HC Deb 02 February 1953 vol 510 cc1607-15

10.10 p.m.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the London Traffic (Prescribed Routes) (No. 2) Regulations, 1953 (S.I., 1953, No. 16), dated 8th January, 1953, a copy of which was laid before this House on 10th January, be annulled. I am a little reluctant to raise what is a very small issue on a day when our minds are pre-occupied with very big and grave issues. Nevertheless, this matter does raise a certain question of principle.

We have a great many one-way streets in the Metropolis. I am quite satisfied that many of them are unnecessary. I am equally satisfied that some of them are the wrong way round. This is one which I think is probably unnecessary and certainly the wrong way round. It is in a part of London which hon. Members know well. Between the yard of the Victoria main line station and the Underground station, there is a narrow road called Terminus Place. Until this experiment was started, anyone driving a vehicle into the main yard of Victoria Station could get back to Victoria Street merely by going down this rather narrow road. It is true that to get in one would have to cross the line of buses which may be coming in, but it is equally true that in the direction now taken anyone has to cross the line of buses, so that argument does not arise.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport will know that I have been interested in this matter for a very long time. I spoke to him a long time ago about it and had the opportunity of discussing it with some of the officials. I was inclined to cease my agitation because I was given to understand that they would undertake a scheme for rearranging the traffic in that area. For that reason I did not do any more at the time. When I saw this Regulation published I felt that I had rather been let down.

Anyone who drives into Victoria Station from here and then wants to get out must now drive all round that piece of garden where the Foch monument is, and it is quite a long distance. By chance recently I was going to Croydon by train. Usually I go by car but I left here in a taxi and when I returned by train in time for one of those exercises which we call a Division I found that to get back it cost me 3d. more from Victoria. I object to that extra 3d. Threepence is merely a measure of the traffic inconvenience. If to pass from point A to point B because there is a one-way street one has to travel double the distance one will in fact gravely increase the traffic congestion. This proposal is just doubling the distance, which a great many people do not realise.

I am perturbed that in London there are a great many one-way streets which I regard as a thorough nuisance. I know that my hon. Friend has an office some- where north of Piccadilly. To get to the south of the river, one has almost to go to the London School of Economics. I cannot pay a higher tribute than that. In certain parts of the West End we have got ourselves in a complete mess over these traffic arrangements. No doubt I shall be told that this proposal has been approved by the local authority. The local authority is the City of Westminster in which I live. I have a vote in the City of Westminster and I believe the councillors there are all Conservatives. I wonder how many of the councillors, when they approved this proposal, as I understand they have done, had inspected the site?

I live only about 300 yards from Victoria Station, and on quite a number of occasions I have watched what was happening. I have discussed the matter with taxi drivers and bus drivers, and every person with whom I have discussed it is, with the exception of one man, against the proposal. The exception is a barrow boy who stations his barrow in the street because under existing circumstances he is not chivvied about by the police, and he has the most perfect site anywhere in the City of Westminster. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not go into partnership?"] Some people look more like barrow boys than I do.

I want to make certain that before any of these traffic alterations are introduced there shall be some consultation not merely with city councillors, who I do not think take as much trouble as they should do to visit the sites. It is not good enough that this sort of thing should be done by backroom boys sitting in front of drawing boards. There should be some effective consultation with the people who use the street concerned. I am certain that that has not taken place.

This is only a minor matter by itself, and I do not wish to detain the House. I am quite certain that the one-way street has been made the wrong way round. That does not surprise me because we had a debate about six months ago about another one-way street which is the wrong way round. [Interruption.] I remember that on one occasion my hon. Friend was gracious enough to ask me to go to stay with him. I had infinite difficulty in finding his house because every street said "Not this way." I got there eventually. In that respect Birmingham is much worse than London.

More thought and consideration should be given to these traffic regulations. I have no respect for the Traffic Department at Scotland Yard. It is about the worst Government Department—if it is a Government Department—in the country. It broke the law in my constituency by putting up in a road a traffic notice which was illegal for a year. I do not think that bureaucrats should be allowed to do that. I am distressed beyond measure that my hon. Friend, who is one of the most anti-bureaucratic persons I know, should be on the wrong side of the fence tonight.

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

I beg to second the Motion.

10.18 p.m.

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

I thought that possibly some other hon. Members representing London constituencies or those who had experienced this difficulty might have desired to intervene before I replied to the debate.

In putting down this Motion my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) has called attention to what is admittedly a very troublesome problem. The traffic conditions when passing in and out of Victoria Station are not at all satisfactory. The buses which enter the station yard from Buckingham Palace Road have to move in an anti-clockwise direction, and they have always done so.

Naturally, this creates a considerable number of complications at the entrance and at the exit at the Victoria Street—Vauxhall Bridge Road junction. My hon. Friend may or may not be aware—I have become increasingly aware of it since I have been at the Ministry of Transport—that for many years now discussions have been proceeding to try to turn this traffic round the other way. This would conform to the normal clockwise procedure and would be an undoubted boon to traffic arrangements in the area, eliminating a number of unnecessary traffic cuts.

At present the situation is so acute here that in the summer months special arrangements have to be introduced. I do not say they are introduced every year or on every occasion. But very frequently at such times as Easter, Whitsun and August Bank Holiday they are introduced to divert the south-bound traffic via Vauxhall Bridge Road, Gillingham Street and Wilton Road and thence to the Station.

I have been urged and exhorted by my hon. Friend and by others to turn the buses round and to get them to enter the station from Vauxhall Bridge Road. That is a commendable ambition. But I must place before the House this difficulty, that it would require a certain amount of street works, including the widening of Terminus Place and the removal of a lot of property, and would cost approximately £200,000.

Sir H. Williams

May I ask one question?

Mr. Braithwaite

I am trying to deal with this difficulty—

Sir H. Williams

Can my hon. Friend tell me why it would be necessary to widen Terminus Place?

Mr. Braithwaite

To deal with the congestion. I stand at this Box month after month and frequently have to disappoint hon. Members on both sides of the House who are anxious that road improvements shall be carried out in their constituencies. In many cases the improvements relate to spots where there are accidents, and I am bound to say to my hon. Friend—I hope he will take it in the spirit in which it is meant—that if we had available £200,000 there are many more urgent problems which we should seek to alleviate.

The scheme I have outlined is included in the Road Improvement Plan of the London County Council. It has received the acquiescence of the Westminster City Council, the divisional road engineer and the police, whom I fear my hon. Friend holds in such low esteem.

Sir H. Williams

I was referring to the Traffic Department at Scotland Yard.

Mr. Braithwaite

It is of course the Traffic Department which we consult on a matter of this sort.

Unfortunately, for the time being, owing to financial restrictions, Her Majesty's Government have been unable to assist with the appropriate grant. We have therefore to continue with the not very satisfactory arrangements at Victoria Station. We are still pursuing this matter in the hope that eventually we shall be able to make a change.

Taxi-cabs contributed very largely to the special difficulties in the station before the present Regulation was introduced. They could enter the station either from Vauxhall Bridge Road, which is the most usual route, or from the Buckingham Palace Road. The number entering from the Buckingham Palace Road was not very important. But a very natural practice on the part of some taxi-cab drivers, anxious to get as many fares as possible, was that, after they had dropped their fares in the forecourt of the station, they turned right across the heavy stream of bus traffic coming into the station and then proceeded west—east along Terminus Place, cutting across two streams of traffic, including the busy stream of buses leaving the station—either to pick up a further fare in the forecourt or to make their way into Wilton Road. This movement also was popular with private cars.

Just before the experimental one-way working was put into operation in January, 1950, it was found that 128 vehicles per hour proceeded from west to east in Terminus Place and only 14 vehicles per hour from east to west. The west to east traffic was very greatly increased during the peak summer period. The introduction of one-way working from east to west has stopped this undesirable traffic movement. After my hon. Friend put down this Motion, I arranged for a count to be taken, on 30th January, between 11 a.m. and noon. During that time only 17 vehicles used Terminus Place in an east-west direction.

These vehicles of course have to cross the bus stream coming into the Station, but they are so infrequent that they can do so without difficulty or causing congestion. What it amounts to is that before the experiment began there were about 256 cuts in the traffic every hour in normal times, and a great many more in a busy season. Now, as the result of one-way working, the cuts have been reduced to about 34 every hour.

As a result of an experimental one-way working scheme, it was clear to all concerned—to our divisional road engineer, the police, the Westminster City Council, the railway authorities, who own the yard, the London County Council and the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee; and I think it is worth mentioning that on that body the taxi-cab interests are represented and made no objection to this scheme—that the re-arrangement has proved to be a great improvement on the previous system, and it was felt that a regulation ought to be made to cover it.

Up to date, it has been running as a temporary experiment with police signs, but it would be wrong—and my hon. Friend has always been emphatic on this point—to continue to use signs the legal backing of which is not so satisfactory as the making of an order, and so we therefore proceeded with permanent Regulations. No one knows better than my hon. Friend that even a permanent regulation can always be altered.

A permanent regulation can also be superseded, and this Regulation does not mean at all that we have abandoned our plans for the improvement of the traffic arrangements at Victoria Station. Indeed, discussions are still proceeding with the London Transport Executive; these were re-opened when the trams were replaced by buses last year. It is our hope that a few buses might run straight through Victoria and not have to stand in the station forecourt. That would enable us to have a temporary rearrangement of traffic pending the proper rearrangement.

I assure my hon. Friend that we shall continue to pursue this aim with vigour. I must tell him however that the final scheme when achieved would retain Terminus Place for traffic running in an east to west direction, but widened and carrying much greater traffic. It is true that hon. Members experience at one time or another the sort of frustration which my hon. Friend has mentioned. All one-way working schemes in London or the provinces involve some little extra detour by some road users.

No one regrets more than I do that my hon. Friend had to pay an extra 3d. on the clock when proceeding from Victoria to this honourable House, instead of in the opposite direction. In this instance, those who proceed from Victoria Station eastwards do incur some extra journey and expense if proceeding by taxicab. If my hon. Friend were to cross the road before he hailed the taxi, he might save himself 3d., but it is true that there is a detour. It is, none the less, in the interests of very definite improvements in the traffic arrangements in the forecourt as a whole.

As my hon. Friend referred to the unilateral waiting scheme, which he described in his opening remarks, in which he also said there were a good many one-way streets that were unnecessary and some which were the wrong way round, I hope he will not mind if I make reference to it, as it has relation to what we are discussing—the more convenient working of London traffic. If I may comment on the new experiment of unilateral waiting which was so successfully begun in London last week, I would say that, here again, a number of vehicles which have been parked somewhat indiscriminately in some streets have quite often inconvenienced other traffic. Now, as a result of this experiment, they have had to be moved, and it is naturally inconvenient for their users, but it has resulted in a general speed up of traffic.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)

I think the Minister is now going beyond the Regulation, is he not?

Mr. Braithwaite

I was merely endeavouring to show how a traffic arrangement had caused inconvenience, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I will pass from that point at once. I was saying that in a matter such as this, and such as in the case of unilateral waiting, a few people have suffered, but the great majority have gained.

Nobody regrets more than I that my hon. Friend should have been one of the sufferers. None the less, I hope the House will appreciate that this Regulation is necessary until such time as we can arrange for a more satisfactory traffic scheme in this difficult area. It is admittedly a problem causing discomfort to the public. However, I hope that my hon. Friend, having heard this explanation, may feel it is not necessary for him to press this Motion to a Division.

Mr. Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)

Can the Minister say why it is necessary to pull down a whole lot of buildings in order to solve this problem? Could not the buses be reversed so that they and all the other traffic could get in and out the other end? Is it not just a case of one of the platforms from which the passengers board the buses being changed?

Mr. Braithwaite

With the abolition of the trams there are a great many more buses.

Sir H. Williams

Before I withdraw my Motion, may I say that I probably know the site as well, if not better, than the people who have written out the brief which my hon. Friend has used? I think the brief with which he has been supplied is really a lot of nonsense, and if only he will come with me on a day when Parliament is not sitting I will show him just what nonsense it is. I am perfectly certain that because the little thing thought up by the back-room boys has been criticised, they have dug in their toes in order to show how clever they are. With those words, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.