HC Deb 28 April 1971 vol 816 cc592-8

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

11.55 p.m.

Mr. Michael O'Halloran (Islington, North)

I am grateful for the opportunity of having a second Adjournment debate in the course of a few weeks, and I am raising a matter which is of major concern to the people of North Islington; namely, the Archway Road rewidening scheme.

For 30 or 40 years the people living adjacent to the A.1 have had hanging over their heads a scheme to turn this road into a dual three-lane carriageway. The northern part of the road is the responsibility of the Secretary of State for the Environment, and the southern part, below Winchester Road, is the responsibility of the Greater London Council.

Compulsory purchase orders have been made with respect to a small section of the road, and while the Government Inspector considered that the scheme should go ahead, the Secretary of State for the Environment ruled on 23rd February last that the widening of the A.1 trunk road to dual three-way carriageway standard through Hampstead Garden Suburb should not proceed at present. His statement was in the nature of a Press release from his Department on that date. He also stated that he was not satisfied in that respect and had accordingly decided that it would be wrong to proceed at present with the improvement as planned.

The right hon. Gentleman's decision to halt any work at the Hampstead Garden Suburb end should also apply to the Archway Road and Holloway Road end. At present, the whole area, of 7,000 people, has been left without any shopping centre. Thirty-three shops and 121 other properties are disappearing with a view to the rewidening of this road. No provision has been made for a new shopping centre to accommodate the people of this area. Many people now have to go long distances to do their weekly shopping and for the old and infirm to get to a shop in this area is very difficult. No consideration whatever has been given to this, and to get across the Archway Road from one side to the other, even for those of us who are agile, is a nightmare.

Having pulled down all the shops at the Archway Road end, the site is now being boarded up, and rumour has it that, having blitzed this part of Islington by taking away the shopping centre, the rewidening of this part of Holloway Road may never take place. And should any further rewidening of the Holloway Road take place, it is almost a certainty that Islington would be split in two and that all major shops would disappear from the Holloway Road for a distance of about two miles.

Close to the Archway Road, people are also suffering from long-delayed housing development schemes which, it was hoped, would start this year to alleviate the housing shortage. But even in these developments little or no provision has been made for shopping centres.

Yesterday I received a letter from a resident living at 21 Archway Road saying: In view of the widening of Archway Road, how are people going to cross from one side to the other? I have a business and sub-Post Office and am very worried about how pensioners and also my paper boys are going to get to the other side, for three-quarters of my business comes from the other side of the road. For many years now we have been very badly treated, what with the empty places, and then the demolition, bringing dirt, smoke, dust etc. This is one of many letters I have received on this subject, apart from numerous verbal complaints.

To show how ridiculous the situation is regarding the rewidening of the Archway Road, Mr. Neil Thorne, Chairman of the G.L.C. Area Board, which is responsible for the borough's major roads, said that the widening of the Holloway Road was unlikely because of the proposed ringway system. He made that statement to the Islington Gazette on 26th September 1969.

However, on 17th March, 1971, Mr. J. D. S. Spillane, of the Department of the Environment, in a letter to Mr. C. J. A. Stern, of the Shepherds Hill Association, N.6, said that the widening of the Archway Road between Pauntley Street, Islington, and Winchester Road, Haringey, was expected to start later this year. This is how confusing the situation is.

My view of the whole matter is that there is no need for this major re-widening scheme whatever. I agree that there may be one or two minor improvements needed but not to the extent of spending many millions of pounds on a road which nobody wants in Islington.

I hope that the Minister, having already halted the scheme at the Hampstead Garden Suburb end of the A.1 road for further inquiries to be made, will go one better tonight by bringing to a halt any further rewidening of this A.1 road. He must take into consideration amenities, traffic needs and public transport. Nobody in Islington wants another Cublington by having the entire borough split in two just for the sake of having a motorway through it. This would result only in thousands of Islingtonians having to find homes outside Islington, and with the present housing shortage as it is this would be an impossibility.

12.1 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Michael Heseltine)

I at once say to the House, and in reply to the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. O'Halloran), that everybody is deeply sympathetic about the disruption that attends upon any major, and particularly urban, highway creations. Faced with the existing hardships, traffic congestion, fumes and pollution wherever we have existing heavy loads of traffic and, much worse, the projected far heavier loads of traffic, it seems beyond dispute that there have to be these major improvements if we are not prepared to see our cities brought to a standstill in the decades ahead.

I in no way wish to diminish the seriousness of what the hon. Gentleman has said about the problems of the elderly, who are used to familiar shopping centres and find that they have to go slightly further. There are shops in the neighbourhood, and the principal shopping centre now, in the particular part of the hon. Gentleman's constituency, would be the Junction Road shopping centre. I would not wish to say that the shops are in the same place as they were before. They are not. But there are shops and they provide an alternative service to the ones which have had to be destroyed to make possible the road widening scheme.

Perhaps I can clarify the points which are important, and particularly the timetables which exist for the two broad divisions of the A.1 as they run in this area of London, first, the division that lies to the south of the road we are discussing, that between the Archway intersection and Winchester Road, and that section which lies further north, from Winchester Road to Wellington Junction. This represents two schemes. The first, the southern scheme, between Winchester Road and the Archway intersection, is to start later this year. It has completed its statutory processes. There was a public inquiry and this matter was dealt with in 1969. Later this year the road will be under way.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that in his constituency a considerable amount of demolition has taken place already. The scheme is a joint scheme between my Department, which is responsible for that section of this scheme between Hornsey Lane and Winchester Road, and the G.L.C., which is responsible for the road from Hornsey Lane south to the Archway intersection.

It would be quite unthinkable, having gone through all the statutory processes and, in terms of house clearance, started work, for there to be any possibility of the Secretary of State intervening, as the hon. Gentleman has suggested. That would not be possible. It is in no way comparable with the Secretary of State's decision, embodied in the press release for 23rd February, to have another look at that part of the A.1 to the north of the road we are discussing, the Falloden Way section. But there is another section, and that is the trunk road section between Winchester Road and Wellington Junction. The situation here is that it has been the subject of detailed investigation by consulting engineers, who recommended, as the hon. Gentleman will know, that there should be a dual carriageway.

I take this opportunity of paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi), who I am delighted to see in the House tonight. He has been to see me in the Department and has energetically kept up a continual pressure to bring to the Department's notice the serious anxiety felt in the area about existing congestion, alternative congestion that may develop when the road construction is under way, and the whole traffic pattern which could develop. My hon. Friend is representing his constituents faithfully in this way, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Islington, North is doing the same.

We are aware of the pressure that has developed from the various amenity bodies in the area which understandably and commendably have taken an active interest in representing the anxieties of local communities. These anxieties are not untypical of the anxieties which are felt, but they are no less real for that.

It is also encouraging to know that the consulting engineers have taken into account the views of the local amenity bodies in the study they have made of the trunk road section between Wellington Junction and Winchester Road.

It is suggested, and perhaps it follows from what the hon. Gentleman said, that we should not only hold up the Falloden Way northern section of the improvement but that we should also hold up the other two sections whilst the whole matter is reinvestigated. As I have already explained, we are under way with southern section between Winchester Road and Archway intersection and I should not like the argument to go unanswered that, because we have decided to proceed with the southern section, we are in some way prejudicing the route to be finally selected and pursued for the section of trunk road between Winchester Road and Wellington Junction.

The fact is that to the north of the southern section, at approximately the Hornsey Lane area, there are a number of features on the ground which limit the choice of route at that point. There are the reservoir and the bridge. Therefore, there is no option as to where the northern end of the southern section goes and it is from that point that a number of choices would be open to the consultants in their investigation.

Whenever the Secretary of State feels for environmental reasons that a proposal which perhaps has been all the way through the statutory procedures is for some reason defective, the House has taken the view that he is to be commended when he has the courage to announce that he will look again at the proposal. I am sure that this is the view that will he taken in general about the Minister's decision taken on 23rd February to have another look at the Falloden Way proposal. Although it had already gone through a public inquiry and there had been an inspector's report, the Secretary of State thought that there were other matters which needed further investigation because he was unhappy about the general environmental effects on the area, such as the proximity to housing, if the original proposals had gone ahead. Therefore, my right hon. Friend has decided not to proceed.

However, nobody would pretend that these three schemes should be linked entirely in any one section. It is the Department's view, and I believe that it will be in the greatest interests of those living around the area, that we should proceed with the sections which have now been decided upon. There is always great hardship once a section of a roadway has been decided on. Planning blight and other forms of hardship occur if there is delay. All the statutory procedures must be gone through. The decisions having been taken, speed is important in the interests of everyone concerned.

We are going ahead later this year with the southern section. We have schemes under consideration for the middle section between Wellington Junction and Winchester Road. It would be possible, if the statutory procedures go well and if the line is acceptable, for the earliest start in that section to be made in about 1974–75. There will be the possibility of a public inquiry, depending upon the representations which are made to us and our reaction to them. It would be wrong to pretend that a final decision has been taken on that section.

Mr. O'Halloran

Are there any plans for the Holloway Road end?

Mr. Heseltine

This is a matter for the Greater London Council. It is its road and its responsibility. The hon. Gentleman would be wise to direct his inquiries to the G.L.C.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at ten minutes past Twelve o'clock.