HC Deb 13 May 1958 vol 588 cc372-8

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

11.31 p.m.

Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett (Croydon, North-East)

I wish to draw attention to the effect which the London (Waiting and Loading) (Restriction) Regulations, which are due to come into force on 1st June, are likely to have on shopping centres in Croydon.

I should like to make quite clear that I am not opposed to the Regulations as a whole, or indeed in principle. My point is essentially a constituency one. Incidentally, I think I should say that the constituency most affected is that of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. R. Thompson), who is precluded by his office from taking part in this debate. I certainly could not associate myself with the Prayer for annulment of the Regulations which is on the Order Paper in the name of the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) and some of his hon. Friends.

The House should be made aware that Croydon Council and Croydon Chamber of Commerce are strongly of opinion that the Regulations in their present form will cause serious inconvenience to the shopping public over a wide area in south London and in Surrey and will cause loss of money to shopkeepers. I must apologise to my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation for bringing him here at this late hour to listen to this debate when we all appreciate that his Department is working under great strain and in a period of anxiety. At the same time, I hope he will agree that it is only right that the point of view of interests affected should be properly ventilated.

There is a second point which I think I should make clear before I come to the question of Croydon's special position. These waiting Regulations cannot be said to promote road safety. It is perfectly true that every year a number of incautious people meet their death by stepping out into the roadway from behind parked vehicles. Against that, even more of us owe our lives to being able to reach the shelter afforded by a parked vehicle before we can be run down. Moreover, it is common ground that parked vehicles slow down the flow of traffic. That, indeed, is the reason for the new Regulations and none can seriously deny that the slower the speed of traffic the safer the roads become. I am not arguing that we should deliberately impede traffic in this manner because it may well be held that the extra risk is an acceptable price to pay for higher speed, but I make the point that discussion of the merits of the new Regulations must not be prejudiced by any pretence that they are likely to be a contribution to road safety.

Croydon's position in relation to these Regulations is an unusual one. Not only does the main London—Brighton road run through the county borough, but the borough as a whole can almost be described as a gangway through which a large number of people who live in Surrey and parts of Kent pass on their way to and from work in London. In recent years a great shopping centre has been developed in Croydon and this centre attracts countless thousands of people from the surrounding districts.

Unfortunately, these shops are situated almost exclusively on roads which are affected by the new Regulations. Most of them are open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., so that parking will in future be prohibited throughout all the shopping hours. A great deal of shopping by car takes place between 9 and 11.30, especially by people on their way to work and by elderly people. A great deal of the roadways on which the principal shops front are by no means narrow. In the opinion of the local authority, the new restrictions will do very little to relieve the traffic congestion, which is not caused mainly by waiting in the yellow band areas before 11 a.m. That is Croydon's case against these Regulations.

I recognise that there is another side to the argument, and that there is much ground for the Minister's view that there should be uniform restrictions throughout the London area because they are easier to enforce. That argument would be more convincing if there were not already a number of exceptions provided for in the draft Regulations. I recognise that it will be open to the local authority to propose local variations of the Regulations after experience of them. In this connection the Croydon local authority is disturbed by the Minister's statement, made in a letter to it, that he would not expect such suggestions would be presented to him "for a considerable while." Bearing in mind that "an early date" is official language meaning a year, "considerable while" may well come to mean a decade.

May I make two suggestions? Will the Government do their best to deter people from driving to and from their work in Central London in large cars? In normal times an excellent public transport system is available. Will the police be told to enforce the parking restrictions with the same strictness at the points of arrival as it is proposed to do along the routes leading to them? Will the speed restrictions along the routes be strictly enforced in the future?

Cannot some more active and imaginative steps be taken to improve parking facilities? I know it is difficult in a town whose centre is already over-built, like Croydon, but are we sure that shops and offices are given sufficient financial incentives to provide parking spaces at the expense of their own ground floors? Surely there are long stretches of road where cars could be allowed to park where the pavement is now situated, provided that overhead footways were constructed at first-floor level. I understand that the cost of such an undertaking would be about £70,000 per mile, in addition to which there would be the expense of making entrances to shops on the first-floor level.

Schemes of this kind would make a considerable difference to the parking space in the main approach routes to London. The cost is not prohibitive. One knows towns where raised footpaths already exist and where development on the lines I suggest is possible. These are the sort of positive steps which I should like to feel were being taken, but with the jungle of committees and councils and Government Departments concerned with the varying facets of this problem, one is not inspired with any confidence that a great deal will be achieved in the near future.

11.40 p.m.

Mr. Frederic Harris (Croydon, North-West)

I support what has been said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett). I suggest to the Minister that the presence of the three hon. Members who represent Croydon constituencies demonstrates the genuine concern felt in our great town about the effect of these Regulations when they come into force. I share the regret of my hon. and gallant Friend that the Minister had to come here tonight at this late hour, but that is not our fault.

It seems to me almost impossible for the Minister to make Regulations of this kind with quite such a general basis of application. It would be right to claim that every part of suburbia, and virtually every street, has different traffic conditions. Certainly in Croydon, as I know from personal experience, the traffic problem in one street is different from that in the next. I served long enough as a member of the Croydon Borough Council to know that this is essentially a local problem and I submit that the view of the borough council which, by the way, is a local highway authority, should be respected and complied with as far as possible. The council has special local knowledge.

The council objects strongly to Regulation 3 taken in conjunction with Part 1 of the First Schedule. The centre of Croydon, including the main shopping area, is affected, as are such well-known streets as Addiscombe Road, Church Way, Crown Hill, George Street, the main Croydon High Street, London Road, North End, Park Lane and Wellesley Road. At the moment cars are permitted to park there up to 11.30 in the morning, but under the proposed Regulations they will be prohibited from doing so from 8.30 a.m. onwards. This will apply from Monday until Saturday and about twenty-two streets will be affected. This, I submit, is an impossibly rigid Regulation. It demonstrates a lack of appreciation of local conditions by the Civil Service. In some ways we are always ready to criticise the Civil Service, but this is an example of the Civil Service at its worst.

The traffic problem in Croydon should not be a major problem. In the first place, there is a by-pass available for most of the through traffic seeking to proceed from outside the main yellow band areas in both a northerly and a southerly direction. Secondly, the new Fairfield Bridge has relieved pressure on the George Street area. Over and above this, the traffic lights themselves are a controlling factor of the traffic flow. I submit to the Minister that the existing lay-out of the Croydon town centre, although containing massive shopping facilities and a substantial number of important business offices, too, has from West Croydon to Sparkbrook Road and from High Street to Park Lane no nearby off-street short-term waiting facilities. This is not the case in most yellow band shopping areas elsewhere.

The Croydon Council has endeavoured to convey its views to the Minister in the clearest possible terms, but on the face of it these views have been completely ignored. I feel that the rather indiscriminate handling of the matter is similar to the handling of the situation in certain central London areas, for instance, Lambeth, Paddington, Westminster and many more areas on the fringe of the London traffic area, such as Croydon. In certain of those areas, as distinguished in the Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Schedules to the Regulations, the Minister has fixed as many different periods of prescribed hours as there are Schedules of streets. I therefore find it difficult to understand the position. How can the Minister possibly insist that there should be uniformity of treatment throughout the whole of the Greater London traffic area? Surely this is a nonsensical approach to the problem.

Croydon's general view and that of the Croydon Council in particular, and the view held by many important local bodies such as the various Chambers of Commerce to which my hon. and gallant Friend referred—and, I venture to suggest, the view of the majority of Croydon people, particularly those who go to business and shop in Croydon—is that the local requirements in the matter should not be overriden by a Minister in this arbitrary fashion. We are submitting to the Minister that he should listen to informed local opinion and adjust his Regulations accordingly. There is so much variety in the fourteen Schedules of streets issued with the Regulations as to make nonsense of the Minister's plea that the restrictions must come into operation consistently, all at the same time throughout the whole of the Metropolitan district.

For my part, I ask the Minister to reconsider the views which Croydon has submitted to him and if possible to amend his Regulations further. I also make a final personal plea that people are persistently saying to me in Croydon that the police have a tremendous job in dealing with crime, particularly in present-day conditions, and that all these additional Regulations add to the weight of their work in the Croydon area. It is difficult to see how they can cope with all the additional work which will be involved in controlling cars under these Regulations in our great towns. I respectfully hope that the Minister can give considerable weight to the views which we are putting to him tonight.

11.50 p.m.

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

I must congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) and my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. F. Harris) on their speeches this evening about the famous county borough of Croydon. Both they and my colleague, the third Member for Croydon, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. R. Thompson) are, of course, well known for their concern for the welfare and interests of Croydon. I am only sorry that the Regulations for which I have responsibility should have caused them anxiety. I am conscious of a sense of gratitude to Croydon. It is not so long ago that an admirable exhibition on transport was arranged in a well-known store in the High Street there, with a particularly good feature on road safety. I was very grateful to Croydon for putting this on. It was most helpful to us.

The Regulations before the House now—which are, indeed, to be prayed against next week—the London (Waiting and Loading) (Restriction) Regulations, 1958, will have the effect of consolidating all waiting restrictions in the Metropolitan Police District, and will make some changes which will affect Croydon, as has been said. They will have the broad effect there of advancing the starting time for waiting restrictions from 11.30 a.m. to 8.30 a.m., leaving the finishing time where it is.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)

Order. The Prayer is down for Thursday next week. This is anticipation. The debate cannot proceed. I was not aware of it, until the Minister informed me.

Mr. Nugent

You apprehend, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that it is impossible for me to answer the debate raised by my hon. Friends without reference to it, because that is what we are discussing.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The point is that the Regulations are to be prayed against next week. The subject is being discussed now, and we cannot, of course, do that.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at six minutes to Twelve o'clock.