New Forest East




Hansard – 20 April 2004

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tony McNulty): I am today issuing the decision on the proposals submitted by Associated British Ports to develop a new container port at Dibden Bay, near Southampton. The Inspector's report of the public inquiry held into the proposals between November 2001 and December 2002 is also being published today.

The decision and the reasons for it are set out in the decision letter. After carefully considering the Inspector's report and taking into account all relevant considerations, I have decided to refuse permission for the port development, in line with the Inspector's recommendation.

The Government fully recognise the nation's and industry's needs for additional container port capacity in order to meet future economic demand. Every proposed port development must nevertheless be justified on its own merits. One important factor in the making of this decision was the environmental impact of the proposals on internationally protected sites.

A copy of the decision letter has been placed in the House Library.

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Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend [Secretary of State for Transport Alistair Darling] continue to endorse the importance that the 10-year transport plan places on the role of major ports as transport hubs, and as vital to our international trade? Does he continue to endorse the improvement of rail freight use to those ports as a key element of freight strategy? In the light of the decision, announced by the Government this morning, on the future of Dibden Bay and the expansion of Southampton Port, will he give additional priority to the upgrading of the rail link between Southampton and the West Midlands to ensure that Southampton freight can travel efficiently on the rail from the port to its destinations?

Mr. Darling: Yes, it is important that we improve rail links between our ports and other parts of the country. I understand the disappointment that my hon. Friend will have felt at the decision on Dibden Bay, but I am sure that he will accept, in the light of the inspector's report and the overwhelming environmental difficulties there, that the Government's decision is right. I say to him and to the House that that decision was made on the individual application. There are other applications for port developments in other parts of the country, on which the Government will decide in due course. The decision on Dibden Bay was taken entirely on the application's own merits, and those alone.

Dr. Julian Lewis: As the MP who represents Dibden Bay, I welcome the contribution of the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead). It is only a pity that the Government did not think about upgrading the railways in that connection from the outset. I congratulate the Government on their decision on Dibden Bay; it is a classic case of David outwitting Goliath. We thank the Government for listening to our community; we thank them for observing the environmental safeguards; we thank them for taking the right decision today.