HC Deb 10 April 1968 vol 762 cc1543-54

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

10.58 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)

I wish to raise a local problem which is of importance to my constituency. Before doing that, however, may I welcome the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Bob Brown) to what I believe is his first appearance on the Government Front Bench, and congratulate him on his appointment? I hope that he has an extremely successful, though not necessarily a particularly long period in office. I am sure that he will do very well.

I hope that the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) will now appreciate that it is not out of a desire to prefer my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Maxwell) against other hon. Members that the Government have supported this Motion. Indeed, in recommending my hon. Friend's proposal, I offer the hon. Member for Bristol, West and any of his hon. Friends and any of my hon. Friends the reminder that the same procedure is available to all other hon. Members.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 55, Noes 0.

Division No. 120.] AYES [10.50 p.m.
Armstrong, Ernest Gourlay, Harry O'Malley, Brian
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Grey, Charles (Durham) Perry, Ernest C. (Battersea, S.)
Bishop, E. S. Harper, Joseph Reynolds, C. W.
Blenkinsop, Arthur Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.)
Body, Richard Hattersley, Roy Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Booth, Albert Howie, W. Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
Bray, Dr. Jeremy Irvine, Sir Arthur Skeffington, Arthur
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Brown, R. W. (Shorcditch & F'bury) Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West) Swingler, Stephen
Buchan, Norman Leadbitter, Ted Varley, Eric C.
Carmichael, Neil MacColl, James Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Davidson, Arthur (Accrington) MacDermot, Niall Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford) Macdonald, A, H. Whitaker, Ben
Davies, Harold (Leek) Maddan, Martin Whitlock, William
Dunn, James A. Marquand, David Winstantey, Dr. M. P.
Ellis, John Maxwell, Robert
Faulds, Andrew Millan, Bruce TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Milne, Edward (Blyth) Mr. Alan Fitch and
Fraser, John (Norwood) Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Mr. Ioan L. Evans.
Freeson, Reginald Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)
TELLERS FOR THE NOES: Mr. Robert Cooke and Mr. Douglas Dodds-Parker.

I want to raise with him a difficult matter to which no one has provided a satisfactory answer. I dare say that it is not within the capacity of any Ministry to do so. It concerns the dangers of the A38 road between Bristol and Gloucester.

It is a road which is well known to very many people. A large number of those who live in the Midlands use it when travelling to the West Country for their summer holidays. It is also a trade route of considerable importance, and has been for a very long time. At all times of the year, it is one of the most heavily used roads in the country.

The section passing through my constituency concerns particularly the stretch from Gloucester to Berkeley Road, and on it there are two distinct forms of danger. The first is one to motor traffic as a whole. The gradients of the country over which the road passes and the turns the road takes are particular and peculiar. It is an old carriageway of historic importance and of almost immemorial age. It is difficult to see why the twists and turns have been put there, except it be for historic reasons. However that may be, this is a three-lane carriageway today and in this modern age three-lane carriageways are regarded with special anxiety. A great deal of work has been done on this road and I congratulate the Ministry, under this and previous Governments on what it has tried to do.

The local residents and I believe that a number of minor things should be done and I cannot understand why the Government do not press on with them. One thing I have been urging is that there should be passing lines over this stretch of the road indicating which line of traffic is entitled to overtake. These lines are well known on the Great North Road and other roads, being painted on the road for three-quarters of a mile. For some unexplained reason it has not been Ministry policy that these lines should be used on this section of the A38. I have seen with horror some of the most spectacular accidents on this road, caused by a vehicle impatiently moving out after following a lorry for a long time and meeting another vehicle head-on in the middle of the road. I cannot understand why these passing lines should not be as successful here, whatever the turns and gradients, as elsewhere. It was argued in a letter from the Ministry that the expense of painting white lines would be great. I was astonished by the figures given but I cannot believe, even if they are correct, that the lines would not be worth while.

The second reply, when one puts forward suggestions like this, is that very soon our troubles will be ended with the M5 and that traffic will sweep down that and we shall be left with the A.38 as a little motor road as it was in the 1900s. I do not believe this is so. Experience in other cases shows that a sort of Parkinson's Law operates and that traffic increases to fill the roads available. I believe that the M5, the arrival of which we shall welcome, but the date of which we somewhat doubt, will not substantially relieve traffic on the A38 in the long term. Traffic on the A5 is not much less now than it was before the M1 opened. This will happen again. It is a standing challenge to the archi tects of the Ministry to see what they can do to make this road safer now and in the future.

The second danger on the road at the moment is to pedestrians, who concern me as a local representative because they are residents, and motorists may not be. We have been horrified recently by some of the tragedies on this road. In the last month there have been a number of deaths, particularly of older people. This is significant because the road is wide, the traffic fast, the lighting either nonexistent or not good. Those are the people who have not been able to cross that road in safety. Therefore, we regard the matter with particular anxiety, which I know that the Minister will share.

I now turn to local conditions on this stretch of road, and the area of Quedgeley. I understand that it is now proposed to have a dual-carriageway on this part of the road leading south out of Gloucester, and to some extent that is welcome. A dual-carriageway is necessarily agreeable to the motorist. The faster traffic can overtake the trucks, but it means that traffic goes faster. I believe that the carriageway at Quedgeley is about 33 ft. wide at present, and that in the dual-carriageway each carriageway will be 24 ft. wide. The difference is not very great. The residents will lose part of their gardens, but I am sure that they will not begrudge them for this purpose if they are contributing to real safety. But the carriageway as a whole will be substantially wider. The traffic will be faster, and I do not believe that from the pedestrian's point of view the position will be very much better than it is now. With the dual carriageway continuously carried on there will be certain local inconvenience. There will be no right turn for at least two miles through the village and environs of Quedgeley, and at the end of that distance motorists will have to turn back towards Gloucester to make a right turn.

At present there is a particular difficulty at Castle Lane, a turning towards Epney. I do not expect the Minister to be able to answer this point in detail, because it is a very local matter. It is possible to turn right at Castle Lane, but it is a dangerous manoeuvre. It is a dangerous manoeuvre to do anything on the A38, but still more to turn right At present there are no signs there. The county council says that it is safer not to put up signs showing that there is a right turn, because if it does not do so very few people will turn right. That argument cannot stand up. The only people who want to go to a rather remote village like that are those who already know that it is there—the local residents. They are the people who will turn right; no one else will do so. They are the people who are not protected by any signs showing that there is a right turn, and the other motorists will be taken by surprise. Strangers will miss it or will not wish to use it. Only the "locals" know of it and, therefore, only they run the dangers of the right turn on this fast and dangerous road. This is not a sensible policy, and I ask the Minister to look at it.

I turn to the question of Naas Lane, which is a small road leading from the R.A.F. Maintenance Unit—No. 7 M.U., as it is called. A large number of people work there. In the evening, when they come out, they wish to go on this road and turn left or right to go home. It has been the practice up to fairly recently to have a policeman on duty in the road, but after a number of near misses the police decided that it was too dangerous, and, rightly, they withdrew their man from trying to direct traffic in the middle of the road.

There are four possible courses of action. One is to do nothing, which would be the worst course. The next is to provide very good lighting at the place for the winter months. No doubt that would help. The next possibility is to provide traffic lights. I know, and I am sure that it is known to the Minister, that those in authority have suggested that traffic lights at the Naas Lane crossing would be helpful. But objection has been taken to them on the ground that the central reservation necessary to install traffic lights would take up so much space that it would constitute a new danger. I wonder whether this is sound.

On the Continent it is the case almost exclusively that traffic lights are suspended over that road without a central reservation. They are easy to see. They are rather higher than some of ours. As far as I know, there is no technical objection to this being done here. I should like the Minister to consider having such lights at this corner, since they would be helpful.

The third proposal—and I understand that it will be proceeded with in due course—is for a roundabout, but that is very expensive and takes a long time to build. I should like to know which of these three courses of action—better lighting, traffic lights of a certain kind and a roundabout—will be adopted and when.

I understand that it has been suggested by an authority that there was, after all, an alternative route for workers coming from No. 7 M.U. in that they do not have to come out on the A38 but through Naas Lane railway crossing and out through Brookthorpe. Perhaps this has been said in jest, for it is really a bicycle track and it is surely not possible to have so many people using such a narrow lane.

I pass now to the most dangerous point in the road at present. This is the Cambridge road junction. It is further south than the other points I have mentioned and it comes after a long straight stretch of road, which is slightly downhill with a slight bend to the right and with buildings on both sides. It is not restricted and cars reach very high speeds. Motorists are tempted thereabouts to go at high speed because there is nothing to restrict them as far as they can see.

The people particularly at risk here are not motorists. If they wish to turn at this crossing, they pull off to the left, which is not in itself a dangerous manoeuvre, and others coming in over Dursley junction can see well to the right because the road bends slightly to the left and to the right. I am aware of no particular danger which could arise there for them.

The people who are at danger in this place are the pedestrians. This is a centre of a small village and they have to cross according to their normal avocations. They cannot see, in crossing from west to east to their left, traffic coming fast from the north. There are also special temptations to cross. There are two bus stops opposite each other.

Owing to the arrangements of the bus company, quite properly, the buses from Bristol and Gloucester and going on to Dursley arrive within two minutes of each other and the people coming from Bristol have to hop across the road. Sometimes their bus is waiting for them and they must catch it. They cannot wait five minutes to cross the road. There is only a two-minute interval in the timetabling and if they miss the bus they have to wait an hour or walk. So they have to hop across sharply although they cannot see very well. It is in this wide road with fast traffic that recently two very respected friends of ours in my constituency have been cut down and killed, and this is by no means the first case.

Suggestions have been made for improvements at Cambridge. I suggested in a Question to the Minister that there should be a footbridge but this is probably not the best solution. A better suggestion would be to have an island in the middle of the road so that at least pedestrians could take it in two hops. Another suggestion is that the bus stop should be slightly altered, so that pedestrians do not have to cross the road directly at this potentially dangerous point, and that the bus timetables should be altered so that there is not an incentive to race across to catch a bus waiting on the other side of the road.

The real anxiety about this can be illustrated by the fact that the residents of Cambridge have got up a petition. The village of Slimbridge, which is next to Cambridge, is included in the parish. Ninety per cent. of the residents of the parish have signed the petition and sent it to me, and I will have the honour to give it to the Minister. It is not suitable for presentation to the House, because it is not in the prescribed form, but it will illustrate the deep anxiety felt by the people who are in danger.

It is especially the older people, who suffer because they are not spry enough to get across the road in time. I have conducted a bit of a campaign about the A38. This is not out of any desire to be awkward to the Minister—I have done it under different Governments. In the Stroud and Dursley area the A38 is regarded with dread and anxiety. It is a common question to ask people on which side of the A38 they live, the implication being that if one is on one side one had better jolly well stay there or it will be the worse for one.

This cutting of the community into two is not good. It cannot be maintained. A great number of schoolchildren on the Slimbridge, or west side, of the A38 have to go to school in Dursley, and they cross the road for transport. We have to cross the road, we cannot resign ourselves to being cut off, one side from another. We await the arrival of the M5. I do not know when it will come, but I doubt whether it will alter the position.

In spite of what has been done by the Ministry there is much that could be done. I urge the hon. Gentleman to consider the various proposals that I have made, and ask him to appreciate that the anxiety of local residents does not arise from a desire to chivvy or chide or be critical, but is a real anxiety for the life and limb of those who live in the area. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will consider the matter most seriously.

11.17 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Bob Brown)

I want to thank the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) for his kind expressions, and for the generous way in which he has welcomed me on the occasion of my maiden speech from the Despatch Box. I want to pay a personal tribute to him for the great constituency interest that he has shown. This is evidenced by the number of Questions that he has asked on the subject and by the fact that he has initiated this debate.

In case I am accused of transforming the House into a mutual admiration society, may I express the hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel as generously towards me when I have finished my reply as he did at the beginning of his speech.

He has referred to the question of "passing lines". I can only assume that he means the double offset lines that have been tried throughout the country on something like 28 miles of three-lane highways. The Ministry has regretfully had to admit that the experiment has been a failure and has not made for safety, as was hoped. I could not promise the hon. Member to introduce any such lines.

When consideration was first given to the problem of how to deal with traffic between Gloucester and Bristol it was decided that the provision of a new dual carriageway was preferable to the dual-ling of the A38. This will materialise in a few years, in the shape of the M5.

In spite of the doubts which the hon. Gentleman has expressed, I am certain that the completion of the M5 will considerably reduce the weight of traffic on the A38. Relief to the A38 will begin to be noticeable when the M5 is opened to traffic between Strensham and Eastington at the end of 1970. Our target for completing the length between Eastington and the Almondsbury interchange with the M4 motorway is the early summer of 1971. When this connection has been made we expect about half the traffic now using the A38 between Bristol and Gloucester to transfer to the motorway. This should result in an immediate fall in the number of accidents on the A38.

To make the road safer in the meantime, and for the benefit of residual traffic after the opening of the M5, improvements have been carried out over the years where they are most necessary and, within the economic limits set by the advent of the M5, we are continuing to make such improvements. Recently the construction of dual carriageways between Gables Farm and Whitminster and a widening scheme from Claypits to Fromebridge have been completed. At Stone the visibility has been improved.

In January work started on the construction of a new roundabout near the junction with Cole Avenue with a short length of new dual carriageway to Sims Lane, and later this year the A38 between Sims Lane and Naas Lane, Quedgeley, will be improved. Towards the Bristol end of the road, in about two years time we intend to dual the length between Almonds-bury and Southmead Road, Filton.

It is clear that the measures taken on the A38 have resulted in a significant fall in the number of accidents occurring between Bristol and Gloucester. Ten years ago, in 1958, there were 263 accidents on this length. Last year, 1967, there were 169, which shows a considerable reduction. We claim that this has been due to the improvements which have been carried out. This is despite the tremendous increase in traffic volumes during those past ten years. Naturally we hope that accidents will continue to decrease further. Although we do not anticipate the need for further substantial improvement schemes, other than those I have already mentioned, in view of the relief that the M5 motorway will provide, nevertheless we will continue to take whatever measures we consider practicable to improve safety.

The improvement of the A38 from the new roundabout scheme now under construction at the junction with Cole Avenue southwards to Naas Lane, Quedgeley, is expected to be started in September, and this will take two years to complete. We have also been able to include an improved lighting system for Quedgeley in the programme for the current financial year. Preparation of the detailed scheme will now be put in hand and every effort will be made—I stress this—to get the lighting installed, if possible, by next winter in order to ease the difficulties at the Naas Lane junction when workers from the Royal Air Force Maintenance Unit are leaving the depot. Meanwhile, with longer hours of daylight, the police traffic control at the junction has been resumed at peak hours. Eventually we hope to construct a roundabout here and investigations into a possible scheme are continuing.

Concerning the village of Cambridge, I, too, deeply regret the deaths, on Sunday, 25th February, of those two elderly people who had lived all their lives in this village. However, we have gone into great detail to see what, if anything, can be done to help pedestrians to cross the road in safety. Last week the Divisional Road Engineer met the Deputy County Surveyor, the Chairman of the County Road Safety Committee and the Chairman's Deputy for the Cambridge area on the site and a number of suggestions were discussed.

It has to be remembered that the number of pedestrians crossing the road through the village is small. During a count taken on 1st March for the 11 hours from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m., the total was 211, or 19 per hour. During a 12-hour count in June, 1965, the total was 251, or 20 per hour. If these numbers were concentrated at one point, it would be easy to deal with them, but the surveys show that this small number of people who cross the road do so over a 500-yard stretch, so that it is not an easy matter to deal with. The numbers are well below the criteria for the provision of pedestrian crossings, or for footbridges or underpasses. If the people could all be channelled to one point, it would be easy to make provision. With these small numbers, a pedestrian crossing is not a practical proposition.

There is, of course, the question of a central refuge. Again, within the present three-lane carriageway, an isolated refuge would be completely unacceptable because, if anything, this would constitute a vehicle hazard and a further hazard to the unfortunate pedestrians on the central refuge. A point might well be made for widening the bend on the road in the village to put in a short central refuge, to give people the chance to get across the road.

There are many points that I should like to have made, but time does not permit. I assure the hon. Member, however, that we are in no way complacent about accidents, wherever they occur. The difficulty in Cambridge is to determine exactly what measures could, in practice, be effective in making it safer for pedestrians to cross the road. A dual carriageway through the village would achieve this, but the fact must be faced that if we were contemplating a dual carriage, we should have to demolish a large part of the property in the village. I do not think that this would be acceptable to the constituents of the hon. Member.

We are well aware of the bus position, which the hon. Member has mentioned, and we are in consultation with the bus undertaking with a view to rerouting the service so that we can re-site the bus bays rather than have the dangerous situation that the stops are more or less directly opposite one another. I assure the hon. Member that all the points which he has raised are under active consideration, and we will consider any further point which he may care to put to us.

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at twenty-eight minutes past Eleven o'clock.