HC Deb 06 February 1978 vol 943 cc1199-208

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Bates.]

12.11 a.m.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton (Edinburgh, West)

Virtually every transport plan since the Abercrombie Report in 1949 has strongly supported the creation of an Edinburgh outer city bypass. Today, every political party supports this project in principle. Indeed, the Secretary of State for Scotland approved the outer city bypass on the Edinburgh Development Plan as long ago as 1957.

I hold in my hands a historic letter which was sent to the Chairman of the Outer City Bypass Campaign, Lord Ferrier, as long ago as 19th July 1960, by Sir Winston Churchill's former Secretary of State for Scotland, James Stuart. It states that I had always visualised, in conjunction with the Forth Bridge, that a road should be made by-passing Edinburgh to the South. Without going into detail and not being precise as to the exact route, my view is still definite that this should be pushed forward as soon as possible. That letter was written on 19th July 1960—more than 17 years ago.

Why has there been this extraordinary and almost scandalous delay? I can put forward one reason which can be regarded as a contributory factor. Between January 1967 and May 1975 more than £48 million was paid to Glasgow Corporation for its principal roads. I ask the Minister whether it is not the case that during that same period, between 1967 and 1975, Edinburgh received less than £1 million for principal roads—a sum so small that it could cover only the cost of a small part of the western approach road.

In 1970–71, the Edinburgh Council could not agree on which road projects it should support as a matter of priority. Consequently, it appears that about £5 million which might otherwise have gone to Edinburgh was directed instead for use on the planned Renfrew dual carriageway, which was promptly upgraded into a motorway.

Indeed, Mr. John Armour, former director responsible for roads in Glasgow, who is now retired, is on record as saying that Glasgow benefited from Edinburgh's inability to decide its priorities for road construction. I hasten to add that this was in no sense Glasgow's fault. All I am saying is that at the beginning of the 1970s Edinburgh's loss was Glasgow's gain. Of course, I accept that at that time the Renfrew dual carriageway was a pressing need in the West of Scotland.

Today, residents in Edinburgh, the Lothian Region and throughout the East of Scotland—I hope that I carry the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyelll with me—believe that the outer city bypass deserves priority second to none. It merits this because it would be an oil-related highway to Grangemouth and other development areas in Scotland, in Livingston and other parts of West Lothian. It would link Scotland's trunk road system other than by using the streets of Edinburgh, many of which are completely unsuitable. It would provide access to jobs and recreation which would benefit the Lothian Region and the East of Scotland.

There are many reasons for giving the outer city bypass top priority. First, it is the policy of the Government to improve the roads leading to oil development areas, but the absence of an outer city bypass is a major obstacle to the free flow of traffic to oil-related areas in Scotland.

Secondly, virtually all towns between the Forth Road Bridge to London can be bypassed, with the exception of Berwick, for which a bypass is being planned. The omission of an outer city bypass for Edinburgh is a glaring one bearing in mind that Edinburgh is one of the most historic cities in Britain, the home of a great international festival, as well as being the capital of Scotland.

Thirdly, traffic wishing to travel through Edinburgh, or traffic between places to the east, south and west of Edinburgh, would be able to bypass the city. Even traffic coming to and from the Forth Road Bridge on the Great North Road would be able to avoid the city centre and suburbs.

Fourthly, the statutory designation of lorry routes in the region, laid down by the Dykes Act, will be more easily established once the outer city bypass is completed. It would be possible to construct parking facilities and service areas at bypass intersections, which would relieve parking difficulties in Edinburgh and also make it possible for juggernaut lorries to break down their loads into more manageable sizes, which could then be transported to their destinations in Edinburgh or Leith.

Fifthly, some time ago the Lothian Regional Council threw out certain proposals, including a plan for an inner ring road. Consequently, the officials working in the local authority planning departments have the time and are able to complete the planning of the outer city bypass with considerable speed and efficiency. Meanwhile, until the outer city bypass is completed much of the internal traffic planning within Edinburgh must be based to some extent on conjecture. I understand that this is also the point of view of the Cockburn Association, which represents amenity bodies in Edinburgh.

Sixthly, traffic congestion in Corstorphine, in my constituency, has been getting steadily worse for 20 years in St. Johns Road, which is a shopping centre for an area containing upwards of 50,000 people. It is becoming appalling. It has one of the most serious traffic congestion problems anywhere in Europe, and in the context of much development on the west side of Edinburgh, it is essential that the outer city bypass and the Corstorphine bypass is completed as soon as possible.

The final reason that I put forward is contained in the words of Lord Ferrier, who has been fighting for an outer city bypass for the last quarter of a century. He said: Half a bypass is like half a tunnel through a hill". In order to gain maximum benefit from it the whole bypass should be begun and completed within five years.

This is a modest request to make, considering that this project was approved by the Secretary of State for Scotland in the development plan in 1957, more than 20 years ago. After all, residents in the Lothian Region know that there has been a massive shift in resources from that region to Strathclyde Owing to the revaluation of rateable values in Scotland more than £5 million that would have been allocated to the Lothian Region is to be allocated this year to the Strathclyde Region. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) made a powerful speech on this subject during the debate on the rate support grant.

As the Minister knows, four of the present Scottish Office Ministers represent Glasgow constituencies. Therefore, it seems only fair and appropriate that the Minister should be given the opportunity to prove that the Government will act in the interests of the East of Scotland and of Scotland as a whole, and not merely in the interests of Strathclyde. The Minister can, after all, undertake to consider giving the Lothian Regional Council an increased allocation for the rate support grant in future so that the outer city bypass and western approach road can be completed speedily.

However, if the Government should choose to neglect the interests of Edinburgh and of the East of Scotland by depriving the Lothian Regional Council of the necessary resources, they may well become a burning issue.

12.20 a.m.

Mr. George Younger (Ayr)

I intervene briefly to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) on raising this subject tonight. It is one that is not new to many of us, but it is extremely valuable to have it raised by him, and I pay tribute to his work to help along this project. I also wish to associate myself with his tribute to my noble Friend Lord Ferrier, who has fought for a quarter of a century and more for this and who believes very strongly in it.

I am very glad that at long last there now seems to be an agreed scheme and route for an Edinburgh bypass outside the city. It must be agreed by us all that this is long overdue. Edinburgh must be one of the very few cities of its size and character in Western Europe not to have a bypass for traffic.

The congestion within the city now is really very severe, and it undoubtedly a hindrance both to business and to tourism, especially in the summer months. When I was in the Scottish Office, as Minister for Development, I was most anxious to try to solve the problem, but I was always frustrated by the lack of agreement locally about what sort of road was needed and what route it should take.

I hope very much that the Scottish Office will lose no time in putting the planning work in hand as far as it can be at the moment. Time is already short and unless work is begun soon the city will literally seize up with traffic congestion. We can all understand that the Government's shortage of money may make it difficult to go ahead with construction work at the moment, but I hope that there will be no holding back on the planning work. It will then be open to the next Government to go ahead with construction work as soon as possible after all the preliminary planning is complete.

If I may be permitted to voice one final thought, it is that in recent years we have had local government reform. It is fair to say that it has not been universally popular or universally welcomed, but I cannot help wondering whether the fact that we at least have some agreement about the route and type of bypass has any connection with that local government reform. Has it, perhaps, any connection with the fact that previously this matter had to be sorted out between East Lothian County Council, Midlothian County Council, West Lothian County Council, Edinburgh Corporation and Musselburgh Town Council, whereas now we have one authority responsible for it all—the Lothian Regional Council? I put that as a rhetorical question only I wonder whether we have not perhaps unearthed at least one benefit from the much maligned reform of local government.

12.24 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Frank McElhone)

I shall not pursue the attempt by the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) to justify his part in putting through this House the Bill to reorganise local government. I thank the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) for raising this subject, in which I know lie has been interested for some years. The bypass in question is being built by the Lothian Regional Council, as highway authority. It is not one for which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is directly responsible, but it has several links with major trunk roads which make it of concern to him as the trunk road authority in Scotland.

The hon. Member must be pleased that, after a long campaign for the construction of an outer bypass of Edinburgh, the next financial year should see work beginning on the first section, which will provide much-needed relief to travellers who at present suffer very considerable delays in the bottleneck in Colinton village. This section is programmed to be completed in the financial year 1980–81 and, even on its own, will make a very useful contribution towards the improvement of communications in the south west flank of the city.

I understand also from the regional council that work is to be put in hand on the design of the Sighthill section of the bypass and on the regional council's section of the Musselburgh bypass. The Secretary of State will of course be responsible for the trunk road section of the Musselburgh bypass and his Department's engineers are maintaining liaison with their counterparts in the regional council to make provision for the linking of their respective schemes at the appropriate time.

A similar link-up will be required at the western end of the bypass, where I know the hon. Member has a special constituency interest. In this case, the regional council is safeguarding for detailed evaluation the route of a western approach road, which will be linked up to an extension of the M8 trunk road. Along with the Sighthill section of the bypass, this will relieve the congested areas of Corstorphine and Gorgie/Dalry. Here again, the Scottish Development Department's engineers will maintain liaison as necessary with their regional colleagues to ensure that the construction programmes are co-ordinated.

Such a major project as the construction of about 15 miles of new road, largely through the outskirts of a major urban and suburban area, is costly—£30 million at current prices. It also poses formidable problems of design, land use and environmental effect. I understand that there are, for instance, unresolved objections about the amendments to the development plan providing for some realignment of some of the western part of the bypass. Its design and construction will be a major undertaking for the regional council and must be related to the technical and financial resources available to carry it out. It is for the regional council to propose in the annual transport policies and programme document—the TPP—which it submits to the Secretary of State, the period over which the bypass should be built.

The hon. Member has made comments, rather unfairly, about the amount of road building in the past in Edinburgh and Glasgow. It is certainly true that a great deal more road building has been done in Glasgow than in Edinburgh. Nobody disputes that. It is a fact, also, that much of this road work in Glasgow was done before 1975, when a specific grant was available in respect of principal road schemes submitted by the local highway authorities. What Edinburgh got by way of roads grants in the 'sixties and early 'seventies—about which I see the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West has tabled a Question—was related to the programme that it proposed; I stress that it was not cut so that funds could be diverted to Glasgow.

Since reorganisation of local government and of the system of central Government support for local government expenditure in 1975, central Government assistance for local authority road construction and improvement is no longer given by way of specific grant. It is now given in a rather different way—namely, through rate support grant. I can certainly assure the hon. Member that expenditure by Lothian Region on the Edinburgh outer bypass will be treated in this way, and that the loan charges will be taken into account as relevant expenditure in the rate support grant calculation.

What the Secretary of State is concerned to do is to ensure that the resources available nationally for capital investment in roads and transport are shared sensibly among the various local authorities. The annual TPPs submitted by highway authorities give details of their intended capital investment programmes. On the basis of these and the overall resources which can be allocated to roads and transport; the Secretary of State gives a single annual block consent under Section 94 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 for roads and transport in each local authority's area. Similarly, each local authority is given a guideline for roads and transport capital expenditure in the later years of the five year TPP period.

I know that the regional council has sought to co-operate fully with the Scot tish Development Department by framing its capital expenditure programme in keeping with the financial guidelines issued by the Department for the years beyond 1978–79. I should like to make it clear to the hon. Gentleman, however, as my Department is doing to the regional council, that these guidelines, promulgated, considerably in advance, are intended to be what their name implies—merely guidelines. Every attempt is made to retain some measure of flexibility in the operation of the TPP process and to use it as a means for the exchange of information. The aim is to arrive at a position whereby, so far as the overall availability of national resources allows, the guidelines adequately take into account the regional council's desired programme and the likely practicable rate of progress. If, therefore, the regional council wishes to review the level of transport investment that it wishes to make in the later years of the TPP period, I suggest that it looks at the matter with the Department as soon as possible.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this subject, which is one of great interest to many residents in the Edinburgh area. I assure him that I appreciate his wish to see construction of the bypass proceed as smoothly and as quickly as is possible to completion so as to provide the relief of which he speaks to a number of problem areas in and around the city which it is planned to achieve. As I have said, central Government are maintaining the necessary liaison with the regional council in terms of the trunk road interest, and will be willing to re-examine the future roads and transport capital expenditure guidelines should the regional council so desire.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West, slightly unfairly—perhaps he did not mean to be—said that four of the Ministers from the Scottish Office come from Glasgow. I hope that he is not implying that we have been unfair to the capital city. It is only a few weeks ago that I received a kind letter from the Convener of Education and the senior official thanking me in particular, for the extra money that I provided for the Lothian Region.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Lothian Region, as well as every other region, will receive its fair share of any expenditure that I have some say in procuring. It is only fair to accept that the Secretary of State approved the development plan in 1957. I am getting fed up with the fact that matters that were current during the time of the previous Conservative Government, indeed, Governments—I take the example of the Kessock Bridge—are considered to be the sole responsibility of the present Government. I am fed up with hon. Members looking to the Government to try to save some of the schemes that have been delayed through indecision.

Although I am a great lover of Edinburgh, it figures much smaller in my affection than does Glasgow. However, it is plain that over the years Edinburgh has, as the hon. Member for Ayre said, been plagued by indecision. Whether we talk about opera, sewerage or roads, Edinburgh seems to be plagued with that indecision. Perhaps those in Edinburgh are not gifted with the directness and desire to do things that we have in Glasgow.

I hope that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West will accept from me that we as a Department are prepared to discuss with the region as soon as possible some way, within the limits of finance, to speed up progress on the bypass and to get the whole outer bypass into operation. My Department has already sent a letter to the Lothian Regional Council inviting it to discuss the matter with the Department. I assure the hon. Gentleman that, allowing for constraints on public expenditure, we shall do everything possible to ensure that the capital city gets a bypass as soon as we can reasonably provide that which is requested. I hope that the message will go from the House to the region that it should come to us and that we shall be as agreeable and receptive as possible in trying to meet its wishes.

12.34 a.m.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

I have listened carefully to what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has said, and I ask him two questions.

I am still at a loss to know precisely the point in raising the subject in the first place, other than the publicity that, perhaps, we all like in the evening papers, or wherever else it may lie. However, my understanding is that the Lothian Regional Council has fully taken on board all that has been said tonight. It is doing an extremely competent job. As the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) said, it may be a much better arrangement than East Lothian, West Lothian or the City of Edinburgh. However, I do not understand precisely the point of raising the subject.

I put a direct question to my hon. Friend: is not the Lothian Regional Council doing a first-class job already, without parliamentary help? Is there anything that it should be doing which we should try to persuade it to do?

Secondly, will the Minister take into account the problems in areas such as West Lothian where there is motorway construction? During the summer this creates havoc, particularly in the horticulture and farming areas. Constructors need to exercise particular care during the building of the Stirling motorway. What was the point of raising the debate?

Mr. McEIhone

We understand the point of the debate. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West has been assiduous in quoting from The Scotsman.

I take the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) about the construction of roads in summer. I shall pass his remarks on to the appropriate authority. I have a high regard for the Lothian Region.

We must remember that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West is expecting an addition to his family shortly. We all wish him well. We also wish his good lady wife well in her confinement.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-three minutes to One o'clock