Clause 20

Crossrail Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:00 pm ar 22 Tachwedd 2007.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Control of construction sites: appeals

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

Clause 20 will effectively disapply the provisions of the Control of Pollution Act 1974, which will mean that appeals are determined by not a magistrates court, but the Secretary of State, which is concerning. The Government are trying to enact legislation that allows them, or their nominated undertaker, to create a great deal of noise—I accept that sometimes that is unavoidable—in and around London. Under the 1974 Act, the Government can apply for prior consent for such a level of noise. Normally, such appeals would be heard by a magistrates court, but now the Government want to hear those appeals themselves. In legal terms, they would therefore be the defendant and judge. I invite the Minister to clarify the situation and explain how he will seek to remedy it. It is an extremely important matter.

This morning, we tackled briefly the possibility of noise due to the extension of boring and drilling downwards. However, we have only touched on noise. Clearly, noise blight could be a major result of the construction phase under the Bill. Whole communities might well be affected during the construction, and the 1974 Act seems to be more or less the only protection for a neighbourhood or community. It would seem invidious for appeals to be determined by the Secretary of State rather than through the normal channels. How on earth could a local community protect itself? Is the Minister saying that the Government should be above the law for the purposes of this Bill, and therefore—potentially—for the purposes of other Bills?

Photo of Peter Soulsby Peter Soulsby Llafur, Leicester South

May I reassure the hon. Member for Wimbledon that the question of noise during construction was repeatedly a matter of concern in petitions heard by the Select Committee? We spent a considerable amount of time listening to those concerns and were heartened to receive from the promoters and the Government a number of assurances about the way in which the construction would be undertaken. That enabled us to reassure those petitioners. Although I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making about the general provision, I hope that I can reassure him and the Committee that some of the specific problems anticipated by petitioners, residents and those in the  neighbourhood of the construction sites were considered at an early stage and a number of remedial measures were put in place.

Photo of Lee Scott Lee Scott Ceidwadwyr, Ilford North 2:15, 22 Tachwedd 2007

There are laws in place relating to noise pollution from works. However, my constituency has the highest number of underground stations—a total of 14—and lot of work takes place outside normal hours and causes massive disturbance, and that is just the ongoing regular work. There will be much more work to be done during the construction stage of Crossrail, which is why this important issue needs to be addressed.

Photo of Brian Binley Brian Binley Ceidwadwyr, Northampton South

May I confirm what my colleague the hon. Member for Leicester, South said about the concern raised by petitioners not only about noise, but about other pollution? Noise, vibration and dust were the major concerns. Indeed, we went through the code that has been adopted—at considerable length and to a considerable depth. The hon. Gentleman is right. We should be happy with the conditions built in to the code and the fact that the undertakers are aware of the need to act properly in this respect. However, there are sad occasions when things go wrong and we have seen examples of that in this place over the past week.

I am concerned about whether there is a fall-back position. Many of the petitioners felt that they had a fall-back position with regard to magistrates who knew their own locality. That was an important safeguard for them: if the code and the promises and all that was said to good effect did not materialise, they could appeal to local magistrates. Again, the “local” gave them comfort. I am concerned that we are removing local knowledge from the equation. I would like the Minister to reassure me and tell me exactly why he feels that that element should be removed or whether my concerns do not matter and are of no consequence. If that is so, I am happy; if not, I will not be happy at all.

Photo of Tom Harris Tom Harris Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I will try my best to offer comfort to Opposition Members, although I am not sure whether I will be successful, given the concerns that they have raised. However, I believe that their concerns are unfounded. I am grateful for the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South in that regard.

May I use an increasingly over-used word, which is perhaps devalued currency, and say that the clause is precedented in the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act 1996? The purpose of the clause is to modify elements of the Control of Pollution Act 1974, so that an appeal against a construction noise notice under section 60 of that Act, or a refusal or conditioning of a consent to construction arrangements under section 61, is determined by the Secretary of State instead of by a magistrates court.

The Crossrail scheme is a linear work of some 100 km in length, passing through the areas of many petty sessional divisions. Although magistrates courts are an appropriate forum for the resolution of disputes in relation to schemes and activities that have discrete local effects, using such courts as appellate bodies is not likely to secure the co-ordinated and unified approach to construction activities that is desirable for the effective management of a project the size of Crossrail.

Photo of Brian Binley Brian Binley Ceidwadwyr, Northampton South

The point about which we are talking relates not to the code, but to the failure of the code. The code should be adjudged from a local perspective, because local conditions impact upon dust, noise and vibration. We were told that at great length. That is why, given that the conditions and the code are in place, I want an appeal, as a fall back scenario, to be interpreted from a local viewpoint, rather than from that of the Secretary of State, who has, as the Minister said, the broader view. It is for that exact reason that I want the local input.

Photo of Tom Harris Tom Harris Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, but do not accept his assumption that the Secretary of State is somehow an inappropriate person to hear those appeals. As a member of the Select Committee, the hon. Gentleman will know that an awful lot of work has been done on agreeing the working hours for Crossrail works. That has been the subject of lengthy discussions with local authorities and, of course, the Select Committee.

Photo of Peter Soulsby Peter Soulsby Llafur, Leicester South

I wish to respond to the suggestion that local knowledge will somehow be lost by this process. I am sure that the Minister can confirm that the role of the local authority will be completely unaffected by the provision, and the local knowledge that the local authority undoubtedly has will still be an important part of the enforcement of the controls over this nuisance.

Photo of Tom Harris Tom Harris Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

My hon. Friend is correct and, once again, shows deep knowledge of the subject at hand. The position agreed with local authorities is reflected in the construction code mentioned by the hon. Member for Northampton, South, which forms part of the environmental minimum requirements, for which an undertaking has been given to the House.

I would like to clarify the fact that the Secretary of State will not necessarily be the Secretary of State for Transport. The hon. Member for Northampton, South has suggested that the Secretary of State for Transport might be in some kind of double bind, being both the appellant—the person creating the complaint in the first place—and the person hearing the appeal. It does not have to be the Secretary of State for Transport.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

If it does not have to be the Secretary of State for Transport, which Secretary of State does the Minister envisage it being? It would help a lot of people if that was specified in the Bill. Is he proposing that the appellate procedure be held by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government?

Photo of Tom Harris Tom Harris Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

In practice, it would not necessarily be the Secretary of State for Transport. Instead, an independent inspector is likely to be appointed with the authority of the Secretary of State. That is what happened with the 1996 Act. As the appeal in the case of the Thameslink box at Kings Cross has shown, there can be no presumption that the inspector will find in favour of the project. We know that the promoter lost that particular case.

I understand the general concern that the Secretary of State should not have those powers, but they have been invested in previous legislation and hybrid Bills because a strategic approach is needed. Of course, local knowledge is absolutely essential. However, that local knowledge will not be lost, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South has already said. In a project of such importance and physical size, the appeals should be heard by someone with a strategic overview of the project, not by any number of local magistrates courts.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 20 ordered to stand part of the Bill.