Cane Hill hospital. The council is taking the square footage of the old hospital, adding to it, splitting it in two, moving one bit to the other side of the site and putting bits of green belt in its place. The plan is to build the MSU on one bit and the science park on the other. I have to tell the Minister, and I hope that she agrees, that such messing around with the green belt will be detrimental to its quality. In my judgment, the openness of the green belt in the Coulsdon area will be diminished and a contribution will be made to urban sprawl, because the site is immediately adjacent to the built-up area of London.

The Minister will be well aware that the key to all that is in the rules to PPG2 and paragraph C4 of annexe E, which deals with redevelopment in the green belt, and it is the view of many that they are being ignored by the council. Extensive correspondence with the council reflects its determination to have its way, and although it

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argues that it is complying with paragraph C4, I and several thousand others suggest that it is not. It is difficult to see how the criteria in paragraph C4 can be met, as the proposal will clearly have a greater impact on the openness of the green belt: first, there will be new building in an open area--further from the urban area--and secondly, it offends the greenbelt purposes of checking the unrestricted sprawl of large urban areas, safeguarding the country from encroachment and encouraging the recycling of derelict land.

I quote the submission by the Croydon Society, which said:

As the Coulsdon Green Belt Association says, some kind of development must eventually take place within the existing footprint at Cane Hill,

    "but the application violates six acres of green belt without establishing the 'very special circumstances' which ministerial guidelines require before waiving the normal presumption against development in the green belt area may be considered."

The much respected Mr. Charles Hancock of the Coulsdon Forum says that PPG2

    "sets out Green Belt safeguards which this planning application seriously ignores".

I hope that the Minister has been given a flavour of what is being said locally. This is a major site and clearly she must consider matters that have more than local importance--I choose my words carefully.

My second submission to the Minister is that an MSU of the nature of that being considered represents a departure from the unitary development plan. That in turn imposes on the Secretary of State an obligation to call in the application and hold a public inquiry. The council has fiercely resisted that suggestion: it wants to push the plan through without a public inquiry, but its impartiality cannot be guaranteed. It must be remembered that the entire site belongs to the national health service, and to develop the science and technology park the council needs NHS approval to sell it for that purpose.

It is becoming clear that the council is prepared togive permission to build the MSU regardless of the environmental and social consequences, to get its way with the park. That was confirmed in a letter to me dated 28 October in which the leader of the council said that

In other words, a deal has been struck: "We'll let you build an MSU and then you'll let us have our science park." To that extent, the council's eyes are blinkered and its judgment is suspect. After seven years of dither over the science park, it has done a deal with Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham health authority, but in my judgment the council ought not to be entrusted with the decision on the future of one of the nation's prime development sites.

As the Minister might imagine, there is widespread local concern. The proposed development is bang next door to two primary schools, and stories of the conduct

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of patients out on day release are legion and at odds with official statistics. As Councillor David Osland said in a letter to the Croydon Advertiser:

    "Coulsdon for many years enjoyed a satisfactory relationship with Cane Hill Hospital and its thousands of patients and staff. But the nature of the proposed MSU was such that it ought to be built on a brown-field site attached to a hospital with a proper level of Psychiatric services, not built on green belt as a sop to developers who may be put off by the close proximity of the existing MSU."

That fairly reflects local opinion.

If this application goes through, the science park will not get off the ground. The application is not included in the unitary development plan and is a departure. There is a clear breach of the policy guidelines relating to the green belt, and the council is clearly not impartial. Under the circumstances, I urge the Secretary of State, through the Minister, whom I welcome, to exercise his powers and call it in.

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