Debates 13th March 1996
Royal Ordnance (Chorley)
Den Dover (Chorley): It gives me great pleasure to highlight
the need for an enterprise zone at Royal Ordnance, Chorley.
In the past 17 years, this Conservative Government have
displayed a tremendous vision for the enterprise economy,
which has shown itself in our economic performance, particularly
in the past two years. Those Government policies have
comprised the creation of urban development corporations
and enterprise zones. They have ensured that new ideas
have flourished and new enterprises have been set up around
the country. We have prime examples of that success in
the Metro centre in the north-east, by Newcastle, and
the Merry Hill centre in the west midlands. I venture
to suggest that there would have been nowhere near that
investment and retail expansion in those areas without
just 20 miles from Chorley, the Central Manchester development
corporation has revitalised huge areas of what was a decaying
city, and the Trafford Park development corporation has
done a marvellous job on a clapped-out old industrial
park. In the past two years, I have raised the need for
an enterprise zone on a number of occasions--first with
the Prime Minister, whose answer on 22 February was interesting.
On that occasion, I said that I welcomed the latest plans
for enterprise zones to be established in areas where
coal mining was running down and labour opportunities
were diminishing, and I called for those zones in areas
such as Chorley.
Prime Minister recognised that enterprise zones had been
successful, and said:
"In areas that face particular difficulties because
of substantial job losses, perhaps because of the collapse
of a single employer or industry, we look across the board
to see what help can be given. Enterprise zones are an
important part of that, but not necessarily the whole
of it."--[Official Report, 22 February 1994; Vol.
238, c. 143.] The basis of tonight's debate is to examine
the various alternatives open for the regeneration of
the Royal Ordnance site at Chorley, which has suffered
massive job losses.
owner of the site, Royal Ordnance, is a wholly owned subsidiary
of British Aerospace, which is a first-class employer
in the defence industry throughout the north-west and
the rest of the country. The whole 900-acre site is contaminated
by munitions. It was used for the filling of shells and
all sorts of bombs and other ammunition for many years.
Three quarters of the site is in Chorley borough council
and one quarter in South Ribble borough council. I welcome
the presence of my right hon. Friend the Member for South
Ribble(Mr. Atkins), who wants to add a few comments at
the end of my speech.
site has always had direct rail access. It is directly
between the M6 and M61 motorways, so, while it needs decontamination
and much infrastructure, it is a strategic site that would
have first-class communications.
the war, when there were 30,000 munitions workers on the
site, there has been a dramatic fall in the amount of
labour employed. It was down to 6,000 or 7,000 about 20
years ago, and there are now only 100 production workers.
We have the headquarters of Royal Ordnance, and I welcome
the fact that there are 350 white-collar workers on the
site. They are located on the southern perimeter, on one
of the roads.
Enterprise zones have been designated in the past few
years in Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and Durham. I am anxious,
because of the peace dividend and the rundown of defence
jobs, to fight the cause for enterprise zones in areas
that have suffered from the dramatic fall in the number
of defence jobs. That affects not only Chorley and the
north-west but the whole country.
advantages of enterprise zones are tremendous. There is
a 10-year period without business rates and 100 per cent.
capital allowance for people investing in the area; and
they are basically planning-free zones, unless the use
of toxic chemicals is involved. People generally have
a free hand.
sort of development that I, Royal Ordnance and my right
hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble would like would
involve mixed uses. We want a reasonable amount of residential
development, but of the right sort--for buyers from our
area, not for incomers. We want a business park that would
include manufacturing, light industry and offices. It
would have some retail content, but the main aim is not
a retail investment such as the Metro Centre or Merry
am delighted that my hon. Friend the Minister for Small
Business, Industry and Energy has played a part in ensuring
that we get Konver funding from Europe. That ensures that
we can change from defence manufacture towards civil production,
and get a commercial business centre started. So far,
it has been only small fry. That is why we need the massive
injection that we would get from an enterprise zone.
are the alternatives to an enterprise zone? In our area,
unemployment is below 5 per cent., and we have no chance
of getting assisted area status. We would need an unemployment
rate of 15 or 18 per cent. or even higher. I welcome the
fact that we do not have that. I like to think that much
of that results from my efforts and those of other Conservative
Members in the area, who have kept unemployment in Lancashire
lower than in the rest of the region or the nation.
have put in single regeneration budget bids in the first
two rounds. The Government office in Manchester gave us
a no-no in each case. I am not hopeful about rounds three
and four, and there will be less money available in the
rounds to come.
Partnerships has been helpful, but it has been charged
with redeveloping brown-field sites throughout the United
Kingdom. It has a massive task, which will need not hundreds
of millions, but billions, of pounds to redevelop all
available sites. It is spoilt for choice, but it has been
very helpful. Some investigations are going on at the
moment, and I applaud it for playing its part. Frankly,
this site will not be developed for decades unless we
have a designated enterprise zone.
have already paid tribute to Trafford Park and Central
Manchester. They have done wonders in the north-west.
Royal Ordnance has put in for planning permission on a
mixed-use basis, and it hopes that the two local authorities
will play their part so that it can do full viability
studies. I am not hopeful that we can see our way ahead.
years ago, I led a deputation from the two local authorities
to meet the then Minister, who is now my right hon. Friend
the Secretary of State for Transport. He made constructive
comments, but said two things. First, he said that it
was not necessarily the right way ahead, and that we must
examine all possible alternatives. The Minister had been
advised by his civil servants that there was little or
no chance of securing European Union approval.
the deputation, on 18 April my right hon. Friend wrote
a letter in which he said:
"I promised to write to clarify the European Union
position regarding the designation of Enterprise Zones.
My officials have spoken with our representative in Brussels
(UKREP) who confirm that the Commission's position remains
that Enterprise Zones are extremely unlikely to be approved
if located outside Assisted Areas. Of course, under the
Treaty of Rome, the UK is able to notify the Commission
of a proposal to designate a zone outside an Assisted
Area, but the unambiguous advice from Brussels is that
the Commission will reject any such proposal".
We have only to look at the events of the past week to
see that the Commission always wants its own way.
right hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble and I are
here this evening to champion the cause of an enterprise
zone. Article 92, section 3 of the treaty of Rome, under
the heading "Aids Granted by States", says:
"The following may be considered to be compatible
with the common market:
(b) aid to promote the execution of an
important project of common European interest or to remedy
a serious disturbance in the economy of a Member State".
That article could be applied to defence industries, not
only in this country but in other member states.A submission
could be made, and the European Union would then make
a decision--and I would fight it all the way.
ask that Royal Ordnance, as the landowner, and the two
local authorities, which support the concept of an enterprise
zone, be allowed to fill in the necessary forms and make
out their case. We could then examine that and other alternatives
to see what may be done. I raised the matter in the Environment
Select Committee hearing of 19 July 1995 with my hon.
Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry). In
answer to my query about the possibility of a designated
enterprise zone within the European Union, he replied:
"There are really two aspects to this. The first
is, does the European Union allow it; the answer is yes
but the conditions are very severe and it takes an interminable
time to deliver one . . . it is because there are a great
deal of conditions to fulfil, there are activities which
have got to be excluded from an enterprise zone and there
are contracts which have got to be signed with umpteen
people in order to deliver them. With the best will in
the world, we are talking about years, not months, to
get an enterprise zone from zero to operation. So that
is the first answer. The second answer is there is a real
issue about whether enterprise zones are the most effective
answer; whether or not they do, to some extent, divert
investment, while in this long period of getting it up
and running whether, in fact, investment is deferred as
well as distorted. So I have to tell you that my own view
is that I do not say 'I never want to see another enterprise
zone', but I would want to make sure I had explored every
other avenue before I would say that an enterprise zone
seemed to me the right route to go down."
I argue that it is the right route and that we should
have the chance to bid for it. I am convinced that the
process will take years, but the site has lain stagnant
for 10 or 20 years, and something must be done: the blot
on the landscape must be removed. I am sure that many
jobs can be attracted to the area, and I look forward
to being allowed to pursue the case for an enterprise
Robert Atkins (South Ribble): I am grateful to my hon.
Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Dover) for allowing
me to make a brief contribution to the debate. He has
laboured long and hard--as long as he has been a Member
of Parliament--to have the site's importance recognised.
We had hoped that the British Aerospace takeover of Royal
Ordnance would ensure the continuation of employment on
the site, but that was not to be. As my hon. Friend said,
it is a substantial site, of which a small proportion
is in my constituency. I have followed my hon. Friend's
lead in going from pillar to post in putting the case
for an enterprise zone. I was an Environment Minister
when my hon. Friend led a delegation to meet Department
of the Environment officials, and he understood that I
was not able to be present on that occasion.
hon. Friend the Minister will recall our travails in Committee
when considering the Environment Agency legislation. We
examined the problems of contaminated land and what could
be done to retrieve such sites into the development cycle.
This is a case in point: we are looking to attract industry
to that substantial site and to create jobs.
While the South Ribble borough council and Chorley have
some differences about a number of suitable sites in the
area, this site could be used to create jobs and attract
industry--particularly high-tech industry, which would
help to recover some of the costs associated with remediating
the contaminated land.
would not be acceptable to house residents from, say,
Preston on the site--as is being proposed by the county
council and by others. We want to see a mixed development
of industry--predominantly in a nice high-technology environment--on
the site. If housing or recreational facilities could
be put on the site as well, so be it. In essence, we are
looking for industry and we are looking for jobs.
I ask the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment
to do what he can to meet the concerns of my hon. Friend,
who is pressing for enterprise zone status--and I have
joined him in supporting the principle of wanting more
industry on the site. I ask him to give an undertaking
this evening to review the options and to consider what
might be done in the best interests of Chorely and South
Ribble. Having done that carefully, he could then advise
us what can be done along the lines that we have been
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment
(Sir Paul Beresford): I am grateful to my hon. Friend
the Member for Chorley (Mr. Dover) and to his right hon.
assistant the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins) for
raising the issues surrounding the site. It is interesting
and fascinating. Both my right hon. Friend and my hon.
Friend have been battling with this issue, with much energy,
for a considerable time. I agree that we need to make
every effort in this area, and in other areas like it,
and use such sites productively. I applaud the point made
by my right hon. Friend about the productive use of the
site. However, we have to accept that there is a scale
to the task which means that it will inevitably have to
have a slower track than has been followed in some other
my hon. Friend has demonstrated, the Royal Ordnance site
is complex and difficult: there are some 1,500 buildings
of various types, roads, distribution areas, open spaces,
test areas and dumping grounds. Hon. Members will appreciate
that a site of this size--some 300 hectares: from my back
of the envelope mathematics, approximately a square mile--is
not only large but diverse. Therefore, there is not one
single approach or means of tackling it.
believe that an enterprise zone on such a complex site
would be counter-productive--the area does not have high
unemployment relative to some other areas. An enterprise
zone, and an enterprise zone alone, would, to my mind,
stifle investment in the area--while everyone in the industry
waited to see whether it came forward, and while we tried
to explain to Brussels why we should have such a site.
It is quite clear from the answer that my hon. Friend
has received that it is unlikely that we will obtain such
the early 1980s, a number of sites were designated as
enterprise zones on an experimental basis, and they had
a relatively high cost compared to some of the other methods.
In December 1987, we announced that the enterprise zone
scheme would not be extended unless there were exceptional
circumstances--as was the case with the eight enterprise
zones designated since that time. Each one was in response
to a sudden major impact on industry caused by a closure
of a traditional heavy industry--shipbuilding, steel making
or coal mining. I concede that there is a parallel that
one could make in this area from the Royal Ordnance.
area of Chorley does not have a poor economy.In fact,
it has a vibrant and wider economy--which would considerably
complicate matters when we tried to get permission from
Brussels. As my hon. Friend said, it has been made clear
that a new enterprise zone, located outside an assisted
area, would be resisted--to put it mildly. I have, as
my right hon. and hon. Friends know, asked the officials
in the Department to work closely with the local authorities,
and particularly with English Partnerships, to consider
a range of options available for tackling the site.
my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley knows, English Partnerships
has recognised the site's economic potential and significance.
Substantial work has been done already to investigate
the potential of the Royal Ordnance site, targeted specifically
at prospects for its redevelopment and rejuvenation.
right hon. and hon. Friends will be aware of the study
carried out by the consultants at the end of 1994. That
aimed to formulate a strategic framework for the complementary
regeneration of several major brown-field sites in the
area, including the Royal Ordnance site at Euxton. Its
conclusion was that this was a flagship site of significant
potential for a major role in the regeneration and economic
growth of the region.
hon. Friend the Member for Chorley may also know that,
in December 1993, under the Konver I Community initiative,
a grant of £446,400 was awarded to Chorley business
and technology centre towards a project at the Royal Ordnance
factory site. The grant covered four elements--preparatory
work for a future scheme; surveys of the 60 hectares;
a feasibility study for a soil bio-remediation centre;
and creation of a manufacturing facility. I understand
that the organisation has successfully provided workshop
space on the Royal Ordnance site to assist small companies
in need of new premises. More recently, a working group
has been set up to bring together the key local players,
especially representatives from the two borough councils
with a shared interest in the site. The site straddles
the boundary between the two borough councils, Chorley
and South Ribble, as has been explained. My hon. Friend
the Member for Chorley will be aware of the two local
plans for these, which propose a mixture of housing and
employment areas and open spaces.
on those local plans, as they stand, the split is likely
to be in the region of 10 per cent. for housing,50 per
cent. for employment and 40 per cent. for open space.
That remains to be confirmed, as the local plans are still
being debated, but I am sure that those provisional splits
will go some way to reassuring my hon. Friend, and particularly
my right hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble, that
careful consideration is being given to achieving a balanced
mix of uses.
hon. Friend the Member for Chorley may be aware that an
investigation of the site and building conditions has
been undertaken in two phases, predominantly because of
the size and the costs involved. The first phase, covering
an area of 82 hectares, has been completed at a cost of
£250,000, partially met by Konver assistance.The
second phase, which is currently under way, will cost
around £470,000. Again, part is to be met by Konver
II, part by Royal Ordnance, and English Partnerships has
agreed to contribute £118,000. That is substantial
support, helping to speed up the process.
important work is due to be completed by summer this year.
English Partnerships and Royal Ordnance are in agreement
that further progress is dependent on the findings and
the recommendations. That is a sensible way forward. Once
the site report is available, it will be possible for
the various bodies involved to work out in more detail
the joint approach. As I have said, there are more than
300 hectares to attack, and it is realistic to plan for
phases over a number of years. There can be no quick fixes
on a site as complex and as large as this.
is currently going on behind the scenes. Neither the private
nor the public sector will invest in the site until we
have a clear idea of what needs to be done to clean and
clear the area. My right hon. Friend the Member for South
Ribble will understand that, having piloted the Environment
Act 1995 through some of its stages, predominantly its
should like to suggest an alternative approach to my hon.
Friend the Member for Chorley, who may wish to take it
up with the local authorities. A part of the Royal Ordnance
site could be designated as a simplified planning zone.
That would have the effect of granting full planning permission
for specified types of development, in advance of the
precise development proposal being worked up. My hon.
Friend may be aware that that is similar to the simplified
planning procedures which operate within an enterprise
zone, without all the long-drawn-out procedures.
kinds of developments concerned, together with any conditions
or limitations attached to them, are set out in the scheme
which lasts for 10 years once adopted.
are able to act in the knowledge that development specified
in the scheme will be permitted, so they can go ahead
without needing to go through the performance of a planning
application. That removes one of the more bureaucratic
drags on development that some local authorities impose.
To conclude, I must say that I am very impressed by the
painstaking approach taken towards the planned development
of the Royal Ordnance factory site. My hon. Friend the
Member for Chorley will agree that our resources need
to be used wisely, and that we need to ensure that we
obtain the outcome we wish to see, and that we get a clean
and attractive site as promptly as reasonably possible.
That is why I think that the procedure we are adopting
now is preferable to the long-drawn-out, somewhat hazardous
approach of an enterprise zone, which my hon. Friend has
Question put and agreed to.
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