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South-East Study (Review)

Volume 722: debated on Wednesday 22 December 1965

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With permission Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on planning matters arising from the review of the South-East Study.

My right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs announced on 4th August that a population growth of some 2·9 mill ion could be expected between 1964 and 1981 in the South-East and East Anglia Economic Planning Regions, and the National Plan has set this within the general framework of regional development.

We now need a programme of planned expansion schemes to house Londoners and big enough to accommodate about 1 million people during that period.

Substantial proposals have been announced already for Ipswich, Northampton and Peterborough and for a new town in North Buckinghamshire other town expansion schemes are under way or are reaching agreement. Further plans must now be made for the balance, for us to house about 350,000–400,000 people, and our general purpose will be to avoid new overspill schemes within the metropolitan region.

The study of the Newbury/Swindon area will be published shortly and that for Southampton/Portsmouth is well advanced. A study will be made of Ashford as the possible site of another major development.

The South-East Economic Planning Council, which will be established shortly, will be brought fully into the consideration of these proposals.

I shall be having discussions with the Greater London Council about their overspill proposals including their wish to carry out a large scheme comparable to one of the first generation new towns. I shall shortly be issuing revised estimates of population changes as a guide to local planning authorities, and I hope thereafter to reach agreement with the county councils in the home counties on the main issues affecting the proposed extension of the metropolitan green belt. With permission, I will circulate a summary of the county population increases in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that what he has said in his statement follows on from and is a development of, rather than a reversal of, what was forecast in the White Paper laid by his predecessor and covering the original massive South-East Study by officials? As to the particular studies in respect of particular towns, can he make it clear that these will be analyses of the situation for discussion and will not represent in any degree Government decisions?

As to the discussions with the Greater London Council in respect, in particular, of the major development to which he has referred, can the right hon. Gentleman assure us that those discussions will also at an appropriate stage bring in the authorities of the area inside which this development is contemplated? Can he also clear up the question as to whether this development, whose location, if I understand aright, is not yet settled, is consistent with the particular detailed population figures in respect of particular counties which the right hon. Gentleman has said he will circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT? In other words, do those population figures take account of this particular development by the Greater London Council?

Finally, in view of the enormous importance of this general problem, covering, as it does, the area of expected biggest development of population in this country during the next 15–20 years, will the right hon. Gentleman consult his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and arrange that soon after we come back we have a debate not only on the statement that he has just made but on the whole of this immensely important and very difficult problem?

I will certainly, of course, put the last point to my right hon. Friend. The question of whether it should be just after we come back might perhaps be considered, because one or two announcements will be made early in the spring, after which a debate might be more appropriate.

With regard to the Greater London Council development, I want to make it clear that up to now no place for it has been fixed. Only the size has been discussed. There has been agreement in principle between the Ministry and the Greater London Council that the Greater London Council shall do something that it has always wanted to do, which is to go ahead on its own and go in for the job that we have done in the new towns and show that it can do it better. I am glad to have this competition, and I am glad to encourage the Greater London Council. I want it to build up a permanent staff of the kind which is more easily built up with a major project of this kind. However, the site, the size and the details have still to be discussed. It is merely that we want the Greater London Council to choose a site, and in so doing it will consult the local authorities there. That deals with the last three questions put by the right hon. Gentleman.

With regard to the first two questions, the first of which was whether this is a modification of the South-East Study rather than a change, I should say that some of the figures, as the right hon. Gentleman appreciates, are slightly modified. But they are not modified in any way which would undermine the general thesis of the enormous growth in the South-East and of the need for major movement of London population. Changes of policy are much more to do with the problem of how to prevent any further drift into the South-East and how to deal with the drift that is already there. The studies regarding possible new towns are in different stages. In the case of the Peterborough-Ipswich-Northampton studies, we have moved quite a long way. With regard to Bletchley, I hope to announce an area for designation, on which I shall consult the local authorities, in January.

I referred to the studies specifically mentioned in the right hon. Gentleman's statement and asked whether, when published, they would represent decisions or no more than analyses of the situation. I did not refer to earlier announcements.

The Newbury/Swindon and Southampton/Portsmouth surveys are merely in the stage of preliminary studies by experts. We shall take the policy decisions later.

Can my right hon. Friend set a date for the publication of the Swindon/Newbury study? Will he give an assurance that the local authority principally concerned—Swindon—which has a good record in the absorption of London overspill, will be consulted.

The study of Newbury/Swindon is already in draft and I hope to publish it fairly soon. The role and development of Swindon will form an important part of that study.

Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that Peterborough is already attracting an enormous number of people to work from the rural areas in the Isle of Ely and other surrounding counties? There is a great need for him to reconsider the position of the smaller towns and boroughs on the fringes of these new urban developments. Will he give an assurance that, despite the setting up of regional councils, the local authorities will still have direct access to him to put these very important points?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning this matter, for it is a subject which has worried me greatly. There has been a false assumption that, when one designated an area of urban expansion, one could then prevent any expansion of villages around it by planning. However, all the evidence is that seepage occurs to the villages, which attract population, and one must therefore plan both the urban and the peripheral areas together. This week I discussed with Lord Macclesfield from Oxfordshire precisely this problem with regard to his council. This is a matter for local authorities, and not the regional councils, and is something to which we are giving renewed attention owing to past failure.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that we welcome the announcement of this second move in the direction of a further new town, especially after ten years of stagnation in the South-East? Can we know at this stage the approximate size of population proposed for the town to be provided by the G.L.C., bearing in mind the necessity to relate such proposals to the need for redevelopment and decanting from twilight and slum areas in the older parts of London?

I can say about the Greater London Council's proposal that it feels that it could manage a town of a population of 60,000 to 70,000—in fact, on the scale of the first generation new towns such as Stevenage and Harlow. It also agrees with me that the town should not be anywhere near London but must be well away and not in the commuter paradise. It should be further outside the Metropolitan area.

The G.L.C. is looking widely—even as far away as Cornwall as a possibility. I think that the G.L.C. is prepared to say that it must be ambitious in trying to move people well out. It will be a town of between 60,000 to 70,000 people well away from London.

The right hon. Gentleman's statement that the figures do not differ substantially from those in the South-East Study shows that the Government's policy for bringing about a more even distribution of population and employment is not yet adequate. With regard to the population changes, when can we expect to receive the figures for the London boroughs analogous to those he has provided for the counties? Can he say what capital expenditure on transport facilities, water resources and so on will be incurred over the period covered by this study?

On both those issues I would ask the hon. Gentleman to put down Questions. I cannot give him an answer off the cuff on the second point and, on the first, we have not yet completed a break-down of the general London figures.

We have to do three things. First, we have to have a statistical analysis of the total number of people we have to move. Secondly, we have to decide how many we have already included in clearly defined schemes. Thirdly, we have to calculate how many people will move naturally and without control. One of my criticisms of the South-East Study was that it made far too big an assumption of a natural seepage of 500,000 into the commuter belt. That would be disastrous. We have to do more planning than that if we are to avoid such a situation. The point is that we must lay the necessary basis for a much larger plan for moving population out of London than was contemplated in the South-East Study.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Ashford has had a question mark hanging over it for years and that populations of 100,000 and 250,000 have been mentioned? Is he further aware that it is difficult for the local council to plan coherently in the circumstances? Can he set a term for the beginning or conclusion of the study?

I sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman. One of the difficulties has been the Channel Tunnel and the question of whether Ashford would be linked with that or not. However, we have decided to go ahead, Channel Tunnel or not, for there is great capacity in Ashford and we want to get on quickly. Of course, we shall consult the local authorities first and foremost on the form of the study and on the objectives he has mentioned. This will be done in the closest consultation with the local authorities.

May I press my right hon. Friend further about the discussions with the G.L.C., since this is so important in view of the still appalling London housing problem? Would it be possible to streamline and speed up the preliminary technicalities so that a start on the new town could be made as soon as possible? As there will be considerable speculation in more ways than one now that he has announced a new town, can he indicate where it is likely to be?

I would if I knew, but I do not. Quite literally, there has not yet been an initial survey. The G.L.C. is now making a survey. It has a considerable team out studying possible sites. The new town will be an addition.

I reckon that, in the town development schemes in bits and pieces around London, there are homes for about 120,000 to 130,000 people through Greater London Council development schemes. But that is not enough. We must enormously enlarge the target. The G.L.C.'s proposed new town is one way of doing it. The Peterborough-Northampton-Ipswich area is another part and the Bletchley area yet another.

We have to look for something more, and this is where the Plymouth/ Southampton area and the Newbury/Swindon area have two main parts to play. We have not yet organised nearly sufficient planned movement even with all the plans we have up to now.

Order. I am sorry to break in, but we were due on the Adjournment at 12 o'clock.

Following is the summary:

ESTIMATED POPULATION INCREASES BY GEOGRAPHICAL COUNTIES 1964–1981(excluding planned expansions)
(thousands)
Outer Metropolitan RegionRest of South East RegionEast Anglia
Total1,056735209
Bedfordshire5433
Berkshire9850
Buckinghamshire10813
Essex17482
Hampshire50251
Hertfordshire190
Kent14093
Oxfordshire967
Surrey178
East Sussex2369
West Sussex3267
Isle of Wight10
Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely39
Huntingdonshire and Peterborough39
Norfolk58
East Suffolk51
West Suffolk22