HC Deb 22 May 1974 vol 874 cc561-70

12.10 a.m.

Dr. Edmund Marshall (Goole)

The Goole parliamentary constituency covers 177 square miles of the old West Riding of Yorkshire, and across that area run several of the main highways of the Yorkshire and Humberside region. I wish to refer to three of those highways, all of them trunk roads, namely, the Al Great North Road, the A63 Leeds to Hull trunk road, and the A18 Doncaster to Grimsby trunk road. In particular, I want to describe problems which exist for my constituents at specific places on those roads.

I draw attention to the situation on the Great North Road at Darrington crossroads where the Al dual carriageway crosses the county road C26, which runs between Pontefract and Womersley and forms the main street of the village of Darrington. Traffic on the C26 crossing the Al almost always has to do so in two stages, stopping in the gap through the central reservation between the two carriageways of the Al. Because the Al approaches the crossroads downhill in both directions, the speed of traffic on the Al is high, and the difficulties for motorists on the C26 are increased by the bends on the Al close to the crossroads. These difficulties are compounded for drivers of vehicles turning right at the crossroads, both on to and off the Al, and there is danger every time interweaving queues of vehicles build up in the gap in the central reservation, with other vehicles travelling past at high speed on both carriageways of the Al.

Local motorists undertake very long detours in order to avoid turning right at the crossroads. In the words of departmental statements about the cross roads, the accident rate is high". Between 4th August 1969 and 1st April 1974, 65 accidents were officially recorded as having occurred on the Al within a quarter of a mile of the crossroads, resulting in 48 injuries to people, 33 of them slight, 12 serious and three fatal.

In the knowledge of this serious situation, local people welcomed the announcement by the Secretary of State in January 1972 of proposals for a flyover, almost a mile long, carrying the Al over the top of Darrington crossroads. The scheme was programmed to start in the second half of 1974. However, it was not until 7th August 1973 that the scheme was transferred to the firm programme of starts, and this was with a starting date some time in 1975. The latest information which I have on this scheme is contained in a letter dated 3rd April, 1974, which I received from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, to whom I express gratitude for his attention to the various problems I am raising.

In that letter he said that the necessary public inquiries relating to that scheme are likely now to be held in the late summer or early autumn of this year, with a view to work commencing late in 1975. I find it amazing that public inquiries on a scheme announced as far back as January 1972 have not yet taken place. The reasons for the delay which have been given to me in correspondence are, first the amount of time taken in attempts to purchase the land by agreement without recourse to compulsory purchase, and secondly, the need to give higher priority to two other road schemes within the region.

1 am unable to find the first of these reasons a sufficient explanation for all the delay that has occurred and I cannot accept the validity of the second reason, since neither of the two other schemes remove dangerous black spots such as Darrington cross-roads. I hope that the Minister will be able to give an assurance that no further delays will occur in this scheme and that work will commence in 1975.

Further north from Darrington the Al passes through the parish of Brotherton where there is the junction with the A162 county road to Tadcaster. I refer in particular to the turn off the north-bound carriageway of the Al on to the A162 for traffic travelling towards Tadcaster.

This junction has in recent months taken some drivers unawares. I am grateful to the Department for the measures it has taken to improve sign-posting and road markings at the junction. These measures were described in a letter which I received from the Department, dated 18th February 1974, which also went on to deal with a further problem which had arisen in the same vicinity of the Al. This is that some 50 yards south of the turn-off to the A162 there is another junction where Low Street, Brotherton, joins the Al. Public services buses are required to follow a route along Low Street, turning on to the Al northwards and then turning left again on to the A162. Most of these buses are so large that in swinging on to the Al, however much they may try to keep in the slip lane alongside the Al at this point, they have difficulty in avoiding impinging on to the main carriageway of the A.

This manoeuvre is hazardous for bus drivers, with fast-moving vehicles approaching all the time on the A. The danger has been so great that some drivers have boycotted that section of their route, with the effect that the village of Brotherton is without public transport. The last information I received from the Department on this point was included in the letter dated 18th February in which I was promised that I would be informed of the outcome of further inquiries in due course. After three months I am hopeful that my hon. Friend may be able to tell the House about this tonight.

I turn to the A63 trunk road which passes through the attractive village of Monk Frisson and in so doing winds its way along the main street of the village. The volume of traffic on this road through Monk Fryston has been a matter of local concern for some years. In 1939, before I was born, an order was made to establish a line of a bypass for the village. No work on that bypass has ever proceeded but the line is still protected, preventing any other kind of development along the route. Although the village has expanded in recent years, no houses can be built along the line of the ghost road which would be the bypass. The land concerned has various local owners, including a charity trust. Some has become derelict. I agree, of course, that any decision to build the bypass cannot be made without knowledge of the effect on the traffic volume at Monk Fryston of the opening of the M62 motorway further south, and of the effect of the development of the coalfield nearby in the Selby area. As my hon. Friend knows, I hope that this information can be obtained at the earliest possible date, perhaps by conducting a thorough census of the traffic now passing through Monk Fryston to ascertain what proportion of it will most likely transfer to the motorway.

Meanwhile, other problems have arisen at the western end of the village of Monk Fryston, where the 30 mph speed limit on the A63 scarcely extends beyond the built-up area and where a realignment of the road during 1972 has enabled traffic to enter the village at a higher speed than previously. There is a strong case for extending the speed limit westwards beyond the railway bridge, and I hope that the Secretary of State will agree to that.

I now move right across my constituency to the southern end and the village of Dunsville on the main A18 trunk road which carries all the traffic from Doncaster towards North and South Humberside. The problem at Dunsville is simply the immense difficulty at times for pedestrians who wish to cross the main road. There is no doubt about the very large volume of traffic using the A18 through Dunsville, and the last typical figures for this which I have received from the Department relate to a count of vehicles taken on Friday, 19th November 1972, when 1,360 vehicles passed along the road during the hour after 8 a.m. and 1,741 during the hour after 5 p.m.

Unfortunately for the people of Dunsville, these figures by themselves have not been sufficient in the eyes of the Department to justify a pedestrian crossing on the A18. I am informed that there is a sliding scale within which the hourly pedestrian-vehicular flow must come if a pedestrian crossing is to be justified. At Dunsville, the vehicle figures are well over 1.000, but the pedestrian figures—at least in November 1972—were below 100, and this flow pattern is right off one end of the sliding scale.

I wonder whether the normal sliding scale should be extended in that direction, if only in relation to the provision of a pelican crossing as opposed to a normal zebra crossing. There is a pelican crossing on the same road in the neighbouring village of Edenthorpe.

Furthermore, a count taken by local residents on 15th February 1974 showed that 91 pedestrians cross the road between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. I know that various good reasons have prevented the Department from taking a further reliable count during the early months of this year, but I hope that my hon. Friend will soon have up-to-date figures and will take my point about extending the sliding scale.

Finally, I move along the A18 to Bearswood Grove in the parish of Hatfield. Bearswood Grove is a row of semidetached houses fronting on to the A18, and two of the residents have asked me to press for a special lay-by to be constructed outside their houses to accommodate delivery vans and visitors' cars. I am told that some local tradesmen refuse to deliver to Bearswood Grove because of the danger of parking there at present on the carriageway of the main trunk road.

In addition, there is a need for a telephone kiosk in the vicinity. The Post Office authorities have agreed to provide such a kiosk if a suitable site can be found. I am told that the Department, as the highway authority, has opposed the siting of such a kiosk alongside the A18 on account of the volume of traffic using the road. If a lay-by were constructed, it would then be possible to site the kiosk alongside the lay-by without causing further traffic problems.

That completes the list of problems which I wish to raise in this brief debate. I hope that my hon. Friend can give some good news to my constituents tonight.

12.25 a.m.

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

I listened with interest to what my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) said about the problems connected with trunk roads in his constituency. Over the years he has taken a continuing and enlightened interest in highways matters, and it will, I know, come as no surprise to him when I say that finding the right priorities so as to balance what we try to do with the resources available is an essential part of the approach to these problems.

My hon. Friend has been in almost continual correspondence with us. At least from the point of view of my Department, he has been an assiduous Member in trying to straighten out, or get explanations for, some of the problems in his constituency. There are nearly 40 miles of trunk roads in my hon. Friend's constituency, and from time to time they produce their quota of items which call for attention and adjustment. In addition, these are, of course, stirring times in highways matters in this part of the country. The Humber Bridge is under construction to provide a new and major estuarial crossing. Indeed it speaks volumes for the skill and enterprise of British engineering that this new bridge is to contain the longest single span anywhere in the world.

Related to the Humber Bridge is a continuing programme of new motorway construction. If I may dwell on these motorways for a moment, there is the M62, a great new cross-country highway designed to link Liverpool and Hull and so provide a vital new East-to-West artery for commerce; the Ml8, to provide a convenient link between the Ml and M62 to carry traffic between Ml and the South; and the Ml80, the South Humberside Motorway, going eastwards from Thorne on the Ml8 so as to provide a high quality route towards the Ports of Grimsby and Immingham.

These roads, and the various sections of them, are in varying stages of construction or preparation for construction; and it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that one has only to look for them on a map in order to identify my hon. Friend's constituency. This construction programme is bound to have caused, and to continue to cause, a great deal of disturbance in the lives of my hon. Friend's constituents, despite the best efforts made on all sides to minimise it. In expressing my sympathy with them I hope that they will find some consolation in the prospect that when the work is done, through traffic will be attracted to these main routes and away from the built-up areas, which will then begin to enjoy a quality of life better than it was before the construction programme started.

I have referred to the motorway programme because the advent of these new routes makes an impact upon the trunk road programme for a considerable area around. This impact results both from absorbing resources, human and material, and from the prospect which it opens up of changing the pattern of traffic throughout the road system. I have already mentioned the improvement in the quality of life in areas which will see a reduction of through traffic.

In providing for this through traffic the motorways are at the same time reducing the needs which would otherwise arise for trunk road bypasses and other improvements. Unavoidably, they are also introducing an element of uncertainty. However well-informed our methods of estimating and forecasting are, there is bound to be an element of increased uncertainty about the demands which will be made upon the remainder of the road system, which will be resolved only when the motorways have been completed and traffic has had a chance to settle down.

It is against this general background that I turn to some of the specific matters which my hon. Friend has mentioned. I am aware of some of them because of the correspondence from my hon. Friend to which he has referred.

At Darrington on the Al, there is a crossroad junction with a Class 3 county road which, as my hon. Friend has rightly said, has caused local concern because of a number of accidents which have taken place there. We share this concern and have in hand a scheme for a flyover to improve the situation. The scheme has been on the stocks for some years and has suffered some delay from the redeployment of our resources to meet the changing priorities to which I referred earlier.

It is something of a disappointment to us that acquisition of land for this scheme has not proved to be possible without making a compulsory purchase order, which we are now hoping to publish some time in July. We shall do our best to see that any public inquiry which may be needed takes place as soon as possible and that, subject to the outcome of the inquiry and to the availability of funds, construction of the flyover goes ahead as early as possible.

I turn to the Brotherton-A1 problem. North of Darrington, but still on the Al, at Brotherton, a problem which at first sight seemed to be a comparatively small matter has proved, on investigation, to be rather bigger. It seemed that people intending to turn off to Tadcaster on the A162 were overshooting the junction. We hoped to be able to put this right by an improvement in the sign-posting, and this work has been authorised. Hon. Members will know that my Department effects such works through local authorities under agency agreements. As they will also know very well, there has been a total reorganisation of the system of local government outside London in the past few weeks. This has placed very heavy additional burdens upon local authorities and their staffs, and one of the jobs which has suffered some delay is the improvement of the sign-posting at this junction. I trust, however, that this will soon be done.

While we were looking into this, we discovered a further problem which had not earlier come to our notice, to which my hon. Friend referred. Drivers of buses coming from the village of Brotherton and joining the Al close by the A162 junction were becoming concerned about dangers attendant on this manoeuvre. Doubtless there may have been changes in the situation since the junction was constructed in its present form some years ago, and I think it is true to say that these include not only the increase in traffic on this stretch of the Al but also, as my hon. Friend said, the design and length of the buses.

Whatever the reasons may be, we clearly have to attach the greatest importance to the views of skilled and experienced bus drivers. We are not yet sure which of a number of possible solutions is the right one. One possibility would be a very costly widening of the Al at this point by the provision of an extra lane. Another would be to close the junction, which would assist through traffic.

It is important that we should come to the right answers, in terms both of cost and of benefit to the community, and we therefore have a lot of sums to do first. I trust that my hon. Friend will bear with us a little longer. As my hon. Friend knows, since 1st April the bus drivers have declined to operate the service while it continues to join the Al at this point. Local residents are, I understand, making use of another bus service. I hope this is not causing them great in-venience. The latest information reaching me indicates that it is probably not doing so.

Another point raised by my hon. Friend concerns Monk Fryston on the A63. Here the problem is of a different sort. This is a village where the volume of traffic on A63 led us to consider that a bypass would inevitably be needed. This assessment was, however, more recently affected by the prospect of the relief of through traffic which would result from the construction of the M62 motorway. For some years the line of such a bypass has been protected. My hon. Friend tells me that it has been protected since before he was born, and I have no hesitation in accepting this, and, as he says, that this protection has had a stultifying effect upon development.

We had hoped very much in a year or so to be able to release this line on the ground that diminished traffic on the A63 had rendered a bypass unnecessary. There is, however, a further new and, speaking in national terms, a very important element in the situation, namely the discovery of the Selby coal field. This could very well have the effect of attracting new traffic to the Monk Fryston area and could revive the need to bypass the village. It would be imprudent to release the line of the bypass at this juncture. When the National Coal Board has developed its plans in detail we shall study the implications closely and if the bypass will clearly not be needed the proposal can be deleted.

I turn to the A18 and the problems of pedestrians crossing the road at Duns-ville. We have taken a number of traffic counts here to see whether a pedestrian crossing was justified. Here let me say that it is the experience of the Department over the years, that unless a pedestrian crossing is sufficiently well used throughout the day, drivers tend to become less wary. It is the old story of crying "wolf". I have a number of other points to make, and I shall speak to my hon. Friend in greater detail about them after the debate. The latest count was in January and this showed less justification than ever for a pedestrian crossing here. The results may, however, have been uncharacteristic because many people were working a three-day week at the time, and we promised to have another count when life had reverted to normal. We hope to have the results shortly and to reach a decision.

I would like, if time permits, to say a few words about Bearswood Grove, where we have been asked to consider the provision of a lay-by. My engineers report that their day-to-day experience is that traffic has already fallen off on A18 at Bearswood since the opening of the Thorne bypass. My hon. Friend does not share this view, but we think—and I cannot believe that this can be wrong— that completion of M18 and Ml80 in the course of the next few years will reduce the traffic past Bearswood Grote to flows which are purely local in character. Not only would it be a relatively extravagant use of money to provide a lay-by for this very limited benefit for a very short term; the other side of the coin is that lay-bys can be a source of litter and nuisance which would be, to put it mildly, unwelcomed locally.

In addition to focusing our attention on trunk road problems in the Goole constituency, this evening's debate has perhaps served a wider purpose in illustrating the wide variety of problems with which highway authorities, whether they be the Department of the Environment or the local authorities up and down the country, can expect to meet in the day-to-day course of their work.

In a highly developed country like ours, the need for good communications is of the first importance. We also pride ourselves upon being highly developed in the sense of the care we try to exercise in the interests of individuals who either need the benefits of particular highway schemes or may be at risk of disturbance on account of these highway schemes. Striking this sort of balance is often as exacting as striking the balance, to which I referred earlier, between the resources at our disposal and the multiple demands upon them.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-three minutes to One o'clock.