HC Deb 03 April 1969 vol 781 cc707-20

2.24 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin (Wanstead and Woodford)

On 4th December last, the Ministry of Transport published a proposal for the Redbridge-Stump Cross section of the M11 motorway, the London to Cambridge motorway. The route has come to be known as the Roding Valley route and my interest in this matter arises because the Roding Valley runs from the north to the south of my constituency. The statutory period for objection to the Minister's proposal expired last month and the Ministry is now deciding whether or not to hold a public inquiry. It is not my intention now to raise any of the matters which would properly fall within the purview of the inspector should a public inquiry be held; a large number of objections have been received by the Ministry, including one from the London Borough of Redbridge, and I believe that the Minister cannot do otherwise than hold a public inquiry.

I have received a huge correspondence about this matter. I have attended a good many public meetings, as have officials of the Ministry, and I have nothing but the highest praise for the patience and good humour with which they have dealt often with very difficult meetings. The Residents' Associations in the area are up in arms and a Roding Valley Motorway Opposition group has been formed and is very active.

From all this activity, three issues seem to have emerged which would be outside the scope of any public inquiry which the Minister might decide to hold—matters of policy for which the Minister is responsible and yet which go to the heart of the difficulties now confronting thousands of my constituents. These three matters of complaint are, first, the piecemeal publication of the route for the M11, second, the non-availability to the public of any of the cost calculations on which the Ministry's proposal has been founded and, third—this is a more general point, to which I shall return—the inadequacy of present compensation laws covering motorways through urban areas.

First, the piecemeal publication of the M11 route. I fear that it is necessary to give a little of the past history to explain the situation. On the original Essex and Hertfordshire county development plans, the route for the London-Cambridge motorway followed an entirely different line, further west up the Lea Valley. As long ago as 1960, the Ministry announced that it was examining the Roding Valley as a possible alternative route and in 1964, within a few weeks of the General Election, the Ministry announced that the Roding Valley was the preferred route.

In December, 1966, the Ministry published the first draft proposals for the Roding Valley route and proceeded to consult the local authorities. However, this proposal took the route from the north only as far south as Chigwell and the line ended in the middle of a field a few hundred yards north of the boundary of my constituency. At that time, it was my primary concern that no final decision should be taken on the Roding Valley route until the whole route was known. I was determined that my constituency and, indeed, the local authority in whose area it stands should not be presented with a fait accompli, decisions having been taken on the northern part of the route, obliging the Ministry, therefore, to adopt the Roding Valley for the southern part.

I made this point in an exchange of correspondence in January and February, 1967, with the late Stephen Swingler, and at first his view was that the Ministry would be justified in going ahead with the plan as published.

He wrote to me on 9th February stating: The published route … has been terminated at a point where we are free to adopt the most suitable line for the extension southwards and the making of this scheme should not prejudice any decisions we make about the remainder of the route after consultation with the local councils.… That was clearly unsatisfactory. I had an opportunity, in a debate on 24th February, 1967, to press my point. I was able to elicit an undertaking from Mr. Swingler which appeared to give me what I sought. Two short quotations from that debate will make the position clear. I said: … the line south of the periphery of the developed area must be considered as a whole. If it is considered piecemeal, as the Ministry is threatening, it will make a complete farce of the whole procedure. Local authorities will be faced with a fait accompli and will be unable to argue the merits of the alternative schemes, and all this planning and consultation procedure will be shown to be a complete and empty facade … Mr. Swingler took the point and, in his reply, he said: I can assure the hon. Member and his constituents that we are now getting on rapidly with discussion of the southern link road and the linking scheme". He then added these relevant words: I am sure that when it comes to any form of inquiry the necessary details will be available to those who may wish to put forward alternatives or to make objections to the scheme as a whole."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th February, 1967; Vol. 741, c. 2142, 2168.] Nothing could have been clearer. However, I felt it right, as that had been an extempore answer given during a debate, to confirm it. I tabled a Written Question for 8th March, 1967, in which I asked whether it was the intention of the right hon. Lady who is now the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity to publish the proposals for the route south of Chigwell. Mr. Swingler replied: No; but my right hon. Friend will consider any formal views"— note the word "formal"—that implies publication— of the local authorities concerned on the whole route before taking a decision on the published scheme."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 8th March, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 271.] Further, when later it appeared that there might be some suggestion that the Ministry was going to resile from that, I took the matter up again with the Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Woodside (Mr. Carmichael), and he gave me in clear terms the assurance I was seeking, for he said in a letter dated 27th October, 1967: … I can assure you that it is our intention to honour the assurance given in reply to your Question in the House on 8th March last and to consider the views of the local authorities concerned on the whole route before taking a decision on the published Scheme. I am happy to rest on the words that were used by the late Mr. Swingler in the debate in 1967, when he said: … the necessary details will be available to those who may wish to put forward alternatives or to make objections to the scheme as a whole."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th February, 1967; Vol. 741, c. 2168.] In the event, that scheme was modified. It was withdrawn and in its place two years later, last December, a second draft proposal was published. This time the line came a bit further south: of course, it was not yet the complete route.

It came as far as a huge and complex proposed interchange in South Woodford, where it links with two other proposed trunk roads, Ringway 2, as we must now call it, the A406, and the proposed Radial Road 7, which I understand will be renamed the M12. From there there was to be a spur leading off further south to link with the A12 at Redbridge.

But the main line of the motorway stops short at that interchange, this time in the middle of a sports field, and it is left pointing like a pistol at the very heart of Wanstead. As everybody knows, it is this road that will eventually be extended to complete the motorway by linking up with the G.L.C.s Ringway I at Hackney Wick.

Following the publication of this plan, I tabled a Question in which I asked the Minister when it was proposed to publish the rest of the M.11 route, down as far as Hackney Wick. On 20th December I received a Written Answer in which I was told that publication of the proposals was not expected before the end of 1970. In other words, we must wait two years. In the meantime, the Ministry is pressing ahead with the statutory procedures for the part that it has published.

I believe that this is a grave breach of faith in the face of undertakings given to me by the late Mr. Swingler and confirmed in subsequent Written Answers and in correspondence. I am sure that in its heart the Ministry recognises this. I believe that, because Ministers are honourable men, they are gravely embarrassed over this. Being embarrassed, what have they done? They have sought to pretend that the details which they have now published in fact represent the complete scheme. They have called it the "Stump Cross to Redbridge" section of the Motorway, implying that the link to the A12 is the main part of the motorway. They have begun to talk of the section to link up with the motorway as the "M11 extension" to Hackney Wick, in the same way as one refers to the M1 extension. In a Written Answer on 20th December the right hon. Gentleman the Minister advanced the ludicrous claim—ludicrous to anybody who knows the area: The route now published is a viable scheme in its own right."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th December, 1968, Vol. 775, c. 530.] If the right hon. Gentleman seriously believes that this is a viable scheme, then he has been most gravely misinformed. If the M11 were completed in accordance with the proposals so far published the result would be utter chaos. The A12 is already seriously overcrowded for most of the day with lengthy delays at many intersections, not least at the crossing at the George in Wanstead. The North Circular Road into which other link roads feed, is notoriously inadequate, and even with the proposed improvements at Waterworks Corner it will still be incapable of absorbing extra motorway traffic.

The M11 scheme will not be viable until there is a completed road through to Hackney Wick and I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will not deny that the Minister takes the same view. Indeed, according to the detailed plans for the South Woodford intersection, the links to the A12 are actually designated "slip Nos. 2 and 3", being the north-bound and south-bound links respectively.

I do not believe that the Ministry should be allowed to evade in this shabby way the solemn undertakings which were given not once, but on three separate occasions, in this House and outside. I appreciate that the Ministry has difficulties in this matter. I appreciate that the section south of South Woodford down to Hackney Wick is by far the most difficult, and certainly the most expensive, in the whole of the 40 mile route. The Ministry faces an agonising choice; either to cut a swathe through densely developed parts of South Woodford, Wanstead and Leytonstone which would involve the destruction of many hundreds of sound properties built in the last 30 or 40 years, or to destroy Wanstead Park which is probably the loveliest piece of natural parkland anywhere in London north of the Thames.

Yet if the part of the Roding Valley route which has so far been published is confirmed and built, the Ministry will have no alternative but to face this agonising choice. It will be too late for anybody to say, "This is impossible! We must look elsewhere."

The story does not end there. The Ministry has repeatedly given as its reason for preferring the Roding Valley route to the Lea Valley route the fact that it is about £15 million cheaper. How can the Ministry make a valid comparison if it does not know what the line will be for the most difficult, the most expensive, and the most critical section of the whole route? When it is remembered that the southern end of the Lea Valley consists to a very large extent of derelict industrial land, of disused reservoirs and of acres of railway sidings, the people in my constituency are highly sceptical, to put it no higher, when they find that the cost comparisons, on the basis of which the Ministry's plans are put forward, carefully omit the last three vital miles of the route.

I shall be told, no doubt the Parliamentary Secretary will tell me, that no motorways would ever be built if we waited until the whole lot could be built. As a general proposition that cannot be challenged. But it utterly begs the question in a case like this, where the Ministry's case rests primarily on the arguments of comparative costs, where the last vital link poses such exceptionally difficult problems of amenity, and where, above all, clear and unequivocal undertakings have been given in the House of Commons to the effect that the necessary details will be available to those who may wish to make objections to the scheme as a whole. The London Borough of Redbridge is deeply concerned about this point, and at its meeting on Tuesday it passed a minute which recommended That the Ministry of Transport be urged to publicise their proposals for extending the M11 motorway to the motorway box at Hackney and that an inquiry should deal with the whole length of the motorway. I can tell the Parliamentary Secretary that if he does not meet that request from the London Borough of Redbridge, any public inquiry which his right hon. Friend decides to hold will be nothing but an empty sham.

I turn to two other points. The first is the non-availability of the cost calculations. The objectors will wish to argue at the public inquiry that the Lea Valley proposal as originally envisaged was the right one and they will want to challenge the Ministry's cost comparisons. They must have available to them the data to enable them to do this before the public inquiry. They will want to employ consulting engineers and they may wish to be represented at the inquiry by counsel.

The Ministry inevitably starts on an exercise of this sort with huge advantages over the private citizen, and it does not seem necessary that it should add to those advantages by concealing basic data until it is unveiled at the public inquiry itself. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to authorise his staff to reveal in the fullest possible way, the cost calculations and the traffic surveys—another series of needed figures—on which the Ministry's proposals are based.

I come finally to the vexed question of compensation. There will be no dispute between us that the law at present gives no right to compensation unless the property is on the actual line of the route, the land itself is actually required.

Mr. Speaker

If the law gives no right, the hon. Gentleman cannot propose its amendment during an Adjournment debate.

Mr. Jenkin

I appreciate the problem, Mr. Speaker, and I merely draw attention to the lacuna; I know I may not ask the Parliamentary Secretary to introduce legislation.

The blight provisions do not apply to land which, in planners' jargon, is merely "blighted by proximity". I have examples in my constituency, particularly in Uplands Road in Woodford Bridge, of houses with short back gardens whose occupiers will find themselves within a stone's throw of a motorway on a 20-ft. high embankment with thousands of vehicles an hour roaring past and who will not get a penny piece of compensation. Their properties are unsaleable, and even if they find a buyer, they cannot find anybody to take a mortgage.

This is totally unacceptable. The conmunity is simply stealing from the individual citizen; public authorities cannot be allowed to drive huge motorways through densely built-up areas and inflict severe loss on thousands of adjacent residents without paying compensation. The G.L.C. has recognised this problem with its motorway box and has sought help from the Ministry and has asked for the necessary statutory powers. But it is not only a question of compensation; it is also a question of environment. If the Ministry is building roads for the future, it must build them in an environment of which later generations will be proud.

I have dealt separately with three points, but they are inter-related. Unless the whole route is published, there cannot be a realistic cost comparison. To enable such cost comparisons to be made, the Ministry's figures must be made available before the inquiry. If to these cost figures there were to be added the cost of paying proper compensation for properties blighted by proximity, I strongly suspect that in the case of the M11 the alleged cost advantage claimed for the Roding Valley over the Lea Valley would be completely altered.

When in November, 1964, the Roding Valley route was said to be the preferred route, I had been in the House for about three weeks. When I went to my constituency, I made the point clearly, in a public speech, that it was futile for us all to argue for a better road system and at the same time to say that on no account must it go past our front doors. The Ministry for its part has a firm duty to satisfy the public that the route which it has chosen is best in all the circumstances and that those who suffer loss will be properly compensated.

If the Minister proceeds with the present piecemeal proposals, if he refuses to disclose essential cost data, if he seeks to rely on cost comparisons which are at best incomplete and at worst positively fallacious, if he is determined to push forward a scheme which will cause widespread unrequitted loss to hundreds of private citizens, he will inevitably further undermine public faith in our whole democratic process. Because I know that the Parliamentary Secretary fully shares my anxiety that this should not happen, I am confident that he will seek to meet the case which I have made and not to reject it.

2.47 p.m.

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

I thank the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin) for his kind remarks about the officials in my Department in their handling of negotiations with himself and his constituents. I am also grateful to him for raising a number of interesting points about the M11 scheme. I congratulate him on the tenacity which he has shown on behalf of his constituents. My life would have been slightly easier if he had not been so tenacious, but I do not complain about that.

Questions have been raised which relate not only to the M11 but to major road proposals generally, and particularly to the difficult and complex problems of planning urban roads. The hon. Member has underlined these issues, which are of great concern to all of us—politicians, engineers, planners and administrators alike.

The hon. Member has raised the broad question of whether the Roding Valley is the right place for this motorway, or whether it would have been better sited in the Lea Valley. As hon. Members will probably be aware, the original proposals for this road, as shown in the Essex and Hertfordshire county development plans, were for a primary route running up the Lea Valley. The early preliminary surveys undertaken by our consultants included very wide-ranging traffic surveys and study of a number of possible lines in terms of cost, physical effect and traffic requirements. The conclusion which emerged from these investigations was that a major change in the route was desirable. Accordingly, a preference for the Roding Valley was announced in 1964. The then Minister notified his intention of initiating discussion with local authorities on this basis.

Since then, of course, much further work has been done on the general traffic problem in this region and the future network of roads which would be required to solve it. These further studies confirmed our view that the choice of the Roding Valley was the right one.

This is not to say that there is less of a traffic problem in the Lea Valley than the Roding Valley. On the contrary; unlike the Roding Valley, the Lea Valley has a number of heavily trafficked routes running across it, and forecasts of the growth and desires of this local traffic point to the need for a new high capacity route down this valley as well. In fact, a possible route for such a road is still safeguarded in the county development plan. What has become apparent is that it would not be practicable to build in the Lea Valley a motorway which would carry the heavy local traffic movements in addition to inter-regional traffic. The most economical and practical solution is to build two separate highways, but the terrain in the Lea Valley presents major engineering problems and there just is not sufficient room there for two major routes. So we thought it right to take the inter-regional M11 route out of the Lea Valley and leave the protected route for the inter-urban road which will be needed there in the longer term.

A further advantage of transferring the M11 motorway route to the Roding Valley is that it dovetails more easily into the road network as a whole. There are plans, of which hon. Members are no doubt aware, for building another motorway, the M12, formerly known as Radial Route 7, from the Brentwood By-pass to South Woodford to relieve the A12 and Eastern Avenue. The preferred route for this other motorway, details of which are expected to be published later this year, runs into the Roding Valley from the east, some distance north of the North Circular Road. By routing the M11 through the Roding Valley we can conveniently link up with the M12 and cater for the through traffic into the central London area with one new motorway instead of the two which would otherwise be required, thus reducing the number of inter-regional routes into the heart of the metropolis.

The ultimate effect upon residential property and the community generally of the road network as a whole will thus be substantially reduced. This is most important. The impact on the Wanstead and Woodford areas is regretted but it is quite impossible to build new roads into London without encroaching upon property and upon the limited amount of open space which remains. This is a regrettable effect when building motorways which we have to face. By careful design and landscaping we aim to keep this effect to a basic minimum.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

The hon. Gentleman has confirmed what is not disputed betwen us, that eventually these roads will have to get to the middle of London. Will he deal with the question of piecemeal publication?

Mr. Brown

Yes, Sir.

Last, but not least, there is the question of cost. We believe that the present combination of routes and the siting of roads is the most economical which can be achieved. Because of the difference in terrain there would be a saving estimated at £15 to £16 million on the M11 by routing it down the Roding Valley instead of the Lea Valley. If we took the M11 down the Lea Valley and combined it with the inter-urban route, the extra cost required to achieve the same overall highway facilities, including the connection with the M12 motorway, would bring the total difference in cost of over £30 million. Moreover, the damage to industrial and residential property, and to amenity, would be greater than with the network as at present planned.

It has also been suggested that we were at fault in dealing with this new motorway in piecemeal fashion. This seems to me to be less than fair in this particular case since we have published at one go over 38 miles of route, together with our proposals for interchanges and alterations to the existing road system. In all the promises about publishing the whole route which Mr. Swingler is alleged to have made, he was quite clearly doing so in the context of the present proposal—that is, from Redbridge to south of Cambridge.

There are very real and complex problems in co-ordinating plans for continuing the M11 motorway further into London with proposals for other major roads in this area. Meanwhile the published proposals for the M11 motorway are consistent with the overall plan and are viable in themselves. To delay this whole length of motorway until all the outstanding problems concerning the relatively short southern section have been worked out in detail would be unnecessarily to forgo for an indefinite period the considerable economic benefits to be derived from its early completion.

Plans to meet further needs by extending the M11 to Hackney Wick and the North Circular to the A13 and the new river crossing at Thamesmead are now under consideration. Choice of the most appropriate routes is going to be very difficult indeed, and will take time. Both schemes have already been announced as in "preparation". Detailed planning is going ahead but we do not expect to be in a position to publish proposals for either scheme before the end of 1970.

There may be some additional traffic congestion in Wanstead during the interim period between completion of M11 to Redbridge and these subsequent schemes. We will do our best to minimise this but I would certainly not wish to discount it altogether. What we have to weigh is the effect of extra traffic on a few roads against the considerable relief the M11 will bring to other roads in the area and in particular to the All which at present carries heavy traffic through built-up areas and shopping centres. Our present proposals may not be the complete answer but they will make a substantial and worth while contribution to increased safety and reduced congestion.

These are the general considerations which have guided us. There are also many more detailed considerations. I would prefer not to enlarge on such points of detail this afternoon because in view of the concern and anxieties expressed on behalf of communities and individuals affected by the route as a whole my right hon. Friend has decided to have his proposals aired at a public inquiry before reaching a decision on whether to make the motorway scheme with or without modification.

The inquiry will consider not only the proposed line of the motorway but also the detailed proposals for the treatment of junctions and existing roads and footpaths affected by the motorway. A formal announcement of the name of the independent inspector appointed and of the date and place of the inquiry will be made later this month, and all those who have made representations during the objection period which followed the publication of the various schemes and orders will be notified individually. I stress that when the public inquiry is announced all objectors will be given a statement of the Minister's proposals.

I should now like to turn to the question of compensation which has been raised. I shall do my best to keep in order. There seems to me to be no insuperable problem in this respect where property owners are directly affected by the motorway proposals. The decline in the market value of their property as a result of part acquisition, or the full market value where the property is to be acquired as a whole, can be assessed objectively and related to the payment of compensation. But, as has been pointed out by the hon. Member in this debate, a motorway scheme, and, indeed, any other development scheme in the private as well as the public sector, might have implications for the value of properties in the vicinity of the scheme but not actually physically affected by the scheme works.

It is much more difficult to assess these implications on a monetary basis. There are wide differences of opinion about these matters. In some cases such properties may be regarded as reduced in value, for instance by noise intrusion. In other cases they may be regarded as enhanced in value. This is not often mentioned. An example is the property having convenient access to the motorway network. Another example is the house fronting on to local routes where traffic congestion and noise is substantially reduced by the diversion of traffic on to the motorway. To impose on a public developer an obligation to pay compensation in respect of all consequential effects on property values would put him in a much less favourable position than a private developer. This would be neither fair nor reasonable.

As the hon. Member knows, this very difficult matter is now being considered as part of a general study on the whole question of compensation law which is being co-ordinated by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Planning and Land. The Ministry of Transport is closely associated with this study, and noise difficulties of the kind mentioned by the hon. Member are certainly being taken very much into account.

There are other ways of containing the noise problem—by attacking it at source. Much research and effort is being done in this field both by way of regulating vehicle noise and in other ways such as investigations into road surfaces to reduce tyre noise, and the use of baffles or screens to deflect and absorb sound. Practical steps have already been taken in this direction. Last year, construction and use regulations were made introducing statutory noise limits and the powers necessary to enforce them. These regulations not only place some limitations on the use of abnormally noisy vehicles, but are intended in the longer term also to reduce general noise levels by limiting the potential noise of new vehicles, which must meet new standards from next year.

We still have a lot more to learn about this subject. Much valuable work is being carried out by the Building Research Station and also by the Ministry's Road Research Laboratory. Indeed, the Laboratory, in collaboration with Keele University, is to go ahead with a research programme on the scientific evaluation of noise nuisance in residential areas.

Noise intrusion can also be limited by careful highway design and routing. This now takes in noise considerations as a matter of course. My right hon. Friend's Advisory Committee on the Landscape Treatment of Trunk Roads has been enlarged and will shortly be strengthened by the formation of an urban subcommittee. In addition, an architect-planning officer has been appointed to give professional advice on matters of environmental planning and design—particularly in urban areas. Our aim is to ensure that expert advice on amenity aspects of highway design is available right from the early stages of planning a new scheme.

In conclusion, may I say that I share with the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford his concern at the effect the M11 will have upon residents in that area. I hope that this debate has helped to reasure them, and other residents along the route as a whole, that we shall do everything we can to reduce such effects, in consultation with the Greater London Council, the Redbridge Council and other organisations concerned. Everyone affected by the motorway proposals will have an opportunity to express their views at a public inquiry before my right hon. Friend reaches a final decision.

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