HC Deb 27 July 1989 vol 157 cc1407-11 7.45 am
Mr. Terence L. Higgins (Worthing)

I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins) on his appointment at the Department of Transport.

Transport is an area with an enormous number of major political questions. The issue of the future route of the A27, together with the expansion of Worthing hospital, are the major issues confronting my constituents at present. I hope that my hon. Friend will understand if I do not elaborate on my congratulations because I stress that the time available to us is very short and I shall understand if he is not able to give a full reply. I thank my hon. Friend for sitting through the long watches of the night, as we have together, while waiting for this debate—[Interruption.] On the contrary, my hon. Friend has been here as long as I have—and I have been here all night.

This issue has a long history. Some 10 or 12 years ago, a study was carried out—inadequately in my view—which suggested four routes for the A27, none of which was a bypass. A preferred route was announced and a lot of property was bought up. I am happy to say that subsequently I was successful in persuading the Minister to drop that idea and the route was abandoned and the houses sold off.

Meanwhile, the traffic has been building up, and back in 1985 the Government decided that a further study should be carried out by Howard Humphries. It resulted in the recommendation of an inner route which, as the posters in my constituency make absolutely clear, is a throughpass not a bypass. I believe profoundly that Worthing should have a real bypass which avoids the town completely.

Indeed, Government policy is that through traffic should be taken away from towns. All the other towns and villages along the south coast are to have real bypasses and it is right that Worthing should have one, too. The strength of public feeling on the matter has been manifested in public meetings and massive petitions of about 24,000 signatures against the route that was selected by the Minister last week, in comparison with one of just over 1,200 in favour of the route selected by the Government. We have had a number of public meetings which, by modern standards, were enormous, with the vast majority of the views expressed being against the preferred route and in favour of a real bypass. I do not think that the assessment that the Government published last week reflecting the Howard Humphries report reflects the strength of public feeling in favour of a bypass and against the preferred route.

My hon. Friend's predecessor was kind enough to receive a deputation, led by the mayor, which spelt out the argument in considerable detail. The borough council thought it right to employ its own consultants, called Atkins, but no relation, I think, to my hon. Friend the Minister, and they drew attention to the serious deficiencies in the Howard Humphries report. The assumption about the speed at which lorries would travel if a bypass were built was far lower than is my experience. Such an assumption tends to bias the decision in favour of the inner route rather than a real bypass. We also believe that the disruption that could be caused to public services such as water, gas and electricity were grossly underestimated. In addition, we have considerable doubts about the traffic forecasts.

I regret the preferred route that has been announced. My hon. Friend's predecessor was influenced considerably by the argument that, if he selected the inner route, he would immediately be able to compensate those who were blighted, whereas if he selected the bypass, where there are no properties, those in the inner route would not be formally blighted——

Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)


Mr. Higgins

No, I am not giving way. I have no time at all. It is not a matter for the Opposition Front Bench.

With regard to the view that was taken by my hon. Friend's predecessor——

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will know that I am a member of the Select Committee on Procedure. I am somewhat puzzled that, in a debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill, when many issues are discussed briefly and at some speed throughout the night, and some hon. Members stay throughout the night to ensure that a balanced view is put, when an Opposition view is offered in truncated form, and when a Minister has refused to allow time, such a brief intervention is not allowed.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

It is for the right hon. Gentleman whose debate it is to decide whether to give way. I must add that this will be a very short debate.

Mr. Higgins

It is indeed a very short debate. This is traditionally an opportunity for Back Benchers to have their grievances redressed and argued before money is provided to the Government. It is not an Opposition Supply Day.

This is a constituency matter. The Government ought to go ahead with a careful study which will reappraise the Howard Humphries report. It has agreed to reconsider the figures in the light of criticism made by Atkins, and has been prepared to set up a public inquiry. I welcome both.

It is not sufficient, however, simply to revise the traffic forecasts, which have been severely criticised recently by the Public Accounts Committee, which said that the figures have tended to be underestimated and consequently less favourable to a bypass than they now will be. It is also important that a survey of traffic flows should be carried out.

I hope that my hon. Friend will carry out the survey of traffic on the basis of up to date data. The present figures are not up-to-date. It is clear that the bypass would remove traffic going from west to east and east to west, but it would also have a significant effect on traffic going from the north to the east, the east to the north, the north to the west and the west to the north. If the bypass were built, all that traffic would be removed from Findon valley, which is a built-up area in my constituency. If, however, the preferred route is confirmed—I strongly hope that it will not be—traffic will still come through Findon valley, and I believe that that means that the road will have to be made a dual carriageway. If that is so, those costs ought to be included in an appraisal of the economic value of the bypass on the one side and the so-called preferred route on the other. I hope very much that my hon. Friend will examine the figures.

Another point of grave concern has been the delay. My constituents whose homes have been threatened do not know at what stage a decision will be reached. They have had a year of serious uncertainty, and clearly it will be some time before the revised figures can be produced and the public inquiry can take place.

I hope that my hon. Friend will make clear the position on blight, and will, if necessary, publish—in addition to the existing leaflets—a summary of where people stand.My impression is that, while those immediately on the route can now apply for a blight notice, those on either side—even if they are most seriously affected—have no prospect of compensation until 12 months after the final decision is made. That, in my view, is quite unfair, not only in this context but in the context of the Channel tunnel and other major developments. Those near to road or rail developments, as opposed to those on the exact route, must receive adequate compensation for the considerable anxiety and personal loss that they suffer. I feel strongly that the present compensation arrangements are inadequate.

Having said that, I welcome the fact that the Government have agreed to reappraise the figures. I hope that they will pay particular attention to the points that I have mentioned, including the additional cost of junctions that would be incurred if the inner route were selected—for example, at Salvington hill. I am, however, pleased that there is to be a public inquiry, which would not have happened 10 years ago. There should be a level playing field in regard to appraisal, and I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to ensure that that happens so that the inner route and the bypass route can be appraised.

The latest document issued by the Department says that figures will also be produced for a bypass route through the Findon gap, which is south of Cissbury Ring. I think that that would have serious disadvantages, not least because of the danger that building would go on up to that line. If the line is north of Cissbury Ring—which I believe is the alternative that we ought to appraise—we shall find that the building is effectively isolated by the existence of Cissbury Ring at that point. We need a clear choice between the route that has been announced as the preferred route and a real bypass, avoiding the town completely, through the Findon gap and north of Cissbury Ring.

7.57 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Robert Atkins)

I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) for his kind remarks at the beginning of what has—inevitably and rightly—been essentially a matter affecting his constituency. Not only has my right hon. Friend a distinguished position in the House, but he is chairman of our Back-Bench committee on transport matters.

I hope that Opposition Members will not think me discourteous if I say that time has prevented too many interventions: the restrictions placed on me do not give me such time to answer the debate.

Mr. Frank Cook

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Minister has properly mentioned the lack of time remaining for the debate. May I point out the strange nature of such an exchange? It was in fact, only through the courtesy of Opposition Members who truncated the previous debate that this subject was allowed to be discussed at all. There have, in fact, been three discourtesies, and I should like to place that on record.

Mr. Atkins

It was my understanding that this was very much a constituency matter, and I shall certainly read with care what my right hon. Friend has said on behalf of his constituents.

Ms. Ruddock

I congratulate the Minister on his appointment. Will he tell the House whether the proposal for the bypass has the support of the county council? What environmental damage does he think that the bypass might do to the South Downs?

Mr. Atkins

The hon. Lady will know as well as my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing that inevitably in all these matters, as I have discovered in the short time that I have been in this post, there are almost as many people in favour of a proposal as there are against. The persuasive powers of my right hon. Friend are such that I shall certainly look at all the submissions, whether from the hon. Lady, with whom I look forward to working, or from my right hon. Friend. We can reassure the people of Worthing who may or may not be affected by the proposals that my predecessor enunciated that their views will be looked at as carefully as possible.

It being Eight o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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