HC Deb 20 February 1957 vol 565 cc528-62

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

8.22 p.m.

Mr. Charles Grey (Durham)

For a considerable time there has been extreme concern about conditions in the villages of Framwellgate Moor and Pity Me. As the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport knows, the A.1 road runs through those two villages, and a difficulty has arisen. There is now under consideration both the installation of push-button traffic lights and the construction of a Pity Me by-pass road. My reason for "chancing my arm" in this debate is to try to encourage the Parliamentary Secretary to give favourable consideration to both projects.

The name Pity Me is rather intriguing. One often wonders what its origin was. Although there is a legend about it, nobody knows exactly how this place received its name. The book that I obtained from the Library gave only the story that most people know. It is said that a long time ago some French monks settled there, around a small lake, which they called "Petit Mer." As my French pronunciation is very bad indeed, I had better give the meaning. The words mean "a little sea." It is possible that someone might have corrupted the name and called it Pity Me.

Whether or not there is any truth in that story I do not know, but what is certain is that that stretch of the road is certainly living up to its present name—"death mile." It is a case of pitying both the poor motorists and the poor pedestrians. The need for something to be done on this stretch of road has exercised the attention of many of us for quite a long time, and I have been encouraged to speak on this subject tonight because the Minister made a statement—publicly, I understand—to the effect that he intends to give priority to certain of the more important trunk road schemes, including the Great North Road. I therefore hope that from the Parliamentary Secretary I will get a promise that he will give very high consideration and priority to the construction both of the Pity Me by-pass and the push-button traffic lights.

As I have said, this is not a new problem, but it is one that has been aggravated by a continued increase in traffic year by year. In December, 1952, I put a Question to the then Minister of Transport on this problem. There were then innumerable cases of prosecutions. Many motorists were prosecuted for exceeding the speed limit and most of them, I will not say all, used the excuse that they had not observed, or could not observe, an existing restriction sign.

That being so, a colleague of mine and myself tried to get the Minister to reinforce the effectiveness of that sign by using a white marking right across the road, at various intervals, with the words, "30 miles per hour," so that not only would the motorists have no excuse for not seeing the sign, but it would be a continual warning to pedestrians and people living in that area.

Looking at the Minister's reply now, it looks even sillier than it did when we got it. We were told that this white line business was not a success; that the white line was not a satisfactory solution because it rapidly wore out. That may be true. I do not doubt for a moment that it does wear out, but, if it wears out, it can be replaced again. But the Minister's next words were rather peculiar. He said that not only would it wear out, but that it would be … obscured by snow, mud, dust. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1St December, 1952; Vol. 508. c. 1100.] as if snow, mud and dust remained on a main road for any length of time. I wonder what that Minister would have thought of any local authority that allowed such conditions to prevail on a main road for any length of time. That Answer was given nearly five years ago, and I mention it now only to prove that this is an old problem and one that has never been really tackled. I am raising the matter tonight so that we might be able to get from the Minister an assurance that something will be done very soon.

I asked the Minister, by means of a Question, what he intended to do. My last Question was on 19th December, 1956, and I got an assurance that he was waiting for some information from the local authority and that he would write to me as soon as inquiries were completed. I have not had a reply up to now. I am not blaming the Minister for that. Perhaps I shall get a good one from him tonight; I hope I shall.

I wish to emphasise the great need for something to be done here. The danger on the road is manifest, and I question whether there is another stretch of road more dangerous than this. I have some figures before me and, although I will not bore the House by quoting many of them. I think that I should mention one or two. Between 1st July, 1955, and 31st December of the same year, the number of prosecutions for speeding was 51, and the number of official cautions was 10, making a total of 61. From January, 1956, to December, 1956, the number of prosecutions went up to 178 and the number of official cautions was 22, making a total of 200.

Thus, merely from the standpoint of people breaking the law, something should be done. I believe that some of them are sincere when they say that they do not know they are in a restricted area on this stretch of road, and I therefore feel that the existing signs are not adequate for the purpose.

In 1954 there were two fatal accidents, three serious, five slight, and nine cases of damage to vehicles. In 1955, we are glad to note, there was not a fatal accident, but there were three serious and three slight accidents, and nine cases of damage to vehicles, a total of 15. It is true that there were not any fatal accidents or serious accidents, in 1956, but there were four slight accidents and nine cases of damage to vehicles, making a total of 13.

At first sight, it looks as though 1956 was a good year; but, as a matter of fact, it might have proved to be the worst. In that year there was the operation of the "Red area" scheme, which lasted for four weeks, and then, in addition, there were restrictions on traffic for approximately four months because of the laying of a large pipeline. Thus, for five months of the year conditions were such that that period could not be counted in the year, and the figures I have given can be treated as referring to seven months only. I believe I have given sufficient evidence to demonstrate how right are the people who call this particular stretch of road "death mile".

Given the problem, the next thing is to try to give an answer. I believe that the answer can be provided only by adopting two methods. The Parliamentary Secretary may think that that is asking for a lot, but I hope that I shall get them both. The first essential, on which I place high priority, is the Pity Me by-pass; that is the main thing to be considered. That is something which I believe would give great satisfaction to the county council and to the Durham Rural District Council.

I have here a few more figures. A census was taken; I do not know the exact dates covered by it, but it was taken before July, 1955. It was then estimated that passing along that road there were 9,500 vehicles per day, as compared with a maximum capacity of 6,000. There were 3,500 vehicles beyond capacity. There is a figure which is definite proof of the need for the Minister to do something shortly about the granting of a by-pass route.

Even the by-pass, it is estimated, would divert only 5,500 vehicles a day from the existing road, leaving 4,000 vehicles, or a figure which is only 2,000 below its maximum capacity, on the existing road. I hope, therefore, that in addition to the by-pass the Minister will agree to our request for the installation of press-button traffic lights.

I know that the problem is not an easy one and that there may be a difference of opinion. I know the area very well indeed, as do some of my hon. Friends, who pass through it on the way to their constituencies. Although they enjoy great pleasure in riding through Durham, they, too, have experienced the nightmare of passing through the "death mile". They will, I am sure, give me sufficient support to ensure that the Minister does something about it.

Three possibilities have been considered. I agree that a central island would not be practicable, because the carriageway is too narrow and such an island would serve only to increase the danger both to motorists and to pedestrians. Another suggestion was the installation of traffic lights at the "Salutation Inn". Again, the conclusion was reached that congestion and accidents would be caused.

The third possibility, however, of the provision of a manually-operated crossing, commands a good deal of support. The only objection is that there might be misuse of the press-button system, but that is one of the risks we must take. The only test in such a case is not whether there would be misuse, but whether safety on the road would be improved. I have no doubt whatever that it would be improved.

In any event, these proposals represent no more than a temporary expedient and eventually it will be necessary to face the need for another scheme to link the Pity Me by-pass road to divert most of the traffic away from this very bad area. But the need for action is urgent, and the press-button traffic light suggestion is one of the methods to which consideration should be given.

There are two things, and only two things, that will answer the immediate problem. First, we badly need the Pity Me by-pass, which would ease the main problem; and, secondly, we need the manually-operated pedestrian crossing, which would complete the answer to the immediate problem. If the Minister does not agree to the traffic lights suggestion, I ask him to adopt the suggestion that we made to his predecessor in 1951, not merely to improve the whole area by signs at the side of the road, but to have the 30 m.p.h. restriction marked in white right across the road at frequent intervals, as well as the use of "Danger Ahead" signs. This would do something to ease the great problem on this stretch of road.

If the Parliamentary Secretary gives favourable consideration to this mild request, he will not only earn the gratitude of the Durham County Council and the Durham Rural District Council, but will earn the gratitude of all those who live in Framwellgate Moor and Pity Me.

8.40 p.m.

Mr. Ernest Popplewell (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)

I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will give very careful consideration indeed and not merely a stock Departmental answer to the case which my hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Grey) has put. Those of us who pass along that road frequently know its dangerous nature.

For a long time there have been under consideration schemes for a by-pass. I sincerely trust that in the new programmes and developments being considered priority will be given to building that by-pass to reduce the dangers and relieve the congestion on that road. My hon. Friend has given facts and statistics about all its dangers, and he has gone into considerable detail. I have not the personal knowledge of the road that he has, but because of the acquaintance I have with it, I add my plea to the Minister to consider the case which my hon. Friend has presented.

Seeing that the Motion for the Adjournment has been moved much earlier than usual, I want to take advantage of this opportunity to raise another matter. I apologise to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for raising it somewhat suddenly. I know that he will not be able to give me a complete answer tonight, but I hope that he will consider the matter which I wish to bring up.

I urge him and his right hon. Friend to reconsider the attitude which the Minister has taken towards the proposed new crossing of the Tyne. The scheme for a crossing between Jarrow and Howdon has been under consideration for a considerable period. The local authorities in that part of the country have gone to a tremendous amount of trouble about it. They have prepared plans with a view to developing a Tyne tunnel. The present Minister's predecessors always accepted the idea of that project.

What a bombshell it was which the Minister dropped when he met the Tunnel Committee, consisting of representatives of all the local authorities which had been working jointly on the scheme, and suddenly told the Committee that a bridge should be built instead of a tunnel. Considerable expenditure has been incurred by the local authorities in building the pilot tunnel which is already in existence and in use. That is a pedestrians' tunnel. The local authorities have prepared approaches to the tunnel to link it with the road schemes to relieve the traffic congestion on the Great North Road. All that work has been done. It has been going on for a long time.

The present Minister's predecessor gave a promise that when the work on the Dartford-Purfleet tunnel no longer required their services the rings—I think that is the correct word to use—would be employed on the Tyne tunnel, and that that would be the next job for which they would be used.

It has come as a big shock to all the North-East to learn that that promise is not to be honoured, that we are not to go ahead with the great venture of the Tyne tunnel, but that a new bridge is to be built instead. What will that mean? I emphasise that there is already in use a pilot tunnel for pedestrians and cyclists. It was part and parcel of the bigger scheme. If a bridge is built, its height must be at least 175 feet to allow for traffic on the Tyne. The House can imagine what it will mean to the local authorities to have to make approach roads on the north and south banks of the Tyne to a bridge which must be 175 feet high.

It means making an additional scar on the landscape in that area. It means that the local authorities, which are very proud of their achievements in local government and of their efforts to make that industrial part of the country more attractive, will have to recast their ideas once again. The Minister's suggestion that that tremendous scar should be made in the area causes a great deal of heartburning among the local authorities. I ask the Minister to think again.

Among the excuses made for building a bridge, it is suggested that a tunnel would cost about £12 million. The cost of a bridge has been estimated at about £7 million. I submit that, compared with the advantage of a tunnel and the danger of building a bridge at that point, with interference with shipping on the Tyne, that margin of cost is not a very material factor. The project seems to me nonsensical.

It means that the local authorities will have to change their outlook once again and go to the trouble of making a new survey, because an approach road to a tunnel would not be suitable for use as an approach road to a bridge. It means that a great deal of useless expenditure will be incurred again, when a pilot scheme for a tunnel has already been carried out and there has been the Minister's promise that the Tyne tunnel would be the next venture after the completion of the Dartford-Purfleet tunnel.

I suggest that to cast this tunnel scheme to one side is not to act honourably towards local authorities in the area. The Minister cannot obtain a single word of support for the bridge project from industrialists and local authorities in the North. Therefore, I urge him to honour the previous pledge and allow the Tyne tunnel to be the first priority after the Dartford-Purfleet tunnel.

In many ways, because of the heavy industrial development there, the North-East Coast has a squalid appearance, because where wealth has been created ugly scars have been left on the land. People in the area feel that now, when they want to see some real developments taking place there, they are being unduly penalised by this change of policy, and an additional scar is being created. We also feel that we are unduly penalised in respect of the new road plan for the country. Newcastle-upon-Tyne has a tremendous traffic problem.

There has been in mind for a long time the building of another bridge further up the Tyne which would not interfere with shipping in the way that the bridge about which I have spoken would. The Scotswood bridge in my constituency is totally inadequate for the traffic passing over it. Indeed, there are restrictions upon its use. For a long time schemes have been in mind for building an additional bridge linked with plans for further by-passing Newcastle.

Little has been heard of that scheme for a long time. The traffic congestion in Newcastle is not so bad at the moment because of the shortage of petrol, but normally it is on a par with that in all our large provincial cities. A new Scotswood bridge linked with the suggested Western by-pass is another scheme to which the Minister might pay attention. It would help to provide the additional facilities which are so necessary in that great industrial area.

I apologise to the Minister for raising additional points of which I have not given him notice. I raise them because the Adjournment debate has begun early and we have at our disposal more time than usual.

I would also draw the Minister's attention to a half-mile stretch of road in my constituency, between Newcastle and Throckley, which is referred to as "Hell's Highway". I presented to the former Minister a petition about it signed by well over 2,000 people. The stretch of road is unrestricted. I have had strong representations from constituents whose children have to cross it to attend school. There is a developing housing estate there, and schools are situated on both sides of the road, and a number of accidents have occurred. The Northumberland police are not in favour of the imposition of a speed limit on this stretch of road, but the petition asked the former Minister to examine the matter. I have seen these traffic conditions for myself.

This case has been put forward before, but the Minister has refused to budge. I hope that the present Minister will have a fresh look at the matter and approach it with an open mind. I hope that in addition to imposing speed restrictions on that stretch of road, he will ensure that the authorities in the area provide some school wardens to increase the safety of children crossing the road on their way to and from school.

That road is the west road from Newcastle to Carlisle. It carries a tremendous amount of traffic and yet there are no school wardens to take children across the road. The local road safety committee has considered this matter very thoroughly, but because there are so many streets entering the road, it has not been found practicable to provide adequate safety arrangements for the children.

Nevertheless, it should be possible to provide additional protection. There have been accidents and I have sent the Minister pictures of accidents which have taken place there. I do not expect the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to reply to all these points tonight, but I hope that he will return to his Department to look at these matters again and at some time write to me on some of the points that I have been speaking about.

8.57 p.m.

Mr. William Ainsley (Durham, North-West)

I want to support my hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Grey) in what he has said about the Pity Me bypass into the City of Durham. I speak as one who dealt with this matter for many years as a member of Durham County Council. I do not want to go over the ground which my hon. Friend has already covered. He gave the statistics of traffic and road casualties. I want to present the problem encountered by the Durham County Police in their constant patrolling of that portion of highway. The cost of patrolling that portion of highway is out of all proportion to similar costs in the rest of the country.

I want the Government to take into consideration the development which is taking place in that area. The only solution is the early provision of the by-pass. The county council is now building a technical college which is close to the main road and very shortly the county council will be coming forward with a scheme for a new shire hall.

I rank as one of the finest surveyors in the country Mr. Cotton, the Durham county surveyor. I know that he has repeatedly approached the regional officer with projects which will maintain the standards of our highways and roads in Durham. The county council has introduced mechanisation in the highways and bridges department to cut down manpower and thus reduce costs, while keeping highways in the county at a standard which should be adopted by the rest of the country.

If the Minister is continually cutting down expenditure on highways, it will be to the detriment of that department. From a conversation which I had, I gathered that there was a danger of having to dispense with some of the employees of the highways and bridges department of the county council. As there has been deputation after deputation to see the predecessors of the Minister and there have also been regional conferences at which the danger of that road has been pointed out, I urge the hon. Gentleman not to use the figures of the reduced traffic now using this road because of petrol rationing to build up his case against the suggestions which we have made. When petrol rationing is abolished, the flow of traffic will again return to that portion of the road.

I also want to refer to the question which my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell) raised in regard to the Tyne tunnel project, but more particularly in regard to the Durham side. I had the pleasure for many years of sitting on the joint committee, and, in conjunction with the Northumberland County Council, we went forward with the scheme. We completed the pedestrian crossing, with a cyclists' crossing alongside it, and we were promised that the rings should come from the Dartford—Purfleet scheme to the Tyne tunnel scheme, which was to be the next job, while the one after that was in Scotland. However, the rings have bypassed the Newcastle scheme and have gone straight to Scotland.

I should also like to put the position to the Minister from the practical point of view. We have already expended a large amount of money in building the pedestrian crossing, which has been a boon to pedestrians in that area. I ask the Minister if he has ever given a thought to all the planning that has gone on by the local authorities on either bank of the River Tyne, how the townships have been planned on either bank, how the roads have been prepared to give access to the tunnel, and how the county council has acquired land, in some cases by compulsory purchase, and removed people through slum clearance, in order that we should be ready when the Minister gave permission to go forward with the Tyne tunnel scheme.

All that has added to the cost of the local authorities in preparing the scheme, but the Minister came along and asked the joint committee to give consideration to the question of a bridge in preference to the tunnel. Not wishing to be discourteous to the Minister, the joint committee was prepared to give consideration to the suggestion, knowing full well all that was involved on account of the clearance required above high-water level for ships passing under the bridge. The figure, which has already been stated, is 175 feet above high-water level.

Let the Minister think of the approaches on either side to a bridge constructed at that height. What effect will it have on the townships on either side? All town planning considerations would go, because those towns would definitely be cut in two, and all the money which has been expended in preparing the roads and clearing the sites would be money wasted by the local authorities.

What would become of the pedestrian tunnel? Would it be used to the extent that it is used now? The bridge would have a pedestrian walk on either side. Therefore, in the course of time, the pedestrian tunnel would prove to be a white elephant and the money expended on it would have been wasted. That is why I plead with the Minister to give consideration to these schemes so that the county can go forward with these improvements which are long overdue.

Money has been spent, there have been deputations, interviews, long hours of discussion in committee, and now there is frustration just because of the attitude of the Minister. I plead that careful consideration should be given to these projects so that we can meet the demand that pedestrians should be safeguarded and that the increasing traffic in the North-East for the conveyance of goods and the opening up of industrial areas will be catered for.

9.6 p.m.

Mr. Edward Short (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)

I am glad to have the opportunity to take part in this debate. What was a debate on one comparatively minor problem in the North-East has now broadened into a general debate on road communications in the area.

Mr. Grey

The point I raised is very important.

Mr. Short

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is a matter of relativity. I said that it was comparatively minor compared with the problem as a whole.

A debate of this kind on communications in the North-East is long overdue. Hon. Members on both sides who represent constituencies in this area—I wonder where the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) is tonight—have felt for a long time that the North-East has been getting a raw deal on the question of road projects. We have often wondered whether the gentlemen in Whitehall really know that the North-East exists.

When the present Colonial Secretary was Minister of Transport he published a list of major projects. The nearest one to the North-East of England was the Mill Bridge, at Doncaster, 130 miles from the River Tyne. That does not represent a fair deal for the North-East. Between the Rivers Tees and Tyne there is one of the most important compact industrial areas in the country, indeed in Europe. In a square bordered by the Pennines on the west, the sea on the east and the Rivers Tees and Tyne there live 5 million hard-working people. I should say that this is one of the worst-served industrial areas from the point of view of internal road communications, and that this is because of the neglect over many years of successive Ministers of Transport.

It is high time that the Parliamentary Secretary and his right hon. Friend visited the North-East and examined the problem. The communications in the North-East industrial area are, of course, complicated by the three rivers. We call it the "three rivers country" now. These three rivers cut right across the industrial areas. River crossings are difficult and expensive and it is those three rivers which partly complicate our communications.

I support the plea put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Grey). It is a rather peculiar problem, concerning one mile of road which I know extremely well. It is an odd sort of problem, because it is a mile of dead-straight, fairly wide road, yet it has one of the highest accident rates in the North-East. I do not think that the local officers of the Ministry of Transport have really got down to finding out the cause of the accidents. In my opinion, the major cause of accidents there is speed. It is one of those roads which look safe to a motorist, but which are extremely dangerous.

My hon. Friend mentioned the French derivation of the words "Pity Me," a village on that bit of road. The French have a very effective method of reducing the speed of vehicles. They just do not repair the roads. They leave the pavé in the towns and villages in a shocking state, and the motorist has to reduce speed to a good deal under 30 miles an hour.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, this one mile of road has been kept in excellent repair by Durham County Council. There is a great temptation to motorists to travel very quickly. My own opinion, which rather diverges from that of my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, is than a by-pass road is not necessary here. With a bit of widening on the left side of the road, as one approaches Durham City from Newcastle, a double carriageway could be made, linking up with the existing by-pass road. A great part of Durham City is already by-passed.

If that were done, as I suggest, it would mean taking up some land on the left of the road. A good deal of that is open fields. Where there are houses they have fairly big gardens, although the occupants would object to losing part of them, I expect. It is a fairly wide road and I am certain that, with very little expense, it could be given a double carriageway. The snag would be that it would have to link with a right-angle bend at the existing by-pass, but that would not be a very great difficulty if a suitable roundabout were constructed.

I know that Durham County Council has a scheme for a new by-pass road cutting off the corner altogether, but that would be extremely expensive. My scheme would cost less and, in the end, would be just as effective. If the road had two carriageways instead of one, the whole problem would be cured. Durham City would be wholly by-passed by a double carriageway.

Now let me turn, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell), to the crossings of the Tyne. Tyneside is the biggest bottleneck on the whole A.1 road. There are others. There are small places like Stilton, slightly bigger ones like Stamford, and big towns like Doncaster, but there is nothing at all on the A.1 road between London and Scotland approaching the size and complexity of Tyneside. The A.1 road has to run right through the middle of the County Borough of Gateshead, through the main shopping street of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, right through the city and through the main shopping street of the Urban District of Gosforth. Altogether, I should think that it has to go through about 12 miles of extremely congested urban area. Lying across one of the biggest arterial roads, that area is a tremendous block to the flow of traffic.

I want to mention two schemes that have already been discussed, and to suggest a third. The first has already been mentioned by my hon. Friend, and is the Tyne tunnel. The Committee planning the building of the Tyne tunnel, a joint committee of the two county councils, has been in existence for many years. My hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Ainsley), who is an ex-chairman of Durham County Council, has pointed out that that committee has purchased property on both sides of the river and the planning of the town of Jarrow and the district of Howdon has been based on the construction of the tunnel. The planning has gone on on that assumption and property has been purchased. The whole thing was going ahead well. A pedestrian tunnel was built and is now in operation.

From the Treasury Bench we were told by the previous Minister of Transport thta this was to be the next major tunnel to be built after the one in the south, which has been mentioned. Then, a year or so ago, we heard that the Minister had abandoned the tunnel and wanted a bridge. He was trying to persuade the local authorities and local interests concerned to abandon the tunnel and build a bridge, because that would be a little cheaper. The crossing place between Jarrow and Howdon is very low on the river, only four miles from the sea. This great river port extends seven, eight or nine miles up the river. I suggest that four miles only from the mouth of the Tyne is far too low down the river for a bridge.

Tyneside Chamber of Trade, which, only a week or so ago, was known as Newcastle and Gateshead Chamber of Trade, but has now changed its name, opposes the scheme. The Tyne Commission opposes it because the bridge would have to be a tremendous height to allow big ships to go through. In addition, it would upset the whole planning on either side of the river. A bridge of that height would have to go right into the hinterland and would cut Jarrow in half. I should have thought that Jarrow has suffered quite enough in the past without having that done to it.

It is monstrous for the Ministry of Transport to turn down the tunnel idea and push the bridge because that would be a little cheaper, when all the local authorities on Tyneside are anxious to proceed with a tunnel. In their statement on local government the Government said that they wanted local government to have more power and local autonomy. For heaven's sake give that to us on Tyneside; then we can go ahead with the tunnel. We will have to pay for the greater part of it and we want it.

Mr. Popplewell

While I agree that in Tyneside we shall want to pay our share, the Minister must not understand that we are making an offer for the Tyneside to pay for the whole scheme. I am sure my hon. Friend does not mean that.

Mr. Short

I am sorry I did not express myself clearly. In the long run, of course, we shall have to pay for it either way, as the Government have no money except what is given them in taxation. Whether it comes from general or local taxation, we have to pay.

The building of a tunnel or a bridge would not entirely relieve congestion on the A1 road. It would divert from the A1 road some of the traffic anxious to by-pass Newcastle and Gateshead, but to do so that traffic would have to go a long way round. The biggest contribution which a Tyne tunnel could make would be in helping to link up the industrial areas north and south of the Tyne. To relieve traffic congestion in Newcastle and Gateshead some other crossings of the Tyne must be devised. For many years Newcastle City Council has been developing a western by-pass of the city. It involves a new bridge across the Tyne to the west of the city, and I should like to see that go ahead as soon as possible.

The traffic conditions in Newcastle are not too bad at the moment. That is because of petrol rationing. Before petrol rationing, however, they were impossible. I go into the city every week with a motor car, and I can say that it is almost impossible to find a parking place and often impossible to get through the city without considerable delay. If the western bridge over the Tyne were built and the by-pass, which is already partly made, linked up with it, it would remedy that state of affairs considerably.

As my hon. Friend said, that bridge is in a different category from that which the Minister would like to have built at Jarrow. It is high up the River Tyne, and I do not think any big ships could go as far as that. Consequently, it could be a very much lower bridge. Also the banks of the river are comparatively flat where that bridge would be built. I ask the Minister to look into that matter, too.

May I also suggest to him an entirely new idea which occurred to me some time ago and on which I have been doing a little research and a little work? Even if the western by-pass and the Tyne tunnel were built, that would not entirely solve the traffic congestion on Tyneside. I believe that another by-pass ought to be built, in this case an eastern by-pass. The Minister will not know what I am talking about here, but my remarks will go on the record, and perhaps someone in the Ministry will look this up.

In the City of Newcastle there is an almost directly straight road from the River Tyne, going about seven or eight miles to the north and joining the A1 road seven or eight miles north of Newcastle. It seems to me that if another crossing of the Tyne could be made to link up with this road and with the Gateshead side, it would be a comparatively cheap way of by-passing a good deal of the A1 traffic.

The road to which I am referring runs from the village of West Moor through the Longbenton estate, along Benton Road, along Chillingham Road and straight across to the River Tyne. It is a fairly wide road, which runs in a dead straight line for many miles from the River Tyne to the north. It cuts out the centre of the city.

If a bridge could be built there and the road system on the Gateshead side could be linked with it—it is only a short distance from the A1 to Gateshead—it would provide at a comparatively small cost an additional Tyne crossing. It would involve a bridge, but in the place about which I am speaking, where the straight road runs to the river, the banks of the river are extremely steep and the river itself is narrow; steep banks come down to a fairly narrow river, and a bridge across there would be fairly short and would not involve any considerable building out into the town on either side. I put that suggestion to the Ministry, and I hope that somebody in the Ministry will be interested enough to read the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow and to look into my suggestion.

I have put three points to the Minister. First, he should abandon the silly idea, which is not wanted by anyone in the North-East, of building a bridge instead of a tunnel; secondly, he should push ahead with the western by-pass road and the new bridge in my hon. Friend's constituency; and, thirdly, he should look into the new project which I have suggested to the east of the centre of Newcastle. In this way he could provide three new road crossings of the Tyne. That would make a major contribution to eliminating the biggest bottleneck on the A1 road, and it would also add to the efficiency of this great industrial area.

9.25 p.m.

Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)

I am grateful to my hon. Friends for taking this opportunity of raising once more the vexed question of the connection between the two banks of the Tyne. I do not think that there is any single thing in the North-East about which the people have become more cynical. As the Joint Parliamentary Secretary knows, it has been under discussion for years; there has been one deputation after another, and assurance after assurance. We now find that we are as far as ever from having a tunnel because, according to a Press report, the Minister made clear to a deputation from the Tyne Tunnel Joint Committee that there was no opportunity in the foreseeable future of our getting a tunnel. He seems also to have indicated that we have now also lost our place in the queue, taking fourth place where hitherto we had the third.

This change of attitude in the Minister is amazing, because as recently as 10th December last I raised this question on the Adjournment. During that debate I asked the Joint Parliamentary Secretary whether he could give us any hope that night that the tunnel still retained its place in the queue, and still came after Dartford and Whiteinch. He replied as follows: In reply to the first point, while I do not wish to give any new promise tonight, I think that the order of priority was indicated, as the hon. Member said, which suggested that the Tyne tunnel would be the next tunnel undertaken in this country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th December, 1956; Vol. 562, c. 196.] It would be very interesting to us to know the circumstances which have caused the Minister to change his mind and to give some other project priority over ours.

Furthermore I hope that before the Minister makes a final decision he will fall in with the wish of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short) and pay a visit to my constituency. Let him see for himself what a monstrosity a bridge of this height would be in a place like Jarrow. There is an old song entitled "Underneath the Arches". The vast proportion of the people of Jarrow would certainly be living under the arches if a bridge 173 ft. or 200 ft. high were erected. I tell the hon. Gentleman quite sincerely that all the members of the local authority are up in arms against such an idea. So far as Jarrow is concernd, it is a tunnel or nothing.

I do not know whether the Minister has ever visited Jarrow. Like Topsy, it "just grow'd". Originally there was no planning and because of that today's men of vision on the local authority have had to pay a much higher price than otherwise would have been necessary in order to house the citizens and to provide them with the necessary cultural facilities. In any case, the railway divides the town in two; this proposed bridge will divide it again. I implore the hon. Gentleman to look at the site and then to ask himself whether he would like to live within several hundred yards of such a bridge.

My hon. Friend has mentioned that this week the Chancellor has made a statement indicating that henceforth grants to local authorities will he block grants, and not percentage grants given for each particular type of expenditure that the local authority may be undertaking. If that is so, and assuming the existence of the new system, I should like to ask whether, if the local authorities are prepared to build a tunnel instead of a bridge, the Minister will give them his promise that they can go ahead. It seems to me that in these circumstances the man from Whitehall does not know best. The people who live in the vicinity are those who ought to have the final determination of what method should be adopted in order to link the two banks of the Tyne.

I should like to stress also what the building of a bridge would mean to the replanning of Jarrow. The local authority, in conjunction with the county council, has gone to a great deal of trouble and expense in order to try to plan and build a town worthy of its citizens. All that planning was undertaken on the basis that the two banks of the Tyne would be linked by a tunnel. If the Minister insists on there being a bridge or nothing, and if that project is carried out, all that planning which has taken place in the post-war years will be useless. All the expense involved in acquiring the necessary property and reserving the necessary land will have been in vain, and the local authorities will have to start again from the beginning.

The Minister must be aware that it is generally thought that a bridge would have to be at least 173 ft., and very probably 200 ft. high. He must be aware that the Tyne Improvement Committee and the Admiralty are as opposed to the idea of a bridge today as they have ever been. The Minister, of course, gives his reasons for deciding now that a bridge is preferable to a tunnel, saying that now there are no strategic objections. Presumably, in the event of a hydrogen bomb war, it would not matter whether we had a tunnel or a bridge, because there would be nobody there after it to use either.

There are other considerations. We are considering a very important waterway. It is a very important industrial centre. I do not want the Minister in 1957 to make the same mistakes as were made by some of his predecessors, men who had no vision and no foresight, men who could not understand or appreciate the great changes which were going to come about. The nation is now having to lay out millions of pounds to repair the ravages resulting from their lack of vision.

The same sort of thing is bound to happen in this case. Who can say, having in mind the possible future of shipping or aviation, whether a bridge may not in years to come prove to be a liability? I am concerned about shipping interests, but I am trying also to look ahead to the time when inter-city services will, perhaps, be provided by helicopter, and bridges 200 ft. high may well be a dangerous obstruction. Has the Ministry itself thought of the possibility that in the not too distant future there may be helicopters flying between towns? In such an event, a bridge of that size and height could certainly prove dangerous.

I hope that before the Minister finally decides, he will do what all the other Ministers have done. They have all visited Jarrow. They have all said that a tunnel was necessary and would serve a great social and economic purpose, and they have left us feeling hopeful. After their departure, however, we have had to argue once more with their successors about the project.

I want the present Minister or the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to pay a visit—

Mr. Grey

I hope that when my hon. Friend invites the Minister to visit the North-East, he will certainly include the area of the "death mile," to which I have called attention.

Mr. Fernyhough

I have no doubt that if the Minister visited the North-East, he would try to cover as many of the projects as possible.

I want the Minister to see how great a monstrosity a bridge 200 ft. in height would be to a town like Jarrow and what it would mean to the people who would live within its shadow. We all know what we think of the narrow alleyways where people never see the sun. We should be imposing the same kind of difficulty upon future generations in Jarrow if we attempted to build a bridge of this kind in a closely built-up industrial area.

There is not one voice in Jarrow in favour of a bridge. Everybody want a tunnel. The one project would cost £10 million and the other £20 million, but we are thinking not only of the economic advantage. We must think also of the social advantages, and those are factors which should carry weight.

We know what happens when somebody wants to spoil part of our lovely island, even in places where people have not had to contend with slag heaps and pit heaps. There is at once a hue and cry, and great pressure is exerted because the people are not prepared to have the monstrosity of a power station, or whatever else it may be, put up in their midst. In most of the North-East, however, the people have suffered from monstrosities of one kind or another since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and in the year 1957 they do not think that such things should be repeated.

I reiterate that before a final decision is made, the Minister should see what an ugly, impossible structure the proposed bridge would be. I am sure that if he saw the area, he would agree that the only hope of dealing with the traffic problem in that area in a sensible and reasonable way would be to grant the wish of the whole of the people of Tyneside and to let them have the tunnel for which they have waited far too long.

9.40 p.m.

Mr. William Blyton (Houghton-le-Spring)

I should like to support my hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Grey) in what he has said about that length of road in his division and the Great North Road. Were the project to cost the Government a huge sum of money I could understand their opposing it because of the present situation of the nation's finances. I could understand their saying that, in the circumstances, they have not the money to spend on it. However, the cost is not such that it will bankrupt the Government, and I am sure that, even in view of the country's strained financial resources, that expenditure ought to be incurred because of the saving of life that that project could help to ensure. The opinion of our people in Durham is that the cost is nothing compared with the loss of human life incurred on that road, a loss which is being and which will be incurred.

This length of road has been considered by the Department many times to our knowledge. It is unfortunate that we have to raise this matter in Parliament. We do so because we have been unable to get the Minister to appreciate the danger of that road. I urge the Minister to help Durham County Council to put this situation right. Whatever differences there may be on other matters there can be no difference about the importance of the safety of the people of that area, nor can there be about the greatness of the volume of traffic, northbound and southbound, along that road.

I have listened with interest to what has been said about the Jarrow to Howdon tunnel. Since I was born I have lived only a mile from Jarrow, in the County Borough of South Shields. In all the thirty-seven years of my public life we have not had any help from the Government, no matter of what party, in getting a new crossing across the Tyne near its mouth. I was on South Shields Town Council in the 1930s, when we tried to get a bridge built near the mouth, because the banks there are exceptionally high. We argued for a bridge then so as to leave Newcastle out of the matter entirely, and so that we could obtain a crossing of the river at its mouth, with a road from Shields to Morpeth on the Great North Road.

Then there was the question of the Kearney Tube, a tunnel under the river between North Shields and South Shields. In all the years before the last war we failed miserably to get a crossing near the mouth, on the eastern side of County Durham and Northumberland.

Then there was a project sponsored by the Government. In County Durham we were promised an international airport at West Bolden, and Durham County Council was told to plan its roads to serve that international airport and connect it with the road system in the county. The present Government have decided that that international airport for the North-East shall not be built.

The the county authorities on both sides of the river had to concentrate upon making approach roads to the new vehicular tunnel to be built after the pilot tunnel for pedestrians and cyclists. That pilot tunnel is now in use. It is very much used. Workmen who live on either side of the river, but whose work is on the opposite side, use it daily. It was expected that the vehicular tunnel would solve the problem of easing the roads in Newcastle.

Mr. Popplewell

I appreciate my hon. Friend's desire to have an international airport at Boldon, but he probably would agree, seeing that there is no possibility of that being provided, that the building of a Tyne tunnel would considerably assist the flow of traffic from Durham and Sunderland to utilise Newcastle's airport at Wolsington.

Mr. Blyton

My hon. Friend knows my views on Wolsington Airport and I do not want to go into that matter now. I still stand by my opinion that the Government let us down badly in the matter of West Boldon airport.

I want to get back to the history of the Tyne tunnel. I remember that the pilot tunnel was opened with great gusto and I recall how we were promised that a great tunnel would be provided for traffic and the whole of the East Coast would be opened up for traffic from the mouth of the Tyne. Now we find that we are back again in the controversy which raged in the 1930s, whether there should be a bridge or a tunnel at that point. To build a bridge in Jarrow and Howdon is nonsensical. There are no suitable banks on either side and, whilst the approach from the Howdon side would be a great inconvenience, to make an approach on the Jarrow side would be simply stupid.

It is said that Palmer's made Jarrow but made a mess of it. It is a town which was built, or rather dropped down there, in the last century. There are back-to-back houses, very poor property, some of it over a hundred years old, on the approaches to the river where the pilot tunnel has been made. Further up the river are the great shipyards which have built some of the biggest ships that the world has ever seen. It was at a place on the river above the spot where it is now proposed to build the bridge that the famous "Mauretania" and some of our great battleships were built.

I agree with the Tyne Improvement Commissioners that at that point it is essential, in the interest of the work in the shipyards, that the bridge should be sufficiently high to allow big ships to sail down the river, but if there is to be a bridge 175 feet high at Jarrow the approaches will have to start somewhere about Boldon Colliery about three miles from the river at Jarrow Point. If the bridge were built there, people would be living under the arches of the bridge to a depth of a mile from the river bank and would be in continual darkness.

The Minister should realise now that a proposal to build the bridge over the Tyne at its southern end where it is proposed to build the tunnel would not bear investigation. The solution to the problem lies in building a large tunnel to take the traffic and to ease the traffic problems on the roads from Newcastle.

Mr. Short

I have done a rapid, rough bit of arithmetic. Does my hon. Friend appreciate that, assuming the bridge is to be 200 feet about the river level—that is, the minimum figure which has been talked about—and, there being no banks on the Jarrow side, the slope up to the bridge is 1 in 20, which is a steep slope for a road up to a bridge, the approach road would have to be 4,000 feet long, nearly a mile? That means that the approach road would run almost through the whole length of the town of Jarrow.

Mr. Blyton

There is no doubt that the whole of the town would be covered, particularly the slum tenement dwellings in the area down to the river. Indeed, if the bridge were to be 175 feet above the river, I think that the approach would have to begin somewhere near Boldon Colliery.

The Minister is living in cloud-cuckooland if he thinks that the people in the area will accept a bridge which involves approach arches which will put Jarrow in perpetual darkness. Jarrow has figured prominently in Conservative Party politics. Ellen Wilkinson wrote a book called "The Town that was Murdered" at the time of the march of the Jarrow unemployed, when the Conservatives were in power. The town is much better now, and we are very pleased about it. Jarrow has risen from the ashes of its former self and possesses, on its outskirts, some of the nicest houses in the North-East. It would be detestable to build a bridge with the long approach roads which would be required.

I earnestly ask the Minister very seriously to consider the case made by my hon. Friend the Member for Durham. I do not think the cost of what he has proposed would be prohibitive, and the plan would bring safety to the people using the road.

If the Minister cannot give us a tunnel, do not let him insult us by asking us to consider a bridge in the circumstances which I have described. If he cannot give us a tunnel, we will wait until we can convince some other Government that a tunnel is essential there.

9.54 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)

I have listened with great interest and appreciation to the eloquence of the North-East. Whatever else it lacks, it certainly lacks neither that nor a capacity to put its case. I feel that at the end the hon. Members who have spoken should congratulate their hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Grey) upon his good fortune in securing the opportunity of this debate to refer to his own very serious troubles on the Framwellgate Moor—Pity Me road, and thereby giving an opportunity for the other very interesting topics to be ventilated.

Throughout this interesting debate I have watched the right hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), the Father of the House, sitting at the back of the Chamber. As he listened to the eloquence, I wondered whether he thought that he had come into a Welsh debate. I could see that he was appreciating what was going on, even thought it did not come from the Principality.

I must also thank hon. Members opposite for their kind hospitality in the invitations which they have extended to me to pay a visit to that very interesting and important part of England. In my former capacity I paid a visit to Newcastle last summer, and I observed then that the traffic problems in that city were not inconsiderable. There is no doubt that a crossing is needed and needed most urgently.

My only regret this evening in replying to the debate is that I am not fully briefed to deal in detail with the many important points which have been raised. I hope that hon. Members opposite will forgive me in that I am not able to reply in detail. That does not mean that I underestimate the importance of the points made. We will certainly examine them in the Department and if we can meet them in any way, we will. I shall be very pleased to write in reply to any points with which I am not now able to deal.

If I get a chance to pay a visit to the North-East, I will certainly do so. If I do, I shall most certainly visit the City of Durham, which has always been a great favourite of mine. It has a cathedral unlike anything in the world, and whatever else I may see, I am sure to find something to inspire me there. By the time I have survived the difficulties of seeing Jarrow's and Newcastle's traffic, and survived the dangers of Framwellgate Moor and "Hell's Highway", I shall need the solace of the cathedral, I hope without going in feet first.

I want to say a few words about this important matter of the Tyne crossing. I am a newcomer to my Department and therefore not as well versed in it as I should like to be, but I was fortunate to be present when the deputation came to see my right hon. Friend a few weeks ago and I know what the situation is. I can say that my right hon. Friend is most anxious to get a crossing of the Tyne. He fully accepts the urgency of that need and it was unfortunate from our point of view that the priority that the Tyne crossing enjoyed apparently dropped back, although, in fact, I do not think it makes any difference to when it will be done. The Scottish scheme has managed to get in first, but Scotland has a way of getting away with things down here.

Be that as it may, my right hon. Friend accepts the urgency of this need. The reason why he and his predecessor favoured a bridge was that my right hon. Friend thought that the prospect for a bridge being built was much better than for a tunnel. These are very large sums of money. I fully accept what the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) said so cogently, that money is not the only consideration and that we have to appreciate amenity and sociological considerations, too. Certainly the last thing I would wish to see would be that Jarrow should live under the arches and in the shadow of a colossal bridge.

We realise that there are great problems about the approaches. As the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short) said, there are grave difficulties where the banks are very low. That was one of the aspects which was discussed at some length when the deputation saw my right hon. Friend. As hon. Members will know, it was a private meeting and I am not at liberty to say in detail what was discussed, but I can say that my right hon. Friend is well aware of those aspects of the problem. Whatever is done will have to be something which is physically possible and suitable.

It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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

Mr. Popplewell

Can the hon. Gentleman assure us that the Minister has not finalised his conclusions and is insisting upon a bridge in preference to the tunnel? Could we be assured that his mind is not closed on the subject; but that he is prepared to listen to the reasoned arguments which have been put forward by the deputations to him, and to the arguments which have been put forward tonight?

Mr. Nugent

I am afraid I cannot give the hon. Member much comfort on that score. My right hon. Friend much prefers the bridge, because it costs a great deal less money. No one can say precisely what the respective figures are, but they are very high, and there is a very big difference between them. Nothing is finalised at present, because we have to settle first whether the height which has been mentioned tonight of 175 ft. would in fact be enough for shipping to clear the bridge. If it is not, I think that quite obviously the scheme is off. I do not think I shall be saying anything that is not already well known if I say that 175 ft. or thereabouts is probably the maximum that could possibly be managed. That is a technical matter which my right hon. Friend is naturally anxious to clear up before he reaches any conclusion on this question.

Mr. Fernyhough

The hon. Gentleman will be aware, of course, that the Minister has recently announced that no projects of this character will be permitted henceforth unless it is subject to tolls. I should have thought that, as he is insisting on tolls, the grant towards a bridge with tolls will be no greater than it would have been for a bridge without tolls. It will not cost the Ministry any more, having regard to the fact that it has to have tolls, than would have been the position if we had had a bridge earlier, and had had a 50 per cent. grant towards its cost.

Mr. Nugent

That is a most ingenious argument. No doubt that is something which my right hon. Friend will bear in mind, but, of course, he also has to bear in mind the fact that the more expensive is the scheme the greater is the demand on the national resources; that he has to keep constantly in mind. Whenever he tries, and I think he has not been unsuccessful, to get more for our roads and transport, he is naturally reminded by the watchdogs of the Treasury that he must not go too far.

I say without any qualification that my right hon. Friend does wish to see this crossing, and he is now investigating most urgently the technical possibilities of the bridge. No doubt, when these are clear, that will be the time for further discussion with local representatives to see if the scheme can go forward. I can also give this assurance. I will call the attention of my right hon. Friend to the very interesting and authoritative views put forward tonight by hon. Members opposite. I am quite certain that he will give very full consideration to what has been said and take it into account in deciding how this matter is to be handled.

Mr. Short

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. This debate did blow up rather suddenly, and I am sure that his own hon. Friends from the North-East were not aware of the fact that we began the Adjournment Debate so early. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that hon. Members on both sides of the House are absolutely unanimous in wanting a tunnel. The hon. Gentleman can take my word for that. He can consult with his hon. Friends if he wishes, but that is the case. Would he also convey to his right hon. Friend the fact that hon. Members from the North-East, with the hon. Members who have spoken here tonight, represent very nearly 500,000 electors, and that hon. Members on both sides of the House are unanimous in their opposition to a bridge?

Mr. Nugent

I think the hon. Member is further emphasising the cogency of the views that have been expressed, and I do not doubt that my own hon. Friends on this side of the House will not be backward in expressing their views, even if they are not entirely in line with those of the Government on this matter. I take note of what the hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Short

I hope that the hon. Gentleman understood me. His hon. Friends have expressed themselves on many occasions, especially the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward). On every occasion they have pressed for a tunnel and opposed the bridge. That is the point.

Mr. Nugent

Yes, I take that point.

I cannot usefully go further into that subject, important though it is, because I am not briefed to do so, but I can assure hon. Members that their views will be fully examined and taken into account.

I have made note—and indeed I shall be able to pick them up from HANSARD—of the other schemes mentioned, including the Scotswood Bridge, mentioned by the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell) and other hon. Members. I have made particular note of "Hell's Highway", and I have also made a note about the problem of the school wardens. They could be a big help, and I will bring that point to the attention of the Minister concerned and ask if anything can be done to help.

I now turn to the topic which was the peg on which this most interesting debate was hung. This was the problem raised by the hon. Member for Durham of the A1 trunk road at Framwellgate Moor and in particular the stretch which is now covered by the 30 m.p.h. limit. Let me say at once that we accept that it is a dangerous stretch of road. There is no question about that. No one would deny it. I rather agree with the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central that one of the most serious contributory factors is the speed of vehicles. One of the continuous problems of the Ministry of Transport is to try to settle 30 m.p.h. speed limits in such a fashion that they get general co-operation from the motorist; but the nature of this road, which is long and straight, evidently encourages motorists to feel that they can safely go a little faster. There is no getting away from the fact that that is a serious contributory factor to the accidents that occur there.

I have taken note of the suggestion made that we could turn the road into a double carriageway, but I am rather doubtful, from the advice that I have been given, whether that is possible. I think that it would involve taking a great deal of property on either side and would cause many difficulties. We all agree that the solution is in the building of a by-pass. I only wish that I was in a position tonight to say that that was immediately to be done, but in fact I cannot go beyond what was said by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport in December, in answer to a Parliamentary Question, that he hoped to include the by-pass in his road programme just as soon as economic circumstances permitted.

The route has been settled, and if there is any possibility in the future of giving it a higher priority we will certainly do so. It will cost, even on the basis of present costs, £200,000, so it is quite a hefty item. Our difficulty is that there is such a queue of these very urgent road projects awaiting attention that they just cannot all be done at once. But when it is built it is estimated that the road will carry about 60 per cent. of the present traffic.

The hon. Member for Durham gave me notice of his anxiety on this point, and I checked and found that the present road was carrying about 9,500 vehicles a day in 1955. It will probably carry a few more when petrol rationing comes to an end. It is reckoned that the new road would carry about 6,000 a day. That is not far different from what the hon. Member thought; he thought about 5.500. That would make an enormous difference. It would take over 60 per cent. of the present traffic, and the Framwellgate Moor section would be largely relieved. In the meantime, we are most anxious—I hope hon. Gentlemen will accept what I say in all sincerity—to do all we can in the way of minor amelioration.

We have, for example, considered very carefully the installation of pedestrian-operated lights. I am sorry to say that we do not think that it would be an improvement. Last October, following representations by the county surveyor, we arranged to have a census taken at the pedestrian crossing which now exists there. This took place on 6th December last. It was a Thursday, a good average day, we thought, to have a census.

We chose a morning period of two hours, from 10.20 to 12.20 and an afternoon period from 2.0 p.m. to 4.0 p.m. The morning was chosen particularly in the expectation that it would cover the period when children were leaving school for lunch and that they would be using the crossing as well. In fact, they did not, because traffic wardens were on duty and they got the children across without their using the crossing. We have in the census a picture of the ordinary flow of traffic, somewhat reduced because of petrol rationing, and of pedestrians, other than school children, using the crossing.

The census shows that in the morning there were 1,351 vehicles in the two hours. On the crossing, and actually using the pedestrian crossing, were 134 pedestrians. Within 50 yards the number was 119. In the afternoon, there were 1,310 vehicles, 88 pedestrians actually on the crossing and 113 within 50 yards of it. The vehicular flow was about 83 per cent. of that of December, 1955, and was undoubtedly reduced by the effect of petrol rationing.

During the census the observer noted the time that pedestrians had to wait before they could find a safe interval for crossing. The maximum was 34 seconds and the average period was 10 seconds for pedestrians using the crossing. There are a few further details which help to give a picture of the pedestrians at the crossing. The 134 people who crossed in the morning did so in 53 groups. In the afternoon 119 used the crossing and crossed in 40 groups.

If signals were installed we calculate that the lights would be used about 20 to 25 times per hour. That means that with the lights adjusted in the best fashion, pedestrians, after they had pressed the button would normally have to wait an average of 20 seconds for the signal to turn in their favour. It is clear that if we put in those lights the pedestrian would have to wait on the average twice as long, in order to get across.

Mr. Fernyhough

They would feel safer.

Mr. Nugent

Only if the drivers of vehicles invariably observed the lights. One of the difficulties at a crossing of this kind is that pedestrians do not always use the crossing and that there is not enough pedestrian traffic for drivers of vehicles to watch out as carefully as one would like. The pedestrian presses the button to get the light in his favour. Before it changes, he sees a gap in the traffic and nips across. The lights then turned red to stop the traffic, but drivers see no one on the crossing and they tend to go over the crossing when the lights are against them.

These things have been tried in other places, and the result in that kind of instance is that pedestrians are given a false sense of security rather than being made more safe. I assure the hon. Member that we have looked at this suggestion very carefully indeed. If we had thought it would help we would be very ready to adopt it. Incidentally, he will know that quite a significant number of these accidents have been collisions between vehicles which have stopped at the crossings, so that if we put lights there as well the probability would be that there would be more collisions rather than fewer. Undoubtedly that would interfere with the tremendously heavy flow of traffic which somehow or other has to be got along the road. The police and our divisional road engineer advised against it and we felt bound to accept their advice. I am sorry that we were forced to reach that conclusion.

Mr. Ainsley

I think the police objected only on the ground that the lights might be misused, not that it would give pedestrians a false sense of security.

Mr. Nugent

Well, they advised against it and our divisional road engineer, who is very experienced, advised against it also. If the hon. Member is able to study in a little more detail the facts which I have given from the census, I think the will see that the likelihood is that it would conduce to less safety rather than more and on the whole it would be better not to introduce it. As soon as I looked at this site I thought that the answer was a central island, but unfortunately, the road is not wide enough and it is impossible to widen it sufficiently, so I am afraid that that suggestion is no use.

I wish to say a word or two about the red area scheme which was introduced and which I hope will be accepted as an indication that the Ministry takes this matter seriously. Those schemes are devised on particular lengths of road. The idea is to take a census of road accidents and road behaviour for six months beforehand. Then there is the month of the red area scheme, during which time there is intensive propaganda to try to bring home to road users generally that it is a dangerous piece of road and that they must take greater care. During that month the road is closely observed and in the following six months further observation is kept on it to see what improvements there is.

The Road Research Laboratory conducts these schemes and has been doing so for two or three years. The schemes show a slight improvement—one would not like to put it too high—over the whole area. This particular red area scheme, the Framwellgate Moor scheme, has not yet come into the analysis, but will do so in due course. I should like to think that it has caused some improvement. I should not like to put it too high because undoubtedly it is a difficult piece of road to cope with.

I have looked into the point mentioned by the hon. Member for Durham of the possibility of having the 30 m.p.h. limit written on the road in big letters. There is some weight in the answer which he received, that the writing tends very quickly to get obscured by dirt, snow, or slush, and needs repainting frequently. Probably a greater objection is that we arc' not much accustomed to that kind of sign in this country. I have seen them in some European countries, but unless motorists are really accustomed to seeing road signs written on the roads they miss them and do not pay attention to them. That does not really help.

It might help here to put up one of our new, big, 30 m.p.h. discs. The standard discs are 18 in., but they are also made in 24 in. and 32 in. sizes, which are a great deal bigger. It may be possible to put, perhaps, the biggest of them—it depends on how the post is sited—at the entrances to the 30 m.p.h. stretch so that they would make a considerably greater impression on drivers as they entered it. I feel convinced from the reports which I have been given that our greatest difficulty is that the average driver is unaware when he is half-way through that he is still in a 30 m.p.h. limit. We will look into this possibility straight away and see whether we can put up the large 30 m.p.h. notices.

If there is any other aid which we can devise to reduce the danger on this road and increase safety, we shall certainly use it. Hon. Members have referred to the police and goodness knows, they do their best to supervise and control the road. The large number of prosecutions shows that they do. Undoubtedly it is a burden on them. Anything we can do, mechanically or otherwise, to help them we shall gladly do.

I sympathise with the hon. Member for Durham and congratulate him on raising this topic. I am sure that this road gives him many anxieties and causes great anxiety for people who live in the neighbourhood. I hope that he will accept my assurance that anything which we can do to help him in the meantime, until the day comes for the by-pass scheme, we shall gladly do.

Mr. Grey

I thank the hon. Gentleman.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-one minutes past Ten o'clock.