HC Deb 04 November 1959 vol 612 cc1011-5
11. Mr. Strauss

asked the Minister of Transport to what extent his Department, before agreeing to the construction of a new road bridge at Staines, which was designed in 1939, considered seeking a more modern design which, in the light of technical developments, would be more economical to build and more in harmony with present day aesthetic ideas.

14. Mr. Lipton

asked the Minister of Transport why he rejected alternative plans for the new bridge at Staines; and if he will make a statement.

26. Mr. D. Price

asked the Minister of Transport whether he will consider putting out the design for a selected number of road bridges to open competition.

32. Mr. Albu

asked the Minister of Transport when the plans for the new Staines Bridge were made.

38. Mr. Corfield

asked the Minister of Transport whether he is satisfied with the bridges that are now being built in the road programme; and whether he will make a statement.

39. Sir L. Heald

asked the Minister of Transport whether, in view of the public interest in the new Staines-Runnymede bridge, he will make a statement indicating his policy on this subject.

Mr. Marples

The original design for Staines bridge was prepared in 1939 b. Mr. H. W. FitzSimmons as consulting engineer and Sir Edwin Lutyens as consulting architect. When the project was revived in 1957, the possibility of adopting an alternative design was considered but in view of the historic importance of Runnymede and Sir Edwin Lutyens' close association with developments there, it was decided to retain the elevation of the original design. But the engineering structure was completely redesigned to modern standards.

The alternative outline scheme for the bridge submitted by the Alderton Construction Co. was carefully considered both by the consulting engineer, who is independent, and the Department's own bridge experts. In both their views the outline scheme fell far short of being a sound alternative.

As part of the road programme a large number of bridges designed by independent consulting engineers and county surveyors are being built. Full use is made of the latest engineering techniques.

I have not yet had an opportunity of seeing many of these bridges. I propose to do so as soon as possible. I also propose to see for myself the latest methods of design and construction being adopted abroad. In making such an inspection I shall be accompanied and advised by independent leading bridge designers from this country. I have already asked the President of the Institution of Civil Engineers to nominate a panel of such independent advisers.

Until I have made this inspection I should prefer not to commit myself on any particular method of obtaining designs, but I am already considering whether we can use different methods, including open competition.

I am arranging an exhibition of models, perspectives and photographs of some of our bridges. It is being staged from today in the Upper Waiting Hall. By visiting it Members can see for themselves what we are doing at present.

Mr. Strauss

While I think the House will welcome a great deal of what the Minister has said, may I ask whether he is aware that there is considerable public concern over this matter? When he tells us that his Department and the consulting engineer were satisfied with the old construction proposals and dissatisfied with the new proposals, can he tell us in what respect the new proposals fell short of requirements? Is it or is it not a fact that the new proposals would have saved several hundreds of thousands of pounds in the cost of construction?

Mr. Marples

The original decision was taken partly on the historic nature of the site. There were special reasons for retaining the original elevation. Once we have decided on amenity grounds that a certain type of bridge is necessary, the scope for design is limited by that decision. That was the limiting factor.

Mr. D. Price

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is considerable disquiet about the way in which consulting engineers are appointed by his Ministry and that there is criticism that it has been done in the past by "Buggins' turn"? Is he aware that the only way he will get new ideas into his Department and into our bridges is by putting selected bridges, major schemes such as Staines, up for open competition, as is done in practically every other country in the world?

Mr. Marples

I do not accept the whole of what my hon. Friend has said. In this matter we must have some balance and perspective. The British civil engineering consultants, by and large, are first-class and have done some first-rate work all over the world. There is no doubt about that. By going immediately, as I have done, to the President of the Institution of Civil Engineers and asking him for a list of selected consultants, I think I have made a good move. The great thing about civil engineers is that they specialise. Some specialise on marine work, some on bridges, some on constructing and some on consulting. We are trying to find a panel of young consultants who have both designed and constructed bridges. More than that I cannot be expected to do.

Mr. Lipton

While the right hon. Gentleman's intentions for the future may be very desirable and may hold out some prospect of a new approach, may I ask whether he agrees that he has made a rather bad start in his new job by obstinately clinging to the old-fashioned ideas in respect of Staines bridge, in addition to wasting £200,000 on the job? It is all very well to talk about the future but he has made a terrible mistake about Staines bridge.

Mr. Marples

The hon. Member is hopelessly wrong, if I may say so with respect. The first thing is that the structure of the Lutyens bridge accords with modern design. It may be that the façade is different, but that was decided on amenity grounds. There is nothing wrong with the structure. The cantilever principle with suspended arch, which has been proposed as an alternative, is as old as the hills and was adopted when the Forth bridge was built in the nineteenth century. There is nothing new about that. Once the decision had been made on amenity grounds, rightly or wrongly, the rest flowed naturally from that decision.

Mr. Lindsay

Will my right hon. Friend make sure that at least one architect—a good contemporary architect—is included in the panel?

Mr. Marples

I should like to look at that, because I find that one can have too many experts. One may be rather confused.

Mr. Albu

Is the Minister aware that many civil engineers in this country, as well as those in Copenhagen, believe that this is a completely antiquated design and is the wrong design for this site? Does not the Minister agree that to erect a bridge which was designed twenty years ago will hardly be a good advertisement for British civil enginering or British bridge design?

Mr. Marples

The bridge was not designed twenty years ago. The appearance of it was designed twenty years ago. What has happened is that the structure of the bridge with the foundations and the way of bridging the gap has been redesigned recently. All that has happened is that the Royal Fine Art Commission and other people wanted a certain type of appearance because of the historical associations there. They may have been right or they may have been wrong, but they wanted it. This structure is modern, but the actual façade accords with the surroundings of the district.

Mr. Strauss

In view of the public interest in this matter, would it be possible to exhibit somewhere in the House a picture of the design of the bridge as adopted and intended to be carried out and the alternative which it has been suggested would be so much more adequate and cheaper?

Mr. Marples

I should be grateful if hon. Members would go upstairs to the waiting room. They would then see the bridge that is being built, and could table some more Questions for next week.

25. Mr. D. Price

asked the Minister of Transport what standard of cost per square foot of bridge surface is aimed at by his Department in examining the designs of civil engineers for the building of new bridges.

Mr. Marples

No such standard is employed. Such a method is far too unreliable to serve as a guide to whether the cost is reasonable or not.

Mr. Price

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many people in civil engineering would rather differ from that view, and feel that there should be some cost standard? Further, is he aware that the average cost of present Government bridge construction is £12 a square foot, while British civil engineers in contemporary practice all over the world can get down to £8?

Mr. Marples

I am very sorry, but I must entirely disagree with my hon. Friend. It is something that gives me great pain, but I must disagree with him. Costs vary widely with such factors as the length of clear span, foundation conditions, accessibility of site and degree of repetition within the structure. This particular method of cost per square foot applies to building above the ground where conditions are known, but does not apply to building below the ground where conditions are not known. As a matter of fact, I have made inquiries and find that the range of cost of bridges built in recent years is roughly 30s. to £30 a square foot, depending on whether one builds on rock or silt or whatever it may be.