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Welsh Development Agency

Volume 981: debated on Monday 17 March 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he has had any recent discussions with the chairman of the Welsh Development Agency.

Does the Secretary of State appreciate that there is intense dissatisfaction in Newport with the efforts of the Welsh Development Agency? Does he accept that the assistance offered to that town is a fleabite compared with that given to surrounding areas? Does he further accept that only 350 jobs will be provided, although it is expected that no fewer than 8,000 jobs will be lost? Essentially, that money is being provided to alleviate the loss of steel jobs. Will the Secretary of State ensure that the WDA is acquainted with those facts? Will he further suggest that some of that money is spent on land drainage in southeast Newport, where ideal sites are available?

The WDA is currently engaged in discussions with the local authority. The hon. Gentleman must be aware of a lack of immediately available sites of sufficient size in the Newport area. The WDA and the other bodies involved are therefore planning a major development, initially in the Llantarnan area, alongside Cwmbran. Discussions are continuing to see whether further sites can be brought forward in the Newport area. The hon. Gentleman will know that talks have continued between the Minister of Transport, the British Transport Docks Board and local authorities concerning the possibility of available land in the dock area. Every possible effort has been made to bring forward new sites in New- port. However, such sites are not readily available for instant development.

When my right hon. Friend next sees the chairman of the WDA, will he draw his attention to the genuine ground for public disquiet engendered by the circumstances surrounding the Agency's investment in P. Leiner and Son? Will he suggest that there should be a full public inquiry into the circumstances of that investment, in order to ensure that the facts are established and that blame is apportioned where necessary?

The new chairman of the WDA has no responsibility for the original investment. However, he is taking a close interest in the issue. He has seen all the papers and has discussed the matter with me. There is more than a possibility that the Public Accounts Committee will wish to look into the investment and that might be the right way of proceeding.

Will the right hon. Gentleman make clear that there is no foundation to the stories circulating in South Wales that it is the Government's policy to permit a relaxation of regulations concerning factory building and planning arrangements on sites in South Wales that could be developed by the WDA?

I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the possibility of enterprise zones. The Government have made it clear that they are considering proposals for limited areas to be treated in that way. Announcements will be made in due course.

Does the Secretary of State recall that during his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes), he said that the Department and the WDA were considering bringing forward new sites and projects in Newport? How are those projects to be financed? We have heard a great deal about the £48 million that is to be spent on Port Talbot and Llanwern, and about the £15 million that is to be spent on Shotton. However, is it not true that the WDA's budget for the coming year will be only £58 million, and that that sum represents only £6 million more than the original budget? If that is true, how on earth can those new schemes be in that area? Has my right hon. Friend re-brought forward?

With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, the problem is not one of finance. Immediate sites are not available. The WDA has made resources available in steel closure areas and will fully carry out a programme that it considers reasonable and practicable during the next two years.