HC Deb 07 April 1955 vol 539 cc1331-55

11.36 a.m.

Mr. Kenneth Robinson (St. Pancras, North)

London's traffic congestion and London's roads are matters which are not infrequently debated in the House. I do not think that there is any need for me to waste much time today in stressing the urgency of this problem. All hon. Members suffer, as, indeed, do Londoners in general, from the frustrations and exasperations and time-wasting that appear to be inseparable from any journey by road in central London today.

Some months ago I made a speech in the House on the question of London traffic, when I dealt mainly with the opportunities that we have lost in the post-war period of making urgently needed improvements and also with certain specific improvements which might still be made, mainly of a minor nature. I am very happy to say that one or two of the suggestions which I made on that occasion actually have been, or are now in the process of being, implemented. I am not going to tempt fortune by suggesting that this is a matter of cause and effect, but, at any rate, it does give me some hope on behalf of the quite different plea which I am making to the Government today.

Before I come to the main subject of my remarks, which is long-term planning, I want to say a few words about the short term. I believe that very much more could be done than is being done at present, and could be done immediately, to relieve traffic congestion in the centre of London. A lot could be done with comparatively minor street improvements. Still more could be done by a much more intelligent use of traffic lights and by a greatly extended system of one-way streets. I do not think it is necessary for me to stress, at any rate to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, that it is very much simpler to introduce intelligent light-signal working in a one-way street than in a street where the traffic is moving in both directions.

I am very glad that some months ago the Minister set his face against any purely restrictive solution of the London traffic problem. I am glad that he scouted the idea of trying to keep out private cars from some of the central areas of London because, in my view, that would be wholly defeatist and, if introduced in legislative form, would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to enforce. So we are faced with the admission, at any rate on the part of the Minister, that a positive solution of this problem is needed.

Many people who write and speak about this problem appear to imagine that it stems entirely from the excess number of private cars parked in the streets of Central London. Although it is obvious that parked cars do intensify this problem, if there were no cars at all parked in Central London we should still have a very urgent and acute traffic problem.

My main theme today is to stress the need for new road construction in the London area, particularly in the central part of London, and also the need for major improvements to existing roads. This is an absolutely essential part of any solution to the problem and it is a field in which there has been almost complete inertia over the last 15 years. For some of that period, of course, it was inevitable that no steps could be taken, but in the case of Central London this inertia has gone on for a very much longer period. For at least 50 years almost nothing has been done in the way of major road construction in the Central London area. Let me remind the House that the last major road scheme that Central London saw was the Kingsway and Aldwych construction, which is about half a century old.

We are very glad to see that now there are signs of a small and modest move forward in this respect. We have had certain proposals affecting London in the Government's road programme recently announced. Though I welcome these schemes, what I want to make sure of, and cannot be sure about at the moment is that the move is in the right direction. Has the Minister got his priorities right? These are things which we cannot know. We can only guess and only hope and, for my part, I have certain very serious doubts about some of these proposals.

We cannot know these things for certain, because we have not got the necessary information upon which to form a judgment and upon which to base a comprehensive road programme. What we do know is that the Government have promised a number of haphazard, unco-ordinated, piecemeal projects which may leave the situation very little better than before and could conceivably leave it in an even worse state. These purely ad hoc local solutions, dealing with a specific problem here and another one there, may well create new and possibly more serious problems elsewhere if they are not part of a co-ordinated plan.

I should like to give the House an example of what I have in mind. We are promised, in the fairly early part of the road programme, certain improvements in Tottenham Court Road. It is proposed to have a roundabout at the Tottenham Court Road-Euston Road intersection at Warren Street underground station. It is proposed, also, to have some street widening in that part of Tottenham Court Road immediately to the south and another roundabout in St. Giles' Circus, that is, the intersection of Oxford Street, which, I freely admit, is one of the worst congested intersections in London.

No one can be more grateful than I for any improvement made in Tottenham Court Road because I spend far too large a proportion of my life travelling from North London into the centre, and I normally travel along that road. But these improvements are to cost nearly £6 million and it is important to see what value we are to have for the money. If the traffic is freed on this section of Tottenham Court Road, what is to happen at the roundabout in Cambridge Circus, which already is overloaded, and grossly overloaded at peak hours?

If we are to make traffic flow more easily down the northern part of Tottenhav Court Road, obviously more traffic will use it and we shall have increased congestion at the intersection immediately south of it. We shall also have more congestion in Charing Cross Road and in the approaches to Trafalgar Square. The solution of one problem on a purely local basis can create other and more serious problems.

Then there is the question of priorities. How can we possibly know that the first things are being dealt with first? I would be prepared to grant the Minister the priority which he has given to the Cromwell Road extension, because this proposal was held to be vitally urgent and necessary in 1905. Therefore, it is reasonable to suppose that it is still urgent today. Similarly with the proposal to widen the Strand. That was regarded as urgent in 1912, if not earlier, and, of course, we are glad that these things are at last to be tackled.

But why the reconstruction of the Albert Bridge? That bridge does not tie up with any trunk route. I put a Question to the Minister on this subject and he suggested that the main reason why he wanted to reconstruct the bridge was to prevent it from falling into the Thames. I had not heard that the bridge was in such a bad state of repair and I cannot believe that such a catastrophe is really imminent.

Since the Albert Bridge does not form part of any north-south trunk road, surely some thought should have been given perhaps to a new road bridge at Charing Cross, which is urgently needed and which would relieve traffic congestion on Waterloo and Westminster Bridges. That might have been a far better and more profitable investment of a considerable sum of money. The reason why we do not know about these things is simply that there does not exist any coordinated, comprehensive, up-to-date, long-term road plan for London, a plan which would be based on the principles of modern traffic engineering.

I put a Question to the Minister about this matter a month or so ago. The Minister said rather airily that we had plenty of plans and that what we wanted was to get some action. I do not agree. The Minister said that there was the Bressey Plan of 1937, he mentioned the County of London Plan, 1943, and the London Development Plan, 1951. None of these is a plan in the sense that I have in mind or a plan of the kind that I have described. None is a good plan and two of the three are now hopelessly out-of-date. As far as I can recall, the Bressey Plan was not even thought to be a very good one at the time. It certainly did not meet with a very favourable reception. When one looks at it today it seems to have been more a series of individual schemes than a plan.

The County of London Plan, which formed part of the Abercrombie Scheme of 1943 when it was published, was at least a bold and imaginative plan, but I should have said that it was visionary rather than practicable. Certainly, no estimate was ever made of the cost of implementing those proposals, but I am quite sure that it would have been fantastic, and it is not very surprising that that plan was stillborn. The key proposal of it was the A-Ring Road and the next most important proposal was the B-Ring Road.

Perhaps I should interpolate here that this is not in any way a political issue and that all Governments have been guilty in this matter. The Labour Government of the day dropped the B-Ring Road first and then dropped the A-Ring Road and the scheme just disintegrated and, therefore, we have now the road section of the London Development Plan.

That is a greatly whittled down version of the earlier County of London Plan. It is quite unco-ordinated, and in my view it is hopelessly inadequate. Indeed, it admits it is inadequate as a plan, because I was looking at it early yesterday and I see the programme says that it cannot be regarded as adequate for the needs of traffic. It is, in fact, like the new proposals of the Minister, an effort to get a quart into a pint pot. The whole time we are talking about this quart it is probably swelling to a gallon, and we are not doing much about the pint pot.

I rather regard the problem of drawing up an effective road development plan as in a way analogous to the problem faced by anti-aircraft gunners during the war. One used not to aim one's shell at the aircraft; one aimed at where one hoped the aircraft would be when the shell reached that point. That is not what we have been doing, and not what we are doing now in this question of road development in London. All we are doing is to aim a few desultory shots in the wake of the aircraft and rather a long way behind it.

In the course of my researches into this problem I came across an interesting Report of the Royal Commission on London Traffic, which was appointed in February, 1903, and reported in 1905. This Royal Commission appointed an advisory board of engineers to advise it on the road aspect of their problem. The board consisted of three experts, and the Commission, in its Report, included a summary of the advisory board's report to it.

I should like to quote an extract from this Report: The projects put forward by the Advisory Board of Engineers are based upon the view that those entrusted with the duty of providing for the wants of London in years to come ought to have before them a carefully thought out plan and definite principles upon which they should work. Then it goes on to quote, as an example of what was in its mind, the plan for the redevelopment of Paris during the 19th century, and it continued: The point to secure that, in future, new streets shall be constructed and improvements in old streets shall be effected, not haphazard and piecemeal as hitherto, but in relation to the general needs of London and in pursuance so far as possible, of a fixed policy which should be followed with persistent effort over a great length of time. That is nothing less than I am suggesting to the House half a century later.

The Royal Commission itself sent in a rather disappointing Report. It did not adopt all the recommendations of its advisory board of engineers but with this conclusion it recorded its specific agreement: That street improvements should be undertaken in conformity with a carefully considered plan, designed to meet the requirements of through traffic which may be carried out over a long series of years. The advisory board at that time could not, of course, produce such a plan. It was not in a position to do so, but it did put forward what it regarded as urgent proposals for new streets and for street widening. Few of those proposals have been implemented even to this day.

I found it rather interesting to note that the new so-called Route 11, which is shortly to be begun on a very reduced scale, is largely based on a much more ambitious scheme in this particular Report. It was a scheme for a new east-west road running from Bayswater right through the City to Commercial Road. This scheme was in turn a development of a proposal made in 1867 to a Select Committee by Colonel Haywood, engineer to the Commissioners of City Sewers, so that the new Route 11 was first proposed in 1867 and nothing has been done about it in the 88 years following that date.

Before I leave this very interesting Royal Commission Report, I should like to mention a minority Report, which was signed by an hon. Member of this House, Sir George Bartley, who considered that the Royal Commission's proposals were nothing more than a mere temporary palliative, and foresaw with quite remarkable clarity the present congestion in the streets of London. He said that in his view traffic would increase in geometrical progression and that the congested streets would become absolutely unbearable, and the difficulty of improving them will increase in the same geometrical proportion the longer the real and only practical improvement of new and wider streets is delayed. What a tragedy for London that no one heeded these wise and far-sighted words that were written 50 years ago by a Member of this House.

What we need today is fresh thinking and an entirely new approach to this problem of London's traffic congestion. The kind of plan that I have in mind is the type of plan that has been produced for cities such as Berne, Munich, Boston, Zurich, and Copenhagen. Those are cities which feel they cannot deal with their traffic problems without getting right down to producing a long-term coordinated plan. The sort of plans that they have been producing and are in a process of implementing are produced, in the main, by outside traffic consultants, men of the type that are not to be found in this country because there is no one to employ them. They are men like Dr. Feuchtinger, of Germany, who is perhaps the greatest expert in the world on this problem.

Our traffic experts are, I believe, suffering from far too set ideas. They are resisting new thinking in road development. Let me give the House an example. It seems to me that when faced with any intersection problem our own traffic engineers can only think in terms of roundabouts. Yet we are only at this moment beginning to study the roundabout in modern terms of traffic capacity. I believe that a whole new form of inquiry has been started in the Road Research Laboratory, and I am delighted to hear it, but let us have a look at some of the results of our lack of planning and lack of examination of this problem in the past.

The Hyde Park boulevard scheme was produced by the L.C.C. about five years ago. It was adopted, endorsed by the Minister and it was ready to start. Then somebody discovered that this plan, that was based on two roundabouts at Hyde Park Corner and at Marble Arch, would not work, because the roundabouts themselves would not be able to cope with the peak-hour traffic. I believe it is quite possible to work out the maximum capacity of any roundabout however many exits or entrances it has and whatever its radius. That had not been done in this case, and the result is that we have now a modified scheme involving flyovers or under-passes, which the Minister told us just now, in answer to a Question, he is satisfied will work.

There is one man who has produced a really scientific analysis of London traffic needs, and that was a young traffic engineer named R. B. Hounsfield who, unfortunately, died at an early age, about five years ago. His plan, published posthumously in 1951, was based on statistics of 1937, so it is not entirely relevant today. It provided the kind of survey that we must have to deal with this problem and to plan ahead. Hounsfield came to the conclusion that London must have a number of what he called relief highways. Those are roads with limited and controlled access, without intersections, and, for the most part, either elevated on viaducts or sunk below the surface level.

On the whole, I think that Hounsfield's plan was far too ambitious and that he postulated too many of these relief highways, but it seems to me probable that there will be no satisfactory solution of this problem unless we build at least three or four of this type of relief highways—or "expressways," which I believe is the more common name for them. These roads would be expensive to construct but the volume of traffic they would carry and would divert from other inadequate roads would be considerable, and they might make unnecessary some of the costly developments of existing roads now planned. It may well be that in trying to deal with this problem in a purely two-dimensional way, as we have been, where it needs a three-dimensional solution, we are wasting large sums of money in the long term.

To sum up, what I am asking for is that the Minister, who after all is the traffic authority for London, should set up a fairly small committee of experts to examine the present and future needs of London traffic, to prepare a comprehensive and co-ordinated development plan for a 20 or 25-year road programme, if possible phased over five-year periods.

I have no doubt that some overall financial limitation would have to be placed on the programme because experts cannot be given their heads completely, particularly over a problem as vast as this, but the financial limitation must be generous in order to be adequate. That is inevitable, because this problem has been neglected for so long that any satisfactory solution will cost a lot of money. However, the cost of traffic delays in London is incalculable, and so is the cost in nervous exhaustion and frustration of people who have to drive and travel in private cars and in London buses along the streets of London today.

I would suggest that if such a committee were formed, we should bring in at least one expert from either the United States or Europe, where they have much more experience than we have of this kind of problem. Happily, there was a precedent set by the 1905 Royal Commission, because one of the three members of their advisory board of engineers was a New York traffic engineer.

I hope, also, that an opportunity will be given to one or two of the younger traffic engineers in this country. They have never had a chance to show what they can do and I believe that, here and there, we have one or two young men of great promise. We need boldness and imagination, applied science and a radical approach to this problem. I hope that the Minister will give careful consideration to these suggestions and not reject them out of hand, merely saying that I am asking for just another plan and that we have plenty already. I believe that the suggestion I have put forward is an essential preliminary to any solution of this vast and urgent problem.

12.5 p.m.

Mr. Richard Sharples (Sutton and Cheam)

The House owes a debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson), for giving us an opportunity to debate this subject this morning. I listened with the greatest interest to his speech and found myself in agreement with every point he made. I will not detain the House long, because it would be tedious for me to repeat his argument—even if I could do so in the lucid way in which the hon. Gentleman put forward his arguments—but I wish to ask the House to consider whether we have the priority right in this matter. I do not believe that we have.

If we are to prevent complete traffic stagnation we must try to reduce the volume of London traffic. I agree that it would be unthinkable to do so by imposing restrictions on the use of private cars in London, as has been suggested in some quarters. Yet in some way we must try to reduce the number of vehicles coming into London and, particularly, passing through it.

In Paris, where I lived for some years, a constructive approach has been made to the problem. The ring road which passes around Paris, and which passes the main arteries in and out of the city by a series of fly-overs and under-passes, has done a great deal to relieve traffic congestion in that city. In the same way, in New York and in most of the American States, the problem has been tackled by providing arteries so that the traffic which does not need to go into the centre of the city can pass around it or even, as in some cases, underneath the city. That has made a big improvement.

In London, we are concentrating on what might be called a piecemeal programme, which does not appear to me to be linked to any major overall scheme. We have heard much about the Hyde Park boulevard scheme. This will undoubtedly be a contribution towards solving the problem in a specific area, but one objection voiced against the scheme is the increased traffic it will bring into that area, which will cause more congestion in Oxford Street. Therefore, as we deal with the problem in one area by a piecemeal programme, we merely create increased congestion somewhere else.

I ask my hon. Friend to consider whether we are giving sufficient priority to the ring roads. We have a North Circular Road, but it exists only in part, because for long stretches it is no more a main artery than many of the other streets in London. The South Circular Road exists solely by courtesy of the excellent sign-posting arrangements which have been made by one of the motoring organisations. But for that, I do not think that the South Circular Road could be said to exist at all.

I also ask my hon. Friend to consider the question of the A-Ring Road. We have heard some of its history this morning, but I do not know whether the House knows of the 28th Report of the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee—I believe its last Report—in which the Committee raises the subject again and says: In our view, the A-Ring Road is one of the few bold and imaginative ideas which have been proposed to deal with the traffic congestion in London. We do not underestimate the difficulties or the expense, but this road would substantially reduce the traffic in the inner area of London and would thus render unnecessary many of the road improvements in that area which the London County Council now consider necessary. It would probably in the long-term be cheaper than the piecemeal improvements otherwise necessary, and it represents a much more positive approach to the problem and one which is more likely to produce a real improvement in traffic congestion in London. It seems to me that the Minister should set up a committee to reconsider the whole project of the A-Ring Road, which was abandoned in 1950.

I think it is along those lines that we should look for a solution to the problem—diverting traffic from the centre of London; and I ask my hon. Friend to reconsider this proposal and, particularly, the setting up of a committee to investigate it, possibly along the lines suggested by the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North.

12.12 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

My hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) and the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharpies) have united in deploring the possibility of private cars being prevented from coming into London. I found my hon. Friend a little more emphatic on this subject today than he was in an article which he wrote for the "Evening News" a little while ago, in which he said, writing of the traffic congestion in London: A great deal of the trouble, though by no means all, is due to the parking of private cars on the highway. Does my hon. Friend's speech mean that he has retreated a little from that standpoint? Does he now suggest that the parking of cars on the roadway is not as major a factor in causing congestion as when he wrote the article?

Mr. K. Robinson

I have not retreated. Perhaps I have advanced. I fully agree with what I wrote, and I said in my speech that parking is a contributory factor, but I am equally sure that we should have acute traffic congestion in London without any private cars parked on the roadway. I was deploring the suggestion which has been made in some quarters, not that we should limit parking in London but that we should keep private cars out of the central area of London altogether.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

If the Government are not prepared to initiate a longterm plan for solving London's traffic problems, it will become essential to prevent private cars from coming into London at all, because if we have to choose between two evils, it is surely less deplorable to stop private cars from coming into London than to allow the whole traffic of Central London to grind to a complete standstill.

Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)

Does not the hon. and gallant Gentleman's proposal mean that we should have to give permission to doctors, perhaps Members of Parliament, district nurses and many other people who find it essential to have their cars in London, and would not this set up a most undesirable bureaucracy and privilege?

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

All kinds of complications will arise, but they will not be as difficult as the complete inability of the mass of the population to move about at all.

Mr. Speaker

There is a possibility that legislation might arise out of any such system of prohibition. The subject can be mentioned, but I call the attention of the House to the rule against raising matters on the Adjournment which involve legislation.

Lient.-Colonel Lipton

I am obliged to you, Mr. Speaker. I do not want to be led into breaking the rules of the House by the interventions of hon. Members.

The fact remains that in 1938 there were about 3 million vehicles in this country, that by 1954 the number had risen to about 5½ million and that the number is continuing to rise. Unless we stop motor-car manufacturers from manufacturing more and more cars, steps must be taken in London and other large towns to enable these cars, which are being sold in ever-increasing quantities, to travel along the road.

I suggest that the haphazard approach of which both previous speakers has complained must be abandoned as quickly as possible. As more and more vehicles pour on to the congested roads, the number of fatal accidents and casualties is bound to continue to increase. That is another of the very heavy prices which we shall have to pay, quite apart from the millions which these choked arteries in London and other large towns will cost industry.

Drastic action is required, and I want to make a suggestion following a comment made by my hon. Friend. All the main-line stations should be pushed right out of the centre of London and into the suburbs. The advantage of doing that would be that the last 10 miles of railway track leading into the various main-line stations of London could be used as motor highways. Where they are not wide enough, we could build one highway on top of the other so as to have one-way traffic along these new relief highways, which would stretch from the outlying suburbs into the heart of London.

Another advantage would be that we should not have these concentrations of traffic and congestion arising from the fact that thousands of people pour into the main-line stations and in many cases have to double back on their tracks. For instance, some people travel into King's Cross and then have to get back to places in the North of London. That applies to thousands of people who come to London every day to a main-line station and then have to go back on their tracks to their places of work. If drastic proposals have to be considered, then I suggest that one of the proposals that might be considered is this idea of pushing the main-line stations out of London altogether. That would create more fluid traffic conditions, particularly in the neighbourhoods where these main-line stations are to be found.

That is the only practical suggestion I should like to make in the discussion which has been so ably introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North. We have to get ourselves out of the rut and face up to a problem that is bound to continue if we are to encourage millions more cars on to the roads and if we are not to do anything to make it possible for those cars to move freely. Even if it is not possible altogether to ban private cars from coming into London, it might be possible to consider stopping-up the main roads in Central London to private cars during the rush hours.

That would enable the buses to take people to and from work, which is the primary problem that London traffic authorities have to consider. It would not necessarily involve legislation to lay down that no private cars should be allowed in certain streets in Central London at certain times in the rush hours. They should be compelled to use alternative routes.

Quite a number of hon. Members want to speak on this matter and we are all anxious to hear what the Parliamentary Secretary has to say. I hope that he will embark upon some completely fresh thinking on this very important problem.

12.22 p.m.

Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)

The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) has done a service to the House. I was privileged to raise this matter a year ago on the Easter Adjournment, and I must say that it is alarming to see how little progress has been made in the interval.

I could not altogether agree with the proposal put forward by the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton), which would mean that people would perhaps arrive in Brixton instead of arriving further into London and would have to take a taxi, if they wanted to go to the North of England, perhaps right to Hendon, my own constituency, before getting into a train and going north. That may be all right for taxi people, but not for holiday makers travelling through London, either north to south, or east to west.

I should like to draw attention to two points which merit consideration. I cannot altogether agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples) that piecemeal methods do not achieve an improvement. In the last 18 months we have seen that the improvements made on the Embankment have enormously speeded up the east-west and west-east flow of traffic along the riverside. But although that traffic flow has improved—and on occasions I have found it averaging very nearly 30 miles an hour along that stretch of road—I have also noticed an increase in the number of cars parked along both sides of the Embankment.

That leads me to the belief, which was borne out by many other speakers in the recent debate which we had on this subject, that, sooner or later, one will have to have traffic police specialising in keeping London traffic flowing smoothly and fast, especially along the main arteries. I fear that our policemen have so much to do these days that they are not able to give the same attention and same enthusiasm to this aspect of the London problem as they give to minor motoring offences.

It always astonishes me that one can park a car in Oxford Street at a peak hour—especially if one's car looks like a van—and constipate the traffic in Oxford Street, without attracting much attention. But if one parks one's car in a cul-de-sac, when one returns to it one may find a policeman only too ready to take one's name and address. Until a section of our police have the primary object of tackling the problem of keeping London traffic moving, then, however many improvements we make, we will not really achieve the required result. We will not get dividends from the very considerable capital expenditure which is necessary on roads and other methods of transport.

We need to tackle this problem, and I thoroughly support the idea that we should set up a committee. It is admirable and we should in no way be narrow, but invite experts from other countries to sit on that committee. I hope that the committee will not consider only the road problem of London, because the problem of the use of our roads and the movement of traffic on them is tied up with and dovetailed into the problem of rail and the movement of passengers in and out of this city.

I deplore the suggestion, which has been canvassed on several occasions by London Transport Executive, of banning cars in Central London. In the long run, that may be necessary, but I can see the most alarming growth of privilege for people who have to have their cars. Just as in petrol rationing it was the person who put his case best—often it was not too near the truth—who got the privilege of extra petrol coupons, so I can see exactly the same thing happening. A person who best puts the case for bringing his car in would bring it in and the more honest person might be excluded.

London Transport Executive should not canvass that suggestion until it has tackled the problem of making it easier, quicker and more comfortable for passengers to come into London by rail. I realise that that would mean doubling up the tubes and possibly making use of the old steam lines, many of which still exist all through London today and which are hardly used at all, and running express lines from the perimeter of the Metropolitan area.

It cannot be expected that a person from the country, travelling to London by car, will park his car 12 or 15 miles away from London and then get on the tube knowing that the train will stop at every station and that the journey will take him 45 or 60 minutes. But one would find very large numbers of travellers in and out of London who would be happy to park their cars outside London if they could then get into an express tube to take them into London on business or pleasure in a short time.

I know that that would mean capital expenditure on. a considerable scale, but I believe that, in the long run, it might be less than the capital expenditure invested in roads. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will set up a committee whose terms of reference are not so narrow as to include only roads. This is a problem which equally concerns the railways. I hope that he will also ask this committee to consider whether, by the use of fast diesel locomotives, we cannot make much better use of the redundant steam lines to help the traveller to get in and out of London more quickly instead of forcing travellers to use their cars and thus paralyse London traffic to a still greater degree.

12.30 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)

Like my hon. Friends the Members for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples) and Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing), I support almost everything said by the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) in this most interesting discussion. I will not weary the House by repeating many of his comments, but I should like to emphasise one or two of them, and especially what he said about roundabouts.

We are today seeing examples of the comparative uselessness of roundabouts in great centres such as Hyde Park Corner and Marble Arch. I do not think that that is fully realised because, as has been said, there had not been a scientific examination of the problem until quite recently. I suggest that every new scheme of road improvement which contains a roundabout of an area such as the one at Hyde Park Corner should be thoroughly examined before it is put into operation.

I know that roundabouts like those on the other side of the river at each end of York Road, which were introduced at the time of the Festival of Britain, have proved a success because they are not the type with one island in the centre. They form a series of streets and, in any case, the traffic there is comparatively light. But because these schemes have succeeded we should not run away with the idea that the provision of a roundabout is the only solution of a traffic problem.

It has been said that parked cars are not the main cause of congestion. I fully agree. It was said that the Strand needed widening in 1912. Although my recollection of the Strand in those days is very dim, I am sure that there were no parked cars or many parked horse-drawn vehicles. That was the day when the horse bus was about to disappear. The congestion was caused by the amount of traffic and, as it is today, by the amount of intersecting traffic. That is the prime cause of congestion.

The solution is not so much to chase parked cars off the side streets where, perhaps, they cause only minor conges- tion, but to remove the causes of intersection. That will have to be done either by making tunnels and fly-overs, as has been done in Paris very successfully, or by making one-way streets so that we should get two streams of intersecting traffic and not four. If only we could have more one-way streets in London so that traffic lights could be arranged on a progressive basis, then we should get far less congestion than we do today even without providing new streets. That suggestion ought to be taken into account.

Another problem is that of acquiring land for traffic improvements. There have been many instances in the past—one was when the Great West Road was built—where we did not look ahead soon enough and a row of new houses went up only to be pulled down when the land was acquired two or three years later for the building of the road. I ask my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary whether action is being taken to make sure that local authorities acquire land in time before it is sterilised by some other kind of building, and so that it does not cost any more than is absolutely necessary. This is an expensive job at any time, and we do not want to make it more expensive by having to pay added compensation because of a failure to look ahead.

12.34 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Gough (Horsham)

I count myself most fortunate, Mr. Speaker, in catching your eye at this stage of this most interesting debate. I promise that I shall speak for only two minutes. I congratulate the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) for introducing the subject. I am sorry that I was a little late, but I listened to most of his speech with rapt attention. He stressed the importance of the long-term plan, and I fully agree. The point I want to make is that we must not overlook the fact that if we do not make a short-term plan we shall be completely defeated and no long-term plan will ever have any foundation.

The only further point I wish to stress is in connection with the vehicles which use the main streets of London. A street or road is meant for vehicles to travel along and not to stand still on. The difficulty is that there are not sufficient garages in which cars can be parked. As motorists, we seem to think that we have a right to park our cars anywhere on any street and to leave them there for any length of time. I should be getting very near the limits of order if I were to press for an early introduction of parking meters, but until we find sufficient garage space to get these cars off the road—a car parked on a side road has a silting-up effect—we shall not make any progress.

Finally, I take the opportunity to make a plea to some other road users. Why is it that British Railways have an endless number of enormous vans each of which carries only one parcel? It is a curious fact, also, that every local authority seems to try to have bigger and better refuse carts which are always brought out at the height of the traffic jams in the mornings. Further, the police seem to have very large Black Marias; I do not know how many occupants there are in them sometimes. All users of the road would be well advised to have small vehicles wherever possible. If they used their intelligence and co-operated in this vital matter we could have a short-term plan and thus ensure that the long-term plan could be carried out.

12.36 p.m.

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

The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) has several times discussed the subject of the roads of London. I hope to be able to show him today that progress of a substantial kind has been made since he raised the matter on 28th May last year.

I am not sure that it is always clearly understood what is the division of responsibility in these matters. In London, the London County Council is the planning authority under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, and it is also the highway improvement authority. In addition to the London County Council, there are the Metropolitan boroughs, which are highway authorities. It is within their powers to carry out improvements of the highways within their jurisdiction where they think it desirable to do so.

If they are in agreement with the London County Council about the works that require to be done, it is the practice for the county council to make a grant towards the expenses of those works. I understand that, generally speaking, the relations between the London County Council and the Metropolitan boroughs are very cordial. Therefore, there is a greater degree of co-ordination between these different authorities than might be supposed to be the case from the fact that they have overlapping powers.

My right hon. Friend is the traffic authority for London. It is difficult to draw an exact line of distinction between matters which are primarily those of highways and those that are chiefly questions of traffic. At the same time, it is natural, and, I think, right, that different authorities should be responsible for these different matters.

It was the intent of Parliament in 1924, when it made the Minister of Transport the traffic authority for London, to ensure that there should be some general policy covering the whole of London, but it would have been unnecessary, cumbrous and inconvenient if at the same time a single authority had been made responsible for the maintenance, improvement and development of all the highways of London. That is why I thought it necessary to explain how these responsibilities are divided up, and, on the whole, I think that the system works reasonably well.

I wish to make it plain that in these matters my right hon. Friend is not primarily responsible, but I recognise that he is responsible for the payment of grants in respect of these improvements. It is not possible for the London County Council or the Metropolitan boroughs to carry out great schemes unless the Minister can make special grants.

The hon. Gentleman suggested that there is an urgent need for a new inquiry into the roads of London. The London County Council has prepared a development plan for London which, on 7th March, was approved, with certain modifications, by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Local Government. The plan provides for a large number of highway improvements which are likely to cover the next 20 years. I should like to quote from the written analysis which forms part of the plan to show that what is proposed to be done during the next 20 years is intended to lead up to the more radical ultimate road programme which the London County Council already has in mind. It is necessary, before operating a programme of road improvements, to have an indication of the resources likely to be available over a considerable period. While it might at first be thought that a programme prepared without this knowledge could be spread over a number of years according to the resources available, it is pointed out that limited resources over a 20-year period would be better spent on a larger number of smaller schemes on a co-ordinated basis rather than concentrated upon a few schemes of greater magnitude. … The magnitude of the Council's expenditure will, of course, be dependent on the amounts which the Minister will be prepared to approve for grant purposes in each of the years concerned. Page 159 of the written analysis shows what the improvement will be over the next 20 years, and page 160 shows the ultimate road plan which the London County Council hope to carry out.

In addition, in 1951 the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee, at the request of the then Minister, made a report on traffic congestion. We have paid the utmost attention to the recommendations then made, and the majority of them will be carried out in the near future.

Since the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North last raised this matter, we have been able to make available greatly increased finances and as a result, considerable works have been undertaken. Immediately after Easter, work on the Cromwell Road extension will begin, at a cost of £3 million. Route 11, in the City of London, at a cost of £1 million, will be begun shortly. The Piccadilly widening at Swallow Street, to which he referred last year, will also be undertaken.

In 1955–56, the Elephant and Castle roundabout will be begun, and the Dartford-Purfleet Tunnel. Although that tunnel does not actually come within the London County Council area, I am sure the hon. Member would agree that it is a major task of the utmost importance for the relief of cross-river traffic. It bears especially on the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples), who spoke of other countries where by-passes or tunnels have been provided to reduce congestion in large towns and to keep the through traffic away from the city centres.

My right hon. Friend has announced that in the years 1956–57 to l 1958–59 a large number of schemes are to be undertaken, the exact priority for which has not yet been determined. We are prepared to consider with the London County Council what ought to be the priorities, and we shall bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman has said about the Albert Bridge. The hon. Gentleman took great pleasure in referring to the time taken to embark upon improvements, and I would remind him that as long ago as 1924 the Royal Commission on Cross-River Traffic recommended that the Albert Bridge should be extended to carry four lines of traffic. Since then, and despite the need to impose load restrictions on the traffic using that bridge, the amount of traffic has increased by 137 per cent. There is, however, this considerable programme which is to be undertaken, and we shall be influenced by the views of the London County Council about what priorities should be given.

Of the 17 classified road schemes mentioned by my right hon. Friend on 2nd February, 10 are in the London County Council area. That means that all but three of the large schemes asked for in the report by the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee on traffic congestion will be dealt with during that period, or at any rate, work on them will begin. The only ones which have not been included are the Euston Road and Tottenham Court Road widenings and the Gardiner's Corner improvement. The fact that they have not been included in the first four-year programme does not mean that they will not find a place in the later programme, and it must not be thought that we underestimate their importance.

I hope I have shown that here are at present two plans, or rather one plan and one report, and I have no doubt that we are right to give special attention to both of them. It is the general view of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, and the view of the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation from the transport point of view, that the London County Council's ultimate road plan is a good one.

The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North, and my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam referred to the A-Ring Road. In 1950, the late Government decided to drop that project, but it has always been the view of the transport experts in my Department that the A-Ring Road would have been a most valuable aid in relieving the traffic congestion in London. My right hon. Friend is still considering the possibility of reviving that project but, of course, after a period of five years, when no safeguarding has been undertaken, it is difficult to revive it. But in view of its importance, we have it under consideration. It would, of course, be necessary to ascertain how far the London County Council would be sympathetic to the proposal. It would be extremely costly, but also extremely beneficial.

Under the ultimate road plan to which I have referred, there is a proposal for an inner circular road along existing roads—which will be much improved—on an alignment not very far from the line of the original A-Ring Road proposal. This inner circular road follows, roughly, the line of Marylebone Road, Euston Road, City Road, Moorgate, Tower Bridge, New Kent Road, Vauxhall Bridge, Victoria Station and Park Lane. That is a contribution to the problem, though it does not make provision for the fly-over and the elevated road which were one of the great features of the A-Ring Road.

Generally speaking, we have been in agreement with the London County Council, but there have been cases, as for example, where the new Cromwell Road extension passes through Hammersmith, where the Ministry of Transport would have preferred to see a fly-over. At present, the London County Council is not prepared to agree with that. However, the work is being so undertaken that if, later, a fly-over is found to be necessary, as, frankly, we think it will be, it will be possible for it to be added.

We attach great importance to the improvement of traffic lights. More than £200,000 has been spent on them this year, and the result has been, I think, a great improvement in the mobility of traffic, especially along Oxford Street.

We entirely accept the need for greatly improving the streets of London. However, I was glad that one or two hon. Members today mentioned that, even when everything that can be done has been done, there will still be the need for some restriction and regulation of traffic. I am sure that no one contemplates the complete demolition of the whole of London and its reconstruction, but that would really be necessary if there was to be no restriction at all upon the indiscriminate use and parking of cars by every individual coming to work in one.

Even if we were able to provide, as we hope to be able to provide, additional parking accommodation in the centre of London, it would still be impossible for any roads that one can possibly imagine to cope with the influx in the morning and the efflux in the evening of the vast number of cars, each one of them occupied by a single person, and that the driver. But when I say that by way of warning, I must not be understood to mean that we do not sincerely intend to carry out great improvements in the highways of London. We accept the need for great developments. We believe that the London County Council has already got a plan, and we are prepared, now that more money is available, to assist it in carrying out those works.

Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing

Surely the logical conclusion of the last part of my hon. Friend's remarks, to the effect that we could never cope with all the people who want to come into London, is that some attention should be given to the speeding up of rail traffic in and out of London. Would my hon. Friend deal with that point, which I specifically raised in my speech?

Mr. Molson

I am sorry if I did not deal with the point. That matter was dealt with in the modernisation plan recently issued by the British Transport Commission, but I would say to my hon. Friend that his suggestion of doubling the tubes in order to provide express trains is really quite out of the question.

Mr. Orr-Ewing


Mr. Molson

It is not very long ago that I had to tell the House that, even for the urgently needed Route C, we have not yet been able to see our way to provide the necessary finance. Therefore, any idea of doubling the tubes in London is quite out of the question.

Mr. K. Robinson

I am very disappointed with the hon. Gentleman's reception of my suggestions and with the attitude of the Ministry. Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that this problem can be solved without expressways leading into and out of London of the kind that I have described? Secondly, does he finally reject the idea, and does the London County Council. of bringing in foreign consultants and drawing on the experience of other countries, which is far greater than that of our own?

Mr. Molson

We do not reject the idea of expressways, but the hon. Gentleman himself said that the A-Ring Road is a kind of expressway. I said that my right hon. Friend now has that matter under consideration.

On the second point, we do not think that there is any need for a further inquiry at present, although we do not exclude the possibility or the desirability from our minds. The London County Council has a plan which will take 20 years to put into full operation, and which will then lead to its ultimate road plan as set out in page 160 of the written analysis. It may be necessary at some time to have a further inquiry, but we do not think that there is any need for that at present, and we propose to get on with the programme.

Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas (The Wrekin)

The hon. Gentleman has mentioned the increasing problem of day-time parking in the centre of London. Can he say whether attention is being given to the increasing practice of parking cars at night along quiet streets where they are left quite unattended?

Mr. Speaker

Order. As far as I can understand, the matter which the hon. Gentleman is now raising is covered by the Road Traffic Bill which is before the House, and, this being the Adjournment, we cannot deal with legislation.

Mr. Thomas

I am merely asking for an explanation, Sir. I am asking whether there is not a power already in existence under which something can be done at least to restrict the extension of that practice.

Mr. Speaker

I think that that is properly a matter for the Bill.

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