HC Deb 19 July 1957 vol 573 cc1617-32

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

3.43 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)

The subject which I wish to raise on the Adjournment this afternoon has rather a long title—the noise, smoke and smells from the British Railways carriage cleaning plant at Wembley. This plant is alongside the London Midland Region main line out of Euston, just north of Stonebridge Park Station. It was built about four years ago and lies between two residential areas, most of the houses of which were built before the war. The area was, therefore, a residential one long before the plant was put there, although I must admit that there is also an electric power station not very far away.

To make matters worse, the plant is on top of an embankment, and the noise which comes out in various forms is therefore helped to travel more easily and over a wider area. I had complaints about this, first of all, about three years ago, and I had correspondence with the Chairman of the British Transport Commission, but I had renewed complaints a few weeks ago, which is the reason I asked for the opportunity to raise the matter on the Adjournment. I have visited the site several times in the last week or so and as recently as this morning.

What one sees there continually are shunting engines hauling long trains at a very slow pace—I think that it is uphill—towards the plant. They move at such a slow pace that the engines give a loud cough from the engine exhaust every two or three seconds and sometimes they stop for long periods as a result of which more steam than is needed is generated in the engines and this, of course, has to be let off with that hissing noise with which everyone is familiar.

The smoke seems to leave a smell over the area—I certainly smelt it very strongly myself one evening—and there is also steam issuing from a laundry plant which seems to be on top of the cleaning plant and which, I am told, hisses out at intervals even during the night. I am also told that there is spray from a locomotive washing plant which leaves a film on windows presumably because of some chemicals in it. This plant is in operation most of the day and the night as well, and this is, of course, the chief source of complaint.

Moreover, there is used a loudspeaker—I must admit that I have not heard it—presumably with the object of chasing up an employee who goes by the Christian name of Charlie and who seems to be in charge of the train washing. If Charlie is wanted, the peace of the night is still further disturbed by exhortations. I wonder whether a telephone could be installed somewhere within the range of this official for use at night in order that instead of the loudspeaker being used he could be telephoned. As to the steam and smoke, I know that there are plans eventually to replace all steam engines on British Railways either by electric or diesel engines. I am not sure which applies to the shunting engines, diesel or electric. I believe there are also diesel-electric engines.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

Is the hon. Member aware that telephone charges have been very considerably increased by this Government?

Mr. Russell

British Railways has its own telephones and I do not think that any charges would arise. I know that the diesels would get rid of the steam, but I am wondering whether they would get rid of the fumes and all the noise. A few weeks ago I stayed a night at an hotel at Utrecht, in Holland, the headquarters of the Dutch railways, and there was a noise like an aeroplane engine revving up from the diesel engines on the Dutch railways.

If that is the sort of noise which comes from a diesel engine, it would not be very much less than the noise from steam engines. I wonder if my hon. Friend can tell me what prospects there are for reducing the noise from diesel locomotives. Are there any silencers and, if not, is there any intention of designing silencers for them?

I know that there is to be electrification on the main line from Euston to Manchester and Liverpool as one of the earliest electrification schemes in the British Railways programme. If it is found to be impossible to reduce the noise very considerably from diesel engines, would it be possible to extend the electrification sideways to cover cleaning plants such as this? That, I think, would get rid of the noise almost completely.

Another anxiety to some people is that they think there is a cesspool nearby into which train lavatories are emptied and apparently, as a result of this, the rat population of the area is increasing considerably. Will something be done about this? I should be grateful if my hon. Friend could give any assurance on that point. I cannot help feeling that a plant of this kind ought not to have been erected so near a residential area. I wonder if my hon. Friend can tell us when approval was given to it, if approval was necessary by a planning authority, and by whom. There are acres of space not far away across the North Circular Road in Willesden where there are no houses nearby. I wonder why that area was not taken for plant like this. Had someone forgotten that some people have to sleep for some hours during the day and that the hissing of steam does not make it easy?

I assure my hon. Friend that I am not exaggerating because there are reports in the Wembley News and the Wembley Observer only this week of appeals made by householders in the area against their rating assessments. Most of the facts I have given were mentioned in those reports.

Sir Brian Robertson himself, in a letter I had from him, on 19th March, 1954, said: I realise that the amenities of houses in close vicinity to them"— that is, the plant— are impaired to some extent. That, I am afraid, is inherent in our operation, and we shall never get away from it entirely. On the other hand, London Midland Region are trying to reduce the nuisance to the minimum, and will continue to do so. He pointed out that whistles were no longer used to direct trains, and he said: The volume of sound from loud-speakers has been reduced. It has not been reduced even now to anything like the extent the inhabitants there would like.

The small reduction in rating assessments, granted to some of the house- holders, is not very much compensation for the disturbance they have to put up with not only during the day but throughout the night as well. I suggest that it is up to the British Railways Authorities to do everything they possibly can and as soon as they can to make living in the houses in that area less unpleasant than it is at the moment.

There are two other smaller matters I should like to bring up. I have given notice of them to my hon. Friend. They both affect the British Transport Commission and Wembley. The first is the question of car parking space at Wembley Park Station. I know it is the desire of the Minister of Transport to construct as many car parks as possible at London suburban stations to try to persuade motorists driving into London not to bring their cars into the heart of London but to leave them in suburban areas and to proceed thence to Central London by train. Wembley Park is a very useful place in this plan. The station is a junction of the Metropolitan Railway and the Bakerloo Tube, and there are fast trains from that station. Unfortunately, there is no space for a suitable car park, unless land is taken from a local sports ground. I know that the owners of the sports ground have been approached, but have refused to part with any of their ground, and I do not blame them for that.

I wonder if there is any prospect of building a car park over the railway in rather the same way as British European Airways is building an air terminal over the underground at Cromwell Road. I am told that this sort of building is a very expensive business. If that is so, then my proposal is out of the question, but I wonder if my hon. Friend can give me any information upon the matter. At the moment, motorists who do leave their cars at Wembley Park leave them in a residential road, and that is causing some annoyance to the people who live there.

The second matter is a very small one. It is not, as far as I know, a matter of complaint from anybody but myself. It is the swaying and shaking of trains on the Metropolitan Railway and on the Bakerloo Tube from Wembley Park to Finchley Road. The Metropolitan trains run non-stop, and the Bakerloo Tube trains stop five or six times but they travel as fast as the Metropolitan Line trains between stops. They sway and shake very much. The swaying and shaking are particularly bad, of course, at the ends of the coaches. There is not only swaying from side to side, but the coaches are apt to bounce up and down, and wherever one is in a coach in any of those trains one is bound to suffer a certain amount. It may be very good for one's liver, but I, at any rate, would rather look after my liver in my own time and not at the behest of the Transport Commission.

I wonder whether the track needs relaying or whether the rolling stock is old. I have often travelled, as other hon. Members have, on the Eastern Region tracks which run alongside from out of Marylebone, and the trains on those tracks run considerably faster than the Metropolitan or Bakerloo trains, but they do not subject the passenger to any swaying and shaking motion of the kind the Metropolitan and Bakerloo trains do. Indeed, they run absolutely smoothly. I shall be grateful if my hon. Friend can give me an answer on this matter as well.

3.55 p.m.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

It is a long time since I have heard in this House such a cogent, miscellaneous and varied series of complaints about a Government Department as we have heard this afternoon from the hon. Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) I am sure the House is grateful to him for having been able to condense into a very short time indications of such a large variety of matters from which not only his constituents but the constituents of all other hon. Members suffer.

I am very glad that we have the opportunity this afternoon to put questions to the Minister about a subject which I regard as of very considerable national importance. I propose to deal primarily with two of the complaints mentioned by the hon. Member for Wembley, South, namely, those arising from noise and those arising from the evils of very limited parking accommodation in London. While some of the questions raised by the hon. Gentleman may be of particular interest to hon. Members representing London and outer London constituencies, they are also of interest to great cities such as Cardiff, Bristol and others in the Provinces.

On the question of noise, I hope that we shall this afternoon have some words of comfort from the Minister about a matter which a great many of us on these benches regard as a very serious one affecting the health of the country. In recent weeks, we have heard a good deal about the relation between smoking and lung cancer. I believe that one of the most serious evils from which modern civilisation suffers is the evil of noise which is particularly aggravated by motor cars, railway engines and other forms of locomotion, not only during the daytime but also at night and in the early hours when in the ordinary course of events people expect to get uninterrupted sleep.

I hear in my constituency of Islington, East and elsewhere in London frequent complaints about the increasing difficulty of getting adequate sleep because of noise. I think the Minister will agree that the health of the community today is affected at least as much by the increased noisiness of traffic of all kinds as it is by smoking or by any other social custom.

I believe that as a community we have a duty to examine all possible steps that can be taken to reduce the evil of unnecessary noise, particularly during the hours when people are accustomed to sleep. I know from my own experience how one suffers from the noise created by a single motor cycle or motor car going up a hill in the early hours of the morning. It disturbs one's sleep and that of thousands of others to an extent which prevents people getting a proper night's rest and it thereby affects their health.

I think that the Ministry of Transport has a particular duty and responsibility to impose regulations to prevent the evil of noisy motor vehicles on our roads which destroy the amenities of the civil population.

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

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

Mr. Fletcher

I wish to pass to the second of the matters touched on by the hon. Member for Wembley, South—the question of parking—and I hope that we shall have a responsible statement from the Minister. During the last few years it has become a commonplace to find large numbers of cars parked in the streets both day and night. This is because of the lack of adequate garage accommodation in the London suburbs and in outer London. In my own constituency I find that residents who have motor cars leave them in the streets, if possible outside their own houses and sometimes outside neighbours' houses. They do so because they have no garages, and because in most cases the nearest garage may be over a mile away and in which in any case there would be no accommodation.

I sympathise with their problem, but I also sympathise with the large number of people who have no motor car and object to finding a car or a commercial vehicle left in the street outside their front door. It is not only an objectionable practice because of the room taken up by the car, but also because the presence of the vehicle obstructs the light to basement flats. People living in these flats complain, and ask what they can do to prevent this practice, and I find it difficult to advise them. Eventually the Government must indicate that it is their policy to provide more garage accommodation. Unless they do so, we can only assume that it is the intention of the Government to allow motorists to leave their cars in the street.

The problem is made more difficult because the attitude of the police varies from one district to another. In some parts of London they object to motorists leaving their cars unattended, but in other parts the police apparently have no objection. I have found it difficult to advise friends and relatives about what they should do in these circumstances.

Many of my constituents leave their motor cars in the streets day and night unattended, sometimes protected and sometimes not, because there is no other accommodation within reasonable distance. In Central London, nurses, for example, at London hospitals find it convenient, owing to their peculiar hours of duty, to leave their cars outside the hospitals or in adjacent side streets, particularly on Friday or Saturday night, so that they can use the vehicles during their limited time off duty. They do not know, because of the differences between one district and another, whether, if they leave their cars unattended, they will be free from blame or be liable to prosecution.

This problem is of increasing importance. I hope that the Minister will now take the opportunity to tell us the Government's intentions about restricting the evils caused by noisy road and rail vehicles, and their intentions with regard to the rights of the public to park motor cars in Central London or suburban streets overnight, during a total inadequacy of garage accommodation which leaves them no alternative.

4.8 p.m.

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

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) upon his good fortune in securing the Adjournment debate this afternoon to ventilate these complaints of his constituents. Here I should remind the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) that the complaint is not directed so much against my Department as against the British Transport Commission. I am very willing to answer my hon. Friend and to ask the Commission to do what it can to meet the points which he has raised.

Perhaps I should begin by saying a word about the Wembley carriage-cleaning depot. It was completed in 1953, although work on it began before the war. It was planned before the war and therefore did not require the planning consent which it would need if it were started today. The depot replaces several depots that used to exist in the Willesden area before the war which were far less efficient. The work was done by hand, and because it was carried out in several different sheds it was difficult to organise, was more expensive and was generally difficult to handle.

This new depot combines all the work together and the work is now completely organised. It is a very interesting depot to see. If my hon. Friend would be interested to look over it one day, I know that the British Transport Commission would be very willing to arrange that for him. I spent a morning looking over it and I was very impressed by the whole layout and the ingenuity and skill with which it had been done.

I should briefly describe what the work is. Then my hon. Friend will understand what are the practical problems in meeting the needs of his constituents. The work begins by the trains being drawn up from the terminus. They often stand in a queue waiting their turn to go through and, first, they are washed. There is the outside preliminary washing of the coaches and some sort of soap-like solution is put on the outside. Then the train passes to the final washing. I imagine that it is at that stage that Charlie begins to operate. The coaches finally emerge very clean indeed. This system takes the place of the old-fashioned system of cleaning with brooms and brushes. I have no doubt that as fast as possible the Commission will be installing plants like this at different key-points all over the country so that the trains will be as clean as we should like them to be. Everyone appreciates a nice, clean, shining train of which the engine and coaches look smart. A plant such as this is the way to get these results, and it has been wise to start here.

By the time the train reaches the shed, the engine has been disconnected and the coaches are drawn up by a cunningly designed electric mule system, which hitches on to them and draws them through as required. On the top level the compartments are dealt with and cleaned whilst underneath there is maintenance and inspection of the wheels, brakes and so on, which is done in pits and in ingeniously laid out subterranean passages which facilitate movement from one platform to the other. The whole concern is cunningly controlled for safety purposes. The interior cleaning is done with the aid of vacuum cleaners and, at the end of the process, the sleeping cars are dealt with.

The linen is replaced and the coaches made ready to take the next night's passengers. The laundry which my hon. Friend mentioned is, of course, an essential part of a depot like this. Naturally, a great deal of linen is used by the railways and, therefore, the laundry has to be on the spot. The sheets from the previous night's sleepers are taken off and sent to the laundry and clean linen comes down ready for the next night's passengers. During the winter, the train heating also has to be attended to at this stage. That. up to now, has been done by steam locomotives getting up steam after the coach has been cleaned and while it is waiting before being drawn back to the terminus. The whole lay-out is extremely well thought out, modernised and labour-saving. I am sure that in every way it is a credit to the Commission.

At present, as my hon. Friend said, steam locomotives pull the trains from the terminus and draw them empty to the depot and, inevitably, they make a certain amount of noise there.

It is the Commission's intention eventually to replace all steam locomotives with fully electric locomotives, but that will take some time, and the immediate problem is whether it is possible to replace the steam locomotives with diesels, which will still make a certain amount of noise but a good deal less noise than steam locomotives. There is a goodly number of light diesel engines available, which are used for shunting, but they will hardly be heavy and fast enough to pull the empty trains from the terminus up the main line, and it is a problem for the Commission to make available the medium-sized diesel engines which might do the job in the meantime.

The Region has this matter under review and hopes to make a report in the course of the next few months. I have asked the Commission to keep me informed of the outcome, and I will certainly let my hon. Friend know whether the Region can replace the steam engines with diesels and the improvement which he may then expect. In the meantime, the staff have been instructed to keep noise to a minimum.

I will certainly look into the point about the loudspeaker. It may be possible to reduce that noise at night. I agree that that kind of voice travelling over the night air may be very disturbing and, excellent fellow though Charlie is, he may not be very welcome when his name is mentioned in the bedrooms of my hon. Friend's constituents at night. We will do what we can to muffle the voice at night, even if we cannot do so during the day.

It is, however, fair to say, as my hon. Friend recognised, that there are other noises in the neighbourhood. The power station is not entirely silent. Although we do not want to add to the cacophony of noise, that which is created is not entirely due to the railways. I agree with the hon. Member for Islington, East that noise is one of the curses of our age—noise in the air, noise on the ground, noise everywhere. In total, it must constitute a tremendous strain on the human frame. It must add to personal tensions and it must in total cause some injury to health. We should certainly do anything we can to reduce it. Nevertheless, I am afraid that we must recognise that whatever we do to a railway it will always be a noisy place. The fact that steel wheels must run on steel rails will always make it noisy. The Commission will continue to do what it can to reduce noise in this plant and to relieve my hon. Friend's constituents of their troubles.

My hon. Friend raised two subsidiary points, the first concerning parking problems at Wembley Park Station. The Commission has been carrying out and in recent months intensifying our general policy of providing car parking space at the suburban stations in order to encourage travellers to leave their motor cars there and to travel into Central London by public transport, thus reducing the congestion in London. My hon. Friend may have noticed that in the Commission's Report of 1956 there was a reference in paragraph 168 to the progress which was made last year and which is expected to be made this year in this respect. The Commission has been co-operating well and providing car parks wherever it can.

At this station, I am afraid, we are up against a difficulty because there is no space near enough to the station to provide a car park. I am afraid that the provision of a car park by roofing over the rails would be altogether too expensive. It is one thing to roof it over to erect an expensive building like B.E.A.'s terminal, where the site value is very high, but it is altogether another thing to roof it over for a car park where the site value would be relatively low and the return would by no means be sufficient to make it economic. I am afraid that the Commission cannot face that proposal, but I know that it is willing to discuss or negotiate with any private interest that might wish to do so and which thinks it might make a proposition of it.

My hon. Friend's other point was about rough track between Wembley Park and Finchley Road, and here I take note that this was my hon. Friend's personal complaint. It is no less im- portant on that account, because we are most concerned that my hon. Friend should arrive here in a sound state of health and mind and in no way impaired by his journey. I find on inquiry that although the London Transport Executive considers that this track is perfectly good and sound, it happens that during the present year there is quite a large renewal taking place there; 2,400 yards of long-welded track are being put down there this year. This is the type of track in which the joints are welded, so that there will not be the normal "clickety-click" as the trains go over the joints. In addition, 1,160 yards of track are being re-sleepered. This should substantially improve the riding over a considerable length of these tracks.

The Commission tells me that some of the older coaches are now due for review, and that it is considering when they should come up for replacement. I think that in the course of the next twelve months there will be some improvement in the track.

One other small point was my hon. Friend's complaint about the greater number of rats in the neighbourhood of this depot. I have made inquiries into that, and I find that there is actually very little soil refuse to be discharged from these trains when they come in, and this is discharged into specially constructed pits and from there straight into the mains and is flushed away, so that there is no occasion for the encouragement of rats. If there are any foodstuffs on the trains, they are discharged into an incinerator and I am therefore inclined to think that the rats are more likely to come from the River Brent and its tributaries and are in no way attracted to the depot.

I agree with the interesting comments of the hon. Member for Islington, East about noise. As I have already said, although it is not the concern solely of my Department, it is naturally something in which we are interested and which we should do all we can to combat. The hon. Gentleman referred particularly to the noise of motor vehicles, and asked me what we were doing about it.

Our engineers are constantly at work on the problem of the noise of motor vehicles, and they are continuously in touch with the manufacturers. There are certain types both of sports cars and of motor cycles that are very noisy indeed, and I can assure the House that the manufacturers are very concerned to see that their products shall not be noisy. They realise that noise is offensive to the community as a whole and they are therefore most anxious to see that their vehicles are properly silenced. One of the difficulties with sports cars with very powerful engines is that if they are heavily "revved-up" in low gear, they are always liable to make an unpleasant noise. Another thing is that some less responsible drivers will remove or modify the standard silencers with the result that the noise is more offensive.

We have had good co-operation from the manufacturers on this matter, and they certainly do their best to see that these vehicles are not noisy. I can think of one particular type of sports car which is very well-known, about which there have been a good many complaints. The manufacturers responded to our consultations by enlarging the size of the silencer by twelve inches, which has reduced the amount of noise they make on the road very considerably.

I can only give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that, personally, as a countryman, I would do all I could to reduce noise. I think that the noise in London is a fearful burden on humanity, and it is wonderful to me that Londoners are as healthy and resilient as they are. I think that it is a great credit to them. When I get home at week-ends to the peace and quiet of the countryside I feel that life really begins. I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman. I agree that this is something very serious—and it grows worse. Vehicles and aircraft become more and more powerful and, therefore, more and more noisy, and human capacity is under increasing strain. The hon. Gentleman has my sympathy, and I can assure him I will do all I can to help.

His final point referred to night parking. Night parking in London has grown to tremendous dimensions. Although the garage capacity of London would not be sufficient to carry all the cars that are now owned by Londoners, it is a fact that every night there is good deal of garage space in London left unused. The fact is, of course, that garage space is very expensive. It costs several shillings—five or ten, I suppose—depending on where one garages one's car for a night—

Mr. E. Fletcher

The ordinary rate is about 30s. a week.

Mr. Nugent

Yes. As I say, it varies dependent on whether the garage is in the middle of London or out on the edge; but it is a significant sum of money, and many people feel that they would sooner leave their cars outside than pay that sum. I agree with him that garage space is not adequate everywhere, but one cannot expect people to put up garages when motorists can leave their cars on the street for nothing.

In the general way, the police do not object to this, as long as the vehicles are not causing an obstruction. Of course, if they are near intersections, the police do object, because that practice is dangerous to traffic. I was surprised, however, to hear the hon. Gentleman say that the police take a different view of this in different parts. I think that the general view of the Metropolitan Police is not to object unless the vehicles are causing an obstruction, but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, no one has the right to leave his vehicle in any street.

The street is built for the passing of traffic, and if vehicles are standing there circumstances may arise in which they are causing an obstruction. The hon. Gentleman may have heard with gratitude that the night before last this House gave a Second Reading to the Finsbury Square Bill, so there, at any rate, we shall get, at some time in, I hope, the not far distant future, 350 new parking spaces for motor cars in Central London.

It is our policy to encourage private enterprise to go ahead and build these off-street parking spaces both for day and night parking. We do not believe that this is a job into which we should put public money, because a great many of the people to whom the hon. Gentleman referred do not have motor cars, and would, naturally, ask why they should pay in order to provide with parking spaces those who have cars. We therefore feel that it is up to us to see, by the laws that we pass here —greatly strengthened by the 1956 Road Traffic Act—that the kerb space in London is reasonably regulated so that the roads are not obstructed. There will, therefore, be an increasing demand for off-street parking and, in due course off-street car parks will be built which will, to some extent, take cars off the streets.

I think it is a matter of balance, of trying to be reasonable about it. I do not think that it is right to lay down a hard-and-fast rule about night parking. What we are doing at present is probably on the right lines, and so long as the vehicles left standing on the street are not causing an obstruction they should be allowed to stand there. If they do cause an obstruction then, of course, they must be moved.

The Question having been proposed at Four o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at half-past Four o'clock.