HC Deb 11 May 1982 vol 23 cc725-30

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

1.1 am

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

I am most grateful for the opportunity to discuss the quality of life in my constituency. I make no apology for doing so at a time of national crisis when, between anxious moments, people can derive spiritual refreshment from seeing what is fine and beautiful.

I congratulate the Department of the Environment on the splendid way that it maintains the two royal parks in my constituency—Bushy Park and Home Park, Hampton Court—and the palace and gardens of Hampton Court. These are magnificent treasured parts of our national heritage. Hampton Court grounds and palace are visited every year by vast numbers of people from home and abroad. I am told that it is the third most visited site in the country, after the Tower of London and Stonehenge.

I live across the road from Hampton Court and confess to having sometimes slightly mixed feelings in the summer when I see crowds of tourists at Hampton Court in the morning and at Westminster in the afternoon. But one has to rise above such feelings, because tourism brings a great deal of employment and trade to the country. Our national heritage is a draw that few other countries can equal.

To many of my constituents in Teddington, the Hamptons, Twickenham, Whitton and beyond, both Bushy Park and Home Park are regarded as local parks that give endless pleasure through the changing scenes round the year. For example, currently in Bushy Park one can see the avenues of chestnut trees that are in full bloom; and the azaleas in the woodland gardens ae a truly marvellous sight. A month ago in Hampton Court gardens one could see the finest daffodils in the world.

I believe that those pleasures are enjoyed by the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Mather), who is on the Government Front Bench tonight and whose constituency adjoins the area. I believe I speak for many thousands of our constituents, and of yours, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as your constituency in Croydon is not far away. The constituency of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment is within seven or nine miles of the area and I thank him and his Department for all the skill and artistry which they have applied to these matters.

However, I do not think that my hon. Friend will like so much what I shall say next. Facing the east side of Hampton Court palace is a double row of 180 tall lime trees, about a quarter of which need replacing. There is a school of thought within the Department of the Environment that wants to cut the lot down in one clean sweep and start again with two new rows. That would look fine for posterity in 50 or 100 years, but not very nice meanwhile.

The alternative policy, which I prefer, is to fill the gaps or to replace the dud or stunted trees with individual saplings. This question was discussed fully and heatedly in 1978. There were eminent experts on both sides, and there were 20 or 30 letters in The Times. I fought against cutting down the lot, as did the distinguished actor, Marius Goring, who lives nearby and is chairman of the Hampton Court Association. I believe that I also have the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Esher.

In the end, the Labour Government accepted our view. Last week, however, when. I called on my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, partly to ask what was happening about the infilling, I sensed that some of his advisers were now speaking on hehalf of those who were fighting a rearguard action to reinstate the plan for a clean sweep.

My hon. Friend is, of course, aware that many people feel very strongly indeed about trees. One of the jobs of hon. Members is to tell officials and experts what the public will not stand. As Sir Winston Churchill once said, "The experts must be kept on tap and not on top". If either my hon. Friend or my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment authorise the destruction of more than 100 sound and beautiful green lime trees at Hampton Court, facing directly on to the palace, which are seen by 1 million people every year, they will unleash a fury and rage of such a size that they will wonder what has hit them. I hope that any such idea will soon be dropped.

My next point concerns Barge Walk by the river Thames at Hampton Wick, where for years there has been a small and ugly car park. I do not believe that our royal parks should be in the business of providing car parks in conservation areas for commuters. This car park is so small that it was not economic to post a man there to run it. Therefore, it could not be occupied for the odd hour or two by short-stay parkers who might be shopping over the bridge in Kingston. It therefore tended to fill up with all-day commuters. Can my hon. Friend please make a statement on the action he is now taking to deal with this blot on the landscape?

I turn to a small open space known as Glenside at the junction of Spencer Road and Popes Avenue near Twickenham Green. Application was made to the Richmond upon Thames borough council to develop that site at high density with 28 three-storey houses. Local people objected individually or through their excellent Strawberry Hill residents association. The Conservative-led borough council was united and refused planning permission, but the applicant appealed, the Ministry's planning inspector recommended reversal of the council's refusal, the appeal was accepted and planning permission was granted, even though this planning application related to a site of purely local interest.

However, the land is subject to a covenant that it should remain open space. The Minister appears to have the power either to override that covenant or to uphold it. Therefore, the future of the site hangs upon that one point. If the covenant is upheld, development cannot proceed even though planning permission has been granted. There is strong and widespread local feeling that the site should remain open, and I ask my hon. Friend to respect that feeling and to honour the covenant.

I turn finally to the effect of heavy traffic OE the environment of my constituency. Over the years, I have supported strongly the construction of the M25 ring motorway around Greater London. We suffer very heavy traffic on the orbital route around London through Uxbridge road, in Hampton Hill, through Hampton village and Hampton Court as well as on the Great Chertsey road, the A316, which leads to the M3 motorway and on main roads between Kingston bridge, Hampton Wick, Teddington and Twickenham, towards London and through Whitton.

The completion of the M25 is urgently needed. To give any effective relief to my constituents, this means the whole length of the south-western quarter from Reigate Hill, where that part of the M25 now ends, to Chertsey. There are four separate contracts—the first from the top of Reigate Hill to the Leatherhead interchange, the second for the Leatherhead interchange, the third from the Leatherhead interchange to Wisley on the A3 Portsmouth road and the fourth from Wisley to Chertsey from where the M25 is already open to the north.

To relieve my constituents in Hampton Hill and in Hampton, it will be no good merely to have one, two or three of those parts open. All four must be open to remove traffic from the part of my constituency that has suffered for so long. No one imagines that all the flow of traffic or even a majority of it will be removed. I believe, however, that a significant part will be removed by direct transfer to the M25 and also the transfer of traffic crossing the Thames at Hampton Court to Walton bridge which will be made possible by the transfer of traffic from Walton bridge to the M25 nearby. I should like to know when each of the four parts of the M25 that I have mentioned will be completed and opened.

Once the M25 is completed around the south-western quarter, I believe that it will take a proportion of the traffic that now passes through my constituency, including a disproportionate number of heavy lorries as a percentage of the total. It will also be a boon to the two-thirds of households in my constituency that possess cars. The motorway will become accessible between Esher and Leatherhead and so bring Kent, Surrey and Sussex 10 minutes' travelling time nearer.

I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to give me some encouraging news.

1.13 am
The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Neil Macfarlane)

I am pleased to be able to answer many of the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) and to congratulate him on his diligence in ensuring that the interests of his constituents and those of the many thousands who visit his constituency are thoroughly looked after. I willingly accept the congratulations that my hon. Friend asks me to convey to the parks staff. I echo the congratulations that he has offered on the work that has been done in making our royal parks so superb. I have been privileged in recent weeks to visit Bushy Park, Home Park and Hampton Court palace. My Department spends a great deal of taxpayers' money and I am anxious to discover how it is spent and to make certain that the parks staff are assured of our total interest. I shall willingly convey my hon. Friend's good wishes to the bailiff of the royal parks.

I turn now to the points raised by my hon. Friend, which he and I have discussed on some previous occasions and which cause much anxiety in his constituency. The first of these is the question of the lime trees at Hampton Court palace. As my hon. Friend knows, we face a genuine dilemma. It is a question of looking at what the local representatives want and taking into consideration the advice of experts. I know that my hon. Friend may not have too much of a rose-tinted view of what an expert may be. On another occasion somebody said that an expert was someone who carried a briefcase. On this occasion we have to listen to the advice of experts.

As my hon. Friend was kind enough to mention, my constituency is not far away and the park is a regular route between my main home and my constituency. Although I do not know the area as well as he does, I know it fairly well. Many people get vast pleasure from Hampton Court, which attracts large numbers of tourist. Their interests, particularly those of the local residents, are very important. We have to take all those interests into account.

My hon. Friend knows that essentially we have two options. One is to infill, as he has suggested, where trees have been felled, with new trees between the older, healthy ones. It would preserve the old trees to which so many people attach importance. If we cut them all down, and that is an agonising possibility, it will be many years before people can take pleasure from an avenue again. We also have to take nature into account. Trees planted in existing avenues, in particular when the trees remaining are mature, find it difficult to live under these conditions. They are unable to tolerate the growing conditions when they have to remain under the canopy of these trees. The shade cast forces them to look for light. In consequence, they either make tall, thin trees that are vulnerable to winds, or they become "one-sided" trees as they lean towards the light. Rarely do they grow as nature intended. Instead of noble, well-branched trees, they tend to form unnatural shapes and are often untypical of the species.

Such trees are also being planted into ground that has been taken over by the existing trees. They therefore have to struggle for the water and nutrients that are essential to their growth. Although special planting positions are provided, new trees are not as vigorous as they would be if all other conditions were equal. I must make it clear to my hon. Friend that the firm advice of the experts is that we shall never have a satisfactory avenue if we follow an infilling policy. That is one view from the experts.

Mr. Jessel

Is my hon. Friend aware that not all the experts' advice is on one side? When the matter came up three and a half years ago there were a number of eminent experts, such as Professor Stearn, president of the Garden History Society, who took an opposite view to the Tree Council, which is serving his Department.

Mr. Macfarlane

That is one of the reasons why it is such an agonising decision. It is a major step, and we are anxious to absorb all the observations of all experts.

The alternative of felling all the trees and planting afresh is something that we have looked at over the years. All the trees would then have an equal chance and eventually there would once again be a magnificent avenue for visitors and residents to admire. History could not criticise us for doing that. I understand my hon. Friend's arguments, but there is a genuine dilemma.

I recognise the view of those who argue for infilling. I emphasise that my Department has taken no decision, although we clearly must do so soon. I am grateful for the views we have received. I shall let my hon. Friend know the Government's decision as soon as I can. Meanwhile I hope that he will take up the suggestion I have put to him to look at the effects of past infilling in lime avenues at Hampton Court and then compare the infilling at Hampton with the avenue of trees in Kensington Gardens, which were planted 30 years ago, to see what has happened there.

My hon. Friend also raised the problem of Barge Walk. I took the opportunity of going down to have a look at the problem some weeks ago. I am grateful for the support of my hon. Friend for the plans that the Department has for what used to be the car park on Barge Walk in Hampton Court park. It was high time that this area was returned to natural parkland. As he knows, the Department has wished to do this for some time now. But we have had to wait until the borough council was successful in evicting the vehicles illegally parked there and used for residential and other purposes. These vehicles were on site at the time that the Department withdrew the licence for the council to run a car park there and it thus fell to it to take legal action to remove them.

We are now moving forward very quickly. A barrier has been in place for some weeks now, across the main entrance off Barge Walk. Next week work will start on breaking up the concrete ground. This is in preparation for sowing seed and planting trees and shrubs later this autumn. When we are preparing the ground, as I have described, we shall erect a further barrier to prevent access to the area from the road under Kingston bridge that leads to the towpath. We shall not interfere with passage along this road or access from it to the towpath, which belongs to the Thames water authority.

I hope that everyone in Hampton Wick and the surrounding area will welcome what we have in hand for removing this distinctly untidy blot in a most important Royal Park. Foremost among those who will benefit will be the owners of houseboats moored alongside the towpath. I am ensuring that they are being kept informed, through the Thames water authority, of our plans step by step. I shall continue to keep my hon. Friend informed of progress in the next few months, as I have been doing in meetings and correspondence.

I turn to the third point raised by my hon. Friend—the Glenside site. I wrote to him yesterday about the Glenside lawn tennis club and reassured him that all the relevant factors that he has put forward will be taken into account before any decision is reached. There is nothing that I can add at this stage except to say that I have examined all the details, and I am aware of the problems of the town planning application and the covenant. I guarantee to take all those factors into consideration.

I turn to the traffic problems facing my hon. Friend's constituents. I can understand my hon. Friend's great interest in the progress of the London outer orbital between the M4 and Reigate. He knows the history of that problem better than I do because it affects his constituency a great deal more than mine. As he knows, about five miles of the M25 is already open to traffic from Yeoveney, north of Staines, to Chertsey. Completion of the remaining sections is expected to be as follows. The first will be Reigate westward to Wisley. There are three separate contracts covering this section and all three are expected to be completed by spring 1985. The second part is Wisley to Chertsey. This is well under way and is expected to be completed in the summer of 1983. The stretch from Yeoveney northward to Poyle is also under construction, including a spur towards the west side of Heathrow airport. Completion is expected by the summer of 1983. Work has not yet started on the stretch from Poyle northward to the M4, but completion is programmed for 1985–86. I understand from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport that this work has the highest priority in his trunk road programme, and he regrets that he can see no possibility of hastening the project.

I shall say a few words on the degree of traffic relief which the M25 should bring to two main routes in my hon. Friend's constituency. First, the Uxbridge Road (A312), Hampton Court Road (A308) and Hampton Court Way (A309) over Hampton Court bridge all combine to form an orbital route in outer South-West London. On these routes it is expected that between 5 per cent. and 25 per cent. of the traffic on them will transfer to the M25 when the sections that I have mentioned are completed. The greatest relief will be on the A309 over Hampton Court bridge and the least relief will be on the Uxbridge Road, the A312. That is an estimate that has been put forward.

Secondly, the Great Chertsey Road, the A316, is part of a major radial road with primary route signposting between the M3 at Sunbury and Central London. Traffic studies carried out by the Greater London Council tome years ago indicated that traffic on the Great Chertsey Road would be reduced by about only 3 per cent. with the advent of the M25. However, as the 3 per cent. reduction is expected to relate to vehicles undertaking longer distance journeys, it is a significant figure because many of those vehicles will be lorries. Their diversion to the M25 wall be an undoubted environmental benefit for those living on and near the Great Chertsey Road.

I hope that, by examining some of those points, my hon. Friend will realise that it is our intention to pursue that particular programme as quickly as is possible. Everyone understands and sympathises with the congestion and the problems facing not only his constituents but also the many tourists who visit that part of South-West London. We are anxious that those programmes should proceed.

I have covered the issues that my hon. Friend raised, including the lime trees, Barge Walk, the Glenside problem and the M25. I conclude by offering further discussion on any of the matters raised by my hon. Friend. He knows that my door is always open and that the Department is anxious to do what it can to help. I acknowledge the thanks and appreciation that he expressed of our park staff. I endorse his remarks and congratulate the staff too. It has done a magnificent job after a heavy and bad winter.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-five minutes past One o'clock.