HC Deb 13 March 1964 vol 691 cc951-60

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

4.4 p.m.

Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)

On numerous occasions, the Minister of Transport has referred to the dreadful carnage on our roads. Indeed, the record of road accidents is so appalling that everyone would agreed that every effort should be made to remedy this situation. In particular, everything possible should be done to ensure that the roads are made as safe as possible for children who have to cross them.

It is in the light of these observations that I desire to draw special attention to the need for such precautions in my constituency. I refer, in particular, to two places, one in Stoke Newington and one in the Borough of Hackney. I deal first with a trouble spot in the Borough of Stoke Newington, in Lordship Road, between the junctions of Fairholt Road and Queen Elizabeth's Walk.

Representations were made to the authorities as long ago as 1957 for the appointment of a school crossing patrol at the junction of Lordship Road and Fairholt Road. It was considered that school children going to and from schools in the neighbourhood were exposed to danger from fast traffic. Nothing happened despite these representations. A further application was made in May, 1959. That too was refused. Since the new blocks of flats have been completed in the vicinity the number of children negotiating the crossing has considerably increased. A further application was made, and that was refused. In December, 1963, a petition was signed by a considerable number of people asking for a school crossing patrol. That was refused.

I want to quote from a letter sent to me by a local borough councillor setting out the position. In a letter dated 10th March, 1964, he states: I am not quite sure as to the official statistics in regard to Lordship Road accidents; indeed, I am not a great believer in accident statistics as these only cover reported accidents and do not include accident potentials or unreported accidents when drivers of two 'clashing' vehicles exchange details without notifying the Police. As I live and work near the trouble spot (which is in Lordship Road between the junctions of Fairholt Road and Queen Elizabeth's Walk) I very frequently see accidents happening—some of them are minor but could have been rather serious. Lordship Road has developed into a main road, carrying heavy traffic to and from Seven Sisters Road and Church Street—Stoke Newington High Street. Indeed, it is a popular short cut for people travelling from the West End to the East End of London. Within a radius of a mile of this black spot there are about six schools and there are hundreds of children using the crossing twice daily. He then sets out details of the schools.

The letter continues: On this stretch of Lordship Road there is usually double parking, with the result that children have to cross between parking cars which is most hazardous to them as well as to fast driving flow of the two-way traffic. My correspondent goes on to say that a local petition with 300 to 400 signatures has been collected, but, apparently, nothing has been done.

He suggests that three things should be done, and I desire to put them before the Minister. First, a traffic patrol should be stationed there in order to help school children and old people to cross the roads. Secondly, "yellow-back notices" should be set up warning drivers of the dangers ahead. Thirdly, "No parking" notices should be installed in Lordship Road along the 50 to 60 yards between Fairholt Road and Queen Elizabeth's Walk. Having regard to these representations and to the fact that nothing has been done, I suggest that this is a case which should be looked at very seriously and that something should be done to remedy the position.

The only other quotation which I wish to make is from a letter from one of the residents in the area, who says: This road is a death-trap to one and all. I now wish to refer to what I call a danger zone in the Borough of Hackney situated at the junction of Clapton Common and Portland Avenue. When pedestrian crossings were established in 1935, there was a pedestrian crossing to the north of this junction. In 1951, the council was instructed to do away with two-thirds of the existing crossings. At that time conditions at Clapton Common were different from what they are now. Blocks of flats have since been erected. This crossing has, of course, disappeared, and by 1957 the position regarding pedestrians at this stretch of road was causing concern. The number of people living in the immediate vicinity was considerably increased by the erection of a multi-storey block of flats on the perimeter of Clapton Common, which brought an additional 1,700 to the area.

In July, 1957, the Minister was asked to provide a pedestrian crossing at this junction. That application was refused. Repeated applications were made, but they, too, were refused. Indeed, some years ago I led a deputation to the Ministry and stressed the importance of this matter. In April, 1961, a request was made by the Education Committee of the New Synagogue, which is in that vicinity, for help for children who attended classes there and who had to cross the road at this dangerous junction. Application was made again in 1961, and in May, 1963, and, as I said, I personally made repeated applications.

On 29th July, 1963, I received a letter which I forwarded to the Minister. The letter said: Here, there is a dire need of accident prevention. About 100 children cross this road daily to go to religion classes in Egerton Road. No protection is offered these children whatsoever. No pedestrian crossing, no sign in the least to offer any safety in crossing, or, at the least, of any importance to indicate it. For many adults crossing the road here, and I make no exaggeration, reach the other side purely by the grace of God. There is very little consideration from the motorist. God help the pedestrian who tries pot luck. In the 3½ years I have lived in Portland Avenue, I have personally witnessed the scene of accidents.

  1. (1) A car mounted the pavement (the corner of Portland Avenue) and crashed the railings of the Summit Estate, leaving the grass land saturated with oil.
  2. (2) On another occasion a car mounted the pavement crashed the steel barrier right on the corner of Clapton Common.
  3. (3) Another occasion a car mounted the pavement crashing the steel barrier, the side of Clapton Common, ending up against a tree.
  4. (4) At the same time, a car came speeding round the bend from Stamford Hill into a skid and careered right into another car speeding in the opposite direction. What chance does a pedestrian stand in a situation like this?
It does seem to me the Ministry of Transport awaits a time when some poor unfortunate is offered up as a sacrificial lamb. Then perhaps some measure will be taken. Why wait till then? We are too often reminded, quite rightly, it is a criminal offence leaving a fire unguarded when there are children about. How less so, I'd like to ask Mr. Marples, is it a crime to leave a stretch of dangerous road unguarded when children wish to cross on their own? I received a reply from the Ministry of Transport setting out certain things and saying, in effect, that nothing would be done. 'That was in October, in reply to my letter of July, 1963. I had to wait all that time for a reply, and I wish to register my complaint about that delay. And the reply, when I received it, was thoroughly unsatisfactory.

The difficulties continued, so much so that, after receiving another letter on 4th February, 1964, I again took the matter up with the Ministry. That letter read: On the last occasion I made the attempt by letter to convince Mr. Marples of the absolute need for a pedestrian crossing here, I mentioned to the Minister if no accident preventative measure was taken a fatal accident was likely to occur. No accident preventative was taken and the fatal accident has occurred. My correspondent included a Press cutting giving details of a man who had been killed at that junction and went on to say: The Private Parliamentary Secretary who replied to my letter diminished the importance of a safety crossing, One can judge the state of apathy that exists by some of his pretty unique replies. I wrote it was an absolute danger for a child to cross here. And he replied all the child would have to do would be to ask the help of an adult. But he did not quite say who would help the adult. Further to the P.P.S. who diminishes the importance or any safety measure here, my insurance agent informs me, in the past two years, two of clients met with fatal accidents at this accident prone spot. The amount of times cars have mounted the pavements on to the Common and by the Summit Estate should be brought to the attention of some responsible parson in the Ministry of Transport. It is a hazard for pedestrians to stray too long by the corner of the Common. I suggest that Mr. Marples asks the Hackney Borough Council how many times they repair and replace the steel bars that border the Common smashed by crashing vehicles. Do you know why these cars mount the pavements? To avoid pedestrians. At the junction of Portland Avenue and Clapton Common not a single safety measure can be seen—no sign for motorist and pedestrian alike. Must more lives be offered up because of the stupid negligence of some irresponsible person at the Ministry of Transport? Having received that letter on 4th February, I sent it on the next day to the Ministry. To date, I have not re- ceived a reply. I telephoned the Ministry to inquire and only when this matter was put down for debate on the Adjournment did I see a letter from the Ministry. It was dated 9th March and stated: The Parliamentary Secretary has asked me to let you know that he has seen Mr. Weitzman's letter of 5th February enclosing a letter from Mrs. Shaer, about proposals for a pedestrian crossing at the junction of Portland Avenue and Clapton Common. We have asked our traffic engineers for a further report on this matter. As it will probably be necessary for them to consult the highway authority and the police, and to obtain an up-to-date accident record, it may be some time before the report is available. But Mr. Galbraith will write to Mr. Weitzman as soon as he can. As well as the letter which I sent to the Ministry, I also sent a number of Press cuttings.

I speak strongly on this subject and I welcome the opportunity to speak on these constituency matters, particularly since I have for years been pressing the Minister to do something about them. If he is sincere in his desire to reduce the number of road accidents and to protect children at danger spots such as those I have mentioned, surely something can be done. Is it necessary to wait weeks or months to receive reports and only then receive a reply, which in turn is unsatisfactory?

I hope that the Minister will treat these matters as extremely urgent and, after this long lapse of time, do something constructive. It is no idle matter when the lives of people are at stake.

4.17 p.m.

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

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) for having raised the question of road safety in his constituency. As he recognises, this is a national problem of the first importance. The present scale of homicide and mutilation on our roads is a stain on our record as a civilised people.

The hon. and learned Member was primarily concerned with the danger to pedestrians in urban areas in general and in particular in his constituency. Perhaps I may begin by saying something about the general problem as we see it. I hope that I will be forgiven for stating the obvious, but the time is long past when pedestrians can expect to cross busy roads or wander into the carriageways of busy roads whenever and wherever they please. There can be no safety for people who fail to realise this. Equally, where special pedestrian crossings are provided, it is imperative that drivers of motor vehicles approach them in an alert and obedient frame of mind and stop at once when the laws say that pedestrians trying to cross have priority. That is obvious enough, but it deserves repeating because the latest accident figures show that the basic maxims of behaviour on the road continue to be ignored. Last year 2,740 pedestrians were killed.

I should like to say a few words in general terms about the various methods that can be used to make roads safer for pedestrians. The most radical of these is the complete segregation of pedestrians and vehicles along the lines of the Buchanan Report. However, with the present-day "pre-Buchanan" arrangement of roads and buildings, we must be content with simpler measures; pedestrian subways or footbridges, refuges in the middle of roads and various kinds of crossings, notably the well-known zebra. More recently, the one-way schemes in London have notably increased the safety of pedestrians. The hon. and learned Member will know that from his own constituency where the scheme in the Victoria Park area cut the accidents involving pedestrians by 43 per cent. in the first six months.

Finally, there is in prospect the new system known as "pedestrian control", a system which obliges pedestrians to use zebra crossings controlled by traffic signals. As the House knows, this system is being applied in a few places in London, and first reports indicate that it is working well.

There is no time to describe all these methods in detail, but before turning to the particular problems of the hon. and learned Gentleman's constituency I want to make two further general points about the zebra crossing. It is sometimes suggested, quite wrongly, that we refuse permission to put in a zebra crossing just because we are callous and indifferent to the safety of pedestrians. This is not so. It is essential, in the general interest of pedestrians, that the number of crossings should be kept reasonably small because experience has shown quite clearly that where there are too many zebra crossings drivers pay less attention to them. Their currency, so to speak, becomes devalued. That is why we have to examine most carefully all the sites proposed in order to make sure that they are really justified.

The second general point I want to make is that zebra crossings are not a very satisfactory safety measure for old people whose judgment of vehicle speeds and distances is often impaired and whose reactions may be slow. There is a risk that these crossings can and do give old people a false sense of security. Nor are they an adequate safeguard for young children. They are liable to run out on to them thoughtlessly and leave drivers no chance to avoid them. By far the best protection for children is for an adult to see them across the road. I agree, of course, with the hon. and learned Gentleman that an adult is not always available to do this.

I turn now to the particular problems of the hon. and learned Member's constituency. As he has explained to us, his chief concern is with the difficulty in crossing Clapton Common at its junction with Portland Avenue. The hon. and learned Gentleman, as he said, has been in constant touch with the Department on this problem, and the highway authority has twice applied for permission to install a zebra crossing. In passing, I wish to express my regret to the hon. and learned Gentleman for the delay that he has experienced in obtaining a reply to his letters. I am quite sure that my right hon. Friend equally regrets this delay, but I am bound to add, however, that the hon. and learned Gentleman may not realise the enormous volume of correspondence about specific points on our highways which conies to my right hon. Friend and to the Parliamentary Secretary who deals with road matters. I know only too well because sometimes in the Recess I have to sign the replies, and the volume is unbelievable.

I can say, however, that we have thoroughly investigated traffic conditions at this site and we agree that there is a fair amount of traffic in Clapton Common; that its average speed is high by urban standards, and that there is difficulty in crossing the road at certain times of the day. However, and this is one reason why we have resisted the application from the council, there is not the demand throughout the day to justify a zebra crossing.

Furthermore, and this is more important, because of the speed of the traffic and the bend in the road to the north of the junction, the provision of an uncontrolled crossing here would not provide sufficient protection for pedestrians, and might therefore be hazardous. This was discussed and agreed between our traffic engineers, the council's engineers and the police at a meeting on the site last July. Since then the hon. and learned Member has drawn our attention in correspondence to the death of a young pedestrian at this junction. I am not sure whether this is the same individual as the one to whom he referred in the letter which he quoted, but, in the case which we examined and looked into we understand that, according to the coroner's finding, the pedestrian committed suicide. However tragic this incident may be for those concerned, I must say quite frankly that it is impossible to make our highways proof against suicides. There is no way in which that could be done.

Nevertheless, there have certainly been other accidents at this spot. For example, an elderly lady and two children were injured not so long ago. We should like to see some improvement made. As I have said, we think that an uncontrolled zebra crossing would not be the right way to make the site safe for children and old people. But there are two other possibilities. I understand that the Hackney Metropolitan Borough Council is preparing a scheme for widening Clapton Common from Forburg Road to Stamford Hill and installing a series of refines which would be a real help to pedestrians. I hope that this scheme will shortly be submitted for our consideration.

Secondly, the borough engineer and surveyor has suggested that some form of signal controlled crossing might be appropriate. The traffic and pedestrian conditions at this junction indicate that this might be a suitable site for a Panda crossing. I am not in a position to say anything definite on this as the results of the experiment with the Panda crossing are still being evaluated.

The hon. and learned Member was also concerned about the difficulties particularly for children, in crossing Lordship Road at its junction with Fairholt Road. We have not been approached by the highway authority about this junction. We have received only one request from a member of the public seeking improved facilities for children crossing the junction. This request was passed to the council for its consideration. We have not yet been able to obtain traffic figures, but the accident record certainly indicates some danger to children. Three schoolchildren were slightly injured in just over two years. On the face of it, the difficulty could best be solved by the provision of a school crossing patrol. I understand that the council has approached the Metropolitan Police and asked for this. We shall keep in touch with the council and examine sympathetically any application which may be made.

Mr. Weitzman

Is the Parliamentary Secretary saying that the borough council has not made repeated representations to the authorities with regard to this site?

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

That is my information. But I have taken note of the other suggestions made by the hon. and learned Gentleman in connection with this site, and I shall represent them to my right hon. Friend.

I should like to return for a moment to the general problem of road safety. Whatever may be done by way of providing pedestrian crossings and punishing those who ignore the rules, something more is needed. We require a continuing compaign to educate people to use both common sense and courtesy on the roads. We encourage all local authorities to take part in the national road safety compaign which the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents is conducting on our behalf. I understand that both boroughs in the constituency of the hon. and learned Gentleman, Hackney and Stoke Newington, are very active in this matter and I am delighted that this should be so. In the long run, this may well turn out to be the best approach to safety.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-eight minutes past Four o'clock.