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Mr. Webb: I apologise if, by my earlier remark, I indicated that I would not speak on this group of amendments. Something that arose in debate prompted me to make a brief comment. Lords amendment No. 36 would insert a new clause, subsection (5) of which refers to the
The new system is starting in eight or nine months' time and everyone will be starting afresh on it. Let us assume that, very roughly speaking, the income of three quarters of the population goes up from one year to the next, as a result of inflation and so on, and the income of the remaining quarter goes downin reality, most people's income goes up. In terms of revising decisions, is it correct that the three quarters of people who, for the sake of argument, will be assessed in March 2003 on the basis of their 200102 P60, will be overpaid and then, a few months into the financial year, will have to have that award revised downwards in light of their 200203 P60?
Will it be the case that, three months into the system, three quarters of all tax credit claimants will have their awards revised downwards? What effect will that have on public perceptions of the system? Will everyone face revisions, will most of them be downwards and will that undermine the system?
Dawn Primarolo: The hon. Gentleman is asking a question on quite a technical point. My understanding is that the answers to his questions are basically no, no and no, but I shall read what he said in the Official Report. This comes back to the way that calculations of what has already been received are taken into account when deciding future entitlement. The ability to revise is exactly thatfor instance, where an application may be moving from previous year to in-yearso it does not imply what the hon. Gentleman said; quite the contrary.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex): I am privileged, and indeed extremely grateful, to have been granted the opportunity to raise the subject of this Adjournment debatethe development of the James and Stone shipyard, Brightlingsea. I should explain that the shipyard is quite a large site on the waterfront of a small Essex fishing town on the Brightlingsea creek, which is part of the River Colne estuary in my constituency. The site has been derelict for a number of years: it certainly requires development, and no one would oppose the principle of development. What is wanted, however, is development that is sympathetic in character to the town and in scale with the existing buildings of the town; that is the nub of the case that I wish to present to the House and the Minister this evening.
I have set out all the salient matters in correspondence both with the Deputy Prime Minister, who now has responsibility for planning matters, and with his predecessor, the then Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, the right hon. Member for Tyneside, North (Mr. Byers). I very much hope that having read those and other representations the Minister will see fit to call for a full public inquiry into that planning application, which is in effect trapped in outdated thinking, and I shall set out the reasons why. The result would involve plonking a very large and inappropriate development into that very sensitive site in an historic fishing town, which would be to the detriment of the community.
Before I set out the key points, I should add that the situation has had a long gestation. For many years, I have been seeking to engage the developers in more constructive conversation and the local authority in putting more severe pressure on the developers to produce more practical and sensible proposals and to engage the townspeople more actively in the process. In the end, I got the false impression that the scheme would be accepted. It was only when I finally launched a campaign to hold a public inquiry that I was absolutely overwhelmed by the strength of representation against the development and in favour of a public inquiry.
I have circulated a questionnaire, and the response has been huge. There have been no more than a couple of dozen returns against. It is overwhelmingly in favour of a public inquiry. I hope shortly to submit a petition to the House that will carry a substantial number of signatures, certainly representing a substantial minority of those on the voting register in Brightlingsea, if not a majority of those who live in the town. I have the support of the town council in making these representations. So let there be no doubt that there is overwhelming public support for the position that I have adopted, and that the townspeople have moved from sullen acceptance of what they thought was inevitable to the hope that Ministers might be able to do something to rescue the situation.
I also wish to place on record the fact that I do not believe that the local authority is to blame for this situation, because planning policies have developed very dramatically in the past 10 years. We started with an
The local authority has been trapped in a conundrum involving a succession of events, and it is pre-committed to proposals that would not be acceptable if they were begun from scratch now. Indeed, they are completely out of line with the much more enlightened planning policies on modern and sensitive design. Some of those policies were introduced by the previous Government, but I fully admit that others have been introduced by the present Government.
As I say, the planning authority is preparing to grant approval in principle based on conforming with the outdated design brief, which gives a range of 100 to 150 units, although the local plan gives only 100 units. The authority appears beholden to the numbers in the design brief, which is 14 years old, antiquated and quite inappropriate for today's standards. An impracticable and unsustainable development is proposed. The new design brief, based on modern thinking and reflecting Brightlingsea today, would specify a much more limited and sympathetic development.
There is a problem with any waterside development in a place like Essex in that all the new housing has to be built above a certain datum that is significantly above the maximum high-water mark of the tide to prevent flooding. Moreover, the properties would be built out of piers that
The development would not only be very much higher than the existing buildings on the surrounding land, but would thrust deep into the creek, blocking views, completely dominating the waterfront and completely changing the character of Brightlingsea. It would be detrimental to the amenity that the waterfront provides. Nowhere does the design brief make it obvious that the development would stick into the creek to such an extent and to such a height.
The current application, if granted, would result in a large, dominant high-density development, which would be out of character with the small scale of the coastal location. It would be a London Thames-side development in character, but it would be imposed on a small Essex creek.
The proposal exploits the brief to justify a major addition to the site, which would protrude well out from the foreshore. Some 80 units would be on the foreshore, where there are currently no permanent buildings. That would be to the detriment of the harbour, its users and visitors. The harbour is a vibrant summer sailing centre and small commercial port, with national and international regattas and regional events. Some 38,000 visitors are afloat each year, apart from local residents.
Much training and launching from the adjacent historic Hard and sailing club slipway are at risk because of the proposal's wind effects and the Hard is at risk of silting. It may well be that those technical matters can be addressed, but they underline how big the development's likely impact would be. Although the development would not intrude inside the harbour boundary, it would be right against the narrow fairway, where people launch and haul out their boats and where ships manoeuvre at high tide.
As I have already said, the views are unique to the town. They are the superb, unspoilt coastal Essex views across the Colne estuary to Mersea island and over to the Blackwater estuary. Those views are important in attracting 188,000 tourist and leisure visitors to the town each year, and the numbers are growing. The views will be largely blocked by the development on the foreshore. Some 90 local jobs are sustained by tourism and leisure.
I have written to the Deputy Prime Minister about the environmental concerns which have been raised by English Nature. The conundrum at the heart of the proposal is that it is intended that the environmental concerns should be addressed by closing the marina, which will be enclosed by the large piers, for a proportion of the year. Practically speaking, what is likely to happen is that once the marina is built, and people have their boats there, they will want to take them out at times different from the season. Of course, they will want to keep testingreapplying forthe planning permission to open up the marina for different times of year. I guarantee that it is only a matter of time before the condition placed on the development is ignored or set aside, as it will come to be seen as completely unreasonable. Whether or not it is the right place for a major marinathere is certainly scope for mooring of boats and a small-scale marinait is wrong that environmental concerns should be addressed in this temporary and unsatisfactory way.
As a final aside, there are serious traffic concerns about a major development at Brightlingsea. Only one access road into the town exists, the B1029, which is an accident-prone access road that ends at a tangle of narrow streets and blind bends by the site. The local plan notes that traffic and parking are key issues, and the town council is particularly concerned that those have not been sufficiently addressed. The highways authority avoided its responsibility, however, by making no comment whatever on the application. That reflects a general neglect of Brightlingsea.
Brightlingsea is a town right on the edge of Essexpeople never go there unless they are going there. Not many people really know Brightlingsea. I know Brightlingsea. It is one of the favourite corners of my constituency, an historic Cinque port, which gives a sense of the history of the place. Part of the development of the site includes what is known as "The Old Wreck House". The people of Brightlingsea are a very stable population with a tremendous community spirit, and they feel that their wonderful town is very precious. The development represents a very serious threat.
A viable, sustainable, medium-density low-rise scheme is possible on the dry land without the considerable expense of constructing major new and much higher protrusions from the shore haul. That would meet all the environmental and statutory requirements and be to scale and in character with the location. Such an alternative conceptone has been drawn up by a local architectcould sustain perhaps 50 to 60 units with a variety of community uses, such as retail and so on.
The current application has very little to commend it. I am disappointed that the developers have made so little effort to engage constructively with me to come up with a more viable proposal. Against the background of an outdated design brief, only a full public inquiry can unblock all the issues that have been raised, take a seriously objective view, set aside the history and decide in favour of what the vast majority of the people of Brightlingsea seem to wanta recommendation for a much smaller and more sympathetic development.