19 MAY 1973, Page 3

Chunnel, No-Maplin, Yes

There are three great public projects, each involving vast sums of public money and each, in its different way, likely to affect a great number of people's lives, about which final and irrevocable decisions have been or are about to be made. They all involve transport; they all look to the future. They are strategic decisions, quite properly to be made, in the last resort, after due consideration has been paid to the views of experts, by politicians. In its different ways, each decision will have great environmental effects and will contribute to the determining of the long-term pattern of communications, and hence of industrial and urban locations, until the end of the century and beyond. The three projects also affect our continental arrangeMents and are not without diplomatic and military consequence. They are the Anglo-French Concorde project, the Channel tunnel project, and the Maplin scheme. Each project is controversial. Each decision involves the weighing of advantages and disadvantages. Although in the future, with the benefit of hindsight, It may be possible to look back and say "it is obvious that this, rather than that, should have been done," there is no way in Which the politicians who have to decide can now be absolutely certain which is obviously the right decision. If there were, then the decision in question would receive general welcome and only be opposed by minorities whose direct interests were adversely affected by the decision's effects. This is not the case with Concorde, the Channel tunnel and Maplin.

Concorde is the least important of the three projects. Should it finally fail, a good deal of money will have been lost, but little damage will have been done. Commercially and industrially it Will almost certainly prove to be a foolish project and a further Proof of the rule that it does not pay to be a technological pioneer. No doubt there will have been valuable 'spin-off' expertise gained, although from this point of view the development of military aircraft would have made more sense: TSR 2 would have been a far better investment. However, Concorde was dear to the hearts (and possibly the minds, too) of France. Given the desire of successive British governments to secure French permission for Britain to enter the Common Market, then Anglo-French cooperation on Concorde was not an excessive price to pay. It is a beautiful object which makes far too much ugly noise. Its environmental effects are not likely to be great, unless a great many are sold. On a strictly actuarial basis, there may be an argument for cutting losses, tearing up the contract with France and halting production. But when political considerations are weighed, then the conclusion is virtually inescapable, that having come so far with Concorde it is best to continue The Government has not yet made up its mind about the Channel tunnel, although it is clear from the tone of recent documents and ' guidance ' coming from Mr Peyton's department that there are officials, and possibly politicians, in high places who are very anxious to rush a decision through by the end of July. Why this sudden haste over a project which has been maturing, or festering, since the nineteenth century is not explained; and observers Will be forgiven for cynicism if they conclude that the haste is Ldue to the last-minute realisation by the chunnellers that it is now or never. The fact is that the tunnel — whether or not it makes a notional profit for its owners (who will not be paying for the vast complex of motorways and railway lines required to feed and serve it) — is a dead loss for Britain. It may well produce great benefit for France, fertilising as it were its depressed northwest. It will be disastrous, however, for us. If it succeeds, it will funnel a vast amount of traffic down into Kent. Virtually all British industrial products being transported through the tunnel will have to get across, round or through London's metropolitan sprawl to get to the tunnel terminals. And when these products emerge from the tunnel, in France, they are miles away from their principal markets. The Common Market already has made Wales, north-western England, Scotland and Northern Ireland fringe areas. A tunnel placed at England's narrow south-easternmost tip could do nothing other than impose further massive and permanent loc.ational disadvantage upon all of our development areas without exception. The tunnel, even if it were chiefly to transport tourists and even if it required no direct public participation in its financing, would still be detrimental to the overall public interest which cannot possibly be served by a tunnel creating a funnel in Kent. Mr Heath, a Kentish man, may still entertain childhood dreams of a tunnel to France; if so, his colleagues should tell him that this project is folly. What is more, its logic is almost wholly opposed by the logic of the third, and easily the most important, of the three projects under consideration: Maplin.

There is every reason to suppose that the Government has already decided, come hell or high water, to press ahead with all vigour with the airport-seaport complex on the Maplin sands lying outside Foulness in Essex. This decision is right, and utterly transcends in importance the decisions on Concorde and the tunnel. There are, as there must be with any huge new development, environmental arguments against the Maplin scheme. The flat bleak land involved possesses an undoubted stark beauty; much estuarine sailing will be affected; the Brent geese will be disturbed. But if it be accepted that a third' London 'airport is necessary — and it should be unthinkable to propose further air traffic at Heathrow — then Maplin wins easily, because it is coastal. When the prospect of a great seaport with deepwater capacity is added, the positive advantages of the Maplin scheme outweigh all possible disadvantages. The Maplin air-seaport complex can be made accessible to all the great industrial areas of the United Kingdom without the need to negotiate London; it will be capable of rivalling and probably outstripping the Rotterdam-Europort complex; and it will invigorate the entire east end of London, the north bank of the Thames as far as Southend, and to a lesser extent the south bank, to Gravesend. Maplin, too, makes sense of the decision to go ahead with Concorde; and nonsense of a decision to proceed with the Channel tunnel. Maplin offers the prospect of a system of communications no longer radiating out from London; the tunnel would further distort the present system. The public interest requires that Maplin go ahead and that the tunnel be abandoned. The economy is booming. Industrialists are taking major investment decisions. The time is absolutely right for the Government to declare that the major public enterprise of the next decade will be the Maplin air-seaport complex and its associated road and rail communications and to ensure that the maximum of available resources will be directed towards the completion of the most exciting project available to the nation.