HC Deb 13 November 1974 vol 881 cc549-60

10.0 p.m.

Sir Anthony Royle (Richmond, Surrey)

I am grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment far again coming to the House to deliver, I hope, a speech that he should have delivered in the last Parliament. Through no fault of his own he was unable to do so. I am now able to give him the opportunity to reply to a debate on the question of the environment of Kew. Although the situation has changed slightly since July, much of what I intended to say then still applies.

Kew is part of the borough of Richmond-upon-Thames and a part of my constituency. It includes a piece of London which is well known throughout the world. The botanical gardens in Kew are world famous, as is Kew Green. The Palace of Kew, in which kings and queens of England have resided, is also well known. On one side of the village of Kew runs the River Thames, a section of the river which does not have the pleasure of having the university boat race upon it but it is beautiful and admired and is much visited by foreign visitors.

Kew is not only part of our heritage that I have the pleasure of enjoying and the privilege of representing here but a heritage enjoyed by the entire country and tens of thousands of visitors from overseas every year. It is also a recreational centre much appreciated by people living in other parts of London who perhaps cannot get to the river and cannot get out of the built-up areas. It is not only the residents of Kew who benefit from the lovely scenery and environment of the area.

Kew is being raped by the Minister's Department and the Greater London Council, and it is not lying back and enjoying it. Never in the 15 years that I have had the honour to be the Member of Parliament for the area has the situation been so grave for the residents of Kew and the heritage I have described.

The first element giving cause for great concern is something which it is not appropriate to discuss in great detail now but which must be mentioned. I refer to aircraft noise, a matter which is not the main burden of my complaints tonight or the responsibility of the hon. Gentleman's Department. It has grown to an extent which has become intolerable to the residents of the area over the past few years. On another occasion I should like to expound once more on the subject and on how it affects Kew.

I wish tonight to talk mainly about road traffic. The opening of the M3 motorway affects Richmond, but because of good signposting by the Department many of the effects feared by people in the area of the early opening of the M3 in July have proved not to be as serious as expected. However, many of us are nervous about the effect of the opening of the GLC link road, which should be in use some time next year. It may well entail a tremendous injection of traffic into the area, traffic which cannot be contained.

However, my main point concerns juggernaut lorries. The Minister hears about the subject regularly from hon. Members on both sides of the House from all over the United Kingdom whose constituents suffer from juggernauts.

The situation in Kew is grim. The main responsibility—I freely accept this—is with the Greater London Council. That is the body which is responsible for strategic planning in the London area. But nothing is done by the GLC. It is not interested in Kew. Further, it is not interested in Richmond. Various council visitors appear in the area from the GLC. They busy themselves in trying to buy houses in the area in which to put people from overspill areas in other parts of London. The problems of transport and traffic in Kew have not been hoisted in. This applies not only in Kew but in other parts of the area. The GLC does not appear to be interested in and does not wish to solve the problems facing the local people. I feel sure that the views I have expressed are shared by my local authority, although I did not consult it before making these points.

The village of Kew consists of a lot of narrow lanes. That is the only way to describe them. The width of the main road that goes through Kew is no wider than the space between the two Front Benches in this House. Yet through the narrow lanes vast lorries thunder by day and night. It is clear to many of us that the juggernaut trucks using the South Circular Road, which is routed not only by the GLC but by the Minister's Department through the middle of my constituency, over Kew Bridge, across Kew Green and through the narrow lanes of Kew, should be rerouted and that the South Circular Road should be routed elsewhere.

I shall not suggest that the problems of Kew should be landed on the doorsteps of other areas which have equal problems. However, I ask the Minister to consider Kew's position. I raised the matter with the Minister's predecessors in the previous Government but it seemed that that administration was unable to cope with the matter. I hope that the Minister might be able to do better than his predecessors.

It is intolerable that a major traffic artery routing the whole of the juggernaut traffic round the south of London should pass through the village of Kew. That has been the situation for some time. It could be routed elsewhere. Signposting could take place so that the traffic could go through Chiswick, for example. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe) will not be pleased by that suggestion. I did not tell him that I would make it. But it is true that in Chiswick, where the M4 comes into London, there is a great arterial road with three lanes of traffic on both sides. That road is much more able to take the sort of traffic which now passes through Kew. In addition we have had the Grove Park Bridge diversion. That has taken place because the GLC is having to renew the bridge. The traffic has been diverted through Kew.

The Director-General of the GLC wrote to me on 8th July. He said that he had every sympathy with the residents of Kew. The letter reads: I must emphasise that the possibility of using Hartington Road as part of the diversion was very thoroughly investigated by the Council's officers. He continued: they found its use impracticable. The director-general has consulted the chairman of the council's west area board about the proposals for the use of Hartington Road. Having visited the area and examined the alternatives, he has said that he wishes to stand by the decision of his board which followed full discussion of the possibility of using Hartington Road. The answer is a lemon and the GLC is not prepared to do anything. The traffic will continue to flow through Kew.

It has been proposed in the past that there should be widening of the Mortlake Road. This is the narrow road through the middle of Kew. What will that achieve? It will not be possible to widen the road enough to enable it to take the sort of traffic that is now passing through Kew.

One of my constituents who lives in Kew, Mr. Charles Mozeley, wrote to me on this subject on 10th June. I sent copies of his letter to the Minister and to the GLC. It is important and has a marked bearing on the matter that I am discussing. It states: Section 84 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967 (as amended by Part IX of the Transport Act 1968 …) … imposes on the Greater London Council a duty to secure the expeditious convenient and safe movement of traffic. I submit that the Transport Committee of GLC have not upheld this Act as far as 'safe' is concerned. The Act further requires the Council so far as is practicable to have regard for the importance of regulating and restricting the use of roads by heavy commercial vehicles so as to preserve or improve the amenities of the areas through which the roads run. I submit that the Council has shown negligence in preserving the amenities as nothing whatever has been done to stem the spate of cracks, falling chimneys, falling plaster and crumbling walls which the residents of the Mortlake Road have had to deal with at their own expense and that the fine old houses at the junction of Kew Road and Mortlake Road far from being 'improved' (which they cannot be as they are a Conservation Area) are in danger of blight. And as far as preserving the shops on Mortlake Terrace, here too they are in danger of blight. These houses, as the Minister would know if he visited the area, are fine eighteenth-century houses. It is tragic that they should be being shaken to bits by the rumbling of juggernaut lorries along this narrow road.

We have another problem which is not quite the same as the road itself—that of Kew Green, another important part of Kew, which is much admired and visited by people from overseas and all parts of Britain. Here again, the problem is the routing of juggernaut lorries, which endlessly tank across Kew Green, and above all the parking of lorries—this is what worries people—directly outside the windows of the houses of those living on the green, and even on the terrace of Kew Green itself. Although many bona fide coaches taking people to the gardens have difficulty finding somewhere else to park once they have set people down, it is wrong that arrangements are not made for the parking of these large vehicles away from the green, because this also spoils the environment.

I could talk for hours about other parts of my constituency—about Richmond itself, about Mortlake, about Sheen, about Petersham and about Ham—but I should like to mention Barnes. The village of Barnes is similar to Kew with its narrow streets, and it is also badly affected. Signs should be erected to ban heavy lorries from using Barnes High Street. Perhaps I could raise this problem another time if I am allowed to do so.

But I need the Minister's help and I think that he can give it. While I realise that much of what I have said is a matter in the first instance for the GLC, the Minister's Department could take a greater interest to help to advise the GLC, to try to bring pressure on the GLC, to take actions which people living there and the local authority feel to be vital.

I also wish to appeal for the Minister's help in regard to the industrial site in Kew, which has been there for many years and was at one time used by the Chrysler Motor Company to produce trucks. When that company operated there, there was very little complaint and concern from local residents because it took into account the views and environment of local people whose houses are close upon the industrial site. Since then it has been sold, and the noise and smell produced by the companies working on the site have become well nigh intolerable. I have been reluctant to raise this matter in the House. I have tried—I am afraid without success—to obtain cooperation from the firms involved for many years. I have failed. Therefore, I am forced to raise the matter in the House.

This site is managed by a reputable firm of estate agents, Keith, Cardale, Groves and Company. I have a good deal of correspondence with this firm which appears to be unable to act and to be dilatory in dealing with my suggestions. It refused to put in a manager to run the site, using the excuse that the companies which operated on the site did not wish to have a manager and would not pay for one.

The fencing round the site is in a dilapidated state. The noise and nuisance caused by lorries using the site becomes worse and worse as the months go by. They use it at all hours of the day and night and on Sundays. There is the noise of revving engines and hooting horns, yet nothing is done.

Two other companies on the site, one of which is Bullens, responsible for a lot of the traffic, have talked to me and members of the local residents' association, but nothing happens and the situation deteriorates. Smith's Crisps also operates on the same site, right in the middle of a residential area.

Forte's runs a catering factory in the centre. The smell from that factory wafts out across the houses and streets of Kew. Forte's has tried hard to deal with the problem and has spent a considerable amount of money. I have talked to the firm about it in an attempt to deal with the nuisance caused by the smell, but all the attempts have failed. Technical advice has been received but it appears impossible to deal with the smell emanating from the factory.

Can the Minister help? Will he give me an assurance that he will ask his experts to talk to Forte's to see whether the Department of the Environment can assist the firm in dealing with the problem? I know that it is not possible to wave a magic wand, but the advice of the Department might be invaluable. I appeal to the Minister for his and his Department's help. I hope that he will give me an encouraging reply.

The Lyon Group, which originally took over the site which has now been sold again, gave an assurance when it took over the site from Chrysler that firms operating on the site would not cause a nuisance. They have caused a grave nuisance which is getting worse week by week. The Richmond-upon-Thames Council has exerted constant pressure upon the companies, as I and the residents have done, but we have got nowhere.

I ask the Minister not only to give us the help of his technical advisers on the smell problem but also to consider the possibility of new noise nuisance legislation. I do not believe that there is any legislation to deal with noise nuisance caused by industrial sites in the middle of residential areas. It is impossible for us to continue to rely upon the Public Health Act 1936 and the Noise Abatement Act 1960. It is a matter for consideration whether a further Bill could be produced, or an amendment to the existing Acts. It could be either a Government Bill or a Private Member's Bill. I should be happy to hear the Minister's comments, or, if he would prefer to study the matter and talk to his colleagues about it first, I shall be willing for him to do that and to write to me. There is a gap in our legislation on the environment. There is no Act dealing with noise nuisance from industrial sites in the middle of residential areas.

I am grateful to the Minister for coming here at this late hour. He and his colleagues are responsible for our environment. I think I have indicated to him the desperation which is felt in Kew, one small but important part of my constituency.

Unless some action can be taken or hope given by the Minister tonight that there will be assistance in the near future, my constituents may be forced to take other action. I hope that this will not happen. But if they are forced to do so because of frustration and despair, it will be understandable and they will have my full support.

10.21 p.m.

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

I am aware that the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle) and I should have faced each other in a debate of this nature on an earlier occasion. Unfortuately, because of the unpredictability of the House we missed the opportunity to debate the matter on the last occasion. Therefore, I am pleased that this evening he has been able to raise the important subject of nuisance to his constituents.

Let me say at the outset that although I am by no means as familiar with the area as is the hon. Gentleman, I have visited Kew a number of times and also Barnes, and I know the feel of the area. Therefore, I am not totally without an understanding of the problem which he has posed. He will also appreciate that similar problems arise in many other parts of the country.

The problem which the hon. Gentleman has described arises because the area is confined by the river and by Kew Gardens, and the area demonstrates in an acute form the clash between the needs of the local environment and the wider needs of London as a whole.

The residents of Kew value their mobility provided by their cars, but no doubt, as emphasised by the hon. Gentleman, they resent their main roads being used by traffic to and from other parts of London. The problem is made worse by the inevitable concentration of traffic on the approaches to the bridges at Kew and Chiswick. A further source of annoyance mentioned by the hon. Gentleman is the noise of aircraft at Heathrow, which is only six miles away. The House has already had a recent Adjournment debate on that aspect of the matter and one of my colleagues then gave the Department's reply.

I make clear at the outset that the responsibility for the main roads in Kew lies with the Greater London Council and that the Richmond-upon-Thames London Borough Council is responsible for other roads. There are no trunk or special roads in this part of London south of the River Thames for which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would be responsible. The GLC is also the traffic authority for all roads in Greater London except for trunk roads.

If because of shortage of time I am unable to reply to all the hon. Gentleman's points, then I shall look carefully at what he said and I shall communicate with him in due course.

I wish to say something about the alternatives to alleviate traffic congestion at Kew, which was mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. Kew Bridge and its approach through Kew Green are heavily used by traffic using the South Circular Road and by traffic from and beyond Richmond destined for the western and northern parts of London. The nearest bridges on either side are at Twickenham and Chiswick, both on the A316, an important radial route from the south west to central London.

South of Kew Bridge the GLC designed a scheme to relieve congestion at the junction of Kew Road with Mortlake Road. Following considerable local opposition, a public inquiry was held into the proposal in February 1972. The independent inspector appointed by the then Secretary of State was satisfied that the proposal was justified and worth while, and not as harmful as many objectors had supposed.

An alternative suggested at the time, which the hon. Gentleman has also promoted, was that the route designated as the South Circular Road should not be through Kew at all but along the Great Chertsey Road, A316, to the Hogarth roundabout in Chiswick and then westwards along the A4 to its junction with the North Circular Road, A406. I am sure it is not beyond the hon. Gentleman's imagination to consider the reaction of his colleagues across the river to such a suggestion. I know the road myself fairly well. I represent a Scottish constituency, of course, and I use the road frequently when I come into London from Heathrow airport. It may be a three-lane dual carriageway road, but it is very busy, and there is frequently a big bottleneck on the way in and out of London.

The inspector found that, among other reasons why this suggestion should not be adopted, the diversion would add about 1¼ miles to each journey, thereby giving rise to additional operating costs for vehicles, especially goods vehicles. Of perhaps greater significance is the fact that the alternative route is already congested, especially the Hogarth roundabout. The hon. Member knows that some years ago it was vital that a flyover was created at the Hogarth roundabout. If it had not been, the situation would have been even worse. Indeed, it is not a great deal better now because traffic has grown to meet the new physical conditions which various Ministers have laid down to help the situation.

Sir A. Royle

This ignores the appalling congestion that there is in Kew, where it is just as bad, and it is made worse by the narrowness of the road, a situation which does not exist at the Hogarth roundabout.

Mr. Carmichael

The hon. Gentleman must not think that I have not a great deal of sympathy for him. I am extremely sympathetic towards the problem of vehicles in residential areas. If he can suggest a solution which will be satisfactory to both Kew and the surrounding areas, he will make an enormous contribution of which even Colin Buchanan would be proud.

The hon. Gentleman, understandably, is concerned greatly about the residential area within his constituency, especially with the opening of the extension to the M3. He was kind enough to say that the signposting had been of considerable value to the area.

The GLC, which is the traffic authority for roads in London, except for trunk roads, will no doubt keep a close watch on the position and will introduce measures to control, direct and regulate traffic where it thinks necessary. My right hon. Friend agreed the GLC proposals to erect traffic signals at certain points on the A316 to regulate the flow of traffic and to help pedestrians. These are now operating. We shall always be prepared to consider with the GLC and other local authorities what further action may be needed not only to obtain the greatest benefit from the new facility for the community as a whole but to deal with any local problems which may arise.

I have not a great deal of time in which to speak about juggernaut lorries. Perhaps anything I am unable to say tonight I can explain to the hon. Gentleman in writing.

There are weight restrictions at Grove Park railway bridge on the A316. These apply while strengthening of the bridge is being undertaken. The work is scheduled to start very soon. While it is in progress it will be necessary to reduce the traffic flow in each direction to one lane for a substantial part of the contract. Vehicles over 20 tons from Richmond are already being directed along Kew Road, the A307, to Kew bridge and thence to the A4. Any vehicles missing the diversion signs at the A307 are again directed at the junction of the A316 with the A205 on to the South Circular Road. Vehicles leaving London are advised at the Hogarth roundabout to use the A4 and A30 route to the M3 and thereby avoid both Chiswick and Kew bridges. I accept that any increase in heavy goods vehicles is detrimental to the environment of Kew, but the Greater London Council tells me that it hopes to have the bridge fully restored to traffic by next July.

On the wider question of lorry routes in general, the GLC again is the traffic authority responsible for designating such routes. Although the Heavy Commercial Vehicles (Controls and Regulations) Act 1973—popularly known as the "Dykes Act", since it was piloted through this House by the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) as a Private Member—does not apply to it, it has resolved to respond as though it did and to exercise its powers taking into account the importance of regulating the use of roads by heavy commercial vehicles so as to preserve or improve the amenities of the areas through which the roads run. The GLC is curently considering how best to resolve the special problems arising with a large metropolis.

The Borough of Richmond has commissioned consulting engineers to undertake an area traffic study which will include the study of the movements of heavy vehicles. I shall contact the hon. Member—

The Question having been proposed at Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at half-past Ten o'clock.