HC Deb 27 February 1952 vol 496 cc1415-24

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

6.7 a.m.

Mr. Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)

At this very early hour and after this long Sitting, I am sorry to have to ask a few hon. Members to sit here half an hour longer, but I feel that, having been fortunate in the ballot for the Adjournment, it is better to keep to arrangements that have already been made. I understand that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is also desirous of doing the same thing.

The subject I want to discuss this morning is London traffic congestion. It so happens that I have chosen possibly the one time during the day when there is no traffic congestion, except possibly of hon. Members going home at this moment. It is a subject which I know has been discussed many times before in this House. The last time was last May when my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing) raised it. However, it is one which has never yet been resolved and it seems to me that it will take a very long time before we find a solution.

Yet last year the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee, of which I am one of the representatives for the London County Council, produced an excellent report. I can say that because I had nothing to do with the drafting of it. The report contained a number of recommendations which would go a long way towards solving the problem. I know that at this stage in our affairs, with our national finances severely depleted, it is not possible to hope that many of those recommendations can be carried out. However, there are a number which do not involve much in the way of cost and which would solve part of the problem.

One deals with the question of parking. It stands out a mile from this report that one of the main causes of congestion in the central London area today is the number of cars parked in the streets because there is nowhere else to park them. If anybody drives through that excellent series of one-way streets in the Piccadilly area which has now been in operation for two or three years—particularly Dover Street and Albemarle Street, he will see plenty of evidence of parked cars causing traffic congestion.

That brings me to the first point I want to make on recommendation No. 18 in the report. It says that it would be undesirable to make any substantial addition to the number of no-waiting streets in inner London until adequate off-street parking facilities have been provided. What I should like to suggest is certainly that that recommendation should be endorsed and that there should be no more no-waiting streets, but that the ones already existing should be abolished in favour of unilateral waiting regulations. Driving down these streets, as I do nearly every day, it seems clear that cars parked on both sides of the street at all hours of the day, including the period no-waiting regulations are in force, just as much as when they are not, ought to be parked on one side, leaving room for two lines of traffic, instead of being parked on both sides, leaving room for only one line of traffic.

The first remedy I suggest, therefore, is that where we have no-waiting regulations they should be abolished because they are a farce and because nobody takes any notice of them. They are supposed to be in existence from 11 a.m. to 6.30 p.m., but if one goes through these streets at 9 a.m. or between 11 a.m. and 6.30 p.m., one will find them obstructed on both sides.

On the other hand, I am convinced that unilateral waiting regulations could be enforced. In any case, no-waiting regulations are not 100 per cent. foolproof because there is an exception for delivery vans, which can wait there as long as it takes them to deliver or pick up goods. It only needs one vehicle in a street to cause an obstruction. One delivery vehicle, going about its proper business, can cause just as much obstruction as if the whole of that side of the street had vehicles waiting on it.

I am certain that unilateral waiting regulations could be easily enforced. They are in force on the Continent. Anybody who knows Paris well will know the Rue St. Honoré, which is a one-way street with unilateral waiting regulations. One can go there any time during the day and find one side fully occupied with cars and the other side completely bare of anything, even a bicycle. I am certain that it would be possible to enforce regulations of that kind here, without putting any burden on the police whatever, with the same kind of sign-boards as were put up during the Festival of Britain in places like Northumberland Avenue and the streets near the Festival site where the police were determined that cars should not be parked. These signs were respected. That would be a better way of regulating parking without restricting the number of cars which could be parked. That is the way which would help to solve the problem.

That brings me the main recommendation about car parking. It is that, at the earliest possible moment, a sum of money amounting to about £5 million should be spent on building garages or car-parks in the centre areas, with many of the them underneath the squares in order to take off the streets that large number of cars, totalling about 5,000—that was the number estimated in a survey made two or three years ago—which are now cluttering up the streets.

I know that we cannot expect a sum of money of that kind to be spent on this problem at present, but I hope that, as soon as the financial situation permits, that recommendation will be put into force. I believe that if one can take many of these cars off the streets, one will solve a great deal of the congestion.

I pass from that to the question of one-way streets, and here I feel that London is rather behind many other cities, particularly cities abroad, in its traffic regulations. If one goes to Paris or Madrid, or one of the Swiss cities, one will rarely or never find in the central area so narrow a street as Jermyn Street with two-way traffic. That is a street which suffers from "No waiting" regulations which are not carried out. One has streams of traffic trying to go in opposite directions, with traffic parked on either side as well. One way of coping with the problem would be to make the street a one-way street from West to East.

There are many other streets and squares, not all congested, but which, nevertheless, would benefit from a one-way stream of traffic. St. James's Square comes to mind. There are cars parked in the centre of that square and even on the sides and sometimes one's view is obstructed. There are many other squares, for example, in the Paddington area, where, although actually there is no congestion at the moment, one-way traffic would make driving a little safer.

There is also the problem of Park Lane and the East Carriage Drive of Hyde Park. I know that it may be revolutionary to suggest as a permanent feature that commercial vehicles and buses should be allowed to travel along the East Carriage Drive, but I think that needs considering. At the moment there is appalling congestion in Park Lane, and, particularly during the rush hour, near the exit from Hyde Park to Hyde Park Corner.

I hope this report will never he pigeon-holed. I am sure it will not be pigeon-holed by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport. I hope, too, that, metaphorically speaking, the report will not go into the Department's "pending" tray. I hope it will be kept in the "in" tray so that when the time comes everyone will remember that here is an excellent report with practical, far-reaching recommendations waiting to be adopted as soon as the situation warrants.

6.19 a.m.

Mr. G. R. Howard (St. Ives)

I should like to endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) has said about car parks, because on another occasion, in 1938, I put forward a scheme for building deep car parks under all London squares. In Berkeley Square alone a deep park could accommodate 900 cars as opposed to 60 cars round the periphery.

The report to which my hon. Friend has referred mentions a deep car park in San Francisco, which I have visited. There is no loss of amenity there. A very nice garden has been built on top of their very efficient deep car park. Could not such a park be considered here as a private enterprise measure? I understand that the car park in San Francisco more than pays for itself. If such a car park could be built under part of a London park as a commercial enterprise, it would more than pay its way.

We on the Westminster City Council have found in the past that it is no good seeking further places for car parks in London squares. The people living in the squares find them a nuisance. We have almost reached saturation point at this stage, and we must find some bold and larger remedy to cope with it. There is also the fact, which I mentioned in 1938, that these deep car parks would make good underground shelters in case of an emergency, and that is no less true today. I hope that with those few remarks the Parliamentary Secretary can consider the advisability of building such car parks as a commercial undertaking.

6.21 a.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Gurney Braithwaite)

My hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) need make no apology for raising this matter at this late hour, or rather at this early hour, of the morning. We all know the difficulties and delays which often occur in drawing the lucky number for these Adjournments, and nobody could blame him for not wishing to lose his opportunity of raising what is a topic of importance. The traffic question in London is, of course, not a new one.

If I may claim a little hereditary pride in the matter, my father was in the 1880's one of the pioneers of the London underground electric railways. They were scoffed at then as a wild-cat scheme, but have made no small contribution to solving the traffic problem during this century. However, the problem has grown in difficulty with the growth of traffic, and the basic problem at the moment, I think, as my hon. Friend will agree, is that the vast bulk of our London streets were built not for mechanical, but for horse-drawn vehicles, and that there have been few major improvements carried out since.

Of the various committees which have given attention to the problem, one of the most valuable contributions is the most recent, made by the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee of which the hon. Gentleman is a distinguished member, which reported fully to the previous Minister. The report was published in January, 1951, and the Committee's recommendations were largely accepted in principle by the right hon. Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Barnes), the then Minister of Transport, who made a statement in this House on 3rd April, 1951.

If I may take the hon. Gentleman's points in detail, first as regards unilateral waiting, he knows, I think, as probably does his hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) that a comprehensive system of no waiting was introduced in the centre of London on the advice of the Traffic Advisory Committee at the end of 1948. This gave marked relief, both to congestion and accidents, but, with the subsequent growth of traffic, it is now being seriously strained at many points. It is still working fairly well on main traffic routes, but the need for giving exemption to loading and unloading of commercial vehicles means that the full benefit cannot be derived from the scheme in the less important traffic routes.

The London Traffic Advisory Committee have recently recommended to my hon. Friend the Minister that there should be a comprehensive system of unilateral waiting introduced into London, particularly in the central area near Piccadilly of which my hon. Friend spoke. One important feature of the Committee's recommendation is that, to enable the unilateral system to work properly, there should be no loading or unloading on the non-permitted side of the street while unilateral waiting is in force, namely, from 11.30 a.m. to 6.30 p.m.

This is a new principle in central London, and the advertisement of the proposals had led to some strong objections from the commercial vehicle interests. The delay in giving effect to the Committee's recommendation has been largely due to difficulty over this point. The matter is now before the Minister and should the scheme be introduced it would be on an experimental basis as recommended by the Committee. When I come to more one-way streets, or perhaps a different way of putting it would be the Antrobus plan—from the name of a London taxi-driver who designed it—these should be tried over a section of Central London.

I think the House would agree that the one-way street is a useful expedient and in narrow thoroughfares assists greatly the flow of traffic. A number of streets in central London have been made one-way and additions are being made every year. I must, however, stress that the system involves certain disadvantages. It is more difficult for pedestrians to cross because traffic is speeded up and confusion and danger are also likely to result when traffic approaches from what is normally the "wrong" direction. Traders complain of a reduction of business, and extensive one-way schemes cause confusion and delay to drivers.

The London Traffic Committee considered the plan in 1947, and, having heard the views of the Divisional Road Engineer and the police, who went into the scheme in great detail, came to the conclusion that it could not be adopted for reasons I will mention. It would be unwise to introduce a complete scheme of this kind in one simultaneous operation, and that was the opinion expressed by those who examined it at that time. Some important roundabouts would require alteration and extensive changes would have to be made to the traffic signal installations.

All this work would be useless if the scheme failed. The long one-way workings would involve vehicles, especially buses, in considerably increased mileage. The signposting of the area would be difficult, while confusion and danger might be caused to pedestrians. Some streets and junctions could not cope with the volume of traffic which would use them. The Ministry's policy is to introduce one-way working step by step and not in one vast sweep. There are two urgent schemes contemplated as soon as finance is available.

First, Hyde Park Corner. This is one of the improvements recommended in the London Traffic Advisory Committee's report of a year ago. But the scheme is a good deal older than that. It is part of a comprehensive improvement of the route from Hyde Park Corner to Marble Arch which would throw into the highway the east carriage drive of Hyde Park and provides new and larger roundabouts at each end. The cost of the scheme would be about £1,250,000. It has a high priority as a long-term proposal, and this will be one of the first to be undertaken as soon as it is possible to proceed with major road improvement in London because no rebuilding of houses is involved.

This scheme has been agreed between the London County Council who would be the promoters of it, the Westminster City Council and the Ministry of Transport. Minor criticisms of the lay-out have been made. In any major alteration of traffic movements minor difficulties must be expected, and adjustments to meet them can always be considered. Hyde Park Corner is Priority No. 1, Priority No. 2, as my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives will be glad to hear, is that of car parks. One of the most important parts of the report by the Traffic Advisory Committee dealt with car parking which is one of the most serious causes of congestion in inner London.

The Committee's recommendations on car parking are at present being given the most careful and detailed review by the working party set up by the hon. Member for East Ham, South, in April, 1951, when he was Minister, under the chairmanship of Mr. A. Samuels, Chairman of the Main Traffic Advisory Committee. I do not know whether they are examining the proposal that there should be car parks provided by private enterprise, but at least the hon. Member now knows to what quarter he should take the proposal because I am quite sure theywill be pleased to look at it. The working party contains representatives of all the principal interests and the Minister hopes to receive its report next month or in May. Until this has been received and considered there is nothing definite which can be said.

I wish now to say something about another matter, as we have nearly seven minutes left. My hon. Friend did not refer to it, but it has had a certain amount of publicity—that is why I take this opportunity of dealing with it. There has been some severe criticism in the Press on police action in prosecuting members of the public for parking in Great Queen Street. We understand from the police that they are particularly lenient on parking in this street except in one or two areas where there are bottlenecks where it is essential that the street should be kept free if traffic in the area is not to be very grossly impeded.

The street is admittedly a difficult one and the police proposed, through the London and Home Counties Traffic Committee, that part of it should be devoted to unilateral parking. This suggestion, if accepted, may clear up the difficulty experienced in the street in daytime, would prevent waiting, and, at the same time, keep the bottlenecks free. On advertising that proposal there has been no objection to it, but, of course, nothing will prevent proceedings for obstruction being taken against motorists who cause it by parking in awkward places whether subject to no waiting, unilateral waiting or otherwise.

I am glad to have taken this opportunity of dealing with this complaint. As my hon. Friend pointed out in his final remarks, whatever the normal congestion caused in the capital by traffic, the streets at this moment are clear. Hon. Members will be anxious to take advantage of that fact when the cry "Who goes home" is heard. There will be ready response and no loitering on the part of hon. Members. I end as I began. This is an old problem, not capable of sudden solution, but I hope I have satisfied my hon. Friend that long-term plans exist. Finally, may I take this opportunity of thanking him for his valuable work on the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee?

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-seven Minutes to Seven o'Clock a.m.