|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Line 31, at end add--
'( ) The committee shall have power to appoint a sub-committee, which shall have power to send for persons, papers and records, to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, and to report to the committee from time to time.
( ) The committee shall have power to report from time to time the minutes of evidence taken before the sub-committee.
( ) The quorum of the sub-committee shall be three.'.-- [Mr. Betts.]
Line 40, before the word 'European' insert the words 'Environmental Audit Committee or with the'.
Line 50, before the word 'European' insert the words 'Environmental Audit Committee or with the'.
Line 52, at the end insert the words:--
'(4A) notwithstanding paragraphs (2) and (4) above, where more than two committees or sub-committees appointed under this order meet concurrently in accordance with paragraph (4)(e) above, the quorum of each such committee or sub-committee shall be two.'--[Mr. Betts.]
Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire): Nothing that I have to say this evening will surprise the Minister because I have given him a copy of what I intend to say. This discussion has been going on between his Department and myself for the past three years. It concerns the plans of Steetley Woburn Bentonite Ltd. irrevocably to despoil the landscape of one of the most attractive parts of Bedfordshire so that its foreign parent company can make marginally more profit.
Ministers have told me that they cannot interfere and that it is for Bedfordshire county council to determine the matter. The council has acted: it has rightly refused Steetley's application to surface quarry in one of the most attractive parts of my constituency.
A: the unacceptable effect on the Area of Great Landscape Value
B: the significant adverse effect on the County Wildlife Sites
C: the effect on the setting of listed buildings and the Woburn Conservation Area
D: the possibility of potential nitrate and pesticide leakage into the groundwater at the Woburn Sands aquifer."
We now hear that Steetley is to appeal to the Planning Inspectorate and will plead that all these planning policies can be overturned because it can prove that there is a need for fuller's earth and that it is in the national interest to quarry it. I am also told that it will claim DTI support for such an assertion.
First, will the Minister confirm that no statement has been made by a Minister or official which Steetley could pray in aid? Secondly, I intend to show that no such statement should be made. I then hope, in the light of this evidence and the county council's decision, that the Minister will feel able to confirm that no support will be given to Steetley in future and that in the last resort the Secretary of State would call the application in.
Steetley is a wholly owned subsidiary of a private Spanish-owned minerals and mining company, TOLSA S.A., to which the profits revert. Another player in this saga is Ciba Speciality Chemicals (UK), formerly Allied Colloids--a Swiss-owned company.
The product that Steetley wishes to surface quarry is fuller's earth, which is processed with other materials into bentonite. It then has a number of applications, including being used for cat litter. Fuller's earth has been extracted locally continuously since the 1950s and the quarry was most recently extended in 1993 on a marginally won appeal. However, that work took place in an area that was not visible to most people.
The current application, however, is for a site of 58 hectares--146 acres--of highly visible open farmland. It would remove the whole of a wooded ridge between Woburn and Aspley Heath and Woburn Sands, and it is part of the famous Greensands ridge. It is greenbelt land, designated as an area of great landscape value--an AGLV--and it is close to two sites of special scientific interest. The nearest residential property is only 10 metres away. [Interruption.] I am delighted that I have been joined by many other Members, who have come from the Standing Committee that is considering the Criminal Justice and Police Bill. That shows just how important the issue is, not just to my constituents but to the House.
Things are different now. First, there is not the need for the site, as I will show; secondly, there are alternatives, as I will prove; and, thirdly, the damage that will be caused will be highly visible, catastrophic and irreversible, and that is not in the national interest.
Let me provide some background to the issue. The total world production of bentonite is 15 million tonnes per annum. Woburn processes just 30,000 tonnes--less than one third of 1 per cent. of that. Some 92 per cent. of Woburn fuller's earth is processed to form bentonite and sold to Ciba, and 94 per cent. of this product is exported for use in overseas paper mills. Only 12.6 per cent. of United Kingdom paper production uses Woburn bentonite; 87.4 per cent. does not.
Ciba obtains 70 per cent. of its bentonite from other sources because Woburn bentonite is not the preferred material in all its applications. The other sources in Europe and the USA insist that the performance of their material is in no way inferior to that of Woburn clay and they insist that they have the capacity to meet any increase in demand from Ciba. Their general claim is that they can beat Woburn on performance, but not always on price. Ciba itself admits that it has
In September 2000, Ciba bought Cytec's retention and drainage acids, including the polyflex micropolymer, so it believes in the system. Ciba, which at the time was Allied Colloids, has a patented formula called hydrocol, which, when taken out in 1986, referred only to bentonite. In 1998, it extended it to include colloidal silica. A more recent patent extended it again to include "other anionic bridging coagulant", thus widening Ciba's options still further to include the possibility of an organic microparticle akin to the Cytec micropolymer polyflex.
Steetley says that its product is unique, but the facts deny that. Laporte Industries, which is about to mine 176,000 tonnes at Baulking in Oxfordshire--enough for the next decade--maintained in May 1999 that those deposits
The next Alice-in-Wonderland argument that Steetley may adduce is that of the environment. It may claim that bentonite makes the recycling of paper more efficient. In its site visitors' guide, it states:
What of the national interest? We know that only a fraction of fuller's earth is used in United Kingdom paper making and that alternatives are available. The majority is exported, so there can be no national interest. Nor are the sums involved so large that their loss would even be noticed. The despoiling of Woburn would be worth £2 million a year to Steetley's parent company, but its effect on Woburn would be profound in terms of noise, dust, loss of amenity, disturbance of roads, destruction of the landscape and loss of jobs.
Woburn is the second-largest tourist destination in Bedfordshire. Walking in the area is a major visitor attraction. Anything detrimental to the visual attraction of the area will deter visitors. Eight circular walks through the area that is covered by the planning application begin and end in Woburn, and there is a new millennium walk. Whereas only two Woburn residents depend on Steetley for their livelihood, 170 Woburn residents are employed in tourist-dependent businesses.
There is no need for the site, as I have shown, and there is demonstrably no national interest at stake, as I have proved. I await the Minister's assurances that this shoddy, shabby and selfish campaign by Steetley will get no help from a Labour Government.