HL Deb 03 April 1946 vol 140 cc573-8

4.8 p.m.

LORD SANDHURST rose to ask His Majesty's Government how many trunk roads and Class 1 and 2 roads have been or are proposed to be obstructed by the building of aerodromes; what arrangements are at present in existence in each case either to ensure the minimum interruption to traffic on the road concerned or to provide adequate by-pass facilities; and whether particulars can be given as to when, in each case, it is anticipated that the obstruction will be finally removed; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the Motion which stands in my name, I do not want to take up a great deal of time. It is a simple Motion. I think I might easily have worded it in such a way that it would have required a complete copy of Hansard to encompass the whole reply. I did not do it that way, because I wanted a definite assur- ance from the Government that they do realize how serious this question is. This country has been blessed with a network, of small roads, all of enormous value to the local inhabitants. But we were not blessed with a network of large areas, and when the war came aerodromes had to be put down, for very obvious reasons, on almost every suitable site, quite regardless of whether that site did or did not cut across a road or a number of roads. It had to be done as a simple case of necessity. Now we have lost our friends the American Air Force, who were using a tremendous number of aerodromes, and a very large proportion of our own Air Force has already disappeared. We are left with a great number of small satellite aerodromes scattered about the country, many of which are blocking roads.

There seems to be singularly little enthusiasm in the Air Ministry or anywhere else for unblocking these roads. I know of one case just north of the New-market-Rovston road on the main Ware-Cambridge road. There is a satellite aerodrome sitting across that road which has not been used, so I am told, for nine months, and which I should not think is likely ever to be used again unless we: have another war. But that road is still blocked. I can see no conceivable reason for that road being blocked at all. It involves everyone using it in a detour of something like two miles. A man using it to go backwards and forwards every day is involved, therefore, in probably twenty-four unnecessary miles every week. We are not blessed with an over-generous petrol ration, and twenty-four miles a week takes a very large proportion out of it. On top of that, it wastes a great deal of people's time. It irritates the farmer and it annoys the local grocer whose boy has to drive all the way round. Unless there is real justification, I do urge the Government to free all these roads as quickly as they possibly can, even if they only free them temporarily. A road can be opened until an aerodrome is needed again; and if the aerodrome is never joking to be needed again the road can be opened and left opened.

Then we come to others of a rather more doubtful type—big aerodromes that are in use. The question arises whether it is necessary to keep them in use or whether the air traffic could not be diverted elsewhere. One case comes very much to my mind; it was a road I was on the other day. The aerodrome lies across the Hertford Bridge Flats on one of the main roads down to the southwest. You can get through that road at times and I got through quite happily, but there are still barriers which can be put up. An extraordinary situation seems to have arisen there. It appears to work all right but seems to me to be somewhat dangerous. Aeroplanes are continually taxiing across the road, and treat the road merely in the way that they would treat any cross road if they were ordinary car drivers: they look to right and to left, and if the road" is clear they go across. That is all right until there is some crazy lunatic in a small sports car or on a motor cycle whom they do not happen to notice, and then there is an accident.

I was struck by a letter I had from the county surveyor of Southampton about that very aerodrome. He says in the course of it: We have received assurances on all sides that the aerodrome is to be closed. As you may perhaps know, I found about two months ago that they were beginning to erect permanent steel buildings not only on the side of the road but on the side of the second carriageway. I believe these have now been stopped, but, in spite of assurances from all quarters that the aerodrome is to be moved, I see no signs of it yet. That looks as though we are getting a little too Biblical in our actions between the Air Ministry and others, in not letting our right hand know what our left hand is doing. One party is proposing to close the aerodrome and the other is proposing to erect steel buildings there. It looks to me as though it does not quite match up, and that there is going to be a waste of money in one direction or another, either in having to build a new road or else in having to pull down steel buildings.

I very much hope I shall get an assurance this afternoon that the Government regard the question of the blocking of roads, whether C roads, B roads, A roads or just country lanes, as one to be treated seriously, and" that they will see that the roads, wherever possible, are freed, even if it is only for a certain portion of time in the day. I beg to move for Papers.

4.16 p.m.


My Lords, I listened with very great sympathy to what the noble Lord said. This is a very difficult problem. I do not want to push off my responsibility, but, though I am answering, the Air Ministry is, of course, only one of the Departments concerned in this matter. I am answering for them all. As the noble Lord rightly said, in the course of the war it was necessary to construct a great many airfields—well over 700—for the Royal Air Force, the Fleet Air Arm, the Americans, civil aviation and of course for the factories too, and in doing so a great deal of damage was occasioned to roads. A runway might run across a road or a bit of road might be left inside the perimeter. Moreover in the interests of safety it was sometimes necessary to close near-by roads. Otherwise you might have had heavy aircraft taking off from a long runway and coming too low to permit of the safe use of roads close by. There was a third reason for which roads were closed and that was on grounds of security. That the noble Lord will understand quite well.

What we have to do now is to get into reverse, bearing in mind everything the noble Lord has said as to the necessity for helping trade, distribution and industry in the country. That is our first job now and that is what we are trying to do. He was good enough to say he would not ask for a tabular statement. It would be a long one. I can tell him, however, that of four trunk roads which we closed, two have been opened and two will be opened. In one case, I think it is road A30, we have an arrangement by which the road can be used when flying is not in progress. In other words, it is run like a level crossing. In the case of road A41, where there is an aerodrome called Tillstock, we are hoping before long to close down that aerodrome and to renew the user of the road. There were thirty-nine Class I roads closed, and of those twelve have already been opened and we hope to open others as soon as possible. Of the Class II roads sixty-five were closed. So far the re-openings have been small in number, but we are doing all we can.

What is the procedure we are following? The first and the obvious thing, of course, is to discard the security consideration. There are very few cases where it is necessary to keep the public away from an aerodrome on grounds of security nowadays. That has practically all gone, and it helps a little to ease the road problem. As regards safety, it may be that a different type of aircraft is using the runways, in which case it may be possible to open the road. A Spitfire, for example, is a much safer aircraft than a Lincoln from this point of view. There is another thing we are doing; that is we are directing, when a lighter type of aircraft is stationed at an aerodrome, that only that portion of the runway will be used as will enable us to allow a nearby road to be used safely. Having abolished the security objection, we are, as far as possible, doing what we can to make the safety factor higher and in this way also to render the roads usable.

Then we come to the roads that are completely blocked. The noble Lord will realize that to decide how many airfields we shall need is a very difficult problem. It involves a consideration, for instance, of what the post-war Air Force is going to be and what types of aircraft are going to be used. It is a subject for a Staff inquiry of a very deep kind, and I need hardly tell him that this has been in progress, for a very long time. We have, so far, decided that a certain number of these aerodromes are surplus. They fall into two categories. Firstly, there is the grass type, where it is very easy to go ahead and to use the aerodrome for agricultural purposes and to restore any roads it may cross. Then there are certain numbers not yet dealt with which include a great many aerodromes where the concrete laid down—this was recently explained in your Lordships' House—has really unfitted them for normal agricultural use. Most of those are going to be taken over by the Ministry of Agriculture and I have no doubt they will give consideration to what the noble Lord said about making available as many roads as possible. They will not be airfields any more.

In the case of those we have derequisitioned or which we are about to declare surplus, a great many other problems arise. We are not highway authorities, and I am not quite sure what powers the Minister of Transport has in that connexion. Most of the highway authorities are local authorities and other bodies. They may well say to us, "Don't open the road; leave your closure notices up. If you open the road, the surface is in such a bad condition that we may have accidents and possibly claims against us". In point of fact, therefore, the opening of a road is not really a question for a single obstinate Ministry—and we are trying not to be obstinate. It is also a question putting it into a usable condition again, and with that other Departments are concerned. I do not pretend that we are satisfied with the speed at which we have been doing our part. I am not saying that any lack of speed there may be is our fault. We are constantly looking into these matters, there is machinery for doing it, and more than once, at the highest level, the speed of the machine has been looked at with a view to seeing what can be done to satisfy the perfectly right and proper demands of the noble Lord. I am grateful to him for raising this question, if I may say so with great respect. I hope that at some future time he will raise it again in the interests of governmental efficiency, and if he does I can promise him that all the information in our possession will be given. I hope that information will satisfy him and prove that we are doing all we can to meet what is really a national need.


My Lords, I am most grateful for that reply. As has been pointed out, by raising this question again in the future we shall possibly stimulate people into further activity. There is no doubt that if these questions are raised in this House it does prevent people from going to sleep.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.