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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.
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 inquirystarting 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.
As the local MP, I received, and continue to receive, a large number of objections from constituentsmore 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 Floortemporarily, I expect.
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 issuesabout 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
Some comfort may be drawn from the information provided by the UnderSecretary 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: