HC Deb 08 March 1993 vol 220 cc763-8

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

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

It will take time out of the Adjournment debate.

Mr. Cryer

I would just like to ask whether you have received any notification of a Government statement, given that they have lost control of the House and cannot get their business through?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Mr. Walden.

10.19 pm
Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)

It is with relief that we turn to the subject of the Waddesdon bypass in my constituency.

I should like to stress the concern about that bypass that is building up among the villagers of Waddesdon. I have a number of recent proofs of that concern, the most recent being now fewer than 500 letters—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. Hon. Members should leave the Chamber quietly.

Mr. Walden

The most recent proof was the 500 letters that came from my constituents who live in that relatively small village. I am glad to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) is here, no doubt to demonstrate his solidarity on behalf of those villagers, even though the village is not within his constituency.

Further proof of the high feeling running in Waddesdon was a meeting of the villagers that I attended recently, which pulled in several hundred people. That was an unusual event in my constituency, because my constituents are cool-headed, but they are getting pretty excited and indignant about the traffic on the A41, on which the village lies. Mothers with young children in pushchairs attended that meeting because there is a strong feeling that increasing traffic on the road is becoming a danger to children.

The recent evidence of this increase in traffic is, of course, disputed by everyone concerned, as such evidence always is. I used the road quite a lot, and I have seen the evidence of that increase before my eyes. I have seen the evidence of recent figures that has been shown to me and that presented to me by the villagers.

There is also the evidence of common sense. Since the M40 extension was completed, the result has been, as a glance at the map will confirm, that the A41 through Waddesdon has become a very attractive route for people dodging between the M1 and the M40. Evidence of what can happen if things go wrong on that road, which has an extremely nasty bend, is often seen in crashes. Not so long ago, a particularly nastly crash involved a heavy articulated lorry, the effects of which on a semi-demolished house I remember witnessing.

My constituents in Waddesdon are also concerned about rail privatisation, because close to Waddesdon is the Calvert dumping site. Rubbish is transported by train from London, but my constituents fear that, should that line be in any way endangered by rail privatisation, that rubbish would then have to go by road, thereby increasing the traffic through Waddesdon.

It is worth noting that Waddesdon is the only major settlement on the A41 that has no bypass planned. At present, the well known Waddesdon manor stately home, which is normally open to the public, is closed. When it reopens, the flow of tourist traffic will add to the already enormous amounts of traffic build-up on that road.

In addition to the anxieties caused by that traffic problem, there are rumours and uncertainties about the Government's intentions for the east-west trunk route. There are different opinions in my constituency that naturally reflect the constituents' place of residence. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury will know, some people believe that the bypass should take the southern route. Others believe that it should take a more northerly route.

Many of my constituents in Waddesdon—I cannot speak for all of them—are in favour of using the A41 for the east-west route, partly because that would improve their prospects of gaining a bypass. However, my role this evening is to stress that, whatever the Government's intention on the east-west route, the people of Waddesdon deserve a bypass. I would welcome it if my hon. Friend the Minister would take this opportunity to shed some light on the Government's plans for the east-west route—

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Walden

I hear my hon. Friend voicing a quiet "Hear, hear".

The lack of clarity about the Government's plans is causing much confusion and apprehension in various parts of my constituency, not least Waddesdon. Only last week I talked to constituents in Aston Abbotts, a small village, who have similar fears and uncertainties. The issue of the route of the bypass in Wing is still unresolved, and will be affected by the Government's east-west plans. Therefore, there is a common thread running through the concern of my constituents, whether they be from Waddesdon, Aston Abbotts or Wing.

I want to leave my hon. Friend the Minister plenty of time to respond, but I do not want him to be under any misapprehension about the strong feelings of my constituents. As he knows, I have been in touch with the Department of Transport on the matter, and I do not want my hon. Friend to be under the illusion that, if the east-west route takes a certain path, my constituents' concerns will subside. I want to make it clear that, whatever the Government's broader strategic intentions, there is an urgent need for a bypass at Waddesdon.

10.27 pm
The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Kenneth Carlisle)

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) has secured tonight's debate, as, for many years, he has shown his great concern for his constituents and for the residents of Waddesdon as they have fought for a bypass. I congratulate him on raising the subject this evening. I am also glad to see my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) present. In his short time in the House, he has developed a tenacity for the subject of communications in Buckinghamshire that I greatly respect.

My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham has written to me recently. This is a subject on which he has campaigned vigorously in the past with my predecessors.

I understand that there is currently considerable local speculation about the much wider issue of the possible line of the Department'as proposed east-west route in this area. My hon. Friend may have received some information or opinion about the Department's current thinking on that route, but I have to say at the outset that I am still considering this whole question. I shall deal with this issue later in my speech, but only in the broadest terms.

As this is something on which I am still taking advice within the Department, preparatory to a full public consultation exercise, it would be premature, and not in my view helpful, to pre-empt that very necessary public debate now. We intend to hold a full public debate on the east-west route. I shall therefore focus on the specific matter that my hon. Friend has put before the House: a bypass scheme for the A41 trunk road at Waddesdon.

There is a very long history to this case, on which I shall not dwell. Although a development line for a bypass was established as long ago as 1956—for planning purposes —it has never been proceeded with. Some further work was carried out in the late 1970s to investigate a possible more northerly route, but it was halted in 1980 when the scheme did not secure a place in the national roads programme.

Since then, the Department has kept the situation under review, but a Waddesdon bypass scheme has never been part of the roads programme. Indeed, in 1982 the Department decided that it would no longer seek to protect the original development line, given that it had become outdated and that the prospects for developing a scheme remained remote.

There was a wholesale review of the capacity of the trunk road network in the late 1980s in the light of revised national forecasts of traffic growth. This led to the major expansion of the roads programme in the 1989 White Paper "Roads for Prosperity". Even this was not sufficient to propel the Waddesdon bypass into the programme. We now have the largest trunk road construction programme that we have ever had, with the prospect that it will take us many years to complete and we shall not be able to complete all of it by the turn of the century.

Despite my hon. Friend's eloquent and forceful presentation, the case for Waddesdon looked at in isolation is not strong. The latest traffic data do not support the contention that there has been a significant change since the opening of the M40 extension to Birmingham in January 1991. Traffic counts taken on three occasions since that date show flows within a range of 10,000 to 11,000 vehicles a day. Comparable counts in 1989 and 1990 showed flows within a range of 9,500 to 10,500.

Within that slight increase in overall traffic, there has actually been a reduction in the numbers of heavy goods vehicles over the same period. The proportion of heavy goods vehicles is not particularly high and has declined since the extension of the M40. Nor is there a bad accident record to lend weight to the argument for a bypass.

It is one of the central themes of the Department's national roads programme to provide relief for communities subjected to high levels of through traffic and, in particular, heavy goods traffic. We have in our programme a very large number of bypasses; it is our wish to build bypasses and to relieve communities wherever possible. All schemes have to be economically justified.

On the basis of current traffic flows through Waddesdon, and in the absence of any significant growth as a specific effect of the extension of the M40, I do not believe that it would be easy to build and sustain an economically sound case for a Waddesdon bypass. As I made clear at the outset, that assessment is made on the merits of the case looked at in isolation, devoid of any more wide-ranging strategic issues that may have an impact on the area.

I have every sympathy with people who are affected by noise, disturbance and danger from traffic. As part of my job, I see many people who are so affected. Although prospects for a bypass are not good, that does not mean that nothing can be done to address those real local concerns about the effects of through traffic. I am certainly prepared to consider what other measures might be provided at lower cost to improve safety and enhance the local environment. My hon. Friend has pressed us on that count and has asked whether we can do anything else if we cannot provide a bypass.

The county council, as the Department's agent, has been invited to identify possible measures. That is a recent commission, following a local meeting in February. My hon. Friend attended that meeting which put a strong case for some measures. Until some detailed proposals have been made and considered by the Department, I am not able to say what measures might be introduced, but certainly we shall look at a range of traffic calming and environmental improvements. I know that my hon. Friend will carefully follow our progress on that.

Part of my hon. Friend's concern about the situation at Waddesdon is the future development of the Department's east-west route and the preferred corridor for completing the western section of the route to the M40. That matter also interests my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury. It is no secret that the choice for corridor development lies between a northerly route along the existing A41 and a southerly route along the A418 or A329 hut, as I said, detailed comment would be premature and, I think, unhelpful at this stage. As my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham said, we have to make this choice.

None the less, it is fair comment to remind ourselves that two important segments of the east-west route have so far entailed development of the A418. I refer, of course, to the Leighton-Linslade bypass completed in 1991, and our present plans, as foreshadowed in the 1989 White Paper, for development of the A418 west of Aylesbury to Wing bypass. The decision on a route for the western end of the: east-west route will be taken in the context of the benefits available in strategic terms.

On any scenario for development of the A41, I under-. stand of course my hon. Friend's concern about the implications for further traffic growth. Equally, traffic growth would be a factor for the southerly route if it were chosen. I assure him that the selection process will take firmly into account the increased status of the road in strategic terms and, by association, the possible need to effect improvements to reflect that change.

We expect to go forward to public consultation on our west of Aylesbury to Wing bypass proposals in the summer. By that stage, we will be in a position to announce our findings on the corridor issue, which is, of course, central to the hopes of Waddesdon. I shall keep my hon. Friend advised of progress on our decisions about that important route. In the meantime, I am sorry that I cannot be more positive about a bypass for Waddesdon, but I assure my hon. Friend that we will look very carefully to see what else can be done to bring about an improvement for the residents of that community.

I hope that that puts the case fairly to my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham. If he examines the facts, I am sure that he will, in all justice, accept that, in the context of a busy programme throughout the country, Waddesdon is not as hard-pressed as many other communities that are to have a bypass. Nevertheless, I accept that the community has a good case for a better system, and we shall—having been pressed by my hon. Friend—carefully examine what improvements we can bring that community.

Overall, for the future the community will have to look for bigger improvements to our decision on the east-west corridor, which will come forward soon. I know that my hon. Friends will be anxious to see the decisions that are made in respect of that route.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham for raising the issue, and I hope that my explanation will at least be helpful to him and to his constituents.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty minutes to Eleven o'clock.