HC Deb 25 April 1972 vol 835 cc1505-12

3.12 a.m.

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

I am sorry at this appallingly late hour to delay the House still further and keep the Minister from his bed. But I shall be very brief on what is a very important matter to a large number of my constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Walter Harrison), and important for the flow of traffic in the whole of our area.

The road to which I refer is the A637 which connects the Huddersfield—Wakefield road, the A642, with the M1. It is a feeder road for the M1. At present it runs through the village of Flockton, and through parts of that village its width is as little as 18 ft. This has meant in the past that lorries passing each other have had to mount the pavement, they have knocked down walls and they have even knocked down parts of houses. This is still happening in spite of the fact that police patrols are operating more frequently and are trying to check speeds in spite of the introduction of "give way" signs and a limitation on the weight of lorries which can use the road. Unfortunately, that limitation is being steadily disregarded.

The only solution to the problem is to have a bypass for Flockton. I am not alone in holding this view. It is also the view of the Urban District Council of Kirkburton and the West Riding County Council. It is the view of the Borough Council of Huddersfield, and it is the view of other local authorities in the area that are also affected.

All these bodies, my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Lomas) my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield and myself have been putting continuous pressure on this Administration and their predecessors to get some action. My file on the Flockton bypass is larger than any other file I have accumulated in the 27 years or so that I have been a Member.

It has not been only our view that there should be a bypass. It was the view of the previous Administration. As long ago as 31st March, 1970, the then Parliamentary Secretary wrote to me saying: You will be pleased to know that a proposal to improve A637, including a bypass at Flockton, has been included in our list of inter-urban principal road schemes to be put into operation. It is also the view of the present Government, because in a letter of 9th September, 1971, one of the Under-secretaries wrote: During the examination of the very detailed report which was presented by the country surveyor we reached the conclusion that this bypass"— the one I am suggesting— and the neighbouring one at West Bretton taken together would not only provide relief for these two villages but could also have a very significant effect on the existing and proposed road network to the south and west of the Leeds conurbation. That looked hopeful, but on 10th January I received another letter from the then Under-Secretary in which he said: I know this proposal for by-passing Flockton seems to have been dragging on and on with nothing much apparently happening, but we really were beset with problems because of its possible effects on the rest of the road network south and west of Leeds. But in his previous letter of 9th September he had added to the passage I have already read: Investigation of the full implications of this is not yet complete, but in order to minimise the effect on the Flockton bypass scheme a further study we have over the past few weeks been able, in collaboration with the county surveyor, to produce ideas for the design of the Flockton bypass which would fit in with any of the conclusions likely to result from our studies. The detailed, costed scheme has been drawn up. It has been passed through the Minister's local office in Leeds, and it has been in his hands for some time. Yet when the Secretary of State announced his further road development schemes in March it was not included.

I am raising this matter again, therefore, to find out from the Under-Secretary what on earth the Government's intentions are, and what is happening to the scheme. It will fit in with any other schemes in the area, the Under-Secretary has told me. There seems to me to be no possible excuse for not proceeding. The plans are drawn and agreed. We are ready to go. For goodness' sake, do not let us delay any longer until the point comes when children and grown ups are killed on this dangerous road. Will the Under-Secretary please give us the green light tonight?

3.19 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Evironment (Mr. Keith Speed)

I begin by thanking the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) for his helpful and constructive speech on an issue about which I know he feels strongly and in which he has taken a close interest. He can claim some credit for pressing the previous Administration to put this scheme in the principal road preparation list. The hon. Gentleman had an Adjournment debate on a similar subject on 17th February, 1970. Two years and more have passed, and I can understand his annoyance and that of his constituents that apparently no progress is being made.

The proposed Flockton bypass and its continuation as a bypass of the neighbouring village of Bretton are both principal road schemes and, therefore, the direct responsibility of the local highway authority, which is the West Riding County Council. However, as hon. Members will know, 75 per cent. of the expenditure on improvements of principal roads is covered by a grant from central Government. Therefore, my Department takes a close interest in the plans of local authorities for principal road improvements. Principal roads also tend to be mainly in urban areas, and present Administration, like the previous one, have been much concerned with the contribution to the local enviroment that improvement schemes on these roads can bring. I have in mind in particular the relief that bypass and inner relief road schemes provide for town and shopping centres.

The Department has recently carried out a very significant exercise with local highway authorities to draw up a list of principal road schemes to be put into detailed preparation for construction towards the end of this decade. As a result of that exercise, my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Development was able to announce just before Easter our agreement to allow the planning of local authority principal road schemes likely to cost £600 million. We selected these schemes not only for their direct economic value, which is important, but also because in general they concentrated traffic and so relieved residential roads, were likely to free towns and villages from intrusion by heavy traffic, removed bottlenecks and improved routes.

Having given the general background, it will be helpful if I turn to the Flockton bypass scheme. This was included in March, 1970, in the principal road preparation list for detailed planning because it offered the prospect of some of the advantages I have outlined in the principal road schemes. The need for the bypass—and I stress this—is acknowledged by the Department and is supported by the West Riding County Council.

Since 1970, as the hon. Member will know, the plans have been developed for both schemes, but they have had to be considered against other road proposals for the locality. This is what my hon. Friend the Minister for Aerospace was talking about when he exchanged correspondence with the hon. Gentleman. The most significant long-term development—this is the inhibiting factor at the moment—is likely to be the proposed new major route to connect the industrial areas south of Leeds to the North-East.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House are aware of this proposal. Many of them have been at pains on many occasions to stress the contribution which such a new route could make to the industrial prosperity of the area, with its prospect of an improved connection for towns like Huddersfield, Dewsbury, Batley and Bradford as well as Leeds from the existing M1 south of Leeds across the M62 and up to the A1 towards Teesside and Tyneside. This will be an extremely important road for the whole of the West Riding and North and North-East England. They have also pointed out the need for an early decision on the corridor for the route, not only to bring the benefits we all expect but also to end the planning uncertainties which the prospect of such a route often brings.

A major report on the proposed south of Leeds to the North-East route was prepared for the Department in 1970 by the county surveyor of the West Riding. The recommendations in this report have been considered and have led to further studies, particularly on the implications for the southern end of the route, which is relevant to consideration of the Flock ton bypass. On the major route, we are now consulting the local and other statutory authorities whose views we must take into account. The interests of local people must be carefully considered because other hon. Members have already made representations about the effect on the environment and property that such a major road could have. Also, time must be allowed for authorities to weigh the issues and reach conclusions. Consequently, we must balance all the views expressed.

This main route, whatever line is adopted, could well have an effect upon areas of natural beauty. This is an added factor, and possibly one which will cause delay.

Having said all this, it is apparent that one could go on talking about the delays, but this would not help the hon. Gentleman and it certainly would not help his constituents. I am pleased to be able to tell the hon. Gentleman—I have been pressing very firmly on this—that on present information it seems likely that a decision on the major scheme and, if it is to be planned, on the corridor for the major route should be made by August or September of this year.

Mr. Mallalieu

I understood from one of the Minister's colleague's that, whatever the major scheme turned out to be, the Flockton bypass was now in such a state that it would fit in with whatever scheme was adopted.

Mr. Speed

I am coming to that aspect. That is nearly, but not quite, the position.

I should emphasise that when this decision is taken in August or September of this year—obviously, I hope that it is sooner rather than later—we might merely be including a scheme in the trunk road preparation pool for further planning. The scheme would then exist only as a preferred corridor, and the detailed alignment of the road itself would still need to be worked out. As the planning progressed, draft orders would be published which could be discussed locally, any objections considered, and, if necessary, a full public inquiry instituted. That is normal procedure.

I am sure that the natural reaction of the hon. Member and many of those living in Flockton and Bretton will be "We have been waiting for a long time. Must we go on waiting?" I have tried to explain the position. Officials in my Department are in touch with the county council and have recently met representatives of the local action committee which is pressing for the two bypasses. I hope that as a result it is clear that there is no dispute about the need for relief to the two villages on the A.637. The existing bypass schemes together would cost over £1.5 million, of which three-quarters would come from central Government funds.

It could be—we shall know in August or September; this is where there may have been some confusion—that the proposed south of Leeds to the North-East route would effectively relieve both Flockton and Bretton of through traffic in a different form from that proposed in the bypass schemes, or that the bypasses could be related to, or be part of, the major scheme. These issues should soon be resolved, and then the natural frustration of the hon. Member and his constituents at the apparent lack of decision will be lifted.

I am instructed that work is still going ahead on the preparation of the bypass schemes. When the decision is taken in August or September, if the decision is to press ahead with the A637 bypass schemes as we understand them at the moment there will be no delay on the part of my Department in allowing the West Riding County Council which will be the authority concerned, to press ahead. It may be, on the other hand, that the decision will go the other way and that sufficient relief will be given by this major scheme that we are talking about so that effectively both these villages and other areas would be relieved. If that is so—I cannot put a firm date on this—the relief for the hon. Gentleman's constituents will take a little longer to achieve but perhaps may be more effective than that which would be achieved if we were to press straight ahead with the principal bypass scheme.

Either way, I give the firm assurance that a decision will be taken in August or September which will effectively dispel all the doubts, and one way or the other the hon. Gentleman and his constituents will know where they stand, either by way of relief from the major road from the south of Leeds, which would be built to a very high standard and would have all the links and interchanges with other major roads, or by our pressing ahead with the £1½ million scheme. I give the assurance that the Department will in no way hold this up. If it is decided to go ahead with the existing bypass scheme, I am sure that the West Riding County Council will give it maximum priority because we know its views as well.

I hope the hon. Member can bear with us for another two or three months. I have tried to be as helpful as I can. He will agree that we must ensure that when public money is involved—and £1½ million is a considerable sum—that it must be spent in the right way. If we could achieve the same result without spending this money on a major scheme, we would have to consider that matter carefully.

The result will be basically what the hon. Gentleman has sought in this useful, short debate. I agree that the sooner the Department takes the decision the better. I give an assurance that that will take place in the late summer.

Quetion put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at half-past Three o'clock a.m.