HC Deb 10 December 1954 vol 535 cc1347-54

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

3.57 p.m.

Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)

Since I had the honour to be elected to this House in 1945, it has fallen to me on many occasions to raise the question of the travel facilities to and from the north London suburbs. Before I go on to one of the particular problems concerning level crossings in my constituency, I wish to deal very briefly with some of the current aspects of the problem which still confront us

After nine years of pressure, both inside and outside the House, by local organisations, Members of Parliament and others, no relief has been brought to the travelling public in the north and northeast London suburbs. I am glad to say, however, that at last there appears to be a glimmer of hope, perhaps not so much for the present generation who still suffer on their daily journeys, but for their children or maybe, their grandchildren, inasmuch as there are signs that the projected new tube, known as route C, is at last getting beyond the stage of the imagination. At long last the British Transport Commission has undertaken the drawing up of the necessary plans and detailed estimates, and it is now to seek powers in its Private Bill for the construction of the tube.

Route C is to run from Victoria to Green Park, King's Cross, Seven Sisters, Tottenham and Walthamstow, and it will be 10 miles or so in length. When finally constructed, it will bring great relief to the surface traffic and will relieve the congestion which at present prevails. It will provide connections between the north and north-east suburbs and the tube at Tottenham, and will give direct access thereby to the West End, to which the working centre has, to some extent, shifted from the City, to which the original transport facilities were provided.

However, far more relief would be brought to my constituents and others in the Chingford area also—this is the plea which I have so frequently made in the House—if at the same time as the tube is constructed, or even earlier, the electri- fication of the surface railway lines was to take place—

It being Four 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. R. Allan.]

Mr. Davies

It is problematical when the work on the new tube will commence and what will be its cost. It is clear that the cost per mile cannot be less than £2 million now and that the total cost may well be between £20 million and £30 million. In view of the record of the present Government and, I regret to say, of previous Governments over the expenditure on improving transport facilities, one finds it difficult to believe that this huge expenditure will be sanctioned all at once or in the immediate future.

None the less, I again suggest that if relief is to be brought to the travelling public in the North London area, then electrification of these surface lines should be proceeded with now and should not wait upon construction of the tube, as has been suggested and as has been indicated is the intention of the Commission and the Government.

In the meantime, it is unfortunate that travelling conditions do not improve. For the present, my constituents must continue to travel, either on the crowded buses waiting long periods at the interchange between the buses and the Piccadilly Tube, or travel by the antiquated steam lines which still serve the area.

I have frequently drawn attention to the old fashioned, out-moded nature of the system, which runs from Liverpool Street to Enfield Town and from Kings Cross to Hertford and the main Cambridge line in the section which runs from Liverpool Street to Enfield Lock.

The rolling stock is old, the locomotives are ancient and my constituents suffer more than other daily travellers in any other section of the Greater London area. They sit on hard, straight-backed benches in these coaches which must have been built before the turn of the present century and which are drawn along by those old "Puffing Billies" that seem to be more fitted for the manufacture of smog. To travel from Liverpool Street to Enfield is certainly to return to the dreary past.

The railway staff does its best in very difficult circumstances, but it cannot provide a 20th century service with 19th century equipment. There have been no new coaches provided for the last 50 years, and the locomotives are well out of date.

I refer to the sad lot of the travellers in this area once again to plead that the view that electrification must await the construction of the tube is to condemn them to endure these very difficult and unpleasant conditions for a very long time to come. The present capital expenditure situation warrants proceeding with the electrification of this line.

Electrification will take place when the tube is constructed, because it is part of the plan for the building of the tube. It could well take place before. It would bring cleaner, speedier travelling conditions now instead of in five or 10 years which is the minimum period before the tube can be constructed.

I now turn to one problem which has confronted workers and employers alike in a certain section of Enfield, which has made working conditions in that area very difficult and which has increased the cost of manufacture. I refer to the level-crossings in eastern Enfield, of which there are three. The Liverpool Street—Cambridge main line runs through the low-lying, flat Lea Valley. At Ponders End, Brimsdown and Enfield Lock there are three level crossings. The one over which the bulk of the traffic passes is that at Brimsdown.

These level crossings carry all the traffic to and from the very large factory area. From that factory area there is no through road eastwards or southwards, and all the traffic has to return over this level crossing. When the old Great Eastern line was built there was, as far as I know, only one factory to the east of the line, the Royal Small Arms Factory, which is still there.

This area has subsequently been developed as the largest factory area in the district. In it, there are the Enfield Rolling Mills, Enfield Cables, Cosmos, Ediswan, the Brimsdown power station, and a large number of other factories, which together employ some 12,000 to 15,000 workers. Everyone of those workers has to use this level crossing in order to reach his place of work.

Admittedly, there is a footbridge, and it is not by any means solely on behalf of the workers that I make my plea today, but on behalf of the manufacturers also. All the raw materials and goods which come by road to these factories have to pass across this level crossing. Also, all the goods which leave the factories and which, for instance, may go to the London Docks for export have to travel over this crossing. That might not be too bad if the gates of the crossing were not shut so frequently. It must be across one of the most intensely used lines, as a consequence of which the gates of the crossing are closed for nearly 50 per cent. of the time during the working day.

I have here a chart which records the times during which the crossing gates were closed in one week. If the Minister examines it, he will see that the gates were closed for almost as long as they were open during that week. The black spaces on the chart represent the times that the gates were closed and the white spaces the times that they were open and they appear about equal.

The fact that the gates are closed for nearly 50 per cent. of the day, resulting in the hold up of traffic, must increase transport costs and thus have a serious effect on the factories in the area. A count was taken of the number of times that the gates were closed during each half-hour period from Monday to Friday in the week 18th May to 22nd May, 1953. It was found that, on average, they were closed four times during each half hour throughout the day, 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. On the worst day, the gates were closed for actually 46 per cent. of the time, and it is estimated the traffic held up is approximately half of that using the crossing.

The Brimsdown crossing has a long history. As far back as 1920 efforts were made to secure the building of a bridge over the crossing. In 1938, after 18 years of continual pressure, a grant from the Road Fund was approved and a promise was made that contracts were to be let. Naturally, this was withdrawn on the outbreak of war, but the fact that the grant was approved indicated that the importance of building a bridge there was appreciated.

Immediately after the war, the then Minister of Transport gave an assurance that the erection of the bridge had been given high priority. In 1946, a year later, the Minister stated that he hoped to approve commencement of the work as soon as labour and materials would permit. It was quite clear that, at that time, it was not a question of finance but of labour and materials. Now, of course, it is a question of finance.

I do ask the Minister to have his Department look into this matter once again. A few months ago a deputation from the Enfield District Manufacturers' Association and the Enfield Chamber of Commerce was received by some of his officials. The members of that deputation left feeling not very hopeful that anything would be done. I would ask the Minister whether he or his right hon. Friend would receive a deputation representative of those organisations, and others in Enfield, to discuss this hold-up of the traffic, the inconvenience caused, and the increase in transport costs entailed. In the larger road programme which is now to be undertaken, I do ask that the problem of the Brimsdown level crossing and the case for the building of the bridge should not be overlooked and this project be included.

4.12 p.m.

Mr. John Grimston (St. Albans)

I should like to give the strongest possible support to the plea which has just been made by the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) for the building of a bridge to avoid delays at the Brims-down crossing. There can be few places where the expenditure of public money would earn its outlay more quickly.

I have worked at a factory by the level crossing for 16 years. I calculate that, on the most modest estimate, I have already wasted six whole working weeks of my life waiting—and cursing—for the gates to open. As the hon. Member has said, many thousands of workmen must pass over the crossing. Looking at it in another way, I estimate that the entire working life of 80 of them is wasted, simply by the delays to which they are subjected every day. Surely the Ministry would agree that the value of their work would be a very considerable offset against the cost of the bridge.

Further losses are caused by discomfort and illness due to the delays. Public transport and buses are not allowed over the crossing, but have to turn round on the Enfield side. Very many workers of all kinds are thereby obliged to walk considerable distances from their work to the buses. This undoubtedly adds greatly to the discomfort and length of their working day, and to loss of work through illness.

How can we preach productivity or time-consciousness to those whose day begins and ends in this way? How can we make them conscious of time, when they all know that such delays could, and should, be removed quite easily?

4.15 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Hugh Molson)

I make no complaint that the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) has again raised in the House the question of the transport facilities of northern London. I have become rather familiar with this problem in the course of the last 12 months, and I am glad that this afternoon I shall be able to say something a little more cheerful than I was able to say when I wrote to the hon. Gentleman some eight or nine months ago.

The hon. Gentleman has raised three matters today. He expressed satisfaction that in the British Transport Commission's Bill, which has become available today to hon. Members, the Commission is seeking power, with the consent of my right hon. Friend, to undertake route C, the tube from Victoria to Walthamstow. I think I ought just to repeat what my right hon. Friend has said on previous occasions, that it is still quite uncertain whether and when it will be possible to begin work upon that tube. All that is intended in including those provisions in the British Transport Commission's Bill is to enable the Commission to undertake that preliminary examination of the project which will enable both the British Transport Commission and the Government to decide whether, and if so when, the project may be undertaken.

The hon. Gentleman has also referred again to the question whether or not it would be desirable to electrify the surface railway before building the tube. In view of what I have said about the uncertainty of whether, and certainly when, the tube will be undertaken, I fully understand his anxiety that the line upon which his constituents depend for coming to London should be electrified as soon as possible.

The hon. Gentleman brought a deputation to see my right hon. Friend who is now the Secretary of State for the Colonies, on 14th December last, and my right hon. Friend then undertook to ask the British Transport Commission to reconsider the possibility of electrifying the surface railways in this area before the construction of route C. The British Transport Commission has been going into that matter.

It is still somewhat apprehensive of what the effect would be upon the existing tubes in London of improving the transportation in that part of northern London before building the tube, but it is considering that at present. We hope within a very few weeks to receive the British Transport Commission's programme of modernisation, and it will then be possible for us to throw some light upon what its decision is.

The great part of the hon. Gentleman's speech was a plea for a bridge to be built in order that the Brimsdown level-crossing might no longer be as much of a barrier to commercial traffic as it is at present, and my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. J. Grimston), with his personal experience of this matter, has lent support to the hon. Gentleman's plea.

For pedestrians and cyclists there are already bridges. I do not know why they are not used to a greater extent than they are. The pedestrians' bridge is, I believe, used to some extent but not as much as one might expect. It was during the war that, in order to facilitate movement by cyclists from the industrial area to the east of the railway to the residential area to the west, another bridge for bicycles and motor bicycles was built.

As a result of the increased expenditure upon roads which was announced in the Gracious Speech, we can now feel more hopeful than was the case a few months ago that steps can be taken in the reasonably near future to improve communications in that part of the hon. Member's constituency. High priority will be given to improving the communications of which he has complained. But it is not possible for us necessarily to give nowadays exactly the same order of priority as was indicated before the war. It does not in the least follow that, in the case of these three or four level-crossings in Enfield, the Brimsdown level-crossing is necessarily the one which most urgently requires to be put right.

Mr. Ernest Davies

Would the hon. Member suggest which level crossing should have priority over the Brimsdown level crossing? Every one locally considers Brimsdown as the crossing which causes the greatest delays and inconvenience. I am sure the hon. Member for St. Albans will support that.

Mr. Molson

I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans will support the replacement of whichever level crossing he habitually uses.

We are at present discussing this matter with the local authorities and we have been in touch with the surveyor of the Enfield Urban District Council. This is obviously a matter in which the views of the Middlesex County Council will have very great influence upon the eventual decision. I am merely indicating today that these discussions are in an early stage, and I should not like in any way to prejudge what their outcome may be. In the case of through traffic, there is a great deal to be said for both providing a bridge and improving the road further to the south, close to what is now South Street.

We have to take into account the general convenience of everybody living in the area. We have the long-term plans, which may not come into operation for some time. We have decided to give high priority to doing something to alleviate the pressing problems to which the hon. Member referred and we are now getting in touch with the surveyor of the Enfield Urban District Council and with the Middlesex County Council; and I therefore hope that the hon. Member will regard what I have said as being reasonably reassuring and comforting to him and to his constituents.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-four Minutes past Four o'Clock.