HC Deb 26 April 1965 vol 711 cc183-92

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

11.5 p.m.

Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)

I wish to say at the outset that Green-ford, Middlesex, which embraces Northolt, that part of my constituency which has made a considerable contribution to the industrial wealth of this country, suffers from the great paradox of industrial areas, in that because of their industrial contribution they seem to suffer some form of penalty. One of the penalties that Greenford suffers from is a lack of a reasonable public transport system, and I find that many of the highways that run through Green-ford are becoming extremely dangerous, particularly because of the lack of adequate pedestrian crossing facilities.

One of the more famous highways from London is Western Avenue, which runs through Greenford. I have described it as a famous highway. I was thinking of describing it as a famous highwayman, but at least a highwayman offered one a chance of "money or your life." On Western Avenue one does not get much of an option. The stretch of road which runs between Medway in Greenford and Greenford roundabout is known as "the killer," There are at present almost calculated risks brought about by the fact that on either side of Western Avenue between Medway and Greenford roundabout there are a number of bus stops where people, having alighted from a bus or wishing to catch a bus, have to cross from one side of the road to the other. This is an extraordinary dangerous operation.

In addition, on this stretch of road there is Greenford Halt, a railway station, serving thousands of people who have to cross the road to get to the station. Besides that, there are a number of playing fields which cater for children from schools in all parts of Ealing. Therefore, it should be obvious that this stretch of road is in desperate need of some form of safe means of crossing.

The people who live in the area have suffered from a considerable strain for some time. I admit that the accident figures are not particularly alarming, but this is because people have trained themselves to be careful. The folk who live in this area have gone out of their way to see that the children are trained to use the subways although they are three-quarters of a mile apart. There have been from time to time a number of serious and fatal accidents. In October last year two widows were killed at Greenford Halt, and in December last year two young mothers, one aged 19 and the other 20, were slain at the same spot.

The situation in this part of Greenford is such that the screech of brakes on Western Avenue is causing the same reaction as the accident whistle does in a mining village. My constituents do not wish to appear unreasonable. We acknowledge the industrial and commercial importance of Western Avenue, but we say firmly that we put lives before lorries and our juniors before Jaguars. The portion of Western Avenue between Medway and Greenford roundabout is becoming known as the valley of the shadow of death. People are exercising care in using the road and in training their children, but they do not wish to wait until there is a grizzly list of corpses and cripples before their point of view is appreciated.

The test, of crossing a road of this nature is whether a mother can push her pram in safety. I ask my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to consider speeding up the provision of a ramped footbridge in the vicinity of Cayton Road so that peace of mind can be restored to those people who live in the vicinity of Western Avenue which passes through Greenford.

There are two other spots which I should like to mention. One is Whitton Avenue East. It is a major motorway and carries a heavy volume of assorted traffic. During peak periods in the morning and evening the volume of traffic has been measured and it amounts to about 1,400 vehicles per hour. It is almost impossible for people to cross Whitton Avenue East without taking their lives in their hands.

Inasmuch as there already exists a warning "black spot" notice just before Western Avenue and Greenford Road junction, and in view of the high accident rate in the area and the fact that local residents have organised themselves, led by their local councillors, in asking for a pedestrian crossing, I am asking my hon. Friend to give serious consideration to the provision of pedestrian-controlled crossings at the junction of Crossgate and Ridding Lane.

The last one I wish to mention is the Greenford Road itself. This is that portion bounded by the Uxbridge Road and the Ruislip Road. This is nothing less than a tarmac dirt-track. The accident record on this stretch of the Greenford Road is really alarming. It is quite impossible to cross the road at rush-hour times, and it is almost as much of a risk to cross at slack-hour times. During the rush hours one has the stop-go traffic, bursting forward and coming to a halt, and during the non-rush hours one has traffic hurtling along as if on a dirt track.

The people in this area feel that it is not unreasonable, because of the accidents that have continued to occur, despite road and speed restrictions at different times, that there should be some safe means of crossing this road. I would recommend a crossing at the King's Avenue junction so that people can cross the road safely without taking their lives in their hands.

The other aspect I wish to mention is that, in addition to the lack of pedestrian facilities in Greenford, there is also a lack of a reasonable amount of public transport. The situation in this regard has been deteriorating over the years, but the people are hoping that something can be done.

I want to congratulate my hon. Friend on the speed with which he moved when he was successful in Greenford in getting zebra crossings at the Ruislip and Yeading Lane junctions. The local authorities had been trying to get these crossings for years and they had got nowhere, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the speed with which that was taken up so that we were able to get these crossings at the Yeading Lane and Ruislip junctions.

But we have suffered in Greenford and Ealing from a steady erosion of public transport services, and the story is one of a vicious vanishing spiral. This may be illustrated by the efforts of the Transport Committee of the Ealing, Hayes and Southall Trades Council. They have traversed all the arduous avenues of the correct, constitutional course, but they have had to be faced with this almost debilitating situations; every time they make some form of protest or recommendation the situation not only becomes more nugatory but positively worsens because they have submitted some form of complaint.

The Committee met London Transport in January 1964 and made certain recommendations for increased public transport. All they got was less transport and an increase in fares. In April 1964, London Transport promised the Trades Council's Transport Committee that they would look at and make a survey of routes 92, 105 and 55. The Transport Committee waited for a number of months until August 1964, and then the London Transport people said their review would take place later in the year. By this time the average waiting time for a bus in any part of Greenford had increased from 15 to 20 minutes, and it is now bordering 30 minutes.

However, in November 1964, London Transport, after examining schemes submitted to it, shocked everyone in Green-ford by making recommendations that the Saturday services should be cut even further. The result has been that route 105 has been cut by 25 per cent. and routes 55 and 232 by 16 per cent. When it is acknowledged that the overall drop in the number of passengers was about 6 per cent. and that the overall bus fleet in London was cut by between 4 per cent. and 6 per cent., we in Greenford feel that the cuts made last November were pretty savage.

Would my hon. Friend be prepared to ask London Transport to see the Transport Committee of the Southall and Ealing Trades Councils? These people have worked out a very detailed scheme and have taken a long time over it. I agree that we have had a reasonably comprehensive reply from London Transport to that committee's proposals, but even the most comprehensive reply usually leaves some questions to be asked. All I plead for tonight is that the scheme which the Trades Councils have put up to London Transport should be considered. We feel that there is room now for some discussion but London Transport seems reluctant to meet members of the Committee. It is a great shame, because I believe that between them they could work out some improvement in transport for Greenford which would not only help the London Transport Executive but would make a reasonable contribution towards improving transport conditions in Greenford.

11.17 p.m.

Mr. Martin McLaren (Bristol, North-West)

This is an interesting debate about the provision of facilities for pedestrians and the improvement of public transport services in Greenford. As I understand the matter, this is a subject for the Minister of Transport. I feel very sorry for the Joint Parliamentary Secretary who is supposed to be replying to the debate, because he was not here to hear a great deal of it. Surely that is a great handicap. I do not know how the hon. Gentleman will be able to manage to reply.

As far as I know, and I have known him for a long time, the hon. Gentleman is usually a punctual man. We used to be students together and we sat at the feet of the present Minister of Housing and Local Government at New College, Oxford. As far as I can recall, the hon, Gentleman was then usually a punctual man, but he has not been punctual this evening. I cannot blame him. It is the business of the Government Whips to see that the proper Minister is on the Front Bench at the proper time. They are certainly under an illusion if they assume that when there is a Prayer or even two Prayers on the Order Paper the Adjournment debate will start at 11.30 p.m. It does not follow at all.

When the last Government were in office things were ordered in a very different way. This is another example of what we saw on a recent evening when the Government failed to move that the Dangerous Drugs Bill should be committed to a Committee of the whole House. It shows how the Government Whips, who are now paid, which we who are now on this side of the House never used to be, have lost control of the business of the Treasury Bench.

11.20 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Stephen Swingler)

As a result of my extreme generosity, the hon. Member for Bristol. North-West (Mr. McLaren) was allowed to speak. I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) for being a little late for his Adjournment debate. Owing to the extraordinary lack of vigour on the part of the Opposition, I was slightly misinformed as to the time when the debate would come on and I had thought that the previous dialogues would last somewhat longer. Nevertheless, we are lucky that we have a good period of time in which to deal with my hon. Friend's representations, on which, I may say, I have been fully informed.

Mr. Molloy

Perhaps I may say that the preamble to my speech was rather long, but, when I came to the quintessence of what I had to say, my hon. Friend was in his place.

Mr. Swingler

I realise that my hon. Friend has a fine facility for compression, and, in my case, he fully informed me of the points which he intended to raise, and I am well able to deal with them.

I am about to embark on a considerable journey. Tonight, I start with the matters raised by my hon. Friend. Tomorrow night, I shall pass to the problems of municipal public transport in South Lancashire. On Thursday, I shall have to consider the question of sanitary facilities on trunk roads. In the Adjournment on Friday, my right hon. Friend will deal with the question of the future control of Southampton Water, and on Monday, given good health, I shall have to deal with the problems of land acquisition for the M4. During this eight-day period, as a result of the ballot, we in the Ministry of Transport will have a number of problems to tackle, and we shall do our best to deal with them. This is the first leg of the trip tonight.

I am very pleased, as is my hon. Friend, that we have provided the two pedestrian crossings he mentioned in the areas where they were needed. I detected a note of triumph in his voice, and I am not surprised. I know that my hon. Friend has put up a tremendous fight for these facilities, as have his constituents, and no good fighter ever rests on his laurels. I congratulate my hon. Friend and his constituents on the valiant fight they have put up for the establishment of these pedestrian crossings, and, in that spirit, I recognise and appreciate his plea for more crossings on Western Avenue through Greenford.

This trunk road is well aligned, with a wide dual carriageway, and drivers make good speed along it. Between the pedestrian crossing at Greenford roundabout and the subway and traffic signals at Medway Parade there is a gap of nearly half a mile, which is almost twice the distance we like to see between crossing facilities on roads of this type in urban areas. Therefore, we, like my hon. Friend, are especially concerned about the position near South Greenford Halt railway station, where three tragic accidents have occurred during the past few months. As an interim measure, the fence on the central reservation has already been extended westwards beyond the railway bridge in order to discourage people from trying to cross near the station. We are pressing on urgently with plans for a pedestrian footbridge near the railway bridge. We already have police agreement in principle to our proposals, and we have asked our agents, who are new agents, of course, the London Borough of Ealing which has only recently come into existence, to continue investigation of the scheme urgently.

I assure my hon. Friend that we accept the necessity for this footbridge, and we hope to see construction started before very long. Although my hon. Friend did not mention this, perhaps I may say that we expect a further footbridge west of Greenford roundabout to be built within the next twelve months. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will accept that we are very urgently concerned about the situation for pedestrians on this particular road.

I will now turn to the position in Whitton Avenue East, which, as my hon. Friend mentioned, is a classified road and, therefore, primarily the responsibility of the Ealing Borough Council. It is true that we have refused a formal request from the council for a pedestrian crossing near the junction with Crossgate and Ridding Lane, but this is because we do not think that this would be the right solution to the problem at this point. When, as in this case, the flow of pedestrians is not sufficient to keep the crossing in use throughout the day, there is a tendency for drivers to ignore it. One solution which we think would help would be a local road widening scheme, with the provision of central refuges. This would involve some tree felling, with its consequent loss of amenity.

We are also investigating a proposal submitted by the borough council, with the support of the police, for the provision of pedestrian operated light signals at this point. Our latest information on this is that if these signals were justified there would still have to be road widening and consequent tree felling in order to allow the building of a central island on which to put a secondary primary signal. I can assure my hon. Friend that we shall press on as speedily as possible with these investigations.

Next, I want to speak about the Green-ford Road. Here, my hon. Friend pressed for pedestrian crossings at the junctions with King's Avenue and Broadway. The Greater London Council is now the traffic authority for this road and we are hoping soon to have its views on this problem. I must say that this is anothter case where there are not enough pedestrians to keep a crossing in regular use, and there may be difficulties on that account. At King's Avenue there are already central refuges which help pedestrians to cross in two stages, but I will certainly write to my hon. Friend when we have the views of the G.L.C. and are in a better position to see how best we can consider this problem.

My hon. Friend was also concerned about public transport, and especially the quality of the bus services in the Green-ford area. I must start off with the inevitable reminder that the London Transport Board is entirely responsible for the day-to-day management of its undertaking, a fact which I know is by now probably engraved on my hon. Friend's heart. I am sure he recognises this, because both he and the Ealing, Hayes and Southall Trades Council Joint Transport Committee have already been in correspondence with the Board about the carefully thought out plan which this Committe has prepared for bus services in their part of London. I have also seen a copy of the equally carefully thought out and thorough letter which the Chairman of the London Transport Board has sent to my hon. Friend. It is a letter in which he promises to give consideration to many aspects of the Joint Committee's plan.

I think my hon. Friend will agree that if he and the Committee feel that a meeting with the London Transport Board would be useful—

Mr. Molloy

It would.

Mr. Swingler

—it is now up to him and the Committee to put to the Board any further points which they think could be better discussed round the table than by correspondence. I think that the Chairman of the Board in his latest letter to my hon. Friend did not in any way rule out the possibility of a meeting. Nevertheless, he passed to the Joint Transport Committee of the Trades Coun- cil the responsibility for putting up further constructive ideas.

Beyond that, I do not think it would be appropriate for me to comment on any of the details mentioned by my hon. Friend. I am sure that the London Transport Board will take note of the record of this debate and of the comments made by my hon. Friend, and will be fully aware of his feelings and of those of the Joint Transport Committee of the Trades Council. I am certainly very conscious of their feelings, and the feelings of very many people, especially in West London, about the necessity for the improvement of public transport. We are open to any suggestions that can be made about ways and means whereby public transport can be made more efficient, more competent and, especially, more financially viable.

I am sure that the Joint Transport Committee and my hon. Friend will do all they reasonably can to put forward their constructive ideas in the best possible spirit and that the London Transport Board will respond in a constructive way, because it is confronted with a very difficult situation and wishes to match the services it provides to the needs of the travelling public.

To sum up, I am very glad to respond to my hon. Friend, and to congratulate him firstly on the successful efforts which he has made to establish crossings for pedestrians in his constituency which have been desired for many years, and secondly on the representations which he has made on behalf of many organised constituents in Ealing for the improvement of public transport. I hope that he will continue to put these ideas forward. I am sure that this exchange of views will continue. If it does, it will be very helpful to us in grappling with the problems of improving public transport in the London area.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-seven minutes to Twelve o'clock.