HC Deb 01 May 1950 vol 474 cc1541-6

Motion made, and Question proposed, " That this House do now adjourn "—

[Mr. Popplewell.]

10.10 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Hutchinson (Ilford, North)

My purpose tonight is to direct the attention of the House to the highly unsatisfactory and dangerous state of affairs which exists upon part of Eastern Avenue in Greater London. As hon. Members are no doubt aware, Eastern Avenue is one of the main traffic arteries in Greater London. It is the principal outlet for traffic going to the Eastern counties and to the East coast. Throughout the year Eastern Avenue carries a very heavy volume of traffic. During the summer months, and in particular at week-ends, traffic is exceptionally dense, by night as well as by day.

Eastern Avenue is a trunk road. There is a double carriage-way about 40 or 50 feet in width throughout the greater part of its length and, for the greater part of its length, Eastern Avenue is a derestricted trunk road. At Newbury Park Station it crosses what was formerly a branch line of the London and North Eastern Railway. The railway has only recently been reconstructed and is now part of the latest extension of the Central London tube. At this point, at Newbury Park Station, the roadway is carried over the railway by the old, narrow, humpbacked bridge which was constructed many years ago when Eastern Avenue was a country road.

At the time when Eastern Avenue was constructed, between the wars, it was, of course, known that the railway would eventually be rebuilt and that conditions at Newbury Park Station were likely to be entirely changed. Reconstruction of the bridge was, therefore, presumably postponed until the reconstruction of the railway and the station had taken place. As Eastern Avenue approaches this bridge the carriage-way narrows considerably. The width over:he bridge approaches narrows down to about 27 feet in the two carriage-ways and on the crown of the bridge it is a good deal less—somewhere, I think. about 20, 22 or 23 feet.

We have here, therefore, a modern, densely populated—if I may use that expression—highway which is carried across the railway by a bridge designed many years ago for farm carts and, I suppose, for use by cattle. As soon as the changes in the railway had been completed, the reconstruction of the bridge and its approaches became a work of outstanding urgency which ought to have been undertaken without delay.

It is not surprising that, in the circumstances which I have endeavoured to describe, this place has an exceptionally had accident record. If I may take recent figures, year by year, in 1948 there were altogether 68 road accidents in that part of Eastern Avenue which is within the Borough of Ilford. Of those 68 accidents 14, some of which were fatal, took place within 150 yards of either side of the crest of Newbury Park bridge.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Barnes)

Has the hon. Member the 1949 figures?

Mr. Hutchinson

Yes. In 1949, if I may give comparable figures, there were 105 accidents in that part of Eastern Avenue which is in the Borough of Ilford. Twenty-four of those accidents, one of which was fatal, took place within the distance to which I have referred at Newbury Park bridge, on either side of the crown of the bridge. [his year, the figures until the end of March are a little better than the other two years. There have been 14 accidents, two of which took place on the bridge at Newbury Park. The traffic statistics, therefore, show clearly that this is a place where accidents occur with disturbing frequency.

Everybody, I think, including the right hon. Gentleman, has agreed for some time that this site is a place which calls for treatment at the earliest possible opportunity. In March of last year the local authority were informed that the Ministry would keep closely in mind the proposal for widening the bridge and reconstructing the roadway and that the work would be started as soon as funds and materials became available. Later in the same year, the local authority were informed that the reconstruction of the bridge was on the priority list of the Ministry and that it was hoped to put the work in hand during the year.

Last November, however, the situation changed. The local authority were then told that it was out of the question that the work would proceed for the time being. The reason given was that the economic crisis—I think that that was the expression used by the Minister—had necessitated a curtailment of the capital expenditure programme. When I put a Question to the right hon. Gentleman at the beginning of last week, I received the same reply. He said that he was not then able to say when it would be possible for the work to be undertaken.

The local authority and others who are concerned with this matter understand, of course, the necessity for restricting financial and economic commitments of this kind. What they fail to understand is how, at a time when it is not possible to spend what is needed to put this bridge in a safe and proper condition, it is at the same time found possible to spend a very large sum of money, exceeding, I believe, the amount which would be sufficient to put this bridge in a state of safety, on a temporary footbridge, adjoining Hungerford Bridge, for use at the Festival of Britain. People who use this road and know its dangers are not able to understand how it comes about that material and labour can be allocated for a temporary purpose such as this temporary bridge, when the Minister says that it is not possible to find the means to put this bridge at Newbury Park Station into proper order.

Not only is the bridge itself quite unsuited to the class of traffic using Eastern Avenue, but the approaches to the bridge are occupied by important public buildings. one side of the bridge there is a large hospital and, on the other side, London Transport Executive have recently erected a new omnibus station from which 'buses serving various parts of the Eastern counties, start and terminate. The result is that on either side of the bridge, within a very short distance of the crown of the bridge, there is a constant entry into Eastern Avenue of traffic from the hospital and from this new 'bus station. The traffic entries on the approaches from either side are practically blind and that has added very considerably to the danger of the situation. On the other side of Eastern Avenue there are one or two subsidiary road entries into Eastern Avenue which aggravate the danger for traffic approaching from either side. Those conditions ought not to be allowed to continue any longer.

I know that the right hon. Gentleman is personally acquainted with the conditions on this part of Eastern Avenue. He told me the other day, when I put a supplementary question to him, that he knew very well the dangers involved. We have seen tonight that the Government majority is somewhat precarious and I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that, if for no other reason than the stability of the Government, our experience tonight has shown that no further accidents should be allowed to take place on this bridge. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to assure us that this work will be delayed no longer and that that which is needed for the safety of the traffic and of those who use this bridge will be attended to at the earliest moment.

10.24 p.m.

Squadron-Leader A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)

I will not weary the House for many moments at this late hour, but I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that this particular spot has a history. Before the war it was intended that this bridge should be made with a dual carriageway, but it coincided with Newbury Park Central Line station, which at that time was only being thought about. When the roadway for the whole of the 35 miles of Eastern Avenue was thought about, it was considered desirable that the widening of the bridge should be held over until the railway station was completed; but the war came, and it was of course impossible during the war to carry on with the Central London extension. Then, when the Central London Line was extended at the conclusion of hostilities, it was found impracticable on the score of cost to proceed with the widening of this bridge.

We are not asking for this improvement merely to benefit the people of Ilford. This road is one of the main arteries from London out to the East Coast, and as such, in time of emergency such as war, it would be used in large measure by His Majesty's Forces. It is, therefore, most essential that this vital bottleneck should be cleared as quickly as possible. My hon. and learned Friend has spoken of the aggregation of important buildings at this spot—the King George Hospital, the Newbury Park railway station and now the new bus station. All these converge on to this one spot.

Only last evening I took the opportunity, at about 9.30 p.m., of driving to this place to see what it was like. There was a queue of eastward travelling traffic more than a mile in extent waiting to cross over this bridge. The amount of petrol which must be wasted Sunday by Sunday at this spot would, it seems to me, far outweigh the cost of putting this bridge into proper condition now. There is considerable agitation in Ilford for this bridge to be put right. I should like to underline what my hon. and learned Friend has said. The people of Ilford cannot appreciate why it is impossible to allocate £84,000 for this bridge to be put right while at the same time it is possible for the Government to allocate more than £100,000 for a temporary bridge for the Festival of Britain.

It is time for this House to tell the right hon. Gentleman that he must bestir himself with his colleagues and make sure that he gets for its proper purpose a due amount of that sum of money which is available year by year. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer has just extracted something like £80 million out of the motorists of this country, it is high time that some of this money was allocated for proper measures that will indeed safeguard the lives of the people of this country.

10.28 p.m.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Barnes)

The hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Hutchinson) and the hon. and gallant Member for Ilford, South (Squadron-Leader A. E. Cooper) have quite rightly taken the opportunity of pressing upon me tonight the claims for the completion of the dual carriageway past Newbury Station. They have not, however, left me much time in which to explain the position to them. The hon. and learned Member made great play about what had happened a moment or two before this Debate started. I am glad that he and I are discussing this matter in a calmer and less dangerous atmosphere so far as the Minister or the Government are concerned. I have just escaped a cut of £1,000 in my salary. I do not know whether it is suggested that I should allocate part of that to this road improvement.

Mr. Hutchinson

We should welcome even the smallest contribution.

Mr. Barnes

I wish to take this opportunity of reaffirming the statement which I have previously made to the hon. and learned Member and the hon. Member. Both I and my Department recognise the claim which this road improvement has upon our future resources. We have never hesitated to suggest that this is an important improvement. On more than one occasion I have made the position quite plain to them. The funds voted out of the Road Fund are not sufficient for the purpose of carrying out new reconstruction work of this description. Some £2,300,000 only are available for reconstruction work, and over £2 million are to be used for the completion of work already in hand. This includes the strengthening of certain weak bridges. The bridge at Newbury Park station is not weak—it may be inconvenient, it may be dangerous. There just is not the money, but I assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that we will bear this in mind and will do what we can at the earliest possible moment.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine Minutes to Eleven o'Clock