HC Deb 11 March 1970 vol 797 cc1523-30

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

12.34 a.m.

Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)

The issue which I am raising tonight has caused grave dissatisfaction, irritation and annoyance to people who live and work in my constituency.

The Kensington Road bridge has become a talking-point over the past six months in every club and "pub" in that part of my constituency, and, more than that, one of the serious consequences of the present state of affairs is that all forms of authority have been held in contempt, whether the Ministry of Transport, the Ealing Borough Council, councillors and Members of Parliament themselves, or anyone else involved, because people have been trying to find out who is responsible for replacing the bridge and why something has not been done, even as an interim measure.

As its name implies, the Kensington Road bridge is in the Kensington Road, which is a district road linking Ruislip Road, a major roadway, with the well-known Western Avenue. Because of the closure of Kensington Road and the condemning of the bridge, vast loads of traffic during rush hours which would normally have used the bridge have had to use other link roads going to or coming from the Ruislip Road and Western Avenue. It is no exaggeration to say that, at one time in the early stages after the closure, in the area known as the Target roundabout in Northolt there was at rush hours not only grievous traffic chaos, but sometimes real danger to life and limb for ordinary people who wished to cross that road.

In consequence of the closure of the Kensington Road bridge and the apparent lack of anyone anywhere to do anything about it, I have had complaints from various trade unions that there members have been delayed getting to work and returning home, and from industrialists who have pointed out the effect that the closure of the road for such a long period has had on their industrial endeavours. In addition, because large transport vehicles have used quieter smaller streets in the vicinity, causing irritation to the people living in those streets, I have been approached by residents' associations.

It is alarming that in this modern age a major link road could be closed for so long. The consequence has been grave industrial upset, social irritation and traffic chaos twice a day. It is probably fair to say that, against the background of what has happened, history would call the story of this bridge the sad saga of the Kensington Road bridge. I venture to suggest that even the apocryphal story of the bridge on the River Kwai had not all the frustrations and irritations connected with this bridge in my constituency.

As long ago as November 1926, the then borough council appointed consultants to prepare a scheme for the improvement of Kensington Road, including the construction of the bridge. In January, 1968, application was made for the Minister's approval in principle for the raising of a loan of £124,000 in respect of improvements to Kensington Road, including the reconstruction of the bridge. In February, 1968, the Ministry of Transport asked for a detailed breakdown of the estimated costs of the scheme, and later, I understand, a detailed scheme for improvements to Kensington Road, including reconstruction of the bridge, at an estimated cost of £147,500, was approved by the local services committee of the council, and the committee also authorised the chairman to approve a list of tenderers and approved the invitation of tenders for the scheme.

One of the complications of this sad saga is that the bridge is jointly owned by the London Borough of Ealing and the British Waterways Board. Part of the trouble has been in trying to find out how much the board should pay for the construction of a new bridge and how much the council should pay. The council had plans in any case for reorganising the whole road and making it a dual carriageway. When the old bridge was condemned, the council, rightly, thought it wise to try to get a dual carriageway where there was a single carriageway before. The result of all these complications is to prevent a new bridge being built in Kensington Road, and all the chaos, upset and frustration have continued.

Some months ago, I suggested to my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary and to the borough engineer, a very able man whom Ealing is fortunate to have, that, whilst all this bickering, discussion, theorising and planning were going on, it might be wise to put up a temporary structure. I suggested a Bailey bridge. It has been done in many other parts of the country. I was responsible for building Bailey bridges during the war, when 100 Sappers could put up a 110 feet triple single or a 100 feet double single Bailey bridge in a matter of hours. Construction firms have put up Bailey bridges as emergency measures. I cannot understand why it has not been done in this case.

I do not want to be told that the reason it has not been done is the cost involved. I understand that a single carriage Bailey bridge would cost about £20,000 and a double carriage one £30,000. We have already been nine months without a bridge. The product of 1d. rate in Ealing is about £97,000 and it is not unreasonable to suggest that it would be well worth a ¼d. or ½d. rate to get a Bailey bridge to avoid the continuation of all this upset and chaos.

There is much more I would like to have said, but time will not permit me to do so. I remind my hon. Friend that, even if a bridge were started now, it would be 1971 before it could be ready. He and the local authority must look hard again at my suggestion of a Bailey bridge in the meantime, because the cost argument is no longer of consequence.

I ask my hon. Friend to issue his approval immediately the local authority applies for loan sanction for the cost of rebuilding the bridge. I understand that it would be less the amount of the British Waterways Board's contribution. I hope that Ealing Council will get its sanction by return of post from the Ministry, because the people in the area who live near the bridge or have to use these roads are, to use ordinary language, "fed up to the teeth" with what I can only describe as bureaucratic discussion, examination and planning. Every possible excuse has been offered. I do not blame anyone. I do not blame the local council or its engineer's department or the Ministry. If it is the system that is at fault, let us change it.

I hope that my hon. Friend will pay attention to the proposal for a Bailey bridge. This is a possible temporary solution for the next 18 months. For the interim period, such a bridge would be the answer. I urge him to co-operate fully with the council in its endeavours to get rid of what has become a sore point of grave irritation and annoyance in my constituency.

12.45 a.m.

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

I know that the reconstruction or replacement of this bridge is a matter which is causing considerable concern to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy). I appreciate that he has wanted the views of his constituents and the borough council represented fully and fairly, but I might be tempted to ask him just how far an hon. Member should go in seeking these ends, for he has put down seven Questions on the subject over the past few months and has written to me twice about it. He has also personally seen me twice; we discussed it as recently as last night.

In reply, however, I have had to make it clear that as the bridge is situated on a district road for which the London Borough of Ealing is the highway authority, the question of replacement is primarily a matter for the borough.

Kensington Road is one of the links between Ruislip Road and Western Avenue, the trunk road A.40, and it includes a canal bridge the structure of which is the property of British Waterways Board. The road has a 30 ft. carriageway while the bridge provides only a 20 ft. carriageway and a footpath 5 ft. wide.

On 5th August, 1969, the British Waterways Board, in examining the carrying capacity of all its bridges, advised the borough engineer that its initial assessment indicated that the Kensington Road bridge should be closed to all forms of vehicular traffic. The board proposed to start preparation of a scheme either to strengthen or reconstruct the bridge. Meanwhile, the bridge was closed to vehicles, but it has remained open for pedestrians.

On 20th August, 1969, in reply to a request from the borough engineer, the board offered to contribute to the council a sum equal to the approved estimated cost of replacing the bridge on its existing line and width, together with a commuted sum in recognition of the board's liability to maintain the structure. At this time, the borough was planning for a wider bridge than appeared to be immediately necessary. For this, it would have to meet only the excess cost over the amount which the British Waterways Board would contribute. It therefore instructed consultants to design a bridge with dual carriageways, since it planned ultimately to improve Kensington Road to this standard.

Ealing applied to the Ministry to sponsor a loan for the excess cost. At a meeting with the borough engineer, the consultants, and British Waterways Board on 22nd September, 1969, Ministry representatives indicated that a proposal to construct a bridge with a single carriageway to meet the immediate needs would merit much higher priority than one with dual carriageways.

Consequently, at its meeting on 2nd December, 1969, the council approved a recommendation that its consultants be instructed to prepare a scheme for the construction of a replacement bridge having a single cariageway and two footways, with a temporary footbridge for the use of pedestrians during the construction period.

The council also decided to apply to the Minister for loan recommendation for the additional cost of this scheme over and above the amount of the contribution promised by the Waterways Board. We immediately promised that this recommendation would be made. That meets my hon. Friend's request about dealing with loan sanction forthwith.

I should make it absolutely clear that the Ministry has only a minor rôle in this matter. The Borough of Ealing is responsible for handling the highway problems arising from the closure of this bridge, in conjunction with the Water- ways Board. The Ministry is really only concerned from two aspects; that is to say, recommendations for loan sanction, and grant-aiding expenditure by the board in the replacement of this weak bridge.

The present position is that tenders for the construction of the new bridge were being opened by the Borough of Ealing last Friday. These tenders will then be examined by the consultants, who will recommend which should be accepted. I understand the chairman of the Ealing Highways Committee has authority to accept a tender, so this should cut out delay in calling a committee. Before doing so, the chairman will need to know the amount of the Waterways Board's contribution. This will enable the borough engineer to determine the balance which will need to be provided by Ealing, and for which loan sanction will be required.

The Waterways Board, meanwhile, has obtained from its consultants an estimate of the notional cost of reconstructing the bridge to its existing standards. The estimate has been approved by the Ministry, and the board will now be able to apply to the Ministry for the necessary grant. The Ministry, for its part, will reimburse the board its actual approved expenditure.

My hon. Friend has been concerned by the inconvenience suffered by drivers for whom the closure of this bridge has caused detours. He considers that a temporary bridge should have been provided meanwhile. The Borough of Ealing's view, however, is that the provision of a temporary bridge would have been unduly expensive and could well have delayed the provision of a new bridge. I know that my hon. Friend has said that he does not want to hear that, but I have to tell him that the borough council is the highway authority and that it is its considered opinion that, apart from the cost, the construction of a Bailey bridge or a temporary structure might have delayed the provision of a new bridge.

Had it been provided on the line of the condemned bridge it would have had to be removed before reconstruction could start. Had it been provided elsewhere, for instance alongside the existing bridge, the provision of temporary approach roads would have been needed, involving encroachment on to land outside the highway boundaries.

Mr. Molloy

It is quite possible to build a Bailey bridge over another bridge. I have seen it done. Traffic can run over the Bailey bridge while the condemned bridge underneath is removed. This has been done in other places and I still say that it is the answer here.

Mr. Brown

With respect, I am not a highway engineer and I can only take the advice of my Department—

Mr. Molloy

It is bad advice.

Mr. Brown

—and of the borough engineer, to whom my hon. Friend has paid tribute as being an outstanding engineer.

Had it been provided elsewhere, for instance alongside the existing bridge there would have been the need for temporary approach roads, involving possibly the buying of land, because the roads would have to be clear of the bridge to avoid interference with reconstruction work.

My hon. Friend instanced earlier today two other sites in London where temporary bridges have been provided, at Cannon Street and at Finchley Road. He intimates that if it can be done there, it can be done at Kensington Road. The answer is that the situations are not directly comparable. In Finchley Road, the temporary bridge has been provided to facilitate the construction of a pedestrian subway. In Cannon Street, it is to allow the strengthening of the roof of the Underground and an extension to the Underground station. Both roads, moreover, carry a very heavy load of traffic throughout the day and no diversionary routes are readily available.

I can only re-emphasise that the Ealing Borough Council considered most carefully whether a temporary bridge should be used on the Kensington Road site, but decided that it was best to get on with providing the new bridge in the shortest time possible. It hopes to be able to let a contract shortly and expect that the new bridge will be open to traffic in less than a year from the start of work.

Clearly, drivers are bound to suffer some inconvenience and delays while the bridge is being reconstructed, but this is unavoidable in the circumstances. I understand, however, that there are three main alternative routes available between Ruislip Road and Western Avenue, namely, Church Road, Oldfield Lane and Greenford Road.

I appreciate my hon. Friend's great desire to see an end to the present delays and diversions, and I pay him tribute. No one could have worked harder to get things moving in this respect, but I feel sure that if he is a fair man, and I believe that he is, he will agree that my Department has certainly dealt as expeditious as possible with the difficult problems that have been caused by the need to replace the bridge.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at four minutes to One o'clock.