HC Deb 15 June 1961 vol 642 cc779-98

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker

Before we proceed further, I thought it might be for general convenience if I indicated that I do not propose to call the reasoned Amendment of the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) but will in due course call his Motion for an Instruction.

10.8 p.m.

Sir Hugh Linstead (Putney)

This is a Bill of local importance to London, and in it the London County Council is asking for very substantial powers. I think that even at this somewhat late hour it is not inappropriate that the House of Commons should look for a moment at those powers in order to see whether or not they ought to be granted to the London County Council or whether there are any features in relation to them to which we ought to draw the attention of the Minister before we pass the Bill.

The Bill deals with two road widening schemes—the widening of Roehampton Lane and the widening of Finchley Road. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) will be dealing with the second scheme.

I wish to make a few observations about the development at Roehampton Lane, which involves one point of important principle, the taking of some common land for the purpose of throwing it into the highway. In the neighbourhood of London that is something which the House ought always to look at with care. This will not, I think, be the last piece of Wimbledon Common which will have to be taken for road widening, and it is important that whenever that is done we should ensure that the legislation embodies the principle embodied in this Bill, which is that an equivalent amount of land must be found somewhere adjacent to the Common by the London County Council and given to the Common to maintain its size. That point is safeguarded in this Bill.

The process of widening Roehampton Lane has involved the London County Council in the acquisition of property by two methods; one, compulsory purchase, and the other acquisition by statutory powers. In the second scheme in this Bill, a very large element of compulsory purchase is visualised, and I think we are entitled to look at what the County Council is proposing to do in relation to Finchley Road in the light of what in fact it has done in regard to Roehampton Lane.

There, in so far as it has compulsorily purchased certain properties, it has taken something like ten times the area which it in fact requires. In Clause 8 of this Bill, there is power in relation to Finchley Road to sever property so that the London County Council shall take only that amount of property which is required, and shall not, as it did in Roehampton Lane, take a substantially larger part of the property than it needs.

The property which London County Council has already acquired in Roehampton Lane amounts to nothing very much—one house and eight shops—but it has attempted to take that one house and eight shops under the threat of a compulsory purchase order. I suppose it could argue that there was a voluntary agreement with the owner, but we all know that a voluntary agreement under the threat of a compulsory purchase order has not very much element of the voluntary about it.

The point that I want to put to my hon. Friend, which will apply in relation to this Bill in regard to the property that will be acquired for the Finchley Road extension, is this. Where property has been acquired by the London County Council in excess of what it needs, what steps can he take to ensure that the owners of that property can have back from the London County Council such portions of the property as it does not need, if the owners need that property back? There were two owners of property in Roehampton Lane who refused to sell to the London County Council, who stood out and insisted upon a local inquiry. As a result of that inquiry, they have succeeded to the extent that the Minister has told the London County Council that it must take only that limited part of the property which it really needs. Yet these two owners who have succeeded in this inquiry are in the difficult position that unless they can rebuild on the remaining part of the area left to them they will, in fact, lose the value of their property.

Before we part with this Bill, I should like my hon. Friend, if he will be good enough to do so, to say what remedy will be available to people, either in the Finchley Road widening area or in the Roehampton Lane widening, who have parts of their frontages taken, are being left with a truncated piece of land and are at the mercy of the London County Council, in regard to rebuilding shops or houses on the new frontage. Can he give some sort of assurance to these two owners, which he might also have to give to the owners in Finchley Road, that when their frontage has been taken, what is left will be regarded as being entitled to the benefit of rebuilding and the old use?

If my hon. Friend could give an indication of that kind it would go some way in Roehampton Lane towards restoring the reputation which the London County Council lost because it took ten times more land than it needed, which left some shopkeepers and owners with an empty area not required by the Council but useless to them unless the Minister or the London County Council will allow them to rebuild on the new frontage.

I wished to put that point to my hon. Friend before there is further progress with the Bill. I hope that he may use his influence with the London County Council to get what is an injustice in this area put right. In Clause 8 he will find the same problem arising when the Bill becomes operative in the case of the Finchley Road.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.

10.17 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I beg to move, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to leave out all those provisions which relate to the widening of Finchley Road, Hampstead. This Bill seeks to give power to carry out certain works in Roehampton Lane and Finchley Road. The works appear in Clause 19 of the Bill, and those particularly mentioned in the Instruction are contained under the heading Borough of Hampstead—Work No. 4A widening of Finchley road partly on both sides and partly on the eastern side and partly on the western side… This is followed by other details of works of widening road junctions adjoining the Finchley Road.

In order to carry out this work, the Bill seeks to empower the Council to acquire frontages and forecourts. That power appears in Clause 5, to acquire either by agreement or by compulsory purchase in order to carry out the widening. As a corollary, under Clause 8 there is power to the Council to acquire part only of certain properties, that is to say, to acquire the forecourts and front gardens of properties now abutting on the Finchley Road in order to widen that road. The necessity for the power in Clause 8 is that under the general law the owner of a property to be acquired can require the acquiring authority to take the whole property and not merely part of it. This Clause gives the local authority the power to take only part of the property if it requires only part.

The length of the Finchley Road involved in this widening scheme commences at a point at which Hendon Way, already a widened road, joins the Finchley Road at the Blue Star Garage. From that point widening is to take place as far south as Swiss Cottage. I wish to say at once that there are wider roads both to the north and to the south. Hendon Way is widened where it joins Finchley Road and to the south of Finchley Road, past Swiss Cottage, the road is wider. If Finchley Road is widened, undoubtedly it would enlarge something of a bottleneck for a mile or two. That might sound like a commendation of the scheme. In fact, it is a condemnation of the scheme because traffic will thus be attracted to this widened road. It will increase the flow of traffic on what I hope to show is an entirely unsuitable road far that purpose, unsuitable even if it is widened.

This raises a substantial point of principle which is not just of local concern. Is the inter-town motorway traffic to be disgorged from a motorway into existing streets in the town merely by widening those existing streets, or are we to bring the motorway traffic further within our cities by means of a motorway road rather than by a widened residential or shopping road, that is, by squeezing it into existing residential and shopping streets? That is the wide point of principle concerned here.

I understand that when widened the Finchley Road will be 80 ft., extending to 85 ft. at the curves, and accommodating six lanes of traffic. It will be a multi-purpose road of the worst kind. It will a curving and undulating road; I was almost going to say a hilly and winding road. When widened it will press up against the actual residences on either side. It will have many roads entering it and crossing it and it will go through a busy shopping area. I do not think one could have chosen a more inappropriate road for six lanes of fast-moving traffic.

The traffic which moves along that road, particularly at peak hours, is the commuter type of traffic, those who are coming from the suburbs further out to work in the City and going out again in the evenings. If the widening of this road were for that purpose alone, I query whether we have a right to bring the disadvantages of a road of this sort to a neighbourhood such as that which surrounds the existing Finchley Road and to bring those disadvantages in order to save a few moments for travellers in the mornings and evenings.

It will be worse than that, however, for this road, when widened, will undoubtedly attract traffic from M.1 and A.1, or attract traffic which is proceeding to M.1 and A.1. That traffic at the moment tends to disperse or congregate further out, but, with the attraction of a wide road to take it right into or out from St. John's Wood, drivers will be tempted to use that widened Finchley Road through the shopping area and by the residences there. This speeding and broadening of the traffic flow will alter entirely the whole character of Finchley Road and the properties abutting it from a pleasantly tree-lined and curving suburban road with garden frontages along quite a considerable amount of its length. It will be turned into a bare expanse of unrelieved concrete pressing up against the buildings on either side without even the relief of a central strip.

Again, I question whether we have the right to allow in a Private Bill the powers under Clause 8 to go through under these circumstances. It is the general law that if an acquiring authority wants part of a property it must take the whole if the owner so demands. It is quite usual and frequent for a Clause such as Clause 8 to be included in a Private Bill. Then the acquiring authority is given the power to take only a part provided that that part can be severed without material detriment to the remainder. That is provided in Clause 8 as it stands in the Bill. That is appropriate for taking little strips of land for straightening out a road or cutting off a corner, but it is not appropriate when one is altering the whole character of the properties concerned.

In this case, there will no longer be shops and residences on Finchley Road standing back and yet grouped around their road in a sort of Finchley Road community. They will be properties jammed up against the through-traffic route, which will be running 10 feet from their windows, a traffic route that is dangerous, noisy, ugly and smelly and which cuts the community into two. I cannot see how the Finchley Road area can remain West Hampstead's principal shopping district under those conditions. We are not shown by the deposited plans how that split community is to be joined together. The deposited plans give no indication whatever how one gets the majority of road users, those on foot, from one side to the other.

We have surely got our priorities wrong. The county council comes to the House with a detailed plan to show exactly how much land it wants to take to widen this road so as to accommodate fast-moving traffic down six lanes of roadway. It wants to sweep these six lanes of traffic through an area where, for most of the daytime, a mass of people are going about their normal pursuits on foot. Surely, such an authority, asking the House to approve its acquiring land in this way, should show how it intends to deal with those people on foot. It might not be inappropriate for the House to impose conditions upon an authority acquiring property in those circumstances to give safety and amenity to those people who have to use this road.

It is all very well to say that the authority has to have the powers in the Bill first and later it will see that pedestrians are provided with proper crossings, that there are proper bus stops, and so on. All road users other than through traffic should not be classed in this way as merely a piece of road furniture to be added to the plan later. The House should not grant these powers unless it is satisfied that proper provision is being made for other road users than those who go straight through from one end of the road to the other.

I know of no way in which there is to be provision for the loading and unloading of goods, for bus stops, for private cars and taxis setting down and picking up, and for off-street parking. Because of the existing buildings on the road, it is impossible to make this provision. This shows the folly of attempting to drive this sort of road through this sort of neighbourhood.

What is the purpose of it all? My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary may say that the purpose is to speed up the traffic flow. One wonders sometimes what is this thing called traffic flow. Cynically, one might say that it is the effort to get the lone driver from his home on the outskirts to his office in the centre and back again to his home. For him, we have to tear a community in half and create all these dangers of a multi-lane road. In doing that, we are surely disregarding the amenities and rights of the majority who use the road, the residents of the neighbourhood.

We seem to have become rather obsessed with the importance of through traffic, sacrificing the rights of the residents to that through traffic. Through traffic has its importance, but that importance should be recognised by constructing the proper roads to take it—constructing motorways into the centre of and across our cities. It is wrong to squeeze through traffic into the existing streets merely by widening them right up to the building line on either side. It may be said that by doing this we are squeezing the maximum use out of the existing roads. But the maximum use for whom? The use of a road is not solely and simply to get from one end to the other it also has a use for those on either side of it throughout its whole length.

The Bill does not carry out the County Council's intention as expressed in a report of 1959 of the Council's Committee on London Roads which expressed the desire to see the traffic needs against the broad background of the lives and beings of the inhabitants and to secure a balanced solution. This scheme seems to me to be thoroughly unbalanced and no solution at all.

Surely we have accepted that the right way to develop urban areas is to segregate the users—to provide shopping precincts, even elevated first-floor pavements, in order to segregate the pedestrians from the motor vehicles. This scheme flies in the face of all that. Surely we recognise that in this sort of development we have not only to separate the different types of road user but also the motor cars when they are being used for different purposes—to separate the through traffic from the local traffic and to provide for the stationary motor car. This scheme does not and cannot do any of that. It mixes all the uses together. It mixes all the road users together. I fear that it will result in a dangerous and chaotic state.

Is this the Minister's policy? Is it his policy to build motorways to the edge of our cities and then to disgorge the traffic from the motorways into widened residential and shopping streets? If that is not his policy, then this is an extremely bad precedent to allow to slip through.

If he intends to build the motorway to bring the traffic further in and does not intend to disgorge the motor road traffic into Finchley Road, then this scheme as put before us in the Bill and the deposited plans is quite unnecessary.

10.34 p.m.

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

If other hon. Members do not wish to address the House on the Instruction, perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) will allow me to intervene. It is somewhat unusual for the Ministry of Transport to intervene on a Private Bill of this kind but what is concerned in the Instruction is principally a traffic and road improvement matter.

I ought to begin by reminding the House of the position. We are concerned with the Second Reading of the Bill and the Instruction. The Clause which relates to the Finchley Road improvement would either be examined in detail by our colleagues on the Select Committee, to which the Bill will be committed, or it would be deleted if the Instruction were carried. It is only right that I should tell the House that the Bill has so far been through another place unopposed, and so far has not received any objection.

There are, I know, a great many people in Hampstead and district who have considerable feelings about the proposals for the improvement of Finchley Road. Hon. Members will no doubt have seen the brochure issued by a body known as the New Hampstead Society, which draws attention to these proposals in very forthright terms, but neither this body nor anyone else has so far lodged a Petition against the merits of the Bill. In fact, I believe that the time for petitioning has now expired. In that case, one may wonder whether the feeling about the improvement of Finchley Road is quite so strong as has been represented.

Having stated the formal position, I should now like to draw the attention of the House to the need for the improvement of Finchley Road, because what we are asked to do is to approve in general terms the London County Council's proposals for the improvement of this road, and it is my hon. Friend's desire that we should delete from the Bill all reference to these important proposals.

The House will, I think, know that the Finchley Road forms part of the A.41 road which runs from St. John's Wood, at the southern end, to the Apex Corner, in the Borough of Hendon. Between Page Street and Apex Corner, the A.41 runs in parallel with the A.1, and then the roads diverge; the A.41 continues via Watford Way to Hemel Hempstead, while the A.1 continues via Barnet Way to Hatfield and the North.

Comprehensive improvement of the whole of the A.41 between Apex Corner in the north and St. John's Wood in the south has been or is being undertaken, and so far only two stretches of this road have not been the subject of improvement schemes. The first is the section between Selborne Gardens, Hendon, to Brent Cross, where the A.41 crosses the North Circular Road, and it is at that point that it is intended to build a flyover. The second stretch is that which we are now discussing, in Finchley Road, between Hendon Way in the north and Swiss Cottage.

The improvement of the first stretch, between Selborne Gardens and Brent Cross, has already been authorised, and Orders under the Highways Act will be published fairly soon. The second stretch is the subject of the provisions of the Bill. I must tell my hon. Friend and the House that my right hon. Friend and the Ministry of Transport are in no doubt at all as to the need for the improvement of this section of Finchley Road, and I should like to give some details as to why we come to that view.

There is no doubt that Finchley Road is at present very heavily overloaded. Its width varies from 30 feet to 35 feet. At present, it carries about 50,000 vehicles a day at the Swiss Cottage end, and at Finchley Road itself the figure is some 27,000 vehicles a day. In the experience of my Department, this is a very heavy overload indeed. Some time ago, traffic surveys were taken which showed that not only are those figures correct but that only a very small proportion of the total traffic goes to or from the motorway.

My hon. Friend has raised the issue of whether or not we should bring motorways right into the centres of towns. I will say a little more about that in a moment, but I think that it will help the House to get the picture into perspective if I say that of the volume of traffic at present using this narrow stretch of the Finchley Road, the great bulk is local traffic; either serving that particular area of Hampstead, going a little further out to Hendon, or a little further out still to the northern suburbs.

Only between 7 per cent. and 12 per cent. of the total traffic on Finchley Road at present is heading towards or coming from the motorway. That is the present situation. We know from the researches carried out by the Road Research Laboratory that traffic volumes throughout the country are rising by about 5 per cent. per annum compound. That leads us, at once, to the conclusion that if we leave Finchley Road as it is, and no improvement is made, the very heavy overload it has at present will get worse.

Even if the motorway M.1 were to be extended southwards into the centre of London, or in some other direction—and I must emphasise that this question has not yet been decided by my right hon. Friend the Minister and will not be until such time as the London traffic census, details of which were announced today, have been completed—Finchley Road would still be heavily overloaded if not improved.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby referred to the Report of the London Roads Committee, and I should like to draw his attention to the fact that in that Report, which was published in 1959, reference was made to this situation. The Committee stated that whatever might be the future decisions taken about motorways into the centres of towns, there would still be a need to improve many roads in London. The Report specifically picked out Finchley Road as one which should have priority in this connection.

Of course, a lot is said today about urban motorways, but they do not seem to be universally popular. In this case, the New Hampstead Society have, in the publication to which I have referred, said that we should build the motorway into the centre of London and leave the Finchley Road wholly as it is. But, further north, in Hendon, there is another body called the Motorway Objection Society, and this body says: "You have already improved the present road, so why build an urban motorway?"

Hon. Members may come to the conclusion—as I did, some time ago—that life in the Ministry of Transport is hard sometimes. Nevertheless, we have to look carefully indeed at the proposals for urban motorways, not least because they are extremely expensive and undoubtedly consume a great deal of property.

It is important to realise that what is in the Bill is only an outline of what the London County Council would wish to do. It does not constitute a detailed set of drawings or detailed proposals for precisely the things the council wants to do. It is, as it were, a blueprint. First, it is said that the layout of the improved road will be substandard. As my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby said, the width of the road, if improved, would be about 60 feet between kerbs with, on either side, a 10-ft. footpath. This would give us three traffic lanes in each direction, each being about 10 ft. wide.

While in open country we aim at 12-ft. wide lanes, in urban areas, where property acquisition is involved, we accept 10-ft. wide lanes. I think that this is justifiable not only because of the property aspect, but also because in the towns and built up areas, traffic is moving more slowly. One can, therefore, expect a rather closer position of the vehicles to one another than one would in the open country, where speeds are higher. In the towns there must be a speed limit of 30 m.p.h. and the traffic must, therefore, be moving slowly compared with traffic in open country.

Mr. Kenneth Robinson (St. Pancras, North)

Can the hon. Gentleman say whether or not 10-ft. lanes are sufficient for this road? Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that a 10-ft. footpath in Finchley Road would be totally inadequate, in view of the enormous size of the shopping centre there?

Mr. Hay

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to deal with that aspect of the matter in more detail when I come later to the subject of property acquisition. The point he raises is really concerned with that subject.

We can accept, in cases like this, a 10-ft. lane for traffic because of these factors. I should point out that already on this route, the A.41 between Apex Corner and St. John's Wood, many of the stretches which have already been improved have been built to this standard of three 10-ft. lanes and so far they have caused us no particular trouble.

I next come to the point about the danger to property and amenities. Given the need to improve this road, which I hope I have demonstrated, we have a choice between a 60-ft. carriageway of this kind, which involves virtually no demolition of house property, or a wider carriageway with, as the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) said, wider pavements which would undoubtedly involve very extensive demolition of property and particularly of homes. It is true that under the county council's proposals the gardens and the forecourts of most of the properties, if not all, fronting the Finchley Road will be affected to a greater or lesser extent. It is true that many of them will lose a great deal of amenity. This is, of course, regrettable, and I am sure we all sympathise. I myself lived a few years ago in a block of flats on the Finchley Road on this section that is to be improved, and I know that it will undoubtedly affect the amenities of the property if the road is widened. But I hope I have shown that the need for improvement of this road is very great, and that must be weighed in the balance against the loss of amenities that the residents will suffer.

I should perhaps add that there will be compensation payable by the county council under its proposals in the Bill to those whose amenities are affected and whose property is touched. The county council can also, I understand, undertake what we call in the Ministry accommodation works—the building of walls and means of access to properties where some of the frontage land has in fact been taken. So perhaps at the end of the day the thing may not prove too disastrous for those who live on the Finchley Road.

Sir H. Linstead

I may have interrupted my hon. Friend too soon, but suppose that a part only of a fairly deep area is taken compulsorily by the county council. What are the rights of the owner in respect of rebuilding his property on the new line if he wishes to do so?

Mr. Hay

I believe that the precise position—I do not pretend to be an expert in these matters—is that he would have to apply for planning permission. If that were refused, he would have under the Town and Country Planning Acts a right of appeal to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government. Beyond that I am afraid I cannot go, but no doubt my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to that Ministry, who has been listening to this debate, will write to my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Sir H. Linstead) if I have gone wrong. I hope I have not.

May I next turn to the point which my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby raised about pedestrians. It is true that when one widens and improves a road of this kind, inevitably there is some separation of an existing community. But I hope that on what the county council alone has said in the Bill, and in the statement that it has issued in respect of it to hon. Members, it will be clear that the council has not entirely neglected or forgotten the needs of pedestrians. It is proposed to build at least two pedestrian subways, one outside the Swiss Cottage tube station and the other at the Finchley Road tube station. I am advised that other pedestrian subways would not necessarily be ruled out because they are not specifically mentioned in the Bill. If there were a need for further pedestrian subways and if it was technically possible to provide them, I have no doubt the county council would wish to give very careful consideration to doing it.

But subways are not the only things which will be provided to help pedestrians. The increase in the width of the road would mean that for the first time we can properly provide central pedestrian refuges. This is something which does not exist in Finchley Road and which, undoubtedly, with the wider and more open layout, would help pedestrians who at the moment go through all kinds of hazards in trying to cross this extremely busy road, particularly between the top of West End Lane and the Finchley Road tube station.

Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)

If the three lanes are 10 ft. wide and the whole road only 60 ft. wide, presumably it will be only a two-lane road in each direction, because if refuges are placed in the centre they will lessen the effective width of the road.

Mr. Hay

This is a question of design. It would not be easy to embark on an argument of this question from the Box. This is our normal practice: where we have a 60-ft. carriageway with three 10-ft. lanes, we can and do place pedestrian refuges in the centre. It means that at different points the centre lane narrows a little, or the traffic must diverge a little. I assure my hon. Friend that it is not a difficult problem.

Thirdly, for the protection of pedestrians there will be traffic signals at a number of intersections on this improved road. As the House knows, one of the great advantages of traffic signals from the pedestrian's point of view is that they break up the flow of traffic. They provide gaps in the traffic, thus enabling pedestrians to cross.

I sum up the Government's general attitude to the Bill in this way. We in the Ministry of Transport are in support of an improvement being carried out to Finchley Road. We believe that there is a serious traffic problem there which needs to be resolved. We have invited the London County Council to submit to us a scheme to be included in our programme for 1962–63. We are prepared to authorise to the county council a grant of £2.8 million for the carrying out of this scheme. The scheme is estimated to cost about £3.75 million. It therefore represents a 75 per cent. grant by the Ministry.

We believe that the London County Council's proposals contained in the Bill are a genuine and reasonable attempt to solve the undoubted traffic problems which there are at this place. We are not committed to the precise details of the scheme, many of which have not been formulated at all so far, but we consider nevertheless that the provisions in the Bill merit the consideration of a Committee of the House and that they should not be rejected at this stage of the Bill's progress. In the light of what I have said and the emphasis which I have placed upon the necessity for an improvement of Finchley Road, I suggest to my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby that, having ventilated the matter tonight, he should consider withdrawing his Motion for an Instruction.

10.52 p.m.

Mrs. Freda Corbet (Peckham)

I do not wish to detain the House for more than a few minutes in view of the excellent statement to which we have just listened. The London County Council's proposals have been fully justified in so far as the plans are known at the moment. The proper course would obviously be that, when the Bill is referred to the Committee, the Committee should take notice of the points which have been raised and decide whether there is merit in the representations which have been made against the Bill.

If the Committee were to be given an Instruction to leave out all reference to Finchley Road, the net result would be also to make it impossible to proceed with the Swiss Cottage improvement, where part of Finchley Road is involved, and I am sure that that would not be the intention of the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page).

I should also like to reassure the hon. Member about Clause 8. This is a model Clause which is normally used to protect an acquiring authority against the kind of blackmailing by property owners which has happened in the past. The Clause puts the matter fairly in that if the property owner is not satisfied with the terms offered by the acquiring authority the whole matter can be referred to the Land Tribunal for decision. That seems to me to be fair protection for both parties and it has become customary for the London County Council to include a Clause of this kind in all its general powers Bills.

As an authority, we who serve on London County Council have to take heed of the cost of schemes, of rehousing obligations, and of the dispersal of traffic brought into London. The council's planning committee has no hesitation in assuring hon. Members that the council, as the most advanced body of its kind, wants desperately to adhere to the principles which it has laid down. It will be a great comfort to hon. Members to know that in another part of North London, Heath Road, the council has taken steps to safeguard against road widening which would have affected the character of the road. If it had not been for the absolute necessity to eradicate the bottle-neck in this case, the council would have done the same in Finchley Road. The council's committee takes the same view as does the hon. Member for Crosby of the need to segregate not only pedestrian but other traffic. It is looking forward to the time when it will be possible to do this, but feels sure that it is the wisest plan to await the completion of the traffic survey.

Even after embarking on the building of a five-mile roadway, involving large-scale rehousing obligations, the council will still be faced with a terrible debouchment of traffic into the St. John's Wood area which it cannot deal with until the position of the ring roads is known. I assure the House that all these matters have been carefully considered and that powers have been taken, as has been indicated, to make it possible to cross the road in safety, that subways can be constructed and no doubt will be built, and that there is wide sympathy on the part of Members of the London County Council's planning committee with the objects which hon. Members wish to secure.

I may illustrate this by saying that the Ministry of Transport very much wanted the council in 1951 to find a way of bypassing this stretch of Finchley Road. It was proposed to take a road down Fitzjohn's Avenue, which joins the Finchley Road further on, but it was discovered that if that were done we should do the very thing that we wanted to avoid, namely, split the neighbourhood irrevocably. We decided that we must abandon that plan. I hope that the House will be willing to let the Bill go through to Committee unfettered by any direction whatsoever, in the interest of a speedy solution of this problem.

11.0 p.m.

Mr. Compton Carr (Barons Court)

Being interested in this matter not only as a member of the London County Council but as one who has had a road driven through his constituency, I feel that I cannot refrain from asking my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) to consider withdrawing his Instruction. He is asking either for a completely new road at very great expense indeed, and one which will bring the motorway into the City, something which has not yet been decided upon—it is certainly something which would destroy far more amenities than the small stretch of Finchley Road—or that the L.C.C. shall take more land than it needs.

My hon. Friend is suggesting that at least one side of this portion of Finchley Road shall be destroyed, and, having observed that sort of thing in my own constituency, I contend that that should be avoided at all costs. It lays a very heavy burden on the funds available for the construction of the road and on the L.C.C. in the provision of extra homes and arrangements for the removal of the residents in the area. In addition, it not only tends to split—as this may very well do—a community into two but changes the community completely out of recognition.

I have driven along the Finchley Road for many years. When my hon. Friend describes it as something of a bottleneck, in a sort of throw-away, I am not with him, because it must have contributed to more ulcers per square yard than any other piece of roadway in London. As my hon. Friend said, it is commuter traffic. It is merely ordinary people from other parts of London wanting to get home. It is not a roadway providing speeding facilities for people outside the area or living on the other side of England. These are ordinary people wanting to get back home. My hon. Friend described these people in terms which I think they would not recognise—as single occupants of vehicles wishing to pass through the Finchley Road area without care about the disadvantages brought to the neighbourhood. They are really quite ordinary people who are continually impeded by this stretch of road.

I hope that in view of the very clear indications which we have had not only from the L.C.C. in its explanatory memorandum but from my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, my hon. Friend will withdraw the Instruction.

11.4 p.m.

Mr. Stephen Swingler (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

As one who knows the Finchley Road fairly well, I appreciate the problem of the London County Council. It is subject to the long-term plans of the Ministry of Transport.

What was unsatisfactory to me in the speech of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary was that he devoted no time at all to the alternatives. The real question is: is there any other way of relieving the traffic congestion in the Finchley Road? If it is demonstrated to us that this widening scheme as projected is the only way of relieving the present and future congestion there, it is obvious that we shall have to accept the scheme for the sake of preventing the ulcers to which the hon. Member for Barons Court (Mr. Compton Carr) referred.

But I believe that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary did not really face the question of the basic priorities of the Ministry of Transport itself. As I see the problem, I am bound to agree with the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page). There is no doubt that the scheme is one to organise a speedway through a main shopping centre. Let there be no doubt about that.

Those who are acquainted with the present conditions in the district contemplate that a road with six lanes of traffic through the shopping centre will be a speedway. If anyone doubts that let him go to St. John's Wood and look at the character of the traffic moving between St. John's Wood tube station and Swiss Cottage Odeon as a result of the widening carried out there. It may be that we want to get traffic moving fast, but in this case, in contrast to that road widening scheme, it will be passing through a main shopping centre.

Secondly, it will be cutting a neighbourhood in two. There can be no doubt that when these six lanes of traffic are organised they will cut right through the heart of the Borough of Hampstead. We have not the privilege of the presence tonight of the Minister of Housing and Local Government, who happens also to be the right hon. Member for Hampstead. He knows, better than anyone in the House, that if we allow this scheme it will emphasise what already exists—a very striking frontier in Hampstead itself.

The Parliamentary Secretary must be aware that the scheme contains many dangers. It will destroy many amenities. One has to refer only to the trees. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) often asks Questions of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government about the promotion of tree growing as an amenity in certain areas in the country. He frequently gets very cordial and sympathetic Answers from the Ministry. Let us recognise that if this Instruction is not agreed to we shall be doing something which will lead to the cutting down of many trees and destroying an amenity in this district.

Let us recognise what we are doing. We are organising a speedway through a main shopping centre, cutting right through a neighbourhood and destroying a definite amenity. It is up to the Ministry of Transport to prove that this is absolutely indispensable and that there is no alternative. I do not think that the Ministry of Transport has proved its case.

Question put and negatived.