HC Deb 23 July 1958 vol 592 cc580-3

Lords Amendment: In page 16, line 14, at end insert new Clause "B". (1) The highway authority for the Under pass shall be under a duty to maintain the Underpass (ventilating tunnel) and any works carried out under section three of this Act for the purpose of providing for the ventilation of the Underpass. (2) The said authority, in discharging their duty under this section, shall not carry out work involving interference with the Wellington Arch or with land under or within 10 yards (measured in any direction) of the said Arch except with the consent and to the satisfaction of the Minister of Works. (3) Where it appears to the Minister of Works that repairs are needed for safeguarding the structure of the Wellington Arch or otherwise in connection therewith and that the repairs ought to have been carried out by the said authority in discharge of their duty under this section, the Minister, after giving twenty-eight days' notice to the authoriy (or in the case of emergency such notice as may be practicable), may provide for the carrying out of the repairs and may recover the reasonable cost thereof from the authority.

Mr. Nugent

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

The Amendment does two things. First, it provides for the maintenance of the ventilating tunnel and the associated works, and secondly, it safeguards the Wellington Arch both from external interference in carrying out such maintenance and from neglect to carry out repairs to the Arch in connection with the maintenance works on the ventilating system.

As the House will recollect, the ventilating shaft from the underpass tunnels is to be brought up inside the Wellington Arch in such a way that it will not show. It will simply have an orifice in the top through which the ventilation will come. The Amendment is designed to give effect to that.

11.15 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Greenwood

This Amendment shows the foolishness of leaving the arch in the position in which it is proposed to leave it. It is in a wholly unsuitable position and on the processional way which will wind across the middle of the open space which will be left when these improvements are effected.

We find ourselves in some difficulty tonight through the absence of any spokesman from the Ministry of Works. The Ministry suffered severe handling by the right hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) on the last occasion when we had the Measure before us, and so it is not surprising that neither the Minister nor the Parliamentary Secretary is present tonight. Under the rather difficult circumstances, I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will do his best to explain this question of the ventilation shaft which is to come up through the Wellington Arch.

I wish to ask what is to be the size of the shaft; how it is to be taken through the Wellington Arch; whether it will impede progress through the arch and whether—I put this in the most delicate way possible—all the necessary consents from interested parties have been obtained?

Mr. Ernest Davies

Before the Joint Parliamentary Secretary replies to my hon. Friend, perhaps he would consider another point. He will recall that during the Committee stage we discussed who was to be responsible for the underpass. According to the terms of the Bill, the highway authority responsible in the first place is the London County Council, but once the construction has been completed the Westminster City Council becomes the highway authority. I understand, however, that the London County Council will remain the authority for the underpass.

If he can, I should like the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to explain why it is necessary for this confusion of authorities to be persisted in. We are to have the Westminster City Council responsible for the various highways which will emerge when the scheme is completed. The London County Council will be responsible for the underpass because it is the tunnel authority for London; and there will be the Marylebone, or the Paddington Borough Council—I forget which—responsible for certain of the roadways in the Marble Arch area. It seems absurd that there should not be one authority for this area which, after all, is considered as an entity from the point of view of the Bill. Can the Joint Parliamentary Secretary say why it is necessary for the London County Council to retain authority for the underpass and this ventilating tunnel, and why it cannot be handed over to the Westminster City Council so that it may be the sole authority responsible for this area?

Mr. Nugent

I ask the leave of the House to reply. The hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) has raised this matter before. There is power under the Bill for the London County Council to transfer responsibility for the underpass to the highway authority, the Westminster City Council, if it wishes. But it is the view of the County Council, which we accept, that it should be responsible for the underpass. It is the tunnel authority for London. There are a number of river tunnels for which it is responsible. It has engineers who thoroughly understand all the various problems connected with tunnels and their ventilation. In the circumstances, the County Council considers that it should retain responsibility for these fairly lengthy underpasses.

There is a strong case to be made out for that. I accept the argument that it would be convenient for the whole area to be in the hands of one highway authority, but on the other hand, in the case of the Thames tunnels, the County Council has an arrangement whereby it is responsible for the tunnel, and the highway authority responsible at either end. I think, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman can be assured that no difficulty arises, in practice, in having this division of responsibility, and that there are special technical problems involved that justify it.

Turning to the various questions raised by the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) about the ventilating shafts, I am afraid that I am not able to tell him now what the size of the shaft will be, but it will be constructed inside one of the pillars, as it were, of the Wellington Arch itself, so that it will in no way impede the opening through the arch. Of course, as the hon. Gentleman observed, the arch has been kept for processional purposes, and a way is left through the middle of the new island so that processions can go through.

I do not think that there is any argument that the arch should have been moved. Indeed, if it had been moved, we should have been left with the fearful problem of where on earth to put the shaft in such a way that it would not be offensive to the community. But, by the ingenious putting of the shaft inside the arch it will be quite invisible. It will come within the massive structure of one side of the arch, and it will have an open orifice at the top which will not in any way affect the elevation of the arch.

In that way, the beauty and the amenity of the arch will be preserved, and yet we will have a fully effective ventilating shaft, which we must have, of course, for the underpasses. I can, therefore, assure the House that this is really quite an ingenious arrangement for surmounting a difficult problem, and I am glad to say that we have had no difficulty in obtaining the consents of all the authorities concerned.

Question put and agreed to.