HC Deb 17 January 1980 vol 976 cc2058-68

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Lord James Douglas-Hamilton.]

12.33 am
Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

I am grateful for the opportunity, albeit at this late hour, to ventilate the question of the dire necessity for an early start to be made on the Hayes bypass.

Several weeks ago I went to a Sunday morning meeting in the south-west part of Old Southall in Brent Road to meet local residents. With me was a GLC member, Mrs. Yvonne Sieve, and Ealing borough councillors, Rabindara Nath Pathak, Bachitter Singh and Sahata and Percy Sennett. The residents in the areas affected are worried about the environmental effects on their homes and amenities, because Brent Road is an approach way to a large industrial warehousing complex and heavy freight traffic queues to get into the area.

The picture is well drawn in a statement issued by Mrs. Scouse of the Brent Road Residents Association. She said: Generally the traffic problems in the Southall area are considerable, due mainly to the lack of a direct route between the M4 at Hayes to the A40 in Northolt. The construction of the extension of Parkway to the A40, Western Avenue, would alleviate the congestion in Hayes, Southall and, to some extent, West Drayton". Mrs. Scouse went on to say that the ever-increasing traffic caused a number of traffic hold-ups, with lorries overtaking cars, pollution, due to fumes, and damage to houses through vibration in the form of cracked ceilings and windows. People have had their cars damaged by commercial vehicles squeezing through small gaps in the traffic. Brick walls and gateposts are damaged or demolished as a result of accidents. All this demonstrates the necessity for a bypass.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Sandelson) has on many occasions argued the need for the Hayes bypass, which has been under consideration for far too long. My hon. Friend is unavoidably absent this evening and, therefore, cannot take part in this debate, but he told me earlier this evening that the situation had reached a crisis and that amongst those who are seriously worried about the situation one must count the police, who are concerned about their ability to discharge their duties. Having lived in Hayes for some time, and now living on the other side of the district, in Harlington, I know what all this adds up to. It may have struck the Parliamentary Secretary as strange that the request for this debate came from the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall, but I know the district well and I walk and motor through it frequently.

When I was in the vicinity of Old Southall a short time ago, a south-west gale force wind was blowing, and when that happens there is a continous nerve-racking noise from air traffic landing at Heathrow airport because the flight path is changed from the normal one. I mention that because one has to get the whole picture to realise how local people are affected. They have increasingly expressed their opposition to the provision of a new fourth terminal at Heathrow because of their concern about traffic congestion and because of the difficulty of travelling into and out of the area. People in the Brent Road area recently staged a demonstration to draw attention to their justifiable grievance

In an Adjournment debate the other week, the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) drew attention to the aircraft noise problem and to the general worry about what was then the coming decision to go ahead with the fourth terminal at Heathrow. He was concerned about the effect on the borough as a whole. The part of my constituency to which I am drawing attention is populated mainly by people of Indian origin, but there are all kinds of people in Old Southall who must be freed from fear for their safety and welfare. The roads in Old Southall were built for horse and cart traffic. Today, car ownership is widespread and there is a scarcity of off-street parking space. The presence of the canal and the Western Region main line railway to the west have always added to civil engineering difficulties in road planning.

Southall is a phenomenon, for several reasons. Some parts of London are depopulating, but that is not the trend in Southall. To avoid having to disperse young children all over the borough, more schools are being provided in the Southall area itself. The Commission for Racial Equality and the old Race Rela- tions Board took the view that bussing should urgently be phased out.

To add to this concern about congested highways in Southall, there was recently a fatal accident involving a young pregnant woman. She was struck by a freight vehicle which was using roads and trying to negotiate junctions which are entirely unsuitable for such vehicles, and there is a threat of even larger vehicles because of our membership of the EEC.

I am now advised by the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment that the decision has been made to allow the fourth terminal at Heathrow. I think that it has been announced in the House. The problems that that will bring in addition to what I have described make the mind boggle. I am relieved to see that the inspector who held a public inquiry into the application of the British Airports Authority has underscored the need for the Hayes bypass as well as for other transport proposals, such as the extension of the Piccadilly Line. In passing, I note that the inspector addressed his mind to the need to find an acceptable way of restraining the use of cars by airport employees. It is expected that the new terminal will provide or generate 11,500 to 13,650 jobs, of which 7,500 to 9,000 will go to people already locally employed. But there must be a dramatic improvement in bus services, with cheap fares, high wages for transport workers and good roads for them to travel on.

I have read the inspector's remarks about how the fourth terminal decision interacts on the necessity for a road such as I have described, which would link the A40 with the M4, coming across to relieve the district of the affliction from which it suffers. My earlier remarks about the congestion in the Brent Road area do not fall directly within the responsibility of the Minister of Transport. That issue will have to be sorted out by the local authorities by providing a spur road, which will both afflict and benefit the industrial users in the district. I am asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington to say that a similar question arises in the part of Hayes that is not far from the area that I have described.

The report on the inspector's findings states: The Secretaries of State have considered the Inspector's conclusions set out…on the construction of the Hayes Bypass A312(North) and its relevance to the proposed Fourth Terminal. They see no reason to differ from the Inspector's conclusion that permission for the Fourth Terminal should not be made dependent on any assurance from Central Government relating to the construction of this. Later he goes so far as to say that the Government should consider a 100 per cent. contribution to the construction of the new road or should facilitate its building.

In a recent written answer, the Parliamentary Secretary told me that the Greater London Council was responsible for the proposal and that it would be for the council to decide the timing within its roads programme, in the light of the public expenditure position. I understand that there are no differences between the GLC and the Minister of Transport about the necessity for the road. But we fear that with the present financial stringency, and the difficulties in which the GLC is placed as a result, the distance between desire to get on with the job and ability to do so may be great and may affect the ultimate building.

What we need, though we have difficulties about the planning aspects in the Northolt area, is a start to provide the roadway between the Uxbridge Road and the M4, which would be a substantial part. I want the Minister to take on board the need for the earliest possible start and the feeling in the whole district, which is now aggravated by the decision to go ahead with the fourth terminal. That means an increase in the amount of aircraft noise and also, inevitably, an increase in the road traffic problem in general. I hope that we shall not witness protracted haggling between the Government, the Minister of Transport and the GLC about who is to pay for the bypass, which would hold up the work.

If there is to be any dispute or negotiation, I hope that, as the Government, the GLC and the borough councils entirely support the bypass, a way will be found to see that the whole project is not held up, because there is no intention to hold up the go-ahead for the fourth terminal, which is considered to be in the national interest. I do not want to argue about that tonight, because I want to concentrate the Parliamentary Secretary's mind on this matter. I hope that he will have a word with his right hon. Friend.

I speak as a member of the new Select Committee on Transport. We are now being introduced to the methods of the Ministry's functioning. This will not be the last time that I shall worry the hon. Gentleman about the matter, unless we have an indication that the Ministry is not only tremendously sympathetic but can help provide practical ways to get on with the job.

12.48 am
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)

First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) on his success in obtaining a debate on the Hayes bypass. I appreciate the considerable concern that is felt in the area, including the hon. Gentleman's constituency, about the need to produce a bypass between the A40 and the M4, providing relief for Hayes, substantial parts of Ealing and, in particular, Old Southall.

I must make it clear at once that the road scheme we are considering, the proposed Hayes bypass, is a local authority scheme which is primarily the responsibility of the Greater London Council as the highways authority. But I do not object to its being raised this evening. It is also entirely appropriate because it is a particularly important scheme which attracts widespread interest. In addition to the hon. Gentleman, the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Sandelson) has consistently taken an interest in the road, and he shares his hon. Friend's view that there is an urgent need to begin construction.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) raised the matter with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and me almost as soon as he entered the House, expressing concern about the route but also interest in the traffic relief that a road could produce. Clearly, this is a very important matter for this part of London. It is made especially important both by the existing traffic problems of the area and now by the construction of the fourth terminal at Heathrow, which is likely to generate even more traffic in the area.

This is a local authority scheme. My Department is directly responsible for the trunk road network in the country, and that has to comprise roads of national strategic importance which are part of the agreed national network. The highways authority has the responsibility for the development of roads, including important roads such as this one, where the main traffic being generated and carried is of local significance. It is of considerable local significance that the GLC is in the lead and that it is its project. As a result, my right hon. Friend and I have no direct control—it is proper that we should not—over such matters as the timing, routing and management of the scheme. That is the responsibility of the GLC. However, because of its importance, I have been in touch with the GLC about the scheme and I am familiar with it. There is no difference between the GLC and myself in deciding that this is a route of considerable importance to the locality which should progress as quickly as possible, subject to the statutory procedures and rights of objection.

The GLC has adopted a clear policy towards the Hayes bypass. It is included in its current transport policy and programme for the next five years. The latest information from the GLC is that, subject to the completion of statutory procedures and the availability of funds, it intends to start work in about 1983 on the construction of the road. In preparing for the next stages of the development of the road, the council will go into formal consultations with all the interested London boroughs and other statutory bodies in a month or so. After that consultation, it will go on to consider the detailed planning and design on which the scheme orders will be based. Then, the project will be placed in detail before the public and there will be an opportunity, if sufficient objection is taken, for a public inquiry and so on.

No doubt, as is always the case with road schemes, there will be those with doubts and hesitations about the route. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North has already drawn the attention of my right hon. Friend and myself to some of the problems. Overall, it seems that there is widespread public acceptance of the need for the road. The GLC held a public consultation exercise in 1978. That exercise produced the astonishing result that 91 per cent. of those who participated were in favour of the scheme.

It will be for the GLC to manage the scheme and to decide whether resources and so on permit it to keep to that timetable. Among other things which the GLC will have to decide upon are such variations and additions to the scheme as a possible link between the bypass and the Brent Road industrial estate inside the hon. Gentleman's constituency, to which he referred. I have a map of the area in front of me and I have had discussions about the scheme. I appreciate his concern about reducing the impact of industrial traffic and heavy lorries on the roads in the relevant part of the borough of Ealing which the hon. Gentleman represents. I see the importance of the link road with the bypass to ease the burden on the Brent Road area.

I understand that discussions are taking place about the link road between officers of the GLC and the London borough of Ealing. The Ealing officers are examining the feasibility of the proposal. I am also told that the proposal for the link road is supported by a petition from the Brent Road residents association. The petition has been presented to its GLC councillor, who has, in turn, presented it to the council this month. It is a decision for the GLC, and all my contacts with the GLC indicate that it is anxious to see the road progress.

The estimated cost of the scheme stands at£20 million. It rests with the GLC to decide where it places the scheme in relation to all demands on its transportation funds. The contacts I have with the GLC indicate that the present controlling group on the council intends to place high priority on the transport needs of London. There are many areas of London where one has only to drive about to appreciate the needs. Many residents of London are anxiously waiting for road schemes of the kind to which I refer.

In July 1978, the GLC produced a 15-year programme entitled "Roads for London" which set out the possibility of spending no less than£500 million on road schemes during the 1980s. Since that time, the council, in the interests of developing dockland, and with the sympathetic approval of my Department, has put forward the possibility of building a docklands southern relief road. That scheme, if it is progressed, will also involve substantial expenditure by the GLC.

The GLC faces problems in managing its road programmes within a budget that necessarily has limits. But the council is anxious to give priority to transport and anxious to make progress with many of the more important schemes. I have already set out the programme that the council has announced. I am sure that it will adhere to the fastest possible programme in order to give relief to Hayes within the constraints that any budget must present.

The hon. Member for Southall said that he hoped that progress in Hayes would not be delayed by any kind of haggle between the GLC, supported, no doubt, by the boroughs, and the Department, over who should pay. There is complete agreement at the moment on the policy objective and the need for a relief road. We are anxious in the Department to avoid a haggle. There is no sign of any haggle dveloping.

We have to adhere to the view that the assessment of what is a trunk road must be the same in the borough of Ealing as for the rest of the country. Primary responsibility within the trunk road programme is for the national network, as I have described. But road building in London is eligible for transport supplementary grant. My Department makes a substantial grant available each year to the GLC for its capital programme. We shall look at the eligibility of this scheme for transport supplementary grant. I see no likelihood of difficulty arising in regarding the scheme as being eligible for TSG. The GLC will decide how it marshals its capital programme and in which order schemes are brought forward to qualify for grant from my Department.

London has to advance with a number of important road schemes if some parts of the Greater London area are not to be throttled with traffic. There is often controversy about road schemes in London. There are those who advocate improvements in public transport and believe, therefore, that they should be hostile to road improvements. I believe that the situation is such that the two are not exclusive. It is in the interests of London to encourage the growth and development of a good and reliable public transport system. But there is also a substantial amount of road traffic, unavoidable commuter traffic, heavy industrial traffic and traffic moving in from all over the country to places like Heathrow airport. Some road developments are essential if traffic problems are not to be created on an insupportable scale ment over who should pay. There is in areas like Old Southall. I trust that this scheme, where no major controversy appears to be aroused, will progress well.

I should like to deal with some detailed points concerning the fourth terminal at Heathrow. The hon. Gentleman has pointed out that my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Secretary of State for Trade have given approval to the proposed fourth passenger terminal and that they and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport have had regard to the inspector's recommendation in reaching that conclusion.

The inspector was aware of the traffic problems that would be created. He made certain recommendations about traffic improvements to the area, including a proposal that the Hayes bypass should have 100 per cent. Government funding. He made it clear that approval for the fourth terminal should not be dependent upon an assurance relating to that. Of course, 100 per cent, funding is appropriate only for a scheme that will become part of the trunk network. It would not normally apply to something such as the Hayes bypass. We have not held up approval of the fourth terminal because of the difficulties in guaranteeing 100 per cent, funding. I do not foresee any real possibility of offering 100 per cent, funding. I hope that it reassures those who are anxious about the scheme that I foresee no real difficulty in making it eligible for transport supplementary grant.

We are making other road improvements. We are making trunk road improvements to the main network. These will have some effect in relieving the impact of traffic that will result from the fourth Heathrow terminal. The main access from Heathrow to central London is the M4 and A4. That is the trunk network that is important to us and for which we are primarily responsible.

The development of the M25 is especially important, to carry the traffic that will be coming round the outer edge of London from the north and the south and trying to make its way to the new terminal. We agree with the inspector's view that work to complete the Egham to Maple Cross section of the M25, especially the section up to the airport spur, should proceed as quickly as possible. We were able to announce the lines for the M25 for the section from Yeoveney to Poyle, including the airport spur, on the same day as approval for the Heathrow fourth terminal was announced.

There is also anxiety that we should proceed quickly with the section of the M25 north of the airport spur. We have to go through the statutory procedures and listen with care to all the representations that are made for and against that section of road. There is no question of any policy doubts on the part of the Government about the need for the M25 orbital route. There is no question of financial restraints having any effect on the progress of construction of the M25. We think that Hayes, Ealing and Southall have much to gain from the relief that will be given once the M25 orbital route is completed. It will attract a good deal of the national traffic that will be moving in and out of Heathrow following the extension to a fourth terminal.

I do not think that I can go into more detail because issues are involved that are outside the control of my Department. I hope that I have indicated to the hon. Gentleman satisfactory good will towards the scheme. I am in complete agreement with him about the importance of it to his constituents. I conclude with the hope that the GLC finds that it does not face serious difficulties. I hope that it is able to fit in the scheme in a reasonable time within the heavy programme that it has to undertake in London. I hope that in the not too distant future some relief will come to the hon. Gentleman's constituents from the extremely difficult traffic conditions from which they are now suffering.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at two minutes past One o'clock.