HL Deb 09 December 1925 vol 62 cc1272-7

EARL RUSSELL had given Notice to call attention to a deputation to the Minister of Transport in March, 1924, when he stated that the scheme for the Victoria Docks Road had been under consideration by the Ministry of Transport for several years, and to ask His Majesty's Government whether it is proposed to promote a Bill in connection with this matter, what would be the total estimated cost of the scheme, whether the Ministry would contribute and how much, and what contributions, if any, have been arranged from local authorities; and to move for Papers.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I invite your Lordships to descend from the heated atmosphere and the negotiations of high contracting parties to a matter mainly of local interest, although of some national importance. This Question is not in the least controversial. It is asked merely for the purpose of obtaining information and for the purpose, which is often very useful, of stimulating a little the authority concerned. The scheme to which the Question refers is generally known as the Victoria Docks Road scheme, and the district to which it refers is that which lies cast of the River Lea and is known for the most part as Silvertown. Since it contains very important docks it is occupied also by large factories, which all give rise to busy traffic, and the flow of vehicles to and from the docks and the traffic delays there are considerable for obvious reasons, not only on account of the width of the streets but because, in addition, there is a level crossing called White Gates, known, I believe, very unfavourably to those who use that locality, which causes constant delay. Your Lordships will hardly wonder at this when I tell you that the level crossing is used in 24 hours by 2,852 vehicles and, out of those 24 hours, it has to be closed for a period exceeding nine hours to allow trains to pass. Your Lordships can imagine the congestion, which is cumulative, because the level crossing is followed by bridges which have to be opened and shut and which shut vehicles in between these points.

This matter has been discussed now, together with the scheme for a new road, for a very long time. In fact, it was originally raised many years ago, and this particular scheme, I think, has been under consideration for a very considerable period. A deputation last year visited the then Minister of Transport., Mr. Gosling, and raised the question of when the scheme would be proceeded with, and he stated, in the words which your Lordships will find in my Question, that it had been under consideration by the Ministry of Transport for several years. It is the object of my Question to expedite that consideration. This is a large scheme and an expensive one, but it is important for this reason, that the traffic to which it refers is traffic going to and from a very important part of the docks of this City and affects very vitally the commerce of London. The delays which occur all add to the expense and it is very important that they should be ended from the point of view of commerce.

I do not wish, in view of the unexpected business that came before this Question and the business that has to follow, to delay the House to-night, and therefore I propose, having stated shortly to your Lordships that this is a scheme for a large new road in this district—of which I have been furnished with a picture and which is going to cost a good deal—to limit myself simply to asking the noble Viscount who is going to reply whether any further result has followed the several years' consideration by the Ministry of Transport; whether they have yet arrived at any scheme—one reason for delay was the setting up of the London Traffic Advisory Committee, which is now in existence and which can now be consulted on the subject and, I believe, has powers which might be useful; whether they propose to promote, if necessary, a Bill or whatever other measure is needed to authorise this scheme; what the total estimated cost of the scheme will be; whether the Ministry will contribute; and what contributions, if any, have been arranged from local authorities. I suppose that this is a scheme to which the Road Fund might properly contribute if the noble Viscount's colleague does not raid it for other and less legitimate purposes. I do not know whether the Government themselves are prepared to contribute. I can quite understand that at the moment they may say that economy comes first. So long as they will carry that out, and not raid monies which are devoted to other purposes, perhaps it will not be necessary for them to contribute from public funds, but I should be glad to know what the position of the scheme is, and if there are any Papers in connection with the matter which the noble Viscount would lay upon the Table—any Report from the Ministry or anything of that sort, showing what has been going on—I should like to move for them. I beg to move.


My Lords, I rise to support the noble Earl, at any rate in the main point that he has put before the House. There is no doubt that this is a very much needed improvement to the East End of this City. This is a road which I personally have known for some years. I have always been struck by the great congestion of all kinds of traffic on it and the necessity of doing something to ease that congestion. I think that it was so long ago as 1912 or 1913, when I was a member of the Road Board, that we first had this subject in our view. Even in those days, it was known to be a very bad case of congestion of traffic and a sore point in the general traffic in the East End of London. The noble Earl referred to a possible contribution from the Road Board. I am glad that he said that they should contribute to, not pay for, the scheme because, in this kind of improvement, it is not fair to call upon the Road Fund to contribute the whole cost, or even a large proportion of it. That Fund has already been bled too severely for schemes which were really not in the nature of improving the roads so much as providing for unemployment and for objects quite unconnected with the original purposes for which it was established.

I do not think that any of your Lordships could imagine without going there the danger and difficulty of entering traffic at this point. It is rather a curious feature of this traffic that it is largely horse-drawn, short journeys being made between the Victoria Docks and various warehouses, and it is quite different in character from much of the traffic in the East End. I understand that at the present moment the Treasury have something like £16,000,000 of savings or hoardings, if I may put it in that way, from motor taxation, some of which, no doubt, could be used for this purpose, and there are other bodies, including the London County Council and certain local authorities who, I think, should contribute. Those directly interested are the County Borough of West Ham, the County Borough of East Ham, the London County Council, which certainly should help in this matter, the Essex County Council, the Corporation of the City of London, which is interested in trade, and the Port of London Authority, which is obviously interested in the traffic backwards and forwards between the docks and warehouses being made as easy as possible.

I do not intend to detain the House at this late hour, but I should be very glad if the noble Viscount, even if he cannot give an altogether satisfactory reply too night, would impress upon the Ministry that this is one of the most urgent cases for improvement in London. When I was on the Road Board the cost was estimated at about £2,500,000. That has now risen to between £3,000,000 and £4,660,000—it is impossible to say exactly what it would be. Some of the worst features of this road to the Victoria Docks could be remedied for far less than that and it might be possible to recommend that though the whole scheme cannot be carried out at once, the difficulty caused by the level crossing which is known as the White Gates could be remedied and a great deal of trouble removed. One point that should not be forgotten is that the working people of that part of London, who have to keep what is known as "time" at their factories, often get delayed for considerable periods, as the noble Earl has already foreshadowed to the House, by this level crossing. They lose time and, in consequence, they lose part of their wages. This is a very urgent ease, and I do hope that the noble Viscount who will answer for the Government will be able to give us some hope that it may be taken in hand by the Ministry of Transport at an early date.


My Lords, I hardly think the noble Earl will expect me to admit that the Ministry of Transport requires any stimulus in carrying out its arduous and complicated duties, and although I have no doubt he is anxious as to the future of this proposed road, I could not help suspecting that there was also something in the nature of a desire to find out what might be the design of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in connection with the Road Fund. I dare say he, will allow me not to make any statement on these Budget matters. As regards the whole question, of course it is generally admitted that this proposed road would be a very important improvement, giving fresh access to the docks, and I do not think my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu has spoken too strongly of the advantages which would be obtained. I have to say, however, that the scheme itself, as the noble Lord has intimated, is one of great magnitude and also of great complexity. It involves, for instance, the destruction of a great deal of house property, and also the preparation of a housing scheme to provide alternative accommodation for the people who would be displaced.

In the last year or two, I think, the proposal has been examined very carefully—not ten years ago, but in the last year—and preliminary surveys, drawings and models have been prepared; but until the matter has been gone into in a good deal further detail, I understand that it is not possible to give an estimate of the cost of this great scheme. The scheme was before the Minister of Transport earlier in the year and he referred it to the London Traffic Advisory Committee. They reported that in their opinion it was one of the most urgently required improvements in the area of Greater London. As to the question of finance, I understand that no steps have been taken at present to arrive at an allocation of the cost, in the event of the project being undertaken, and so it is very difficult at the present moment to express any opinion as to the time when the matter may be proceeded with, but presumably when the allocation and distribution of the finance has been settled, and details have been worked out, it is for the local authorities and not the Minister of Transport to promote a Bill.

The only other question is that of laying Papers. I am afraid there are no Papers to produce. I should hesitate to call the noble Earl's attention to the Administration of the Road Fund, 1923–24, in which the scheme, or what is involved in the scheme, is set out in considerable detail. If I did not know that he had studied the matter deeply I might advise him to read some of the paragraphs of that Report, but I know that in his case that is unnecessary.


I thank the noble Viscount for his reply, and if there are no Papers I will withdraw my Motion. Although the noble Viscount says that the Minister of Transport requires no stimulus, I am sure he will not be surprised if I remind him again of this matter in the course of, say, six months.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.