(HANSARD) in the fourth session of the fifty-first parliament of the united kingdom of great britain and northern ireland commencing on the twenty-seventh day of april in the forty-first year of the reign of




17 Jun 1996 : Column 1

Monday, 17th June 1996.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwell.

Cairn Gorm: Funicular Development

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are aware of the strong and conflicting views that are held by supporters and opponents of the present form of the proposal for a funicular development on Cairn Gorm; and what plans they have to enable a resolution of the issues concerned.

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, my right honourable friend is aware from correspondence that he has received that the proposal for a funicular development on Cairn Gorm has generated many comments for and against the development. Resolution of the issues concerned is a matter for Highland Council, as planning authority, in conjunction with other interested parties.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer. Is he aware that well-informed observers believe that a modified version could meet many of the environmental objections while still improving the prospects for tourism and employment? As the Government are nominating the area to be a world heritage site, have they considered appointing an independent mediator to help the parties reach a solution since planning procedures alone seem too rigid to assimilate all the relevant factors or to identify possible areas of agreement?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I do not agree with my noble friend's comments concerning the

17 Jun 1996 : Column 2

rigidity of the planning rules and regulations. I believe that planning procedures are sufficiently comprehensive and flexible to deal with this kind of application. My noble friend also mentioned a modified project. Consideration of any alternative proposal is essentially a matter for the applicant.

Baroness Nicol: My Lords, is the Minister aware that neither the proposed monitoring system nor the environmental targets for the application have yet been fully developed? Does he not agree that it would be foolish in the extreme to go ahead without them? Is the Minister further aware that approval of the development would probably lead to a permanent refusal of the designation of this site as a world heritage site? Surely we would all wish to see the site so designated and would not want to see an application rejected because of lack of care?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I do not necessarily agree with the noble Baroness's comments about the world heritage site. Development is not incompatible with world heritage site listing. The requirement is to ensure that development is not incompatible with maintaining the outstanding natural heritage value of the Cairngorms. The noble Baroness asked whether the development would be in contradiction of the development of the SAC and SPA in that area. If the Section 50 visitor management plan is agreed to, Scottish Natural Heritage is satisfied that the terms of the directive will be complied with.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the alternative proposal for a visitor centre at low level down by Loch Morlich serving the Corrie Cas area with a gondola has certain advantages over the funicular proposal? It would keep the general mass of visitors off the fragile habitat of the summit and the Cairn Gorm plateau; the new visitor centre would be easily accessed because of its low level at a mere 1,100

17 Jun 1996 : Column 3

feet above sea level; and it would facilitate the bypassing of the snowdrifts, which often cause the ski lifts to be closed due to inaccessibility?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, as regards the alternative scheme which has been put forward by the Save the Cairngorms and Scottish Wildlife and Countryside Link's report, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is aware that it recommends an outline feasibility study for the construction of a gondola from Glenmore to Corrie Cas, the replacement and modernisation of scheme facilities and their associated works. However, those alternative proposals do not form part of the application currently before the Highland Council and therefore do not fall to be considered in that context.

Lord Chorley: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the chairlift company concerned is said to be looking for about £10 million of public funds out of a total of £16.5 million for the project and that most if not all of that money could be invested in other Highland and Island development projects? Given the highly contentious nature of the project, not least because it appears on authoritative estimates to be between nine and 20 times more expensive per direct job created compared with what is normal in the Highlands, will he ask his noble friend who would normally have replied to the Question to satisfy himself that that level of public expenditure is justified? If so, will the Government publish their findings?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, my noble friend the Minister always takes a keen interest in what is said in this House when he is unable to be here. The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, mentioned a number of points relating to the cost of the proposed development which is before the planning authority of the Highland Council. Planning consent has not yet been granted and work is being carried on concerning the Section 50 visitor management programme. Until that agreement has been made under legally binding contract and planning consent is granted the sums to be invested cannot be firmly established.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: My Lords, we should all be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for raising the Question. However, if I may say so, I believe that the Minister was, perhaps, a little too casual about the matter. We are talking about a most important development; indeed, a large amount of public money will be involved. Moreover, as my noble friend Lady Nicol said, it is a site of international importance. Therefore, will the Minister take the issue back to his department and consider the possibility of an independent examination? Some of the development carried out in the Aviemore area was rather disappointing. I believe that we should try to stop any development of that nature on this particular site.

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, it is a shame that the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, thinks that I have been casual in my answers. There was certainly no intention on my part to be so. As regards an independent inquiry

17 Jun 1996 : Column 4

under planning legislation, I believe that the noble Lord has in mind a proposal for a public local inquiry under the chairmanship of an independent planning reporter appointed by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. The outstanding issues in relation to the current application are already being addressed by the Highland Council, the developer and other interests. While a public local inquiry under an independent reporter remains a possibility, none is envisaged at this stage.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, in reply to a question from the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, my noble friend the Minister said that the alternative suggested was not being considered because it was not in the application. Does that not illustrate the point that I made; namely, that the ordinary planning procedures are too rigid for a case of this dimension?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, for an individual project to be considered by the planning authority, such a project must be put before it. I am sure that those concerned are aware of the report, as, indeed, is my noble friend the Minister.

Road Users: Acts of Violence

2.45 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What contacts they have had with the Association of Chief Police Officers about acts of violence between road users known as "road rage".

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): My Lords, my officials have held meetings with the ACPO Traffic Committee and are considering with that committee what further measures to deal with the problem might be necessary in addition to those already available under the criminal law.

The Viscount of Falkland: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. However, does the noble Baroness agree that, if the opinion of people from other countries is anything to go by, we still have, overall, a fairly civilised pattern of behaviour on our roads--that is, as regards good manners and the general good usage of our roads--but that a small minority are spoiling it for us all? Is there no way in which the Government, perhaps together with organisations like the AA and the RAC, can stimulate some kind of action or campaign to stop people reacting so quickly and so violently to perceived or actual provocation? It seems that to some extent the rude finger sign and the flashing of headlights have now been overtaken by direct action, with people getting out of their cars and engaging in activities which can lead to unhappy and violent results.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page