HC Deb 14 January 1975 vol 884 cc413-22

1.47 a.m.

Sir John Eden (Bournemouth, West)

I wished to speak tonight because I and by hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Cordle), who unfortunately cannot be present, have been made fully aware of the mounting volume of protest against the various road schemes now under development in Bournemouth.

Naturally I regret, as I am sure does the Under-Secretary, that this debate has to take place at such a late hour. None the less I know that he will give heed to what I have to say. He will, I am sure, understand that within the compass of the short debate allowed by the rules of the House I can only hope to give some impression of the views and feelings so strongly held by many of the residents of Bournemouth.

Feelings have been aroused in the main by two separate factors. First, there is the sheer scale of the developments and the dimensions of the change and upheaval which they are causing. Secondly, there is the frustration felt by anyone seeking clarification about points of detail and by those who are trying to get a full explanation of what is happening.

People, especially those most affected, want to know not only what is going on but why it is necessary. What is the justification for it all? Why should it affect their property? Why must it happen now? That is the sort of question being asked.

Let me emphasise that I do not now or at any time suggest any impropriety or negligence on the part of the authorities' officials. Surveyors, engineers and planners have carried out their duties most thoroughly and conscientiously. The schemes which are now the cause of so much disturbance and anxiety have not been produced arbitrarily out of a hat. They have not been conjured up to satisfy anyone's ambition, prire or vanity. I know that they are the product of careful study and research. They owe much to the objective and impartial advice of experts. That takes up back over many years when the land use and transportation requirements of the area were fully considered.

All that work led up in 1966 to the "Bournemouth Town Centre Policy Statement and Map" which, among other things, recognised in the foreword to the published document, that not only has Bournemouth one of the highest figures of cars per population in Britain but, in addition, it attracts large numbers of holiday visitors and also persons residing outside the town wishing to make use of the shopping and entertainments facilities available, an increasing number of whom own and wish to use cars. Major changes were planned, and for this reason care was taken to give them maximum publicity. I quote again from the same document published in 1968: Because of the fundamental importance of the proposals, the Council before taking any decisions arranged for them to be given as wide publicity as possible—the Council made every effort to take the people of Bournemouth completely and publicly into its confidence—publicity was given by the press, on radio and television, many meetings of local organisations were addressed and a public meeting held. It was made clear that suggestions and observations were welcome and those received were given detailed examination. Wide support was given for the proposals and the alternative suggestions made were not such as to merit any material variation to the overall policy recommended and on 7th March, 1967, the Council formally adopted the proposals. However, those proposals affect large areas of Bournemouth. There is, for example, the Castle Lane relief road, invariably referred to as route 16. One questions the wisdom here of planning a speedway which can result only in the channelling of large factory transport through areas of housing. There is to be the impact on Talbot Avenue of the Boundary Road—Redhill Avenue development scheme. There is now under construction a new junction at North-bourne, part of an overall Kinson bypass scheme. There are other schemes planned to traverse the cream of the residential area. There are the chaos and anguish caused in the Springbourne area where the whole community is being cut in two by Wessex Way. There is there the absurdity of what seems to be a mis-sited bridge leading from nowhere to nowhere, which I believe is now to be altered, but only after voluble public protest. There are the pressing demands generated locally by the residents to retain the Queen's Park roundabout, a proposition now fully supported by the district councillors of Bournemouth. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East, will be given an opportunity before long to raise this specific subject in a similar debate in the House.

Then there is the Gervis Road-Manor Road throughway scheme siphoning off traffic from Wessex Way ultimately to by-pass the Landowne and to take it through into the centre of Bournemouth. This has already caused a great deal of anguish and anxiety amongst the people who live in what has always been a quiet residential backwater but which as a result of new traffic signs is in danger of becoming a more significant trunk route than it should be. I know that here again certain changes have been made, but only after protest.

In addition to all this, great areas with fine buildings have been taken to make way for car parks and other developments. The whole thing is a scene of massive upheaval. I know that these developments have all been carefully planned and prepared on the basis of the best possible statistics; I am even ready to accept that they are in the best long-term interests of Bournemouth of the future. But my constituents and I are fearful lest, in our eagerness to meet a statistical forecast, we are tearing out too much from the heart of Bournemouth and risking too fundamental a change in the character of the town.

There are here immensely difficult issues to resolve. So far—or so it seems to my constituents—all the decisions favour upheaval and change. We must never fail to remind ourselves that when all the planning and publicity have ceased it is people's homes that are affected. When construction begins—when the bulldozers move in or when a quiet residential area is changed into a principal traffic route, as in the case of Gervis Road—it is the life and happiness of individuals that are at risk.

It is at this point—here I emphasise my main theme—that extra trouble needs to be taken. I referred to some aspects of the problem in a short debate in July 1968, when the reply was given by the then Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government—the late Arthur Skeffington who, as hon. Members will know, was most sympathetic and understanding on matters of this kind.

People want to know the details of what is taking place. They want to have justified to them the upheaval to which they are subject. They want an explanation. It is no good placing some boring advertisement in a local newspaper, because either nobody sees it or anybody who sees it takes no notice of it. Efforts must be made to notify each individual householder. I hope that the Minister will underline to the officials in the various departments the need to take trouble to go out of their way to hold meetings and to make sure that the people know what is about to happen. They should not have to wake up one morning and receive the tremendous shock of suddenly seeing the development under way without having had ample forewarning. It is not enough to expect them to find out for themselves.

An example of what I am talking about is the Northbourne road junction scheme. I know of an elderly retired pensioner and his wife who have been living in a nearby bungalow for 16 years. The roundabout constructed in the area has totally altered their view. They accept that these things must happen and that there is nothing they can do about it, but now they have heard that there is to be a whole new range of council house development—not that I have anything against council houses—between the roadway and their own boundary. They have tried to get information about it. They cannot. They have had people call at the town hall, but they cannot get information. I have written about it and I hope to find out what is to happen.

I have had a letter today from a Mr. Reeves, who writes about a planning application he made for land adjoining No. 5 Dorset Road. He was unable to find out anything about any new road or highway development. He inquired from the planning department and proper searches were made. None of these revealed any information at all. Then the planning went forward and my constituent committed himself to a whole variety of money-raising ventures, building contracts and so on. Only then was he told that part of the land was likely at some stage to be used for route 5. It is not good enough that people should have to go to such lengths to get information which officials should be going out of their way to provide. I hope that the point will be emphasised strongly.

Locally and at county level, councillors have been speaking up strongly for local residents. Councillors Mrs. Jeanne Curtis and Mrs. Jill Williams have given expression to people's views. Miss Shapiro and others have tried to make clear how strongly people feel. These schemes were prepared in an economic climate which was, alas, markedly different from that confronting us today. Local authorities must now cut back on expenditure. Major projects will have to be deferred.

Where practicable, where the degree of commitment allows, I hope that local authorities will call a halt at this stage to such developments, particularly to those secondary schemes being undertaken in preparation for further development which is decades away. It is unnecessary for them to proceed at such a pace now. I hope that in calling a halt to some of these schemes the opportunity will be taken to appoint an independent inspector who will look afresh at the whole picture in the light of the current economic situation and question the justification for these schemes. If that can be done, I trust that on this occasion the views of the people most affected will be actively sought and heeded.

2.3 a.m.

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

I have listened to the points raised by the rt. hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden). While I have great sympathy with him in the problems he has raised—I am not unfamiliar with them in my own constituency—I ought to make it clear at once that these matters are essentially for determination by the responsible local authority, in this case the Dorset County Council.

With the cessation of specific principal road grants and the introduction of the new system of transport supplementary grants it will be for the county council, not the Department, to determine the future highway network and traffic management measures within the framework of its transport policy and programmes.

It may, however, be helpful if in the first instance I outline the background to transportation matters in Bournemouth so far as my Department is concerned. In 1965 a study team of technical officers of the principal local authorities then comprising the area of South-East Dorset, Bournemouth and South-West Hampshire was formed to study the planning and transportation problems of the area. The team produced its first report in 1967 which recommended policies on future land use and a transportation network which included a new primary road system.

The road network recommended was designed to provide a transport system based on the assumption that land uses would develop as forecast and public transport services in this area, particularly buses, would be maintained and expanded. The report assumed that, in addition to the new primary routes proposed, existing local roads would be maintained and improved by traffic management schemes where necessary and that additional car parking would be provided where needed.

For Bournemouth the report recommended that the town centre should continue as the major entertainment and shopping centre of the area but that to overcome existing problems of traffic congestion and to allow for future growth the whole primary road system of the area should be reorganised by the provision of a network of new roads to form a town centre bypass. This new town centre bypass was referred to in the report as route 4.

The report also recommended a number of other new primary roads including a route to the north-east along Holdenhurst Road in order to link the town centre and new bypass with the Bournemouth spur road which leads to the A31 trunk road. This new route was designated route 3 in the report and is also known as Wessex Way.

There were also recommendations for new primary roads in the Poole and Christchurch area which, together with the Bournemouth recommendations, would provide a complete primary road network for the whole area. It was envisaged that all these primary routes would be dual carriageway roads of a high design standards. The report additionally made recommendations for new district distributor roads in the various local authority areas.

That land use and transportation study report was updated in 1970 and all the local authorities concerned accepted the conclusions reached, adopted in principle the policies recommended and approved the future action recommended in the study.

So far as my Department was concerned, the town centre bypass and the Holdenhurst relief road were considered as viable schemes in their own right. Stages I to IV of the bypass were included in the now superseded principal road preparation list as were stages 1 to 3 of the relief road. But, apart from some peripheral routes, it was not considered that the report provided sufficient justification for some of the inner primary routes envisaged.

In 1971 the Secretary of State invited the local authorities involved in the land use and transportation study to prepare a structure plan for the then South-East Dorset and South-West Hampshire area. This invitation was accepted and, in connection with the preparation of the structure plan, it was decided to carry out a new transportation study in the area using the latest techniques available for evaluating all aspects of transportation which had not been available for the earlier study. Work on the structure plan and transportation study is now under way and is being undertaken by a joint team comprising Dorset County Council officers and a firm of transportation consultants. The final report on the transportation study is expected in the summer of next year.

The right hon. Gentleman may be aware that the objectives of the transportation study are as follows.

The first is to produce a comprehensive transportation plan of the study area for 1986, which will specify a recommended highway network, public transport system and parking facilities, together with policies for their operation and control. The second is to outline a programme of implementation between now and 1986 and to provide the data for programming and design purposes.

The third objective is to provide the basis for subsequent monitoring and updating of the transportation plan and programme by the local authority staff. Lastly, the objective is to provide the transport component of a structure plan evaluation for 1996.

The recommended road network put forward in the original land use transportation study for the late 1970s and onwards will be re-examined as part of the present transportation study and either reaffirmed or alternative proposals recommended.

The study will also have regard to those new roads which have already been provided or will be completed in the intervening period. It will then be for the county council to consider the report and decide how it should be implemented in the context of the county's transportation needs as defined in its transport policy and programme.

The programme submitted by the Dorset County Council for 1975–76 includes among other schemes a further stage of the town centre bypass and a scheme at the Fleetsbridge Junction in Poole, but, as I have said, whether these schemes proceed is a matter for the county council. What I can say is that the level of accepted expenditure for transportation in the county in 1975–76 would permit them to do so.

I think it will be clear, however, from what I have said that future planning in the area will be based on a comprehensive transportation study, grant-aided by the Department; and the broad issues involved in future TPPs will be the subject of a continuing dialogue between my Department and officers of the Dorset County Council.

Turning to the specific points made by the right hon. Member, perhaps I should explain current policy on procedures for public consultation in particular. I have great sympathy with that point. In 1973 the Department introduced a new public participation stage designed to inform people about practicable alternative routes for trunk road projects and for obtaining their views about them. This involved the setting up of exhibitions and the provision of display material, relevant maps and documents to be made available to the public either at exhibitions or otherwise.

At that stage my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State did not believe that he would be justified in attempting to impose on local authorities in respect of their own road projects procedures designed in the different context of trunk road schemes. This is due in part to differing procedures under which local authority schemes are prepared, including the operation of the planning procedures and perhaps most importantly, the participation of local elected representatives in debate at various stages of development of road plans.

I hope that the right hon. Member can see the difference here. It must be assumed that any local scheme is debated by the local authority and that local councillors and residents are aware of it. Again from personal experience, I know that not as much time is given to public debate as is needed to attract the required attention. One of our problems is securing public involvement at an early enough stage. Unfortunately, many people know what is going on only when they wake up and realise that it has already taken place.

However, my right hon. Friend has drawn local authorities' attention to the need to bear in mind, in the development of their schemes, the principles underlying the new procedure of giving the public information about practicable alternatives and the opportunity to express their views about them at an appropriate time. That was done in Circular 30/73, in which my right hon. Friend gave this advice to local authorities or drew their attention to it. Local authorities are well aware, now that it has been raised in so many cases, of the danger of not involving local people in their decisions. This is due not to wilful neglect but to the fact that councils probably believe that their public debates are sufficient.

The right hon. Gentleman also referred to specific schemes in Bournemouth giving rise to controversy. These are not the direct concern of the Department but are very strictly a matter for the local authority. I am sure that on this occasion he will understand why I do not refer to those schemes.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at fourteen minutes past Two o'clock.