HC Deb 24 January 1969 vol 776 cc897-906

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

4.8 p.m.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

Hundreds, if not thousands, of my constituents have a grievance about the inadequacy of the pedestrian crossing facilities in Upper Tulse Hill, S.W.2. They have looked in the past to their local authority, Lambeth Borough Council, for a remedy to this grievance. Despite the sympathy and active help of the council, its members and officers, they have not been able to get a remedy.

They have also looked to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, the Greater London Council and to the Commissioner of Police, but they are still without a remedy for what is a longstanding need for pedestrian crossing facilities in this area. The only hope they now have is to get some remedy from my hon. Friend.

Whilst it is not accepted so far by either the Ministry of Transport or by the Metropolitan Police that there is a need for better crossing facilities, it is agreed by practically everybody else who has anything to do with it that there is a need for these facilities because there is a total absence of crossing facilities in this area.

Upper Tulse Hill is an unclassified road, 12 to 15 yards wide, which runs for about two-thirds of a mile from the A.23, the very busy and congested Brighton Road, to the A.204 at Tulse Hill, which is also a reasonably busy road, and joins up shortly afterwards at its junction with Upper Tulse Hill, with the South Circular Road.

In Upper Tulse Hill there are no traffic lights except at the termination of the road, which is a very convenient short cut for people wanting to get out of a congested traffic artery. When traffic attempts to get out of a congested traffic artery it does so with spurts and speed and this causes danger in the area. At peak hours the traffic flow its about 261 vehicles an hour at the maximum. I have observed that the flow may be even greater than that since the last count was taken in 1967. There is a bunching of vehicles which proceed at speed and constitute a danger.

The danger is worsened by a number of factors. First, and perhaps most important, is the fact that there are three schools in Upper Tulse Hill. Two are immediately opposite each other. One known as Holmwood School is in the constituency of Streatham and the other is Holy Trinity. In the latter there are about 360 pupils and in the former 190. Also at Upper Tulse Hill there is a school of which I am a governor, Tulse Hill Comprehensive School, which has at least 1,800 pupils. Since the children go to and leave school at the same times, there is a considerable crossing to and fro by pupils and the parents taking younger children.

The second reason why the danger is worsened is that this is a road which, despite its frequent use as a short cut between two main arteries, has no parking restrictions. Its effective width is very much reduced because there is often parking of cars for great lengths on both sides of the road. I went along the road this morning to view the conditions. I found outside the entrances to two schools a line of parked cars on one side of the road and a line on the other and also a heavy lorry double-banked, leaving a small space for a heavy traffic flow to get through. At the same time I observed a group of 12 parents and children trying to cross the road. Parking exacerbates the danger.

There is also an old people's home on this road and the road is bordered by many residential areas particularly by a large number of council estates, some of which have been recently completed. These factors make any figures which have been given hitherto not entirely reliable. Probably the flow of traffic and pedestrians has increased since the last census was taken. The danger is also exacerbated by the fact that there are many junctions with other roads. People in this area apprehend danger from traffic and ask for better crossing facilities.

I suggest that these could be provided by three kinds of crossing. There could be an uncontrolled zebra crossing to provide a defined area where people could cross safely. The second facility would be better and more effective parking restrictions which would provide areas of visibility and make it easier to cross. There is a need for restriction of parking near schools and road junctions. When the children are going to school in the morning and going home at night they have to weave their way through parked cars and this constitutes a hazard for both drivers and pedestrians.

The third facility I suggest is a controlled supervised crossing at the point where there are two infant schools and a great deal of flow of pedestrians between the two. Interviewing some of the families I have found that some have children at both these schools and there is much crossing between them. Mercifully there have not been many accidents. This is due to the conscientiousness of the local police in safety training and the care and attention of parents and the staffs of the schools. But I hope that it will not be used as an argument against me that there have not been many accidents. People will not accept that one has to wait until there has been a tragedy before better facilities are provided. In my experience, it tragically happens far too often that it is hindsight after a tragedy rather than foresight which leads to better arrangements for pedestrians.

Neither my constituents nor I are prepared to accept the argument that the provision of, say, a zebra crossing should be determined solely by figures of pedestrian flow and the mathematical formula at present used by the Ministry of Transport. In our view, one cannot decide whether an accident is likely to take place purely upon a mathematical formula. Other factors must be taken into account as well—the age of the children, visibility, the amount of parking, the number of turnings, the speed of vehicles, and other tests which must be of a subjective nature.

I do not accept a mathematical formula for determining whether there should be a crossing because I consider that a community has the right to have a say in the provision of its own amenities. There is plenty of evidence that there is a determination to this end in the local community. There have been letters from individuals. There have been approaches by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents to secure better facilities. There have been petitions signed by many hundreds of people, there have been requests by our own borough council, and there have been suggestions from councillors and others individually interested. There is plenty of evidence of the demand for better facilities, and I have seen and heard it frequently in talking to parents and to people on the doorstep. I ask, therefore, that the views of the community be taken into consideration. Since 1961, it has been urged upon the appropriate authorities that better facilities should be provided.

I ask the Minister to use partly his power of decision and partly his power of influence over people such as the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, who, I understand, has to make the final decision about having a supervised school crossing. I ask the Minister to do three things. First, will he approve a zebra crossing at one point in Upper Tulse Hill which will provide a defined and safe area where people generally, not just children, may cross the road safely? I accept that an uncontrolled zebra crossing does not always afford the safest method for children to cross a road because it can sometimes lead them into a false sense of security. But there are many people to be considered, and a point somewhere away from the school might be a good place for an unsupervised zebra crossing.

Secondly, I ask the Minister to use his influence to secure the establishment of a controlled and supervised crossing at the point of the two infant schools. One could hardly think of a better place for a supervised crossing for limited periods during the day when the children are coming to and going from school. The need cries out and seems obvious. I ask my hon. Friend to use his influence to secure that facility.

Finally, I ask the Minister to investigate the efficacy of parking restrictions as a greater aid to road safety, as a greater aid to visibility and as a method of reducing the hazards to which both children and adults are at present subject.

To ask for these things to be done is in the interests of almost 2,500 school children who go to school down this road, and they are requested by the considered opinion of many thousands of parents and residents. The situation calls for action. These people have already waited too long. I hope that my hon. Friend will give us a good answer today.

4.19 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Neil Carmichael)

May I say, first, that I fully understand the interest which my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. John Fraser) has shown today in this aspect of road safety in his constituency, The safety of pedestrians, whether adults or children, is, indeed, a matter of the utmost importance and is a subject which we at the Ministry of Transport treat very seriously.

However, before I deal with my hon. Friend's particular point about the need for pedestrian facilities in Upper Tulse Hill, I think that it would help if I outlined the background leading to our current thinking on the overall number of pedestrian crossings which should be provided and where they should be situated.

When pedestrian crossings were first introduced, many years ago, highway authorities were free to install as many as they wished. Their initial success encouraged a steady increase in their numbers, often at most unsuitable sites, and as their numbers increased, so did drivers' respect for them diminish. This eventually reached the stage where the lack of observance by drivers was presenting a serious and dangerous problem.

In 1951, the Government of the day therefore decided that the only answer was a drastic reduction in numbers, with everything possible being done to ensure full observance of those that remained. Although the initiative for proposing sites was left to the local authorities, the final approval and authorisation of the crossings was put under the central control of the Ministry.

It was, incidentally, at this time that me zebra striping was introduced. This policy proved very successful and laid the foundations for the situation we have today, where pedestrian crossings are generally well observed and treated with respect by the great majority of drivers.

To bring this about certain general conditions were laid down which needed to be fulfilled before the Ministry would authorise a crossing. One of these was that the number of pedestrians should be sufficient to ensure that the crossing was in fairly constant use throughout the day. Another was that there should be sufficient distance between the crossing site and any other crossing or traffic light signals.

It was also emphasised that crossings should not be provided specifically for the use of children or elderly people at sites where the normal pedestrian and traffic volumes were otherwise insufficient. Such crossings, we had learned from experience, would only tend to give these people a false sense of security. By applying these criteria it has been possible to ensure that crossings have been installed in appropriate places and their numbers kept to a reasonable level.

This is not to say that these criteria are immutable. They are kept under review to take account of constantly-changing traffic conditions. My hon. Friend will no doubt recall that early in 1967 we modified and relaxed the existing conditions so that sites could be accepted if they were in general use at peak traffic periods instead of throughout the day. It was estimated that this would produce an increase of about 20 per cent. in the total number of zebra crossings in England and Wales.

More recently we announced that in the light of experience greater responsibility would be given to local authorities for siting pedestrian crossings on their own roads. The Ministry would, nevertheless, retain an overall interest in numbers and would apply a "quota" system broadly based on the population of the town or district.

I must, however, make it clear that this delegation of responsibility does not yet apply in the Greater London area, although provision for this delegation to the Greater London Council is being made in the Transport (London) Bill at present before the House. For the time being, therefore, the responsibility for authorising pedestrian crossings in London rests with the Ministry, although the initiative for proposing sites is normally a matter for the local authority.

With this background, I should now like to turn to my hon. Friend's specific point about pedestrian crossing facilities in Upper Tulse Hill. This is an unclassified road for which the Borough of Lambeth is the highway authority. It is about three quarters of a mile long, with an average carriageway width of about 25 feet and with footpaths on both sides. There is no pedestrian crossing anywhere along its length, although the borough has requested on a number of occasions that one should be provided. Unfortunately, detailed investigation has always shown that there were insufficient grounds to justify a crossing.

The first site originally proposed some years ago was near the junction of Upper Tulse Hill and High Trees. The borough considered that a crossing was justified, because of the considerable movement of pedestrians between the adjoining housing estates, shops and schools. This proposal was very carefully considered in the light of accident reports for the preceding period, and counts were taken of the volumes of pedestrians and vehicles.

In addition, the customary consultations were undertaken with the police. I should like to say at this point how much we value the assistance of the police in these matters. Their intimate knowledge of the site and their advice is invariably most helpful. While the mathematical formula is a guide, local opinion and, particularly, local police opinion—which is probably more reliable than most local opinion on traffic matters—is also taken into account, as are many other factors.

At this particular site, both the police and the Ministry agreed that a crossing could not be justified. In the first place, the site was less than 100 yards away from the junction of Tulse Hill and Upper Tulse Hill, where traffic signals—with a pedestrian phase—are provided. Further, although there was certainly an appreciable pedestrian movement, the volume of traffic was such that there were sufficient gaps for pedestrians to cross safely.

Nothing further has been heard of the proposed crossing at High Trees since 1964, and it is assumed that the borough accepted the Ministery's view.

The next and most recent request for a crossing was put forward by the borough in September, 1967. This related to a site near the junction of Upper Tulse Hill and Claverdale Road. Particular reference was made to the need for the crossing to cater for children attending Holmewood Infants' School and Holy Trinity Primary School. My hon. Friend wrote in support of this application following a petition which he had received from local parents.

This fresh proposal was again most carefully examined. Traffic and pedestrian counts were available and an accident report was obtained. The views of the police and the Greater London Council, which is the traffic authority, were sought. The numbers of vehicles and pedestrians as indicated by the traffic count were not sufficient to meet even the latest relaxed criteria.

The accident record showed that there had been one pedestrian injury only in the preceding six months when an elderly lady was slightly hurt. A site inspection by a Ministry engineer showed that road conditions were in no way exceptional. There was good visibility in both directions and there were adequate gaps in the traffic for pedestrians to cross in safety. In the circumstances, the police, the Greater London Council and the Ministry all agreed that a crossing was not warranted.

A feature of the borough's application was the need for the crossing to cater for schoolchildren. I must emphasise most strongly the point I have already made—that uncontrolled pedestrian crossings are not the answer for young schoolchildren. Because of their immature judgment young children are liable to run on to a crossing thoughtlessly in circumstances which leave drivers little chance of avoiding them.

If the major object is to afford protection to schoolchildren then the answer is a school-crossing patrol or a "lollipop man". In London, the provision of these patrols is a matter for the Commissioner of Police. I understand that in this particular case the Commissioner did not, however, consider a crossing patrol justified.

Following the notice of my hon. Friend's Motion, up-to-date information has been sought from the authorities to see whether conditions have changed appreciably since the matter was last considered in 1967. It appears that they have not. The accident record for the whole of 1968 shows two pedestrian accidents involving children—one aged 12 and one aged 3—running out into the path of vehicles. In both cases, injury was slight.

I agree that any accident is to be deplored, but this record certainly does not suggest that Upper Tulse Hill is exceptionally dangerous. It is also doubtful whether a pedestrian crossing would have prevented either of these two accidents. The police have, in addition, confirmed that conditions still do not justify a school-crossing patrol.

I am sorry if my reply to my hon. Friend appears to be wholly negative. I can assure him that we have no wish to be obstructive. Our aim is simply to ensure that pedestrian crossings are installed only at suitable sites and for the correct purposes. This, we feel, after a great deal of experience and much thought, is the best way to protect the safety and interests of both the pedestrian and the motorist.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes past Four o'clock.