HC Deb 29 July 1974 vol 878 cc151-86
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)

Nine hon. Members wish to speak in the debate on this topic, and I hope that both Front Bench and back bench Members will bear other hon. Members in mind.

9.5 p.m.

Mr. J. W. Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

I was going to say that there was no truth in the rumour that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides were trying to prevent subject No. 7 in Mr. Speaker's Ballot being reached, but it would appear that that might after all be the case. However, I shall not take more than 10 minutes. If I have not finished my remarks in that time, I shall sit down.

As I have told the House previously, the motorway in Birmingham runs right through my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Silverman). Both constituencies are heavily built-up areas and within them there are 6,000 homes within 300 yards of the motorway. The noise level experienced by our constituents is intolerable at certain times. One has to be there to know what it is like. I live a quarter of a mile from Spaghetti Junction and so I have some experience of the noise. At about 4 a.m. each day the surge of noise of heavy goods vehicles starts. It is literally driving many people out of house and home.

Certain improvements have been and are being made. A noise barrier erected on part of the motorway has had a beneficial effect to a certain extent, and following repeated representations which I have made to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment I am confident that further improvements will be forthcoming. However, there is no doubt that the motorway will remain a fact of life for my constituents even though for many of them it is not desirable.

At a recent conference of the Royal Institute of British Architects at Durham University two transport experts from the OECD told delegates that motor traffic in particular would be more strictly controlled in the future and that strategic plans for transport in urban areas would be drawn up with regard to the environment and the best use of land. The phrase "with regard to the environment" is fine-sounding stuff. A motorway and its effect on the environment can mean many things to many people. To my constituents it means noise and dust pollution. For country dwellers it can mean, for example, changing a cattle track. For the large-scale landowner it can mean losing a few acres from a holding of many thousand acres.

As a "Brummy", I would be the last person to say that the citizens of Birmingham did not want motorways. They realise that the economic survival of Birmingham rests to a large extent on the motor industry, both at present and for the foreseeable future. We are not against motorways in general, but we are against those at the bottom of our gardens, which is the case in my constituency.

The noise regulations made in 1973, upon which great stress was laid in the previous Parliament by my predecessor and by the previous Government, held out some hope for my constituents. A noise contour map was drawn up and published and many homes were visited. All the people involved thought that they would get double glazing, but it is now found that they will not all qualify for it.

The regulations state that a living room and a bedroom are eligible for special consideration, but there is no mention of a kitchen in this respect. The position of a kitchen in a house can also affect eligibility for special consideration, and in my constituency many houses are not eligible for double glazing because of the position of the kitchen in relation to the motorway. Some homes that are only 35 ft. from the motorway do not have double glazing.

There is an anomaly in the regulations which I find it difficult to explain to my constituents. Bedrooms which face the motorway get double glazing but in some houses the lounge which is 3 ft below does not, simply because a theoretician has worked out the noise contours and predicted that noise will be slightly less in the lower storey. This takes some believing. It would remove anomalies if the definition of eligible rooms were changed and if the lower storey were eligible automatically whenever the upper storey was eligible. All the houses that I am concerned about have two storeys.

The civil servants forecast that part of the motorway system, particularly in the Midlands, will be at saturation level in 15 years. Judging from. other Civil Service forecasts, that means that it will probably be at saturation point in half that time. The motorway police, whose control headquarters is in my constituency, say that 90 per cent. of the saturation level of 100,000 vehicles a day has been reached on some days. Therefore, in the near future the planners will try to impose a second motorway system. I and many others in the West Midlands will oppose that. The missing links of the present system should be supplied to make it viable, and a completely new system would be the height of folly.

The answer, as always, is to make more use of the railways, which do not pollute the environment. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), who is a former railway-man, will be able to elaborate on that. The pro-motorway lobby favours such a shift, as I learned when I drank its whisky at a reception in the House the other week. British Leyland factories are linked by a rail network, and that is a firm which depends for its survival on motor cars. If we took that approach in national planning, we should be far better off.

I should like to raise another matter which my constituents have been putting to me over the past three or four weeks. I have referred to the conference of the RIBA. It is a discredit to the institute and it disgusts the citizens of Birmingham that our former city architect has just started a two-year gaol sentence for bribery and corruption. What adds insult to injury is that this man, who took £18,000 in bribes, is entitled to a pension of £6,000 because of the way in which local government was reorganised. First we have the problem of the motorways in Birmingham, in which the Department had a hand, and then we find that the guy who ran matters was a crook and that when he is put away the ratepayers have to pay out his pension while he is in gaol.

I am sorry if that last subject was a little outside this debate, but I have had nearly as many letters on that score as I have had about hare coursing.

9.15 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Bell (Beaconsfield)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) on having a good point and making it briefly. Unfortunately those who needed his good example had already left the Chamber. I at least shall profit from it and certainly be brief. My constituents have a motorway, and in principle they, too, like it, but again it runs at the foot of some of their gardens. That in itself would not arouse their hostility, but unfortunately this is a rather special bit of motorway. It is the three and a half miles of the Gerrards Cross bypass on the M40. The Department of the Environment decided it would be a good thing to provide a special surface which would reduce splashing from cars in wet weather and provide excellent non-skid properties.

The road was made, therefore, of concrete with grooves in the surface. This has been tried on the M1.

Mr. John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling)

And on M20.

Mr. Bell

On the M1 the grooves were at regular distances, and the whine they set up could have been compared with the debate immediately preceding this one. There are signs on the motorway saying "Tyre noise", not "Tired noise" as we had a moment ago. The regularity of the spacing of the grooves produces a most unpleasant high-pitched whine. In order to avoid that on the M40, a new system of random grooving was tried and by that system the grooves were laid according to a pattern where the spacing was irregular. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Mr. Stanley) will find that this is what has been done on M20 also. That has altered the pitch of the whine, but my constituents still do not like it any better than people living near the M1 like theirs.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Mr. Carmichael), the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, knows all about the trouble on M40 because it is to him that we have addressed our complaints in the past. To be fair, I know that he is considering it.

Mr. Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)

I have great sympathy with what my hon. and learned Friend is saying. Is he aware that even for motorists coming on to this surface for the first time it is a very disturbing experience? The steering suddenly becomes extremely rough. The first time I experienced it I thought I had a puncture.

Mr. Bell

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am talking about the effect on my constituents, but the effect on the motorist is also very unpleasant and it creates unpleasant noise inside the car. The whole car shakes and I should think that in the long term it could damage a vehicle. The wear on the tyres must be greatly increased.

However, it is primarily the effect on the householders living in the vicinity that worries me. One of the characteristics of this noise is that it seems to carry a long way from the motorway, and people tell me that even as much as half or three-quarters of a mile away their lives can be dominated in anything but the windiest weather by the whine from the random grooving.

This week's edition of the Motor, which is a periodical dedicated more to motor- ing than to the troubles of people living in houses, states: Anyone who has experienced the blinding curtain of spray that vehicles can put up when travelling on a wet motorway can only be in favour of removing that dangerous hazard. But equally important is the need to conserve a reasonable environment. The environment created by randomly spaced transverse concrete grooving is totally unacceptable. That piece by a staff writer in the Motor describes what my constituents are experiencing.

I am assured by the hon. Member for Kelvingrove that the Transport and Road Research Laboratory is carrying out experiments to find a pervious surface which will also offer the advantage of channel-ling away the surface water, offer good anti-skid properties and not make this abominable noise.

I ask the Minister two things. First, will he use his good offices with his right hon. Friend and tell him that tonight I have raised again those matters that I have raised with him before and that I want to emphasise the urgency, the damage to the environment and the eventual cost in money if the road is not resurfaced? It is clear that the claims for compensation under the recent Land Compensation Act will be massive, and it would be cheaper to resurface the three miles of motorway at a cost of £250,000. The claims under the Act will add up to more than that, so on this occasion public money can actually be saved.

The other and lesser thing is to ask that the report of the investigation by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory should not be kept confidential but should be made available to all those interested in the subject, so that we may know what it recommends as a best surface and we need not be content with a second best that is so damaging to the interests of our constituents.

9.22 p.m.

Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Erdington)

Like the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Roker) on being successful in the Ballot and raising a subject of great importance to many people, one which vitally affects his constituents and mine. Mine are probably the more affected, because in my constituency there is not merely one motorway, the M6, which passes right through the urban area of Birmingham, but several motorways converging in what is called the Gravelly Hill interchange, described less reverently by some as Spaghetti Junction. Therefore, many hundreds of my constituents are affected, and are cursed by the noise. They are affected by the vision of this monstrosity and by the pollution and smoke. They are now even concerned about lead, a new hazard, which may or may not be serious but which is being investigated.

The Government and the House should establish as a principle that when a new motorway is put into operation the highway authority, whether the Government or the local authority, will bear the whole of the social cost. That means not only the depreciation in the value of the property but the cost of making right as far as they can, and mitigating as far as they can, the evils of the motorway by every available for of noise insulation and filter that can be used to deal with the pollutants. That should be a principle in the construction of new roads in order that not merely the convenience of the motorist but the inconvenience caused to ordinary citizens is considered.

There is no doubt that the M6 link-way in Birmingham is a great blessing to motorists travelling between London and the South and the North-West. But it is a curse to the inhabitant and the full cost should be assessed in real terms. The Government should be prepared to bear the whole of the costs.

The Land Compensation Act was an advance on what went before but it is nowhere near adequate. My hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr mentioned double glazing and extractors which will be provided in only a certain number of cases where the decibel limit is fulfilled. In any event, I believe that the present allowable level of decibels is too high and that people can have an intolerable life with something very much lower than the level now allowed under the regulations.

Like my hon. Friend I ask that the level of compensation should be considered again notwithstanding present Government stringency. The present limit is £1,500. That is not adequate to cover the depreciation of the houses con- cerned. Let us not forget that very often these houses may represent the whole of a working man's capital. Therefore, we cannot say that the amenity value or other matters should be excluded. The whole problem should be reconsidered.

Next, let us consider noise insulation. Will the Minister tell us how much progress is being made with noise barriers, I approached one of his ministerial colleagues some time ago about the erection of a noise barrier at the Gravelly Hill interchange and the impact that the noise and vibration is having on the houses nearby. I am still awaiting a reply, but I hope that the Minister will say something about that today.

I understand that a barrier introduced in my hon. Friend's constituency of Perry Barr has been reasonably successful in eliminating a fair amount of noise and making, to some extent, conditions tolerable. I want to know whether the same will be done at the Gravelly Hill interchange. I understand that there are some difficulties but I hope that we shall have a reply tonight. Further, I am hoping that the whole matter will be reviewed by the Government and that they will not be content with the limitations of the Land Compensation Act. I hope that they will do what they can to mitigate the conditions of life in which hundreds of my constituents and constituents of my right hon. Friend live.

9.28 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Dodsworth (Hertfordshire, South-West)

We are all grateful to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) for raising what is a modern and a difficult topic with which many of us are concerned. He has depicted only too clearly some of the discordant things which are in store for some of my constituents. In my constituency the North Orbital M25 motorway is under construction. The residents who went to live in the area some time ago went to live in a part of the country which was regarded and officially designated as an area of great natural beauty. They recognised that there was a noise level in the area which I understand could accurately and mathematically be described as 38 decibels. That was an attractive feature.

When the plans were announced for the construction of the motorway there was considerable local discussion. I think that it was generally agreed that there was a need for the motorway to relieve traffic from some of the country roads of Hertfordshire. It was recognised that it was best that traffic should move laterally. The residents took part in the discussions. They received certain undertakings which they were glad to receive and which they valued.

Now that the motorway is under construction the residents are facing noise pollution of a level which they did not dream. They think that it is a sign of things to come. We have had the pleasure of readings being taken in the course of construction and the noise level is between 70 and 76 decibels compared with the previous 38 decibels. It should not be overlooked that such increases do not progress on an arithmetical basis but are geometric, and a difference of 10 can be regarded as a major social inconvenience.

What do we mean by "decibel levels"? The first level quoted when I tried to get some information was a quiet London room at midnight—32. The next level up was suggested as being a soft whisper at 5 ft., whether or not in the quiet London room at midnight, I do not know, but it was put at 34. The vacuum cleaner at 10 ft. was put at 69. If one sits in the compartment of a suburban electric train, the decibel level will be 76. Thus, for 12 to 15 hours a day people are being subjected to a noise level comparable with that experienced in travelling permanently in a suburban electric train.

Again, if one is standing at a railway station, a passing inter-city express gives a noise level of about 95. The M3 survey recently showed a massive increase in noise levels of over 100 per cent. at a distance of between 30 and 100 metres, based on an 18–hour noise-level day. That does not look like a happy augury for those living close to the M25.

It is also unfortunate that, because of its geology, the valley acts as an echo chamber and residents have had the added attraction of transistor radios being heard three-quarters of a mile away, together with pile-drivers, general wagon works, and so on, in progress.

What can be done? We must continue the excellent work carried out on the landscaping of motorways. We have contributed internationally in this work. But we have to think about what one might call international sound landscaping. The use of trees and banking can be extremely valuable, certainly in rural areas. For example, a number of 80 ft. beech trees were taken down almost overnight and burnt, the effect being to remove the what would have been a sound barrier and certainly a sight barrier. There has been a failure in some areas to construct the banking which would have prevented sound from travelling and polluting. For some curious reason, although undertakings have been given to build sound barriers, many have not been built by the contractors.

It has also been suggested that attention should be paid to road surfacing materials in use. I do not like the prospect of the M20 type of surfacing being used again, and I hope that the Minister will ensure that it is not used again on the M25. We would be grateful for that.

I have received two petitions and have had constant correspondence with the Department. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will receive a deputation of those concerned, recognising the need for the motorway but also the need to minimise inconvenience and pollution for those near by.

9.35 p.m.

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

This is the second occasion within 10 days on which I have had the opportunity to bring before the House the problems of noise and pollution caused by urban motorways, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) for it. I make no apology for speaking about it again. It is an important matter. Although it is a general problem, it relates particularly to the West Midlands. In his last annual report to the former borough of West Bromwich, the then Chief Public Health Inspector, Mr. Stanley Cayton, stated that …noise levels had already exceeded the recommended maximum for comfortable living. The residents in my constituency affected by urban motorways will certainly agree. They frequently write to tell me about what they call "the living hell" on their doorsteps—the thundering traffic which makes an unbroken night's sleep a half-forgotten memory and the belching exhaust fumes which transform the brightest summer's day into a grey dis-spiriting smog. They tell me about the impossibility of a normal conversation due to the ever-present noise; about the windows which must be kept permanently closed because of the dirt and fumes; about the washing which must be dried indoors or in a friendly neighbour's garden, because to hang it in their own garden would turn the whitest of whites into a dull shade of grey.

I have no doubt that right hon. and hon. Members who represent other parts of the country could say exactly the same about the problems of urban motorways, but I feel that in some ways West Bromwich is uniquely placed—if that is the right term—in relation to the general motorway structure. We have within the area the link of the M5 and M6, and just across the border is the Spaghetti Junction link and the link between the M6 and MI motorways. The sheer volume of traffic in our area, especially at this time of the year, makes the situation virtually unbearable.

The residents say that they can no longer tolerate a situation in which they and their children must swallow sleeping pills in order to get a good night's sleep. When a local doctor states that children in our area must expect to have recurring sore throats, surely some sort of action is long overdue from the Department of the Environment.

Of course, the problem does not begin and end with the motorways. A town such as West Bromwich must also face the extra traffic passing to and from the motorways and motorway link roads. West Bromwich council, before the re-organisation of local government, took some noise readings along a number of major roads in the borough. The limit of 68 decibels laid down in the building and noise regulations in 1973 was exceeded in virtually every case. Along some of the main roads in the borough the average reading, over a limited period of time, was over 80 decibels. In Scott Street, West Bromwich, for example, a 68-year-old pensioner has said to me "I might as well throw away my alarm clock. I can do without it." When the heavy Iorries start grinding past her bedroom window at about 4 o'clock in the morning, she is immediately awakened. There then follow three main noise peaks: the 7 a.m. start of the morning rush hour; between 12 noon and 2 p.m.; and between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. This pensioner tells me that she and her 71-year-old husband never go to bed before 10.30 p.m. because it is impossible to get to sleep.

The residents affected are fighting and have been fighting for what they consider, as I do, to be their rights. At the beginning of May 1974 I understand that there were almost 900 rate appeals from residents affected by motorway noise heard by the West Bromwich-based South Staffordshire Valuation Panel. I understand that the highest reduction for motorway noise before that panel so far has been 12½ per cent. Residents, however, go on to complain that they appear to have been forgotten in relation to the double glazing procedures. Only a small proportion of the applicants have so far been approached.

The problem, however, does not end with double glazing or with any other aid to reduce noise levels. It is about time that the problem was tackled at source. Heavy freight traffic must be shifted from our suburban and residential roads, either on to the railways or on to a national network of lorry routes, or both. It is surely time that the section in the Transport Act 1968 dealing with quantity licensing was activated. It should be necessary for road hauliers to prove that a load travelling more than a certain distance cannot be equally well carried by rail, as it was said was intended under the Transport Act 1968. My constituents feel that it is about time that the heavy goods vehicle was banished from our towns and cities and that they were able to get a good night's rest, peace of mind and the environment they deserve.

9.41 p.m.

Mr. John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling)

I would like to join other hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) on his excellent choice of subject, bringing home to the House and I hope the country the serious plight of, I suspect, tens of thousands of people living adjacent to motorways throughout the length and breadth of the country.

A number of hon. Members have referred to the Land Compensation Act 1973 and asked for the improvement and amendment of that Act. I do not dissent from that, but I do point out that that Act represented a major advance. Prior to that Act there was no injurious affection compensation and no statutory entitlement to soundproofing. In its way that legislation was as important in an environmental advance as, for instance, the Clean Air Act, 1956. I hope that as a result of the 1973 Act it will never again be possible to construct houses and motorways in such abysmally close proximity as they are, for example, in my constituency. Certainly there are similar examples in other constituencies.

My constituency contains the first completed section of the M20. This runs through a built-up area to the west of Maidstone, through the parishes of Aylesford, Larkfield and Ditton, where over the past 12 years, about 10,000 people, principally owner-occupiers, have acquired homes. The M20 is already a busy stretch of motorway yet the build-up of traffic is only just beginning.

With or without the Channel Tunnel, this piece of motorway will bear the brunt of road-borne traffic between this country and the Continent. It links up with the M25, M4, M3, M1 and M11. This road is in its infancy. I wish to draw to the attention of the Minister and the House the environmental conditions facing people living adjacent to the motorway. Is the Minister aware that as a result of an appalling piece of planning folly this motorway has been constructed within 30 feet of existing houses? Is he also aware that that folly has been compounded by the use of corrugated concrete for the road surface? This gives off an appalling high-pitched tyre whine, accentuated at times of wet weather and very much more environmentally damaging than a conventional tarmac surface. Should this sort of surface be used at all on sections of motorway going through residential areas?

Is he further aware that even though this motorway is in its infancy, people adjacent to it have to sleep with their windows tightly closed simply because of the noise, even in the heat of the summer? Is he aware that children and adults are having recourse to sleeping tablets? What sort of progress is it when the construction of new motorways means that people have to do this? Is it not an example of the way in which so-called progress can be highly retrograde? I ask the Minister to convey to his right hon. and hon. Friends my wish that they should experience the conditions suffered by my constituents.

If during the recess he should be coming to Kent, I hope he will notify me. I should be delighted to take him to the houses concerned, particularly to the bedrooms, so that he may hear the noise levels being suffered. I believe that Ministers should listen to these levels and experience the conditions which people are enduring day and night.

I wish to put three practical propositions to the Minister. First, I implore him to ensure that there is the most generous possible interpretation of the compensation provisions for injurious affection and of the soundproofing provisions in the Land Compensation Act. We have not yet had our list of houses to be soundproofed. It is due by the statutory dateline of 1st September. I was disturbed to hear what the hon. Member for Perry Barr said on this matter. If the Department interprets the soundproofing provisions of the Land Compensation Act in a cheeseparing, mealy-mouthed, penny-pinching way, I and many other hon. Members will come down on the Minister like a ton of bricks to ensure that they are generously interpreted.

Under the legislation, the Minister is obligated to take into account not only existing but future traffic levels. I shall be able to demonstrate a huge increase in prospective traffic on the M20. If the Minister finds his budget under the Estimates which we are discussing to be insufficient to make generous soundproofing provision, I hope that he will introduce a Supplementary Estimate which I feel sure will be warmly supported on both sides of the House.

Secondly, I ask the Minister to refer to the Minister for Transport the fact that I presented him with a large petition a few months ago on the construction of a sound-reduction barrier on the M20 similar to the experimental sections which exist along the M4 and M6. We have an acute need for such a barrier, or certainly a feasibility study into such a barrier, on the M20 running through my constituency. Since the petition, we have heard nothing from the Minister. I shall be grateful if he will tell us whether he has any news about departmental action on the provision of a sound-reduction barrier along this section of the M20.

Thirdly, I ask the Minister to consider a further possibility. Some of my constituents occupy houses which are so close to the M20—which will be as intensively used as any road in Europe in 10 or 15 years—that by any reasonable environmental standards they will be rendered unfit for habitation, even with soundproofing. The soundproofing does not provide any benefit to people's gardens. In fact, the word "garden" has become a mockery in relation to some of the houses. Though soundproofing serves to reduce the noise impact in the houses, the noise is not by any means eliminated. As the traffic builds up, some of the houses will be rendered unfit for habitation.

It may be the wish of some of my constituents who are worst affected to go to the Department and ask it to acquire their properties. The Department has the strongest possible moral obligation to respond positively to their request. In the nineteenth century houses were built which in this century have been declared unfit for habitation on public health grounds. In the last 10 or 15 years houses have been constructed and then rendered unfit for human habitation on health grounds because of the intense noise suffered in them. By the same token, just as the community bought out the nineteenth century houses which had been declared unfit, so the community has an obligation to buy twentieth century houses when they are rendered unfit by reason of the convenience of the motorised public.

9.50 p.m.

Mr. John Tomlinson (Meriden)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) for having had the good fortune and the initiative to raise this important subject. I wish to draw to the attention of the House the problems which are caused to my constituents by the M6 and will be caused by the proposed M42. The M6 runs close to the large Birmingham overspill estate of Chelmsley Wood and gives rise to considerable concern among many of my constituents. As it goes north from Chelmsley Wood it runs to the west of the pleasant village of Water Orton.

The noise and pollution caused by the M6 have been accepted as part of the price of modern developments, but the electors of Water Orton, having already suffered pollution and noise from the motorway to the west of the village, are concerned that at its nearest point the M42 is to run 30 feet away from the east side of the village. That would be bad enough, but the planners want to compound the damage by building an M6/M42 link round the south side of the village. What was a pleasant residential area will become the centre of motorways running to the east, west and south.

I am disturbed about the procedures within the Department of the Environment. At the beginning of June in a Written Question I asked my right hon. Friend about the structure plan as it affected Water Orton. I was told that my right hon. Friend hoped to be able to send his proposed modifications and reservations to the county planning authorities concerned during the summer. It therefore appears that we might get the structure plan for the county, including Water Orton, well before we get the detailed proposals for the line of route of the motorway.

The line of route has been challenged by the Water Orton Parish Council, members of which went to see the Minister and put before him nine alternative routes. In reply to a Written Question last month I was told that my right hon. Friend would probably be able to make a statement on the line of route before the end of this month. There are two days to go, and I hope that answer will be forthcoming so that before the House rises the people in my constituency will know the line of route and exactly what are their prospects. Uncertainty has been hanging over the village like the sword of Damocles for a long time.

I hope that the Minister will find it intolerable to compound the environmental damage done by the M6 by putting the M42 on the other side of the village and linking the M6 and the M4 on the south side, thus boxing in a small village on three sides—all in the name of progress.

The general problem is much wider although Water Orton highlights it. People who live in Birmingham seek refuge from urban life by going out to the villages in my constituency. Yet the building of roads to allow them to go into the rural villages destroys what they go into the country to find. For example, the pleasant village of Birchmoor is being cut in half by a proposed motorway. I hope that we shall not divorce the problem from the need to secure a much more integrated approach to transport.

In my constituency we are tearing the guts out of some of the finest parts of rural England in order to create motorways. At the same time we have a railway network which barely stops at the numerous halts along the line. I hope that the Department of the Environment will take more seriously than in the past the need to reopen some of the halts along existing railway lines. I refer, for example, to lines such as the one from Nuneaton to Birmingham. Trains run along these lines with monotonous regularity but they fail to serve those who live in the area with anything like the requisite regularity. For example, the railway line runs through the village of Whitacre, but because trains do not stop there my constituents have to use their cars to get into the town.

I hope that serious consideration will be given to these and similar problems. The railway line is still in existence from London to Birmingham and Tam-worth to Birmingham, but even in times when we are facing an acute fuel crisis and we are concerned about energy problems empty trains still travel through areas in my constituency and local inhabitants have to use their cars to travel into the cities. This leads to further congestion of already overburdened roads in city centres such as Birmingham, with all the use of expensive fuel and energy resources that is involved. This in turn leads to the justification for more motorways. It is all part of a vicious circle that must be ended.

Furthermore, there is the growing problem in taking people from their place of residence to their work or to their recreation at weekends. There is also the need to divert unnecessary goods vehicles away from the roads on to the railway system. To do this would not only be of great benefit to people whose lives are disturbed by the continuous drone of heavy goods vehicles but would be of great assistance for the railway services. It would provide much valuable revenue that is now being lost to the railway services. I hope that the Department of the Environment will look carefully at some of these problems and find solutions that will be to the advantage of the Department as well as of my constituents.

9.58 p.m.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) on raising this important subject. Although the hon. Gentleman dealt with the general subject of noise from motorways, he also gave particular prominence to the subject of motor vehicle noise. It is fair to say that motor vehicle noise is the greatest single irritant to people in this country—even greater than the problems which beset those of us who live under the flight paths to London Airport. We comprise a small number of people against the vast number who every day of their lives in one way or the other find motor vehicle noise unavoidable and therefore a continuous and ever-present curse.

We in this House are often guilty of uttering too many pious platitudes about how successful we are in curbing noise nuisance. We fall back on the Motor Vehicle Regulations of 1971 as being the last word on the subject of vehicle noise. But I think I count myself lucky in not being in the position of those hon. Members and their constituents who find themselves a few hundred yards from a motorway. They know what vehicle noise is really like. I believe that the only way to give them relief is to bring down vehicle noise to an acceptable level. That is the global remedy, which could be achieved if we put our backs into the problem.

When I cast some doubt upon the wisdom of holding on to the 1971 Motor Vehicle Regulations as if they were the last word, I remind the Minister that they are based on that famous report on Noise by Sir Alan Wilson in 1963 in which he told us the noise levels which he thought could be achieved by motor vehicles. Even the levels set in 1963 apparently are unachievable in 1971 and, for all I know, no one seems to be giving much attention to achieving them in 1974 or 1975, let alone looking forward.

I ask the Minister to consider carefully whether we should go on relying on those levels or whether it does not behove us to put more pressure on the manufacturers of motor vehicles to achieve better levels, because that at least would bring instantaneous relief from the vehicles coming out of their factories.

This debate is about noise from motorways. It is true that noise from motorways is both objectionable and to be objected to, but it is also fair to say that in discussing noise from motorways we should not assume that that is where the principal motor vehicle noise is to be found and that there is not a Cinderella in the whole case on which for a few moments I wish to touch.

Admittedly, I have a motorway in my constituency. The M4 bisects the constituency completely. But only one of my villages, the village of Theale, experiences any real irritation, and that only marginal. However, the M4, which goes through some beautiful countryside and causes so little disturbance to so few people, has three turn-offs each of which feeds into my constituency. They are the turn-off at Theale, the turn-off into Newbury and the turn-off into Hunger-ford.

The Newbury turn-off joins the A34, which is a trunk road. However, a motorway is a special road only in so far as it is designated as such. Therefore, a trunk road could become a motorway were it designated as such by the Ministry. For that reason, I wish to ask the Minister about the A34.

It is being improved to become the main traffic route from the industrial Midlands to Southampton Docks. As one looks at the improvement which is taking place on both sides of Newbury, one is impressed by the fact that the road looks like becoming something very near to a motorway. Indeed the Minister may say that it is the intention of his Department so to designate it. If it is, perhaps I may stay on the subject for a moment and ask the hon. Gentleman one or two questions about it.

We know the A34's improved route from the north to Newbury and to the south away from Newbury. What we do not know is the route which has been ldesignated to go from Newbury and to ink up with the South. At the moment, as the road is improved, we are seeing a much larger volume of traffic coming from the North, into the ring road which we have in Newbury, and causing congestion. As the road improves, the congestion increases. Judging by what we have seen this summer, we have considerable concern by next summer about the congestion that we shall face in the town of Newbury, especially at the St. John's Road roundabout. As it is, we foresee a mass of juggernaut lorries heading for Southampton Docks, and we wonder what sort of conditions they will create for local motorists and local commercial vehicles.

We wonder, too, whether, just because the A34 is so far a trunk road, we come under the compensation Acts which have been referred to in the debate, especially the Land Compensation Act 1973. Does it give cover to those who suffer from what might be described as motorway traffic on a trunk road or does one have to live next to an M-route to get these benefits?

I raise the question of trunk roads, and in particular that trunk road, because it would not be fair if we kept all our sympathy for those who suffer from motorway traffic and forgot those who suffer from something so nearly equivalent that they might feel they came off rather worse.

I want to return to some of the points that have been made in the debate, particularly barriers. I sought to find such parliamentary Questions and Answers as might have arisen in the last two or three years on this matter because I recall my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) saying something about barriers. The only Question that I could run to earth was in March 1972 when, in reply, the then junior Minister said that research was being actively pursued, and he referred to the Urban Motorways Committee which was looking into the problem. Has the Minister had a report from that committee? If so, what does it say and has he any plans to publish it?

I think that I ought to return to the question of noise levels and to a point which I made only 10 days ago when I referred to the noise meters which are designated in the motor vehicle regulations as the proper way of deciding whether a motor vehicle is creating an unacceptable level of noise over and above what is laid down in the regulations.

I asked the chief superintendent at Newbury police station whether the police possessed a noise meter. He told me, "No, we do not. We do not have one, because, frankly, a noise meter is impractical." It does not need me to tell the Minister that there are only 26 of these meters in the 57 counties of England and Wales—only 26, for the simple reason that they cannot be used. It therefore follows that if someone is prosecuted for a noise offence because a policeman thinks that the noise is unacceptable, his defence counsel will certainly ask the officer, "Did you take a reading on your meter and, if so, what did it register?" The answer will be, "We have not got a meter", to which defence counsel will then make the point, "If you have not got a meter, how do you know that the noise was unacceptable?" The result is a falling off in noise prosecutions.

I suggest that we are getting a higher rate of noise level in this country from motor vehicles than we have had in past years simply because we cannot enforce these regulations, which in themselves are fairly lax. Has the Minister considered dropping that part of the regulations altogether and going over to some new approach? Why not create something in the regulations which would allow a different kind of noise meter to be used, one that is practical and that can be used by police forces throughout the country, or, if he cannot find such a meter, why not go back to the evidence of our ears? Then, if a policeman genuinely believes he has heard a vehicle that is too noisy, he should have the right to make that vehicle go to the police station to be tested and, if found to have exceeded the noise levels, to be impounded on payment of a fine and until such time as it is corrected and can go back on the road in an acceptable condition.

The Minister may be saying to me under his breath, "But how would you enforce that? How will you catch these motor vehicles on motorways?" What about a noise trap? We have a radar speed trap. We worry ourselves to death about speeding. Let us also worry ourselves to death about those vehicles that cause so much nuisance to so many people because they are inefficiently and improperly run. Let us have noise traps and, if need be, noise stations at the urban ends of motorways into which we can run these vehicles and test them. I am sure that when we have had a few prosecutions for noise offences we shall see a difference in attitudes to noise among those who own and run commercial vehicles.

I come back to the question of barriers. From what I heard earlier, one hon. Member has suggested that a barrier had already been put up. If so, I should like to know how far the extension of barriers is intended to go. When I drive on the M4 I can see no sign of a noise barrier anywhere between Newbury and the beginning of the Cromwell Road extension. If we have such barriers, I should like to think that they will be used extensively.

I do not suggest that any of my suggestions will not cost money. I know they will. But I also know that vehicle manufacturers can curb the noise level, particularly of commercial vehicles. And who knows, the price of petrol may be the magic wand. If we had electric vehicles in wide use, we would at long last have achieved silent vehicles. We would not need noise barriers, but we would have a much better environment.

10.11 p.m.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

I join other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) on his good fortune in securing this debate and on the topic he has chosen.

I am very concerned about the proposed Aire Valley motorway from Shipley to Snay Hill, near Skipton, which will pass through my constituency of Keighley. Clearly there is an argument that the construction of a motorway will reduce the level of noise on the existing A629-A650 trunk road. On the other hand, the motorway will create a noise path and the motorway is not designed to relieve local traffic So the existing trunk road will be carrying a considerable amount of traffic whether or not the motorway is present.

I have in my hand a report by the West Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council which says in paragraph 28 of Appendix 4: The noise reduction on the existing road will be barely noticeable but the noise from the new route will be additional. This is an argument which was put to the directorate. It says: It is predicted that two-third; of the traffic will be diverted off the existing road which should produce a noticeable reduction but it is accepted that the new route represents an additional noise corridor. Incidentally, the predictions that are mentioned are nowhere clarified. I have asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment about the predicted effects of the traffic on the existing trunk road and the expected traffic level to be carried on the proposed Aire Valley motorway. I did not receive an answer. These matters are, apparently, shrouded in secrecy until a public inquiry is held when these predictions will be disclosed.

Consultants are mentioned— Consultants were engaged by the Road Construction Unit to investigate likely noise and environmental problems and have made recommendations to minimise the impact. of the proposed Aire Valley motorway. Unfortunately the results of the deliberations of the consultants are nowhere to hand and in the locality they are rather difficult to find. Anybody likely to be affected by the proposed motorway should certainly have the information arising from the deliberations of the consultants. To deprive people of that information is to withhold from them important information which is relevant to the case.

In the constituency of the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Fox) two schools will be badly affected by noise, to a much worse extent than a school in my constituency—Grange School—which is to be specially shielded from the noise levels of the proposed motorway—noise levels which the consultants have indicated but which, as I have already made clear, are not available to the general run of my constituents.

The noise level affecting Grange School will be so great that it is said, apparently without any great authenticity because of the lack of verification from the consultants' report, that no classes can be con- ducted outside the school and the school might have to be specially double glazed, which will not lead to a very bright environmental future for that educational institution.

When I was on the local education committee it was decided, as a result of information and advice given by the then county planning officer, to move the proposed Swire Smith school which would have been adjacent to the Grange School to elsewhere within my constituency because of the effect of noise levels from the proposed motorway. No definite decision has yet been made on the design of a proposed noise barrier. It might be a concrete barrier or it might take the form of an earth mound. Whatever form it takes, it will probably mean an ugly visual intrusion upon the existing pleasant environment.

There is also concern about how the proposed motorway will affect people on the fringe area as against those who will he directly affected. Some dwellings may be quite close to the motorway, but because they will not be regarded as being directly affected they will remain in a sort of limbo. I wrote to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on this matter, referring to a particular house. He explained that Unfortunately the law just does not permit us to acquire in advance properties, like 89 Florist Street— the property I was concerned with— which are affected by blight by proximity. Noise is an important element of this blight.

Under Section 22 of the Land Compensation Act 1973 a property may be purchased by agreement if the enjoyment of that property is seriously affected by construction nuisance or by the use of a new road within one year of its opening. That implies blight by noise, which means that although there might be compensation at the end of 12 months a number of my constituents are placed in a planning limbo until the motorway is built—if it is built—and after it is opened they can experience further delay of up to 12 months.

This is not a happy position for many of my constituents. Some of the properties which will be affected are Victorian terraced houses, and many of the people living in them are elderly and are disturbed about the situation. I believe that it is necessary to have a fresh look at the position. I should like the Department of the Environment to make a decision fairly soon one way or the other and ensure that a public inquiry is put under way.

The Stockbridge area of Keighley was under threat for a number of years before the preferred route of the motorway was published, even when it was merely a rumour. The preferred route has now been published and again the district is placed in limbo. People are becoming tired about the situation. They are living in a good area with good-quality housing, but the local authority is doing nothing in the area. Roads are increasingly getting into disrepair because the local authority, quite reasonably, asks what is the point in spending money if a motorway is to be built and the houses may have to come down.

There is also the compensation factor to consider. The district valuer says that the area is run down and that therefore the value of the houses is relatively low compared with houses in other areas which will not be affected by the motorway. This is extremely unfair and people would welcome a decision on the issue.

The question of cost is important. It has been suggested that in order to reduce noise and visual intrusion a section of the motorway in the Shipley constituency should be encased in a tunnel. This would mean an extra cost of £7 million, bringing the total cost to about £47 million, which in the present economic situation cannot be contemplated. In any event there are projects of higher priority to be considered. There are two schools in my constituency which need replacing, and this type of expenditure is more important than the spending of £40 million to £50 million on motorways.

Mr. Douglas Hurd (Mid-Oxon)

The hon. Member's experience is ahead of mine and I should be grateful for his advice. In my constituency we are dealing with the M40, for which a preferred route has not been decided. Has the hon. Gentleman been told by the Government that the up-to-date traffic predictions will be forthcoming when a public inquiry is held? I understand that the Transport and Road Research Laboratory is up-dating its assumptions.

Mr. Cryer

I am told by the Department that the information which I requested will be presented if the Department thinks it relevant and necessary at the public inquiry. But that is often too late for critics to make a proper evaluation. It is wrong and unnecessary.

Noise could be avoided if we developed the existing Aire Valley with more "park and ride" stations. Traffic congestion on the existing trunk roads is great and generates noise. It could be reduced more easily and cheaply by bypasses, perhaps linked by an all-purpose trunk road. This would not intrude physically and visually as much as it does in a narrow valley which contains noise.

In our present economic situation we should decide quickly about this motorway. We should take a fresh look at traffic in the Aire Valley and thereby deal with some of the visual and aural intrusions of motorways.

10.23 p.m.

Mr. Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) said that his constituents were not against all motorways, only those at the bottom of their gardens. That sums up the general attitude of large numbers of people in the same situation. It is a wise man who can say that a motorway will not run at the bottom of his garden in the next decade or so.

The time has come for the Department radically to reappraise its motorway policy. I was a member of the last administration. I make no secret of the fact that, as a constituency Member, I suggested to the then Secretary of State for the Environment a reappraisal of the Government's motorway policy. The un-sympathetic answer I received is reflected by the present Government. This is not a political point. The civil servants concerned with motorway construction seem to have been given their head. The matter has got beyond the politicians. It should come back to the House.

We should consider where we are going, how many motorways we need, bearing in mind fuel difficulties and pollution. Can we afford a further expansion of the motorway network? Like every hon. Member, I find motorways a great convenience. A delicate balance has to be struck, but it should be struck by Parliament and not left to the technicians and technocrats who forge new links.

My area suffers from the problem of a mini-motorway called the Kenilworth Eastern Bypass. It has been sought for years and it is useful because it takes heavy traffic from round about Warwick, bypassing Kenilworth and going on to the East Midlands and the M1. The only difficulty is that it has been constructed in large sections of ribbed or ridged concrete. Many hon. Members tonight have criticised this type of construction and I have had a series of complaints from constituents since the bypass was opened about one-and-a-half months ago.

It passes a village called Leek Wootton where a barrier has been constructed which is so far incomplete. It also passes a good residential district of Kenilworth. The whine is tremendous. I interrupted my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) to say that driving on this surface produces an unpleasant sensation if the driver is not used to it. One immediately gets the impression that something has gone wrong with the car, such as a puncture. Having experienced that and having listened at nearby houses to the interference, I can assure the Government that the noise nuisance is not insignificant, and that it creates environmental pollution which the Department should do something about.

I put a Question down for the Secretary of State the other day and was given an assurance that in future where motorways were constructed near areas of high density of population this construction would not be used. I hope there will be sympathetic consideration for areas where this type of surface already exists. Although I recognise that it will cost a fair amount of money to resurface those sections. I am sure that in the long run it will be cheaper than having to pay compensation to residents, which Parliament will inevitably sanction.

Mr. Tony Newton (Braintree)

In my constituency the A12 has this type of construction, and the situation has arisen in which drivers of heavy lorries find it so uncomfortable to drive on that they have gone back to the old road. We have, therefore, failed to remove the pollution caused by traffic on the original route.

Mr. Smith

I do not criticise those who were responsible for this construction. As so often in this life, it is a matter of trial and error. The motivation is good—it is to stop skidding and prevent accidents on roads—but while that is having some effect, the difficulties which arise for residents are so great that this type of construction will probably have to be dropped in the future. Most people feel that there should be a reappraisal of ribbed concrete.

I hope that we shall consider whether we have too many motorways. Like many hon. Members, I am concerned about the M40, which is projected from Birmingham to Oxford. It is first class for anyone wanting to drive fast from Oxford to Birmingham, but how many people will have to suffer on the way? The village of Hatton in my constituency will be severely affected if it goes as close to the houses as the motorway which my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Mr. Stanley) described. There is a further projection from Warwick via Banbury to Oxford which will affect the village of Bishops Tachbrook. People are understandably worried that this will come very close to their properties. Like the hon. Member for Perry Barr, they do not want a motorway at the bottom of their garden.

Having been in government, I know the problems. I know how difficult it is for the Department of the Environment to get the exact balance. I hope, however, that the debate will have emphasised there a great and growing body of people are desperately worried about the growth of motorways and the interference with their ordinary everyday life. If this goes on we may well find some kind of rebellion among those affected. I should like to see it nipped in the bud by the Government of the day.

10.31 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Mr. Charles R. Morris)

Hon. Members on both sides of the House have congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) on selecting the subject of motorway noise for debate. I associate myself with those views and congratulate my hon. Friend on the lucidity with which he put his case. I also congratulate him on his persistence. He has raised the subject not only tonight but in the deliberations on the Control of Pollution Bill, and he has many times sought to reflect the concern of his constituents about the problem of noise emanating from motorways.

With his characteristic modesty, my hon. Fried suggested that the problem was noise from the motorway at the bottom of his garden. On the basis of the contributions from both sides of the House, I think that it is noise at the bottom of thousands of people's gardens. We have had concern about the M40, M1, M5, M6, M42 and M25. The widespread complaints are a matter of concern to the Department of the Environment, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport and my ministerial colleague the Under-Secretary. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will accept that we share their concern about the problem.

At the same time I hope they will also accept that the Land Compensation Act 1973 and the noise insulation regulations provide positive action for dealing with the problem which has been the subject of concern this evening. The working and scope of the regulations are to be reviewed after a reasonable period of implementation, probably early next year.

My hon. Friend questioned the definition and criteria of residences which can benefit from the proposals for double glazing and compensation. He questioned the criteria for eligible rooms and suggested that kitchens might very well be covered in the regulations. He asked why kitchens are not covered by the noise regulations of 1973. I ask him to accept that when resources are strictly limited as at present, it is necessary to concentrate initially on the priority areas—namely, living rooms and bedrooms. It might be argued that a housewife spends much of her time in the kitchen, but that room is generally less susceptible to traffic noise than are living rooms and bed-rooms.

There are also technical difficulties about insulating kitchens. With an inlet fan it is difficult to prevent the spread of cooking smells and moist air from the kitchen, possibly with consequent condensation problems. Extractor ventilation is therefore required. Many kitchens, of course, contain heating appliances. I hope my hon. Friend will agree that central heating boilers require an air supply and that the use of extract ventilation increases the possibility of flue gas reversal and the release of toxic carbon monoxide into the dwelling. Those are some of the difficulties that we see in widening the criterion and including kitchens.

My hon. Friend made an additional point about certain circumstances in which upper storeys are accepted for noise insulation compensation and double glazing while the lower storey lounge room is rejected. The reason behind that apparent anomaly is, as my hon. Friend rightly indicated, a matter of noise contours. In some circumstances the noise can affect the upper storeys of a building while it does not affect the lounge to quite the same extent.

My hon. Friend also referred to properties in his constituency that he rightly described as being 35 ft. away from the motorway. I am informed that he was referring to dwellings very close to the viaduct. I hope he will accept that the residents concerned have my sympathy. I am sure that my ministerial colleague, who I understand has agreed to meet a deputation led by my hon. Friend, will be prepared to consider any detailed evidence which my hon. Friend wishes to submit. Of course, a duty already exists to insulate residential properties within 300 metres of new roads and new carriageways affected by a specified level of traffic noise. But the suggestion that my hon. Friend made might possibly involve wasteful expenditure as it would require noise insulation to be provided where it was not needed as well as where it was needed.

The impact of noise on buildings near motorways depends on many factors, including the distance from the motorway—for example, local topography, the design of the motorway and the effects of any acoustic barriers. Many buildings within 300 metres of a motorway could be unaffected by noise and it would be found that there would be no justification for providing noise insulation for them.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)

The Minister is displaying his sympathy and it is clear that he has a detailed brief, but if he would spend a night in one of the houses in his hon. Friend's constituency he would learn far more than anything that is contained in his brief. Will he agree in principle to do that? We would be quite happy whichever constituency he chose.

Mr. Morris

I am not seeking to minimise the real difficulties that residents have in the constituency of the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) or in my hon. Friend's constituency. I can assure him that I live immediately on the side of the A6. Therefore, the problem of noise from traffic is not unknown to me at first hand during the day or during the night. I was dealing with the factors which affect the problem of noise and how to deal with it. An automatic requirement to provide insulation would be costly and could act as a disincentive to the erection of acoustic barriers and other design measures which might provide a better solution to the noise problem, since they would protect the outside environment, including gardens, as well as the inside of properties.

There is the suggestion that in some way my ministerial colleagues and the Department are impervious to this problem, or that to some extent there has been a minimum of action. Let me indicate some of the action which has been taken by the Department since the Land Compensation Act came into operation in June 1973.

There has been the preparation of the noise maps indicating the properties affected by noise and the degree of the noise problem which individual residents are obliged to experience. Additionally, experimental noise barriers have been erected, particularly on the M6. Those on the M6 have cost about £60,000 and were provided to the extent of 600 metres on the north side and 1,000 metres on the south side, and they have brought about a reduction of up to 9dB(A), thereby reducing by nearly half the problem of noise, in this particular area. The consultant's reports on the effectiveness of this kind of barrier have been received and are under consideration in the Department.

It is true to say that motorways by common definition are intended to carry large volumes of fast-moving traffic. They serve to get through traffic away from the towns and other populated areas and free the people of those areas from the worst excesses of congestion and traffic noise. Motorways which have already been built are a major source of noise for the relatively few people obliged to live alongside them.

I want to explain the new approach to planning and designing of motorways. Recently, in line with the recommendations of the Urban Motorways Committee, important new measures have been introduced for the protection of people against the adverse effects of new motorway as well as other new and improved roads.

In selecting the route of a motorway, greater emphasis is being given to avoiding populated areas and building the motorways in such a way that they have a minimum adverse effect on their environment. In determining the line of a motorway, the effect of noise on existing and proposed development is an important consideration. The public are being invited to participate in the choice of routes.

Mr. Cryer

In the interests of open government, will my hon. Friend ensure that copies of the consultants' reports, commissioned by the Road Construction Unit at Harrogate, which show noise levels and various environmental side effects, will be placed in the libraries of all districts affected by the proposals?

Mr. Morris

I am grateful for that suggestion, which I shall bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport.

I was saying that in determining the line for a motorway the effect of noise on existing and proposed developments is an important consideration. The public are now to be invited to participate in the choice of route. Planning principles for both the central Government and local authorities are set out in the departmental circular which has now been made available to local authorities, No. 10/73, recommending that where practicable residential development should not be subject to a noise level of more than 70 dB(A)—that is, that the noise level should not exceed 70 dB(A) for more than 10 per cent. of the time between 6 a.m. and midnight. This is referred to as the acceptable rather than the desirable, and lower levels should be achieved where practicable.

It is not practicable to prevent all nuisance from motorways in broad planning and design terms, and more localised remedies are needed in some places. Under the Land Compensation Act 1973 more land may now be purchased for mitigating works, such as barrier development, extra landscaping and planning and noise barriers. These measures help to reduce the amount of noise which affects dwelling and help to maintain the quality of the environment generally.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Speaker

Order. There are about 40 other hon. Members who have been drawn in the Ballot. We must get on.

Mr. Morris

The cost of insulating residential properties suffering from 68 dB(A) from traffic on all existing roads has been estimated to be about £1,000 million.

The hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) referred to the problem of the high-pitched whine which he suggested emanated from what he termed the random grooving on the M40. The Transport and Road Research Laboratory is considering this property and is actively engaged in finding a solution to the problem. Nevertheless I shall bring the hon. and learned Gentleman's views in this regard to the attention of my ministerial colleagues. I shall certainly put forward his suggestion that the report from the Transport and Road Research Laboratory should be circulated generally when it is available.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Silverman) very sincerely referred to the problem facing hundreds of his constituents arising from the location of the motorway junction in the Birmingham area, which he described colloquially as Spaghetti Junction. He said that his constituency was accursed by noise and dust emanating from this motorway. I noted his rather original suggestion that the highway authority that was responsible for building the motorway should bear the whole of the cost—

Mr. Silverman

The social cost.

Mr. Morris

The social cost—arising from the inconvenience caused by the motorway. I shall certainly bring that suggestion to the attention of my right hon. Friend. My hon. Friend admitted that the Land Compensation Act was an advance but suggested that it was not enough. He invited my right hon. Friend to look again at the level of noise, which he argued was too high, and the level of compensation, which he believed to be inadequate. I will certainly draw these views to the attention of my right hon. Friend. The Perry Bar barriers are in fact an experiment. There are different problems arising with Gravelly Hill and as yet no decision has been made.

The hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Dodsworth) questioned accepted noise levels. I assure him that this matter is under consideration and subject to review. He referred to the surfacing problem of the M25. This is a problem which will be noted. The hon. Member said that he would wish to present a petition and lead a deputation to see my right hon. Friend. I will intervene on his behalf to put his views forward for sympathetic consideration.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) described most graphically the problems facing those of his constituents living close to the motorway. He said that their lives were a living hell. I accept the points he made. I sympathised with him when he told the story of an old lady in his constituency who had to accept a noise level of 80 decibels. This is intolerable. The problems of his constituents are not forgotten. We will do everything we cart to ease their difficulties.

My hon. Friend referred to the alternatives of lorry routes and the transfer of heavy goods traffic to rail. I have sympathy with his views. He will know that the Heavy Commercial Vehicles (Controls and Regulations) Act 1973 required local authorities to draw up schemes by 1977 for the control of heavy vehicles in their area.

The hon. Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Mr. Stanley) dealt with the problems arising from the M20 and M5. He described the appalling planning which has contributed to his constituents' plight. He related how some houses were 30 ft. from the motorway. The problem of whine from concrete road surfacing was another issue he raised, as well as some emotional points about his constituents being unable to sleep. His views have registered and will recieve serious consideration.

My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Tomlinson) spoke of the difficulties facing his constituents in Chelmsley Wood and Water Orton. He said that the sword of Damocles was hanging over his constituents in Water Orton. I have noted his concern and his request for an early statement on the line of route for the new M42 and the M6 link.

The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) made an original and intriguing point when he reversed the argument and said that there was a prob- lem of motorway noise but that it was noise emanating from the vehicles rather than the motorway which was of major concern. He said that we should put pressure on manufacturers to reduce noise levels emanating from vehicle engines. The Government, industry and research authorities are conducting a five-year project to develop a quieter heavy goods vehicle engine which will produce vehicles half as noisy as those at present on the roads. The project is well advanced.

I have taken a careful note of the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer), particularly about the noise problem which he expects to arise from the proposed motorway. If there is an inquiry into this proposal, I hope that he and those who share his views will put their anxieties to the inquiry.

Finally—[Interruption.] If this reply seems to be long, it is only because—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it certainly is that.

Mr. Morris

My only justification for it is that I have listened for three hours to the speeches and the seriousness of the points which have arisen.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I meant no discourtesy to the hon. Gentleman, but there are many other debates to take place and I am anxious to call as many hon. Members as I can.

Mr. Morris

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I am glad that you appreciate my difficulties.

I reiterate to the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Smith) the answer which I gave about the whining noise from grooved motorway surfaces. The problem is under active consideration.

We have a somewhat ambivalent attitude towards motorways generally. We welcome the convenience which they bring for motorists, but there is a problem of inconvenience to those obliged to live alongside them. I hope that in the years ahead we shall be able to resolve these difficulties.