HC Deb 06 April 1982 vol 21 cc925-32

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

10.59 pm
Sir Timothy Kitson Richmond, Yorks)

I apologise to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for having to raise the problem of Bowes bypass with her. I realise that she has been at the Department for only a few weeks and that all the decisions on the road improvement were taken before she came to the Department.

The A66 between Scotch Corner and Penrith is a notoriously difficult road, partly because of the terrain, as it runs over the Pennines. It is also of great importance, as it is one of the few major roads running east to west across the country in the North of England. It runs through the three counties of North Yorkshire, Durham and Cumbria.

Over the past few years many improvements have been made to the A66. Indeed, I think that it is true to say that the only village of any size that has not been bypassed so far is Bowes. Bowes bypass has been under consideration for 30 to 40 years. The village's inhabitants have taken all sorts of unusual steps to draw the Department's attention to their plight. In recent years they have even blocked the road for a short time. They raised their own 30 mph signs to demonstrate the problems from which they suffer.

The heavy traffic rumbling through the village in the past few years has weakened the foundations of many properties. The conditions for those living in the village have almost been intolerable. That is partly due to the steep downhill section of the road that runs through the village. Heavy lorries increase speed to take a run up the village. Alternatively, running down the village and along the little bit of flat they have enough impetus, when they meet the rising ground at the southern end of the village, to tackle a fairly substantial hill. For many years they have been using the village as a race track.

Several sections of dual carriageway have been constructed on the road to bypass the villages and towns of Brough, Appleby and Greta Bridge, and to bypass the difficult section of the road just to the west of the old North Yorkshire-Durham boundary, known as Stainmore pass. A long section of dual carriageway was put in to cope with the difficult hill that runs up to the highest point of the road.

Of the Bowes bypass, 2.2 miles will be dual carriageway and 1.9 miles will be single carriageway. I cannot understand how the Department took the decision to build 1.9 miles of single carriageway when it has justified dual carriageways for the rest of the bypasses on the road. That is very poor planning indeed. The 1.9 miles—the section of the road that passes behind the village—is nearly all on rising ground and therefore heavy vehicles will go fairly slowly up that section of single carriageway.

The average daily flow of traffic shows that in August 1981, on the A66 west of the intersection that runs into the A67 at Bowes and on the western side, there were about 8,500 vehicles a day. On the eastern side of the road, there were about 6,500 vehicles per day. About 1,600 of the vehicles running to the west were heavy goods vehicles, which gives a heavy goods vehicle content of 19 per cent. When we compare that with the national average of 13 per cent., we see that it is very high.

To the east there were about 1,400 heavy goods vehicles, which gives a heavy goods vehicle content of about 20 per cent. Therefore, the pattern of traffic on the road is very often in almost convoy conditions. I know that the Patronage Secretary, who uses the road regularly, has suffered from following large convoys of heavy traffic travelling up the A66. They run closely behind one another because of the hills and the difficulty of one large vehicle overtaking another on steep inclines.

It is a notoriously difficult road to keep open in bad weather conditions. This winter it was closed on no fewer than eight occasions for more than 24 hours, and on one of those occasions for over five days. It is also well known that it is much easier to keep open a dual carriageway than a single carriageway in bad weather conditions. It only adds to the difficulties of keeping the A66 open when one builds a single carriageway bypass for a road which so often suffers in that way.

I expect that the Department of Transport's answer to the fact that it will be single carriageway for 1.9 miles is that it does not justify a dual carriageway because of the traffic flow. However, it seems strange that the section of dual carriageway will be to the east of the A67, where there are about 2,000 fewer vehicles a day than on the west section of the A66, where we shall have a single carriageway. The Department's planning in this matter is almost total madness.

There were 25 serious, reportable accidents during the past three years on the road from Scotch Corner to the Durham boundary, and 54 from the Durham boundary to the Cumbria boundary. There were also six accidents in Bowes village itself. I know that that is not very high when compared with the national average, but it is bad enough.

Through the unsatisfactory planning of the new bypasses, further accidents will occur because of the extraordinary position that has arisen at one point. I wish to deal with Mr. Dobinson of Stone Bridge farm, on the east side of Bowes. The farm is 90 acres in size, and before the road improvement scheme he had 44.5 acres on one side of the road and 44.5 acres on the other. It is a grass farm, where he milks 65 cows and has a small flock of 30 ewes. During the summer months he crosses his cows four times a day over the A66 to the grass land on the north side of the road. He is a tenant farmer of the Bowes and Romaldkirk charities, which do not pay much attention to the design of the new road.

There are three other farms sited on the edge of the bypass that will be dissected by the new road. On those three farms, underpasses have been constructed at a cost of about £300,000. One farm, Mr. Tunstall's, has 45 acres on the north side of the road and 3.5 acres on the south side. That has had a cattle pass, or bridge, constructed at a cost of about £90,000.

If the Department of Transport had had its wits about it, it could have purchased the 3.5 acres for much less than the cost of building a bridge, satisfied the farmer and disposed of the land on the south side of the road without any major difficulty.

On another farm, that of Mr. Sayers the land has been let for eatage for the last seven to 10 years. Therefore, with 85 acres in all, only 11 acres are on the south side of the road. There are another 11 acres in the village, which are accessible from the A67. Again, an underpass has been constructed at a cost of about £120,000.

I very much doubt whether that underpass will ever be used. Certainly it will not be used under the present ownership, because the land is let for eatage each year. The grass was advertised in the Darlington and Stockton Times only this week. It will be let. Cattle are unlikely to pass under the road, even on the odd occasion, during the summer months.

Thirdly, there is Mr. Allison's farm at Bowes Hall. He has 22 acres on the south side of the road, and there are 150 acres on the north side of the road. An underpass has been built at the cost of nearly £100,000.

I do not in any way object to the arrangements made for those three farms, but I am not sure that they have been dealt with in the most economical way when we consider the amount of land that has been dissected by the new bypass. Farmers might have been better off if a higher compensation figure had been paid and the land purchased. That procedure would have been more economical for the Department of Transport.

However, we now have the ludicrous situation that Mr. Dobinson's cattle will cross the A66, 200 yds from where the dual carriageway runs into single carriageway. That is at a point where traffic will be travelling very fast to overtake heavy lorries that will be going into risating ground to climb upwards on the Bowes bypass single carriageway.

I have been pressing the Department of Transport to look again at this matter. Its arguments are that because Mr. Dobinson's farm was dissected prior to the building of the new road, he has no right to expect to have an underpass constructed to get his animals across the road. I cannot think of a more hazardous situation being created. Where a single carriageway runs into a dual carriageway, 120 yds from a fairly sharp bend, those animals will cross the road, which at that point will be about 50 yds across, against what was a 15-yd crossing on the old road.

In the past, during the Glasgow holidays, up to two miles of traffic was held up by that procedure. What will happen when cattle are wandering across a road of much greater width I shudder to contemplate.

We did not ask for an expensive bridge to be built, but just for a cattle run, which would cost about £50,000 to £60,000, which would be little out of a road improvement programme with a cost of about £7 million, which includes the contract value and the purchase of land and other utilities.

Having talked to the police about this matter, I know that they are not happy with the present proposal. There is a suggestion that traffic lights, or flashing lights, should be put up to help Mr. Dobinson to get his animals across the road. However, on the section of the road from Scotch Corner to Penrith—about 50 miles—to have one set of traffic lights, or flashing lights, would be total madness and a serious traffic hazard. That section of road is notorious for fog. We probably get more fog up there than on most other roads in the United Kingdom.

From his farm gate to the field the distance that Mr. Dobinson will drive his cattle is about 300 yards. Anyone who knows anything about farming will know that a herd of cattle, which know where they are going, and amble happily up the road, can take a considerable time to cross the road. There will be a great deal of frustration for motorists who are held up by that procedure.

I beg my hon. Friend to examine the problem again. If we are carrying out a road improvement, just because this farm was dissected by the old A66 is not a reason for getting these animals on to a fast section of the new road. It cannot make road safety sense. Three underpasses have been provided at a cost of about £300,000 and will not be used a great deal, so surely a cattle run costing about £50,000 would be worth justifying when it is recognised that the cattle will otherwise cross the road about four times a day.

What is more, because of the drainage problems on the northern side of the new road a major cut will have to be put through the road to put the matter right, and it would be possible to put the cattle run in at the same time. I hope that my hon. Friend will examine the matter again. If we are to make road improvements, for goodness sake let us not allow existing hazards to continue just because they were there in the past.

I stress again that this road is notoriously bad, and the siting of the cattle crossing will be at a low point coming down from the west and also from the east into a position where traffic will then be going uphill in both directions. Therefore, people will be overtaking to try to pass heavy vehicles that are running into single line traffic—certainly the traffic running to the west. Late in the day as it is, every attempt must be made to rectify this ridiculous situation.

I might just make one other point. In the construction of this road, five weeks ago a section of the A66 was burnt off. New tarmac was placed on the road at a cost of about £10,000. The road was then used for about 14 days before it was transferred to the new road that has been built. Can it make sense that this work was carried out for only 14 days' use at a cost of about £10,000? This was done at what is known as Boldron Road End. I do not expect my hon. Friend to answer this point, as it has only just been raised with me, but I should be grateful if she will look at the problem. It is ludicrous that this sort of thing should have taken place, and a road used for only 14 days before the traffic was transferred to the new road.

11.17 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mrs Lynda Chalker)

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Kitson) for raising the matter. On the last point that he made, I assure him that I shall look into the matter with great care tomorrow morning. I share his concern and outrage about road safety—of that he need have no doubt. One of my Department's prime objectives is to increase road safety, reduce road accidents and ensure the free flow of traffic on our trunk roads.

I am concerned that we have only found it possible to provide a single carriageway by providing a much needed bypass for a village that needs that relief from heavy traffic. I am also concerned to hear about the driving of cattle across a busy trunk road and I shall deal with this first.

My hon. Friend described the plight of Mr. Dobinson, who seemed to have told the Department that his problems have been worsened by the construction of the new bypass. I must say at the outset that the facts as they have been explained to me show that this is not quite the case. My hon. Friend has, quite fairly, said that Mr. Dobinson's land was already, and always has been, severed by the A66, the point being that it was a rather slower A66 in the old days. It may be that, when traffic comes off the dual carriageway part of that road and on to the single carriageway part, that is the actual bypass round Bowes.

The construction of the bypass and the improvement of the existing trunk road eastwards from the farm will alter the road layout, but I am not convinced that the cattle crossing problems will be dramatically more difficult. As far as I am aware, not a single accident has, thankfully, been recorded that involved cattle on this stretch of road in recent years. We do not want to see any such accidents, but I want to put the matter into proper perspective.

I should also explain to my hon. Friend that we consider the provision of agriculture underpasses or over-bridges on those occasions where cattle have not hitherto had to pass a major traffic way. This is not quite the case with Mr. Dobinson. It does apply to some of his neighbours. My hon. Friend cited the costs of providing underpasses for some of the neighbouring farms. However, the cost of providing an underpass at the place which would assist Mr. Dobinson would not be £50,000 but £140,000, because of the terrain there. Therefore, I have to consider the economic cost as well as the safety needs, and weigh one against the other.

Sir Timothy Kitson

My hon. Friend is comparing this with a bridge under the road. Mr. Dobinson does not require a bridge. He requires a cattle run, which is a tube like a drain through which the cattle run, and it costs about £50,000 to £60,000. The bridges that have been built cost about £120,000 to £130,000.

Mrs. Chalker

Perhaps this is not the hour to tangle with my hon. Friend on the matter, but I am told that the terrain at the point in question would require us to make a more substantial structure than has been used in some other cases for cattle to go through.

The best way to solve the problem is to have an on-site meeting with my hon. Friend, if he can possibly be there, and Mr. Dobinson, to look at the matter in greater detail. However, it is important to note that we had an inquiry in 1978 into the Department's proposals, which was held by an independently appointed inspector. Prior to that inquiry, full details of the proposals were publicised to all concerned, and everyone was given the opportunity to lodge objections or otherwise to make representations, either in writing or verbally, at the inquiry.

Because of Mr. Dobinson's strong view on this matter, I find it a little surprising that at no time in the period leading up to the inquiry, nor at the inquiry itself, did the owner of the farm, or Mr. Dobinson, the tenant, seek to have a cattle underpass provided. Therefore, my Department had no reason to suppose that Mr. Dobinson or his landlord would be unhappy with the arrangements proposed for taking his cattle across the new road.

I have mentioned the cost of providing the cattle underpass. Clearly, the pass has to be large enough to encourage the willing use by livestock, but it must also be adequate to support the road and the traffic on that road, considering the type of traffic which my hon. Friend described.

We have already considered a suggestion that we should make a cattle pass for Mr. Dobinson in the land under the road, which is already being excavated to accommodate drainage work, but my officers have investigated that possibility, and I am told that the cost would be very much higher because of the relative level of the new road, and the drainage difficulties at that point.

I turn now, not to the provisions that we have already made for other cattle crossings, which my hon. Friend mentioned, but to the fact that we must work within financial restraints. I am sure that he would not wish me to divert from a policy of sensible money management. If funds were available for unlimited road works, we should avoid the need to drive the cattle across the road by providing underpasses or bridges everywhere where they were needed. However, in the current economic climate, the funds that are available are not unlimited, and such a solution is not feasible. We have to stick to the rules, because my hon. Friend is not the only hon. Member in the House, of any party, who has a farm which has been severed by the existing road and which continues to be severed by the building of a new road. However, that does not militate against the offer that I made that he, if he is available, and Mr. Dobinson should meet my officers at the site and look at the problems that are likely to arise as a result of the building of the Bowes bypass.

My hon. Friend is right to be concerned about the volume and speed of the traffic on the new A66, and, in particular, the possible effect of vehicles seeking to overtake before they approach the hill which is, indeed, single carriagway.

There is one good reason why we have chosen, at the point where the dual carriageway is planned, to build what could be described as a second strip—it is more economic at that point to provide a second strip than to do some deep gullying. If we were to go single at that point on the A66, we would have to go down much deeper, which would be more costly. We shall examine the stretch of road from the county boundary to the west of Bowes where we are anticipating building the short lengths which are only single carriageway.

My hon. Friend poured cold water on the idea of warning signals, but I should like to say something about them. We have an experimental system of warnings which can be activated by farmers who wish their cattle to cross a road. It is a warning system to oncoming drivers. We are monitoring the success of such warning signals. I shall be prepared to try out that idea if it appears to be one of the feasible ways of solving Mr. Dobinson's problem of getting his cattle across the A66. That is a matter which can be considered at the site meeting. I shall discuss it h my hon. Friend between now and that site meeting.

It would be helpful to say a few words about the proposed bypass. I am convinced that it will bring enormous benefits to the local people. The village has a population of about 400. It attracts tourists in considerable numbers because of local places of historical interest. The A66 is the main street in the village and it is built up on both sides. The environment is seriously damaged by traffic noise and exhaust fumes. Parked cars frequently create hazards for road users. The road through the village has a bad accident record and, regrettably, a number of fatal accidents have occurred in recent years. There has been strong local pressure for the construction of a bypass but there were a number of objections to the scheme. All but one of those were from landowners who would be affected directly.

The inspector who conducted the inquiry in 1978 noted that not one voice had been raised against the principle of the construction of a new length of trunk road to bypass Bowes, and that the construction of such a road and the improvement of the A66 east of the village was overdue. He considered that the route proposed was eminently suitable and while he sympathised with those objectors who would lose land or who would suffer intrusion, he was satisfied that, subject to a few minor modifications, the proposed acquisition of land rights was unavoidable and that the order should be made.

In contrast to the accident record for that length of the A66 which runs through the village, the section of trunk road which passes through Stone Bridge farm has a relatively good accident record. That is the way we want to keep it. I assure my hon. Friend that the Bowes bypass will be a great boon. It will inevitably create problems on entry and exit as many bypasses do. The provision of such bypasses is an important part of the Government's programme to relieve villages from heavy goods vehicles. At the same time, I have a good deal of sympathy for Mr. Dobinson in that he has to take cattle across a main road. We shall do everything that we can to minimise the inconvenience which he feels that he may suffer. I look forward to the meeting on site between my hon. Friend, Mr. Dobinson and my officials.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes past Eleven o'clock.