HC Deb 01 August 1951 vol 491 cc1583-92

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Sparks.]

9.57 p.m.

Mr. Orbach (Willesden, East)

I wish to raise a matter which has concerned my constituents for a number of years, and particularly in the last few months. It is a matter which is not unfamiliar to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, because not only have representations been made to him by the local authority, the Willesden Borough Council, and the residents concerned through their local Neasden Residents' Association, but I myself have raised the issue at Question time on two occasions in the last few months.

In the Road Traffic Acts of 1930 and 1934, the Minister was given authority to make regulations with regard to the speed limit on vehicles on the roads, with regard to traffic signs and pedestrian crossings, and, in the Act of 1934, the speed limit was reintroduced. The Minister was given power to limit the speed of cars and lorries in built-up areas.

On the occasion of the Second Reading of the Bill, the Minister, the late lamented Mr. Oliver Stanley, defined a built-up area as a place where a street lighting system is in force. He went on, after making this statement, to clarify his definition by ruling out new by-pass roads where lighting had been arranged by a benevolent local authority, but where no houses or shops existed. He laid down that, in his opinion, a built-up area where a speed limit ought to be in force included even a village street if, in fact, there were houses or shops on both sides of the road.

The stretch of the North Circular Road which is in my constituency and about which I am concerned tonight was designed as a dual carriageway on which traffic could move unimpeded from east to west or west to east north of London. The first point I want to make is that the phrase "north of London" is out of date. The boroughs of Wembley, Edgware and Finchley are all to the north of the North Circular Road at this point. The North Circular Road from Staples Corner to the Neasden Circus must be included within the Central London Traffic Area, and it must be included for another reason.

The Minister will be aware that the volume of traffic on the road between the two points which I have mentioned is equal to the traffic passing at any particular time along one of the main thoroughfares of this country—Oxford Street. The original intention of the planners may well have been to make this a through road, but today it has other functions which the Minister ought to bear in mind when considering the needs—

It being Ten o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed. without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed. "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Sparks.]

Mr. Orbach

—both of motorists and of pedestrians. Even at the time of its creation in 1937, shops and houses had existed for 10 years on both sides of the road. There were scores of semi-detached homes and shops from which it was convenient for people to purchase the products they required.

If we pass down this road from east to west we find that on the other side there are playing fields leading down to the Welsh Harp where our local Polytechnic find it convenient to play football in the winter and cricket in the summer. Close to this is a sports ground provided by the local borough council, and on a corner of the street further west is the public library. When one comes to the Neasden Circus itself there are scores of small semidetached houses. On the south side of the road we find many large modern factories, a school in which nearly 1,000 children are accommodated, more homes, shopping parades, bus stops, and a further shopping parade at Neasden Circus itself. I should also have said that on the north side of the road there is a further school available to infants, juniors and seniors where almost another 1,000 children are accommodated.

It is because of these facts and further difficulties with regard to Neasden Circus itself that I ask the Minister to give very serious thought to the wishes of the neighbourhood. At the Neasden Circus traffic roundabout, where up to the present the Minister has refused to install traffic lights, the fast-moving traffic along the North Circular road going from east to west and west to east infiltrates with the slow moving traffic coming from Dudden Hill Lane in the south and Neasden Lane in the north, and both these roads which are almost as wide as the North Circular Road itself are subject to the 30 miles an hour speed limit.

The Neasden Road Safety Committee has with monotonous regularity described this place as the black spot in the borough for accidents. In response to representation made to the local authorities by the Braintcroft and District Residents' Association, the Minister was kind enough to send his official to look at the spot and to make recommendations to him, and the following sentence appeared in a letter dated 26th May, 1951, which was written to the Residents' Association: Provided that reasonable care is exercised there is no great difficulty in crossing the road in safety. I presume that this statement was made following a visit by the official who observed in conversation with members of the Residents' Association that there were gaps of 10 seconds between moving vehicles which should give sufficient time for anyone to cross one carriageway. Perhaps it was also because of that, that the Minister had erected in the centre of the roadway wire fencing to stop people dashing right across the road.

We consider that the statement of the official was most unfortunate, and I would remind my right hon. Friend of what was said by a predecessor of his to whom I have already referred, Mr. Oliver Stanley, on the Second Reading of the Road Traffic Act, 1934. He said that a built-up area which is all houses is where the unexpected usually happens, and I am sure his remarks would have been emphasised in connection with the road with which I am dealing. It is there "— he said— that the errand-boy comes round on his bicycle with both hands crossed in front of him. It is there that the pedestrian with an umbrella over her face suddenly walks on to the middle of the road. If you are going at 20 to 30 miles an hour with your vehicles under control, there is a chance that you will be able to save those people from the consequences of their own mistake. But if you are going at 50 to 60 miles an hour they are dead."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th April, 1934; Vol. 288, c. 172.] It is because people have been maimed and people are dead that my constituents and myself feel so very strongly on this matter. I hope it is not in bad taste to say that the child of five who was killed within the past six months along that road could not read the letter from the official of the Ministry which was directed to the Braintcroft and District Residents' Association. But the fact is that a distinguished Member of this House who happens to be a constituent of mine will not allow his child to cross this one road of all the roads he permits his nine-year-old child to cross in the Willesden area.

I am told that when an investigation committee of the Willesden Borough Council visited the site, they were eyewitnesses of a fatal accident. I will not give details of accidents which have occurred there and I will not apportion the blame. Pedestrians are often foolhardy and there are people who never ought to be behind the wheel directing what is a convenient means of locomotion but is also a powerful death-dealing machine.

I understand the Minister is advised by the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee and the Metropolitan Police on this matter. After the debate we listened to earlier this evening, it would be remiss of me to say anything about the police. But they can be wrong and their judgment can be wrong, and I think that whenever the Minister has to consider the police or the residents he ought to consider the needs of residents and users first and last.

To come to an instance of police judgment, each morning I travel to this House through Hampstead Road and I pass from Mornington Crescent to Drummond Street, a distance of 300 to 400 yards. Very properly, because there are houses and shops on both sides of the road, a 30 miles an hour speed limit is strictly enforced. There are traffic lights and within that distance of 400 yards there are nine pedestrian crossings.

Perhaps it would be more apposite to quote a further stretch of the North Circular Road—at Falloden Way, less than two miles east of the area I am describing. There is a garden suburb there, but there is no school. In the area I am discussing there are two schools. There are no playing fields there but there are shops and for some reason—whether because of the difference in income levels or not, I do not know—there is a 30 miles an hour limit rigidly enforced by signs and there are traffic lights and pedestrian crossings.

Coming back to the North Circular Road we are dealing with a densely-populated urban development. Children must go to school. They are entitled to recreation. Mothers must shop and adults of both sexes must work. These people who want to cross the road are engaged on lawful business. Perhaps they want to buy a loaf of bread or want to get a meal, and I remind the House that there are two transport cafés along this road and lorries parked outside them impede visibility. People are entitled to play cricket and to borrow books from, and I hope return them to, the library. They are certainly entitled to go to and from their own homes.

The careful motorist is advised to keep moving quickly. If he dawdles at 40 miles an hour driving a modern motor car and sees a pedestrian crossing in front, if his reaction is good he will be able to pull up within 100 feet if he applies his brakes immediately. If he is moving at the modern cruising speed of 60 miles an hour, which is permitted on this road, he will be able to pull up within three seconds and in that time will have travelled 260 feet.

With all these facts in mind, and representing the residents of this area, I ask the Minister to help us by reconsidering this matter. We have suggested that the roundabout at Neasden Circus, which, because of traffic jams, frequently employs four policemen and occasionally eight, be removed and that traffic lights be installed until such time as our capital expenditure programme will permit of a fly-over being built. We suggest that the traffic lights which were previously at the dangerous Brook Road point be re-installed.

If my right hon. Friend will do these things he will certainly help the present situation in the borough. I suggest that he should declare the whole road from Staples' Corner past Neasden Circus to Brentfield Road a 30 miles an hour limit area, and should place at least three pedestrian crossings from Staples' Corner to Neasden Circus. As for the Circus itself, with a branch food office, a post office and a cinema, very special measure must be taken. I ask the Minister to agree to these immediate measures. If he demurs, I would beg him to visit the road with me, and I would ask at the same time that his most agile officials should cross the road while we are there.

I am supported in my plea for reconsideration of this matter by a petition which I have not yet had the opportunity of presenting to him, but I certainly hope I shall before a few days have passed, with the signatures of 6,749 residents in this area. I hope that the signatures and the statement that I have made will be accepted by the Minister as an earnest of our requests.

10.12 p.m.

Mr. Viant (Willesden, West)

I wish to reinforce what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Orbach). It is not my intention to cover the ground which he has already traversed, but I want to impress upon my right hon. Friend the fact that he can no longer afford to make a decision based upon evidence provided by any of his officials. We have to face the fact that since this road was made, there has been a tremendous amount of building on each side.

When the road was first built it was understood that it would be part of the North Circular Road upon which there would be no speed limit. That would have been all right if we had not permitted ribbon development to take place. But now we have an enormous population on each side of the road, and, as my hon. Friend has already said, mere are two schools, a public library and a recreation ground, and children go to and fro each hour of the day. We, as adults, know how difficult it is to judge when to cross a road and when not to cross it when there is such fast-moving traffic going along. It is utterly impossible for young people or elderly people to judge when and when not to attempt to cross the road.

There are not sufficient pedestrian crossings, and those which are there are very much misplaced. One has only to go to the roundabout on that road to find the pedestrian crossings almost right up against the roundabout itself. That in itself is evidence of the fact that it is the cause of a great deal of the holding up of traffic going round the roundabout.

These pedestrian crossings should be put further from the roundabout, but the roundabout itself is no solution to the problem of the fast-moving and slow-moving traffic coming from the four ways. The right hon. Gentleman should at least give earnest consideration to the need for putting traffic lights there in place of the roundabout. I am certain that with the experience he has already had in his office for so many years, he would be convinced, if he went to see this stretch of road, of the need for the steps suggested by my hon. Friend—steps which have been outlined by the Ratepayers' Association and other associations established for the purpose of safeguarding the interests of the citizens living in the area.

I do not want to prolong the discussion, but I should have been remiss had I not stayed this evening and added my few words to the statement made by my hon. Friend. I entreat the Minister, if he possibly can, to go to see this problem for himself. I am certain that he will be convinced of the need for drastic steps to be taken in order that lives may be saved. Lives might have been saved in the past, but we can take steps now only to save possible loss of life in the future. I entreat him to give his earnest consideration to this problem.

10.18 p.m.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Barnes)

Both my hon. Friends who represent Willesden have invited me to visit this stretch of the North Circular Road. As a matter of fact, in the course of my motoring life I have travelled over this road very frequently. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Viant), I have observed the character of this road and the surrounding district changing over the course of years, and I frankly admit that it is an exceedingly difficult task to balance the conflicting interests and claims which arise on an issue of this kind.

Both hon. Members have emphasised that on a matter of this kind I should not take undue notice of the advice I receive from my officials. There is some strength in that, of course, and I do not in any way suggest that a Minister could ride off his responsibility by just following the advice of his officials. Nevertheless, I do not think my hon. Friends gave quite a correct analysis of this situation.

I am supported in these matters by a considerable volume of expert and knowledgeable opinion. Obviously, no person in my position can know the traffic conditions on all the roads of the country or of a great metropolis like London. That was why Parliament established the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee, and it would be very difficult to improve the representative character of that Committee.

I would remind both my hon. Friends that roughly half the membership of that Advisory Committee consists of people nominated by local authorities in and around London—the London County Council, the Metropolitan boroughs and other local authorities. It would be quite wrong to assume that the advice which the Minister receives on a matter of this kind is circumscribed by the limited views of any person, whether he is an official or not. These local authority representatives, who come from all parts of London, have a knowledge of London traffic conditions and can assist in the problem of determining where the 30 miles restriction should be observed.

I do not dispute that I should necessarily follow the advice that the police give me on matters of this character, but it does not follow that I should reject the advice of the police. They are exceedingly knowledgeable of these traffic problems and no one can argue, taking the experience of the police in this country and their knowledge of the traffic and accident problem—a most serious aspect of the administration of the Ministry of Transport—that the police do not approach these problems always with a desire to serve the public, facilitate the movement of traffic and protect the citizens of any locality.

I mention these matters to emphasise to my hon. Friend that it is not a case here of just finally putting in a routine report to the Minister, as my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, East, suggested when he put his case so thoroughly and with such force to me. I have considered this on two or three occasions on his representations. I have had the problem examined on two or three occasions. The police and my own divisional road engineers are fairly experienced in these matters, and the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee could not recommend me to impose speed restrictions on this stretch of the North Circular Road.

The North Circular Road was essentially built for the purpose of facilitating the movement of traffic in and around London and to ease the congestion problem. In this stretch of the North Circular Road, there is a dual carriage way 27 feet wide with a central reservation of 14 feet. There are 9-foot verges with footpaths on each side. As a result of the recommendations that have been made, we have adopted various proposals which we have felt should facilitate and make better the crossing of this particular section. As my hon. Friend has said, we have fenced certain parts of the road and steps are being taken now to improve the lighting of this section.

I am not able, at this moment, to say whether I can reconsider the matter or give a definite decision here tonight. I know my two hon. Friends sufficiently well to know that if they put up a case of this kind to me it justifies me in once more re-examining the problem. Therefore, the only undertaking I can give them tonight is that I will again have the matter thoroughly examined. I cannot look at it entirely from the point of view of the built-up area. I must consider the character of the North Circular Road and the functions which it has to perform. Nevertheless, I give the assurance that this matter will have my personal consideration to see how far I can meet them, or how I can go further to improve the position.

In regard to roundabouts and fly-overs, I am afraid that they are out of the question at the present moment. The demands on the Road Fund are so severe and the resources are so restricted that I do not think I could turn my attention to that type of solution at the present moment. My undertaking that I will again look into it must end the matter for the time being.

Mr. Orbach

May I say one word of thanks to the Minister for giving to my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Viant), and myself the undertaking that he will look at the matter again? I would ask him whether, in doing so, he would give me the pleasure of driving him along the road, with his officials—which will be most desirable—so that, then, on the spot, we can really see the matter and perhaps influence his decision one way or the other. I would like to make it quite clear that I thought I had ruled out the question of a fly-over. There is a roundabout at the moment, but it appears to be causing the police and all concerned a great deal of trouble. I urge the institution of traffic lights at this particular spot.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-six Minutes past Ten o'Clock.