HC Deb 07 November 1960 vol 629 cc789-98

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

10.13 p.m.

Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)

I wish to raise a constituency matter, and although it is not one which might interest a great number of hon. Members in the House, it is, nevertheless, one of considerable importance to people who live in Grangetown, Cardiff. I wish to raise the question of the traffic problems in one ward of my constituency. One of the wonders of this House is that after discussing great issues which affect the State it is possible to raise matters touching the lives of people in a small part of one's division.

The Grangetown ward is a closely populated residential ward where two great main roads—Penarth Road and Clare Road—cross and divide the ward into four sectors. Each sector has been seriously affected by an unparalleled increase in heavy and fast-moving motor traffic. This is a common problem in every great city in the country, but I want to refer to the particular one in which my constituents are affected.

First, I want to refer to Pentre Gardens, Merches Gardens, Mardy Street and Pentre Street and the side streets of that area. There are no fewer than eleven junctions in this small area, without counting the side streets. There are no "Halt" signs and no "Slow" signs at any of these junctions which, for the unwary stranger are potential deathtraps. Indeed, there have been two accidents there within the past month. Heavy lorries and fast-moving traffic alike cut through this quiet part for two purposes: first, to beat the traffic lights at the corner of Tudor Road and Clare Road, Grangetown, and, secondly, to short-circuit their route to the Penarth Road, the other main road. This heavy traffic rumbles through roads never intended for it, with a devastating effect on property and people alike. Nerves are shaken as the china rattles on the dresser.

The local authority, Cardiff City Council, being aware of the problem, attempted to make an order prohibiting heavy vehicles from using these streets. Also, a petition has been drawn up by the residents, led by Councillor Alexander, a young member of the Cardiff Corporation. The terms of the petition, which is now being circulated, are as follows: We, the undersigned, understand that the Cardiff City Council have made an order prohibiting certain streets, viz., Dinas Street and Hafod Street, to all vehicles except those requiring access to premises in these streets, and we further understand that to date the Ministry of Transport are unwilling to confirm this order. That is my first grievance with the Minister.

To return to the petition: We therefore wish to associate ourselves with this previous petition and to add our own strong representations that this order is confirmed and extended to cover Mardy Street, Pentre Street, Pentre Gardens and Merches Gardens. The use of these streets by through traffic is increasing and is providing an added danger to the children and older people of this locality as well as causing noise and distress, and damage to property. Alternative main roads exist for through traffic but the streets in the order and those defined above, which are classed as residential, are bearing the brunt of excessive use of them by through traffic in an effort to save time to the detriment of all residents in this area. We further recommend that the streets named Pentre Gardens and Merches Gardens should be scheduled as children's playgrounds. Now I come to the recommendations that I seek to make to the Minister. I support the application that this part of Grangetown should be scheduled as a children's playground. The children have already decided it for us. They play there innocently enough. I fear that we may have serious accidents if urgent action is not taken in the very near future.

I believe that any traffic approaching the area because it has a right to call on the houses there ought to be limited to 5 m.p.h. I further suggest that all heavy traffic should be prohibited from parking in this entirely residential area. There has been excessive parking of vehicles night and day, and heavy lorries starting up in the early hours of the morning play havoc with the residents' rest.

I also wish to ask the Minister to look at the question of Penarth Road. This is well known to the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Box); I believe that he goes through my constituency every time he goes home. Penarth Road and Clare Road are two main roads, but they were never made for the heavy traffic that they now have to bear. They are both highly dangerous, and it is difficult for the people who wish to cross them. Clare Road has now been given some traffic islands. Penarth Road needs more traffic islands and Belisha crossings, particularly below the traffic lights at the junction with Clare Road and at the top at the junction with Fitzhammon Embankment.

I know that this is a local problem, but the Minister must carry a great deal of responsibility because when the local authority submitted a solution, his Department turned it down, as if to say that the "man in Whitehall" knows best. I believe that the Cardiff Corporation, which is a very responsible body, certainly knows better than the Minister or his Department what streets in the city ought to be closed to heavy traffic. I trust that the Minister will be prepared to give hope to the people of Grange-town, who, through no fault of their own, find their property being affected in value because of the heavy traffic passing through and also their rest disturbed and their safety endangered. It is because of my anxiety on this question that I took the extreme step of troubling the House with it tonight.

10.20 p.m.

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

The problem that the hon. Member has raised is by no means unique. He may not be altogether surprised if I say that we get frequent requests from many parts of the country for the same kind of treatment to be applied to small residential streets which are now being used for heavy traffic, as he has requested for this complex of roads in part of his constituency. We know all about this, because he has been assiduous in corresponding with my right hon. Friend and with me and in putting Questions about the roads in this area.

Before I deal as best I can with the various points he made, I wish to make one general point. The responsibility of my right hon. Friend in these matters is somewhat limited. The Cardiff City Council is a county borough, and as such it is the traffic authority for the whole of the city area. This means it has power to carry through a large number of different types of traffic schemes without the intervention of anyone else.

There are, however, certain things that it cannot do on its own without the confirmation and approval of my right hon. Friend. Two of these things have been mentioned tonight—the prohibition of certain streets to traffic, either all traffic or certain types of traffic, needs confirmation, and the designation of streets as play streets for children also needs his confirmation and approval.

Having made that general point to indicate my right hon. Friend's position—which is, namely, that it is only if these two propositions are put that he has any locus standi—I proceed now to the main points. As the hon. Member said, the trouble in this rather congested restricted area is due to very heavy traffic which is being experienced throughout Cardiff, particularly in the centre and the main thoroughfares. I am told that the traffic there has increased by some 10 to 15 per cent. in the last eighteen months, and this is quite a startling increase. It is an index, of course, of the improving economic position of Cardiff and South Wales in general.

The problem principally arises, as he said, because a lot of traffic going either from the City or west of the City down to Penarth or the docks has to make use of two of these main roads, and since these roads are congested there is a tendency for traffic, particularly the heavy lorries, to filter through some of these smaller residential streets in order to take short cuts and avoid the congestion. There is a glorious expression, which I must not keep from the House, used in my right hon. Friend's Department to describe this process. It is called "traffic seepage". I came across it for the first time today. The hon. Gentleman will understand what I mean.

In addition there is the problem of street parking. There is a great deal of parking of ordinary private cars in this district, and also a large number of lorries parked there, often at night and for most of the night. These two things together undoubtedly cause a good deal of annoyance to the local residents. I say frankly that I have every sympathy with them and I understand their feelings and difficulties.

I come next to the particular case which he raised—the question of Hafod Street and Dinas Street. These are two small streets which the City Council asked us some time ago to prohibit to heavy traffic. We were obliged to refuse the request, not because we have any illusions of grandeur and believe that we in Berkeley Square—not Whitehall—know better than the City Council, but because a census of the traffic made by our divisional road engineers on the spot showed that, overall, the volume of traffic in these two roads is quite slight.

I talked tonight on the telephone to our divisional road engineer in Cardiff. He told me that to the best of his information—and he knows the area well—those two roads are not used as short cuts by much traffic because, as he put it, they are really not on the way to anywhere. They are part of a complex of roads in this area, but they do not form an obvious diversionary route for traffic going from one point to another.

As for the parking of vehicles in these two roads, as I said earlier, the City Council is itself the traffic authority. If it felt it desirable to do so in the interests of the residents in the locality it could make a "No Waiting" order. It could prohibit parking or waiting in either or both or these streets. The City Council knows this, but so far it has not decided to do this. Therefore, my right hon. Friend is bound to say that he cannot see any reason to prohibit these streets to traffic, or even to certain types of traffic. The question of the prohibition of waiting is not for my right hon. Friend, but for the City Council.

We have to be a little careful in agreeing too freely to restrictions upon certain types of traffic using certain types of street, because if we start blocking off certain streets to traffic, our action has repercussions elsewhere. If we block off a street the traffic which normally seeks to use it will be forced to use other streets, and complaints will then begin to arise from residents in those streets. If we had accepted what the City Council had in mind to do, and prohibited Dinas Street and Hafod Street to heavy traffic or all traffic, there would have been complaints from residents in the other streets on either side, which would then be used by the traffic which no longer went down these two streets. The more streets that are opened and the fewer the prohibitions, the more even is the distribution of the traffic. For that reason we have to adopt a rather tough policy in connection with the requests we receive from time to time, from many parts of the country, for the prohibition of certain streets to certain types of traffic.

My next point concerns the request that the whole of this area should be designated a number of play streets. I was not sure whether the hon. Member was exaggerating a little, but I think he will agree that it will be virtually impossible to close down all the streets in this area.

Mr. G. Thomas

I am sorry if I caused the Minister to misunderstand me. I was referring to the Pentre Gardens-Murches Gardens square.

Mr. Hay

Then I misunderstood the hon. Member. This would not be an easy thing to do. However, I can give him one piece of good news. He may know that we have been approached by the City Council to turn a road in this area—Clive Lane—into a play street. I understand that the Council has had this in mind far some time. I can tell the hon. Member tonight, as we shall very shortly tell the City Council, that if it chooses to make an order to this effect my right hon. Friend will be ready to confirm it, subject to any objections made when the order is advertised—for these orders have first to be made by the City Council, then advertised, so that there may be opportunities for objections to be lodged, and then my right hon. Friend has the power of confirmation. That is the general position.

The hon. Member next raised the question of pedestrian crossings in Penarth Road. We have no record of any applications made by the City Council for what we call uncontrolled crossings—that is zebra crossings—in Penarth Road. Our divisional road engineer has reported that he has had no requests for crossings at all. There is a controlled crossing at the traffic lights at the junction of Penarth Road, Corporation Road, Clare Road and Paget Street, but there are no other pedestrian crossings in these roads, or so I understand. Nevertheless, on 26th October last the Town Clerk of Cardiff made formal application to us for a grant towards the cost of providing central refuges at two sites in Penarth Road. The first is to be near the junction with Taff Embankment, and the second near the junction with Tresillian Terrace. This application is being considered. I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman tonight exactly what the answer will be. That is the position about pedestrian crossings.

As for the accident figures, I have not detailed figures with me about the accidents in the whole complex of roads which has been mentioned. The information we have shows that the accident rate here is no higher than it is either in other parts of Cardiff where the same sort of conditions apply or elsewhere in the country. It is true that as traffic mounts, particularly in an area greatly used by heavy traffic, the risk of accident is to that extent increased. On the whole, this area does not seem to us to have an accident rate much higher than those to be found elsewhere.

I have covered most of the hon. Gentleman's points. One must look at this problem and the traffic requirements of Cardiff as a whole. It is not very easy to select one area and try to deal with it in isolation. As soon as one tries to do that, one transfers the troubles and difficulties elsewhere. Neither I nor my right hon. Friend is in any way unsympathetic to the inconvenience that is caused to residential areas through the process of traffic seepage.

The rise in traffic in Cardiff, and indeed throughout the country, is due to the greater economic activity which is going on and the much wider possession, ownership and use of cars. The picture is, therefore, not entirely black. There are certain black features to it, but there are also many white ones.

The long-term solution in all our towns and cities lies in major improvements to roads and to car parking facilities. In the short term, there is no doubt that streets have to be kept as open as possible to help to spread the load of traffic, because to close them only makes the problem more acute. This may seem a somewhat hard doctrine, but it is the only realistic one.

In addition, we must press on as quickly as we can with the control of on-street parking and the provision of off-street parking facilities. I understand that the position in Cardiff is that the City Council has under the closest examination some far-reaching schemes of traffic and parking control. The Council is in the process of building two large off-street car parks, with others planned for the future. The Council is almost on the point of taking the plunge with regard to parking meters, which we sincerely hope it will decide to install at a fairly early date, because we are convinced that their installation is the best answer to be found, at the moment at any rate, to the problem of on-street parking.

If the City Council, by the examination of all these ideas, can provide a solution for the parking and traffic problem in the central area of Cardiff, that itself will have its effect upon the problems which the hon. Gentleman has raised. I do not want him to take away from the debate the impression that my right hon. Friend is indifferent to what is going on. He certainly is not, but his powers are limited and, if and when the City Council comes to us with plans which require our confirmation, we will certainly look at them in the most sympathetic light possible, bearing in mind the responsibilities that we have and the effects that a decision there may well have in other parts of the country.

Broadly speaking, I do not feel despondent about the problems of Cardiff. The City Council knows perfectly well what is going on and what to do about it. We will help it in every way we can.

10.34 p.m.

Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary has replied with his customary courtesy to the very powerful plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) on behalf of these residents. My hon. Friend would never have raised this topic in the House if it had not been a question which had caused much local concern.

With respect to the Parliamentary Secretary, to say that this is a common problem does not necessarily dismiss my hon. Friend's argument. If there is heavy through traffic in a residential area, particularly if motorists are allowed to use it as a lorry park, it interferes with the safety, comfort and health of people just as much as if a factory were allowed to be built there which disturbed people by working at night. This is therefore a fundamental question which affects the lives of people in the cities.

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has altogether met the points made by my hon. Friend. First of all, it is very common for the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary to say in this House that nothing can be done by them be. cause it is up to the local authority. In this instance, the local authority has recommended action which the Minister has refused to reinforce. It may be that other action will be approved, but some action, based on local opinion and no doubt carefully worked out, has been rejected by the Department. That is bound to cause anxiety. I do not know whether Cardiff engages a trained traffic engineer. I hope that it does. All big cities should have a traffic engineer. We want to encourage the systematic study of traffic flow by the authorities. But I think that the Minister should have been very slow to turn down any such application.

Secondly, there is this big problem of lorries and their parking. This is something that causes anxiety not only to the residents but to the drivers of the lorries. They have nowhere to park their vehicles. They say that they are pursued by the police if they leave them on certain streets and are therefore driven into the residential area. If we are to have a policy making the road free to compete with the railways, the Government will have to insist on, and assist in, the construction of lorry pounds where lorries can be left overnight, safe from theft—that is a very big matter for lorry drivers and hauliers, in any case—and so leave residents unaffected by early morning and late night working.

It is all very well to make fun of seepage, repercussive jamming and the like, but the simple fact is that we are not keeping up with the demand made upon our roads by the new vehicles that are coming on to them. It is no use saying that it is better to have a car that one cannot use than not to have a car at all. The fact is that this 15 per cent. increase, representing an increase of 1 per cent. per month in Cardiff and elsewhere, is far ahead of even the moderately-accelerated road improvement programme the Government have announced. The Government are absolutely defeatist in believing that the public want such a slow rate of urban road improvement and would not be prepared to pay for better facilities. If a man is prepared to invest, say, £400, £500, £600 or £700 in a car, he is also prepared to pay for the roads—and to see that they are built—that are necessary for him to use his car.

I well understand the difficulty in which the hon. Gentleman finds himself, because these are decisions taken by the Cabinet—and not even in his own Department—but it is not good enough for him to dismiss the difficulties of my hon. Friend as a common problem. It is a national crisis. All I urge now is that the public want some money to be spent on roads. They are prepared to pay, because there is no virtue whatsoever in allowing our roads to get so overcrowded that not only road users find life impossible but residents in congested areas find the residential benefits of their property are much affected. I hope that we shall have an opportunity to discuss this wider question before too long.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-two minutes to Eleven o'clock.