HC Deb 20 May 1957 vol 570 cc994-1004

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

10.16 p.m.

Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)

In raising the subject of the advantages of provision of better roads and rail communications in Wales, I am conscious that the benefits of better communications of this kind would be of advantage in all parts of the United Kingdom. If I mention specially the Principality I am sure that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will not think that I am merely indulging in a kind of special pleading, but will appreciate that I am mentioning it because I feel that the industrial development which has taken place, particularly in South Wales, since the last war from the point of view of economic efficiency does merit some increased attention by the Government and his Department and consideration of what can be done.

Since the war, indeed before the war, the amount of money expended on the improvement of our roads is widely recognised to have been rather inadequate. The work done at the peak of the proposed new programme will not really exceed the work done in the best years before the war. Meanwhile, as has been stated recently, the number of vehicles on the roads has more than doubled and the problem has been increased in certain areas and trouble spots to which I shall refer. It has been accentuated by the growth of industrial traffic due to the development of industries in the South Wales area.

Those who represent constituencies in South Wales are pleased that the pre-war depression and unemployment now seem to be things of the past. We are pleased, also, that far from there being a return to those conditions there has been a recognisable development and improvement and increased diversity in our industry. It is with those thoughts in mind that in this short debate I wish to mention a few outstanding problems. I should describe the industrial part of South Wales as a part of the United Kingdom which is in some cases and in some districts almost a boom area. It is an industrial area which also shows every sign of increasing in activity and, we hope, in prosperity, but it is insufficiently supplied with one of the chief necessities of commerce—an adequate system of communications, particularly by road.

May I first refer to the main entrance into South Wales from Gloucester and from London? As long ago as 1949 a survey of that main road from Gloucester to South Wales revealed that its average width at that time was only about 20 ft. If my hon. Friend has driven along that road he knows how exasperating it can be if one gets into a long stream of traffic and how long the journey may take if one has to follow a line of large industrial trucks and lorries. Visability is so poor, owing to the twists and turns in that road, that anything like good speeds were quite impossible in 1949, and the position has not greatly improved today, despite the valiant efforts of the county councils of Gloucestershire and Monmouthshire.

My hon. Friend is no doubt acquainted with the single-line bridge over the Wye at Chepstow. He realises that that bridge is an anachronism in modern conditions. The difficulty there is accentuated by the hazards of the very steep hill through the town of Chepstow, on which hill there have been one or two very serious accidents recently, and also by the existence of an old archway not more than about 10 ft. in height. That is one of the main entrances into the Principality, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will admit that it is quite inadequate.

I know that I shall probably be told that the only solution is the provision of the subsidiary roads which will feed the projected Severn Bridge. I shall not include any particular reference to the Severn Bridge in these remarks tonight because it is such a big subject that it deserves a special debate, but I do not subscribe to the view that because it is deemed to be impracticable to build the Severn Bridge immediately nothing can be done to improve the existing roads.

The conditions between Gloucester and Chepstow are, of course, rather worse than those between Chepstow and Newport, where the road shows definite improvement. There is, however, a need for a better trunk road between Newport and Swansea. There is a partly completed by-pass, sometimes called the Cardiff by- pass, of which so far only one part, the Western Avenue, erected before the last war, has been completed.

There is also a need for the completion of a by-pass at Aberavon and possibly at Cowbridge. The order for the Aberavon by-pass was made as long ago as 1949, but the original proposal has been reduced and whittled down to the extent, I understand, that it is to be limited to the western half of the original scheme. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to give the House some information about the progress of the necessary preliminary steps before work can proceed with that scheme.

The next need to which I should like to refer is the completion of the proposed northern route out of Cardiff to the area of Merthyr and Pontypridd. My hon. Friend is aware of the existence of the Manor Way, Whitchurch, Cardiff, which was partly erected before the last war. I understand that it is likely that the work may soon proceed. Many people in South Wales are anxious to know how soon.

Then there is the very important need for better road communications between South Wales and the Midlands. This is a tremendous necessity if the South Wales ports are to be able to build up and sustain a new general cargo traffic to take the place of the coal exports which they have lost since the war. In this connection, the three material schemes to which I must refer are the Ross Spur, the project for a heads-of-the-valleys road, and the proposals for a Worcester by-pass.

Of those, the Ross Spur scheme seems most likely to mature within a reasonable time. The Order for the scheme was made in 1954. I recognise that the preliminary steps—the appeals, etc.—must take some time, but I should like to know from my hon. Friend what can be done to speed up those preliminary steps, and how soon he thinks that the work may commence. I heard recently that it is hoped to commence some of the work even this year, and I sincerely hope that that is true.

Then, there is the project for the heads-of-the-valleys road, which is intended to connect Hirwaun with Abergavenny, and Abergavenny with Ross. This can easily be seen, if my hon. Friend glances at the plans he has, to be just as necessary as the Ross Spur scheme, if there is to be a proper line of communication between the Midlands and the very important industrial area around Swansea, Neath and Aberavon. The needs of the great industrial undertaking at Margam, the factories of South-West Wales and of the oil refinery at Llandarcy, all depend on the early completion of these communications.

Then, in the event of very large developments which are now likely at Milford Haven and in West Wales, there will be an obvious need for far-reaching road improvements in that part of the Principality. Tonight, I can only briefly refer to the long-standing difficulty due to the fact that there is no reasonable communication between North and South Wales. I confess that the economic factors there may be far smaller and less weighty than those to which I have already referred.

In setting the subject of this Adjournment debate, I made some reference to rail communications. I recognise that it is not easy for my hon. Friend to deal adequately with those as well as with the many road schemes to which I have already referred, but if it is at all possible, I should be grateful if he could give some small indication of the extent of the modernisation and dieselisation programmes as they may affect Wales.

Generally, the railway efficiency in Wales seems to have increased. For example, the passenger trains, and indeed the industrial traffic, from Paddington to South Wales seem to be running more promptly and more effectively than some years ago, but there are still one or two black spots. While, for example, the main line passenger trains from London to Cardiff are quick and prompt and run to time, the traveller who wishes to go from Cardiff to West Wales has still an unnecessarily long journey to face.

Similarly, while we welcome the newly-announced train service between Bangor and Cardiff, we still have possibly two of the worst train journeys there are in the United Kingdom. I refer, of course, to the famous train journey between Carmarthen and Aberystwyth. Of that, there is the story of the man travelling on that train who was astounded one night to see a man running parallel with the track. He leaned out of his com- partment and asked this man to jump into the train and to take the scat alongside him, but the man refused on the ground that he was in a desperate hurry. Another line which is similarly very slow is that of the rail entrance to mid-Wales, the Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth line. I hope that that, too, will be improved in the very near future.

I apologise to my hon. Friend for mentioning so many different and possibly unrelated aspects of the needs of road and rail communications in Wales. If he can give some indications of the proposals to meet only the chief of these needs I for my part shall be extremely grateful.

10.30 p.m.

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

I must congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) on his success in the ballot and so being able to raise tonight the subject of transport in Wales, particularly in South Wales. He naturally drew attention to what he regarded as the deficiencies of the transport system, and, therefore, I am sure he will bear with me if I call his attention to some of the work that has been done to improve matters, particularly on A48, the Gloucester to Swansea road.

Our Government—this and the previous Government—have been very conscious of the big development taking place in South Wales and, therefore, of the need which would progressively arise for a better road and rail transport system to meet, so far as we could, the increasing need there. It is not possible, of course, to phase improvements exactly with the need as it arises, but a great deal has been done and a very great deal is going on, as I hope I shall be able to prove to my hon. Friend's satisfaction.

It was in 1953 that the Lloyd Committee was set up to consider just this question, in particular the road needs of South Wales, in the light of the big developments which were known to be impending in both tinplate and steel. The road developments which are taking place today are largely the result of the Report of that Committee.

I would remind my hon. Friend that on the Gloucester-Cardiff-Swansea road, A48, to which he drew attention, saying that various things needed to be done, a great deal has been done. The first part of the Neath by-pass has been completed and is now in use. That cost £2,200,000. It was a very big scheme indeed. As my hon. Friend will know, it is a most welcome improvement to everybody who travels along that road. It cuts out the detour of about twelve miles through Neath and greatly facilitates traffic movement there. Work on the second part of the Neath by-pass started last March and will complete the link which will carry the traffic from Cardiff to Lonlas and Llanelly from the west end of the Neath by-pass. That will cost another £1¾ million. So there is one big, scheme finished and another big scheme started.

We can also draw attention to the widening of the Neath to Llanelly road between Lonlas and Llansamlet. I am not sure about the pronunciation of that name, but hon. Members will be able to see the name in HANSARD tomorrow and will be able to judge whether I have pronounced it correctly. The work includes the widening of the Wychtree Bridges crossing the River Tawe and the Swansea Canal also. The cost of that will amount to another £400,000. The dual carriageway road from the Earlswood roundabout right into Swansea will cost altogether about £1¼ million. That includes the Jersey Marine Road, which is already complete, and there are two further big schemes to come in the neighbourhood of Swansea, which will greatly facilitate traffic there.

East of Neath, plans are in hand for the improvement of the road through Port Talbot, to which my hon. Friend referred. It is true it was originally intended that there should be a by-pass round the whole of the town, where the road narrows, but that plan has been modified, due to local opinion, which expressed the view that it was against this by-passing of the whole town. It is now proposed to complete the western section only, as my hon. Friend said, and it is proposed that this should be combined with an inner relief road in the town itself, which would, of course, deal with the Aberavon level crossing. I may say that I paid a visit there during the Easter Recess, and I certainly can confirm my hon. Friend's impression that there is an urgent need for something to be done there to relieve the congestion which is caused.

The position is that a public inquiry has been held on the proposal. We have the report in the Ministry now, and it is being urgently and carefully studied. I cannot, however, tell my hon. Friend what will be the outcome, but I can roundly assure him that we are well aware of the need to improve the main road system there, and it is simply a matter of deciding on what will be the best way to do it.

Further road work is in progress on the A.48 road between Stormy Down and Redhill, Glamorgan, at a cost of approximately £250,000, and on a further stretch to Monmouth, costing some £200,000. This year a further length near Penhow will be improved at a cost of about £300,000.

That adds up to a very substantial improvement on that important stretch of road. I certainly agree with my hon. Friend, from my recollection of travelling over it a few years ago, that it is not only a narrow road but a very winding one, carrying an immense volume of traffic, and badly in need of widening and improvement in every way. But a good deal has been done, and a good deal is going on. I ask my hon. Friend to accept that we have shown that we really mean business there.

My hon. Friend's other complaint was about the roads from the South Wales to the Midlands. As regards the A.465 road, the Ross Spur, which is one of the main features in it, it is true that the Order was made in 1954 and that the preliminary work has taken a long time. My hon. Friend asks me why it is taking so long. The answer is one which I think will have his full sympathy. Not only as an upholder of the rights of the individual but also as a lawyer, my hon. Friend will well understand that there must be a very careful balance in these proposals, which inevitably take large pieces of private property, between meeting the needs of the community as a whole for better roads and the rights of the private property owners concerned. Parliament has provided here a statutory procedure which gives an opportunity for objectors to make their objections known, and then, if necessary, for a public inquiry and a consideration of the report, and so on.

The result is that, if we are to continue to follow that process—which I believe, despite its length, is the right one —the preliminary work will inevitably take time, and it will be one or two years before the engineers actually get to work on the working drawings. Especially if there are serious objections, the preliminary work sometimes takes a long time. But we hope that the work on the Ross Spur will start this year. Whatever we can do to expedite it we shall certainly do.

With regard to the rest of that very important road, it is, of course, vital to have a good link not only between the South Wales ports and the Midland cities like Birmingham, Manchester, etc., but also between the great new industries of South Wales and the Midlands. We have further big schemes for the improvement of this road. The main scheme, to which my hon. Friend referred, is the heads-of-the-valleys road, which would improve the road which runs across from Abergavenny through Brynmawr to Hirwaun and through Merthyr Tydvil. That is a very narrow road running across extremely hilly country, and at present it is quite unsuitable for carrying heavy commercial traffic.

We have two big schemes for the improvement of that road. We hope to authorise one of them this year between Abergavenny and Brynmawr. That will cost just under £2 million. Again, there are procedural difficulties. The second stage, going on to Hirwaun, will cost approximately £4½ million and will follow directly after the first stage. Here again, my hon. Friend will see that we mean business.

I could not agree more than I do about the Worcester and Bromsgrove by-pass, having gone through Worcester and Bromsgrove last year on my way to see the charms of Llandudno on the occasion of a conference which was being held there. The congestion in Worcester has to be seen to be believed. Our intention is that both those cities will in due course be by-passed. That will be done by one of the new modern motorways running south from Birmingham to join up with the eastern end of the Ross Spur to complete the through road from Birmingham to the South Wales towns and ports, as well as to Bristol. I can only tell my hon. Friend that that is now being con- sidered. It is before my right hon. Friend, who is considering what is the earliest date that it can be worked into our future programme.

The Severn Bridge was briefly referred to by my hon. Friend, who will not expect me to go into detail about it tonight. My right hon. Friend the Minister has agreed to it in principle and in due course it will be brought into the programme. It is, however, a very costly scheme. Even with only its local roads the cost will be £15 million, and with all the roads connected with it the cost will go up to £36 million. Naturally, some thought and care are required to see how it can be worked into a programme.

It is true, as my hon. Friend foresaw, that Chepstow's relief will come with that bridge. When the Severn Bridge and the associated roads are built, the heavy traffic through Chepstow will be relieved. Therefore, it would clearly be uneconomic to build a by-pass round Chepstow now. I quite agree with my hon. Friend that Chepstow has a narrow bridge and is a narrow town, and as soon as we can do so we shall relieve it in that way.

I wish to speak briefly about the railways in South Wales. The modernisation of the railways is proceeding, together with these big road schemes. Among the projects approved under the railway modernisation plan is a new marshalling yard at Port Talbot. I inspected the site when I was down there at Easter. The Western Regional Board hopes to be proceeding with it in the very near future. At the Severn Tunnel, the Board intends to extend the sidings on both sides, which will enable the volume of traffic that the Severn Tunnel can carry to be increased.

The Board has a comprehensive scheme to build up line capacity between Pyle West Junction and Britton Ferry, particularly to meet the increased needs of traffic from the developments of the Coal Board and the Steel Company of Wales. The Board hopes to start work on two of these schemes this year and on a third one next year. Two of the schemes will cost about £2 million, and the cost of the other one is not far short of this figure.

I should like to say how very impressed I was by what I saw of the railway installations there and, in travelling with the railway officials, by the splendid way in which they maintain the high traditions of the old Great Western Railway. I was delighted to hear my hon. Friend refer to the successful running of that section of British Railways.

There are improved communications with the Midlands already, in particular in connection with freight. There will be further improvements when the new junctions at Stratford-on-Avon and Fenny Compton are completed. Although they are a long way from South Wales, they are important. They will link what used to be the old Great Western with the old L.M.S. That is part of the modernisation plan.

Diesels will eventually be used universally in the Western Region. They will help particularly in the Severn Tunnel because they will reduce ventilation problems and enable more traffic to go through. Diesel multiple units will be used on the Swansea—Birmingham run, starting 17th June, and diesels will be progressively brought into use in the rural areas. A new express has been started this year, running daily from Birkenhead to Cardiff, connecting North and South Wales via Shrewsbury, Ruabon and Chester—a foretaste of what is to come as diesel-hydraulics, as they are properly called, are developed in the Western Region.

I hope that I have said enough to reassure my hon. Friend that the Government and all other parties concerned have thought ahead about the industrial needs of South Wales and that we are doing a great deal to improve the transport facilities to enable the great new industries formed there to connect with the rest of the industrial life of the country, to the benefit of themselves and of people in the rest of the country.

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

Adjourned at fourteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.