HC Deb 30 April 1975 vol 891 cc686-98

1.55 a.m.

Mr. Keith Speed (Ashford)

I am glad to have the opportunity of raising, even at this late hour, the problems of a road which is of both local and national importance. The A20, which millions of people know as the London to Folkestone road, carries traffic to Kent and much continental traffic to Folkestone and Dover which proceeds on through France, Belgium, Germany and elsewhere.

My hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) agrees with the remarks that I shall be making tonight and is sorry that he cannot be here, but he has to chair a Committee early tomorrow morning.

The A20, as the Under-Secretary knows, is already heavily overloaded. Apart from the Maidstone bypass, which is a motorway, and the Ashford bypass. which is a modern, dual two-lane-carriageway road, the existing road is for the most part narrow, poorly graded, busy and dangerous.

Perhaps I may give a personal experience. Two weeks ago, on a Sunday afternoon, it took me six minutes in my car to cross the A20 at the Smeeth-Aldington junction. That was well before the busy season had started. It was a Sunday afternoon with not too much heavy commercial traffic.

Villages along the A20, such as Charing in my constituency, Harrietsham in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Wells) and Smeeth and Sellindge in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Folke stone and Hythe, have to put up with growing heavy traffic by day and by night, a large proportion of it being commercial vehicles proceeding to Europe. Along this section of road between Maid stone and Folke stone there are also too many accidents. The accident record there is deplorable.

When I was in the position which the Under-Secretary now occupies, dealing with problems in the South-East, I consistently refused the demands made by my hon. Friends the Members for Faver-sham (Mr. Moate) and Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) to extend the M2 beyond Faver-sham to Dover. I resisted them because at that time the wisdom in the Department was that the main traffic route to the South-East was the A20, and the M20 was planned to relieve that overcrowded road and to take the majority of the continental traffic. That is true with or without the Channel Tunnel. Instead, we were getting under way a series of bypasses such as Bridge Harbledown, now being built, and at the same time a general upgrading of the A2 was taking place. I am sure that that is still the policy of the Department. It was right two years ago, and I have seen nothing to alter that decision since.

However, I must tell the Minister that there is growing concern not only in my part of the country but in Folkestone about the apparent hiatus in progress and the lack of a starting date for the M20. As the Under-Secretary knows, the scheme was worked up during the period of the last Conservative Government. A public inquiry for the Maidstone to Folkestone section, which was only 29 miles, took place in Ashford between September and November 1973. I hoped that the result of the inquiry and the Minister's decision would be announced a year later. I believe that it was originally intended to be announced in the autumn of 1974. But the date slipped back, and finally the inspector's report was published at the end of January. The Minister's decision was essentially to go ahead with most of the road, subject only to looking at alternative routes at the northern end. Since then there has been a degree of silence.

On 3rd April the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Transport wrote to me as follows: … we are at present considering the standards to which the M20 should be built and its phasing. Until this review is com- pleted, I am afraid that I cannot forecast completion dates". The road was envisaged at the planning stage and at the public inquiry as a three-lane dual carriageway. I know that last year the Department revised the road capacity standards, and that was right. We want to make the best use of money, modern vehicle braking systems, and so on, and I do not quarrel with that.

These new standards are set out in Technical Memorandum H6/74. If I may simplify a complicated document, I think the new standards mean that for a dual two-lane rural motorway there should be a minimum of 35,000 vehicles a day and a maximum of 45,700 to 48,000. For a dual three-lane carriageway the minimum is 45,000 vehicles a day and a maximum of between 68,000 and 72,000.

On 15th April the Minister told me that the predicted traffic flow figures for design year 1990–91 on the M2 were 43,000 vehicles per day on the Maidstone to Ashford section, and 42,000 on the Ashford to Stanford section. These forecasts are being reviewed for design year 1995. I do not think that the figures will be markedly altered. That was said in the Secretary of State's decision letter. I suggest that if they are to be altered, assuming that there are no major improvements to the A2, the figures might go up rather than down. Bearing in mind the heavy summer traffic and the high proportion of commercial vehicles using this road to go to the Continent, which can only increase, the motorway when built should be built as originally envisaged, a dual three-lane carriageway from the start, otherwise it will cost very much more in the long run.

I appreciate that there is much work to be done on the statutory procedures, but uncertainty and delay will delay the completion of the road. I am sure the Minister realises the importance, when making a start on any road of this kind, of taking advantage of the summer months. I appreciate that we shall not take advantage of the summer months of 1976—or, at any rate, that is unlikely unless the Minister is wildly optimistic tonight—but I hope that we can take advantage, in the construction phase, of the summer months of 1977, because if we lose the summer months that can put a road scheme back quite considerably.

The national and local need for this road goes without saying. In the report by the Secretary of State following the inquiry into the M20 he said that priority will be given to schemes aimed particularly at the needs of heavy lorries". I am sure that the M20 is just such a road.

There are problems for local residents, and particularly my constituents, as a result of this hiatus. I recently met a group of residents from the Willesborough area of Ashford, mostly living in Lacton Way. I wrote to the Minister about this. These people will lose their homes, which have to be destroyed for this motorway. That is not a happy situation for them, but it is fair to say that they have accepted it philosophically, if not happily.

Many of those who realise that their homes will be destroyed want to move as soon as possible. They are on what is very much a dwindling asset, particularly if they see a property that is acceptable to them and at a reasonable price. We do not know what could happen to the price of new or alternative homes in the area. Unfortunately, until we make further progress my constituents will not receive home loss payment. They can receive something under the blight provisions, but if they do they do not receive home loss payment, which in many cases will amount to £1,000 or even £1,500.

But it is not just a question of money, though one cannot dismiss sums of £1,000 and £1,500. There is also the uncertainty which is making life miserable for these people who have acted responsibly, knowing that their homes—and some of them have lived in them for a considerable time—have to be sacrificed for the road. This is a human problem which is being caused by the uncertainties of the start of the further statutory procedures and of the construction date.

I should like to put three specific questions to the Minister. First, can the review of traffic flows which he and his right hon. Friends have mentioned now be concluded and can we get on with the various statutory procedures? I should dearly like to be given tonight a date when the Minister estimates—I realise that many hiccups may lie ahead—the construction can start and this most important road can be completed.

Second, my constituents who will lose their homes should be entitled to sell as soon as possible if they have to find alternative accommodation and not live with sword of Damocles hanging over them. They should also be entitled as soon as possible to home loss payments where they are eligible for them. This is an urgent human problem, so it would be helpful to have some idea when steps will be taken under statutory procedures so that they can do just that. I know the problem about blight. The Minister may say that they can sell at the moment, but he will appreciate the further problem of home loss payments.

Third, on the evidence that I have given of vehicle flows, I accept that this road is on the margin of a dual two-lane or dual three-lane carriageway. But it would be penny-wise, pound-foolish not to build the road as a dual three-lane from the start.

The Department, under both Governments, has consistently underestimated vehicle flows. I call in aid the Ml, the southern section of which is to be widened, the M5 in Worcestershire, and the M6 passing around the north of Birmingham, which already is carrying the traffic which was estimated for 10 years ahead. The record in general shows an underestimate. If the Minister bears that in mind and considers the vehicle flow situation, I think that he will agree that dual-three-ways are the answer. I hope that he can confirm that tonight, too.

I know from personal experience when I was doing the Minister's job the problems of the road construction units and sub-units in major schemes of this kind, but he will understand the frustrations and problems caused to local people, businesses, and councils by this apparent gap in the progress of the road. This has perhaps been compounded by the recent decision about the Channel Tunnel. A big question mark hangs over transport on this vital spine road through Kent, one of our key links with important ports and the continent. I hope that the Minister can give positive information so that we may end the uncertainty and get on with building and complete the M20 as soon as possible.

2.7 a.m.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed), who has put his case clearly and his finger on the important points about the A20. The important thing to recognise about Kent is that the two parallel roads, the A2 and the A20, are friends. It is essential that both should be fully developed. That is why I particularly support this proposal on the A20. The flow from one road to the other will inevitably occur all the time. As an improvement is made to one road, so the traffic will move to the other.

Without close co-operation between the Department and the Greater London Council, we have an intolerable situation. The Dover radial route and the means of getting out of London on to the A20 and the A2 are equally important. I hope that the Minister will make every possible endeavour to see that the creation of the road for which my hon. Friend asks is accompanied by the facilities for reaching it. At present, there is an impossible situation when trying to get out on to this road at Blackheath.

I hope that the Minister can say something about what I understand are the present plans for the creation of the Dover radial route and about how the flow of traffic will be channelled out of London to the A20 and A2. On this the whole area depends. Now, without the Channel Tunnel, it is even more vital that we have first-class access roads to the Kent coast.

2.10 a.m.

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

I am most grateful to the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) for raising this subject and giving me the opportunity to speak about the M20 motorway. I am also grateful for what the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) said.

The hon. Gentleman occupied my present position for a long time, and knows the difficulties of trying to push ahead with the motorways that are required. He showed the correct amount of understanding of the problems that he once faced and that I now face. The hon. Member's main concern is with the section of the M20 motorway between Maidstone and Folkestone and, in particular, with that part of it which is planned to pass through his constituency of Ashford. But it may be helpful to the House if I first say a word about the M20 in its wider setting.

The M20 motorway is planned to run from Swanley to Folkestone in Kent, and will provide approximately 50 miles of continuous motorway for road traffic to and from the Channel ports of Folkestone and Dover. It will provide much-needed relief for the existing A20 trunk road, which has a number of dangerous bends and poor forward visibility and which passes through urban development near Folkestone. The M20 forms part of the strategic highway network of the South-East of England and part of the proposed national network of routes for heavy lorries on which my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport issued a consultative paper last year.

From Swanley, the A20 trunk road runs into London. From Addington near Wrotham, there will be a direct connection with the M25 south orbital route, which may help the hon. and learned Gentleman, and which, when completed, will provide a further 47 miles of continuous motorway to Egham in Surrey, together with connections with the M23 and M3 motorways. Planned extensions of the M25 northwards will provide connections to the M4 and M40 motorways. At Swanley the M20 will connect with a high-standard road, now being built, to the Dartford tunnel link—A282. North of the A282, the proposed north orbital route will provide a link with the M11 and M1 motorways. When this programme is completed, as I hope it will be in the early 1980s, there will be continuous motorway or motorway-standard road links between the Channel ports and the Midlands, the North and the West Country.

I understand the problem that the hon. and learned Gentleman raised, but part of it involves getting agreement with the GLC. The traffic flow from the proposed new M20 will be able to be diverted round London, instead of needing to go all the way through. Some 13 miles of the M20, constituting the Ditton and Maidstone bypasses, are already in use. The contract for the five-mile length of the motorway between Swanley and West Kingsdown was awarded last month. The inspector's report on the revised published proposals for the adjoining length from West Kingsdown to Addington is under consideration. Subject to the satisfactory completion of the outstanding statutory procedures, I hope that it will be possible to start work on this length near the end of 1976. The western half of the M20 from Swanley to east of Maidstone should, therefore, be fully completed by 1980.

This brings me to the section with which the hon. Member is concerned. From Maidstone to Folkestone is about 28 miles, and draft proposals for the route, interchanges and consequential alterations to side roads for this section of the motorway were published in June 1972. As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport said in reply to a Question by the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) on 13th November 1974, there were over 400 objections to these proposals. Some 24 main alternative routes were put forward for consideration by objectors and some 1,400 counter-objections were made to these alternatives. The proposals were considered in depth at local public inquiries held at Ashford between September and November 1973.

I am sure that the House will appreciate that the issues before the inquiries were complex and that they required very careful consideration both by the inspector and thereafter by the Secretary of State. This process inevitably took time but, because of the blighting effects of the alternative proposals and the uncertainty felt locally, it was completed as quickly as possible and the route between Lenham Heath and Folkestone, covering about 21 miles, was fixed without alteration in January this year.

At the same time my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State decided to defer his consideration of that part of the route which lies between Maidstone and Lenham Heath, so that those affected by two modifications to the route recommended by the inspector might have the opportunity to make representations about them. Several representations have been received as a result but the views of two local authorities are still awaited. All views received will require careful consideration and the Secretary of State's decision will be announced as soon as possible—I hope later in the year. I do not think that this consultation need delay completion of the motor way, as it is the intention to start construction from the Folkestone end.

It was decided to announce decisions on the route of the motorway before completing the consideration of all the other matters considered at the inquiries in order to remove the uncertainty and blighting effects resulting from the large number of alternative routes to which I have already referred. Consideration of the objections made to the proposals for inter-changes and the necessary alterations to side roads, footpaths, bridleways and private means of access covering the entire length of this section is continuing and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will announce his decision on these matters as soon as possible.

Following his statement in the House on 20th January about the Channel Tunnel, my right hon. Friend said that the decision on the tunnel would have no effect on plans for the M20, which would go ahead as planned, but, as I explained in my Written Answers to the hon. Member's Questions in the House on 7th March and 15th April, following the decision not to proceed with the Channel Tunnel the Department is necessarily reviewing the standards to which M20 should be built and its phasing. This is on the basis of a review of traffic forecasts for a design year of 1995 to take account of the Department's latest projections for traffic growth, the revised predictions for the volume of cross-Channel traffic and the distribution of traffic between the M20 and A2-M2 corridors. Until this review is completed, I cannot forecast construction dates for the Maidstone to Folkestone length. Nor can I say at this stage whether the motorway will be constructed with dual three-lane carriageways.

The hon. Member has raised the question of the effect of the M20 on his constituents. This section of the M20, which, as I have said, is about 28 miles long, will not have a serious effect on property generally, although some properties will be affected. In the area of Ashford, however, there will be a greater effect and it will be necessary to demolish about 30 houses; 146 houses will be likely to suffer noise levels of the 68dBA range and above. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has given assurances that the Department would welcome the opportunity of discussing the design and provision of noise barriers and the general scheme of landscaping with the local authority. He has also undertaken that earth barriers will be constructed at an early stage in the work to give house holders as much protection as possible from construction noise. Everything possible will be done to minimise noise and visual intrusion both during and after construction and the Department will take all appropriate measures in accordance with the provisions of the Land Compensation Act 1973.

The hon. Member has expressed concern about those of his constituents who wish to sell their properties to the Department at the earliest possible date. It might be helpful if I put on record the Government's policy.

It is our policy not to acquire land required for works until near the time when construction will begin. But, if a resident can meet the relevant provisions of the Town and Country Planning Acts. he can serve a blight notice on the Secretary of State requiring him to purchase the property in advance of requirements.

The Land Compensation Act 1973 provides, however, that, where a blight notice is accepted, the person concerned relinquishes his right to the home loss payment. This is a payment which is made in addition to normal market value compensation in recognition of the personal distress and inconvenience suffered by people who have become attached to their homes and who are obliged to move out. I very much regret that, until the review that I have referred to is completed and we have a realistic programme for construction, I cannot say when the normal negotiations for the acquisition of properties are likely to begin.

I know that the hon. Member's constituents are anxious about the amount of compensation they will receive and the manner in which it is calculated. It might be useful for his constituents if I explain the manner in which compensation is calculated and set out the basic principles. The district valuer, an officer of the Inland Revenue, negotiates with the persons concerned or their agents, on behalf of the Department, and he recommends an agreed compensation figure to the Department. If the vendor is dissatis- fied with the figure of compensation proposed, he may refer the matter to the Lands Tribunal under the procedure indicated in Part IV of the Lands Tribunal Rules 1963. The compensation is actually paid when the conveyance or assignment takes place but, if the Department for one reason or another takes possession of the property before then, the vendor has a right to an advance payment of 90 per cent. of the estimate of compensation payable.

The compensation is based on the open market value of the property excluding any depreciation or appreciation brought about by the threat of roadworks. It also includes the payment of proper legal costs, agents' fees and a disturbance allowance for other reasonable expenses or losses which have been incurred as a result of the compulsory acquisition. Then there is the home loss payment which I have already mentioned. This amounts to three times the rateable value of the property, subject to a minimum payment of £150 and a maximum of £1,500.

May I conclude by saying that I am glad to have the support of the hon. Member for my right hon. Friend's intention to proceed with the construction of the M20 as quickly as possible. I am sure, however, that he will appreciate, with his recent experience of Departmental responsibilities, that it is necessary to bring the traffic forecasts up to date to be able to justify the substantial investment involved, and to ensure that the right decisions are made in both the national and local interest. The review which I have mentioned is, however, being carried out as a matter of urgency and an announcement on this and on the other matters following the public inquiries to which I have referred will be made as soon as possible.

The fact that the hon. Member has raised this subject tonight has also spurred me on to make sure that I have consultations on the matters I have described as being likely to hold things up. The hon. Member referred to the design standard of the road. It will almost certainly be a dual three-lane road, and I understand that design is going ahead on that basis. We are not waiting for the final traffic forecast figures before going ahead.

Because of the contentious nature of the road and the large number of different schemes put forward and the objections that have been raised, there have been these difficulties. I believe that it is the intelligent thing to proceed on the basis of a dual three-lane road. Very little will have been spent abortively if it is changed. I assure the hon. Member that careful note has been taken of the points he has raised. There is no undue delay on the part of the Department. We are conscious of the considerable cost and the investment involved—

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

Adjourned at twenty-five minutes past Two o'clock.