'DIBDEN BAY: LABOUR HAS LOST THE PLOT'

Southern Daily Echo – 28 September 2009

In April 2002, when the Public Inquiry into Dibden Bay was still under way, I warned that a Government Green Paper on changes to the planning rules would be dangerous. The Labour Government was proposing that, in future, a "decision in principle" should be taken in advance of an inquiry on major projects like container ports – thus putting the cart before the horse.

Five years later, Ruth Kelly presented a White Paper to Parliament setting out the new regime. Sure enough, Ministers would

"issue national policy statements about the infrastructure that the country needs for the next 10–25 years"

prior to a Public Inquiry.

I put it to her that if the planning process had been foreshortened, there would now be a huge container port on the edge of the New Forest. She disagreed, claiming that the reasons for turning down the scheme would simply have been identified earlier and

"the proposal would either have been accepted or would never have got off the ground".

Now it appears that, if the Government’s National Policy Statement on Port Development calls for expansion in the South, Dibden Bay could be rammed through in precisely the way Ruth Kelly denied would happen. The huge dock expansion at the existing Southampton Container Terminal – about which the Daily Echo reported two years ago – has not yet taken place. This is the mainly because of the stae of the economy. So how can ABP know whether or not a new container port at Dibden Bay will be viable?

The answer is that they cannot. the reason for ABP raising the subject now is because of Government pressure to put forward a 'Master Plan' for the next 20–30 years. So the Government is raking up what ought to be a dead duck, and the company is promoting a huge development when it does not really know if it will be needed at all.

Yet again, Labour has lost the plot. Fortunately, they will not be running our affairs for very much longer.

(Dr) JULIAN LEWIS MP
New Forest East