HC Deb 02 March 1960 vol 618 cc1381-92

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

11.44 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)

I ask the House now to pass from the somewhat complex problems of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland to what, I hope, is the simpler problem of the highways and byways of Wembley. I want to bring to my hon. Friend's attention the problem of heavy traffic along some of Wembley's narrow residential roads.

The first point deals with Sudbury Court Road, which is a narrow twisting road about two-fifths of a mile long, according to my speedometer, which runs from Watford Road to Sudbury Court Drive. It varies in width from 20 ft. to 24 ft. At one end, there is an appreciably steep hill with a bend in the road. It has a footpath along the whole of the north side, and a footpath of sorts along part of the south side, but there is a long gap in the middle without any footpath. The surface is bad. It was never constructed as a proper road, and it has no drainage. It is used as a short cut by traffic travelling between Wembley and Greenford.

There is an alternative route, which is from Watford Road, partly round the roundabout, and along Sudbury Court Drive. That is rather longer, being about seven-tenths of a mile. This route is far more suitable for heavy traffic than the short cut along Sudbury Court Road.

As my hon. Friends know, Sudbury Court Drive is no less than 120 feet wide. Between the two lines of buildings on either side it has a dual carriageway for most of its length and service roads as well. It was made originally as a link between Wembley and Greenford, but it does not get the full volume of traffic for which it was constructed because the bridge over the Midland Region railway between Carlton Avenue East and Carlton Avenue West has never been built.

It is easier for drivers going on this journey to use the route Watford Road-Sudbury Court Drive rather than Sudbury Court Road. It is easier still for drivers going from Greenford to Wembley, because to get into Sudbury Court Road one has to take a right-hand turn out of Sudbury Court Drive across some traffic and when one gets to the other end of Sudbury Court Road one has to take another right turn into Watford Road. That involves crossing a lot of traffic and involves a long wait sometimes.

There have been complaints since 1951 about heavy traffic along this road. A traffic census was taken about that time, but nothing further was done. More recently there have been further complaints, and in 1958 a petition was got up by residents in the road and sent to my right hon. Friend's predecessor.

Because of that petition another census was taken on 22nd May, 1958, over three different periods of an hour during the day. As a result, it was found that between 8.30 a.m. and 9.30 a.m. 34 lorries over 3 tons in weight and 2 coaches passed along the road. Between 1.30 p.m. and 2.30 p.m. 30 lorries passed along the road, but no coaches. Between 5.30 p.m. and 6.30 p.m., 12 lorries passed along the road, but again no coaches.

That census was taken on a Thursday. It did not take into account the unusually heavy traffic that one finds when there are events of some sort or another at Wembley Stadium, particularly on four or five Saturdays in April, and certain other Wednesdays during other parts of the year when there are football matches.

I am not clear about the result of the census compared with the one taken some years before, because in a letter which the divisional road engineer wrote to the town clerk sometime in 1958 he said: From this you will note that whilst there has been a substantial increase in the total volume of traffic the amount of heavy traffic has dropped appreciably. But my hon. Friend, in a letter to me dated 27th January, 1960, said: … the percentage of these vehicles to total traffic has decreased considerably during the same period, which suggests that more use is being made of Sudbury Court Drive. There is all the difference in the world between saying that the amount of traffic has decreased and saying that the percentage of traffic has decreased, because there has been a considerable increase of traffic on the road over the past eight years, and it is quite possible that although the percentage of heavy traffic using the road has decreased its volume has increased. That is a point upon which I am not clear as a result of these two letters, and I hope that my hon. Friend can clear it up.

The residents have asked for a weight restriction of three tons to be imposed on the road, under Section 10 of the London Transport Act, 1924. This was supported by the Wembley Borough Council, but it has been rejected by my right hon. Friend. The chief reason given for the rejection is that it is not justified, as little evidence exists that heavy vehicles are a danger. I understand that nobody has been involved in personal injury there since 1951, but there have been many near-accidents, and one case has occurred when a resident walking along the pavement has had her handbag hit by a passing car which was overtaking a lorry. Clearly the road is dangerous when that can happen. Another reason given for refusal is the difficulty of enforcement.

I wonder whether many drivers would deliberately ignore a restriction of that kind. Any driver who ignores a restriction is caught red-handed if a police officer happens to be in the road, and that driver can be stopped. The average lorry driver is a reasonable and amenable person, and if the restriction is brought home to him I feel sure he will observe it whether or not there is a police officer present. I hope that my hon. Friend will reconsider the matter to see whether the restriction can be imposed. There may be few roads where this sort of thing occurs, but this is one of them, and a restriction would be justified.

My right hon. Friend has asked Wembley Borough Council to improve the road at a cost of £34,000, which would include putting proper footpaths along both sides of the road and taking a little off the gardens of the houses, particularly in Sudbury Court Drive, at the end of the road, in order to make the whole road 24 feet wide. That would destroy its rural character, and it would not be justified in view of the fact that there is a much easier and safer alternative route.

If my right hon. Friend is adamant, the next best course is to make a "no right turn" restriction out of Sudbury Court Drive into Sudbury Court Road. That would have the effect virtually of eliminating traffic in one direction without making it a one-way street. I understand that Wembley Borough Council intends eventually to extend the dual carriageway in Sudbury Court Drive to the end, which might have the effect of imposing a "no right turn" restriction. Perhaps my hon. Friend would clear up that point. If that is the case, why wait for that to be done? A "no right turn" restriction could be imposed now.

I pass from that to the Abbey Estate, in another part of my division, where the traffic has increased in volume rather than in weight, because that estate is used as a short cut from Ealing Road into the North Circular Road, and vice versa. It has caused a certain amount of alarm because there any many children on the estate, and the traffic does not observe the speed limit. This might be partly due to the trouble caused by the construction of an underpass at Hanger Lane. I hope it is and that when the underpass is finished the trouble will disappear. If not, again I wish to suggest that the question of one-way traffic be considered. Longley Avenue, one of the roads along which the traffic passes, is only about 20 to 22 feet wide. Were it made a one-way street there are several roads, including Abbey Avenue, parallel to it which might be used as a one-way street in the opposite direction. At one time there was a notice stuck on a lamp post, stating, "If you must use this road, please drive slowly". It had obviously been printed by a resident. I think that shows that something ought to be done to make the road safer, particularly for children.

Finally, I wish to refer to Oakington Avenue which is used by traffic travelling from Wembley Park Drive to Forty Lane and about which I have had a recent complaint. It is used mainly by traffic passing from the trading estate near Wembley Stadium in the direction of Greenford. This is a residential road, rather wider than any I have mentioned before, but nevertheless people who went to live there did not imagine that a time would come when heavy lorries would travel along that road. Obviously such traffic causes damage to property. There is no need for traffic to go along the road I have mentioned. It could travel up Bridge Road into Forty Lane or use Brook Avenue, which is wider and has the Metropolitan Railway line on one side and houses on the other which are set well back.

I know that this is a problem which involves many other roads but it is one which we must consider. I am one who has for a long time been urging the Ministry to provide better roads.

These narrow residential roads were never meant to be used as through roads. It is one thing to have light vans and cars travelling along them, but it is quite another matter when they are used by heavy lorries of up to three tons. Apart from the danger, there is also the problem of noisy exhausts and doors. The houses are rocked and damage is caused to ceilings. Even if nothing can be done to stop the use of these roads by such vehicles, although this is not a matter for my hon. Friend, consideration should be given to reducing the assessments on the properties in that area. This question of heavy traffic presents a serious problem, and I hope that my hon. Friend may be able to give some reassurance to the people concerned.

11.58 p.m.

Wing Commander Eric Bullus (Wembley, North)

I have not so many roads in my constituency requiring attention as my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell). There is one, however, which has caused concern to my constituents whose complaints I can support from personal observation. I refer to Draycott Avenue, a residential road and a turning off Kenton Road. There is good residential property on both sides of the road. It is not a very wide road, but in the last few years it has become a busy thoroughfare for motorists and heavy traffic. There is extensive parking on both sides.

Like my hon. Friend I made representations to the Wembley Council and learned of its frustration in dealing with complaints about car parking in streets in the borough. The town clerk has sought the assistance of the Association of Municipal Corporations, of which I am a vice-president, and which is considering the problem of car parking generally.

Naturally, the police wish to keep the traffic moving along the main high roads and so, I am told, they do not discourage parking in side streets, except near road junctions. The position in Draycott Avenue is aggravated by the presence of a transport café near the Kenton Road junction. This café is used by a number of drivers who park their heavy vehicles in Draycott Avenue, and there have been heated exchanges between some of these drivers and some of my constituents. Residents feel—and they have my sympathy—that the use of the road by heavy vehicles should be prohibited by the Minister of Transport. As my hon. Friend said, he could make an order under Section 10 of the London Traffic Act, 1924, but I understand that except where dangerous conditions exist the Minister is loth to make such an order.

A regulation imposing unilateral waiting in Draycott Avenue would help, and the borough council has decided to ask for such a regulation. Extra car parks would help, but I am told that the railway authorities have been most unco-operative, especially in the amount of rent they require. Perhaps the Minister could do something with the railway authorities.

In a short time, with the ever-increasing amount of traffic, the Minister will have to concern himself with two points, each at extremes of my constituency. One is at the Watford Bridge end of Kenton Road, and the other where the Kenton-Kingsbury Road enters the Edgware Road at the extreme end of my constituency. Traffic piles up at these points at peak times. I suggest that the Minister should be making plans for these traffic points now.

12.2 a.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Hay)

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wembley, North (Wing Commander Bullus) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) have both referred to a problem with which we are becoming more and more familiar in the Ministry of Transport, the problem of traffic which is now coming on to quiet residential roads in suburban areas. As both my hon. Friends acknowledge, it is a consequence of the ever-increasing volume of traffic we have to face in this country today.

Twenty-five years ago, I suppose, some of these quiet streets in Wembley and places like that were used only by ordinary domestic traffic which was comparatively light. Today there is not only an increase in domestic traffic, but increasing use of these roads by through traffic taking short cuts to avoid arterial road congestion. I think it important to keep the matter in true perspective to realise that since 1949 the total number of vehicles on our roads has doubled. The rate of increase has been about 500,000 a year in the last three years, and vehicle mileage went up by 32 per cent. and goods vehicle mileage by 24 per cent.

The examples give by my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South are by no means unique. We get a great many representations about this sort of problem from local authorities, from hon. Members and from the public. They usually complain of damage to the amenities which they have come to expect. They complain, quite rightly, of risks and traffic hazards created by this greater use of their roads, and local authorities frequently complain about damage which this heavy traffic does to roads never designed to carry it. They ask us either to impose weight restrictions, parking restrictions or prohibitions on the use of certain roads or one-way streets.

Our general policy is based on two main conceptions. I think reflection will make it clear that we need have no other ideas in our minds than these. The first is that the roads are there and must be used as roads. That is the purpose for which they were laid down. The second is that if we impose restrictions they will be useless unless they can be properly enforced.

On the first point, it is obvious that we cannot reserve a certain number of roads for certain types of traffic and allow other roads to be used by all traffic. There is a case sometimes—frequently we have to look at individual cases—where it can be said that, because of its structural defects, the road is not suitable for certain types of heavy traffic. However, broadly speaking, we have to accept that roads must be available for use by all types of traffic.

From that follows the fact that we must adopt some strict criteria when we are asked to impose restrictions. We can impose restrictions only in excep- tional cases—first where there is a serious and persistent nuisance; secondly, where there is a real danger on road safety grounds; or, thirdly—this is the case on which I briefly touched—where the foundations of the road are, for example, inadequate to take the weight of the vehicles.

On enforcement, as the House knows, the police forces of this country are under strength by and large. Since the restrictions must be enforced by the police, that is a fact which we cannot ignore. When trying to enforce weight restrictions, and so on, there is an inevitable difficulty in distinguishing between traffic which is passing through the road to some other destination and traffic which is making a call on the road in question—namely, the purely domestic or delivery traffic. If we impose restrictions too readily on one road, it is frequently our experience that we simply transfer the problem to an adjacent road. We have to be rather tough in our policy on this.

It often happens that the problem is somewhat temporary in nature. My hon. Friend mentioned one case, to which I shall come in a few minutes, where increasing use of small residential roads is due to major road improvements which are taking place. But on the whole, this problem is due to the amount and volume of traffic on our roads and the inadequacy of our main roads, which we freely acknowledge and admit. The answer to the problem is that we have to press on with our policy of road improvement as fast as funds will permit.

I will come quickly to the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South. Wembley is a typical area of the type where this problem arises. It is suburban, almost completely built up, and traversed by several main through routes. It is mainly residential in character, but it has a light industrial zone at Alperton and it lies near to other industrial areas at Acton, Willesden and Ealing. It is inevitable with an area of what I think the planners call "mixed development" that industrial traffic in residential parts of the district will increase.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South referred particularly to Sudbury Court Road. This is a typical short cut between Watford Road and Greenford Road. It is not suitable for heavy traffic. A far better route is the one he described via Watford Road and Sudbury Court Drive. However, the difficulty about that route is that it involves the motorist or the lorry driver in an additional 500 yards, and there is a natural temptation to take the shorter route if that can be done.

The history of this is that in 1952 the Wembley Borough Council asked us to place a restriction on the road prohibiting its use to all but light vehicles. We turned that down in that year, on the advice of our Divisional Road Engineer and the police, after the traffic count to which my hon. Friend referred had been taken. The principal reason was that we were not satisfied in that year that there were a sufficient number of heavy vehicles using the road.

The matter then rested for a number of years, until in 1958, as a consequence of the petition to which my hon. Friend referred, he raised the question in the House. We then put the matter to the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee. The committee advised that we should reject the request of the council because, first—I hope that I can now make the figures clear—there was a substantial drop in the number of heavy vehicles using the road between 1952, when they were already insufficient to justify a restriction, and 1958 when the decision had to be taken.

Secondly, there was clear evidence that no heavy vehicles had been involved in accidents on the road since 1949. The Committee also advised that there would be difficult problems of enforcement similar to those which I have mentioned, and took the view that reconstruction and improvement of this road would be better. I believe the council is considering this point now. My right hon. Friend accepted the advice of the Committee and informed my hon. Friend in January last.

Tonight, my hon. Friend has mentioned two alternatives, as I understood him. One was that we should prohibit the right-hand turn from Sudbury Court Drive, and the other was that we might introduce a system of one-way working in Sudbury Court Road. On these two matters, our Divisional Road Engineer advised that they would be unsatisfactory. The right-hand turn and one-way working would impose considerable inconvenience on those residents in that road possessing cars. It would almost certainly increase the volume of traffic that uses the road, and it would increase the speed, because when there is a one-way street there is a natural temptation for traffic to move faster since there is no stream of traffic coming in the other direction. That is one of the objects of the exercise—to speed up the flow of traffic.

Mr. Russell

I was not suggesting the creation of a one-way street. I said that the effect of a right-hand turn would be to make it mainly one-way.

Mr. Hay

I apologise if I misunderstood my hon. Friend. For that reason, the difficulty which would be caused to residents with cars in that road, we are advised that the prohibition of the right-hand turn would be impracticable.

With regard to the quadrilateral of roads—Longley Avenue, Carlyon Road. Abbey Avenue, and Queensbury Road—I will not go into great detail because the problem is similar and my hon. Friend has already mentioned it. But our advice is that a lot of the difficulty here is caused by the roadworks which are going on at the junction of Hanger Lane and Western Avenue where the underpass is being built. That should be open to traffic fairly soon, and after it is open we will look at this matter again to see if there has been a diminution of traffic using this estate.

As far as Oakington Avenue is concerned, this is not an altogether suitable road from the point of view of surface. A good deal could be done to improve the surface and get rid of some of the vibration that is experienced by residents in that road. I am advised—and I have a lot of technical data on this—that damage to ceilings is hardly ever, if at all, traceable directly to the use of a road outside by vehicles. I will show my hon. Friend the document from the Building Research Station after the debate.

May I come to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, North about Draycott Avenue. The position is that in 1955 the council proposed a unilateral waiting restriction, which again the Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee considered. They came to the conclusion that this should not be adopted because if this were done the immediate effect would be that cars which parked in this comparatively quiet street would park in Kenton Road which is a through traffic route and a shopping area. Draycott Road is moreover a side road with a good deal of residential property having what is called in the language of my Department "vehicular accesses" to each house—what most people would describe as drive-ins. If we were to have unilateral waiting, it would mean that we should halve the amount of space available for parking, and that would mean constant usage of one side of the road, so that the drive-ins would be blocked. There would, therefore, be great difficulty for the residents.

The Divisional Road Engineer and the Police agree that we should not impose these waiting restrictions in that road, and the council was so informed in August, 1956. So far we had heard nothing further from the council about it until my hon. Friend said this evening that it was about to approach us again. When it does, we shall look at this matter as sympathetically as we can, but we shall have to have in mind some of the problems that this question poses for my right hon. Friend's Department in particular, just as it poses problems for those who live in these streets. The short answer is to improve our main traffic routes, and to get on as quickly as we can with our road programme. If we can do that, I hope we shall quickly solve the problem.

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 House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at fourteen minutes past Twelve o'clock.