HC Deb 20 March 1962 vol 656 cc347-60

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

10.10 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)

I wish to raise tonight the problem of people who live beside busy roads in the country just outside London. There are some arterial roads on which traffic is scarcely less dense than the traffic of Central London, and, unlike London transport, does not frequently halt at street intersections so that pedestrians can conveniently cross the road. On the contrary, it is travelling at speeds of 50 to 80 miles an hour without check over long distances.

How to cross such roads on foot is a problem which baffles an ever higher proportion of the local population as the tide of vehicles swells and swells. I wish to raise this as a general problem, because it exists as a general problem. Even as little as ten years ago, it did not exist on any remotely comparable scale. There was then on some roads a lot of fast traffic, but there were also a lot of gaps in that traffic. Now, on many more roads than then, there are, at some periods of the day, no gaps at all in the stream of vehicles. The average speed is even higher and the variety of speeds confusing.

Not even those in the prime of life can safely launch themselves against a roaring torrent of lorries, vans, motor cars, motor cycles and scooters whose assorted speeds cover the range from 20 to 80 m.p.h. The older and less nimble members of the community are now without hope of crossing such roads at any time during the day or, indeed, during the early evening.

Since many of our main roads go straight through the middle of large communities, a large social problem has come into existence. I want the Minister to tell us how his Department's mind is working upon this and to assure us, if he can, that the problem is not developing faster than its plans to deal with it.

I raise this problem because my constituency is typical of the areas that suffer in this way. We have two trunk roads running east and west across the constituency—the A.4, the Great West Road, and the A.40, which is the Oxford-South Wales-Fishguard Trunk Road. The A.4 raises problems enough. I have troubled my right hon. Friend before, and shall have to do so again, about the difficulty of crossing the road at Taplow on the A.4. The A.40 is even worse.

Last August, the average weight of traffic in a 16-hour day on the A.4 at Colnbrook was 21,000. On the A.40, at Redhill, just west of Denham, the average figure is no less than 29,900. There are no figures for the stretch through Denham before some traffic turns off up the North Orbital Road, which is just north of Redhill, but I believe it to be well over 30,000.

At present, the road from Denham to Beaconsfield is just a 30 ft. undivided road. My right hon. Friend, who is well aware of his Department's Memorandum 780, will not wish to deny that a road with this weight of traffic should be, according to standards laid down by his Department, a dual carriageway, with three lanes on each side.

Denham and Gerrards Cross stand on the A.40 and develop on both sides of it. In both places, people are separated by the road from schools, churches, shops and the general facilities of a community. In places of this sort, one cannot duplicate all the facilities on each side of the road, as my right hon. Friend will understand. At Denham, some contribution to the problem will be made by the installation of traffic lights at the junction of the North Orbital Road and the A.40, but that will not solve it, because there is to be no all-red phase at the traffic lights. On the contrary, there will be three permanent green phases, one for all traffic going west along the A.40, and the other two for traffic turning left into and out of the North Orbital Road, so that it will not be possible for the active pedestrian to nip smartly across at the traffic lights.

I am not suggesting that the right solution is necessarily to have an all-red phase at the traffic lights which are being installed at this junction. On such a heavily overloaded road, the resultant congestion might become unmanageable. The right solution might be a tunnel or an overbridge, and, to some extent, I leave it to my right hon. Friend which solution he will give us. A quarter of a mile up the North Orbital Road, in the northern part of Denham, a tunnel has been approved, to be built next year, to solve the same problem in that part of the village, and I hope that my right hon. Friend can help us by giving speedy consideration to the question of grant when this proposal comes up to him, as I am sure it will do very shortly. This is an urgent requirement.

At Gerrards Cross, we have the same problem of communities living on both sides of the road, with people who cannot go to church and children crossing the road to go to school, and the position is one of the most extreme difficulty, when people sometimes have to wait ten minutes or a quarter of an hour to get across the road.

For a long time, people have been discussing the alternatives which are possible, whether it will be a tunnel or an overbridge, and I understand that in the next few weeks estimates will be coming up from the Buckinghamshire County Councill to my right hon. Friend—one estimate for a tunnel and one for an overbridge at the "French Horn", at Gerrards Cross. I hope that he will give these his most careful and urgent consideration, because this is a problem which has been outstanding for a very long time there, and which has caused the greatest anxiety among my constituents.

The other point I want to raise concerns Church Road in Iver Heath, an extension of the A.421 which runs south through Iver Heath. This is, I believe, a marginal case for a pedestrian crossing, but the county council thinks there should be a pedestrian crossing in Iver Heath, and the Minister has decided to refuse it. I can see that it is marginal, and the traffic on that road is very heavy, not like a trunk road, about 6,000 vehicles a day use it, but with a more marked morning and evening peak. I ask my right hon. Friend to consider very carefully the problem which is raised there, because somehow, and at some time, we must find a solution to it as the problem develops and gets worse, as I am afraid it will. I know that his Department will watch this very sympathetically.

All these measures which I have mentioned can only be palliatives, because the A.40 is now a grossly overloaded road, and, therefore, inevitably we will have to drive a new motor road south of it in the fairly near future. I have heard that within the last week or two my right hon. Friend has authorised the taking of an aerial survey of the proposed site of that road, and when he gets the result of that survey I hope that he will give it rather higher priority than it has had up to now, because of the quite unexpected growth of the traffic on the A.40, which has been a tremendous problem to us. I hope that he will think about the project for a motorway independently of that, and will press on with mitigating measures on the A.40, both for traffic along the length of the road from Denham to Beaconsfield, and for solving the particular local problem of how people can got across that maelstrom of a road without being killed in the process. If he can do that, he would certainly earn the gratitude of my constituents and myself.

10.20 p.m.

Mr. A. R. Wise (Rugby)

I should like, first, to express my deep gratitude to my hon. Friend for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) for his masterly effort at brevity and leaving me a few minutes to reinforce his eloquent plea for some action on very crowded roads.

When a road is improved, the first thought should be for the safety of pedestrians. Roads pass through inhabited areas and often divide communities into halves, between which communication is essential. It is not right that that should result in danger to life. When increasing the speed of traffic, surely we can ensure protection for the footgoer. The Ministry of Transport has power to check speed and has resources to build safe crossings, but it does not use them and people are, therefore, put in peril.

My constituency is in the geographical centre of England and is, therefore, traversed by a number of roads which are rapidly being improved into speedways. I will give only one example, but I assure hon. Members that there are others. The A.45 connecting Birmingham and Coventry with the East and the South and with the M.1—which is very important—cuts the village of Ryton-on-Dunsmore in half. On the north of the road are the church, the post office, the only butcher's shop and 32 children of primary school age. On the south are the primary school and the rest of the village. The older children living on the south of the road have to cross the road every morning to catch a bus to their secondary school.

Incidentally, 117 new houses are about to be built on the south side of the road, many of them earmarked for elderly people who will be cut off from the church, the post office and the only butcher's shop. The road has become a clearway and therefore more dangerous than ever. I sometimes cross the road, and I know.

Through the hours of day a vehicle goes through every four seconds at a normal speed of 50 m.p.h. or more; in other words, 100 yards between vehicles, which is not even braking distance. On crossing from the south it is impossible even to see vehicles coming in order to find a gap in the traffic. In three years one person has been killed every year and two have already been killed this year.

I have been writing to the Ministry asking for an underpass, which is the only solution, and for temporary measures to ensure safety while the underpass is built. Nothing has happened yet and I am afraid that my next letter will ask how many people have to be killed before something is done. I am expecting any moment to have the news of yet another fatal accident on this stretch of road. The underpass could be begun in April—the county council has said as much—and the temporary expedients could be undertaken at once. I suggest a speed limit, or something of the kind, while the underpass is being built.

Using this as an example, the point I want to make is that these measures should be taken before and not after footgoers have been killed. Whenever a village is divided by a speedway, underpasses should be part of the original programme of improvement. I know that that is expensive, but it depends at what price we value human life. I am told that this underpass would cost £20,000. In three years five people have been killed, 19 seriously injured and 38 slightly injured. All future plans for road improvement should automatically include provision for the absolute safety of pedestrians. If that makes the road too expensive, we should do without the road until we can afford it.

10.25 p.m.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Ernest Marples)

I am sure the House is grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) for raising this subject tonight. Perhaps I can first deal briefly with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. Wise) about the A.45 to Ryton-on-Dunsmore. We have taken a count of the vehicles. We have looked at the matter carefully from the traffic point of view and considered whether the provision of a subway is justified. We asked the county surveyor to make a census of the pedestrian traffic across the trunk road. This has been done. The results confirm the need for a subway.

Mr. Wise

I am grateful.

Mr. Marples

I am glad to say that it will be included in our programme for the financial year 1962–63. The work will be started as soon as the final details can be prepared. For once I have satisfied somebody.

Mr. Wise


Mr. Marples

Having won my hon. Friend's applause, I shall now earn his condemnation. I do not think that it would serve a useful purpose to impose a 50 or a 40 m.p.h. speed limit, even as a temporary measure, as he suggested. The built-up area fronts less than 300 yards of the trunk road. It would be difficult to enforce a restriction on so short a length. If it could be imposed, enforced and obeyed, it would be done, but it is one of those things that a motorist will not do. A motorist looks for himself and says, "This is ridiculous. I will not obey". This is the difficulty we face. This human complication and factor must be taken into account.

I hope that I have dealt reasonably satisfactorily with my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby in the centre of England. There are many more important places in the centre of England, such as South Buckinghamshire and Wallasey. Wallasey is a very important place. There are very shrewd people there who send me back to the House regularly. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South raised a number of points. I tell him right away that I know the area intimately. He will agree that I do. He raised, generally, points of pedestrian safety. In particular, he raised a matter which affects his own constituency. It would only be courteous to him for me to deal with the particular points of his own constituency first and then, if I have time before the debate ends, I can go on to deal with the general problems.

He was right in saying that excessive speed in a motor car is all right for the driver, but it is very difficult for the elderly person with brittle limbs and failing eyesight who is a little tottery. My hon. Friend said that a man in the prime of life would have difficulty in crossing. He will know, because he is in the prime of life. I am a little older. I could not get across with the same agility as my hon. Friend. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is becoming more and more difficult to cross trunk roads outside London. However, if a trunk road goes through a large community—that is, a built-up area—there will be a speed limit imposed, as there ought to be.

The new Road Traffic Bill, which has received a Second Reading and will go into Committee after Easter, contains a provision designed to secure the strict enforcement of the speed limit. From what my hon. Friend has said tonight I know that we have his support on the enforcement of the speed limit. I shall look forward to his support when we come to the Committee stage.

My hon. Friend mentioned one or two points about the trunk roads in South Buckinghamshire. There are two trunk roads in South Buckinghamshire—the A.4 and the A.40. There are three points on the classified roads, as distinct from trunk roads, where pedestrian difficulties have been under consideration particularly. First, the A.40, which is outside my hon. Friend's constituency, but is still important.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Only the part which runs through Slough is outside my constituency. The road on either side of Slough is in my constituency.

Mr. Marples

That part is excluded from my hon. Friend's constituency which is, no doubt, an unfortunate fact from the point of representation in the House.

Most of the A.4 in the County runs through the Borough of Slough. The Slough Experiment included special measures for pedestrians, and they are reasonably well catered for. With the opening of Slough by-pass in the spring of 1963, conditions on the by-passed length of A.4 will be even more improved.

I now come to the A.40, which is in my hon. Friends constituency—all of it. We acknowledge freely that there is a pedestrian problem on those parts of the A.40 whore there is substantial development on either side. From my experience I am certain that this is so, especially on fine Sundays in the summer and at Bank Holidays when traffic is very heavy. It is almost terrifying there. The most difficult sections for pedestrians crossing in sizeable numbers are at Tailing End and at Gerrards Cross, between the traffic signalled junction with A.332—the Windsor Road—and the junction with Fulmer Road—at the "French Horn". Everything seems to be designated by the titles of public houses in these enlightened days.

At Tailing End work on an improved lay-out and installation of traffic signals and central refuges at the A.40-A.413—Tatling End to Aylesbury Road—is now well advanced. The completed scheme will be of very great assistance to pedestrians crossing at this point, and the traffic signals will create breaks in the traffic flow, thereby helping pedestrians to cross the trunk road elsewhere in the vicinity of Tatling End. My hon. Friend referred to the North Orbital Road, and I can inform him that similar improvements are in progress at the junction of the A.40 with the North Orbital Road, A.412.

My horn. Friend also mentioned that proposals would be conning forward to the Ministry, and he asked if I would consider them sympathetically.

Mr. Ronald Bell

It is in respect of the junction at Gerrards Cross that my right hon. Friend will be receiving an estimate from the County Council in the next few weeks.

Mr. Marples

I realise that my hon. Friend attaches great importance to this. The pressure he has brought on my Ministry is evidence of that. I can assure him that this will be looked at sympathetically when the application is received.

At the "French Horn" junction at Gerrards Cross a major improvement scheme is being considered for inclusion in the programme for the financial year 1962–63. Alternative schemes are being considered; either the installation of traffic signals or the construction of a subway. Whichever is adopted will be of considerable benefit to pedestrians wishing to cross the trunk road. If my hon. Friend has any views about this matter I shall be glad to receive his views when we come to the more formulative stage.

I think that, broadly speaking, there are no exceptional difficulties for pedestrians in Beaconsfield on either the trunk road or the classified roads which cross it. Conditions for pedestrians on the whole section of the A.40 westward from Denham roundabout to the east end of the proposed Wycombe by-pass would be much improved by the construction of a new road on a separate alignment. The Buckinghamshire County Council has very recently been asked to arrange for an aerial survey so that such a by-pass may be considered. My hon. Friend has been pressing for this for a long time with his usual persuasiveness and lucidity. I am happy to say that he has been reasonably successful and that we are considering the matter.

I turn now to the other matters. Packhorse Road, on the A.332, is at the shopping centre of Gerrards Cross, and it has been agreed by all concerned that a pedestrian crossing is justified here. However, this site chosen is in conflict with a bus stop. Here we get into the usual difficulties that we always get into. The parish council, although wanting a crossing, is resisting the proposal to shift the bus stop. I should like to enlist my hon. Friend to help me to solve the problem. Normally I take the burden. I never get any credit for all the great works that we in the Ministry propose to do, but get a lot of blame if anything goes wrong. I expect my hon. Friend to put that right himself and shall look forward to his advice and co-operation.

There is another place at Denham Station on the A.412 at the Moorfield Road junction. The difficulties for pedestrians wishing to cross the road have been eased recently by the imposition of a 40 m.p.h. speed limit. So far the period of operation is not sufficiently long to permit a comparison with conditions as they were before the speed limit was imposed.

I am sure I take my hon. Friend with me when I say that it is no good having a speed limit unless it is strictly enforced. Again I look to him to help me in the Committee stage of the new Bill so that we can enforce the speed limit that we in the House decide to impose. I am sure I shall take him with me in that. I see my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) here. I know I shall have him with me too. If we have any difficulties during the Committee stage, I am sure that he and my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South will pair with each other so that we shall have no further trouble,

My hon. Friend asked about a pedestrian crossing at Iver Heath. He recently asked a Question about it. My hon. Friend said tonight that it was a marginal case. The Answer that he was given was that neither the number of pedestrians crossing the road at this point nor the volume of traffic along the road was sufficient to justify a pedestrian crossing. I think that at the moment that is so—my hon. Friend was frank enough to admit that it was marginal—but maybe with the increased number of vehicles coming on the road With our Tory prosperity things will alter. When I look opposite at the "crowded Socialist benches, and the revival of the Liberal Party at Orpington, I am sure that they can make a great contribution to the debate which is now going on. It will be recorded in HANSARD, I hope, that there was not a soul on the Opposition benches or the Liberal benches. Not even the Labour Whip is present. Where he has gone I do not know. I often wish the Whips would go to a certain place. I talking now about our own Whips and not the Opposition Whips. But it is a sad commentary that when we are discussing these great affairs in Buckinghamshire and all these important things are being considered, there is not a soul present on the benches opposite. I am talking to empty benches. If I find it very difficult to continue, it must be because I am almost choked with emotion at the way they have ignored the debate.

One thing I must say is that when we do certain traffic engineering works in a town or in the country—

Mr. Ronald Bell

Before my right hon. Friend concludes, I wonder whether he is able to announce now that he is going to do anything about the authorisation of dual carriageway from Den-ham to Gerrards Cross, which I have always wanted, about which I think he may be ready to announce something.

Mr. Marples

It is almost there, but I would rather not say anything at the moment. Certainly this is a very desirable thing, because from Denham, which I know awfully well, to Gerrards Cross is one of the most difficult sections of the road. It is where a great number of accidents occur. I ask my hon. Friend to be a little patient He is normally very patient. I count him among the most patient of my supporters, and so I hope he will be patient a little longer.

There is something that I must say in the two minutes that remain. When we at the Ministry introduce traffic measures we do not introduce them only to make motor cars go faster. We introduce them to make it safer for pedestrians. This is true. We know the importance of providing adequate facilities for pedestrians, but one thing we must say is this. Pedestrians want two things. First, they want convenience. Secondly, they want safety. A pedestrian gets impatient if he has to wait more than about 20 seconds before he can cross the road. That is what we have found by experiment. The motorist, of course, gets impatient in much less than 20 seconds. But the pedestrian takes 20 seconds.

This is an attitude which is out of keeping with the times we live in. Whether we like it or not, we have to live with the motor car. When we introduce certain of the schemes in London, such as the Tottenham Court Road/Gower Street one-way working scheme, I know it is inconvenient to the pedestrian, but it is safer. In the first six months the accidents to pedestrians were reduced from about 100 to 70. That is a big saving. I know it was inconvenient for the pedestrians, but it saved their lives.

Therefore, I think that in all our traffic engineering work we must do our best not only to see that the traffic flows smoothly but that the pedestrians have more security.

With that brief answer—I have almost finished my time; there are four or five seconds to go, Mr. Speaker—

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House with Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at twenty minutes to Eleven o'clock.