HC Deb 23 July 1969 vol 787 cc2081-8

10.30 a.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Walter Bromley-Davenport (Knutsford)

The subject I wish to raise today is the compulsory purchase order for land required for the M56 motorway between Wythenshawe and Bowdon in my constituency. Great and growing concern is being voiced about the damaging effect of the construction of new trunk roads and motorways upon the lives of people whose homes unhappily lie adjacent to them. There is strong and mounting pressure for the laws governing compensation for these householders, whom the State causes to suffer the injurious effects of noise and fumes, to be humanised, improved and codified.

The House will have noticed a resolution to this effect tabled and supported in my constituency and passed unanimously recently by the annual conference of the Urban District Councils Association. The House will also have noted the mounting pressure and strong representations made by the Greater London Authority on this theme.

It is inevitable on grounds of justice and basic human decency that appropriate action should be taken at an early date to recompense these unhappy people whose lives inevitably have to be disrupted because of the march of progress. In human terms the nuisance value of new motorways should be assessed to last the lifetime of a new property adjacent to it, in other words about 120 years.

Compensation on this basis for the householder affected would run at a very high figure. How much better it would be if the Government were to have the vision to recognise this human factor as a prerequisite to planning major roads and to prevent these injurious side effects to householders by using more sensible methods of construction at the outset. It is with this in mind that I seek to highlight the position of a number of my constituents Living in Hale Barns and Ringway areas who feel that their views have been ignored by an arrogant bureaucracy and that they have received harsh, incomprehensible and inhuman treatment from the Minister.

In January, 1966, the Cheshire County Council organised a motorway exhibition in Chester and displayed drawings of the Bowdon-Wythenshawe section of the proposed North Cheshire motorway, the N56. Those drawings showed the proposed six-lane motorway as crossing the river Bollin and rising in a cutting so as to cross over the Altrincham-Wilmslow road and Hasty Lane, still in a cutting. It was entirely on the validity of those plans as presented and in the belief that an adjacent motorway contained in a cutting would not prove to be an intolerable nuisance to their environment that certain constituents of mine were duped into buying their houses in close proximity to the now approved route. Moreover, being lulled into a false sense of security after inspecting these plans, my constituents did not raise objections when the motorway proposals were published.

Quite by accident one of them discovered an important, radical and fundamental change in the plans—the elevation of a part of this new motorway, amounting to two-thirds of a mile and bridged over the Altrincham-Wilmslow road, instead of placing it in a cutting under the road as originally planned and publicised. Because of the very damaging effect this revised plan would cause to the quality of their environment, about 100 householders, 90 per cent. of whom live in Hale Barns and the remainder in Ringway, signed a petition of protest. A public inquiry took place last October, at which there were a number of objectors, all legally represented.

My constituents contended that: (1) their health and well-being are at stake because of the noise which will be broadcast from an adjacent motorway elevated above the existing natural terrain; (2) because of the steep gradient of 1 in 30, heavy vehicles travelling northwards would have to change gear and there would be an excessive emission of smoke and fumes; (3) the motorway on an embankment would be visually objectionable to them.

Each of these several points was conceded by the inspector at the inquiry after careful investigation of these problems on the ground. Furthermore, because of these factors the inspector was at pains to point out that the selling prices of the properties of my constituents which are affected, and which are of high rateable value, are likely to fall, and that no compensation from public funds would be payable on that account.

The criticisms levelled at the Minister by my constituents are as follows: (1) without personal investigation he has ignored the report and the recommendations of his inspector, and the costly exercise of holding an inquiry, both for the State and the several objectors was completely pointless; (2) had he made personal investigations he would have appreciated that this particular section of motorway was distinctly urban rather than rural, and due account for this ought to have been made in the estimates; (3) he has arbitrarily and callously disregarded the human aspects of the health and well-being of my constituents in an urbanised area, which his inspector was at pains to point out are at risk.

The solution to this problem is to place this section of motorway in a cutting as originally planned and publicised, rather than on an embankment. This was the recommendation of the inspector who asked the Minister to investigate its feasibility having regard to the human suffering which would otherwise occur. The Minister has decided that simply because of £100,000 additional cost this recommendation was not feasible. In such an urbanised and expanding area this additional amount is infinitesimal compared with the actual suffering which would be incurred by upwards of 100 existing householders and the consequential decline in their property values, which would probably amount to at least that figure.

It would only cause a 1.5 per cent. overall increase in the cost of the motorway. In this context it seems utterly ludicrous that the City of Manchester which, very rightly, has the 6⅓ miles of motorway within its boundaries contained in a cutting, intends to spend £160,000 of public money to landscape the sides of the cuttings with trees—simply to provide an attractive visual amenity on this important approach road to the city.

The whole crux of my representation is that this vital two-thirds of a mile of the section of the new motorway passes through an expanded urbanised area. The following recommendation of the Buchanan Report, therefore, should apply to it: Motorways should in urban areas be constructed in cuttings rather than on embankments. In deference to the grievance suffered by my constituents I also draw the Minister's attention to this quotation from Traffic in New Towns: In London (and no doubt in other large towns as well) road traffic is at the present time the predominant source of annoyance and no other single noise is of comparable importance. Both these factors are now being very sensibly taken into account. The M56 is to pass in a cutting through Manchester but not, unhappily, as yet, through Ringway and Hale Barns. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] The planning authority for Leyland, on consideration of an application for planning permission for a site adjacent to the M6, made it entirely conditional upon a high screening embankment being provided by the developers in order to deaden the sound of motorway traffic. [Interruption.]

I am coming to an end—hon. Members will be glad to hear. I seek only to obtain similar humane justice and consideration for my constituents who, unless the Minister's decision is reversed, are likely to suffer not only hardship through decline in their property values —[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—but, what is even worse, grave danger to their health and well-being as long as they remain in their existing homes. Because of my long Parliamentary experience—[Interruption.]—I sympathise with the Minister, because I appreciate his difficulties. The problems and pressures which confront him are so numerous and complex that he is forced to delegate authority, and because he is unable to investigate personally many matters of detail he has to rely on the judgment of others.

Nevertheless, he is the person responsible, and because the lives of so many of my constituents are affected—[Interruption.]—I make a very special plea—

Mr. Speaker

Order. There is no need for this debate to become heated.

Sir W. Bromley-Davenport

I appreciate your help, Mr. Speaker. By the clock I have been going on for only 12½ minutes, whereas other terrible bores on both sides of the House have gone on for more than 25 or 30 minutes. At least let me finish. [HON. MEMBERS: "Come on Walter."] The point that I am making will apply to the constituents of hon. Members opposite one day, and they will be getting up and blabbing—I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker, but that was not my fault. As I was saying, the Minister is the person responsible, and because the lives of so many of my constituents are affected I make a very special plea to him to reconsider the report of his inspector and to make a personal re-investigation of this whole matter.

This need not delay building progress on the motorway, because it may be practicable to commence work with the remaining six miles of motorway without delay. I should like the Minister to visit the area and talk to the people affected on this point. At the same time, he might pay a visit to my home, where I shall be pleased to entertain him. I formally extend a cordial invitation to him to do so, and I assure him that I shall be happy to afford him every assistance throughout his visit.

10.45 a.m.

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

I am sure that the House is grateful to the hon. and gallant Member for Knutsford (Sir W. Bromley-Davenport) for his powerful and eloquent plea on behalf of his constituents. I want to try to abide by the pleas that you have made for short speeches, Mr. Speaker, although the hon. and gallant Member has given me a fair amount to cover. The road works on this M56 scheme were properly authorised by a Scheme under Section 11 of the Highways Act, 1959 and a Side Roads Order under Section 13. The compulsory purchase order was published in July, 1968. The public inquiry into the order was held in Hale, Cheshire, on 22nd and 23rd October, 1968.

The main ground of objection at the inquiry was not directed against either the route of the proposed motorway or the acquisition of land included in the draft order, but against the provision of the Side Roads Order for the motorway to cross over Wilmslow Road on an embankment. The objectors pressed for the construction proposals to be amended by taking the motorway under Wilmslow Road in a cutting. The Inspector recommended that the Order be made. He also recommended that the Ministry should investigate the feasibility of constructing in cutting the section of motorway in the Wilmslow Road vicinity. The Minister accepted both recommendations.

The feasibility of constructing in a cutting near Wilmslow Road had previously been fully considered. Nevertheless, it was again carefully examined in the light of the inspector's report. But the Minister decided, in his wisdom, against altering the design. His reason was a valid one. He would not have been justified, in the overall public interest, in spending at least a further £100,000 from public funds to provide relief from noise to the comparatively small number of dwellings which the inspector considered would be materially affected if the motorway were built on an embankment as planned.

The hon. and gallant Member has made great play about the small percentage of overall cost that would be involved—about 1.5 per cent. This comes ill from him, who talks so often about the need for a reduction in public expenditure by this Government.

Following this, a complaint to the Parliamentary Commissioner was made, and he found no element of maladministration in the Department's actions. The hon. and gallant Member and his constituent, the complainant, tried to secure from the Minister and the director of the Ministry's North Western road construction unit an assurance that while the Parliamentary Commissioner was making his investigation the Minister would take no action prejudicial to the interests of the complainant. It was pointed out that the Parliamentary Commissioner Act, 1967, in Section 7(4), includes the following specific provision: The conduct of an investigation under this Act shall not affect … any power or duty of (the Department or Authority concerned) to take further action with respect to any matter subject to the investigation. An assurance was also given that the Ministry would act in a responsible manner.

On being pressed by the hon. and gallant Member to elucidate the phrase "act in a responsible manner", I reminded him that the Minister sometimes has to take decisions in the public interest which run counter to individual private interests; that the Minister was well aware of the issues involved in the case and would take no steps without weighing up very carefully the legal position and the interests of all concerned. In fact, no irreversible action was taken. In order that no more than the minimum time should be lost in the event of the Parliamentary Commissioner exonerating the Department, tenders were invited, but no contract was placed until after the receipt of his report.

As a matter of interest, the hon. and gallant Member will be aware that yesterday we announced the acceptance of a tender—a £6,727,920 tender—by Holland and Hannan and Cubitts (Civil Engineering) Limited.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman mentioned compensation. Clearly, his constituents will be treated exactly the same as anyone else affected by a line of a motorway, and I made the point earlier—at about 6.30 this morning—that the Minister, recognising all the difficulties and all the hardships involved with urban motorways particularly, has now appointed an urban motorways committee. whose terms of reference are: (1) to examine present policies used in fitting major roads into urban areas; (2) to consider what changes would enable urban roads to be related better to their surroundings, physically, visibly and socially; (3) to examine the consequences of such changes particularly from the point of view of

  1. (a) limitations on resources, both public and private;
  2. (b) changes in statutory powers and administrative procedures;
  3. (c) any issues of public policy that the changes would raise;
(4) to recommend what changes, if any, should be made. It is, therefore, fair to say that my right hon. Friend is fully seized of all the difficulties and all the problems facing people who unfortunately are affected by a line of a motorway.

I conclude by thanking the hon. and gallant Gentleman for his generous invitation to visit him and his constituency.

Mr. Ernest G. Perry (Battersea, South)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Sir David Renton (Huntingdonshire)

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I cannot take a point of order during this Question.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Committee of the whole House.

Committee this day.