HC Deb 03 November 1975 vol 899 cc191-200

11.24 p.m.

Mr. Michael Roberts (Cardiff, Northwest)

I am grateful for this opportunity to raise the question of the proposed access from the M4 into Cardiff.

The present proposal is for one and a half interchanges—that is, one full interchange which will take eastbound and westbound traffic at Coryton, and what I think can only be described as a half interchange at Pentwyn for eastbound traffic. I believe that these proposals are inadequate to meet the needs of the population of South-East Glamorgan, which is approximately half a million. The inadequate provision of interchanges will damage the economy of the city, will put in jeopardy the transportation policy of the county and the city, and will prove an environmental disaster for the people of North-West Cardiff.

I draw the attention of the House to the motorway interchange provision in other areas. For instance, in Bristol there will be three interchanges from the M5, or one per 127,000 of population. In the Preston and Blackpool area there are five junctions, one for every 106,000. In Slough and Windsor there are three junctions, one for every 50,000. In Southampton six interchanges are proposed for the M27, one for every 50,000.

This should come as no surprise to the Welsh Office. Indeed, I am confident that the Under-Secretary will have these figures in his brief. This is the cause of my major complaint because all this and more was pointed out at the inquiry. The Under-Secretary need take no credit from the fact that all these statistics are in his brief. I gave many of them in my evidence to the inspector at the inquiry. My complaint is that the Welsh Office has not taken sufficient notice of these important facts relating to Cardiff.

Coming much nearer home from Preston, Blackpool and Southampton, there are five interchanges in our neighbouring town of Newport, one for every 27,000. At Newport some of the local traffic uses the M4. Let no one suggest that this might be a cause of accidents, as some of the theorists have suggested in terms of motorway transportation, because an accident study established by the Welsh Road Safety Unit showed that accidents on that section of the M4 adjacent to Newport were lower than the national average for motorways.

No one can dispute that Cardiff needs better access to the M4 than is now proposed, for three reasons. For many years South-East Glamorgan has been short of industrial jobs. This has been recognised and the area has been accorded development area status. The M4 has rightly been regarded as the artery serving the South Wales economy. If Cardiff and South-East Glamorgan are denied easy access to that artery, the economy of the area will suffer, there will be fewer jobs and the capital city will not be the stimulating growth area and growth centre essential for the general economic health of south Wales. So on economic grounds we need more access to the M4.

The transportation policy of the South Glamorgan Council has been thought out and developed in full accordance with Government policy. It has been to minimise expenditure and to rely far more on public transport. No major highway construction is planned in Cardiff. But to assist the essential traffic flow to the main centres of employment and commerce, proposals have been developed for a box of primary highways, the northern section of which would be the M4. It is absolutely essential for a transportation policy for Cardiff for each section of the city to have its own access from the primary road system.

I remind the Under-Secretary that there was considerable political opposition to the proposal to establish a hook road into Cardiff. That proposal for a great urban motorway from the M4 right into the centre of Cardiff would have solved all the problems of transportation and of access. But that was rejected politically by the Under-Secretary's own political party, and rejected eventually by the electors in the city of Cardiff in the by-election for a city seat, if not in the General Election of 1970.

Thirdly, the environment of the city will be disastrously damaged by the present proposals. The interchange at Coryton will act as a magnet. From all parts of the city, traffic will be drawn to that interchange. Manor Way will become intolerably congested. It is already overused. Any major accident on that road would paralyse the whole city. The areas adjacent to Manor Way will also suffer. Rhiwbina, Whitchurch and Llandaff North will have their streets crammed with lorries, vans and buses.

I have mentioned only those areas which will suffer most within my own city. But there are many people who know Cardiff even better than I do who will know that the damage will extend outside the constituency of Cardiff Northwest into its neighbouring areas. This one magnet of the Coryton interchange will cause congestion throughout the northern part of the city of Cardiff. With the present proposals I can only say that the picture of the M4 as an artery serving the capital city is a dream which will not be realised. The present Welsh Office proposals will achieve a planning thrombosis. These things have happened before.

If we allow this to go through, it is safe to predict exactly what a future Under-Secretary at the Welsh Office will say when the people of Llandaff North complain that their shopping centre is congested with lorries and vans, that Rhiwbina is crammed, and that nobody can walk across the streets in Whitchurch. He will say, "We are not responsible for the roads in Llandaff North, Whitchurch and Rhiwbina." But it is the Welsh Office which makes decisions on trunk roads. It is the Welsh Office which will make decisions on interchanges which will affect the citizens of Cardiff.

This happened, as everyone knows, in that monumental planning blunder when we placed a great teaching hospital adjacent to a major road, Eastern Avenue, so that the hospital suffered all the disadvantage of noise, fumes and vibration which have so adversely affected so many of the patients. But there was no compensation of access. When we complained the Welsh Office was quick to point out, when the citizens of the surrounding areas—whose environment has been destroyed by the traffic generated by the hospital—complained, "This is not a problem for the Welsh Office; it is something for the city authority and for South Glamorgan".

I have done a great deal—it has been difficult to do it—to dissuade the people of those areas from taking direct action. I tell them that I do not believe in demonstrating and stopping up roads, and they then tell me "Some of your political opponents are very keen to take direct action in terms of achieving their desired social goals and aims." I tell the Under-Secretary today that I do not want to see an intolerable situation being developed throughout the northern part of the city of Cardiff.

It is absolutely essential in the interests of the city and, indeed, South Glamorgan, that urgent consideration is given for an interchange at Capel Llanilltern, serving the western part of the city; that we can have a road from Eastern Avenue, going a short distance to the proposed M4, and an interchange there that will take both eastbound and westbound traffic. I know that the city authority and the South Glamorgan authority will press—as they have said in their evidence—for an interchange at Thornhill.

I conclude by asking for two assurances—that urgent consideration be given to placing the Capel Llanilltern-Culverhouse Cross link road into the trunk road programme; and that the Under-Secretary will ask the Welsh Office to co-operate with the South Glamorgan authority as a matter of urgency on the location, design and programming of further interchanges from the M4 to serve Cardiff.

11.42 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Barry Jones)

I suspect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you have followed this debate with great interest.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, North-West (Mr. Roberts) knows his Cardiff, but I do not accept his cardiac allusions. I am grateful to him for raising the matter of access to and from the M4 because of the importance of this road not only to Cardiff but also to the whole of South Wales. It forms a vital part of our regional strategy—an artery to the industrial heart of South Wales which will help to make it much more attractive to industry. The faster and better links that it will provide with the South-East and with the Midlands will place the area in a very favourable position.

I certainly understand the economic point that the hon. Member made at the beginning of his speech. On the M4, I can say that, currently, 30 miles are under construction, costing approximately £100 million, and that today, literally, the Tredegar Park section is starting.

The route for the M4 between Cardiff and Swansea has been located to provide good communications into the mouths of the Valleys in order to encourage the development of industry there. An interchange is also being constructed at Miskin, to provide a good route to the Rhondda. These improvements in communications will bring great benefits to the Valley communities and to the whole economy of South Wales.

The wider issue of the route strategy of the M4 was fully debated at each of the public inquiries into the three sections of the M4 west of Coryton and again at the public inquiry into the Castleton—Coryton section. Indeed, the greater part of the Coryton—Capel Llanilltern public inquiry was taken up with this issue. All four inspectors separately came to the conclusion that the general strategy adopted was the best.

Representations were made by the hon. Member, shortly before the Coryton—Capel Llanilltern public inquiry was held, that there should have been one public inquiry to cover the whole of the new length of the M4 between Tredegar Park and Groes. There are sound historic, financial and administrative reasons, which were fully explained to the hon. Member in correspondence with the then Secretary of State, why this has never been a practical proposition—explanations, I would add, which were accepted by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, with whom he also raised this matter, and by the inspector for the Coryton—Capel Llanilltern public inquiry. It was the latter who said: I do not consider that delaying the opening of the road for a year on this account can be justified. I agree with the hon. Member that access to the M4 must be such that the capital can get the maximum benefit from the road. Any interchange on the road itself is, of course, only one element in that access.

As the hon. Member knows, the need for interchanges to serve Cardiff was considered at length at the public inquiry into the Castleton—Coryton section which was held last winter in Cardiff. Indeed, he himself appeared before the inspector to give evidence and advocated the provision of additional interchanges, one at Capel Llanilltern and the other in the Pentwyn area from where a new link road with Eastern Avenue was envisaged. He will recollect that the case for the former was accepted in principle by the Welsh Office at the inquiry, but the inspector came to the conclusion that the need for an interchange at Pentwyn had not been demonstrated.

There were also demands at the public inquiry from the South Glamorgan County Council and the Cardiff City Council, together with private developers, for the provision of an interchange with the A469 principal road between Cardiff and Caerphilly at Thornhill. But I remind the hon. Member that the inspector found that this road is already overloaded and will continue to be so. Accordingly, his conclusions were—I read from his report, paragraph 12.19— The suggestion has been made that an interchange should be provided at Thornhill. My conclusion is that, the Hook Road scheme having been abandoned, it would be a grave disservice to Cardiff to construct an interchange with no links to it other than the totally inadequate A469. The provision of an interchange could have no other effect but to force the construction of a link road and thus the reversal of the county council's declared policy of no major roads in the north of the City. The advantages to the consortium of a private interchange are appreciated but I will make no recommendation in the matter. Nearly two years ago, my officials told the county council that the need for one or more additional interchanges between Castleton and Coryton was accepted, but the location of these facilities and the associated link roads could be considered only as part of the revised highway network which was then being prepared for Cardiff following the city council's decision to abandon the Hook Road. In saying that, I am taking account of the important point which the hon. Gentleman made about the city's transportation policy.

My Department has not altered its stance on this, and the motorway is being designed so that interchanges could be constructed, if necessary, in the Thornhill and Pentwyn areas. It would be feasible also to construct interchanges at other points, but the actual number and location cannot be decided in advance of firm decisions by the county and city authorities on the development of the local highway network.

As the inspector has rightly recognised, the effect of providing an interchange with the A469 at Thornhill without any accompanying improvement to the local highway network would be to divert motorway and valleys traffic travelling from the north-west to the south-east side of Cardiff on to Caerphilly Road and hence through other largely residential streets to its destination. This would be an unacceptable development from both a traffic and an environmental standpoint, particularly since it could well be that residents in the roads affected might be denied the benefits of the mitigating provisions of the Land Compensation Act 1973 that it has been possible to offer residents of Manor Way and properties adjoining Eastern Avenue.

The case for an interchange at Pentwyn was based on fears that, in its absence, there would be heavy flows of traffic through the city from eastern Cardiff to the west and north via Gabalfa. When figures were finally produced, however, these showed that the Pentwyn interchange and link would divert very little traffic from the city streets. In the light of this information, the inspector found that the evidence did not support the arguments advanced in favour of an interchange.

Decisions on interchanges cannot be taken on the basis of subjective views, no matter how sincerely they may be held. The need for a particular interchange must first be established on the basis of known facts. It is then necessary to put proposals to the public in the form of draft orders and only after careful consideration has been given to representations received can a decision be taken on whether an interchange is to be built and, if so, its location and layout.

The hon. Member is concerned about the number of interchanges being provided for Cardiff, but I suggest that he should look at the road system of the Cardiff area as a whole. Eastern Avenue, which was completed four years ago, includes three interchanges which have been located specifically to provide good connections with the central area of the city and with the docks as well as with an important and growing residential area. This high standard primary distribution system will be connected directly to the motorway by the Tredegar Park-St. Mellons scheme, and so provide direct access between the heart of the city and the main markets and industrial areas in the United Kingdom.

The hon. Member is concerned about access between the proposed large-scale housing and commercial development at St. Mellons and the motorway and I think he will find that adequate facilities will be available if he studies the plans.

Traffic flow between the new development at St. Mellons and the east should be comparatively light, and as the existing A48 will be relieved of most of the-traffic at present using it by the construction of the motorway between Tredegar Park and St. Mellons there should be adequate facilities available which will include a full interchange with the M4 at Tredegar Park.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State is considering adding to the trunk road preparation pool a scheme for an interchange at Capel Llanilltern with a link connecting with the Cardiff road network at Culverhouse Cross, so that this proposal could be brought forward in step with other roads being planned by the South Glamorgan County Council and provide a completely new access to the M4 to serve western and southern parts of the city.

Until the Castleton-Coryton section is built, Manor Way will, unfortunately, have to remain as the main route to the north, but this section of trunk road has been strengthened and improved to increase traffic capacity and safety for pedestrians. Signals and a pedestrian subway have been provided and the county council has been asked to prepare proposals for a footbridge, and, as I have already mentioned, my Rt. hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has additionally exercised his discretionary powers to offer double-glazing for dwellings in and around Manor Way in accordance with the Noise Insulation Regulations. These are positive measures which have been taken to help the people living in Manor Way and Northern Avenue during the interim period between the opening of the M4 west of Coryton and the completion of the Coryton-Castleton section. Their benefits will, however, remain after this new connection to the motorway to the east is open and later when a new access to the west of Cardiff is provided. When the county council comes forward with plans for a road network calling for more interchanges the requirements will be considered further.

Obviously, the county council requires time to re-think the highway plans for Cardiff following the decision to abandon the hook road and not to build any new primary roads in the northern part of the city in the foreseeable future.

Mr. Michael Roberts

I can assure the hon. Member that the county council has thought out its basic transportation policy and is happy to liaise with the Welsh Office in order to provide interchanges.

Mr. Jones

I am sure that before the conclusion of my remarks I can come to the point of giving assurances. I am, therefore, grateful for the hon. Member's intervention.

The Council will also probably wish to consider very carefully the views expressed by the inspector about the consequences of constructing an interchange at Thornhill.

I am sure that the hon. Member would not wish to see the construction of the M4 deferred while the road plans for Cardiff are being re-presented and rethought. This motorway has already been delayed by particularly thorough statutory procedures, and my Rt. hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State is most anxious to press on with construction quickly. The M4 will bring great benefits to the economy of the whole of South Wales, and the hon. Member will also appreciate that delaying the Castleton-Coryton scheme by further argument now will prolong the use of Manor Way by through traffic.

I appreciate that there may be a need for additional road links between the centre of Cardiff and the motorway, but the routes will have to be chosen very carefully to fit in with local planning requirements as well as to take account of the views of people living in the areas through which the traffic will pass. Let me come to the hon. Member's request for assurances. The county and city councils should be well placed to assess and balance the various traffic and environmental problems involved, and I shall, of course, be very pleased to consider carefully and sympathetically any proposals which they may wish to bring forward.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at eight minutes to Twelve o'clock.