HC Deb 14 December 1961 vol 651 cc787-98

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

11.13 p.m.

Mr. R. H. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)

On 22nd November, I asked the Minister of Transport a Question about the danger to pedestrians, especially elderly people, on that portion of the A.19 which goes through Long Street, Thirsk. I asked him whether he would either provide a pedestrian crossing on this stretch of trunk road for the elderly to use, or else take some other action to mitigate that danger. He replied that he would not supply a pedestrian crossing.

Then I pointed out to him that at a recent inquest the coroner's jury had asked for this pedestrian crossing. I said that if he could not provide one, then he could surely do something to help prevent accidents on this stretch of road. As my right hon. Friend, in his reply, said: I will take as much action as I can to mitigate danger, but I do not think that the action my right hon. Friend proposes is the right one." [OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd November, 1961; Vol. 649, c. 1330.] I felt that his reply was so unsatisfactory that I gave notice that I would raise the matter on the Adjournment.

There is an old history to this problem. I first raised the matter nine years ago, on 17th March, 1952, so my constituents have been disappointed and outraged by the decisions of successive Ministers of Transport to do nothing about this stretch of road. I will describe its geography. It is a stretch of trunk road which carries traffic on the A.19 from Tees-side to York, the A.61, which takes traffic from Tees-side to the West Riding, and A.170, which takes traffic from Scarborough to the West Riding. Thus, in this area of my constituency three busy roads converge. I agree that the Scarborough road is busy only during the summer season, but the other two roads are especially busy.

A housing estate, the size of which is shortly to be increased, is divided from the centre of the town. This is a housing estate on which the local authority which is pressing for this change has allocated an area for old people's bungalows. When I first raised the matter nine years ago, there were about 100 houses divided from the town by this trunk artery, but that number has now grown to 240 and, under the local authority's housing plan, which, it is hoped, will be completed in two years, there will be a large number of additional houses on this estate. There is also an infants' school on the north side of the road. The school has a school crossing patrol to help the children going to and from school at breaks, but that school is an additional danger factor in the area.

When I first raised this matter, I said that my constituents, Thirsk Rural District Council and Thirsk Parish Council, felt that if the Minister did not take some action—in their view, a pedestrian crossing—there would be a number of accidents. There is a roundabout at the point of intersection—White Mare Corner—but my constituents obviously do not want the pedestrian crossing at the roundabout. It is suggested that the crossing should be 50 or 100 yards from it. That would be a convenient place.

There were a number of accidents. Two pedestrians were knocked down on this road in 1957 and, later that year, a pedestrian aged 74 was knocked down by a lorry while crossing this road. The next year or the year after a child was run down while crossing this road and in January this year an old lady of 85 was knocked down while trying to cross the road and was fatally injured. By reason of that fatality, the coroner's jury returned a verdict of "Accidental death", with the recommendation that a pedestrian crossing should be sited near the place where the accident had occurred.

The Minister has great responsibility for seeing that this stretch of trunk road, which is within his jurisdiction, has proper safety provision for people to cross, especially when there are old people's dwellings within the vicinity. It may be all right for a young man like the Parliamentary Secretary to cross a busy stretch of road, but it is a very different matter for old people like the pedestrians of 74 and 85 who have been knocked down in recent years.

This is, of course, a restricted part of the trunk road, but as, Mr. Speaker, you well know, in these areas on trunk roads which are through routes it is very frequently found that the 30 miles an hour speed limit is not observed. I asked the clerk to the justices only recently how many prosecutions there had been of drivers on this stretch of road, and he said there had been a considerable number of prosecutions for exceeding the speed limit on this stretch of the A.19. It means that notwithstanding the 30 miles an hour limit old people frequently have to encounter a car going faster than 30 miles an hour on that part of the road.

I cannot understand why the Minister is so adamant about the pedestrian crossing. Thirsk has no pedestrian crossing at all on any part of any of its roads. It may be that the pedestrian crossing is not a good safety provision. If so, why is it that in the neighbouring town of Northallerton there are a number of pedestrian crossings and that in the neighbouring town of Ripon there are a number of pedestrian crossings? If the Parliamentary Secretary will look at Henley, which has a similar position, he will find the old people of Henley are looked after by pedestrian crossings, as I was told when passing through, only last Sunday. I have not been to Wallasey, but in Wallasey one will find probably the same provision. I am only saying that my constituents should have similar protection to what is afforded in these other towns.

If, in present traffic conditions, the zebra crossings, what at one time was called the Belisha crossings, after a former Minister of Transport who did not invent the idea but had the Order made during his period of office—are not the answers, then it is the duty of the Minister to try right ones.

There is one peculiarity of Thirsk of which the Minister should be aware. Thirsk is the main stop for heavy lorries travelling north and south. That means that at night, when old people go out, a number of heavy lorries are travelling along this stretch of road, and that adds to the danger. Let me make it quite plain that I am not saying tonight that the only remedy is a pedestrian crossing. I am saying to the Minister that, if he will not provide a pedestrian crossing there is the duty on him to find an alternative means of seeing that these old people are not knocked down.

I would suggest that it may well be that a controlled crossing, as at a school, which I mentioned, may be the right thing, that a police-controlled crossing, at times when traffic is highest, is needed to enable the old people to cross. I can tell him that I have had complaints from my constituents that at some periods of the day for a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes one has to wait to cross. I agree that is exceptional. I feel that, in general, in the Minister and in the Parliamentary Secretary we have Ministers who are extremely good at looking after the needs of, and providing for, motorists. I am not so satisfied they are looking after the safety of pedestrians.

11.24 p.m.

Mr. John Mackie (Enfield, East)

I shall delay the House only a minute. I know the stretch of road to which the the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) has drawn attention. I never understood the one-way system that there is in Thirsk.

I would emphasise that the normal pedestrian crossing is of no use for old people. I think that the right hon. Gentleman, if he wants to press their case, should ask for controlled crossings, the press-the-button type. One presses the button and the traffic light turns to red. An old person will otherwise put a foot on the road and, even though a vehicle is moving at a reasonable speed, will hesitate, and that causes accidents. Old people need to be assured that it is safe to cross, and the button controlled system is best for them. As I say, I know this road very well, and I know there traffic moves fast along it.

11.25 p.m.

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

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) has already told the House, the Adjournment debate tonight arises out of a Question that he put to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport a few weeks ago, in answer to which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport was obliged to tell my right hon. Friend that he was unwilling to provide a pedestrian crossing at this place.

It might help if I were to say a little about the physical background. My right hon. Friend has already said something about that, but perhaps I could put the picture as we see it in the Ministry. As my right hon. Friend has said, this road, known as Long Street, Thirsk, is part of the York—Stockton trunk road, and at the southern end of it there is this roundabout called the White Mare roundabout. To the east of Long Street there is a council estate to which my right hon. Friend referred, and I was interested to hear what he said about provision being made there for old people's housing. The carriage way width of this road is a somewhat important factor in this case. It is between 25 and 30 feet wide. It varies somewhat along its length, but it is somewhere between those measurements.

When my right hon. Friend asked whether there were any other measures which could be taken, apart from the provision of a pedestrian crossing, which might assist people crossing the road here, one of the very first things that we investigated was whether it would be possible to erect traffic islands without providing a full pedestrian crossing with zebra stripes, flashing lights, and so on.

But I am sorry to say that we found that the road itself, the carriageway, is too narrow for the provision of islands. We have to be careful about where we provide islands, because if the road is not wide enough the provision of an island means that traffic may be forced on to the pavement in certain traffic conditions. I am, therefore, sorry to say that it has not been possible to use this way in which we might otherwise have dealt with the problem.

The basic criterion which my right hon. Friend the Minister adopts when considering requests for the provision of a pedestrian crossing is the volume of the traffic—both vehicle and pedestrian traffic. This road has what we estimate to be about 400 vehicles per hour passing along it. This, I must tell the House, is an estimated figure. It is grossed up from a traffic count that was taken in 1954, but it is quite a normal practice of the Ministry to do this because we know that traffic is increasing at the rate of about 4 per cent. per annum compound.

As to pedestrian traffic, our divisional road engineer, who knows this area well, estimates that there are only about 50 adult pedestrians crossing the road per hour. This is at the part of the road which lies to the north of the roundabout. These pedestrians cross at widely different places. There is no single fixed place, as it were, where the great majority of people normally cross. They cross at different points up and down the length of this road.

Mr. Turton

May I get this point clear, because it is very important. There is only one entrance from the housing estate to the road which leads to White Mare Corner, and people can only cross the road in the region of White Mare Corner.

Mr. Hay

Perhaps my right hon. Friend has not followed what I was saying. I said that the estimate by the divisional road engineer of the number of adult pedestrians who cross the whole length of Long Street from the White Mare roundabout to the extremity at the north is about 50 per hour, and these cross at different places. It may well be true that the majority cross at a certain point near White Mare Corner. I am not arguing about that. I am simply saying that 50 per hour cross at different places. Those are the basic data on which we have to work: a carriageway 25 to 30 ft. wide, carrying about 400 vehicles per hour, and also about 50 adult pedestrians per hour.

My right hon. Friend referred to the children crossing at the school. I think that the problem there is not nearly so severe as it might seem, because I understand that the local authority provides a school crossing patrol, and, as my right hon. Friend and other hon. Members know, that is by far the best road safety method that can be adopted for children.

My right hon. Friend asked why the Minister was so adamant in this case in refusing a pedestrian crossing. I must tell him, without any equivocation, that, measured against the standards that we have to adopt in the Ministry, there is no doubt at all in the minds of my right hon. Friend the Minister, myself and the Department that the traffic volumes that I have quoted fall very far short of those that we normally expect when we accede to a request for a pedestrian crossing.

I know that hon. Members are frequently puzzled to know why it is that we are, as it were, so parsimonious in allowing new pedestrian crossings to be placed, but here we have to take account of the history of the matter. Prior to 1950, pedestrian crossings could be installed much more easily. As the House may recollect, they proliferated all over the country, with the inevitable consequence that the standard of observance of the rules by drivers declined tremendously, and the outcome was that a pedestrian crossing was in no way a refuge or a safeguard for the pedestrian.

In 1950, a rather brutal exercise in reduction of pedestrian crossings throughout the country was carried out, which resulted in the number being reduced by about two-thirds, and since that time, and because of the experience prior to 1950, we have been extremely careful to make sure that where a pedestrian crossing is placed it will be continuously used by pedestrians and is on a street where there is a high volume of vehicle traffic. That is because we are most concerned to ensure that the standard of observance of the rules of pedestrian crossings by drivers of all kinds is maintained.

My right hon. Friend said that there is a great responsibility on the Minister in this matter. I hope that I have now explained to him exactly why it is that we are so awkward and cussed about pedestrian crossings. A pedestrian crossing is not an automatic safeguard for the pedestrian. It is often thought to be so, but it is not, in fact. This is particularly the case where children are concerned, because they are usually somewhat too impetuous or too unthinking. They run on to a pedestrian crossing believing that it is an automatic right of way for them, and many of them—alas, far too many—are killed or injured during the course of a year.

Neither is it an automatic safeguard for elderly people. Many of these are perhaps a little to hesitant as their natural faculties deteriorate with the passage of time, and where they are infirm, often they try to cross when they ought, in fact, to have assistance to cross. So, for both these categories—the young and the very old—it is unwise to rely on pedestrian crossings.

What is most important for the elderly is that they should as far as possible help themselves. This means two things, in particular. First, they should take extra care when crossing the road, even if it means that they have to wait on the kerb rather longer than they did when they were younger. Secondly, they should not be unwilling to ask assistance from passers-by who are younger whenever they feel that they cannot cross the road in safety.

I should like to send my right hon. Friend a copy—if he will accept it—of a report which has recently been published by the Christian Economic and Social Research Foundation, entitled, "Road Risks of the Elderly". This is a very valuable document which is full of very good advice for elderly people in relation to roads and it makes with considerable force the points that I have made.

I said just now that we have certain criteria for the provision of pedestrian crossings. First, there must be a regular and continuous use of the pedestrian crossing at the place at which it is provided. Secondly, there must be a high volume of vehicle traffic at that point. Really, therefore, the test of whether we provide a pedestrian crossing comes to the simple issue of need; need in the place at which it is requested.

Mr. Turton

When my hon. Friend talks about numbers, is he taking into account the fact that the size of the housing estate is being nearly doubled this year or next year?

Mr. Hay

I gave the figure of 50 adult pedestrians per hour, which takes account of the fact that the housing estate has recently been built and is now occupied.

Mr. Turton

I am not talking about a housing estate being built, but about its size being doubled.

Mr. Hay

I understand that. I will come back to that point. I was dealing in a more general sense with pedestrian crossings vis-à-vis the elderly, because that is the title of my right hon. Friend's Adjournment debate, and this is a good opportunity for me to say something on that issue.

Need is the test, and really to make comparisons between one town and another, and one place and another, is quite useless in the circumstances. My right hon. Friend mentioned Northallerton and Rippon in the vicinity which have pedestrian crossings, whereas Thirsk has not. He said that Henley, which I have the honour to represent in the House, had one, but the truth is that it has not. There is only one in the whole of my constituency, and there are some doubts about whether that ought to be there, although I do not share that view.

My right hon. Friend also mentioned that Wallasey, the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, had some. In the entire area of the North-East which is the responsibility of our divisional road engineer there are no less than 19 urban districts and three boroughs with populations ranging from 2,500 to 35,000, which have no crossings at all. As I have said, need must be, and is, the test.

I turn now to the accident record. My right hon. Friend said that there had been two accidents in 1957. I did not have knowledge of those, but I knew of the three accidents which occurred between February, 1958, and December, 1961. Two of these accidents were slight ones. They were accidents to children who, without warning, ran into the road from behind parked vehicles. The third was the regrettable fatal accident where an elderly lady of 85 was knocked down by a driver who was momentarily blinded, according to the report of the inquest, by sunlight which came from behind a building just as she passed from its shadow. It is regrettable, but it is one of the things which happen on our roads. This accident to the elderly lady was not at or near the roundabout, but some distance away.

We have taken note of the recommendations of the coroner's jury in that case, but, with respect to them, I think that perhaps they did not have before them the sort of information about traffic volumes and the desirability of maintaining some kind of standard which I have tried to give the House tonight.

My right hon. Friend asked whether the police could do better to enforce the 30 mile per hour speed limit and the traffic rules generally in this place. I think that he knows from his long experience that matters relating to the police are not for my right hon. Friend, nor, in the provinces, for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary directly. I suggest that if he is dissatisfied with the standard of police enforcement in Thirsk he should get in touch with the Chairman of his Standing Joint Committee.

The hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie), in his brief intervention, asked whether a controlled crossing could be provided with a push-button and lights. The House will remember that we are conducting an experiment fairly soon with a new type of pedestrian crossing which is operated by pedestrians, although I must say that the 45 sites where this experimental crossing will be provided throughout the country have already been allocated. I can tell my right hon. Friend that if this experiment proves a success we will certainly reconsider the case of Thirsk if and when we produce this on a general scale. It might be that this is the sort of case, particularly in the light of the developments suggested over the next two years, where such a type of crossing might be very useful. But I must tell my right hon. Friend that as things stand at present, the traffic volume and the number of pedestrians are not sufficient, in the view of the Minister of Transport, to justify a pedestrian crossing.

In any case, pedestrian crossings are not a complete road safety answer, especially for the elderly people with whom my right hon. Friend is most concerned tonight. However, I can end on a more optimistic note, and there are two points I would like to make. First, we are discussing, with the county council the possibility of improving the kerbs in Long Street. This may help not only the pedestrians, but the motor traffic, too. Secondly, I will certainly promise my right hon. Friend to keep this whole situation under review.

If, over the next two years, the development of the housing estate takes place, and more and more old people come to live there, of course we can reconsider the whole matter in the light of the volume of pedestrian traffic which that development generates. But I warn my right hon. Friend that the pedestrian and vehicle traffic will have to increase substantially before they are likely to come anywhere near the conditions which we deem appropriate for the installation of pedestrian crossings. Nevertheless, I hope that my remarks will be of some assistance to my right hon. Friend and I can assure him that the matter will be kept under review.

Mr. Mackie

Can the hon. Gentleman say where I can see one of these experimental crossings?

Mr. Hay

They are not yet actually installed, but I am hoping that the first two, which will not be very far from this House, will be installed during the next two to three months. I hope that circumstances permit completion of these two within that time. When the time comes I will try to remember the interest taken in this subject by the hon. Gentleman and arrange for him to see them.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at eighteen minutes to Twelve o'clock.