HC Deb 02 July 1958 vol 590 cc1543-54

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

2.11 a.m.

Mr. William Teeing (Brighton, Pavilion)

The development of London Airport so very rapidly over the last few months, as well as the opening of Gatwick Airport, have made many Members want to ask Questions in the House about the Government's intention in relation to the transport of traffic to London Airport and Gatwick, from London Airport to Gatwick, and, of course, in the reverse direction.

It has been found on more than one occasion that Questions could not be put down which would completely cover the subject on which information was required, or else that the Questions had to be altered to conform with the Standing Orders of the House. It was, therefore, suggested by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), that I should try to raise this subject on the Adjournment so that we might be able to get from the Government a little more clearly what are their intentions in the future.

Then again, we had the bus strike which made it necessary for people to alter their means of getting to London Airport. Those of us who travelled found that it was easier to go by train than by bus. Not so long ago when, instead of starting at Waterloo, the buses started at Gloucester Road, many people were dissatisfied with this change because at least at Waterloo one was near to a large railway station and to the Underground. From Gloucester Road one had to walk a considerable distance from the Underground and there was no big railway station nearby. For those of us who did not live in that area it was not a satisfactory state of affairs.

Perhaps the change from Waterloo to Gloucester Road was made because Gloucester Road was nearer to London Airport. But still, people had to get to Gloucester Road, and it cost them a considerable stun of money. The 5s. which was charged, and which annoys so many people, to travel from Waterloo still remains at that figure to travel from Gloucester Road, but it costs at least another 5s. to get that far by taxi. Then when the strike occurred passengers were told to go from Waterloo Station to Feltham by train. This cost only 2s. 6d. The ordinary train to Feltham took only 26 minutes to get there. Of course, if we were to improve on this and travel by trains which did not stop anywhere between Waterloo and Feltham, the time could be reduced considerably, possibly to 15 minutes.

Apart from the fact that the cost of travelling by train is only 2s. 6d. instead of 5s., there are buses running from Feltham railway station to the airport. Admittedly, that was not ideal because it had to be improvised during the strike period. But it can be done, and, indeed, it could be improved considerably and made much easier. I should like my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to look into that point.

Another matter which should be dealt with by the Ministry is the question of transport by taxi from the airport back to London. Mr. Alistair Cooke, in his broadcasts from America, has told us that that has caused immense irritation to Americans visiting this country because in America there is a regular fee for travelling by taxi from airports to the main centres of the towns; whereas there is no sign of any sort at London Airport to let foreigners know that a taxi, though it has a perfectly good meter, is not using it because it is outside a certain area in London and the driver can, therefore, charge practically anything he likes on the way back into London.

I ask my hon. Friend to consider this matter more seriously than the Ministry has done so far. He should arrange to put up notices at the airports so that foreigners visiting this country who cannot always be expected to know where to go or what to do, shall have more information. They expect the cost of a taxi to London to be a fixed cost.

One can travel by bus, now that the buses are back on the roads, but I have often found foreigners sitting in the buses being asked to pay the 5s. without having any English money with them. They have not had opportunity to change their money or seen where they could change it. I know that there are several banks at London Airport, but there has not, until recently, been anything whatever to show where one can change one's money on coming out at the Customs part of the building. The banks are a little further away and not always easy to find. In most other countries, there is just a bureau de change near the arrival point, and the changing of money is quite a simple matter. That is not so here.

I have asked more than once for something to be done, and, on the last occasion, I was assured that something had been done and there were notices now displayed. A week after that date, I was returning from Ireland, and, on arriving at London Airport, I looked everywhere where such notices could pos- sibly be and I found none. Admittedly, these are small points, but they mean something to visitors coming to this country from abroad, and they could be cleared up. There are much more serious matters, and I will come to them now.

First, there is the closing of Croydon. The practice which has developed in America of executives of big businesses having their own aircraft which they use for their own purposes, flying across the Continent, is beginning to grow here, and businessmen in this country similarly are beginning to maintain their own aircraft for use in flying to the Continent, for example.

They have been using Croydon, and now Croydon is to be closed. They have been told that they can go to Biggin Hill, or that there is the possibility of part of Gatwick being put at their disposal. I should like to know what the latest information about that is. Many of them would find Gatwick rather far away, and they want to know something more definite about it.

Again, those sort of people sometimes find it very important to send messages down from aircraft to people in London, to make arrangements to be met, or generally to make appointments. We have been told that it is very difficult to have this form of telecommunication between aircraft and land, but I have been informed by at least one hon. Member of this House, who is a director of a private air line, that it is quite possible to do it and his company always does it, communicating with Newcastle or wherever the aircraft is to land. I feel that this is something which the Ministry should try to develop.

There is talk of possible monorail connection between London and London Airport. What can my hon. Friend tell us about that? All that I have been able to ascertain is that there is in this country a company called International Monorail, which has a branch in London called Railplanes Limited and another in France called the Société Lyonnaise des Eaux et de L'Eclairage. The French company, which is closely linked with the London one, has already started an experiment for a monorail at Chateauneuf sur Loire which is to be ready by 1st July, 1959. The French Government have given £100,000 towards the £200,000 which will be required to try this out. If it is successful, the company is ready, I understand, then to work on a monorail here to London Airport. It has, I understand, discussed this on more than one occasion with the Ministry of Transport and, Civil Aviation. I should like to know the Minister's feelings about this matter. I gather that it would go from Paddington, would take about 15 minutes to get to London Airport, and would cost about £15 million. I presume that it would take a little time before that was done. I believe that the Government have plans for road development, which would mean that within half an hour one could get there by road.

Equally important is the question how to get to London Airport from Gatwick. There will be tremendous developments at these airports and people landing at one may well wish to get to the other as quickly as possible. The Government have not yet asked this monorail company to give any figures for getting from London Airport to Gatwick. It may well be that that would be a quick method of getting there. Another method would be by helicopter. I would like to know what the Government have in mind.

How is Gatwick to develop? At the moment, I understand, traffic is mostly to the Channel Islands, with a little trickle of air traffic to France. One hears rumours, or almost promises, that B.E.A. intends to use it as the main airport for the Continent. If that is the case, I would be grateful if my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary could tell us how soon this is likely to happen. It means a great deal to people on the South Coast, and especially in my constituency, which could fairly be called the next biggest town to London in this particular area.

It takes about 25 minutes to go by train from Brighton to Gatwick, and about 35 minutes from Gatwick to London. If, as will surely happen, we find ourselves fog-bound during the winter, with a clamp-down on London Airport, people may have to land at Gatwick. It may well be that hundreds of people will be left stranded, overnight, unable to get to London and uncertain of hotel accommodation, whereas, at Brighton, 25 minutes away, there is accommodation all ready. But we want to know something about the likelihood of future developments, to be prepared to meet a possible influx of visitors, even if they come only for one night.

People who live on the South Coast—and there is a gradual move from London in that direction—would find it ten times easier and more pleasant to go via Gatwick than having to get to London and London Airport. It takes not much short of three hours to get from Brighton to London Airport. We are, therefore, most anxious in my constituency to know something of these possible developments.

With so many people travelling up to London from the South, people in the Redhill area, on the Southern Region, find that it is almost impossible to get a seat on a train, because they have been taken by travellers from Worthing, Littlehampton, Hove, Brighton and Eastbourne. If it could be arranged to have fast trains stopping only at Gatwick and then going straight through to London, people in the Redhill and Three Bridges areas feel that this would help their chances of getting seats on trains in the mornings and evenings.

These points, large in number, are of vital interest to people at present, especially in my part of the country. I am most anxious that we should know what is in the mind of the Government about these matters.

2.25 a.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 Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling) on his good fortune in having this opportunity to raise this interesting topic, even if it is at a somewhat inconvenient hour of the morning. I would like to say a word about our general policy concerning provision for the surface links between London Airport and Gatwick and Central London and then to deal with the detailed points raised by my hon. Friend.

First, let me make it quite clear that our policy is to provide the best possible surface links between London Airport and Gatwick and Central London. We are in no doubt that London Airport in particular and, progressively, Gatwick are to this country ports, in the best sense of the word, of major importance and that the final link with Central London is just as important as the air service itself.

I will deal, first, with the London Airport link to Central London by road. The Cromwell Road extension has been in course of building for the last few years and the greater part of the work on the present phase has already been done and is in use. It should be finished towards the end of next year, in about eighteen months' time. The total cost of that work will be about £4½ million.

At present, the time for a coach running from the Cromwell Road air terminal to London Airport is about 40 minutes. When the rest of the work on the Cromwell Road extension is completed, it will be down to under 35 minutes. That is not bad if it can be achieved with reasonable certainty and I think that with the big improvements now taking place on that road, which will make for easy traffic flow throughout, those times are conservative.

The next phase on that road is to build a flyover at Hammersmith in place of the circulatory system which is, incidentally, just coming into operation. That preparatory work is now in hand and the scheme will take three or four years to complete. The problem of acquisition of property, and so on, in Hammersmith is considerable, but the work is going ahead. It is authorised and it will make another substantial improvement.

The final section is the beginning of the South Wales Radial from the end of the Cromwell Road extension at the Chiswick flyover, where what will be in effect a new motorway will be starting, running out to the West and linked up with the Slough and Maidenhead bypasses. The first stretch of that road will be a double-decker effect over the existing Great West Road. That will run for a mile or two on the double-decker principle. It will then swing off to the North and fly over the factory area, coming down in the open countryside to the North, and then pass on out to the West with a spur off to London Airport. The draft scheme for this will be published on Monday next.

When these two projects are completed, it is estimated that the travelling time from Central London to London Airport will be down to 23 minutes, which is rather better than the half-hour predicted by my hon. Friend. No one will deny that that will be a first-class road link which could not be bettered. It will be completed to that standard within the next few years.

One question of a rail link between London Airport and Central London, the British Transport Commission has worked out an outline scheme for a conventional rail link from Victoria to London Airport via Clapham and Feltham. It would, of course, be an express service and it would involve the building of a good deal of extra line. The cost, including underground work at London Airport, is estimated to be between £16½ million and £18 million—in other words, a costly scheme. This scheme is not included in the Commission's modernisation programme, and its construction would depend on its being an economic proposition on its own account. We could not visualise any element of loan or subsidy in it. The journey time would be 22 minutes. It would be an express service.

Turning to the monorail, to which my hon. Friend referred, there are now three groups interested in promoting the monorail link between Central London and London Airport. They have all been invited by us to submit detailed schemes showing methods of construction and operation, costs of construction and operation, sources of finance, methods of meeting safety standards, etc. We are now awaiting their response submitting their schemes in considerable detail. When we have received these schemes we shall compare them, and compare them with the picture of the conventional railway. In the event of approval in principle, at this stage of the monorail link, this new form of transport, it will, of course, be necessary to have extended field testing, which would be needed to establish the safety factors involved in monorail travel.

The three groups are, first, the one headed by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Sir A. Bossom), the group combined with the German interests. The principle of their scheme is a coach which travels on a smooth topped reinforced concrete rail and it has the special virtue that the coach is interchangeable, to travel either on the rail top or to run on the ground surface as well.

Secondly, there is the International Monorail, Ltd., system, to which my hon. Friend referred. Their coach, I understand, is suspended from an overhead rail. I was interested to hear my hon. Friend say that the figure of £15 million was put on that scheme.

Then there is Mr. Wolstenholme's scheme for a lightweight railway running in a geodetic tube framework.

The journey time by the monorail system is estimated to be from 15 to 20 minutes.

As to the prospect, it is most difficult to say. I had the interesting experience of paying a visit to Cologne to see the full-scale working model they have there. It runs for about a couple of kilometres on a rail. My personal impression was that that was an idea of great interest and promise. It certainly works. There is no question about that, but what has not yet been done is to develop this monorail scheme as a full-scale commercial operation, and there are obviously huge difficulties in doing that.

Nevertheless, here are these enterprising men who are prepared to finance and try out an enterprise, and I think that they are to be congratulated on their courage and enterprise. There is, of course, the attraction to us in the Government that, apart from providing a rapid and comfortable link between London Airport and Central London, this project would be financed by private money and would be no burden upon public funds. But it is still in the future. We shall know shortly what they can put up, and then my right hon. Friend will decide whether we can entertain one of them or more in principle.

The Gatwick rail link utilises the main Brighton line. It has two stops on the 26½ miles to London and covers the journey in 40 minutes. The fast service runs half-hourly. There are also two further slow trains per hour which stop at Gatwick Airport. It is apparently just not possible to run an express train from Gatwick to London in anything like economic circumstances. The volume of traffic using it simply would not justify an express train, and at present, with that very active line, it is necessary to have these two stops to discharge the passengers using it.

The new station which adjoins the airport has been generally approved by all who have seen it, and the new airport straddles the main road. At present, passenger traffic from the airport is light, but the British Transport Commission and B.E.A. will watch closely the future development of passenger traffic there to ensure that there are adequate services to meet passenger needs as they develop. I have no doubt that the offer that my hon. Friend made that visitors who arrive at Gatwick might stay the night in Brighton will be an additional attraction to go to Gatwick rather than to London Airport.

As to the future of Gatwick, B.E.A. have transferred to Gatwick at present only their Channel Islands services. Further transfers will depend on their experience on these Channel Islands routes and on the pressure of increasing traffic at London Airport. In winter months Gatwick will also be brought into operation for bad weather diversion from London Airport.

On my hon. Friend's point about taxicabs at London Airport, I agree that there have been unfortunate experiences on the part of visitors who do not understand the arrangements here. I am glad to be able to tell my hon. Friend that byelaws are about to be promulgated governing taxi-cabs standing on ranks at London Airport so that they will be under the same regulations as those in the Metropolitan area, as made by the Metropolitan police. The effect will be that fares must be accepted and the driver will be bound by the meter tariff up to six miles. If the journey is over six miles it will be open to the driver to make a special bargain. He must tell the passengers before the journey starts that the journey is greater than the distance over which he is bound to go by the meter and that he wishes to make an individual bargain.

Mr. Teeling

Does that apply vice versa, in taking a taxi out of London?

Mr. Nugent

Yes, it does now. The taxi driver is bound, by Metropolitan regulations, to do that now.

The link between Waterloo and London Airport going by Feltham was entirely an emergency arrangement during the bus strike. The service would use the existing suburban rail service, which, of course, is a stopping service, and I am sorry to tell my hon. Friend that there is no room on that heavily occupied line to run an express service without building an additional rail, and it would be impossible to envisage the amount of service involved. The time taken on the rail-bus link is 56 minutes and the cost is 2s. 4d. for the rail journey.

The bus fare was not charged during the period of the emergency, but if it were the total cost would be rather more than 5s. The disadvantage is that the time is longer than 40 minutes from the Cromwell Road, and it is impossible to run the service to tie in with the plane services, whereas the coach services from the Cromwell Road run on air schedules and each coach takes a load of passengers and is run in this convenient fashion.

A helicopter service was tried out as an experimental service from the South Bank to London Airport from 1955 to 1956. Useful lessons were learned, but at present B.E.A. has no plans for an airport-to-city-centre service by helicopter. As for a helicopter service to Gatwick, the present demand for travel between London Airport and Gatwick is so light that it would probably not justify an organised service like that, which would be expensive in any event. But both B.E.A. and ourselves will watch the possibility of a link there to see whether it is necessary. If there is a real demand in future which would justify an organised service we shall certainly see that in one way or another it is brought about.

My hon. Friend mentioned the signs for the bureau de change. I understand that there are printed notices mounted on the railings at the exit to each arrival channel.

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

Adjourned at nineteen minutes to Three o'clock.