HC Deb 17 February 1970 vol 796 cc370-8

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Concannon.]

10.57 p.m.

Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu (Huddersfield, East)

I wish tonight to press my hon. Gentleman to do something which I think should have been done years ago, and that is to authorise forthwith the construction of a road off the Huddersfield—Wakefield A642 to join the A637 but by-passing the village of Flockton. I want, further, to press him to make the necessary improvements along the A637 on its feeder course to the M1.

It is a normal courtesy for a backbench Member, when he has a debate on the Adjournment, to let the Minister know the points that he is going to raise. This has not been necessary in this case, because for the last five years at least the Minister of Transport has known all the arguments in favour of the course which I am now pressing. The arguments have been put to the Ministry by the West Riding County Council, by the urban district council, by the County Borough of Huddersfield, by political parties, by groups of private individuals, especially in Flockton, and by myself. Indeed, I have noticed in the last twelve months that when I have been walking down the corridors of this House and have come face to face with a Minister from the Ministry of Transport he has invariably dived into the only place where he can secure privacy.

This pressure has not been selfish. It has not been blind. It has not been unintelligent. We recognise the difficulties which the Minister of Transport faces in these cases. There are questions of priorities, but I have received some promises, and I shall state them.

Last April I was promised that a decision would be taken on this issue in midsummer. When midsummer came and went, I pressed again, and I was assured that a decision would be taken round about October. No decision was taken in October, and we are now in the middle of February. I press my hon. Friend here and now for the decision which I was promised some considerable time ago.

This road, to my knowledge—and I have known it for about 50 years—has always been a bad road. There are at least three places in the village of Flock-ton where it is impossible for vehicles of any considerable size moving in opposite directions to pass each other without going on the pavement. This is no longer a village road carrying village traffic. It is a feeder to the MI, and when the Lancashire and Yorkshire motorway is opened, as it will be in no great distance of time, the traffic on it is likely to be still further increased.

As a result of the change in the character of the road, walls that line the road are being knocked down, slates from the adjacent roofs are being shaken into the roadway, and children on their way to school are having to skip for their lives. Thank God there has so far been no death from a traffic accident on that road, but I beg my hon. Friend not to wait for a death but to do something now—something which all the arguments suggest should be done right away.

Because my hon. Friend is both sensable and compassionate, I expect that I shall get a favourable answer that work on this project will be started right away. But even if I do it will be three or four years before that by-pass is completed and before the rest of the improvements to the road are carried out. In the meantime, my constituents in Flockton and many others who pass through the village will be at risk. Therefore, I am asking my hon. Friend tonight not only for the major decision but also to consider certain things which might be done as a temporary alleviation of the dangers of that road.

I have mentioned that there are places in Flockton where it is not possible for two large-sized vehicles to pass without going on the pavement. Those places are at the Huddersfield entrance to the village, outside the Sun public house and outside the George and Dragon public house. Would my hon. Friend consider whether it is possible to set up at those three points, temporarily until the bypass is completed, stop lights which will enforce a necessary one-way traffic system?

Another point, which perhaps is not my hon. Friend's responsibility, is this. The West Riding Police have been very co-operative, appreciating the dangers, and have increased the patrols and radar traps to stop speeding. For that I am most grateful. But the trouble is that they seem to be a little too co-operative, because when it is decided to set up a radar trap, all the drivers seem to know about it the day before. Could the police be a little more reticent when they are patrolling that stretch of road to stop people speeding?

My third and last temporary point is that on the Huddersfield-Wakefield road, the A642, at the Grange Moor turn there is a large motorway sign pointing in the direction of Flockton along the A637 saying, "To Barnsley and the Motorway". Beyond that sign is another very much smaller sign which says, "To avoid Flockton village alternative route dead ahead for vehicles in excess of 10 tons laden". A vehicle that is 10 tons laden is a pretty large size anyway, but my point is that that sign is obscured by the larger motorway sign diverting people through the village of Flockton. Could the motorway sign be taken down, could the second sign be made larger, and could the vehicles to which it is addressed be smaller, less than 10 tons unladen weight?

We have been pressing this matter for a very long time, and we have pressed it reasonably. There is a serious problem here. Will the Minister give us a solution to it?

11.6 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Lomas (Huddersfield, West)

I endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) has said. Although Flockton is not within my constituency, it nevertheless affects a tremendous number of people in my constituency.

I place on record a letter which I received from the Town Clerk of Huddersfield and which emphasises what my hon. Friend has said: You will recall that I wrote to you in August 1967 stating that I had written to the Ministry of Transport expressing the council's concern that the widening and improvement of the A637 between Grange Moor and Haigh had not been commenced. I have today written to the Ministry again —the letter is dated 21st January— at the request of the council regarding the total inadequacy of this road to carry the heavy traffic which uses it to join the M1 and expressing the council's grave concern that the work has still not been commenced. He goes on to say: I have seen press reports which indicate that this matter has been raised again very recently, and I understand that it has been raised from time to time since 1967. In the council's view this work should have been sanctioned long ago and should have been completed by this time, and should certainly be sanctioned and carried out without any further delay. I endorse everything my hon. Friend has said, and I want to ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary three questions. First, will he state in categorical terms when work on the Flockton by-pass will commence? Can he hold out any hope? Secondly, is he aware that the A637, which is the main feeder road to the M1, is totally inadequate to carry the traffic that is moving to the M1, and will he do something about that? Thirdly, will he say why this proposal has not been sanctioned after five years, and what is stopping the sanction?

With the junction of the M62 linking up with the M1, the Flockton by-pass is crucial. It is totally wrong that it should have been delayed for four or five years. I sincerely hope that the Ministry of Transport will sanction the building of the by-pass, and that we can have access through Huddersfield to the M1. If the Minister is not prepared to say this, I must warn him that there is a danger that the people of Huddersfield will say that the Ministry could not care less. I know that my hon. Friend cares and I hope that he will give the earliest consideration to sanctioning this feeder road. I hope, too, that he will assure us tonight that the bypass for Flockton will be announced very shortly, and that it will be built to the satisfaction of all concerned.

11.10 p.m.

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

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) for raising the question of the proposed Flockton by-pass and for giving me an opportunity to explain the present position.

He has made reference to his activities in this House and elsewhere on behalf of his constituents on this issue. He has, to say the least of it, been extremely persistent in his advocacy of the scheme. He has deluged me with correspondence, and I have been almost too frightened to wander into the Tea Room lest I was assailed again. Certainly I have had no peace in the matter.

It is important in the first place to realise that the A637 is a principal road for which the local authority, the West Riding County Council, is responsible as highway authority. The A637 forms part of the M1 feeder route to Huddersfield. The existing road through the village of Flockton varies in width from 18 ft. to 25 ft. with footpath widths between 4 and 5½ ft. In 1966, traffic flow on this length of the A637 was 5,300 vehicles per day, 25 per cent. of which were heavy goods vehicles. The calculated traffic volume for 1974 is 8,600 vehicles per day.

As my hon. Friend knows, a scheme which includes a by-pass for Flockton is among those under consideration for inclusion in the list of inter-urban principal road schemes for preparation and future programming.

Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu

How long?

Mr. Brown

If my hon. Friend can contain himself, I will come to his points in a moment.

Inclusion of a scheme in the preparation list means generally that we are prepared to pay a 75 per cent. grant to permit work to start within five to eight years from 1971. But we encourage local authorities to plan on the basis of being ready to make the earliest possible start on constructional work, and we regard 1976–77 as the latest year by which schemes should be ready. Much earlier starts will be possible for good schemes which are fully prepared more quickly.

We had hoped by now to have announced the schemes to be included in the inter-urban preparation list, but competition is very keen and we have had to analyse the various proposals very carefully to ensure selection of best possible schemes. My right hon. Friend hopes to announce his decisions during the next few weeks, but I cannot anticipate what his statement will contain.

Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu

Assuming a decision in favour of the scheme, will that mean that work on it can start straight away, into the rolling programme?

Mr. Brown

It means that when my right hon. Friend announces any scheme as being in the preparation list, it is then for the highway authority responsible to prepare the scheme to the point where it can be firmly programmed. Again, I do not want to assume too much, but since this scheme was an unsuccessful candidate for the 1969–70 extension to the principal road programme, which was announced in December, 1965, I would have thought that the highway authority would have the scheme in a fairly well advanced state.

While I, clearly, do not want to anticipate too much of what my right hon. Friend will say when he makes his announcement, I am prepared to confirm that a scheme to relieve traffic congestion at Flockton remains a tremendously strong contender for inclusion in the list. Once in the preparation list, the speed at which schemes come forward for firm programming and start of work is primarily in the hands of the local authority concerned, but the divisional road engineer will continue to give all the help and advice he can.

Our experience has been that good schemes take about two years to reach the stage of preparation when firm programming decisions can be taken, but there is no magic about this. If a local authority can produce the necessary detailed information more quickly, we will do all we can, provided that my right hon. Friend's statement will meet my hon. Friends' wishes and that the West Riding County Council will have the scheme well advanced.

Mr. Lomas

Is not my hon. Friend aware that the scheme has been put forward for the last five years and that the arguments in favour of a by-pass have been advanced not only by Huddersfield County Borough Council but by the West Riding County Council, that they have asked for a by-pass at Flockton every year since 1965 and that they await only the sanction of the Ministry? Will he not take action and do something immediately?

Mr. Brown

I have already said that I have great sympathy with my hon. Friends, but my right hon. Friend does not have a bottomless purse and must judge the relative priorities of the many schemes put forward as candidates for the preparation list. I have said that this scheme was an unsuccessful candidate for an earlier extension of the programme. One draws one's own conclusion; I will not be on record as having said anything in that respect.

My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East suggested that some temporary measures might be taken at the Huddersfield entrance to the Flockton Road, at the "Sun" and the "George and Dragon." He asked whether temporary stop lights could be erected on the A.642 Grangetown turn. He also asked about the motorway sign covering the diversion sign. These are matters for the highway authority, but I will see that what my hon. Friend has said is conveyed to the divisional road engineer and that he consults the surveyor of the West Riding County Council to see whether there is any necessity to take action on these matters. The enforcement of speed limits is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Lomas) asked three pertinent questions. He asked whether I would say when the scheme could commence. I have already said that I am not able to anticipate any statement which my right hon. Friend may make. He asked whether I was aware that the A.637 was inadequate.

The fact that I have already twice indicated the potential of the scheme should make my view fairly clear. He asked me why this proposal had not yet been sanctioned. The only reason is that other schemes have had higher priority. I sincerely hope that the wishes of my hon. Friends are granted in the near future.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at nineteen minutes past Eleven o'clock.