HC Deb 05 May 1966 vol 727 cc2010-8

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

10.7 p.m.

Mr. Raymond Fletcher (Ilkeston)

My present duty is to transmit a good deal of local anger to this Chamber, and I want to try to translate a good deal of that anger into argument, because although this is a local issue it is not a minor issue. It is concerned with one of the major problems of this part of the 20th century—traffic congestion—and with the efforts of a borough council to deal with that problem in a specific plan.

The facts of the matter are complicated and go back 10 years. I would certainly bore the House to tedium if I went through the whole history of those years, but it relates to two public inquiries, to a Government Order which authorised the town council to establish a bus station, and to a recent Ministerial decision after the second inquiry that the Order was not to be confirmed.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to present the argument in detail without a series of maps, because I shall be talking about a place that is totally unfamiliar to most hon. Members. I want to deal specifically with the objections of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport to the suggestion that a bus station should be established in Ilkeston. There is no argument between my right hon. Friend and myself as to the necessity for this bus station. Ilkeston market place is used as a bus station, and this means that on Saturdays there is terrible congestion. It also means that on weekdays there is congestion sufficiently bad to justify continuing difficulties to be raised by the local police to me. It means that this situation really had to be dealt with. There is no argument between my right hon. Friend and me on this question.

The argument has reduced itself in recent correspondence and in the final decision to whether the site which was selected by the borough council is the right site for a bus station. It is suggested that there should be a more central site in the town. This is a counsel of perfection. In my view, in the view of most people in the town, and certainly in the view of the town council, there is no site which is immediately obtainable, or even obtainable in the not too distant future, which could serve the purpose of a bus station in Ilkeston.

So, although the town council recognises that the specific site which was the subject of two inquiries is not ideal, nevertheless every other site which was examined was found after examination to be less ideal than that which was finally selected.

It was argued at the two public inquiries, and the arguments have obviously been accepted by the Traffic Commissioners, that the four bus companies which operate in and around the town have legitimate objections to the siting of this bus station at the South Street site. There is an implication in most of the correspondence that the companies have not been hitherto adequately consulted.

This is quite wrong. Here I begin to argue from a very complete brief, which is not my normal practice in the House. From 1958 onwards there has been continuous consultation with the bus companies. When the objections of the bus companies are examined, all the marginal objections seemed to fall to the ground when measured against the over-riding necessity to have a bus station somewhere in the town. The objection which remains is a financial one. It is the difference between paying a halfpenny for standings on the market place and 2d. for standings on the projected bus station.

These may be powerful arguments for the bus companies concerned, but I do not regard these arguments as being overwhelming when measured against the requirements of the citizens of Ilkeston and I do not think they should have been treated as overwhelming at the two public inquiries.

I repeat that I have a very full brief with me now. It is full of technicalities which at times I find it difficult to understand. My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, who is a friend of long standing, will correct me and will undoubtedly slap me down if I am wrong in the general line of argument I present. I shall not be tempted to stray into the quicksands of technicalities.

The point which has been made several times and which was reiterated in the Minister's repudiation of the original Order was that a more satisfactory site for the bus station would be in that part of Ilkeston which is known as Pimlico. This site has been examined. The general opinion in the town—this is certainly the opinion of the council's most competent official in this sphere, namely, the borough engineer—is that the site is too small, that it cannot conveniently be reached now, and that it is on the western side of a proposed by-pass road which would place it on one side of the dual carriageway with the shopping centre on the other. I find this argument against the Pimlico site, which has been suggested as a satisfactory alternative, absolutely overwhelming.

Here I come to the public inquiries themselves and transmit to the House the general opinion in Ilkeston—the opinion of both our newspapers, of the borough council, of the trades council and of many individual citizens of the town who have written to me in very angry terms. This opinion, briefly summarised, is that far too much consideration was given by the inspectors, who worked under the control of the Traffic Commissioners, to the limited and in my opinion implausible objections of the bus companies.

About the more serious arguments contained in the letter conveying the Ministerial decision, I want to say that it is objected that the South Street site is not sufficiently central, that it is too far from the centre of the town. If we lived in an ideal community, if every single plan that we could devise in this House or in the Ministry could be ideally realised, these objections would have some force, but in the real world we have to place things, whether they be bus stations or public buildings, where one can find the place to put them.

The South Street site is not very far from the centre of Ilkeston town. The natural centre is the market place. If one wished to be academic and pedantic one could fix the natural centre somewhere else—northwards in Bath Street, at the junction of Station Road and Bath Street.

But it is not correct to say that it is a general thing throughout the Midlands that bus stations are sited very near to the town centres they serve. It is not correct in Nottingham. There are two bus stations in Nottingham, neither of which is within convenient distance of the city centre. Both of them are at a considerably greater distance from Nottingham city centre than perhaps the South Street site is from the centre of Ilkeston.

The second point which arises—and here again I merely transmit in my own way what I believe to be the general opinion in the town—is that the Traffic Commissioners whose advice loomed rather too strongly in the two public inquiries failed to look at the Ilkeston of 10 or 15 years hence. They were hypnotised in a sense by the town as it is, whereas the town council prefers to look at the town as it might be and as the council wants it to be.

When we look at the town in this way, without going into technical details, the South Street site becomes far more important and far more at the hub of the future town than it is of the present. But even if I concede all the arguments presented by the Department, and even if the citizens of Ilkeston were persuaded to accept them, the point made in correspondence—and I commiserate with my hon. Friend, for I have been pestering him for weeks before deciding publicly to do so—is that, while the South Street site may not be ideal, it is quite literally the only one we have got and that, if it proved not to be satisfactory, which is an argument I am presenting as a hypothesis I do not necessarily accept, the bus station could be moved. The financial cost involved is not very large. To begin work on the bus station would cost us only £21,000 in the next financial year.

In the light of local opinion, the specific issues which I have raised in my speech and the fact that the town council sees the necessity for this bus station at this place in terms of the future of Ilkeston, I ask my right hon. Friend to reconsider her decision to refuse the Order so that we in Ilkeston can have our bus station in the place which the council has designated for it. There is no argument about the necessity for it, and I ask my hon. Friend seriously to reconsider this decision, which is universally regarded in Ilkeston as very bad.

10.21 p.m.

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

It is no surprise to me that my assiduous hon. Friend the Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Raymond Fletcher) should have raised this case tonight. I recognise that there are certain disturbing features about it which should cause us all to pause and think about the procedures for dealing with such issues. I believe that we have to go into the question of how we can reform and speed them up.

We in the Ministry of Transport, of course, support initiatives by local authorities planning to provide bus stations for the benefit of the travelling public and to improve the amenities of their towns. Consequently, we fully appreciate the efforts which Ilkeston Borough Council has devoted to this project, and I fully realise that my right hon. Friend's decision has come as a serious disappointment to the council.

In view of what my hon. Friend has said, I can be very brief about the history of this case. The proposal for a bus station in White Lion Square, Ilkeston, first came before the then Minister of Transport, the right hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples), in 1960 when the Ilkeston Council, having obtained planning permission, submitted for confirmation a compulsory purchase order for the acquisition of the necessary site.

The only objection at that stage came from an occupier of part of the area and after a public inquiry was held into the question of the acquisition of the site, an Order was confirmed by the then Minister in July, 1962, with a modification which excluded the part about which the objection had been made.

At the end of 1963, the council made an Order to appoint the site as the bus station. This Order required confirmation by the Minister of Transport. At that stage, there were objections by the bus operators and the Minister therefore invited the traffic commissioners to consider the bus station proposal and to report upon it. The commissioners were also concerned with the related question of alterations in bus routes which would be necessary in consquence of adopting this proposal for a bus station. After a public hearing, the Traffic Commissioners reported against the proposal in August 1964.

It was in this situation that the Minister offered to hold a further independent inquiry before taking a decision, and this was organised. The inspector who held this latest inquiry reported in May 1965, and he, like the Traffic Commissioners, reported against the proposal for the bus station.

In these circumstances, after considering the whole history of the case, my right hon. Friend concluded with serious regret that she could not approve the proposal by Ilkeston Council, and she has therefore refused to confirm the Order.

Let me say immediately, as I implied at the beginning, that I appreciate that a disturbing feature of the case is the period of time which has elapsed from start to finish. As the law stands, the provision of a bus station by a local authority involves a series of statutory processes, which for the most part have to be taken consecutively, not concurrently. Inevitably this fakes time, because of the procedure for consideration of objections which Parliament provides to protect the interests of all parties.

This was a difficult case and came at a time when the Ministry was under great pressure. The important issue now is whether the Minister's decision is the right one. The reasons were given in the decision letter, referred to by my hon. Friend, and I would draw attention to them. First of all, it is accepted that Ilkeston needs a bus station, and to use the market place as a bus terminal in its present manner, which means that the buses have to use temporary stops in adjoining streets on market days, is not an adequate substitute.

The next question is whether White Lion Square is the right site for the bus station, both in the light of present requirements and of the long-term planning considerations. The inspector concluded that White Lion Square is farther from the central area of Ilkeston than is desirable under present conditions. The main shopping centre is in Bath Street which runs northwards from the market place for nearly half a mile. White Lion Square lies in the other direction, 300 yards southwards along South Street, where, so far, there is little corresponding development.

The bulk of passengers on the bus services terminating at Ilkeston come in from the south, and something like 80 per cent. of them stay on the bus and get off at the Market Square. If the services terminated at White Lion Square, these people would have to walk about another 300 yards to get to the market place and the beginning of Bath Street to reach the shopping centre.

Looking to the future development of Ilkeston, and the draft town map, Bath Street is still envisaged as being the main shopping centre, while South Street is envisaged for mixed business, shopping, civic, cultural and other special uses. In these terms also it would still be reasonable to seek a more central site, and we believe it is possible to find a more central site, for the bus station. The Minister carefully considered the evidence offered about the traffic congestion in the streets leading to the market place.

Buses are not, of course, the only authors of traffic congestion and my right hon. Friend thought, as the decision letter says, that some traffic regulation or highways measure will be called for in relation to whatever site is chosen for the bus station, and that consultations between the local authority and the bus operators on the proposed siting and internal layout of the bus station will be of great advantage in the interests of finding the best solution to the problem.

The main point which I want to make is that during the period in which this has been going on there has been the Buchanan Report, which has radically altered all of our thinking upon urban problems, and the subject of traffic in town. In particular it has brought up the problem of the over-riding need to maintain an adequate public transport system, providing for the journeys which people want to undertake, and has focused attention on considerations which would not have been in the minds of either the council or the Minister in 1960 or 1962. It has highlighted the need to integrate, in every town in the country, planning for the use of land, the management of traffic, and the organisation of transportation in all its forms. All of these things must be considered together.

Efficient public transport must play an active part in easing the problems of traffic management in towns. To encourage measures which will help in the provision of public transport serving the community into the centre of a town is a most important part of the problem of easing congestion and enabling us to cater efficiently and attractively for the needs of the public. This is one factor in creating the right balance between the facilities for public and private transport in the area concerned. This was the paramount consideration in the mind of my right hon. Friend in her decision to reject this proposal for the bus station, namely, that it did not provide for the needs of the majority of the travelling public, as shown by the figures, who travel on their journeys to the shopping centre, and that the Ilkeston Council, together with the operators of public transport, should co-ordinate their efforts together to search for a more convenient, more attractive and more central site for the bus station.

Therefore, we hope that the Council will now make a fresh start on the problem. Anything which we can do in the Ministry of Transport and which the Traffic Commissioners can do to assist the council in considering other sites, we are certainly prepared to do. The possibilities of the consideration of other sites is a local problem and, obviously, the initiative in that should be taken locally. We suggest that the council and the transport operators should quickly get together to consider the other possibilities that have been mentioned. If our experts in the Ministry can assist in any way to speed up their consideration and to ad- vise on how this can be done, we shall do everything we possibly can.

In the meantime, in the interest of the travelling public in Ilkeston, we certainly hope that the buses can continue to have a central terminal and that it may be possible to make improvements in the arrangements at that terminal while the permanent bus station site is being reconsidered and while the council, together with the bus operators, is making its plans for the future.

Therefore, to sum up, I regret the long delay that the Ilkeston Council has had to suffer, and I apologise for that. We shall have to try to do something to speed up the procedure for the consideration of these problems. I believe nevertheless that my right hon. Friend's decision on this matter is a correct decision in the light of the Buchanan Report and in the light of the needs of the travelling public in Ilkeston for the future.

I hope that the Ilkeston Council, considering the needs today to integrate the planning of land use, the management of traffic and the organisation of transport, can, together with any expert advice that we can offer, find a bus station site which will be more suitable to serve the needs of Ilkeston in the long term.

Question put and agreed to.

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