HC Deb 12 May 1961 vol 640 cc885-94

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

Mr. Arthur Skeffington (Hayes and Harlington)

I have been trying for some months to protest in the House about the refusal of the Minister of Transport to provide any kind of pedestrian facilities to enable people to cross the Bath Road at a point known as the Cranford Cross Estate. I am raising this matter not only in order to protest, but, more constructively, in the hope that the Minister will modify his previous decisions and show some sympathy and consideration to my constituents who live in this part of Harlington, especially to the old and the young. The fact that the Minister is himself here on a Friday afternoon is, I am sure, a sign of his interest in this matter, particularly in road safety, and I appreciate his presence very much.

This stretch of the Bath Road is difficult and has been thought dangerous for many years. One local councillor told me that for twenty-seven years he has been trying to get some relief for pedestrians at this spot. This road is hazardous and dangerous for a number of reasons. Undoubtedly, the A.4 is one of the most important roads to the West and carries a great volume of traffic. Even with the additional roads that may be built in the future, one cannot see that there is likely to be any great decrease in traffic, taking into account the growth of new vehicles.

The road also provides the principal means of getting to and from London Airport, and passes along almost its whole length. There is firstly the very obvious temptation for drivers to let their eyes wander off the road a bit to see what is happening either in the airport or overhead. When one hears a very loud noise or sees a giant aeroplane just taking off it is difficult not to look up, and this must increase the possibility of accidents.

Dealing with this point in a letter written to me on 27th January of this year, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry said that he did not think this particular risk is likely near the Cranford Cross Estate because: There is little to be seen until the junction of Harlington High Street is reached, and even then the perimeter of the airport is closely developed with buildings. With great respect, I think that whoever wrote that letter was not familiar with realities.

There are in fact two distractions here. First, as one goes over the river bridge into Harlington one is higher up and can see the largest cantilever hangar in the world, and this is undoubtedly a source of attraction to some people. Even more important, two glide paths come across the A.4 before one gets to the point mentioned in the Parliamentary Secretary's letter. There is a glide path, often used, near the Cranford Hall Garage, and there is another near the Magnatex building. Again, if one hears one of these great machines—a jet, possibly—less than three or four hundred feet up, there is an irresistible temptation to look at it. That makes a hazard not common on many roads and there could not be a case where such a hazard more often occurred than in the neighbourhood of London Airport.

There is also the fact that the volume of traffic through the airport is enormously increasing. Everybody is very glad about that; we all want success for British aviation. Some 5,300,000 passengers passed through the airport last year, and all entered into or emerged from it in some form of conveyance on to the Bath road. That increases the traffic, and the traffic increases the hazards. That is in addition to the quite large number of people—anything between 25,000 and 40,000, I am told—who, for one reason or another, go to and from the airport every day.

This constitutes an exceptional hazard on a busy road. I believe that the proof of this contention is largely recognised by the fact that on an adjoining piece of road. In the Borough of Heston and Isleworth there are three specially-provided pedestrain subways to cope with the dangers. Of course, nothing I say is in any way a criticism of that provision—I am delighted that those pedestrian facilities are there; all I ask is that we should be given some kind of pedestrian crossing near the place on the Bath Road where most of the people in my constituency live.

I should mention another factor. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is not responsible for the speed limit, but it is a factor which he knows, and which greatly affects road safety. There has been communication between his Department and the Home Office about speed on the Bath Road. At one time, the whole of the road in Hayes and Harlington was derestricted, and I had quite a considerable campaign with the Ministry before we got some restriction to a point known as Harlington Corner.

Many of the arguments used against having a 40 m.p.h. restriction along the Bath Road in my constituency were the same arguments used by the divisional engineer and others in opposing pedestrian crossings at Cranford Cross. Just as, in the end, the Ministry gave way in that case, so I hope that it will give way now.

Although, for part of the road, we have a restriction to 40 m.p.h.—we are very glad to have it, because it means that the average speed is probably less than 50 m.p.h. instead of much higher speeds that one has when the road is completely unrestricted—the fact is that there is constant disregard of speed there. In a letter to me on 1st March this year, the Home Office said that the police had no evidence of this. I can only say that I am very surprised. On many occasions I have tested it myself. Last Saturday evening, I drove in both directions along the Bath Road at less than 40 m.p.h., and I was passed by practically every vehicle on the road. It may well be that, as this is within the Metropolitan Police district and prosecutions do not normally follow for speeding, everyone disregards the limit. That is a policy matter which is not the subject of this debate, but it is a considerable factor in the risks experienced by my constituents in crossing the road, particularly the elderly and children.

There is a piece of evidence which I bring to the attention of the Minister, though he probably knows all about it, to prove my point about the general disregard of the speed limit on the Bath Road. A Mr. John Mansel and two colleagues carried out a survey of driving habits along the road. The length of road covered, of course, was very much greater than the part in my constituency. They logged more than 8,000 vehicles over a period of time, and their findings were published in the Observer of 31st July last year.

They found that an extremely high proportion of drivers changed lanes without signalling to following cars, that almost all motor cyclists ignored the speed limits, that 86 per cent. of private cars ignored the 40 m.p.h. limit and 49 per cent. ignored the 30 m.p.h. speed limit. They said also that more than half the Jaguars did not stop for pedestrians or zebra crossings. I know that there is always a "thing" about Jaguar owners. I do not know whether it is true or not. I put those figures as additional evidence that along the Bath Road there is considerable and widespread disregard of the speed limit. They confirm my own experience as recently as a week ago.

The number of accidents is increasing. The local authority has kept its own list. I shall not take time reading from the list, because of lack of time. There have been repeated accidents on Oxford Avenue, which is one of the suggested sites for some kind of pedestrian relief. The Minister will know that, taking a longer stretch of road going from Cranford Parkway to the Colnbrook bypass, including my stretch of road—casualties have increased from 128 in 1958 to 140 last year.

At the very time that I was making representations to the Ministry last year, one of our councillors who lives on the Bath Road saw a commotion outside his house—not an uncommon sight, because of the number of accidents in Oxford Avenue—and went out with blankets only to find that it was his own mother who had received fatal injuries in a road accident. He himself had been one of those most active in campaigning for some relief here. It was a tragic commentary on the need for some pedestrian help.

On 22nd February, I again asked the Minister, in the House, whether he would provide some form of assistance at this spot, and he replied: No. The central reservation now in course of construction should greatly assist pedestrians by enabling them to cross in two stages. In the longer term, the construction of the Chiswick—Langley Motorway should bring relief."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd February, 1961; Vol. 635, c. 56.] I think that there is something in that, but on consideration, everyone feels dissatisfied with that reply, for this reason. While a refuge in the centre of the road gives one a temporary breathing space before one plunges into the stream of traffic again, there are two other consequences.

First, my experience in that part of the road where it has already been divided is that the traffic flows even faster. Secondly, it is extremely difficult for mothers with children and prams to use these refuges. The refuges are an obstruction rather than an island of relief. I do not think that this meets the case which we have put forward. Again, I imagine that it may be some years before relief from the other road can be effected. In view of the general increase in the volume of motor vehicles, I doubt whether it will make much difference.

The position today is this. I have waited as long as ten minutes to cross the road in the neighbourhood of the Cranford Cross Estate. A letter was received by the local council on 30th December, after, incidentally, I had told the Minister of my wait. Therefore, I could not get my information from the letter, which came from a person of whom I had not heard, a Mr. Bull, who lives in Eton Road, Harlington, He said: We would like to know when the Council is going to provide adequate means for pedestrians to cross the Bath Road at Harlington. People alighting from buses…to cross into Langley Crescent may have to wait ten minutes before they can cross over in safety". This is the experience of myself and of local councillors who live there. This is the basis of representations made by the Hayes and Harlington Urban District Council repeatedly, both direct to the Minister's divisional engineer and, through myself, to the Minister.

Eighteen months ago I received a letter from the personnel manager of Magnatex, which has a very large factory on the Bath Road, complaining of the long time which many of their workers had to wait before crossing the road to get to the factory. A number of them were being made late for this reason. With the growth of traffic, the position now is worse than it has been at any other time.

There is one other factor which has made the situation worse compared with what it was two or three years ago, and that is this. The Minister will see on the map that there is a road called Cranford Lane, which is on the south side of the Bath Road. This is being closed. At one time, it had traffic lights, but as the road is now being closed they have been taken away. This was a facility which people used, but it is no longer available to them.

The local authority has frequently put on record what it would like done. On 9th April it wrote again to me saying that it was glad I was raising this matter. What we want is this. The ideal would be to have a subway. I know that this is expensive, but the fact that there are three subways within less than a mile away leads my constituents to ask why they are not entitled to a subway. If, because of expense, or some other reason, a subway is impossible, we should be glad to have a bridge built over the road. If that is impossible, then we should like to have a controlled crossing.

At any rate, we want some facility to be provided. I know that there are difficulties about controlled crossings, such as the flow of traffic, and so on. That is why I think that probably the most practical answer is to build a bridge over the road. I appreciate that that would create difficulties for women with prams, but, at any rate, it would be much better than the present situation.

We have suggested that the spot might be either at Oxford Avenue, or at Langley Crescent. Oxford Avenue is a very much better site than Langley Crescent, but we know that construction work on the road has gone past Oxford Avenue dividing the road into two carriageways. Therefore, it might not be easy without incurring much more expense to have a crossing there.

On 7th September, 1959, 27th October, 1959, and 4th February, 1960, the Minister's divisional engineer turned down the local council's representations on the grounds of cost and the few numbers of pedestrians involved. Since it has been possible to provide three crossings not very far away, I hope that we will not hear too much about the cost argument. As far as I can see, there are about 1,500 families living in the Cranford Cross Estate. They are entitled to protection. Some people have already been injured. There has certainly been one fatality in the district, if not more. I do not propose to abandon them.

As the Minister has had the courtesy to attend this debate at the end of a heavy week, I hope that he will hold out some hope of relief to my long-suffering constituents, particularly for children and old people.

4.20 p.m.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Ernest Marples)

I am sure that the House will realise that the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) has presented his case with moderation and with great courtesy, and for that I am greatly obliged to him. In the ten minutes which remain at my disposal, I will try to answer as best I can the points which he has raised.

First, I ought to say that, in the long term, the answer to this problem will be removing the traffic to the Chiswick-Langley motorway. The hon. Gentleman will find that in two and a half years' time, at the end of 1963, the Chiswick-Langley road will be open to traffic, and that that will mean that the express traffic to London Airport and to Wales will be diverted from this road. All experience of the M.1 has shown that these new types of road can take a tremendous volume of traffic, which will gravitate towards these motorways, rather than towards the normal trunk roads, where it can be stopped by traffic lights and become mixed up with cyclists, pedestrians, and so on.

I am certain that with the experience of the M.1 and the A.1—where a dual carriageway which by-passes Stamford and other places has been provided—this will be the ultimate answer to this problem. We hope that by the end of 1963—and the preliminary work has started on the viaduct—this overhead part of the Great West Road will be opened. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman's constituents will have a long-term solution.

What can we do in the two and a half years that remain while the road is being built? The hon. Gentleman has suggested that we might have a subway. There are already two subways which have been built nearby, and the difficulty with a subway is not so much the cost as the time taken in its construction. There are many statutory undertakers involved, with pipes, Post Office telephone lines, and so on, underneath the ground. In the case of these subways that have been built—one has been opened and two are due to open on Monday, 15th May—the justification for them was that the trunk road cuts right through the centre of Cranford, separating the shops from the houses.

My predecessor put this work out to outside consulting engineers, and from the preparation of the plans to the building of the subways it took two years. In two and half years' time, the traffic will have disappeared, not altogether, but largely, from this road, and there will not be the same problem. Therefore, I do not think that another pedestrian subway is really a starter.

The hon. Gentleman also suggested a pedestrian crossing.

Mr. Skeffington

Or a bridge.

Mr. Marples

Or a bridge. The difficulty about the bridge is that the whole experience of the Ministry has shown that while pedestrians are quite willing to start going downhill into a subway and then climbing up at the other end, because they have no option, they are not willing to go uphill to start with and then come down. I think that most hon. Members in the House will agree with that. A bridge is also very difficult, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, to a lady with a pram.

The hon. Member also suggested a pedestrian crossing. Local authorities are, as a rule, under great pressure locally to do something and always tend to favour the pedestrian crossing, or the zebra crossing as it is called, on the assumption that it will make it safer. The whole history of the pedestrian crossing shows that if we multiply the number of crossings to too high a figure, we shall find that the motorist does not take any notice of them. This is what has happened. Initially, drivers observed pedestrian crossings fairly well, but after they had been established the numbers multiplied rapidly reaching the peak figure towards the end of the 1940s and after this most drivers were indifferent in their observance.

The hon. Gentleman said that a driver would take his eye from the road and look upwards at the aircraft. That is all the more reason why a pedestrian crossing would be a failure. Were a zebra crossing provided, people would rely on it to cross the road, but on the evidence of the hon. Gentleman himself a motorist would be distracted by the noise of the aircraft and perhaps not pay sufficient attention to the crossing.

In 1951, the total number of pedestrian crossings was reduced by two-thirds, which is a high figure. The zebra striping was introduced and every effort made to secure an observance of these crossings. They are now observed, largely because their number has been reduced. At the Ministry we have certain statistics which we apply to see whether a crossing should be provided. The minimum traffic figures are about 750 vehicles with 150 pedestrians per hour, but those figures would have to be considered in conjunction with such factors as speed, the nature of the traffic, the area concerned and so on.

At a traffic count at this point we found that the numbers did not come up to those we had in mind. There ware not sufficient pedestrians attempting to cross. In April, 1960, when the count was taken, 230 pedestrians crossed the road in six peak hours at between points 100 yards East and 100 yards West of Langley crossing and most of that number were bus passengers. There is little development on the other side of the Bath Road at that point, and according to the statistics it does not qualify for a pedestrian crossing. Not all the workers at the Magnatex factory wish to cross the road there. Many could use the subway further to the East, or the traffic control signals further to the West. As I have said, because of the time factor the idea of a subway is not a starter, not so much on the grounds of cost as time.

The long-term solution will be the building of the Chiswick-Langley Road to take cars direct to the airport, when they will have a fast road all the way from Hammersmith. We plan to provide dual 24-ft. carriageways from Henley's Corner to the western entrance of London Airport which will divide the area to be crossed and allow pedestrians to stop in the centre reservation. This will enable them to cross the road more safely than they can at present.

In the long term we shall solve the problem by the Chiswick-Langley special road. In the short-term the subway is out, because it would take too long to plan and build. A pedestrian crossing would not provide the measure of safety which the hon. Member claimed it would. One of his own arguments was that at this point the attention of a driver is distracted. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that drivers would give to such a pedestrian crossing the degree of care which they give to other pedestrian crossings.

Mr. Skeffington

Would the right hon. Gentleman consider pedestrian-operated traffic lights? That might be a fourth possibility. On the question of numbers and the fact that only about 200 people crossed when the count was taken, many people now have to walk half a mile either to the traffic lights one way or to the subway in the other direction. That is very unfair on fit people and is impossible for old people.

Mr. Marples

We had this count taken very carefully and found that the number wanting to cross at that point was not very great because there was very little on the south side of the road to which people want to go. Without promising anything—because I should not like to hold out false hopes—I undertake to look at the question. I have not any hope that it will be adopted immediately, because we ought to see how the central reservation goes first. Then we will have a further observation and see what happens. I am most grateful to the hon. Member for having raised the subject and I am sorry that I cannot be more helpful on this occasion.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at half-past Four o'clock.