HC Deb 29 January 1992 vol 202 cc1050-4

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

10.30 pm
Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)

I should like to draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic to a serious difficulty in my constituency over the proposed bypass for the village of Wing. If there were a traditional division of opinion in my constituency about the route of the bypass, I should not take the time of the House tonight, but that is not the position. The village is virtually united against the present proposal.

The proposal has a long history which has tried the patience of my constituents, who have had to live with uncertainty for so many years. A bypass was first mooted two decades ago. It has now grown like Topsy, but unlike Topsy it has grown into a monster. That monster is no longer a bypass—that is to say, a road which passes by the village. It has developed into a major trunk road which could have three lanes in each direction—a six-lane road verging on a motorway. It will go through the northern part of the village and divide part of the village from Burcott, which has become virtually part of the village.

The new road will not only have environmental effects—for example, it will disrupt the view of the Chilterns—but will pass close to elderly people's bungalows at Park Gate and residential areas in Moorlands road and Moorhills road. I have been there to examine the site and have seen that the proposed road will be within a few yards of those residential areas. People will be able to hear and smell the road. The idea that it might one day grow from a two-lane to a six-lane road is intolerable.

The main problem has been well summed up by the organisation called STRIVE, which stands for Stop Trunk Road Invading Village Environment. That sums up the problem. I stress that STRIVE is not an ad hoc organisation of amateurs. I have met the group several times. It includes professionals with experience of road engineering, who know what they are talking about, and they have given careful and balanced thought to the issues.

STRIVE has sound democratic roots, and has carried out a survey within the village, consulting 2,094 electors personally, of whom 1,418 replied—68 per cent., which is a high rate of reply. More than three quarters—78 per cent.—of those replying agreed that the road, which has developed into a major trunk route, should be further from the village.

What is the history? How did we get where we are today? In the early 1970s, it was decided that a close-in by-pass should be eliminated from the possibilities by the Department of Transport. That decision was taken because a close-in bypass would intrude into Wing park, because self-evidently it would have an impact on the village, and because the proposed route would have passed through a grade I ancient site.

In the early 1980s, a north route and a south route were proposed. To cut short on history, in 1989 a proposal to upgrade the Wing bypass into a new dual carriageway was included in the White Paper, "Roads for Prosperity".

The need for the road is contested by no one. Clearly it is of major strategic interest to the Government and to business to connect to the east ports of Felixstowe and Harwich. That is understood by my constituents, who are by no means backwoodsmen. They understand the commercial and transport rationale behind it. What they do not understand is how the road, which was originally a bypass, has been allowed to evolve in a somewhat organic way to the point where it will invade their village and their environment.

The real problem is that a number of interrelated schemes have been dealt with independently. The three schemes are as follows: first, the A418, Leighton to Linslade, southern bypass, which has been promoted by Bedfordshire county council. I am glad to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South-West (Mr. Madel) has taken the trouble to be here for the debate. The Wing bypass is the second scheme, and is promoted by Buckinghamshire county council, and the A4146 Linslade western bypass, which is also promoted by that county council, is the third scheme.

The three separate schemes are obviously interrelated. The more strategic the roads become, the greater the need for them to be interrelated. However, they have not been interrelated in such a way as to allow the public to express their views or to propose alternative routes. As a result of the interrelating that has taken place, the meeting point of the three roads has been decided at a preconceived point—a roundabout. Obviously that limits the options open to dissenters, because it freezes the position, making it impossible for them to suggest alternatives, which can always be dismissed on the grounds that they do not tie in with the pre-arranged nodal point.

What we have had is a historical muddle—the organic growth of the bypass—plus an over-rigid reliance on this one meeting point. That is causing enormous irritation and frustration to my constituents. The Minister must take note of that.

To complicate matters still further, the Wing bypass is covered by section 272 of the Highways Act 1980 with the county council taking the lead. To the west, the Rowsham and Bierton bypass has the Department of Transport in the lead. There is an element of incoherence in this situation, as no one seems to have taken an overall look at where the road will go. Just as important, no one has considered the implications for the people who happen to live in its path.

To complicate matters still further I am informed that publication of the A418 west of Aylesbury to Wing proposals will be delayed until May 1992 so they will not be available to be seen in relationship to the proposed Wing bypass. Again, there is an element of fragmentation.

What will come out of all this is a de facto situation in which, because of the preconceptionabout the meeting point of those roads, the way the project has evolved over time and the lack of co-ordinated planning between the two county councils-co-ordinated in a manner in which the public could get at the whole system and question the assumptions behind the bypass—the democratic right of my constituents to challenge the route has been effectively undercut. Therefore, what is needed is a joint public inquiry. For that reason, I propose that the Secretary of State should consider calling in that particular bypass.

My constituents have been extremely patient over the years as the route has evolved. They have lived with the uncertainty. There are obvious implications for the people of the village, whether the route goes to the north or the south—there have been plans for both options. All are agreed—I stress this—that the bypass must be taken further away from the village, but that can be done only if proper oversight is taken by the Department of Transport, which, after all, is funding the roads. This affair must not be allowed to continue to evolve in a higgledy-piggledy, patchwork way.

10.43 pm
The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Christopher Chope)

Over the past year, my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) has sent me several letters from his constituents about the route of the Wing bypass. He and his constituents support the need for a bypass, but there is no consensus about the route that it should take.

Various routes have been examined to the north and south of Wing. Back in 1984, Buckinghamshire county council gave planning permission for a southern bypass. In 1989, the A418 through Wing was identified in the "Roads for Prosperity" White Paper as a local authority scheme which could form part of a strategic route linking the M40 with the M1. Traffic predictions warranted a dual carriageway and Buckinghamshire county council reviewed the relative merits of alternative routes. This led to formal consultation by the county council in April 1991 on three options, one to the north and two to the south of the village.

In May 1991, the county highways sub-committee recommended southern route S2. An application seeking planning permission was submitted in December 1991 to the county and district council planning committees, and I understand that the application is likely to be considered in March. I neither wish nor intend to interfere in the local democratic decisions on this matter, although I am well aware of the concerns that some have expressed about S2.

It is probably inevitable that no route will please everybody. In 1983, an outer route north of Burcott was rejected by the county council. It would have gone along the south of a valley facing Wing and had a strong visual impact on the village. The April 1991 consultation carried out by the county council canvassed a northern route developed in conjunction with consultants representing Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, a prominent local landowner. His consultants have also since put forward a further alternative.

The county council's preferred route to the south has been criticised for going too close to Wing, having regard to the amount of traffic likely to be using the road, but an alternative route further to the south is criticised because it would be insufficiently attractive to traffic going between Milton Keynes and Aylesbury to bring maximum relief to Wing.

It has therefore been suggested by some that the county proposals be abandoned in favour of a scheme developed using trunk road procedures. But that would mean starting again from scratch, causing delay and prolonging uncertainty. The scheme has been revised once to take account of the wider implications of its national role and represents the refinement of prolonged and detailed studies.

Mr. Walden

Before my hon. Friend the Minister gets lost, may I point out that he said that further delays might be caused if the entire scheme were reviewed from scratch. I suspect that my villagers would prefer further delay to having a four-lane, and potential six-lane, highway foisted on them, which would run very close to, if not through, some parts of the village.

Mr. Chope

I hear what my hon. Friend says. Ultimately, it is a matter for the local people in consultation with their elected representatives on the county council. Nothing would remove the need for a dual carriageway bypass of Wing. The traffic predictions show that a dual carriageway would be warranted. If the villagers want a bypass, it is inevitable that it will be a dual carriageway. The route for that bypass has already been the subject of a consultation, and the next stage in the planning process will be for the planning committee of Buckinghamshire county council to decide on the issue in March. Much argument remains prior to that meeting and it will not be an easy task for the county councillors because there is considerable opposition, as my hon. Friend has made clear to the House.

My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for the Environment has, potentially, the opportunity to use his powers under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to direct an authority to refer a planning application to him for his own personal decision. More generally, the county council has produced—as it is required to do—an environmental statement setting out the expected environmental impact and mitigation of the proposed road. That environmental statement is currently being considered by the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Should the line of the route eventually receive planning permission, the next step for the county council would be to make draft side roads and compulsory purchase orders under the terms of the Highways Act 1980, probably by spring 1993. The public will have the opportunity to comment and object to the proposals. It seems likely, because of the level of concern, that a public inquiry would then be necessary. That inquiry would be conducted by an independent inspector appointed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and would have a forum for a full debate on the issues in great depth. It would give objectors an opportunity to express their views and enable alternative proposals to be examined and discussed.

This is a controversial scheme, but I hope that the county council, in conjunction with the representations made by my hon. Friend on behalf of his constituents and other local opinion, will be able to reach a conclusion that is reasonably satisfactory for all involved. Clearly, there is a demand for the uncertainty to be brought to an end as quickly as possible. I hope that my hon. Friend will recognise that the best people to bring that uncertainty to a conclusion are the Buckinghamshire county councillors who have carried the scheme forward so far and are much closer to local opinion—or should be—than is any other authority.

My hon. Friend is clearly concerned about the present position. He can ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to call in the application. That could be done before the county council takes a decision in March of this year. I am sure that my hon Friend the Member for Buckingham will not be slow to draw the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State should he wish to do so.

I do not think that I can add anything further this evening. The road has been promoted by the county council, although it has national implications. When it is built, it will be funded largely by the taxpayer. However, that does not mean that the Government are dictating which route should be taken. They are listening to the views of people and relying on the county council to choose the best option.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at nine minutes to Eleven o'clock.