§ Motion made and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Chapman.]2.31 pm
§ Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)
The east London assessment study is a report commissioned by the Department of Transport from the private consultants Ove Arup to consider traffic and transport issues in an area of north and east London covered roughly by the boroughs of Haringey, Islington and Hackney.
The report was published on 14 December 1989, just before Christmas, and it presents a range of different traffic schemes, among which are a number of favoured options that the Department of Transport has put before the House and before my constituents for their comments.
The favoured package contains a number of public transport options—for roads, rail and Tube—and a major proposal for a large-scale new highway coming from the A1 into the City of London.
I should declare a personal interest, because if that highway goes ahead, during the course of its construction my home, along with several hundred other homes, will be destroyed.
I live in a street of Victorian terrace houses which survived the blitz. However, it looks as though it will not survive Cecil Parkinson. A number of people in the street have lived there for the past 40 years. Their house is their home, but it will disappear because of the broad sweep of a brown line on a map by transport planners. No Government Department should undertake that course lightly. Only the most pressing regional or national requirements should justify such proposals. The proposals put forward by the Government do not meet that test.
We should welcome one or two aspects of the report, which puts forward some extremely good options for public transport—for example, the long-awaited proposal, which was floated some time ago in the central London rail study, for the construction of a Chelsea to Hackney Tube line. That would be of great benefit to the residents of Hackney, and to those of my constituents who live on the eastern side of Islington.
The east-west cross rail link between Liverpool street and Paddington is another proposal whose implementation is desperately needed, as is the upgrading and improving of the Northern line. Anyone who travels on that creaking, inefficient part of the Underground network will know that that is essential.
All those proposals are very welcome, but what the Government do not tell us in their response to the study is how they are to be paid for. They have made no commitment to fund the work; on the contrary, last year's Autumn Statement suggested that money would be available for only one London public transport option, the extension of the Jubilee line to docklands, which the central London rail study regarded as a thoroughly bad option. We fear that the bad option will be constructed and the good option—the one that ordinary people want—will not. We want a commitment from the Government that they will provide the funding for the public transport improvements that we all want. My constituents and I fear that we shall otherwise end up with a road scheme that we do not want and none of the public transport improvements that we do want.
597 The proposed new road will run from Archway, along Holloway road, across to Caledonian road and thence to York way, down to King's Cross, up Pentonville road, through the Angel, on to Old street and finally to Aldgate. It will be a new highway corridor running from the A1 and M1 into the heart of the City. I can tell the Minister that the vast majority of my constituents do not want it—not just those who will lose their homes, although that is bad enough, and between 300 and 600 will be in that category—but those who will stay put. If a major highway is dumped on their doorstep, they will suffer noise, disturbance, pollution and disruption of their environment.
Thousands will be affected. The new road will run right beside the Caledonian road estate, the Boston estate, the Bemerton estate, York way court, the Weston rise estate, Angel house and Kestrel house. The Government must realise that the proposal is deeply unpopular, and I hope that that will become clear to them during the public consultation exercise that is now under way.
Apart from ruining people's lives, the new road is wrong in principle. By creating a new fast corridor into the centre of London, the Government will end up attracting more traffic into the heart of London when they should be doing precisely the opposite—restraining traffic from coming in in the first place. For what purpose are they doing this? Simply to knock 10 minutes off commuters' car journeys. In my view, that is not worth the destruction that will be caused.
We need a two-pronged policy of real and immediate improvements in London's public transport network, along with traffic restraint to keep unnecessary vehicles out. That option has been put forward by the boroughs concerned—for instance, in the Haringey blueprint.
The consultation period for the east London assessment study is far too short. The report was published on 14 December. Comments have to be received by 28 February. That is a period of two and a half months, with the first half month entirely taken up by the Christmas period. The problem has been made even worse by the fact that the report has not been made available to many of the people who will be affected by the proposals. Quite a number of local residents and local community groups, nominated London Members who will be affected and who ought to receive copies of the report, have not received it. Libraries that were promised public information displays have not received them.
The technical report on the study will not be available until a month after the consultation period ends on 28 February. Departmental representatives will attend only one meeting in each borough, despite an early commitment that they would attend all public meetings. The availability of the information on which comments can be made is grossly inadequate. Surely, therefore, the consultation period ought to be extended beyond 28 February so that people can obtain the information, think about it carefully and then make considered comments to the Department about it. Doubtless the Department will say that that would increase the period of planning blight. Those of us, including myself, who are affected by blight would prefer comments to be made properly and in large numbers to the Department rather than that the consultation period should be drastically curtailed.
I ask the Minister, first, to extend the deadline for consultation; second, to give a firm commitment that money will be made available for the public transport 598 improvements that we all want; and, third, to scrap here and now a new road scheme that no one wants, that will destroy homes and whole neighbourhoods and that will not solve the traffic problems of London as a whole. I urge the Minister, as passionately as I possibly can, on behalf of thousands of my constituents, to think again about what his Department is doing and to scrap, once and for all, this major new road proposal that we neither want nor need.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
I am obliged, as are many other people in Islington, to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) for what he has said in the debate.
Last night I attended a meeting of the Holloway neighbourhood traffic group, where 250 people were packed into a room that was designed to hold fewer than 100. An overflow room was then filled up, after which we had to turn people away. Such was the interest and concern. No representative from the Department of Transport or the consultants turned up. However, local authority representatives, the Member of Parliament and local residents were there to discuss the issue. It was a sober and serious discussion. Much genuine concern was expressed about why that community should be torn apart by the construction of a huge highway, which could result in the loss of up to 600 homes and as many as 2,000 people being displaced.
The Government's strategy for London calmly predicts a 30 per cent. increase in commuter car journeys during the next decade. The Government calmly say that they will continually underfund London Regional Transport and British Rail. They insist that all new public transport development should be self-financing. Calculations have been made showing that all the public transport options in all the assessment studies will lead to a fare increase of roughly 46 per cent. That is fundamentally wrong.
The Government have failed to address the problem of car-borne commuters. Car-borne commuters moving in and out of central London make up less than 20 per cent. of the total number of people commuting in and out of central London; circular commuter journeys represent slightly more. The Government propose to spend up to £4.2 billion on the construction of major road schemes around London to serve a minority of the population arid bring more vehicles into central London. So far there has been a woeful silence about how much money they intend to put into public transport to finance bus services that need improving, the rail schemes that are necessary, new Tube lines and improvements to existing ones.
I hope that the Government recognise that many people are concerned. There is a lack of London-wide debate because we lack a London-wide authority. When the Government abolished the Greater London council they took away the forum in which elected representatives could discuss serious planning matters. I hope that the Government will be prepared at least to engage in public debates with those of us who are concerned about what is happening to London and give some credibility to the fine work that Haringey borough council has done to promote the blueprint for transport in London which shows how resources could be directed to improve the transport needs of the people of London.
The local effect of the road will be the destruction of a large number of houses. At the moment there are plans for a tunnel where the Archway road passes Highgate station and plans are being considered for a bored tunnel down to 599 Finsbury Park, the construction of a new route to King's Cross and the widening of the junction at Highbury corner to send more traffic eastwards to Hackney, Tower Hamlets and docklands. It is a catastrophic scheme, and I urge the Government to extend the consultation period way beyond 28 February, provide details of the schemes so that we know which roads will be closed and which will be kept open and to recognise that the folly of road building in London has now been exposed for what it is. We need a strategy that relies on restraining powers and improving and encouraging public transport.
§ Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
I want to say on behalf of my constituents in Hackney that, although the terrible shadow of new road building in Hackney has been lifted, we are aware that if the road schemes are implemented in east London, in the long term that will increase the pressure for new through roads in Hackney. That is why we are prepared to continue campaigning alongside other people in east London.
Hackney is the only London borough without a Tube station. We cannot emphasise how important it is for us for the Ministry quickly to come forward with agreement and finance for the new Chelsea-Hackney line. If there is one thing that I should like to achieve as a Member of Parliament for the borough, it is a Tube station for Hackney.
§ The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Robert Atkins)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) on raising this matter on the Adjournment with the style and ability by which we have come to recognise him. I understand the concerns that he has expressed. He may well already know, and if he does not the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) will tell him, that I know the area very well indeed. I was born and bred there, I was educated there, and I was on Haringey council for about eight years. My family have been connected with Islington and Hornsey for more than 150 years, so I know the area extremely well and, therefore, I appreciate all the points that he made and the geography to which he refers.
I should like to get one thing crystal clear. The proposals that are the subject of the assessment studies have nothing to do with the Government as yet. They are not Government proposals. Let us get that absolutely clear. They are options produced by consultants whose work has been going on since 1984 or 1985—a long time before I took my present job. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have merely issued in the document that we have prepared for consultation purposes our preliminary indications of what might not be subject to further consultations, in addition to those options that have already been dropped.
§ Mr. Chris Smith
Does the Minister agree that the Department of Transport gave Ove Arup its remit? The assumptions on which it based its traffic models were given by the Department of Transport. They included a prediction of a 50 per cent. rise in the real cost of public 600 transport, but an increase of only 15 per cent. in the real cost of private car transport. Those assumptions were fed to the consultants by the Department.
§ Mr. Atkins
It is only reasonable to accept that the Department of Transport commissioned the proposals. Indeed, we shall have to pay for them in due course, which will cost a substantial sum—
§ Mr. Atkins
Quite right, the taxpayer. We commissioned the documents, but the proposals and discussions on them have been controversial, and doubtless will remain so. The fact remains that those are the consultants' proposals. Since I have been responsible for these matters with the Secretary of State, I have said that we shall listen closely to the consultations before making any decisions on what will be our proposals, which will then be subject to the sort of criticisms that the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury is mistakenly making of the Department at present.
I understand, not only from my erstwhile knowledge of London but from the concerns that have been expressed from across the political spectrum, that the options originally canvassed for the study that affects not only the constituency of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury but other parts of London were very unpopular. Where I can, I have sought to defuse some of those concerns. The hon. Members for Islington, South and Finsbury and for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) were gracious enough to accept that, as some of the options have been turned down, that has relieved some of the concerns and worries of people in various parts of London. I re-emphasise that these are not our proposals.
The consultation period has been going on for far too long. I have received the impression from consultations with people who know London better than I do that that is so. We must put a stop to that as soon as possible by accepting or rejecting options. That is why I determined—and I make no apology for so doing—that the period of consultation should end on 28 February. Discussion on the studies has been going on for a long time—arguably too long. The date that I have set gives more than enough time.
I draw to the attention of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury the fact that the Department has been criticised—this may not be true of him, but it may be true of the hon. Member for Islington, North—for not making copies of the consultants' report available to groups until recently. We received only days ago a list of groups that the hon. Member for Islington, North wished—
§ Mr. Atkins
May I finish the point? We received only the other day a list of groups in the hon. Gentleman's constituency—I presume that there must be groups in other parts of Islington—and we sent them copies of the report as soon as possible. We said throughout that we would send them only to properly constituted groups, and we took the advice of hon. Members about which groups were properly constituted. We were not prepared to send them to individuals.
§ Mr. Corbyn
I am glad that the list is at last being sent out. The Minister should contact the Secretary of State. My office sent the list to the Secretary of State's office as soon as it was requested. It later transpired that the Minister had not received it, so we sent him a copy. It is not my fault that the Minister of State does not speak to the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. Atkins
First, I am not the Minister of State. Secondly, I talk to him frequently. The reports were not received by my Department and so I could not send them out. However, we should gloss over this matter because there is no point in delaying the debate. I want to address some of the more fundamental issues. When we have received notification from London Members across the political spectrum we have quickly sent out the reports. If the hon. Gentleman talked to some of his colleagues he would find that they had received them. That is certainly what I have heard from Opposition Members.
I am clearly not in a position—I wish that I was—to make decisions off the cuff at the Dispatch Box about the sort of resources that will, or will not, be made available. If I could do so I would have more power than I am entitled to have. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury and his hon. Friends must not, and cannot, assume that we shall not make resources available. Insofar as I can predict such matters, bearing in mind the Cabinet, it is my determination that the public transport and road options—subject to the consultation—should each be as likely to receive a resource allocation and, therefore, have the chance of being constructed.
Let there be no misconception that, automatically, we shall not fund the public transport options any more than the road transport ones. We shall consider the views expressed at the consultation. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury is an active and well-respected constituency Member. If he is right, and I am sure that he is, the points he made, which were represented to him by his constituents, will be taken into account. It may be that his representations, and those of his constituents, will be the deciding factor in ensuring that the road will not be built. However, I cannot predict that until we hear people's views at the end of the consultation period.
Mention has been made of the Haringey blueprint. I know a little hit about Haringey and I am automatically suspicious of what its council has to say, particularly these days.
§ Mr. Atkins
It may be fine, but it is drawn from bitter experience.
Haringey's blueprint is being advanced as a serious contribution to the debate. But it is no more or less than a mixture of old ideas, strung together with no facts to back them up. The figures quoted are fictional—I 602 emphasise that word. For example, they ignore the aspirations of ordinary people to have independent means of transport and put forward the mistaken belief that improvements in public transport alone will solve traffic problems. The financial calculations do not add up. For example, it quotes new road and maintenance costs of £1,000 million a year when, in truth, they are only £350 million a year. It claims that heavy traffic causes road repairs of £500 million a year and that £800 million a year is spent on subsidising company cars. Those figures are simply untrue.
§ Ms. Abbott
I am not in a position to bandy figures. However, I hope that the Minister will not let a certain party political animus—old rivalries and rancour about Haringey council—affect his view of the blueprint. I cannot answer for every detail of the blueprint, but the Minister must believe me when I say that it represents the feelings of many people in the area. The broad outline of the blueprint genuinely reflects the feelings of many people in Hackney, Islington and Haringey about the answers to the transport problems in London.
§ Mr. Atkins
I must correct the hon. Lady: I have no rancour about my days in Haringey. I enjoyed myself immensely and had many friends across the political divide. Regrettably, many of those friends on the controlling side in Haringey were thrown out by some of those who now run the council, and I do not have so many friends among the new council members. However, the council needs to get its act together in relation to the blueprint to which many hon. Members have referred. It needs to try to get its facts right.
I am more concerned about what the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury said, because he speaks with considerable authority in the House and I respect his opinions, although I may often disagree with them. He made some fair points about his constituents' concerns. I have undertaken today—I reinforce this—to ensure that his concerns, and those of his constituents, about the road, or roads, and finance for the public transport options will be carefully considered. I know the area and I appreciate the problems, whether they involve the Archway road at the top—that was a problem when I was on Haringey council and it still is—or the bottom end of the hon. Gentleman's constituency.
I shall listen most carefully to all that the hon. Gentleman and his constituents have to say. At the end of the consultation period, the Department of Transport will decide on its proposals. The hon. Gentleman will then be able to attack me fairly—or unfairly—about what the Government are doing. However, at present they are merely options and not proposals, and I hope that his expressions of concern and those of his hon. Friends, and Conservative Members, will be taken into account.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Three o'clock.