HL Deb 21 June 1932 vol 85 cc51-4

THE EARL OF DENBIGH asked His Majesty's Government what progress is being made in the general adoption in other parts of London of the red and green lights that have proved so successful in Oxford Street, and whether the delay in general adoption of this system is due to its being entirely at the option of the various local authorities. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I shall not detain the House more than a very few minutes in asking for this information. It is generally admitted by the public that the red and green lamps which have been fixed experimentally in Oxford Street for some time now have proved a very great success. They have greatly increased the speed of traffic, facilitated the duties of the police, and lessened the number of police required to regulate the traffic. They have also increased the safety of the pedestrians. The pity of it is that the number of these lamps is not increased in the other parts of the Metropolis, and from what I am told there seems to be a very great hesitation on the part of the local authorities.

I understand it costs about £300 to instal a set of lamps of that description at each of the four corners of a cross road, and that of that amount about 60 per cent. is paid by the Ministry of Transport and 40 per cent. by the local authorities. If that is so, it ought to give the Minister of Transport a very strong pull in putting pressure upon the local authorities not to obstruct the fixing of further lamps. But progress is very slow. Last year, I believe, only about 68 of these lamps were fixed in London. In New York, where about 8,000 are in existence, about 1,200 were fixed last year, and I think we might make a little more progress now than we have done in the past. I beg to ask my noble friend for the information, and also if he cannot do something in the interests of the public to put pressure upon the local authorities, if it is they who are holding up the matter.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Earl for giving me an opportunity of referring to this very important question, and I shall attempt to explain to him the position as shortly and as succinctly as possible. The Minister of Transport, the Home Secretary and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police have, as I am sure your Lordships are aware, been in close consultation on this subject for a considerable time past, and as a result of this consultation and of the experience gained from the working of the automatic electric signals in Oxford Street, the Minister has quite definitely come to the conclusion that it would be desirable to ask for similar systems to be installed in different parts of London where the traffic conditions are suitable. There is one point I should like to emphasise, and that is that I think it would be a great mistake to overdo these automatic signal systems and to scatter them broadcast about London where the conditions really do not warrant it. It would only aggravate and irritate the motorists. It might in fact lead to these signals being ignored, which, I think, would be an extremely unfortunate thing.

This automatic signalling has three primary objects in view. Firstly, to improve the traffic conditions; secondly, to reduce the number of the police that are required for traffic duty and in that way to release them for what are perhaps their more proper functions: and, in the third place, they are considered desirable in the interests of public safety and for the prevention of accidents. It is quite true, as the noble Earl has said, that the erection of these automatic signalling systems has not proceeded as quickly in London as it has in the provinces and elsewhere, and this is undoubtedly partly due to the special local government conditions which obtain in London. It has meant that the negotiations have been perhaps more complicated and more prolonged than they might have been otherwise. I think it must be borne in mind that until the Road Traffic Act of 1930 came into operation the highway authorities in London had no express powers to erect traffic signs or signals. That Act gave them those powers, and they are, therefore, now in a position to proceed. I also should like to make this point, that the conditions in London are peculiar and require very careful investigation and special treatment. I think it would have been disastrous if we had embarked upon a wholesale system of automatic traffic signals, which might have proved faulty owing to lack of sufficient consideration, and which might have, with a little more experience, been improved upon.

I think, therefore, it is natural that in these particular circumstances the local authorities should not wish to commit themselves until they were certain that the money which they would be called upon to expend in this connection would be spent in a satisfactory and proper fashion. I am glad, however, that recently things have been moving quickly with regard to this matter. In April last the Minister of Transport took the opportunity of meeting representatives from the Metropolitan Boroughs, when this question was fully discussed. He urged upon them the desirability of proceeding with the erection of further automatic signalling systems, and pointed out at the same time that the sums involved were comparatively small; that, in fact, it would be an economy to have a larger number of these systems in London. As a proof of the importance which we attach to this question, the highway authorities, as the noble Lord has stated, have been offered a contribution of 60 per cent. towards the cost of installing the signals, and towards the cost of their maintenance as well, leaving 40 per cent. to be found by the local authorities. I do not want to go into any detail, but I understand that the cost of installing the system at each junction is, in London, from £400 to £500, whereas the annual maintenance cost is in the region of about £60, all included.

As a result of further meetings, representatives of the Metropolitan Boroughs passed a resolution approving in principle the erection of more automatic traffic signals, and they approved of the financial arrangement, subject only to the details of the individual schemes. The position now is this, that all the Metropolitan borough councils have agreed in principle to the erection of signals, and nine of them have agreed to definite signal proposals. These nine are Chelsea, Deptford, Holborn, Lambeth, Paddington, Poplar, St. Pancras, Southwark and Westminster. It may interest your Lordships to know that in the case of Westminster the proposals are the following:—The signalling of Piccadilly from Stratton Street to Duke Street, of Trafalgar Square, of Albert Gate, the junction of Grosvenor Place and Hobart Place, and the junction of Eaton Square and Eccleston Street. Complete plans and specifications covering these installations have been prepared and sent out to tender. The tenders will be considered by a committee of the Westminster City Council on July 5, and their recommendations will go to the full Council on July 14. It is hoped the Westminster Council will approve the acceptance of tenders for each of these installations, which will enable an order to be placed for the work to be put in hand immediately after that date. I hope that what I have been able to tell the noble Earl will satisfy him, and also will show him that although this question has hung fire in the past, matters are now proceeding quickly and there will be in the course of a short time a considerable extension of the automatic traffic signalling system.


I thank the noble Earl for his reply.