§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Mr. James Allason (Hemel Hempstead): I beg to move,
§ That this House takes note of the Second Report from the Expenditure Committee (House of Commons Paper No. 57) on Urban Transport Planning, and of the relevant Government Observations (Command Paper No. 5366).
§ This is the Second Report of the Expenditure Committee in this Session. It is also the second report undertaken by the Environment and Home Office Sub-Committee. Although I have the honour to be the Chairman of the Sub-Committee, I took over as chairman only at the conclusion of the report on urban transport planning. Before that, my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Sir John Hall) was the very able chairman who navigated us through a year of investigation. His ability was then recognised by his promotion to being chairman of a Select Committee. It therefore falls to me to present the report.
§ I thank the many organisations and individuals who sent in memoranda, the many witnesses who gave evidence, and also the members of the Sub-Committee who patiently assimilated a vast mass of evidence that we received.
The terms of our inquiry are summed up in paragraph 11 of our report: that the increasing public concern about the transport situation, particularly in larger cities and towns, shows the need for positive policy decisions to avoid
social and environmental damage and the breakdown of public transport facilities.
§ We therefore examined transport planning in the conurbations with particular reference to the journey to work. A transport system that can cope with the journey to work in rush-hour conditions is probably well on the way to coping with conditions at other times.1048
§ The essential feature is the need to improve public transport. Public transport is in a continual decline. There is the vicious spiral of higher fares being introduced; these in turn lead to fewer passengers; those passengers turn to their motor cars and add to the congestion on the roads; the public transport service then becomes poorer; in turn, it is necessary to raise fares. We get into the vicious spiral once again.
§ This might be acceptable if everybody had access to a private car and could move about freely in it. However, a large proportion of the population do not have private cars and few of those who do have exclusive access. Therefore, a large number of people rely on public transport, which must be available and convenient.
§ We found that what we felt was an undue proportion of the expenditure within urban areas had already been allocated to roads. The tendency is that a road in an urban area gets planned and then it is left on the plan. Expenditure on the roads gets allotted. In consequence, a large sum out of the total available urban transport is already allotted to roads.
§ In consequence of that, we made Recommendation 22, that trunk and principal urban roads which are in the planning stage should be re-examined. Here we are not suggesting that every urban road should be abandoned but that they should be re-examined, because many such roads have just been assumed to be necessary.
§ This recommendation has been widely misunderstood. It has been taken to be a recommendation that all motorways should be abandoned. It refers only to urban roads and does not say that all urban roads even should be abandoned, only that they should be re-examined.
§ We recommend a switch in resources from urban road building to the improvement of public transport.
§ Recommendation 8 is basically that there should be operating subsidies for public transport. In paragraph 7 of the White Paper the Government agree that revenue support is available. I take it that to that extent the Government are agreeing to this very important switch in priorities.1049
§ Just spending more money on urban public transport does not necessarily improve it, because the motorist is congesting the roads during the journey to work. The number of cars on the roads doubles once every 10 years. The figures given in paragraph 18 of our report are interesting. In 1950 there were 2¼ million cars, in 1960 5½ million, and in 1970 11½ million.
§ The trouble is that those who own cars tend to want to use them. That is fine. We welcome the use of cars and that people should have cars, but please not in the rush hour because it means that buses, which are greatly relied on, particularly in cities outside London, for the journey to work, are just sitting in traffic jams. We therefore recommend priority for buses.
§ We suggest that there should be better facilities for "park and ride". I am sure that every hon. Member is familiar with that term but may not be so familiar with what is a new term to me—"kiss and ride". That term is used to describe the situation where the wife takes her husband to the station and, instead of the car being parked, she kisses him and drives home.
§ The tendency is for people to try to drive through to the city centre, and they are encouraged to do so because there is plenty of parking space there. A complete revelation to me was the extent to which parking space has been provided in city centres. In central London about 50 per cent. of parking spaces is under office blocks. The reason for that is that since the war there has been a requirement that under new office blocks a substantial number of car parking spaces must be provided. The GLC realised that all it was doing was providing a magnet for more and more cars to flow into London, and it reversed its policy. In this it was entirely wise. A maximum has now been placed on the number of parking spaces that can be provided, with only a few spaces under each new building.
§ This is not the practice elsewhere. In Birmingham, for instance, they continue with the old policy, and that is why we have said in recommendation 15 that this practice should be discouraged by getting rid of existing user rights so that physi- 1050 cally there should be fewer parking spaces under office blocks. The Government have not accepted this recommendation. They say that there might be difficulty about extinguishing existing user rights, but I had in mind that all that was necessary was to give planning permission for change of use. Change of use from car parking space to storage space would provide a more valuable use of basements, and in consequence firms would tend to move over, free of charge to the Government to the extinguishment of their existing user rights.
§ The private car owner is not the only villian of the peace. Heavy lorries are also to blame for congestion but I do not pretend that there is any magical way in which heavy lorries can be kept out of urban traffic. We suggest that special routes should be provided, and also overnight parks in order to avoid the nuisance of these vehicles parking in residential streets. These recommendations are already in process of being implemented. But this implies that there should be special suitable routes available for heavy lorries, and this to some extent negatives the idea that we need not provide any more routes in our cities.
§ I believe that our report shows rather a change of emphasis. While it used to be thought possible to fit cities to accept all the number of cars that wished to flow into them, it is now recognised that the environment of our cities will be destroyed if we try to accommodate the motorist to the extent he would like.
§ I welcome the Government's observations on our report. The Government generally concur with our analysis of the problems. I believe that this is a useful report, and I hope that it will prove a turning point in the relief of urban traffic congestion. I hope that the House will accept the report.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Bradley (Leicester, North-East)
The House will have welcomed the publication of this report, and will be extremely grateful to the hon. Member for Wycombe (Sir John Hall) and the members of his Committee for the very hard work they have put into fulfilling their terms of reference, and for the very penetrating analysis they have achieved of an extremely difficult and crucial problem in our urban areas.
1051 Similarly, the House will appreciate some of the courageous conclusions reached by the Committee.
The House will also be obliged for this opportunity, albeit very brief, for discussing the Select Committee's report. I can only wish that more parliamentary time was allocated to this purpose, but at any rate we are very grateful for the way in which this task has been discharged by the Committee and for the opportunity we now have of discussing its work.
The Government's response to the report published last week I suspect is rather different from what it would have been two years ago, or even one year ago, reflecting, as I am sure the report does, the very valuable pressure of public opinion on these matters, to say nothing of the lessons the Government may have learned from the GLC elections in April.
The fundamental conclusion of the Select Committee that national policy should be directed towards promoting public transport and discouraging the use of short journeys to work in city areas is unquestionably right and is shared by a growing number of people. The evidence on which the Committee's conclusion is based has been very well documented in recent years. Side by side with an increase in the number of private cars, growing at the rate of 8 per cent. a year. there has been a steady deterioration in both the quality and the quantity of our urban public transport services.
Over the ten-year period from 1960 to 1970 there was a fall in the number of passenger journeys together with a dramatic decline in bus mileage over the same period. As public transport usage has declined operators have been forced to raise fares and reduce services. A dwindling number of passengers is travelling on fewer services run at increasingly higher fares. Additionally, the growing use of private transport at peak periods doubly accentuates the difficulties public transport has to face in providing the services. On the one hand, therefore, passengers and revenue are being lost to private transport, and, on the other, the resultant traffic congestion prevents the remaining public fleet from providing the reliable service on which the majority of people still depend—a vicious circle indeed.
1052 We must not overlook that majority of people who depend on public transport. Although 53 per cent. of all households own a car, if the head of the household uses it to travel to work the rest of his family are just as immobile as are the 75 per cent. of the lower income group and the 95 per cent. of pensioners who are not car owners. It is estimated, I understand, that even by the year 2000 less than 50 per cent. of our adult population will have the exclusive use of a car, a forecast to which the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) referred.
In the meantime, driving potential passenger traffic to private transport by a combination of higher fares and inefficient inferior services will only make worse traffic congestion, pollution, road accidents and the high capital costs of new roads and of off-steet car parking facilities.
The time has arrived to break through this circle. There is, I think, little hope of a voluntary transference by car owners to public transport unless the latter can be improved out of all recognition. To this end, there will have to be a massive shift of resources from roadway construction to public transport if we are to have faster and more frequent services, lower fares and more comfortable vehicles. Such major improvements in reliability and standards can be obtained only by securing greater freedom for buses to move on the streets. This brings me to the question of curbing car access to our congested urban centres.
The method of restraint favoured by the Select Committee and, apparently, by the Government, is to discourage car usage by various pricing policies, especially heavier metering. Apart from the effect of such a policy in bearing more unfairly on the less-well-off car owner, it is, surely, a mistake to argue for more parking meters, not fewer, for that would do nothing to hold down the level of car commuting, and traffic congestion would continue at peak times. It is no use providing more multi-storey car parks and meters while still being concerned about the level of traffic. The public will not be convinced of the credibility of a policy of that kind. It might be more worth while to dispense with meters on all our main roads during office hours 1053 and to have all chief thoroughfares made into yellow line areas.
In addition, there may have to be some physical restraint on the entry of private cars into the very heart of our cities, and this could involve their complete exclusion during office hours, leaving the area open to bus and accredited taxi services.
The City of Leicester, which has lone held pride of place and been pre-eminent in traffic management matters—I am bound to say that, in all modesty, I hope—has begun an experiment along these lines, mixing pedestrians and public transport as a first step towards the full pedestrian precinct. All the concerns over matters of safety have been taken care of and the various anxieties have not been realised. The experiment has been a great and growing success.
Such measures have to be combined, as the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead said, with "park and ride" facilities—incidentally, another system pioneered by the City of Leicester. Indeed, so successful has park and ride been in Leicester that calculations show that in the four weeks up to Christmas 1972 no fewer than 8,000 cars were kept out of the centre of the city. It is a system which is being more and more used and appreciated by car owners living in the suburbs and on the periphery of the city.
If we combine these measures—the mixing of pedestrians and public transport in the heart of our cities and the provision of park and ride facilities—I am sure that we shall go a long way towards achieving a happy balance in the use of our transport facilities while at the same time maintaining the quality of urban life. The alternative—let there be no doubt about it—is to accommodate the car at all costs. I do not believe that the majority of the public today are willing to do that.
Outside our central urban areas, where cars would be allowed, it may be necessary to develop bus-only lanes and counter-flow techniques to facilitate the free flow of bus traffic. I see no other way of developing a first-class bus service.
With great respect to the Select Committee, I was a little surprised that it made no recommendation about examining the possible costs and benefits of a 1054 fares-free transport system. There are many strong arguments both for and against such a system. I acknowledge that the cost would be considerable, but public transport costs must be seen in the wider context, for the cost of overcrowded roads ultimately falls on the community anyway. I believe that it would be helpful if the Government authorised an early study of the fares-free concept in terms of public transport's duty to perform a service for the community.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman also that the question of lorry routes is of extreme importance. Probably no more than 20 per cent. of lorry traffic is through traffic, but it is usually the heaviest. We must confine it to special routes, and I greatly hope that the Private Member's Bill now going through Parliament will be implemented. I acknowledge at once that, if special routes are to be allocated for the heavy through traffic across our urban areas, this will require substantial additional expenditure on the widening, strengthening and improvement of our roads, together with the provision of essential lorry parks.
We know too little as yet of the proposed working of the financial grants system to be brought in in 1975–76, the system to which both the Select Committee and the White Paper referred. I cannot help feeling that, despite the recognised intricacies, it might have been better to introduce a new general transport grant, including a minimum element based on the needs and resources of a particular area plus a percentage element to encourage extra provision. In addition, discretionary grants ought to be available for special infrastructure developments, as ought special operating subsidies, by agreement with the local authorities and the Department.
In the long term, the solution to urban congestion must be the decentralisation of job location, limitations on urban sprawl, and more flexible hours of work within a shorter working week. In the meantime, I should be the last to pretend that there are simple or painless answers to our urban transport problems. These problems will not go away, and, while local authorities and local people must be intimately concerned and consulted, the main responsibility for policies and finance rests with the Government. It is 1055 for the Government to give a lead, and I hope that the Secretary of State will go further than his Department's statement last week did in leading us towards a solution of these serious problems.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Geoffrey Rippon)
The whole House will be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) for the constructive speech he made in introducing the debate, and I should like to join my hon. Friend in expressing thanks to the Expenditure Committee for its work and its most helpful report. The sub-committee assembled an impressive array of evidence, and its report has made an important contribution towards a wider understanding of a complex problem. My hon. Friend was right in describing it as a penetrating analysis. It also contains some courageous proposals, and I found it of immense value. I hope it is clear not only from the observations on the report but from the recent direction of policy that the Government welcome its general conclusions.
Urban transport arouses strong feelings among many people for reasons which we all understand. My hon. Friend gave revealing statistics about the growing use of the private motor car. I have certainly shared these anxieties for a long time. Speaking in 1965 at the National Housing and Town Planning Council I expressed the view that:In learning how to plan for life in spite of the motor car we must not destroy historic city centres just to replace them by two-tier highways and multi-storey garages. As the likelihood is that traffic will expand to fill every vacant space unless and until it is deliberately limited by taxation or by control of parking we will only succeed in erecting a planners hell at enormous public expense if we do not tackle this basic problem.So I hope it is clear that my sympathies have been with the Committee for a long time.
I went on to recommend, as my hon. Friend suggested, the adoption of the "park and ride" system and greater use of public transport. I am glad that Leicester took up some of my ideas. I cannot claim that the concept of "park and ride" was my own. As the expression would indicate, the idea came from the United States, and I was much influenced by what was done in San 1056 Francisco, where it was decided not to get rid of the trams in order to have two-tier highways but to do something to restrain the motor car.
As the hon. Member for Leicester, North-East (Mr. Bradley) said, there is no easy answer to these problems and virtually any action whether to restrain cars or build more roads or create environmental areas makes things better for some people but worse for others. So it is not just a case of either traffic restraint and management or better public transport or more urban roads. There will have to be a suitable combination of measures which will necessarily vary according to local circumstances.
Where the net advantage lies can vary in different places and the evidence is often not clear cut. My Department has a continuing programme of research and development in these matters and many of the issues raised in the Committee's report are ones to which we are giving further consideration. We need also to take account of the implications for urban transport of the financial future of the railways and the priorities between different areas of transport expenditure. Against that background the Government's observations on the committee's report are not the last word on this subject; and we shall have more to say later this year.
There is one other general remark I should like to make. The committee's report and the Government's reply are concerned mainly with conurbations and other large cities and with peak hour journeys to work. It is in these places and at these times that the problems of road congestion, inadequate public transport and damage to the environment are most severe. It is therefore right that we should concentrate on these situations, but it does not mean there are no problems elsewhere.
The Expenditure Committee's main conclusion with which the Government agree is that it will be necessary to limit the use of private cars for peak-hour journeys to the centre of large towns and cities and to ensure that public transport can offer an attractive alternative. The need for restraint is not a conclusion we have come to with any great relish. Personal transport is in many ways more convenient than public transport; it gives us 1057 access to a wider range of amenities and it is a sign of growing prosperity.
I am sure that no one on the Opposition side wants to give the impression that we are trying to clobber the motorist. Many hon. Member may have read Jane Jacobs' book "The Death and Life of Great American Cities". While saying that everyone who values cities is today disturbed by automobiles she nevertheless acknowledges that perhaps we blame automobiles too much. She says:Good transport and communications are not only among the most difficult things to achieve, they are also basic necessities. The point of cities is multiplicity of choice. It is impossible to take advantage of multiplicity of choice without being able to get around easily".As American experience has shown, and as we are beginning to see in some of our big cities, unmanageable city vacuums are by no means automatically preferable to unmanageable city traffic. But cities are places to live in, not just to move about in. In the longer term most of us are now agreed that provision for the unrestrained use of the car would involve road building on a massive scale which would totally change the character of our major cities and put an increasing demand on limited resources which many people, including myself, think should be devoted to solving more pressing problems, including the improvement of housing conditions. But in the longer term cities it would be physically impossible to provide for complete motorisation even if the resources were unlimited.
In the shorter term unrestrained use of the car means increasing congestion which delays essential and inessential traffic alike and means a declining standard of service, particularly for those who rely on the buses. Traffic has been tending to fill up the new capacity created by road improvement and therefore we have not made a fundamental contribution to solving the problem which we all know exists. It may seem unfair to restrain the use of the car, but it may be even more unfair to leave people who have no alternative with a dwindling standard of public transport. Restraint may not at first sight appear attractive to commerce and trade but nor is increased and costly congestion which holds up deliveries as well as customers. It is not for the Government to dictate how 1058 particular restraint policies will be implemented in every town and city but it is clear that many local authorities are using parking policies which are, as the Committee suggests, completely out of date.
I am sure that the Committee was right in saying in Recommendation 14 that parking provision for commercial premises should be restricted, rather than the reverse. Equally, we must look at the levels of parking charges, as it says in paragraph 10, and see that restrictions, where these are imposed, are enforced. That is why the Government are already committed to introducing owner liability at the first opportunity. We are also considering the levels of fines and fixed penalties which at present apply and we shall announce proposals as soon as possible. In the medium term, supplementary or area licensing can be the answer. Road pricing is a long-term possibility. But these raise issues on which we shall have to give more consideration before reaching definite conclusions.
If the private car is restrained, public transport must be able to provide an adequate alternative. Here I have a great deal of sympathy with what the hon. Member for Leicester, North-East said. I always like to think of myself as in some ways a railway man. I could never understand the extraordinary philosophy once put forward by the railways that somehow everything would come into balance by having higher fares and a lower level of activity. That seems to lead to the conclusion that the only way to strike a balance is by having no business at all.
We are in general agreement that we must improve public transport. Some cities like London and the provincial conurbations will need new and improved rail systems. Since July 1970 the Government have authorised payment of infrastructure grants totalling about £200 million for projects including the Fleet Line, the Tyneside rapid transit system and two rail schemes in Liverpool. However, I agree with the Committee's comments about the substantial capital cost of rapid transit systems and that it is always right to look at cheaper alternatives.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Acton)
The Minister mentioned the Fleet Line. Will he clarify that? Is it not correct that 1059 so far he has authorised the Fleet Line only as far as the City and not to the south-east? Will he give more details about this?
§ Mr. Rippon
Stage 1 has practically been completed and the expenditure authorised. Discussions are continuing with the Greater London Council about stage 2, and there is also a committee studying that scheme.
Outside the major conurbations commuter railways are unlikely to make a major contribution. As the Committee rightly recognised, public transport will for the most part means buses. Over the past few years my Department has, in collaboration with the local authorities, been undertaking a major demonstration programme to try out different ways of making bus services more attractive. It is clear that what people chiefly want is a quick, comfortable and reliable service. That can be achieved only by freeing buses from congestion, either by giving them priority over other traffic or by reducing the general level of congestion so that buses can flow freely. It will almost certainly be necessary to give financial assistance to buses to help them provide a satisfactory level of service at prices competing with what the ordinary motorist thinks is the cost of making a journey by car. That must be an adjunct to, not a substitute for, measures to improve the quality of service.
We are probably generally agreed that in the immediate future our main emphasis must be on achieving greater restraint on the private car and making public transport an acceptable alternative. But that does not mean that we can easily put on one side the need for new and improved urban roads. It is clear that there are certain kinds of roads which on balance are wholly beneficial to urban areas. Much of the existing road network is unsuited to modern traffic. However much is done to restrain car journeys at peak hours and to improve public transport, most of our cities will need new and improved roads, particularly orbital roads, to provide an adequate network and allow environmental improvements in areas from which through traffic should be excluded.
I welcome what the hon. Gentleman said about the Private Member's Bill on the routeing of lorries, which we hope is 1060 going through the House satisfactorily. The truth is that we cannot have routes for new lorries unless those routes exist. In central London, for example, about 2030 per cent. of the traffic in the inner area should not be there at all, and does not want or need to be there.
§ Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)
Has the Secretary of State considered what is done in a number of continental cities, such as Paris, where there is a low limit to the size of lorry allowed in the central part of the city, and the heavy loads have to be broken down on the city outskirts? Are we not looking to that kind of development?
§ Mr. Rippon
It is a possibility. We also need to examine the very important part played in Paris by the orbital roads—a matter that we have not faced up to in this country—because it causes all sorts of difficulties. It was as long ago as 1943 that the Abercrombie Plan suggested two ring roads for London as the only effective means of reducing traffic in the central area. The Nugent Committee in 1956 considered various proposals put forward in 1948 and 1954. There have been all sorts of proposals for new west cross roads all involving bridges across the Thames. Now I find myself, in 1973, having to say that I cannot approve a west cross route without a river crossing. because it does not make any sense to thrust more traffic right through the very heart of London.
§ Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, Central)
Does not the Secretary of State agree that very often orbital road schemes attract into cities traffic that would otherwise go round them?
§ Mr. Rippon
There are great problems. That is why we have been discussing them ever since 1943. A series of reports have come broadly, if reluctantly, to the same conclusion.
We all know that the construction of new roads can cause considerable disruption to the traffic and the areas through which they pass. But I hope that the recommendations of the Urban Motorways Committee and the measures Parliament has recently passed to provide improved compensation, soundproofing, and better landscaping will make it possible, albeit at a price, to deal with heavy flows of traffic in a way that will 1061 often be less damaging to the environment than leaving the traffic on existing roads.
§ Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South-West)
Can the Secretary of State throw any light upon the report in the Sunday Times yesterday that the Government were asking that some parts of the route of Motorway 1 in London should be safeguarded, and that that was being done at the request of the national Government against the wishes of the GLC? Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm or deny that?
§ Mr. Rippon
I saw the Sunday Times article. Like most of the Insight articles, it is a curious combination of garbled facts, distorted comment and misleading assertions, all of which the newspaper could put right if it bothered to ask the people and Ministers most concerned. Therefore, I cannot go into all that the newspaper said. I have stated my position about London ringways, and I do not think I need go beyond it. I have approved in principle the proposals which were in the Greater London Development Plan, but I am now waiting for the views that the new GLC may express on the modifications it may wish made to the plan put before me. That is how the matter stands. and it cannot be changed by an article in the Sunday Times.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead was right to say that it would be wrong to call a complete halt to urban road building, we should not abandon the programme but should certainly reexamine it. I agree that in respect of many of the proposals we need to change our approach. Wherever possible we need to switch to public transport.
I felt it right, however, not just to brush to one side the difficulties that arise over orbital roads in particular, and to pretend that we no longer have to consider any of those possibilities in any circumstances. But generally I shall look to the new county councils, including the GLC, to review their road building plans in the light of what I have said, and what the public and the committee have said, when they draw up the comprehensive statements of transport policy on which the Government propose that grants for transport should be based after next year.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
When the right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about orbital roads, will he note that in London at any rate there is a great distinction between outer orbital roads, to which very few people have raised any objection and which do little damage, and the inner orbital roads, where there is great objection indeed? He did not seem to be making that distinction.
§ Mr. Rippon
I was not going beyond the statement I made when the Greater London Development Plan was published. That is on the record and stands, subject to the discussions which go on with the GLC about its present views, and subject to any views it may express about modifications it would like in the proposals. I cannot go into the merits of particular schemes, but I take the right hon. Gentleman's point. Certainly, there is less controversy about the outer orbital roads.
Meanwhile, local authorities have already been asked to review the individual schemes they are preparing, in the light of the Urban Motorway Committee's report. Before any grant is made to any further schemes we shall need to satisfy ourselves that the environmental effects are acceptable or can with modification be made so.
My Department is reviewing trunk road schemes in urban areas against the same criteria.
I turn to the second main recommendation of the Committee, which is that central Government should have a positive policy for urban transport, laying down a broad approach which it should ensure that local authorities follow. For the reasons set out in paragraphs 10–13 of the Government's reply to the committee's report, we do not go all the way with its recommendations on this point. But the difference between us is mainly one of degree. We believe that it is wrong to seek to control in detail the transport decisions of local authorities.
There are a number of reasons. First, transport is only one of the many interrelated aspects of land use planning for which local authorities are primarily responsible. Secondly, what we are essentially trying to do in urban transport, as in other areas of planning, is to take account of the needs and preferences of local 1063 people, subject to overriding national policies and the resources available.
At the same time, it is possible for the central Government to lay down a broad approach. How that is translated into practice is to a large extent a local matter. That is why I say that it is right that the local authority, whether the GLC or any other authority, should have the primary responsibility for saying what it thinks is necessary to meet local needs.
I accept as the committee says, that these are urgent and substantial problems and that local authorities have not always been sufficiently bold or imaginative in tackling them. We must hope that the reorganisation of local government into stronger units will radically improve that position. The new county and metropolitan county councils will have responsibility not only for highways and traffic but for public transport. They will have new powers which, outside the conurbations, they have not had before to support financially public transport.
As part of next Session's legislation to deal with local government finance we shall be bringing before the House measures to abolish most of the existing specific grants for different aspects of transport. We shall replace them by a unified system covering local transport expenditure of all kinds. That will enable local authorities to prepare themselves for the kind of comprehensive approach on which the new system of grants will be based.
I hope that the new system will enable my Department to get away from much of the detailed checking of individual schemes which is necessary under the present system of specific grants. My Department can then concentrate instead on the broader strategic questions to which local authorities should now be addressing themselves and which are the subject of this debate.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead for his constructive speech and for what I think we can all regard as a valuable and important report.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert C. Brown (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)
I. too, am pleased to give general although not unqualified support 1064 to the Expenditure Committee's findings. I pay tribute to the chairman and the members of the Committee for the tremendous amount of work that they have put into the report. I am particularly pleased, because the report and its conclusions are more or less a mirror image of the policies prepared by the Labour-controlled Newcastle City Council over 10 years ago in respect of road transport planning. They are policies with which I was closely identified as a member of the planning committee and as chairman of the city's highways committee. The policies which were then laid down are, I am glad to say, still being carried on in spite of the council's change of political complexion.
Those policies are not to the general acclaim of the citizens of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. No one likes the upheaval created by the building of an urban motorway, but everyone in the city, including the present protestors, will recognise the benefits from the completion of the east-central motorway and the connections thereto.
The Committee's first recommendation is that a national policy should be directed towards promoting public transport and discouraging the use of the car for the journey to work in city areas. Only a lunatic could disagree with that recommendation. One of the objectives of Newcastle's plan, which was thrown up in the early 1960s, was that public transport should be promoted and that the use of cars for the journey to work, particularly in the city centre, should be curtailed. We then saw the implementation of that objective as preserving the current level of bus use and controlling car parks in a manner which would deter the commuter. Accordingly we started our design work on the basis that 70 per cent. of peak period journeys to the city centre would be made by public transport.
Recommendation (3) refers to rapid transit systems. The planning authorities in the Tyne/Wear area commissioned Alan M. Voorhees and Associates Ltd. and Colin Buchanan and Partners—seconded staff to produce a Tyne/ Wear transport plan for the 1980s. That plan was published in March 1972. It included proposals for rapid transit. Investigations of rapid transit systems were carried out. As a result proposals for a Tyneside rapid 1065 transit system were brought rapidly forward by the Tyneside Passenger Transport Authority. Even people who have criticised the creation of passenger transport authorities now conceive that the work can be carried out much more expeditiously under the auspices of the passenger transport executive than beforehand.
A Bill is now before Parliament, and when we clear the hurdle of another place we hope to start work on a system that will be of enormous benefit to the long-suffering commuters of Tyneside. The Minister has said that the ground is already available. I hope that we shall not have any long parliamentary debates, because the system is long overdue.
The Tyneside Passenger Transport Executive's detailed studies broadly justify the Tyne/Wear conclusions as indeed the Tyne/Wear conclusions broadly justified the urban long-term transport plans of the 1960s of the Newcastle council.
I completely support the Committee's recommendations about bus lanes and bus usage. When we have our rapid transit scheme fewer bus lanes will be called for in Newcastle, as buses will be used largely to feed rapid transit stations in areas away from the acutely congested areas. Of course, that will not be the general situation.
Where bus lanes are an urgent necessity the problem of enforcement arises. We must face the fact that no matter how much we spend on bus lanes, if the chief constable in the area adopts an attitude of non co-operation in enforcement measures the scheme is a dead duck. We must remember that outside London chief constables have the power of the Almighty in their own area and that they are not unnaturally against their men coming in for more bad odour from the motorists. One cannot blame them for taking that attitude. Therefore, they are not too keen to order tough enforcement.
The time has probably come to think about a special force responsible not to chief constables but to the planning and highways authorities for the enforcement of traffic law in urban conurbations.
I now turn to the recommendations in respect of traffic restraint in Newcastle.
1066 The greater part of the city centre is covered by parking control. Charges are broadly related to the implementation of car parking policy. However, the city does not have the necessary powers to license car parks. When we consider that half the parking spaces in the city are controlled by private agencies it will be seen readily that licensing is of immense importance.
All that can be done at local authority level is being done at present—namely, by seeking to impose conditions on planning permission to limit the use of all-day parking places to the minimum necessary for the operation of the premises subject to the planning consent. It becomes abundantly clear that an effective car parking policy will be very much inhibited until such times as we have the necessary enabling legislation.
The Government must come across much more on this issue. They must clearly come forward and say, "We recognise that licensing is a must. We must introduce the necessary legislation." In Newcastle, as I have already indicated, we seek to prevent over-provision of car spaces in new developments. We attempt to secure a contribution from developers towards the provision of space in publicly operated car parks. Our plans in the 1960s for Newcastle provided for a widespread network of pedestrian precincts.
I was delighted to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-East (Mr. Bradley) say that Leicester had taken its first faltering steps towards the creation of pedestrian precincts. Newcastle has a major pedestrian precinct in the centre of the city. The Al north-south, Edinburgh-London route through the centre of the city is now probably as fine a pedestrian precinct as there is. It is in Northumberland Street and Saville Row. It has been in use for two years or more and is a tremendous success. When the eastern motorway is completed, we shall be able to embark on the extension of pedestrian precincts.
Special lorry routes are necessary A considerable amount of work in this respect has been done on a sub-regional basis in the Tyneside area. But, as with bus lanes, implementation and enforcement are horses of two different colours. Enforcement of lorry routes is absolutely 1067 paramount and essential. We are simply wasting our time and a lot of money if we strengthen the roads for lorry routes and then, because of a lack of police enforcement, the lorry drivers simply take the back streets that they have been used to. My remarks earlier about bus lanes are applicable to lorry routes.
I wish to say something about the environment—a much overworked word. The environmental quality of a city depends to a great extent on keeping the commuter and through-traffic out of the centre. It is important to life in a city that good accessibility for road vehicles should be maintained for the supply of goods and from the point of view of the customer. We must therefore aim to achieve an effective balance between the use of road vehicles and public transport.
The phrase "ban the car" is an emotive one. It is appealing particularly to those of us who enjoy Saturday afternoon shopping in a pedestrian precinct like Northumberland Street, in Newcastle. But the problem cannot totally be met by public transport alone, either by buses or by rapid transit. Those who shout "Ban the car" the loudest tend to believe that they are the protectors of democracy and the democratic processes in the area. But democracy has a link with freedom. Freedom and democracy are worth working for and accepting some slight frustrations for. People who shout emotive phrases like, "Ban the car"—as though that could be done overnight, by decree—must remember that democracy, as with freedom, is something that we must cherish. People who make such demands must think in terms of a choice between democracy, freedom and dictatorship.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Sir John Hall (Wycombe)
There was a maxim which my mother was fond of continually impressing on me, namely, "If you cannot say something pleasant about a person, say nothing at all". It has had a great influence on me throughout my life, although I have found it a great handicap as a politician. However, I suffer from no inhibition in expressing my appreciation for the enthusiastic and untiring work of the members of the subcommittee of which I was privileged to be chairman at the time of the report. I do not think that any chairman could have had a committee which supported him better, nor clerks and clerical assist- 1068 ants who did so much to help it. I pay tribute to them, and particularly to my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason), who opened this debate.
I am under no inhibition, either, in paying tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for having the wisdom to accept the main theses advanced by the Committee in this report, together with most of the recommendations, although I am sure that he will not be surprised when I say that I shall have one or two observations to make about his comments on the recommendations. It is gratifying to note what appears to be a considerable measure of support on both sides of the House for the report. I wish that that was so in every debate, but I suppose that that is expecting too much.
There is—and I think that this will be generally agreed—some misunderstanding outside the House about what the report recommended. Judging by the reactions of some of the motoring organisations, that misunderstanding goes rather deep. Therefore, it would not be out of the way if I were to stress five of the main points, as I see them, of the Committee's recommendations.
First, the inquiry was concerned with large conurbations and major cities and not with the countryside and smaller towns. Secondly, it was particularly concerned with the traffic problems generated by the problem of journeys to and from work and not with restricting the leisure use of the car—again a source of misunderstanding by those who have not read the report properly.
Paragraph 18 of the report states:It is not the ownership of the car which creates our problem but its increasing use in place of public transport in congested conditions at peak hours. We regard it as desirable and right that an ever increasing number of our people should possess a car for use on leisure journeys".I hope that that removes any misunderstanding by motorists or the organisations which represent them.
Thirdly, the Committee stressed the need for radical and far-reaching improvement of public transport without which it would be impossible to impose the kind of restraints and restrictions on the private car suggested in the report.
1069 The hon. Member for Leicester, North-East (Mr. Bradley) expressed some surprise at the fact that we had not considered the fare-free system and the possibility of introducing something of that kind. We considered this matter, not, I admit, in detail, but the evidence given to the Committee suggested that it was not fares or the cost of travelling which was the main consideration. Comfort, convenience and speed played a much bigger part than the cost of fares. We were also influenced to some extent by the experiment in Rome, which proved to be a ghastly failure—not that that in itself is conclusive because there were many undesirable elements about it which could not be said to make it possible to draw adequate conclusions from it. However, we took it into account.
Fourthly, as the Minister stressed in his observations on our report, the unrestricted growth of use of the motor car, particularly during peak hours, will lead to a continuing deterioration of public transport, with a corresponding increase in hardship to the many people still dependent on public transport, well beyond the 1980s. But, as the hon. Member for Leicester, North-East said, there will be a large number of not only old but young people who will have no car of their own and no access to a car. If we allow the public transport system to deteriorate, as it has been deteriorating, we shall impose severe hardships on many people for some years to come.
Lastly, while properly planned urban road development designed to relieve congestion and improve environmental conditions is to be welcomed, urban road development by itself should not be considered to be an answer to the problem. In some respects, it tends to exacerbate other problems of housing, health, education, and so on, as we pointed out in our report. All of us at some time are made painfully aware of the harmful effect of increasing traffic congestion on what is often loosely described as the quality of life. We have suffered either as residents in a city, or as motorists, cursing helplessly while sitting in a traffic jam, drawing in traffic fumes through the heating systems of our cars, and from time to time we have said: "They must do something about it". As is shown in the 1070 reaction of motorists' organisations, when "they" do something about it, if that something means some control over our personal freedom of movement, our reaction is rather different.
I do not know whether hon. Members have had time to read an article in the Sunday Telegraph, by a Mr. Thompson. It was headed:And now good-bye to Mr. Toad".As we all know, Mr. Toad was a resident of Toad Hall and an early motorist. I quote a relevant paragraph of the article:We are all environmentalists now, of course, and anyone can see the attractions of city centres where movement is quick and easy instead of slow and insufferably frustrating. But with environmental reform, as in other spheres, we tend to lose our ardour when they are being achieved at the price of our inconvenience. Sacrifice always seems more meritorious when someone else is making it.We must bear this in mind when we are trying to push through measures that will restrict the movement of private cars in our cities.
The evidence produced to the Committee in relation to the journey to work showed that from the point of view of the community a system which relied increasingly on cars was almost certainly more expensive, even in pure economic terms, than one making greater use of public transport. There is full reference to that in paragraph 22 of the report. This situation creates greater environmental damage and, because it seriously affects the public transport service, it has an adverse social effect. The recommendations of the Committee are designed to remedy that situation.
In the main, these recommendations have been accepted, but in one respect the Minister's reactions to one of the two main recommendations seem a little equivocal. Paragraph 30 of the report says:Over the last decade there have been strong pressures upon Central Government to devolve more of its responsibilities upon the local authorities.My right hon. and learned Friend made a point of that.
Paragraph 30 continues:This process is laudable in that it increases local responsibility and reduces the size of monolithic central departments, but only now is the complexity of the urban problem being recognised, with the interactive effects of employment, leisure, housing and transport upon 1071 each other. We support the principle of devolution wherever possible, but we have come to the conclusion that transport in an urban setting poses such urgent and substantial problems that Central Government needs to play, much stronger rôle in the whole urban transport planning process.That paragraph led us to our second main recommendation, that the Department of the Environment should have a positive policy for urban transport laying down a broad approach which it should ensure local authorities would follow.
In the reply to that, mainly in paragraph 11 of the Government's White Paper, it is statedThe Government think it is wrong to seek to control in detail the transport decisions of local authorities.However, the Committee was not suggesting the control in detail of the operation of local authorities. It was saying that we should lay down a positive policy for urban transport and a broad approach which the Government should ensure local authorities followed. Perhaps this positive policy is implied in the control exercised under the new grants system which is outlined in paragraphs 12 and 13 of the White Paper.
Will the Department of the Environment refuse supplementary grant if a local authority follows a policy which deliberately ignores the Department's broad approach and lacks adequate provision for public transport? If it is prepared to do that, it will be exercising broad control over the operation of the policy through local authorities.
I turn to some of the individual recommendations. I am a little disturbed and—if I may say so, with such a strong Minister—slightly surprised, to find that some of our positive recommendations have been watered down to recommendations to local authorities to take note, or encouraging local authorities to follow our recommendations. There is phraseology of this kind when we ask that the authorities should be required to implement these recommendations.
This is dangerous, because we are facing an extremely grave situation that is getting worse month by month and year by year, and to allow piecemeal development of what should be national policy could produce traffic chaos throughout the country. It is up to the Minister to lay down quite firmly to local authorities throughout the country that 1072 there must be a certain policy which they must follow. How they follow it and the detail of implementing it is up to them, because to some extent the circumstances of local areas must differ and we cannot legislate for all the differing local circumstances, but the Government can and must lay down a broad policy which the local authorities must be required to follow.
§ Mr. Rippon
If I intervene now, it may not he necessary for there to be a Ministerial reply on this subject. I hope I have not misled the House. Clearly, the Government must lay down the broad policy and may take appropriate steps to see that a local authority does not simply ignore national proposals, whether expressed in a circular, or in legislation.
All I wanted to do was to emphasise what degree of local responsibility there would be. We say in paragraph 13 of the White Paper:In considering local authorities' estimates of expenditure, the Department of the Environment would expect to be satisfied that comprehensive policies were being developed based on an adequate level of evaluation and study.That may be putting it gently. but the message should be clear.
§ Sir John Hall
I am relieved by that intervention and I shall not pursue the point. I was about to come to our Recommendation 13.
What are the difficulties that the GLC has met in establishing licensed street parking spaces open to public use?
In general, I warmly welcome the Government's reaction to the Committee's report. They have gone a long way to meet certainly our major recommendations and many of our more detailed proposals. I hope that they will find it possible to implement the recommendations and the policy outlined as soon as possible, because time is not on our side.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Tope (Sutton and Cheam)
I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Wycombe (Sir John Hall), with whom I completely agreed. I begin by expressing my thanks and those of my party to the members of the Expenditure Committee for producing an excellent report. In general, I welcome the Government's apparent acceptance of certainly the main recommendations, although 1073 still feel some disquiet about how the Government will enforce those recommendations.
In many respects, the results of previous urban transport policies can be seen at their worst in the outer urban areas, such as my own constituency and other parts of outer London, where we have relatively high car ownership and a poor public transport system. Indeed, in many outer London areas the public transport system has ceased to exist, leaving many people completely cut off.
The result has been a continued decline of public transport as it becomes more inconvenient, less frequent and more expensive, and inevitably more and more people turn to using their private cars. The result of that is that roads become more and more congested and the bottlenecks increase. As we all know only too well, motorists are increasingly using what were once quiet residential roads as what are called "commuter rat runs". What only a few years ago were quiet residential roads are now as bad as the main roads.
There are several things that local authorities can do already. They could and should enforce proper traffic management schemes to a much greater extent. That would help to relieve the problem, although one has to be careful when instituting such a scheme that one does not simply shift the problem from one residential road to another, as can so easily happen. Other measures could be taken to improve road junctions. That, too, is essential, but, again, one has to be careful not merely to shift a traffic block from one point to another.
But all that is tinkering with the essential problem. It may mitigate the worst effects of previous urban transport decisions but it does not get to grips with the problem itself. That is what the report of the Expenditure Committee has done: it has tackled the basic problem.
I warmly welcome the main recommendations. We need a balanced national transport policy geared to promoting public transport and to restricting the use of the car in city areas. I welcome the suggestions on how to achieve that. If we are to survive—and I mean "survive"—in urban areas, we must recognise that the future lies in providing 1074 a cheap, frequent and convenient public transport service and for public transport to be seen as a social service and not as an activity run primarily as a commercial enterprise. Equally, I recognise that it is wrong merely to try to restrict the private car without providing effective public transport as an alternative.
In the observations that it has sent to hon. Members for this debate, the RAC seems to suggest that the Committee's recommendations and the Government's observations do not produce a balanced policy and will be unfair to car users. I am sure that most of us here are car users. The RAC seems to ignore the fact that previous transport policies have been heavily weighted in favour of private transport and against public transport. The time for correcting that imbalance is overdue. We now must weigh public transport against private transport.
Similarly, the RAC seems to assume that personal mobility will increasingly mean unrestricted use of private cars and that we are moving into an age of universal car ownership. Several hon. Members have already pointed out that that is wrong—that that assumption automatically ignores the poor, the old, the young, and the disabled, those who cannot now and probably never will be able to use the private car to give them personal mobility.
Hon. Members have probably seen the recent PEP report on Personal Mobility and Transport. It showed that in one Midlands city only 6 per cent. of the pensioners had driving licences and that only 6 per cent. of the pensioners lived in households with cars. What of the other 94 per cent, of pensioners in that city? The PEP found, similarly, that in a new town with two thirds of households owning cars only 11 per cent. of housewives had driving licences. Are the other 89 per cent. to be condemned to isolation, as would seem to be the logical conclusion of the RA C's observation?
In general, I welcome the Government's reactions to the Committee's recommendations and the fairly recent shift in the Government's attitude towards public transport, although, as usual, I fear, it does not go far enough. For instance, as the hon. Member for Wycombe pointed out, the Committee 1075 recommended that in a number of instances local authorities should be required to take specific action, but the Government seem to say that the authorities should only be encouraged. We have yet to see what form that encouragement will take, but experience has shown, as paragraph 141 of the Committee's report would seem to show, that, unfortunately, many local authorities will need considerable encouragement if they are to take the measures that we should like them to take.
I would welcome the Government's favourable reaction to the proposal to establish bus lanes. I should like to hear about the Department's evaluation of the 13 projects now being considered. I am sure that the House will welcome today's report by London Transport of the success of the Oxford Street experiment. I hope that this enormous success will encourage the GLC and other authorities to undertake more experiments in London and other cities.
The subject of traffic restraint demonstrates the problems presented by authorities which refuse to co-operate in comprehensive transport policies. As was said by the Secretary of State, the parking policies of many authorities are grossly out of date. Paragraph 79 of the Committee's report clearly shows that a much more positive approach by the Government is needed.
I hope that we will see that approach. I share the concern of Labour Members at the Government's somewhat ambivalent attitude towards future road building. Of course we need a road building programme. No one queries that. But the Committee recommended that the Government should instigate a thorough, wholesale re-examination of all major trunk and principal road programmes. The Government seem a little reluctant to do this.
§ Mr. Tope
I should have made that clear. The Committee recommended a wholesale reappraisal of all urban road building programmes. The Government seem a little reluctant to adopt such a radical measure. I feel some concern that the Minister is not as strong and 1076 forthright on that proposal as he is on others. The whole atmosphere of the Committee's excellent work was one of urgency. The tenor of this debate today is one of fairly general agreement on the main recommendations. Unless firm and prompt action is taken by the Government the work of the Committee and today's debate will have been in vain.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I think that the idea is to divide the time between the two debates, but this one started rather late. I hope we will be able to continue it after seven o'clock. I have the names of nine hon. Members who want to catch my eye. I hope to be able to get them all in the debate.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ Mr. John H. Osborn (Sheffield, Hallam)
The work of a Royal Commission has been praised in the past. A Select Committee has one disadvantage; it takes up the time of Members outside the Chamber. This debate, the White Paper and the Report vindicate the Select Committee system. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Sir John Hall) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) upon having presented a background for this vital and urgent debate concerning all of us in our constituencies and particularly in constituencies which have urban and industrial areas attached to them.
The report has helped to put the value of the car in its true perspective. It has been available for six months now and has been a useful document for those seeking to review the subject. There is now a greater understanding of the value of the motor car as a passenger vehicle as well as of its limitations. There is a better appreciation of the advantages and limitations of mass transportation as against personal transportation. Even in driving to work there are advantages in personal transport. Every now and then those who rely upon buses are affected by driver shortages, or other problems. The driver in charge of his own vehicle is to a much greater extent in charge of his own destiny and is not dependent on the services of others. This is why more and more people want to use their private car for travelling to work.
1077 I do not condone this. The whole debate has been an attempt to dissuade people from wanting to do so. There is now some 12½ million cars on the road and it is wise to take note of the fad that there is a growing dependence on the motor car. The alternative to the private transport vehicle presents a challenge, which this report goes some way to help meet.
The private car may well be taken for granted by those who have had a car all of their lives—too much so. To others, who have just become car-owners, the motor car opens up new horizons and new forms of liberation. On the other hand, the wise motorist and to a large extent the motoring organisations must accept that there will have to be checks, restraints and limitations in our towns and cities.
These must be designed so that motorist does not hinder motorist, and motorist does not hinder road haulier, and above all, so that neither the haulier nor the motorist erodes more than is necessary the environment of those who live in our towns and cities. Traffic jams in London are not, fortunately, on the scale of those that occur in the United States, where huge urban programmes have been embarked upon. I have seen some of these.
In Tokyo the problems are catastrophic compared to those which face this country, because until recently environmental considerations have been given a very low priority. There are two main recommendations—first, limiting of the use of private cars at peak hours, and, secondly, ensuring that public transport can provide an attractive alternative. These are short-term issues to which the Government should give absolute priority.
Of course, there should be restraints on the private motorists, such as realistic parking charges, tighter parking controls and owner liability, as well as driver liability for parking offences. I would suggest that when excluding small towns and dealing with middle-sized towns and cities there is, however, a need to consider the professional man, who regards the car not only as a means of getting to work but as part of the work function. For many the journey to and from work is part of the weekly work pattern. These people form 10 per cent. to 15 per cent.
1078 of the total, but they are an important factor. The journey to work is only one of the journeys that have to be undertaken.
In this context I am mindful of the fact that in our factories today, particularly where there is full employment, the employer who provides a car park for his workers is morely likely to retain and attract his work force. This is the reality which those in industry must face. The other reality is that at rush hours it is sometimes more comfortable to drive in one's car than to rely on the railway or the bus, when queueing and delays are only too frequent. The improvement of public transport at peak hours only is a costly use of resources, and much more attention must be given to the staggering of working hours.
Another point to be borne in mind is that in our modern towns invariably a journey is from home away from the city centre to a place of work away from the city centre. In the new towns it can be round or across but not through a city centre. When dealing with city centres, adequate peripheral roads may well overcome some of the difficulties. In Sheffield many people commute from the west end, namely, my constituency of Hallam, to the east end—Attercliffe and elsewhere. Lack of alternative roads can force far too many to go through the city centre.
Twice, in the last 12 months I have had the opportunity of seeing the Boulevard Périphérique in action This is the main ring road round Paris. Unfortunately, too much traffic from the north, east and west of France is directed through the city to the rest of the country and the south. On the other hand, those Members of Parliament and planners who have studied this recently have found that about 85 per cent. of those using this road comprise people going from one suburb to the Périphérique and coming back in again. This is a means of getting from one side to the other of Paris without going through the city centre.
But when I travelled through Paris on Friday, when most of its inhabitants were going to the south at the start of the long holiday I can assure hon. Members that the traffic congestion there would have pleased no one had it taken place in London. Nevertheless, I hope that 1079 the GLC will not reject the box and other means of providing quick transport by road from one part of London to another, for in cities such as London and Paris a very high percentage of all journeys are within the city boundaries. This is nothing to do with the motorway ring roads which are also proposed.
It is wise for us to make comparisons with other countries. Those who have discussed these matters with the Commission in Brussels—I see my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton. Test (Mr. S. James A. Hill) present and I will be asking him to table Questions about this—realise that much information has been collated about habits in other countries. This country has more cars per mile of road than any other country in Europe. In many European countries the average family spends more on a car than a roof over its head. I have tabled a Parliamentary Question this week to ask the Secretary of State what the position is in this country. Only last week the Council of Europe Economic Affairs and Development Committee debated this very subject. Europeans will benefit from this debate and the reports.
If I have a criticism, it is that not enough attention has been paid to the collection and delivery of goods in medium-sized towns and cities. There is a circular in the evidence—M14—on page 99 of the supplementary memorandum. However, it must be borne in mind that for practical purposes all goods in urban areas must be collected or delivered by road. Such deliveries or collections could be by van, light lorry, furniture van or pantechnicon.
In the past 25 years there have been immense new developments in our city centres. Have the planners made enough provision for loading and off-loading when planning permission for new construction has been given? There are immediate alternatives: restricting times for loading and unloading. However, that is inconvenient to those in business. Are commercial premises with good facilities for loading and unloading subject to an increase rather than a decrease in rates? This is equally anomalous for the private citizen who provides a garage to keep his car off the highway. He finds that his rates go up accordingly. These matters 1080 have not been dealt with in enough depth.
There has been a good discussion on the rôle of local government. I will not elaborate on that now. However, the dialogue between my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe in the debate provides valuable clarification.
I welcome the fact that the Department is now sharing in a transportation study for Sheffield and Rotherham. This has created a good deal of interest and enthusiasm. When will this study be completed? Will it be published?
I welcome the fact that various mass and personal transport systems are being reviewed. But this study for Sheffield and Rotherham will provide an example of what other towns and cities have to consider and face.
It is easy for local authorities to be too restrictive on the private motor car by preventing parking too far away from city centres. What are reasonable criteria for a local authority to decide when to prevent parking altogether? Do local authorities give enough attention to loading and off-loading at commercial premises and shops?
There is a proposal in Sheffield to increase the pedestrian precinct as such. At what stage does the pedestrian precinct become too large?
There has been reference to free bus rides. I understand that this is one of the items being considered by the Sheffield City Council. It will note that the experiment in Rome has been a failure. Surely, park-and-ride on a free basis has some virtues. The most important point is that where buses are coming into cities from outside and have to go through heavily congested urban areas there should be priority lanes. I welcome the fact that instruction and films are to be given and shown to the planning departments of local authorities.
I should like to end with two brief points. The first deals with the alternatives to the motor car—mass transport systems and personal rapid transport systems. Obviously the bus is the best short-term measure to anything else which can be devised. London benefits from the underground, and we have had an outline of the Newcastle proposal which is going 1081 forward. The fast underground has many virtues. When I visited TRANSPO 72 the London Transport Underground map was on view. Few Americans realised that we have had the Underground system for decades. They thought that it was a useful plan for the future. In other words, what we in London have done and are doing we tend to ignore and take for granted. The emphasis on the need to provide special routes for buses, coupled with the fact that streetcars are prevalent in Europe, could mean that the tram, which was abandoned a decade or so ago, could come hack into its own. This is a form of mass transport, although I am not too keen on the steel wheel on rail. However, other sophisticated systems were on show at TRANSPO 72, and are now the subject of state sponsored trials and experiments in the USA.
Personal rapid transport systems were also on show. If a person owns a car he is responsible for any damage that he does to it and has to have it repaired. When a person hires a car the same applies. Those who install personal rapid transport systems for men or men's immediate friends, and even family, catering for two, four or even six people, may not have means of checking whether there has been vandalism of one type or another. Personal transportation. without responsibility for the transport vehicle on the part of the person using it, could give rise to opportunities for vandalism.
Secondly, there is a need to know more about the availability of liquid fossil fuels for propelling the motor vehicle as such. I should welcome a debate and more information on the energy situation. The provision of alternative means of transport to the private car or lorry which is as economical may be difficult but is a matter which must be looked into urgently and in depth in this context.
The urban transport problems present a challenge to this country and to other countries. I accept that there must be encouragement of public transport systems and I welcome the recommendation in the report. I accept that the motorist, particularly at peak hours, whether it be a private motorist or a road haulier, in both environmental and his own interests, must accept restrictions. Town planning standards to accommodate private motor- 1082 ists and the heavy commercial vehicles need revising and should be looked at much more closely in future.
I welcome this report and congratulate its authors on presenting the House with a useful working document.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, Central)
I serve with the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. J. H. Osborn) on another Select Committee. I hope that on this occasion he will forgive me if I do not follow him but leave Sheffield and proceed immediately to Bristol.
I represent the Central division of Bristol. The curious point about my constituency is that in spite of its name and location it is to be bisected by the new Bristol outer circuit road. That road has not perhaps achieved the national notoriety of the London motorway box scheme, but I assure the House that it is highly controversial in Bristol.
The road was conceived in the early 1960s on Buchanan lines, although I understand that Buchanan has since repented, and is the outer of two concentric circles which are proposed to be driven through and around the ancient city of Bristol taking up land made available by old housing clearance. The original intention was that the road should use flyovers and tunnels where necessary. Some of these have been abandoned on grounds of expense and amenity, which has meant that we have been left with complicated intersections.
A decade has passed since the plan was originally conceived, and a number of important facts are emerging which I propose to give to the House in order to assist the debate. I can give them because, as the Member for the Central constituency, I can claim to have been a close observer of the scene throughout.
The first point to bear in mind is that while this road is still being doggedly pushed on—stage I will soon be completed and stages 2 and 3 are in the process of receiving grants—it is already evident that it will do very little to relieve the fundamental traffic congestion difficulties of Bristol, and there are two principal reasons for that.
First, in the 10 years since the plan was originally produced, traffic—and particularly car traffic—has increased 1083 enormously. Bristol is an area of outstanding growth in terms of cars. Secondly, since the plan was drawn up the national motorway system has been developed. There is a link from the M4 through the M32, which is the Park Way, from the new motorway right on to the outer circuit road of Bristol, and when this new road is eventually given an outlet to the south, instead of relieving congestion it will attract traffic through the heart of Bristol from the motorway to other national routes. It is no good planning city road schemes without making them an integral related part of the national road plan or the worst will result.
So far, the road has gone through areas which were perhaps destined for ultimate demolition. The houses affected were old, though some of them could probably have been reconstructed and saved. But the general social effect has been unfortunate. It has almost entirely broken up the social cohesion of my constituency. It has even affected the routes by which children have to go to school; communities which grew up and evolved together have been divided. It has given the city's housing department extra problems—as if it did not have enough already—and, most regrettable of all, in a historical sense, it is changing the character of Bristol and will in the long run make Bristol indistinguishable from any city anywhere in western Europe. It has aroused much public resentment. It has divided the political parties. It has inspired a satirical review at Bristol's famous theatre.
There was a time when objections could have been lodged to the scheme but the known fact is that there are always few objectors at the time when a scheme starts. The objectors come forward when the actual road construction starts and people see what is happening. As the Member for the area most affected, I must tell the House that there have been innumerable objections not only from those whose houses have been pulled down to allow the road to go through but from those who live on the edge of the route, because they have to endure months and sometimes years of inconvenience, dirt and noise. They are often elderly people, and they grow weary with having to cope with the difficulties of life in such conditions.
1084 Although it is not often said, the truth is that when a large modern contracting firm moves into an area it is rather like the coming in of an occupying army. The firm uses bulldozers and mechanical shovels instead of guns and tanks, but my constituents often feel like the citizens of an occupied country.
The question that needs to be answered is whether the orbital road solution for dealing with traffic problems in Bristol has been worth it. In the light of experience, I think my answer must be a qualified "No". I do not blame those who inaugurated the scheme. Some of them are my close political friends, and they certainly received the best technical advice. That is one of the difficulties about this kind of scheme. The elected representative is so much in the hands of the expert; experts become determined to carry their schemes through irrespective of any change of personalities or of political majorities.
I have no bias against the car. In fact, for two or three years I was a member of the Committee of that august body the Royal Automobile Club. I am not sure why I left the Committee but I think it was because it kept issuing those blue posters. I am no enemy of the car. I regard it as a great emancipator of the human race, but the more cars there are the more it is necessary to control them in the interests of humanity packed in an urban environment.
For that reason I welcome the report of the Expenditure Committee. I welcome, too, the Government's reaction to it, which I confess is on balance constructive. The combination of the report and the White Paper provides some enlightenment, but the difficulty is that a considerable period of time will elapse between the issuing of the White Paper and the bringing in of the necessary legislation. Meanwhile, these schemes grind remorselessly on and a vast vested interest has grown up in city planning technical departments and in construction firms. It is an alliance that will not easily be broken.
I have one specific point to put to the Government. I do not know whether the Minister will reply to it tonight. I do not particularly want to encourage him to do so, and perhaps he will let me have the answer by letter. On page 10 of the 1085 White Paper the Government reply to Recommendation 29, which says:The proportion of existing schemes considered as firm commitments, both highway and public transport, should be kept to an absolute minimum when considering new plans.The White Paper says:The Government agree. Inclusion of a scheme in the preparation list which is periodically announced by the Secretary of State is not a firm commitment without further adequate appraisal and evaluation of the scheme itself, its wider implications and a comparison with alternative proposals.I take that paragraph to mean that even long-planned schemes can be revised and that the Government will take the initiative in bringing about a revision. The answer to my question will be of special interest to those in Bristol, on both sides of the controversy, who are concerned with further development of the outer circuit road. I should like to know whether the Government regard the completion of the outer circuit road in Bristol—under grant—to the Totter-down intersection as conflicting with that paragraph in the White Paper. Has the Minister's Department studied the White Paper? It is no good having Select Committees as industrious as this Select Committee has been. White Papers which are welcoming and helpful and encouraging ministerial speeches if in the end there is very little change and the people in our great cities are left to live in an environment that steadily worsens because we are not strong enough to control it.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Chapman (Birmingham, Handsworth)
As an environmentalist who, I suppose, was an environmentalist before the word was invented if only because I am that unpopular combination, city politician, town planner and private architect, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate on urban transport planning. With the greatest respect, the House must face certain basic facts.
First, whereas 20 to 25 years ago on average one in every five families had a private vehicle, today on average every other family has its own means of private conveyance. The problem of urban areas with which the debate is primarily concerned is caused not only by that fact but by the fact that 80 per cent. of us 1086 live in towns and cities and that many who do not live in towns and cities come to those urban areas to seek their living. Whereas in the United Kingdom on average the density of population is just over 600 people to every square mile, in the urban areas on average the density is between 8,000 to 12,000 people to every square mile.
Because the number of private vehicles is increasing, fewer and fewer people are using public transport or, to be more precise, people are using public transport fewer and fewer times. Notwithstanding the Government's obligation to provide a service to those without private means of transport, public transport cannot successfully compete with the private car unless negative policies detrimental to the car owner are introduced by the Government.
The reason why public transport cannot compete with private transport is in general terms that private transport takes a person from door to door and—a fact that is overlooked by many people, certainly by economists and town planners—the motorist, having involved himself in probably the second highest financial transaction of his life, second only to buying his own home, has to use his car to justify the outlay of that capital expenditure. We can never solve the problem of traffic in town by positive solutions. Even if we had unlimited resources we could never provide the roads needed for an increasingly affluent society.
I apologise for descending to parochial matters, but the classic example of that is Birmingham. I suppose that Birmingham has an adequate inner ring road system. It is physically joined to the national network motorway system, of which Birmingham is the hub. The very fact that Birmingham has an adequate inner ring road system will make it the first city to have an out-of-date inner ring road system. An adequate road system acts as a magnet and increases the volume of private and commercial vehicles.
If we reject the absolute negative solution to the problem of traffic in towns, as I am sure we shall—if we do not do so in the debate today we shall certainly do so to our constitutents before the next General Election—the solution of putting the motor car out of reach of the average family man by such means as 1087 increasing the car tax to 100 per cent., the petrol tax to 1,000 per cent., and the Road Fund licence from £25 to £100, we must be concerned about the degree to which as a democratic society we are prepared to inflict negative policies on the private motorist. We may think that a combination of negative policies is necessary, and I want to sketch out two or three.
First, for the sake of civilisation and the environment we must have an extension of the use of pedestrian precincts. There are difficulties involved in the timing of the loading and unloading of goods for shops in those areas and problems with ambulances, fire engines and police cars, but I say to traders who bitterly complain when yellow lines are painted outside the front doors of their shops that it can be shown that trade increases when shops are in desirable areas in which people can walk about without fear of being hit up the backside by half a ton of metal. We can re-create pleasant areas in our cities by extending the "pedestrian only" concept.
Secondly, there must be an extension of the concept of using roads and streets in cities only for certain types of vehicle. I am a supporter and sponsor of the Heavy Commercial Vehicles Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes). To put it generally and a little simply, the Bill seeks to give local authorities powers to control where large vehicles can go in urban areas. But there should be an obverse side to this coin. We must deny to private motorists the use of certain streets and we must perhaps give preference to heavy vehicles in certain streets. There must be a comprehensive policy and an extension of the concept of limiting the type of vehicle that can use certain types of road.
Thirdly, whilst I absolutely agree that there should be an extension of the experimental bus lane system, there might also be roads specifically for use only by public transport vehicles whether they are buses, coaches or taxis.
Recommendation 12 deals with car parking charges. Yes, of course, the charges must be steep in city centres but they should also be cheap, if not free, on the periphery of city centres next to good communications, bus stops and so on. There must be a carrot as well as a stick in the policy.
1088 Meter feeding is referred to in Recommendation 17. If we are to have meters, I sometimes think we should encourage people to feed meters. Congestion in cities is partly caused by motorists every one, two, or four hours having to drive round looking for unoccupied meters. I would get rid of metering and institute the double yellow line, and there is certainly a case for steeper fines for parking on double yellow lines on clearways into city centres. Just as the strength of the chain is in its weakest link, so traffic flows into cities at peak times are utterly frustrated and ruined by the odd van, wagon or car which is parked on the inside lane.
In conclusion, whilst national Government must set the framework for these negative policies that must inevitably be introduced to a certain degree in our transport planning policies, because every city and town has its own peculiar and particular problems powers should be available to the new local authorities—which in many cases are larger local authorities than the existing ones—to exercise at their discretion. The job of the House and of the Government, of whatever political complexion, is to see that local authorities have powers to act as they see fit in what is, after all, an increasing crisis, and the enabling legislation so to do.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Doig (Dundee, West)
Unlike nearly all previous speakers in the debate, I do not welcome the Committee's proposals, nor the Government's suggestions about them. We have to face facts, and the facts are as follows. Of the population of Britain, 80 per cent. live in urban areas. Of the households in this country, 60 per cent. have one or more cars. This proportion is constantly increasing. It will continue to increase, if one is to believe all the information that we have.
Whether or not we like it, people like using their cars. They will continue to use them so long as that is the best form of transport available to them. For example, the average family likes to shop with its car. Can hon. Members visualise the conditions which would exist upon a bus if one banned cars from central London and everyone had huge shopping baskets and all of them tried to crush into an already overcrowded bus? Can one 1089 imagine even the conductor trying to get along the bus to collect fares?
§ Sir John Hall
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not lose sight of the fact that the Expenditure Committee's report pays particular attention to peak journeys, the journeys to and from work. It was not concerned with banning cars during the day, when people may wish to shop.
§ Mr. Doig That may be so, but that is not what is said in the report.
§ If people want to travel to work by car in preference to using a public service vehicle, why should they not be entitled to do that? First, what are the prime considerations? The first is time, and the second is cost. If people find from experience that it is cheaper and quicker to use their car than to use public transport, have we any right to say that they cannot make that choice? We may reach a situation where it becomes no longer cheaper or quicker for people to use their cars, and then a great many will stop using their cars. If we merely want to stop commuters and all-day parkers, who drive into the towns in the morning, leave their cars there all day and drive out again in the evening, whose employers are not providing them with parking space and who are parking on the streets—usually the biggest portion of parking—I am all for driving such people off the roads.
§ In my constituency, however all the modern towns have provided fairly adequate parking space for employees. I do not see why these people should be barred from bringing in their cars when they are not occupying space which would be used by anyone else. There would be no reason for doing that. They are perpectly entitled to use the space if they find that travelling by car is quicker and cheaper and their employers are prepared to provide parking space.
§ Other drivers should have parking facilities for a sufficient time to allow them to do a reasonable degree of shopping. In Scotland certain places allow only 10 minutes' parking. That is so in the centre of Stirling. Who could even dash into a shop, get served and get back to his car without risking a fine in 10 minutes? That is a ridiculously short period. Kirkcaldy allows 20 minutes, 1090 which is a little better. One could manage to buy one item and get back to one's car in that time. Other areas, such as my own city, normally allow 45 minutes. That is a reasonable time for a person to do a little shopping and get back to his car.
§ So long as people want to use their cars for this purpose, we have no right to stop them. If problems arise, the people best qualified to deal with them are the local authorities. They know far better than any Committee of the House of Commons because they are on the spot and in constant touch with the people. They know the best solutions, and we ought to leave it to them to make decisions.
§ The banning of cars has been tried previously in certain areas of Scotland. One of the most profitable and desirable shopping streets in Glasgow, Sauchiehall Street, had a row of empty shops after a ban on cars, and that was in what was supposed to be the prime shopping area of Glasgow. The shops were no longer doing the trade because people found alternative ways of shopping with their cars, as they wished to shop.
§ One finds the same thing in Edinburgh, where there are parking meters throughout the centre of the city. Even if one is willing to pay the parking charge one can rarely find a space at a meter. This has happened to me time and again. The result is that a hypermarket is built on the outskirts of Edinburgh, providing ample parking space. People can do all their shopping there. They can even wheel their trolleys from the store to their cars. The store is now doing a tremendous trade. This is only the first sign of the pattern which is to come.
§ If we ban cars completely from the centres of cities, the businesses will move out of the cities. This applies particularly to retail businesses. They will move out as far as they have to move in order to provide what the people want, and that is facilities for shopping with their cars. This is already happening. Certain councils have tried to stop it, saying that there will be no hypermarkets in their areas. But they are being short-sighted because they are depriving themselves of one of their main sources of revenue. They are also taking away from their areas a great deal of prosperity and 1091 spending power. That spending power will find an outlet. It does not matter whether councils say that hypermarkets cannot be built within the city boundary, or even under the new local authorities, which are much wider, in those bigger areas. People will find a site just outside and start one of these hypermarkets, and the city will suffer. If cities have any sense they will allow this type of development within the city. It would retain revenue and give people the facilities that they want.
§ However theoretical any Government or Committee may be in their approach, ultimately if we are legislating to prevent the vast majority of people from doing what they want to do a Government will not stay in power for very long.
§ We created a great deal of this trouble in our previous planning. We divided cities into residential, industrial and commercial areas. We deliberately started to separate people and houses from jobs. We compelled people to travel where they did not have to travel previously, when they were within walking distance. This problem has worsened. We in Parliament have caused a great deal of the problem. We have brought about traffic problems in almost every city.
§ The Government say that congestion is spreading. That is true. But let us look briefly at what has happened with the motorways. We used to have congestion on the main roads. The journey from Scotland to London used to take about 16 hours. Every little village provided a hold-up by way of a bottleneck, and every town was worse. So we built the motorways and we can now do that journey in half the time. Some of my friends can do it in less than half the time. They tell me they can get from Glasgow to London in six hours on the motorways. When the motorways were planned it was said that it was a colossal waste of money—£1 million a mile. The idea of bypassing every town and village between London and Scotland was thought to be fantastic.
§ We have not only cut down the time for holiday makers. We have also reduced transport costs and made Scotland fairly economic once more. The one thing we could not do before motorways was compete on equal terms with the south. Now that we have cut the journey time and cheapened transport costs on 1092 articles we are again beginning to compete. If the Government give us a little more help, we shall compete successfully.
§ What has happened on the motorways can happen equally in cities. Every time one reaches a crossroads in cities one is held up, whether by a policeman, by a traffic warden, or by traffic lights. All sorts of expedients are devised to overcome this. The simple and obvious one used on the motorways is used rarely in cities. With flyover or underpass there is no hold-up. There can be two main flows of traffic.
§ To take a further example, many of the people living in Scotland want to holiday in Brighton, Eastbourne or other places on the South Coast of England. I know of no main road that bypasses London. I have not seen one on a map. If I want to get to any South Coast town I must lose a couple of hours going through London.
§ There has been talk about lanes reserved for buses. There is one in Park Lane. Have hon. Members looked at it? I have often travelled down it. A bus can hardly get in that lane for cars, lorries, vans, taxis—all sorts of vehicles except buses.
§ What proportion of the under-strength police force can we afford to devote to solving the traffic problem?
§ One of the reports suggests the imposition of large fines. Already somebody convicted of a parking offence has suffered a greater penalty than someone convicted of an assault with violence. If the recommendations in the report to the effect that penalties should be even stiffer is accepted, presumably capital punishment will be now considered for parking offences.
§ The continued extension of parking meters and raising of meter fees, as one of the reports suggests, until the demand reduces is tantamount to saying that the millionaire can park for as long as he likes as often as he likes wherever he likes, but the person who is struggling to keep his car on the road will have even greater difficulty.
§ Then the suggestion is made that parking should be handed over to private car parking firms. We know the fees they charge—even higher than parking meter fees. That is back to rationing by purse again.1093
§ Road pricing is suggested. Then—even worse—it is suggested that disc parking should be extended. Disc parking has always puzzled me. I am still awaiting answers to Questions I have asked as to who gets the revenue from the disc parking fees. If the parking places were set aside for people with special need such as doctors or nurses near hospitals, nobody would object. Is that the case? As far as I can discover, it is not. A person who can afford to buy is all right; he is guaranteed a place and he can park. Others must struggle along for themselves.
§ The Government must wake up to the fact that the vast majority of people want to use their cars. If we can find ways of letting them do so with the least inconvenience to others, we shall have solved the problem in a way acceptable to the public.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Waltham-stow, East)
I find myself curiously in agreement with a number of things that the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) said. He is right to ask: why should we prevent people from using their cars? On the other hand, I do not think any of us would want to see a British city given over to the use of the car as Los Angeles is. It therefore comes down to a question of balance.
Generally, I can give the report only a mixed welcome, first because it tried to perform a task beyond its reach, which was to talk about urban transport planning in all our cities, whereas nearly all those cities have separate transport problems. Then, for a strange reason which I cannot understand but which perhaps a member of the Expenditure Committee will explain to me, the report left out any serious reference to underground trains as if they were peculiar to London, Glasgow and conceivably Newcastle. This is extraordinary for, after all, London's Tube plays perhaps the biggest part in moving the population to and from work.
§ Mr. John Horam (Gateshead, West)
We did not leave out that reference. We went into the matter carefully and discussed at length the infrastructure and investment involved in installing a large underground or overground railway sys 1094 tern and balanced this against improving the bus system. One of our major recommendations fairly early on goes into the whole question of how much investment should be put into this kind of public transport.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
I am grateful for that intervention. I should be even more grateful if the hon. Gentleman could point out to me the recommendation in the report, because I have not seen it. I have seen a reference to rapid transit systems, but that seemed to refer to surface transport. It is not quite right to imply that surface transport and underground transport are basically the same. because clearly they are not.
§ Mr. Horam
I agree that we talk about rapid transit systems, but the one we had in mind, which was the one on Tyneside, goes both overground and underground: it bridges at certain points and tunnels at others. Equally, the London underground transport system is over-ground at some points and underground at others. We still discuss the central question of how much provision should be made.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
We must agree to differ about this, because I still do not think that the point was made.
I am surprised to find that the Chairman of London Transport was not among the witnesses who were called. He would have been a valuable witness because his views about underground trains and how many more passengers they can carry and our buses and how many more they can carry at peak hours—which is what we are worried about, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Sir John Hall) said—would have covered the crucial point of the report. Also, "peaking" does not seem to have had anything like sufficient consideration.
I am disappointed that the Government find so little to say in favour of the concept of staggering working hours. If one has been round the London Transport system, as I have, one finds that the point is made for two periods in the day there is an enormous rush of travellers and that for the rest of the day the system can carry as many people as one chooses to put on it simply because there are few people travelling. If we could level out the peaks we would 1095 have a transport system that met all our needs. Whether or not we restrict road transport does not affect the issue because the problem with the transport system we have is meeting those two peak demands.
A question that has been widely discussed in this debate is how much restriction we should put on the private motor car. It is a matter of balance; of how much freedom any individual should have and to what extent society has a right to restrict that freedom. To suggest that public transport, at least in Greater London, could take up the slack if we stopped the use of the private motor car is not borne out by the facts. The GLC witness giving evidence to the committee said:No one part of the system can meet all the needs",and as a London Member I am not unnaturally concentrating my remarks on London.
Another point to be discussed is how much parked vehicles contribute to the congestion in our cities and whether we ought to be taking into account other considerations. The report does not seem to touch on this aspect. For instance, do we know what effect the timing of traffic lights has? Anyone who say the film "The Italian Job" and saw what could be done by damaging the computer controlling the lights will realise how quickly a traffic jam can be created if that is the aim. Do police-controlled crossings help? Filter lights speed up the traffic very considerably, but they still seem to be a rarity, with the result that one traffic stream is held up because it can rarely cross the road. That angle is not discussed. Nor is the question of just how much lorries slow up cars. In my personal experience I find that they are a prime contributor to traffic hold-ups.
The private car has the great merit of convenience. It is door-to-door travel, and rapid door-to-door travel, and as long as parking spaces can be found at the end of the journey the car is obviously very much more convenient then is public transport—so much so that it is difficult to believe that, of right, public transport can attract people out of their cars and into the buses or the Underground.
1096 After all, getting to work generally means a walk either to the bus stop or to the station, waiting for a bus or train—I talk now of my own journey to my office—getting out of the train, say, at the other end, waiting for another bus and then another walk. On the other hand, a man who has driven to work and got out of his car at a parking space has had a more comfortable journey, and if the weather is wet he arrives at his work dry.
Therefore, while the car can get through—and it still can because the roads are not yet so congested as to prevent it—private car travel will be very attractive for some time to come. The point was made to the Committee by one of the witnesses, Mr. Hollings, who said… before people consider the use of public transport they must perceive that there are deterrents or disadvantages to using the car".In my view the most effective deterrent would be to increase the cost and the inconvenience of using the private car. The Committee argues rightly that the more parking spaces we create the more we encourage people to use their cars. The report is right to suggest that off-street parking should not be increased.
There is a lot to be said for increasing meter charges if for no other reason than that those charges seem to be about a quarter of what the motorist pays in any National Car Park in London. Why it should be, I do not know. This seems to be an opportunity for local authorities to make a lot of money very easily, but for some reason they prefer not to take it. Admittedly, in the car park the motorist generally gets cover for his vehicle and parking for three hours instead of two, but otherwise I see no merit in it. If meter charges were increased it would be a small disincentive, and, in addition, it would provide money for local authorities which might be used to improve the public transport system.
I agree that no more parking spaces should be made available as these encourage motorists to use their cars. But then people ask "What about the motorist who parks outside the meter space? Surely he should be penalised very severely". I wonder whether he should. If a motorist is lucky enough to find a space it may cost him 5p for an hour, 1097 and I do not think that the fine for missing that space—which, after all, is just a fluke—should be anything so ridiculous as £50, as has been suggested. The fine should bear some relationship to what the cost would have been, and at present it is £2 or 40 times the meter charge. If we put up the meter charges the fine should go up in some sort of ratio to those charges.
The hon. Member for Dundee, West was quite right to say that, if anything, the bus lanes are used more by motorists than by buses because the motorists find that they carry slightly lighter traffic. I suspect that very few motorists realise that it is illegal to drive in these lanes when buses are not there. We therefore have to decide whether to make the lanes available for buses only, with a fine for misuse, or whether they are ineffective. Personally, I doubt whether they will be effective. With limited road space available, I find it difficult to believe that restricting the use of one piece of the road when there is heavy traffic about makes much sense. I would far rather see the lanes restricted to buses only when, say, a bus is coming to a bus stop. Otherwise I doubt their value.
I also wonder whether we are right to think of the traffic congestion caused by the motorist as being the reason for buses being so slow and timetables so poor. One can ask anyone who has lived in or near Chelsea during the last 50 years about the No. 11 bus and one will be told that the "tyranny of the No. 11 bus", as it was described in a newspaper article, has gone on year in year out unchecked. One waits 20 minutes, and five No. 11 buses arrive. One waits another 20 minutes, and another five arrive. The first two are full: the last three are empty. So the procession goes on. The people at London Transport have told me that they are introducing radio control in the cabs, and an incentive scheme under which the driver of the bus benefits according to the number of passengers he has on board. But the tryanny goes on.
When there is a vote in the House, and even if I have half an hoar to spare, I will not travel here by bus, even at night, because the risk of being late is so great. No one can tell me that at night it is traffic congestion that causes 1098 the bus to be slow. It does not. There is something wrong with the staffing of the buses, there is something wrong with the attitude of the drivers, and there may well be something wrong with London Transport's whole approach to the system.
Before we tell motorists that they must use more buses, let us at least give them buses on which they can rely, buses which will be there when they want them instead of leaving them standing at the bus stop for 20 minutes wondering when the next bus will come and finally giving up in disgust and walking through the rain to the nearest tube station.
§ Mr. Leslie Huckfield (Nuneaton)
I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is able to find five No. 11 buses all at once nowadays, because London Transport is currently short of about 4,000 driving staff, and about one in every eight buses is running on overtime.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman made that intervention. In fact, on the buses London Transport is 4,200 men short. That reinforces the point I am making. Leaving aside the history of the No. 11 bus—no one can argue that the No. 11 route has been short-staffed throughout the last 50 years, for, clearly, it has not—what is the use of saying that people should leave their cars and use the buses when there are not enough buses to do the job? I repeat: we must look at the staffing of our buses as a whole, and we must look at the pay of our bus crews, if we are to have the people we need. Until we have that side of it right, the rest is wishful thinking.
I come now to the question of staggered working hours, to which I alluded briefly a few minutes ago. The report goes to some trouble to argue the case for levelling out the two great peaks of movement in our cities. Whether the concept of rate rebates is the right way to persuade firms to change their hours of work, or whether we ought to look at the whole issue, as the committee did in 1958, with an entirely fresh approach, I do not know. But this I do know: there is no special reason why everyone should have to travel between 7 and 10 in the morning and between 4 and 6 in the evening, why Thursday should have to be the late shopping night in London, or why theatre 1099 matinées should have to start at 2.30 in the afternoon.
I commend to the Secretary of State the words of the committee in 1958:The Committee's experience suggests that difficulties are often more real in contemplation than in practice.Let us, therefore, hope that the Secretary of State will consider whether the desires of London Transport and of British Rail have some force, and that more could be done to encourage firms, shops, offices and so on to stagger the hours at which their work people come and go, so as to broaden the period of load far more than has been done hitherto.
Finally, I take up the point raised by the hon. Member for Dundee, West. He was perfectly right to make it. If we could restore community existence to our suburbs, if we could have our industry and our offices there, the great inflow and outflow every day would not happen. Perhaps this is a task for the town planners, but I wish that we could get away from the centralisation which we now have in the middle of our cities and begin to spread the whole of our activities over a wider area.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Mr. John Horam (Gateshead, West)
As the first Member to be called on this side who was a member of the Committee which produced the report, I wish first to say something about the Committee itself. We were a fairly motley band, and in that sense, I suppose, we were probably a fairly representative cross-section of Members of Parliament, excluding the very extremes. We were rather different in our backgrounds and our experience. We represented different sorts of area, from the very urban, to the suburban, and to the very rural. Obviously, we were different in our political philosophies and, perhaps, in the prejudices—or lack of them—with which we approached our subject. Even where we were similar, the similarities were not, I think, such as would necessarily have made us a pushover for the sort of conclusions to which we came. For example, I think that seven out of the eight of us are regular drivers.
None the less, with but little disagreement we came firmly to one clear set of recommendations; namely, that more encouragement should be given to public 1100 transport, that we should use the existing road space more sensibly, and that the Government should play a major part in bringing both those ends about.
Perhaps we came to those conclusions through the harmonious influence of our sweet natures—certainly, we were all very calm and rational beings on the Committee—and possibly it had something to do with the even-handed approach of our chairman, the hon. Member for Wycombe (Sir John Hall), who, I must say, was even-handed to an exemplary and at times, to a lay member of the Committee, a surprising degree.
More than anything else, however, the fruitful and harmonious conclusion to which the Committee came was, I believe, due to the fact that here were a group of people, however diverse their backgrounds and their prejudices, subjected to the facts of today's urban transport planning problems. I believe that any such group of people subjected to those facts over a long period would come inescapably to the same sort of broad conclusions to which we came. I venture to suggest even that my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig), who has voiced the only major dissentient thoughts during the debate, had he been a member of the Committee—perhaps, on reflection, it might not have been such a good idea if he had—would have been influenced to come to much the same conclusions. In passing, I should remind my hon. Friend that there was a Scottish voice on the Committee, our hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Sir M. Galpern), whom, no doubt, he reveres as we all do. My hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston agreed wholeheartedly with our conclusions and expressed no major dissentient thoughts. We certainly had a strong Scottish voice, and it, too, agreed.
We now have the Government's observations, and I suspect that the general agreement among members of the Committee to which I have referred may not wholly survive an examination of the Government's reply—we are, after all, political animals—though I must say that I agree with a good deal of what was said by the hon. Member for Wycombe.
I shall be critical of the Secretary of State's reply only in so far as, in my view, it does not measure up to the Committee's recommendations. I take it no further 1101 than that. Indeed, the Government's reply could have been a good deal worse than it was. I did a small calculation, and I counted seven specific points on which they appear to agree with the Committee, although in some respects the action which they foresee following up that agreement is less than satisfactory, there were seven points on which they did not agree, and there were two on which they appear totally to have missed the point. That is not bad in sheer quantity. Unfortunately, the disagreements are of central importance, and I shall mention two in particular.
First, on the central issue of the Government's rôle in the business of urban transport planning we made our Recommendation No. 2 in these terms:The Department of the Environment should have a positive policy for urban transport, laying down a broad approach which it should ensure that local authorities follow.We put that recommendation as high as No. 2 in our priorities because we attached great importance to it, and we did that, I believe, for three reasons.
First, it is possible to have such a broad approach. This was the general feeling not only of the members of the Committee but of the vast majority of the witnesses who appeared before us. Second, the problems are substantial, and it was felt that, given the facts as they are, only the central Government could take the right approach and bring to bear the strong emphasis necessary.
Third, without that firm central direction, some local authorities would drag their feet. My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West made this point. For all sorts of reasons—reasons of competition between one small area and another, one wanting not to put off traders and shoppers and so on—steps might not be taken which, if taken, would benefit both areas or, indeed, the country as a whole. In passing, I must say that there seem to be some pretty rum authorities in Scotland, to judge by the 10-minute parking rules which some have, which seem utterly illogical from every point of view. I agree with my hon. Friend about that.
There were, as I say, certain clear logical reasons which led us to the view that the Government should play a strong 1102 rôle, but also, I believe, influencing us in that view, there was the underlying thought that the Department of the Environment displayed an extraordinarily passive attitude right from the beginning of our discussions. I particularly remember the collective sense of despair from early on when we realised that the Department of the Environment said that it thought it was up to the local authorities more or less to do their own thing and that it had no broad policy. We say on page 37 of the report that the Department, as far as we can see, has no broad policy. That is a staggering thing to say about a most important Department of Government, but we said it because we felt strongly about this point. The previous Secretary of State, after coming to our discussions at a late stage in our thinking, firmed this up and said in the course of evidence that he saw the Department acting as a sort of clearing house for ideas. We want far more than a clearing house for ideas; we want a Government Department which is seen clearly to be supporting a policy.
In his reply, as far as I can see, the Secretary of State has made no progress beyond his predecessor in this crucial point. The section dealing with the rôle of central Government is contained in paragraphs 10 to 13. On mature reflection, and I have read it several times upside down, this way and that to see whether there is anything significant in it, I conclude that it is a bundle of the most trite platitudes. It says, for example, that we should not be concerned with detail, and again the hon. Member for Wycombe devastatingly pointed out that we all agree on this but that the detail was not the important question. It said that the local authorities have greatly enhanced powers to deal with these problems. Again we accept this and agree with it, but, again, it is not the major point.
We want to know what the Government are doing about this and what broad policy they have. That was the major subject which the Committee addressed itself to. Only at the end of this section is there a limp statement that the Secretary of State hoped that in future local authorities would pay greater attention to helping public transport and restraining the car. Even the AA and the 1103 RAC could agree with that without losing too much of their cool. The consequences of this abdication are clear. Many local authorities will do, and are doing, a good job, but many are not and many will push ahead with schemes which were thought up five or 10 years ago, based on thinking which we have shown to be increasingly out of date. These same schemes will influence the future of our cities for five, 10 or 15 years to come. They will set the pattern, and they are being implemented on obsolete thinking.
In trying to put a gloss on this part of the reply, the Secretary of State said that he agreed that he and the Department must have a strong rôle to play, but he went on to make the equally weak point that he hoped for much from the reorganisation of local government. We, too, hope for much from that, but there will still be bad local authorities which drag their feet. We are looking for strong central policy from him.
I shall now venture to make a political point in a debate which has been free of such points. The Government seem prepared to make a strong central stand on housing or education where local authorities can be put in a remarkable straitjacket, but in urban planning they have not thought fit to do anything of the sort, and that can only signify that they do not attach the same importance to urban transport planning as they do to the other subjects.
The second weakness is concerned with the critical recommendation No. 22 which says:As an urgent priority, all trunk and principal schemes of urban road building which have not reached the exchange of contract stage should be re-examined ab initio.The Government disagreed for two reasons. They said that to do so might merely defer the benefits that the schemes are designed to secure. That is a lot of nonsense because not proceeding with schemes would also defer the disadvantages which we have seen, and one has to look at the balance of advantage and disadvantage.
The Government say they are concerned that it would defer—for example removal of traffic including heavy goods vehicles from streets where they have no place.1104 That is a good argument and it is the classic argument now being put forward about many urban road schemes. But only a few roads are truly diversionary in character anyway, the classic example being the bypass round a small village on a main trunk road. Many others are not diversionary in character and they do not take away traffic to that degree.
The argument about taking traffic out of residential and other environmentally sensitive areas is being used about many roads which were originally justified as being necessary to cope with extra car traffic, so that the argument has been changed, more often to seem more fashionable, but the road goes ahead none the less. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer) said that many roads which are planned to divert traffic end up attracting it into the town centres like magnets. That was argued in the case of the London motorway box, and he referred to it in the case of the Bristol motorways. No doubt it could be argued in other cases too.
Even if it is held that the road would have some benefit in taking traffic out of environmentally important areas, account must still be taken the cost of building, the social upheaval which often flows from the building and all the other incidental effects of the project. All this must be weighed against the hypothetical advantage of diverting a certain amount of traffic from some small area. Very often in the past when putting forward proposals of this sort local authorities have not properly considered measures of restraint as opposed to physical road building as alternatives to deal with the traffic congestion. For all these reasons, therefore, the Committee was right to make this strong recommendation, and I am sorry that the Secretary of State has not found it possible to agree with it.
Some towns have stopped their roads more or less in their tracks. Munich was an example which we visited, where we talked to the authorities at great length. They showed no regret over their action, and London, Nottingham and other towns will not regret it either. Even though they may build roads subsequently, probably these roads will be better thought out and better able to tackle the real problems than roads carried through from previous schemes which the 1105 authorities are now refusing to implement.
The real point is that since the war we have been following the traditional principles in transport policy of allowing relatively indiscriminate use of our roads and supplementing these with a relatively indiscriminate provision of road space. As more cars come on to the roads, we have been saying that on the whole more space must be provided for them. Now, for all sorts of reasons—social, aesthetic, amenity and cost—we can no longer work on that basis. We therefore have to use our existing road space in a far more selective and discriminating way, and we must justify far more additions to that road space. This will, unfortunately, mean rules—rules about heavy lorries, rules about cars, rules about buses.
Some will rightly argue that that involves a limitation of freedom, but it is one of the freedoms that are tending to diminish anyway as we try to cope with the problems of accommodating an ever-larger number of people at an ever-higher standard of living on a single planet. That is the central point about using our road space more economically and more sensibly which the Committee made.
I am very sorry that, although he has made several important concessions to it, and a number of other gestures, the Secretary of State has not satisfied members of his own party who served on the Committee and myself that he has made the right sort of bow to this policy.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Jones (Northants, South)
Those of us who served on the Expenditure Sub-Committee that produced the report must be pleased with the support that has been given to many of our conclusions and recommendations by the public at large and the media. I well recall the interview that our chairman. my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Sir John Hall) gave in New Palace Yard when the report was published, giving an excellent review of our proposals. I am also pleased that in general the recommendations have been accepted by the Government.
I agree with the hon. Member for Gateshead, West (Mr. Horam) that we were a very happy committee and en- 1106 joyed the chairmanship of my hon. Friend. We had a purposeful inquiry and came usefully to some positive proposals.
The hon. Member for Gateshead, West has criticised some of the lukewarm acceptance of our recommendations. He is particularly critical of the fact that no mandatory provisions are proposed requiring local authorities to implement certain proposals that the report makes. But he will have listened with interest, as I did, to the various contributions by our colleagues.
I recall in particular what the hon. Member for Leicester, North-East (Mr. Bradley) said about what happened in Leicester, and how they were trailblazers there. The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Robert C. Brown) made the same claim for Newcastle. There was a little bit of a split between them as the debate went on. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Sydney Chapman) told us that Birmingham had done things that should not have been done, and that they were creating problems in the city as a result. They were done in the early days of the major urban expressways, and we have learnt a lot since they were proposed and implemented. The hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) told us of the problems created in his city by urban planning of land use, with a view to trying to keep cars out of the centre of Dundee.
When I consider the conflicting aims and objectives that all cities have been reaching out for, I share the reservations of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, because we are in the early days of this great problem, and no solutions have stood the test of implementation to any great extent. The hesitations of many of us arise because there is not a scientific approach. We cannot gain much by precept and example. The conditions in every urban centre and city vary so much that what may suit one city may be quite inappropriate to another, and to call for mandatory arrangements across the country as a whole may well be impossible at any time. It certainly would be premature now. I share the view in favour of a careful approach to the problem.
I am sure that there is general recognition that in our cities there will be a permanent inadequacy of provision for 1107 all road-users. Attention needs to be given to peak-hour commuter traffic and, in particular, to discouraging the use of the private car for regular daily journeys in built-up areas.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe rose when the hon. Member for Dundee, West talked about the problems in Dundee, because we in the Committee were addressing ourselves to the problems arising from peak-hour journeys to work, and to look at the whole problem, as many of those who contributed to today's debate have done, is to ignore that specific, central point.
None of the proposals is aimed to be detrimental to the car owner and driver. We are searching for circumstances in which public transport, at both ground level and below, is complementary to the use of the private car. We are seeking a happy combination of the two. We are at the early days of all this.
Those of us who had the opportunity to go to one or two Continental cities found that any schemes that had been provided had been of a very short duration. There was no long-term experience upon which to base any firm conclusions.
I very much agree with the hon. Member for Dundee, West that we must not sacrifice our city centres by excluding private cars. I am very much against the whole concept of hypermarkets, supermarkets and out-of-town shopping centres, because it will destroy the pattern of our city centres, as it has in America. We must look for a compromise solution. We must provide adequate off-street parking for shoppers in town and city centres. We and the retail trade must examine the problem presented to shoppers who have to get their bulk purchases of groceries, and so on, out of the shops and into their cars or some form of public transport.
The large multiple retailers advocate the development of out-of-town shopping centres, particularly for the bulk purchases of foodstuffs. It is said that a family needs about half a hundredweight of groceries a week, and we are asked, "How can they cope with that unless they can bring a car outside the door of the shop?" But there must be, and are, other ways in which we can ensure the financial viability of our towns and city centres and continue to use them as the tax base upon 1108 which most of our local government services depend.
§ Mr. Jones
I like to be modest. I cannot contradict the hon. Gentleman, but I wonder what the average family could possibly want with 2 tons. They do not buy a refrigerator or something like that every week. Perhaps the retailers hope they will. That figure is, perhaps, making a little too much of a real problem. Here again, we are looking for a harmonising of interests.
Peak-hour journeys to work lie at the root of the inquiry. I was interested to see my right hon. and learned Friend's comments on Recommendation 13, concerning the question whether there should beEnabling legislation to permit all local authorities to license and thus to regulate the operation of off-street parking space open to public use.The Greater London Council was given powers under paragraph 35 of Schedule 5 of the Transport (London) Act 1969, but I think that it found many problems associated with the idea. One problem is that private non-residential parking facilities represent over 50 per cent. of off-street parking places in London. That is nearly twice as much as public off-street parking. There are legal difficulties, and the compensation for the acquisition of private parking rights is something that we have not gone into yet with any great care. The GLC is proposing to introduce such a scheme in 1974. It will be wise to see how the GLC gets on with such a proposal before we try to implement it elsewhere.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson) was critical on the one hand, but aware of the problems on the other. He was involved in a slight altercation about underground trains. The Committee thought about surface and underground transport. My hon. Friend mentioned the staggering of working hours. The Committee made a recommendation in that respect.
I agree with what my hon. Friend said about traffic management and London 1109 transport. The use of planning must play an important rôle, and traffic problems must be given consideration at an early stage of planning and throughout schemes of development and redevelopment. There is a necessity for long-term objectives, and the great contribution that traffic management could make must not be overlooked.
I have read with interest the facts gathered together under the heading, "Personal Mobility and Transport Policy, Broadsheet 542 ", published by Political and Economic Planning. I find it difficult to agree with the suggestion which is there contained. It says thatmobility deprivation is as important as other well-recognised forms of deprivation such as are found in education, housing and employment.There is some exaggeration in that comparison.
I hope that we shall not be making the mistake which we have made in the whole of the post-war period when dealing with housing by denying adequate resources. That has lain at the root of many of our housing problems and arises from policies followed by successive Governments since the war. Adequate transport resources can be ensured only by a proper combination of user and public fund contributions.
I am against concessionary fares and suggestions of reduced fare arrangements or free transport availability. That matter was referred to by the hon. Member for Leicester, North-East. Fare-paying arrangements have not received the attention that they require. I think in terms of simplified fare structures, coin-changing machines in buses and on the Underground system, and an arrangement of fare collection by way of sensitised tickets available for bulk purchase. We must seek ways and means by which we can ensure the extension of single-man buses with the minimum inconvenience to the driver and the travelling public. We should be looking towards a lowering of the labour content of our transport services.
When the Committee was in Hamburg it saw a system in which there was no collection of tickets at the exits of underground stations, and where, generally speaking, only one person was in charge of larger underground stations than ours, 1110 I am a great advocate for the lowering of the labour content. One-man buses and a simplified fare structure could be a great contribution—
§ Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
I do not accept what my hon. Friend has said about one-man buses. I am not in favour of them as they operate today.
§ Dame Irene Ward
It is nothing to do with that at all. I am not in favour of one-man buses after my experience of watching them operate in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. I do not think that such buses are fair on the public or the drivers. The drivers should not have to operate one-man buses. The public is not in favour of them. They are very inconvenient.
§ Mr. Jones
I can see that my advocacy for a simplified fare structure has not been at all persuasive.
The PEP Press release produced some significant figures on car availability. Perhaps the most striking feature is that four out of five people do not have the free use of a car and less than half the adult population are licence holders. Clearly, in any policy we must be thinking carefully of children, housewives, the elderly, the infirm and the disabled. We must ensure that public services, both road and rail, key in to car parking provision. Already over the past 10 years many opportunities have been missed to use the surplus land at many British Rail stations through which commuter traffic passes.
We should be making much better use of the park-and-ride system. That applies particularly to commuters travelling into London. We could have much more effective car park provision at stations, with a resultant lessening of the number of cars flowing in and out of London morning and afternoon.
I welcome the current climate of opinion among those who have responsibility for public transport and traffic management. I am confident that a new approach will be acceptable in public 1111 terms and will lead to a significant improvement of our environment, if carried out with sensitivity and determination.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Huckfield (Nuneaton)
I hope that the hon. Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones) will forgive me if I do not take up entirely his comments. I wish to be as brief as possible. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) wishes to speak and that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench must be champing at the bit to raise an entirely different matter.
I wonder how many hon. Members who have advocated the increased use of public transport at this moment have their cars parked outside. When the hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) referred to the convenience of the private car they were right. In many cases, as the hon. Member for Waltham-stow, East says, London transport is at the moment rather difficult. The real trouble comes if we take what the hon. Gentleman and what my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West said to a logical conclusion. If we all start to use our cars, as many people have been doing, in our large cities the situation will be far worse than they have portrayed from London Transport's point of view. Indeed, the situation will be far worse than any hon. Member has portrayed.
I think that some hon. Members have seen the point at Los Angeles where four freeways meet. It is called the "Stack ". It becomes in the morning and evening rush hours the most gigantic parking lot in the world. To carry the car and freeway to its logical conclusion is not the answer.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson rose—
§ Mr. Huckfield
However, local authorities are now moving in the direction of the Select Committee's report. It might almost be concluded that the report, if it has not become the manifesto of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, has become the manifesto of cities such as Nottingham. The report has now even become the policy of Birmingham. Although the Birmingham inner ring road scheme and the connection with the expressway are complete, Birmingham is now seri- 1112 ously re-examining all further major road schemes.
The climate has changed. The report issued by London Transport this afternoon shows that pedestrians and the other people using the Oxford Street area have possibly benefited to the tune of £250,000. London Transport revenue has increased by £77,000 since the Oxford Street experiment started. That, in money terms, is a quantifiable testimony to the significance and correctness of the Committee's report. I have not seen any empty shops in Oxford Street simply because we banned cars from Oxford Street.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
It is one thing to say that we should have fewer cars in the centres of cities and another thing to say that public transport can meet the need which would be created. My point was that our public transport system is inadequate to meet it.
§ Mr. Huckfield
I fancy that what the hon. Gentleman is saying is that it is all right for everybody else to go by bus but not for him.
One of the most significant points which emerged from the evidence presented to the Committee was in the evidence presented by Christopher Foster, head of the urban school at the London School of Economics, who said that under the Department's present grant structure public transport improvements were often the most expensive option. He analysed the options open to local authorities, pointing out, for example, that an urban motorway scheme might cost £100 million but that the local authority would get a 75 per cent. capital grant for it. Therefore allowing £25 million for capital costs and perhaps about £20 million for current and maintenance costs, a motorway scheme might cost the local authority only £45 million. But, under the Department's present grant structure, because the grants for rapid transit schemes are not so high, the construction of a rapid transit scheme could cost £65 million.
If the local authority wanted to improve surface transport that would be most expensive of all. If it wanted to put more buses on the road, or to improve the headway or frequency of its schedules, such a proposal, because of the grant structure, could cost the authority £87 million.
1113 The figures may not be exact, but they prove that under the Department's present grant structure it is often much cheaper for a local authority to go ahead with an urban motorway scheme. That is why I am glad that it has been said in the Department's response to the report that the grant scheme will be overhauled. I hope that that overhaul will be done in such a way that much more freedom is given to local authorities to choose between a motorway scheme and a public transport scheme, and that will, I hope, enable local authorities to put much more emphasis on public transport.
Under the Bill piloted through the House by the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes), it will be possible for local authorities—indeed, they will have an instruction to do this—to draw up overall transport plans. They will have to decide on lorry routes and on public transport emphasis. The only thing which will enable a local authority to draw up an overall plan by 1977, as it will be required to do under the Bill, is to give it an overall grant and allow it to decide how to spend it. As long as the Ministry gives a high percentage grant for road building, it will be attractive to local authorities, like my hon. Friend mentioned at Bristol, to go in for road building.
The Department has been surprisingly reticent about the experiments which it has sponsored. What about the Stevenage super-bus experiment, which showed that only an 8 per cent. switch from car to bus transport could save about £9 million out of a total of £51 million invested in the scheme? What about the success of the Reading scheme, where the introduction of bus-only lanes—contra-flow so that there are no enforcement problems—has shown that route times can be reduced by four-and-a-half minutes, that other journey times can be reduced by 37 per cent., that town centre accidents can be reduced by 29 per cent., and that the noise on bus only routes is reduced from from 82 to 68 decibels?
I should have thought that that was the kind of thing in which the Department must taken an interest and which it should publicise to other local authorities. What about the point made in the analysis of the Prices and Incomes 1114 Board of the case for higher London Transport fares in May 1969? Appendix 3 states:Each passenger who shifts from peak hour travelling by bus to peak hour travelling by car gives a net addition to costs from the point of view of the community as a whole of 59.2p per mile.In other words, everyone who shifted from the bus to the, car then cost the community as a whole five shillings and now probably would cost the community about 50p per person per mile. That is a significant cost to put on the community when a passenger chooses to use his car rather than the bus.
I cannot understand why the Department is not publishing more information of that sort, particularly when often it is its own researches and sponsorships which reveal much of it. Why is not the Department examining much more closely the case for fare-free transport? I know that my lion. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-East (Mr. Bradley) and I, from a trade union point of view, differ slightly on this matter, but it has already been calculated that a fare-free transport system in the Merseyside Passenger Transport Authority area would cost £25 million and in the West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority area £34 million.
It is not sufficient to say that the Rome experiment did not work, particularly as it was conducted over four days in the middle of a public holiday. What about the Stockholm experiment, with monthly and annual season tickets? The Stockholm and Hamburg schemes have shown that greater facilities for public transport interchange in conjunction with much stricter control of parking and bus-only lane schemes and other improvements are the way to retain passengers and to increase their number.
I come to the main point of my speech. Hon. Members on both sides have completely neglected the fact that one of the main drawbacks of public transport is that the staff cannot be obtained. The establishment figure of London Transport is about 7,000 down. It has a shortage of about 4,000 driving staff and 1,700 drivers. It has a staff turnover of about 150 every month. The Underground schedules in London are 7½ per cent. down because of a shortage of 130 drivers. This illustrates the seriousness of the staffing problem.
1115 The union to which I belong, the Transport and General Workers' Union, recently put forward proposals for a busman's charter. The Minister must start taking proposals like this seriously if we are to obtain the staff needed on public transport. It is a difficult job, involving a seven-day week, often almost a 24-hour or 18-hour day. Those of us who come from transport families appreciate what that means to family life. The Department must think seriously about introducing the principle of the 35-hour week and the seven-hour day in order to obtain public transport staff. It must think about better sick pay, better holidays and better pension schemes. A few fare-free transport experiments would enhance the driver's job and the enjoyment of being a bus driver, because when one is stuck in a bus in Regent Street during the rush hour it cannot be much of a job.
Wages must be increased, but let the Department bear in mind that as the size of heavy goods vehicles increases, enabling road hauliers to achieve greater productivity and greater profitability, the road haulage employers are enabled to pay drivers more. Because there is an acute shortage of heavy goods vehicle drivers, who are being exploited by the private employment agencies, there is a tendency for PSV drivers to shift into the heavy goods vehicle sector, thus making the shortage even more acute. The hauliers have much greater potential to pay higher wages. Therefore, those on the passenger transport side must seriously consider increasing wages and fringe benefits, because the staffing situation is serious.
One in eight of London's buses is being operated only because of overtime. The staff shortage is masked by the fact that London Transport has many buses which it wishes to put on the roads but cannot keep them adequately maintained because of a shortage of maintenance staff. The Pay Board recently stopped the increase which London Transport would have wished to make to maintenance staff and drivers.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will have discussions with the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer about what will happen in phase 3. If we cannot have some leeway on, for example, fringe benefits, higher wages and even the GLC providing houses for 1116 London Transport staff; unless there is some leeway, we shall be in a serious position by the winter.
Finally, I put to the right hon. Gentleman four suggestions which would not cost him a penny. I hope that he will take notice, because several hon. Members have put forward similar suggestions. The first is to adopt a policy of scrapping a hundred parking meters a day in central London and replacing them by double yellow lines. The parking meters are not worth it, as the report has shown. Half of the parking fines in London are not being paid, and many London boroughs are only just covering parking meter enforcement costs. We should scrap parking meters in the centre of London and put meters where there is a chance of some enforcement—in the outer boroughs.
Secondly, we should introduce the principle of keeper liability. Although I am very much against some of the things that computers can do, the right hon. Gentleman knows that now his Department has got us on a computer at Swansea it would be not easy to skip our parking fines. I also think parking fines should be increased.
§ Mr. Huckfield
I hope that the introduction of keeper liability will be one of the few things for which the right hon. Gentleman's Department will use that computer in Swansea.
The Department has not gone into the question of licensing and, I hope, the taking over of off-street parking half as seriously as it should have done. Money has been made by National Car Parks and other private car park operators out of what local authorities have been doing. National Car Parks has been watching local authorities almost like a vulture to see what they are to do so that the firm can make the pickings as soon as enforcement starts. We must watch private off-street car parks.
Finally, we should have more bus lanes like the Piccadilly contra-flow system. If the hon. Gentleman would take action on such matters as these, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, West (Mr. Horam) has said, we should see the 1117 Department taking action and not just sitting back giving limp assurances.
§ Mr. Rippon
We have been taking action. The Conservative-controlled GLC made proposals, and I hope that its successors will carry them out.
§ Mr. Huckfield
Since the right hon. and learned Gentleman meant to say that before I sat down, I should point out that I have seen some of his bus lanes, and they contain more cars than buses.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Acton)
I intend to be brief as an important debate is to follow.
With reference to recommendation No. 22, the Minister says in his statement that to defer these schemes would defer benefits which the schemes are designed to secure. A scheme which affects my constituency involves enlargement of the North Circular Road. It would increase two existing lanes at one point to five, six or eight lanes through a pleasant residential area. I hope that this scheme will be looked at ab initio, because there is virtually no benefit to the residents and only marginal benefit to the motorist.
The Minister may know that in a study which I have sent to his Department I have pointed out that road traffic travelling more slowly can pass more vehicles through any given area of road and, therefore, it is possible to blend into the environment, particularly a pleasant one such as that over Ealing Common, a smaller road which can pass as many vehicles in the hour as a wider one, as long as the vehicles travel at 35 miles an hour and not 45 miles an hour. That point was not made in the Buchanan Report.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman's Department will take this factor on board, because it is vital for landscaping and other proper treatment of urban roadways through pleasant areas.
Secondly, the subject of peak hour traffic has loomed large in the remarks of many Members today. A large proportion of the peak hour traffic in London is expense-account motoring by people, such as hon. Members, who get mileage allowances, or those who are pro- 1118 vided with a company car. Local Government can do as much as it likes with parking meters and parking policies, but if these people, who leave their offices between 4.30 and 5.30, are able to drive home in their private cars there will always be congestion. I hope that the Department will consider this problem, because I do not think that the Committee did so.
Like the blood, transport in urban areas must have healthy circulation if it is to support community functions. The Government have not considered the problems of urban transport in the sense that it is as fundamental to city life as drainage or proper water supplies. To judge from the way the Government behave in those respects—they are likely to charge a compulsory profit on pure water and on good drainage—I can only hope that they will understand that public transport which is not efficient and which is not provided at low cost will be as damaging to the health of the community as lack of pure water and lack of drainage.
Thirdly, I did not agree with all that was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig), although I appreciate that it reflected much thinking in the country. In the coming years there will be a greater dispersal of work places and living places in the countryside due mainly to the expanding motorway and secondary road network. If towns are to have urban health and provide urban standards, there is no point in forcing cars and people to the outer areas. There has to be a proper combination of car use and the use of public transport.
At present there is little inducement for a motorist to change his mode of travel at any given point. Once he has purchased a car, there is little in practice, let alone in the report, to induce him to get out it. Having paid the money for his car and used it perhaps for leisure journeys, he must then be persuaded to use public transport in order to produce a balanced environment. In London many people who now have cars literally cannot afford to use public transport because of the crazy way in which it is financed.
Unless these aspects of the matter are studied, the intentions of the Expenditure 1119 Committee and the designs of the Government will not achieve the objectives that we all wish.
§ Questions put and agreed to.
§ That this House takes note of the Second Report from the Expenditure Committee (House of Commons Paper No. 57) on Urban Transport Planning, and of the relevant Government Observations (Command Paper No. 5366).