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Coast Erosion (Yorkshire)

Volume 961: debated on Wednesday 31 January 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what consideration he is giving to the prevention of coast erosion on the East Coast of Yorkshire by use of colliery waste and power station fly ash; and if he will make a statement.

Following the recommendations of a working party set up by the Department in 1974, the local authorities concerned are now considering how best to dispose of the region's colliery spoil and fuel ash. However, we are advised that it is unlikely that these substances, on their own, can provide adequate protection against erosion of the coast. They are unable to withstand the constant battering from the waves. In the case of colliery waste, there are also strong environmental objections arising from the despoilation of the beaches and the discolouration of the water. Experience of tipping colliery waste on to the Durham beaches has shown this.

I welcome that encouraging reply. Is my hon. Friend aware that the National Coal Board is proposing to put colliery waste on 200 acres of good agricultural land in my area? In the Selby district, the Central Electricity Generating Board is taking 150 acres to dump fly ash from Drax power station. Is he also aware that we are losing 30 acres of good land each year at Spurn Point, and that, shortly, it will become an island?

Would it not be sound economic sense to use Government money now to prevent this further loss of good agricultural land rather than reclaim it after it has been degraded by industry or lost by erosion?

I met some of my hon. Friends constituents who took the trouble to travel to Hull when I was visiting the Yorkshire coast to study the problem of erosion. It is difficult for me to comment on the planning matters to which he refers. These matters are in the hands of the county council and may come to my right hon. Friend in his quasi-judicial role.

What is my hon. Friend doing to encourage the use of pulverised fuel ash to produce building materials?

My Department and the Property Services Agency have done a great deal to encourage its use. Much of it is used already in the manufacture of lightweight concrete blocks, and so on. There is an increasing use of it, and at the moment we are examining its further use. Government Departments use it a great deal, and perhaps local authorities could use it more.

When my hon. Friend visited Spurn Point in East Yorkshire, he saw maps of the changes in that peninsula since the middle ages. Is he aware that if gales and the other elements burst Spurn Point, there could be a potent effect upon Hull as a port? It would be silted up, and the channels would be in an unholy mess.

We shall discuss this with the harbour authority, though the representations that we received came from the coastal districts of Withernsea, Holderness, and so on. If the harbour authority and the Hull city council wish, we shall discuss the problems with them. Flooding itself is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but we work together closely on these matters.

Does the Minister appreciate that his hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Woodall) has a very good point about the spoliation of agricultural land? Is not the right thing to do with fly ash which cannot be used to put it back in the mines where it came from and thus stop subsidence?

That is done wherever possible. The National Coal Board has done a great deal in using extinct pits to pack away waste from present pits and Central Electricity Generating Board waste.

Is it true that the nationalised industries are not subject to normal planning procedures and that this is a big part of the problem?

No, it is not true. They submit planning applications initially to local planning authorities. With opencast coal applications, of course, the decisions are made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy, and not by my Department.