HC Deb 19 March 1963 vol 674 cc343-54

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

10.0 p.m.

Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)

I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport for being in his place tonight to answer this debate. I want to draw the attention of the House to a particular matter which concerns my constituents, but which has very important general implications in so far as it represents a conflict which will be found throughout Greater London, a conflict between local convenience and through traffic.

I want to explain the details. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport has taken powers to regulate traffic on main thoroughfares throughout Greater London. Eventually the Greater London Council will do this and my constituents will be represented on that body. In the meantime, the responsibility falls on me to make representations on their behalf to my right hon. Friend. In exercising those powers my right hon. Friend has decided to try out an experiment to minimise accidents and to maximise traffic flow on main thoroughfares which run through residential districts by closing all the intersections which have heretofore existed in the central reservations of dual carriageways. It so happens that the scene of his current experiment is in Woodford Avenue which cuts through the Clayhall Ward of my constituency.

Eventually my right hon. Friend will be deciding how many of these intersections are to be closed permanently. The closing of these intersections has a cornsiderable impact on many of my constituents, on their safety and convenience. For my right hon. Friend it will be primarily a matter of traffic management and convenience, but to my constituents who happen to live there, to have their being there and live their lives in the area there are other and more humdrum implications. My object tonight is to make certain that, whatever other considerations he may have in mind when he makes his final decision about Woodford Avenue, he shall be in no doubt about what local people feel. That is what I shall tell him tonight.

The House will know that my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) is also interested in this matter. I am most obliged to him for the information he has given me on behalf of his constituents. In making this plea I want to make certain acknowledgments. First, my constituents in the Clayhall Ward are fortunate in having two representatives on Ilford Borough Council who are particularly alert and conscientious in their work, Councillor Mrs. Chamberlin and Councillor Norwood. Councillor Norwood has been most active in focusing public attention on the problem.

My first reaction on receiving representations about this area was to suggest to my right hon. Friend that his traffic adviser—whose recommendations will undoubtedly greatly affect his final decision—should come to Ilford and look at Woodford Avenue with me and a party of local people led by Councillor Norwood on the spot at peak traffic hours. I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for having allowed these arrangements to be made and for the visit to take place on Friday, 1st March between 5.30 p.m. and 7.30 p.m. The local party included Councillor Escote, of the Wanstead and Woodford Borough Council, whose advice and knowledge are most valuable. Every one who was present on that occasion would like to thank the traffic adviser for the thoroughness, the patience and courtesy with which he considered every point that was put to him. I am personally confident that as a result of action taken in this way every possible anxiety felt by people in the locality is fully appreciated in my right hon. Friend's Department.

I want to indicate what those anxieties are, to ask my hon. Friend certain questions and to seek certain assurances from him. It is only right that the House should be made aware of this matter in the general public interest, quite apart from the general consultations we have had with the adviser to my right hon. Friend. Woodford Avenue, from the Beehive Lane roundabout to the Charlie Brown roundabout, is too long a stretch to keep motorists who live locally and go to town every day to business or who live and work locally without a chance of turning right. It is the longest stretch of this kind in 27 miles of the North Circular and Great West Roads.

These are the sort of difficulties that arise. In regard to local enterprises, there are 16 firms in the trading estate in the Lamb's Garage area. These local enterprises have vans which make many trips a day. They have to add up to two and a half miles to each trip. Lamb's Garage alone told me that it involves an extra 1,000 miles a week. Milk floats have to make detours involving uphill journeys for which their batteries are simply not adequate. A man who lives at the Woodford end of Woodford Avenue on the north side and has to drive west to business every day now has to drive east to Beehive roundabout and all the way back, again two and a half miles.

One man told me that he has a flat on one side of Woodford Avenue and his garage opposite on the other, and when he could go through the intersection he had to make a journey of 100 yards but he now has to go two and a half miles. Secondly, many motorists whose homes lie just east of Clayhall Avenue and who used to drive to business down Clayhall Avenue, cross Woodford Avenue, and then proceed London-wards to the westward each morning now try to avoid doubling back to the eastwards by making their way towards the Beehive roundabout through residential roads which lie on the north side of Woodford Avenue. The result is that these narrow residential roads such as Abbotswood and Longwood, many of them already congested by double parking, are becoming dangerous thoroughfares just at the time when children are on their way to the Caterham and Park Hill Schools, and at night in particular these roads are inadequately lit for traffic of this kind. A somewhat similar situation arises, I am told, in the Roding Ward of Woodford and this also affects, because it blocks the main roads further north, the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell, whom I am glad to see in his place.

Thirdly, we are getting the worst of both worlds by this arrangement. Motorists complain of delay because they have the extra distance to travel, and also the extra traffic which would previously have been drawn off through the intersection causes traffic jams at Beehive and Charlie Brown roundabouts, and, although we may be increasing speed, we are not in fact saving time. Pedestrians, especially old people and young women with children, getting off buses and trying to cross the road at Woodford Avenue, find that traffic is going much faster than it ever did before, because it is not held up, as it used to be, by traffic turning right at Clayhall Avenue junction. So there is never even that chance which they used to have of nipping across safely. I cannot imagine how any young mother pushing a pram, perhaps with a young toddler beside her, can cross. It is even worse as she has to try to get a pram over the new blocking of the intersection which is made by a very high stone kerb.

Perhaps my hon. Friend will also bear in mind that Stoneleigh Court, which is a block of council flats for elderly people, is also in this neighbourhood and there are a large number of old people who have to get across the road coming or going by bus.

May I at this point make certain suggestions? Many of the people I represent would find some alleviation of their troubles if the following arrangements were to be made. First, at the Clayhall Avenue Junction a pedestrian subway should be provided. I believe that this is coming anyway, but it would be helpful if we could have a firm date for this. Secondly, until the subway is ready it would be helpful to have traffic lights to help pedestrians crossing. Thirdly, an intersection for Clayhall residents westbound along Woodford Avenue at this junction is absolutely necessary, I am sure. Even better than an intersection would be eventually a roundabout here, because if we merely had an intersection it would be a temptation to motorists to try to make U-turns, and I do not think that U-turns can really be allowed here, because heavy lorries could not in fact make them in the width of Woodford Avenue.

Further, somewhere between Clayhall Avenue junction and the Beehive roundabout some protection must be provided for pedestrians crossing, whether it be by lights or by subway or by a temporary footbridge. There should also somewhere along this stretch be at least one intersection with a refuge cut into the central reservation to allow cars to move off the main flow of traffic before turning. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would direct the attention of the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis to the persistent disregard of the 40 m.p.h. speed limit all along Woodford Avenue, about which my constituents are complaining.

I should like to put two more local questions to him. First, how long is this experiment to go on, how soon does he expect to be able to make his decision on the final scheme for Woodford Avenue, and what procedures for further local inquiry and consultation will he preserve? Secondly, regarding the similar problem in Eastern Avenue, westward of Gants Hill, will my hon. Friend explain his intentions and give an assurance, further to what he said in reply to a Question the other day, that the intersection opposite The Drive will not be closed? This is particularly important to residents on the Cathedral Estate, south of Eastern Avenue, who depend on this intersection being open for their 147 bus service link with the centre of Ilford.

There are two general points I wish to raise with my hon. Friend. Firstly, can he tell the House what conclusions he has drawn from the closing of the intersections in Eastern Avenue, which has already been in operation for a couple of years, east of Gants Hill? What effect has this closure had, as a policy, on the number of accidents? An answer my hon. Friend gave recently to a Question I put to him suggested that after a quite dramatic initial improvement the accident rate climbed in the second year far more than could be accounted for by any increase in the volume of traffic.

Secondly, will he give his personal attention—and this is perhaps, in general terms, one of the most important points I wish to bring out in this debate—to clearing the lines of communication between his Department and the chairmen of highways committees of local authorities and their chief officials? Everyone who met his adviser—and his first-class personal staff—when he visited us knows that one could not hope for a more human, approachable or sensible person or a more sensible or less bureaucratic setup. We in Ilford now know who is at the other end of the telephone and that the line is open and clear. I hope that the members and officials of the Ilford Borough Council will take advantage of this because, frankly, I think that the relations previously between the borough and my hon. Friend's Department had been indifferent. No one quite knew who was doing what or why, and there was a general atmosphere of ignorance, suspicion, mistrust and obstructiveness.

It would have been only sensible, for example, for the two valuable councillors I have mentioned to have been put in the picture personally much earlier, to say nothing of the chairmen of the highways committees of the two boroughs concerned, instead of relying on compliance with the letter of the law by mere public advertisement. This sort of thing is unnecessary between people of manifest intelligence and good will, and I hope that the meeting I arranged and this debate, plus the reply we will receive from my hon. Friend, will remove any doubts and restore confidence in this respect.

10.13 p.m.

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)

I share with a number of my constituents gratitude to my hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Ilford. North (Mr. Iremonger) who has raised this widespread grievance which is keenly felt in my constituency as well as in his. He has put the case with a wealth of detail and admirable clarity and I do not wish to detain the House or prevent my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary from having adequate time in which to reply. I hope that it will be a helpful and hopeful reply and that the feeling of gratitude I feel for my hon. Friend may be extended to the Ministry of Transport as well.

10.14 p.m.

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

I should like, first, to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) for raising this subject tonight. He and I had had quite a lot of correspondence about it, and there have been a number of Parliamentary Questions and Answers in the last few months. As he said, the object of his raising the matter tonight was largely to let me know—and, through me, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport—what is the strength of local feeling on this matter.

If I may say so to my hon. Friend with all respect, we already knew that there was some local feeling. We did not really need an Adjournment debate to tell us that, but I welcome this opportunity—I do not pretend that I do not—because it enables me to say a little about the background of the matter, and to explain in more detail than one can in answer to Parliamentary Questions what is behind this experiment.

My hon. Friend was kind enough to give me notice of a number of questions he wanted to ask this evening. I will try in due course to give him answers, but before I embark on the general aspects of the problem perhaps I may say a word about consultation. No one welcomes sensible consultation with local authorities or other local bodies—or even with responsible individuals—more than we do in the Ministry of Transport. I think the House knows that we are grappling with an extremely difficult problem of combining the safe flow of traffic at a reasonable speed with the ever-present problem of road accidents. The problem we are now discussing is an example of that.

In the very nature of things, some of the techniques we must use to try to deal with these matters create local problems. People object, people have very strong feelings, and often we find that by con- sultation, which we are only too willing to enter into, we can either set fears at rest or get experience and knowledge of some particular aspect, of which we can take care quite easily, in the particular scheme we draw up to deal with the matter. I can therefore give my hon. Friend the clear assurance for which he asks that we will be very willing at any time to discuss with the Ilford Borough Council, with the councillors whom he has mentioned by name tonight, quite rightly, and indeed, with any body of local residents, any of the problems this experiment is throwing up. I hope that my hon. Friend will carry that assurance to his constituents.

Another problem that we face in Ilford is one that is not exclusive to Ilford. In our experience, far too many accidents occur on dual carriageway roads when vehicles move through the gaps that are left in the central reservation. We call these gaps. My hon. Friend referred to them as "intersections", which is a term of art in the Ministry, and I know that he will forgive me if I correct him. I shall be talking about gaps in the central reservation. Our accident reports all over the country show that some of these gaps can well be black spots where the proportion of serious accidents is very high.

We hope that we can lessen the number of these accidents by removing their cause, and we have already had some success. My hon. Friend mentioned the section of Eastern Avenue between the roundabout at Gants Hill and, I think, Ley Street. The problem there has been quite severe in the past and, as a result, we closed all but one of the gaps in the central reservation. That was done over three years ago, and it is interesting to note that over those three years the number of personal injury accidents has been 78, but that for the three years before the gaps were closed the number of such accidents was 101. There has therefore been in that particular section a substantial fall in the accident rate, as a direct result, I am advised, of closing the gaps.

We are in no doubt that we must close gaps that are unnecessary. We realise that by closing other gaps we may well cause inconvenience—often quite substantial inconvenience—to people who live or have their business near the road. People may often be obliged to use an entirely different and, perhaps, very much longer route to get from point to point, so we have to try, somehow, to find a formula for weighing the inconvenience caused by closing each gap against the danger of leaving it open.

In the London Traffic Area there are a number of lengths of dual carriageway road where dangerous gaps of this kind exist. and we have all of them under review at present. Much the same problem arises when we convert a section of road into a dual carriageway by constructing a central reservation. Here, again, we are reviewing the position.

I should now like to come to the length of dual carriageway that is partly in the constituency of Ilford, North, which is Woodford Avenue, and its continuation, Southend Road—the A.406. We felt that it was desirable here to have an experiment in closing the existing gaps in the central reservation. In June of last year we advertised in the local Press inviting those who might be affected by our closing the gaps to make representations to us. This gave rise to very considerable opposition. We felt, nevertheless, that the experiment should start, as it did, in November last year. The intention is to continue it for a period up to six months in the first instance.

Mr. Iremonger

From now?

Mr. Hay

No, it is six months from November last year. We are keeping a very close watch on the effect of these measures on the accident rate. This stretch of road has had a consistently high record of accidents. My hon. Friend asked me about the figures. Over the last three years, there have been 147 accidents on this stretch and 37 of these have been directly attributable to the gaps. We are also taking account of the comments which we receive. Inevitably, many of these comments consist of criticism, often loud and deep criticism of what we are doing. It is a curious thing in the Ministry of Transport that those people who object to what we do always write and tell us but those who approve of our traffic measures seldom bother to take the trouble.

Mr. Charles A. Howell (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

You cannot win.

Mr. Hay

As the hon. Member says one cannot win in this particular Ministry. This experiment has now been running for just over four months and I do not think that we should be justified in coming to firm conclusions after such a short experimental period. We have to bear in mind that in January and February last we had quite extraordinary weather conditions, quite out of the normal, and therefore I think that it would be very difficult to come to any conclusions on the expirence of those two months.

I think that the experiment has to go on if we are to learn anything of value from it. Perhaps it would be of some comfort to my hon. Friend and his constituents if I say now that I do not rule out the possibility of modifying the experiment after a month or so by opening a gap which has been closed and which has caused very great inconvenience. This is the gap to which my hon. Friend referred at Clayhall Avenue. I am not making a firm promise to openit—I must make that clear. I am only making a promise to look again very closely at the position.

My hon. Friend has mentioned that earlier this month he and some of his constituents had the opportunity of meeting on the site representatives of my Ministry, and I understand that a very thorough discussion resulted, to the mutual benefit of both sides. We have promised that we will meet the interested parties again before my right hon. Friend reaches a final decision on this experiment. When we have learned what the experiment has to teach us, we shall be able to decide which gaps should remain open and which should be closed, not only in Ilford but on many other similar roads in the metropolitan area. When we are making such decisions we shall take into account all the representations we receive. I can put on record an assurance that gaps will not be closed without our first advertising our intention to do so, so that we can judge whether it would cause serious inconvenience. If, after we have advertised, the local authority or organised groups of local residents wish to make representations to us and discuss the matter, we shall be only too happy to do so.

I turn to the various questions which my hon. Friend put and of which, as I have said, he gave me notice. I think that some of them have been partially answered already by what I have said.

As for the junction with Clayhall Avenue, this is one of the modifications suggested to us and we will look at it, but this has always been a very dangerous gap and I find that as long ago as November, 1961, my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North was asking the Minister of Transport what action he was taking to make the junction less dangerous. A related question was whether a pedestrian subway could be provided at this point. We will certainly provide such a subway. I give an assurance about that, but it may take as long as two years before the work can be completed. We shall have to acquire some land and, what is perhaps more important, to build the subway there would mean disturbing the apparatus of statutory undertakers, gas, water, electricity and drains which lie underneath the road. It is a rather difficult job from an engineering point of view and therefore will take some time to carry out.

My hon. Friend asked whether an additional gap can be provided in the central reservation to avoid congestion at roundabouts and excessive speeding between them. I have some hesitation in agreeing to provide a gap in the central reservation to enable motorists to make a U-turn, although to do so might well be of some help to local residents. We would prefer to seek some other method of easing any congestion which arises at the roundabouts. My hon. Friend asks whether we are doing anything about speeding. My answer is that we have now asked the police to pay special attention to the enforcement of the 40 m.p.h. limit which exists on this stretch of road.

My hon. Friend also drew attention to the increase in the volume of traffic in residential roads which border Woodford Avenue, which is claimed to be the result of our experiment. He mentioned danger to children going to school. I am advised that the traffic which uses these residential roads will mostly be local traffic and that a considerable volume of traffic from outlying areas, and particularly from Chigwell, which used to join Woodford Avenue at Clayhall Avenue junction through the gap which I have mentioned will now not be passing through the area but will be going down entirely different roads because it can no longer get through the gap at Clayhall Avenue.

I hope that I have fully answered in the time available the various questions which my hon. Friend has raised and that have given an adequate picture of what we are trying to do and why we are trying to do it. We shall try to make the right decisions in the light of the lessons we can learn from this experiment and from the representations made to us. I am sure that on reflection my hon. Friend and his constituents will agree that this is a sensible course to take. I assure him that we will certainly take into account everything said to us by our critics as well as by those who approve of what we are doing. But I cannot leave the House and my hon. Friend's constituency with the impression that this is not a difficult problem with which we have to deal in balancing the needs of traffic and in making reasonable progress in dealing with what has been the appalling accident record on this road for so long.

Mr. Charles A. Howell

Can the Parliamentary Secretary give an assurance that there is no connection between this experiment and the idea which is becoming very prevalent in traffic circles of eliminating right-hand turns?

Mr. Hay

There is no direct connection. We are dealing here with a specific type of problem where there is a dual carriageway and there are gaps in the reservation which enables traffic to turn right. By blocking the gap one prevents the right-turning movement, but the abolition of a right turn at the intersection of crossroads has nothing to do with a dual carriageway. At an ordinary intersection of that kind it is often necessary to stop a right-turning movement because the volume of right-turning traffic is such as to clog traffic completely. We have often had this experience and therefore we are adopting methods in different places of banning a right-turning movement and diverting traffic first left then right and then right again to adjoining roads to enable the traffic to cross the junction at a right angle. There is no comparison directly between what is under discussion tonight and that method of traffic management.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes past Ten o'clock.