HC Deb 19 July 1967 vol 750 cc2432-42

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

6.28 a.m.

Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)

In a couple of hours' time parents in many parts of my constituency of Ealing, North will be running considerable risks in conducting their children to school. They will be going through the same task probably at lunch-time, and certainly at tea-time, when they collect their children.

This is a rather serious state of affairs, which probably exists in other parts of the country, and I hope that this debate will not only benefit my constituency, but those other parts of the country, too. I want to draw attention particularly to one area situated in Northolt, namely, Dabbs Hill Lane and Eastcote Lane junction. On one side of a brand-new highway, running towards Eastcote Lane, is a large housing estate, and on the other side are practically all the schools which the children living on that housing estate attend.

Morning and evening parents face a considerable hazard in taking and fetching their children. Even on a council housing estate, anyone who wishes to go there and see will be able to note with some alarm the problem that young mothers have, pushing their prams taking small children to school, then going through the same thing later on, in the evening.

I have written to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, and he has given me every facility to meet and talk with him. It was not so very long ago that a deputation of the parents from Dabbs Hill Lane and the surrounding area came to see my hon. Friend with myself, and we talked about the serious situation there.

One of the young mothers who explained the situation to my hon. Friend, Mrs. Jean Young, has had her own small child knocked down and injured since she came on this deputation. I ask my hon. Friend whether he will add to the encouragement he has given us, and use his influence to get something done to alleviate this serious situation.

As much as is possible, we have had good co-operation from the police, but the problem there is that the police tell me constantly that, while they would like to man this junction, they find themselves very short of staff, and cannot always carry out this responsibility. There was a site meeting on 13th July at this place to ascertain whether refuges could be constructed, and whether some form of patrol could be organised to ensure safety; but as I pointed out, the police cannot guarantee that they can supply the necessary officers.

My hon. Friend has agreed, I think I am right in saying, that the real answer is the construction of a footbridge. But while we are awaiting for this the danger will still exist, and it has its financial implications, although I am not too concerned about that. I understand that the cost of the footbridge would be about£10,000, and I would be pressing for it just as urgently if the cost were £100,000. We simply must have a crossing erected at Dabbs Hill Lane, while we are waiting for the footbridge to be erected.

The other serious situation relates to the position at Yeading Lane and Kings-hill Avenue. Here again, a similar position exists. This is a major road between two highly concentrated residential areas, and it has been described by many of my constituents as deadly. I agree with them. It has a nasty accident record, and it would be a tragedy if we had to wait until a few people were killed or seriously maimed until action was taken.

The Ealing Borough Council has devised a scheme for widening the central reservation and also providing a waiting bay for people wishing to turn right at this junction. It has also designed this scheme to provide a zebra crossing. I want my hon. Friend to give urgent consideration to these proposals from the council.

From time to time I have met the tenants' association of the Yeading Lane estate with my colleagues, councillors of the Ealing Borough Council. There is no doubt that it is a tragedy that a really nice, smart and clean housing estate should be blighted by the fact that there have been no pedestrian facilities for people to be able to cross from one side of a very well-used road to the other.

From the meetings I have had with the association and my colleagues on the council, I know that their patience is running out. I understand that there was a site meeting on 4th April between the council and representatives of the Ministry, the police and the G.L.C., and that the scheme devised by the very able borough engineer will cost about £10,000, but that the G.L.C., which plays an important part in this, has said that it cannot provide the cash.

In a situation like this, where people run grave risks every day, while we can spend millions of pounds on all sorts of things one might question, we are told that we cannot provide £10,000 to enable people to live reasonably contented on a new housing estate which is being blighted by lack of adequate pedestrian facilities.

There is another serious situation at a junction referred to in official terminology as Oldfield Lane and Greenford Station. It is near to the central line station. It is almost in the middle of Greenford. There is also a shopping centre with bus stops, but there is no zebra crossing. I live not far away and I know that, during the rush hour, this site is busy and as dangerous, if not more so, than any other comparable road in London.

It is particularly dangerous, because it has no zebra crossing. Only the other day the child of a neighbour of mine was knocked down—paradoxically, by a police officer on duty on a motor cycle. This was one of many accidents or near accidents over a period. Local people are getting irritable about it. They wonder how many accidents must occur before they get a crossing.

The borough council has submitted details to the Ministry. Here again, the G.L.C. comes into the picture. I cannot understand why it is not co-operating. I do not know who is responsible for compiling and examining the statistics of the G.L.C., but if he saw the realities of the situation I am sure that he would change his mind. I hope that my hon. Friend will give his full co-operation before any more serious accidents occur.

In another part of Greenford—Greenford Road and Otter Road—a pedestrian refuge has been applied for. The borough council has agreed and I hope that my hon. Friend will give it serious and urgent consideration.

I turn now to another very important part of my constituency. Its people are in almost mental agony because of the traffic situation. Here again, mothers literally take their lives and the lives of their children in their hands when they have to cross the roads to take the children to school and back. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science is responsible for seeing that children are properly educated and it might have been a good thing if he had been here, for then he would appreciate the difficulties faced by ordinary people in this area in getting their children to and from school.

Recently, there was a serious accident in which a young mother and child were smashed to the ground by a vehicle. She was simply taking her children to school. In this day and age, with all the dangers that exist, we should make every effort to alleviate this situation. This area is in the permanent grip of a massive traffic thrall. Dangers to children in going to school are enormous.

The borough council has been aware of this. The Parliamentary Secretary has been very concerned. Officers of his Department have seen the residents' Association from time to time, and schemes are being worked out. I understand that the borough engineer has worked out a scheme to redesign the traffic routes and the signals at Hanger Lane and the North Circular Road. These interim measures may take some time to implement, unless someone is willing to tackle the problem urgently and give things a jerk.

The real answer in the West Twyford area and the North Circular Road area is the provision of subways. I pay tribute to Mr. James, the secretary of the residents' association, and his fellow officers, and to the parent teacher association. They have shown both interest and understanding. I hope that their patience and understanding will not run out because of the lack of action. I appeal for urgent action.

At the Western Avenue and Church Road junction the problem is identical. Mothers and children try to get to school across Western Avenue, where there is no proper crossing. There have been times when the police officer on duty, who is there to control the traffic and enable the mothers and children to cross, has been in danger of being knocked down. I ask my hon. Friend to work closely with the borough council and try to bring in some interim arrangement whilst a subway, which I understand is under consideration, is being prepared.

In addition to the subway, I understand that it is planned to build a footbridge in this area. I welcome this. I hope that it will be erected as soon as possible. The layout plans have been submitted. The G.L.C. has decided to widen part of the road. Therefore, the details of the footbridge cannot be submitted until the road widening plans are known. I beg those in charge of the road widening plans to get a move on so that the building of the footbridge can be put in hand. I have met delegations of mothers. I understand their grave anxiety.

There are other spots. There are so many such spots in my constituency that I cannot understand why many of these things were not alleviated years ago long before I entered the House. At the Mandeville Road, Eastcote Lane black spot the council wants to widen the road and provide a central refuge. I hope that my hon. Friend will give this project urgent attention.

I know that the various residents' associations whose delegations have seen my hon. Friend and myself will want me to express gratitude to my hon. Friend for the help he has given us on these immediate issues. He has a remarkable record. During the two years I have been in the House I have, with his help and collaboration managed to get about a dozen zebra crossings installed at what were dangerous places. Two footbridges have been erected in Western Avenue either side of the Greenford roundabout. These are a blessing. The people in the area are very grateful for them. Because of my hon. Friend's alacrity, we were able to get these footbridges erected speedily. There has never been an occasion when my hon. Friend refused to see me. On occasions he has suspended other meetings or amended his arrangements so as to see me and discuss these matters.

I have cited these cases in an appeal on behalf of my constituents for appropriate action, because they wish to be released from the threat of themselves and their children being slain or maimed. This is an appeal in Parliament this morning to ask all those concerned and my hon. Friend in particular, to help us in this constituency, for the simple reason that "mums" should be able to take their children to school and bring them back in reasonable safety.

Because these threats exist in my division of Ealing, North in all the places I have mentioned—Dabbs Hill, and West Twyford—the quality of life has been impaired. The very fact that these threats exist has caused disturbances within families and surely this cannot be right. All the efforts of the borough council to provide homes and playing grounds and to make life better have been marred and blighted because of the lack of adequate pedestrian facilities in the places I have mentioned.

I express my appreciation to my hon. Friend and also to the borough engineer of the Ealing Borough Council—a brilliant man of human understanding, and also the police officers of my division—and last, but certainly not least, to the editorial staff of the Middlesex County Times, who have kept these issues in the public eye without trying to whip up any undue emotion or to adopt a biased attitude. They have acted sensibly and intelligently, without exaggerating the position.

My first words in this Parliament when I came here for the first time were to the effect that I considered my major responsibility at all times to be to try to see that my constituency was the happiest in the land. I shall not succeed in that until these pedestrian facilities are created. They are a prerequisite in the self-imposed burden which I have been eager to take on. All that I am seeking to do is to ensure that safety and sanity are given a greater priority than lorries and cars.

I ask my hon. Friend to help me restore the peace of mind of the people living in the areas that I have mentioned and I hope he will agree that instead of the anxieties and anguish that exist there should be tranquillity, which is the hallmark of any civilised society.

6.47 a.m.

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

It is characteristic of the assiduity of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) that he should stay throughout the night to make these representations on behalf of the pedestrians of Ealing. I do not know whether I shall be able to cover all the points he raised; if not I shall communicate with him later.

I want to say something about what has been done during the period that he has been making his representations. I will summarise it. In December, 1966, a footbridge was opened at South Green-ford Halt, on Western Avenue between Medway Parade and Greenford Road. At Long Drive, on Western Avenue, a footbridge was opened on 7th February this year; and in March, 1966, on a length of Horsenden Lane South, between Perivale Lane and Western Avenue, a footpath was provided. The carriageway of Church Road at its junction with Alderney Gardens is to be widened and improved with the addition of pedestrian refuges.

On 6th June of this year we recommended that the local authority, the London Borough of Ealing, should see whether the existing pedestrian crossing in Greenford Avenue could be improved by widening the black and white strips. Also, in November, 1965, we recommended that when Whitton Avenue East was widened pedestrian refugees should be constructed at its junctions with Cross-gate and Ridding Lane. Unfortunately this work has not been carried out because some mature trees would have to be removed and the Borough of Ealing has not yet decided on further action.

It will be seen from this that we have a record of action taken as a result of representations made, because we appreciated the fact that my hon. Friend and those others who made representations are faced with very complex and difficult problems in this area.

The position at Yeading Lane is quite straightforward. We cannot yet pronounce finally on this case, because we have not yet received any formal application for a crossing where it joins Kings-hill Avenue. We know of the proposal, but, after a site meeting at the council's request, the views of the police and the G.L.C. are now awaited. But when we have all the information and when and if the council makes a formal application, we will naturally give it the sympathetic consideration which my hon. Friend wants.

On Oldfield Lane, Ealing wants an additional crossing, and we are examining this closely with the police. On the West Twyford Avenue part of the North Circular Road, there is the question of constructing a footbridge at Brentmead Gardens. There is a scheme for traffic control here, with a signal junction at Iveagh Avenue and closure of the centre gaps in the A.406 between Iveagh Avenue and Hanger Lane. A side road order has been published and we are now considering objections. Provision of a footbridge must await the confirmation of the order and a start must also be made on the road works. Subject to this, a footbridge could be ready in under 12 months.

My hon. Friend also reminded me of a petition from local residents which he submitted about an accident at the junction of Hanger Lane and the North Circular. We have carefully examined their request for improved pedestrian facilities and officials of the Ministry, the police and the council have inspected the traffic control signals there and have looked into accident reports and the flows of traffic and pedestrians. Everyone has agreed that the existing provisions are satisfactory. However, a junction improvement scheme is programmed here which will enable us to modify the signals and to put up a "Cross Now" signal on the North Circular. This will probably be started in six months and will be a considerable advantage to pedestrians.

I turn now to Dabbs Hill and Eastcote Lane. I was saddened to hear of the accident which occurred to a woman whom I met in the House as a member of a deputation which my hon. Friend brought along. We have concerned ourselves with this difficult situation. The Dabbs Hill junction in Eastcote Lane is the focal point of my hon. Friend's concern, not only for improved pedestrian crossing facilities but for improved facilities for child pedestrians. He pointed out that the new road here separates a housing estate from the schools and that consequently a large proportion of the pedestrians needing to cross the road are children.

A general point of principle is that we do not consider uncontrolled pedestrian crossings at all suitable for use by children, who are apt to run on to them without caution, giving motorists insufficient time to stop. Thus, when numbers of children need to cross a busy road on their way to or from school, and there are no facilities like footbridges or subways, we consider that the appropriate solution is a school crossing patrol. Such patrols have recently been authorised in Ealing at Wood End Lane and at the Dabbs Hill Lane junction in Eastcote Lane. Unfortunately, the police have not been able to fill these posts yet.

A pedestrian crossing is not the answer—and, in any case, the problem is significant only at peak hours—and if the recruitment difficulty continues, it will be a case for the council to consider whether to provide a footbridge or subway. All that the Ministry can do is help with advice. The eventual provision of a patrol may have to be preceded by some temporary footbridge. We shall keep a constant watch on this situation.

At a recent site meeting it was decided that barriers should be provided so as to concentrate the crossing at one point, and that the existing pedestrian refuge should be widened—

Mr. Molloy

My hon. Friend will appreciate that a crossing, with all the warning signs that children are crossing, would direct the children to one point instead of their being all over the road. That is our case for a crossing as an interim measure. The police are unable to provide people.

Mr. Swingler

I take the point and I realise that the police in this and other areas of Greater London are overburdened. If it proves impossible to recruit school crossing patrols on whom reliance can be placed by the parents, then a temporary footbridge, and possibly a permanent footbridge, may prove the only solution.

I have given some indication that the interests of pedestrians in Ealing are being carefully looked at by the Ministry as a result of representations which have been made. Even where we have been unable to consent to every request which has been made to us, we have at least done what we can to ensure greater safety conditions for pedestrians and children. I am sure, therefore, that my hon. Friend agrees that the account which I have given of what we have done so far and my summary at the beginning of my speech of what we are doing now will show to the people of Ealing that there is a continuing and real improvement in the facilities which are being provided.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Four minutes to Seven o'clock a.m.