HC Deb 02 April 1996 vol 275 cc300-4

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

1.32 am
Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury)

In a few hours' time my constituents in the village of Aston Clinton will wake up to the rumble of lorries and the roar of cars passing through their small village. I am grateful for the opportunity to bring to the attention of the House the long wait that those villagers have had for a road improvement first promised them in 1937, and to press on my hon. Friend the Minister for Railways and Roads the case for the Aston Clinton bypass to be given the highest possible priority, within what my constituents and I accept is inevitably a finite road budget in any one year.

The A41 at Aston Clinton has always been a major road, right back to Roman times when, as Akeman street, it was one of the highways of Britain. As a trunk road, it now divides the village, with most of the homes and the village school on one side of it, while most of the public amenities—the church, the post office, the village hall, the sports and social club, the recreation ground and the bus stops to the nearest town, Aylesbury—are on the other. The trunk road is continuously fronted by homes, public houses and a school; all are exposed to noise and fumes. Some of the older houses have windows less than 2 yd from the edge of the carriageway. A large number of private driveways and garage paths give access directly on to the trunk road which, as my hon. Friend can imagine, causes problems of additional congestion. About 15 minor roads and lanes join the A41 during its course through the village.

The congestion on the A41 is a long-standing problem and was recognised as such in the report of the inspector who conducted the public inquiry in 1990, who said: there is already traffic congestion and accidents occur. The plight of the people of Aston Clinton has been made much worse since the opening of the Berkhamsted and Kings Langley bypasses in 1993. Aston Clinton is now the only village on the A41 without a bypass between Aylesbury and the M25.

Since the opening of the Berkhamsted and Kings Langley bypasses there has been a 19 per cent. increase in average daily traffic flows through Aston Clinton, equivalent to 24,700 vehicles per day according to the most recent figures that I have obtained, and a 20 per cent. rise in peak flows, equivalent to 2,300 vehicles each hour at peak times in each direction.

The proposed bypass scheme has a long history. Back in 1937, the A41 at Aston Clinton was recognised as inadequate and a scheme was proposed to widen the road to three lanes. That was approved by the then Government under the Restriction of Ribbon Development Act 1935, but nothing was done. In 1956, the then Minister of Transport agreed that predicted traffic flows meant that a bypass was needed rather than mere road widening, and Buckinghamshire county council was instructed by the Government to prepare a scheme. Two years later, in 1958, draft orders were published, but they were never confirmed.

No action was taken until the 1970s, when the Department of Transport again investigated routes both north and south of the village; none was developed. By 1981, the Aston Clinton bypass was included in the reserve list of road schemes in the Government White Paper entitled, "Policy for Roads: England 1981", and the start of works was assumed to be from 1986 onwards—I emphasise that the year was 1986.

In 1982, the Department of Transport asked Buckinghamshire county council to carry out a fresh investigation of alternative routes. In 1987, the then Minister finally announced the preferred route for consultation. The Department then said that according to its programme construction would start towards the end of 1989.

The Department added: This may be optimistic. We will do our best. In May 1988, the Department said that the estimated start date would be early 1990, with completion likely in 1992, at about the same time as the Kings Langley and Berkhamsted bypasses were then expected to be completed.

In the autumn of 1989, draft orders were published and in April and May 1990 a public inquiry was held. The inspector at that inquiry completed his report quickly and dated it 3 July 1990. It was not until 12 months later, on 19 July 1991, that his report and the letter announcing the ministerial decision were published. In a press release dated 22 July 1991, my hon. Friend's predecessor, Mr. Chope, said: Work on the A41 Aston Clinton bypass in Buckinghamshire could begin as early as next year.

By April 1993, however, the Department was saying that the earliest that work could start would be in 1994–95. By December 1993, that start date had slipped to 1995. In 1993, however, some progress was made when orders were issued. The issue of supplementary orders required a further public inquiry in November 1994 and its report and decision were published in July last year.

Much to the relief of my constituents, the Government's review of their road programme during the latter part of 1995 led to the Aston Clinton bypass being kept within the Government's overall road programme. Indeed, it was singled out for mention by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport in his press statement, which accompanied the release of details of the Government's trunk roads programme.

The history of this is important. I want my hon. Friend the Minister to understand why my constituents are impatient and why they have become cynical over the years about reassurances from the Department of Transport that never seem to be translated into action. It is true that part of the delay has been occasioned by genuine objections which needed to be discussed and properly considered.

My constituents in two small villages—Buckland and Drayton Beauchamp—face the loss of tranquillity in their village environments when the Aston Clinton bypass is eventually built. It was right for their objections and counter-proposals to be fully considered. However, some of the residents of the villages are now saying to me that if the bypass has to be built, we should get on with it as quickly as possible. At least then the blight on their homes would be removed and compensation arrangements could begin to be sorted out. Within Aston Clinton the great majority of people and organisations strongly support the bypass scheme and agree with the inspector's conclusion of 1990 that the need for the bypass is urgent.

All the elected representatives of Aston Clinton have given strong support to the bypass scheme. In particular, County Councillor Bill Chapple, the local ward councillor, has been unstinting in his campaign for the bypass to be built as quickly as possible. He has been supported by the district councillors, Don Evett and Gavin Chapman, by Aston Clinton parish council and by the Aston Clinton Residents Association.

In conclusion, I remind hon. Members of the submission of the Department of Transport to the public inquiry in 1990. The Department said that the bypass represented good value for money, that it would remove about 75 per cent. of the traffic from the A41 through the centre of Aston Clinton and that it would reduce accidents. This is a good and a worthwhile scheme. My constituents have been waiting for it for a long time. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister and his colleagues in the Department of Transport will see their way to giving it the highest possible priority within their programme.

1.42 am
The Minister for Railways and Roads (Mr. John Watts)

My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) has been a strong and persistent advocate of the A41 Aston Clinton bypass. I reassure him that there is absolutely no doubt about the importance of the scheme, which is why it remained firmly in the main programme after the thorough review of the programme that I conducted last year.

The section of road between Aylesbury and Tring Hill is the last section of the A41 to be improved to dual carriageway standard between the M25 and Aylesbury. The new bypass will have grade-separated junctions to the north of Aston Clinton from the A41 Tring bypass to a proposed at-grade roundabout on the existing A41 to the west of Aston Clinton—a length of about four miles.

The road in question already suffers from congestion; slow-moving vehicles burn more fuel and create more harmful emissions; Aston Clinton, in particular, suffers from noise and fumes; the congestion reduces the efficiency and reliability of road transport for industry and increases the cost for consumers; local journeys are made more difficult; and even simple errands—such as visiting the shops, getting to work or dropping the children off at school—take more time. With further forecast traffic, the situation will become worse—and we cannot hope that the traffic will disappear.

My hon. Friend has made it abundantly clear—here today, previously in correspondence and many times in the Lobby—that he is increasingly concerned about the volume of traffic on the A41. I am well aware of this. As he said, there have been increases of approximately 19 per cent. and 20 per cent. in the annual average daily traffic flows and peak hour traffic flows on the A41 at Aston Clinton since the opening of the Berkhamstead to Kings Langley bypass.

The relief brought to the village as a result of the bypass will be substantial. We estimate that traffic flows will fall by more than 70 per cent.—which would mean some 14,000 vehicles a day being taken away from people's homes and schools. This will undoubtedly improve the quality of life for those who live and work in Aston Clinton. Moreover, the bypass is estimated to save more than 500 personal injury accidents and about eight lives over 30 years.

As my hon. Friend acknowledged, much of the delay has been in overcoming objections and completing statutory procedures. Some procedures remain to be completed. The public inquiry in November 1994 heard objections to draft supplementary orders implementing modifications to the scheme, which were recommended following the original inquiry in 1990. These modifications, which included measures to minimise the impact of the new road on the environment of St. Mary's church in Drayton Beauchamp, will be the subject of orders that will be made later this summer.

There will follow a six-week period when those orders are open to challenge but, following completion of these statutory procedures, the road will be ready for start of works and the start of works will depend solely on the availability of funding. I cannot give any guarantees of when that will be, but I can reassure my hon. Friend that the scheme will be the nearest to the starting line that it could possibly be and I think that, after hearing what I said about the merits of the scheme, he will understand that nothing would gladden me more than to be able to find the resources, to allocate them to the scheme and to let his constituents have the bypass that they have supported so strongly and for which they have waited so long.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at fifteen minutes to Two o'clock.