HC Deb 22 June 1972 vol 839 cc867-76

11.3 p.m.

Mr. David Lambie (Central Ayrshire)

I wish to thank Mr. Speaker for the opportunity of initiating this debate, although, as a Scottish Member who still resides in Scotland and who on Thursdays normally catches the 11.30 p.m. train from Euston, it is for me a doubtful blessing.

I wish to draw the Secretary of State's attention to the urgent need for a direct road link from North Ayrshire to the national motorway network and to call on him to use his influence in the appropriate Cabinet Committee to obtain the necessary allocation of moneys to allow this construction to proceed at once. I shall not try to score debating points against the Government or to apportion blame for past mistakes, but I want to put to the Minister valid points of argument in support of the case for a direct road link from North Ayrshire.

I recently sent to the Minister a memorandum prepared by the Irvine Development Corporation on this subject. In view of some of my previous criticisms of Irvine Development Corporation, I wish to put on record my appreciation of the work done by the corporation in the preparation of this booklet and to acknowledge that most of my arguments and facts used in this debate are taken from the memorandum.

During the last year, as Member of Parliament for Central Ayrshire, I have had representations made to me from individual industrialists in my constituency that their companies were at a handicap in bringing in raw materials and sending out their finished products because of the lack of adequate roads in the area. Along with three other Ayrshire Members, I attended a meeting in Kilmarnock with the Committee of office bearers of the Ayrshire Chamber of Industries where the same points were made. It was put to us forcibly that the greatest single drawback to utilising the present industrial potential of existing firms and to providing an attractive environment for incoming firms was the Ayrshire road system. They all stressed the need, as does the Irvine Development Corporation, for a direct link from the M74—A74 from the north and central areas of Ayrshire to the motorway network of the United Kingdom.

During the 1960s two Government White Papers relating to the development of the Scottish economy were produced. Both of these White Papers referred specifically to investment on roads. In November, 1963, the White Paper "Central Scotland, a Programme for Development and Growth", suggested an investment programme of £101 million for the period 1964–69 to provide an efficient system of main trunk roads within Central Scotland and to give good connecting links with the highway network of England and Wales to the south. A list of routes was included in this White Paper which would be constructed as motorways or dual carriageways by 1970, none of which was in the Ayrshire area.

In January, 1966, the second White Paper—"The Scottish Economy 1965–70;a Plan for Expansion"—was published. The Government at that time approved expenditure of £137 million on the road programme over the five years from 1965 to 1970, including approximately £82 million for trunk roads and motorways. The White Paper said that by 1970 Scotland could expect to have its main modern road network virtually completed between the main industrial areas of the central belt and the main connections to the motorway system of England and Wales.

A further White Paper entitled "The Scottish Roads in the 1970s"was published in March, 1969. An investment programme of the order of £480 million was envisaged, of which £40 million was allocated for the completion of the programme referred to in the previous White Paper.

The Government's plans for road construction to 1980–81 did not include any radical change in the existing Ayrshire road network. Existing roads were to be improved to give better alignment and width; various bypasses were approved to eliminate serious bottlenecks. Examples were the Irvine, Ayr and Kilmarnock bypasses and a new road network to serve the designated area of Irvine New Town.

In spite of the emphasis being on providing roads to serve expansion areas in Scotland and the need to bring these areas together, and with regional routes to the rest of the United Kingdom, Ayrshire seems to have been forgotten by the planners in Edinburgh. The Kilmarnock bypass, the series of small schemes to give better alignment and width to the A.76 Dumfries-Kilmarnock road, and the A.78 Kilwinning-Greenock roads at present being carried out, or planned, are hardly likely to generate confidence and to stimulate industrial investment in the region, which includes the Irvine growth area and the tremendous potential of Hunterston.

In this debate I will not suggest a route for the direct road link from North Ayrshire to the national motorway system. That might be too dangerous for a local politician. However, a draft report of the West Central Scotland Plan Steering Committee produced in December, 1971, suggests that the A.76 Kilmarnock-Dumfries route is the preferred route from Ayrshire to England because it is the most direct. This is also the policy being pursued by Ayr County Council. The alternative route from Ayrshire to the A.74—M.74 motorway is by the narrow A.71 which is an indirect, narrow route passing through small villages and towns such as Galston, Newmilnes and Darvel

The planners must think big at this stage. A new fast route is needed from the Irvine-Kilmarnock-Hunterston area, which will connect the new growth areas of the North Ayrshire district to the new motorways connecting Central Scotland with the south. Such a route could link with the Kilmarnock bypass which would connect to Irvine by means of the proposed Irvine-Kilmarnock principal road to replace the existing A.71. This is where I agree with the proposals of the Irvine Development Corporation.

If the Government accept that there should be massive industrial and port development at Hunterston—an iron ore terminal, general purpose quays and greenfield integrated steel mills, a new heart for a new industrial Scotland—a new direct motorway is needed at once in North Ayrshire. A port without modern road and rail connections to its hinterland must be a nonsense. If the Government accept The Scottish Council (Development and Industry) concept of Oceanspan, Hunterston and North Ayrshire must be the western end of that communication channel. The exploitation of the west coast deep water and the proposition that Central Scotland could become an industrial corridor for entry into North-Western Europe must mean a re-examination of the roads, with particular reference to extending the motorway system west from the Glasgow connurbation.

If radical growth in Scotland is to be accepted and properly planned for, the necessary decision must be taken to develop the road infrastructure before industrial expansion interferes with the free flow of traffic. Mistakes have been made in the past at local and national levels. I am not criticising previous decisions, but I appeal to the Minister for a quick decision in order to allow the industrial development to be successful. Ayr County Council's idea of improving the A.76 Kilmarnock-Dumfries road, making it into a trunk road by a series of small improvement schemes over the next 10 years as proposed in the White Paper "Scottish Roads in the 1970s", will never provide the dynamic link to the region which is so essential to induce and sustain industrial investment.

An early commitment by the Government to the construction of the east-west link for the motorway system is essential. That will demonstrate to the people of Scotland the Government's confidence in the growth of the area and it will stimulate investment in industry which is so vital to the economy of the Irvine New Town and to the County of Ayr in general.

I have much pleasure in asking the Minister to give us the quick decision which is so vitally needed by my constituents.

11.14 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Development, Scottish Office (Mr. George Younger)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Lambie) on his good fortune in obtaining the Adjournment debate and I thank him particularly for the subject which he has raised, because not only is it a subject of great interest in any case but, as he will know, it is one of great constituency interest to me because my constituency neighbours that of the hon. Member. This subject affects both our constituencies very much.

I am particularly glad that the hon. Gentleman has given us a chance to have this debate for another reason. It will enable me to outline the various options open to us in what is, I think, a generally agreed aim—to give to Irvine New Town and associated developments round about it a good road link with the outside world.

Ayrshire will be a centre of considerable road-building activity in the coming years. More broadly, the Government's aim is to give every practicable encouragement to New Towns generally and to other centres of potential development in Scotland. I reaffirm that the Government are solidly behind the effective development of Irvine New Town, and we wish to see that it has the best communications the best facilities and the best infrastructure in order to be able to attract the industry which must come into the area to make the New Town a success.

When I say that we intend to provide these communications, I mean not only the central Government, who are fully responsible for the trunk road system, but also Ayr County Council, which, as highway authority, is responsible for principal roads, and as whose agent Irvine Development Corporation has agreed to act for the building of principal roads in the New Town designation area.

Within that area trunk and principal road works estimated to cost more than £7,100,000—to which the Exchequer direct contribution will be more than £6,500,000—are either in progress or planned. These include the main approach roads to the New Town centre, part of which is already complete, the Irvine by-pass, the A78, on which work is expected to start next summer, and the western section of a new Irvine-Kilmarnock link road to replace the present A71, construction of which is also expected to start next summer. Later, the extension of this link road to the Kilmarnock boundary and then eastwards as far as the Hurlford interchange is planned at a cost, additional to the figure which I mentioned earlier, of £2,750,000.

But the reason for the hon. Gentleman's choice of this evening's debate concerns the communications of North Ayrshire, including Irvine New Town, with the outside world, and in particular with Carlisle and the South. This is not an easy question to resolve, particularly as the traffic from Irvine to the south by all routes at present is very light. The total traffic on all these roads which is travelling from this area to the south amounts to no more than 3 per cent. of the total traffic using them. The remainder is local traffic between the local towns or local centres in Ayrshire.

This poses a difficult choice between two alternatives. The first possibility is to regard the Kilmarnock-Cumnock-Dumfries trunk road, the A76/A75, as the main outlet to Gretna and the south. Most of the existing traffic uses this road. The evidence from an origin destination study carried out by my Department in 1969 suggests that the A76—A75 route to join the A74 at Gretna is very much the preferred route, particularly for industrial and commercial vehicles from the Kilmarnock-Irvine area. We are already doing much to raise it to modern standards of width and alignment. Some of the work has already been done towards this end, and there is a continuing programme of replacing the remaining weak bridges on this road.

An inner relief road for Dumfries is planned and bypasses of Cumnock and New Cumnock have been accepted as candidates for the trunk road system early in the second half of the 1970s. When these improvements have been completed, the A76 in Ayrshire will largely have been brought to a satisfactory standard for the traffic which it seems likely to have to carry.

The hon. Member referred to the alternative route, which I might call the east-west route. This comprises part of the Kilmarnock-Edinburgh principal road, the A71, as the shortest means of getting from the Hurlford interchange, which is outside Kilmarnock, to the main Glasgow-Gretna road, the M74, at Canderside and from there of course there is dual carriageway all the way south except for the Gretna bypass, which is under construction.

Because of the terrain through which it passes, the A71 is not at first sight the easiest or the quickest route to travel at present. This may be partly due to the fact that the figures I quoted show that, at present, the preferred route is the other one, the A75–76. But this part of the A71 is being steadily improved, also by schemes promoted by Ayr County Council and Lanarkshire County Council, the responsible highway authorities.

But this east-west route has a dual importance. Not only does it form the shortest route from the Irvine-Kilmarnock area to the M74, but, through its continuation eastwards to Edinburgh, it is of general importance for east-west communications. Apart from the potential developments at Hunterston, the A71 could gain an added significance as a direct route leading to the East of Scotland if the Oceanspan concept blossoms into reality.

A fast east-west link on the line of the A71 would also have some value for other towns in Ayrshire as a means of getting to the east and north, although the fastest and freest-flow route in this direction will, particularly after the Monkland and Renfrew motorways are completed, continue to be by the A77 to Glasgow and thence by the motorway and dual-carriageway trunk road system, M8 and A80/M9.

The balance between these two alternatives is by no means clear cut. On the one hand, the present movements of traffic clearly appear to prefer the A76—A75 route and may possibly continue to do so. On the other hand, factors such as the scale and timing of development at Hunterston, which would have a widespread effect on communications requirements in West Central Scotland, have still to be decided, as has the outcome of the West Central Scotland study now being undertaken.

In these circumstances, the clearest picture that I can give the hon. Member tonight is that, pending these decisions, it would be premature to make a firm commitment now, particularly as massive investment would be needed to provide a completely new dual-carriageway direct route from the Irvine area to the M74, whichever route were taken.

I assure the hon. Member, however, that the Government are not shelving this or being complacent. We are waiting, as we must, for firm decisions on what kind of major development may be undertaken in the Irvine or Hunterston area. When these decisions are taken, we shall not delay in taking consequential decisions about communications, one of which could well be in favour of upgrading the A71 as a major through route. I do not mean necessarily upgrading it on its present route but round about that line.

In the meantime we intend to press ahead with a continuing series of improvements, both on the A76 and A75, and, with the co-operation of the local highway authorities concerned, on the A71 route, as well as planning improvements on those parts of the A74 in South Lanarkshire and Dumfriesshire which are not fully up to modern dual-carriageway standard.

The hon. Gentleman said that the Government and their predecessors had left Ayrshire behind in expenditure on roads. This idea came from the report of the Irvine Development Corporation which the hon. Gentleman mentioned. In passing, I also commend the Corporation for this interesting study, although I naturally cannot say that I fully accept all its conclusions. The hon. Gentleman mentioned from the report that out of investment of £101 million allocated for roads during the years 1964 to 1969 under the 1963 White Paper, less than £4 million was spent in Ayrshire and that the only project of any magnitude in Ayrshire under construction which is included in the White Paper is the Kilmarnock bypass.

It is true that during the years 1964 to 1969 only £4 million was spent on road schemes in Ayrshire and, within that, virtually nothing in the Irvine area. This was genuinely because of the rethinking which the previous Government were undertaking of the concept of the planning underlying Irvine New Town. I think the Government were right to make sure that they had the correct directional planning for the New Town and that the road pattern would be the most appropriate and useful for the communications of the New Town. Now that the New Town is underway, the tempo of road building is speeding up, and we intend to maintain that momentum.

As examples of this, since Irvine New Town got under way, the Ayr bypass has been completed at a cost of £500,000 and there are no less than £7,100,000 worth of road schemes either in progress or planned within Irvine New Town. That figure is made up of the A78 Irvine bypass, costing £4,700,000, which is starting in the summer of 1973; the A71 Irvine bypass to the east of Dreghorn at a cost of £1 million which is due to start in the summer of 1973; the southern approach of Irvine town centre, stage one, costing £177,000, which has already been completed, while stage two of that approach, costing £350,000 is already planned. Then there is also the northern approach to Irvine town centre, costing £827,000, upon which work is about to start, and other trunk roads associated with it amounting to £76,000.

I take the hon. Gentleman's point about previous years' expenditure in the area perhaps not having been up to what both of us would hope as Ayrshire Members of Parliament. The road programme in northern Ayrshire is, however, now well and truly under way and large sums of money are being committed to it. The consequential improvements to our communications in North Ayrshire will much benefit the area in the next year or two, when they are completed.

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this subject. I assure him again that the Government agree with him that this is a matter of great importance. As soon as we can get some clarify on the major decisions on investment and development in North Ayrshire, we shall be ready to take decisions upon communications for Irvine New Town as quickly as we can.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman in particular for outlining the benefits that he—and the Irvine Development Corporation—feel would be gained by taking the most direct route to the M74. I well appreciate those arguments. I hope that I have outlined my view on them and on contrary arguments which we shall have to take into account.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are very alive to the problem and that there will be no delay on the Government's part in taking a decision as quickly as possible as soon as the details of any development are fully known.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes to Twelve o'clock.