HC Deb 17 February 1993 vol 219 cc451-8

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

12.19 am
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)

I regret to have to bring the issue of the Al Newcastle western bypass before the House in this way, but, having tried to resolve the problems that my constituents have had over the past two years through the normal channels—letters to Ministers and meetings with them—I am afraid that we have reached the stage at which the matter must be debated on the Floor of the House, because we are not resolving the problem. I speak with the full support of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson), who also has constituents living adjacent to the road who are suffering similar problems.

The problem concerns a grave injustice to my constituents who live in the Woodgrove area of Denton Burn, adjacent to the A1 Newcastle western bypass. Construction of the road began in 1986 and there were several consultation meetings with representatives of the Department of Transport, at which residents were given assurances about construction noise, access, obstructions, and so on. They were assured that all the problems would be kept to a minimum, as would traffic noise, fumes and vibration when the road was completed.

The usual horrendous disruption was experienced during the works—heavy plant and equipment being moved around in residential areas, blocked roads and walkways, mud, dirt, noise and the other general problems with which people have to deal when such work is in progress. One of my constituents sent me a list of the problems from which he and his family were suffering:

  1. "1. Paths cracked and sinking due to vibration.
  2. 2. Cement dust in layers every day, worst whilst pumping mineshaft etc. full and constant vibration.
  3. 3. Cracks and settlement to east gable of house.
  4. 4. Cracks, settlement and pointing dropping out at back of house.
  5. 5. Plastic guttering ruined …
  6. 6. Extension cracks to brickwork and cement and ceiling cracking.
  7. 7. Lead flashing fell off chimney.
  8. 8. Bedroom ceilings cracked especially back bedroom.
  9. 9. Severe vibrations.
  10. 10. An actual piece fell off front door roof"—
Apparently, when my constituent told the constructors about the latter they thought it was a huge joke.

My constituent's letter goes on to explain about the interference with television reception, a rise in the incidence of burglary because of the rear access to properties, a rise in vandalism, and so on.

Furthermore, some of my constituents were obliged to allow access to their gardens so that the contractors could carry out works. Those, of course, were people whose properties were nearest the road line. They had to allow access to the utilities to lay pipes and duct work, and to other contractors to fill mine workings with concrete. During those activities fences were destroyed and shrubs and plants lost.

At that time my constituents were offered compensation for the disruption of between £1,200 and £1,700. Under the threat of compulsory purchase, they therefore allowed access and in 1987 they took the compensation. When the payment was accepted, the Department's officials assured four of the householders concerned that, because of the design of the road through its concrete channels, they would not suffer from noise, fumes and dirt from the traffic that would eventually use the road.

That was not true. The noise and constant smell of petrol and diesel makes it impossible to spend a peaceful afternoon in the garden. But the householders could not possibly have known that when the agreement was signed. Naturally, but unfortunately, they accepted the experts' assurances about minimal noise and disruption.

The road was opened on 1 December 1990 by Her Majesty the Queen. Almost immediately, complaints came flooding in about the volume of traffic using the road, and the associated problems. I wrote to the then Minister about the problem, and on 15 February 1991 I received a reply in which he said, inter alia: The noise levels and air quality … are in line with our predictions. Nevertheless, compensation was paid to other residents who complained about disruption to their lives and devaluation of their property as a result of the traffic using the road. However, the residents who had received compensation of £1,200 to £1,700 for access were refused compensation for the problems caused by the traffic using the road.

So I wrote again to the Minister. On 7 April 1991 he replied: owner/occupiers such as you mention insisted that the Department acquire title to the land required. They were paid compensation for the land taken and also for injurious affection as a result of their close proximity to the works. The compensation paid was agreed as the full and final settlement of all claims associated with the road scheme. In other words, compensation received prior to the opening of the road debarred further claims for compensation, even though the original compensation was accepted by my constituents for disruption and access to their property.

My constituents are adamant that they did not insist, as the Minister stated in his letter, that the Department acquire title to the portions of land within their property boundaries. They did not receive any payment for land, because none was acquired. They received from the Department compulsory purchase orders. They were informed that if they refused entry to the land required, the orders would be activated. Therefore, they gave permission for access as they felt that they had little choice. None of their land was taken. They suffered great inconvenience. In some cases gardens were left in a disgusting state.

My constituents did not at any time ask for compensation. They were not aware that they were entitled to compensation. They were pleased when they were offered sums of between £1,200 and £1,700 for what they understood to be compensation for the inconvenience caused by the works. Whoever made the offer did not inform my constituents, until they had accepted the offer, that no further compensation claims would be considered.

As the Department of Transport must have been aware that large sums in compensation for property devaluation would be forthcoming—indeed, the Minister confirmed that the noise level was in line with their predictions—the offer to my constituents of sums of £1,200 to £1,700 was, they believe, tantamount to dishonesty. Therefore, they expect the Department to rectify the position.

My constituents ask how it can be possible for people who were not affected by the roadworks to receive at least 60 per cent. more than those whose property was occupied, when needed, by people connected with the works.

In trying to be co-operative, my constituents have suffered considerable loss at the hands of the Department of Transport, their own legal advisers, or perhaps both. It was not made clear to them that the sum that they received in compensation for disruption to their homes and gardens during construction would cancel any claim because of noise or traffic usage of the road which they could not have anticipated and which, according to the advice of Department officials, would be minimal.

In the latest letter in the long saga, the director of network management and construction at the Newcastle office of the Department told my constituent, Mr. Graham, of 46 Woodgrove: the Department of Transport has no legal power to increase the compensation paid to you in 1987. That misses the point. My constituents are not looking for an increase in their original compensation. They consider that to have been compensation for destruction of, and access to, property during the works. What they are now seeking is similar compensation, sometimes of about £6,000, to that received by other residents whose property was not invaded by workmen and whose lives were not disrupted to the same extent by the works.

Ministers seem to say that people are expected to take a gamble in such circumstances. If they accept compensation at an early stage for access and/or damage to property, they risk losing later when a new situation, which they could not have assessed in advance, arises. If they wait to see the eventual effects of the traffic using the road before they claim, they have no guarantee that the same level of compensation will apply.

Surely that cannot be a proper way to deal with such situations. Compensation should be assessed at or about the time when damage occurs, and ought not to preclude distinctly separate claims at a later date when there are new circumstances—in this case the traffic using the road.

I hope that the Minister will not trot out the old argument about rules and regulations. That will not do. There has been an injustice. That is clear to me, as it must be to others. There will be other road schemes; the Secretary of State for Transport announced several recently. On the south side of the Tyne, the same stretch of the A1 is the subject of statutory consultation. Concerned residents have been told not to worry. They have been assured that modern materials and landscaping will greatly reduce traffic nuisance. The same words were used in the public consultation over the Newcastle stretch of the road. If the public are to have confidence in the Department of Transport and in the assurances that they are given, they must receive treatment that goes to the letter of the rules and regulations, and that treatment must be fair and just. That is all that is being asked for in this instance.

12.30 am
The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Kenneth Carlisle)

I thank the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) for raising an important matter. I know that he has pursued it with great energy on behalf of his constituents, and I respect that. I know that his constituents will be grateful, too.

I welcome the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), who also has an interest in the A1. He has championed the improvement of the A69 in his constituency.

The hon. Member for Tyne Bridge has argued his case with great force, and it might be helpful if I review the history of the road. The need for a western bypass of Newcastle was clearly acknowledged as far back as 1936, and the route has been protected since that time. However, it did not feature in development documents until 1945. Much new housing was built along the protected route from 1936 to the time when the building of the road reached fruition.

The Newcastle western bypass, which cost £88 million, was one of the most important schemes in the national road programme. On completion, it was to be designated as the A1 linking the trunk road north and south of Newcastle and Gateshead and connecting important radial routes from the west, such as the A69 and A696.

The scheme initially from Scotswood bridge to the A696 was added to the road programme in 1977. However, Tyne and Wear metropolitan county council considered that the bypass should extend further north to link with the Great North road at Wideopen, and both the county council and the Department of Transport carried out public consultation in 1978. In 1980, the then Secretary of State for Transport accepted the extension as forming the trunk road bypass. The preferred route was announced in 1981. An amendment to the southern extremity of the route was proposed in 1984 to allow for the construction of a new crossing of the Tyne. A public inquiry was held in November 1985, and the orders for the scheme were made in June 1986. The first contract for the main works started in June 1987.

The Department was aware of the problems that the building of parts of the route would entail from Scotswood road through to Kingston park but more particularly along the narrow corridor between Woodgrove and the A69 west road.

Unfortunately, some nuisance to local residents is unavoidable when work is being carried out on a scheme of this size, particularly in an urban area. The hon. Gentleman mentioned how the building of the road affected his constituency and the nuisance that the work caused. The Department did all that it could to minimise inconvenience and disruption. The measures taken to that end included the setting up of regular working groups meeting on a bi-monthly basis, on which members of Newcastle city council were represented to monitor and deal with problems as and when they arose. Close contact was also maintained with Gateshead. The Department issued a series of newsletters to keep residents and road users informed in advance of what was happening. Other measures before the start of works included the insulation against noise of dwellings that qualified under the Noise Insulation Regulations 1975. Extensive advance tree and shrub planting, provision of protective fencing and alternative access arrangements were also undertaken where necessary.

The detailed land requirements for the Newcastle western bypass were made public knowledge in the mid-1980's. Although the draft compulsory purchase orders showed land to be acquired from several owner-occupied properties in the Southway and Woodgrove areas of south-west Denton, in fact the Department wished only to have essential licences over those areas of land. The licences were required to allow old worked coal seams to be grouted up. Owners of the properties affected had the right to serve blight notices on the Department, and several chose that particular option.

The district valuer, who, on behalf of the Department negotiates all land compensation matters for all road schemes, had to establish during his negotiations with the remaining property holders or their agents whether they were prepared to grant a licence for the grouting works to be carried out or whether owners insisted on title to the land being acquired. The district valuer made owners or their agents fully aware of the ramifications of both options, so they knew exactly what they would face with each option. The Department did not insist on acquiring title. In accordance with normal practice, the letter accompanying the notice to treat served on owners made it clear that the Department would prefer to acquire the lesser right, in this case a licence.

Those owners who were prepared to grant a licence were paid a licence fee for the duration of the work. That meant that compensation for any injurious affection on their property to which they might be entitled from the operation of the road would need to be the subject of a claim under part I of the Land Compensation Act 197:3. As the hon. Gentleman knows, however, such claims cannot be submitted until one year after the opening of the road —in this case December 1991.

Those owners who insisted on title to the land being acquired were paid compensation for the land taken and for injurious affection as a result of the close proximity to the works at the time of the acquisition in 1987. On completion of the acquisition, a legal transfer document was signed which included a clause accepting the compensation in full and final settlement of injurious affection and all other claims to which they were entitled.

Independent negotiations were conducted between the district valuer and solicitors and/or agents representing the residents.

The affected residents of Woodgrove decided, on the basis of independent professional advice that they received, to require the Department to acquire title to the land involved. The advisers will no doubt have considered the advantages and disadvantages to their clients of the options available. They decided to proceed on the basis of immediate compensation and signed agreements in full and final settlement of all claims associated with the road scheme. No pressure was put on the residents by the Department as to the course of action that they should taken in this matter. Therefore, the Department has a different interpretation of the extent of knowledge of both the agents and the residents about what they were doing. We believed that they had full advice and knowledge of what was implied by their specific choice to sell at that time.

It is important to recognise that in 1987 neither the professional advisers representing the residents nor the district valuer could have been certain what, if any, compensation might result from a later assessment.

It is also important to recognize—this is central to the case—the Department has no legal power to increase the compensation paid to owners in 1987. There is no provision in legislation to allow us to do that.

As I mentioned previously, the route is close to residential properties which have been built since the bypass was first suggested. The protection of the route meant that relatively few houses had to be demolished, some 66 in total, but the narrowness of the corridor necessitated extensive measures to reduce the environmental impact of the road, especially noise effects on the residents. The road was therefore designed so that physical barriers exist between the traffic and the houses, either by constructing the road in cutting, the use of earth mounds or solid parapet walls. Noise insulation under the Noise Insulation Regulations was provided to 1,052 properties prior to the start of works. Subsequently, insulation has been offered to owners of a further 63 properties following completion of the bypass and the consideration of their appeals against non-provision which are permitted by the regulations.

Other problems were connected with the building of this road, as can be expected in a scheme of this size where there were many matters to resolve. A 1 km length of the bypass at the southern end, adjacent to the Shibdon pond nature reserve, is on a 9 m high embankment over alluvial deposits such as soft peaty clay. That posed problems of not only stability but ensuring that the works did not endanger the wetland areas of the reserve by changing the level or acidity of the water.

To overcome those problems, an advance works contract was let at a tender price of almost £2 million to instal vertical band drains at 1.4 m centres to speed up consolidation of the clay layer and to place a 2 m thick blanket of stone over the entire area. Carboniferous limestone was chosen for the blanket because of its inert chemical properties and it acts both as a drainage layer and as a working platform for the embankment construction. The contract included an extensive array of geotechnical instruments with automatic logging equipment to enable embankment stability to be monitored during the subsequent main filling operations.

A 4 km length of the route, from the River Tyne northwards, contained old coal mine workings at shallow depths and in some locations several seams had been worked. These workings took the form of parallel galleries with intermediate pillars left in for roof support. Most had collapsed to some extent but the remaining voids could have affected the stability of the overlying ground on which the new highway and structures were to be founded. To prevent damage to the road by future settlement, the workings were either removed when they were very close to the new road level or, if deeper, drilled and grouted with cement or pulverised fuel ash.

During the process, about 14,000 tonnes of coal were recovered and more than 60,000 tonnes of grout were injected into the ground. That was a big operation.

There are eight subways on the bypass at two grade separated interchanges and consideration was given to the best treatment for their internal faces. It was decided to use some pictorial glazed tile finishes which made them attractive to pedestrians and deterred graffiti. The subways are also wider than normal at 5 m. A design competition from two colleges of art was staged with a cash prize for the best three designs to be used in the subways.

As the route lies within an urban area, it was also considered necessary to introduce a high standard of landscape works so that the bypass would be attractive to motorists and residents. Extensive shrub and tree planting was introduced, with earth mounding to the sides of the bypass. Low maintenance grass seed was used. The aim was to introduce wild flowers which was a novel feature then and to give an interesting and changing pattern of vegetation throughout the year.

The 11 km long bypass was divided into five contracts to separate work requiring special expertise and keep the size of individual contracts to reasonable proportions. The works were inaugurated by the then Secretary of State for Transport, John Moore, in April 1987. Of particular note is that about £700,000 was spent on horticultural and landscape works and £12 million was expended on statutory undertakers' diversions. There are 59 structures and seven grade separated interchanges on the bypass.

I go into those details to show that it was a complicated road. We took huge trouble to make the road sympathetic and meet the demanding nature of the landscape and the urban area through which it passed. As I said previously, we consulted carefully with local people as we built it, so great care was taken in the building and design. It is a road of which in general we can be proud.

I fully recognise that the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge is not happy with the compensation arrangements but I believe that all those people who could claim compensation, or with whom we dealt, had full advice and clear knowledge of the true choice before them. They had a clear choice and their advisers were made fully aware of what was behind each option. They knew full well that if they accepted compensation in 1987, by law we would have no power to reopen those compensation claims.

I am sorry that in the end people were disappointed. No one was to know then. They made their choice and by law I have no power to open the case again. However, I fully respect the hon. Gentleman for fighting for what he believes are the rights of his constituents. I am sorry that in my reply I have had to disappoint him. I hope that I have helped to explain the position as clearly as possible.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at thirteen minutes to One o'clock.