HC Deb 23 March 1965 vol 709 cc478-86

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

11.14 p.m.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

It is in keeping with the finest traditions of this House that time is found to debate problems which, while they may not be of national importance, are of deep and genuine concern to local communities. It is such a problem to which I wish to direct the attention of the House in this debate. The local community on whose behalf I speak is both reasonable and responsible, and I trust that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, with whom I have been in detailed correspondence on the matter, will allow this to inform his attitude in replying.

Stated briefly, the problem is one of providing a safe crossing for pedestrians over the Kingsway extension at Didsbury, Manchester. This road—or race track, as it has sometimes been called—is part of the A.34, and is felt, even by many who do not live in the immediate vicinity, to be one of the most dangerous stretches of road in the Manchester area. One of the principal reasons for the danger is a short section of derestricted highway between a set of traffic lights on the Stockport-Altrincham road, at Gatley, and the Manchester boundary—a distance of approximately half a mile.

This derestriction enables traffic to build up speeds which, despite a warning notice, are often not reduced until the traffic lights at Wilmslow Road, Didsbury, are reached. This presents a nightmare of hazards for those who live between the Manchester boundary and the traffic lights in Wilmslow Road. Many children attending the Broadoak Primary School, in my constituency, have to negotiate this dangerous section of road in the morning and evening. A policeman is normally on duty at school-starting and school-leaving times, but this protection does not exist during the evenings when the same children are attending Scout groups or meetings of Girl Guides and other social organisations to which they belong. The problem is also a very serious one for elderly people, whose judgment may be impaired by failing sight and who suffer from reduced mobility.

The Chief Constable of Manchester, who, I understand, favours a subway as a solution to this problem, has himself described the pedestrian problem on the Kingsway extension as rather unique. Mr. John Hayes, Manchester"s much respected City Engineer and Surveyor, gave the City Council"s views on 14th December, 1964, when he said that the problem was primarily one of doing something to reduce the very high approach speeds of traffic entering Manchester from the south on the present unrestricted part of Kingsway. An approach was, therefore, made both to the Cheshire County Council and the Cheadle Urban District Council to see if they would support Manchester in a proposal for a 40 m.p.h. speed limit on both the Manchester and Cheshire portions of Kingsway. These two authorities were in favour of such a restriction, and an approach was subsequently made to the divisional road engineer of the Ministry of Transport on the matter.

The Ministry"s official, however, stated that his Department"s policy on such matters was clearly defined, and that conditions on Kingsway south of the Manchester boundary were such that he could not justify recommending to the Minister to agree to a 40 miles per hour restriction. Repeated representations were made to the divisional road engineer on this point, and eventually he decided that the southerly limit of the proposed 40 miles per hour restriction in Manchester could be extended to include the short section of Kingsway adjacent to the service roads.

In view of this promise, Manchester City Council, having first obtained the assurance of the Chief Constable that the 40 miles per hour speed limit in Manchester would be rigorously enforced, decided to proceed with this proposal. To assist pedestrians, it was decided that the existing 4-ft.-wide central reservation should be widened to 6 ft. when the speed limit came into operation. I understand that the City Council is going ahead with the speed limit restriction on Kingsway, and that the city engineer and surveyor feels certain that Manchester, together with the Cheadle and Gatley Urban District Council, would support any representations for an extension of the 40 miles per hour speed limit to include the present unrestricted section of Kingsway immediately to the south of the city boundary.

For my part, I profoundly hope that a subway or some other solution to this problem will not become a monument to someone who has been killed on the Kingsway extension. If we can accomplish this worthy exercise in preventative social action, it will be a tribute most of all to Mr. Charles H. Clarke, the honorary secretary of the East Didsbury Owner-Occupiers Association, who, on behalf of his association, has worked actively for over five years to find a solution to this problem. He is a person of considerable social conscience. In fighting this campaign, he has had many disappointments and setbacks but has persisted in his efforts to remove the danger to his fellows in the local community of East Didsbury. It was Mr. Clarke who documented the case to me, and, in presenting the case to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, I stated that this was a problem deserving of urgent action by his Ministry.

My hon. Friend wrote to me on 1st February, 1965, giving a detailed reply to my representations. There are three points which I should like to take up from his letter. He stated: An application for a pedestrian crossing at Fairmile Drive, Kingsway, was first made in 1960 and after a thorough investigation and consideration of a vehicle and pedestrian count, our Divisional Road Engineer concluded that a crossing would not be justified. I am sure that my hon. Friend would agree that the problem has been seriously exacerbated since 1960 and that there should be a reconsideration of the decision taken at that time. The second statement in his letter read: It was noted that pedestrians exercising reasonable care and patience could cross without undue difficulty and that children going to and from school crossed under police control". As I have stated, there are some occasions when children must negotiate the road without police supervision. Moreover, I am informed by some of the local residents that they have to wait an extremely long time to attempt to cross the road in safety. I hope, therefore, that the Department will reconsider that part of the statement, too. The third part stated: The difficulty at Kingsway seems to arise mainly during the peak hours and I am afraid pedestrians will experience some delay before being able to cross in safety". As I explained, many local residents have complained about having to wait for very long periods in order to cross the road.

The Ministry has referred to a census of vehicles using and pedestrians crossing the Kingsway extension, but a census on a road as dangerous as this is, perhaps, not the best guide to the scope of the problem. Many people will no doubt walk a considerable distance down the Kingsway extension to cross it in safety.

I agree that the cost of a subway is not inconsiderable, but it is in my view fully justified by the danger to pedestrians which now exists. There should, I suggest, also be a 40 m.p.h. speed limit throughout the length of Kingsway, and I trust that my hon. Friend will agree that these improvements would meet the needs of the case much better than a controlled crossing. In the opinion of many local residents, an overhead bridge would be an eyesore: it would also be unsuitable for elderly people and mothers with prams. I have great respect for the Parliamentary Secretary and I know that he is extremely anxious to do what he can—

Mr. Arnold Gregory (Stockport, North)

I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend, but before he leaves that point, may I ask him if he is aware that we in my constituency of Stockport, North have found, in using this stretch of the road between Stockport and Altrincham, that certainly since 1960 the problem has increased because of the extended use of that roadway with the introduction of the M.6 and the M.62? Will he also take into account the difficulty created by the fact that instead of using this difficult crossing and busy stretch of road, traffic to and from Stockport diverts through Didsbury Road, Heaton Mersey and Parrs Wood, thus avoiding this stretch of road; in other words, easing the pressure on this part of the road but creating problems on the alternative route? I hope that my hon. Friend will mention the importance of this matter in relation to using the alternative means to avoid this stretch of road.

Mr. Morris

I gratefully acknowledge the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Gregory). I appreciate that there are many hon. Members representing constituencies adjacent to mine who are also vitally concerned that there should be a solution to the problem in consequence of its effects on their constituents.

Indeed, perhaps I could conclude by saying that the Parliamentary Secretary himself has some direct interest in this road, because one part of it passes through the Newcastle-under-Lyme constituency in Staffs. I use the road very frequently. I have travelled more times than I like to remember by car from Manchester to London and I feel that there is no part of the A.34 more deserving of urgent consideration, from the viewpoints of pedestrians and motorists alike, than that section to which I have drawn the attention of the House this evening.

11.32 p.m.

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

Ever since my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe) (Mr. Alfred Morris) was elected he has made very strong representations on this matter. I recognise at once the sincerity and power of his plea; and that he is truly representing the feelings of his constituents. As he has said, I am rather well acquainted with the A.34. We have a few problems in connection with that road. We recognise that we have not overcome all of them yet, but I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that we shall be making more rapid progress in overcoming some of them in the future than has been the case in the past.

The particular problem that he has raised has concerned his constituents for some time. It is not, I appreciate, simple or straightforward, and I hope that I may be forgiven if some of what I have to say goes into some rather complicated details, but I want to take the trouble to explain the actions that have been taken by my Department in this complicated and troublesome business.

It might be helpful if, first, I said something about our general policy on the provision of pedestrian crossings. The policy we are at present applying is one that we have inherited from our predecessors. I may say that it is not necessarily, in this case, a bad policy for that reason, although there may be some hon. Members who might regard it as unique in this respect. It is a policy that has continued for a decade or more, but that is not to say that we are satisfied at the moment with it.

Transport and traffic conditions are constantly changing, and I want to emphasise at the outset that we are at present engaged on a thorough and comprehensive review of policy relating to pedestrian crossings in order to make sure that it matches the needs of today"s road conditions. In the meantime we continue to be guided by the policy which we have inherited, and which has developed over a considerable period.

Pedestrian crossings were first introduced in this country in 1934, and at that time highway authorities were free to install as many as they wanted. When first introduced, the crossings were generally well respected by motorists, and the initial success of the scheme encouraged a steady increase in their numbers, until a peak figure was reached in the late "forties. But, as the numbers of crossings increased, I am afraid that the drivers" respect for them diminished, and by the late "forties dangerously poor observance of pedestrian crossings had become widespread. As a result, in 1951 the Government of the day decided that a drastic reduction in the number of pedestrian crossings was essential if the crossing was to regain its value as a safety measure. The total throughout the country was reduced by as much as two-thirds, and every effort was then made to secure a higher standard of observance of those which remained.

Two other important changes were made. First, the zebra stripes for better sighting were introduced, partly as a result of an initiative by my right hon. Friend the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. Second, the central Government took over control of the siting of pedestrian crossings. We have, therefore, inherited strict criteria for deciding applications for pedestrian crossings. First, there must be a sufficient volume of traffic to make it difficult for pedestrians to cross the road. Second, the number of pedestrians must be sufficient to ensure that the crossing would be in fairly constant use. Third, there should be a sufficient distance between the site of the crossing and any adjacent crossing or other stopping places for motor vehicles. Fourth, the local police, having an intimate knowledge of the traffic conditions, should support the view that a crossing would be a sound safety measure.

I turn now to the particular case which my hon. Friend has raised. The problem arises at the southern end of Kingsway, between the Wilmslow Road-Parr"s Wood Lane junction and the Manchester boundary. This is known as the Kingsway extension, and includes the Fairmile Drive junction. The whole of Kingsway north of the Manchester boundary, a distance of about three miles, is a dual carriageway road and the central reservation enables pedestrians to cross the road in two stages, concentrating on one stream of traffic at a time. Traffic control signals at Fog Lane-Lane End Road junction and Wilmslow Road-Parr"s Wood Lane junction break up the traffic on Kingsway and so indirectly help pedestrians to cross all along the route as well as directly at the lights themselves.

I can tell the House that new signals will be in operation at Mauldeth Road later this year, and these will, we hope, help further to break up the traffic. In addition, they will have an all-red phase to enable pedestrians to cross.

A traffic census in December, 1962, showed that the pedestrian flow at Fair-mile Drive, to which my hon. Friend referred, was 606 people between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., and the vehicle flow averaged 1,400 per hour during that period. About half of these pedestrians were children and, as my hon. Friend said, a crossing patrol has been provided to care for them.

Although, naturally, we cannot lay down strict numerical requirements, the present view is—I emphasise that it is the present view—that the number of pedestrians would have to be considerably greater than this to justify a crossing at the point to which my hon. Friend has referred. He recently sent me a letter from the East Didsbury Owner-Occupiers" Association drawing attention to the danger to pedestrians trying to cross the Kingsway extension and stressing the need for some form of pedestrian crossing, subway or bridge. After consideration of the existing traffic conditions, our Divisional Road Engineer still thought that a zebra crossing was not justified, on the criteria I have given, because of insufficient traffic flows; and we have at present accepted this opinion.

As regards the provision of a footbridge or subway, we have said that there is no economic justification at the moment for the Ministry contributing to the cost of either but we would, of course, have no objection to the highway authority constructing a footbridge or subway, provided that it paid for the cost. At the time the Kingsway extension was built, Manchester City Council considered the provision of a subway or bridge at this point but rejected the idea.

My hon. Friend also raised the question of vehicle speeds and speed limits on the Kingsway extension. Let me make it clear that the Fairmile Drive junction is on a section of Kingsway covered at present by a 30 m.p.h. limit. Traffic approaching from the Manchester direction has been subject to this limit and to the breaking up effect of the series of traffic lights for some considerable distance. I think there is no complaint about that section.

My hon. Friend says that traffic from the south, just before reaching Fairmile Drive, passes through an unrestricted zone and has not slowed down as it should when it reaches the junction, so creating danger. Cheadle and Gatley Urban District Council is responsible for the speed limits on nearly all the road to the south of Fairmile Drive. In 1961 it proposed that the whole length of the road in its area should be subject to a new 40 m.p.h. limit. This would have involved raising the existing 30 m.p.h. limit on part of the stretch and imposing a new limit altogether on the other parts.

When we considered the proposal, our advisers could only agree to the new limit on the part of the road already restricted to 30 m.p.h. We considered that there was not enough development on the part of the road which is south of the Manchester boundary to justify the imposition of a limit on that section, where vehicle speeds are already very high and where it seems doubtful whether a 40 m.p.h. limit could be made effective and enforceable.

We were unable to agree with the Council about this and we have now had to inform it that we intend to make an order raising the 30 m.p.h. limit on the middle stretch to 40 m.p.h., leaving the section mentioned by my hon. Friend unrestricted. Manchester is also proposing to raise the 30 m.p.h. limit on its stretch to 40 m.p.h. and to extend this new limit slightly further to the south of Fairmile Drive.

Thus, if these proposals go through, we shall have, coming south from Manchester, a 40 m.p.h. limit, broken by at least three sets of traffic lights, extending to the south of Fairmile Drive, then an unrestricted stretch round the Mersey crossing and another 40 m.p.h. limit as the road goes further into the area of the Cheadle U.D.C.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Would not my hon. Friend agree that further to reduce the derestriction on the Kingsway extension would mean having a length of only about 650 yards derestricted and that this would make the position somewhat farcical?

Mr. Swingler

At the moment we cannot come to that conclusion.

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

Adjourned at a quarter to Twelve o"clock.