HC Deb 09 December 1975 vol 902 cc419-30

12.49 a.m.

Sir Anthony Royle (Richmond, Surrey)

First, I congratulate the Under-Secretary of State on his recent appointment to ministerial office in the Department of the Environment. I wish him good fortune with what I understand to be his maiden speech as a Minister. I hope that he will be able to make a more satisfactory reply to my remarks than the replies which his predecessor managed to make on the two previous occasions when I raised the subject of the environment in my constituency in two areas—namely, Barnes and Kew. I feel sure that the hon. Gentleman will wish in his maiden speech to send away a satisfied Member of Parliament.

I seek to raise three issues which affect the environment of Richmond. The first issue is something which is being caused by the bureaucrats who live in County Hall under the aegis of the Greater London Council. The details follow on from the debate I had on Kew in November 1974 and underline the fact that the GLC is about to crucify Kew. The GLC is proposing to widen a road in the middle of Kew Village. This widening proposal was first put forward in 1969, and in 1972 there was a public inquiry. I raised the matter for the first time in a debate in November 1974. I said on that occasion that nothing was being done by the GLC in Kew and that the GLC was not interested in Kew.

The Minister's predecessor and myself agreed that Kew Village was unsuitable for juggernaut lorries, but since then the GLC has decided to press ahead, with compulsory purchase orders, to widen the road where it joins the Mortlake Road from Kew Green.

What is the background? Kew is a small village on the edge of the Thames in the corner of my constituency. Kew Green and Kew Gardens are world famous. There is an ancient and beautiful church, and there are many attractive eighteenth-century and seventeenth-century houses round the Green and the Royal palace. Around the area where the GLC now proposes to widen the road are several extremely attractive Queen Anne houses. The proposal is to widen the road to facilitate juggernaut lorries passing along the South Circular Road which use the lane running through the middle of the village.

In fact, the problem is more complicated. After the lorries pass the widening point, leaving Kew Bridge behind them, they funnel into a narrow tunnel under a railway. That narrow tunnel, which is 14 ft. high, will not be widened. Therefore, the money that will be spent by the GLC in widening the road where it leaves Kew Green will have no effect in easing the traffic situation in the village of Kew; nor will it facilitate traffic flow because of the railway bridge.

When the inspectors examined the situation back in 1972, they found that the Mortlake Road was saturated with traffic, but since 1972 the traffic-light sequence has been changed at the junction and the problem of tailback occurs rarely.

I have grave fears, as do the Kew residents, that the green itself will be badly damaged if the GLC is allowed to go ahead with its depredations.

Since that time the GLC has been shown that the houses involved in the road widening are of greater importance than it suggested. It has been shown that the traffic problems were caused by a tailback from Brentford and restrictions on the 14-ft. railway bridge over the Mortlake Road. The council has also been shown that the scheme would not increase traffic flow and that the results of improvements on the other side of the new approach in Brentford and Chiswick should be awaited. On those grounds the GLC postponed implementation until recently. In October 1975 the Secretary of State for the Environment published a commentary on the Greater London Development Plan which insisted that the traffic plan should be carried out in consultation with local councils and residents concerned and also that much greater protection should be given to areas of great beauty and historic interest.

I wish to remind the Minister that if the GLC is now allowed to proceed with this widening scheme it will destroy a conservation area in Kew and it will cause eight properties to become unfit for domestic use. It will have taken the first step towards using Kew as the primary and orbital route for all types of traffic on a permanent basis on unsuitable roads and will cause blight to the people in Kew. It will also go against the declared policy of the Secretary of State. Furthermore, it will involve the use of a large sum of public money for a destructive and useless purpose.

Am I alone in opposing this idea of the GLC? I am not. I am supported by virtually the entire population of Kew. The Kew Society has sent several protests to the Minister and myself. Most recently it was learned that the Secretary of State had accepted the Kew Society's recommendation that Kew Green be designated a conservation area of outstanding importance. If this had been the situation when the inquiry was held in 1972, I question whether the Minister would have found in favour of the GLC. The Society says that there can be no doubt that the GLC's widening proposal if implemented will have disastrous effects on the appearance of this corner of Kew Green. Therefore, there is widespread opposition by all the local people to this proposal.

In addition, only recently Mr. Daly, the Chairman of the Transport Committee of the GLC, who has written many letters to me on this subject, admitted that his proposal to set up lorry routes throughout London would not work. A GLC news-sheet was issued on 23rd October this year to the effect that the problems of the juggernauts in narrow shopping streets and residential areas would continue to increase unless restraints were imposed. But the GLC is releasing that restraint and is encouraging more juggernauts to use this route. Will the Minister tell the House the cost of the vandalism that will be perpetrated by this widening scheme?

The second issue concerns the activities of helicopters in the area. I could talk for some time about the damage to the environment caused by aircraft operating from London Airport, but that matter does not fall within the responsibility of the Minister who is to reply. However, I wish particularly to mention the helicopter problem in the area. I understand that this is a responsibility of the Civil Aviation Authority, but the Minister has, I think, an overall responsibility, and I know that he will share the deep concern which is felt by my constituents and by myself at the proposal for increased use of Battersea for more flights.

On this matter, for once, the GLC and I are in agreement, and the views of Mr. Daly and the GLC on helicopter flights from Battersea are similar to those of my constituents. What steps is the Minister proposing to take to help protect the environment, especially at the Barnes end of the constituency which suffers particularly from the helicopter flights?

I come now to the third issue, and I shall be brief because I know that the Minister will wish to give a full reply. I refer to Barnes High Street, which also is part of the Richmond constituency, nearer to London, and lying close to the river. It is full of charming old houses, many of them early eighteenth-century and some of them seventeenth-century.

Sir Timothy Kitson (Richmond, Yorks)

The Order Paper shows that the subject of my hon. Friend's debate is the environment in Richmond. I am sure that he knows that my constituency of Richmond is the mother of all the Richmonds, and I think it is a little confusing when he refers to Richmond when, in fact, he means Richmond, Surrey. Will he clarify that?

Sir A. Royle

I am delighted to clarify it. My constituency used to be called Richmond, Surrey when I was first elected in 1959 but unfortunately, due to the decision of the House in the 1970 Parliament the word "Surrey" was removed from its title, so that it is now known as Richmond.

It could cause some confusion with my hon. Friend's constituency in Yorkshire, but I hasten to add that I bow at once to the seniority of my hon. Friend's constituency in that the original name of the area which is now called Richmond in what was Surrey, was Shene, and it was on his arrival there that King Henry VII decided that, as the view from Richmond Hill was similar to that from Richmond Hill in Yorkshire—whence he drew his title as Earl of Richmond—Shene should be renamed Richmond after the Richmond in Yorkshire. I hope that that will satisfy my hon. Friend and his constituents that we are not trying to steal seniority from his ancient borough in Yorkshire.

After that fascinating historical interlude I return to the problems of Barnes High Street, which closely concern many of my constituents. In an Adjournment debate on this subject I covered the points concerning Barnes fairly fully. The case I argue is that Barnes High Street is too narrow, as is the road through Kew, for juggernaut lorries. It is still a GLC road. There is some feeling locally in Barnes that life could be better for the people of the area if Barnes High Street could be made a local road under the control of the Richmond-upon-Thames Council and not the Greater London Council. I would welcome the Minister's views.

The reason is clear, and I have given it in all the debates which I have raised in the House. In Richmond—which includes Kew, Barnes, Petersham, Ham, Sheen and Mortlake, that is, all the area from Hammersmith Bridge along the south of the river to Ham—we have lost confidence in the GLC. This view is widely held outside Richmond as well as within my constituency.

That brings me back to where I started, to Kew Village and the proposed widening of the Mortlake Road by the GLC. I have expressed my discontent so many times in public speeches in my constituency that I feel that I must now express my concern about the GLC in the House of Commons.

I hope that the Minister who is to reply will start by taking some action on the matters I have raised. It is the duty of his Department to monitor the road activities of the GLC. It proposes to waste public money on an unwanted scheme in my constituency. In a document TP1643 sent round on 3rd November, it was stated: We now face a period of severe restrictions on expenditure and staffing. This makes it essential to ensure that our staff effort is deployed on a priority programme of work which is compatible with the limited financial resources available. There follows a list of projects that have been cancelled, changed, withdrawn or which are going ahead. Despite the cost and all the difficulties, the Mortlake Road widening is going ahead.

The Conservative Government of 1964 created the GLC. I think that its creation was a mistake, and many of my constituents agree with me that the time has come to consider abolishing the Council. The Minister will no doubt ask what is to replace it, but I am not suggesting that a replacement is necessary. There are only three major responsibilities remaining with the GLC. The fire service could be run by a small efficient—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)

Order. The hon. Member cannot ask for legislation or measures which require legislation in an Adjournment debate.

Sir A. Royle

I am not asking for legislation, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am merely informing the Minister of the concern felt in my constituency about the attitude of the GLC and the view of many people that something should be done about it. I am not requesting the Minister to introduce legislation on this matter.

There is a feeling that the GLC's responsibilities for housing and trunk roads, on a strategic basis, and for the fire service could be managed by other bodies. The fire service could be run by a board on the lines of the London Transport Board, housing could be taken over by the London boroughs and the Minister's unit in his Department could handle the roads. It already monitors the GLC road plans.

In my constituency and many other parts of London, especially in the outer boroughs, it is felt that the GLC's attitude is not helpful. The total staff of the council is over 33,000 and it will cost £123 million in 1975–76. The 0share that Richmond ratepayers carry is £4.8 million. If the GLC employees were placed shoulder to shoulder, they would reach for 10½ miles—almost the distance from Kew to County Hall and back. Walking at four miles per hour, with a yard between them, they would take four-and-three-quarter hours to pass through the main entrance of County Hall.

Soon, the anger of those representing outer London ratepayers will take a practical course. Will the Minister warn the GLC that, if it continues to treat with disdain the outer London ratepayers, we may be joined by the inner London ratepayers and one of the major political parties may say, to paraphrase the words of Mr. Amery in 1940: "You have sat too long there for any good you have been doing. Depart, we say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go."

1.10 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Kenneth Marks)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle) for his kind words on this my maiden speech from the Dispatch Box. I wish to pay tribute to my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvin-grove (Mr. Carmichael), who is now Under-Secretary of State for Industry. My hon. Friend held my new post from 1967 to 1969 and from February 1974 until now. I learned that since February he has replied to 44 Adjournment debates. In addition he carried out a heavy programme of meetings and visits to all parts of Britain. That and a heavy load of correspondence meant for him a tremendous task. I have no doubt that in his new post he will find plenty to do since his first job will be on the Standing Committee dealing with the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill.

Coming from the industrial part of the North-West as I do, I have always felt that people in my area have in the past accepted too easily the environmental hazards that other areas do not suffer. I have frequently urged them to be less amenable. I know that the hon. Gentleman's constituents need no such urging, and he has reflected their anxieties and their annoyance in many ways and in correspondence, personal representation and in Adjournment debates.

Having listened to the intervention by the hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Kitson), and knowing both Richmonds, I should find them both very pleasant places to live in. I therefore congratulate the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey on securing another opportunity to raise in an Adjournment debate the important issue of environmental nuisance being suffered by his constituents.

To understand something of the environment of Richmond one must appreciate its setting. It lies south of one of the many loops in the River Thames and is bounded on two sides by the open space areas of Kew Gardens, the Old Deer Park and Richmond Park. It is one of Greater London's most favoured residential areas, and the borough has more public open space than any of the 33 boroughs in Greater London.

Because of the geographical nature of Richmond, its few major roads are channelled into narrow corridors between the open space areas and the Thames. Inevitably these roads are heavily trafficked, though no more so than many in other parts of London. I should make it clear that these major roads are the responsibility of the Greater London Council and that the Richmond-upon-Thames Council is responsible for the other roads. There are no trunk roads or motorways in that part of Greater London south of the Thames for which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is responsible. The Greater London Council is also the traffic authority for all roads in Greater London, except for trunk roads.

The hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey complained about the proposed improvement of the Mortlake Road—Kew Road junction and that the area is suffering from the effects of juggernauts and helicopter noise. It may be helpful if I deal with each of the points in turn, as well as the additional point about Barnes High Street.

Mortlake Road, the A.205, is a metropolitan principal road designated as part of the South Circular Road. The Greater London Council, as highway authority, proposes to improve its junction with Kew Road because of the congestion which occurs there due to the narrowness of the immediate approaches and the large volume of traffic passing through the junction. Both roads carry a high proportion of large commercial vehicles. The overall carriageway width of Mortlake Road approaching the junction is only 21 ft. and the Greater London Council proposes to widen it to 38 ft., so providing two 11-ft. lanes for northbound traffic instead of the present single 10-ft. lane.

A public local inquiry was held in February 1972. There was inevitably considerable opposition from residents who considered that such an important and heavily-used route was inappropriate in a residential area of considerable environmental and historic value. The hon. Gentleman pointed out that since then it has been designated a conservation area. The objectors felt that the improvement would perpetuate its use as part of the South Circular Road.

However, in his report the inspector took the view that the scheme would be a justified and worthwhile improvement. He was of the opinion that the visual and environmental effects of the proposal would not be as harmful as many residents supposed and that the need for the scheme, together with possible alternatives, had been thoroughly investigated. The then Secretary of State accepted the inspector's recommendation and the compulsory purchase order was confirmed on 1st September 1972 and became operative six weeks later, not 1974, when the hon. Gentleman raised the matter in the House.

Eight individual plots of land, all fronting on to Mortlake Road, amounting to a total of 409 sq. yds., are required for the scheme. As the garden walls of three houses which are included in the list of buildings of special architectural or historic interest were to be demolished, a concurrent inquiry was held into this aspect. The inspector concluded that the gates, piers and walls associated with the curtilages of these buildings had no intrinsic architectural interest and were largely ignored when the street scene as a whole was contemplated. He therefore recommended that listed building consent be granted to demolish the walls, and the then Secretary of State accepted this recommendation also. The Greater London Council served notices to treat under the compulsory purchase order on the landowners concerned on 12th September 1975, and I understand that work is due to start in 18 months' time subject to funds being available.

This is a matter entirely for the Greater London Council. It is well aware of the objections raised by this proposal. As a council it is particularly concerned with environmental matters, but it is also responsible for traffic movement. It is for the GLC to weigh up the conflicting factors and decide how to proceed, and to take into consideration in its future decisions the fact that that part of Kew is now a conservation area.

Sir Anthony Royle

Can the Minister quickly tell me what is the cost of this proposal?

Mr. Marks

I have no figures available on the cost, but I shall try to let the hon. Gentleman have them.

As for juggernauts, the Department is acutely aware of the problems caused by heavy goods vehicles on unsuitable roads. The responsibility for placing restrictions, if such are necessary, on lorry traffic in Greater London, other than on trunk roads, lies with the Greater London Council. That Council published in April a consultation document "Lorry Routes and Bans" and invited local authorities and other interested organisations to comment.

The objections to the proposals related mainly to the physical conditions along the routes and to the effects of heavy lorry traffic on those living alongside. Many objectors felt that routes were unsuitable by reason of narrowness, sharp bends, hills and other physical characteristics. Many expressed concern also at the potential danger of accidents and general hazards to pedestrians and other road users. People already living along the busier roads drew attention to the nuisance, particularly noise, to which they are subjected by heavy lorries.

There was support for the principle of banning lorries from local areas and for a ban on lorries making through journeys within the area bounded by the North and South Circular Roads. At the same time there was opposition from people living on or near these routes on the ground that diverted traffic would worsen the existing conditions, especially on the South Circular Road.

After having reviewed the response to this document, the Greater London Council has now decided to abandon for the present any attempt to introduce lorry routes in Greater London. Instead, it proposes to pursue a policy of identifying environmentally unsuitable areas from which heavy lorries can be banned—

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock on Tuesday 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 nineteen minutes past One o'clock.