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Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman has had his 10 minutes.

5.11 pm

Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes): The speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Mr. Grocott) was inspiring. I am sure that most hon. Members would echo what he said about the improvements that have been made to many different aspects of public services in their constituencies. However, I want to focus on something on which the Government are not doing so well.

10 Apr 2001 : Column 921

I am concerned about East Ravendale school in the Lincolnshire wolds. Every time I hear Education Ministers say that they are getting rid of outside toilets and mobile classrooms in schools, I want to put up my hand and say to the Secretary of State, "Please, sir. You're not doing that in East Ravendale." The school is successful and I pay tribute to the head teacher, Mike Pickwell, on what he and his teachers manage to achieve in difficult circumstances. To put it simply and succinctly, the conditions in which the children are being taught are not acceptable in this day and age, especially given the Government's commitment on school facilities.

The school has only three girls' and three boys' toilets for a roll of about 130 pupils. Those outside toilets are used by all age groups, from three-year-olds to year 6. It is difficult to supervise children, especially the very young ones, when they use the toilets, which are damp and mouldy. The children always get soaked when they go to them from their classrooms in bad weather and there are no disabled facilities. In addition, the toilets have recently been invaded by rats. I do not want to dwell on that. It is a rural school and there is wildlife around it. However, the rats have caught the imagination of the pupils who recently wrote to me and presented me with some wonderful books that show how they feel about them. Almost every page has a picture of rats. Although the rats are smiling, I do not think that the children are so happy. One picture is of a girl in an outside loo shrieking with horror because the rats are underneath her.

The staff loos are also outside. They have not been invaded by rats, but there are many friendly spiders. There is one toilet for male staff and one for female staff, which have to be used when they get changed for PE lessons. It is impossible to have inside toilet facilities in the school because there is no building in which to put them. All five classrooms in the school are in mobile facilities that are well past their sell-by date and on a slope. They suffer from severe structural problems and inadequate glazing, poor heating and poor ventilation. That means that classrooms are too hot in summer and far too cold in winter; they are overcrowded and there is virtually no room for information technology facilities. I am afraid that rats have taken up residence under one mobile classroom.

There is just one small brick building in the school--the old school hall, which, for metric martyrs in the House measures 9.6 m by 4.5 m, so there is no space in it for inside toilets. The hall is used for teaching the children, but it is also the main entrance to the school so, when anyone visits, lessons are disrupted. We need a new school; it is as simple as that. There is no room for medical facilities in the school; the children cannot do PE properly, and equipment has to be stored in an old garage. Because of the physical geography of its location--there are slopes and steps between mobile classrooms--disabled children cannot go to the school. Even for the able-bodied children, it is very dangerous in icy weather.

Land is available for a new school, and it is owned by the local authority. I am trying to encourage Ministers to assist the local authority to secure funding for a new

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school for East Ravendale. A letter from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment was sent to the leader of the council, Councillor Len Taylor, on 30 March, in which he states:

We managed to get officials from the Department for Education and Employment to visit the school on 2 April, when we experienced what was probably the best weather of the year so far. They chose to visit on a lovely spring morning; it was sunny and the bulbs were out. They must have thought that they were visiting an idyllic village in the Lincolnshire wolds. They should have seen it when it was pouring with rain, the kids were getting wet going outside all the time, and damp was being brought into the classrooms. That would have shown them the problems faced by the school.

The school, the parents, the chair of governors, Mark Webb, Councillor Len Taylor, the director of education, Geoff Hill, and I all support the campaign for a new school in East Ravendale, as that is the only way that we are going to tackle the problem of mobile classrooms and outside toilets. The campaign has gone on for too long; I do not want East Ravendale school to be the only school left in the country with outside toilets. If an Education Minister stands up and says that the Government have got rid of outside toilets, I shall jump up again to say, "Oh no you haven't. Get on and help the council to get funding for a new school in East Ravendale."

5.17 pm

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford): I welcome the opportunity before the Easter Adjournment to raise two issues of crucial importance to my constituents, on which something needs to be done urgently.

First, the erection of telecommunications masts by Orange is causing tremendous problems in a residential area of Chelmsford. The mast that is the bone of much contention in the town was refused planning permission by Chelmsford borough council. Orange took the council's decision to appeal with the independent planning inspectorate, which reversed the council's decision to allow that unsightly telecommunications mast to be erected in a residential area, opposite shops and surrounded by domestic dwellings. The mast is unsightly and there is still a belief that masts are a health hazard although, to be fair, the jury is still out on that issue.

Something is seriously wrong when a community is united against having a telecommunications mast in its residential area, the local authority, the Member of Parliament and everyone else are opposed to it, but companies are allowed to put masts up against the wishes of local people. Springfield residents association and local residents in the Bodmin road and Torquay road area of Chelmsford have fought vigorously--as, to its credit, has Chelmsford borough council--although, sadly, to no avail.

The time has come for this House and the Government to look again at the whole issue of planning and telecommunications masts. We have seen just the tip of the iceberg; another wave of masts will have to be erected owing to the popularity of mobile telephones. We need to change planning guidance, so that the views of local

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communities and the environmental impact and the possible health hazard of masts are taken more into account.

We must also bring greater uniformity to the decision-making process of the planning inspectorate in Bristol. We in Chelmsford have seen decisions on cases in Stanmore and in Harrow, for example, where applications were made to place similar masts in similar residential areas. The planning inspectorate has said that on grounds of both visual impact and possible health problems those masts should not be erected, yet the inspector who considered the appeal in Chelmsford has allowed erection of the mast to go ahead.

My constituents are perplexed. How can one inspector say no in Stanmore because the mast would be in a residential area, might create a health hazard and would certainly be unsightly, but another from the same organisation say yes in Chelmsford? We must consider the issue as a matter of urgency because it will impact more and more on people's lives and on more and more hon. Members' constituencies.

The second issue that I should like to raise concerns the number of houses that are to be inflicted on the Chelmsford local authority area as a result of the planning diktats of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

Over the next 10 years, 12,500 new dwellings are to be forced on Chelmsford. This decade, greenfield sites will be concreted over because Chelmsford does not have enough brownfield land to sustain the housebuilding that the Government are demanding of it. I always thought--the Deputy Prime Minister confirmed this in a written answer to me a year ago--that the 60 per cent. brownfield build figure was a national average. Therefore, areas that can take more than 60 per cent. brownfield site development should have more housing, and areas that do not have enough brownfield sites to meet the target should take less.

We have been landed with the building of 12,500 houses. I particularly resent the fact that 2,500 of them will be nothing to do with the future housing needs of mid-Essex. We are being told to take 2,500 houses in order to relieve pressure on housing in the south of the county. The Government want the Thames gateway to be an area of industrial development and growing employment. Why cannot the housing be in that part of the county in order to sustain the jobs that the Government rightly want to create? Sadly, we must have them in Chelmsford; they are being dumped on us--we are being asked to take a disproportionate amount of housing.

Where is that housing to go in the Chelmsford local authority area? There is a reasonable amount of brownfield land in my constituency, which will obviously be used up, but we must still provide a significant amount of other land for extra housing. The village of Boreham has been singled out by Liberal Democrat-controlled Chelmsford borough council for 2,000 of the houses. Boreham is a very small village and a compact community, and to swamp it with more than 2,000 houses will totally destroy its nature.

There is an irony that will be apparent to anyone who is not cynical. Sadly, any cynical person will have seen the trend in Liberal Democrat-controlled councils throughout the country. By strange co-incidence, Boreham had a by-election for Chelmsford borough council in early

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July last year. Of course, the prospect of significant housebuilding in the village was a major issue in the campaign. The seat had been held for 13 years by a Liberal Democrat councillor who had retired. Through literature, interviews and press releases to the local papers, the Liberal Democrat candidate, with the full support of the Liberal Democrat leader of the council, spent the entire campaign assuring prospective voters that he was solidly opposed to any housebuilding in Boreham, and that as the elected councillor, he would fight against it.

Funnily enough, the Conservatives won that by-election, which shows the good sense of the good people of Boreham. Not only did they win it, but they won it on a turn-out of 42 per cent., with a 30 per cent. swing to the Conservatives. Lo and behold, only three months ago, it was Liberal Democrat-controlled Chelmsford borough council that decided to dump 2,000 houses on the village of Boreham. My constituents in Boreham are utterly perplexed at that sudden about-turn.

Although the Liberal Democrat candidate is not the borough councillor for Chelmsford, the leader of Chelmsford borough council is still the same man who stood side by side with that candidate when they were trying to get the voters of Boreham to vote for him, assuring the people of Boreham that they would not have the housing there and that the Liberal Democrats would protect Boreham from becoming a suburb of Chelmsford.

That is a classic example of the Liberal Democrats' behaviour. In what I assume will shortly be a general election, I would not want to be the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate campaigning in the village of Boreham. The people of Boreham have been bitten once and they will not believe a single word that a Liberal Democrat politician tells them, not only about housebuilding, but on any other subject under the sun.

My constituency will be crucified by the amount of housebuilding that is to be forced upon it in the next 10 years. That is wrong. Even at this late stage, I urge the Government to place the proposed 2,500 houses in the Thames gateway and to reconsider the number of houses that they believe should be built.

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