HC Deb 15 June 1964 vol 696 cc1073-84

10.20 p.m.

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

Mr. Keith Stainton (Sudbury and Woodbridge)

As a motorist with a fairly wide itinerary, I am not unaware of the fact that most hon. Members have problem stretches of road within their constituencies, those in urban areas probably more than others. But although I represent substantially a rural area in Suffolk, I nevertheless feel well justified in drawing the attention of the House to the problem which is the subject of this debate. I am most grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for being able to do so.

The stretch of road about which I want to give voice, as it were, is on the A.12, which runs from London to Yarmouth, and I am concerned about the four-mile stretch of road between Ipswich and Martlesham. I hope that by constraining my remarks into a reasonable compass I may be able to make way for the hon. and learned Member for Ipswich (Mr. D. Foot) to endeavour to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, for roads start and finish somewhere, despite the frustrations of getting held up in traffic queues, and this road runs into our big city of Ipswich, which is on the outskirts of my constituency, if I may invert the situation like that.

As I see it, the A.12 between Ipswich and Martlesham is suffering from two root problems. The first is that it is grossly overloaded. If ever there were a case of a quart into a pint pot, this surely is it, with all the attendant hazards. Secondly, this piece of road reflects a basic defect in the relationship of past development to the road which will make the eradication of accidents extremely difficult. Perhaps for a moment or two I may enlarge on both these points.

First, I should like to refer to the maximum capacities for various types of carriageway specified by the Ministry of Transport. I am particularly glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) is here to answer this brief debate.

The specification laid down by the Ministry of Transport in relation to two-lane carriageways is, I understand, 6,000 passenger car units per 16-hour day, and yet a recent survey by the county surveyor of the traffic on this stretch of road demonstrated that within a matter of a few months the traffic will build up at certain minimum points to 14,250 passenger car units per 16-hour day and at maximum points on the road to 18,000 passenger car units per day. These figures compare with the advised maximum of 6,000 passenger car units. In other words, they are more than twice in any event and in some cases up to three times the specified safety levels laid down by the Minister.

A word about the defects in past development. I think that I can perhaps best illustrate this by quoting from a report recently prepared by the county surveyor, who said: This section of trunk road has a two-lane single carriageway which has no speed limit throughout its length. There is no proper system of street lighting. There are long lengths of ribbon development throughout nearly all this section. The length through the parish of Kesgrave has residential development in depth on the south side giving rise to considerable right-hand turning movements across the opposing traffic stream at the evening peak period. There are 24 side roads joining this length of trunk road, including one Class I, one Class II and six Class III roads, apart from service roads and numerous individual accesses to the residential properties fronting the road. It will be appreciated that this gives a basic situation which is contrary to the generally accepted principles of road safety, which call for the segregation of development from main traffic routes and the strict limitation of the number of points of access. Those are the two root problems to which I want to draw attention. The situation is not a mere statistical abstraction. Over the past five years the numbers of accidents reported by the Chief Constable of Suffolk on this four-mile piece of road have been 90, 79, 108, 92 and 85 and roughly one-third, in some cases getting on for one-half, of those accidents in each year have involved injury. Each year there has been at least one fatality, in two years two fatalities, and in one year three fatalities.

Hence I suggest that it is little wonder that two petitions, involving signatures in excess of 15,000 persons, have recently been collected quite spontaneously, one by a small newsboy going his rounds on the estates roundabout this road, and submitted to the Minister. Further, we have recently had a public meeting which was very well attended by a keen, attentive audience which passed resolutions asking for the immediate imposition of some form of speed limit and blocking of the access roads.

May I round off my remarks about the bad development and the under-capacity of the road in relation to its usage by referring to the ultimate solution? This is a bypass from somewhere on the Ipswich boundary through to the A.12, perhaps four or five miles to the north-east. I understand that the Ministry was about to indicate the line of this road when the Government, two to three years ago, commissioned the South-East Study and the Vincent Report. Now that those Reports are with us and have cast considerable doubts on exactly which way the area will develop, though develop it will, the bypass has once more gone into the melting pot. We should be well advised to put it on one side this evening and concentrate on the future of the existing road. In proportion as the bypass is deferred so it is useful and important to consider the future of the existing road.

In May, 1961, the Ipswich Borough Council undertook an origin and destination study of traffic on this piece of road. This study demonstrated that, even with a bypass, about two-thirds of traffic would disappear but one would be left with one-third on this stretch of road, which would still be in excess of 6,000 passenger car units per 16-hour day. If one has regard to the 5 per cent. per annum compound increase in traffic, which is what the Minister recognises in design stipulations and is certainly modest by Buchanan standards, a dual carriageway rather than the single two-lane carriageway we now have would be necessary by 1975, even if the bypass were constructed and deflected some two-thirds of the existing traffic.

As the Ipswich borough survey pointed out, it is by no means certain that two-thirds of the traffic would be so deflected, even with a bypass in the immediate future. It all depends in fact on where the junction between the bypass and the Ipswich traffic would be. In fact, if the traffic were to enter the Ipswich area at Tuddenham, the fall would not be two-thirds but one-half. In other words, one would be left with about 9,000 passenger car units on this piece of the A.12 and this, allowing for growth in traffic, would certainly mean that dual carriageways would be necessary, bypass or no, by 1968. I submit that as far as can be foreseen dual carriageways are necessary and would be justified on the existing roads, even if the bypass is not constructed.

The long-term answer is doubtless the bypass, but this is for the future. We must address ourselves to the short and medium term. Here I specially underline the need for a dual carriageway within the next two or three years at the outside commencing and concentrating on the run from Ipswich to Dobbs Lane, which is about a quarter of the stretch with which I am concerned. There are immediate points which require attention. One of these is lighting. Forty-five per cent. more accidents occur in the hours of darkness, and in the period of darkness 50 per cent. of the injuries and 70 per cent. of the fatal accidents occur.

I would like to hear from the Minister that the Ministry is prepared to make the 50 per cent. grant which is customary in these circumstances, in order to get first-class lighting along this stretch of road. I believe that it is customary, but the local authorities are looking for some guidance and initiative in this regard.

Secondly, there is the question of right-hand turns. In 1962 and 1963 the major causes of accidents were right-hand turns across the passing traffic stream, and overtaking. There is a strong case for reducing the number of side roads into which right-hand turns can be made, and also for improving junctions. The junction with Dobbs Lane has been radically improved recently, and at Beech Road and Edmonton Lane improvements are in hand. The Bell Lane junction would require an order from the Minister under the Highways Act, 1959. There is room for a more radical approach, such as the closing of access roads and providing better lay-bys and turning points for the reduced number of access points.

I have mentioned overtaking. Then there is the question of speed. The occurrence of accidents at off-peak periods, when higher speeds are possible, is a strong indication that speed is a factor affecting the number of accidents. I urge the Minister seriously to reconsider the attitude he has adopted up till now, which has led him to impose no speed limit on this stretch of road. I suggest that a 40 m.p.h. speed limit should be considered. Such a proposal would have the complete endorsement of the acting chief constable of the county, who has pointed out that The road between the points mentioned is narrow and there is only room for one line of traffic in either direction. There are at least three points on this road where a motorist appears to have a clear field of vision when in fact the layout can hide approaching vehicles, so that drivers believing they have a clear road ahead start to overtake at high speeds and meet oncoming traffic head-on. 2. There are a large number of houses each having a garage, the entrance to which is used at least twice a day, with the resultant danger of traffic turning on to the A12 in front of other high speed vehicles. 3. The number of roads on the south side of the A 12 necessitating a large number of right-hand turns and the consequent danger when vehicles travelling at high speeds are unable to pull up in time to avoid a stationary car in the centre of the road waiting to turn right. 4. The heavy volume of traffic passing over this road…. 5. The heavy accident record. 6. The steady increase in the population using the road. The acting chief constable says, of the objection that a speed limit would not be respected and would fall into disrepute, that It would be a matter for police to enforce the limit, particularly at critical times of the day. He appears to be quite satisfied. There may be a case for having signs along the road warning motorists that they are approaching a dangerous accident area, and perhaps the prohibition of overtaking.

I want to say a word about pedestrians. There is a pedestrian subway, which is part of the Kesgrave Modern School, and for some time there has been agitation to allow ordinary pedestrians to use it. Apparently the thing is now bogged down with the county education committee, and it will be some time before that committee holds its next meeting to consider its decision in this matter. I suggest that anything that the Minister might be able to do to expedite that on the right lines would be very warmly received in this district.

In summary, this is a shockingly bad piece of road. An ultimate bypass is all well and good, but we cannot hope on hope for ever while being struck down by passing vehicles. What the people in this area want immediately is lighting, a speed limit with adequate signs, and access roads, and, in the not-too-long term, a road with all the characteristics of a dual carriageway.

10.35 p.m.

Mr. Dingle Foot (Ipswich)

. This is one of the rare occasions when I have the pleasure of finding myself in agreement with my Parliamentary neighbour the hon. Member for Sudbury and Wood-bridge (Mr. Stainton). He is quite right when he says that for a long time there has been great public concern both in Ipswich and in the less advanced areas outside about the hazards of the road between Ipswich and Martlesham. We are concerned about the fact that the accident rate is extremely high—higher, I think, than anywhere else in East Anglia. There have been representations during the last year or two from the East Suffolk County Council, from the local authorities concerned and from the police, all of which have fallen on deaf ears at the Ministry.

This is not a party issue, and I do not desire to make it one, but I should like, first, to refer for a moment to correspondence that has passed over the last two years between the Ministry and the Kesgrave Labour Party, which has taken several initiatives in the matter. As long ago as August, 1962, it pointed out to the Ministry the dangers to children; and the fact that the school population along the whole of this stretch of road is increasing. This year it organised a petition—one of the petitions to which reference has been made—asking again that a speed limit be imposed, and also asking that action should be taken to improve the inadequate lighting of the road.

On 1st May this year, the Ministry wrote to the secretary of the Kesgrave Labour Party in these terms—and I quote one paragraph: The power to light streets is vested by statute in local authorities and the Minister has no power to direct them in this matter. In the case of trunk roads, however, the Minister has power to contribute half the cost of an approved scheme. If the lighting authorities concerned are considering installing lighting on this length of road the Divisional Road Engineer is available to give any advice or assistance they may require. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary: if a scheme is put forward, will we have a generous reponse from the Ministry?

Secondly, I should like to refer to an Answer I received on 8th April about improvements on this road. The reply was: The improvement of the Dobbs Lane junction should be finished this month. Negotiations for land required at the Edmonton Road junction are in progress and, all going well, the improvement should be finished this summer. The start of work at the Beech Road junction depends on progress made with land acquisition."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th April, 1964; Vol. 692, c. 205.] Can the Minister now elaborate that reply? Can he tell us whether the improvement at the Edmonton Road junction will be finished this summer, and whether the start of the work at the Beech Road junction is to begin, at any rate, during the course of the current year?

I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge in what he has said about the need for a dual carriageway, and in urging the Ministry to reconsider the question of a speed limit on this stretch of road.

10.39 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith)

This is, I think, the first Adjournment debate that my hon. Friend the Member for Sudbury and Wood-bridge (Mr. Stainton) has had; I am sorry to say that it is the 23rd I have had to reply to this Session. So, though I am delighted to be answering my hon. Friend, I hope that now he has broken the ice he will not make too much of a habit of it—at least with the Ministry of Transport. I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend on the clear and workmanlike way in which he made his case. Obviously, his constituents are fortunate in having a Member who takes his duties so seriously and who presents his case with so much knowledge and so persuasively.

I cannot say the same about the hon. and learned Member for Ipswich (Mr. D. Foot). The hon. and learned Gentleman said that he would not make a political speech, but he referred to his own party two or three times. He has not had the energy to raise this matter himself, and he has intervened in my hon. Friend's Adjournment debate, leaving me inadequate time to reply. He took very much more than the two minutes which he said he would take.

Mr. D. Foot

I raised this matter—

Mr. Galbraith

The gist of my hon. Friend's case is that road conditions between Ipswich and Martlesham are bad. He wants something done to improve them, and very understandably so. My hon. Friend has even made several specific suggestions, which I shall try to deal with in the time remaining to me, but, before I do so, I wish to say a word about the road itself.

The road has an average width of about 23 feet, which is sufficient for two lanes of traffic. Free flow conditions allow about 6,000 passenger car units a day. For most of the day, traffic on the road is within this capacity, in spite of the very high figures which my hon. Friend mentioned. One can prove almost anything with figures; it depends how one uses them. But on this road, as on so many other main roads at present, there are periods of congestion.

Apart from holiday traffic, however, this congestion is restricted to the morning and afternoon peaks when people who work in Ipswich, in the hon. and learned Gentleman's constituency, are travelling to and from the residential area of Woodbridge which my hon. Friend represents. In other words, what we are faced with here is mainly a commuter problem, which, I am sorry to say, is a problem not unknown on the approaches to many others of our main towns.

My hon. Friend suggested that there were two major forms of improvement which he wanted. One was a bypass and the other was dualling. As for the bypass, we had originally planned to construct a short length at Martlesham and to improve the existing carriageway between Martlesham and Ipswich. With the growth of traffic, however, it became evident that this would not do, and revised plans for a comprehensive bypass of the whole section were then made. At this stage, the South-East Study, envisaging a large increase of population at Ipswich, threw everything into the melting-pot once again, and, as a result, a new survey will have to be carried out to determine the best trunk road pattern to fit in with any future plans for the expansion of Ipswich. My hon. Friend probably accepts that this is some way away now and that, for the time being, there cannot be a bypass.

This leads me to his suggestion about dualling. Here, I must part company with my hon. Friend because, on dualling, it seems to me that the position is very much as it is on the bypass. Priority here is also dependent upon the results of the survey which is being carried out. We estimate that the bypass which was originally planned would have attracted two-thirds of the traffic from the existing roads and that the residual traffic left would not have justified dual carriageways. I should, perhaps, point out that, if, in fact, there is a bypass, the existing road would then be detrunked, and the highway authority would be responsible for any further improvement, not the Minister.

So what it amounts to is that, after the survey has been completed and decisions taken on the future expansion of Ipswich, it will then become a question of what is the right course of action for improving the road pattern in this district. It may be to start a bypass; it may be to carry out dualling. At this stage, I simply do not know. I should, perhaps, add that dualling itself is not likely to offer much prospect of reducing the accident rate, to which my hon. Friend referred. Right-hand turns would still be necessary, and the higher speeds of oncoming traffic might, in fact, increase the risk.

If we accept that, for the time being, major improvements are out of the question, what can be done to better conditions? My hon. Friend has made several interesting suggestions. He is quite right that a major cause of congestion is the making of right-hand turns, and it is often possible substantially to reduce this hazard by improving the layout of junctions and providing waiting lanes or waiting spaces.

We have already authorised the improvement of the layout at three of the most important junctions between Ipswich and Martlesham, enabling waiting lanes and traffic bollards to be provided. Several other minor improvements, including the provision of four bus draw-ins, have also been undertaken.

My hon. Friend suggested that some side-road junctions should be closed in the interests of road safety. I am certainly willing to examine this possibility, but we must remember the convenience of those at present using the junctions and also the cost which would be involved in the provision of service roads. If, however, it proves possible to add service roads over a substantial distance, we will consider making that part of the trunk road a clearway, and this would obviously help. Other possibilities are the improvement of carriageway markings and the provision of additional traffic signs. There may well be something in these suggestions and I shall ask our divisional road engineer to consider them in consultation with the county engineer to see whether anything on these lines can be done.

My hon. Friend is full of bright ideas and he and the hon. and learned Member for Ipswich have suggested that something should be done to light up the road at night. As, I am sure, both hon. Members know, this is a matter primarily for the local lighting authorities, in whose hands Parliament has placed authority to light the streets. It is for those authorities to take the initiative in this instance, and not the Minister. On trunk-roads, my right hon. Friend has the power to contribute to the cost of installing, maintaining and operating lighting installations of adequate standard, but the approach must be made in the first instance by the lighting authorities. I understand that the county council has recently invited the authorities concerned to attend a meeting to discuss the matter. If the lighting authorities put up a satisfactory scheme, we will certainly be prepared to pay half the cost, which is our share. I hope that this will please both hon. Members.

My hon. Friend also referred to the pedestrian tunnel connecting the school at Kesgrave, on the north side of the road, with the south side. This tunnel, as my hon. Friend probably knows, was constructed by the education authorities at their own expense and the northern access actually comes up in the school grounds. If, however, the education authorities were willing that the public should use the tunnel, we should certainly be prepared to make any necessary adjustments and to pay our share of the cost of maintenance. The best thing to do to find out the position is to ask our divisional road engineer to get in touch with the local education authority to see what it thinks about the possibility of allowing the public to use the tunnel.

Then there is the main question raised by my hon. Friend concerning the speed limit, which he has particularly stressed. I have noted in this connection what he has said about the view of the local police and this, of course, weighs heavily with us. Unfortunately, however, we have to look at problems of speed limits not only from the local angle, but also from the national point of view. We have to try to attain a measure of consistency in our treatment of the problem in different parts of the country.

I am sure that both my hon. Friend and the hon. and learned Member for Ipswich know that the Ipswich-Martlesham road does not really fit into the character either of a 30 or a 40 m.p.h. speed limit. It is mainly rural in character and development, where it exists, is generally set back from the road. There are adequate footpaths and wide verges. In short, it is not the kind of road on which a driver would expect to find a 40 m.p.h. speed limit. If such a speed limit were imposed on this road, it would tend to be disregarded and make no real contribution to road safety. To impose a speed limit in such conditions would debase the value of speed limits generally throughout the country by bringing them into disrepute.

In such circumstances, we think it better that the driver himself should be the judge of what speed is safe and that he should regulate his speed according to the traffic conditions. Measurement of speeds which has been carried out has not disclosed any widespread tendency towards excessive speed, nor is the accident record, a fact that should interest both hon. Members, out of line with that of A.12 generally

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at ten minutes to Eleven o'clock.