HC Deb 25 July 1973 vol 860 cc1697-706

3.58 p.m.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

I am grateful for the opportunity to raise a matter of increasing concern to large numbers of my constituents, especially in Twickenham, Whitton and St. Margarets, but also in Teddington, Hampton, Hampton Hill and Hampton Wick. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Mr. Anthony Royle) is also concerned about this matter because he has similar, though not identical, problems.

As a community, we face a serious situation when the final 14-mile stretch of the M3 motorway from Lightwater to Sunbury opens in the spring of 1974. It will connect, via the Greater London Council's new link road—the A305 from Sunbury to Apex Corner at Hanworth with the A316, the Great Chertsey Road, which is the main traffic artery through my constituency.

There are three aspects which are causing most worry to my constituents. The first is the effect of noise and fumes upon the conditions of those living, working and attending schools near the A316 and the other main roads which turn off it. The second is safety, especially the safety of pedestrians, including children and old people. Third, there is the fear—I think a perfectly reasonable fear—that traffic will jam up at roundabouts along the A316 with two consequences: that motorway traffic may spill over into residential side roads, damaging the environment of the residents, and that local motorists will be caught in traffic jams, thereby losing their freedom of movement and manoeuvre, leading to severe inconvenience and delays.

I wish to assure my hon. Friend that I do not blame the present Government for the existence, or the problems, of the M3 as it was initiated by the previous administration. The line was fixed in 1967—the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) was then the Minister of Transport—and the construction of the M3 commenced in 1969, also under the Labour Government. However, the present Secretary of State for the Environment now finds himself responsible for the completion of the M3, and I must insist that his Department now accepts the responsibility to do all in its power to mitigate the nuisance from which my constituents might suffer. I wish to know what action the Government intend to take.

The former Greater London Council, which was defeated and went out of office last April, faced three choices in handling the roundabouts on the A316 road: first, to do nothing; second, to carry out major schemes with flyovers or underpasses; or, third, moderately to restructure the roundabouts, as was done at the roundabouts immediately to the north of Richmond town centre, a little further to the east along the main road. The third course was chosen.

In January 1973 it was decided that, after various preparatory stages, the bulk of the work would be carried out the following winter. However, since the change of control following the GLC elections in April, the new Greater London Council decided to review its policies. It decided to proceed with the roundabout improvements only last night, 24th July. Thus, three precious months have been lost. Further, the new GLC says that it will need at least two more years in which to complete the work.

It is intolerable and unacceptable that these improvements should take so long. My first request to the Minister is that he should use all his influence to hurry up the GLC. I hope he will not hesitate to twist its arm in any way he thinks necessary. If its procedures do not allow such a speeding up, they must be changed. I am sure that, if the will is there, corners can be cut. I do not see why my constituents should be made to suffer from any delays.

My second request relates to the control of the quantity of traffic allowed from the M3 on to the A305 and the A316. On 2nd July I saw the Minister for Transport Industries. First, I asked whether he would defer opening the M3 motorway until the GLC had completed its roundabout improvements. He said that he would not do this as motorways were not only the safest but the most expensive roads that we had and that no one in his position could totally deprive the public of the use of a completed motorway. I asked whether he would taper the exit to control traffic flow. He agreed to cut the exit from three lanes to two. Others had also asked for this to be done, but I believe that at the meeting on 2nd July we were able to clinch it, and I was able to announce it in my constituency at a public meeting on 6th July.

Yet I am still not satisfied. 1 doubt whether tapering down to two lanes is enough. At the same meeting on 2nd July I asked the Minister if he would consider tapering the exit of the M3 to one lane pending the completion by the Greater London Council of its work on the roundabouts. The Minister said then that he could not give any undertaking to do so, but he said that if when the M3 was opened in 1974 it caused serious local problems in my constituency and elsewhere he would be prepared to take another look at the matter.

My second request, then, is to ask that rather than wait to see what happens when the M3 opens my right hon. Friend should put in hand an immediate study to assess what volume of traffic might emerge from the M3 if it were tapered to two lanes or to one lane, including at peak hours, and to assess whether the A316 roundabouts could cope in the short term before the GLC roundabout improvements are completed. I am sure that there are experts in the Department who can make these assessments. I do not see why my constituents should have to suffer from experiments. If we cannot cope with two lanes of motorway traffic. I suggest that we should begin with one lane only from spring 1974.

My third request is for my hon. Friend to confirm that after next spring when the M3 opens, its traffic to Heathrow Airport should be signposted away from the M3 at Lightwater, near Bagshot. I also ask for a sign to be put in the same place to the effect that traffic should turn off there for an alternative route to North and Central London. via the A30 and the A4. I further suggest that when the M25 is opened in 1975—that motorway leading from the M3 near Chertsey to the A30 near Egham and coming off the M3 about half way between Lightwater and Sunbury Cross—these signs should be transferred there. That would give considerable relief to Twickenham.

Fourthly, will my hon. Friend give a categoric assurance that the Government have no plans to turn the A316 into a motorway? At the public meeting on 6th July, attended by about 200 of my constituents, I made clear that my view was that we should not have a motorway along the A316. The Greater London councillor Mr. Tremlett and the leader of the borough council Alderman Hall agreed. The majority of the audience quite plainly agreed too, and they showed their feelings vociferously. In spite of that there has been put about in my constituency within the last week, by a political party which I shall not name, a leaflet saying that "The Tories want to turn the Chertsey Road into a motorway". I am certainly against it, and 1 hope that my hon. Friend will be able to make clear this afternoon that the Government have no such intention.

Will my hon. Friend give attention to several other local aspects which are causing anxiety? These are mainly the responsibility of the Greater London Council and 1 shall therefore mention them only briefly: first the provision of safe crossing facilities over the main road for pedestrians, including children and old people; secondly, the traffic flow, including the buses, from north to south and south to north at the roundabouts, which people are fearful might be obstructed by traffic which runs from east and west; thirdly, the preservation of trees; fourthly, the sound-proofing of property, including houses and schools, such as St. Stephen's Church Primary School; fifthly, the possibility of phased traffic lights; sixthly, the question of how to prevent severe traffic standstills on the days of big rugby football matches, the Twickenham rugby football ground being very close to one of the A316 roundabouts.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and the House for listening to me so patiently on matters which are of the most acute concern to large numbers of my constituents. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to give me assurances about action the Government intend to take or, where he cannot give such assurances now, an undertaking that these points will be carefully examined with a view to action.

4.11 p.m.

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

I hope that I shall not be out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I wish you, the Serjeant at Arms and the staff of the House a very happy and well-deserved recess. We have admired the way in which you and your colleagues have looked after us in what has been a long and hectic Session. This is the last time I shall be speaking before the recess. I seem to have been in the Chamber for most of the past few days.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jesse!) on raising a matter of considerable importance to him and my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Mr. Anthony Royle) and others of my hon. Friends in that area. This is not the first time my hon. Friend has been in touch with us about the problem. He has been extremely assiduous, both by correspondence and personally, in making clear to me and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries the problems he feels may be faced by his constituents if certain action is not taken.

My hon. Friend will appreciate that many of the matters raised are for the Greater London Council, as the highway authority in certain circumstances. It would be wrong for the Government to answer on behalf of a major local authority on those matters. But I hope to be able to give my hon. Friend some reassurance. I have no doubt that the GLC will be looking closely at the debate and taking note of my hon. Friend's very helpful suggestions.

The Lightwater to Sunbury length of the M3, the London-Basingstoke motorway, is due for completion next May. There will then be a continuous length of the motorway open to traffic totalling 402 miles between Popham, to the north of Winchester, and Sunbury.

To cope with the additional traffic that will then have easy access to Sunbury, just outside its boundary, the Greater London Council prepared a scheme to improve the approximately 11 miles of the A305 between the M3 at Sunbury and its junction with the A316, Great Chertsey Road, and the north-south A312 route at the Hope and Anchor roundabout.

The A305/A316 provides a direct route between the M3, through Twickenham, Richmond and Chiswick to the A4 and thence towards Hammersmith and Central London.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State agreed to contribute 75 per cent. of the cost, estimated at about £10 million, of improving the A305. The A305 improvement is being carried out in two main stages. The first stage which, like the M3, is due for completion next spring, will provide dual two-lane carriageways, with some dual three-lane, to cope initially with M3 traffic.

Stage II, completing the scheme with dual three-lane carriageways and grade separation, is expected to be ready by the autumn of 1975.

The Greater London Council also gave thought to the effect of this additional traffic on the A316. A number of north-south routes cross the A316 at ground-level roundabouts which are a source of congestion, particularly at peak periods.

In February 1973 the council accordingly asked that the Preparation List of Metropolitan Road Schemes be adjusted to include schemes, estimated to cost over £2 million, to improve the A316 roundabout junctions and to provide improved facilities for pedestrians to cross this route. My hon. Friend attaches particular importance to that.

My hon. Friend said that the new council has been reviewing the priorities of all the preparation list schemes and, as lie told the House, we have now heard from the Director General that it has been decided that these A316 schemes should go ahead. My right hon. and learned Friend is, of course, willing to consider these schemes for grant.

The Greater London Council will wish to agree details of these schemes with the London Borough of Richmond, and no indication can yet be given of likely completion dates.

Mr. Jessel

When the Department of the Environment considers these schemes for grant, will my hon. Friend ensure that there is no delay in the consideration and that it is done by his Department with maximum dispatch?

Mr. Speed

I give an assurance to my hon. Friend that in so far as the Department is concerned in these schemes there will be no unnecessary delay whatsoever. I hope and believe that the same attitude will be taken by the Greater London Council, which I am sure will give high priority to the work. I am sure that it will also read in HANSARD what my hon. Friend has urged.

My hon. Friend also urged me to twist the GLC's arm. I am not sure that I can go as far as that. But we in the Department shall have no unavoidable delay. I give a personal assurance of that. I am sure that the same thing will apply to County Hall. The boroughs will have to be consulted on this matter, and there is a number of interested bodies.

The traffic flow on the A316 in 1971 was 22,000 vehicles per 16-hour day. Our assessment of the maximum likely flow when the M3 has been opened is 37,000 vehicles per 16-hour day. The traffic management measures to which I have referred should reduce this volume, but to an extent which cannot yet be estimated. Completion of the A305 stage II improvement would increase the A316 flow to 45,000 vehicles per 16-hour day.

In order that these figures can be seen in perspective—they are of major magnitude—I would mention that the comparable figure for the A4 east of the Hogarth roundabout is 80,000. That puts the situation in some perspective.

My Department and the council have also given thought to the traffic implications of the opening of the M3 and the stage 1 A305 schemes. A working party, consisting of representatives of my Department, the Greater London Council, Surrey County Council, the London Borough of Hounslow and Staines Urban District Council was set up for this purpose.

Earlier this year the working party recommended that certain measures be carried out before the M3 is opened. They were as follows: the straightening out of a kink in the roundabout at Felt-ham Hill Road; the interim A305 to be made a "clearway"; direction signs to be provided on the M3 at Lightwater to divert North London, Heathrow and Ml traffic to the A30; direction signs to be provided on the M3 west of Sunbury Cross to divert traffic that could go via the A308; for other local roads, details to be worked out locally; and the possibility to be investigated of improving the capacity of the Hope and Anchor junction by installing traffic control signs.

The working party added that if these measures should prove insufficient, the M3 carriageway for London-bound traffic should be reduced from three lanes to two west of Sunbury Cross. This particular course of action was strongly urged by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries to my hon. Friend when he saw him, and that course of action was adopted by my right hon. and learned Friend. All these measures have been adopted by us in so far as responsibility rests with us.

My right hon. and learned Friend has decided that the M3 should initially be opened with the east-bound carriageway tapered to two lanes west of Sunbury Cross. The tapering arrangements will be continued only as long as necessary. I understand that the GLC, for its part, is considering the working party's recommendations that the Feltham Hill Road roundabout be improved, that clearway restrictions be applied to the interim A305, and that the value of traffic control signals at the Hope and Anchor junction be investigated. I am sure that the GLC is well aware of the urgency of these matters and is pressing on as fast as possible.

My hon. Friend raised a number of points and suggested that possibly the Lightwater to Sunbury length of the M3 should not be opened until both stages of the A305 improvements have been completed—that is, not until the autumn of 1975. He urged that upon my right hon. and learned Friend when he saw him. I think my right hon. and learned Friend himself gave the answer. This is a major investment in the country's motorway programme. Motorways are our safest roads. For the reasons given to my hon. Friend at that time, we could not go along with that suggestion. In addition, I am sure that a large proportion of the traffic on the M3 will be destined for places on and adjoining the route, for example, Shepperton, Ashford, Hanworth, Feltham, Sunbury, Hampton, Twickenham, Teddington, Richmond, Kingston, Hounslow and Chiswick.

Moreover, any traffic problems that may ensue are likely to be confined to the peak traffic periods, which total, say, four hours per day Monday to Friday. It would be quite wrong to deprive motorists of the full use of the 121 miles of M3 between Lightwater and Sunbury in order to preserve the status quo on the A305/A316 for 20 hours per week.

My hon. Friend asked whether it was sufficient to taper M3 to two lanes or whether we should not consider tapering it to one lane. We think that it is sufficient to taper it to two lanes. The interim A305 will itself be dual two lanes, and the other measures that the GLC is looking into will help.

We have been looking at these problems in conjunction with the GLC for some time, and it is not necessary to have another study now, because the A305 should marry up with the reduced capacity on the M3. As my right hon. and learned Friend told my hon. Friend, if there were to be considerable problems after the motorway was opened, we, with the GLC, would be prepared to have another look at this. I repeat the assurance given to my hon. Friend.

My hon. Friend told the House about a strange leaflet which is apparently circulating saying that the Tories want the A316 to be a motorway. I do not know where this leaflet comes from or who are its authors. The A316 is the responsibility of the GLC, which, as we all know, is now not controlled by the Tories. However, the council has not indicated to us that this road should be a motorway. We have no intention of suggesting this. Any suggestion that this road should be a motorway could come only from the GLC. I know of no reason why this should be so. As I have said, we have no intention of suggesting this to the council. The authors of the leaflet will have to make inquiries at County Hall.

I understand and appreciate my hon. Friend's concern for his constituents. He has been very vigilant and vigorous on their behalf. I hope that I have given him sufficient information today to show him—this is not just a trite phrase—that this position, which obviously is fluid and will change particularly when the motorway is open, will be kept under continuous review by my Department and the GLC with the object of taking any practicable measures that may prove to be needed.

There is a great deal of work still to be done on the various schemes, most of which are matters for the GLC. I have indicated where, if appropriate, we would be prepared to consider grants. I have given a firm indication that my Department will do nothing to hold up any of these arrangements.

I hope that with the arrangements that are now being made in a partnership between the various councils concerned and my Department, and, for that matter, the Members of Parliament concerned locally, the worries and fears of my hon. Friend's constituents will prove to be groundless. I will not pretend that the next two years will be easy. Nevertheless, I am sure that at the end of the day the various measures which are being taken, at considerable cost, will ensure that my hon. Friend's constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey and those living elsewhere to the west of London will not have to put up with the problems that at one time seemed possible.

The steps that my right hon. and learned Friend has taken as a temporary measure to restrict and taper M3 will be particularly helpful until, as we hope, in a year or two all these measures will be properly in operation and the M3 can revert to its proper role as part of our strategic road network.