HC Deb 23 July 1962 vol 663 cc1235-46

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

6.1 a.m.

Mr. Arthur Skeffington (Hayes and Harlington)

I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary and to the officials of the House for debating this matter at this early hour of the morning, but it may be the last opportunity I shall have before the Recess, so I feel that I must do so. Though this is only a local issue, it deeply concerns some of my constituents, the Rector and the Parochial Church Council of St. Dunstan's, Cranford, and many others who wish to see that pleasant area unmutilated by the new proposed route of the M.4.

Both because of the hour and because I am grateful to see two hon. Members present who hope to catch your eye, I shall make my case for changing the route through this part of Middlesex as briefly as I can.

The parish church of St. Dunstan's and All Angels is an ancient building of distinction in a uniquely pleasant part of Middlesex. Betjeman's Guide to the English Parish Church describes it as "in a remote situation for Middlesex," and there is an asterisk at the side of the name to indicate that the church is one of outstanding interest and attraction.

When I say that about two-thirds of all the houses built in my constituency have been built since 1930 it will be realised that any delightful rural spot of this kind is doubly precious. It is for these reasons that the local authority, the Hayes and Harlington Council, has tried, wherever possible, to preserve the rustic character of the district.

Some time in 1958, the rector and the representatives of the parochial church council first met engineers from the Ministry of Transport in connection with the proposed route of the new Chiswick—Langley special road. No one who opposes this route opposes the need for additional capacity to assist the traffic on the Great West Road. The issue is whether the proposed route through this part of Middlesex is the best in all the circumstances.

At the time, the rector and his colleagues hoped that the proposed route would be south of the church. He put forward as the reason for this the very vital fact that if the road went north of the church it would go through a very pleasant orchard, which is the immediate ground between the church itself and the first houses of the parish, that it would sever the parish from the church and the church from the people, and that it would also go right through and spoil what is now a very pleasant spot in which the children can freely play. Furthermore, as the road at this spot would be on an embankment, the severance would be much more marked and difficult to overcome. Indeed, the only access to the church would 'be through a subway, 200 ft. long, and this would create a number of difficulties.

Therefore, it was very much hoped that the route chosen would be to the south. There was a public inquiry, at which the parochial church council put its view for a route to the south of the church, and the Hayes and Harlington Council, on balance, favoured that route not only in support of the views of the parochial church council, but because the northern route means that houses in Bedwell Gardens would have their windows blocked by a large ramp. The council's sewerage problem would be simplified if the route did not cut across the sewers as is now proposed.

There is another road near the proposed route, and that is called Water-splash Lane. This would be unaffected if the southern route was taken, but I have learned only today that one tenant of the cottages in that lane has been given notice to quit because of the proposed northern route so that earlier information that no houses would have to be demolished seems not to have been accurate. This is surely an additional reason for supporting the route to the south of the church.

However, perhaps the weightiest reason of all is that the corporate life of the parish is bound to suffer if there is a great road on an embankment between the church and the rest of the parish. Cranford Park is a delightful place, but has, unfortunately, attracted some undesirable characters and some parents have told me that they will not allow their children into the park or church unless accompanied through the 200 foot subway if this road is built on the proposed route. It would be asking for trouble. That is bound to affect activities such as the Bible class, the Scouts, Guides, and so on, whereas if the route is to the south these difficulties will disappear.

On page 17 of the inspector's report it is stated that a route to the south of the church offered no greater engineering difficulty nor financial cost than would a route to the north. The land to the west is an open space belonging to the same owners as the north route. To the east there are some tennis courts belonging to the B.O.A.C. sports club which would be affected, but if it is a question of taking those rather than severing the church from the parish, then the choice ought to be clear

In any case, I am informed that B.O.A.C. can obtain other land which would more than make up its loss if the road goes by the southern route. The Cranford Park Joint Committee would object. It no doubt likes the road tucked away behind the church, but I should have thought that, on amenity grounds, it would be better to have this road merged into a longer landscape than pushed right up against the church, with traffic roaring across.

There is one more argument for the southern route and that is that in 1939 the Air Ministry requisitioned the then vicarage. This move was fought by the then rector, the Rev. Maurice Childs, whose name is still thought of with reverence and affection in Cranford as well as in other places. To protect his successor, Section 5 (1) was included in the Air Ministry (Heston and Kenley Aerodromes Extension) Act, 1939, which states that The Secretary of State shall as soon as practicable acquire and convey to the Rector free of charge a substituted site in the parish of Cranford, approximately three acres in extent … for the erection of a parsonage house with garden attached". That land was duly conveyed in 1940. No building was possible then. About 1948, when the green light came on for building it became known that this might be the route of a new road, and no building has taken place. The rector has been living for many years in a house totally unsuitable for his parochial work, and now the Minister's new road cuts right through the ground which was conveyed. Surely the Minister is frustrating the deliberate intention of Parliament as expressed in the Act. and the only way in which he could get out of it would be by legislation, which I am precluded from discussing on the Adjournment.

For all these reasons it seems that the southern route is infinitely to be preferred. It is safer for the children, easy of access for the rest of the parishioners and leaves untouched this charming rural spot. It certainly does not cross the intentions of Parliament, it costs no more and it offers no greater engineering difficulties.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will not say that, as everyone has accepted the route, it would be very difficult to change it. He cannot yet say that the route is finally settled because we know that the result of the inquiry on the compulsory purchase of the land required has not been given. He may not even get the land. There is, therefore, still time to change the decision, and I very much hope that he will do so. A petition was handed into the public inquiry from 574 houses out of the 593 concerned, pleading for the route to the south. For all these reasons I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will feel that a case has been made out and that there is no reason why the route should not go south of the church to satisfy all the objections which have been raised about the route to the north.

6.12 a.m.

Mr. Peter Kirk (Gravesend)

I have two reasons for intervening briefly in support of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington). First, he is a constituent of mine, and even at 6.12 a.m. the claims of a constituent are paramount. Secondly, I have had the immense joy of worshipping in the parish church of St. Dunstan's, at Cranford, and I feel very strongly that the proposal which the Minister is supporting would be disastrous to one of the most thriving church communities in this part of Middlesex.

I need add very little to what the hon. Member said. The arguments all seem to me to lead to the route going logically to the south of the church. The only point of disturbance is the B.O.A.C. sports ground, and understand that that can be made up elsewhere with little difficulty. If it goes north of the church, then the church will be separated from its congregation. There can be no doubt about this. It may be said that Christians should not be deterred from going to church by having to go through a tunnel, but, frankly, this is an area of a somewhat dubious reputation. There have been a number of extremely unpleasant incidents, including a murder which took place there about five years ago, and it is natural that both old and young people will not wish to go through a tunnel 200 feet long every time they want to go to church.

I hope that the Minister will reconsider the matter. It seems to me that there is a very strong case for altering the line. I hope that he will accede to the hon. Member's wishes and to those of the congregation of this church.

6.14 a.m.

Mr. Tom Driberg (Barking)

My only excuse for adding a few more words in support of the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) is that, like the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk), I have known Cranford for some years and have a great affection for the place, the people, and the church, this small and exquisite Renaissance church, greatly enriched in modern times, which stands so surprisingly in this rustic setting only about 12 miles from Hyde Park Corner.

I can confirm everything that has been said by both hon. Members. It would be a real tragedy if this road were to go, as it is proposed, north of the church. It is a great pity that HANSARD is not usually illustrated with maps, because if we could publish the map which my hon. Friend showed me before this debate it would illustrate how logical, how easy, and how just the southern route is. The bit of the B.O.A.C. sports ground that would have to be shaved off is a very tiny bit and could be replaced on adjoining waste ground. That would not be a problem at all, and when that is weighed in the balance against wrecking the corporate life of a flourishing church congregation—that is perhaps putting it a bit strongly—I do not see how the Minister can hesitate.

I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Gentleman has been to the spot, but I wish that he would go there on some fine Sunday morning, about eleven o'clock, and see the people flocking to their church along a charming path through this orchard which he is now proposing to destroy. If he would imagine how different and much less satisfactory it would be if the people had to go through a 200 ft. tunnel, which for reasons already explained, they do not like the prospect of at all, I am sure that he would come round to the point of view expressed by my hon. Friend, which I support very strongly indeed.

6.17 a.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett)

The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) began by apologising for the early hour at which he was raising this matter. Some of us would wish that it was earlier than it is. But I too must start by apologising to the hon. Gentleman for the fact that neither my right hon. Friend nor my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, with whom the hon. Gentleman has hitherto dealt on this matter, are able to be here to reply to the debate. I have done my best to acquaint myself with the past history of this very difficult problem, and I shall now do my best to reply to the criticisms which have been made.

I admit at once that some hardship is really quite inevitable whenever a big new road has to be made through a densely populated area. No matter what line is chosen, there are bound to be interests and individuals who will suffer, just as there will remain a lingering sense of injustice in the minds of the victims of what we call progress. Parliament has always recognised this and has laid down safeguards and procedures which ensure that individuals can make their protests heard and that as far as possible right shall be done.

My task, therefore, is not to pretend that there is no substance in the grievance which the hon. Gentleman has ventilated, but really to show that my right hon. Friend has observed both the spirit and the letter of the law and has acted in the only way that a Minister could properly act in the circumstances of this case.

The hon. Gentleman and those who supported him have stated the case from their point of view, and I should like to state it from that of my right hon. Friend. The motorway that we are discussing is really that section of M.4 which runs from Chiswick to Langley, and it will be clear to the House that the siting of a motorway, particularly one running through a highly developed area like this section of M.4, is an extremely difficult task.

In this case the Ministry's proposals were first published in July, 1958. Before that we had considered with great care the effect that they would have on Cranford. We recognised the attractiveness of Cranford Park, and we were well aware of the great charm of St. Dunstan's Church in this setting. Nevertheless, on balance, we felt that a line running north of St. Dunstan's Church would do the least harm to Granford Park and to the church.

In coming to this conclusion we were fortified by the opinion of that very important body, my right hon. Friend's independent Advisory Committee on the Landscaping of Trunk Roads. This committee, after inspecting the proposed line for the motorway, as is always done at an early stage of the planning before the draft scheme is published, felt that the Line we proposed to adopt would do the least harm to the amenities of Cranford. We had also consulted Middlesex County Council, Heston and Isleworth Borough Council and Hayes and Harlington Urban District Council and Cranford Park Joint Committee.

In accepting the Ministry's proposal, these authorities were, of course, mindful that the motorway would run between the church and the residential area from which it draws most of its congregation. I understand that some of the congregation use a footpath from Somerville Lane. The councils therefore asked that a subway should be provided under the motorway so that local residents could still use the footpath and to this we readily agreed.

As the House will know, there is a period of three months after the publication of a draft special road scheme in which objections can be lodged. As we have heard, objections were lodged in this case not only by the rector of Cranford but by others, including Brentford and Chiswick Borough Council. My right hon. Friend therefore decided to hold a public inquiry and this was held under an independent inspector in June, 1960. At this inquiry both the rector and his representative put their case fully, and strongly urged that the line should be moved south of the church.

Perhaps I may be permitted to quote what the inspector said in his report about the rector's case, because he recommended that the line should remain as proposed by the Ministry. He said: I sympathise with the objection of the Rector of Cranford and due weight must be attached to the support given to that objection by the Bishop of London. I must, however, with respect, record my regret at the exaggerated language in which that support is given in the Bishop's letter. I cannot accept the statement that the Ministry's proposal"— and here the inspector quotes from the Bishop's letter— 'would entirely frustrate the arrangements of the pastoral care of the large population north of the church and would make access to the church all but impossible for those on that side of the parish.' Later, the inspector concluded that The balance of advantage seems to lie in adhering to the Ministry's line. In making his final recommendation that the scheme as far as the Buckinghamshire boundary should be made as issued, the inspector also recommended that every reasonable effort should be made to minimise the difficulties stressed by the Rector and the Parochial Church Council of Cranford. He observed that the subway leading to St. Dunstan's should be made as safe and as attractive as possible and be well lit.

The inspector's report was accepted by my right hon. Friend with this recommendation and he made the scheme in October, 1960. In passing, I might say that if the parochial church council would like to know what is proposed for the subway which will lead to the church I am sure that the consulting engineers for the road will be only too pleased to discuss the matter with the council. The inspector also referred to a portion of the rector's glebe land which would have to be acquired for the motorway and he recommended that a reasonably satisfactory equivalent should be given in exchange.

My right hon. Friend is under no statutory obligation to do this, but he has agreed to do his best. A piece of land adjoining the Old Rectory, which the Ministry of Aviation was prepared to convey to the rector, was offered, but I understand that he has turned it down. However, my right hon. Friend is still attempting to fulfil the inspector's recommendation even though, as he said when accepting it, he can give no assurance that it will be possible. Subsequently, the order relating to side roads was made on 19th April this year. As the hon. Member will be aware, provision is made in the Highways Act for challenging the validity of schemes and Orders within six weeks of their making, but in this case no recourse was made to this provision.

To those who criticise my right hon. Friend for the route which this motor road will take I would say this. His decision, in effect, upholds the original judgment of the engineers who planned the road, a judgment supported by the Middlesex County Council, which was the planning authority for the area, and a judgment which was subsequently upheld by an independent inspector after a public inquiry. On what grounds, therefore, could my right hon. Friend be expected to overrule all this advice?

What we are now required to do is to construct this motorway and to get it open to traffic as soon as possible. We have already had a contract under way for nearly a year for widening the carriageways on the Great West Road so that the piers which will support the viaduct can be erected in the central reserve. We awarded the contract for the viaduct a month ago, and on 26th June we invited tenders for the construction of roadworks passing through Cranford. Tenders for the remaining length will be invited shortly.

All this has been carefully phased so that by 1964 traffic from London to the West will be able to use M.4 from Chiswick to the end of the Maidenhead by-pass. To try to readjust our line, even if we could find a satisfactory alternative, would necessitate publishing a new Order and a fresh set of objections would then be lodged, and very considerable delay would be inevitable.

Mr. Skeffington

As the Minister does not know that he has got the land because we have not had the result of the public inquiry, he may have to do this in any event. This is not a very strong argument, is it?

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

I can say, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, without being word perfect on technical details, that he will be surprised and concerned if what the hon. Member says is right. The fact is, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree, that my right hon. Friend is under continuous and tremendous pressure to push ahead with the motorway programme. We are bound to accept the fact that some people are adversely affected in almost every case of a motorway. This would happen whatever line or route is taken. That is something which has to be accepted if we are to have a road system which is capable of dealing with the traffic which we expect in the future. Frankly, I feel that if we even tried to change the route of M.4 near Cranford with all the attendant delay that would be involved, my right hon. Friend would be criticised, and I think rightly so, for failing in his duty to go ahead and to construct this road now that a valid scheme has been made for it.

Mr. Driberg

Since the hon. and gallant Member asked a rhetorical question—on what grounds could the Minister overrule all this expert advice? —the answer is on the grounds that the political head of a Department is not the slave of his expert advisers and balances their advice against the case made by hon. Members and others.

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

I would have said that the only ground on which a Minister can overrule the finding of an inspector after a public inquiry when it is in accordance with what has been recommended before is if a new fact comes to light. I appreciate the strength of the case which the hon. Gentleman put, but all that was before the inspector at the time of the public inquiry.

Mr. Skeffington

Even the inspector, in his final report, says that there is no engineering difficulty about the southern route. In view of that, what is the overriding reason for still adhering to the northern route?

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

It was not suggested in the report that there was an overriding reason. The words of the inspector I have quoted. He found that the balance of advantage lay in adhering to the northern route.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at half-past Six o'clock a.m.