HC Deb 11 May 1984 vol 59 cc1268-76

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

2.30 pm
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

I am grateful to be called in this Adjournment debate on the subject of the Archway road inquiry, because it is a matter of enormous anxiety and importance to my constituents and those of the neighbouring constituency of Hornsey and Wood Green.

The Archway road project was conceived in the mid-1960s when the then Ministry of Transport was supporting a proposal to develop a motorway-standard dual carriageway road from Wellington junction, to the north of Highgate village, to the boundary with the old London county council at Archway bridge. That proposal would have meant, and still means, the demolition of about 170 houses and shops and increased deterioration in the environment. Since then, there has been a blight on property and on the lives of many people in the area and, most importantly, enormous opposition to the project.

The reason for the opposition is twofold. First, people are alarmed at the prospect of damage to their property and of the possibility of their houses being knocked down and shops being destroyed and a river of concrete being driven through their community so that, instead of its being the thriving local community that it is now, it will be reduced to a concrete canyon with no shops and no life.

It is also believed that the imposition of this stretch of motorway through London is a matter of national transport planning. The original rationality of the scheme was the need to provide a through route into London to enable heavy goods vehicles and others to reach the docks. The docks, of course, have since closed, and much of the industry that the road was supposed to serve is no longer there. The road is also part of a wider scheme to link the southern end of the M1 to the rest of the motorway network via London.

People in my constituency and in Haringey who have fought strongly against the scheme believe that the road would lead to pressure for further road building. At the moment there is a dual carriageway-standard road from the southern end of the Ml most of the way to the area covered by this road project. There is no motorway-standard or dual carriageway road south from Archway junction, through the Holloway road, St. Paul's road, Canonbury road, Graham road or any of the roads to the south.

We believe that if the road is built it will lead to inexorable pressure from the Department of Transport, which will then have responsibility for road planning in London with the destruction of the GLC, to build a motorway-standard road through urban areas. My constituents are alarmed about that. They are alarmed at the increase in traffic which will be caused by the building of the road, and at the prospect of many houses, businesses and shops on either side of the road being demolished.

When the Minister replies, we need to know clearly whether there is a glimmer of an idea in anyone's mind in the Department of Transport as to whether they intend to build a motorway-standard road south of Archway road into the boroughs of Islington and Hackney, where it could link with the M11.

As I have said, there has been enormous opposition to this road project at several public inquiries. We have just completed the fourth public inquiry into the road. If a man is scheduled to be hanged and the trap door does not work three times, he is declared innocent. The people of north London have already had four public inquiries. If previous statements of the Department are to be believed, a fifth public inquiry is on its way, with all the problems that that will cause.

Opposition to this particular piece of motorway building is enormous. There are about 4,500 objections in one form or another to the building of this stretch of road. So far as I know, one unnamed person supports it. We do not know who that person is or what motives are behind it, but we know that there is enormous local opposition.

People question the need for the demolition of so many homes and properties in that area. They also question the need for a road. In many ways, the debate on the building of the Archway road is a microcosm of the debate about national transport planning. Is it right to plan a motorway which can only lead to more traffic in an urban area which can only lead to greater pressure on and destruction of the environment within that urban area? That is one of the main points that is at stake in this issue.

There were inquiries in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and more recently in 1977. In 1977 there was a long inquiry which ran for several months in which the inspector heard representations against the building of this road. He also heard a consistent plea from representatives of the borough councils—particularly at that time the London borough of Haringey — for the release of specific items of information that would be needed if the borough councils were to be able to mount their case adequately. That information included the Scott Wilson Kirpatrick and Partners report on Hampstead garden suburb. It included figures on traffic growth and analyses of traffic movement, and it represented a fundamental principle of the right of the public to know information that has been obtained at their expense by the Department of Transport in order to plan road building in their area.

The inspector adjourned the inquiry in 1977 and he instructed the Department of Transport, in so far as he was able to as the inspector, to release all the information requested by the London borough of Haringey. Some seven years later all that information has still not been released by the Department.

When the inquiry was called late last year by Air Marshal Sir Michael Giddings when he was inspector, he attended a number of meetings to discuss the terms of reference of the inquiry and the methods of giving evidence. He then heard several days of submissions. All the submissions called for an adjournment or cancellation of the inquiry in order to allow the effects of the building of the M25 and increased rail usage to be assessed and for the Department of Transport to release the information required.

The inspector adjourned that inquiry in January for those reasons. It is surprising to note the coincidence that yesterday an enormous bundle of papers arrived—the Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick and Partners report on Hampstead garden suburb. That report was originally commissioned in 1971. I do not know its cost, but it will have been enormous. That has now finally been released from the cellars of the Department of Transport which has hidden it all this time. On the front of that report, on a large yellow label, is printed a statement to the effect that the report will not be carried out by the Government and its terms are obsolete. There are various other disclaimers.

It is clear that at one stage the Department was planning a possible series of motorway-standard routes running right through Hampstead garden suburb. I have here the map from that report. The people of Hampstead garden suburb would be interested to know that the Government have for so long denied them information about what was due to happen to their community. We also require to know what the future holds for the people of north London and the Archway area. All the information requested still has not been released.

I should like to quote part of the statement made by Air Marshal Sir Michael Giddings on 24 January 1984 when he adjourned the Archway inquiry. He adjourned it, because he wanted to ensure that much of the information was made public. He said: I accordingly turn to the Department's latest proposal as tabulated in document D119; that is, to conduct origin and destination surveys over 13 sites in April and May, to analyse the results by the end of July and then if necessary revalidate the traffic model and adjust COBA by mid-October. I note the Department's reservation that this exercise would still be limited in that it would precede the opening of the whole of the M25 and completion of the North Circular road and that they would only do it under duress of an adjournment ordered for that purpose. Nevertheless, I believe that the exercise could be helpful and that with an adjournment already granted to September it would be reasonable to have this additional work to hand. I therefore ask the Department to proceed on this basis and to furnish the Inquiry with a progress statement on full resumption in September, depositing the analysis done by July. If it turned out that the present traffic assignments remain valid there is no doubt that the Inquiry should resume in September without further delay. If on the other hand the traffic model required revalidation work which on the Department's time scale would continue until mid-October with further time needed for assimilation by objectors, the consequences of this could be argued out in September and further applications for adjournment considered at that time." Sir Michael Giddings, therefore, was showing clearly that he believed that the Department of Transport should back up its case with a proper analysis of the effect of the building of the M25, the North Circular road, and its traffic models.

Later in his lengthy statement on the adjournment, referring to many of the measurements requested, he said: Time is now afforded to do this. For example, it is quite impossible for me to judge on the submissions so far whether the study area should be extended southwards to cover Holloway Road to the Nag's Head and Junction Road to Tufnell Park as the London Borough of Islington requested, or whether it should be further extended to cover Junction Road to Kentish Town as the London Borough of Camden argued. I hold to the general principle that the effect of the orders on the terminal areas to the north and south of the Archway Road is a proper matter for the Inquiry but I cannot define the precise limits of those 'areas on submissions presented so far. The adjournment now offers a further opportunity for consultation between parties. I do not wish, nor am I in any position to do so, to pre-empt such discussions today. Sir Michael Giddings realised quickly, while listening to the many objectors who attended to put their views to him, that the issue of the Archway road was of the utmost importance to transport planning, and that it had an enormous knock-on effect into poor areas of London south of where the proposed road was going to be built. He therefore adjourned the inquiry to ask that that be done. In his adjournment he made his position perfectly clear.

Sir Michael Giddings was the second inspector in recent times who demanded that the Department of Transport release this information, and to recognise that the scope of an inquiry had to be broadened, and that the Department of Transport had to come clean on its long-term proposals for the area.

It is a matter of regret and sadness to the people in the Archway area who have campaigned for so long against the building of the road that Sir Michael Giddings later resigned as the inspector of the inquiry. We need to know from the Government what proposals they have for the future. Do they intend to appoint another inspector, and, is so, when? Do they intend to hold another inquiry, and, if so, when? Do they intend to change the terms of reference of public inquiries? There is great concern in many people's minds that the Department of Transport is keen to narrow the terms of reference of public inquiries only to people who live beside the road, or in the area immediately affected, and ignore the wider effects of building a road. The Government should come clean on whether they have any plans to change the terms of reference of public inquiries into road-building schemes.

The people of the area have suffered many years of blight because of the proposal to build the road. Houses are not being repaired and people living in property owned by the Department of Transport on the Archway road see their homes deteriorating badly and the Department doing nothing about it. They see those blight lines on the map. Since the M25 has been opened, even the initial traffic studies show that there is a large reduction of traffic, especially heavy goods vehicles on Archway road. They also show that the need for the road, if there ever was one, is rapidly disappearing. The people believe, and they are right, that the necessity for an inquiry has passed and that the Department must recognise that this deplorable dead hand of blight on the area should be lifted.

The Government can lift the blight in two ways: first, by lifting the line orders for north London, which placed the blight on many houses; and, secondly, by announcing that they are abandoning any future plans to build a road through the Archway area. By announcing that this afternoon, they would be saying once and for all that the people of north London can breathe a sigh of relief. We will no longer be threatened with a motorway-standard road rushing to the borders of my constituency, throwing heavy goods vehicles, overweight lorries, many commuter cars, and lorries mainly going through London to the channel ports, on to the roads of my constituency. Instead we can get on with improving properties and facilities in the area. London cannot long be the only city in western Europe that not only allows heavy goods vehicles to go right through its centre, but positively encourages them to do so.

The GLC has been responsive to the needs and wishes of people in north London. It introduced a one-way, night-time lorry ban so that northbound vehicles are no longer allowed to travel along Holloway road and Archway road to reach the A1 or M1. That welcome move resulted in a large reduction in traffic using the road at night. I want the lorry ban to be extended, both north and south, to the daytime, which would be a much greater step forward.

It is wrong to consider building motorways through urban areas, and this inquiry has shown that for many years people in the Department of Transport have been determined to build this road. They have been defeated at four inquiries by their own inspectors, who have ordered adjournments because all the relevant information has not been available. Air Marshal Sir Michael Giddings appeared in his final statement to be conceding much of the case put by objectors. It is regrettable that he resigned because of the decision that he made. I hope that the House will recognise the strength of argument behind the call for abandonment of the project and of the inquiry, so as to release the people of north London from the purgatory into which they have been thrown.

I conclude by quoting from a petition given to me by the people of the area to be presented to the House: Now therefore your petitioners pray to be released from this endless nightmare of Inquiry after Inquiry, each being abandoned when they are winning, and ask that the Line Orders be abandoned and no further schemes promoted. And your petitioners pray that the Department of Transport carry out the orders and rulings of the Inspectors in 1977 and 1984, particularly with regard to putting the fifty or more houses the Department own into good order. Those are the wishes of the people in the area, and the only sane transport policy that we can have is to direct heavy goods vehicles round London, direct more freight on to railways and other more socially useful forms of transport, and remove this terrible burden of pollution, noise and disturbance caused by heavy goods vehicles on major roads in urban areas.

2.50 pm
The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Mrs. Lynda Chalker)

I have listened with great interest to the points made by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn). We all know his long-standing opposition to the schemes and his resistance, which goes back to his days on the council of Haringey and continues now in Islington. I am sorry to note that he still cannot bring himself to condemn the harassment that caused Sir Michael Giddings to resign.

Mr. Corbyn

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There is an early-day motion before the House which I promoted, but which the hon. Lady clearly has not read.

Mrs. Chalker

I have seen the motion and I remember the statement made in the House on 28 February, when the hon. Gentleman was alone in not condemning the harassment of Sir Michael.

Throughout this short debate, the hon. Gentleman has referred to a motorway road. My Department is not planning a motorway road, and as long as the policies followed by my Department are continued there will be no motorway road. However, there is a need for improvement of that section of the Archway road on which orders already exist.

The hon. Gentleman was quick to say that there had been four public inquiries. It is notable that the one that started in 1973 made the line and side road orders on 28 April 1975. The second inquiry, in September 1976 into the revised junction, was abandoned because of the inspector's illness the following month. In 1977, the third inquiry was adjourned after six months of almost continual disruption and filibustering. It was not finished in any sense. We have all heard the results of what happened in the most recent inquiry. I was sorry that Sir Michael Giddings, who I am sure would have served on that inquiry with distinction as he has served on others, was so harassed that he could not continue the inquiry.

The hon. Gentleman has asked me a number of questions, and in the short time left I shall do my best to answer as many of them as I can. The Archway road became administered by my Department under the Trunk Roads Act 1936. An improvement was suggested by the former Middlesex county council's initial development plan of 1956. In 1963, the Department appointed the former borough of Hornsey and subsequently its successor borough Haringey as agents to prepare a scheme for improvement. Following a request from Haringey in 1969, Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick and Partners and Hugh Wilson and Lewis Wormesley were appointed as joint consultants to make an independent assessment of the need to improve Archway road and to report on solutions.

The consultants put forward an "at grade scheme" because they considered the environmental effects of any possible "grade separated scheme" to be unacceptable to the people in the area. Later British Rail announced the abandonment of their old Edgware-Finsbury park railway line, first of all the East Finchley to Highgate part in 1941 and the Highgate to Finsbury park section in 1954. In the early 1970s there was the possibility of siting a grade separated road along the line of the old railway without the environmental drawbacks that were expected in the 1960s plan.

The "at grade scheme" was therefore abandoned and replaced by a "grade separated scheme" using the railway land. Draft orders were published in March 1973 and a public inquiry was held in that and the following years. This resulted in the inspector recommending a dual two-lane road—not a motorway—but he also suggested that the proposals for a side road junction should be reviewed.

The second and third inquiries in 1976 and 1977 were intended only to decide the unresolved details. Therefore, what the hon. Gentleman has said to the House today is not quite correct in its detail. The first inquiry was abandoned because of the inspector's illness. At the second, objectors put heavy pressure on the inspector to re-examine the whole scheme. The then Secretary of State, Mr. William Rodgers, decided to abandon the inquiry and to initiate a review of the scheme. Haringey declined to co-operate unless road widening was not one of the options to be considered. So we went on from there.

The Department and the GLC, under its previous administration, reviewed the scheme and reported to the Secretary of State in September 1980. New draft orders for a scheme were published in September and December 1982. After three pre-inquiry meetings in 1983, the inquiry opened in January 1984 to consider applications for an adjournment. Following the granting of an adjournment until September 1984, we know that the inspector, because of harassment, had to resign and consequently this inquiry was also abandoned.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about a new inquiry and a new inspector. I cannot give him a firm starting date for a new inquiry, but there will be such an inquiry. It is unlikely to be for some months. There is work to be done in the meantime, including the origin and destination survey and relating those figures to the M25.

The inspector will be nominated by the Lord Chancellor and will be appointed jointly by the Secretaries of State for the Environment and for Transport. We shall not go ahead with the inquiry until the date on the M25 effects have been checked by the origin and destination survey which is already in progress. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that it will not be before the autumn.

The hon. Gentleman made some comments about the people living in the area. He said that none of them bar one wanted the scheme. From my visits to people in the area I believe that there are unacceptable environmental conditions there today which have plagued the area for far too long. It is that which we are seeking to tackle. Life is very unpleasant for many people who have to live there, and it will not get any better by any of the other schemes that the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

The most important factor of all, which is often forgotten——

Mr. Corbyn

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Chalker

No, I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman took 18 minutes of the available time, leaving me only 12 minutes in which to reply.

I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that the scheme now using the old railway line to take the road into a cutting will give relief to people who before would not have had relief from the original scheme. I sometimes wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has studied the plans in detail. It appears from some of his comments both inside and outside the House that he cannot have done.

Although the hon. Gentleman suggested that there was no longer a need for the scheme following the completion of the M25, I must remind him that there is a lot of traffic within the ring of the M25, some of which I hope we can attract on to the M25 because I, as much as he, have no wish to see traffic crossing the centre of one of the most congested cities in the world when it can use a purpose-built orbital road. I shall be doing all that I can to get heavy goods and other traffic which can reasonably use the M25 for their journeys to do so, and not to come through the centre of the city. However, if London is to thrive, commerce and industry require, and will continue to require, suitable roads into London and for cross-London movement inside the M25 ring. If a lorry ban such as was first proposed by the GLC or even one of its later schemes went ahead, it would have a devastating effect on industry and, moreover, on employment in London.

The hon. Gentleman's fear about what happens to the roads south of Archway road — the roads in his constituency — is understandable. I share his worry, where there is a large road of this kind, about where the traffic goes at the end of it. However, the justification for Archway road in its northern stretch stands entirely on its own merits. I accept that there may be environmental jobs which need to be done with other roads to the south of the roundabout which have not yet been contemplated. I wish that the hon. Gentleman's council and others would work with my Department. Then perhaps we would get a real start on improving the environment in some of the places that he described.

In terms of traffic capacity, future flows in the Archway road corridor, with the M25, show little increase over those already experienced in peak periods. But the hon. Gentleman knows that in peak periods that road is totally unacceptable. I hope that, through the public inquiry system, which is an independent hearing of all those who have views in favour of the scheme, against it and for amendment to it, we can arrive at a solution which vastly improves the environment of people living in that area. So many of them have suffered for far too long.

As for Sir Michael Giddings' adjournment statement, I took careful note of what the hon. Gentleman said and, long before that, what Sir Michael said about the lack of public consultation before the publication of these orders. I am considering whether any further public presentation would be useful, given the present position on the scheme and the fact that various options will in any event be before the inspector at the new inquiry. However, the scheme has not changed, and the public inquiry itself is consulting the public.

There are many other areas that I could touch on, and I shall do so in a letter to the hon. Gentleman since there is not time to do it in this debate. However, I will mention the maintenance of property. We have a survey in progress about the properties there. As for information, the vast majority has been released, and the publication of a now obsolete report—the Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick report—is to allay the fears of people who say repeatedly that the schemes that were thought to be right 10 years ago are right for today. I do not believe that they are. That report is obsolete, but I publish it because there is nothing in it that needs to be hidden.

The case for new measures to handle traffic in the Archway area does not depend, and never has depended upon, alternative schemes to the north or to the south. I hope that—

The Question having been proposed at half-past Two o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Three o'clock.