HL Deb 27 November 1963 vol 253 cc677-83

4.16 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps this would be a convenient moment for me to make a statement which is now being made by my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport in another place about Professor Buchanan's Report, Traffic in Towns, and the Report of Sir Geoffrey Crowther's Steering Group. The Reports have been available in the Printed Paper Office since 2.30 p.m. The statement is as follows:

"Everyone will need time to consider these Reports which have taken three years. We are all greatly indebted to the authors for their original and stimulating studies. They try to show what will happen in our towns when nearly every family owns a car. They examine ways of re-shaping towns over the next 50 years so that we can enjoy the benefits of the car and also civilised urban living.

"Cars are a boon. But they have now started to choke movement and, indeed, to threaten the quality of urban life. Buchanan offers two main ideas for replanning towns. First, main traffic should be canalised into a 'primary road network'. Here traffic takes precedence. Second, the rest of the town should be planned as 'environmental areas'. Here the quality of living comes first. So planning of traffic and planning of land use must go together. This would make it possible in the smaller towns—at a cost—to provide for the use of cars to whatever extent their owners are likely to want. But in the large towns, Buchanan says, this is just not physically possible, however much money is spent. He therefore stresses the importance of public transport.

"We accept Buchanan's basic approach that a balance must be struck between the growing needs of traffic and the quality of urban life. Our long-term planning will be shaped accordingly.

"The Government are tackling the immediate problem in four main ways.

"First, transport surveys. The Buchanan Report lays down the principles; the next step is to translate them into practice in each area. We need to know, especially in the conurbations, the future demands for transport, its relation to land use, and the right balance between public and private transport. For this purpose we must have comprehensive transport surveys of an entirely new kind. Government, local authorities and public transport operators must be in this together. Such a survey is well under way in London. Other surveys are in progress in Merseyside and Tyneside, and will soon begin in the conurbations of Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham and Tees-side.

"Second, local government. Each area has its own distinctive problems and will have to make its own decisions about traffic and the quality of urban life. Local authorities will need help and guidance. They will need strengthening. The organisation of local government—already well advanced in London, and in hand for the rest of the country—will help to produce a structure better able to cope with major traffic and planning problems. To guide and advise local authorities the Government have created an Urban Planning Group.

"Third, increased resources. Spending on urban roads is rapidly increasing. This year it is £50 mililon. It will rise to £140 million a year by 1970.

"Fourth, public transport. Public transport must offer an acceptable alternative to the private car, especially for travel to and from work. Outside London this is predominantly a bus problem. But in some areas suburban rail services play an important rôle, and that is why the Beeching Plan, in the main, avoided suburban services in the list of closure proposals. But even those that are in the list cannot be closed without my consent. Before I reach a decision on any of them I shall secure the views of the local authorities and others concerned with the area transport surveys. I am sure that, with these Reports, we shall now be able to evolve a system of public transport by road and rail in our cities which will meet the needs of the travelling public.

"Towns and cities all over the world are facing the problem of rapidly increasing car ownership. There is no simple solution. As Buchanan says: 'it is … a social situation requiring to be dealt with by policies patiently applied ever a period and revised from time to time in the light of events'. These are wise words and we should do well to keep them in mind."


My Lords, we are grateful to the Minister for giving us the statement, and we are glad to know that the Report is in the Printed Paper Office. I have yet not had a chance of looking at it at all. Obviously, the breadth and area covered by the statement just made means that we must have a good study of it, and I will not comment on it now. I do not know whether my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth has something to say.


My Lords, may I ask a question on paragraph 6 of the statement, dealing with surveys of future demands for transport, where all the so-called conurbations are mentioned by name except one? In those that it mentions, surveys of future demands are either in progress or will begin soon. The only one left out is Leeds and Bradford. I admit that in that area there are some very good roads at the present time, but surely a survey ought at least to begin on future traffic needs in the Leeds-Bradford conurbation? Why is this alone left out of paragraph 6?


My Lords, as the noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition said, this Report will need careful study. Any hasty comment would be quite out of place. But I should like to make the plea to Her Majesty's Government that, in the present condition of our economy, before we enter into a welter of restrictions and regimentation, we should take into consideration the great motor industry of this country, which is doing a big job in our export market and contributing 27 per cent. of the pay packets earned by our working population. If that can be duly weighed in some newfound, rather restricted, minds, I think that the Government will serve the people well.


My Lords, of course, the noble Earl who leads the Opposition is perfectly right. We require to give a good deal more study to this matter. Just how easily it is to become misled is shown by the question of the noble Lord, Lord Airedale. The reason why Leeds is not mentioned in the statement is because Professor Buchanan carried out a special study of this area, as the noble Lord will see when he comes to read the Report.

I will try briefly to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, on the matter he raised. The idea is not to produce regimentation and restraint, but to learn how to live with the motor car, which so many people wish to be part of their lives. I should not be surprised if in years to come, some form of limitation may have to be considered, from the very difficulty of trying to get a quart into a pint pot; but as a matter of principle I can certainly reassure noble Lords. I feel that, as time goes on, we shall hear and see a good deal more of this Report, and therefore for the moment I, too, will say nothing more.


My Lords, I agree with my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition that this Report needs thinking about further. We have to take into account the needs and legitimate interests of the motor-manufacturing industry and the desire of people to own cars. May we take it from the statement of the Government that they are going to consider the fact that there must be a limit to the number of private cars that can enter the central areas of London, Birmingham, Manchester and other big cities, otherwise we shall be led in to enormous expenditure on highway improvements in areas where land is expensive?

May I ask whether the Government reject out of hand (I take it that they do not) the idea that it may be necessary to put on private car owners the onus of showing good cause why they should drive in the centre of London and other cities, or whether they have to prove a case? Public transport must also be taken into account, including the strain on bus drivers driving in difficult conditions, which makes difficult recruitment to the public service. May we take it that these considerations are actively in the minds of the Government at this time?


My Lords, I think that I can say, yes; these questions are under consideration, and they will have to be a good deal further considered. Because when we refer to "a good and efficient public transport system," we mean that it must be all-embracing, including the working conditions of drivers and of everybody else concerned in running it. I hesitate to come out very strongly on what the noble Lord said about limitation and restrictions, because in many cases I think that there is a good deal more to be done yet, by means of efficient and well-carried-out parking policies and transport engineering, in the use of existing roads. But, as I said in my statement, it is not thought that this will do all the work, however much money is spent upon it, and therefore it would seem a reasonable forecast that at some stage some consideration will have to be given to some kind of limitation.


My Lords, may I say that many noble Lords on this side entirely agree with what was said by the noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition, that it will be more convenient to debate this matter at a later date, after we have made the requisite studies. I should not have intervened at all but for the statements made and questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. Do the Government agree that there is no reason whatever why the interests of the motor-manufacturing industry should be considered as over-riding all the interests of those who live in such cities as London and the amenities and convenience of their lives? When the Government say that they are studying the long-term plans involved in accepting many of the proposals in this Report, may I also express the hope that they are considering some of their short-term plans and the stopping of their more ridiculous proposals regarding Piccadilly Circus?


My Lords, I feel that I can reassure my noble friend on what he has just said, because I do not think anything that I said could be taken to indicate that the interests of the motor industry would be regarded as overriding anyone else's interests. Surely what I said before, that this is an attempt to learn to live comfortably together with the motor in what is going to be a motor age, is the very spirit of the thing that prompted my right honourable friend to commission this Report. Therefore, I should have thought my noble friend need have no worry. I think he can safely leave it to the Government to start on short-term and long-term plans in this matter. However ridiculous he may regard the situation, we have not finished with it yet.


My Lords, I greatly welcome my noble friend's statement that the Minister does not propose to allow the closing down of any suburban line without full consultation with the local authorities, and I hope that this will apply to the commuter feeding lines in Sussex which are under contemplated closure. I do not expect a reply.