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Dr. Lewis: Indeed, as my hon. Friend observes from a sedentary position, I am lucky to have done so. However, the Minister is also rather fortunate tonight. It is a lucky night for him, because for once this is not a NIMBY debate. This is a debate about people who have something in their back yard already and who want to keep it there, rather than have it removed further from their area, with possibly catastrophic consequences for the local economy.
Let me spell out the background. The Hollands Wood campsite is on the east side of the A337, near the village of Brockenhurst in my constituency. The New Park site is on the west side of the A337, further north towards the village of Lyndhurst, also in my constituency.
One might think that the villagers of Brockenhurst would want a large number of visitors to be congregated somewhat further away, rather than nearer to their village environment, but not a bit of it. In fact, the parish council is totally united against the proposed move to close the Hollands Wood campsite and transfer it to the New Park site, and other parish and town councils in my constituency are also strongly against the proposal. Most important of all, the residents of Brockenhurst are overwhelmingly opposed to the proposed change.
On 7 March I presented a petition on the matter to the House. It contained no fewer than 1,719 signatures out of a possible total of 2,652 people on the electoral register. That was no less than 65 per cent. of the electorate, but in reality only 3 per cent. of the electorate declined to sign, and that understandably included a number of employees of the Forestry Commission. Thirty-two per cent. could not be contacted. In other words, 95 per cent. of those who could be contacted signed the petition, and all that between 9 and 25 February. I pay tribute to Nina Ball, Jean Wingate, John Cockram, John Purkess, Andrew Mitchell and more than 50 other villagers who gained so many signatures in so short a time.
Why is that feeling so strong? There are four principal reasons. First, a major traffic hazard will be created on a busy trunk road. Secondly, the New Forest show will be endangered. Thirdly, more harm than good will be done to the environment. Fourthly, the local economy of Brockenhurst will be gravely undermined.
From about 1930 until the end of the second world war, the Hollands Wood site was the village rubbish tip. From 1946, the then rural district council turned its attention to the site. The tip closed in 1950 and the campsite was created soon afterwards, and so it has remained for half a century.
In reply to our petition, a ministerial response was drawn up, undoubtedly on the basis of a Forestry Commission briefing. The response points the finger at English Nature for having designated the Hollands Wood campsite as part of a candidate special area for conservation under the EU habitats directive of 1992. If that is so, it is a piece of meddlesome stupidity on the part of English Nature that lies at the root of the problem. I am advised that current regulations require only a 95 per cent. implementation of SSSIsites of special scientific interest(SAC) target statements. If that is true, it means that there is no necessity to vacate Hollands Wood, as it occupies only a fraction of 1 per cent. of the New Forest SSSI(SAC).
I acknowledge the courtesy of the deputy surveyor, Mr. Donald Thompson, in alerting me and Hampshire county council leader Councillor Ken Thornber early on about the intended move. Two problems immediately occurred to us. First, there was the traffic danger: the A337 is a very fast stretch of single carriageway that is arrow straight, but has periodic dips that can temporarily mask traffic hold-ups ahead and conceal oncoming vehicles from view. By transferring the campsite from the east to the west of the trunk road, the Forestry Commission would create an all-year-round problem of southbound traffic from arriving campers having to cross the northbound flow in order to enter the New Park site. That currently happens on a large scale for three days a year, when the New Forest show is held at the New Park site in July, and would cause major dislocation but for the sterling efforts of traffic controllers drafted in for the occasion. That can be done three days a year, but could not be done continuously.
This leads us to the second problem: the future of the New Forest show. It is becoming abundantly clear that a permanent campsite in New Park will have a crippling effect on the show. The event involves the creation on the site of temporary car parks so vast that people attach helium-filled balloons to their vehicles in the hopeusually it is a vain oneof successfully finding them again at the end of an enjoyable day at the show. The notion that a park-and-ride shuttle scheme for the show might provide an effective substitute for the car parks is, to use a favourite term of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), frankly risible.
The principle of Occam's razor states that when one has eliminated all other possibilities, that which remains, however improbable, must be the true explanation. We have considered the traffic implications, the New Forest show implications and the environmental implications of building a huge campsite at New Park, all of which suggest that the proposal is fatally flawed, so what explanation remains? As is so often the case, only a monetary one. A big difference between the two locations is that Hollands wood is subject to the authority of the ancient court of verderers, whereas New Park, as Crown freehold land, is not.
The verderers court has been staunch in defending the interests of the people of the forest and its villages from time immemorial. One of the first occasions on which I attended the verderers court was unforgettable. A villager from Ashurst tearfully related how her village shop had had to close because the Forestry Commission had for a period of time allowed illegal sales of products on one of the campsitesthe one near Ashurst. By the time the verderers were able to step in to stop it, her trade had already been undermined to the point that the shop could not continue. As a result, the village of Ashurst lost its village shop and the lady lost her living. We all recognise that the Forestry Commission has an important job to do, part of which is to try to generate income. However, there is a history of attempts to allow more and more goods to be sold on campsitesattempts that can be blocked by the verderers anywhere in the open forest except on Crown freehold land. My general line of argument will come as no surprise to the Minister because, as is my normal practice, I took the precaution of advising his office in advance.
Brockenhurst village depends on its shops if its local economy is to continue, and that viability depends in turn on the summer trade and the influx of non-village custom. Even if the Forestry Commission refrained from selling anything extra on a site at New Park, the greater distance from Brockenhurst, the lack of easy access to Brockenhurst by foot and, especially, the location of the New Park sitewhere a camp would now beto the west of the A337 would have major adverse effects. Traffic leaving the new campsite would naturally head north to Lyndhurst, adding to its already diabolical congestion at that time of year, not south to Brockenhurst, where trade from the campers is so welcome and important.
The truth is that the Forestry Commission will not resist the temptation to commercialise if it is allowed to build the new site. The experience of the Ashurst village shop will be repeated on a much larger scale, driving a stake