HC Deb 15 February 1956 vol 548 cc2489-98

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

10.10 p.m.

Wing Commander Eric Bullus (Wembley, North)

A few weeks ago my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation announced that his Department intended to concentrate on schemes to improve traffic conditions in and around towns and cities, because he considered that new roads were of no use if old bottlenecks remained. Most right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House will, I am sure, subscribe to this view. That is the reason why I am bringing to the notice of my right hon. Friend two bottlenecks to traffic and to progress in the Borough of Wembley which he could help to eliminate.

Road reconstruction work has been going on at Blackbird Hill, Kingsbury, during the last few months, and this has caused a considerable amount of inconvenience to the genera] public. Naturally, the Wembley Borough Council is much concerned at this state of affairs. In a council debate, one member described the traffic conditions at Blackbird Hill as "chaotic" and the Town Clerk, at the behest of the council, has written to me, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) on the subject.

Owing to the nature of the traffic using Blackbird Hill, long queues develop in the morning and evening, and in the rush hours it is not exceptional for delays to occur at this point for as long as 15 minutes. Such delays would be tolerable were it possible to limit the period over which they occurred. It would be possible to limit this period by the adoption of round-the-clock working, 24-hour working, although the cost of the work may be increased.

The Wembley Borough Council regard the situation as an example of the unsatisfactory results which may be expected from the strict application by the Ministry of Transport of the principle of accepting the lowest tender. The council is placing the full facts before the Ministry and the Middlesex County Council and at the same time suggesting that in schemes of this nature, likely to cause acute congestion on main traffic routes, the principle of requiring the contractor to work day and night should be applied. I should add that Blackbird Hill is what is termed a "claimed" county road which is repaired by the borough council on behalf of the Middlesex County Council, and the cost of the scheme would be met to the extent of 75 per cent. Government grant.

My right hon. Friend has already expressed the opinion that the principle that the lowest tender should be accepted is a sound one and I think all hon. Members will agree with him; but there are occasions where a little latitude should be allowed to local authorities to depart from this strict rule when circumstances warrant such a departure. This opinion is held by many local authorities in Middlesex and in the outer London area. Such is the case at Blackbird Hill. The present contractor is a good one and the work done there is satisfactory, but the cost, apparently, did not allow for the expeditious work required on these repairs. Consequently, traffic is delayed over a much longer period than should have been necessary. With the necessary latitude in tendering, many such works up and down the country might be speeded up. For instance, I noticed this week that repairs were being carried out on the Harrow Road at Kensal Rise, but the work on this job ceased at sundown.

My right hon. Friend's predecessor appealed to motorists driving into London to leave their cars in outer London, in places like the Borough of Wembley, and to continue their journey to Central London by train. I am sure that the present Minister supports that proposal. The Wembley Borough Council considered such a proposal over a year ago and in February, 1955, sought the permission of the London Transport Executive to use part of the station yard on one side of die station at Wembley Park or part of the Executive's sports ground which is situated on the other side of the station.

In twelve months no permission has been granted, but I understand that consultations are still going on and that consideration is still being given to the request. In the meantime, an offer of land over 400 yards from the Wembley Park Station has been made, but this is much too far away. This may be the day-to-day business of administration of the nationalised board, but I think that the Minister should be aware of the position.

Those who motor from Wembley on the Harrow Road must feel that at two points where traffic lights are installed filtration of traffic should be allowed which would speed up the traffic, thus preventing some of the congestion that occurs at peak hours. At the Harlesden Library, Willesden, left-turn filtration is possible, and at the College Park Hotel by Scrubs Lane, a little further along, left-turn filtration should be allowed with the parallel line of traffic coming in the opposite direction from town. This filtration is possible, and, if put into effect, would undoubtedly speed up traffic at peak hours. Would the Minister look at this proposal and perhaps refer it to the local traffic advisory committee for the area?

Finally—for I am hoping that my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South will catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, to say something about East Lane traffic in his part of the constituency—may I ask the Minister for information on one other point? A constituent of mine has sent me a newspaper cutting which reports details of a monster machine that the Germans are using to extend the system of autobahnen. This machine works at such a pace that more than four miles of autobahn are completed by it every week. As the machine moves along, it is fed with materials by lorries that draw up alongside so that it stops, in fact, only to change drivers and when it is too dark or too wet to work.

By comparison, the newspaper report says that a one-and-a-quarter mile bypass being built at Markyate, Hertfordshire, will take a year to build. Are the Germans really working 150 times quicker than we are in the construction of new roads?

I offer these comments in no critical manner, because I appreciate the Minister's determination to solve the problem of our sadly overcrowded roads. I only hope that these suggestions might be helpful; and that the problems may be capable of solution.

10.19 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)

I wish very briefly to support what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wembley, North (Wing Commander Bullus) has said on the two matters raised by him and, as he indicated, to make one or two comments on another matter.

The Blackbird Hill repair is a very good example of how not to carry out a repair. It is taking much longer than need be through lack of organisation. I should like to reinforce what my right hon. and gallant Friend said about the need for allowing other than the lowest tender to be accepted in particular cases like this. The only alternative to that seems to be for all the local authorities concerned to have a sort of black list of tenderers whom they know do not carry out the work to their complete satisfaction.

I think that that would be undesirable, and I therefore suggest some limitation in the way of preventing anything like this happening again. It is an appalling waste of time in traffic in peak hours in the morning and evening to be held up for a lengthy period—and even a quarter of an hour is a lengthy period—by traffic congestion, or for longer than is necessary, owing to the lack of this permission to accept other than the lowest tender.

As to the car park at Wembley Park Station, I know that my right hon. Friend is very anxious to arrange as many car parks as possible in the outer suburbs, and even further out, in order to prevent in particular cars with only one occupant coming into town to increase the congestion in London and add to difficulties where parking is concerned as well. Wembley is about the first place nearest to the centre of London which would be possible for a large enough car park to be established, and that particular station is a good one, because it is served by a fast train service, which is often non-stop to Baker Street, to speed travellers on the last part of their journey.

As to East Lane, which is the boundary between my hon. and gallant Friend's constituency and my own at that particular point, the difficulty there was that, when the factory of the General Electric Company closes in the evening, so many employees come out that there have been accidents through meeting the traffic which is inclined at times to exceed the speed limit along that particular road.

I am grateful to the police, through my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, and to the Home Office for having arranged for a car with a loudspeaker to be there, at any rate for a certain number of days a week, to try to persuade the employees coming out of the factory to emerge at a more reasonable pace and not rush into the road, which, I understand, is at present one of the causes of the difficulty there. By this means, I hope we shall be able to solve this problem and effect a reduction in the number of accidents, which we all desire to diminish as much as possible.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will consider all the points which my hon. and gallant Friend has raised and that these difficulties may be quickly overcome.

10.23 p.m.

Mr. Maurice Orbach (Willesden, East)

I intervene for a moment to add a few words to what has been said by the two hon. Gentlemen who represent Wembley, as representing the neighbouring Division of Willesden, East, which impinges on Blackbird Hill.

I would emphasise that this is by no means a party matter. Together with my constituents, I feel very strongly that something must be done to hurry on the process of repairing the road at Blackbird Hill, not only because of the delay experienced by motorists and other users of vehicles, but also because of the continual danger to pedestrians in that area. I do not want to prevent the Minister from making his statement, but I should like him to know of this confirmation in the neighbouring division of the same problem.

10.24 p.m.

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

I am much obliged for the way in which hon. Members have raised certain matters affecting traffic in northern London. We always welcome helpful and constructive speeches of the kind we have heard tonight, and I also welcome the opportunity of explaining our policy with regard to these matters and of indicating what we are doing at the present time.

The first point raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wembley, North (Wing-Commander Bullus) was the question whether we were always wise to accept the lowest tender. In all these matters the Government and local authorities have to try to take the right line between economy and speed of construction. It is an accepted principle— and obviously a wise one—that where a job of work has to be done we ought to have a number of public tenders and, generally speaking, to accept the lowest tender.

That does not mean that local authorities are under an obligation to accept the lowest tender if there is some good reason to the contrary. Where a specific sum is paid by my Department by way of grant, we require to be consulted, and to give our consent, before a tender other than the lowest is accepted. This does not mean to say that we should oblige a local authority always to accept the lowest tender, but that we should not be prepared to pay a grant, unless we were satisfied that the reasons for accepting a higher tender were good ones. On every occasion it is up to the local authority to give reasons why it wishes to pass over the lowest tender, and requests to do so are considered on their merits in the Ministry of Transport.

I know that complaints have been made about the slowness of work of the special contractor concerned in the case referred to, but in fairness I ought to say that there has never been any complaint about the quality of the work done. Although I know that the local authority was doubtful whether this was a case where the lowest tender was the best, in view of the good record of the contractor we did not feel that we should be justified in passing over the lowest tender merely because it had been put in by him.

My hon. and gallant Friend referred to the matter of car parks. It is the view of my right hon. Friend—as it was of his predecessor—that a great deal can be done to ease the general movement of traffic in London if car parks are provided in the vicinity of Underground stations on the periphery of London, where people living in the country can leave their cars for the day and take Underground transport in order to arrive at their places of business.

The Minister took up this question with the London Transport Executive and the British Transport Commission. The Executive's policy is, firstly, to take immediate steps itself to extend existing car parks, or provide them where no heavy expenditure is involved and, secondly, not to construct or manage multi-storey garages where a large expenditure would be involved, but to facilitate and encourage their provision by outside agencies.

The initial programme, which has already been undertaken by the Executive, provides for an increase from the present total capacity, of between 1.250 and 1,400 car places, to about 2,500 places. That is provided for in the present programme, but I must make it quite plain that that is not intended to be the limit of what will be done. The longer-term programme is to increase the total capacity to about 4,200 car spaces.

The six priority allocations are Morden, Stanmore, Hounslow West, Redbridge, Oakwood and North Ealing. In the case of the Wembley site to which my hon. and gallant Friend referred, it appears to the Executive unlikely that, even at heavy expense, suitable arrangements could be made. At the same time the matter is not yet at an end, and a meeting will take place shortly between representatives of the London Transport Executive and the Western Region to discuss the question whether it would be possible for the Western Region to make certain changes in the organisation of the goods yard there so that part of it might be available as a car park.

The matter has also been raised whether a sports ground at present leased from the Executive to the London Transport (Metropolitan Railway) Athletic Association could be used for parking. The Athletic Association would not be prepared to agree to any permanent reduction of the area of the sports ground, particularly as it was provided as a war memorial to those who fell in the First World War. If, however, it were found possible to make use of it for car parking purposes without in any way detracting from its value for its main purpose, then the matter would be sympathetically examined.

The third matter raised by my hon. and gallant Friend and also by my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) was traffic lights. Conditions at the crossings he mentioned have been looked into. At the first, the police took a census, which showed that pedestrians use the crossing over Manor Park Road in very large numbers. It is always attractive to provide a filter so that traffic may move forward or to the left. At the same time, we have to realise that it does greatly hamper the movement of pedestrians who want to cross the road and we have to take road safety considerations carefully into account. For that reason, although we realise the attractions that a filter would have for vehicular traffic, our view is that, on the whole, in view of the danger and inconvenience to pedestrians, it would probably not be wise for that to be done. Willesden Borough Council has been consulted and agrees with this view.

At the second junction, Scrubs Lane with Harrow Road, we are disposed to think that the suggestion that has been made would be advantageous. There is much less of a pedestrian problem there, and the police and our own divisional road engineer are disposed to favour the proposal. Willesden Borough Council, however, has said it thinks that an all-red period for pedestrians would be necessary. It is necessary, of course, for these matters to be sorted out between those concerned.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South brought up the matter of the General Electric Company's factory in East Lane and the arrival of a large number of workers in the mornings and their departure in the evenings. This is a difficult problem, but it is not different in kind from problems which confront us, and which, I frankly admit, we have not yet solved, in every case where there are factories fronting on to through roads such as Western Avenue and the Great West Road. We do not feel that a pedestrian crossing would be a wise solution here. We feel it would probably result in a great increase in danger.

My hon. Friend referred to accidents in East Lane. As a matter of interest, in the police return of accidents for 1954 only one accident involving a pedestrian is mentioned. Apparently, a pedestrian stepped into a highway and caused a car to swerve into a motor cycle. As a result of these two movements, there was a slight injury to the motorist. I regret very much that my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), the Chairman of the Pedestrians' Association, is not here to note this curious accident which was begun by a pedestrian, a motor cycle was then involved, and the casualty was a motorist.

My hon. Friend referred to a German machine which is, apparently, building roads at a great rate in Germany. We do not believe that the Germans are in any way ahead of us in the use of machinery in road construction. The output of a Barber-Greene machine—we have a number of Barber-Greene machines in this country—is measured by the material which it can lay, which amounts to 100 tons a day. The actual length it can lay depends, of course, upon the depth of the material which is being laid.

We are also familiar with the Stoddard-Pitt machine for laying concrete. It was used by a contractor who was congratulated by my right hon. Friend the present Minister of Pensions and National Insurance for carrying out his work on the Great Cambridge road in a shorter time than that contracted for. While it is difficult to make a comparison, I do not think there is any need to be concerned about the efficiency of road construction in this country at the present time.

I have tried to deal with the various points which have been raised by hon. Members, and I hope I have been able to show the House that we are deeply concerned about these traffic problems and that we have them well in mind and in hand.

Mr. Russell

Has there not been an accident in East Lane outside the factory in the last few weeks? I understand that it is in that period that the anxiety has been caused.

Mr. Molson

I was referring to the accidents which took place in the last period for which figures have been published. I will certainly make inquiries into the matter which my hon. Friend has raised.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-three minutes to Eleven o'clock.