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Mr. Fraser Kemp (Houghton and Washington, East) (Lab): I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me this opportunity to speak in our summer Adjournment debate, not least because for the past four years I have been subject to an enforced, but enjoyable, silence in the Government Whips Office.
Today, I shall highlight some issues affecting my constituency and the wider city to which it belongs. That city is also ably represented by my hon. Friends the Members for Sunderland, North (Bill Etherington), for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) and for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Mrs. Hodgson). I shall also take the opportunity to promote the city of Sunderland and Wearside in general and to tell the House about a dynamic city that has transformed itself in recent years.
Last month, Sunderland launched a major marketing campaign asking people to see the city in a new light. Much of the credit for the city's transformation in the past 20 years goes to the leader of the city council, Bob Symonds. Twenty years ago, we were facing the closure of our mining industry and the decline of shipbuilding, but we have moved from a position of decline and managing decline to one of managing progress. That is a big difference. A few decades ago, it would have stretched credulity to say that Sunderland could be one of the UK's great places for inward investmentpeople would not have believed it. Now, however, we have achieved astonishing change, both economically and culturally.
Sunderland, I remind hon. Members, is the biggest city between Leeds and Edinburgha fact that is often forgotten. There was bad news at Longbridge earlier in the year, but the city plays host to the most successful car plant in Europe. This week, the workers at Nissan learned not only that they are the most productive workers in Europe but that their plant is more productive than any plant in the United States. Time and again in recent years Nissan has demonstrated its ability to win contracts to build new models, so I pay tribute to the managing director, Colin Dodge, and the work force. On behalf of the work force and the company I thank the Government for their support for research and development, which has ensured that those models are built in the UK. If anyone wants to drive a truly British car they can, in a Nissan.
Young people in my constituency have achieved much. Again, there has been a big transformation. I am proud to report that with the creation of children's centres, the opening of seven new primary schools in the past eight years, and the building of three new secondary schools in the next few years, we can offer full wraparound education. A great deal of investment has gone into education, which is making a difference in any area that has suffered from underachievement by many young people. Wearside was chosen last year as one of the top five places for business investment by leading accountants KPMG. To reinforce that choice, the area accounts for 12.5 per cent. of the population of the northern region yet produces 25 per cent. of its gross domestic product.
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We are drawing up plans to ensure that we are the leading intelligence city within the UK. In my constituency, there are thousands of new jobs coming on stream at Rainton Bridge. We have invested in infrastructure, and are starting to see the benefits. Sunderland was recently included in the world's top seven IT-intelligent communities by world opinion leaders. The key to that success is not just the people in the area but the partnership between the public and private sectors. We have taken steps to make that happenwe are not just planning for today but making sure that we put plans in place for the next five, 10 and 15 years. It has always been necessary to plan for the future, and that has never been more so than in today's global economic environment. The old ways, the old rules and the old expectations about the economy do not apply any more.
Those are the wider Wearside issues that I wanted to bring to the attention of the House, but I also think that a couple of local groups in the constituency are worthy of mention. The Square Root group, whose members are predominantly women, has raised hundreds of thousands of pounds in the past couple of years to transform a derelict eyesore at the heart of that former mining community of Herrington Burn into landscaped gardens and play facilities for children. It is a great example of people power, and an inspiration to many in my constituency, including me, showing what people can do to transform a derelict area.
Wearside Women in Need, a dedicated organisation led by Clare Philpson, gives support to victims of domestic violence. It also undertakes imaginative work with domestic violence offenders. It has transformed and, in some cases, saved the lives of many families and individuals in desperate circumstances. A great deal more needs to be done, however, and I urge the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons to tell the Home Secretary that any additional resources that can be provided to tackle the scourge of domestic violence would make a good and positive contribution.
It is easy for politicians to condemn young people and categorise them as yobs and so on but, equally, there are many shining examples, including young Grant Hollis, a pupil at Houghton Kepier school, who represents my constituency in the Youth Parliament. He does excellent work representing to me and the city council the views and aspirations of young people in the city.
On local democracy, I urge the Minister, in consultation with others, to ensure that in next year's local council elections we have the opportunity to do what we have done for many yearsthat is, to vote by post. To the best of my knowledge there have been no problems with that in the city of Sunderland, and in many areas it has doubled the turnout. Anyone who believes in democracy and is a confirmed democrat must be encouraged so that we can double turnout.
Those are some of the issues that I wanted to mention, and I am grateful for the opportunity to do so. There has been a big transformation in the area, and I hope that the Minister will take on board the points that I have made.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I always welcome the pre-Adjournment debate as a valuable opportunity for Back Benchers to raise issues. I am sorry that it is so abbreviated today and that we do not have enough time for all those who wish to be called. It is therefore not appropriate to take a panoramic view of the world and its problems in the short time available. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington, East (Mr. Kemp), who extolled the virtues of the city of Sunderland. I am pleased that he now has the chance to do so vocally, rather than being constrained by the office of Whip.
I propose to use the opportunity unashamedly to raise matters in my constituency, and it would be inappropriate if I were to abuse my position on the Front Bench and take longer than the time allocated to Back Benchers, so I propose to stay within the limit. There are three issues of great importance to my constituency that I wish to raise. One is the still-awaited new Victoria hospital in Frome. I am getting increasingly worried that the hospital, which was promised back in 1998 and should have been completed years ago, is still so far from completionindeed, it is still a greenfield site. I am having a meeting on the subject with the local primary care trust next week, but I remind Ministers that if we do not get a satisfactory solution, I shall raise the matter after we return from the summer recess.
Another problem is the A303a recurrent problem for local residents, both in safety terms and in traffic noise terms, particularly at this time of year, when the A303 carries an enormous amount of traffic bound for the south-west of England. However, I shall spend the bulk of my time on a very local issue, the water supply to the village of Witham Friary in my constituency. I do so for two reasons; first, because I have had a prolonged dialogue on the subject with the clerk to Witham Friary parish council, Deborah Ligatt, and with members of the parish council and other residents, and secondly, and to me equally importantly, because I live in Witham Friary, as do my family, and we are directly affected. I therefore have a direct interest, which I declare.
We are unusual in that our water supply is provided by the Duke of Somerset's estate. It is a private water supply. It is not connected to the large water companies. Although in many ways that is a satisfactory arrangement, in other ways it is becoming less satisfactory, and increasingly so over recent years. We have had problems with the quality of supply because of contamination. We have a particular difficulty because there is a thin layer of greensand that provides the filter, with the result that there is often bacterial and other contamination of the supply. The other consequence is that the water is highly acidic, which means that it contains a lot of dissolved metalsiron and copper, and we hope not lead, but we have to be careful about old piping.
The imminent difficulty is that the Environment Agency has applied a daily extraction limit of 193 cu m on the water supply, which theoretically is enough for our needs, but in practice, because of very substantial leakage from the old main, is far from adequate. As a result, there have been interruptions in supply for all the residents in the village. The interruptions have caused difficulty and inconvenience to those who need their
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domestic supply and could lead to public health problems. However, the situation is catastrophic for those who rely on the water supply for their agricultural undertakings. Dairy farmers around the village are finding it difficult to water their livestock due to the interruptions of supply.
The estate is trying to rectify the problem. It has addressed the water quality by undertaking to replace the limestone bed of the reservoir and starting to fit alarm telemetry and automated systems. However, we have a real problem with supply. We need to replace the cast-iron main and the spurs from it. The alternative is to add water from the water companies to the supply, but Bristol Water has indicated that it would cost £400,000 for it to provide water to our supply. Such a proposition is completely beyond what would be reasonable for the Duke of Somerset's estate. Wessex Water simply says that it would be unable to provide additional water.
The problem that we face is that no one seems to have any responsibility for maintaining water supply in the event of the failure of a private supply. I am not criticising the Duke of Somerset's estate because it has assiduously tried to find a solution. It has been helpful and has discussed the matter frequently with local residents. However, we are not only exasperated by the lack of progress, but worried about what could happen in the future. We have found no reference to an obligation to maintain supply through our research. The regulatory authorities enforce the requirement to maintain water quality for reasons of environmental health, but if a water supply fails, it appears that no one can take appropriate action. There is a big question about what will happen if the estate is unable to fund the new main that is needed, or if it is unwilling to do so. It is to the credit of the estate that it has given no indication that it will walk away from the water supply to the village, but who would stop it doing so? If it walked away, what would be the consequences for the village?
A possible solution to the problem would be to drill an additional borehole. The parish council and my researchers have gone to various authorities to find out who could assist us, but we have been passed from Department to Department. We approached Ofwat, but it told us that we were classed as "resale customers" and that it had no responsibility for such customers. It suggested that we should examine our written agreements for water supply, but we have no such written agreements. The supply has been there since the year dot. We just get the water supplied from the reservoir up the hill, so there is no written agreement about the quantity or quality of the supply. Although the Environment Agency has regulatory functions to avoid contamination and prevent unnecessary extraction, it appears that it has no responsibility to maintain supply. Government Departments have no interest in the matter, so we are in a quandary about exactly what we can do to ensure that the villagealbeit a fairly small onedoes not eventually have no water. Most people would accept that that would be entirely unsatisfactory.
A meeting is being held on 3 August to consider possible funding for a new borehole. Will the Minister take what I have said back to Ministers in the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
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and ask them what assistance they can give to us? I have already written to them, but this is a desperate matter for the people whom I represent and my neighbours, so I want to be able to help them.
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