§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Andrew Mitchell.]2.39 pm
§ Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)
I am pleased to have the opportunity to discuss the M11 link road, and I am pleased to see the Minister for Transport in London here to reply. I enjoy my annual rambles with him and the Friends of Epping Forest—but this is no time to ramble on, so I will get straight to the point.
The Department of Transport's pig-headed approach to the M11 link road has been a shambles, and a costly one at that. There have been years of neglect and of mean inflexibility, during which the Department has insisted on the cheapest possible option, whatever constructive alternatives have been suggested and regardless of the cost to the community. There has been political chicanery, too: a bribe in the shape of a tunnel for Tory Wanstead but maximum damage has been thought good enough for Labour Leyton. The Department has sabotaged sensible community proposals—for instance, in the 1980s, when it was suggested that we should have a tunnelled road with homes and a park on top of it.
Now the Department is reaping what it has sown. There have been bitter and protracted protests about the road, involving high costs and even a possible risk to life. The costs for the Government are not only financial but political. On a recent edition of "Any Questions?' on which the Secretary of State for Transport appeared, no one had a good word to say about the Government's road programme. Even the chairman of the radio programme said that the balance of views had been accurately reflected because no one had phoned in to "Any Answers?" to offer any support for the roads programme.
If the Department gets its way, it will have inflicted a social and environmental disaster on my part of east London, yet it is ploughing on regardless. It has just authorised two contracts amounting to £110 million for two miles of road. In Wanstead, the project has cost £500,000 in police time alone, to take over and demolish a 250-year-old chestnut tree and half a dozen houses. There are security guards on every corner at all hours of the day and night—the whole thing is like a private police state, a miniature equivalent of the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait. In this case, the Department is using a private army to occupy the self-declared free state of Wanstonia. The protests have only just begun; there are many more to come.
The total length of the road is about four and a half miles, about one and a half miles of dual carriageway and three miles of three-lane motorway. In my constituency, much of the road will pass through built-up areas and it will involve building two and a half miles of three-lane dual carriageway, a mile of new local roads, tunnelling under Epping forest, a new roundabout, 13 new bridges and five subways. Mainly, the road will run through shallow cuttings; the part around Temple Mills will be on an embankment and will be about two fifths of a mile wide.
In Leyton, the result will be 21 acres of tarmac for the main road and two and a half acres for local roads. A total of 1,380 houses and flats, with about 4,000 people living in them, will be within 100 m of the road. Part of Leytonstone House hospital will be lost, as will 25 commercial and industrial premises which would otherwise have created 100 jobs—important in an area with 20 per cent. 594 unemployment. We also face the loss of part of Eastway sports centre, and the project will involve, over the years, the demolition of 250 houses and flats.
Since 1952, the project has caused blight, often because of Government neglect. Even at the beginning of this year, about 200 houses and flats on the route were still suffering from blight. I do not blame the Minister for the history of the road and its associated blight—he is new to his job—but I should explain some of the history of double-dealing and betrayal of commitments by the Minister's predecessors at the Department of Transport.
The Minister will say that there have been three public inquiries, and that that should be enough to be able to get on with the project. But public opinion was ignored. A mere handful of people supported the Department's scheme, but thousands of local people opposed it, and that fact has been ignored.
In 1983, the inspector said that the tunnelled solution wasvisionary and innovative. It should be a model for future motorways".It has been a model for some motorways, such as those in Hatfield and some other areas. However, the Department refused to countenance it in Leyton. It reneged on its proclaimed policy of getting private finance to achieve road improvements. That was loudly proclaimed. When I went to the Department with a scheme from the private company Beazers with a council for 278 homes on a tunnelled scheme, the Department demanded that it make a huge profit; it set out deliberately to scupper that scheme.
Even without protests, there will be major disruption to the community. That has been the case with some of the advance projects already; I shall give a couple of examples. In 1992–93, London Underground carried out extensive work on the Central line tunnels at Green Man. That meant lowering the roof of the tunnels to allow the link road to pass over the top. Those works had a major effect on service frequency and reliability of the railway. British Rail contractors are currently carrying out enabling works at Temple Mills. On several occasions, Ruckholt close in my constituency has been totally blocked by construction traffic and residents have been told by the police to move their cars to allow extra-wide loads through.
Over the next five years, there will be considerable disturbance and increased congestion, with awkward diversions and construction vehicles blocking the local road network. We had examples of that with the recent north circular road improvements in Waltham Forest where there was considerable construction noise, vibration and dust, and the lives of the people in the vicinity were made a misery. The significant point is that the assurances given by the Department of Transport at a public inquiry amounted to very little when it came to trim the works to meet the budget. I suspect that it will be the same with the M11 link road.
It has been Department of Transport meanness every step of the way. There has been very little for tree planting and landscaping at Leytonstone station—only lame excuses why the Department would not do anything or put up anything. There have been hardly any off-site improvements, even to the local roads that it has damaged. That goes against the Department's good roads guide—perhaps the reason is that the M11 is not a good road.
The M11 road is an appalling venture in terms of the environment. It upsets the standards of the 1960s and 1970s, made worse by the Government's penny-pinching 595 policies. I have asked regularly for a re-evaluation of the environmental standards, and the answer regularly has been no.
In September 1991, the EC Environmental Commissioner declared the road to be environmentally unsound and initiated proceedings against the United Kingdom Department. The Department's response was to drown the Commissioner in a sea of paper until a wider EC deal could be done, which included not having to make the environmental improvements at all—and the EC backed down.
As a result of this road, there will be new bottlenecks at Hackney Wick and throughout Hackney.
§ Mr. Sedgemore
My hon. Friend made an important point about the effect of the road on the whole of south Hackney. I congratulate him on the poignant and lucid way in which he is advancing his arguments.
§ Mr. Cohen
I thank my hon. Friend for his support.
The bottlenecks will also occur between the Green Man and Redbridge roundabout where the road will have two lanes. That is a built-in bottleneck. It will create more congestion and, as a result, in a few years' time the Department of Transport and the road lobby will demand new roads to deal with the congestion.
Environmentally, the road means homes destroyed, hundreds of trees cut down, communities divided by a car-roaring equivalent of the Berlin wall, perpetual noise and unusable back gardens. It will mean more cars and, with them, more pollution, more congestion, more asthma and more road deaths. It contravenes the Department's pledges to reduce CO2 emissions and not to encourage further car commuting into London.
The Department has predicted a rise of between 84 and 142 per cent. in the volume of traffic by the year 2025. The road will contribute to that prediction coming true. Three hundred and fifty homes will be lost, and 1,000 people displaced. There is no money for rehousing those people. The housing investment allocation was cut by huge amounts for my borough during the 1980s. More significantly, there is no rehousing money now when it is needed.
The London borough of Waltham Forest tells me that it is concerned that many households will become homeless as demolition work proceeds. I am already hearing at my surgery of the intimidation of people who live on the line of route to get out, and they are having accommodation offered to them which is worse than what they are living in currently.
The policing costs are not included in the estimates for the road, and those costs are already over £500,000 for a little area in Wanstead. There are also the costs of the private security guards, and those are bound to exceed the contract levels—whatever they are. The Department of 596 Transport has not said what the costs are in detail, but it claims that the cost will be in the region of £230 million for the road. The National Audit Office reported recently:road projects typically far exceed their budgets regularly by as much as 100 per cent., and in some cases by 400 per cent.The Department is immensely cagey about the cost benefit, and there has been no cost-benefit analysis since 1987. The Department allegedly used 7 per cent. benefit criteria, when the Treasury demands 8 per cent. for such roads.
The adverse environmental effects of the scheme have not been taken into account in any cost-benefit analysis. I have letters from the Minister in which he says that cost-benefit analysis is not the whole story, and that it is all a matter of judgment. That is not the way to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on a road. I challenge the Minister to release all the Department's papers and all costings for the road for public scrutiny, so we can see whether there is the so-called value for money.
There are peaceful protests going on in a Gandhi-like tradition, and I welcome that. That is the democratic right of those people. There has been violence and thuggish behaviour by some of the security men. I have a letter from Mr. Hugh Jones of Wanstead, who talked about the invasion of a legal squat by three Squibb and Davis demolition men with sledgehammers and pickaxes. Mr. Jones said that protesters were threatened withpickaxe blows aimed between their legs".The police are in danger of being discredited and placed in an invidious position. They will have a partial role of facilitating the security men, and the large presence of the police on several occasions should not have occurred when they could have been concentrating on fighting crime.
In one case, the police themselves behaved abysmally. Lollipop lady Jean Gosling was sacked for wearing her uniform when she took her children to a "dress the tree" ceremony. She faced a kangaroo court and disciplinary action.
There have been construction dubieties, and Wanstead station on the Central line could be closed by some of the construction work, as excavation is taking place just 12 ft from the tube tunnel. It could also mean the realignment of the platform.
There has also been a suggestion that, due to line-of-sight difficulties, the centre line of the road may deviate from orders made in relation to it. If that were the case, it would be illegal, and I ask the Minister to respond.
The purpose of the road has gone. It is a 1950s scheme which is now out of date. Last June, I went with a delegation of Labour Members representing London constituencies to meet the Minister about public transport. The Minister said that the Government's roads programme affecting London was mostly "orbital rather than radial". He added that the M11 was one of only two "inflows" into London schemes, and that the Government would not, in years to come, add schemes of that sort.
The road is no longer relevant to modern transport thinking, yet the Government are pushing ahead with it and wasting hundreds of millions of pounds. They do not even know what they are doing with red routes. Leytonstone high road is set to be a red route. Will that be scrapped when the M11 link is built? The traffic director for London says no. But the Department of Transport and local Conservatives in the district have claimed the potential pedestrianisation of the high road as a benefit of the M11 link road.
597 There is no coherence in the Government's thinking; they have no coherent transport policy. It is no wonder that the Department of the Environment has expressed concern and is trying to bring the Department of Transport to heel.
The emphasis should be on the improvement of public transport. We could do much to improve public transport with just a fraction of the hundreds of millions of pounds that the Government plan to spend on the road. It is ironic that the Government are pressing ahead with the road while deliberately dragging their feet on the Hackney to Chelsea line, which could have a link to Leytonstone. The Government are holding back public transport and putting all their eggs in the basket of a road scheme.
There has been much news recently about the house of horror—we are talking about a road of horror. It is not the fault of the Minister for Transport in London, but he can get the Government out of the guano and save some public money in the process. He should suspend work on the road pending a thorough and open reassessment of its environmental and economic costs. That would result in the red pencil being put through the road scheme, and the money could be allocated to reinstate good housing, open space and improvements to the local road network. That would be much cheaper and a great deal more beneficial.
§ The Minister for Transport in London (Mr. Steve Norris)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) on obtaining today's Adjournment debate. His opposition to the road scheme is well known, but he has never allowed that opposition to disrupt the cordiality with which he has voiced his concerns—he gave evidence of that again today in his pungent speech. I am grateful for the cordiality that he has shown.
I also note the presence of the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore), who has also been assiduous in his attention. My hon. Fried the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Arbuthnot), through whose constituency the scheme passes, is also present. By convention, he cannot speak during the deliberations of the House, except occasionally to move proceedings along, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) did earlier today. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford would want the many representations about the road that he has made on behalf of his constituents to be mentioned in today's debate.
The hon. Member for Leyton is well known for his opposition to the scheme. He made a huge number of assertions during his speech and has generously left me some time to respond. He has perhaps not left me enough time to rebut the many assertions with which I fear I disagree. I shall mention some of those assertions, but if there are others that cause him concern when he reads the record I shall be happy to write to him about all the factual assertions that he made to try to set the record straight.
I shall clarify the scheme's purpose. It will run from the A102(M) at Hackney Wick to the Redbridge roundabout on the Al2, a distance of about 3.75 miles. It will provide a much-needed link between docklands and the motorway network via the M11, removing congestion on the existing routes and improving the environment for local residents. Construction started on the first section between Eastern 598 avenue and Selsdon road last September. The letting of the remaining three contracts will be phased so that all the contracts finish at the same time in 1997.
At present, a considerable amount of traffic diverts on to local residential streets to avoid congestion in the Leytonstone road and elsewhere—the hon. Gentleman and I know the district well. That traffic diversion is not only dangerous, but extremely unpleasant and offensive for those who live in that district. The function of the link road is to channel that strategic and commuter traffic away from local roads and, once the link is built, to allow the local authority to consider ways of making the local roads safer and more attractive for the local community. The hon. Gentleman has mentioned the wish of the local community to benefit from improvements such as traffic calming, pedestrian precincts, cycle lanes. All that can be made possible—the Department has said that it is prepared to advance funds for that purpose. All that will very much improve the quality of life for people who live in that district.
The function of the red route programme is to organise traffic so that it flows to its optimum, and to use whatever space on the road is generated by that organisation, not to suck more traffic into the strategic route network, but to allow for bus priority to allow buses to reach their destination more quickly, and thus to be part of the process of persuading people out of private cars and on to public transport.
The hon. Member for Leyton asserted that the scheme was outdated and costly and he claimed that I said that we would not have promoted it today. Let me make it quite clear that I cannot agree with that assertion. Just going over the history of its consideration, it was, as he says, debated at length in 1983 at the public inquiry, and again in 1987. I am grateful to him for pointing out that a number of arguments that were made in the 1983 inquiry were taken on board in the scheme that was eventually taken forward. That was also true in 1987, although not all the options proposed by protesters during that time were capable of being taken on board.
§ Mr. Norris
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because that is exactly what he said. As he knows, I was referring to the fact that, during the public inquiries, a number of the environmental improvements in terms of screening, tunnelling, cutting and so on that now form part of the scheme were suggested by those people who objected to the scheme, and were taken on board.
The hon. Gentleman said that no one approved of the scheme and according to him it had no support, but he knows, and I know, that the two independent inspectors agreed that there was a definite need for the road. Frankly, six years later, one has only to consider the pressure on the local road network to appreciate what that need was. At a current cost of £200 million, which is the latest figure that we have, it will continue to offer a very positive economic return, and it will bring many more community benefits by relieving those local roads of traffic.
On the subject of drawing traffic into the area by the existence of the scheme and thus making things worse than they are today, traffic will continue to increase whether the 599 link road is built or not. We ought to emphasise constantly that it is the function of canalising the traffic into a single route and away from all the local roads that is the virtue of the scheme. The constraints of the trunk road network will limit any significant increase in traffic in the corridor. As the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch knows, the Lea interchange has been specifically designed to restrict traffic flow into Hackney.
It has been suggested by some people that the link road is no longer required because of the A406 Barking relief road and the A13 as an alternative, but, as the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch and I also know—we both live in that part of the world and we know it well—congestion still exists on the roads in his constituency in spite of the existence of the Barking relief road and the A 13. The suggestion that that obviates the need for the road is not proven. Indeed, that was taken into account in the public inquiries.
There has obviously been great worry in the neighbourhood about the intrusion of the scheme. For the record, let me say that a great deal of thought went into ways of reducing the scheme's impact. Much of the scheme will be below ground, reducing noise and visual impact. Three tunnels will be constructed, acoustic and screen walls will be softened with planting, there is a generous exchange land arrangement which will provide for open space unavoidably needed for the road, and there will be more open space than before for the public.
The hon. Member for Leyton said that there was—I think that I have his words correctly—very little, indeed hardly anything, for planting. More than 1,400 trees of 5 ft or more in height will be planted, together with thousands of smaller trees and shrubs. Landscaping alone will cost well over £1 million. That cannot, by any definition, be described as "hardly anything". I have said before that 100 new trees are planted for every one taken by the scheme.
We are concerned about air pollution, and the hon. Gentleman will know the steps taken against vehicle emissions which are designed to improve air quality. The link with asthma in children is clearly important. There is no evidence at present to suggest that transport pollution causes asthma in non-asthmatics—that it acts as the trigger—but we are prepared to continue research and investigations into that important issue. The Department of Health's independent expert committee on the medical effects of air pollutants has formed a sub-group to investigate possible links between the increase in traffic and asthma, and its report is due this year.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Gandhi-like protest at the site. The majority of people associated with that process have conducted themselves honourably. They 600 have, in a democratic society, a perfect right to express their views. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not go so far as to suggest that all the protesters' actions are white and that the actions of those responsible for enforcing security—as they are entitled to do—in respect of the Department's assets and work and the police are black. To characterise the issue in that way would be grossly unfair.
In my view, the action of the police on George green and later in Cambridge road was correct. The number and seriousness of injuries to the police, security guards and protesters was small. However, I bitterly regret any individual—be it a policeman, security guard or citizen—being injured by the protest action. None of those injuries need have occurred had the protesters left the site voluntarily when asked.
I deplore those who illegally occupy a property ignoring and defying court orders to leave the property. If the protest is to be Gandhi-like, let me place on the record my view that those who undertake that form of protest should bear in mind that a point is reached at which it is not possible to justify the imposition that they willingly make on the local community and the obligation that they place on security staff and police.
Those people who protest against the road, some of whom live locally—many, particularly those who are most active in the protest, do not—claim to be acting on behalf of the local community. I take it for granted that no such scheme is possible without some disruption to the life of the local community. It is the one phase in any construction scheme that is to be regretted. It imposes dirt, dust and other environmental pollution, which anyone in his right mind wants ended as quickly as possible so that the scheme can begin to confer benefits on the local community.
It is utterly irresponsible and totally contrary to the interests of the local community to delay the scheme's completion, which would add to the length of the environmental intrusion on the people of Wanstead and Leyton.
§ Mr. Norris
The more that Opposition Front-Bench Members attempt to diminish that statement, the more they show themselves unfit for government. The hon. Gentleman should know better.
Those protests make matters worse for all those who live in the area, who will be subjected to dust and dirt even longer, and the scheme's benefits—
§ The motion having been made after half-past Two o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
§ Adjourned at nine minutes past Three o'clock.