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Wednesday, November 25, 1998 Published at 18:04 GMT

UK Politics

Eclipse minister plea blotted out

Thousands are expected to descend on Cornwall

The government has refused to appoint a minister to deal with the effects of a total eclipse of the sun next summer.

Hundreds of thousands or even millions of people are expected to pour into Devon and Cornwall to get the best view of the event in August.

"Emergency services will not be able to cope" - Matthew Taylor MP on BBC Radio 5 Live
Matthew Taylor, Liberal Democrat MP for Truro and St Austell, called on the government to provide extra help for local services coping with the huge influx, warning of disaster otherwise.

But his plea was met by the government response: think of the money-making opportunity for businesses and the tourist industry.

Junior Environment Minister Nick Raynsford said that charges for bed and breakfast and fees from campsites alone were likely to generate more than £150m from people eager to see the phenomenon on 11 August 1999.

'Millions without facilities'

Mr Taylor called for a parliamentary debate, warning of 1.2m visitors.

[ image: More than a million could be camping out without facilities]
More than a million could be camping out without facilities
"This will bring the population up to about 1.7m. However, many estimates of the numbers likely to come far exceed this, with most predicting in excess of 2m and some estimates as high as 4m wishing to visit.

"Roads, sewage and water could not cope at these levels."

Mr Taylor said the ambulance service had budgeted for an extra air ambulance, motorbikes and ambulances, but might have to call on the RAF for support.

Women had been advised not to get pregnant in November, because traffic jams could prevent them getting to hospital in August.

[ image: Taylor: Warning of a disaster]
Taylor: Warning of a disaster
Many open-air festivals were being organised, attracting people other than eclipse-watchers. This would be coupled with the usual holidaymakers and rise in crime of the summer season, Mr Taylor told the Commons.

He said: "If it is wet there may be 2m people without anything to look at, in campsites without proper facilities."

The cost to health and emergency services was likely to be more than £5m, he said.

No emergency

Mr Raynsford rejected the call for a minister, but stressed he would raise with the health secretary the health risks of looking at the eclipse with naked eyes.

He said the eclipse was not an emergency or a sudden danger requiring urgent action.

Home Secretary Jack Straw expected extra costs would be less than half of 1% of the county's police budget.

"The Association of Chief Police Officers, which has had a working party looking into this issue, is of the opinion that forces should not ordinarily be given assistance."

Mr Raynsford said many other areas wished they were so fortunate.

Matthew Taylor MP: Expecting millions
Mr Taylor told the BBC the army may have to help ensure public safety and limit damage to the environment.

"So far government ministers seem unaware of the scale of what will be hitting the county and have not yet decided which parliamentary department should be responsible," he said.

The first mainland eclipse since 1927 will be seen for two minutes and six seconds between the towns of Penzance and Falmouth.

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18 Nov 98†|†Health
Cornish women told to put family plans on hold

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