HC Deb 12 November 1974 vol 881 cc371-80

9.37 p.m.

Mr. William Shelton (Streatham)

It is with great pleasure that I take the opportunity of bringing forward a situation which is causing great distress and nardship to many of my constituents. It is, in brief, the projected routeing of the M23 as it approaches London.

I am asking for two things. First I ask that the M23 should stop at Hooley, to which it is being built at the moment, linked back to the southern orbital road and not proceeded with into London. Secondly, and almost as important, I ask that a decision should be announced as quickly as possible, because the lack of decision is causing great hardship.

Here is a short history of the matter. Seven years ago an inquiry approved the continuation of the M23 from Crawley into London, terminating in the southern part of my constituency. At that time no linkage was discussed at all. Building as far as Hooley was approved, and that will be completed, I understand, within the next year or two. Five years ago it was decided to define the northern terminal and the links with the then Ring-way 2. The terminal remained in the southern part of my constituency, and links were proposed with Ringway 2, but there was no public inquiry. However, due to public disquiet the suspension of any plans beyond Hooley was announced, pending review. That was five years ago. To date, there has been no significant decision.

Two things have happened. In 1972 we had the results of the Layfield inquiry, which was generally in favour of ring-ways and radials and was specifically in favour of bringing the M23 into London but linking it to Ringway 1 by Parkway East. The second event was the GLC announcement that it would not build Ringway 1. We are still awaiting an announcement from the Government about it.

Nevertheless, for five years the line has been protected and the links also have been protected. That situation may seem sensible to the Government and their advisers, but I say with as much vehemence as I can at this time of night that it is neither logical nor sensible to my constituents.

As far as the blight is involved, some 200 or 300 houses are affected by it in the eastern linkage alone. Properties are standing empty, and shops are falling into disuse. Those who wish to buy in that area are having problems with mortgages, quite understandably. There are fly-by-night traders. This is all because of the blight and the lack of decision by the Government.

It is true, of course, that the Department or the GLC will buy properties directly affected, directly in the proposed path, but it is a small proportion compared with the numbers that are affected and are not in the proposed path. These people are suffering hardship. I could take the Minister—whom I welcome—to visit a shop which is owned by an elderly person who desperately wishes to retire. It has been his source of livelihood, but he cannot sell the shop. It is not in the line of the route. No one will buy it. Why? Because it is blighted. He is stuck, in his early 70s, in failing health, trying to eke out a miserable living from a shop which no one will buy. It is a very sorry situation.

I appreciate that the Minister, no doubt, will reply, as he has replied in his courteous correspondence with me, that the matter must be considered within the whole road programme for London, but I would make two points. When I took a deputation to see the Secretary of State for the Environment in the previous Conservative Government I was given a pledge that an announcement would be made by the spring of this year. The election came and no such announcement was made. Nevertheless, at the end of last year it was thought possible to make an announcement the following spring; we are now in November, and I think that that is too long.

Secondly, the situation has changed because, as I said, the Greater London Council does not intend to build Ringway 1, and I understand that a London rail study is shortly due and it will show improved public provision in that area, which might well change the need for public transport. That is why, to return to my first request, I should like to see the M23 not proceeded with beyond Hooley—I should like it to be linked back. If it does come into London it will have neither Ringway 1 nor Ringway 2 with which to be linked. There will thus be coming to London a radial not connecting to any orbital, and I need hardly say that to proceed with this motorway right through the urban centre of my constituency will not only destroy countless homes, of which we are desperately in need, but break up many good communities of which this nation—London, certainly—is also in need.

Nevertheless, even in the worst event, if it were decided to proceed with the M23 and build it into some sort of Ring-way 1, such as was recommended by Layfield, why must we still protect the links with a non-existent Ringway 2? We have protection not only on the route of the M23, but of two enormous spurs which were to link with Ringway 2, and under no possible or foreseeable plan or provision can one envisage any need for those two spurs when Ringway 2 is not to be built. I therefore implore the Minister at least to free the planning provision, to remove the blight, from those spurs immediately, even if it means leaving the provision for this mythical M23.

The Department may say that the east link to the A23 remains viable as it might have to be widened, that the west link to the A24 is needed to form a delta into London. Anyone who knows the area and consults a map will realise that this is nonsense. Without Ringway 2 it is inevitable that the M23 traffic will proceed as far as it is permitted to go on the M23—in other words, into Ringway 1 if such a ringway is built. If that ring-way is not built we must stop the M23 at Hooley and perhaps provisionally strengthen some of the minor roads from the M23 into London.

Finally, for the sake of my constituents I ask that the M23 should be stopped and that a decision should be made known as soon as possible.

9.45 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Gordon Oakes)

I am obliged for the cogent way in which the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) presented the case on behalf of his constituents.

I fully appreciate the affects of blight in an area. It can be a damning effect on any area not only in the immediate line of the route suggested but in surrounding areas where people feel that no longer can they decorate or assuredly get a lease for their property because the suggested route of a motorway is within their area.

I know that the hon. Gentleman's particular concern is with the northern section of the M23, and he asks that this route into London should be ended at Hooley rather than continue nearer to the centre of the city.

It may help the House if I say a word about the M23 and its wider setting. The A23/M23 corridor is a major radial route to London serving the south-east coast centred upon Brighton. At the present time it is proposed that the M23 shall run from its northern terminal point to "The Delta" in Streatham Vale, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, which is within his constituency, to Pease Pottage south of Crawley, with a link to Gatwick Airport. The motorway is divided into two lengths, being split at Hooley, immediately north of Redhill, where it is being temporarily connected to the A23. The length between Hooley and Pease Pottage is due to be opened next month.

The two motorways interconnect at Merstham immediately to the east of Redhill. This junction will enable traffic using the M25 to join the M23 and, under the present proposals, to enter the GLC area travelling northwards and thence to the dispersal point at Streatham Vale. Progress on the section northwards from Hooley, as the hon. Gentleman told the House, has been delayed.

The House will be aware that any route northwards from Hooley would cross the GLC boundary within a few miles, and it may be helpful for an understanding of the problem, which the hon. Member for Streatham has raised, if I explain the division of responsibility between the GLC and the Secretary of State. The Greater London Council is responsible for the improvement and construction of metropolitan roads, and my right hon. Friend has the responsibility to provide and maintain a national system of trunk roads. Trunk roads comprise the national system of routes for through traffic. Because their function is of national rather than 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 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. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that this route is one of the routes connecting with Gatwick Airport.

Within a major urban area, however, the interests of local traffic are likely to predominate and the principal and other local roads are, quite rightly, the responsibility of the local authority.

The route of the northern section of the M23 is fixed as far north as Mitcham. Draft proposals for extending it further northwards towards Streatham Vale with links to the A23 and A24 were published, as the hon. Gentleman said, in 1969. But the relevant schemes and orders have never been made. It was agreed by the GLC and the Ministry of Transport in 1967 that, in accordance with the council's policy at that time with regard to radial routes, the M23 should not extend inside the proposed C ring, which was later named Ringway 2.

It was also decided that links from the motorway to the A24 and the A23 should be built as an integral part of the northern terminal for the motorway on an alignment which could ultimately be incorporated into the GLC's Ringway 2.

As the Department's programme for starting construction of the urban part of the M23 was at that time about five years in advance of the GLC's programme for the section of Ringway 2, it was agreed that the Department would undertake the statutory procedures and construction and when the GLC provided other parts of Ringway 2 it would take over the links and make an agreed payment to the Department of the Environment.

Following publication of the draft schemes and orders in 1969, about 1,500 objections were received. In December 1969, as the Minister of Transport at that time, my right hon. Friend announced that in view of the large number of objections, some by local authorities, which had been made to the published proposals, they could not satisfactorily be considered in isolation from the proposals for Ringway 2 in the Greater London development plan, and he had decided to review the M23 terminal proposals before proceeding further.

My right hon. Friend announced also that he did not propose to arrange for a separate inquiry to be held in the meantime. The review continued, but it was not possible to reach any firm conclusion before the report of the Layfield inquiry panel into the Greater London development plan, and that was published, as the hon. Gentleman knows, in February 1973. In its report the panel recommends that the southerly section of Ringway 2, from the M20 in the east to the M4 in the west, should be struck out of the Greater London development plan. The panel recognised that the recommendation meant that the question of the termination of the M23 must be reconsidered, and it expressed the preference that the M23 should be continued northward to join the inner London motorway known as Ringway 1, which is, of course, a GLC responsibility.

To coincide with the publication of the Layfield Report, the previous Government issued a statement setting out their initial conclusions on the report. This included an acceptance in principle of the panel's recommendations on Ringsways 1 and 2. The then Secretary of State said that the Government needed more time to consider the recommenadtion on Ringway 3, which was a Government and not a GLC responsibility. He said also that some provision would have to be made for orbital movements in these areas and that it would be necessary to study further whether the need could best be met by a motorway on the lines of Ring-way 3 or by other road improvements.

After the GLC elections in April 1973, the new Greater London Council announced that Ringways 1 and 2 were to be abandoned and that it proposed instead to concentrate on public transport and traffic management schemes. It also considered that, with the abandonment of the inner ringways, Ringway 3 assumed added importance as it would provide a greatly needed route by which traffic with no London starting point or finishing point could avoid Greater London.

As regards the M23, the GLC considered that, without the southern part of Ringway 2, construction of the M23 should not go beyond the existing terminal at Hooley and that, if Ringway 3 were built, the M23 might eventually end at Ringway 3, wherever that might be. That is still uncertain. The GLC urged the Government to complete their studies on Ringway 3 as rapidly as possible.

The hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, understand that the issues raised by the Layfield Report and the GLC's subsequent statement are exceedingly complex, and I am sure that hon. Members will appreciate also that it would be wrong to try to reach a final decision on the M23 northern section in advance of completion of consideration of the overall road plan for London. Consideration of the Layfield Report is now, I assure the hon. Gentleman, in its final stages, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will make a statement as soon as possible.

The hon. Gentleman is rightly concerned about the uncertainty resulting from this delay and the blighting effect of the present situation. I fully sympathise with him on this matter.

In my area, in the North-West, similar predicaments and situations arise from indecisions, as it were, with regard to motorways. These are largely as a result of our system of government in this country, whereby local authorities are responsible for some of our road systems and the Government are responsible for trunk roads. That is one of the penalties that we pay for our democratic system.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that where property would be directly affected by publishing proposals it may be possible, as he knows, for it to be purchased by the Department under the statutory planning blight provisions. In fact, we already own more than 800 properties on the line of the M23, more than half of which are in the areas of the proposed northern terminal at Streatham.

I hope I have said enough to the hon. Gentleman and to the House to enable them to understand that the problem raised by the hon. Member is extremely complex, and that because of the interaction with other road questions it inevitably takes time to reach the right decisions.

I know the hon. Gentleman has suggested that the proposals covering the extension of the M23 from Hooley into London should be abandoned completely. But I hope that it will be understood that it would be most unwise if the present protection of the new route were to be ended prematurely before decisions have been reached on the alternatives. The permanent termination of the M23 at Hooley is a possibility that is being considered, but it would be open to the strong criticism that it would do nothing to relieve existing congestion or to improve the environment along existing routes through South London.

The hon. Gentleman has rightly brought to the attention of the House something of vital concern to his constituents, and he has my sympathy as a Minister when he brings to the attention of the House the effects of planning blight. I hope, however, that the hon. Gentleman realises that it would be wrong for any Minister to consider the M23 in isolation from the other routes affecting London as a whole. All I can say to the hon. Gentleman—I trust to his satisfaction—is that, from the Government's point of view. I hope that a quick solution will be given so that the problem of his constituency will soon be remedied.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at one minute to Ten o'clock.