Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Marlesford: My Lords,--

Earl Howe: My Lords, perhaps my noble friend will forgive me. We are running up against the time deadline and, with respect to him, I cannot give way.

As I said earlier, environmental considerations are a matter for the local planning department. It would not be possible for my department to say how a site is used once we have sold it and have no further legal interest in it. However, for most larger sites it is normal either to sell the property with the benefit of a planning brief or to seek planning permission for redevelopment prior to the sale. That approach means not only that my department's financial interests are secured, but also that a purchaser has the best available information on what redevelopment may be permitted.

The noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, said that the future use of a site like Bentwaters should depend on liaison at the centre between the DoE and the Ministry of Defence. With respect, I wonder whether he realises the implications of that. It is worth making the point that the planning process is deliberately a local one. Local interests are protected by the local planning authority. What the noble Lord suggests is a centralisation of that process. I do not believe that that is helpful. The full planning advice is provided by the DoE through the Government Office for the Eastern Region in this instance, and what we seek to bring about and what is appropriate, I suggest, is local implementation of a national policy. That is what has happened and is happening at Bentwaters.

The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, and my noble friend Lord Bridgeman spoke specifically about RAF Upper Heyford. I have some material here which I would have given had we not been running up against the clock. I will write to them about that. It was suggested by my noble friend Lord Marlesford that the MoD was a poor steward of the land it occupies. I do not know how many defence sites my noble friend has knowledge of. I suspect it is quite a few in his role as head of the CPRE. I can only tell him that the care taken by the MoD in looking after its estate is the subject of constant praise from statutory bodies, voluntary bodies and individuals. I will put my noble friend on the mailing list of the MoD environmental magazine Sanctuary, which this year celebrates its 25th anniversary. It is almost true to say that wherever MoD training land is found there is a rare species of animal or a rare species of plant. With all respect to my noble friend, I believe that he was wholly wrong in what he said in delivering the strictures that he did about MoD stewardship of the land.

One other consideration is the possibility of contamination on sites which are to be sold. It is my department's long-standing policy to arrange for the

14 Jun 1996 : Column 2027

removal of any unexploded ordnance and any contamination by radiological, bacteriological or microbiological materials. That is because the expertise to deal with these materials is not widely available. However, it is for a purchaser to resolve with the local planning authority what remediation may be required to permit the commercial use of a site.

In April of this year my department introduced a new policy requiring land quality statements for all properties passed for disposal after that date. I believe that this is a useful step forward.

Coming back full circle to Bentwaters, I am not aware that there is any suggestion that problems of contamination exist there. The problems are therefore

14 Jun 1996 : Column 2028

the more straightforward ones of how to balance the economic needs of the community with the desire to preserve the beauty of the countryside. I would be tempted to refer to "unspoilt beauty", but that would be far from the truth, as the countryside of East Anglia as elsewhere has been changed by man over the millennia. In recent generations, defence needs led to the creation of a number of air bases, not all of which are now required. New uses must be found for these sites and I believe that in the interests of all concerned a satisfactory solution is now in prospect to secure the future of Bentwaters.

        House adjourned at twenty-eight minutes past three o'clock.

14 Jun 1996 : Column 2027

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page