§ 4.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Alastair Goodlad (Northwich)
I am extremely grateful for this opportunity to raise an important matter concerning present and future traffic conditions in Tarporley and Eaton, and I am grateful personally to the Under-Secretary of State for his presence here so late on a Friday to answer the debate, realising, as I do, that there is an aeroplane ready-to warm up on the tarmac and to take him to his constituency.
Tarporley and Eaton are among the most attractive villages in Cheshire. They are, in fact, in a conservation area. Tarporley is a historic town, and contains at least 35 listed buildings of historic or architectural merit. Both Tarporley and Eaton, however, over a period of years have suffered increasingly from the evergrowing volume of noise, pollution and accidents accompanying the increase in traffic on the A49 and A51.
The Secretary of State for the Environment has proposed to alleviate this situation by the provision of a bypass on the A51 route, starting at the bottom of Ash Hill, passing to the west of Tarporley about 400 yards from the village High 885 Street, crossing Birch Heath Road at the existing ground level, and terminating on the Tarporley side of Tiresford about a quarter of a mile north-west of the Four Lane Ends junction. However, the Department expects that this bypass will be used by only about half the traffic that at present travels along Tarporley High Street, and it will not, of course, alleviate the position in Eaton.
The county council, the parish councils and, I believe, the vast majority of local residents, feel strongly that the A51 bypass should be proceeded with as soon as possible, and I emphasise that any pressure for an additional bypass on the A49 route should not delay the construction of the A51 bypass.
I would say, however, mat the Department should look again at the effect of the present route chosen for the A51 bypass on agricultural land. The route should as far as possible run along farm boundaries and not through prime dairy land as, for example, at Tiresford under the present plan. It would not, it seems to me, adversely affect the working of the proposed A51 bypass were its junction with the existing road to be sited a little further to the north nearer to the village, thereby reducing the amount of agricultural land that will be affected.
Having, however, given a qualified welcome to the Department's existing proposal so far as it goes, I must emphasise that it provides only half the answer to the problem. Of the through traffic using the A49 route, two-thirds turns left on the A51 to Chester and one third turns right on the A49 to Warrington. Of the one third total traffic going to Warring-ton, about half uses the A49 through Tarporley itself, and the other half uses the B5152 through Eaton.
During a peak month in 1975, traffic counts in the centre of Tarporley showed more than 10,000 vehicles per day, and in Eaton village more than 3,000 vehicles per day. Of the vehicles going through Eaton, more than one quarter were heavy vehicles. Assuming mat the western A51 bypass only is built, traffic, at 1975 levels, will remain in Tarporley at 5,000 vehicles per day and, in Eaton, unchanged at the present level.
Existing roads are totally inadequate. The A49 when it leaves Tarporley rises very steeply on a 7 per cent. gradient and 886 then descends on a gradient of 6 per cent. The road is extremely twisting and bending and represents a long and difficult route for heavy vehicles. It is totally unsuitable as a trunk road, as the drivers of heavy lorries have shown by the traffic pattern they have set. The B5152 offers a fairly level route avoiding, as it does, both Forest Road and Luddington Hill. However, the minimum width is, in places, less than five metres, and at these points there are frequently no footpaths or grass verges. Given that the average size of a heavy lorry is 2½ metres, it is often impossible for them to pass. However, despite the narrowness of the road, heavy lorries still use it, frequently at high speeds.
It is most important, that no trunk road traffic should go through Eaton village or Tarporley. The county council and the Department of the Environment both support that aim, but the existing proposals do not provide the means. To provide half an answer now will prove to be a false economy, since the eventual construction of a bypass will cost a great deal more than it would to do the job properly now. Once the western bypass is built, there would undoubtedly be pressure to put a weight limit on traffic going through Tarporley, which would have very serious consequences for Eaton village. Similarly, it would be difficult to put a weight limit through Eaton since this would divert approximately 600 heavy vehicles a day through Tarporley.
There are two reasonable ways of dealing with the A49 traffic. The first is to provide an adequate route following the B5152, which could then be designated as the trunk road. This would have to include an early bypass of Eaton village. The widening of the B5152 from Cote-brook to Four Lane Ends with a short by-pass round Eaton from Royal Lodge to the Red Lion merits serious consideration as this would utilise existing roads for much of the distance, eliminate gradients, take all through traffic out of Eaton and Tarporley and give a much shorter travelling time for A49 traffic. The work could be done in stages and a bypass to Eaton could be provided immediately. The route takes a lot of the trunk road traffic and it would be expected that either this route would be made a trunk road, or that the Department of the Environment would pay a 100 per cent. 887 grant to the county council for any necessary work on this route.
Alternatively, the proposal considered by the Department of the Environment to build an extension north-eastwards of the proposed A51 bypass crossing the existing road near Salterswell House and joining the A49 at the top of Luddington Hill, should be given further consideration. It has the following advantages: it would be short in length, amounting to only three-quarters of a mile; it would relieve both Tarporley and Eaton of A49 traffic; it would cut out for heavy traffic the dangerous downward incline into the T-junction at the north end of the High Street and, if constructed at the same time as the A51 bypass, it could reduce the overall cost of the two projects, according to Department of the Environment figures, by about 10 per cent. to 15 per cent. Such an extension would not add any appreciable travelling time for vehicles, and the gradient is marginal against the present road from Tarporley to the top of Luddington Hill.
The objections to such a route are, of course, environmental, but surely local residents are as good a judge of their own environment as the man in Whitehall and this is the route that is supported by the parish councils and the local district councillors. The environmental gains from bypassing both Tarporley and Eaton are immeasurable, and to miss this opportunity of doing so would be a local tragedy. The existing methods of economic assessment do not in any way take into account environmental benefits, and this has hitherto proved a serious flaw in reaching a sensible decision on Tarporley and Eaton.
I should like to pay a tribute to the work that has been done on this problem not only by the Department of the Environment, but by elected representatives and employees of the Cheshire County Council, the Vale Royal District Council, Tarporley Parish Council and Rushton Parish Council. I should also like to pay tribute to the very valuable work that has been done by the officers and members of the "Save Tarporley Now" campaign for the bypass and to the residents of Eaton village who have concerned themselves with the problem. I have handed to the Minister a petition signed by over 570 local residents expressing 888 their wish to see the construction of bypasses for both the A49 and A51 within the next three years.
I profoundly hope that the Minister will give serious consideration to the two proposals I have put forward and will state now his intention of acting quickly and comprehensively to alleviate a very serious environmental problem.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Neil Carmichael)
I must congratulate the hon. Member for Northwich (Mr. Goodlad) on the way in which he has conveyed the obvious and deeply-held and understandable feelings of his constituents, and I shall, of course, give attention to the petition which he has handed to me.
The traffic problems in the Tarporley area are caused by the fact that the A51 Chester-Nantwich trunk road and the A49 Whitchurch-Warrington trunk road meet and then run together for the whole length of the village High Street, in which the carriageway width varies between 5.6 and 11 metres.
A considerable proportion of the traffic passing through the village comprises heavy vehicles. It is around 18 per cent., as compared with a national average of 11 per cent., and a high proportion of these are long vehicles. The weight of this traffic is exacerbated by the presence of bus stops and parked vehicles with business at the village shops. The existence of these vehicles and vigorous shopping activity gives rise to a safety problem which is acknowledged by and which concerns the Department.
Such conditions give rise to concern wherever they arise, but in this instance the problems are compounded by the fact that Tarporley is a historic village. This is recognised by the Council for British Archaeology, which has included it on its list of historic towns and villages, and its centre is a designated conservation area under the Civic Amenities Act 1967. Because of this, there is no doubt that means must be found as soon as possible to take through traffic out of Tarporley.
The hon. Member is also concerned about the traffic problems in the nearby village of Eaton. The problems here are caused not so much by the problem of the main road but because traffic from the east and south travelling north seeks 889 to avoid the centre of Tarporley and its inevitable congestion, and the long severe gradients on A49 over Luddington Hill. In order to do so, the traffic uses the B5152 through Eaton, a road which is narrow and tortuous with a minimum carriageway width of 4.5 metres and on which for much of its length visibility is restricted. I fully accept that this road is not capable of coping with the weight of traffic seeking to avoid Tarporley.
But it is impossible quickly to solve both these probelms and the similar ones which exist elsewhere, not only in the surrounding Cheshire towns and villages but across the whole country. Many towns and villages are suffering from congestion and it is inevitable, given the restraints on public spending, that the Department has to have some way of weighing the schemes so as to ensure that those towns which suffer worst are provided with early relief. In saying this I am not, of course, in any way decrying the problems faced by the residents of Tarporley and Eaton. The Department is fully aware of the problems in the area and in a moment or two I shall turn to the Department's proposals for improving the position.
We are not ignoring Cheshire as a whole. We already have under active consideration a number of schemes designed to solve similar problems in the county. These are the Kelsall and Tarvin bypasses, both within five miles of Tarporley, and, for larger towns, the Macclesfield inner relief road. The hon. Member will also be aware that the Chester southerly bypass is already under construction. But welcome though these and a bypass of Tarporley will be, I do not pretend that they will solve all the problems of traffic in the old and historic towns and villages of Cheshire. To do so will take time and careful use of scarce resources.
I return to the particular problems of Tarporley and Eaton. In respect of Tarporley the Department has already put forward a proposal to build an A51 bypass to the west of the village. A public consultation exercise was carried out in July this year although, rather unusually, the public's comments were invited on only the one route. This is because the Department considers the route proposed to be the only realistic 890 proposition. This is the considered view of the Department's engineers, but here I must stress that when we act in this way—it happens very rarely—we are always willing to consider representations about an alternative route from those responding to the consultation questionnaire.
In this case, however, the consultation exercise did not produce any pressure for an alternative to be considered, nor did it give rise to complaint about the Department's conclusion that only the one route possibly merited detailed consideration. Certain modifications to the route were put forward by the public and these are being investigated by the Department. I hope that I shall be able to make a statement on the results of the exercise some time earlier in the new year.
I listened carefully to the views of the hon. Member when he suggested that we should extend the proposed westerly bypass to rejoin the A49 north of Tarporley, a possibility which the Department had already discarded. I shall ensure that this further expression of view is taken carefully into account as the results of the public consultation exercise are evaluated. But it would be wrong for me to raise false hopes. I should emphasise that the alternative put forward by the hon. Gentleman was not lightly discarded. Our investigations show that it would not only be expensive to construct but would raise acute environmental problems because of the depth of cutting required at Luddington Hill. The suggestion that such a cutting should be made is a prospect which many people find wholly unacceptable.
It may help if I explain that the Department seriously considered 10 possible ways of improving the situation before putting forward the scheme now proposed. The main problem in finding a combined route was that of gradients. In some cases the routes would have been so steep that additional crawler lanes would have been necessary for heavy vehicles. In others attractive parkland would have been affected and the environment would have suffered. Given the limited funds available, the proposal put forward for public consultation was considered to be the most feasible, the most readily realised and most rewarding.
The proposed scheme will do a great deal to assist in improving the situation 891 in the centre of Tarporley. I appreciate, however, that the proposals will do little to solve the problems of Eaton. There can be no doubt that the only practicable solution to that problem is an easterly bypass of Tarporley, and here again it would be wrong of me to encourage false optimism. Desirable though it may be, such a scheme is unlikely to be constructed in the near future, because, as I have previously indicated, it is in competition with a multitude of similar schemes all over the country, many of which are likely to bring greater benefits in their train.
For the immediate future, therefore, we must concentrate on the proposed western bypass, and, as I have said, I hope to be able to announce early in 1976 a firm choice of route for this scheme. The route selected will then be protected against development under town planning procedures and detailed design work will be carried out.
The Department's detailed proposals will, of course, be published for public 892 comment or objection in the normal way. I anticipate that we shall be able to do this early in 1977. Thereafter the scheme will take its normal course. Much will depend upon the weight and nature of any objections received. Subject, however, to the necessary funds being available and to the satisfactory completion of the statutory processes, I hope that work can start on this scheme before 1980. I appreciate that what I say must not be all that pleasant to the hon. Gentleman or his constituents, who hoped that the scheme would start much earlier, but it has been brought forward in the programme because of the environmental problems. Purely on cost benefit grounds we should not have been able to contemplate so early a start as 1980. I trust, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman will assure his constituents that the Department is doing its utmost to help them in coping with the problems of traffic congestion in his area.
§ Question put and agreed to
§ Adjourned accordingly at five minutes to Five o'clock.