HC Deb 28 July 1955 vol 544 cc1375-87

1.5 p.m.

Mr. H. R. Spence (Aberdeenshire, West)

I am most grateful for the opportunity to raise on the Adjournment some of the problems which will have to be considered when we set about improving our main trunk road system in Scotland. Some of the arguments which I shall use apply to the whole country, but there are particular aspects of design and layout where, I think, special and urgent treatment is required north of the Border.

It is, I think, common ground that the same principles of design, construction and general layout should apply to the United Kingdom as a whole. Indeed, it was for this purpose that the Ministry of Transport was made the responsible authority for the whole country. Now that we are about to embark on this first really big comprehensive post-war scheme of reconstruction of our roads, I hope that the Minister will assure us that he will use all the accumulated experience, knowledge and technique that has been built up by his research department in the best possible planning and use of the money to be spent.

I believe that the country would welcome from the Minister a statement about the lines on which he proposes to proceed and also an assurance that the roads of the whole country will be planned on the best possible layout that can be devised. When the Ministry took over the over-riding authority for all the main trunk roads it inherited a wide variety of schemes which had been produced in different counties. Therefore, in the large scheme now envisaged, we have the opportunity of getting the very best value out of the money we spend.

Apart from the main improvements that can be made by complete reconstruction and alteration, there are also smaller improvements which could be made fairly rapidly by improving quite minor points that would contribute to safety and to the convenience of road users. The first purpose, of course, must be the avoidance of accidents, and the second the provision of highways so devised that there can be a smooth and uninterrupted flow of traffic, thus saving time, overtime money and tempers.

It is my purpose to suggest to the Minister that there is a variety of things which can be done, particularly in Scotland, at not very great immediate expenditure which would very largely assist in promoting the better use and better condition of the roads and the avoidance of congestion.

My first point is the question of the need for lay-bys at suitable points on the main trunk roads of Scotland for the parking of heavy commercial traffic and other traffic. I have occasion to motor from end to end of the country, and I cannot help being impressed by the extraordinary difference that exists in the approach to this question of lay-bys where, virtually, we have none in terms of what really are needed. Many of those that were constructed, perhaps some time ago, are inadequate for modern needs.

I believe that the provision of lay-bys can very greatly reduce the accident rate on roads. There is no doubt that the parked vehicle is almost the greatest cause of accidents, especially at night. I am certain that lay-bys could be provided at comparatively small cost. It is essential that lorries should be able to pull in off the main roads, and I will say a word or two about what I consider to be the correct siting for lay-bys.

It is the normal practice for the drivers of heavy lorries, when moving off with mixed loads, to drive on for a few miles to allow the load to settle, and then to pull in and see how the load is riding and whether any tightening up of the ropes is necessary. When there is no lay-by, as is so very often the case in Scotland, this job has to be done on the main road, which causes congestion. Indeed, very few of our main roads carry three lanes of traffic; nearly all have only two. On the outskirts of large towns, one often finds in the mornings a succession of lorries the ropes of which are being adjusted on the main road instead of on some convenient lay-by.

I suggest that if we can produce a scheme for the provision of lay-bys throughout our main trunk roads, we can provide greater safety and far greater smoothness and continuity of traffic. The provision of lay-bys should be a "must" in the Minister's new programme of road reconstruction, and he should consider this provision almost as a first move before considering some of the larger expenditures which will be made on what we might call strategic trunk roads throughout the country.

The lay-by is necessary at a fairly short distance from the main centres of production and population so that the driver may readjust the load, and also because lorries may have to wait when commercial loads have to be delivered to a fairly rigid time-table. If there is no lay-by on which the lorry can wait, it must idle on the road before the time arrives for the delivery of the load. Therefore, the provision of lay-bys is essential on our main roads today, and I think the facts are proved by the answers which the Minister has given to Questions about the number of lay-bys in Scotland. We are lagging so far behind England in the provision of lay-bys that this question ought to be dealt with right away.

The impelling motive in my raising this matter today has been the recent rebuilding of a section of road quite near to Aberdeen, in my own constituency. The manner in which the reconstruction has been carried out has brought a storm of protest to me about the things that have and have not been done. Here is the case of a main road leading from Aberdeen to Elgin and Inverness. The new road avoids a number of curves and awkward corners, and in some places the old road runs parallel to and level with the new road.

Instead of using this convenient stretch of the old road as a lay-by, it has been kerbed and fenced off. It runs for three-quarters of a mile alongside the new road right to the outskirts of Aberdeen with no lay-by, other than a rather inefficient one, which is not quite suitable, because it is on a heavy gradient, and is the old road further up the same hill. It is on one side, and the entrance angles are too abrupt, and, indeed, on the north side the entrance is screened by trees.

Here was a splendid opportunity for the provision of adequate lay-bys to be made at practically no cost, and it has been completely missed and neglected. It is for these reasons that I want to focus the attention of the Minister on this very important question, because if this kind of thing has arisen in my own constituency, it may well be going on elsewhere in Scotland.

In the provision of lay-bys, there are a number of criteria which, I think, must be adhered to. They concern the types and locations, and I hope that the Minister will tell us that he will accept a kind of standard code for constructing a lay-by and locating and signposting it in relation to the general layout of the road system. I venture to make a number of suggestions about what I think should be done.

All lay-bys should have advance sign-posting, because we now get lorries from all over the country moving to areas in which the drivers do not know the location of the lay-bys. Lay-bys must also be planned on either side of main roads, and it should be made an offence for a driver to pull across a main road to park his vehicle in a lay-by on the opposite side. That practice is a very frequent cause of accidents. The angle of approach to the lay-by must be gradual, and the length must be sufficient to allow a heavy lorry with a trailer to pull in and straighten out.

The site for a lay-by should be approximately level, and should be reasonably near—within a mile or two—of the main centres of production or of population. There should be ample clear visibility in either direction, and I think that, eventually, the Minister should envisage even going to the length of encouraging the construction of lay-bys for bus stops on main roads wherever possible.

Now I come to methods of construction. This must depend to some extent on the subsoil, though in no case do we need the heavy macadamising and reinforcing which is required for a main road. I ask the Minister whether he will consider having experiments made in the use of mesh netting which was so successful on our airstrips during the war. When laid down, it allowed heavy aircraft to take off quite easily and also to be parked. I believe that the use of mesh netting might form the basis of a very cheap and practical form of lay-by.

I should now like to refer some other points which, I think, should be discussed when we are talking of lay-bys, and one of these is the question of the kerbs. I motor 20,000 miles or more a year, and I cannot help being impressed by the different views and lines of thought that obtain in different parts of the country. It seems to me, from my experience on main roads in England, that, on balance, the raised kerb has been bound to be a danger. On different parts of A.1, I now notice that the kerb has been sunk flush.

The raised kerb constitutes a danger, and could cause the overturning of a skidding car. It also has the disadvantage that 2 or 3 feet on each side of the road are wasted because nobody likes to drive very close to it. There is also the danger in an emergency of a skidding car striking the kerb, causing it to rebound into the opposite traffic stream. All these things are obviated if the kerb is flush, and I think I am right in saying that an inquiry has already been held on this point. I therefore hope that the Minister will be able to tell us something about it.

The one case in which a raised kerb may be justified is where there is a footpath, because there we must have protection for the pedestrian, but on so many of our roads today, especially in the country and away from the main centres, there are no footpaths, or even cycling paths in the case of Scotland. In that case, the flush kerb is the right thing. It is wrong, however, to build new roads with raised kerbs, as they are in my constituency. I hope that the Minister will have something to say about that.

Another matter to which I want to refer is the width of traffic lanes. Modern practice has found that this width should be not less than 24 feet for three-lane traffic. My feeling is that the increasing size of lorries and motor coaches necessitates our looking very carefully at our standards of width because, as the traffic gets wider, unless the road expands the amount of room becomes less. Today, we are in danger of reaching a very critical point upon some Scottish roads, which are not as wide as those in other parts of the country.

I am certain that a comparatively small expenditure upon lay-bys would bring a rich dividend in convenience and in the avoidance of accidents. Once we find what is the best layout and standard of design for kerbs or lay-bys, and the general structure of our roads, it should be applied quite fearlessly to the whole country. The Minister will get our full support in whatever he wishes to do.

1.22 p.m.

Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)

I want to raise the question of trunk roads in Scotland. I thought that the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Spence) would deal with the subject in a much wider sense. There is no doubt, however, that the matters which he raised are exceedingly important, especially in view of the fact that the average Scottish trunk road tends to be narrower than it is south of the Border. I want to refer especially to the fact that the Government yesterday announced their programme for the next three years for trunk roads in Scotland—at least I saw a report in the "Scotsman" to that effect. In this statement the Government detail eleven schemes in connection with trunk roads in Scotland with which they intend to proceed during the next three or four years.

We shall all be glad if those schemes are proceeded with during that time, because those of us who know the places mentioned know quite well that these schemes are very long overdue. Upon looking over these schemes and the programme of the Government, which is to last until 1960, it seems to me, however, that they are introducing a very modest development plan for these trunk roads. As far as I can understand from reading the particulars of the schemes, about 20 miles of trunk roads in Scotland are to be reconstructed during the next three or four years.

I welcome the fact that we are to have a by-pass for Dalkeith, but that should have been constructed long ago. I also welcome the fact that the by-pass at Dunbar—the A.1 road—is to be widened and straightened. I should have thought, however, that it was about time that the A.1 road was made to by-pass Mussel-burgh. It seems a peculiar procedure to widen and straighten the A.1 trunk road and then to have this tortuous and very narrow section when it enters and passes through Musselburgh before entering Edinburgh.

It is about time that the question of a by-pass road for Musselburgh was given more serious thought. It has been talked about for some time, and it ought now to be developed into something of a reality. Not only is the section of road narrow—it runs into a bottleneck in the middle of Musselburgh High Street—but it has one or two very dangerous corners, especially the one where the Eskside road runs into the A.1 trunk road. That is a completely blind corner. A considerable amount of traffic passes this spot, but the Minister of Transport has refused to allow traffic lights to be fixed for the safety of pedestrians and the convenience of motor traffic entering from Eskside.

I was surprised when I heard this, because the local council of Musselburgh made representations to the Minister in connection with the matter, and I should have thought that the council knew as much about the requirements of the roads running through its burgh as did the Minister. In view of the desire of the local council to place traffic lights on the A.1 trunk road at the junction with the Eskside road in Musselburgh, the Minister ought to give more consideration to that proposal. I have stood at that corner and watched the immense amount of traffic. It is a blind corner, and the Minister should give this matter further consideration.

Having read the list of projects for the main traffic roads in Scotland for the next four years, it seems to me that we can say goodbye to any start being made upon the Forth Road Bridge before 1960. I do not know whether the Joint Under-Secretary of State would agree with that, but there is certainly no indication of it from the statement which has been made, It seems that, no matter what may be the observations concerning the merits of the road bridge as opposed to the tunnel, or what may be the findings of the committee, a start will not be made before 1960. This will be very disappointing to the people of Scotland.

The Joint Under-Secretary, of State for Scotland (Mr. J. Henderson Stewart)

The statement made about that project stands literally—every word of it.

Mr. Willis

Then, when the Committee reports, shall we get on with this road bridge or tunnel?

Mr. Stewart

We stand by the pledge which we gave.

Mr. Willis

I have not yet been able to understand this pledge. I am still left in some doubt whether this project will be started before 1960, no matter what may be the findings of the committee. From the statement made by the Government yesterday, it certainly appears that it will not be started before 1960. If the Minister can give us a definite assurance that when the committee reports and makes its recommendations as to the most suitable form of crossing, we will then proceed with it, I am quite certain that it will give a great deal of satisfaction to the people of Scotland. At present, the situation is very unsatisfactory and we ought to have something more definite, particularly in view of the exclusion of any reference to this matter in the statement that was made by the Government yesterday.

1.30 p.m.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker (Derby, South)

I intervene very briefly to support what has been so well said by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Spence) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis). I agree with every word that they said, and I think they made extremely constructive contributions to our thinking on this vitally important subject.

Much of what has been said is as applicable to the rest of this island as it is to Scotland itself. It is incumbent upon the Government to do everything in their power to deal with this appalling problem of road accidents. I regard it as one of the major social problems of the day. If we had a railway accident which involved a hundred deaths every week, we should have a kind of social revolution. The country would not stand for it. But because the accidents happen one by one, instead of a hundred at a time in one great crash, the newspapers do not notice it, and we allow this appalling evil to go on, with all the suffering, misery, bereavement and waste of economic resources involved.

The cost at the very least is £150 million a year. That does not appear in the Treasury accounts, but it is not an imaginary piece of fancy theory. It is a real cost which the nation bears, and to reduce which we ought to be ready for a large capital investment. In fact, what both hon. Members have proposed would not involve any large capital investment. Very modest sums would be involved, but this expenditure would lead to a very considerable reduction in the accident rate which we suffer today.

Lay-bys are important. The question of kerbs is one on which the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West has probably said almost the last word. I agree with everything that he said. I would only add that there ought to be many more footpaths wherever possible—and I think it is very often possible. This is one of the matters in which the Ministry of Transport does not use its imagination as it should. Footpaths might be put behind hedges instead of next to the road, which would obviate the necessity for kerbs and would help to reduce the danger of accidents.

The great principle of accident reduction ought to be the segregation of different kinds of traffic, and, above all, the segregation of the motor vehicle, which is no longer a carriage but a kind of minor railway train, from the cyclist and the pedestrian. That means the development, again at no great cost, of the cycle path and the pedestrian footpath set away from the road.

I should like to add a word on the Forth Bridge, because I hold strong views about this. I am glad of what the Government have already held out to us. I am convinced that it will be an immensely sound economic proposition. When these great long detours are avoided, there will be a saving in petrol, oil, rubber, drivers' time, the use and the number of vehicles on the road, which is very difficult to compute.

There is a figure which I believe is familiar to some people. In any case, I shall repeat it because it ought to be familiar to the country as a whole. The London Passenger Transport Board calculated not very long ago that the average speed of their vehicles in the London area is 11.2 m.p.h., and it was said that if the speed could be raised by 1m.p.h. to 12.2 m.p.h. £2 million a year would be saved and there would be a considerable reduction in the number of vehicles which now encumber the London streets.

That figure is illustrative of what can be done elsewhere, and anything like the Forth Bridge which will produce a great economy of the sort which I have described is a good economic proposition for the Government. I give my fullest support to what the two hon. Members have said.

1.35 p.m.

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

We have had a short but extremely practical and useful discussion upon some of the road problems of Scotland. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Spence) has said, many of these problems apply also to England, and some of the things which I am saying will be applicable equally to this part of the United Kingdom.

My hon. Friend first referred to lay-bys, He has been asking most pertinaciously a number of questions of my right hon. Friend upon that subject, and it may therefore be possible for me to confine my reply to him to a very few words. As my right hon. Friend has said in reply to an English hon. Member, it is our policy to provide lay-bys at reasonable intervals on trunk roads to enable vehicles using the roads to stand out of the main stream of traffic for relatively short periods."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th July, 1955; Vol. 544, c. 51.] I entirely agree with what has been said about the large number of road accidents which are due to vehicles stopping on a busy and congested road, and especially a trunk road, where fairly high speeds are attained. We intend to encourage the provisions of these lay-bys. We agree with a good many of the points which my hon. Friend has made, although we are doubtful about the light construction which he recommended. In fact, when one is constructing a road it does not cost a great deal more to carry on with the same construction in the lay-by. The main cost, of course, is that of acquiring the land. We think, also, that in many cases very heavy, laden vehicles will be standing for long periods on the lay-bys and, generally speaking, it is, therefore, important that they should be constructed as solidly as the roadway itself.

We are rather doubtful about using lay-bys for bus stops. It is obvious that the same lay-by cannot, at the same time, be effectively used by a bus stopping there and by vehicles parking there. Generally speaking, we feel that lay-bys are not so desirable close to centres of population as they are out in the country. We take into account that where there is a parking place at, say, a transport cafe, there is not generally the same demand for a lay-by. Therefore, we think that they are important at considerable distances from towns, where they are needed for the necessary rest of the lorry drivers. These are comparatively small points, but I mention them so that my hon. Friend shall realise that the Ministry of Transport is giving careful consideration to the provision of lay-bys, and entirely agrees with all that has been said on both sides of the House about their great importance.

I am very glad to be able to say something about kerbs. It was in October, 1954, within two months of taking up his present responsibilities, that my right hon. Friend appointed a small committee inside the Ministry of Transport to inquire into the whole question of these kerbs. There has been a good deal of general criticism and some misunderstanding of the purpose of kerbs. Kerbs beside roads are important for two purposes—first, as an indication of where the edge of the road is, and, secondly, to prevent the haunch of the road from being broken away and crumbling as the result of great weights coming upon it where there is no lateral pressure to help to support it.

The kerb can be of immense value to the motorist, and, at the same time, it can be a danger. It helps the motorist where it indicates the edge of the carriageway, because there are many cases where the motorist will get into difficulty and, indeed, into danger if he runs off on to a soft verge. There are, of course, cases where he wants to be able to go over on to the soft verge, and in a moment of crisis it may even be the only way of avoiding an accident. There are other cases where it is not necessary to go over and where getting on to a verge may cause an accident which would not otherwise have occurred. We are, therefore, recommending in a new circular, dated 19th July—which we are sending out for general guidance—a slightly modified policy with regard to kerbs.

Kerbs are of three kinds. First, there is the vertical kerb. I agree with what my hon. Friend has said, and we are asking that this type should be used only where it is extremely important that the vehicles shall not go over the edge. That will be where there is a footpath and where, if the vehicle goes over the kerb, a pedestrian accident may result. It is also necessary where there is a precipice and in other cases where it is necessary to avoid the vehicle going over. Where it is not necessary, we fully accept the disadvantages of the vertical kerb. If a car is travelling at high speed and strikes the vertical type it may bounce into the other line of traffic and there may be an accident. The vertical kerb, therefore, should be used only where there is definitely a safety consideration that makes it essential.

In rural areas, in particular, it is rare that anything more is required than a flush kerb, and that is what we normally recommend. That is one which indicates, especially at night, where the edge of the road comes. It is, therefore, of value for safety purposes and it is just as effective as the vertical kerb for strengthening the haunch of the road—and that is extremely important for reducing the cost of maintenance over a large number of years. In normal circumstances, it is the flush kerb that we are recommending in Memorandum 715.

There are intermediate cases, however, where a splayed kerb is justified. That will enable a vehicle, in the moment of crisis, actually to go over the kerb and obtain some measure of safety on the verge, while at the same time it discourages the vehicle from doing so unnecessarily. There are, unfortunately, many cases where the verge of the road is very seriously damaged by a quite unnecessary and wanton use of it by cars which go on to it and cause ruts.

I have been very glad to point out that this is a matter which has been exercising our minds in the Ministry of Transport for a long time. I hope that the general policy laid down in Memorandum 715 will commend itself to the House and to the country as being a practical and sensible way of dealing with the problem.

It was only in the last few moments of his speech that my hon. Friend spoke about the width of traffic lanes. As the House is aware, we have recently authorised wider vehicles to be used upon the roads. Since the war, all road planning has been based on Memorandum 575, but with the advent of the extra wide vehicle now authorised at 8 ft., with an overhang of the cargo or load carried of not more than 1ft. 6 in., it is obvious that a wider lane is now desirable.

The Minister has been thinking over the question of standards to be adopted in the design of trunk roads for the future and has sought the advice of the Road Research Laboratory. He considers that, in future, the design of trunk roads should be based on 12 ft. traffic lanes. That will be the general standard for the future, but it cannot usually be applied to roads already planned. There may also be exceptional cases where other dimensions will be adopted owing to special circumstances.

I hope that that statement will also be acceptable to my hon. Friend, and also to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, South (Mr. P. Noel-Baker), for whose intervention I am grateful. I think it will show that we intend to take advantage of the new and expanded roads programme to ensure that the roads of the future shall be more commensurate with the heavy task which the perpetual increase in the volume of traffic requires.

I should not like to sit down without referring to the point raised by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis). I had no notice that he intended to raise it. I would only say that the announcement made by my right hon. Friend yesterday is an expansion of what was announced on 2nd February for Scotland as well as for England and Wales, and that we have made certain that Scotland's proportion is substantially more than would be provided by the Goschen formula which, I know, would be unacceptable to Scots. That is why, in our earnest desire to meet them, we have ensured that Scotland has a larger proportion of expenditure, and I can honestly say that I think that Scotland has been treated not ungenerously in this respect.

Mr. Willis

I do not expect the hon. Gentleman to reply now to the smaller points which I raised, but would he let me have a reply to them later?

Mr. Molson

I shall certainly take great pleasure in writing to the hon. Member about them.