HC Deb 12 November 1957 vol 577 cc920-8

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

10.13 p.m.

Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)

I am grateful for this opportunity to raise the question of the parking of cars in the outer parts of London. It is a different question from that which is raised by the parking of cars in central London.

In the central area the difficulties caused by cars left in the streets are twofold: first, the congestion which they cause to traffic, and, second, the difficulty of those who wish to leave their own cars in finding any place to put them. The central area is one where many people work and relatively few live. In the outer areas, such as my constituency, the position is the reverse there are many residents and relatively few who work there.

My constituency is criss-crossed by four very large trunk roads, two of them being among the largest in the country. These, so to speak, form a skeleton on to which is attached a body of soft flesh in the shape of residential streets. But along these great roads there are places where considerable numbers of motor cars are attracted. They are magnets to the motorists who come there and seek to leave their cars for various reasons. The most obvious examples of these magnets are the tube stations. I am always receiving complaints about the trouble caused by cars parked in the neighbourhood of tube stations, particularly Golders Green, which will probably be familiar to many hon. Members.

Along quiet residential streets round Golders Green, on any day, one will find cars parked on both sides of the road, bumper to bumper, all day long. I get complaints from those who live in the houses that these cars are noisy; they cause smells; they cause dirt—more particularly in that their constant presence means that there is difficulty in cleaning the streets; they make access to houses difficult and sometimes almost impossible, and when one has cars parked on both sides of the street it may easily happen that there is difficulty about getting along it, and parking by local residents becomes almost impossible. One lady told me that she could never get anything delivered by shops in the neighbourhood, because they said that it was impossible to rely upon being able to park vans for delivery purposes.

I took up this question a year ago with the then Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office. Perhaps I may trouble the House with a passage from the reply which he sent me, which will throw some light on this problem. He said: The first concern of the police is to facilitate the movement of traffic and for this purpose they must give most of their attention to the main roads, where the difficulties have recently been increased by road works. It is, of course, true that police action in the main roads causes drivers to leave their cars in the residential roads, where parking gives rise to little traffic difficulty, though the inconvenience and loss of amenity to residents is undeniable. The police have a great deal of sympathy with complaints of the kind you have received from your constituent and do what they can, within the limits of their resources, to mitigate the nuisance. They take action in any cases of obstruction or other offence brought to their notice…You will, however, appreciate that it is not within the power of the police to provide a solution to the parking problem. The need in Hendon, as elsewhere, is for increased off-street parking space, and that is a matter for the local authorities rather than for the police. As you say the need will be all the greater if fewer cars are able to park in Central London. I have taken the trouble to read that to the House because it is important to see at the outset that this is not a police problem. I agree with the contents of the letter. There is nothing that the police can do about this. They can shift the cars around and occasionally prevent bad parking, but they cannot deal with the problem as a whole.

I can give another example of the sort of case that arises. There is a café on the Great North Way which is popular with lorry drivers. I understand that it is a good distance out and that they stop there frequently. They are quite rightly forbidden to park their lorries on the trunk road, and the result is that they turn into the neighbouring side streets. I am getting constant complaints from those who live in those side streets about the situation caused by the parking of large numbers of lorries along them. On this occasion I took the matter up with the local authority, which seemed to be the right course in view of what was said in the letter from the Home Office. Again, perhaps I may be permitted to read an extract from the reply I received from the Town Clerk of Hendon on 15th July, 1957: I took this matter up with the police and I have received a reply stating that the Commissioner of Police will be unable to support any form of waiting restrictions which would result in commercial vehicles being parked on a busy derestricted road. The Commissioner pointed out that both the minor roads concerned were of no through traffic importance and whilst the loss of amenities to residents in those roads was appreciated the police could not take action against the vehicles unless actual obstruction or any other infringement of the law was observed. The position was simply to throw the matter hack on the police; there was no power in the local authority. Although the police will prosecute where there is a case for prosecution, this is not really a matter which can be dealt with effectively in that way. It is simply a case of innumerable minor annoyances which, added together, create an almost intolerable nuisance.

The third case in which my constituents in considerable numbers put a complaint to me relates to a cinema just off the main thoroughfare. None of the cases was in any way invited. They were all spontaneous and they illustrate what is a general trouble in this part of the world. A deputation came to see me about the parking of cars by the cinema patrons. I heard threats of direct violent action by those living in the houses nearby, that they would damage the cars and would puncture the tyres, if something was not done. Not unnaturally, nothing of the sort has occurred, but I mention it to show that there is a warm feeling on this matter.

I could give a number of instances of which that of a world-famous works in Cricklewood is an example. I have asked the town council to supply me with particulars of examples of which it is aware and it knows of 16 bad cases in the borough. There are other cases less bad, and they are growing in size. The problem is also growing. The more effective the policy of the Minister of Transport in limiting parking in the central area the greater will be the problem in the fringe areas. People coming to London will park their cars at Golders Green, Hendon, Finchley and other stations round London and the annoyance to those who live in these areas will grow greater daily.

After further complaints regarding the Great North Way I had occasion to get in touch with the Town Clerk of Hendon. He replied to me that the Divisional Road Engineer had pointed out that this type of situation is not confined to the Borough of Hendon; but he stated that it was likely that the general position would be examined by the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee in the comparatively near future and that this particular case would be borne in mind. That letter was written on 10th October last and I wish to ask my hon. Friend whether these matters have been considered by the Advisory Committee and if so whether it has come to any conclusion and what advice it has given.

I am receiving, and no doubt I shall continue to receive, a steady stream of complaints in this connection. I think it right to make the point that in Central London we all complain about traffic conditions, but we know that it is a free-for-all in the sense that we ourselves in using the roads or parking our cars have as good a chance as anyone, and are creating difficulties for other people.

The position in outer London is otherwise. The people who complain to me are not causing the nuisance. They are not leaving their cars in these quiet roads. The people who come into the quiet roads are outsiders. Many of the individuals who live in these residential roads have paid charges for the making up of them, and they have a sense that they have actually paid for the roads on which the other vehicles are parked. There is a well-founded sense of unfairness.

The only obvious remedy is a sufficient number of car parks and garages. There are very few of either. The matter cannot be wholly dealt with by car parks and garages until there is a certain quantity of them. What is my right hon. Friend's policy and that of his Department about the supply of car parks and garages? Does he give advice to anyone? Are stipulations laid down? Is my right hon. Friend concerned with the town-planning provisions carried out by the local authority? What is being done about cars?

I understand that the major responsibility is that of the local council, but quite clearly it cannot deal with these matters because it has no knowledge of the overall Government policy. We are not dealing with local conditions. If we were, I would by all means let the local authority take charge. When we have to cater for cars which are being forced upon us by the policy of the Ministry it is the responsibility of the Ministry of Transport to say what should be done. I hope that my hon. Friend will say something on that subject.

Is anything being done or intended to be done by way of Regulation? In these streets, where cars, lorries, and so on, are such a nuisance, there are not, so far as I know, any special Regulations. As a rule there is an endless line of cars parked, generally on both sides of the road, and no attempt is made to control them otherwise than under the general provisions of the Order. I have asked the Town Clerk of Hendon, and he has told me that his council has no power, so far as he knows, to make Regulations. I do not believe that the county council has such power. Those that exist rest with the Minister of Transport.

Although we cannot cure this nuisance, we could make some alleviation. We might have unilateral parking on alternative days so as to secure reasonable passage through the narrower of the streets. I do not know how much consideration has been given to this matter. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to tell us what is intended. The main difficulty arises because of the multiplicity of authorities. I have troubled the House by reading passages from certain letters, from which it was apparent that whenever we try to get something done the responsibility is passed elsewhere, to the Minister of Transport, to the police, to the county council, to the borough council. There are private individuals and others; for all I know there are other people who may be responsible in other connections. Here is an almost prize example of "buck-passing". Wherever one goes, the buck is passed; one can never pin anyone down and say that it is his job to have something done.

I want to pin down the Minister of Transport tonight. That is why I have come here. I ask my hon. Friend to say that he will make himself responsible and have something done for what is not yet a serious problem but one which, if it is not tackled, will become just as serious in outer London as it is now in the centre of the City.

10.31 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 Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) on the effective manner in which he has attempted to pin me down as responsible for this distracting problem which is troubling his constituents. I congratulate him on securing the opportunity of raising the matter on the Adjournment tonight, and I will tell him at once that I do sympathise with the residents of Hendon and, indeed, elsewhere, who are troubled by this particular problem. Inevitably, it is a problem which is growing, growing because there are more motor cars on the roads, and growing for a variety of other reasons to which my hon. Friend referred.

I am not sure that I entirely agree with his thought that in Central London there is a free-for-all in which offenders suffer as well as offend. I think that in Central London there is much of this problem too; there are many residential areas in the centre of London where cars are parked continuously. It is a very general problem.

Government policy to deal with this matter basically depends on the Road Traffic Act, 1956, which this House approved last year. That Act gave local authorities, first in the Metropolitan Police District and the City of London, the power to make charges for cars parked on the highway, either with or without metering schemes. Those schemes are, of course, subject to the Minister's approval, and one or two have already been proposed. The whole objective of that piece of legislation was to achieve exactly what my hon. Friend wishes to do, namely discourage long-term parking on the highway.

Primarily, of course, our objective at the present time is to achieve a proper balance on the highway between the parked vehicle and the moving traffic, to remove the congestion which troubles us all. At present, it is quite obvious, in any part of London or any other city, that the balance is excessively in favour of the parked car, which occupies far more than its share of the highway, to the detriment of the traffic flow.

It is true, as my hon. Friend implied, that the complement to that immediate objective will be the building of off-street parking accommodation. Government policy with regard to that is that Government funds should not be spent on it, that it is not a job for the Government to undertake and that garages, for this purpose or any other, should be run either by private enterprise or by local authorities, which have power to do it. That is the answer to one of the points which my hon. Friend put, that local authorities do have the power to do this where they think it appropriate, or, alternatively, private enterprise may construct car parks.

At the moment, what off-street car parking accommodation in garages there is, in the Central London area anyhow, is not completely used, because, not unnaturally, if people can leave their motor cars in the street for nothing they tend to do so. It will only be as the regulations become stricter for street parking that the demand for off-street parking will increase. Already, there are signs that that may happen. There are two or three schemes now going forward for large off-street parking accommodation in Central London, and others are being contemplated.

I readily acknowledge that it will be some time before this general development spreads to outer London. Indeed, as my hon. Friend has rightly said, as this policy succeeds in Central London, at any rate for the time being, the likelihood is that the problems to which my hon. Friend has referred will be temporarily worse outside, partly due to the ever-increasing number of cars, partly due to the restrictions on waiting on the main roads, and partly due to the increasing number of commutors who drive to the outskirts of London, leave their cars there for the day, on the streets as a rule, and then embark on the Underground and proceed to Central London. That is something that we very much want them to do, from the point of view of relieving congestion in Central London, but certainly it worsens the problem outside in Hendon and similar places.

With regard to waiting regulations, it would in theory be possible for a local authority to propose a "no waiting" regulation or a parking scheme in any of these streets, but in practice these proposals are normally approved only on the ground of traffic flow or road safety and not on amenity grounds. Obviously the considerations that we are talking of here are the amenities of the householders concerned, their convenience and access to their houses. Therefore, at the present time it is true that in practice there would be little prospect of such proposals being made.

There are a large number of causes of the present conditions. Town planners in the past have not provided enough garages for cinemas, offices and all the other places to which motor cars are driven, and there is a long history of the reasons why we have these conditions today. My hon. Friend asked what is happening.

For instance the London County Council requires stringent regulations for the provisions of off-street parking garages for new buildings, and I believe they may go even further, but it will be a long time before that cures the problem.

The British Transport Commission, at our request, have done quite a bit on many of these suburban stations to provide car parks. The accommodation that they have provided has been doubled in the last two years—with about 2,000 spaces at the present time and plans to increase it to about 2,500.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

My hon. Friend has spoken of the L.C.C. Of course, he will appreciate that Hendon is in Middlesex, and although the Middlesex County Council may be alive to its own problems, it may not be so aware of what is in the Minister's mind with regard to Inner London. Will he see that that is made known to the outer areas? There is not necessarily a link-up between the two. That is where the difficulty arises.

Mr. Nugent

I will, but I feel pretty certain that the Middlesex County Council, as the planning authority responsible, is very well aware of this matter. I will, however, certainly assure myself that it is.

I see that at Mill Hill station the Hendon constituency is fairly well provided with a car park, but we are pressing the Transport Commission to go further and I will make a special inquiry with the Commission to see whether more can be done to help near the Underground stations in and around Hendon.

In the Ministry we have been aware of this problem intensifying, not only in Hendon and not only in the outer regions of London, but throughout London for some time. Residents in quiet streets, who have been accustomed to seeing hardly any motor cars, suddenly see motor cars arriving and standing in the streets all day. Naturally, those residents complain. They feel that their peace and amenity have gone. There is, in fact, very little that one can do about it in the short term.

On the instigation of the London County Council, we have asked the London and Home counties Traffic Advisory Committee to consider this problem in relation to commercial vehicles, which stop in certain areas and cause a commotion because of their size, noise, and so on. As a result of my hon. Friend's representations, I will ask the Advisory Committee to extend the review that it is now making to cover all vehicles, including private cars, in the street parking problem on the periphery of London, which, I quite accept, is a problem which will tend to worsen in the coming years.

I think I have said enough to show that there is no simple answer. The solution will only come about by the combination of a number of factors—for example, by town planning regulations which have better regard to the needs of the present day and by the building of off-street car parks of one kind and another which will gradually follow increased traffic regulations, and so on—but only gradually can an improvement come about.

I assure my hon. Friend that we are aware of the problem. I sincerely sympathise with his constituents who are troubled in this way, and we are much concerned to do anything we can to alleviate the position. We will certainly ask for the survey and for advice about how we can best ameliorate it. If any further ideas come to our minds about how the position might be improved, we will certainly follow them. I thank my hon. Friend for raising the matter, and I assure him that it has our serious attention.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly al nineteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.