HC Deb 09 March 1966 vol 725 cc2353-7

3.55 a.m.

Sir John Langford-Holt (Shrewsbury)

It is a strange commentary on the way in which we conduct our affairs that to raise a question which, while it affects only a limited number of my constituents affects them very seriously, I have to raise it after 13½ hours of debate in the House at four o'clock in the morning, but I make no apology for doing so.

The matter that I want to discuss, and about which I have been in correspondence with the Minister, is the events surrounding the traffic problem of a village called Dorrington, about 6½ miles outside Shrewsbury and in the centre of my constituency. It has a population of about 300, and it is on the main Shrewsbury—Hereford route. The village is at present in the process of dying. It has been condemned to death by the traffic on the roads today. It is traffic, and nothing else, that is doing this.

I do not know whether any hon. Member remembers the village of Markyate, which used to be on the main A5. The situation at Dorrington is not dissimilar. Markyate was certainly larger, but the traffic conditions at Dorrington are very similar to what took place in Markyate before, in the first place, the bypass and, in the second place, the Ml took all the traffic right away.

I have known the village of Dorrington for the last 20 years. For a short time, until the end of 1964, I lived there and got to know it and its problems very intimately. It was the traffic, amongst other reasons, that caused me to leave the village. I have two children, and this road which drives straight through the centre of the village, has few or no pavements. It is almost impossible for children to cross from one side of the road to the other which, in a small country village, is a deplorable state.

The effect of the traffic crashing down the centre of the road has been to divide the village into two halves on either side, and the two halves are practically inaccessible to each other with the rate of traffic there is. It is a question of waiting and waiting, when trying to cross to the other side of the village, especially with children.

That is what happens during the day time, but at night it is even worse. One then gets lorries crashing through the centre of the village going, I think, from somewhere in the North Midlands to somewhere in South Wales—empty the one way, loaded the other—at all hours of the night. It causes acute discomfort to the villagers and great distress to everyone concerned.

In those circumstances, what is the answer of the Ministry? At the moment, the answer is to widen the road. In correspondence I have had with him, the Parliamentary Secretary has stated that this is what the Ministry is trying to do. This makes the situation in many ways worse, not better. Widening the road tends to encourage speeding through the village. There has been a fatal accident near the village recently. It is an awful thought to contemplate that sooner or later there will be a fatal accident in the village. I should hate to think that we have to wait for such an accident before something serious is done about this problem.

I realise that there is a financial problem, but, while the financial situation is what it is, I cannot see the problem getting nearer to a solution. It does not appear to be doing so, but, on the contrary, to be getting further away. I want the Parliamentary Secretary to tell me that it is his Ministry's intention not to continue so much with the widening of the road and knocking down of houses and adding further to the devastation of the village, but at the earliest possible moment to bypass the village so that it can go back to the life it used to have as a country village without holding up traffic because traffic is allowed to bypass the village.

The second thing I ask the hon. Gentleman to state is something which I realise is outside his jurisdiction but I hope that he will use his influence to this end. It is that in the meantime the speed limit will be enforced. I assure him that it is seldom observed. If these two things are not done I am certain that this village, which has grown up in a country area, will continue to ultimate death. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will give some encouragement and hope that he will not allow this to happen.

4.3 a.m.

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

By leave of the House I speak again. I do not know how many more times I shall have to say that.

I can be brief in my reply to the hon. Member for Shrewsbury (Sir J. Langford-Holt). The fact is that 80 per cent. of the people of the country live on 10 per cent. of the land area and 20 per cent. of the major roads carry more than 50 per cent. of the traffic in terms of vehicle mileage. Dorrington happens to be a village which stands athwart an important road. Ten years ago—I make no partisan point at this time of the morning, we were spending £8 million out of national funds in road expenditure. That was in 1955. We are spending in this current year £140 million plus. We are planning to expend in 1969–70 £240 million annually in highway expenditure.

Such is the rate of progress, but people say it is still not enough. It is not enough to provide a bypass for the village of Dorrington. That is the situation we have to face. Of course it is highly desirable to provide a bypass for the village. Very early on, when I started to occupy this position, I met Professor Buchanan and I asked him what he thought the most important priority for the Ministry of Transport. He replied, "The provision of bypasses for the through traffic of towns and villages".

Bypasses are extraordinarily expensive and in the case to which the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention it would be quite an expensive scheme. If the scheme is highly desirable, it will have to be programmed at some future date, but it will have to await its turn in the long list of schemes which we have to consider year by year in the roll forward of the roads programme for the towns and cities and villages which require bypass schemes.

Therefore, because of the heavy traffic on this road, we have put forward a minor improvement scheme. The road through the village is undoubtedly narrow and for the most part poor. It is less than 20 ft. and in some parts less than 15 ft. wide and the footpaths are narrow. We have decided that a minor improvement scheme involving much less expenditure than any kind of bypass scheme is necessary in order to provide a 24 ft. carriageway and 6 ft. footpaths.

I recognise that in a way this exacerbates the problem. It always happens whenever there is an improvement scheme of this kind which assists traffic flow that it also carries with it potential additional danger for those concerned. In the Ministry of Transport we have the exceedingly difficult problem of weighing up and assessing these different priorities. In this case we consider that, because of the amount of traffic which must necessarily use this road, the minor improvement scheme should be carried out with the improvement of the footpaths for the additional safety of pedestrians and with wider carriageways for the traffic, pending the time when it is possible to provide a proper bypass scheme for the village.

I take note of what the hon. Gentleman said about observance of the speed limit. We have made our observations and we are in consultation with the Home Office and we will take every measure possible, in conjunction with those who are concerned locally, to see that the speed limit is observed.

There has been a proposal for the use of double white line markings in the village. There are certain difficulties about this. This proposal comes to us from many quarters in situations of this kind and we would certainly like to adopt it, but very often we foresee that it would create more problems than it would resolve. However, we are prepared to consider the hon. Gentleman's suggestion for a meeting on the spot between our expert advisers and those of the local authority to examine the situation and to see what can be done by the better employment of traffic signs and road markings to alleviate the situation. If that improves the situation on the initiative of the local authority, we will certainly arrange it.

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall be in touch with the Home Office about the need for strong enforcement of the speed limit in the village and that we are determined to carry out this improvement for pedestrians and better traffic How and that, at the same time, we have well in mind the desirability of a bypass scheme for the village of Dorrington.

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