HL Deb 26 June 1961 vol 232 cc856-930

4.56 p.m.

LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH rose to draw attention to the report of the inspector who conducted the inquiry into the Oxford roads problem; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: my Lords, it was on February 8, 1955, that I put down a Motion in your Lordships' House to draw attention, not only in the interests of Oxford, one of our great national heritages, but also in the national interest, to the necessity for something to be done to alleviate the growing traffic congestion caused by Oxford's geographical position. I do not claim to have been the first to have done so, because in 1937 it was unanimously agreed by the Oxford City Council, the Oxfordshire County Council, the Berkshire County Council, the University and the Oxford Preservation Trust that something must be done.

I am not going to bore your Lordships with the comings and goings of the history of this matter until 1958, when, on February 13, we had a debate in your Lordships' House on a Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, to set up a Royal Commission to inquire into the whole of this growing, and by now gigantic, problem of traffic congestion in Oxford. Your Lordships took the view, under the persuasion of the then Leader of the House, the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, that there should be what was called an inquiry at large by an inspector, or inspectors, as it was then supposed there might be, of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. The inquiry at large has been held and the report has now been presented. On February 13, 1958, the Government promised—in order, if I may say so with no disrespect, to save their faces by not being taken into the Division Lobby, where they would have assuredly been defeated—that your Lordships should have an opportunity of debating this report before the Minister made up his mind whether he would adopt it or not.

This report is a peculiar document. After having an inquiry at large, after hearing evidence from every source that desired to give evidence, the Inspector recommends a plan which was advocated only by its sponsors and opposed by everybody who gave evidence at the inquiry. Strange as it may appear to some, and not so strange to others, the recommendation of the inspector is almost precisely the same as the one your Lordships' House turned down in 1957, known as the Sandys Meadow Road Scheme. The Inspector appears to have centred the whole of his report upon the necessity, in his view, of preserving what he calls the peace and quiet of the University area. In fact in his recommendation in paragraph 300 of the report and the following one he says that if the peace and quiet of the University area is to be restored, a road through Christ Church Meadow is inescapable; and he recommends accordingly. I am going to ask the Minister to reject that recommendation.

My first ground for asking that is that the inspector was not charged with finding how best to restore the peace and quiet of the central University area. He was charged with finding how best the traffic (and at the time of the 1957 debate it had grown to such proportions that the congestion in the centre of Oxford was almost intolerable, because almost all the traffic converging along the four main roads had to pass through the centre of the City of Oxford) could be diverted and the congestion eased, and not with how to preserve or restore the quiet of the University area, admirable though that objective is, if practicable.

The 1957 debate was mainly concentrated upon that point, and that was because it was recognised by your Lordships then, including the Government, that this was not a purely local, but a national question. In fact, the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, who was the Leader of the House at that time, said in the debate [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 201, col. 834]: Finally as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, pointed out, and I entirely agree with him, it is a key point in our system of communications, being on the main traffic route between the industrial Midlands and the South and West of England, including the great ports of that part of the country.

There was complete unanimity in your Lordships' House and in every conceivable body of opinion outside that the by-passes should be completed with all speed. It was said repeatedly in your Lordships' House that the problem of congestion of traffic in Oxford could not be viewed in its proper perspective until that had been done. No one who listened to that debate and to those who spoke, including the Government spokesmen, the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and the noble Earl, Lord Munster, could have gone away with any other impression than that the by-passes were going to be completed with all speed. Again I quote the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury on that occasion. He said [col. 840]: The construction of the outer by-passes will not be held up until there is agreement on the Oxford Traffic Plan.

I have with me a letter which has been written to-day by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and, with your Lordships' permission. I should like to quote a sentence or two from it, because the noble Marquess is indisposed and regrets that he cannot be here. He writes: If you think it would be any help, please do not hesitate to say that, after reading all the papers on the subject, I still do not see why it should not be the best plan to complete the outer ring road and see how much traffic that draws off from the centre of Oxford be, fore proceeding to measures which are bound to affront large sections of opinion in the city and outside. Yet, my Lords, there is not a recommendation throughout the whole of this report that advocates the hurried and expeditious completion of the outer ring roads: as a matter of fact, there is only a passing reference to them and an assumption that they will be completed and that when they are completed there will be various effects.

I should think that there is still unanimity in your Lordships' House and outside, in the University, the Oxford Preservation Trust, the county councils and also the City Council of Oxford, that it is imperative that there should be no delay, and that whatever is done, the Oxford road traffic problem will not be solved until those by-passes are completed. Only the other day the Mayor of Oxford wrote this to the Minister of Transport: The result of continued delay in the completion of the work on this section of the by-pass "— that is referring to the last section, which is not yet in the programme, known as the Sandford link— will therefore mean that the river will continue to remain a barrier for the whole of its length between the centre of the city and Abingdon. Among the incidental results of the decision must be included the fact that until the outer ring of by-passes is complete it will be impossible for my council even to consider following Gloucester's excellent example of prohibiting the heavy through goods traffic from its central area. That is from the Mayor presiding over a Council which has put forward a scheme to the inspector, which the Mayor does not pretend will solve the problem, and which the Inspector has accepted.

Four and a half years have passed since your Lordships debated Lord Beveridge's Motion, and even now those ring roads are not completed: in fact, the Sandford link is not yet in the authorisation programme. I do not think it would be an exaggeration to say that if the Government had carried out their promise that expeditious treatment would be given to those by-passes, not only would the inquiry not have needed to be held, but this debate would not have had to take place, and we should have now seen what the problem was as clear as daylight, even if there were not a problem to deal with at that moment of time. So that is the first complaint that I have against this report, and those are my first grounds for asking the Minister to reject the recommendation in it.

I am not going into detail, except on one point. I do not reject the figures produced by the Road Research Laboratory; I reject their assumptions. They are quite entitled to bring statistics forward, but assumptions are entirely different; and in my opinion everybody in an official capacity has failed to pay sufficient regard to what I would call the congestion factor. The Laboratory's figures were based upon a per capita census—a notoriously misleading thing. A ten-ton lorry ranked as one vehicle, and the smallest motor car ranked as one vehicle. The congestion factor, and the time-lag factor, of a ten-ton lorry bears no comparison to that of a small motor car. One of the greatest congestion factors is the fact that some of these great commercial lorries which have to pass from the South of England right along the A.34 (that is the only main road we have down the centre of England, and it runs plumb through the centre of Oxford) are brought down to two miles per hour on some of these slight inclines. To take that traffic out of the City of Oxford and to utilise the power which the Minister has under Section 26(3) of the Road Traffic Act on the application of the local authority to ban the routing of heavy traffic, or any other traffic they want to stop going to the centre, would revolutionise the problem of the traffic congestion of the city of Oxford.

The plan recommends that a scheme shall be agreed and put into operation to drive a road through Christ Church Meadow. I can speak with a perfectly unbiased mind, as I am not a member of the University of Oxford. I am no special pleader. If special pleader I am, it is that I am a great lover of Oxford and have spent the greater part of my life in its vicinity. But as a piece of traffic engineering the plan that is recommended is sheer and utter nonsense. I characterise the Sandys Plan—from which this deviates hardly at all—as the silliest of silly pieces of traffic planning. Now what does it do? It first of all commits the crime of collecting the traffic to near the point of congestion. It takes the traffic right up to the point of congestion, and then it tips it in and unloads it within 200 yards of the greatest point of congestion in the whole of the city of Oxford, Carfax; and from there it goes on to Heaven knows where. Certainly the inspector did, not know. He airily made some kind of comment that perhaps it might, in some distant future, be advisable to widen New Inn Hall Street, but that was never a subject to be discussed at the debate.

I see that the noble Lord, Lord Molson, who followed me as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, is present. If we learnt anything at that Ministry, we learnt that the way to relieve congestion was to take the congesting traffic as far away from the congested spot as we could. But here you take it as near as you can, and you tip it right into the centre. As a piece of planning it again falls down. I do not pretend to be a planning expert, but I was very much impressed to read a letter in The Times this morning from Sir William Halford, Mr. Trustram Eve and Mr. Pitcher. I suppose it would not be an exaggeration to say that they are three of our leading planning experts in this country, and they have condemned this scheme.

The centre of Oxford has never been planned. Nothing is ever planned in Oxford; Oxford just grows. Your Lordships may think it a joke, but there has never been any attempt to plan any traffic control in Oxford yet—never in its history. There is an essence of planning required here; but are your Lordships aware that the whole of the shopping centre of the city of Oxford is right in the middle of the University area? It is about one mile square, and it contains all the multiple stores to attract everybody from miles around. You will never get over that congestion until you plan the adjoining roads to cream off the pedestrian traffic. But with this plan, the inspector's plan, what are you doing? If I may use a vulgarism, because it is apt, you spew the whole of the local traffic into an area which is congested with pedestrians, women with children in perambulators doing their shopping, and you strew incitements. You have Woolworth's, Marks and Spencer's, and Boot's, who are putting up or have put up the most elaborate places, and now another of them is to be added in the Corn Market, where Littlewood's are to have a multiple store which will make confusion worse confounded.

I will leave the planning aspect of this question to be dealt with by speakers who are more knowledgeable than I am. I want to turn to one other point. The Inspector says—and I regret he has said this, because it is completely untrue—that nobody except the University raised any opposition to the plan that he has advocated. First of all, the Chief Constable was dead against it. His number one priority was that the outer by-passes must be completed first. But is it not an amazing thing—and this came out in evidence at the inquiry—that of all the consultations that the City Council had between their various departments, some in secret session and some out, the Chief Constable's advice was never asked and he was never consulted. The Inspector makes some rather caustic comment as to why the Chief Constable was not consulted, and the Council said they were in entire ignorance of his views. The Inspector says that that was a very strange thing, but it is a fact.

The next opponent to this recommendation is the Chief Planning Officer of the city. He thought so little of the city's plan that he brought up his own plan. Then there is Sir William Halford, who, if he carries weight with nobody, surely carries weight with Her Majesty's Government and the Minister of Housing and Local Government, because he is the man who is going to get the Minister out of his Piccadilly Circus mess; and so he must have some weight. He is the greatest authority in the country when it comes to Piccadilly Circus, but he does not seem to rank quite so highly with the Inspector and the Oxford Road Committee. Then there is Mr. Trustram Eve and Mr. Dennis Pilcher.

My Lords, I am asking the Minister—I cannot ask the Government as it has, at the present moment, nothing to do with them; but I suppose the Minister of Housing and Local Government is the one who will, after consultation with his colleagues, when he has heard of your Lordships' comments, come to a conclusion—to reject the Council plan, because it will not bring peace and quiet to the University end. What it will do is to put a noose round its neck which time will tighten and tighten until it strangles it completely.

Now the cost. It has been given in evidence that the cost of this road will be between £3 million and £4 million. To spend £3 million or £4 million on something that will not cure your problem and to burke over the £1 million, or just over £1 million, that it will cost to complete the South by-passes by the Sandford link and see your problem three quarters solved, is not, I think, very good logic.

I do not deny that a case can be made for inner relief roads in the city of Oxford. I think they must be thought of very carefully, but, above all, they must be thought of in the light of experience, when you have taken out the real obstruction, and that is this heavy commercial traffic that comes from the North and the Midlands and is funnelled right through the centre of Oxford. Leave out the vandalism and the sacrilege, leave out the convenience and the amenity of the eye, but when you come to think that this plan envisages a huge concrete—I suppose it will be concrete—cross-over, two elevations, almost outside the door of Christ Church Cathedral, it does not sound possible that anybody who has thought about it can recommend such a thing. That is why I am asking the Minister to reject this recommendation and I ask your Lordships to support me in, that request. I beg to move for Papers.

5.23 p.m.


My Lords, we are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, for raising this important matter and for his very cogent speech. Naturally the Member of your Lordships' House to put forward the views of the University would be Lord Simonds. Unfortunately, he is indisposed and I have been asked to put the views of the Vice-Chancellor and the Hebdomadal Council, and in view of the large number of speakers of far greater experience than myself I propose merely to read the statement which has been given to me, because I am quite sure that any points I should wish to make would be made better by other people. This is the statement: I have been asked by the Vice Chancellor of Oxford, on behalf of the Hebdomadal Council, to say that they are not only disappointed by the recommendations made by Sir Frederick Armer, but that they feel that due weight has not been given, in his Report, to the evidence tendered on behalf of the University at the public inquiry over which he presided last December. The University has more than once, and consistently expressed its views by the votes of very large majorities in Congregation. In the last of these debates, held only a few weeks before the public inquiry, the University took the opportunity to express a positive and decided preference for a plan on the lines of a published scheme, Scheme A, and for the use of traffic restrictions to make such a plan work, that is to say, to make it succeed in diverting traffic from the central area. The Vice Chancellor was authorised by the University to speak on its behalf at the Inquiry, and there was also an expert witness, Mr. Pitcher, and there is, of course, no question now of adding to or modifying their evidence. The question is, whether due weight has been given to it. This evidence laid stress on two points of principle which the Vice Chancellor represented as underlying the University's resolutions in Congregation. The first, that the problem at Oxford is not merely a traffic problem; the second, that any solution ought to be based on a long view, not a short one. It was the combination of these two fundamental considerations, as well as other considerations of detail, that led the University to press for a plan which would ensure that traffic would be enabled to circulate on a ring road system that would, of course, be well inside the by-pass ring, but well away from the centre. It would keep South of the Thames, North of the University Parks, West of St. Ebbe's—more or less along the line of the railway—and East of the Green Belt along the Cherwell. That describes in general terms the area within which motor traffic should be discouraged. It embraces not just the University but the main shopping and civic centre of the City. If a ring road system of this description, plenty of car parks at suitable points, did not succeed in relieving the centre, then suitable restrictions should be imposed. The problem, as I have said, is not merely—perhaps not even primarily—a traffic prolem. It is the problem of rescuing the heart of Oxford—City as well as University—from a surfeit of motor traffic and preserving it for future generations. The plan recommended by Sir Frederick Armer not only provides additional routes for traffic to move in the area but should, on the contrary, have less traffic on it. It is also too short-sighted. Everybody expects a general increase in motor traffic in the country at large. The Inspector's plan is short-sighted because it does not push the traffic far enough away from the centre. The future on which, naturally, public attention is being focused is the proposal for a road through Christ Church Meadow. This is certainly objectionable because it would destroy an irreplaceable amenity, but even if it did not, it would still, the University contests, be had planning. From a planning point of view, another feature, which is linked with the line of the proposed meadow road, is almost worse, namely the continuation of the meadow road through, instead of round—i.e., to the South and West of St. Ebbe's—the new area of development which is of such importance to the City. To drive a main traffic road, first through an open space of great natural beauty, then through an area of new development, and in both cases within, instead of outside, the area of Oxford that should be relieved of traffic, is surely bad planning. It is certainly bad for those who live in, or visit, Oxford. It may do no more for motorists than add to the number who already enjoy the maximum of inconvenience with the minimum of speed, by providing more internal roads for them to congest, but, in any case, what we should be thinking of, the University maintains, is not the convenience of motor traffic, but the rescue and preservation of Oxford, I would only add that I have been associated with a vast amount of matter on this subject and I have come to the conclusion that. I agree with the Plan, Plan A, as proposed already by the Oxford Development Trust, and I cannot accept at the moment this ruling of Sir Frederick Armer as really meeting the case. I would say that while it may be said that there is something exceptional in Oxford—a point with which I agree—my view is that we must have drastic traffic limitations, not only for Oxford but for Cambridge and other towns, such as Stamford, if we are to preserve our heritage and fine old towns.

5.30 p.m.


My Lords, I feel some diffidence in addressing your Lordships now after a long interval. When a man has reached the extreme old age of 90 he may think that to intervene in the controversies of the day may be regarded as an intrusion of the past into the present. If I were to give your Lordships my reminiscences of Mr. Gladstone when he was Prime Minister in 1893, you would probably listen with polite attention, but you may perhaps think that you are not obliged to take account of the views of a nonagenarian about a future which he will not live to see. But in justification I can claim that during the last two years I have accumulated to my credit a large balance of silence on which I may perhaps be allowed to draw to-day.

Secondly, I have justification in my special connection with this question of the Oxford roads, because during the last war, while attending your Lordships' House regularly, I was living part-time in Oxford for four years, when the Oxford Preservation Trust, on the initiative of my friend Lionel Curtis, decided to appoint a committee on the planning and reconstruction of Oxford and did me the honour of making me the chairman of that committee—probably because I myself had several years of Cabinet experience, including the office of President of the Local Government Board. Members of that committee included the chairman of the City Council's Planning Committee and also the chairman of the County Council's Planning Committee and two or three other experts. We held 50 meetings; we heard 30 witnesses; we presented two unanimous reports in 1941 to 1942. And now, 20 years after, almost all the recommendations of that committee are being carried into effect.

I do not speak to-day, however, for the Oxford Preservation Trust; the noble Viscount, Lord Harcourt, who is the Chairman of the Trust, will be making his maiden speech in this debate. Nor do I speak for the University, since the noble Earl Lord Attlee, with the direct authorisation of the Vice-Chancellor of the University, has done that just now. Nor do I propose to cover the whole wide ground covered by this question; and in order to economise, to make my speech as concise as may I shall limit myself to one point and one point only, with some attendant questions—namely, whether there ought to be a main highway constructed across Christ Church Meadow. Twenty years ago our committee had this proposal before it, and we refused to recommend it.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, I feel that the Inspector's report which is at this moment before your Lordships' House is essentially wrong, although in one important point I am in full agreement with him. I regard it, as he regards it, as of the first importance to relieve the traffic from Carfax and the High Street of Oxford. The incessant vibration of the heavy traffic is disintegrating the fabric of the colleges and other buildings on The High, and the prolonged traffic blocks involve an economic waste and exasperation and frustration which are quite intolerable.

This month of June sees Oxford at her natural best. We remember Matthew Arnold's familiar lines: And that sweet city with her dreaming spires She needs not June for beauty's heightening. If to-day Arnold were writing he might speak of the city of dreaming spires and nightmare streets; and these conditions will certainly grow worse. The tourists coming to this country are at the rate of nearly one million a year, and this year shows an increase of 17 per cent. over last year. With cheap and safe travel by air or by sea, every man and woman of intelligence and enterprise who can afford it will wish to come to this country, to come to Europe at least once in their lives, from all the Commonwealth countries and from the countries of the American Continent, north and south. They will come to visit Europe. They will come either to Paris or to London, but if they can to both. If they come to London they will wish to go on an excursion to Oxford and on to Stratfordon-Avon. And with our own population here at home, when practically every family will soon have its own motor car, we may expect every place of real interest in this country to be visited by great numbers of tourists.

So far I am at one with the Inspector appointed by the Department, and I am at one also with the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge. It was Lord Beveridge who moved the last substantial Resolution in this House on this subject. Unfortunately, he is at this moment in the United States fulfilling a series of engagements and is unable to be present, but he has sent a letter the substance of which I have been asked to communicate to your Lordships' House. In that letter, which covers a long memorandum, he says: The Armer Report seems to me utterly wrong. Even on the narrow view that he was concerned only with roads, his choice of the Christ Church route is indefensible and absurd. The road plan that seems to me the right first step is the Preservation Trust's plan. A Christ Church Meadow road would always have been useless and to-day would be absurd. With that view I would associate myself without qualification. And now I will offer to your Lordships, with as great brevity as I can, my grounds for that summary rejection.

My grounds are that Sir Frederick Armer makes two assumptions, both of which are false; and he ignores altogether, or makes only casual reference to, two of the main features of the whole situation. The first wrong assumption is that we have to choose between the Magdalen Bridge being either closed or open. That is a false assumption. It is not necessary to keep the bridge either closed or open. It can be kept closed for certain classes of traffic and open for others. In many countries of Europe and elsewhere it is quite customary to distinguish classes of traffic and to allocate them to different roads. It would be perfectly possible to make a regulation closing the Magdalen Bridge and Carfax to trucks, often of enormous size, which take up a great deal of space, to tourist coaches and long-distance buses, which constitutes the traffic which does the main damage to the buildings. It is perfectly simple to make such a discrimination. We are well accustomed to it here in London, because for years past we have seen heavy traffic going along Park Lane and lighter traffic going along the Hyde Park carriage road. Now a much better system has been brought in, but there has never been any disadvantage or difficulty in dividing the two classes of traffic, one, the heavy, going along the road, and the other, the light, going within the Park.

The second assumption of Sir Frederick Armer is that in order effectively to relieve The High the relief road must be as short as possible compared with The High, because it is necessary to induce the lorry drivers to go along the relief road instead of going along the shorter road, along The High. It really is not necessary to induce them to do this at all. If the road is closed to heavy traffic they will necessarily have to go along the relief road, and it makes little difference to them if they have a clear run over a road which is perhaps half a mile, or even a mile, longer than the short road along The High. The assumption that it would create inconvenience to the population of Oxford to close Magdalen Bridge and that it must be left open as it is, does not follow at all. You can discriminate, and you have not got to leave it to the choice of the lorry driver as to which road he will take: he must go by the relief road or keep clear of Oxford altogether. These two false assumptions invalidate or vitiate the whole of the Inspector's argument.

The second point is that there are two omissions in envisaging the whole situation. His plan would leave the whole of the traffic that now passes along The High, but which is to be diverted from it, to be poured out on to St. Aldate's, reducing the whole of the traffic situation there to complete chaos. To my mind, the key to the whole situation is not to be found in Cowley or in Magdalen Bridge, or on the question whether there should or should not be the meadow road—although all those matters are of great importance. The key to the whole situation is right away out to the West, to the railway stations and to the new development that will soon go on beyond the railway stations.

If I were asked, "What is it that you favour? It is easy to criticise; construction is difficult," I would take up that challenge. I would suggest that the Government Department concerned should first approach the railway authorities. When I was closely acquainted with this question twenty years ago the Great Western Railway had already scheduled Oxford railway station, a wretched, ramshackle Victorian building, to be pulled down and a new station built perhaps a little further south along the line. The old L.M.S. station was also designed for clearance. The railway authorities should now be approached seriously to take up the matter, and to say what they would like done about the Oxford railway station. Do they want to keep it where it is, or move it a little further south? Or what do they wish? Similarly, they should be approached about the demolition of the L.M.S. station.

Then the Ministry should endeavour to appoint a committee representing the County Council of Oxfordshire, the County Council of Berkshire, and the City Council, who are the statutory authorities, to form a working group to plan out a completely new traffic centre, covering the whole of the present railway centre and perhaps an area beyond, of the order perhaps of half a square mile, which would give the traffic experts and the town planners room to manœuvre, to create an ideal modern system of roundabouts, fly-overs, under-passes, garages, restaurants, public conveniences and a car park of perhaps four of five storeys, of the pattern which is now becoming standardised.

That is the constructive, definite proposal that I would submit for consideration. At the same time the new relief road should be made from whatever part of the Cowley area is found to be most convenient, passing not far from the south bank of the Thames—not the north bank—leaving the Christ Church Meadow quite untouched. As soon as that is completed, regulations should be made closing Magdalen Bridge and Car-fax to heavy traffic, while leaving them open to light cars and perhaps to single-deck local buses, and providing the owners of shops and so forth along The High with opportunity for early morning deliveries.

It may be said that the cost of all this would be prohibitive. Not at all. Immense compensation would have to be paid under the Armer proposal, and it should be remembered that this new lay-out would create a large number of extremely valuable building sites, all along what I hope will be called the Abercrombie Road—because he was the person who proposed to make it there—and with street frontages and the development west of the parking area in the station area. So the county councils of Berkshire and Oxfordshire would be vitally interested financially because it would increase immediately, to a significant degree, their rateable values. The British Travel and Holidays Association should also be brought into consultation.

The second omission from the inspector's scheme is that he fails to realise that the one great improvement still open to Oxford in this present century is the creation of a new river front My Committee in 1942 thought that Oxford was "particularly fortunate in her waterways." We say that: The Thames and the Cherwell add much to the amenities of town and University. But the Thames suffers a strange eclipse between Godstow and Upper River and Folly Bridge on the Isis. The Thames coming down from the west is divided into five streams and disappears. No one can say where the Thames is. Now the way is open for the creation of a new water front on the Thames the whole way along from Ipsdon to Iffley. The removal of the gas works has made that possible, and now the replanning of St. Ebbe's which has been taken vigorously in hand by the City Council. We cannot hope to emulate in Oxford the breath-taking beauty of the Cambridge Backs, but at all events we can abstain from spoiling such river front as we have and create a further river front to continue to the upper region.

So this scheme, I would urge respectfully upon your Lordships, and especially upon the Government, is far better than the Armer scheme, carrying a four-way autobahn of heavy traffic right across Christ Church Meadow, cutting off for ever the University of Oxford from this ancient and present frontage on the Thames. On all this—the need for a spacious traffic centre and the future development of the river front—not a single word appears in the Armer Report. It entirely ignores the whole of that aspect of the situation which should be regarded as a vital part of it. In his recommendation he makes a perfunctory reference in the final paragraphs to The loss of the long preserved … amenity provided by the Meadow and the provision instead of the lesser amenity that would no doubt be secured"— I quote from the Report. My Lords, what "lesser amenity?" Where? How? When? No hint is given as to that.

So I come to this conclusion. What is the purpose of this debate? It is to enable your Lordships to express their views on the Report of the Government inquiry. This Report does not serve any useful purpose, and its author clearly sees that it need be nothing more than superficial and perfunctory. For consider the very frame of the Report itself. The Introductory section occupies five pages. The précis of the plans presented to the Inspector for consideration covers 59 pages. The third part, Conclusion and Recommendation", is given in two paragraphs, one of nine lines on page 64 and the other of six lines on page 65. Superficial and perfunctory this Report must be termed. Yet the Inspector says in the course of those brief observations that the Meadow road is inescapable. "Inescapable" is a silly word, very much like the word "inevitable", which people often use argumentatively when something is very probable in their opinion and they want to make their declaration emphatic—"Mark my words! So-and-so is inevitable." Communists, in particular, favour that word. But five years later, when something entirely different has been done, nobody remembers to mark his words; and no one has any interest in saying how wrong he was. "History" in this case may be very much the same.

In regard to the gas works, the Labour Government were in power and two of their Ministers, the Minister of Town and Country Planning and the Minister of Fuel and Power, approved an expenditure of £200,000 of new money to patch up the old Oxford gas works in the very middle of the river front, regardless of the protests of the inhabitants and of all those concerned. Happily, your Lordships' House was able to intervene there because of legislation which was just about to come to an end and the requirement of a statutory instrument from both Houses. The House of Lords appointed a Select Committee and this plan, regarded by the Ministers as inevitable, was thrown out with contumely. What happened? Did all the disastrous results happen to the consumers in Oxford? Nothing of the kind. The new Gas Authority was only too pleased to get rid of this monstrous nightmare and provide a much better supply of gas from an entirely different quarter; and no one now remembers that there was a moment when the Government of the day tried to press through an expenditure of a quarter of a million pounds on that site.

Next came the inquiries of Mr. Duncan Sandys, who was the predecessor of the present Minister of Housing and Local Government. He took an infinity of trouble over this matter; went to Oxford; spent some time there; saw everybody; read everything; gave the most careful consideration: and finally came to the conclusion embodied in a directive, or the equivalent, sent to the City Council; and that includes three proposals, all of them thoroughly bad. The first was to make a huge motor road at right angles to St. Giles's, right across, spoiling the whole of the northern part of Oxford. The second was to close definitely Magdalen Bridge. The third was to make a new great highway right across the Meadow, but as far north, as near the colleges, as could be arranged. All those proposals have been completely abandoned, and no one now would wish to revive them.

Those are not the only cases. I remember well, having taken part in all these controversies, that the Electricity Board insisted that they must put up a new great electric power station just south of Durham Cathedral and Durham Castle, spoiling completely one of the finest cathedral views in Europe. We were told that they were very sorry but it could not be helped; there was nowhere else where it could be placed. Public opinion revolted against that and said, Put your station 100 yards this way or that way, but do not put it into the middle of the view of Durham Cathedral." The Electricity Board gave way. They moved their station accordingly, and what was regarded as inevitable proved to be easily avoided.

Similarly with Lincoln Cathedral. Exactly the same thing happened. The electricity engineers said that there was only one possible place for their power station—right in the middle of the view of one of the finest cathedrals in Europe. There again, the same thing happened. There was an explosion of public opinion, and the electricity engineers were told, "Put your station where you like, but you shall not put it in the middle of the view of the Cathedral." "Very well", said the engineers. They moved their station, and nothing more was heard of it. Now here is yet another example. Sir Frederick Armer says that a Meadow road is "inescapable." Nonsense! If your Lordships' House and public opinion reject this Report, as I sincerely hope they will, five years hence no one will remember anything about Sir Frederick Armer or his Report.

Let it be well understood that this is not a case where two contending parties have agreed to an arbitration and appoint a reliable arbitrator to judge between them. Nothing of the kind has happened in this case. We did not agree to give up the idea of a Royal Commission. We said that if there was going to be an inquiry, at all events let it be thorough and open to everyone to present their plans. But there is no aureole around the head of an inspector. What is an inspector? What qualifications has he? An arbitrator one understands; but no one would have dreamt of appointing Sir Frederick Armer as an arbitrator, because, so far as anyone knows, he knows nothing whatever about the subject. He had never been heard of before. After a blameless career—and, indeed, a distinguished career—in the Civil Service, promoted to grade after grade, mainly in the Ministry of Health and the Board of Control, he ends up by being chosen, at the age of nearly 70, suddenly to inquire into the Oxford roads. Oxford University protests indignantly. The premier University in the world, whose name is famous everywhere, says, "You must not do this to our precincts". Are we to be told, "We pay great respect to what the University says, but the matter was so complex that we referred it to an inspector. He has spoken, and we must put aside the opinions of the University"?

After twenty years of work, mainly successful, the Oxford Preservation Trust comes to this House and, through the mouth of Lord Harcourt, its chairman, will, I think, appeal to your Lordships' House to support their view. The late Sir Patrick Abercrombie was against it. I hope, as I say, that the road may be named after him, as he was the first author of it. Sir William Holford, whose name is well known as an architect and planner here in this country and everywhere, is also against it. Both of those experts are to be brushed aside—Sir Frederick Armer takes a different view.

I have heard it said—indeed, I think I saw it in one of the Sunday newspapers not long ago—that people have lost patience and lost courage because of the long delays in this matter; and the writer said, "A wrong decision is better than no decision at all." That seems to me disgraceful and cynical defeatism. I do not ask the Government to declare their opinion to-day. This debate is being held in order that the House should give its opinion; but I hope that, before the Parliamentary Recess, noble Lords will give their verdict here. To give a wrong decision or no decision at all are not the only alternatives before us. There is a third course that is possible: to give a right decision, and now.

6.5 p.m.


My Lords, as this is the first time that I have had the honour—or, indeed, the courage—to address your Lordships, I crave your indulgence. I trust that I can rely in full measure on the kindness and the generosity which you traditionally extend to somebody in my unfortunate position: more unfortunate than usual, I think, in having to follow in my maiden speech, and after a very long period of silence, the brilliant speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, after a stock or a credit balance of silence of only eighteen months.

It is also usual or traditional, when addressing your Lordships' House for the first time, to try to choose a subject as little controversial as possible. Nobody could possibly maintain that the subject of the Oxford roads was noncontroversial. It has been argued up and down the country with vehemence for years and years; but I will try to be as little controversial as possible myself this afternoon, and deal only with the broadest principles and not go into any great detail. The details can all be found in Sir Frederick Armer's Report. They are there spelt out; and there is in existence, of course, a very voluminous transcript of evidence.

My Lords, I am Chairman of the Oxford Preservation Trust, and I should like first of all, if I may, to correct a misapprehension which I think is widely held; that is, that the Oxford Preservation Trust is a university organisation and, as such, biased in favour of the University, and even in favour of the policies of certain individual colleges. That is very far from being the case. The Preservation Trust consists very largely of citizens of Oxford who have little connection—and in many cases no connection whatsoever—with the University. The membership of the Trust has grown by over 60 per cent. since the last inquiry into the roads problem, which was held in 1957. That is a measure of the interest taken by the ordinary inhabitant of Oxford in what is going on. In fact, my Lords, the Trust is now an association of citizens, not only of Oxford but of the immediate neighbourhood, who are genuinely interested in attempting to embellish and develop the city. When the Minister announced that he proposed to appoint an inspector to hold an inquiry at large, the Trust was obviously concerned to obtain the most expert advice possible in the preparation of its own case. In this we were indeed fortunate, because we had already obtained the services of Sir William Holford, one of the most distinguished town planners of England and also the president of the Royal Institute of British Architects. He had already, under one Minister of Housing and Local Government, prepared a plan for the immediate surroundings of St. Paul's Cathedral; and at the instiga- tion of the present Minister he has been retained by the London County Council to draw up an overall plan for Piccadilly Circus.

When I say that the Trust had already secured the services of Sir William Holford, I must make it clear that they had not secured his services for the original purpose of advising them on the subject of the roads: they had engaged him as the result of what they considered to be the enormous opportunity offered by the City Council's intention to develop the whole of St. Ebbe's. The City Council asked the Preservation Trust for its views; and we felt that without expert advice we were quite unable to make a worthwhile contribution. It was in that connection that Sir William started working seriously on the problem of Oxford. His brief was to draw up a plan for the whole of the St. Ebbe's area in conformity with the express purpose and requirements of the City Council. It is of interest, I think, that at the first meeting between the representatives of the Trustees and Sir William, there was no doubt that at that time he inclined strongly toward a Meadows Road. His final recommendation and the evidence which he gave at the Inquiry were equally strongly against a Meadows Road. The conclusions which Sir William arrived at were the direct result of his examination of the St. Ebbe's problem and the whole problem of the development of Oxford.

Sir William was one of the principal witnesses at the inquiry, and he was one of the very few truly expert witnesses who appeared. There were also Mr. Trustram Eve and Mr. Pilcher, who at that time were the President and Vice-President respectively of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. There was Dr. Sharp, who addressed his thought purely and simply to the innermost core of Oxford, and did not concern himself with the outer fringes or the suburban problems. And finally, there was Mr. Chandler, the City Architect. Mr. Chandler had been working for many months on the City Council's plan. He rejected that plan himself and submitted a plan in opposition. How different, my Lords, from the Preservation Trust, who employed the greatest expert they could find, studied his plan, and, when it was presented to them, adopted it unanimously after a long debate at an open meeting!

My Lords, as I said, Sir William Holford finally came out very strongly against the Meadows Road; and not only the Meadows Road, but against the whole conception of which the Meadows Road formed a part. The revolutionary change of approach was caused by Sir William's seeing that the pattern of Oxford was changing rapidly and radically. The further his study went, the more convinced he became that the Origin and Destination Report of the Road Research Laboratory, which was completed in 1957, no longer represented the facts as they existed in 1960, and even less as they exist now, one year later. Traffic originating in Iffley, Cowley and Headington is, and will be, different; and its destinations will also be different. For instance, in the Report on his plan prepared by Sir William Holford, and published by the Preservation Trust last year, entitled New St. Ebbe's and Oxford's Roads, Sir William strongly advocates the removal of the Market from its present situation in The High to a new situation in St. Aldate's. Sir Frederick Armer also recommends this and considers it important. The City Council plan takes no account of this whatsoever.

Oxford is seething with changes, and, despite Lord Samuel's dislike of the word, I feel that those changes are almost irresistible—at least they are dynamic. Offices and business premises are already moving from their traditional site. They are moving out to Beaumont Street, Woodstock Road, the Banbury Road; and large areas are either being redeveloped or are ripe for redevelopment. St. Ebbe's, as the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said, is already being developed, but at present only in a small way.

Everything is held up until we get a decision on where the new roads are to run; but St. Ebbe's is being redeveloped. The station is, I understand, to be rebuilt, and I hope that that means that it will be rebuilt in the very near future, and not in another twenty years from now. The bus station is also to be removed from its present site further to the West, and is to be re-located next door to the rebuilt railway station. The whole area West of St. Giles's is ripe for development when the original building leases fall in, and these will begin to fall in within the next eighteen months. If you take the area of St. Ebbe's, the railway station, the bus station, and the area immediately to the West of St. Giles's, and even up as far as Divinity Road, as an area ripe for redevelopment, it is very formidable. It is an area almost 2½ miles long, with an average depth of half a mile. The Eastern boundary is the central North/South line of the City of Oxford. It comprises everything from the very middle of Oxford, West. These redevelopments must lead to a decentralisation of Oxford. They must lead to an ever-widening area in which the business life of Oxford will take place away from the crowded centre, which we have all known, of The High and the Cornmarket.

The Trust's proposals are the proposals which are designed to serve these developments, and even to speed them. The Trust's proposals, including, as they do, the Southern Freeway conceived by Sir William Holford, provide the radial roads which give access from one suburb to another, and from each suburb to the railway station and the bus station. These are located on the perimeter of this new enlarged centre of Oxford. The City Council's proposals which were reached only five weeks before the Inquiry at large was held, and after many changes of mind, do little to help this. They are frankly a compromise proposal, hardly won in the Council, and promptly disowned by their own Town Planning Officer. What do the City proposals do? They allow traffic to come almost up to Magdalen Bridge. They then seek to divert it within sight of the forbidden city and take it through one of the most beautiful parts not only of Oxford but of almost any city. They then deliver it through a bottleneck—what the Chief Constable, when finally allowed to express his view on the traffic problem, referred to as "the hopeless quandary"—to an area which is already a severely congested area immediately at the further end of what should be the forbidden city.

The Trust proposals do quite other than that. They remove traffic further away from Magdalen Bridge and much nearer to its place of origin. They draw it well to the West of the centre of Oxford, the existing centre, without any major road junction on the way. Their route crosses the Abingdon Road South of the river and South of Folly Bridge and South of the new St. Ebbe's development and then delivers it to the West, whereas the City Scheme entails a massive, and necessarily disfiguring, roundabout or intersection North of Folly Bridge just at the end of St. Aldate's, three hundred yards from Carfax and in the very shadow of Christ Church. This City Council route then goes on from that disfiguring roundabout and takes the road in such a way that the greatest opportunity that Oxford has had in the last 70 years of redevelopment, which was proposed by the City Council itself, is promptly divided into three. If you divide St. Ebbe's into three you destroy a large part of the possibility of restoring to Oxford some of that charm which the developments at Cowley have destroyed.

The final lunacy, to me, is that, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth said, the traffic is spewed out at the Mac-fisheries Corner—that is, the Chief Constable's "hopeless quandary"—into such a congested area that Sir Frederick Armer suggested that the only solution was the widening of New Inn Hall Street. In fact, the widening of New Inn Hall Street had already been considered by the City Planning Committee. It had been considered, proposed and rejected. The Trust's routes begin, run through and end in areas which are ripe for development. They can conform to that development and they can serve it. No development can benefit from the Council's route nor can any development make it more effective.

My Lords, frankly the Meadow Road is obsolete. It is obsolete long before it is built, because the close centre of Oxford is already shrinking in importance if looked at in the light of the enormous growth which is going on on the fringes of the green belt, both inside and outside the green belt. It is here that the population and the traffic are growing. The city population is falling. Between 1951 and 1958 the population of the City of Oxford fell by 2,600, but the employment rose by 8,700. Where then are those people housed? They are housed on the fringes of the green belt, both inside and outside.

The Trust scheme has been spoken of as a projection of what was referred to at the Inquiry as Scheme A, which was the scheme which Lord Attlee was supporting on behalf of the University. I should like to say one word about it. The Trust scheme goes much further than Scheme A. Scheme A is founded on the Abercrombie Ring. The Abercrombie Ring was, as Lord Samuel said, undoubtedly the progenitor of all these schemes. But the Abercrombie Ring, when it was drawn up by Sir Patrick in 1953, did not and could not take cognisance of the changes which have come about in Oxford since 1953 and to which I tried to draw your Lordships' attention a few moments ago. The Trust scheme is basically the Abercrombie Ring but with the very major addition of Sir William Holford's southern freeway and the continuation to the North, across the Banbury and Woodstock Roads and out to Marston. Added to the Northern bypass. This makes it something which is different and more ambitious and which serves a greater planning purpose.

Sir Frederick Armer has entirely failed to appreciate the situation. He attempts to solve the wrong problem. He attempts to solve a problem of traffic only, and traffic in a very restricted area. The Trust has gone much further. It seeks not only to solve the traffic problem but to make a major contribution to the ordered growth of the city of Oxford. It is not a problem of traffic only but of major redevelopment. As I have tried to point out, large parts of the city are now ripe and ready for that redevelopment.

Is the Minister to hamstring himself and the City Council in this redevelopment of Oxford by imposing a solution which is applicable to conditions which have already been superseded and which are therefore irrelevant? Or is he to lay down, by adopting the Preservation Trust Scheme prepared by Sir William Holford, one of our greatest town planners, a pattern which will allow the centre of the city to be enormously enlarged and diversified and thus bring quiet and peace to the University? It is a scheme which will encourage and facilitate the development of the area within the radial roads and which will provide a permanent solution of the inter-suburban traffic. If he does adopt the Trust proposals he will, in the opinion of thousands of citizens and lovers of Oxford all over the world, lay the basis of an imaginative development for both the City and the University in a way which I think will evoke gratitude and admiration for generations to come.

6.30 p.m.


My Lords, the order of batting gives me the very agreeable opportunity of being the first of your Lordships to congratulate my noble friend the President of the Oxford Preservation Trust on a faultless maiden innings. A number of us have benefited, when he was Minister in Washington, from his wise judgment and advice, and to-day he has spoken to us with a combination of that judgment and vision which have characterised all his public and general work, coupled with that devotion which the Harcourt family for centuries has shown to Oxford and all that Oxford stands for. We are indeed grateful to him, as we are to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, for once again raising this matter.

I am going to intervene very briefly. I do so only because I took some part on the last occasion. On that occasion, I made a proposal which commanded the general support of your Lordships, and it was pressed by me, and also by other noble Lords, though I had the privilege in the first instance, on the Leader of the House that when an inquiry took place it should be an inquiry at large. And that was what my noble friend Lord Salisbury, who was then leading the House, accepted.

I should like to say two things: first of all, that in my opinion that undertaking has been fully implemented, because every possible proposal, and quite a number which frankly I should have characterised as impossible, if I do not offend the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, by using that word, was produced and investigated at the inquiry. I thought that perhaps in that respect the speech of the noble Viscount was just a little hard on Sir Frederick Armer. Whether we agree with his conclusions or not—and I am bound to say that I frankly disagree with them myself—I think we must agree that the inspector conducted the inquiry thoroughly and impartially. Obviously, he found great difficulty—I think it is clear from his report—in coming to a decision. He says himself that he turned down Scheme A—and no doubt that also applied to the elaboration of Scheme A in the Oxford Preservation Trust proposals—with real regret, and that he turned them down entirely on traffic grounds.

I think it is generally conceded—certainly I have not heard it argued to the contrary nor can I find anything to the contrary in the report—that on a long-term view Scheme A and the Trust's proposals are far better planning. I do not think anybody is going to deny that. On the traffic aspect, we just do not know and cannot know what the position is. I am going to justify that statement briefly, but I hope conclusively. First of all, the Chief Constable—and this is very noticeable—does not support the Council plan. As is clear from his evidence, no attempt has yet been made at a proper use of zoning, of parking meters, of one-way streets or of modern methods of internal control and deterrents, which the Chief Constable stresses and which I should have thought he certainly ought to have authority to put into force without delay.

Secondly, the Council were not unanimous. As was clear from the speech of my noble friend Lord Harcourt, they had second and third thoughts. I do not complain over people thinking again. I should be very much surprised if, with surer knowledge, they did not have some further thoughts. But, most important of all, the circular by-pass roads have not been completed. On the last occasion, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and I urged that until this was done nobody could really know the extent of the traffic problem, much less decide on a solution. Any noble Lord who was present on the last occasion—I think the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, who followed me then was entirely in agreement with this—will agree that we cannot possibly tell what the traffic problem is until these roads are completed. And surely that argument applies at least with equal force to-day. Indeed, I should have thought that it applied with more force, as now we have Scheme A and the Trust proposals, both of which have enormous merits.

Again, on the last occasion a great deal was said about the Cowley Centre. It was one of the things about which the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, was so eloquent. I understand that not only has the Cowley Centre not been completed but it has hardly been started—at any rate, it is a long way from completion. That is a factor which must have a considerable effect upon the traffic which comes into Oxford. Only when the circular road has been completed and when we can see what happens from the Cowley Centre shall we know how much traffic will by-pass Oxford and what the problem really is. If we wait to have that knowledge, I say frankly that there would be general relief and I should think that there would be very likely general acceptance in Oxford if the Government felt able to announce to-day that they could accept Scheme A and give favourable consideration to the wide and visionary, but at the same time practical, extension which the Oxford Preservation Trust has proposed.

If they cannot do that, then surely we must have more time. We must get that accurate knowledge; but at least the Government could give an undertaking about the circular road. There is not much left to be done on the circular road and it is not the most difficult part. I remember, when the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, was answering the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, we were told that some of the by-pass would take time because of the number of arches which had to be constructed to take the road over the boggy parts of Port Meadow. Nothing was said about the difficulty of making this circular road at the part which is vital, and on which I understand there is no great practical difficulty. Cannot the Government give us an undertaking that they will complete that? We just cannot afford to go wrong over Oxford. Many of us have been its beneficiaries. All of us who in any way have any responsibility in this matter are trustees for Oxford, and in this case, surely, we might accept the advice of one of Oxford's wisest sons and wait and see".

6.40 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add to what the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, said my congratulations to the noble Viscount, Lord Harcourt, for the admirable speech he made, which to me was not unexpected: I had an idea that his speech would be intelligent and well ordered and, indeed, conclusive in its argument. I think your Lordships will agree with me that that was the case.

This is a well-worn subject. The years go by and no decision is made about these Oxford roads. Documents and reports accumulate, and no doubt in the end, as we know from experience, the Government will select the wrong scheme put forward by the Inspector and reject the right scheme put forward by Sir William Holford and the Oxford Preservation Trust. Meanwhile, all politicians are alike in remaining in masterly inactivity, feeling that this uncultivated democracy of ours does not care a straw about Oxford one way or the other. Lately a young lady living in a village near mine in Oxfordshire went into Oxford to see the new Woolworth building that has been put up there. "It is beautiful," she said when she came back: "It really makes all those old colleges look dreadful".

Everybody knows that the motor car is making a hell of all our cities, and making them into places in which a civilised life cannot be led. I make bold to say that we, the old and the young, are very disappointed with this middle-aged generation who are now running the world. They are very scientific and all that, and wonderful new inventions are made once a week. And the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, in spite of the enormous handicap of being an hereditary Member of your Lordships' House and, therefore, presumed by the entire Labour Party to be half-witted, is undoubtedly one of the cleverest men in England, but he is a good thing in the wrong place. He might do wonders if he had a year at the Ministry of Transport. Science is getting along splendidly and can do perfectly without him. What we want is someone who knows how to adapt these great inventions to the ordinary civilised use of the community. Not since Lord Keynes, the last great Liberal, died have we had such a man. I remember giving up to Lord Keynes, as he arrived late in a packed House here, the seat from which I am now speaking, and sitting in the gangway on my left to hear one of those great speeches on which our affluent society was built and which knocked the bottom out of Socialism. He knew how to adapt the scientific theories of economics to the advantage of the whole community.


My Lords, when the noble Viscount says that Lord Keynes was the last great Liberal, is he forgetting his former Leader, sitting in front of him, who addressed the House this afternoon?


I meant, of course, the last great Liberal except those that are alive.

It is very alarming that no man is engaged upon this essential task of planning some order out of the revolutionary chaos in which we live. No one is trying to decide about the large sections of our national life which are made obsolete or obsolescent by science, and to turn our new scientific powers to ordinary use. Dr. Jung, the great German philosopher, wrote in the 'thirties: If we go on exploiting this great progress made in the control of natural resources for our own mutual destruction, what kind of future lies in store for us? We now know that armies, navies and air forces are obsolete, though at present those who govern us have the adequate excuse that Russia is not to be trusted. But surely they should be prepared for the inevitable day of disarmament and the chaos that disarmament will produce.

There is no sign of any recognition in our governors that railways, coal mines and Atlantic liners are obsolescent, and that the money and labour employed by them will in no distant time have to be transferred to modern uses. They seem to me unable to read the signs of the times. Does it not seem strange to what is now called "the establishment" to find an old, respectable and distinguished member of the Order of Merit like the noble Earl, Lord Russell, sitting with the young people on the pavement in Whitehall? If I had his vitality I would go and sit in the middle of Carfax until someone made a real effort to remove the menace of the motor car from the life of this country.

Surely the approach of the ministerial mind to this problem is always wrong. Their first consideration is how to make things easier for the traffic: how to enable more cars to use the road; how to find places for more cars to park. On the contrary, the mind of the Minister should be concentrated on how to reduce by every means the number of cars that use spaces vital to the comfort, happiness and amenity of our lives. It was, I think, an American who said (or it may have been me; I cannot really remember) that he came to see what Matthew Arnold called the city of dreaming spires" and found a city of screaming tyres. Surely the life of the town, and the business and pleasure of the people who live in it, are more important than the lumbering lorry that refuses to use the railway.

Every place has its own character. Avebury and Stonehenge are essentially lonely and remote; but no real effort is being made by the Minister of Transport to remove A.361 from Avebury or, still more, the disgrace of A.344 from Stonehenge. For years the traditional collegiate quiet of Eton College, in spite of the number of Cabinet Ministers that it continues to produce, has been ruined by the seven bus lines and the unceasing traffic that pours through its narrow street. With no sense of urgency the bypass there has at last begun, but not as part of a general recognition that main roads can no longer run through the centre of a town, and not as recognition that the planning and development of a precinct in which cars cannot enter or park except if they are essential to the actual business of the town, a centre precinct for shopping or to preserve the sanctity of the Cathedral or the tradition and atmosphere of the University, has become essential to the life of every urban community. Oxford is the outstanding example of this necessity. Everybody knows that Oxford has now lost its charm, its personality and its inspiration. To retain its character, the uncontaminated student life of thought, meditation and discussion, a university must have a precinct that the motor car cannot pollute, bringing its constant irritation and disturbance.

The Government Inspector's first task was to create that precinct. On the contrary, he has looked upon his task as the traffic problem of a large industrial city. If he had looked upon it from the University point of view—and it is as a University that Oxford counts in the world—he would have seen at once that what the University needs, and must have if its character and traditions are to be retained, is the creation of a precinct by the selected closing of Magdalen Bridge, by the creation of a ring road to by-pass The High, sufficiently far out to preserve the amenity of Christ Church, and the creation of a shopping centre by the selected closing from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. of the street from Folly Bridge to St. Giles's Church. I wonder whether the Government will have the courage to do anything of that sort.

I agree that you can argue for ever over the details of traffic control, discuss the siting of car parks and the access of delivery vans. You may say that it will take Lord Nuffield four minutes longer to drive from Cowley to the station than it does now, and, therefore, of course, the road must not go through too far out. But the by-pass, the precinct and the shopping centre remain essential for civilised life in that ancient city of learning. Any other plan will bring more and more cars into the centre of Oxford, and our much vaunted affluent society will fizzle out in the prolonged exasperation of a traffic block.

6.56 p.m.


My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships for more than a few minutes. First of all, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Harcourt on his admirable speech. He knows that I am a devoted member of the Oxford Preservation Trust, and I agree with practically everything in the Report which they have put forward. I am interested very much in Oxford and in The High, because I lived there, when I was an undergraduate, years before there was a single motor car in the world. I live there now. I have a room and a bedroom at All Souls College which is over the Warden's Lodging on The High; but fortunately my bedroom looks over the Warden's garden instead of over The High. I sincerely pity those people who have to live on The High. I do not think they can do it without a double glass window to keep out the noise.

I lived for years only 30 miles North of Oxford, and constantly travelled into Oxford. What strikes me is the enormous growth of the City of Oxford. I see it particularly from what I might call the Kidlington end, rather than the Cowley end. No doubt the Cowley end, the Marston end and the Headingley end are growing very much, too. But I was struck the other day when a new small piece of road was built to make Brackley and Banbury and Bicester a little nearer to Oxford. This left a large open space, and within a few months it was absolutely covered with houses. In fact, Kidlington is really now part of Oxford, and Oxford is going to stretch a great deal further in that direction, North as well as South. Therefore something has to be done to enable the residents who were in Oxford but now live outside, to get there easily without using merely the Banbury Road and the Woodstock road. Other roads are needed.

What has been so evident about Oxford is that there has been no planning. Cowley was not planned at all. That was perhaps not the fault of the University, but the fault of the Council. But what was the fault of the University was the development of the Corn Market. The Colleges owned most of the property, and they sold it all to these enormous shops, the last one by pulling down the Clarendon Hotel, agreed to, I think, by the Prime Minister, and letting Woolworth's put a gigantic shop there. Now Littlewood's are going to do the same. That fixes the fact that a large number of people anyhow are coming from the outskirts of Oxford. whether from North or South, to shop in the Corn Market. They may come on foot; they may come by bus or bicycle, but they will probably come by car or bus if they can. I do not think a great deal can be done about that at the moment, but my point is that what Sit Frederick Armer proposes adds to the dangers of the Corn Market, because it produces another huge road running quite near the Corn Market and, therefore, making it easier for everybody to come there.

I entirely support the scheme of the Oxford Preservation Trust. As I understand it, when that scheme is completed there would be the by-pass roads, first of all, then almost an inner by-pass road, leaving as local roads the Banbury Road and the Woodstock Road; but there would be an inner circle of roads right round Oxford going up to Woodstock, and another road across Oxford joining the Northern by-pass. In this way there would be means for any inhabitant of Oxford to get to his destination without necessarily going up the High Street. Nevertheless, I think that, even when all that was concluded, it would still be necessary to apply some restriction. I do not think it is feasible to close Magdalen Bridge, but I think that some restrictions, perhaps severe restrictions, would be required to reduce the traffic in The High and The Broad to reasonable proportions and make life possible both for the human beings in it and for the buildings, which are no doubt weakened by the constant heavy traffic. My Lords, I certainly hope the Government will not accept Sir Frederick Armer's Report as it seems to me to have no merit, but will finish the by-pass road immediately (I believe they promised to finish the Sandford link next year) and will support the scheme of the Oxford Preservation Trust.

7.3 p.m.


My Lords, I feel almost as an interloper in this domestic discussion which is taking place on Oxford roads. Every speaker so far, and I think every one who is going to speak, is either an Oxford man, or lives in Oxford, or otherwise has had some very close connection with the City. I find myself at the tremendous disadvantage of having none of these credentials for speaking. I have been thinking what credential I can possibly produce and, searching my memory a long way back, I can say that many years ago one of the Oxford Colleges did award me a mathematics scholarship, which unfortunately I was unable to accept. At any rate, I have affectionate memories of Oxford on that account.

But I have read the Report. I spent the week-end reading it, as well as the immense amount of literature which has been showered on most noble Lords in connection with this debate, some of it several times over, and I think I have three copies of certain types of literature from three different quarters. I have studied, I am afraid without very much advantage, the plan which was enclosed with the Report, but I am afraid (I suppose that old age has reduced my eyesight), that I was quite unable to read the letters in the plan or to identify the streets, and I should have suggested quite seriously that, if we were to get the maximum value out of this debate, certainly for the benefit of those noble Lords who are not as familiar with Oxford to-day as some are, we ought to postpone the debate until we have a more intelligible plan that some of us can read and study.

However, I cannot help feeling a good deal of sympathy for Sir Frederick Armer, who has been the subject of so much criticism this afternoon. I suppose that whatever Sir Frederick Armer recommended would have been the subject of a good deal of criticism from certain parts of the House. He had a number of proposals before him, he could not recommend them all, and those who were supporting one would undoubtedly have criticised him if he had recommended another; and the odds were at any rate two to one against any recommendation of his being accepted—indeed, I think rather more than that. It is interesting also to note that although criticism of Sir Frederick Armer (of his Report, I should say) has been pretty general, there has not been general agreement as to what should be put in its place. There has been a certain amount of support for other of the proposals that have been put before Sir Frederick, and while I should say that perhaps the scheme of the Trust has had more support than others, it has by no means had universal support.

I find myself in this position. having studied the Report, and having, if I may say so in all modesty, had some experience in having to decide after reading inspectors' reports; and I suppose I have had to read as many inspectors' reports as most people—


More than most people.


—and have had to come to some decision—according to the noble Viscount, a wrong decision. I suppose that all of us are liable to go wrong. Be that as it may, I find that Sir Frederick's recommendation is intelligible and understandable, and, given the premises upon which he has made his Report, I think he is probably right. I think that a good many noble Lords have, however, criticised his premises, and I find myself in agreement with those who made that criticism. If it had been his job merely to consider the traffic problem of Oxford and to put forward a short-term answer to that problem, I suppose that his answer would have been the right answer, and almost the inevitable answer; and I use the word inevitable "in spite of the caution of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. I think that, looked upon purely as a traffic problem, his solution is probably right. But, of course, the problem of Oxford is not a traffic problem at all, it is a planning problem, and here I find myself, to my surprise, in almost entire agreement with the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, in his observations. I hope that I do not embarrass him by expressing so much agreement.


I am honoured.


Thank you. We have to look at Oxford, not as it is to-day but as it will be. I think the noble Viscount, Lord Harcourt, said the same thing, and I would congratulate him very much on a very thoughtful and penetrating maiden speech. After all, roads constitute a factor in the plan of the City. They have got to serve a specific purpose and a specific plan. They are not merely a means of getting from one place to another at the present time. They are the foundation of what Oxford is going to be in the future; and so, it seems to me, it is impossible for the Minister, or anybody else, to decide to-day, or in the very near future, what is to be the road pattern of Oxford. He must really first make up his mind what is to be the general pattern of Oxford; what sort of a city is it going to be.

I should like to put a few hypothetical questions on that. Is the Oxford of the future to be largely industrial? We know how industry has grown and developed in Oxford over the past forty or fifty years. Is it going to continue to develop? Do we know the future of the motor industry and those industries which it inevitably has attracted and will attract? On that question the Government have a great part to play, because to-day they can control the extent of industry that will come into Oxford. How do they propose to deal with the industrial future of Oxford?

Then again there is the question of the academic future of Oxford. Are we to assume that the size of the University is going to be sterilised, that there will be no demand for an increase in the accommodation for students and in the academic capacity? We know that we need a great many university places in this country. Have the Government decided once for all that those additional places are not to be provided in Oxford? If they have, then that will fundamentally affect the road pattern.

A number of noble Lords have explained the need for redevelopment of certain parts of Oxford. The noble Earl referred to Cowley; the noble Viscount referred to St. Ebbe's; and there are other parts of Oxford that are going to be redeveloped in the near future. Such redevelopment when it takes place ought to contemplate the possibility of relieving the need for motor traffic in the centre of Oxford by decentralising the shopping. One of the difficulties of Oxford, as I understand it, is that virtually the whole of the important shopping in this city is concentrated in this small area in the centre. In connection with the redevelopment, is it proposed that there should be substantial important shopping centres in these new redeveloped communities? If there are, it will reduce the need for traffic to come into the centre and thereby in itself solve the traffic problem to that extent.

Then there is the question of the ring roads which have been completed and which, again, constitute a big factor in the traffic problem. Sir Frederick Armer has gone into figures and has indicated the extent to which the traffic problem of Oxford constitutes a local problem and the extent to which the traffic is through traffic. But the alleviation of the through traffic, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, have explained, is not yet completed and it will not be completed until the whole of the outer roads have been finished. How far that will relieve the traffic it is difficult to say, but that it will relieve it to a very large extent everybody agrees.

So we have the position that the completion of the roads will reduce the `traffic in the centre to a substantial extent. It is hoped—certainly I believe it will be the case—that the redevelopment of the various parts of Oxford will take away from the centre a good deal of the shopping and decentralise it into those areas. There are many other factors that will have an influence on the road problem, and I fail to see how at this moment it is possible for any Government to make up their mind as to what is to be the right pattern and what is the right solution for an Oxford the future of which is not fully decided. I would suggest to the Government that they should first complete the ring roads as soon as possible and that they should prepare a plan of Oxford. There has been a development plan prepared which is a good many years old and it is now ripe for review, but there should be a new plan prepared as speedily as possible for the new Oxford as we see it, and in connection with that plan I think the road plan will automatically fall into place.

If that is done, then I think we can arrive at a solution which will be acceptable to all parties, which will not arouse the controversy which any plan at the present time is bound to arouse, and which undoubtedly will obviate the need, which I hope will not arise, of the Government's having to impose a road plan upon an unwilling Oxford and an unwilling population throughout the country of those who are concerned with Oxford. I cannot see any plan at the moment commanding universal agreement, and I think that particularly in the case of Oxford it would be fatal to try to impose a plan against the wishes of those who love that City so much and who are so deeply concerned.

7.18 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to begin by adding my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Harcourt on his admirable maiden speech, and I think I should have paid tribute to that speech even had it not been the one speech of those already made with which, above all, I agreed. Like the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who has just spoken, I approach the matter mainly as a planner, but I think we can make much better use of the Report that has been made than was indicated in the noble Lord's speech. I think there is much that is useful in the evidence collected, though I regard as wholly deplorable and quite unjustified the recommendation that the Inspector has made. But I am not going to plead for delay. There are certain things that can wait, but one of the few matters on which I am in agreement with the City Council is the necessity for decision on certain points.

I am going to urge the Government to say in the quite near future that the road across Christ Church Meadow is wrong and to be rejected now and for ever. But I am equally in favour of their saying that the A scheme, with the additions and amendments, probably, of Sir William Holford, is the right scheme and should be accepted. This will not be turning down the local authority. The local authority have expressly left it to the Minister to say which scheme he prefers. On hearing the Minister's decision they will put up detailed recommendations which will, I understand, by law, have to be the subject of a further inquiry. But we do not wish to throw away the inquiry that has already been made. I desire to make it quite clear to my noble friend that I am not pleading for delay; I am pleading for the right decision, which is the rejection of the recommendation in the Report and the acceptance, in broad outline, of the scheme proposed by the Oxford Preservation Trust.

What I find most shocking about this Report is the complete absence of any consideration of town planning. There has been some discussion whether more attention should be given to traffic or to amenity. Anybody who has studied the art and science of town planning knows that it is quite elementary that you have always to consider both. I advocate the town planning approach to this problem not only because the city concerned is Oxford; for every city in this country deserves to have proper town planning considered. Traffic congestion, which is serious and must be remedied, is itself a symptom of bad planning.

The most shocking fact about this Report is that the science and art of town planning are treated as if they did not exist. Some nineteen years ago, I was appointed the first Minister in this country who had to consider only town planning. I was made a Parliamentary Secretary to the then Ministry of Works and Buildings, specifically to consider planning problems, and within a short time I carried the legislation making that Ministry of Works and Buildings the Ministry of Works and Planning, and subsequently the Statute creating the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, in which I became Parliamentary Secretary under my noble friend the late William Morrison, later Lord Dunrossil.

I already knew before my appointment, and was a friend of, Sir Patrick Abercrombie, because it happens that these problems of town planning had always interested me, and it was largely for that that I entered politics. In the next few years I met Sir Patrick Abercrombie frequently. He was engaged on many of the most important inquiries that were to precede post-war reconstruction, and I had as my principal technical adviser on town planning, William Holford, as he then was—Sir William Holford to-day. He was then a great expert on town planning. His is now one of the foremost names in the world on that subject. I find it quite extraordinary that this Report should have been made not recognising that there was such a thing as town planning; and apparently the Inspector did not worry at all because his scheme wholly conflicted with the considered advice of Sir Patrick Abercrombie and Sir William Holford.

I recognise the goodwill of my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government and his good intentions for Oxford, which no one doubts. I expect that he found it a little difficult to think of the right man to conduct the Inquiry. There was one man who would have been ideal for the Inquiry, because he has great knowledge both of the problems of roads approaching, and in, cities, and of architecture. He is Mr. C. D. Buchanan. I think my right honourable friend might well have asked him to conduct the Inquiry but for the fact that he was debarred from doing so by an undertaking given to this House; because it had been said in our last great debate on this subject that the Inspector would not be an official of the Government Department concerned.

I am glad to say that Mr. Buchanan has been either transferred or lent—I do not know which it is—to the Minister of Transport, because my right honourable friend and the Government realise, quite rightly, what a great expert he is on this subject. One of the things that comforts me, taking the view that I do of the posals in this Report, is that I have no doubt that they will seek and obtain the utter technical incompetence of the pro-advice of Mr. Buchanan and their other experts.

I agree, of course, that the missing link in the scheme of the outer by-passes ought to be completed as quickly as possible; but it would be quite wrong to suggest that that would be sufficient to deal with the problem. The A roads are also necessary; and I think it is certainly desirable that the fullest consideration should also be given to Sir William Holford's proposed freeways, since, although their construction may not be immediate, the reservation of the land concerned may be important. The whole of that scheme, the A roads, plus the freeways, will not of course all be done at once. But the most urgent thing can be put in hand at once—the road from the Iffley Road passing South of the river and returning over a new bridge to the West of St. Ebbe's. That is a necessity for completion at the earliest possible moment. I hope that the Government will decide on that scheme and will reject the road through Christ Church Meadow.

Let me give some elements of the problem—they have been given admirably by my noble friend Lord Harcourt. The population within the city is decreasing; employment, on the other hand, is increasing. The journey to work problem, therefore, becomes increasingly important. All the expanding areas are on the perimeter. Those are the elements of the problem which a proper road system has to meet. It is this growing Oxford, as the noble Lord who just sat down mentioned, that has to be planned for. This is precisely what the Abercrombie-Holford Plan would do and it is precisely what the Inspector's plan disregards.

But it is not only that the road itself that is proposed by the Inspector is wholly inadequate. Within Oxford itself there are two important areas due in the immediate or near future for redevelopment—St. Ebbe's and St. Clement's. The scheme of the Inspector trisects both. My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Harcourt pointed out, it is not only the University that will suffer. If this road were to be adopted no proper decent reconstruction of St. Ebbe's would be possible at all. St. Clement's, whose development will be a little later, will be equally prejudiced, because if the proposed road, before it is taken South to avoid The High, comes as near to Magdalen Bridge as this plan makes it, then an altogether insufficient area for proper redevelopment is left in St. Clement's.

This disregard of planning considerations would be quite inexcusable if Oxford were an ordinary city. It becomes scandalous when we are dealing with one of the glories of Europe and one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The strange statement is made in this Report that, apart from the opposition of the University and the Colleges, little opposition to the Council's proposals was forthcoming. I should have thought that the opposition of the University and Colleges was a rather important exception. But, my Lords, more remarkable than the alleged fact, which is not true, that there was little opposition, was the fact that there was absolutely no support: not a single expert witness backed it. Even the Inspector himself thought it necessary to modify it, and in paragraph 294 he proposes "the widening of New Inn Hall Street", which, of course, was not the subject of any evidence which he heard.

What is required of the road system? Surely, to allow the rebuilding of the areas within and near the centre of the City as good places in which to live and to work, and to connect the growing outlying parts, the large residential suburbs, with the station and with the car parks near the centre, without driving the motorist, in order to reach those car parks, to traverse the centre. The centre itself must not be too narrowly conceived and must, indeed, include all historic Oxford. Let me quote from the Report itself the University's own description of what the area should be—it is in paragraph 84: The first decree of the University gave some indication of what they thought should be the area to be preserved; it stretched from Norham Road in the north to below Christ Church Meadow in the south and from the Cherwell in the cast to the railway line in the west; it included St. Aldate's, St. Ebbe's, New Inn Hall Street arid its surroundings, Beaumont Street and Worcester College. All those things must be included in the centre which we wish to preserve.

The pattern of roads advocated by Sir William Holford is something that any town the size of Oxford would need in any event and it is the only plan that promises a long-term relief for the centre. I do not know, my Lords, whether it is generally realised that 80 per cent. of the population of Oxford live outside that ring—already. In a few years it will be more than 80 per cent. The noble Viscount, Lord Esher, said that the noble Viscount, Lord Nuffield, might be delayed in motoring from Cowley to the station by the Trust Road rather than by the road proposed by the Inspector. I believe it is the other way round: that from that distance out from Oxford, certainly from many of the new outlying suburbs on the East, the road to the station will actually be shorter under the Trust scheme than under the scheme recommended by the Inspector.

My Lords, what about the expert evidence on the traffic aspects of the scheme? What about the evidence of the Chief Constable, Mr. Burrows? The Chief Constable really does know something about the traffic problems of Oxford, because he has to live with them and deal with them daily. His criticisms of the road that this Report recommends are quite devastating. As he points out, it takes the traffic from the East far too near the East end of The High; and, of course, as he also points out, the relief road should not join St. Aldate's north of Folly Bridge.

A great deal was said by the Inspector, and by various witnesses at the Inquiry, about the traffic census and the report of the Road Research Laboratory. I, for one, thank my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government for having arranged that census. I think it provided some useful information, but it cannot be used to support some of the proposals that are alleged to be based upon it.

I should perhaps disclose for the Record, what is already known to some, that I myself am a Christ Church man, as is my noble and learned friend who is to reply to this debate; and both of us love our College. But it is sometimes thought that you cannot be opposed to this road across Christ Church Meadow unless you are also against all motorists. My Lords, what complete nonsense! Christ Church's opposition, and the University's opposition, to this road is not in any way hostile to the motorist.

I do not know to what other Members of this House this applies, but my answers to questions are included in this traffic census, because I was stopped on entering Oxford and asked various questions for the purpose of this census. I remember at the time being rather sorry that I was not asked various other questions. I regretted that I was not asked any question which would have enabled me to say what I, and I believe most civilised motorists, want—namely, to reach a car park near the centre of the City without having to drive through the centre. Once we have left our car in a car park we have no objection whatever to using our feet in the University City and in a much wider area still. As has been pointed out, practically no discipline at all has been applied to motorists in Oxford, though such discipline is familiar in most other cities.

My Lords, the Road Research Laboratory give useful information about the 1957 pattern of traffic, but it is crudely unscientific to suppose that, because there will be more motor-cars owned in the future, therefore there will be uniform increases throughout all the streets dealt with at this Oxford inquiry. Of course, the traffic will be affected by new points of origin and destination, by the relocation of the market, for example, and many other factors. It is no part of my purpose to question that the future increase of traffic will be very great indeed. In fact, I believe that the Inspector has himself misunderstood the estimate of the Road Research Laboratory in paragraph 254 of the Report. I believe that the estimate of the Road Research Laboratory of the rate of increase in the ownership of motor vehicles in the country as a whole is a good deal greater than is there stated by the Inspector. This great increase will make the Council's relief road demonstrably unfitted for its purpose long before it is completed. It will certainly not restore peace to the centre.

My Lords, in the debate of February 13, 1957, I stated, and I hope established, three main propositions: first, that the proposed road would do irretrievable harm to one of the loveliest things in Europe; secondly, that it was unnecessary; thirdly, that it would not bring the intended relief. All those three propositions remain true to-day, and the first, I think, is no longer contested. About the beauty of Christ Church Meadow it is difficult to speak—de gustibus non disputandum. The unique thing about Christ Church Meadow is that you there have, as I think you have nowhere else in Europe, or possibly in the world, a piece of unspoilt country coming to the very wails of the ancient City and Colleges, and enjoying heavenly peace and quiet. My Lords, this amenity is such, this unique beauty is such, that it is really quite intolerable that, without any town planning interests being taken into consideration at all, the destruction of this unique thing should be proposed. But, my Lords, not only is it unique in this country and, I think, in Europe; it has never been so much valued as it is to-day by the ordinary inhabitants of Oxford. When I went to Oxford, it was quite easy to escape into the country in almost any direction—into the country of Matthew Arnold and the Scholar Gipsy. Try to go on foot from central Oxford into the country to-day! Ask the women who bring their prams and their children into Christ Church Meadow where they are going to get a substitute for the peace which it is now proposed to abolish, and to abolish for ever! So much for what it is proposed to destroy, my Lords.

That the destruction is unnecessary is shown by the fact that the greatest expert planners who have considered the problem—and, indeed, anybody who uses common sense—can see that the Abercrombie-Holford solution is the better alternative. It presents a better alternative even to-day when amenities are considered as well as traffic; and it will present an infinitely better alternative when the City has developed as quite foreseeably it will. Thirdly, as I said, that it will not bring the intended relief is demonstrable, too. It cannot bring that relief without some restrictions on traffic in the centre; and, given those restrictions on traffic in the centre, a road south of the river and crossing to the north by a new bridge west of St. Ebbe's is demonstrably better for the University, better for the City and better for all the inhabitants.

In fighting for Oxford to-day I am pleading for all English cities. I do not think I am asking for Oxford what I should not seek for any city similarly threatened. Such is the progress of traffic and the increase of it that every one of these cities will cease to be a civilised place in which to live and work unless we plan now, both for traffic and for living, by the use of the most far-sighted plans and the most gifted and expert planners. It is quite useless to indulge in crude surgery in the centre. I am pleading, my Lords, not for delay but for decision and for the right decision.

Much has been said about the idea of a precinct. That is not an idealistic impossibility. The principle of planning each part of a town so that it is an integrated whole, not severed by railways or traffic arteries, was propounded by Sir Patrick Abercrombie and is a fundamental aim of all town planning. It has been tried in many of our cities to-day, some old and some new. This is what Oxford needs—a civilised setting for its University and its shops. The only way of achieving this will be through the precinctual approach; by accepting the principle that motorists must be diverted by sending them round the centre of the City and allowing them in only to convenient car parks at the edge of it. It would be possible, in time, to extend the peace and quiet of the College quads and of the Meadow, which are themselves already precincts, to the whole environment in which they are set.

The proposed road system is a phased one and not all steps are equally immediate, but the first step should be taken without any delay at all. The road proposed in the Report is a crude by-pass designed to relieve The High. It ignores most other Oxford roads, St. Aldate's in particular, and it ignores the interests of the inhabitants both of St. Ebbe's and of St. Clement's. My Lords, there is this further point. If it were a logical and sound argument that the congestion in The High demands a road through the Meadow to by-pass it, then, by identically the same logic, when the Banbury and Woodstock roads become more congested they will no doubt have to be relieved by a double road on the lines of the road through the Meadow, but this time through the Parks.

My Lords, in the long run, and even in the fairly short run, we shall save all Oxford or we shall save none of it. If we are too lazy, too timid or too shortsighted to save Oxford, what other town in England will have a hope? If the Government choose this road, they will not only ruin Oxford; they will deal a mortal blow to the cause of town planning in England, and be numbered amongst the great vandals of history.

7.48 p.m.


My Lords, as the clock moves remorselessly on and the numbers in your Lordships' House dwindle, the debate inevitably takes on a somewhat intimate note, so that one almost feels as if we were a group sitting on late after some old members' dinner. Perhaps, therefore, it may be appropriate to commence—and I shall try to be very brief—by recalling that we are debating a subject which has a long arid somewhat lamentable history of dissension among the Oxford colleges themselves. Even in the debates here in your Lordships' House, the views we have expressed have sometimes similarly seemed to be coloured by the respective locations of our alma maters—or, possibly, in view of the academic background of this debate, I should say our almae matres. Perhaps, therefore, this is one of those debates in which it is really appropriate to declare a personal interest. One or two have been declared already this evening, but I suspect that mine may be of a longer unbroken continuance than that of any other noble Lord present here this evening, even the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel.

Long before my own residence in Oxford began, I used to visit Oxford frequently, to stay in the home of my maternal grandfather, who was the last Rector of the City Church, at Carfax, and retired when it was pulled down in order to make room for the traffic of that day. Incidentally, I am proud to recall that he made them retain the tower, which still stands. Thus I can remember an Oxford which, although already scarred by the architectural monstrosities of North Oxford, was still unravished. It was still possible to imagine the medieval Oxford, with its pinnacles and palaces rising sheer out of the jewelled green of its water meadows. It was even possible to believe that it was true, as I am assured that it is true, that less than one hundred years earlier the first duty of the porter at All Souls, at the commencement of the Michaelmas Term, was to cut the grass which had grown during the long vacation in the High Street.

For three years before the First World War, I was an undergraduate in a college in Broad Street. For twenty years after the war, from 1919 to 1939, I was a teaching Fellow of a College in the High Street, where in the 1930s it was already virtually impracticable to conduct a tutorial in a room facing on to the street. For another twenty years, from 1939 till 1959, I had an office in Oxford, first in South Parks Road and then in Beaumont Street. Thus, with the exception of the four years of the First World War, Oxford was either my place of residence or my place of work, or both, continuously for 48 years.

For the last fifteen years my home has been outside Oxford; and for the last two years, when I have had no work there, I have visited the city only rarely and with reluctance; reluctance owing primarily to sheer distress at seeing what Oxford has been allowed to become, and also partly, I must admit, owing to the frustration of attempting to make one's way, whether on foot or in a car, through the maelstrom of Oxford traffic. Last Saturday week it took me 25 minutes, driving a Bentley, to make my way from the War Memorial at the North end of St. Giles's to Worcester College, a distance of about a quarter of a mile. As for travel on foot, your Lordships may have heard, I dare say, of the legendary Oxford citizen who, after waiting in vain for some ten minutes to thread his way, at the risk of his life, across the torrent of traffic in the High Street, descried a friend on the other side and called out to him in despair: "How did you get across?" and the friend shouted back: "I was born on this side"!

My Lords, we are not going to solve this problem without fairly drastic measures, and it seems likely that the older among us—and we have been a pretty ancient age group, speaking so far this evening—may be the readier for drastic measures, since we remember Oxford before the impact of the motor car, than those who have known it only in the Nuffield age. I well remember, after one of our previous Oxford Roads debates, about five years ago, conversing in the Prince's Chamber with a couple of noble Lords who had also taken part in the debate, both of them older than myself, and how we were joined by an Oxonian of a later vintage, a noble Lord for whose wisdom and charity I have long had a profound admiration, and whose counsel on any matter not purely political I would follow as readily as that of any Lord Temporal in your Lordships' House; and how astounded I was when his first observation on joining our little group was that he saw nothing very much wrong with the streets of Oxford as they were. If that, or anything like it, is our attitude to-day, we shall do nothing but tinker half-heartedly with the problem. And that, I am very much afraid, is what we are shaping to do, adopting at immense cost measures which will partially alleviate, but will not cure, the disease, and will alleviate it not only partially, but temporarily.

A number of road schemes have been put before the public in the last ten or fifteen years, and at the moment I suppose three are outstanding. Of these, according to the Road Research Laboratory's admittedly somewhat dubious statistics, it is the Oxford Council's plan which seems likely to afford the greatest traffic relief. But the City Council's plan, at immense cost, as has already been pointed out repeatedly, to the surviving amenities of the city, will, according to these calculations—which I think are optimistic—leave 36 per cent. of the volume of the 1957 traffic still in the centre of the city. But surely 36 per cent. of the 1957 volume must be considerably more than the total volume of traffic in the 1930's, when it had already became impossible to conduct a tutorial at the High Street and the ancient buildings there were already beginning to disintegrate. And, as has been pointed out more than once, and notably by my old friend, Lord Conesford, we must not forget that, as the experts foretell, traffic will be doubling itself in 30 years. So that what this scheme seems likely to do is—to quote a fatal phrase which we hear all too often nowadays, and which I was sorry to hear in the course of this debate—to "reduce the traffic to manageable proportions". But, of course, we do not want traffic reduced to manageable proportions. What we want is Oxford restored to the due status and proper condition of a university city. For that, we need something much more courageous than either an inner or an outer relief road.

Much has been said this evening about waiting to see what the completion of the ring of outer by-passes will do for us. But there is plenty of evidence, quite significant evidence, already obtainable, as to the probable effects of the completion of the outer by-passes. Any of your Lordships has only to proceed to Oxford High Street on a Thursday afternoon, which possibly not many of your Lordships have recently done, to find that since, although the University and offices are still functioning normally, the shops are shut, the volume of traffic in the High Street has been reduced to something like one-third or one-quarter of its normal density. In other words, there is already evidence that Oxford's traffic problem is largely self-generated. If peace is ever to return to Oxford, and if Oxford is to be restored to the condition which any university city, and above all Oxford, deserves, then, it seems to me, we must insist upon the conversion of the centre of the city into a precinct.

A precinct has already been hinted at by two previous speakers. I propose to put only the principle before your Lordships and shall not weary you with much detail. I put it before you as the only practicable long-term solution, which, if it is to be saved, Oxford must sooner or later adopt, if not now, then later and after another period of increasing discomfort and desecration.

Some of your Lordships may have seen a recent proposal for a precinct which would involve closing the centre of the City from Magdalen Bridge to the Old Station and from Folly Bridge to St. Giles's Church, from say, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., to all motor traffic except local buses, the cars of residents within the precinct, vans having business within the precinct at certain fixed hours, and taxis carrying residents within the precincts or their guests. It would be necessary to build multi-storey car parks near the entrance to the precincts, where I believe room for them could be found without much difficulty. And finally it would be necessary to construct the relief road advocated by the Oxford Preservation Trust. Only so, it seems to me, can peace return to Oxford.

There will, of course, be loud cries of horror, particularly from the trading interests in the centre of the city, where the astonishing short-sightedness of various authorities has brought it about that there are shortly to be not only a great new Woolworth's but a great new Marks and Spencer's and a great new Littlewood's. But the tradesmen in the centre of the city, although they are extremely influential on the City Council, should not have the last word on this matter. Moreover, it seems to me that they would gain as well as lose from a precinct, and they might conceivably gain even more than they would lose. Last time I tried to reach a certain shop in Oxford with which I have dealt for many years, I spent half an hour crawling through intermittent traffic blocks in search of a spot where I could park my car within three quarters of a mile of my objective, and finally abandoned the attempt and transferred my custom permanently to a shop in a town nearer my own home which has not yet built up for itself a traffic problem on the Oxford scale, though it is straining every nerve to do so.

In the last resort if there should be a residual conflict of interest between commerce in the centre of the City and the needs of the University, well, that, after all, is the fundamental issue which we are considering to-day. I, for one, remembering that there are many Wigans but only one Oxford, have no doubt in whose interest it should be resolved, or what, on the long view, is the best means of resolving it. I devoutly hope that the Minister responsible, who has shown plenty of courage in other respects, will have the courage to seize this opportunity of earning the gratitude of posterity as the man who saved the University from having to see its doom sealed by half measures.

8.6 p.m.


My Lords, the opening words of the noble Lord who has just spoken provoke me, like him, to confess, or perhaps claim, a personal interest in the subject we are discussing. I do so the more willingly because my particular experiences have been of a kind which, as I think, supply a counteracting bias to any temptation to bias from any particular interest. Though I have been connected with the University for many years I was, in fact, born in the City of Oxford, the son of a Mayor of Oxford, and brought up as a boy in Oxford.

Inside the University, though my closest association has been with two Colleges on the High Street, I was for thirteen years Burgess for the University, and as such was concerned also with the interests of other colleges. I preceded the noble Viscount, Lord Harcourt, as Chairman of the Oxford Preservation Trustees, of whom I have been for many years one; and of course I participated in the historic debate in this Chamber four years ago. That may seem a rather menacing introduction of a long speech, but I assure your Lordships that mine will be of only a very few minutes duration, because it seems to me that the debate that has already taken place has been so comprehensive and conclusive that I need not either repeat or add to arguments that have already been used. I propose only to recall the nature of the collective and responsible opinion about the different alternative before us, in particular about a proposal which includes a road across the Meadow.

So far as the Oxford City Council, the legal planning authority is concerned, it has been in an extremely difficult position through all these years of controversy. This is partly perhaps because of the reasons to which the noble Lord referred, of the influence of the shopkeepers in the Corn Market and adjacent streets, and still more for a deeper reason: that Oxford is unlike almost any other planning authority in the country. The borough which Oxford City Council represents is really a borough of two towns, one of which, East of Magdalen Bridge, has grown during the last 40 years into a great industrial town with a different outlook, different interests and largely different origins—many people coming in with the Nuffield industries, shortly after the first war, from the old City and University. It now comprises more than half of the total residents of the whole borough of Oxford represented by the City Council.

I think if you look at the record of the Oxford City Council over these years of controversy you will see that it has been vividly conscious of that underlying difficulty and division. It has changed its view; it tentatively put forward a proposal for a time under a misapprehension of the nature of a Government communication; it showed itself willing to have—indeed apparently for a time desirous of having—a solution found from outside its own ranks. Even at the last stage the division is almost an equal one and the recommendation obviously reflects division, conflict and uncertainty. In addition, as has been pointed out, the City officer most concerned in the problem of traffic which has been the central core of the Report before us, the Chief Constable, has been bitterly opposed on traffic grounds to the present recommendation. So much for the legal planning authority.

Contrast with the uncertainty of their advice and their commendation the views of the other responsible authorities concerned. First of all the University. It has officially, and supported by an overwhelming majority in Congregation, opposed this Report and showed itself in substantial agreement with the main recommendations of the Oxford Preservation Trust. The Trust, established of course before the machinery under the Planning Act was created, as the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, reminded us, comprises among its active trustees leading members of the City Council, of the University and of the adjacent county councils, of Oxfordshire and Berkshire, with other residents in or near Oxford of special authority and expert knowledge. It has to some extent the advantage, as a non-official body, of not being subject to the pressures or the proclaimed policy of a Government of the day. Through all these years of controversy it has been consistent, and been able to recommend its policy nemine contradicente.

Lastly is this House, which expresses an opinion on these problems from the wider point of view which is appropriate to the problem of a city which not only concerns the residents in it but is a national and indeed a world heritage. I challenge any student of our Parliamentary institutions to find any instance in history in either House of Parliament in which leading members of every political Party and such leading men among the independents as the late Archbishop of Canterbury and the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, showed such a unanimity of opinion against a proposal of a Government of the day as was shown in the historic debate four years ago against the proposal put before us on behalf of the Government by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. He was then speaking for the Government, but, as we have been reminded, is now himself opposed to the plan which includes this Meadow Road. I think that that is both significant and without precedent.

I remind your Lordships of the last sentence of the noble Marquess's speech on that occasion: I have to confess that all the Peers who have spoken have disliked this proposal—all. If that was without precedent in English political history, my Lords, we have had something very much like it again today—with, however, I am glad to say, one significant difference. In 1957 the House was debating a proposal made by the Government of the day. To-day we are, happily, having a debate which has still to be considered by the Minister with whom the responsibility rests, after he has had an opportunity of hearing what we say and having regard to the weight of responsible collective opinion which I have attempted to summarise. I look forward with some confidence to his giving adequate consideration to the evidence that was available both before this debate took place and from this debate itself.

8.15 p.m.


My Lords, I feel that after the remarkable consensus of opinion which this debate has shown, it seems hardly necessary that I should delay your Lordships by making a few observations. I should, however, like in one or two respects to give a slightly different angle from the arguments that have already been put forward. Sir Frederick Armer posed the question of whether this was a problem of amenity or a problem of traffic. As noble Lords have pointed out, it is of course, both and I think that there is no conflict between the two. The problem which has arisen of recent years is what, for convenience, I will call modern traffic. When I say "modern traffic", I mean traffic of two kinds. I mean, in the first place, through-traffic which is not primarily concerned with Oxford at all, and, secondly, the modern traffic which has resulted from the development of Oxford as a great industrial and commercial city.

I believe that the solution is to have, in the first place, a university precinct from which all unnecessary traffic is excluded and, secondly, suitable roads for dealing with modern traffic. Obviously, the Inspector's report is quite unacceptable; and for two reasons. In the first place, it is too timid. He declares that it is his purpose to restore peace and quiet to the ancient City. There is not a single noble Lord who has spoken to-day who believes that his proposals will have that effect. In the second place, all that he is proposing is a temporary palliative while traffic is as it is at the present time.

He accepts as inevitable the increase in traffic in accordance with the Road Research Laboratory's estimate of the increase in the number of vehicles. I have had a great deal to do with the Road Research Laboratory and I have an unqualified respect for their scientific and accurate way of carrying out their researches. Therefore, I accept, first, that the vehicle ownership in the Oxford district is likely to increase by 5 per cent. per annum; secondly, that passenger car units will be doubled within the next 20 years; and, thirdly, that traffic will be doubled in 30 years. But it does not follow from that, that we can be satisfied now with proposals which are going to do nothing to prevent Oxford from again being encumbered by the problem with which it is confronted to-day, when that full increase of traffic has taken place.

In paragraph 257 the inspector says: Having regard to possible increases in traffic beyond the doubling point, many people may regret that this prospective relief is not greater, but it seems the best that can be achieved. When the author of this Report is so defeatist when he is drafting it, clearly it would be unwise for the Government or for this House to accept his proposals, Apparently he accepts the predominance everywhere of the motor car. In this year, we can say that public opinion is moving rapidly in all parts of the country in the direction of the control of motor cars. I do not speak with any undue optimism in this matter, because I have gone through this whole problem myself; but I am delighted at the way that parking meters, for example, which were introduced with trepidation, and after sounding opinion in the House of Commons in the Road Traffic Bill of 1956, are now accepted, even by the Automobile Association and by the Royal Automobile Club. There is no criticism of them at the present time.

In the new towns, precincts confined to pedestrians who wish to shop in peace and quiet are now accepted. In Ottawa one of the old streets has been closed to traffic in order that pedestrians should be enabled to pursue their normal avocation. In Oxford there are a number of shopkeepers and other business people who believe that restrictions upon traffic would not diminish their trade, but would increase it. That is the direction in which public opinion is moving at the present time; but of that there is not the slightest recognition in the Report.

The particular problem of Oxford traffic offers its own solution. The reason why the traffic in Oxford is such an appalling problem is that it is the meeting point of traffic from all directions, and that rivers, railways, marshes and open spaces make Oxford impassable to traffic from all directions except over the existing roads and bridges. That is the reason why this special problem has arisen in Oxford. But if that liability and difficulty is grasped boldly, it provides a quite simple answer to the problem. It is this: the precinct does not want modern traffic passing through it, and modern traffic would like to avoid the precinct if it could. The closing of Magdalen Bridge to heavy traffic, as the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, has said, and, as I would say also, to private motor cars, is the absolute key to the solution of this problem. I would leave it open to buses, because that is. I think, a way in which the inhabitants of Oxford can move in an easy and economical way without undue congestion. There is not the slightest reason why Magdalen Bridge should be left open to heavy traffic and private motor cars.

The position has been reached when 60 per cent. of the inhabitants of Greater Oxford live East of Magdalen Bridge, and as has been pointed out by many noble Lords, and especially by the noble Viscount, Lord Harcourt, new developments are taking place around the stations, in St. Ebbe's and in the far West of the City. Therefore, there is no need to hesitate about joining up the East and the West and by-passing by a road far South of the precinct the industrial areas in the East and those in the West: whereas the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said: "Why worry if the A road which has been proposed is longer than the road through the middle of Christ Church Meadow?" I pray in aid the expressed opinion of the Road Research Laboratory, who say that the motorist does not mind what the distance is; what he worries about is the time taken. Indeed, provided that the traffic is gathered far enough East, and carried far enough West (which is the gist of the argument of those who are looking ahead to the future development of the town and are not unduly blinded by what happens to be the position at the -present time or was the position ten or fifteen years ago) there should be no difficulty at all about carrying this industrial traffic, this modern traffic, as I call it, along the A road. It is not, as the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said, worth worrying about this, provided that the Magdalen Bridge is closed to the traffic that one wishes to divert. Hobson, that remarkable livery master in the 17th century, established a choice which can well be applied in the case.


Was he real?


Hobson's choice. I cannot believe that even those who desire to see, or who would reluctantly agree to a Meadow Road would wish to agree to that without the closing of Magdalen Bridge to heavy traffic.

If I have spoken a little harshly of the report of the Inspector, I want in fairness to say that I am disappointed at the evidence that was given before this inquiry by those whom I should have expected to recommend the closing of Magdalen Bridge to heavy and motor traffic. It was not, apparently, recommended by the University: it was not recommended by Christ Church and the associated colleges; and it was not recommended by the Oxford Preservation Trust. But it was advocated by Dr. Sharp, by Mr. Chandler, by a very influential body of Oxford dons led by the Warden of All Souls and, somewhat surprisingly, but very encouragingly, by the Oxford Trades Council and by the Oxford Mail in a remarkable supplement which set out with extreme clarity the different courses that might have been taken. I believe there has been a rapidly increasing body of opinion which is in favour of the partial closing of Magdalen Bridge.

The closing of Magdalen Bridge would only be the most important and sensational of a number of measures that are urgently necessary for dealing with traffic in Oxford. I think the Town Council has been blameworthy in this matter in the past. In the first place, there are very few parking regulations, and those I understand are not normally enforced. It is quite shocking that a street as narrow as the Turl should still be used for parking cars without its being a breach of any traffic regulation. Secondly, there are no prohibitions on right turns. Thirdly, there are very few one-way streets. When I was in Oxford last Tuesday I stood and watched traffic passing through Catte Street; and Catte Street is so narrow that it should be closed to all motor traffic and should certainly be a one-way street, which it is not at the present time.


The noble Lord is wrong about that.


I am sorry. I did stand and watch the traffic.


It is a one-way street all right.


There are very few no loading or unloading orders, although I know that that is now belatedly being considered by the Oxford City Council. I remember when I was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, Manchester asked for a loading and no loading order. We refused it on the ground that they were doing nothing to prevent the cluttering up of the streets by the parking of private cars, and we said that until they did something with the powers that existed at that time we were not willing to give them additional ones.

If I criticise the Oxford City Council, I am bound to say that I do not feel they have had the lead from the University that they should have had. I know that in these matters it is largely a matter of the Town Council making the regulations, but I am not aware that my own college, New College, has given any lead in favour of preventing parking in New College Lane and Queen's Lane; and I was surprised to see cars being driven into the front quadrangle of one of the colleges in Broad Street the other day, If the precinct is to be protected from modern traffic, it is essential that the University should also be prepared to establish control of academic traffic. In the first place, dons coming from their houses outside to their colleges must accept the need to park their cars outside the precinct and finish their journey on foot. In the second place I believe that the restriction which existed in my time, forbidding undergraduates to have cars except in their last year, is no longer in force or, at any rate, is not effectively enforced. Thirdly, I am quite sure that sightseers' buses would have to be excluded from the precincts. In the fourth place, it would, I think, result that commercial and industrial activities within the precinct would probably be reduced as the University, as its activities increase, takes over more and more of the area within the precincts. Of course, the removal of the covered market, in the way that the Oxford Preservation Trust has recommended, to outside the precinct and away from the High Street, would have a great effect in reducing the amount of traffic.

Having said that I advocate Route A, it is not necessary for me to say much about the two alternative routes put forward by the Council and by Mr. Chandler. Of the two, I far prefer that by Mr. Chandler, first, because it contemplates the closing of Magdalen Bridge, and secondly, because it does not do what has been criticised by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and spew all the traffic which would have been gathered in the Meadow Road and pour it into a mass of unsuitable and unmodernised Oxford streets. I am quite convinced that, provided the necessary measures are taken in the way of closing Magdalen Bridge and of traffic restrictions, it should be possible to have a precinct in which the University would regain the peace and quiet which was desired by the inspector and, at the same time, provide greatly improved facilities for modern traffic.

The Minister has a great opportunity to replan Oxford for the future. He showed courage and leadership when he responded to the protest that was made in regard to Piccadilly Circus. Oxford is far more important. I believe that he may obtain support from the present Minister of Transport, who has recognised very plainly the impossibility of continuing to tolerate indefinitely the use of one motor car for the transportation of one passenger. The precinct of the University is needed for amenity. There must also be roads to deal with modern traffic. I believe that that can be adequately provided by Route A., and I hope that the Minister of Housing and Local Government will reject the recommendations of this Report.

8.34 p.m.


My Lords, I feel that this has been a most interesting and illuminating debate, and I dare to hope that it has also been a comforting and a reassuring one. I am the thirteenth speaker, absit omen, and not one of the twelve noble Lords who have preceded me—not even, in the end, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin—has expressed a wish to see these pernicious proposals adopted. I am the third speaker on these Benches. We have heard the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, from the Cross Benches; one speaker from the Labour Benches; and we have to come the noble Earl, Lord Longford, who, I feel can be relied upon not to support the recommendations of the Council; and the rest have been Government speakers.


My Lords, may I interrupt to ask the noble Lord (I am glad to see he is wearing a red tie) why he is so sure that I will not support the recommendations?


My Lords, my inference has arisen from observing the direction in which the noble Earl's "Hear, hears" were directed If I am wrong about that, I apologise, but I hope I am right


There is no need to apologise.


I think I am the third Balliol man who has spoken. There are two Christ Church men, two University men, and six who can be collectively characterised as "various", ranging in age from myself to my noble friend Lord Samuel who spoke with such virile eloquence. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, mentioned that no alternative had been suggested unanimously. I do not think that is surprising when there are so many possible solutions to the problem, but at least I think we have been unanimous that the Council's plan is a bad one.

The City Council's plans have been opposed by the University, by the Chief Constable, by the Oxford Preservation Trust, by the City Council's Chief Architect and Planning Officer. And now they have been most clearly opposed by your Lordships, who have torn Sir Frederick Armer and his Report to pieces. What I want to ask is this: are we all fools, or is Sir Frederick Armer? Who, in fact, is in favour of this scheme? Is it possible that the noble and learned Viscount, who will speak this evening for the Government, will turn out to be the one Philistine in the woodpile who will support this desecration? He is a Christ Church man after all, and I really find it impossible to believe that.

So much has already been said of the irreparable evil that will be caused if this tarmac monster is driven through the Meadow, that I feel there is little left that I can add. The Christ Church Meadow is one of the few remaining oases of tranquillity in a desert of mechanisation. I feel it would be an act of pure vandalism to desecrate those lovely acres and to mar that whole reach of the Isis, and we all seem to be agreed upon that point. I feel that it would be an act of pure insanity to take the irrevocable step—and it is an irrevocable step, which is what frightened me most about it. It is like hanging a man, which is a crime in itself, only to find that you have made a mistake and there is nothing you can do about it afterwards. It is an irrevocable step, and once it has been taken you cannot unscramble by-passes. The Christ Church Meadow has been there for 1.000 years, enjoyed by Oxford men, and I feel we should wait and see the result of building the outer by-passes and see what effect that has before taking any step of this nature. If the outer by-passes prove in the end to be inadequate, I feel that the ring roads, so eloquently pleaded for by the noble Viscount, Lord Harcourt, would be infinitely preferable. If they are properly planned and constructed, I think they must succeed in removing all through traffic from the City, and the amenities so dear to many of us will remain unharmed.

8.40 p.m.


My Lords, I think I have the unique distinction in your Lordships' House this evening of having been the only person here or, at any rate, inside the Chamber, who sat through the whole of the inquiry which is now under discussion. I had not intended to speak this evening, and, indeed, I can only do so on a very limited field, because I must declare an interest and say that I was representing the City Council during the inquiry. Therefore if I were to say anything on the subjects or merits of this matter it would, I think, be quite improper.

But if your Lordships would allow me to say this, I think that Sir Frederick Armer should be given a tribute by your Lordships this evening. He has taken, when I have been here, several very hard knocks indeed. It had been a very long and extremely complicated inquiry of a nature which, so far as I know, has never occurred before, In that it was an inquiry at large. It cannot have been in any way easy to conduct, and I hope that I might say that Sir Frederick did it with courtesy and competence throughout. Therefore, I should like to add one small thing to what the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said when he mentioned recommendations, which took only two paragraphs. I would point out that there are also ten pages of discussion of the evidence, and I am sure that it was no mean task for Sir Frederick to go through the monumental pile of transcripts and decide what recommendation he should make at the end. Nor could it have been easy when he knew the fury that would be earned when he chose the Council's scheme. Therefore I do not think it would be fitting if this debate did not contain at least one simple tribute from someone who watched him rake the inquiry and who has read his Report.

8.43 p.m.


My Lords, I am very glad that the noble Viscount struck that note at the end. I am sure we have all read the report. I am sure many of us have read it more than once, but I think the noble Viscount was, if I may say so, right to pay that particular tribute. I once heard of a schoolboy who was given Arma Virum que Cano and he translated it "I gave Arma the cane." I am afraid some of your Lordships have perhaps been drawn in that direction, but I might say quite unwittingly.

The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, would wish to join in paying our tribute to the energy and public spirit shown by Sir Frederick Armer in producing his report. He has recently laid down the burden of official life, I understand, having served in the field of mental health, with which I am so familiar and which, no doubt, is not so far removed from Oxford as your Lordships suppose, and I think it was very noble of him to take up his burden, knowing very well that whatever conclusions he arrived at he would be subjected to this kind of experience. But that does not in any way derogate from the right of your Lordships to comment about his report. However, I am sure that we should all like to join with the tribute to Sir Frederick paid by the noble Viscount.

It is quite common for a noble Lord from this side to be asked to wind up the debate for the Opposition but there is no need, of course, for any procedure of that kind on this occasion, and I shall detain the House for no more than five minutes—though it usually turns out to be six or seven, but I think it will be very short. So far as the position is concerned, I feel I should recall the words that fell from the lips of the noble Viscount, Lord Harcourt, who made such a fine maiden speech—I shall have to distract him for a moment from the map of the City of Oxford which he is explaining to the noble Baroness. I am delighted the noble Viscount made such a fine maiden speech. He is an old friend of many of us, and his ancestor said, "We are all Socialists now".

We are all opposed to the Armer Report and the opposition has not in any way been engineered. My noble friends may have been approached from this quarter or that quarter, but you cannot engineer unanimity of this sort, taking shape on all sides of the House, and it has been quite extraordinary how strong the opposition has been. I am sure I do not need to labour this kind of point, and the noble Viscount the Leader of the House knows it well; but if the opinion of the House of Lords is to count for anything, he presumably takes very seriously indeed this peculiar unanimity of expression which is unprecedented in the experience of most of us.

I am not going to co-ordinate the arguments which have been presented, because, in fact, when they are studied, someone much less acute than the noble Viscount would surely see what they amount to. One could, if one wished to be very clever—and I am sure the noble Viscount would not adopt that line—perhaps drive small wedges here and there between your Lordships, but I hope that the noble Viscount will not feel bound to apply any very positive conclusions to the House this evening. If I can relieve him of any duty, I think there is no one here who would disapprove if he rose from his place this evening and said that the views put forward would be considered by his noble friend; and I think that is all most of us are asking. We should be very sorry indeed if we thought that the Government had reached conclusions ahead of this debate. Presumably they have not. This is one occasion in the world when we think that no display of his unrivalled oratory is really called for; and I hope, therefore, that he will feel able to keep a very early engagement. That is the way I venture to present it.

I suppose we have all boasted of our various connections with Oxford; and why should we not? The noble Viscount's connections are, I suppose, the most distinguished of any of us; a most brilliant Scholar of Christ Church; Fellow of All Souls; City Member, as some of us have reason to remember, to our own cost. Others, of course, have laboured in other fields, some in the same fields, without the same successes. Many of these fields I have mentioned, but I think I possess a unique distinction—I was a member of the Oxford City Council which is under discussion to-day. The Oxford City Council in my time was a fine vigorous body of men and women; city fathers, city mothers—what did the noble Lord, Lord Elton, call them?—almae matres? Whatever the pronunciation, the thought is clear enough and I hope it will be equally clear to Hansard.

The city fathers of other days and city mothers were very well equipped to discuss many broad issues, and if they were not equipped that did not prevent them from discussing them. And as one who represented Cowley, and, later, part of Oxford, I should like to say that one problem we did not attempt the discuss without our advisers, was some intricate problem of town planning. We would argue but not to that extent. I am not saying a word against my successors. It may be that in years to come I shall once again seek something of the good people there and in a much simpler capacity. One never knows and therefore one must not deride the committee. But the fact is they know perfectly well that they would not normally decide a matter of this sort without the help of their advisers, and, extraordinary as it may seem, they have come forward with a scheme for which they can get no support from the Chief Planning Officer or the Chief Constable. It would seem to me almost incredible that a City Council so bereft of expert advice should hit on the ideal solution in the teeth of all the greatest experts in the country. That would seem to be extraordinary. It is the sort of thing which just does not happen. I decline to think there is much reason that they have hit on the right plan.

I do not want to say any more. Personally I am very much interested in what was called the precinctual idea; I am very glad that speakers have addressed themselves to that. I have the feeling that that idea came forward a little late from the point of view of the inquiry. I feel if that idea had been developed a year or two earlier we should have had even more inspiring or well-informed guidance offered to Sir Frederick Armer on that subject. Therefore, I hope that when the Government turn all these matters over in their minds they will not feel that the last word has been said about the precinct, although certain speeches have been made to-day in your Lordships' House which I think have advanced our thought on that subject very considerably. I do not mean to say more.

I hope I have made it plain to the noble Viscount that we have the highest confidence in his personal capacity to bring a mind of great fairness and ability to this question. I am not going to appeal to him in the name of Christ Church. There would be a certain impertinence in doing that. In any case, I would not suggest he would wish to be influenced by his connection with Christ Church, All Souls, Oxford City or anywhere else. I am simply taking up the phrase used by the noble Viscount, Lord Esher; many of us consider him one of the cleverest men in England. Even if he were one of the less clever men in England but was still of fairly normal intelligence, I should feel that he would not be likely to accept the particular plan proposed by the City Council to Sir Frederick Armer. I realise that he and his colleagues will wish to consider all these matters with very great care and will study the shades of opinion which have been presented during the debate. But I can assure him that we seriously believe that he and those with him are most anxious to arrive at the just solution, and I will leave it to him without expecting him to say very much this evening.

8.53 p.m.


My Lords, despite the noble Earl, I think it would be slightly discourteous if I did not make a speech at this stage, and there are a number of things which I think I can say with profit. In the first place, I should like to be amongst those to congratulate my noble friend Lord Harcourt on his maiden speech. It was, by any standard, whether maiden or otherwise, a very excellent speech, and I do not think he need be worried about its being controversial. I find that every time I congratulate a Member of this House on a maiden speech it has been controversial, and personally I think it is better for being controversial. The rule is really a different rule, that one does not hurt other people's feelings, and there was not a syllable in my noble friend's speech which could have hurt anybody's feelings, even upon this very controversial subject. It was a very lucid exposition of a case, and I can only say I enjoyed the speech very much and with added pleasure because he happens to be a very old friend of mine in private life.

I should also like, if it is not at this late hour imposing on the House, to say what a pleasure it was to see the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, back again and to hear what was, again, by any stan- dards, a very remarkable performance. I do not know how long it is since an actual nonagenarian addressed your Lordships' House. I remember the late Lord Bledisloe made a very good but very much shorter speech about a year before he died, but I hope this is not in any case a precedent for the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, whom I hope we shall have with us very many years; I hope we may even, in ten years' time perhaps, be able to signal a speech by a centenarian in your Lordships' House, and I have no doubt it will be as vigorous as the speech he delivered to-day.

Having said that, I should like also to disclaim any intention of expressing a personal opinion upon this subject at all. The question of Oxford roads has created more angry words and severed more friendships in Oxford than any subject for debate there since the condemnation of Newman, and the varieties of opinion expressed have also at times been as bewildering as the varieties of Christian doctrine displayed between the third and sixth centuries of our era. So far I have managed to keep clear of this controversy by not expressing any opinion whatever, and it would be a pity if I started to depart from that rule this evening. If anybody thinks he can deduce some opinion from what I say now, I hasten in advance to disclaim it.

The matter, I should explain—and I think it is right I should say so although other noble Lords have said so before me—is before my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, and I think it would be manifestly wrong for me either to attempt to anticipate his views by predicting them or to prejudice them by disagreeing with them in any way. The fact is that he gave an undertaking at the last debate that there should be a debate in the House of Lords before he made up his mind, and that really means that, in speaking for the Government I should not express a view, rather than that I should express a view about the very controversial subjects which have been discussed this evening.

My right honourable friend welcomes this debate as an opportunity for noble Lords who are interested to express their views, and I can assure your Lordships that when I say he will not fail to study those views when they appear in Hansard to-morrow I am not saying something simply formally: this is in fact the case, and I know he will find the debate a great source for study and that it will help him to form a view upon the subject. If I may just say so to the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, there need be no fear that the views of the University and the Oxford Preservation Trust would be set aside; nor is there any disposition on my right honourable friend's part to try to treat the Inspector as an arbitrator or judge, because it is absolutely no disrespect to him to say that the responsibility for the decision must rest with, the Minister. The inspector discharged his duty faith, fully by reporting to the Minister and this Report, of course, will be taken into account with all the other circumstances of the case.

Of course, I should be less than candid if I did not report to my right honourable friend that the views expressed in this House this afternoon very largely reflect a single point of view. Nor will I attempt to drive what the noble Earl, Lord Longford, described as small wedges between the different points of view expressed this afternoon. But I should like, if I may, to marshall some of the different aspects of the problem slightly, because there have been variations of emphasis and there have been variations actually in the fundamental approach to this question.

The first question which I think has been raised by the debate, within the ambit of the expressed opinions, has been whether we really need to make up our minds at all. That was clearly a difference of opinion. My noble friend Lord Swinton ended his very interesting speech with the words, "Wait and see". I think this fairly accurately represented the view of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, who introduced the debate and to whom we are therefore indebted for the opportunity to discuss this matter; and I think to some extent that was the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. Other noble Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, in particular, and my noble and learned friend, Lord Conesford, took directly the opposite view. They both said "Decide now, but agree with us and it will be the right decision".

I think it is worth just considering one or two aspects of that matter. The question whether we can afford to wait was well and plausibly argued both by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth and by my noble friend Lord Swinton. It depends on saying that the Sandford link and, indeed, the circle of the outer roads need to be completed before we can judge what the effect on Oxford's traffic will be. It depends on saying, "Let the Cowley shopping centre be completed, and that will afford some relief, and we shall then be able to see more clearly how much is necessary" There are minor, although still important, other projects of the same kind which it might be argued ought to be completed also in order to enable one to see how the traffic will be when they are completed, of which the removal of the market from the centre, where it is now, near to Carfax, is the one which occurs most readily to my mind.

As regards the outer roads, and particularly the Sandford link, I think it was generally agreed that these ought to be completed; and, if I may say so, I would accept the view expressed in the letter from the noble Marquis, Lord Salisbury, which was quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, that the question of the inner roads should never be allowed to hold up the question of the outer roads—the outer roads are required. The last preliminary step of advertising the side-road order has already been taken this month. Thereafter, of course, the progress will depend very much on statutory considerations. There can be objections, and there may have to be a local public inquiry on the side-road order, and then the whole process of the acquisition of land will have to be pursued. This means, at any rate, a considerable period before the Minister can enter upon the land. Thereafter, the construction will have to begin. So that although one may promise speed, the speed at which one promises to progress is the speed of the statutory ritual, which is a somewhat slower pace than one would desire in the mind's eyes to see. But that also must be completed. The question therefore about the completion of the outer roads is not so much whether it is desirable—and I think one can accept that it is desirable—but how far it is really relevant to the question of what the inner roads should be.

The same, I am afraid, applies to the Cowley shopping centre. Work has started on it. It is hoped that by the end of 1963 eighteen new shops will be completed, including four large multiple stores, and a car park for 300 cars. That is admittedly a desirable thing which must go forward, and which will not be held up in any way by the dispute about the inner roads. But again one has to ask oneself to what extent it is a relevant consideration which ought to hold up a decision. As to that, it is, I think, fair to say that the extent to which these projects, desirable in themselves, will in fact, or can in fact, relieve traffic in the centre, is predictable within certain limits; and at any rate one view which will have to be considered is that one can say with sufficient confidence, now, that the extent to which they and the other projects to which I have referred can relieve traffic in the centre is perhaps not sufficient to justify us in withholding a decision on the relief roads if in fact one can establish, as I think would appear from the analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Elton of the matter, that all these projects added together will, or may, still leave traffic at the centre, which will require relief roads.

The other thing which I think I should say in this connection has also been stressed during the course of the debate, I think by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, by the noble Viscount, Lord Harcourt, and it may be also by my noble friend Lord Salter—namely, that until you have some conception of where you are going to put your inner relief roads you are not going to develop St. Ebbe's or St. Clements, which of course clearly must be done; and although, therefore, nobody would wish to rush into this matter, I think one has to face the fact that the time for decision is probably fairly close, even if it be only a tentative decision.

The other thing that I think I should point out to your Lordships is that, whatever ray right honourable friend decides—which he hopes to be able to do either before the Recess or very soon after its commencement—it will be a long time before any sort of an inner road really appears on the ground. Because the position, I think—I have got now into such confusion with my papers that I shall probably say something which is not strictly accurate, but I think I am right in saying this—is that he will then have to tell the Council to put into its development plan a plan for a road on the lines which he decides. There will then have to be another public inquiry—the fourth, I may say, which will have taken place on this subject—at which no doubt more counsel (including, I hope, my noble and learned friend behind me) will be instructed, and more witnesses called and cross-examined, and another report presented by another inspector.

When this is done, what will have come into being will be nothing more than a paper road; and the paper road will then have to take its place for allocation of the available funds by the Ministry of Transport. So that there will be, I should have said, a locus penitentiae, although I should hope that once the decision is made this time it will be respected, if at all possible, by the various disputants in this controversy.


The noble Viscount has forgotten another debate in this House.


I am sure there will be more debates in this House, but at this stage I am not undertaking that there shall be.

My Lords, there is where the matter stands to that stage. If in fact some thing has to be done in the way of inner roads and the "wait and see" policy is not pursued by my right honourable friend, then he really has to choose between three possibilities. When I say "three possibilities" I am, of course, aware that there were 22 different plans deposited with the Council and, I believe 76 different variations of those 22 plans. But it is three possibilities that we have mainly discussed this evening, and they are those referred to in the Report as A, B and C. This is an over-simplification, but they are, broadly, the three choices between us.

On that I would deprecate some of the sub-divisions which have been made. I do not think it is altogether fair in connection with the Council's plan to lay too much stress on the undoubtedly sharp division between the Council and the City architect, Mr. Chandler, because both plumped for the same line across the Meadow. I am not sure that I can quite agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, in saying that the decision or the recommendation of the Inspector was quite the same as Dr. Sharp's scheme, which was the Scheme B on the plan. I think there is a substantial difference, which was recognised by the University at one stage of the proceedings and I think to-day, between the two lines of Meadow Road, one across the middle of the Meadows and one on the northerly part of the Meadows.


I could not have made myself quite clear, or perhaps the noble Viscount misheard me. I was not referring to Dr. Sharp's scheme; I was referring to the Sandys scheme. Sandys' road and the present council road are almost identical.


My impression of the Sandys road, although I had not briefed myself to defend the Sandys road, or even to discuss it, on this occasion, was that it was considerably nearer Merton than the Council road at present proposed, and that it approximated more to the B scheme rather than to the Council scheme, which was C.


My Lords, it is fair to say, I think, that the Sandys road went through the Memorial Gardens just by Christ Church, and to that extent it is different from the City Council's road which goes, so to speak, half-way across the Meadow.


This was entirely my impression, my Lords, and I would therefore say that they were different schemes. Within those three alternatives obviously the main choice is whether you put a road across the Meadows or whether you do not; and, if you do not, clearly Scheme A is the only plan in the field.


My Lords, there is one point that I should just like to mention. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House has said that there were only three plans—A, B and C. That is not quite true. There is also the Oxford Preservation Trust plan, which varies from Plan A in one very important respect—in the road to the North of Oxford, which it continues right round through Marston and to the northern by-pass.


This is quite correct, but I was thinking in terms of the controversial choices you have to make, where the Oxford Preservation Trust plan follows Plan A, I think, exactly. In that connection, I would say only that it is not quite fair to the Inspector to say that he rejected Plan A only on the grounds of traffic, as I think my noble friend Lord Swinton said. If he looks at the report again, he will see that the Inspector stressed very considerably in that report the damage to house property and to amenities at the two ends of the road, which undoubtedly would cause a good deal of demolition. I think it is fair to the Inspector to say that that had obviously operated in his mind.

Moreover, although I do not want to enter into the merits or demerits of the Inspector's report, I think it was unjust to say of him that his conclusions were contained only in two paragraphs at the end. As my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross pointed out, the scheme of his report was to contain, I think my noble friend said, ten pages of discussion of the various schemes, and particularly of the three main schemes which were put forward; and noble Lords will find that, at the end of each discussion, his conclusion about that scheme is quite clearly stated. Therefore, I think it is unjust to him to suggest that he has put in only two perfunctory paragraphs at the end as containing the reasoning upon which his report was based.

Now, having made those points, I do not want to outstay my welcome here, and I do not want to give the impression that the matter is otherwise than open in the sense which I explained at the beginning. My right honourable friend will read this debate in all its aspects most carefully. If I have not mentioned all of the speeches which have been made, this is not to say that my right honourable friend will not consider what they contain; but there have been so many distinguished Members of your Lordships' House playing a part in this debate that I would not have been able to do justice to all of them had I dealt with them at length. My Lords, I do not think that there is anything more that I ought really to say this evening. I am grateful to the noble Lord for introducing the matter, and I hope the House will accept it from me that my right honourable friend will consider your Lordships' views.

9.14 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Viscount the Leader of the House for an illuminating reply, because he has illustrated so well the penalty we are paying to-day for the four and a half years delay since we had the last debate. I am grateful to the noble Viscount for saying—at least, this is what I think he said—that there will be no delay by the Government from now on with regard to the completion of the Sandford Link. The only delay will be the natural and almost automatic delay of the processes of law. That is a very great comfort. May I say this to him? If that is so, and if my calculations and the calculations of experts are right, it will mean that the outer by-passes around Oxford will be completed and working while any plan for an intermediate road in Oxford will be still what the noble Viscount has described as a "paper" road.

What I was at pains to say, or tried to say, in my opening speech was that, even after the outer roads are completed—and that will be approximately, from now on, in three years—there will still be a need, I believe, for intermediate roads. I have said that; but I am doubtful whether they will turn out, in the last analysis, to be precisely where those lines are drawn on the present map, and they will, I think, be the A road with some slight variation to it. That was the only delay that I thought was necessary. I am grateful to the noble Viscount, however, for having given assurances that there will be no delay now in the completion of the Sandford Link.

I think, if I may say so without impertinence, that your Lordships have discharged faithfully and well the duty that was placed upon you by the Government when Lord Salisbury undertook that there should be this debate. I am sure the Government of the day cannot but be impressed with the absolute unanimity of your Lordships on this subject on two occasions. The House was unanimous in turning down the Meadow Road and asking for the completion of the outer by-passes in 1957: it is unani- mous in the same direction to-day. I cannot but feel that that will have an effect upon the thinking of the Minister. I am very grateful to all noble Lords for joining in this debate, which I feel has not been altogether wasted. With those words, I ask your Lordships' permission to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.