HC Deb 15 December 1971 vol 828 cc746-64

6.22 p.m.

Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)

The last time this question of motorways in London was raised was in a short debate when the House was mainly discussing transport in South-East London. My purpose is to raise one or two general questions about London's motorways and probe the mind of the Government about their general attitude to the development of the large-scale programme of motorways which has been announced and discussed. Recently a public inquiry was held and I suppose it is reasonable for the Government to say that they are not able to say much until the inquiry reports.

I suggest to the Minister and his right hon. Friend that this question of motorways in London and the larger question of transport in London is not simply a matter of a decision to be taken in the light of this report. We have had similar reports for large-scale planning projects. I refer particularly to the Stansted affair and the inquiry which took place subsequently, the controversy over Cublington and finally the announcement of the decision to site London's third airport at Foulness. These latter decisions were not planning decisions but political decisions in that they were a response to local controversy, to strong feeling expressed in certain areas. Apart from planning considerations, political decisions were taken. No matter what the Government might have felt about the best site for the third London airport, the decision not to proceed with it was not a planning decision but a political decision.

On the inquiry about London motorways, one must bear in mind the very strong feeling in London generally but particularly in certain parts of it against the encroachment of motorways and, not only the destruction of hundreds of homes and the prospect of blight for thousands of homes, but the general destruction of amenity which has incensed local opinion in my part of London and in many other parts. When the report is published, we may well ask the Government, not to take a planning decision, but, in the light of social considerations, to take a political decision quite apart from the findings of the report.

I wish to raise the question of the Dover radial route. It has been felt by some people that the decision to finish that section of the Dover radial route inside what we might call the old L.C.C. area from Falconwood on through Eltham to St. Johns was taken irrespective of the big inquiry which took place. Some of us feel that permission will not be given for the completion of that section of the route until the big general plan has been approved. I ask the Minister a specific question on that to try to satisfy the misgivings of some people. There have been differences of view. I have been under the impression for a long time that planning permission to go on with that route has been withheld pending the outcome of the larger inquiry.

I proceed to the more general question and ask, what will motorways do to London. In my part of south-east London there are to be four motorways within an area of half a square mile of motorway box, with Falconwood at the north-east corner, the Dover radial route as one part of the quadrilateral, Ringway 2 another, the M.20 another and then a road running from the Dutch House northwards to the Blackwall Tunnel. That is a concentration of motorways which cannot be found anywhere in the country. It will completely destroy the character of this part of London and will effectively isolate many thousands of people living inside that motorway box, virtually making them prisoners inside the four sides of the box. This is something which certainly the people of Eltham do not accept and will not accept. This is not true only of Eltham; it will happen in other parts of London as well.

If one looks at the motorway map for London one can see that this network will cause a tremendous change in the character of London. It will isolate thousands and thousands of homes. We shall be involved in the destruction of many houses, many of them modern houses, perfectly desirable houses, houses which, in a free market today, command prices of £10,000. £11,000, £12,000 and even more. There are in that part of my constituency to which I have referred, particularly on the Sidcup Road, houses which in a free market today would command £10,000 but which cannot be sold because of the threat and the fear of the coming of the motorway. This is a grave handicap to many of my constituents, and I know that a like handicap affects many other parts of London, too.

Last Autumn I travelled several thousand miles over the expressways in the United States. I drove a considerable distance around New York City and New York State and around Chicago. What I fear as a result of this programme of motorways in London is the same kind of horror descending on London as has descended on New York and Chicago. I think, for example, of the expressway coming from Michigan, through Gary, and through south-east Chicago. In fact, the Chicago motorways start some 60 or 70 miles from the centre of Chicago. Chicago has a population smaller than that of Greater London.

This is the picture of the future, if we allow this programme of motorways which is promulgated, or conceived and projected, for the Greater London area. Over the next 30, 40 or 50 years, perhaps in less time, we shall be called upon to sustain not just the programme of motorways which we are talking about at the moment but even wider motorways, not just four-lane highways but six-lane highways and even 12-lane highways, and so on. This is the prospect—not just the creation of the motorways now projected but a multiplication of them, for there is no question, certainly on the American scene, but that the coming of the expressway has meant multiplication of expressways—and with no real diminution of traffic problems. Anyone who has travelled on the highways of the United States will know very well that traffic congestions there are not as great as they are in South-East England. So the prospects for South-East England are grim if we accept lightly what I would call the philosophy of the motorway.

I want now to refer to a recent book called "Outcast London" by Gareth Stedman Jones and reviewed in last Saturday's New Statesman. It talks about the effects of railway construction in London and the destruction of a great deal of London by the building of a network of railways. We remember "The Arches". We remember the engraving by Gustav Dora when he came to London. We remember Little Dorrit in "Dombey and Son", and other accounts of the life which many people lived under the railway arches.

Thousands of homes were destroyed by the building of that complex of railways, and the reviewer of the book draws a neat parallel—as does Gareth Stedman Jones himself—between what was done then and the effect of the building of a complex of motorways in London on the ultimate nature of London as we know it. It is not just the destruction of homes; it is the destruction of urban life as we know it, and the emergence of an urban life which is unreal, arti- ficial and unacceptable to the people of London.

This is something which the planners do not always understand. After all, most of the people who talk and write about these plans do not themselves live in London. They do not live in the areas which will be so drastically affected. Those of us who live in London, who live with the ordinary people of London and who know where the shoe pinches do not accept that this kind of concept can lead to anything but the carving up of London once again and the emergence of a pattern of urban life which is uncivilised and dehumanised.

There is more to it than that. One of the results of the coming of the motorway in London is the tremendous increase in atmospheric pollution due to the concentration of motor vehicles, especially at certain times of the day. I wonder what tests have been made now of the pollution on parts of the M1, for instance, at certain times of the day.

The destruction of human life on the motorways at certain times is quite appalling—it is not just that people are misbehaving themselves—and, certainly, the loss of life on the scale we now have it on our roads and motorways would be entirely unacceptable on our railway system. Yet we lightly contemplate it and lightly accept it.

I was talking about pollution. We know from writers in America—I think particularly of an article in the Saturday Review which I read while I was in America last autumn—of the appalling effect on health of pollution caused by the concentration of motor vehicles, particularly heavy motor vehicles. One of the frightening features of the prospect before us in London is an even greater increase in heavy motor vehicle traffic on the roads than we have had, say, in the last 12 years. I think that the numbers of heavy motor vehicles have gone up by about five times in the last 12 years. In the next few years, we shall see not the 22-ton lorries to which we have become accustomed, but 40-ton and 50-ton lorries. The Government may say that they will be on motorways, but the juggernauts do not stay on motorways. A feature of this complex of motorways in London is that ultimately the vehicles on them will come off the motorways on to the ordinary roads. The prospect of 40- and 50-ton lorries coming off the motorways and going through Plumstead. Charlton and Greenwich fills me with horror. These roads were not built for that sort of vehicle. Those who know the roads of South-East London know how often they subside, and one shudders to think what will happen if we have 40- and 50-ton lorries travelling on them.

The complex of motorways does not even meet the present concentration of traffic. I think of the Lower Road through Greenwich, Deptford and Rotherhithe. The motorways will not affect that concentration of traffic, because no motorway is planned to deal with the traffic along the south bank of the River Thames. I think of the Old Kent Road, which again will not be affected by this pattern of motorways. These two roads are already jammed at certain times of the day over long stretches. All the motorways will do is to make this traffic concentration worse as the vehicles ultimately disgorge from the motorways on to these roads.

It is ironic that these roads running parallel with the River Thames are chock-a-block, yet the river grows emptier and emptier week by week. Within 10 years the river from London Bridge down to Erith and beyond will be a dead river for traffic. The docks are closing, and within 10 years there will not be a dock upon the Thames until one gets as far down as Tilbury. Yet this enormous concentration of goods is being transported by road. I wish that A. P. Herbert was back in the House again to revive the idea of the use of the Thames as an alternative to the roads, not only for passengers but also for goods.

One thinks of the idiocies of the present system which will not be helped by the coming of the motorway complex. For example, the Inner Ring Road, which cuts through a street market, or The Cut, which is one of the main thoroughfares in South-East London, where there is a street market on most days and where every day there is double parking of lorries. When I came up to the House from Greenwich this morning I counted 50 lorries parked on yellow lines in a stretch of four or five miles, apart from motor cars, and that is only on one road. I wonder how many lorries are parked at any given time in the inner parts of London on yellow lines? The whole system has completely broken down and the complex of motorways planned for London will not affect this traffic congestion to any extent. The roads in the inner part of London are now lorry parks and have been for a long time.

I hope the Minister will not run away with the idea that people like myself, who object so strongly to the motorways, are simply conducting an anti-motorway campaign. We are not. We are agitating for a rational system of transport in London and also for a comprehensive planning approach. I appreciate that this debate is confined to London, but this is something which could be enlarged to cover the whole country.

The building of motorways and roads is only part of the general transport picture. As an alternative, I envisage the creation of a much more rational and coherent system of public transport. I should like to see London Transport charging a fare of no more than 5p for a single journey. This would revolutionise the carrying of passengers in London. Furthermore, we need much stricter control of the loading and unloading of motor vehicles in London. This should be banned as it is in Paris throughout the daylight hours—in fact, lorries should be banned from the centre of London. We want to discourage people from using the roads.

We also want concessionary fares for the old and for young people. At present most old people are housebound. I know a village in Hertfordshire which has no bus service at all. The old-age pensioners who live there and who have no motor cars cannot travel to the market town. They are isolated—more isolated now than they were eighty years ago. This is what has happened with the closing down of public transport, particularly the railways.

I should like to see a real sense of urgency adopted in the creation of tubes. There is no tube in South-East London beyond New Cross. There is talk about the extension of the Fleet Line to Lewisham—forgetting that Lewisham is only part of the south-east and that, further east, there is the huge concentration of Thamesmead coming along with some 60,000 inhabitants. By what means of travel are those people to get to work? Unless even more cars are to be unleashed on to the already congested roads, we shall need to have a transport plan for London. We do not have one at present.

We want to know what is the best way of doing things from a London point of view. I hope that when the report of the inquiry is published the Government will take a political decision—namely, not to proceed at all with this complex of motorways, but to look for a really rational and comprehensive transport plan for London.

6.50 a.m.

Sir Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)

The hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) is to be congratulated for raising this important subject, even at this late hour. I sympathise with his views about the destruction of the amenity that is happening in various parts of London and at the way some parts are beginning to look like New York, Chicago or any other American city.

I often travel along Westway, which was opened last year, on my way to some parts of my constituency. With all those high rise flats and masses of concrete I cannot help feeling that we have become an American city rather than an English one. The hon. Member will agree that motor traffic of any kind must have roads to travel on. Modern society will not go backwards. There will be more traffic rather than less and there are only two ways of dealing with it. One way is to restrict it from entering city centres, which I do not favour. The other is to provide motorways which will not destroy the amenity.

Therefore, I want to recall a plan which was devised by Mr. A. E. Matthews, an architect and town planner and surveyor of London who put forward a paper at the meeting of the International Road Federation in London in 1966. The plan suggested tunnel motorways under city centres. Of course, he started with London. About four years ago I wrote to one of my hon. Friend's predecessors about this and asked for the views of the Ministry on the feasibility of building such motorways in London, particularly on economic grounds. The Ministry's answer was that the scheme was hopelessly uneconomic.

I have the impression that Mr. Matthews has now been in touch with the Ministry himself and has asked for a fresh examination. I hope the answer will be more favourable. Under the scheme as originally prepared, tunnels 60 feet in diameter would be constructed beneath London. Mr. Matthews now thinks the tunnels could be rectangular and about 80 feet under the city centre, below all obstructions and somewhere about the level of the tubes. Three parallel tunnels would run east to west and three north to south. They would have three fast lanes and a slow lane in each direction with traffic moving at normal motorway speeds. The advantage is that the amenity would be almost if not completely undamaged.

It would cost more to construct than a surface system. The estimate for the former L.C.C. area was about £7,000 million compared with about £1,700 million for roads on the surface. On the other hand the cost of the land would be minute by comparison because little would be needed. I want to ask my hon. Friend whether further consideration is being given to the plan and when he will be able to announce the outcome of his examination of it.

I know that it sounds somewhat ambitious. But if there is the will to overcome the engineering difficulties, is there any reason why the tunnel network should not be constructed? I know that there is the problem of ventilation, but I believe that there are ventilating engineers who could overcome the difficulty of extracting petrol fumes from tunnels even of the length and depth envisaged.

There is another point in the plan's favour. Not only would it take about 40 per cent. of London's through traffic right off the streets of the centre of London; it might also allow for car parks to be built underneath to provide about a quarter of a million additional car parking spaces spread over the whole area. That would remove all the car parking which now takes place in our streets, and that again would increase the amenity of our streets, in addition to avoiding the loss of amenity resulting from the building of motorways on the surface.

Before any further motorway plans for London are put forward, I think that this plan should be examined properly and that some adequate reason should be given for not adopting it. I am sure that it is the answer, not only in London but in other cities as well, though on a different scale. It means no surface or overhead roads at all, no separation of one community from another, much less pollution on our streets—no doubt petrol fumes sucked out of tunnels could be released into the air at a higher level than they would be if they came from motor vehicles on the surface—no pollution from parked vehicles, probably fewer street signs of the kind needed to regulate traffic at present because the only traffic on the surface would be short-distance traffic, which it is calculated would be only about 60 per cent. of that which we have at present. And very much more room in which to move because there would be no parked vehicles.

I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to comment on this plan. I understand that the idea is being considered by his Department. I hope that it will not be turned down again, because I believe that it is the only way of solving London's appalling traffic problem.

6.58 a.m.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)

My desire to speak in this important debate, albeit briefly, is to some extent reduced and made more difficult by the fact that I have been called following two extremely thoughtful speeches. I add my congratulations to those of my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Sir R. Russell) to the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling).

I share some of the anxieties expressed by the hon. Gentleman about the future of what might be called the motorway syndrome in Greater London, and that is why I make this short intervention. I hope, however, that the hon. Gentleman will not take offence if I say that he is well-known as a very able and gifted speaker in this House, but that he is the kind of hon. Member on the benches opposite who announces that he intends to speak for 10 minutes and sits down after 50. None the less, I welcome the content of his speech.

My comments may be thought to be a little unfair to those planners who, years ago, began to formulate their ideas about the future of the motorway network in the Greater London area. However, there are evident manifestations of public anxiety in one part of London and another, and I do not mean only those which have been shown very amply in the context of the Greater London Development Plan inquiry, which is still proceeding and which, therefore, should not be prejudged. Anxieties have also been expressed outside the context of that inquiry, in view of the fact that two important social events of a kind have taken place in London. First, along with the projection of future motorway needs, requirements and extent, there has been public anxiety based on a continuing lack of knowledge about the real requirements for London's future roads. There is also the anxiety of a different generic type that arises from a growing feeling in the minds of many citizens in Greater London that these plans, after all, were formulated many years ago and are growing old fashioned in kind and, therefore, perhaps have conclusions which are also increasingly outdated.

I emphasise that I do not wish to prejudge the issue in final terms. That is why I, too, like the hon. Member for Woolwich, West and my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South, will welcome very much what the Under-Secretary has to say on the matter. One does not want to anticipate the final conclusions of the current inquiries or anticipate too closely the Government's final conclusions vis-à-vis the Greater London Council's concluding formulations when the time comes in a year or so.

But, none the less, there is this increasing feeling that things may have already begun to change and may have changed quite substantially. The feeling that change has already taken place and that, perhaps, these now fairly old plans may not be suitable for the future of London for a whole nexus of environmental reasons may even go so far as to reach into the labyrinths of the G.L.C. This has been indicated not only in recent Press articles—there is the feeling here that one should not attach too much importance to speculative Press articles—but also in the misgivings that have been expressed by members of the G.L.C. I shall not mention names. It has also been indicated by what has been shown so far in the debate; that this matter cuts across party lines completely and is in no way related to traditional party differences.

Increasing anxieties have been expressed within County Hall by some of the planners who originally were promoting the idea of the motorway box, which has now been re-Christened "Ringway 1" and "Ringway 2", and the whole network. There is increasing anxiety on the part of the public about the environmental repercussions. There is acute anxiety about estimates of cost, which are increasingly notional in conditions of inflation and the ever-growing mass of increases in constructional costs which has been experienced up and down the country but particularly in urban road construction enterprises.

Therefore, I should like to hear what the Under-Secretary has to say about the Government's latest attitudes and the latest views of my hon. Friend and his colleagues in his Department, and their opinions in so far as he can give them. One understands his difficulty when the situation is fluid and subject to the inquiry and its conclusions. Has there been any modification of earlier expressed opinions? I do not wish to emphasise this too much. I accept that my hon. Friend can give only provisional answers. That is the nature of the answers which one expects from my hon. Friend this morning. Nonetheless, I should welcome some expression of the Government's attitude to this matter, which is vitally important for not only Greater London but the whole country, because London's motorways will have vitally important economic repercussions as well.

Because of what I believe have been the changing conditions, are not the Government and the G.L.C., and are not all of us here as parliamentarians, principally those who have constituencies in London, as I have—although I particularly welcome and am grateful for the fact that my constituency is not affected by these motorway proposals in any specific way—obliged to recognise public anxiety?

In addition to recognising the public anxiety that exists over these issues, we must accept that, despite the discussion that has gone on in the newspapers and elsewhere over the years, the public is ignorant about these complex issues. It must be part of the task of the G.L.C. in promoting these ideas—if the council still believes in these ideas at the end of the inquiry—to see that the public is fully informed.

An interesting survey was recently done by the British Road Federation, which is, by definition, in favour of the Greater London development plan and new motorway proposals. Nevertheless, the survey revealed in a stark way the misgivings of residents in inner and outer London about the likely effects of these developments on London in environmental terms, and not only in the physical terms of houses being demolished and so on. People who felt that they might only just be affected by the route of a motorway expressed similar views, though many who would be affected were not aware of the fact because of the difficulty of understanding these complex matters.

It is clear, therefore, that the arguments are by no means concluded and that the inquiry proceeds. There may be strong and cogent arguments in favour of a new network of motorways in London, but its impact on the environment could be so drastic in qualitative and quantitative terms compared with its advantages that it would be unwise to proceed.

With the increasing development of urban roads, the volume of traffic is bound to increase. The old law of the French economists applies here; the bigger and more sophisticated the network of roads, the more traffic is diverted into the conurbations. And the more traffic there is, the wider the roads become, and so on. This is true of urban and rural motorways.

Many Londoners are now saying that a stop must be placed on what has always been considered to be the normal pattern of total freedom for motorists in the conurbations, and particularly in London. We must start to think really constructively about how to reduce this terrifying pressure of particularly private vehicles in our cities and towns, although, as the hon. Member for Woolwich, West pointed out, heavy lorries are beginning to destroy parts of London.

Thought must be given to the need to resuscitate the public transportation system. Albeit the situation is desperate, for the environmental sake of Londoners that situation must be grappled now with urgency by any Administration, and I hope the present Administration will do so. I know the Department is concerned about this matter. So my view is that no conclusions are possible until the public have had far more time to digest these immensely intricate and complicated future motorway proposals. I should like the Government to reiterate some of their opinions and views, and I should like the G.L.C. also to look at the problem again.

There is a change of heart in the citizenry of London and in those who are most knowledgeable and expert in traffic matters. There is this preliminary indication that people are fed up with the old patterns and the old rather automatic feeling and thought about future motorways. It may be that the network at the end of the 'eighties, when the construction begins, will be different in size, shape and character from the proposals in the plan. It may be that a more fundamental change of attitude against motorways in the inner London area—in the original box—will be manifested. Any of these permutations are possible, but I believe that the urgent need for reconsideration is established in both the public and the private mind.

7.12 a.m.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

I have listened with great interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes), but I do not share his misgivings about motorways in London. Nor do I share those of the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling), who used quite dramatic language in describing his opposition to the motorways. He spoke of horror descending, of communities being carved up and of the strong feeling in his constituency against motorways. I remind him that when the Blackwall Tunnel southern approach was opened to traffic by the Greater London Council about two years ago—and this area is either in or very close to his constituency —the people round about were so grateful to the engineer for his consideration in looking after their interests that they got together and presented him with a cheque.

The proposals for motorways are very much worse in prospect than in reality. Once the motorways are there I do not think that anyone would seriously argue that they should be removed. One can say the same not only of the Blackwall Tunnel southern approach, which is part of the inner London ringway, but of the Cromwell Road extension in West London. There were no doubt howls and screams of rage from the anti-road lobby when the extension there was constructed in various stages after the war, but no one would seriously argue now that it should not have been put there; or that if it had not been constructed there would not now have been very severe traffic problems all around the western side of London, which would not only have made the area less efficient for those using it but would also have had adverse environmental effects.

We have in Greater London a network of radial roads in and out of the centre which is not too bad but which could certainly be improved. What is lacking is a system of orbital roads, so that people can get easily from one suburban area to another. The so-called South Circular Road is not a road at all but a higgledy-piggledy string of roads on which one takes over an hour to get from Woolwich to my constituency on the other side of London. It is time we stopped considering roads as creations for the pleasure of motorists and regarded them as essential industrial equipment which the community needs for the distribution of goods.

People often forget how big Greater London is—about 35 miles across. No one would seriously question that any pair of provincial cities 15, 20 or 25 miles apart—Manchester and Liverpool, Derby and Nottingham, Leeds and Bradford, Southampton and Portsmouth or Coventry and Birmingham—should be connected by a good road. Yet a pair of London boroughs each with between a quarter and half a million population, equivalent in size to some of the cities I mentioned, such as Woolwich and Richmond or Harrow and Croydon do not, so it is said, need a good road. But it is just as necessary to have easy transport of goods between parts of London for industrial and commercial purposes. Loss of time and efficiency, with lorries held up in traffic jams, has done much over the past generation to raise the cost of living in the area more than would otherwise have been the case.

Turning to the environmental side, it is essential, if the London suburbs are to remain reasonably pleasant places in which to live, that we do all we can to remove heavy transport, particularly long distance transport, from our residential areas to the motorways. When those motorways are completed, about 50 per cent. of all vehicle miles travelled in the Greater London area will be on them.

I regard the motorways not as a policy in themselves but as part of a policy for controlling traffic in the Greater London area, to be taken in conjunction with a rigid parking policy in Central London to reduce the quantity of commuting into Central London and to force those going there to work on to public transport; and taken also in conjunction with an extension of traffic management schemes such as one-way streets, clearways and no right turns, all of which help the traffic to flow smoothly and easily and stop it clogging up in the town centres around Greater London.

I strongly support the motorway proposals and I hope that neither the Government nor the G.L.C. will lose heart because of what I regard as ill-informed opposition.

7.19 a.m.

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

This debate is massive in its implications and the subject that it covers. It is one of the frustrations which the House will understand that, being a Minister in the Department ultimately responsible for the inquiry now proceeding. I am precluded from entering into this fascinating and challenging debate. I hope that I can be excused from following all the arguments of detail, however diverting, because for me to express a view one way or the other—both views have been expressed clearly this morning—would be to prejudice the position of total impartiality which I must preserve in this matter. I could deal specifically with a number of points without crossing that narrow threshold.

The hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) made an eloquent plea for a rational system of transport and planning in London. We have a G.L.D.P. Inquiry sitting to consider the proposals for such a system and a balancing of all the competing factors involved. It has very much in mind the final, last look, comprehensive survey behind the hon. Gentleman's request.

It is a similar approach to that which led in 1969 to the creation of the single transport planning authority within the powers of the G.L.C. It was with these arguments in mind that those steps were taken. The G.L.C. is now the single transport planning authority for the whole of London. From a legal framework point of view, we have already moved along the road down which the hon. Gentleman requested us to go. In consequence, we have this massive inquiry to reach the conclusions and recommendations which have been mentioned.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) asked whether I could give an interim report on any change of approach by the Government. I cannot give an interim report, because that would be a pre-judgment of the issues involved in this massive exercise. I listened carefully to what he said, but I cannot comply with his request.

There are a number of individual road schemes which the Government feel merit proceeding with because they are held not to prejudice the G.L.D.P. inquiry. However, it is impossible to decide in advance which schemes these will be. We hold ourselves free to make a decision where we believe that an individual road scheme put to us by the Highways Authority can be seen to be free-standing on its merits.

This leads to the specific question put to me by the hon. Member for Woolwich. West about the Dover radial route. I cannot give him the assurance for which he asked. We must be free to judge any case put to us on its merits. That is not to say that we are on the verge of making a particular decision in this case one way or the other. I must answer the question in general terms. Every case must come within the blanket of freedom to make a decision on the merits of the case.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Sir R. Russell) raised an interesting alternative which would provide for a series of tunnels beneath London. He will appreciate that this is an alternative to the schemes being considered by the G.L.D.P., so for me to express a view on tunnels as an alternative would again be to prejudice the position in which I find myself.

Sir R. Russell

Is that scheme being considered?

Mr. Heseltine

Any scheme is free for consideration or advocation by objectors to the G.L.D.P. It is up to individuals to say whether the proposals put forward by the G.L.D.P. are wrong and that an alternative could be found for dealing with the matter. There is no power which we either have or would require to preclude the panel which will report to us from mentioning anything. Whatever I say about alternatives is bound in some way to prejudice the position in which the Secretary of State finds himself.

Mr. Hamling

Do I take it that the same consideration applies to the possibility of public transport being deliberately run very cheaply to keep traffic off the roads? Is there an open mind on that matter as well?

Mr. Heseltine

There is obviously an on-going management responsibility for public transport within the G.L.C. Decisions are being made whilst the inquiry proceeds. If it were to be considered as a strategic objective, which is what I think the hon. Gentleman has in mind, it is the kind of alternative which could be produced and would have to be considered at the time. I do not sit on the panel of inquiry, so I cannot involve myself in what it may want to suggest or the package it may want to advocate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) put an opposite view to that of the hon. Member for Woolwich, West. Whilst it was interesting to listen to as a contrast in debate, there is nothing further I can add.

A number of other inquiries associated with the whole problem of the urban environment, which is ever-pressing, are proceeding. The Urban Motorway Committee is examining the impact of urban motorways and what can be done to make them easier to live with as well as what changes should be made in the procedures. The comprehensive review of compensation is well under way to see what can be done to produce a better deal for property owners affected by the changes in the structures of cities and for those who are not owners but who are injuriously affected. Everyone looks forward to the two reports, which are now not all that far off, and the decisions the Government then feel able to take.

The hon. Member for Woolwich, West —I am sure not intentionally—did not give quite enough credit to the Government for many of the things they have done in the past year or so in the fields about which he was talking. Everyone is concerned with noise pollution and so on. These matters have a relevance to the motorway situation in London, but they also have an immense national significance. We have introduced regulations dealing with noise, and anti-pollutive devices and a Bill dealing with the weight of foreign vehicles coming to this country, and we took a negative decision not to increase the size of lorries. There has been a range of safety regulations, all relating to the quality of life on the roads. The Government have done a great deal in an on-going attempt to improve the environmental factors involved along the lines the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

I do not feel that it will help if I outline the statutory position or give the list of roads involved under the G.L.C.'s or the Government's ownership. The House is interested in the massive questions that will arise from the Greater London Development Plan, but I cannot comment on them.

I thank the hon. Member for Woolwich, West for a most interesting debate on a subject of great interest to all of us who live in the capital city.