HC Deb 11 March 1960 vol 619 cc884-96

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

4.1 p.m.

Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)

There is a widespread feeling in the south Essex area that the transport facilities there are very inadequate, and a desire that there should be some considerable improvement. That is particularly so in Dagenham. The reason the services are inadequate in that part of the Greater London area may be due, possibly, to a bigger variation in use between the rush hours and ordinary times compared with the more central parts of the area. There is also less duplication of services over the same roads as there is in areas nearer the centre of London.

Then with the decline generally in London Transport revenue, there is less inclination by London Transport to develop services or to introduce new ones. Even in the newly developing areas, where there may be the possibility of winning new traffic, it does not seem to show much initiative. There is also the tendency of long-distance bus services running all the way through London to bunch up if they have been delayed by fog or congestion in the central areas. If there is such interference the services are often cut down or turned round or may be cancelled. So there are a number of reasons why there appear to be generally inadequate services in this area.

In Dagenham we feel that there should be better north-south bus services. There need to be more direct links between the northern part of the town and the main part. The northern part has the Hainault industrial estate. Part of this L.C.C. housing estate is in Chigwell, part in Word, and part in Dagenham. The industrial part of the estate is in my constituency and the southern end of the housing area.

That industrial estate was developed at the same time as the housing estate, so that there would be work for the people there. There is complaint, however, that there is shortage of labour for the factories on the estate. There is general complaint in the London area of shortage of labour, but local industrialists complain that if transport facilities were adequate they would have their fair share of the labour available, for local supplies are not adequate, and they want to bring it in from elsewhere. Also, many people on the estate do not have the skills used in the local factories and go out to other industrial areas to work.

Transport facilities to and from the Hainault industrial area today are thought to be inadequate both by the people working there and by the factory owners. The excuse is made that one gets a lot of people trying to use the buses in the rush hour and that there should be a greater staggering of hours. But the initiative really ought to come from London Transport. It should take steps to get a conference of workers and industrialists to try to get a scheme for staggering hours which would ensure better travelling conditions on buses. It is no good saying it should be done if London Transport does not take the initiative.

There are other reasons why we think there should be better facilities to the north from the southern parts of the borough. First, we have recently developed a large new housing estate at Marks Gate. The sons and daughters of residents of the main part of the borough live there and, naturally, their families want to visit them at weekends and evenings, particularly on Sundays which is the day when traffic facilities are most inadequate. There is a large cemetery nearby and at the top end of the borough is Hainault Forest, one of the few pleasant pieces of open country in that part of Essex and a fairly large area. It is very fine country, but it is not known anything like as well as it should be. People cannot get at it and, naturally, do not go to it. London Transport might provide a little publicity about the charm of Hainault Forest as it rightly publicises ancient, historic houses in London and round about. It would be a good idea to have such publicity and to get traffic going to Hainault Forest, helping to make services in that area more remunerative.

We feel that in the whole of south Essex there is a strong need for an overhaul of the routing and schedules of buses. When new estates are built and new roads constructed or widened, the bus services tend to run along the old lines and little attempt is made to bring them into line with changing conditions.

In the middle of Dagenham is a very fine dual carriageway, Becontree Avenue, and it is estimated that 14,500 people live within 250 yards of either side of that road. Many representations have been made by the council and other local bodies to get bus services diverted from routes where they are duplicating other services, to run along that avenue. The main bus services however continue to run along the old routes although this highway is particularly suitable for taking bus traffic.

Along that highway are institutions used by many people and which could be used by many more people if there were bus services to them. There are the Becontree Branch Library, which issued 762 books per day last year; Valence House, an old manor house converted for the use of voluntary organisations, at which there were 1,381 meetings last year and at which there would have been more if there had been better bus services; Valence Baths, which were attended by 74,400 people in the five months of last summer; the council main depot, at which 250 men are employed, and the meeting places of the two largest voluntary organisations in the area, the Y.M.C.A. and the British Legion; while a large shopping centre is nearby. One would have thought that London Transport would have taken account of local knowledge and representations and would have made some attempt to meet the demands for services in that area.

This is not the first time that we have had to complain about transport facilities in that part of Essex. When I was first elected to the House of Commons in 1935 and represented the whole of south Essex, this was a burning issue. I led a deputation of the different local authorities in the area to the then Minister of Transport. As a result, we had a further deputation to Mr. Frank Pick, then in charge of London Transport. The result of that was a general overhaul of the routes and schedules for all bus services in the area, very much to the appreciation of local inhabitants.

A similar overhaul is now needed. There is a feeling that London Transport dislikes taking such action. One knows that altering routes and schedules involves a great deal of work and the dove-tailing of other services elsewhere and has other repercussions. As a result of that, the matter is put off and avoided but a fundamental overhaul of the services to bring them into line with modern needs is now necessary.

As the result of that deputation the South Essex Traffic Advisory Committee, of which I have the honour to be the president, was set up in 1936. I think that I can claim to have been its father. It was set up to keep a watch on the services in the area and to keep in mind changing public needs. We have on it representatives of the local councils and representatives of the bus and train services. My impression is that useful work was done by that Committee, especially during the war years, but there is a wide feeling that in the last five or ten years the Committee has become more and more ineffective. Many people think that it has largely become a farce, because no major improvements have been made in recent years as a result of representations made by the Committee. The Committee is therefore felt to be a waste of time. I hope that some effort will be made to rejuvenate the Committee and make it more effective by seeing that attention is paid to the complaints which it puts forward.

May I now deal with the railways in the area? Enormous alterations are taking place. Barking Station is being reconstructed, and the electrification of the Fenchurch Street—Tilbury line is in hand. I think that on the whole people would agree that despite those enormous alterations there has not been undue interference with the services. On the other hand, there is a feeling that sometimes the fact that these alterations are taking place is used as an excuse for other shortcomings that are not due to those alterations. It is also felt that there is room for improved information ser- vices for the benefit of passengers, so that when alterations have to be made people can be informed in good time. They should be taken into the confidence of the people who run the railways and told why a train has to stop if they have to change into another one.

May I next deal with Dagenham Dock Station. It is on the line to Tilbury which is being electrified. I should like to put the suggestion that the station should be re-sited as part of the electrification plan, or possibly that the communications to the station from the different factories in the area might be improved. It is obviously important that when that line is electrified the station should be able to take as many workers from those factories as possible, and be able to take them either west or east. At present an enormous amount of the labour force travels up by bus to Dagenham Heathway or Dagenham East Stations. That means cutting across all sorts of other people leaving work by other means of transport. If they could be taken direct by railway that would be an enormous relief to the traffic problem when work finishes or when people are coming to work. I hope that that suggestion will be looked at to see whether something can be done to re-site the station or to provide better approaches to it.

My next point deals with the nearby level crossing. This is a very vexed question and I would not have raised it today had I not had representations made to me both by industrialists on the Thames-side estate and by shop stewards asking that something should be done. This level crossing is one of the busiest anywhere in the Greater London area. The figures that I have, show that in September, 1952, 160 vehicles an hour passed over the level crossing, and the gates were closed for 42 per cent. of the time. In February, 1958, 325 vehicles per hour went through, and the gates were closed for 38 per cent. of the time. In early March of this year 422 vehicles an hour went through, and the gates were again shut for 38 per cent. of the time. Over a twelve-hour period between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. 80 trains pass along that line.

When the electrification of the line is complete there will be more traffic on the railway, and, as it is suggested that signal boxes will control a longer length of line, there may be longer periods when the gates are closed, in addition to more traffic. People are worried about what the position will be when the electrification is complete.

A few years ago I took a deputation to the Minister about this. The position is that this is a private road. The Ministry's view was that if the factory owners would combine to put up 50 per cent. or 60 per cent. of the cost it might be possible to provide a bridge in place of a level crossing. Nothing came of that. No one was prepared to do anything. I ask the Minister whether he cannot take the initiative in calling a conference of the parties concerned, particularly the factory owners, the local authority and the workers, to try to devise a practical plan to remove the level crossing and thus obviate the difficulties, which cause an enormous waste of time, petrol, and so on. That could usefully be done.

Most of my constituency consists of London County Council houses built in the 'twenties and the 'thirties, when nobody thought that the day would come when many of the inhabitants would possess their own motor cars. There is, therefore, little room for the building of garages, although a large proportion of the people possess cars. As a result, the vehicles are parked in the roads outside the houses.

The second aspect of the problem is that many of the workers at the industrial area come in by car and park their cars on the roads nearby by day. Car parks are often available, but, as it takes so long to get the vehicles out when work has finished, their owners prefer to leave them on the streets. In addition, long-distance lorries are often parked in the streets for considerable periods at night or evening, so that the drivers can leave early next morning. The result is that an enormous number of vehicles are parked on the estate roads, which are not over-wide. This makes it dangerous for people driving along the roads at night and difficult of access for ambulances, fire engines, garbage vans, delivery vans and the rest.

The Dagenham Council has made an effort to meet the situation by providing a number of parking places, but people will not use them. They prefer to park outside their houses. It would help if the police could direct vehicles, especially those of the non-residents, to the parking places and get people to use them. This would at least remove the long-distance lorries and the cars of people who work in the area during the day and would afford considerable relief and certainly make the police popular with the local inhabitants, who feel they have the first right to park outside their own houses.

As the area is within the Metropolitan traffic area, the local authority has no power to designate streets for parking or even for "no waiting." The usual machinery must be followed and sometimes it takes as long as eighteen months to reach a decision, as happened in a recent case. We believe locally that it would be worth while for the local council to have authority to control parking in its own area and we suggest as an experiment that cars should be parked only on one side of the road. When this suggestion has been made to the police, they have replied that the streets are too narrow and have refused permission. Cars therefore continue to be parked on both sides and nothing is done. At least, it would be a worth-while experiment to have cars parked on only one side of the road.

The council feels that it would be a great help to have power to build garages, not merely, as now, for its own tenants, but for other people. There is little desire to build garages in the area —shops and houses are much more remunerative—but as part of the general policy of trying to provide parking places, the local authority would find it useful to have power to build garages and to collect an adequate rent for them. This would be a contribution towards solving the problem. Possibly, these last two points might be dealt with in the Road Traffic Bill which the Government are soon to present to Parliament.

We would appreciate it if we could have a deputation from the local authorities of the area and its Members of Parliament to the Minister, and, possibly, through him to London Transport, to discuss the whole of these problems, particularly the need for re-routing and for new schedules, and to raise with the Minister our suggestions concerning adequate powers over parking and the building of garages.

4.20 p.m.

Mr. Tom Driberg (Barking)

If we are to allow the Joint Parliamentary Secretary time to reply, I can hardly do more than support formally what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker). This I gladly do, for the needs of his constituents and of mine are in many ways identical.

Two points I may mention as of particular interest to people in Barking. The first is that improvements in the Thames View Estate bus service always seem to lag behind the development of the estate. Buses are quite often taken out of service unexpectedly and most inconveniently. Why? Secondly, the recently dieselised rail service between Barking and St. Pancras is not working at all satisfactorily, and British Railways have had to apologise publicly for the delays. Why?

I do not expect the hon. Gentleman to be able to answer these points today, as well as those raised by my hon. Friend, but that, of course, strengthens the case for a deputation from the local authorities and the hon. Members concerned, and I hope that this request at least will receive a favourable reply.

4.21 p.m.

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

I think that both hon. Gentlemen who have spoken realise my situation in this debate. So many of the matters that are raised are those of management for the London Transport Executive, management matters in which my right hon. Friend has virtually no say, unless, of course, the situation is becoming so serious that it was a national affair, whereupon my right hon. Friend would have the right to give the London Transport Executive a direction. I do not think that either of the hon. Gentlemen would take the view that these matters are as serious as that.

One suggestion made by the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) and endorsed by his hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) was that my right hon. Friend should receive a deputation from the local authorities and others. While, of course, we are never averse to receiving deputations if some useful purpose can be served, I ought to say to them that on these matters of management, the better course, in my personal view, would be to approach the London Transport Executive, to begin with, and to ask Mr. Valentine or some of his associates to receive a deputation first.

That might be more productive of results in the long run rather than meeting my right hon. Friend, who could only say that this was a matter of management, and that all he could do was to be a sort of conduit pipe between the deputation and the London Transport Executive. Perhaps if either of the hon. Members wish to pursue the point of the deputation further, we could discuss it, but that is all I can say at the moment.

The hon. Member for Dagenham raised a point about a number of complaints of bus services, and again these are matters of management for which my right hon. Friend the Minister is not responsible. All I can do is to give the hon. Members what information is available, coming from the London Transport Executive. The first complaint was about the inadequate service between the north and south parts of the Hainault industrial estate to Dagenham town centre. I am told that in September, 1959, the London Transport Executive refused a request from the Dagenham Council to run a service of this kind because there was insufficient traffic. It points out that travel is possible from one part of the estate to the centre of the town by the use of the 139 bus, and changing to the 62 bus at Eastern Avenue. The 139A bus was recently withdrawn because of lack of support and insufficient traffic.

Another point raised by the hon. Gentleman concerned the question of routes 139 and 175. He complained particularly of an inadequate service, bunching and bad timekeeping. The answer to this, I am told, is that there is in this area, as the hon. Member himself said, very heavy traffic congestion, and, in addition, perhaps because of the counter attractions of the industrial developments going on so well in his constituency, there is a considerable shortage of staff for the buses. In any event, however, the London Transport Executive tells me that it is considering the regrouping of the two routes so as to provide a better service.

The other point which the hon. Member raised was that of re-routing buses through the estate. I am told that in December, 1951, and again in April, 1956, the London Transport Executive applied to the licensing authority for permission to re-route these buses, but the Dagenham Council, on both occasions, opposed the application because it claimed that the roads were unsuitable for buses. This is a matter in which the Minister must act in a review capacity, and an appeal be made to him, as a result of failure to meet obligations, but I can make no further comment on it beyond that.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to the South-Essex Traffic Advisory Committee. I ought to say that, as he has already inferred, that this is a purely local body set up, I think, in 1936 by the local authorities with the object of putting complaints about transport facilities to the railway and London Transport authorities. I must make it clear that the Minister of Transport is in no way responsible for this Committee, or for its proceedings. Despite the criticism which the hon. Gentleman says is now emerging, the Committee has existed for nearly twenty-five years, and I suppose that to some extent it must be supported by the local authority. I believe it has very close contact with the Executive and with the Eastern Region of British Railways which are represented at the Committee's monthly meetings.

I think that from time to time the Committee has had some successes. Two recent examples have been given to me. One in July, 1959, consisted of the successful diversion of the bus route 62 so as to provide a service to Marksgate Estate in Dagenham, and again, in the autumn of 1958, a special Sunday bus service was provided for the Thames View Estate to which the hon. Member for Barking referred in his brief intervention.

I cannot make any comment about the Committee, because it is not one for which we are responsible, but I would like to draw the attention of the hon. Gentleman's constituents to the existence of the appropriate transport users' consultative committee which is, of course, the channel provided by Parliament for complaints by users of rail or bus transport services. Of course, it is always best for complainants to go first to the Executive or to British Railways and make their complaints, and then, if they do not get satisfaction, to go to the transport users' consultative committee.

A brief word about the level crossing called Chequers Lane. The hon. Gentleman was quite right in telling the House that this is a road for which we are not responsible. I understand that down as far as the station the road is a public road—a Class III road—but that beyond the level crossing it becomes a private road.

Our interest in highways is, of course, principally concerned with through traffic in this sort of case. I am told that here there is no congestion of through traffic in the normal sense. It is mainly the local traffic coming from the estate out into Dagenham and perhaps elsewhere. Certainly, no application has been made to us by the local authority for a bridge to be provided or for a scheme to be propounded with that objective. If such a scheme were put forward we would, of course, look at it, but we should have to regard it critically because it would be somewhat expensive to provide.

The hon. Gentleman suggested that the Minister might call a conference of all parties concerning the bridge. I would have thought that that was a better exercise to be carried out by the local authority to begin with and if later there was a general desire that we should be approached with regard to a grant then we should look at it. I ought to say that the London Transport Executive tells me that electrification of the line and the installation of fully automatic and colour light signalling, which should be completed by 1961, should give a better rail service any way and will speed up the operation of this level crossing. So, perhaps, as time goes on the situation will improve.

Finally, I do not think that at this late hour, the hon. Gentleman will expect me to indulge in a wide dissertation about car parking in Dagenham. With regard to the problem which he mentioned of parking around the Ford Estate, he will now perhaps have received the letter which I wrote to him yesterday telling him of the recent action taken by the police and the result of that action.

I am told that long-term parking by employees of the company in this district has practically ceased. I hope that I am rightly informed. I think that I should also mention that various improvements are proposed for the main road near the Ford factory which should have the effect of reducing delays to all traffic and provide somewhat less temptation for the Ford workers to leave their cars outside the factory in the roads instead of in the very big car parks provided by the company. It is an interesting commentary on our society, particularly on the prosperity in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, that so many cars should be run by the workers in the Ford Company that they are causing a great parking problem outside the factory.

That is all that I have time to say, but we will do what we can to help both hon. Gentlemen on both problems.

Mr. Driberg

Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, could he say whether it is possible to do more by way of advertising in local papers, or otherwise, to make known the existence and whereabouts of the transport users' consultative committee?

Mr. Hay

We could publicise it, but I do not think that we have the funds for the purpose. Perhaps I could have a word with the hon. Gentleman about it.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes to Five o'clock.