HC Deb 23 July 1969 vol 787 cc2007-15

6.14 a.m.

Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)

The subject which I hope to raise in a short debate is not a party issue but certainly an important political issue for my constituency. It concerns the life of the borough in which I live and part of which I represent. It concerns also the life of London. I regard Eltham in the centre of my constituency as one of the most attractive suburbs in the whole of London. It is noted for open spaces, its sports grounds, its quiet woodlands where foxes roam and there are horse rides. It is famous for being the location of a very ancient palace, Eltham Palace, and Well Hall Pleasance, once the home of Thomas More's daughter. It is also famous as a place where there are recognisable village communities and at the same time modern estates second to none in London. It is an essential part of London's Green Belt which Herbert Morrison fought so hard to preserve. It is one of the lungs of London where people come for rest and quiet, the home of one of England's oldest golf clubs.

Now it is to be savaged and desecrated by building not one motorway but four, some stretches of which will be in four lanes. My constituency is being asked to bear a concentration of motorways in excess of that borne by any borough anywhere in the country. The people of my constituency think this is too much. I wish to spend a few minutes on the history of these motorways. There has been a great deal of secrecy and delay in publishing details of them, and the publication has been piecemeal, unrelated to plans already published, with the result that there has been widespread confusion among the public in my borough as to what is intended.

The first project was announced some years ago for building the Dover radial route from Falcon Wood to Kidbrooke. The second, more recently announced, is the ringway from Falcon Wood to Mottingham. Then there are the motorway from Sidcup to Kidbrooke and from Kidbrooke to Blackwall Tunnel, and, finally, the motorway from Falcon Wood to Thamesmead. In the heart of my constituency there will be a motorway box which will contain 17,000 people, a tight motorway box 1½ miles long and only three-quarters of a mile wide. No one now knows the full picture.

As a consequence of the plans we already know of, there will be widespread destruction of property and amenity. One of the two factories in my constituency will be destroyed. This is Grafton's precision factory employing 300 workers which exports the bulk of its productions overseas. New houses and new flats will go. Blocks of new flats in Middlepark Avenue, only a few years old, will go. Sports grounds will go, woodlands will go, a golf course will disappear, public parks will be torn in two, and a new children's home only recently opened will be destroyed—and of course, hundreds of homes are going in the path of the motorways.

In addition, there is planning blight on every home within sight and sound of the road works. This planning blight will go on for about 15 years. People who live in this borough and in my constituency will have to face for nearly a generation confusion, noise and nuisance of road works such as no one else has had to face. No one will want to buy a house in this area and no one will be able to sell. Homes created at great cost and sacrifice will have their amenities destroyed, and their value will dissolve in the dust in the wake of the bulldozer. A lovely and peaceful part of England is to be sacrificed on the altar of the new god, the motorcar.

We know the effect of the flyover at Hammersmith. That is only one road, and the civic life of that part of London has been destroyed. One thinks of Eltham with four great gashes of reinforced concrete through it, and one thinks of the effect on the civic life of that part of London.

We say that we ought to cry halt before it is too late. We ask where we are going. Towns are for people to live in; they are not for processions of cars and lorries charging through them. We ask why these roads are being built and where is the case for this sort of construction within London. Authorities seem to think that all they have to do is to present plans and draw lines on maps, and that people must accept. Are we not to be consulted beforehand? Is there not some obligation on the authorities to prove the need and prove that there is no alternative?

People talk about motorways round London. But these are not round London; these are through the heart of London. I spoke earlier of piecemeal planning—first one road and then another, planned in little bits. The people of London are entitled to see this as a whole and to judge it as a whole. Local inquiries are a sham and deceit in this sort of situation because all that is being considered is one little bit of road examined by itself with no relation to what has gone before or what will come after. That is not consulting opinion. Every local inquiry pre-determines the verdict on the next bit. It does not permit any change to the basic policy and basic conception. One day we shall awaken in London and see London submerged in a mountain of highways for which London was never built and which London cannot carry—and the people of London will have had no say in it.

We say, "Stop now." Let us pause and consider this vast programme, which I understand is to cost about £800 million. We call for the setting up of a Parliamentary inquiry into the need for this mass of motorways.

Finally, I turn to the question of compensation. We have been told that fair compensation will be paid and that people will receive the market price. I know of no case so far in which a family has been given a fair market price for any property taken over. One of my constituents, a man of about 60 lived in a fourbedroomed house, one of the best-built houses in Eltham. It was a modern house with every convenience, beautifully built and well cared for. I have studied the prices of houses in my constituency and I have no doubt that to buy that house would cost £10,000. He was never given anything like £10,000 in compensation and he has had to settle for buying a small bungalow. I believe that a man dispossessed in this way is entitled to receive compensation which would provide him with an alternative home of exactly the same sort as that of which he has been dispossessed. That is what I mean by "fair compensation"—the value of a comparable house.

Apart from those houses which will inevitably be destroyed, there is planning blight, which will affect every owner-occupier in this quadrilateral. Will the community recompense every one of them? That is a question to which my constituents want an answer. I do not believe they will be recompensed. I believe that this is a confidence trick being played on people when planning blight like this will affect thousands of owner-occupiers. They will not be able to sell. Nobody will want to buy a house—certainly at existing market prices—in an area which is to be blighted for motorway construction of this character and immensity. If we try to tell people that they are being given fair compensation, they will not believe us, and they will be right.

hope that my hon. Friend will tell us that he will consult his right hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend, who lives in the heart of my constituency—indeed, he lives only about a quarter of a mile from the site of one of these juggernauts—and favourably consider this very simple request that the people of London are entitled to have an inquiry which will satisfy them as to the need for this programme, the advisability of it and its cost.

6.25 a.m.

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

I was fascinated by the description which my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) gave of his obviously delightful constituency, and having heard such a description I clearly could not fail to be impressed by the concern he feels for it.

For the general strategy of its programme, the G.L.C. has adopted, as its main objective for London roads, the development of a primary road system of mainly urban motorways which would include two complete orbital routes, ringways 1 and 2 and the major part of a third, ringway 3. The aim is to relieve the suburban roads and central London of the long-distance non-local traffic by improving the efficiency of orbital movement between main trunk and other main routes which link London with other parts of the country.

The Council's long term programme will form an integral part of the strategy for London in the Greater London Development Plan which is shortly to be submitted to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government. It has already been made clear that the proposals in the plan will be subjected to a full and searching inquiry, but we cannot hold up all road schemes until the final decisions have been taken on the G.L.D.P. because this might take a considerable amount of time. Urgently needed road schemes which might eventually form part of the proposed primary network scheme are going ahead. These schemes stand on their merits and are independent of the G.L.C. proposals as a whole.

I turn to the primary network in the Eltham area. Eltham is an area of London where the primary network, as envisaged in the present proposals, becomes relatively close meshed. This is because the two major radial trunk routes (M2-A2 and A20) converge and intersect with one of the orbital ringways (ringway 2).

To the north of Eltham, the A2-M2 from Kent will have a link into ringway 2 at Falconwood. From Falconwood, the route known as the Dover radial runs westward along the railway line to Kidbrooke where it turns north towards the Blackwall Tunnel and the East cross route of the innermost orbital, ringway 1.

To the south of Eltham, the A20 radial, coming from the south-east through Sidcup, links through a major interchange with ringway 2 immediately to the west of Mottingham station. From this interchange, links are proposed to carry traffic to the west of Eltham up to the Dover radial and East cross routes at Kidbrooke and to the east of Eltham to the A2 at Falconwood, and from there northwards along the proposed ringway 2 to Thamesmead and across the river via the proposed new tunnel to link with the primary system north of the river.

The Dover radial route and the Sidcup road link are examples of urgently needed new major roads that have been proposed by the G.L.C. in advance of the Greater London Development Plan and considered as amendments to the existing Initial Development Plan. These amendments raised in an acute form the conflict between roads and houses, amenity and open space. They were the subject of a lengthy public local inquiry. The Dover radial proposals involve a new road about 2¼ miles long, designed as a six-lane motorway, from Kidbrooke to Falconwood, to replace a stretch of the A2, Rochester Way, which the G.L.C. considers cannot be improved except at a cost of a quite disproportionate amount of property—mainly houses

New link roads north to Shooters Hill and south to the A20 Sidcup road—the Sidcup road link—are also included. The G.L.C. claims that the new roads are necessary because of the growth of traffic and to provide links between the A2-M2 and A20 radials and the London primary road network generally, particularly the new cross-river routes. Having ruled out the improvement of Rochester Way, the G.L.C. selected its proposed east-west route to avoid the severance of communities by the creation of new barriers, to avoid the cutting through of areas of high amenity, and to avoid long, deep tunnels. Its proposed route follows the existing barrier of the Bexleyheath railway. Any further extension westwards would avoid such areas of high amenity value as the Greenwich Hospital and Maritime Museum, Greenwich Park and Blackheath.

Three possible alignments were examined along the chosen route. The first was a road partly on an embankment alongside the railway and on a viaduct over it. The second was a road alongside the railway on an embankment and in a cutting on the north side of the railway. The third was a road alongside the railway and in a cutting on the south side of the railway. The first and second alternatives were ruled out on the grounds of noise and damage to amenity. The second alternative also had engineering difficulties. The third was considered the best solution, notwithstanding that 185 houses and 15 shops would need to be demolished, compared with 136 houses and 17 shops in the first, and 212 houses and 15 shops in the second.

The proposed link road from Kidbrooke to Shooters Hill would also involve the demolition of residential property—some 80 to 90 houses. The link road from Kidbrooke to the A.20 Sidcup Road would not in itself involve the destruction of many houses, but an interchange proposed at Eltham Green would result in the loss of about 45 houses. The interchange as defined by the G.L.C. is to be deleted from the Development Plan amendment, but as an interchange will undoubtedly be required in this vicinity a symbol for it will be inserted. The revised interchange, it is hoped, could be planned to avoid the demolition of so many houses.

The substance of the many objections to the two proposals was that the routes were unduly destructive of houses and property. The need for new roads was not seriously contested. The destruction of such a large number of houses—about 320 if the Eltham Green interchange is included, and 277 without it—is not to be contemplated lightly, bearing in mind that an appreciable number of the houses are less than 50 years old and are owner-occupied. Following the inquiry a modification of the proposed interchange at Eltham Green was advertised.

A final decision by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government on these proposed routes, in the light of the public inquiry and the few objections to the subsequent amendment, is expected in the very near future.

Stage 1 of this G.L.C. principal road scheme, running from Shooters Hill Road via Kidbrooke to Falconwood, is programmed for grant issue by my Department in 1970–1971.

If the proposed amendments to the interim development plan are approved, the necessary orders under the Highways Act, 1959, and the compulsory purchase order will be published later this year. There will be the normal opportunities for objections to be made. These orders will also cover the Sidcup road link. Subject to the Minister being satisfied, after public local inquiry if necessary, that the scheme is justified on its merits, work could be expected to start on the Dover radial road some time during 1971. The Sidcup road link is included in the current preparation list of G.L.C. schemes on which preparatory work is going ahead with a view to programming some time during the five to eight year period beginning in 1971–72.

The public were afforded a very full opportunity of stating a case against the G.L.C.'s proposals at a public inquiry held locally in November, 1967. The notice of the Minister of Housing and Local Government's proposal to amend the development plan in accordance with the G.L.C.'s proposals, subject to one modification, was published in the Press in March this year. The Minister of Housing and Local Government's decision will shortly be issued. The G.L.C. will then have to submit to the Minister of Transport the draft orders under the Highways Act, 1959, together with a compulsory purchase order. Again, there will be the right of objection to these orders, and only after they have been confirmed by the Minister of Transport can construction work begin.

It would have been unreasonable to have deferred consideration of this road until the Greater London Development Plan had been approved since the proposals were submitted two years ago, and this road is considered to be urgently required. The decision does not, however, commit the Government in any way to any other part of the G.L.C.'s road proposals.

I come now to ringway 2. The remaining motorway proposals affecting the Eltham area are all part of the G.L.C.'s recently announced plans for ringway 2 between Falconwood and Norbury, including a 1½ mile long link between ring-way 2 at Mottingham and the Ministry's A20 radial route. The G.L.C. says that it has had the greatest difficulty in deciding on the most suitable route for this road and it has not been able to include the alignment in the maps which form part of the G.L.D.P. to be submitted shortly. It is, however, the intention that this should be covered by a late submission which will be treated as part of the G.L.D.P. and which will, be subject to the same full and searching investigation at the inquiry into the G.L.D.P.

I make it clear that these proposals are not yet before my right hon. Friends. They have been published by the G.L.C. to give public notice of its intentions at the start of the G.L.C.'s formal consultations with the borough councils through whose areas the road will pass. Thereafter, it is the G.L.C.'s intention to submit them to the Minister of Housing and Local Government as part of the G.L.D.P. At that stage, full opportunity will be given to those affected by the proposals to notify objections or representations. It would be wrong to comment now on the alignment. The proposals will be considered in due course along with the G.L.D.P. as a whole. There is no question of their being considered in isolation.

Compensation is, clearly, one of the most difficult aspects of this matter, particularly as this is a densely populated area and these roads will inevitably be destructive of property. While the G.L.C. claims that every effort has been made to follow the least injurious routes, the routes suggested are likely to give rise to a significant volume of objections.

The compensation aspect, not so much for property which will have to be pulled down for the construction of the roads, for which, in spite of what my hon. Friend said, full market value compensation will be paid, but rather for the property which, while not physically affected, is assailed by noise and so on, what is generally known as injurious affection, now assumes major importance. The G.L.C. is making much of its pressure for powers to enable it to pay market value compensation and to acquire property affected in this way.

This and other questions will be considered by the new urban motorways committee which was announced by my right hon. Friend earlier this month. Its terms of reference are to examine present policies used in fitting major roads into urban areas; to consider what changes may enable urban roads to be better related to their surroundings physically, visually and socially; to examine the consequences of such changes, particularly from the points of view of the limitations of resources, both public and private, and changes in statutory powers and administrative procedures, and any issues of public policy that the changes would raise; to recommend what changes, if any, should be made. I hope I have been able to make clear to my hon. Friend that we are not sitting back on these vital issues.