HC Deb 01 May 1974 vol 872 cc1287-94

10.0 p.m.

Mr. Neville Sandelson (Hayes and Harlington)

To the general public one of the more mystifying features of Governmental financial management is the apparent ease with which astronomical capital sums are found for schemes of doubtful national value. We have had a spate of those in recent years, schemes as grandiose as they are ill-founded. Yet when there is a minor constructional scheme of tangible and unchallengeable value to the community, relatively cheap and economically beneficial, easy to implement and crying out for implementation, only too often the public purse suddenly contracts and all manner of utterly specious arguments and pretexts are produced to justify bureaucratic delays and near paralysis.

The need for the ringway road built to motorway standards which is the subject of this debate is fully recognised and has been for a long time past. I need not go over the planning history. By Ringway 3 the Minister will know that I refer essentially to that part of the proposed motorway extending from the M4 to the A40 at Western Avenue. There is a need, first, to link the primary radial routes, such as M3, M4 and M40, which have no high standard connections at present. Secondly, there is a need to link the local centres of the outer suburbs, whose main road and rail communications are with central London. At the moment, these movements between radials and between local centres depend precariously upon the overloaded secondary road system. As the hon. Gentleman's Department knows, the position today is chaotic and growing worse month by month.

My own constituency is at the heart of this congestion and bears the main brunt. The narrow roads through the centre of Hayes—Coldharbour Lane, Station Road, the railway bridge, North Hyde Road—were never designed or intended to carry the volume of traffic which each day at certain periods chokes the life of this community. Hayes is an important industrial area generating quite enough traffic of its own, both private and commercial, without having the further burden of the even greater volume of traffic tortuously winding its way through Hayes in both directions en route to other destinations, not least to and from the huge complex of the London Airport off the M4.

The Minister is no doubt aware—and it adds to the urgency of my appeal to him this evening—that this already serious situation is now exacerbated by the opening of the new Brentford market on the southern fringe of Hayes and Southall. I believe that this market opened this week, and it is estimated that it will shortly generate an additional 4,000 lorries a day, most of which will inevitably clog even further the secondary road system through this densely populated area of west London.

The hon. Gentleman knows that the opening of the market without the contemporaneous construction of the first section of Ringway 3 from the M4 to Uxbridge Road was never envisaged, and an utterly grotesque traffic situation now ensues. I am not given to jeremiads, but I have no hesitation in saying to the Minister that unless the Government take urgent action, Hayes town before long will grind to a complete standstill.

The idea of the ringway is to provide fast, free-flow conditions and high standard connections with the radial routes to meet the needs of the longer distance traffic. Together with access for traffic travelling between adjoining areas, that would bring a degree of relief to the overloaded secondary roads, which would then function as feeders to the primary system and serve the needs of the shorter distance traffic.

I appreciate that the Layfield Report at the beginning of 1973 and the rejection of the two inner ringways made some reappraisal of Ringway 3 necessary. The abandonment of the inner ringway scheme has merely emphasised the importance of Ringway 3 and underlined the urgency of any studies into Ringway 3 by the Government.

I exchanged a number of letters with the Secretary of State for the Environment of the last Government and, while he clearly recognised the nature and the urgency of the problem, he was unable to go further than to give somewhat vague assurances with regard to his Department's continuing appraisal of the Ringway 3 plans.

The people whom I represent in Parliament—and I include in that category all the various organisations and firms in my constituency who have made representations to me on this issue, as well as the Hillingdon Borough Council, which has played a praiseworthy role—are tired of anodyne assurances. Hayes and the whole area desperately need this relief section of the ringway and its extension to Western Avenue. Clearly, in the long run the two sections must go together. The bypass section on its own, though useful in the short term, would create quite new traffic problems at its terminal point, unless it was quickly followed by the second stage of construction from the junction with the Uxbridge Road to the A40 at Western Avenue.

I am anxious, however, tonight to have an assurance from the Minister that work on the first section—the Hayes bypass—fully agreed in every planning aspect, will commence in the near future.

I know that the Minister will accept from me that feelings on this issue are running high throughout the whole West London area. It is an explosive issue arising from an explosive situation. Great economic and social harm is being done to the whole area as long as the present position persists, and indeed deteriorates. I hope that the new Labour Government will act on this issue with the same decisiveness and sense of urgency that they have demonstrated in other directions since the election eight weeks ago.

10.8 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Neil Carmichael)

The House always appreciates the vigour with which my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Sandelson) takes up the cudgels on behalf of his constituency. I shall do my best. He made some reference to having been given anodyne assurances in the past. I am not sure that I can give him any very positive assurances, but I hope that I can explain some of the problems involved in the subject he has raised. While I can understand his arguments about an apparently simple road such as the one he has been speaking about so eloquently, comparing it with some of the projects we have been discussing recently, I think that this is not the right moment to go into the question of the rate of return on investment and the other reasons which are used when a decision is made on whether to build a road or any other type of project such as the Channel Tunnel, which we discussed yesterday.

I congratulate my hon. Friend again on the eloquence with which he described the problems arising from the heavy use made by traffic on roads which, I agree, are ill equipped to deal with it, and the consequent plight of people living and shopping in the neighbourhood of these roads. Unfortunately, many of the conditions described by my hon. Friend occur not only within the boundaries of Greater London but throughout the country, with varying degrees of severity. Nevertheless I extend my sympathy to the people of Hayes in the difficulties they are suffering.

In considering the problems of Hayes, it is necessary to understand the division of responsibility between the Greater London Council, which is responsible for the improvement of adverse conditions on metropolitan roads such as the A312 through Hayes. and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State who seeks to provide and maintain a national system of trunk roads.

I hope that the House will bear with me if I explain a little more of the central Government's rôle in the provision of such roads. I am not trying merely to give facts that will confuse the issue, but I think it important that we should try to understand it, and, in particular, the function of trunk roads.

Trunk roads comprise the national system of routes for through traffic. Because their function is of national rather than of local importance, they are financed entirely by the Government. My right hon. Friend is responsible for those in England and he has a duty to keep the trunk road system under review, considering both the requirements of local and national planning. These routes are designed to form a network of high quality roads connecting major towns throughout the country and serving major ports and airports.

In addition to routes between major towns, a system of orbital routes linking them may be needed where several trunk roads lead into a conurbation. If it can be shown that the primary function of such an orbital route is to serve the needs of longer-distance traffic, the road may be considered to form part of the national trunk road system. Orbital routes do not necessarily have totally to encircle a conurbation; they may consist only of short stretches between adjoining radial routes.

Within a major urban area, the interests of local traffic are likely to predominate, and it is, therefore, right that principal and, indeed, other local roads should be the responsibility of the local authority rather than of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. When my right hon. Friend plans a new trunk road or improvement to an existing trunk road, the projected route may bypass a town centre, but it does not follow that every new road which bypasses a town centre should be a trunk road. The important factor is that, to be considered as a possible trunk road, a bypass should connect at each end with a trunk road. Where a bypass is designed to give relief to a town centre and the bypass itself does not connect trunk roads, the local authority would be the responsible highway authority. I hope that that explanation clarifies the essential difference between trunk roads and other roads, for it is important in discussing the problems raised by my hon. Friend.

I come now to Ringway 3. It so happens that a possible stretch of an orbital route for London might follow a route whose proximity to Hayes would attract heavy traffic away from the high street. This orbital route currently has the name "Ringway 3", and if the House will allow me to give a brief history of it, an understanding of the present position will be achieved.

The concept of a series of ring roads around London has been in existence since at least the beginning of this century. In 1944, Abercrombie suggested in his Greater London Plan that an outer orbital route would be desirable for intercommunication between towns on the periphery of London. The Government of the day accepted this, and in 1947 the Memorandum on the Report of the Advisory Committee for London Regional Planning included, as well as north and south orbital roads, the possibility of a D-ring route around the north and west of London from the Norwich radial to the Brighton radial.

Up to 1968, the line of the D-ring, which is now known as Ringway 3, was a topic for considerable discussion, and at that time there were three different proposals for the route in north-west London. The widespread problems caused by the uncertainty of having three possible routes prompted the then Minister of Transport to announce one route for continued safeguarding.

Various sections of the Ringway 3 are at different stages of planning and development, but overall progress was overtaken by the submission of the Greater London Development Plan and the subsequent inquiry.

The stretch of particular concern to my hon. Friend is that between the M4 and the A4020, the Uxbridge Road. The draft orders under the Highways Act 1959 necessary for this scheme were published in July 1971, but further progress has been deferred until decisions on the Greater London Development Plan can be taken.

Before I advise the House on the present position of this published scheme, a word or two about the Greater London Development Plan would be of assistance. The Greater London Development Plan deals with many major issues amongst which is the provision of a primary road network.

After the Greater London Development Plan had been submitted for approval in August 1969, the Government set up a Panel of Inquiry to examine the proposals in the plan, to hear objections, and to review alternative proposals. The Panel, under the Chairmanship of Mr. Frank Layfield, QC, delivered its report in December 1972, and the then Secretary of State published in February 1973 a statement giving a summary of the Panel's recommendations and the Government's initial views on them.

The Panel suggested that the whole southern and western sections of Ringway 3 from the M20 in the South-East to the A1 in the North-West should be struck out of the plan. The February 1973 statement explained that more time was needed to consider this but that some provision would have to be made for orbital movements in these areas. Further study would be required to determine whether the need could best be met by a motorway on the line of Ringway 3 or by other road improvements. We are now considering urgently what modifications should be made to the plan as a whole in the light of the Panel's report, and I am confident that it will not be too long before decisions are announced.

Until decisions have been taken on the future of Ringway 3, it would be quite inappropriate to proceed further with the scheme from the M4 to the A4020. In any event, its design would be materially altered if it were not to form part of Ringway 3. However, if it is finally decided that Ringway 3 can be justified as a trunk road project and should be along this route near Hayes, the scheme should be capable of early implementation.

On the other hand, should the Ringway 3 concept be abandoned, or a quite different line chosen, the small scheme near Hayes could no longer be considered as part of the trunk road network. In these circumstances, it would be for the London Borough of Hillingdon and the Greater London Council as highway authority for the A312 through Hayes to decide whether some form of relief road would be justified to deal with the special problems in this area or whether any other measures might serve.

Of the options open in the longer term, the GLC might consider adopting a scheme on a similar alignment for which it has already carried out much of the necessary survey work, or it might consider that an altogether different alignment might be more appropriate to provide relief for not only Hayes but other neighbourhoods, too. However, it is only fair to point out that were a bypass for Hayes to be accepted in principle by the GLC, the Council would need to decide its importance in relation to competing claims elsewhere in London.

I hope that what I have said will be of some help to my hon. Friend in explaining the position of the road system in his part of north-west London to his constituents.

Mr. Sandelson

Can my hon. Friend give me any idea of the length of the period of gestation on the part of the Government in regard to the Ringway 3 plans? May we expect a decision by the Government on the construction of a ringway road before the end of the year?

Mr. Carmichael

I tried to explain the problem the Government have in their own programme, with my right lion. Friend's difficulties in assigning the available expenditure to one scheme as against another. Being a London Member, my hon. Friend knows even better than I do the problem that was caused when the Layfield Report was produced on the ring scheme. The GLC is rightly much involved in the planning of roads in the whole of London. Particularly because of the political involvement in this part of the D-ring road system, it would be wrong of me to try to hazard a guess as to when my right hon. Friend or the GLC can make a decision on the final road pattern.

I shall be only too pleased to take up the matter with my hon. Friend a little later in the year, when we may know more about the prospects for the D-ring road. Especially after my hon. Friend raised the matter as he did tonight, I shall be pleased to help in any way I can if he would care to write to me or see me in the Department.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-one minutes past Ten o'clock.