HC Deb 12 February 1958 vol 582 cc523-9

9.59 p.m.

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

I beg to move, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Park Lane Improvement Bill that they have power to consider the advantages of an Underpass providing for four lanes of traffic in two tunnels between Piccadilly and Knights-bridge, as compared with those of the Underpass for which provision is now made in the Bill; and that they have power to make amendments to the Bill accordingly, if they think fit: That any Petitions against such amendments of the Bill presented by being deposited in the Private Bill Office at any time not later than the seventh day after this day, in which the Petitioners pray to be heard by themselves, their Counsel or Agents, be referred to the Committee. I should like to call attention to the unusual procedure which is needed for the introduction into a hybrid Bill of new work, that is, the second underpass, and an amending work, the Knightsbridge widening, in these circumstances. I find that the last precedent was in the nineteenth century, namely, in 1876, in connection with the Toll Bridges (River Thames) Bill.

The purpose of the Motion is to bring within the scope of the Select Committee any petitions of those who may be affected by the proposed addition to the original Bill. The Motion is permissive. The Government's objective is to provide at the rebuilt Hyde Park Corner two underpasses instead of one, as at present provided in the Bill. The proposal then was for one two-lane underpass to carry traffic from east to west and west to east, from Knightsbridge to Piccadilly and vice-versa.

In the Second Reading debate, right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House urged on us the necessity to duplicate the provisions we were making as, indeed, was the case in the original layout for the new Hyde Park Corner. This second underpass will cost an extra £830,000 and will have a common entrance and exit with the underpass already provided, but it will bifurcate from it at the western end so that it will run north of the other at Hyde Park Corner Underground Station, and its path will be north of the Wellington Memorial.

The underpasses will then emerge at the same point to join again, making one exit portal into Piccadilly. It will touch neither the Decimus Burton screen nor Apsley House; neither will be affected by it. The reserve capacity of the roundabout and the single underpass was estimated to be 40 per cent. over the 1956 peak figures. The reserve capacity of the two underpasses and the roundabout is estimated at 70 per cent. over the 1956 peak figures.

In our initial consideration of this matter, in the light of the heavy extra cost of the second underpass and the considerable reserve of the roundabout and one underpass, we concluded that we should recommend that layout, as we did in the Second Reading debate. However, no one would deny that two tunnels will be better than one and make a better job. As my right hon. Friend said, we are anxious to over-insure rather than to under-insure for the future provision for London traffic. In the light of the very weighty advice we have received from both sides of the House, we decided to accept that and I therefore submit this Motion to the House.

10.3 p.m.

Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)

On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I wish to commend the Minister for having come to his senses and listened to the weighty advice, to which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has referred, and the good sense of hon. Members on both sides of the House, who, during the Second Reading of the Park Lane Improvement Bill, urged the Minister to reconsider his opinion that a single underpass with one line of traffic in each direction was adequate to meet the situation which will confront London traffic at Hyde Park Corner in future.

I cannot quite understand how the Minister's mind has been working in this respect, because, when he moved the Second Reading, he told us that the experts who had examined the scheme had not considered that any underpass was necessary. Exercising his better judgment or wisdom, and looking ahead somewhat, he decided to have an underpass which the L.C.C. had recommended and then chose to cut down the L.C.C. recommendation from four lanes to two lanes, with one tunnel rather than twin tunnels, and suggested that that was quite an adequate provision. If we are to look ahead and provide an underpass at that intersection, surely it is sensible to look to the future and provide an adequate one.

It is difficult to understand why, when spending more than £4½ million on this scheme for the sake of saving what, on Second Reading, he said was £¾ million, and what the Joint Parliamentary Secretary now says is over £800,000, the Minister should decide in the way he did. He then stated, as the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said, that there would be, according to the experts, an excess of 30 per cent., and then he decided on a further count that it would be 40 per cent. excess capacity at peak periods. Now we are told that with the larger provision for underpasses there will be an excess of 70 per cent. over the 1956 figure.

From all the experience that we have had in this country and which other countries on the Continent and in the United States of America have had, it is clear that road traffic will increase very considerably in London, as in other large cities. It is essential, therefore, when we are engaged upon any large improvement, to make provision for a very substantial increase.

The House will, I am sure, be gratified that the Minister has taken this step now. I can assure him that there will be certainly no opposition, but only congratulations, from this side. We on this side, including my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood), in winding up the Second Reading debate, urged this change upon him. The reason why the Minister acted as he did was because of the confusion of advice which he received, because of his parsimony and because of inadequate information concerning traffic flows in London.

Unfortunately, the Road Research Laboratory has nowhere near sufficient funds to carry out the essential investigation into traffic flows which is necessary if we are to embark upon the wise and expert traffic schemes for relieving congestion. The most important investigation required today is one of directional flow to find out where the traffic comes from and where it wants to go. Only in that way can we make the necessary provision for the road improvements which will bring the greatest benefit to the largest amount of traffic.

Having now decided on the larger underpasses, I hope the Minister will once more consider Marble Arch. If we are embarking upon this greatest improvement to London traffic for fifty years and spending this large sum, the same treatment should be meted out to Marble Arch as has been meted out to Hyde Park Corner. Is it really impossible, or too expensive, or would it involve too much demolition, as the hon. Gentleman said, to build an underpass at Marble Arch? The excess capacity there is far less than it is at Hyde Park Corner, or will be far less when the new roundabout is built. If the excess capacity there will be so much less than at Hyde Park Corner, I would have thought that there was an equally strong, or far stronger, argument for building an underpass there.

The experience of our traffic improvements in London has been that we have not provided adequately for the future. We have had several cases recently where the Minister has had to change his mind, or perhaps other people responsible for the traffic schemes. We have had the Hammersmith flyover. From this side, at Question Time, and from the other side, the Minister was urged to provide for a flyover at Hammersmith and include it in the extension of the West Cromwell Road. Unfortunately, the L.C.C. was not favourable to that, and the flyover was not, at first, provided for or built.

Only now, after two years of pressure and experience, have the Minister and the L.C.C. agreed to build this flyover. In the meantime, other works have been done there which would not have been necessary.

Mr. Nugent

That is not right, and the hon. Member knows that it is not right. That point was put to my right hon. Friend and to me, and we made it plain that the work already done there would have been needed, anyway.

Mr. Davies

I must accept what the Joint Parliamentary Secretary says. However, he did say that at Question Time. But I cannot believe that the work being done there now would have been necessary if work had started on a flyover at the outset.

Mr. Nugent indicated assent.

Mr. Davies

The Minister says that it would.

We have one further case, concerning the Markyate by-pass. Here again, as with the London schemes, inadequate provision was made for traffic and already on that by-pass—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles Mac-Andrew)

Is the hon. Member not going rather far away from Park Lane?

Mr. Davies

Yes, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but it is an important area, also.

I suggest that whether it be Markyate, Hyde Park Corner, Marble Arch, or the Hammersmith flyover, more imagination and vision is needed when we are planning these traffic improvements. I hope that the lesson of the underpass at Hyde Park will be taken to heart by the Minister and his advisers and that in their future schemes they will look a little further ahead and will not have to hold things up and then come here and eat humble pie after listening to the views of Members of Parliament.

10.11 p.m.

Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)

I join issue with the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies). It is not right for him to accuse my right hon. Friend the Minister of parsimony in this matter. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on deciding to have the double underpass instead of the two-lane underpass at Hyde Park Corner. The hon. Member for Enfield, East first accused my right hon. Friend of parsimony and only a minute or so later spoke about the vast amount of money that was being spent on the scheme anyway. Those two remarks do not tally.

I agree, however, with the hon. Member for Enfield, East in hoping that the need, which obviously exists, for the double underpass at Hyde Park Corner will initiate some new thinking about Marble Arch. I hope that in the not too distant future we may have a scheme which will help to relieve the difficult position at Marble Arch.

The very good reasons why we should have a double underpass at Hyde Park Corner are, first, the obvious and continuous growth of traffic, and not only in London. Any growth of traffic in the country means that London in turn gets some of it, because it comes here in due course. A second reason, which, so far, has not been mentioned, is that the better the facilities at Hyde Park Corner, when there is an option of two routes to a driver, the greater the likelihood that the new facility at Hyde Park Corner will help to relieve points of pressure elsewhere in the vicinity. I am the last person to suggest that we need more traffic at Hyde Park Corner, but there are other spots not far away which are congested and anything that is provided in the way of extra facilities at Hyde Park Corner will help the general overall position.

When the Bill was introduced on Second Reading, we saw an excellent model in this building of the new improvement at Hyde Park Corner. I wonder whether, without going to any great expense, it would be possible to adapt that model and display it once more so that we may see the picture of the new plan with the double under-pass. I commend my right hon. Friend and hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary on extending the excellent improvement at Hyde Park Corner.

10.13 p.m.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

By the Bill, we are to spend £14½ of £5 million, and criticism has been raised outside against some of the steps which are being taken. I should like, therefore, to take up two minutes to run over some of the points which have been made against the scheme.

The first criticism is that the scheme itself, particularly the double underpass, will not clear up the congestion that does and will arise at Knightsbridge. That, however, is not a valid objection against going ahead with the scheme at Hyde Park Corner. The fact that we cannot completely clear up a blockage there does not mean that we should not clear it up elsewhere. I hope that in time we shall be able to go ahead systematically and clear up the bottlenecks throughout the whole of the area.

I understand, incidentally, that an additional road is to be put in hand shortly near Albert Gate, which will considerably improve the traffic position at Knightsbridge.

Another criticism made is posed in the question, why should we have such an expensive scheme as this when most of what we want to do could be achieved by a system of channelisation? This, of course, is a very complicated matter, but it seems to me that the problem could not be solved by channelisation. Here we have a road junction with no fewer than seven roads coming in and out of it. It is not like a straightforward crossing in America or Germany. Moreover, channelisation would mean having the traffic lights at Hyde Park Corner which this scheme of a roundabout and an underpass is designed to obviate.

The third reason why I have doubts about channelisation is that we have to take into account the driving habits in this country. They may be quite different from those on the Continent and in America. We in this country are much more used to the weaving of traffic. It seems to me that the roundabout as envisaged with the underpass, with the habits of driving which are natural to the denizens of this country, will probably provide an ample solution of our problem at this point.

Another criticism made is that it is a pity to knock down 148 Piccadilly, which is a beautiful house; but no doubt the Select Committee will be able to go into that question to see whether it is really necessary to knock the house down, though it looks on the plan that such will have to be the fate of that house.

Having just gone over those criticisms which have been made of the scheme, and having looked into this, I am fully in favour of the double underpass and the scheme as proposed by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary.

Question put and agreed to.