HC Deb 05 March 1997 vol 291 cc875-82 1.30 pm
Mr. Norman Hogg (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth)

I am most grateful for having secured this Adjournment debate. The M80 extension between Stepps and Haggs is crucial to my constituents, and I want to set out why I believe that the decision to route the motorway through the urban part of my constituency is wrong.

I have today received a letter from the Minister setting out many of the issues in detail. It was most courteous of him to write to me before today's debate—I appreciate it very much.

I have a long history of involvement with this issue. In 1983, I became the Member of Parliament for the new constituency of Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, having been the Member for Cumbernauld since 1979. At that time it formed part of east Dunbartonshire. The issue had been live even before then; I inherited an assumption that the road would pass along the A80. But circumstances since have changed radically.

The proposed motorway is of six lanes, with hard shoulders and a central reservation. The motorway envisaged in 1979 was an upgrade to the standard of the M80 between Haggs and Dunblane, or a—more recently constructed—motorway extension between the Townhead interchange and Stepps.

A decision had been taken before 1979 to develop housing, industry and recreation to the north and west of the A80, and to bring on new developments to the south and south-east of the A80 at Condorrat. That housing and that industry have since come into being and are in place. So those of us—there were many besides me—who had been content with an upgrade were faced with a new and different situation. I grew increasingly worried about what might happen and I tried, largely in vain, to raise the profile of the issue.

As the Minister will know, I tabled many parliamentary questions over the years, particularly at the start of each parliamentary Session, in an endeavour to find out how we stood. It was clear that the Government, too, would have to look again at their position; this they did in the light of developments. Their preferred option was the Kelvin valley option. I shared that view, as I still do.

I shared that view with Strathclyde regional council, the largest roads authority in the country at the time. I shared that view with Cumbernauld and Kilsyth district council. I shared it with almost all local councillors—I believe that only two of them dissented from the consensus. I shared that view with political allies and opponents alike. I share it with Cumbernauld development corporation. I share it with community councils. I share the view expressed by North Lanarkshire council, the current roads authority.

Once the Government had finally made up their mind, I had no option but to say where I stood. I stand in total opposition to the construction of the motorway through Cumbernauld. It will blight some 2,500 households. It will place at risk the inward investment and the jobs that go with that investment in the industrial area on the Mollinsburn to Condorrat corridor. Those jobs were hard won in the teeth of international competition; they are jobs for my constituents and for people from the surrounding area.

The motorway will place at risk the major distributive industries that we have won because of Cumbernauld's untrammelled access to the motorway system. Those industries include Transhield and Storeshield, which are responsible for distributing in Scotland, Northern Ireland and part of the north of England all the goods that can be purchased from Marks and Spencer stores. Curry's is also located in Cumbernauld, as is the Co-op. Their case for being in Cumbernauld has to do with its location and, as I have said, the town's untrammelled access to the motorway system.

The motorway will pollute the town. It will damage heritage sites at Mollins and Castlecary. It will damage the landscape at Mollinsburn and Castlecary glen. The disruption will be horrendous, both for Cumbernauld and for Kilsyth, Croy and Queenzieburn. Kilsyth will be disrupted all along the length of the Stirling road. I do not think that that road, at Kilsyth, will cope, either as a structure or with the congestion. Even the buildings in that part of Kilsyth will be adversely affected.

The pollution in Kilsyth during the years of construction will be appalling. I must tell the Minister and the people of Kilsyth—a great deal of misinformation is being put out on this subject—that I do not believe that there will be any gain from the Government's decision for the town of Kilsyth. What is more, the economy of Scotland will be affected if a main artery of communication is continually congested for years to come.

I accept that no one wants a motorway anywhere. I understand and respect the integrity of those such as Care 80 and the Friends of the Kelvin Valley who have sought to offer other proposals. But in common with all the authorities I accept the need for the completion of the motorway network. We are now long past the stage of other proposals, lines of route or alternatives.

The Government have made their choice of route. The Minister has been helpful in keeping me advised as to the procedures involved, and I understand that the orders will be laid later this year for the construction of the motorway, for purchasing the land, and so on.

I have been less than happy with the way public policy in this matter has been influenced, not least by quangos and other organisations loosely described as voluntary organisations. I understand the role of Scottish Natural Heritage, although I question its view. I am grateful to Mr. Magnus Magnusson, the chairman, who ensured that I was properly advised of that body's position when he and SNH made a presentation of their work to Members of Parliament here at Westminster two weeks ago. It was extremely helpful.

I have written to the Secretary of State about the role of the Scottish Wildlife Trust. That organisation received large sums of public money, most notably from Cumbernauld development corporation. The trust's annual report and accounts for 1996 show an entry "Cumbernauld endowment—£930,868." The trust has stewardship of land formerly held by Cumbernauld development corporation, including Seafar forest which will be badly disturbed and badly affected by the A80 upgrade, if it proceeds.

I am less than satisfied with the role played by the Scottish Wildlife Trust. I am uneasy about the trust's high profile and highly partial style in influencing the decision. I believe that its activities have contributed to creating a divide among the people in my constituency that is less than helpful. My further actions in relation to the Scottish Wildlife Trust will depend on the Secretary of State's response to my letter. I do not expect the Minister to respond to that today.

Along with my constituents, I recognise that we must deal with the situation as it exists. I have therefore written to the Government asking that I be advised about the detail of the procedure to be followed. My constituents must be properly advised as to their rights. I have asked to be advised about who constitutes a bona fide objector; what is a bona fide objection; when the orders will be laid; and the steps to be taken thereafter.

I want to stop the motorway being built, and I know that that is what the overwhelming majority of my constituents in Cumbernauld and Kilsyth want. I shall continue to represent what I believe to be the best case for the well-being of my constituents in what remains of this Parliament, and I hope in the next. In challenging the Government's decision and seeking a public inquiry, I know that I speak for the majority of my constituents, whose concerns and anxieties over the matter are well founded.

1.41 pm
The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg) on his success in obtaining the debate, and on giving us the opportunity to discuss our proposals. I am glad to see so many other right hon. and hon. Members in the Chamber—the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), and the hon. Members for Moray (Mrs. Ewing), for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke) and for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith). It occurs to me that, had the decision gone the other way, I would have had to reply to the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden.

We looked into the matter as objectively as we could and weighed up all the arguments. We believed that it was essential to make a decision. It may help the House if I explain that the intention is to publish and lay the orders in May. They should be ready at that time.

The road is one of Scotland's most important inter-urban and longer-distance trade links. It is also one of the busiest. Traffic congestion is the norm during the morning and evening peaks. The road carriageway is more than 30 years old, and disruption during essential road maintenance can cause severe problems. The result is that the route has become a bottleneck. Problems on the A80 produce knock-on effects elsewhere and can reduce the performance of a large part of the Scottish strategic network.

There is a clear consensus that action is required. The busiest section of the road routinely carries around 70,000 vehicles a day, which is well above its efficient capacity. Future growth will exacerbate the problem. We believe that an upgrading to full motorway standard with additional capacity is essential. The Government's private finance initiative is giving us the means to bring the scheme forward soon. The key question is the choice of the route for the eastern section.

I have listened with interest to the concerns expressed about the choice of the preferred line. A series of studies into route options was carried out over the past 10 years. The choice came down to a line north of Cumbernauld—the Kelvin valley route—and the widening of the existing A80.

There are strong arguments for and against each option, but the differences in cost and economic performance between the options are not significant. The main debate therefore centred around the environmental effects. Opposition to the Kelvin valley route is a reflection of the value placed by the wider community on the quality of the countryside and its landscape, flora and fauna. The concerns about the A80 upgrading are equally understandable. There is proper concern about the impact on the people and property likely to be directly affected. The potential for delay and disruption during construction is a major issue for the thousands of people who use the route every day.

We have consulted widely on the issue. Our choice has been made on the basis that we can mitigate against the adverse environmental impacts of the A80 widening. The Kelvin valley impacts, by contrast, would have a much longer-term effect.

Given the difficult environmental issues involved, we embarked on an extensive public consultation exercise before identifying our route preference. That involved a number of steps. The first was a series of round-table discussions with local interest groups, local authorities and other bodies. Local exhibitions and workshops for the public were then held at four locations in the area. The process culminated in a consultation forum during which all the consultees presented their views through their chosen delegate.

There is no doubting the strong views held for and against each option. The report on the process emphasised the willingness of the local people to listen to those with opposing views and to debate the matter in a constructive manner.

We did not expect a consensus view as a result of our consultations. Views are too polarised for that to be a realistic aspiration. However, we wanted to enable all those with an interest to feed their views into the assessment procedure. We now have a clear understanding of the issues of real concern. Armed with that information, we identified a preferred option and we can now focus on addressing those issues in the development of our proposals.

The major concern about the Kelvin valley route was the effect on the rural environment. The route presents a severe threat to over 20 ecologically significant sites. It would damage the remains of Antonine's wall and it would affect the environs of the Forth and Clyde canal—a waterway of great recreational potential. As the House will be aware, British Waterways received support to the value of £35 million from the millennium fund to regenerate the canal corridor. The Kelvin valley section of the canal is considered to be the most attractive on the whole route.

The impact on the wider landscape would also be severe. The scale of the road and its earthworks and structures would have a major impact on the rural character of the landscape, as would the traffic on the road. There would also be impacts on communities within the Kelvin valley. The route would affect a large number of farms and rural properties and would cause intrusion on the fringes of Kilsyth, Banton and other communities.

Lastly, the A80 would remain a very busy road. Over 20,000 vehicles a day would continue to use it and the result would be two major parallel roads within a narrow corridor.

Careful design and appropriate mitigation measures would, in our view, limit the adverse impact. A great deal of effort has been made in that regard, but many effects would be permanent.

Three main concerns connected with the A80 route were emphasised during our consultations: disruption during construction, safety, and quality of life.

The construction of the route is likely to take more than three years. In view of the delays and disruption during even short-term maintenance on the route, many find that an appalling prospect. Long queues are feared on the main road. Of possibly greater concern is the temptation for drivers to divert to unsuitable local roads. Construction noise and dust are inevitable.

Safety is also an issue. Major roadworks have a poorer safety record than unrestricted sections of road. Diversion to unsuitable routes has clear safety implications. The novel design solution at Castlecary viaduct could cause dangers if inadequately signed. Impacts on properties adjacent to the road including land loss, noise and fumes, blight and reductions in property values are also matters of concern.

We understand those concerns and we have great sympathy for them, but they should not be exaggerated. They can be addressed, and they can be addressed with more success than the problems associated with the Kelvin valley. That conclusion lay at the heart of our choice.

The concern about the management of the construction process is a central issue. We are concluding the development of plans to ensure that traffic will be managed without undue delays and congestion during the construction period. If we had not been confident about that, we would not have been able to make the route choice that we have made. The proposals will be published in detail when we promote the scheme.

Widening a heavily trafficked road on-line is easier than carrying out on-line maintenance. The extra lanes being built can be used to accommodate the flow of traffic. Concrete barriers allow construction to take place safely, cheek by jowl with the live carriageway. Provision was made for future widening when the existing road was built in the 1960s. The wide central reservations and verges will allow for the necessary flexibility in construction and will accommodate a large part of the widened road.

The private finance initiative is an ideal contract strategy for such schemes. We will be able to specify the level of service on the road and provide sound financial incentives to achieve that. It will be a prerequisite that two lanes are maintained in each direction in all but exceptional circumstances during the construction.

It has been suggested that a public local inquiry should be held to consider our proposal. For a scheme of this size, a public inquiry is inevitable. Under the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984, any objections from affected landowners or statutory consultees would require the Secretary of State to hold an inquiry. As the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth has made clear, we would also hold an inquiry if we had significant objections from others. However, before an inquiry can be called, we require to publish our proposals in detail and to provide sufficient information to enable the public and the relevant consultees to take an informed view. That is the next step in the process.

During maintenance on the A80, regular travellers divert on to the A803 and roads through the residential parts of Cumbernauld. That is primarily because maintenance work on the existing road reduces the carriageway to a single lane in one or both directions, with long queues as a result. The construction method for widening will keep two lanes open in each direction and thus avoid that major problem, but some people will still be tempted to divert. A strategy is therefore required to ensure that that will not be a significant issue.

Surveys are being carried out during the on-going maintenance works. Any undesirable diversion of traffic from the A80 to other routes will be identified. Signing, traffic calming and possibly even access restrictions will be discussed with the local roads authority to limit such diversions during the upgrading work.

The safety of the novel solution of taking the road under the Castlecary viaduct by dividing the carriageways has been very carefully addressed. The design, which is fully in accordance with national design standards, is a considerable improvement on the present substandard layout. It will be well signed and the running lanes will diverge gradually so that the layout is clear to drivers. Greatly enhanced protection of the viaduct piers will be provided by concrete barriers. The design principles have been endorsed by the traffic police and safety audit teams and the detailed design will be subject to rigorous scrutiny by them. That idea will save much taxpayers' money and greatly reduce the environmental impact of the road on Castlecary glen.

An obvious concern to people who live adjacent to the existing road is its physical impact on their properties and any increase in traffic noise or reduction in air quality. There is scope to reduce noise levels at properties adjacent to the widened road by providing earth screening bunds where space is available, or noise barriers where space is more limited. Those will cut traffic noise very effectively. For the majority of properties in the corridor, there will be no increase in noise. Indeed, far from increasing noise, in many cases, there may be a reduction. A bund or fence will also reduce the visual intrusion of the road and traffic and the effect will be further softened by tree planting and other landscaping.

Air pollution from vehicle exhausts is also set to reduce significantly as increasingly stringent emission standards begin to bite. The important factor in this case is that the pollution from free-flowing motorway traffic will be much lower than the pollution from the congested and deteriorating conditions of the existing route. The on-line upgrading may not remove the traffic from the route, but the proposals will mitigate many of the adverse effects of the traffic and thereby make life better for many people.

Congestion on the A80 is increasingly affecting day-to-day business activity in Cumbernauld and is reducing the attractiveness of the town to investors. I am convinced that having direct access to the new motorway can make things only better. During construction, ensuring that two lanes of traffic are maintained in each direction throughout the working day will limit any adverse effects on Cumbernauld businesses and on the high proportion of long-distance commercial traffic on the route. Given our confidence that we can manage the traffic during construction, the impact on the distribution business that is centred in Cumbernauld should also be manageable.

The detailed proposals for the preferred route are being worked up. An environmental statement is also being prepared to explain in detail what the environmental effects will be, both positive and negative. When the plans are finalised, public exhibitions will be arranged to provide the necessary information to all concerned. That will coincide with the forthcoming publication of the statutory orders. As I have said, I hope that that can be done in May. If there are significant objections to the route, a public local inquiry will be held, which is inevitable.

The upgrading of the A80 is a vital scheme within the trunk road programme. It will be one of the final links in the central Scotland motorway network and will bring enormous benefits to the whole of Scotland. We are committed to delivering those benefits. Doing nothing could also bring its environmental problems.

In taking forward the construction of the new motorway, we want to ensure that the impact of the new road on the community that borders it—and the impacts during construction—will be reduced to the minimum level practical. If we did not believe that the impacts could be contained, we would not have adopted widening as the preferred option.

I understand and sympathise with many of the concerns that have been expressed today, but our strategy is bold and ambitious. We intend to improve the road, minimise intrusion on the community and protect the environment. I look forward to working with all interested parties to those ends.

Concern has been expressed about the proposals' impact on property values. As we would all expect, anyone who has land or property acquired by compulsory purchase will be compensated fully. The Land Compensation (Scotland) Act 1973 also provides for compensation where the value of a property is affected by noise, fumes or dust from the new road, and claims for that can be submitted up to six years after the new road comes into use. Noise insulation grants are available to home owners when the noise rises above a certain level. Where properties will be acquired in due course for the new road, they are usually impossible to sell, and where owners wish to move, there exist powers to buy in advance.

Where houses are not to be acquired, but are severely affected by the new road, there are discretionary powers to purchase, but, as I have said, our aim is to minimise the number of people who will be adversely affected and the net result of the proposals should be an improvement on the present effects of the A80 for most people.

The existing A80 forms a substantial barrier in the communities of Muirhead and Moodiesburn, with their at-grade junctions and frontage access, due to the heavy traffic flows. The new road bypasses those communities to the north, with a substantial reduction in severance. The remaining two thirds of the route lie through the new town of Cumbernauld, which was designed around it and which incorporates grade-separated junctions and frequent bridge crossings. All those existing crossings will be rebuilt as part of the proposals and there will be no increase in severance as a result.

I congratulate the hon. Members for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth and for Strathkelvin and Bearsden on the thorough way in which they have represented their case on behalf of their constituents. The further examination of this will of course be for public local inquiry. I also express thanks to the communities concerned for having put their case reasonably and clearly, which has made our job easier in the roads department. We believe that we have considered their representations as objectively as possible.

It being two minutes to Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Sitting suspended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 10 (Wednesday sittings), till half-past Two o'clock.