HC Deb 05 December 1966 vol 737 cc1111-20

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

11.37 p.m.

Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)

Although my view may not be shared, I for one have a sense of relief in turning from the world-shaking events of the last couple of hours to the down-to-earth matters that affect the ordinary person. Nevertheless, the subject which I wish to discuss is a serious one.

I have before me three of my last week's local papers which contain headlines typical of the events which spotlight the problem. The headline in the Carshalton Times is: Woman's death sparks off demand for crossing. That in the Wallington and Carshalton Advertiser is: New move to get pedestrian crossing. That in the Banstead Herald is: Nine cars crash in same spot in space of three minutes. That last incident occurred in one of the roads which I intend to discuss tonight.

I want to make two points at the outset. Firstly, this is entirely a non-party matter. If I refer to the Ministry of Transport, it is because I have been collecting information only over the last couple of years or so. However, what I say might just as well apply to earlier Governments. It is a problem which is building up and it has been for some years.

My second point is that, although, naturally, I am dealing with my own constituency, it is a problem which affects all the fringe areas of Greater London and one which is of vital interest to hundreds of thousands of people.

My constituency is a rather long, thin one, stretching from north to south. The northern half is Carshalton, the old Carshalton Urban District, now part of the Borough of Sutton, and is entirely in Greater London, but it contains quite large areas of green belt. The southern half of Banstead is entirely in the green belt. I think it is well known that during the last decade hundreds of thousands of people have moved out of central London further afield, many of them into the country, but there has been no building, or very little, in the green belt areas, for reasons which we know, so London has very largely leaped over the green belt and established itself further afield.

In addition, we know that an enormous number of new jobs have been generated in central London during the last decade, and this has made for greatly increased commuter traffic. It can be seen that areas like mine and others on the fringe are a sort of transit area for a lot of this commuter traffic. And it moves north, south, east, and west.

There are three aspects of the problem, and each of them must be considered and a proper balance reached. First, there is the traffic. Secondly, there are the pedestrians, and thirdly there are the amenities of the area. We know that traffic must move, but with due consideration for pedestrians. My contention is that the relationship between the traffic and pedestrians has got out of balance in favour of the traffic in these fringe areas, and this imbalance is getting worse.

Perhaps I might give one example to illustrate that. In the whole of my area, with dense traffic going through at all times of the day, but with its peak hours, there is only one pedestrian crossing. This is opposite St. Helier Hospital in Carshalton. It is there to assist visitors to get across the road into the hospital, and this is by no means my busiest road.

I think that many people going through and not knowing these built-up and green belt areas on the fringe look on them as a somewhat amorphous area without any rallying points. In fact, when one gets to know my area, one realises that there are distinct village centres, which no doubt originated in the old medieval times. The people who live there are intensely concerned with the preservation of such amenities as have survived, and, of course, quite a number have. They are quite right to take this view. They would resist to the death any attempt to bulldoze these amenities out of the way so that motor cars could drive from central London down to Reigate or Dorking, south of my constituency.

I thought that to illustrate the traffic problems I would pick out certain key areas and describe the situation there. They are by no means all the difficult spots, and I expect that I shall get a shoal of letters from my constituents asking why I did not raise the case of their particular trouble spots.

First, there is the Rose Hill roundabout, on the edge of my constituency of Carshalton. It has two great—almost arterial—roads leading into and out of London, with a dual carriageway on one side, and then a side road, and another road leading off into Carshalton, another to Sutton, and another dual carriageway by-passing Sutton. That means that five big roads and a minor road all meet at that roundabout. In the rush hour it is a veritable Piccadilly Circus, but without the advantage of traffic lights.

I want to read one paragraph from a letter written to me by my local council: The Borough Engineer has indicated that he has received a request for pedestrian crossing facilities at the junctions of all the roads leading to the Rose Hill roundabout, but he could not support the application as there are sufficient refuges provided to enable pedestrians to cross each road in relative safety. That word "relative" accurately describes the situation it is an extremely busy roundabout, with practically no facilities for pedestrians. The only way to get over the difficulty is by way of flyovers or underpasses. I shall come to that possibility later.

My second trouble spot is Carshalton High Street. This is a burning issue. This is a very busy shopping centre in Carshalton, and I have had a vast number of demands from individuals and various associations about pedestrian crossing facilities. I want to read another paragraph from the same letter, on this subject: The volume of traffic along High Street, Carshalton has been steadily increasing, and a count of traffic taken in 1965 gave an indication that the average traffic flow was 1,200 vehicles per hour between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. with the peak flow of 1,877 vehicles per hour. This average traffic flow was 11 per cent. above a similar count taken in 1964 and 84 per cent. above the 1958 figures. The total pedestrian flow across the High Street measured between the Square and Carshalton Place amounted to 2,368 during the twelve hours or an average of 197 per hour with a peak…of 291 pedestrians. It is difficult to count pedestrians along a High Street—they cross everywhere—but if a crossing were provided it would concentrate people at that crossing, to a large extent—especially mothers with perambulators out doing their shopping, of which there is a large number.

I have consulted the police in the area about this spot, and they tell me that with the completion of the Croydon fly-over—which I understand is in course of construction and development of the Croydon Airport Housing Estate—they expect traffic in this High Street to increase, and make more a very serious problem.

It does not end there. The High Street continues to an area known as The Ponds, which is very dangerous. There have been many accidents there. It is rather narrow and winding, and carries a great deal of traffic. But The Ponds happens to be one of the most treasured amenity spots in Carshalton. It consists of a small area of clear water fed from springs—very ancient—overlooked by a nice old coaching inn, with fine grounds and trees round about, and there is no doubt that if there was any attempt to widen the road, thereby concreting over part of The Ponds, the people of Carshalton would man the barricades. I have no doubt that I would be with them.

It seems to me that the solution there is possibly a bypass, re-routeing, and certainly a pedestrian crossing in the High Street. I quote: As you "— it refers to me— are aware the appropriate Committee of the former Carshalton Urban District Council made repeated applications to the Ministry of Transport for the necessary authorisation to provide a pedestrian crossing in High Street, Carshalton, but they met with no success. I turn now to Banstead High Street, which is very similar in a way to the Carshalton High Street. I can quote traffic flows, but as I do not want to take up too much time I will content myself by saying that at the peak it rises to 800 per hour, with about 50 pedestrians crossing but, again, this is a rather long street and the pedestrians are spread out. If pedestrian crossings were provided they would concentrate the pedestrians.

There is one special feature about the High Street at Banstead. At the southern end it is crossed at right angles by Bolters Lane, on the southern side of which there is, fortunately for the area, a large open space which has been used for many purposes. It has the public library, schools, a clinic, there will be a youth centre, and an old people's home. All those people using this area have to cross the road to get into Banstead proper.

I say that these are special circumstances because I want to quote what a previous Minister of Transport said in reply to a Parliamentary Question in November, 1964: There are several factors to be taken into account in considering the provision of pedestrian crossings. The most important are the numbers of pedestrians and vehicles at the site. These would in differing circumstances be given different weight, which precludes a decision being taken solely on the basis of the number of pedestrians or vehicles involved."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th November, 1964; Vol. 702, c. 190.] In the light of that reply, I suggest that the schools, the library, the youth centre, the clinic and the old people's home are special circumstances.

The next special case, also in Banstead, is Fir Tree Road. At Banstead, the British Rail station for London is on one side of Fir Tree Road, and on the other side is a large built-up area called Nork, while a little further away is Banstead itself. Large numbers of people use the Banstead railway station to go to London. At the peak time, there are 1,300 vehicles in Fir Tree Road, and the average is about 800 throughout the day. There is a peak of 155 pedestrians crossing. They go in bunches at a time, and they are often held up by or try to make their way through this very dense traffic at the rush hour. That situation would be helped by a pedestrian crossing.

My next spot is Brighton Road. That is a large main road running more or less north and south and cutting the Banstead area in half. It is dual carriageway for about half of its length but, in itself, it offers quite an obstacle to pedestrians. Many children have to cross it on their way to school. There are islands in the middle, and I admit that this is a difficult problem. I get a lot of requests for pedestrian crossings but I do not think that is a practical proposition, although underpasses at key points might be.

Another point about the Brighton Road is that there is dense traffic either way, coming north to London in the early morning and going south in the evening. It is extremely difficult for residents to get access to it. For example, from Waterhouse Lane, which serves a developed area known as Kingswood, I have had complaints of residents having to wait 20 minutes before being able to get on to the road. It seems to me that the installation of lights, slip roads, and so on, should be considered.

The Brighton Road continues south and subsequently is no longer dual carriageway and becomes a single road. Finally, it enters the village of Lower Kingswood, which it splits in two. In that area there have been a great many accidents. I would like to quote a submission by the local residents' association, 500 strong, to the Minister: In this connection, my committee wish me to remind you that this is a very busy main road, used by three London Transport bus services…it cuts in two the village shopping area, divides its four petrol filling stations, its two places of worship, and separates the primary school in Buckland Road from those children living across this road. The residents' association submits its case for a speed limit of 30 m.p.h. through the area and pedestrian crossings.

My final point of trouble is in the Chipstead area. This is a built-up area.

The Banstead Council states: The Council have made two applications for the imposition of a 30 m.p.h. speed limit on all roads in Chipstead, but these were turned down by the Ministry of Transport. The Ministry gave the reasons that there were many similar areas in the country and it was obviously not practicable to have a 30 m.p.h. limit in all those areas. That neglects, however, my transit area theory which I have put forward for the area as a whole.

There is one road in Chipstead—the High Road—where a speed limit ought to be imposed. This is what was stated by one local resident, the secretary of the residents' association: I find it quite incredible when one stops to think that there are children, some of whom go on foot to Fairdene school, and an old people's home, to say nothing of the frequent accidents at the Markedge Road junction, that no action has been taken to impose a 40 m.p.h. limit on this stretch. At least, this might have the effect of keeping motorists' speed down to 50 m.p.h. Apart from those special places, it is a fairly well built-up area and well merits the imposition of a speed limit.

I think I have said enough to show that the traffic in this fringe, transit area is a great and growing problem and that we must strike a balance between the traffic, the pedestrians and the amenities. I believe that the balance now weighs too heavily to the advantage of the traffic.

I believe that consideration has to be given to major improvements such as by-passes, fly-overs, underpasses and road improvements, but I realise that they cost money and that the money available is usually earmarked for some time ahead.

A good deal can be done, of course, through traffic management, although in these sort of areas not a great deal. But what I think should be considered much more favourably now than in the past is the provision of pedestrian crossings. Requests by a local council for these crossings should be considered much more sympathetically. Secondly, much more sympathetic consideration ought to be given to requests by a local council for speed limits on certain stretches of roads. I realise the difficulties of enforcement, but today more regard is paid to speed limits than in the past, because they are now more selective—some are 30 m.p.h., some 40 and some 50.

So I believe that help is within reach—the pedestrian crossings and the imposition of speed limits at the behest of the local council. If these are regarded more sympathetically, it will be a start towards redressing the balance which is now too heavily in favour of the traffic, and I trust the Minister will accept this.

12.3 a.m.

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

The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) has left me five minutes out of the 30 minutes of the Adjournment debate to reply—I understand that this debate must end at 12.7 a.m. Therefore as the hon. and gallant Gentleman has confronted me with a long catalogue of complaints, I shall be able to deal only with a very small number of them tonight. But I shall certainly deal with the others in correspondence with the hon. and gallant Gentleman.

As a reader of the Wallington and Carshalton Times, I had advance information of some of the points raised by the hon. Gentleman, and I am sorry that I shall not be able to deal with all of them.

Let me deal first with the situation at Carshalton. The Urban District of Carshalton was incorporated on 1st April, 1965, in the London Borough of Sutton. There are no trunk roads actually in Carshalton, and therefore, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman knows, the Greater London Council is the highway authority for the three metropolitan roads, the A232 and small sections of the A217 and A297, which are in Carshalton. For all the other roads in Carshalton, the Borough of Sutton is the highway authority and the traffic authority in all cases is the Greater London Council. Therefore, in the first place, it is a matter for the G.L.C. to consider what improvements and developments should be made, and I am certain they also take into account the important amenities to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has referred.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman referred particularly to the problems of pedestrians. Under Section 44 of the Road Traffic Act, 1960, it is for the local authority, in the first place, to propose sites for pedestrian crossings on roads other than trunk roads, but all these proposals have to be approved by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport.

In all these cases—and we are very concerned about this—we insist that there must be a certain volume of vehicle traffic and a certain level of demand by pedestrians themselves in order to gain the respect of motorists for pedestrian crossings, on the basis that they are constantly used.

It is on the application of these criteria that the demands for pedestrian crossings in Carshalton to date have been refused. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that there was heavy traffic throughout the day on one road he mentioned. I should like to see evidence of it. On the information which I have, although the situation is very bad in these places during the rush hour, the traffic throughout the day is not continuously heavy. Nor is the demand of pedestrians for crossings such as to warrant special measures on the grounds that such crossings would be continually used.

The hon. Member said that there was only one pedestrian crossing in Carshalton, on the B278 outside St. Helier Hospital. There are also traffic signals at the junction of the A.217 and A.232 which are specially phased to assist pedestrians. As a Department we have laid down certain criteria in relation to the weight of traffic and to the demand of pedestrians for crossings, and so far these have not been satisfied in this district. I understand that during the past 18 months the G.L.C. have been discussing the position again with the London Borough of Sutton on the basis of new traffic figures, but I am also informed that the G.L.C. consider it unlikely that a site for a new crossing could be selected on the basis of the present criteria.

Let me offer the hon. Member this crumb of comfort: we have instituted a special experiment with pedestrian crossings in certain towns in the country. We are deliberately multiplying the numbers of crossings in certain towns and are comparing the experience there with that of other towns in order to check the existing criteria which we apply about the weight of traffic in relation to the demand for pedestrian crossings. It may well be that as the result of this experiment we shall be able to grant some of the demands which are made in Carshalton and Banstead.

As for Banstead, in the short time left I can merely say that we recognise that the traffic is heavy in this area, where the Surrey County Council are the highway authority, and a number of improvements to the roads are being programmed.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at seven minutes past Twelve o'clock.