HC Deb 23 March 1967 vol 743 cc1949-55

1.20 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Delarsy (Thurrock)

Early this year I asked the Minister of Transport to receive a deputation from Thurrock Urban District Council about the Stanford-le-Hope bypass. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary replied and, to my surprise and disappointment, refused to meet the deputation. He said that no useful purpose would be served by such a deputation, and that there was a lack of information. My purpose is to show that the deputation would have served a most useful purpose, and that there is a mass of information.

The story begins officially 14 years ago, although plans and preparations had been made for a long time before that. In March, 1953, when Winston Churchill was Prime Minister and Mr. Lennox-Boyd was the Minister of Transport, Thurrock Council made proposals for a bypass so that the heavy tanker traffic from the great oil refineries at Shell-haven, Thameshaven and Coryton would be diverted from the narrow roads and the railway level crossing at Stanford-le-Hope. The Council was told that, because of the restrictions which had been imposed on capital investment, the road would no be built in the immediate future. "Not in the immediate future" was a truly colossal understatement. Fourteen years is a peculiar interpretation of "not in the immediate future".

There followed this long period of restriction on capital investment, but in April, 1958, the Ministry made a pronouncement which rejoiced all those who were concerned. It said that a high priority would be given to the scheme, and that the issue of a grant was being considered. In December of that year the scheme was approved, and a grant was promised. The Council went ahead in its negotiations with the many authorities concerned, always keeping in close contact with the Ministry, and even going to the extent of constructing piers for a bridge over the railway at Stanford-le-Hope.

The negotiations continued, including —and I must insist on this—negotiations with the Ministry, on the details of a flyover. I emphasise this because this is what the delay is largely about now. In March, 1965, the Council formally applied for grant approval of the scheme, estimated then to cost £2,469,000. The Ministry asked for a financial assessment, and this the Council supplied, but in July, 1965, it received a great shock. The Ministry said that, to save money, two very important changes would have to be made. First, there would have to be a single carriageway instead of a dual one in the Manor Way. Secondly, that a roundabout would have to be substituted for a flyover.

The Council was bewildered to hear this, because the entire scheme, including the flyover, had been prepared all along the line with the Ministry's officers. In fact, at one time the Ministry seemed more concerned than anybody else about the flyover. The divisional road engineer not only supported the flyover proposal, but emphasised a more ambitious improvement. He wrote to the Council's engineer on 23rd August, 1962, and said: It is desirable to utilise the new bypass to serve as much traffic as possible and thereby afford the maximum return for the money invested and the greatest relief to Stanford-le-Hope. A large part of the extra cost involved in this junction will be necessited by raising the bypass above the Southend Road and it would be extravagant to spend this money and not take full advantage of the improvement that can be achieved. In the circumstances, therefore, I do not feel I can recommend approval of a grant for the limited facilities shown … I would like to know why the Ministry made such a complete volte face, after not only having accepted the Council's suggestion for the flyover, but wanting it to be enlarged. Why did it want the flyover to disappear altogether and have a roundabout instead?

In November, 1965, a meeting was convened of all the interested parties—the Ministry, local authorities, the police, and the oil companies. The oil companies said that though they would much prefer a flyover, they would reluctantly settle for a roundabout. They complained bitterly at this meeting about the delay, the frustration, and the cost, and of course they had every right to do so. The police insisted that the flyover was essential. Otherwise, they said, the risk of accidents would increase alarmingly. The Council conceded the single carriageway, provided it was so built that later on a dual carriageway could be constructed, but it refused to give way over the flyover, and asked the Minister to receive a deputation. In the circumstances, this seemed a modest and reasonable request, but the reply was that no useful purpose would be served by meeting a deputation, and that further information was required.

The information has been given now over 14 years. There have been numerous surveys, dozens of meetings, and voluminous correspondence, but even so there was a request for further information. The Council's engineer replied on 24th October, 1966, giving eight powerful reasons why the flyover was essential. Even then the request to meet the deputation was refused. I then asked the Ministry to receive a deputation, and my request, too, was refused. I am now asking again, and I hope that I shall get a more satisfactory answer from my hon. Friend this time.

There are two further points which I wish briefly to put to my hon. Friend. I want to tell him and the House just what sort of traffic uses this road. I am referring only to the traffic from the oil refineries. Every day, five days a week, 800 loads of oils—light oils and heavy oils—with an average of 3,000 gallons per load, travel along here. One thus sees what an enormous volume of traffic is involved.

Another interesting point is that all this oil is of great importance to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because duty is paid on it. It has been worked out that the amount of duty paid on oil travelling from Stanford-le-Hope per day is nearly £147,000. It has been estimated that the duty payable on these oils in fifteen days would be more than £2,600,000. This sum is far in excess of the total cost of the proposed scheme.

I hope that my hon. Friend will not say, as an argument against me, that the Ministry is already spending a lot of money on roads in Thurrock. I can see from his smile that he intended to do precisely that. The Ministry is spending a lot of money on roads in Thurrock, but it is not doing so out of love and kindness for the people of Thurrock. It is building roads there because the industrial traffic has increased proportionately more than, I think, anywhere else in the country.

I have already spoken of the oil traffic from Stanford-le-Hope, but I can also talk of the traffic passing through Aveley and South Ockendon now enormously increased by the loads coming through the Dartford-Purfleet tunnel. Incidentally, it occurs to me that I once told my hon. Friend about this traffic when I spoke about the North Orbital Road. There are also the cargoes from the Tilbury docks, soon to be increased when the new developments are completed—new developments which will cost about £20 million, and which the Minister of Transport saw for herself about a fortnight ago. The Ministry is building a road there—the docks approach road to Tilbury—and I hope that my hon. Friend will not mention that one either in this debate, because that is a subject I want to take up with him again in the near future, as I am sorry to tell him that, in the opinion of everyone in the district, the Ministry is building the road in the wrong place.

All these new developments are very good for the economy of the nation, but to send all these cargoes trundling along roads built when Thurrock was a rural area is stupid, wasteful and dangerous. Therefore, when I ask my hon. Friend for a bypass at Stanford-le-Hope, with a flyover, I do not seek a benefit merely for the people of Thurrock—although they need such a benefit, and deserve to be relieved of the congestion, the delays and the dangers—but for something in the national interest. I am asking for a national investment which will pay rich dividends for the nation.

That being so, I hope that my hon. Friend will give us a more satisfactory reply than we have had up to now. Once again I ask him to reconsider his decision, and at least receive a deputation from the Thurrock Council to discuss a matter which is not only important for the people of Thurrock but for the nation as a whole.

1.33 p.m.

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

I am glad to have this opportunity to explain to my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) and to the House our position in regard to this scheme. In spite of the temptation to exploit the opportunity by advertising the many other things which this progressive Department is doing in Thurrock and other places, I promise my hon. Friend that I will confine myself strictly to the subject he has raised. I do not in any way dispute his references to the past, and I well understand the feeling of urgency that he expresses on behalf of himself and his constituents.

Let me come straight to the point and state our view. We in the Ministry of Transport are agreed that classified road A1014 carries a large volume of heavy traffic through Stanford-le-Hope on its way to and from Coryton and Thames-haven. We, too, wish to see a road of much higher standard to accommodate this traffic adequately, and to direct it from the narrow streets of Stanford-le-Hope. We are also aware that the Thurrock Urban District Council is the highway authority responsible for providing this, and that, because A1014 will be classed as a principal route, it will look to us for a grant of 75 per cent. towards the cost of any improvements.

As my hon. Friend has said, a bypass of Stanford-le-Hope, which is shown in the county development plan, was programmed in 1959 at the then estimated cost of £757,000. At that time it comprised 1¼ miles of single 24-ft. carriageway, commencing with a flyover connection with the A13, 1,100 yards east of the existing A1014-A13 junction; it was to cross the Tilbury-Southend railway, and join the A1014 east of Stanford-le-Hope 500 yards east of Rainbow Lane. A second carriageway was planned for construction beside the existing A1014 to provide three miles of dual carriageway to Coryton.

In 1961, grant was paid towards the construction of bridge piers costing £22,224, in order to take advantage of the work of electrification on the railway then being carried out. Two years later, in 1963, a grant of £16,668 was given for the advance acquisition of land, but later in the year an application for grant on further land costing over £24,000 was refused pending justification of the cost of the scheme, which had now risen to some £1½ million.

On 1st March, 1965 the Urban District Council of Thurrock submitted forms which showed that the estimated cost had risen to about £2½ million. This was because dual carriageways were proposed for the bypass of Stanford-le-Hope, thus providing for dual carriageways for the entire length of the new road; in addition, grade separation was substituted for a roundabout at the Southend Road, junction and a roundabout at the Corringham Road—A1014 junction.

Mr. Delargy

Is my hon. Friend saying that the roundabout was proposed first, and that the flyover was substituted for the roundabout?

Mr. Swingler

That is how I am advised. I have gone into the history of the matter, and I understand that this is what accounted for this very substantial rise in the cost of a scheme originally estimated at £750,000, which then rose to £1½ million, and then rose again, in 1965, to £2½ million. I understand that this was one of the principal causes for concern.

The D.R.E. discussed these amendments to the scheme with the Urban District Council in the hopes of securing a reduction in cost; and in August, 1966, he suggested that the grade separation at Southend Road which was estimated to cost £320,000 should be omitted, as also should one mile of the second carriageway—from Iron Latch to Coryton—in order to save £136,000.

Thurrock Urban District Council accepted as an interim measure the provision of a single two-lane carriageway between Iron Latch and Cory ton, but it protested at the proposal to provide a roundabout in place of a flyover at the Southend Road junction.

It was at this stage that I wrote to my hon. Friend resisting his proposal for a deputation, which I will explain in a moment. I would like to make it quite clear that we would have welcomed any discussion over the merits of providing a flyover instead of a roundabout, but at that stage we simply did not have the traffic figures to enable us to make any judgment at all. That was simply and solely why at that stage I said to my hon. Friend that it would not be useful or desirable for a deputation to be received.

The latest position is that the Ministry asked for traffic figures to support the flyover project. These were provided in February of this year in the form of a consultant's report and recommendation on the flyover which we are now examining. I can assure my hon. Friend that when our examination has reached a useful point I shall be fully prepared to meet him and a deputation if it is desired to have a general discussion of the matter. But when this examination is completed we certainly hope to be able to inform Thurrock that the retention of the scheme in the programme, at an estimated cost of £2.36 million, can be agreed, and that we can actively consider issuing grant.

My hon. Friend will, of course, realise that this depends on the results of our examination of the traffic figures and whether they show the necessity for the flyover at the Southend Road junction; but I can say that I have great hopes that my right hon. Friend will be able to make the necessary grant to the Thurrock Council for the whole of the scheme during the coming financial year.