HC Deb 06 December 1934 vol 295 cc1801-6

asked the Minister of. Transport whether he contemplates taking any steps to ensure the preparation of a systematic plan of highway development for the area of Greater London?


Yes, Sir. I am sending to-night to all highway authorities in the London Traffic Area, a circular letter, a copy of which I will circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT, informing them of my decision to put in hand a comprehensive and systematic survey of the highway developments required in the area of Greater London to keep pace with the expansion of traffic. I have formed the conclusion that if this work is to be done expeditiously and effectively it is suitably undertaken under a single direction and within a time limit. Accordingly I have appointed Mr. C. H. Bressey, who will vacate his present appointment as the Chief Engineer of the Roads Department of the Ministry of Transport, to be responsible for the survey and for the preparation of a highway development plan for the area. The general character and layout of roads have an important bearing upon amenities, and I have therefore also appointed Sir Edwin Lutyens to act as consultant.


Will this be the basis of the deferred Bill upon ribbon development.


It has nothing to do with ribbon development.


Does the hon. Gentleman realise that this is an integral part of town-planning, and that anything in this direction should be done in co-operation with the Town Planning Committee for this area?


It will be. If the hon. Baronet will look at the circular, he will see that that point is dealt with.


May I ask whether any definition of Greater London is laid down?


Yes, Sir.

Following is the circular letter:

Circular No. 409 (Roads).

Highway Authorities in the

London Traffic Area.

Ministry of Transport,

6, Whitehall Gardens, S.W.1.

6th December, 1934.



The Minister of Transport has decided to put in hand a comprehensive and systematic survey of the highway developments required in the London Traffic Area, in order to keep pace with the expansion of traffic. The need for such a survey has long been felt, and it is not a duty which can be said to be within the scope of the highway authorities—over one hundred and thirty in number—within the boundaries of the area. Some important and many minor improvements have, it is true, been carried out in piecemeal fashion from time to time as local authorities have found themselves able to proceed, or as a contribution to programmes initiated or expedited for the relief of unemployment, or as the state of congestion at particular points became intolerable.

It will be agreed that such a procedure makes it difficult to secure a logical order of priority either in the allocation of grants or in the execution of works, and the full advantage to be derived from these isolated improvements has indeed too often been frustrated by lack of continuity with the surrounding lines of communications. Although in particular districts town planning has made progress, Mr. Hore-Belisha is convinced that the needs of the future cannot be boldly, or intelligently faced, from the point of view of transport, in the absence of some general plan for a series of boldly designed and properly interrelated highway improvements.

The congestion and danger inevitably arising from the spread of London and the increasing use of road transport are making essential the concerted application of a wide variety of remedial measures. Well-considered schemes of traffic regulation can be efficacious within certain limits, but no satisfactory solution is likely to be found without the creation of more adequate traffic arteries, whether by the construction of new links or the remodeling and modernisation of existing highways. Mr. Hore-Belisha has come to the conclusion that the situation calls insistently for proceeding on a plan based on an expert estimate of the probable needs of the next 20 or 30 years. The field to be surveyed must cover at least the London Traffic Area, or approximately a circle with a radius of 25 miles from Charing Cross.

The manner in which such a survey as that proposed could best be carried out has received the careful consideration of the Minister.

It may not be without interest to recall that the major traffic problems of London have often been held to merit exceptional methods of examination. The opportunity of adopting Sir Christopher Wren's design for the re-planning of London after the Great Fire was lost, and did not recur, but throughout the 19th century numerous bodies of inquiry were appointed, like the Select Committee of the House of Commons appointed in 1836, when London's present suburbs were detached rural villages, "to consider the most effectual plan for raising of money to carry into effect the necessary improvements required in the cities of London and Westminster, borough of Southwark and counties of Middlesex and Surrey, etc." In 1838, 1839, 1840 and 1841 further Select Committees were appointed for the carrying out of similar duties, and in 1842 a Royal Commission was established to inquire into and consider "the most effectual means of improving the metropolis and of providing means of communication within the same."

Another Royal Commission on London Transport was appointed in 1903 and presented several volumes of reports during the following two years with the assistance and advice of expert engineers. For several years prior to 1914 the London Transport Branch of the Board of Trade was charged with the duty of investigating London's traffic problems, and about the same time were convened the Greater London Arterial Roads Conferences, which prepared the invaluable plans subsequently inherited and amplified by, and carried into execution under the direction of the Ministry of Transport with the aid of grants from the Road Fund.

Mr. Hore-Belisha has come to the conclusion that in present circumstances it is neither necessary not expedient to appoint further Committees of Inquiry. Efficiency, economy and expedition will, in his opinion, be best secured by concentrating the task of preparing a highway development plan upon some single officer, with the necessary experience, who could devote his whole time to the task and be free to consult, as closely and frequently as may be necessary, the numerous and important highway, town planning and police authorities, who in their respective areas can assist to formulate, and will be affected by, any proposals for development. The Minister is already assured that the great fund of practical knowledge possessed by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis in regard to the movement of traffic in the Metropolitan Police Area will be entirely at his disposal.

Unless the investigation is carried out with a high degree of despatch, its results may become obsolete, and to a large extent be rendered valueless, and some of the developments which it would be the object of the inquiry to forestall, would have taken place.

For the purpose of the survey the Minister has appointed Mr. C. H. Bressey, C.B., C.B.E., who has been Chief Engineer of the Roads Department of the Ministry since 1928, and has for the past 15 years been closely associated with the great arterial road works which have been carried out in London during that period. Mr. Bressey will vacate his present appointment and devote his whole time to his new duties. The general character and layout of roads and bridges have an important bearing upon the general development and amenities of Greater London, and the architectural and other opportunities which they present. The Minister has therefore considered it advisable to associate with the survey from the outset an architect of eminence and wide experience, and he has appointed Sir Edwin Lutyens, K.C.I.E., R.A., to act as consultant. These gentlemen have been given the following Reference and Instructions:—


To study and report upon the need for improved communications by road (including the improvement and remodelling of existing roads) in the area of Greater London, and to prepare a highway development plan for that area incorporating so far as is practicable and desirable, schemes already planned or projected.


  1. (1) In the preparation of the plan, administrative boundaries should be disregarded and the London Traffic Area should be provisionally adopted as the area to be surveyed, but its extension to include the somewhat wider ambit of the Metropolitan Traffic Area can be considered at a later date, if this is thought to be desirable.
  2. (2) Highways for this purpose include tunnels, viaducts and bridges.
  3. (3) Special attention should be paid to the origin and destination of traffic traversing the area, to the use, and the justification for the use of important thoroughfares by the classes of traffic at present following them, and to the correlation of schemes of improvement within the area to the main communications radiating from its circumference.
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  5. (4) The best possible estimates should be framed as to the future flow of traffic, and the co-operation of police authorities throughout the area should be sought in the accumulation of the necessary data, and the views of those authorities should be most carefully considered in the formulation of the plan.
  6. (5) Consultation with the London and other County Councils and with all highway and town planning authorities in the area will be constantly necessary, and the appropriate contacts should be established and maintained.
  7. (6) The report and plan, when prepared, will be referred by the Minister to the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee. The preliminary advice of that body may also be desirable from time to time during the progress of the investigation in regard to specific proposals to be embodied. Indeed, he has already requested that Committee to undertake an inquiry into the case for safeguarding the possibility of constructing a road bridge in the neighbourhood of Charing Cross, in so far as such case rests upon considerations of traffic.
  8. (7) The officer charged with the inquiry and preparation of the plan will have the full assistance of the organisation of the Ministry of Transport and should keep the Secretary of the Ministry informed as to progress, and of any questions of principle or policy arising which seem to require the consideration of the Minister.
  9. (8) The object should be to complete the plan within three years, but sectional reports and plans should be presented from time to time as work proceeds, dealing with those parts of the area where early decisions as to development are necessary.
  10. (9) The financial questions which may arise on the presentation of sectional or the full reports are necessarily reserved for further consideration.

It will be observed that emphasis is laid in these instructions upon the close contact which the officer in charge of this survey should maintain with local authorities generally, with town planning committees and with the police authorities who are so intimately concerned. In conjunction with the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, steps are already being taken to collect improved and amplified data as to the movement of traffic in the Metropolitan Police Area.

Mr. Hore-Belisha is sure that the numerous highway authorities and other public bodies in the area affected will concur with him in thinking that a survey of the kind which he proposes can only be effectively undertaken on the basis which he has caused to be set out for your information in this letter. He feels confident of their fullest co-operation and believes that the survey, the progress of which they will be able to greatly to facilitate, will not only assist him in determining the direction of his grants, but will also prove valuable to them in dealing with the many problems which confront them.

I am, Sir,

Your obedient servant,



The Town Clerk.

The Clerk to the Council.