DFT – DIBDEN BAY – 29 November 2011

Dr Julian Lewis: Is the Minister aware that after a year-long planning inquiry, a proposal for a massive container port at Dibden Bay on the edge of the New Forest was turned down? I understand that there would not be provision for any such inquiry in the future. Can he assure me and my constituents that a streamlined planning process for such a proposal would be no more likely to be carried than it was under the previous, rather more detailed opportunities for challenging it?

[The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker): I do not believe that the change in arrangements makes that more likely, but obviously every application is considered on its merits and according to the circumstances that apply at the time.The Government have set demanding targets for the consideration of what could be complex cases, but applicants and their consultees must contribute by thinking well ahead and ensuring that applications are fit for purpose. The Department recommends that ports should start in this spirit by consulting on port master plans. These are neither statutory documents, nor part of the formal Planning Act regime, but nevertheless they could help enormously to promote local understanding of what a port is trying to achieve and how best to avoid or mitigate adverse impacts. Master plans are not confined to large ports. Newhaven in my constituency is an excellent example of a port engaging thoroughly with its community is that way.]

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Dr Lewis: The hon. Lady [Louise Ellman] of course has a constituency interest in this matter, and I represent a constituency close to Southampton. Does she appreciate that what is really worrying is that Liverpool received a great deal of both European and public money in order to build its port of call facility, and it gave undertakings that it would not use that facility as a turnaround point to start and end cruises? It now appears that it never had any intention of sticking to those undertakings, so if it were – bizarrely – to achieve retrospective permission to do what it promised not to do, surely it should have to pay back all the money and not just a quarter of it over a very long period, as is proposed.

[Mrs Ellman: As a constituency MP I recognise the supreme importance of the turnaround facility to Liverpool. However, I also recognise that a reasoned judgment has to be made on the proper way in which to go ahead. The statements that the hon. Gentleman made about Liverpool's intentions are not accurate, but this is not the place in which to pursue the detail of that. I hope that a reasonable decision is made. Liverpool City council has made an offer to deal with the very point that the hon. Gentleman has made, but that is for somebody else in another place to address. I simply ask for reason to be applied to resolve the issue.]

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Dr Lewis: I understand that, for reasons that are slightly beyond my ken, people seem to be very anxious to finish at 7 o'clock this evening rather than at the normal time of 10 o'clock. I suppose that that is something to do with the fact that we are beginning to sit rather earlier.

The issue of Dibden Bay, which I referred to in an intervention, is the single most important constituency issue in New Forest East in the 14 years that I have represented it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) said, it was a long time before the considerations on whether a giant container port should be built at Dibden Bay produced decisive outcomes. We had a year-long public inquiry, as I said in an intervention, but we also had, as he said, several years leading up to that public inquiry. If the new procedure, first through the Infrastructure Planning Commission put forward by the previous Government and then under the replacement arrangements proposed by this Government, allowed for public consultation –

[7 pm: The debate stood adjourned (Standing Order No. 9(3)).
Ordered, That the debate be resumed tomorrow.]