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10.26 am

Linda Perham (Ilford, North): Controversy is raging in the columns of my local papers about whether Ilford is or should be part of London or Essex. As someone who was born in London and who may or may not be an Essex girl, I welcome the new hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron) and congratulate him on his interesting and thoughtful maiden speech. I am interested in history, so I was fascinated to hear about his constituency's connection with the Pilgrim Fathers. He paid deserved credit to his famous, feisty predecessor, Mrs. Gorman, who was one of the House's great characters. With no disrespect to her successor, I am sorry that he is an Essex man and not an Essex girl.

In response to the hon. Gentleman's concerns about regulation, let me say that I believe that not all regulation is bad. It is often necessary for accountability, safety, fairness and justice. I have a constituent whose monthly income has almost doubled as a result of the working families tax credit, and she told me how much that had helped her and other people she knew. Their lives have been transformed by the extra money.

I pay tribute to the self-deprecating and humorous contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon). I share his concerns about low voter turnout. My solution would be compulsory voting, but there is still quite a debate to be had about that.

I want to focus on a couple of matters of concern in my constituency. When I was elected as a local councillor 12 years ago, I was warned that the most difficult

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problems to be resolved were those involving planning applications. Not only did that prove to be the case, but the complexities of the issues and the high emotions generated by planning matters have pursued me, and I am sure many other hon. Members, into the House.

The first matter of concern is an application by Wiggins plc to build a horseracing course on Fairlop plain, which is a greenbelt area on the borders of London and Essex. The 124-hectare site at present comprises public open space with a country park, a golf course, a sailing lake, an indoor children's amusement and activity centre and a bar-restaurant. It is part of an extensive open area directly linked to other open land to the east stretching into the rural areas of neighbouring boroughs and districts in Essex.

The proposal is to redevelop the land to provide an all-weather racecourse, grandstand, stables, health and fitness centre, a hostel for grooms, veterinary facilities, enclosures, parking for cars and coaches, internal estate roads, landscaping and alterations to the public highways. On 25 May 2000, the local planning authority, the London borough of Redbridge, rejected the application. At the time, it also included provision for a hotel and night club.

The application was rejected on the grounds that it was contrary both to national policy guidance in PPGs 2, 9 and 13 and to a raft of policies in the council's own unitary development plan, and as an inappropriate development in the metropolitan green belt. A particular objection was made to the proposed grandstand, whose proportions are 37 m high and 320 m wide according to current projections. Because of its design, mass, height, prominence and position, together with the associated buildings and so on, it was felt that the grandstand would have an over-dominant and intrusive visual impact on the open landscape of Fairlop plain, as well as a serious and adverse effect on the amenities of nearby residential properties.

The council also believed that the proposed development would be likely to encourage unrestrained car use and would generate unacceptable levels of road traffic, thereby increasing congestion on local roads. Furthermore, there was great alarm about the threat to a site of nature conservation importance, where there would be a direct loss of habitats, including grassland and water, as well as an indirect effect on remaining habitats owing to increased activity, noise, disturbance and light pollution.

The developers mounted an appeal and a public inquiry was held this year, from 1 May until mid-June. Just before the general election, I spent a day giving evidence to the inquiry. In addition to opposition from Redbridge council, a long list of interested-party objectors appeared before the inquiry—starting with myself and including the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidates for the Ilford, North seat, local councillors, the Council for the Protection of Rural England, the London Wildlife Trust, local environmental organisations, the Agenda 21 group, the Aldborough Hatch Defence Association and even the Redbridge Pensioners Action Association, who are great fighters in my constituency. Written objections were received from other national and local environmental groups, neighbouring local authorities and two nearby schools.

My evidence concentrated on the unrealistic expectations of the developers with regard to access by public transport. I was especially interested in the

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comments about the underground made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen), as the development relies on several thousand racegoers using the last-but-one station on my branch of the Central line. Several thousand people would have to exit from a small suburban station over short periods during the evening peak and late at night. The impact on rail and bus services and the increased traffic congestion would be horrendous.

As the local MP, I received, and continue to receive, a large number of objections from constituents—more than 100 to date and the number is increasing. As a local resident for nearly 30 years, I share their concerns about the potential damage to the environment and nature conservation, as well as the grave traffic and transportation consequences, should the application succeed. As the planning inspector is now preparing his report for the Secretary of State, I want to draw the attention of the House to the strong feelings among my constituents about the proposed development.

The other matter that I want to raise in my contribution has already been referred to by the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess), who is unfortunately no longer in his place—[Interruption.] I see that he has crossed the Floor—temporarily, I expect.

Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham): We will not have him.

Mr. Pound: We are full.

Linda Perham: I always enjoy the contributions of the hon. Member for Southend, West on these occasions. Although I have not previously contributed to the summer or winter Adjournment debates, I always read the report of the speeches. The hon. Gentleman manages to raise many issues—about 10 last time. They are always matters of concern and on this occasion I share his concern about the controversy over the siting and possible health effects of mobile phone masts. That concern was shown throughout the last Parliament in a series of early-day motions and a constant stream of parliamentary questions, which have continued in this Parliament, requesting information and updates on Government action on the planning and health-related aspects of those masts. During the last Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Ms Shipley) introduced a ten-minute Bill on the subject, and I tabled a parliamentary question on 5 March 2001 asking what research was being undertaken to assess the safety of radiation levels from the masts.

I have had the privilege of serving on the Select Committee on Trade and Industry since 1998 and am pleased to be able to continue to serve on it. When it was suggested that the Committee should take evidence on mobile phone masts, I strongly urged that we should do so, because of the concerns that had been expressed in my constituency. We produced a report on 27 March 2001. One of its recommendations called for local planning authorities to be given

The hon. Member for Southend, West asked what the Government were doing about those concerns. The report of the independent expert group on mobile phones was

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published in May 2000, and I am pleased that the Government have accepted Sir William Stewart's recommended precautionary approach. They have introduced a range of measures, including the publication of leaflets about mobile phones, base stations and health to give people the latest information and advice, which is most important. A national database has been set up with details of base stations, to ensure that all base stations meet the international exposure guidelines. An audit is being undertaken of mobile phone base stations and masts to assess emissions, focusing on schools, about which there was particular concern. That came across in the evidence taken by the Select Committee.

Some comfort may be drawn from the information provided by the Under–Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) in response to inquiries I made on behalf of a large number of residents who were concerned about the proposal to erect a mast in Clayhall avenue in my constituency. In her letter of 11 July, my hon. Friend told me that the first audits showed that maximum levels of exposure were at a tiny fraction of the guidelines. That is reassuring.

In a further initiative, the Government set up a £7 million joint Government-industry research programme. That was announced in December 2000, but I understand that the first group of research proposals is not due to be undertaken until October. Both Sir William Stewart's report and a statement by the World Health Organisation in June 2000 refer to gaps in our knowledge of the assessment of health risks. The WHO states:

However, the statement also notes:

That is an extremely long time, given that people are so concerned about these issues. I urge the Government to expedite our own research programme so as to address the real and immediate concerns of our constituents.

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