§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Snape.]
§ 11.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Fred Silvester (Manchester, Withington)
The Under-Secretary of State, unfortunately, always seems to get the Adjournment debate. I think that he must have felt relieved when my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury (Sir J. Langford-Holt) decided to drop his debate, but the hon. Gentleman now finds himself back in another saddle because I am raising another matter with his Department. I am grateful to the Minister for coming, because this matter is of considerable local importance.
598 Manchester, like every great city, has a great deal of refuse. My constituency has the advantage of bordering on the River Mersey, which is agreeable in many ways, but it has disadvantages, since the valley makes it suitable for the disposal of refuse.
The principal site for some years has been a tip in another part of my constituency—Parrs Wood—where the residents have suffered for a long time from heavy lorries pounding along their highly unsuitable roads. I know that the Minister has similar problems in his constituency. Fortunately for these residents, that site is about to be closed and therefore Manchester is faced with the problem of finding another site, which it has done in another part of my constituency. We are faced with advantage to one group as one tip finishes, and disadvantage to another as a new tip opens.
We are not opposing the need to open the new tip, particularly as it is in an area that has been excavated for motorway traffic and therefore is at the moment filling up with water and is a hazard to children. The basic problem is a simple one. The tip itself is in a suitable area, but the access roads are unsuitable—even more unsuitable than the ones that are servicing the existing tip.
We have a particular problem, in that the most obvious and direct route is through a road—I shall not bother the House with the details—called Maitland Avenue, which is not capable of bearing heavy traffic, in either sense. The structure of the road would have to be reinforced considerably to bear the weight of heavy traffic, in the sense of these heavy refuse vehicles, and—in the sense of the heaviness of traffic—the number of vehicles using the road would be quite a problem, because it is a close residential area where there are many children and the normal activities of a residential vicinity.
We are faced with the need to find a solution to quite a difficult problem, and the Greater Manchester Council has investigated no fewer than nine possible routes to this tip. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there has been a meeting at the Department with the Minister going through these nine routes. I think it would be in appropriate to go through all nine routes, but suffice it to say 599 that most of them transfer the problem to other roads—some of them outside my constituency, which is a bonus to us but hardly to the residents of that area, so there is not much gain there. In other cases they involve the building of special roads, and in one case it looks as though we may have to resort to compulsory purchase.
These routes have considerable difficulties, but there is one that stands out above all others and is the commonsense solution to us in Manchester. I refer to the one that has been designated as route 9. Whether we can use route 9 is in the hands of the Minister, because it involves the use of the bus lane that has been specially constructed along Princess Parkway and the slipway from the M63 to the A5103. For us to proceed, we need the Minister's consent to use those roads. We put this to him before, and although he has been courteous he has said "No". I hope that tonight there will be change of heart.
I should like briefly to put to the Minister four points which, if he is wavering, may help him to come to the right conclusion. First, it is accepted that there will be 500 vehicles a day using this tip. When I say "vehicles", I mean huge lorries full of stuff and empty ones going back rattling, and when I say "day", I mean a working day. If one works that out, it means that one of the vehicles will travel along the road each minute. That rate of nuisance is so considerable that anybody who has any influence in this area must feel that if he has a contribution to make he must make it to fight this nuisance. It will not do to regard this as a matter of precedent or of bureaucratic decision. It is a matter that the Minister has to consider against the weight of that tremendous noise and nuisance continuing for a period of five years.
Secondly, the resistance to the use of the bus lane has been shown to be unreasonable. The bus lane itself exists along the side of the main carriageway and most of the traffic would not have to weave across the flow of traffic in order to use it. The traffic could come along the nearside lane from the point where it joins the dual carriageway on to the bus lane. The Manchester authority has offered to resite the bus stop and alter the 600 direction of signs, and carry out any of the other minor alterations that may be necessary to make this relatively easy passage.
Thirdly, the resistance to the slip road as an exit on the tip site arises from the need for the Minister to reserve the integrity of the motorway system. I think he has particularly in mind that if one allows lorries to go to the tip certain other people may try to dodge the system and slip in and out. I agree that this is a real problem. Most unauthorised users could be stopped from using the system but, possibly, some people from the university playing fields would have to use it. My information is that this would be very slight and would be centred only on Wednesday and Saturday when the tip traffic itself would not be extensive. I realise this is, nevertheless, a weakening of the motorway regulations but it is something we should keep in perspective and which we could live with.
Lastly, I realise that the Minister has to look not only at our local problems but also at the way in which any decision will affect the motorway system and safety. We are not sadists and do not think our suggestion would create a hazard or a danger. We think the proposals we have made are perfectly safe. The site lines are adequate. The necessary adjustments could be made and we think they are sensible.
I also understand that the Minister must have regard to any precedent. One important feature is that the tip will be used for five years. To that extent the derogation from the motorway regulations could be a temporary matter. It is also one that could be kept under review. But we cannot go backwards and forwards on this matter much longer. The tip is due to be finished in June or July. Therefore, before this House rises for the Summer Recess the lorries will start rolling and there will be nothing that we can do about it. I would have thought it would be possible for the Minister at least to make an arrangement whereby we could try this system, which would involve certain expenditure, but not very much. We should try it as a temporary measure, and we could also perhaps have annual reviews. I hope the Minister will feel able to make this concession on this matter.
§ 11.44 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Kenneth Marks)
I share the concern of the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester), having a constituency in Greater Manchester which, like his, has tips belonging to Greater Manchester within it. I know of the considerable difficulties in finding suitable sites for these.
I would not congratulate the hon. Gentleman on thinking up an Adjournment debate at such short notice, when the previous one had been cancelled, but I am grateful for the opportunity of saying what I will tonight.
The background to this matter is complicated, but the central issue involved is a simple but fundamental one; should my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State relax in this instance his general standards concerning access to motorways. It is because of the difficulty we have found in weighing the arguments in favour of this fundamental policy against those important environmental considerations expounded by the hon. Member that no early decision to the problem has been possible.
The background to the problem is as follows: the proposed tip site was created when material was required for the construction of M63. Planning permission was obtained and in order to avoid using existing highways a Bailey bridge was erected over the river to give direct access. Because of the short distance between the Wythenshawe Road and the M63 junction with Princess Parkway, the original layout of the M63 junction provided for a bus lay-by to the north of the "on" slip road for northbound traffic on the Parkway with a subway for pedestrians. However, due to local pressure against subways—on grounds of molestation, nuisance and so on—it was agreed that the bus stops should be moved.
The bus stop could not be positioned to the south of the slip road, because that would have produced a dangerous conflict of traffic, with buses on the Parkway weaving with traffic making for the motorway. To overcome the problem it was decided, albeit contrary to the Department's usual policy not to permit connections to motorways and slip roads, to construct two short lengths of bus-only lanes off the slip road with a lay-by on the 602 bus-only lane. It was felt that the exception to normal policy was justified in view of the fairly small number of buses, and the emphasis which the Department also places on the operation of public transport. The use of the bus-only lane can be restricted by Regulations and is practicably enforceable. In discussions with the local authorities both the city council and the PTE considered that there was no reasonable alternative to the bus-only lane system.
The Department's policy—maintained under successive Secretaries of State—is that there should be no access directly on to motorways or their slip roads. The reason for this policy is quite simply one of safety. The motorway public know that indiscriminate access to motorways is not permitted and they do not expect traffic to enter or leave the special road other than at the numbered junctions. Any relaxation of this policy is bound to result in some risk of accident. It will be appreciated that in order to deal with the bus problem the Department did relax its standard to the limited extent of permitting access from the bus-only lane.
The Greater Manchester Council and the Manchester City Council have proposed that the bus-only lane should be used for a period of five years by vehicles going to the Barlow Hall Farm tip. This would not only double the number of vehicles making undesirable movements at the north of the slip road; there is another important difference between this proposal and the limited relaxation approved for buses and this is the problem of enforcement. We shall be putting a number of questions to the Greater Manchester Council about this point, and I shall come to them in a moment.
The Greater Manchester Council has considered alternative means of access to the site but has concluded that the proposed use of the bus-only lanes would be least harmful to the local environment.
Last month my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport received a deputation from GMC and the Manchester City Council at which the local authorities pressed the environmental considerations. They appreciated the Ministers' concern for road safety and they proposed certain modifications to the slip roads and bus lanes and additional signing which in their view would reduce 603 the potential hazard. The cost would be borne by the Greater Manchester Council.
The decision to be made, therefore, is between permitting additional access to the motorway slip roads—a road safety matter—and the routing of heavy goods traffic through residential streets.
The Minister for Transport is anxious to assist, but there are one or two outstanding points on which we need clarification. One is the difficulty of identifying the vehicles which will be using the access to the site. I understood when this was first raised that they would be corporation refuse vehicles which are clearly marked and are unique to the job. The hon. Member mentioned huge lorries. That is something we want to clear up, as it may affect the decision—whether they will be easily recognised corporation vehicles or a variety of contractors' vehicles, which would make identification more difficult.
§ Mr. Silvester
There is nowhere else for the traffic to go except the pit. I do not see why it should have to be identified as anything but tip traffic.
§ Mr. Marks
I am thinking of enforcement and of giving other motorway users a way of recognising what is being done. The tip may be open to the general public and it may be possible at certain times of the day for the public to tip their 604 garden refuse or other refuse there. We should be worried about that if it was permitted.
My Department will be writing to the city council and the Greater Manchester Council on this and a number of other subjects. As soon as the Department receives the corporation's reply, I propose to visit the site with council and departmental officials. After discussions, I intend to make a recommendation to the Minister and to the Secretary of State. I assure the hon. Member and all those concerned that I shall do that as soon as I can.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I refer briefly to the previous business? I want to put on record the fact that the Opposition would willingly have proceeded with the Public Lending Right Bill tonight, and that we are most anxious to get it securely into Committee. The Government requested this evening's adjournment. We look forward to a further period of discussion on the Floor of the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at eight minutes to Twelve o'clock.