HC Deb 30 April 1958 vol 587 cc523-31

As soon as may be the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation shall consult with the Council, the Westminster City Council, and such other local or other authorities as appear to him to be concerned, and unless after such consultation he is satisfied that no order under section ten of the London Traffic Act, 1924, in relation to traffic conditions which may arise at and near the junction of the Underpass and Knightsbridge is required, he shall make such an order as aforesaid: Provided that any such order shall be made in the form of a statutory instrument and shall be subject to annulment by resolution of either House of Parliament.—[Mr. Ernest Davies.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

11.4 p.m.

Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

The reason for this new Clause is that during the discussions on previous stages of the Bill, particularly in Standing Committee, we expressed considerable concern about traffic conditions which would arise as a result of improvements and the construction of the underpass at Hyde Park Corner. We were concerned that when traffic emerges from the underpass, travelling east to west at the Knightsbridge end, a bottleneck will be created with which traffic would find it difficult to cope.

Probably all hon. Members are familiar with conditions at Hyde Park Corner. The improvements to be brought about by the Bill will be of extreme value and should make a great contribution to relief of traffic in that area. If, by removing one bottleneck, we create another, we are little better off than at the outset. If we examine the position as it will be after the Hyde Park roundabout has been enlarged and the underpass constructed, we see that the traffic which will emerge from the underpass, where it reaches the surface, will run into a narrowing road. The traffic on the slipway at the side of the underpass will merge with the traffic coming up from the underpass and will enter a narrowing highway, where it will have much difficulty in sorting itself out.

After the construction of the underpass there will be two lines of traffic at the side of the underpass and two lines coming up from the underpass, and these will enter a roadway where there will be only two lines of traffic. Although provision is made for certain demolition on the north side of Knightsbridge, the demolitions will end at a point where there is a big block of flats called, I think, Park View. After these there is the French Embassy building and the Hyde Park Hotel, and there is no provision for the demolition of those buildings. We can understand that, in view of the nature of the buildings. Nevertheless, this traffic will emerge from the underpass, and along the side of the underpass, on the slipway, and the road will narrow considerably; but it is not proposed that there shall be any demolition.

The traffic reaches Wilton Place, where it turns right and then left and causes considerable confusion even at present. The next intersection is William Street, where the traffic crosses into Hyde Park through the Albert Gate. Subsequently, we come to the even greater congestion at Sloane Street, where the traffic coming up from Sloane Street goes into Knightsbridge. That which wishes to go to the right, which is eastwards, has to go round a small roundabout, whereas the traffic which comes from the west, along Brompton Road or from Kensington, and proposes to turn right into Sloane Street, will cut across the traffic coming up from the underpass or along the slipway.

Unless some serious thought is given to handling the traffic at this point where it emerges from the underpass and where it continues to flow in the direction of Kensington, meeting traffic coming up from Sloane Street and traffic coming along Brompton Road and from Kensington, and unless a scheme is prepared, the relief which it is proposed to give by the construction which is to take place at Hyde Park Corner and subsequently will not be fully realised. That is why we have put down the new Clause which proposes that the Minister shall consult the London County Council, which is the chief highway authority in this matter, the Westminster City Council, and other local authorities and bodies concerned in this matter and that he shall then prepare a scheme under the London Traffic Act, 1924, for the relief of traffic in this area. We propose that that scheme shall then be laid before the House so that we may have an opportunity to debate it, if we wish.

It is not for me to suggest what the scheme should be, but during our debates in Committee the Parliamentary Secretary informed us that the L.C.C. had some plans in hand and that there would be construction of a new road under the new building which is now in course of construction—the Bowater building. I have looked at that building on several occasions—every time I have driven by—and I find it hard to see where this new road is to be. The building is nearly completed and, although there is the possibility of traffic passing underneath the building, even if that is arranged I cannot see that it will give great relief of this very heavy congestion which even today arises where the Sloane Street traffic meets the Knightsbridge and Brompton Road traffic.

Even if there is to be the roadway construction underneath the Bowater building, there would still be caused considerable difficulty when that traffic meets the traffic flowing from Hyde Park. If that traffic has to go into Hyde Park, what arrangements are there for dealing with the traffic flowing in?

I submit that the present position is confused. I should have thought it necessary that a scheme should be worked out which may well provide for considerable construction work at the intersection of Sloane Street and Knightsbridge and a new roundabout constructed there so that the traffic which is to be eased, so far as its flow from Piccadilly is concerned, shall be able to continue its easier flow and not be held up at what we say is a new bottleneck.

This is one of the major schemes of road improvement work carried out in London over a very long period, and we simply want to see it work out satisfactorily; but unless, at each point where traffic coming from one direction meets traffic coming from another, and where traffic which has used the underpass merges with that which has not, there is provision for an easy flow, then the value of the scheme will be diminished. A scheme should be considered in connection with this area. So far, we have been informed that London Transport Executive does not propose to use the underpass for its buses and this, I think, is very regrettable.

I fully understand its reason. There is the interchange of passengers at the various points at Hyde Park Corner. Many routes converge there, and there are many transfers from one vehicle to another, and, in short, London Transport has decided that buses coming along Piccadilly, or down Park Lane shall not use the underpass; they will use the slipway. If London Transport persists in this decision—which, I think, is quite unnecessary because it could re-route the buses—then it will mean that this heavy traffic will be using the roads on the side of the underpass. That, in turn, will mean that it will have to filter in with traffic coming from the underpass, causing considerable congestion and confusion.

Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary, if he is unable to accept our suggestion, will give an assurance that these matters are being considered and will also say that he will take into consultation the local authorities concerned. Can he say whether he will discuss the matter with London Transport and see whether there is the possibility of working out a scheme for at least a proportion of buses to use the underpass?

I ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he can give an assurance that full consideration has already been given to the difficult traffic conditions which will arise from the fact that the road narrows when it emerges from the underpass, and to agree to enter into discussions for a scheme so that we may know what is being done to prevent a new bottleneck from being created.

Mr. Anthony Greenwood (R ossendale)

I beg formally to second the Motion.

11.15 p.m.

Mr. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

In Committee, I expressed myself as satisfied with the Hyde Park Corner scheme, and even with the Knightsbridge part of it, because of what the Parliamentary Secretary said about the new Bowater road funnelling in traffic from the west up to Hyde Park, thereby relieving the traffic at Hyde Park Corner. On reflection, however, I have grave doubts about the scheme and whether it will be practicable, owing to the present bottleneck at Knightsbridge. There will be a much larger flow of traffic round the roundabout and coming up from the tunnel from the Piccadilly end from the east, so the bottleneck in Knightsbridge will be much more severe.

To satisfy myself on the point, I got up at 5.30 yesterday to examine the situation in the cool of the morning and to measure the pavements and road widths. What I found really shocked me. At Hyde Park Corner, the road going down to Knightsbridge is no less than 72 ft. wide, even allowing for a pedestrian refuge in the centre. There are two carriageways, 36 ft. wide, which allow for eight lines of traffic, four lanes in either direction.

But when the road funnels down in Knightsbridge, at Wilton Place, instead of the road being 72 ft. wide, the carriageway is only 35 ft. wide, so that there is just room for two lanes of traffic in either direction. A little later, from Wilton Place, near to the Hyde Park Hotel, it widens to 39 ft., but there is still room for only two lanes of traffic, divided by a refuge. So Knightsbridge is a bottleneck, and it will be a traffic drunkard's paradise in due course.

The pavements which I measured at the narrow point are 13 ft. 6 ins. wide on one side, and 11 ft. wide on the other. A little later, they are even 18 ft. and 19 ft. wide at the bottleneck, so that, in the narrow part of Knightsbridge, there is a carriageway which is 35 ft. wide and pavements as much as 24 ft. 6 ins. wide. That is a ridiculous proportion, having regard to the great weight of traffic in that area.

My positive suggestion, therefore, to cure the problem at Knightbridge, is to bring the pavements down to a width of 7 ft. on either side. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] There is not a great deal of pedestrian traffic there.

Mr. Ernest Davies

Yes, tremendous.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Seven feet will give quite a wide pavement. If that were done, it would give us an extra space on the carriageway of 10 feet 6 inches, which would provide 45 feet 6 inches all told at the narrowest point. That would be enough for six lanes of traffic, three in either direction.

I should like my hon. Friend to consider that point, with the London County Council. Perhaps he could give us an undertaking tonight that he will go into it very thoroughly to see whether the pavements could be narrowed to give five or six lanes of traffic. That would be a very reasonable proposition. If we do not do it, we shall run into a great deal of trouble at Knightsbridge, and it would be a great disaster to spend £4 million or £5 million at Hyde Park Corner and then find that we still had the severest of bottlenecks at Knightsbridge.

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

I sympathise with hon. Members' anxiety that we should not, by the road improvement we are proposing at Hyde Park Corner, create a new difficulty in Knightsbridge. I hope that what I can say will reassure hon. Members opposite that their new Clause is not necessary to avoid that consequence.

Already, my right hon. Friend has the necessary power under the 1924 Act to consult with the London County Council and with Westminster City Council; and he does, in practice, make those consultations effective through the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee on all traffic regulating schemes throughout London. That advice is very valuable. Although the layout of Knightsbridge itself is not strictly part of the Park Lane scheme, I fully accept that it will impinge upon it and that, therefore, hon. Members have anxieties about how it will affect the scheme. I must congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) on his early morning visit to this spot yesterday. Evidently, he has eschewed the bottlenecks as much as he is recommending tonight that I should. The measurements that he took do not exactly correspond with the measurements which our engineers took. Whether that was due to the clarity of the air in that early hour of the morning I would not like to suggest.

We found that at the narrowest point to which my hon. Friend called our attention, east of Wilton Place, the measurement our engineers took was not the 35 feet which my hon. Friend gave for the carriageway width, but 40 feet, and that is a significant difference.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

I am not counting the refuge in the centre. I agree that the whole carriageway is very nearly 40 ft. wide, but when allowance if made for the refuge, the actual space on which vehicles can travel is only about 35 ft.

Mr. Nugent

Good. We agree that the carriageway is 40 ft.

I agree that the footpaths are 13 ft. 7 ins. on the south side and 9 ft. on the north side of the carriageway. I was glad when there were cries of dissent when my hon. Friend suggested that we should narrow the pavements to 7 ft. wide. I think that that is much too narrow in this fairly busy shopping area. It is possible that the southern pavement at l3 ft. 7 ins. can be shaved down to improve the alignment there, but anything like the reduction which my hon. Friend suggested would not be consonant with road safety.

I will certainly undertake that we will discuss with London County Council the possibility of improving the alignment on the southern side. It is obvious that that means a pinch point just east of Wilton Place where the carriageway is reduced to 40 ft. It is our wish that there should be room for four lanes of traffic, two in each direction. The road widens out west of Wilton Place to 44 ft. and it might be possible for there to be some realignment on the northern side where we are already to acquire property for the road widening further east to get to 44 ft. throughout. I will certainly undertake to look at the matter again with the L.C.C.

The hon. Member of Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) expressed anxieties about the Sloane Street junction. The proposal there, as I explained in Committee, is that by making a new entrance into the Park through the Bowater building, which will be a wide thoroughfare of four lanes, two in each direction, and setting back the pavement line some distance towards the Park, to improve the junction there and, by a system of channelisation, which has been unsuccessfully advocated elsewhere, and a fairly complicated system of traffic lights, to effect a considerable improvement at the junction.

We have now sanctioned London County Council's proposal for these improvements at this junction, and provided that the lighting equipment is delivered in reasonable time they should be in operation by the end of this year. That will give us a fairly long interval of operating with the new junction and the new lighting system which, incidentally, will be linked with Albert Gate, to see how it works before we have the effect of the underpass and the reconstruction at Hyde Park Corner. My own feeling is of some doubt whether Albert Gate should be kept open when the new entrance into the Park has gone through Bowater House, but, in any event, we shall be able to see how this works before we see the effect at Hyde Park Corner, and if it is necessary to close it we shall certainly do so.

I can certainly assure the House that a good deal of thought has been given to such improvements as we can make in Knightsbridge, so that we shall not lose the benefit of the new Hyde Park layout by a fresh bottleneck in Knightsbridge. The long-term scheme of the L.C.C. is to enlarge the roundabout at the Sloane Street junction, but it is a fairly long-term plan and cannot be brought into operation at present. I am sure hon. Members will accept that if we were to wait for all road improvements to take place simultaneously, obviously we should never get any at all.

I certainly can give the assurance that this interim improvement in Knightsbridge will considerably improve this junction and that the general flow of traffic will be adequately provided for through Knightsbridge, with two lanes in each direction, and that there will not be thereby a loss of the great benefits which we shall get at Hyde Park Corner. I hope that with that assurance it will be possible for the hon. Member to withdraw his new Clause.

Mr. Ernest Davies

In view of the Parliamentary Secretary's explanation, and his assurance that this problem is being looked at, and the confidence he expresses, though we do not entirely share it, that this will be solved, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.