§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. David Hunt.]8.50 pm
§ Sir Anthony Royle (Richmond, Surrey)
I am grateful to Mr. Speaker for having chosen this somewhat controversial subject for debate tonight. It seems that I have timed the debate with great skill, in that we can start debating at 8.50 pm and go on until half-past eleven.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
Order. The hon. Gentleman must not get too excited. He may talk only until half-past ten.
§ Sir Anthony Royle
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your guidance. I certainly do not wish to get too excited, and I assure you that I do not intend to speak until half-past ten.
However, we have an opportunity tonight to question my hon. Friend the Minister on a subject that causes deep concern throughout the country—namely, the havoc that is caused to the environment by juggernaut lorries. Such vehicles cause concern and worry to villages, towns and suburbs of major cities. I recognise that I am not the only hon. Member with this grave problem in his constituency. I do not wish to cover—I am sure my hon. Friend will be pleased that I am saying this—the question of the size or weight of heavy lorries, on which important aspect we are awaiting the Minister's decision. It has a major effect on the nuisance that is caused by vehicles.
Tonight, I hope to talk about my constituency of Richmond on the outskirts of London and the problems that face Richmond, Kew, Petersham, Ham, Sheen and Barnes. These are beautiful areas, many of which are unspoilt, save by the problems of the massive lorries that thunder through them. The South Circular Road goes right through the middle of my constituency. The very name "South Circular" makes one think of dual carriageways, speeding vehicles and modern roads. This may apply to the North Circular Road, but it does not apply to the South Circular. It winds its way through south London, starting at Kew Bridge, and continues through the narrow streets of my constituency.
The South Circular Road has various feeder roads that also pass through the constituency, roads such as Barnes High Street and Petersham Road. There are parts of Petersham Road that are only 4.7 metres wide, whereas the average recommended width of a major road, such as Petersham Road, is 7.3 metres. Major problems are faced when negotiating heavy vehicles along it. These problems were highlighted three years ago when the entire sewerage system, which was built in the eighteenth century, collapsed. A hole developed, which meant that the road was closed for 18 months, and that created much havoc locally.
That is not an issue into which I wish to go in great detail tonight. It is the South Circular Road that I wish to discuss with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Transport. My hon. Friend has already taken a great deal of interest in the problems that face Richmond, Kew and Barnes. She has spared time to visit my constituency. A few weeks ago, she travelled along the South Circular Road with many of my constituents and myself. She became even more aware of the difficulties than she was before she visited Richmond and Kew.
509 I stood with her on a major corner of the South Circular Road, the name of which is "Chalker's Corner", which has nothing to do with her. We saw vast juggernaut lorries trying to manoeuvre on roads that were unsuitable and originally built to take horses and carriages.
The South Circular Road and its problems have been aggravated by the irresponsibility of the Greater London Council, which is responsible for large sections of the road where it goes through the area. To that extent, I relieve my hon. Friend of blame because her Department does not have the immediate responsibility for a large section of the South Circular Road where it traverses Richmond, Sheen and Barnes. It is the attitude, manner and way in which the Greater London Council carries out its responsibilities to which I shall refer later in my speech.
The South Circular Road commences in my constituency where it crosses Kew Bridge. It moves on to the Lower Mortlake Road, which is extremely narrow. Two normal size lorries can only just squeeze past each other at the same time. If two juggernaut lorries arrive at the same place on the road at the same time, one must stop to let the other pass. On the other side of the road are many small houses, in front of which are pavements sometimes only a metre wide.
The road then follows Clifford Avenue into Sheen and thence to Putney and round south London. Where this narrow road traverses the Richmond constituency it is almost a country lane throughout its length. The scale of the problem is illustrated by figures which, although out of date, are the latest I can get. In 1972, there were 210,000 weekly movements of vehicles across Kew Bridge, 700 of which were heavy lorries. In 1978, there were 390,000 weekly movements, of which 35,000 were heavy lorries. I have already mentioned the collapsed sewers in Petersham Road, which is not part of the South Circular, but a similar disaster has occurred recently on the Lower Mortlake Road. For some months the collapsed drains meant that the South Circular Road was unusable and the traffic had to be diverted elsewhere.
There are appalling traffic jams that make the problems of central London during this week of tube strikes seem small. These hold-ups occur every day and all day, not just at rush hour in the mornings and evenings. I was returning from my constituency last Tuesday at 8.15 in the evening and sat in a traffic jam for 15 to 20 minutes in Clifford Avenue, which forms part of the South Circular Road.
There is the further problem of the danger that is caused to children and residents. Mothers are constantly worried about their children running into the road, and old people are fearful of walking along the narrow pavements with these huge lorries passing them. Apart from the possibility of being knocked down, the heavy lorries often pass so fast that the rush of air is a danger to old people.
Damage is caused to the environment generally. There is noise, fumes and damage to property. Many of the houses in the Kew area date from the eighteenth century. They are in a conservation area. Their foundations are shaken, their roofs rocked and living conditions are made intolerable for all those who live in them.
I do not want to make a long emotional speech about the miseries of heavy lorries. We all know how bad they are and the problems they cause. I want to put forward some constructive suggestions and to ask what can be done to ease the situation. I and my constituents are well aware 510 that, however much my hon. Friend is anxious to find a solution, she is unable to wave a magic wand and solve the problem tomorrow.
There are some measures that can be taken. There should be much better enforcement of weight and safety regulations, with more staff and weighbridges, especially close to ports. Powers should be taken to stop lorries being overloaded and to prevent them from proceeding until their weight has been reduced to the proper limit.
Secondly, there should be a definite commitment to the introduction of regulations requiring heavy lorries to have sideguards, rear underrun guards, spray suppression, better braking and noise reduction. Thirdly, more help and advice should be given to local authorities on their powers to establish lorry cordons and lorry routes. Perhaps my hon. Friend will outline the work that is proceeding with local authorities on lorry action areas.
Fourthly, on the wider scene, we could give encouragement to rail freight. Maximum rates of grants for freight facilities should perhaps be increased, and grants should be extended to include Freightliner and Sealink. Any action in those areas will help tremendously to ease the burden throughout my constituency.
Fifthly, the taxation of heavy lorries should relate directly to the road damage they cause. Heavy lorries should pay their full track costs from the outset of any increase in weights. I do not see why the ratepayers of Richmond and Greater London—indeed, the taxpayers—should carry a heavy burden for the repair of roads, much of the damage to which is caused by heavy lorries and the big companies that run those lorries. Many of those lorries travel long distances from Europe making deliveries to Britain.
I hope that my hon. Friend will take some action to tackle the problem of the GLC. She should give careful thought to the possibility of taking traffic responsibilities away from the GLC. Frankly, the GLC has failed London. That is nothing new. It has failed London for some years, but now it is failing London in a major way.
In reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Eyre), said:My right hon. Friend has recently issued a circular to local authorities telling them that we will pay particular regard to the use they are making of their lorry control powers when we decide how much expenditure to accept for transport supplementary grant. We are now awaiting their responses in this year's transport policies and programmes.In reply to a supplementary question, he added:My hon. Friend appreciates that local authorities have wide powers with regard to the control of the routeing of lorries. We shall soon be asking them for details of the amenity controls that they have introduced."—[Official Report, 16 June 1982; Vol. 25, c. 942–43.]The GLC has produced no amenity controls whatever for my constituency. It has made no effort to assist with the situation in the Lower Mortlake Road, Clifford Avenue, Sheen and other parts of the area that are so badly affected along the South Circular Road.
My antipathy towards the attitude of the GLC is not new. In 1977–78, I gave evidence to the Marshall committee, set up by the Conservatives when the party won control of the GLC in that year. At that time, I told the inquiry that I saw no reason why the GLC should continue. Following the arrival of the Conservative-controlled council at that time, considerable powers were removed from it. However, the GLC is still left with 511 certain residual powers that should have been extracted in 1977, 1978 and 1979. They should now be taken away in view of the way in which the GLC has recently been run.
I see no point in the GLC having any further responsibility for the running of London's transport. I do not expect my hon. Friend to comment on that. It does not come specifically within the terms of the debate. Developments in the running of transport in Greater London in the past six months lead me to believe that the decision to grant the GLC control of London Transport many years ago was a gross mistake and that it should now be taken away.
I see no reason why the GLC should retain responsibility for its two other areas of control. One is the fire brigade. That can be dealt with easily. A committee or a commission could be set up to run it. The other, which is vital, is the control of many major roads in Greater London. The GLC is the traffic authority for most of the South Circular Road where it crosses my constituency. I cannot see my hon. Friend the Minister and talk sensibly about the problems affecting that road without her saying "It is the responsibility of the GLC. You must see the GLC about it." The GLC does nothing about it. If she and her Department assumed responsibility as traffic authority for the Greater London area, the organisation of traffic and routes would be run much more efficiently. Moreover, the role of democracy would be much more profound. Members of Parliament who represent London constituencies would be able to raise matters affecting roads in Greater London with Ministers in the House. Ministers would be able to make sensible and proper replies as the responsible authority.
Will my hon. Friend the Minister talk to the Secretary of State to see whether there can be a rapid move in that direction? Most of the major roads in London are fed with traffic from roads that are the responsibility of the Department. The traffic that filters on to the South Circular Road emanates from the M4, the M3 and, in the future, it may come from the M25. These are major national roads that are looked after by the Department. It is absurd that large numbers of vehicles pour into the capital city off roads that are controlled and made by my hon. Friend's Department and emerge on roads that are the responsibility of that sad body of people, the Greater London Council, which is quite incapable of looking after them properly.The Greater London Council should withdraw from the area. The Department of Transport should be responsible for roads in London. The local boroughs—Richmondupon-Thames in my area which covers both Twickenham and Richmond—might run minor roads, perhaps under licence, on a day-to-day basis; and responsibility for major roads should remain with the Department. Most of our electors would welcome that proposal.
It is easy for those of us who are worried about roads to suggest that we transfer the burden elsewhere. It is easy to do that within our own areas by transferring the problem to our colleagues in neighbouring constituencies. Having represented Richmond for more than 23 years I am well aware of the temptation to do that. I have fallen for that action in the past and have come across some unpleasant scenes with my colleagues upon whom I was trying to pass heavy lorries without being aware of the dangers and difficulties that they faced. I do not wish to transfer the burden, but I should like all areas to bear a fair share of it.
512 I know that my hon. Friend the Minister will agree, having visited Richmond, that we have more than our fair share of the burden of heavy lorries in Richmond on the South Circular Road today. Some restriction could be put on the weights of lorries using Kew Bridge today.
There are purpose-built roads such as the A4 and the A316. The opinion of the Richmond council wasThat the principle of designating heavy lorry routes is accepted provided that roads so designated are suitable in environmental as well as capacity terms for such vehicles. That in the opinion of the council there is only one suitable route in the Borough, viz A316.That is clear to anybody who has a look at our road system. The A4 is also a custom-built road, although it is outside my borough. A further look should be given at the greater use of those two major roads to see whether the traffic on the South Circular could be eased.
In addition, some action should be taken on better signposting. Signposting in the London area has grown like Topsy over the years. The decision to make Kew Bridge a primary destination was taken in 1963. It is still there, and it attracts heavier vehicles than is really necessary on to Kew Bridge today.
Will my hon. Friend consider a major inquiry into her signposting policy to see whether some easement of the burden suffered by Richmond, Kew and Sheen can be achieved by its reorganisation?
I know that my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State are anxious to speed the completion of the M25. It is an important road which will cut down the number of vehicles coming into London from all directions. It will bypass London well outside the built-up area.
I am well aware that the M25 is not the final answer to Richmond's problems. Many heavy vehicles using the South Circular Road are bound for destinations in Central London and along its route. Those are not vehicles that are likely to use the M25. But heavy vehicles coming from and going to Europe and those going round the North Circular Road to the South coast ports will be able to avoid using the South Circular Road when the M25 is completed. I hope that Ministers will ensure that that major new road is completed as soon as possible.
As my hon. Friend knows, the Richmond area is being strangled and its environment destroyed by a combination of heavy lorries, history—history is involved in the roads of today—and, frankly, bureaucratic buck-passing—a phrase that I do not like—led mainly by the GLC.
I apologise for dragging my hon. Friend here tonight. However, I am certain that she approves of the fact that I can organise Adjournment debates at a civilised hour. I hope that she will take account not only of my comments on the problems that Richmond faces but also of the problems that she saw on the ground during her visit. If she can give me some encouragement to take back to my constituents, that would please me, but it would please my constituents to an even greater extent to know that there is a sympathetic and interested person who knows the problems and is trying to do something about them.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mrs. Lynda Chalker)
It was about half an hour ago that I breathed a heavy sigh of relief when it became clear that I did not have to speak about fisheries. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle) 513 has gone rather wide in introducing his Adjournment debate, and at the outset of my reply I shall talk briefly about organisation in local government. My hon. Friend told the House that he had given evidence to the Marshall committee in 1977–78.
I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that the wider issue that he raised of the powers of the Greater London Council is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. However, I assure him that I shall draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend, including those about fire brigades.
My hon. Friend was right when he said that in one sense road control is a matter for the Department of Transport. However, it still comes within local government powers, which give the responsibility to the GLC as a highway authority for the maintenance and planning of roads within the GLC area, except for trunk roads, which are the responsibility of my Department. My hon. Friend knows that there are no trunk roads or motorways within the London borough of Richmond upon Thames. Therefore, as he rightly says, I have no direct responsibility whatsoever for them.
My hon. Friend has asked for a major change in local government and, as he knows, I cannot take that up in this debate. However, his remarks about the traffic that uses the roads within his constituency form part of an important subject. I cannot take up his comments on organisation but I shall comment upon the problems that his constituents face daily and the challenges that they have to meet from the heavy lorry.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on initiating the debate because he has drawn attention to a problem that affects the entire population throughout their daily lives. Parts of my hon. Friend's constituency and other areas are plagued by extremely heavy traffic. The lorry problem can rightly be described as a series of so many local problems that it amounts to a major national problem. I have known the area of which my hon. Friend has spoken all my adult life. I share with him his great concern for the intrusion into people's lives of our changing demands for goods which have to travel by road. However, we must be careful when considering the problem of lorries and the economy not to shift the problem down the road, as it were.
It is important that we consider the two sides of the heavy lorry problem. I am sure that he realises that I must do so in view of the Department's economic interest to ensure the most efficient movement of goods. Lorries are vital to the economy and our standard of living. Most of the growth in lorry traffic has occurred since the Second World War. Immediately before the war it is estimated that road transport accounted for about only 35 per cent. of total inland tonne mileage. By 1980 the figure had risen to 78 per cent.
The reasons for this dramatic change are complex. The prices that have been charged will have played some part in the growth of lorry traffic, but that is by no means the only factor. There are other much more deeply rooted factors at work that arise from fundamental structural changes in our economy. For example, there has been a long-term decline in the demand for heavy bulk goods, such as coal, which are particularly suited to rail shipment. The growth areas in our economy have generally been in the lighter industries, in the commercial and retail sectors as well as in warehousing. Thus, in any discussion of 514 heavy lorry traffic we need to acknowledge the interdependence between our present-day industrial, commercial and trading activities—on which the wealth of our nation is founded—and our efficient, competitive road freight industry.
My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond stressed that we should also be keenly aware of the other side of the lorry transport phenomenon. No one in the past three and a half months has been more aware than I of the changes that have been taking place, and their effect on people, society and the environment. The tremendous growth in goods shipment by roads, which has nearly quadrupled in the past 30 years, has not been achieved without cost to society, and to our environment.
Unfortunately, although the benefits of efficient freight transport are spread across the whole of society, the costs are less evenly distributed. The situation in my hon. Friend's constituency provides ample proof of that. Some people and places are much more affected by heavy lorry traffic. Those communities that are adjacent to the South Circular are especially affected, but most affected of all is the London borough of Richmond. The Armitage report, commissioned by this Government, was asked toconsider the causes and consequences of the growth in the movement of freight by road and, in particular, of the impact of the lorry on people and their environment; and to report on how best to ensure that future development serves the public interest"."Serves the public interest" are the crucial words, not only for that report but for the Government, in weighing the balance of benefits to our economy and standard of living against the price being paid by the community in their homes.
I shall deal first with the controversial question of increased weights. Sir Arthur Armitage concluded that, subject to certain limitations and safeguards, the balance of advantage lay in higher weights. The consignors of goods are in no doubt about the potential savings in lorry journeys and hence in the size of lorry fleets. That is why they want a higher payload. I have said that the volume of goods shipped by road, measured in freight-tonne miles, nearly quadrupled between 1950 and 1980. Over about the same period, the total number of lorries over 1½ tonnes unladen weight increased by just 13 per cent., whilst lorry traffic in vehicle miles fell from 27 per cent. to 8 per cent. as a proportion of all motor traffic. That was made possible only by the move to larger lorries with bigger payloads.
We might consider what conditions on our roads would be like had we kept to the weight limit before 1955 of 24½ tonnes instead of moving to the current limit of 32½ tonnes. There would be many more lorries on our roads.
Against that background, my colleagues and I have to find the balance that best serves that public interest. That is why we have to bring forward a whole package of measures for heavy lorry traffic. We shall improve and enforce higher safety standards for lorries. We shall reduce the noise and disturbance and wherever possible take lorry traffic away from densely populated areas. An increase in lorry weights is only part of this far wider package. The dimensions of lorries are not to be further increased, but we must have strict limits on axle loadings and configurations to avoid further road damage. That is part of the package. In making our lorries safer, we shall require the fitment of sideguards—which my hon. Friend mentioned—to protect pedestrians and cyclists. We shall 515 also require the fitment of rear under-run protection to reduce the severity of accidents involving rear-end collisions.
Those of us who travel on motorways and on fast roads that have heavy lorries know of the public concern about the hazards caused by heavy spray from lorry tyres on wet roads. However, we are developing a British standard for effective spray suppression equipment to be fitted to lorries. From October, we shall ensure that lorries have to meet the higher braking standards that we have announced. I hope that my hon. Friend will realise that we are determined to enforce those measures as well as the weight and loading standards.
My hon. Friend spoke of the need to weigh lorries on entry, into Britain and after they have picked up their payloads. This year, we are spending nearly double last year's expenditure on installing the new, dynamic weighbridges. Lorries drive slowly on to the bridges so that not only the total payload, but the weight per axle will be measured. By the use of computers, we can judge not only whether the lorry as a whole is overloaded, but whether—even if the whole lorry is not overloaded—that lorry is breaking the law by having a badly distributed load across its axles. Bad distribution causes more damage to our roads than heavier lorries correctly loaded.
To enforce the weight and loading standards, we are recruiting more traffic examiners. That is the right way to proceed. Although it means more staff, we can only hope to make lorries easier to live with by enforcing the standards. A prime source of public complaint is noise. We accept that that problem must be solved. From April 1983 the heaviest lorries will have to meet a limit of 88 decibels, which is three decibels lower than the present limit. That is only the beginning.
We shall reduce the perceived noise from new heavy lorries to less than half of its 1981 level, so that by about 1990 new heavy lorries need be no noisier than most new 1981 model cars. That is an important advance for all those who have to have traffic passing their doors. To improve conditions in areas such as that of my hon. Friend, which are especially badly affected by lorry traffic, we are developing the concept of lorry action areas that my hon. Friend asked about. Indeed, that was 'proposed in the Armitage report. In those areas, measures such as double glazing and road resurfacing would be available to reduce the environmental impact of heavy traffic. That would help some of the residents that my hon. Friend mentioned.
The best solution of all would be to take lorry traffic away from the unsuitable routes that pass through densely populated areas. However, I think that my hon. Friend knows that we are using our transport supplementary grant settlements to give a higher priority to trunk and local road bypass schemes. We are encouraging local authorities to bring forward such schemes. I have with me the explanatory note that was sent to all local authorities, about bids in respect of measures to provide relief in areas of severe lorry nuisance. It mentions not only the lorry action areas and the acceptance of that recommendation by the Secretary of State, but, in paragraph 3, advises councils that wish to make a bid in respect of remedial work to complete the form sent to them and to return it to the Department. It stresses that assistance will be confined to those areas where lorry nuisance is most severe and where there is no likelihood of other forms of relief in the foreseeable future. I mention that, because not all the measures about which I have spoken will be appropriate 516 for every part of the country, although those measures connected with weights, design and the construction of lorries will benefit everyone.
I went with my hon. Friend to his constituency to see the problems a couple of months ago. I have always accepted that there is an intense problem. I go to his borough on private journeys and I am well aware of the position that he describes. It is because of such problems that we are determined to make the opportunity for the relevant highway authority—I shall return to the Greater London Council in a moment—to put in bids within its transport policies and programmes for action to help people who live in those areas.
I want to turn to what is happening in Greater London. There is a danger that we might believe that we can relieve the problem altogether. Certainly that is not my experience of my hon. Friend's area of the South Circular Road. About 90 per cent. of all freight in London goes by road. Only 6 per cent. of freight in London is through traffic which has an origin and destination outside the Greater London area.
My hon. Friend asked about the completion of the M25. We are looking forward to the completion of that road some four years from now. That is the complete orbital route around Greater London, which has the highest priority of all construction work in my Department. That road will provide an alternative route for traffic that does not need to go through Greater London. I stress those relative figures because the majority of lorries in Richmond go about their London business and few are capable of being diverted elsewhere. I am well aware that my hon. Friend would love us to take the pressure off not only Mortlake Road but Clifford Avenue and the bridge in Clifford Avenue. We cannot do all that he would like at present. Most of the lorry traffic on roads such as Barnes High Street, Petersham Road through Richmond itself, is engaged on everyday urban business, although there is a higher proportion of through traffic using the South Circular Road and Kew bridge.
Three measures are being taken to ease the lorry problem in the Kew area of Richmond. The first is signposting, about which my hon. Friend asked. The second is the M25 and the third is the new lorry policy, which I have explained. With regard to signposting, in recent years the Department has meticulously examined primary route signposting between the M3 Thorpe interchange and the end of the North Circular Road at Chiswick and made changes. The aim has been to encourage the greatest possible use of the trunk roads A4, A30 and M25 in order to lessen the volume of longer distance traffic on Kew bridge, Kew Road and Great Chertsey Road. There is no practical alternative to Kew bridge for South Circular Road traffic, and the signs on that route must inevitably refer to more distant trunk roads such as the A40, M1, A3 and M23 so that continuous guidance is given to motorists seeking those roads.
I noted what my hon. Friend said about the restriction of lorry weights on Kew bridge. I can make no promise about that. We are investigating some of the problems in different parts of cities where there is no obvious bypass possibility. I cannot give him a promise, but I shall investigate the matter.
I mentioned a moment ago the M25, which will relieve the South Circular Road and Kew Road, perhaps by up to 5 per cent. of the present traffic flows and possibly by as much as 10 per cent. on Kew bridge, which I am sure my 517 hon. Friend will be glad to know because it will make an appreciable difference. We are pushing ahead with the completion of the M25 as fast as statutory procedures permit. The completion of the M25 in the south, which will help my hon. Friend's area perhaps even more, is probably about three years off, all being well.
My hon. Friend asked about lorry routes. In describing our proposals for civilising the heavy lorry, I mentioned lorry routeing as part of the package. The Greater London Council has the power to impose lorry bans on certain roads and within defined areas. It has not been slow to make use of this power where it considered that this would help. However, I would be misleading the House if I was to suggest that the GLC is likely to try to downgrade the status of some of the main traffic routes in Richmond in order that lorry bans might be imposed.
It has to be accepted that lorry restrictions on roads in the Kew area will simply throw the problem on to the adjacent areas of Twickenham and Barnes where the roads, in some cases, are even less suitable than those in Kew. It is inevitably the problem of a built-up area. Even to follow some of the suggestions that I know my hon. Friend has made and to make greater use of the A4 and the A316 presents major problems at the Hogarth roundabout, where traffic from the North Circular Road would have to make a difficult right turn and then use Burlington Lane in the approach to Chiswick bridge. The fact that much of that traffic would then need to turn left on to the South Circular Road at the monumental stonemason's at Chalker's Corner would create a further problem. I hasten to add that I have no interest in this matter. It has nothing to do with my family.
The GLC has made some changes in the past to try to deal with the problems. Seven years ago, the council removed the primary route signs from Petersham Road and from all the A307 route between Richmond and Esher. This was done following a major improvement of the Great Chertsey Road, the A316, built some 50 years ago as a bypass to Richmond town. My hon. Friend thinks probably that it does not now bypass many of the houses in that area. This is what happens when a town was originally bypassed but development grows from the old town centre out to meet the bypass and beyond. At least, however, the A316 in the area about which I am speaking can take the sort of traffic that exists although the build-up is heavy from time to time.
If the GLC were to follow up the improvement that it made with a lorry ban on the A307, there is a grave danger of severe adverse commercial effects on Richmond town, which it meets first, and then on Kingston for which some of the traffic is undoubtedly destined. We have a problem within a tight bend of the River Thames, where roads are taking traffic for which they were not designed. Any movement to ban heavy traffic from one of those roads results in the overloading to a considerable degree of neighbouring roads.
The GLC, in considering the problems of Greater London as a whole, together with the City and many boroughs, has a great deal to do to control lorries. It has begun. The Government are giving it a financial incentive by encouraging the application for transport supplementary grant to try to bring about a better relationship and a better balance between heavy goods vehicles and the environment through which they have to go. In recent 518 months, a number of interesting and radical solutions have been proposed regarding transport and traffic arrangements in London. The Government are considering them. We shall also want to take stock of the report of the Select Committee on Transport, which should soon be available.
My hon. Friend mentioned the possibility of a blanket ban by the GLC on lorries above the present maximum weight. The point of raising payloads is to ensure that the numbers of lorries on our roads is kept as low as possible. My hon. Friend will know that a sizeable number of lorries on our roads are between one-fifth and one-third full of air. That benefits no one, because the lorries travel in greater numbers than is necessary. By raising payloads, Londoners will benefit as well as people in other parts of the country, and the economy as well as businesses in the area will benefit.
My hon. Friend raised a number of other matters. There is not the pressure of time tonight that we usually have in Adjournment debates, but I shall not test the patience of the House too far. I shall therefore bring my remarks to a close. We have already taken steps on signposting, but I accept that there may well be more that we can do. In my view, signposting is influential, particularly when drivers know that some routes are easier to traverse than others.
I am aware that my hon. Friend feels that steps would be better taken by my Department. At least he would then have only one place to come to and complain about the problems. We shall give every encouragement to local authorities to use existing powers to protect residential and other areas from heavy traffic. We shall work out the way in which lorry action areas can bring relief to people living along roads which, because there is nowhere else for traffic to go, take a high proportion of the inter-urban and inner-urban lorry traffic.
My hon. Friend asked me about lorry taxation based on gross weight and axle numbers. That will, I hope, be introduced from October, and I understand that heavier lorries to cover allocated road track costs will be integrated with the taxation system.
My hon. Friend asked about safety. I hope that I have reassured him that we are fully aware of what needs to be done and what can be done, and we are getting on with it as quickly as possible.
We have discussed many of the other improvements with the industry which runs the lorries. We have discussed them also with the people who manufacture the lorries. We are not simply waiting for the Greater London Council to make a decision, although we hope that it will respond to the invitations that it has been given. We are working with the industry and, I hope, with hon. Members to try to achieve a balance in this difficult conflict between road traffic and the environment. I assure my hon. Friend that there is no lack of understanding or sympathy on my part or on the part of my fellow Ministers at the Department. Nevertheless, we have to strike a balance between the economic demands that people in his constituency and throughout the country make on our economy, and what we can achieve, both quickly and in the longer term.
I pledge myself to do all that I can to relieve the problems of those who live adjacent to the South Circular Road and who bear the day-to-day and night-time displeasure and inconvenience of heavy goods traffic that has nowhere else to go.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at seventeen minutes to Ten o'clock.