§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—Mr. Fallon.]1.39 am
§ Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)
I am delighted to have the opportunity, even at 1.39 am, of raising a matter of great importance to a number of my constituents. I wish to press the case for a bypass for the villages of Redberth and Sageston in the county of Pembrokeshire.
I want to start by outlining what has been done so far, and the history of the proposal for the bypass over the past few years. I should like then to examine the need for the bypass and the implications of not building it.
According to one of my correspondents, the history of the bypass goes back some 20 years. I should like at this point to pay tribute to Mrs. Meryl Rogers, who lives in Redberth and who, shortly after I became Member of Parliament for Pembroke, wrote to me about the distressing problem facing the two villages, passing on correspondence in which she had engaged with my predecessor Nicholas Edwards, who of course was also Secretary of State for Wales. I should like to pay tribute to him as well for doing so much to improve the road system in Pembrokeshire during his 17 years as Member of Parliament and his eight years as Secretary of State.
During that period the average time taken to travel from Pembrokeshire to London—according to constituents of mine who have lived there for many years—went from seven hours in the early 1970s to about three and a half at present. On the A477, the road to which I want to direct my attention, we have seen improvements at Kilgetty and the construction of the Stepaside bypass. We should now look at the rest of the A477 to ensure that the increases in economic growth that have taken place in Pembroke Dock and Pembroke and along the A477 are used to advantage, and that the disadvantages that come from increased traffic are mitigated as soon as possible for the residents of the two villages.
As I have said, the history of the proposals for the bypass go back to the early 1970s. Since the Welsh Office has been producing "Roads in Wales", the bypass for Sageston has appeared in almost every edition, and in most editions there is mention of the Redberth bypass. The 1978 edition contains a proposal to start the Sagest on bypass in that year: the cost was estimated at £0.4 million at November 1977 prices, and the bypass was to be 1.5 miles long. That was included, in a firm programme.
The proposals for the Redberth bypass—set out at the back of the edition, with the statement that no start date had been determined—estimated a cost of £500,000. Hon. Members will recall that there was a Labour Government in 1978. In the true tradition of Labour Governments, the proposals in "Roads in Wales 1980" took no account of the country's economic circumstances, and it is not surprising that, given its economic circumstances in 1978, the "firm" proposal to start on the bypass was not implemented.
The 1980 edition of "Roads in Wales" states:It would be quite unrealistic to suppose that the trunk road programme, which is dependent entirely on public funds, could be insulated from the Government's economic strategy: the programme has had to play its part in the reduction of public spending and, as with all Government spending plans, may be subject to further adjustment if the achievement of the Government's economic objectives requires.463 I recognise, as do the Government, that we must look at the road programme in the light of overall economic policy and the amount of money available. I believe, however, that my constituents have waited far too long for this road and that, given the much-improved state of the economy, we are now entitled to see an early start on both bypasses.
"Roads in Wales 1980" went on to describe the strategy for trunk roads as follows:Resources available will be concentrated on those schemes which offer the greatest benefits, taking into account strategic, economic and environmental factors. The implementation of other schemes must come later. The Government regards improvement of the motorway and trunk road network as an important element in the contribution of public expenditure programmes to the economic development of Wales. Development cannot be guaranteed merely by the provision of new or improved roads, but prospects for development in particular localities are greatly reduced if they do not have good communications providing cheaper and speedier access to raw materials and markets. In formulating the forward trunk road programme for Wales the Secretary of State has accordingly allocated the highest priority to projects which will assist efforts to promote economic activity and the regeneration of areas whose traditional industries are in decline, and thus further the achievements of his regional development objectives. The needs of the tourist industry, which make a substantial contribution to the economy especially in rural areas of the Principality, have also been given full weight.Bypasses for Redberth and Sageston fulfil all those criteria. "Roads in Wales 1980" refers to schemes such as the A477 Kilgetty bypass and said that they had been includedbecause they will ease the flow of industrial and commercial traffic and at the same time provide relief for the residents of towns and villages which suffer from severe congestion.I could not have described the need for those two bypasses better than "Roads in Wales 1980". Unfortunately, in the 1980 programme, the Sageston bypass, which had a firm date in 1978, had been relegated toa third category of schemes which have been formally added to the pool of schemes in preparation but on which resource constraints are likely to preclude the start of construction work until towards the end of the decade.That applied to Redberth and Sageston.
By 1983, the Government had added further criteria for new roads. With the introduction of 38-tonne lorries, it was necessary to ensure that roads were capable of carrying such lorries without causing environmental damage. "Roads in Wales 1983" stated that in the south of Walesthe main aim is to improve the A40/A48/A477 routes, serving Haverfordwest, Pembroke Dock and Fishguard.By 1985, the programme had pushed further back the bypasses for Redberth and Sageston. The bypass for Redberth has disappeared altogether from "Roads in Wales" and Sageston has become a bypass which will not start until after 1990. On all the grounds which have been set out in "Roads in Wales", whether in 1978, 1980, 1983 or 1985, the two bypasses are vital.
Turning to the accidents which have occurred on the A477 in those two villages, I wrote to the Dyfed county council county engineer and surveyor. He replied, referring to the village of Redberth:Following concern locally about the number of accidents that had occurred in the village up to 1982 (six during the period January 1979 to December 1981) extra warning signs in the form of 'double bend' signs were provided during 1982, this being in addition to the already existing 'Junction' 464 warning signs through the village. Continuing concern, however, about the hazards in the village resulted in a 40 mph speed limit being introduced on 18 July 1983. In view of this, it is difficult to see what else can really be done at little cost to further improve the situation at the site.I recognise that little further can be done at little cost. If action is to be taken to improve the situation for residents in those villages, we require the Government to provide bypasses for Redberth and Sageston.
The accident report in the two villages is really appalling. Since September 1985, there have been 15 accidents, 10 of which have been described by the police as serious. In four separate accidents vehicles overturned and 10 of the accidents involved multiple collisions. Those figures relate to the three years from September 1985 until the end of October 1988. The population of the villages has increased steadily throughout that period. In 1971 the total population for the two villages was 747. By 1981 it had risen to 967. Using the electoral registers and adding 23 per cent. for the population under 18, the population for the two villages is 1,188. The two villages have increased in population by 38 per cent. since 1971.
Traffic volume has also increased. A count was taken on 18 May 1987 and for the ensuing four days. In that five-day period, the estimated daily number of vehicles was 6,800. That is certainly an under-estimate of the present situation, because there have been rapid improvements in the local economy in south Pembrokeshire since then. since 1987 unemployment has fallen by more than 25 per cent., which is bound to have led to a further increase in the amount of traffic going along that road.
On a number of occasions I have met residents from both villages to discuss those problems, both at my constituency surgery and this year with the members of the community and district and county councils, who have expressed concern. I received a petition from the residents who live along the road in Sageston. I shall cite some of the points made by the petitioners. They are making a number of complaints. They say that old people are frightened to cross the road; young people are frightened to ride bicycles or horses near the road; nearly every resident has had a pet killed on the road; mothers are living in fear of young children going near the road; and residents are even frightened to drive their cars out of their own drives on to the main road for fear of being hit by the heavy lorries which now trundle up and down the road.
A local resident wrote to me to say that, since she has moved into Sageston, although the village is well signposted, with a 40 mph limit, she has found that90 per cent. of vehicles using our road (which is the main road to Carmarthen) do not come even close to 40 mph unless behind a tractor. Huge juggernauts from the B and I Ferry thunder through many not realising the blind bends, that we are situated on … they have to brake suddenly to remain on the road or they tumble into our garden. At 2 am this is very distracting—but thank heavens for double glazing.Another resident said:The A.477 is the only viable route from the west to Pembroke and the Dock. There is a steady background of tanker traffic. The Dock is being extensively improved, an increase in ferry traffic is planned, several industrial and enterprise zones have been built, and more are in hand. In the holiday season, for five or six months of the year, tourists and holidaymakers bring a three or fourfold increase in the number of private cars and caravans using the road.It is worth noting that the traffic survey was carried out in May before the tourist season was really under way. The letter continues:Since this is also farming country, many tractors and slow moving farm vehicles must necessarily use the road.465 Although that slows the traffic at some points, it leads to recklessness by drivers, because, having been delayed for some considerable time along the road, they then attempt to speed up to pass the slow vehicles, and many accidents are caused as a result.
My correspondent, Mrs. Rogers, who originally raised the matter with me, received a letter in April 1987 from my predecessor, Mr. Nicholas Edwards, then Secretary of State for Wales. He wrote about the need for the bypasses in Redberth and Sageston. He said:Your letter though has come at an opportune time as I am conscious of the need to plan now for a further road improvement programme in the 1990s. As part of such a programme my Department are taking into consideration the many representations that have been made for by-passes for communities such as Redberth and Sageston. In drawing up the programme of road improvements for the 1990s I can assure you that the points you make will be considered.On my election as a Member of Parliament, on 9 September 1987, I wrote to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, but he was not able to add anything further to Mr. Nicholas Edwards's letter.
I wrote again this year to the Secretary of State, and in a letter of 10 February 1989 he said:By-pass solutions to traffic problems in Redberth and Sageston are being planned, for the longer term. This will be confirmed in the edition of Roads in Wales to be published shortly.I look forward to hearing from my hon. Friend the Minister of State his proposals for those improvements.
I should like to stress why it is so important that we get these bypasses into the programme and implemented as soon as possible. They have been in the programme since 1978. It is important that they are actioned as soon as possible, because the position is getting worse. Because of the boom in Pembroke Dock, which is an enterprise zone, because Govan Davies Developments has its dry dock almost completed, and because of the recent deal between Govan Davies and another entrepreneur, Peter Hancock, for the handling of coal and potatoes and the heavy materials in Pembroke dock, we expect shortly to see an increase in the heavy lorry traffic coming from Pembroke Dock and towards Carmarthen, St. Clears and into London. There has also been the restoration of the B and I ferry, which means that at 2 o'clock in the morning large numbers of lorries from Ireland thunder down the A477, making their way through Wales and, on to England.
Therefore, the two bypasses are vital if we are to improve the economy of south Pembrokeshire and ensure that the environmental conditions for the residents who live in the two villages are improved. They are also vital for an improvement in road safety and to ensure that everybody is able to live safely and benefit from the rapid improvement in the economy that has been brought about by the Government.
§ The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Mr. Wyn Roberts)
My hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) has made his concern about Sageston and Redberth very clear—not for the first time. There have been numerous representations to him and by him on behalf of local residents to the Welsh Office over recent years from about 50 of around 350 residents. Individual complaints graphically illustrate their concern about road safety problems, such as the one from Mrs. Meryl Rogers of Redberth, which described an accident she experienced in 1986, when a trailer toppled into her garden while she was 466 hanging out the washing. Others have spoken about thundering juggernauts, the enormous volume of traffic and speeding traffic, which have exacerbated safety problems and are causing environmental damage.
Carew community council has written supporting those concerns. There have also been two petitions. One was from residents of Sageston, supported by the Dyfed county surveyor and engineer, and presented to him by Mrs. Webb and the other was from Redberth residents submitted by Mrs. Griffiths. South Pembrokeshire district council has also written about the importance of improving the A477 to cater for the growth potential at Pembroke dock. So I am fully aware of my hon. Friend's concern, which he has expressed admirably.
I shall begin by looking at those concerns in an all-Wales context.
As my hon. Friend implied, investment in roads in Wales has been substantial. Since 1979, 47 major trunk road schemes have been completed, involving over 140 miles of road. Expenditure on those schemes, together with expenditure on small schemes, structural renewals of roads and bridges, routine maintenance and on schemes in progress, is more than £1 billion. That is a considerable achievement, which has contributed significantly to economic growth in the Principality. As the House will know, we plan to continue with a high rate of investment into the 1990s.
Our strategy, which will be set out in the forthcoming edition of "Roads in Wales", is to give priority to the completion of work on the A55 in north Wales; to improvement and completion of the M4 in south Wales and to selective improvement of the A483 and A470 routes, to give better north-south access. In that way we shall achieve our underlying aims of providing a network of good quality motorway and trunk roads; assisting economic regeneration, including the development of tourism; bypassing congested towns and villages; and, last but not least, improving road safety.
However, the priority attached to the A55, the M4 and the north-south routes A470 and A483 does not exclude other links in the trunk road network. Indeed, part of the policy for the M4 has been to improve road links into west Wales along the A40 and the A477, on which Sageston and Redberth lie.
Since 1979 more than £23 million has been spent upgrading the western end of the A40. Major schemes completed include the St. Clears bypass, diversions at Pontyfenni and Pengawse, Haverfordwest relief roads and a number of small projects such as those at Black bridge, Pont Loerig and Treffgarne quarries.
The A477 has an interesting history. It was constructed by Thomas Telford to Admiralty specification for a 12-horse wagon carriageway. It has been developed considerably since those times to meet modern traffic demands between St. Clears and Pembroke Dock.
Before 1979 a few small scheme improvements were undertaken, but since then around £20 million has been spent on the A477, including completion of a £14 million bypass scheme for Kilgetty and Stepaside, which my hon. Friend mentioned, and a number of smaller improvements such as those at Castle Heli and at Llanteg.
These improvements on the A40 and the A477 have already made their contribution to increased economic activity in west Wales. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales recently opened the new refrigeration plant at Milford Haven; and as my hon. Friend said, 467 Govan Davies Ltd is building a new quay and dry dock facility at Pembroke Dock. The company is planning for the opportunities which it perceives 1992 and the Channel tunnel will bring. It would benefit directly from the planned route 9 county link road between the Pembroke Dock enterprise zone and the A477, which the Welsh Office has supported as a project of regional or national importance. All this demonstrates our concern for the needs of west Wales and our desire to bring the area closer to the rest of Britain in terms of travel time.
The A477 has, on current information, capacity to absorb the expected increase in traffic over the next few years. The sub-standard alignment of the road at Sageston and Redberth is not causing traffic flow problems. However, I take a very serious view of the concern of local residents about road safety.
The accident record at Sageston is about the same as the national average. Most accidents occur at the junction between the A477 and the B43I8 to Tenby. The accident record at Redberth is worse. Between 1 January 1985 and 20 September 1988, there were 10 accidents at Sageston and 12 in the vicinity of Redberth. At Sageston half the accidents were slight and half serious; at Redberth nine were serious and three slight. There have been no fatalities, I am glad to say.
Checks conducted independently by the police authority and the Welsh Office do not support the view that speeding traffic is a severe problem. Average speeds are close to the 40 mph speed limits—but of course it only takes one motorist to drive too fast and exceed the limit for lives to be put at risk. So I have every sympathy with the residents who complain and I fully understand their anxieties.
Poor visibility and road alignment are a problem, particularly at Redberth. At Sageston, junction improvements and the provision of footpaths are being considered. It is not possible to improve the road at Redberth because of the proximity of properties on each side of the road, particularly at the bends. The case for providing street lighting is being considered.
The idea of providing bypasses for both villages has been around for some considerable time as my hon. Friend suggested. Preparation of bypass schemes began following the trunking of the A477 in 1968. A draft order covering the line of the bypasses was published in 1973, and a draft 468 side roads order for a Sageston bypass was published as long ago as 1976. The intention at that time was that the remaining road section between the villages would be improved on the existing alignment; but there were objections. In any event, new orders are needed because our proposals need to conform to current road design standards.
The very low economic benefits of these schemes—both COBA-negative—combined with the greater need for road improvements elsewhere in Wales, has meant that preparation of the schemes has not progressed. However, I recognise that the only real solution to the problems is to bypass both villages. The earlier proposals have been revived.
A bypass for Sageston was included in the programme in "Roads in Wales 1985" as a longer term scheme. The forthcoming edition of "Roads in Wales" will confirm this position and will add a Redberth bypass to the programme for the long term. This reflects the fact that, even when a scheme is included in the programme, it seldom takes less than six years to reach the start of construction.
A number of factors affect progress—public reaction to the proposals, engineering considerations, the statutory procedures and the speed of land acquisition. Because of their current state of development, these schemes have to be regarded as longer term, but as soon as suitable lines for the bypasses have been defined we will announce our intentions. I hope that it will be possible to do this within a year or so and that this will provide all concerned with greater certainty for the future.
But I should also underline that these schemes will be in competition for resources with other planned improvements, including a number in west Wales. These include improvements to the A477 between Llanddowror and Red Roses; the Whitland, Robeston-Wathen and Haverfordwest eastern bypasses on the A40; and an improvement at Treffgarne Rocks also on the A40. These schemes will together cost over £10 million at today's prices.
I conclude by assuring my hon. Friend that we have plans to build bypasses for Redberth and Sageston in the longer term; that this should cater for the traffic demands expected to be generated in west Wales; and that we are actively looking at ways of alleviating the road safety problems in the short term.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at six minutes after Two o'clock.