HL Deb 03 March 1966 vol 273 cc831-72

5.55 p.m.

LORD SEGALrose to call attention to the plans for the future development of Oxford; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the last occasion on which a debate on Oxford took place in your Lordships' House was nearly five years ago. That debate was also notable for an intervention by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, speaking on behalf of his old University, and for the last speech in this House of a great Liberal Leader, the late Lord Samuel, who at the age of 90 addressed your Lordships from the Benches opposite on a subject on which he felt very deeply. The previous debate on Oxford took place some four years earlier, on February 13, 1957; so that a further debate is long overdue, especially in view of the Minister's important Statement of January 26 last. In this afternoon's debate, we were privileged to have, among many other speakers, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, to whom both Oxford and its University already owe so much, and also, I hope, the noble Lords, Lord Salter, Lord Conesford and Lord Molson, who likewise took part in the last debate in 1961.

May I digress for a moment to declare my interest? I happen to live in a small, unspoilt village three miles from the centre of Oxford but situated in the Rural District of Abingdon. My home is only a quarter of a mile outside the Oxford City boundary, but I am able to enjoy all the advantages and amenities of Oxford—and these are considerable—while paying a lower rate than that of Oxford's citizens. This is a point to which I shall return later.

May I make, briefly, one or two other points? I feel that at this stage it would be utterly wrong to indulge in any regrets or recriminations about the past, to dwell on lost opportunities, or to try to apportion any blame. I hope that all our energies will be concerned only with the tasks of the future. Nor is this the occasion to indulge in nostalgic reveries of idyllic days spent punting up the Cher. That temptation is best reserved for our dotage, which membership of your Lordships' House often seems to defer. Nor is this debate an occasion for college rivalries to erupt, with High Tables jostling one another as at some spiritualist seance. The issues that confront us now are far too urgent and cannot lightly be set aside.

Finally, at this stage, may I put in a word or two on the last inquiry ordered by the Minister? The inspector has produced a report which is excellent in its recommendations, but does not go nearly far enough. Mr. Rochard Thomas was compelled to keep rigidly within his terms of reference, which were from the outset far too restricted. He has been unable to shelter beneath the cloak of anonymity, the prerogative of most civil servants. By virtue of his assignment, he has been denied one of the privileges that we value so much in this House, the right of reply. This, of course, we have to accept as inevitable: it is inherent in the rôle of a civil servant. But in paying tribute to his careful, searching inquiry, we may feel some sense of deprivation at being denied his reply.

Why is it that the last debate on Oxford, which took place in your Lordships' House nearly five years ago, seems to-day so strangely out of date? Since then, the Oxford City Council, whom I believe to be one of the most enlightened and progressive in the country, have not halted in their tracks. At least four major new developments have since taken place. First, the new commercial centre at Cowley has been completed and has already proved an outstanding success. Secondly, at the expense entirely of Oxford's own citizens, and at a cost of nearly £500,000, the new Donnington Bridge has been opened, and has already drawn away a large part of the traffic that would otherwise have filtered through The High. Thirdly, the Oxford City Council, through their town planning advisers, issued, over a year ago, a detailed plan for the future development of Oxford, which is a monumental piece of work. By courtesy of the City Architect, Mr. Murray, a copy has been deposited in the Library of your Lordships' House. Although one may disagree with some of its details, it is, nevertheless, the fruit of many years of hard work and careful study.

The fourth major development is that the Outer Ring Road has now, at long last, been completed and, except for a short but very important section, from Rose Hill to the Sandford Link, has been opened to the public. It is perhaps too early, as yet, to assess its full effect in the liberation of The High. But various estimates have been given, including a 15 to 20 per cent. reduction in the traffic through the centre of Oxford, with probably a much greater reduction at peak periods.

In his Statement of January 26, the Minister asserted: I determined … to find a practicable interim way between acceptance of the city council's plan and the total rejection recommended by my inspector …" —[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 723 (No. 34), col. 218; 26/1/66.]

Here I would urge that a practicable interim way is already available. It should serve Oxford well for at least the next twenty years as an alternative to the Meadow road, and it is, in my view, largely non-controversial. Everyone is agreed that the Marston Ferry Road could be extended at once to link up with Headley Way, and so join the main London road at Headington. Further, the western end of Donnington Bridge could be extended beyond Weir's Lane, alongside the Great Western Railway to the site of the old L.M.S. station. From there, it could easily be continued northwards along, or adjacent to, the old L.M.S. railway as far as the A.40-Woodstock Road roundabout, with a link road South of the Morris Motors Radiator Works at the northern end of Bainton Road, to join up with the western end of Marston Ferry Road.

A complete inner ring road need not be established, for traffic from Headington could filter along Marston Ferry Road, and traffic from Cowley and Iffley would cross over Donnington Bridge. A spur road westwards from North of the old L.M.S. station, as envisaged in the City Plan, would link up with Botley Road, to ease the bottleneck there. Thus, a new throughway for fast-moving traffic could be created far South of the Christ Church Meadow, and without the attraction of the Meadow road in drawing a great volume of traffic away from the outer ring road to nearer the centre of the city, as warned by the inspector in his report. Not only would the Christ Church Meadow thus be saved, but the unsightly flyover in George Street, the pouring of much more traffic into Beaumont Street and St. Giles, the new Leck-ford Road complex of one-way streets, would all be rendered unnecessary.

For the last word on the Christ Church Meadow road, may I call upon the testimony of the noble Lord, Lord Holford? In a letter dated February 15, regretting his absence from our debate this afternoon, he concludes with these words—and I have his authority to quote them: The Meadow road might once have been the answer to the traffic problem of Oxford, as it was then understood. It is certainly not so now, and therefore the sacrifice of the Meadow would be useless, as well as damaging.

The five large car parks, whether surface, underground, or multi-storied, at St. Clement's, the Oxpens (rather than at St. Ebbe's), the L.M.S. station, Gloucester Green and Walton Street could also be proceeded with almost at once, but their floor space should be extended to accommodate at least double the 5,500 cars at present envisaged. Other traffic arrangements in the centre might well be considered. A strong case can be made out that, not only should academic access to the University be rendered difficult, but physical access as well.

We all know how the entry of motor traffic into Venice has been totally prohibited. While no one would compare the canals of Oxford with those of Venice, nevertheless the Cherwell and the Isis constitute for Oxford a natural moat, with Magdalen Bridge as its causeway. But the creation of a precinct in the centre by the physical closure of Magdalen Bridge to motor traffic would impose such a hardship upon Oxford's citizens that I feel it should be ruled out entirely at the present stage. Instead, however, some restriction of traffic might be introduced. The huge lumbering buses could be halted near the Plain, except at peak hours, and a shuttle service of minibuses, able to use Longwall Street and Holywell, and the Broad, as well as The High, might be tried out. Motor access to The High might also he made selective for residents of Oxford and others issued with a special badge to display on their cars. All these alternatives for relieving the pressure of traffic on The High have long been discussed, and might well be given a trial.

Now I take a plunge into the depths of controversy, and confess that I completely fail to understand the justification for the commercial development of St. Ebbe's. To me this seems utterly illogical. For years now, parts of St. Ebbe's have lain derelict, or have been used as car parks. Yet the traffic congestion in the centre has increased so rapidly as to be almost out of hand. Why add to this congestion still further by creating a new commercial area in the centre, with its multiple shops and department stores, and all the extra traffic that these imply? Surely, with the prospect now of the motor traffic through Oxford doubling itself anyhow within the next twenty years, and trebling itself within the next thirty years, any additional commercial development is the planning of Bedlam.

Many of the multiple stores in the centre of Oxford have now opened branches in the new Cowley Centre, and are already thriving. The lesson of Cowley, I suggest, points the way to future commercial development of the city. If the boundaries of Oxford could be extended to far beyond the outer ring road, what the city has already done with such success in Cowley could be done in other directions. The Minister should create a new Greater Oxford, just as the new Greater London has evolved far beyond the boundaries of the old L.C.C. New shopping centres, with large car parks adjoining, could then be developed on the outskirts to the South, West and North of the outer ring road to relieve the congestion at the centre. These would add enormously to the rateable values of the city. This type of planning has proved the salvation of many over-congested cities in America, and provides the only real hope for the future commercial development of Oxford.

What, then, is to become of St. Ebbe's? I suggest that the whole area, or at least that part of it bounded by the canal and the Isis extending from Nuffield to Lin-acre Colleges, should be reserved for future university development. At present, it seems doomed to become partly a shopping precinct, a sort of dual-level Birmingham Bull Ring, with display points for advertising, and the banks of the Isis upstream from Folly Bridge— how aptly will the name then apply!— are due to become a recreation area, a sort of academic Butlin's. For it is not the Christ Church Meadow alone that needs a reprieve; it is the whole University. We have seen during the last few days plans approved for the tearing down of perfectly good Victorian houses in residential North Oxford to make way for a new Pitt-Rivers Museum, and the playing fields of Merton already have to make way for new laboratories. Only recently, a project was narrowly turned down for the erection of a huge pagoda in the parks. My Lords, it would seem that shrunken skulls are not only the relics of a bygone age; they are still stalking in our midst to-day.

All the University is offered for future development, by way of a small crumb of comfort, is a corner of St. Clement's, barely enough for the housing demands of a further 1,000 undergraduates, or the equivalent of 300 post-graduate students with their families. Must the University be compelled to build ever northwards and upwards? This area of St. Ebbe's is bounded by two old colleges, Christ Church and Pembroke, and by two new post-graduate foundations, Nuffield and Linacre Colleges, at either end. What need have we to scour the countryside for the location of new universities while Oxford is crying aloud for further development?

There is another fair city in England where green lawns slope down to the water's edge, backed by some of the most glorious work in stone the mind of man has ever conceived. Is Oxford to be left behind in the race? Cannot we still transform the grim waste of St. Ebbe's into an extension of the University beyond the Christ Church Meadow athwart St. Aldate's with new colleges, new halls of residence, new post-graduate foundations, new lecture rooms and laboratories, new libraries and museums, set amid walks and landscaped gardens, and lawns flowing down to the banks of Isis, where the hideous gasometers now sprawl?

Is there nothing this age of ours can bequeath to posterity in terms of sheer beauty, allied to things of the spirit, as well as in terms of concrete and steel? Surely the industrialisation of Oxford has gone on far enough. Its University has been engulfed by shops and stores and super-markets, and swarms of motor cars now crawl over its surface like microbes over a diseased body. An ugly scar lies over the face of England. Cannot further industrial development now be brought to a halt, and some amends be made to the University at long last, for the desecration which our generation has inflicted on it?

Other sites in the centre of Oxford may also one day come up for consideration. The covered market cannot last for ever, and many a worse fate could be conceived for it than to become the site for an extension of the Prime Minister's old college, perhaps linked to its existing buildings—and here I am sure noble Lords opposite will approve—by another Bridge of Sighs? Oxford's citizens are now faced with a hard choice. Is their city's chief attraction in the future to be its shopping facilities or its University? If the former, then city and University alike must inevitably suffer even worse traffic congestion and more physical hardships. If the latter, the city will not only redeem itself in the eyes of the civilized world but must ultimately be the gainer.

Cambridge has been more fortunate and more imaginative. But her own problems are smaller and far simpler. She nestles in a backwater on the highway to King's Lynn, whereas Oxford lies quartered by the intersection of two of the most important highways in England. The vision of Cambridge in the year A.D.2001, as outlined inThe Timesof last Friday, secures for the town its decentralisation to the outer suburbs and the filtering of its traffic away from the centre, while the University is afforded almost unlimited scope for its expansion, amid ever open country to the West. The city architect, Mr. Logie, asserts that: Despite a doubling of its population, Cambridge in thirty years' time will be even more a university town than at present.

While Oxford men might attach a doubtful assessment to those final words, nevertheless how far will that be true of Oxford in thirty years' time?

Of course, to reserve St. Ebbe's for future university development will impose an enormous initial burden upon the citizens of Oxford. The cost will be prohibitive but the loss to the ratepayers could be adequately compensated by the Minister in at least three ways: first, by the increase in rateable values (to which I have already referred) resulting from a wider extension of the city boundaries and the commercial development of the suburbs; secondly, by granting a degree of rating relief for Oxford as part of the national review of the whole rating system; and, thirdly, by designating Oxford as one of his four cities of historical interest to qualify for special consideration.

If the cost of this development of St. Ebbe's might seem prohibitive, let us remember that it is prohibitive only in terms of present-day values. In planning new roads to cope with Oxford's traffic we are planning only for the next decade or two. In twenty years' time new flyovers may well be needed to fly over the existing ones. In planning a new commercial centre in St. Ebbe's we are planning at most for the next fifty or one hundred years. But in planning for the University's needs we are planning for centuries ahead. Even in a hundred years from now, our present-day building costs will seem as irrelevant as the costs of the 14th century, or even the costs in Hawksmoor's time, seem to us to-day.

My Lords, the present Minister was once the leader of the Labour group on the Oxford City Council. Let him now, from the height of his ministerial eminence, give a lead to the City Council once more, and hit name will go down to history as one of the great architects of Oxford. He knows the feel of Oxford's pulse as few Ministers have known it before. He has now a unique opportunity awaiting him, an opportunity that will certainly never recur in our lifetime, perhaps never again in all the centuries that lie ahead in Oxford's future. If this opportunity is now lost, I grieve to think of the verdict of history, and it will be a sad commentary on the achievements of this Labour Government. For I believe it to be true flat where the present Cabinet is concerned, never before in the whole field of political endeavour have so many owed Oxford so much.

The Times,in a striking leader after the Minister's statement on Oxford, made these comments: The Meadow Road is an illustration of the awkward way in which accepted town planning principles quickly get out of date, and are supplanted by new orthodoxies, and also an awful warning of the risk run, by even the most careful plans, that they will immediately be made obsolete by changes in the conditions they were supposed to meet.

My Lords, this is not a local problem we are discussing. All who love England, and many far beyond our shores, have a deep and abiding interest in the fate of Oxford, which enshrines all the best that England has inherited from the past, and many of her hopes for the future. To-day, Oxford is drawing to her from all over the world larger numbers of graduate students, research workers, and visiting professors than ever before. Her influence and her power to elevate the mind of man have never been so great in all her long history. Let us not abandon her now to commercial development, so that future generations may not deride us for our lack of vision. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

6.19 p.m.


My Lords, we have been reminded that this is the third time in the last ten years we have debated the problems of Oxford, and that, of course, means its traffic problems. I wonder indeed whether we would have this deep concern, whether we would talk of Oxford's beauty being destroyed, of the changes that inevitably must be taking place all the time, if our view were not always obscured by a grinding mass of trucks, vans and private cars. I must thank the noble Lord, Lord Segal, for following in the footsteps of the late Lord Beveridge in 1957 and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, in 1961.

In a striking speech the noble Lord has put some stimulating thoughts before the House and your Lordships. He has made it clear that it is not merely fortuitous that the occasion he has chosen so shortly follows the announcement by my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government on the Oxford City Council's proposals for the review of their development plan. My noble friend Lord Mitchison on January 26 conveyed the Minister's views to your Lordships' House. Thus, another stage was reached in the saga of the inner relief road and Christ Church Meadow. We cannot think of the further development of Oxford without thinking of Christ Church Meadow—the threat to Christ Church Meadow. as many noble Lords would doubtless have it—and though the noble Lord, Lord Segal, has spoken of other matters as well, I make no apologies for intervening to put before you first Her Majesty's Government's points of view on the situation now reached.

I hope to convince your Lordships that although these road proposals are once again being rejected, a real advance is being made; it is no matter of procrastination or shirking a difficult question. On the contrary, we can look forward confidently for the first time. I must, of course, be very careful in what I say. There is no decision yet; my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government has done no more than tell the Oxford City Council what he proposes to do about their review. True, they are most carefully considered proposals, but those affected by them are given the opportunity to make objections or representations concerning them, and it is possible they could lead to changes.

Your Lordships will remember the three outstanding features of the Minister's proposals: one, that redevelopment of the St. Ebbe's area could go ahead; two, that the road proposals, including the inner relief road across Christ Church Meadow, were to be rejected and remitted to the City Council for further study; and three, that further studies should be undertaken to produce a comprehensive traffic and environmental plan for central Oxford, for only then could an improvement in the environment be achieved and the precise route of an inner relief road be determined. This is not, we say, going back to Square 1; indeed that was what my right honourable friend Mr. Crossman was determined not to do. Some way had to be found between the Scylla of acceptance of the Council's proposals, and the Charybdis of throwing out everything, which is what the inspector who held the inquiry into the objections and representations to the review proposals recommended. It could not be right to interfere with Christ Church Meadow, that unique survival of the centuries, if it could reasonably be avoided—no doubt many of your Lordships would put it very much more strongly—and it was here that the Minister could not feel satisfied that the City Council had made their case.

On the other hand, need this mean the loss of everything? Why, in particular, had St. Ebbe's to go down? In fact the Minister intimated that its redevelopment could go forward, and that is a big gain. I say this despite everything which my noble friend Lord Segal has said, because we say that it terminates the frustration of years, sets a term to the dereliction within the area, and makes for a beginning on the extension of the congested commercial centre around Carfax. At least, too, there is a hope of return from the hundreds of thousands of pounds already spent. The basic plan of redevelopment as submitted can be approved, for although the relief road is to go, the road section through St. Ebbe's which was part of it is needed for St. Ebbe's anyway, as what is called a secondary distribution. It is an excellent line for the purpose also, and can be up graded as a primary relief road, if eventually it is decided that a relief road should take that course.

But there is another positive gain, anticipating that further studies will be undertaken, probably by consultants, for we can have a reasonable hope that such studies will lead to a workable solution. The fact must be faced, despite all the traffic survey work done by Oxford right up to and after the submission of their review plan, that more sophisticated techniques have been evolved during the last three or four years and traffic restrictions have assumed a growing significance. This was the case pressed over and over again by the objectors at the inquiry into the review plan. They brought some weighty advocates—Professor Buchanan and Sir Thomas Holford and Mr. Lewis Mumford, the great American town planner, put in a memorandum on behalf of Christ Church College. The Minister of Housing and Local Government concluded that it was conceivable that restraints in the centre of Oxford might make it feasible to consider lines for a relief road further South than the one put forward by the Council, but there appears little doubt that a relief road will be wanted.

If your Lordships can bear with me a little further on this point—it is a vital one—the difference between the Armer inquiry of 1960 and the review inquiry of 1965 is perhaps most apparent in the consideration given to traffic restrictions. We have learned a very great deal. Roads alone will not bring peace to Oxford; we have to examine what we must do to traffic as well, and work out the relation between traffic restrictions (which may take various forms) and possible relief road routes to find the best practicable route and combination of restrictions. So what we are really after here is a combination and not one single action, as it were. No less important factors will be cost and the extent of disturbance to people and dwellings and to other buildings. In other words, I am now saying that we can see how comprehensive must be the scope of studies involved and so look forward with reasonable assurance to a solution which will settle Oxford's longstanding controversy once and for all, and restore to the University area the tranquillity associated with ancient places of learning, possibly as an enclave in a thriving town; and this aspect of an enclave in a thriving town I think has some importance here.


My Lords, may I intervene? We are all very much obliged to the Minister for stating what he has approved and disapproved, but it is very hard to follow. There is the plan of what the Oxford authorities wanted to do on exhibition in the Library. Could not the Government put in the Library a plan showing what the Minister is approving to be done now and what he is disapproving? Then we should really be able to follow the speech.


I am sorry that there should be any difficulty about this. Had I known that this might have caused some difficulty and that it would have been of assistance to the House, I would have ensured that such a plan was placed in the Library before to-day's debate. If the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, thinks it would be of some advantage to him and the House to do it now, I will certainly convey his wishes on this matter to my right honourable friend. When I say that this may possibly be an enclave in a thriving city, I suggest that is a gain, despite the apparent negativeness of deferring a decision on the relief road once more. Doubtless you will have many other questions on this review later, but I must leave them in the more competent hands of my noble friend Lord Mitchison.

I will now pass on to other matters concerning the future development of Oxford which have beer so persuasively put to the House by my noble friend Lord Segal. I must regret that I cannot claim his intimate knowledge of Oxford. What I know of it stems from six months' residence in New College during the First World War, and the shock of a return visit recently to a city which somehow, until that moment, I still thought of in terms almost of the horse-and-buggy age, and found it now a city whose calm dignity and beauty seems in danger of being completely destroyed by this hideous mass of traffic. To me, when I saw it last, gone was the city which, somehow, I associated with that age and with the reading ofThe Adventures of Verdant Green,which I am sure is known to everyone who regards Oxford as hisalma mater.

With my limited knowledge, it would indeed be presumptuous for me to cross swords with my noble friend on the various suggestions, some of a novel character, which he has made. He is, of course, well aware of the fact that the ideas he has put forward are very much the business of the local planning authorities, but I would be the last to say that all planning wisdom resides with those authorities, and I should hope that what he has said will be considered by all those who will be concerned with the future land use and traffic studies affecting Oxford. I am sure that everything that he has said, which obviously appeals to many in this House, and the suggestions he has put forward, are worthy of every consideration; but of course it is on the local planning authorities that Parliament has placed the primary responsibility; and it is a very onerous one.

The Minister of Housing and Local Government, as the planning Minister, has statutory duties cast upon him, and he has varied powers which he can exercise; he may give guidance on general aspects, and often does, but he does not tell a county council or a county borough council how to plan their area, what their road system should be, what particular parts of a town should be used for, and where they should put their schools and so on. The Minister may not agree with proposals put to him, but that is something quite different. I am sure, therefore, that my noble friend will not expect me to say whether it is right or wrong to extend the western end of Donnington bridge in the way he suggests, or to extend the relief road—which, incidentally, is to be worked out—northwards alongside the railway, or whether it is right or feasible to build major car parks immediately. Still less would I dare to comment on his revolutionary ideas for St. Ebbe's, though I am told that knowledgeable people will wonder what St. Ebbe's would be like during the decades of waiting which seems to be implicit in the noble Lord's suggestion.

Nevertheless, I will invite your Lordships' attention to a few general considerations. First, I would remind the House of the way in which we now approach the establishing of new roads and road systems, and the disadvantages ofad hocdecisions. We suffer to-day from roads built before and after the war which are inadequate for the traffic along them and run in the wrong place. Second, we must be realistic while looking ahead, for a prosperous future can only rest on a sound present which puts existing resources to full use and avoids sterilisation. For one thing, that means keeping within the available capital resources and using what we have to the best advantage. Costing and economic considerations are as important in the field of planning as in any other field of national activity. Our resources are limited, and as a country we are more conscious of that to-day than ever before. My noble friend Lord Segal clearly recognises the very heavy price (he has used the word "prohibitive") that some of his ideas will involve. Third, future plans for the town or village where people live will not succeed unless they appeal to those people, and if they add to financial burdens unless they are seen as giving value for money. Your Lordships may wonder what chance there is for schemes which put people to great inconvenience or impose heavy burdens in respect of plans that are many, many years in the future.

Finally, my Lords, we in this House should be wary before endorsing the view that the beauty of Oxford is being destroyed and condemning its new buildings. We say that the motor car is its greatest enemy—there is no lack of determination to get rid of that aspect. But we must be careful not to confuse change with loss or impairment. The City Council, who are the representatives of the whole of Oxford, give high place to maintaining the character of this great University town. The Written Statement (that is, the policy statement) forming part of their development plan, contains special protective provisions. Plans for new buildings are examined and discussed at great length, modifications are insisted on for æsthetic reasons, the Royal Fine Art Commission may be consulted, before approval is given. There are wide differences in opinion and taste, not least among architects themselves. The new buildings of St. Catherine's College are a case in point. They are accepted and praised by some, and condemned by others. This building that we are sitting in was once attacked as a pseudo-Gothic monstrosity. It is now accepted by the vast majority as a fitting centre of a great democratic country and, as such, stoutly defended against those who would try to change it. We have done this quite recently in this House and in another place.

I end by saying that we must be ever watchful to preserve what is best in our inheritance. So far as Oxford is concerned, to-day has shown, and will show, that there are many watchdogs for Oxford in this House. As a result of the Ministry's action, I am not unduly pessimistic about the future of Oxford. Indeed, I think we can look forward to some satisfaction arising from the action which has been taken in this regard by my right honourable friend Mr. Crossman.

6.38 p.m.


My Lords, as I think both the noble Lord. Lord Segal, and the noble Lord, Lord Champion, have already said, the subject of the Oxford roads, to which attention has been rightly drawn to-day, is nothing new. It has become, as a topic of debate in your Lordships' House, what I believe is called in the horticultural world a "hardy perennial". If I remember aright, the last speech that I made for the Government before I resigned in 1957 was to wind up a debate on this subject—and an extremely unpleasant experience it was. I have been looking it up inHansard,and it reads much more like an acrimonious conversation than, in any normal sense, a speech. Since then nearly ten years have passed. Vast improvements have been made in our system of national communications. Motorways have sprung up all over the country. But the problem of the Oxford roads has remained exactly where it was. Now here we are, discussing them just as we did ten years ago.

I have been thinking to myself during the last few days why it is that this particular problem appears so very difficult of solution. What differentiates it so much from other road problems? I have come to the conclusion—not, I am afraid, a particularly original one—that there are three factors in Oxford, factors which are not complementary to each other but rather conflicting, and which do not occur, in conjunction, in practically any other place. First, there is the geographic position of the city. Oxford is almost unique in this. It occupies a focal position between the industrial Midlands and the South Coast and between London and the ports and industries of South Wales. If a manufacturer or trader in the Midlands wants to send goods by road to Southampton, they are very likely to go through Oxford. If a manufacturer or trader wants to send his goods by road from London to Bristol, they are very likely to go through Oxford. And that is quite apart from all the private traffic, such as holiday traffic from the Midlands to the South Coast. I believe that to be the first factor, and with the steady growth of road traffic becoming more and more formidable.

The second factor I consider to be the existence of the University, an ancient university, renowned not only in this country but throughout the world, not only for its academic eminence but for its architectural beauties. It is a Mecca for visits by thousands of tourists yearly from every quarter of the globe. And finally—and this, my Lords, is a relatively new but, I believe, immensely important factor in complicating the problem—there are the beneficent achievements of the late Lord Nuffield. Lord Nuffield will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the greatest industrialists and philanthropists of our day, but he certainly, by his very success, has greatly altered the character and increased the problems of his home town of Oxford. Those seem to me—and I submit them with all deference to your Lordships—to be the main factors which, in conjunction, differentiate the problem of the Oxford roads from other road problems with which we in this country are faced. As I see it, they have all to be considered together—not individually, but as part of a single problem —if even a relatively satisfactory solution of the Oxford roads is to be found.

What I found a little depressing when I read the documcnts—and this was before I heard the noble Lord's speech—both the Minister's statement and the proposals put forward by his representative after the public inquiry at Oxford, was that it is just that that had not been done. One would have expected that the first thing would be to examine what I have called the geographic factor and to see how much through traffic from North to South and from East to West could be diverted from passing through Oxford at all. If that amount turned out to be considerable, the problem would already have been half solved. But this wider aspect is hardly mentioned at all in the documents to which I have referred. The only reference I could find was a statement in paragraph 12 of the inspector's report, in which he says: Further South, the Sandford link, the final section of the outer by-pass system will shortly "— and I commend these words— be completed. That is all. But even the absence of anything more is significant. So why not wait until it is completed and see what effect that has in syphoning off traffic from the City of Oxford before beginning to tinker about with the interior of the city? I cannot imagine why that link was not completed long ago. So far as I remember, it was said to be getting near completion when I last spoke ten years ago.

But, my Lords, it really seems as if now, at long last, it is nearly ready for use. If that is true, it might have an enormous effect in facilitating a solution of our difficulties. For I cannot believe that the majority of the drivers of lorries and great vans which to-day cause the greatest congestion in the streets of the city are so enamoured of the architectural beauties of Oxford that they want at all costs to pass through its streets. They go through Oxford because they cannot by-pass it. If we had a great by-pass completed, with cafés and all those other facilities which modern bypass roads provide, I believe those drivers would soon get into the habit of using it and avoid the city like the plague. That, I am sure, is where our search for a cure of the present congestion of Oxford should at any rate begin. Yet the Report (I am speaking of my impressions before I heard Lord Champion's speech; and indeed my impressions after listening to it are still very bewildered, and I should like to read his words before coming to any further conclusion) seems to bless the idea of introducing a plan dealing with the present congestion for inner Oxford in isolation before the Sandford link is even completed, and long before its results can be known. Surely that is not wise or far-sighted planning.

Then, what about the industrial suburbs which Lord Nuffield's genius brought into being? In my day at Oxford, Headington to most people meant Headington Hill, and Cowley meant Cowley Fathers. But now both those places are large and flourishing industrial suburbs, and the people who live in them have acquired, so I understand, a habit of coming into the city to do their shopping because the shops in Oxford have been better than the shops in Headington or Cowley. This has immensely increased the overcrowding of the streets of the city itself. I am quite sure that we all appreciate that in a free country such as this is it is impossible to force people who want to shop in Oxford to shop in Headington or Cowley. It is a case for the carrot rather than the stick. One must make the shops of those two suburbs so attractive that the inhabitants will not want to make the extra effort of going into the city, but will prefer to shop nearer home. Very sensibly, so I am told, efforts to that end are already being made.

The inspector in his report says: Recent completion of the Cowley Centre, a large neighbourhood shopping centre, must have considerably reduced the dependence of this eastern area upon the old City-centre and thus have had a beneficial effect on traffic conditions in the central area. But that is a very general statement, and the words "must have" are most significant in this context—it is just a speculation. There seems to have been no scientific enquiry into the effect of the Cowley shopping centre. It is all pure conjecture. And, in any case, the Cowley Centre has only recently been completed; and no doubt it is difficult for anybody up to now to know what effect it has had in syphoning off the traffic. Indeed, it is not even clear as yet whether the Oxford City Council are really anxious that these people should not shop in Oxford, for part of the new City plan is apparently to erect a new shopping centre in St. Ebbe's which will only tend to attract more people back into Oxford.

And lastly, what about the University? How does that come out of these new plans? The University, in one sense, can fairly claim higher priority in our thinking on this subject than the convenience of the shoppers and industrial workers or any other of these aspects which I have tried to deal with up to now. For it is, after all, the University which makes Oxford renowned throughout the world. Without the University, Oxford would be just an industrial town—and not a very large one—like any other.

How does the University come out of the plans of the City Council, and the report of the inspector and the statement of the Minister? I am still not quite clear, even after listening to the noble Lord, Lord Champion. So far as the Christ Church Meadow problem is concerned, I should like warmly to welcome what he has said. As I understand it, Christ Church Meadow has been reprieved. It has not been acquitted, but it has been reprieved; and that is, at any rate, something. For the proposed road, which up to now was the official scheme, would no doubt have been a very serious invasion of what remains of the University precinct. Nor could it be certain by any means, as I see it, until we knew more about the effects of the completion of the Sandford Link and the Cowley shopping centre, and all these new developments, whether that road would, in its original form, have been necessary at all.

I get the impression that even the inspector himself was not entirely happy about the limitations of his inquiry, and that he had serious doubts as to the wisdom of starting on plans for inner Oxford, to the exclusion of all wider considerations for he went out if his way to say this in paragraph 24 of his Report: It is important that the present terms of reference he kept clearly in mind. This present inquiry was concerned only with objections and representations received in connection with the submitted proposals for alterations or additions to the approved development plan and in connection with the submission for confirmation of four compulsory orders ". He went on to add, in the following paragraph: Even if the Council's proposals are shown to be wrong, alternative proposals can only come within the scope of this inquiry to the extent necessary to establish their feasibility and the likelihood of their being less defective than the proposals under attack. That is surely almost as good as saying, "Please remember I have been limited to the scope of the proposals put forward by the Council", with the broad hint, "If my terms of reference had been less restricted, they might have well led me to very different conclusions".

No doubt the inspector was clearly right to insist upon the limits of his inquiry, because they bound him entirely. He could not go beyond them. But, my Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Champion, said just now, we—Parliament and the Government—are subject to no such limitations. We can look at the proposals for reducing the congestion of traffic through the streets of Oxford from the very widest angle. We can take into account, in reaching our conclusions, all those fundamental considerations to which I have tried to draw your Lordships' attention—the Outer Ring Road, and so on. But if we do that, I still submit to your Lordships, with all deference, that the wisest course to adopt in the matter of priorities, in seeking a solution of this problem, is still first to complete the Sandford Link and see how useful an Outer Ring Road could be in siphoning off traffic. Then, as a second stage, we should turn our minds to improving the shopping facilities at Headington and Cowley so much that the people who live in those two satellite towns (as they are almost becoming) will be able to form a habit of shopping nearer home, and not preferring the shops of the City of Oxford, as up to now they have been apt to do.

If, after the full attempt has been made to limit on scientific lines the number of vehicles entering the City, the problem is still intractable, then will be the time to consider such devices as driving a road through Christ Church Meadow. If that has to be done, of course we must not shrink from it. There are situations in which one may have to do very unattractive and unpleasant things: but not, surely, before every other alternative has been properly tried out. I wish, if I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Champion (though it is not his fault), that we had had a little longer notice of exactly what the Minister has in mind; for even now I am very doubtful as to what it is. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, will tell us again at the end. But if that is the conclusion to which the Government have come, if that is the priority which they now favour, then I am quite certain that we should all of us welcome the Statement that they have made, and wish it all success. But I must say this. First, I do not quite understand what the Government have in mind, and, secondly, I do not think that they themselves are quite certain which course they intend to adopt. What they have done is to give us a number of reprieves. For that we must all be grateful, but beyond that I do not think we can go this afternoon.

6.57 p.m.


My Lords, I have to ask for the indulgence which your Lordships customarily extend to one who breaks silence for the first time. I trust that my subject will be thought suitable, and not so controversial as to be rash or ill-advised for a beginner. I have no competence at all to speak about town planning as such. I speak on the subject of this debate simply as one who lived in Oxford almost continuously from 1921 to 1962, first as a junior and then as a senior member of the University, and from 1955 to 1962 in my present office. I now, from my country home a few miles outside the City, frequently pass around it or into it, but never through it.

Before I express any personal opinions about the City of Oxford plans, I have to say that I have been asked to make a statement in your Lordships' House on behalf of the University authorities. The statement is as follows: The Bishop of Oxford is asked by the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford to say, on behalf of the Hebdomadal Council, that it welcomes the proposal of the Minister of Housing and Local Government to appoint consultants, with terms of reference to be agreed with the City Council, to examine possible alternative routes for an inner relief road within the context of a comprehensive plan for a road and traffic system for central Oxford. This proposal is in accordance with the University's submission at the 1965 inquiry, at which Professor Buchanan gave evidence on behalf of the University. The Hebdomadal Council greatly sympathises with the position in which the City Council has been placed as a result of the decision taken in 1962 on the basis of an inquiry undertaken before the publication of the Buchanan Report onTraffic in Towns;and it was glad to note the suggestion, made by the Minister of Housing at his Press conference, that it was likely that his Ministry and the Ministry of Transport would be contributing generously to the cost of the further studies to be undertaken. The Hebdomadal Council also strongly supports the Oxford City Council in the representations that it has made that the remaining section of the Marston Ferry—Cherwell Drive link road should be included in the classified road programme at the earliest possible date. That is the end of the statement which I was asked to make. What follows is personal opinion or comment, and represents no one but myself.

I, too, welcome the Minister's decision that further expert advice should be taken on the question of the proposed Meadow road and its continuation in and beyond St. Ebbe's. The disappointment of the City concerning this further delay is understandable and deserves every sympathy; but I believe it will be possible to proceed with some parts of the plans for St. Ebbe's, and possibly with as much as funds would in any case allow, in the next few years. Everyone would welcome some move to eliminate the desolation of St. Ebbe's so near to the heart of the City, and the provision of some further new housing on valuable land lying waste. In passing, may I say that the vision of the future of St. Ebbe's conjured up for us by the noble Lord, Lord Segal, is, as a vision, most attractive to me; but I fear that the attempt to translate it into reality, involving, as it would, a complete change of use for the whole area, would raise many more problems than it would solve.

With regard to the Meadow road, it would seem very likely that the general public in this country have the impression that since no decision has been reached on this proposal the traffic problem in Oxford is exactly what it was ten or fifteen years ago. That impression would be entirely false. Considerable improvements have in fact been made, and two points, in particular, deserve emphasis. First, the control of the traffic in the City by the police has become far more effective and adaptable in recent years. I consider that great skill and ingenuity has gone into this important piece of public service. It would be tedious to go into detail, but it is sufficient to say that at the rush hour in the evening the movement of traffic out of the City is very expertly handled, and that the greater control and freedom of movement has been achieved without a tiresome system of one-way streets. This has been a notable contribution by the police to the easing of Oxford's traffic problem.

Secondly, the system of outer bypasses around the City has now been completed —completed, that is to say, with the exception of one part of the Sandford Link, to which the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, referred. The position is that a bridge has been built over the river, and it is possible to pass from the Abingdon Road, to the South, over the new bridge to the Henley Road, just beyond Littlemore. It is not yet possible to pass from Littlemore straight over the Sandford Bridge to the Abingdon Road, but I understand that that remaining portion of the Sandford Link will be in use before the end of the present month.

Before the North—South by-pass on the West of the City came into use, most North—South traffic, whether it was light or heavy, had to pass through the centre of the City in order to cross the river. The present volume of traffic on the western by-pass is a powerful indication of what the centre of the City has been saved from. It has also become possible to prohibit heavy vehicles from passing through the City. The system of bypasses now lacks only one thing, and that is the improvement of the northern bypass, which is a section of the A.40. This dangerous stretch of road (to which reference was made in your Lordships' House, I think, some time last year), comprising three miles or so beyond the Headington roundabout, urgently needs to be broadened into a dual carriageway. Until it is, accidents, with a high proportion of serious injuries or deaths, will continue to happen.

The more effective direction of traffic in the City, the completion of the outer bypasses, and other factors which have already been mentioned by those noble Lords who have spoken—such as the Donnington bridge and the well-used new shopping centre at Cowley, which has been used, I think I am right in saying, for at least two years now —have all helped to reduce very considerably the congestion in the centre of Oxford. Procrastination in considering the Meadow road proposal has at least had the good result that it can now be viewed in the light of a completely new road system in actual operation as compared with ten years ago. Those who all along have doubted the necessity of the Meadow road have still to be convinced. Any southern inner relief road, whether over the Meadow or further South, will not work effectively without a severe restriction of entry into the High Street over Magdalen Bridge. I do not myself think that anyone going from the East to St. Ebbe's and the railway station would suffer hardship if obliged to go a little further South than the Meadow route.

Clearly, a southern inner relief road will still be an essential part of the plan for the future of central Oxford. On the other side of the City, further relief is possible by carrying through the Marston Ferry—Cherwell Drive link road, already referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Segal. This road would drain off from Headington traffic making for North and North-central Oxford. The necessity for this road, and its beneficial effect on traffic in the centre, seems to be agreed by everyone. It could be implemented now without prejudicing any other part of the plan. It has the first priority for immediate action.

At the moment, in my opinion (perhaps this opinion is not shared by all, but it is my opinion) it is comparatively easy to pass through Oxford in a car, but it is extremely difficult to stop and leave a car near where one wishes to be. Parking to-day is a much more serious problem than the movement of traffic; and I personally find the cluttering up of the streets with parked cars, perhaps on both sides of the road, a much more disfiguring feature than the movement of traffic through them. So long as the traffic is moving, I do not find it particularly objectionable or disfiguring.

The City plan, I believe, provides for large car parks in St. Ebbe's, and I ask whether it may be possible for the City Council to proceed very soon with the construction of one or more of these car parks, in spite of the inevitable delay in some parts of the St. Ebbe's plan while the route of the central road is being further considered. Roadside parking has certainly reached saturation point, and all available open spaces have been brought into use. New multi-storey car parks in St. Ebbe's, or in any other part of Oxford, will not be a welcome feature of the landscape, but the only alternative would seem to be either continuing and frustrating congestion or underground constructions, which will probably be precluded by expense.

Looking at the future more generally, I should like to express a hope which I trust is neither mean nor unrealistic—and here, with great regret, I have to differ in my vision of the future from the noble Lord, Lord Segal. If the City and University of Oxford are a national asset, æsthetically and educationally, I think they will best continue to have this value if the size of each of them is kept within strict limits. The student body of the University is now little short of 10,000. I doubt whether it can go much beyond this number if the University is to retain its character and make its own particular contribution to the life of the nation and Commonwealth. The policy of extending the number of our universities now seems to be accepted, and this, in my view, gives an opportunity for variety and for each university to be itself, which is in the best interests of all concerned, not least of the student population of the country.

Any considerable expansion in numbers at Oxford would give rise to difficult problems of accommodation, besides altering for the worse the whole network of relationships which goes to make up Oxford and education. The City plan makes reasonable provision for the foreseeable extension of university and college buildings, but not, I should suppose, for a greatly expanded University. At the same time, I hope that the City will not want to extend its built-up area. There need not be any development of industry, of other sources of demand for labour much beyond what we have already. A good deal of new building will go up in the new St. Ebbe's and give accommodation which is needed. Apart from this, it should be possible to provide housing for any increase of number of those having business or work in the City by development in the surrounding villages or other satellite groups separate from the City.

The charm of Oxford lies not only in its splendid buildings and their grounds, but also in the fact that at no point in the City is one more than a few minutes' walk from the open country. This characteristic can be, and must be, preserved. It can be done without damage to any legitimate interest. If I have rightly understood it, the City plan for a definite Green Belt around the present built-up area substantially secures the preservation of the setting and dimensions of the City of which I have been speaking.

The body primarily responsible for the future development of Oxford, namely, the City Council, has probably received more good advice on this subject from more quarters than any municipal body on any subject in the world's history. Oxford being Oxford, perhaps that was inevitable; but I am sure that the City Council would prefer now to have some good news. Everyone would be pleased, and much would be gained, if there could now be a firm promise that the completion of the East—North link from Cherwell Drive to Marston Ferry will be put into the classified road programme at a very early date. This would be a substantial piece of good news, welcome to all; and I hope that Her Majesty's Government will be able to give that promise forthwith.

7.14 p.m.


My Lords, it is my privilege to express the welcome, which I am sure everyone here would wish to share, to the right reverend Prelate who has just spoken. I congratulate him as Bishop of Oxford for his choice of subject on which to make his first speech. I congratulate him also on the way he has made the best of that opportunity. I wish also—and here I think I shall speak for most noble Lords who heard that speech—to express my deep admiration for the speech of the noble Lord who introduced the debate. I found myself in deep agreement with practically everything he said, with hardly any reservation or exception. I would now say only this. If he can persuade his friends in Westminster and in Whitehall and, still more, if he could undertake the possibly more difficult task of converting those of the same Party as himself in the Oxford City Council, all those who love Oxford will be eternally grateful to him.

I happen to have such an unusual combination of claims to be an Oxford man (perhaps the word "unusual" is an understatement) that I might, were the hour different, have not unreasonably asked for considerably more time from your Lordships than the five minutes I propose now to take. I was born in Oxford; my father and my uncle were both Mayors of Oxford; I was educated both as a boy and as an undergraduate in Oxford; I became a professor in Oxford; I was for thirteen years, with Sir Alan Herbert as my colleague, a Member for Oxford University—indeed, until the very last days when there were such things as university seats. I am at this moment a Fellow of Oxford, technically, and not infrequently also, actually resident in Oxford. I have had a deep love for Oxford for something like eighty years, which is rather more than the normal span of human affection. That may seem very alarming, but it need not be.

I do not propose to discuss the general question of Oxford development. I am going to refer only to one part, of limited scope, but already very long-lived, that is Meadow road. Even on that, I do not propose to expatiate on my own views, although I shall neither conceal them nor disguise them. I want to-night to do only one thing. I want to recall to your Lordships what seems to me the amazing proponderance of responsible and representative opinion on the one point of the Meadow road. It is true that the Oxford City Council are in favour of a road at present. It is worth remembering, I think, that the first step which they took on what I think is a regrettably wrong path was at a time when, as was afterwards admitted, they, or at any rate enough members to tip the scale in any vote, believed that a statement made by the Minister in the relevant office at that time had a character and had a compelling authority which in fact it had not. But, even apart from that, grant that the Oxford City Council takes one course at this moment, think what there is on the other side?

First of all, the University of Oxford, through its governing bodies, has expressed by an overwhelming majority the other view against such a road. Secondly, the Oxford Preservation Trust, of which the noble Viscount, Lord Harcourt, is now chairman and of which a few years ago I was myself chairman for several years, is now and has long been opposed to any such road. But, turning from institutions to individuals, I think it is true to say that practically all those who would be regarded by any impartial chooser (certainly in this country and perhaps out of this country) as experts with relevant professional experience to advise on the technical side on any such problem are opposed to this road. Our noble friend Lord Holford, after long and careful investigation, advised against. Professor Buchanan, whose recent Report has already had world-wide fame, went out of his way—I say" went out of his way "because in the context in which he spoke the Oxford road was not really relevant to the point he was arguing—to express a very definite and firm opinion as to the folly and unnecessary character of the Meadow road. And so I might continue. I think that the noble Lord himself quoted one of the greatest experts from other countries, Lewis Mumford; and I might go on, if I could take the time and had the necessary knowledge, to quote what I think everyone would agree is an overwhelming preponderance of representative, authoritative and qualified opinion both of institutions and individuals.

I come, last, to what is the most remarkable and perhaps the most relevant matter of all. On two recent occasions, within the last ten years or so, as has already been remarked, we have debated this subject in this House. On each occasion, with the exception of members of the Government, who are not free to speak their own opinions but express the policy of the Government of the day, every single person was united in opposing this road. The people who so opposed it were people of exceptional authority and distinction. There was an ex-Prime Minister, several distinguished ex-Ministers and other people of great personal distinction such as the late Lord Cherwell. Altogether it was a most impressive array of people whose opinions were unanimous in those two debates, which were separated by several years. I do not think that there has ever in the history of Parliament been anything approaching such unanimity on a controversial subject.

I might perhaps add that one of the people on the first occasion when he was not a free man (I refer to the noble Marquess sitting immediately in front of me, Lord Salisbury) voiced the opinion of the Government; but in the second debate, when he was a free man, he sent a message expressing the difference of his view—as indeed he has already expressed it to-night, more forcibly and at greater length. I ask your Lordships to consider what an amazing thing it is that there should have been such unanimity among people of such authority twice in two debates in this House. They knew at the time, all of them, that they had never agreed on any- thing controversial in their lives, and probably they never would again. There was only one common link between them: it was that they were all people who knew Oxford well and loved Oxford deeply. My Lords, my last word is that I trust that this debate is not going to tarnish that record.

7.24 p.m.


My Lords, I am going to follow the example of my noble friend Lord Salter and confine my few remarks to the matter of the Meadow road and the traffic problem connected therewith. But first, like my noble friend, I should like to say that this will be a memorable debate because of the speech with which it was opened by the noble Lord, Lord Segal. I am confident that the Minister will read with attention a speech from an influential member of his own Party which makes an appeal to him to signalise his period as Minister of Housing and Local Government by leaving a mark on the city where he was himself educated and where he served for so long and with such distinction on the City Council.

A number of speakers have said that not much appears to have been done in the twenty and more years during, which this matter has been debated, but it is quite clear that in certain respects the general attitude to this problem has changed very much indeed during that time. When the decision of the noble Lord, Lord Hill, to approve a road across Christ Church Meadow was, as it had to be, referred to an inspector, the proposal was condemned. I do not criticise Mr. Crossman for not throwing the whole issue back to the City Council. For the City Council to have been told by one Minister to prepare a scheme including a Meadow road and by another Minister to throw the scheme back because it included a Meadow road would have made nonsense of Government. Reading the statement which Mr. Crossman has made upon the subject, I feel it is quite clear that he has in mind the probability that in present circumstances and with public opinion as it now is, it will be impossible to build a road across Christ Church Meadow.

I was particularly glad to see his reference to the post-Buchanan frame of mind which may lead, as he said, to a modification of views which were held before the publication of Professor Buchanan'sReport on Traffic in Towns.It means that the Minister accepts as a fact the great change in public opinion which is partly the effect and partly the cause of the Buchanan Report. The three points in the Report which I feel have a great bearing, I hope a decisive bearing, upon this matter of the Meadow road are these. First, the Report indicates that motor cars must be directed or restricted in order to preserve a civilised way of life in our towns. Secondly, that suitable environmental areas must be created in towns, and to a large extent that suitable precincts must be preserved for pedestrians. Thirdly, that traffic can, and should, be diverted round these precincts.

My Lords, the greater part of central Oxford should be just such a pedestrian precinct. The High itself should be included, at any rate to the extent of excluding all motor vehicles from it. I was sorry that my noble friend Lord Holford does not feel that at present it would be possible. I see no reason at all why it should not be possible, and if that were done, if public opinion still tolerated it, and I believe that it would, then the great difficulty is at an end of having a road, a relief road, which would go far to the South of the Meadow. The argument against this wider sweep has in the past always been that motorists would be unwilling to avail themselves of this relief road if they thought a shorter route was along The High. It motors are excluded from the High Street, obviously there will be no alternative route for motorists to take. Having regard to the speed of motor cars and the relative freedom from traffic blocks, it is extremely likely that, using the relief road, even if it went South of the Meadow road, would enable them to reach the western side of Oxford in a shorter time than if they followed The High. Professor Buchanan suggested this road in his evidence at the inquiry and it is entirely in harmony with the doctrine of his famous Report.

In this connection, I was particularly interested in one sentence in the report of the inspector. He pointed out how the whole nature of this road has imperceptibly changed in the last few years, and from that it becomes obvious that the difficulties of having a road with a wider sweep have now largely disappeared. He says: Preoccupation with the Meadow for nearly twenty years has enabled the Meadow road to grow unnoticed from its original conception as a local relief for the High Street to a fully fledged City by-pass, capable of competing with the outer by-passes and yet still expected to fit happily within the central area of the City. This matter of the traffic is the very heart of the larger problem which has been discussed by the noble Lord, Lord Segal. I think that the Minister has been wise in seeking an interim policy. I think that he has been wise to allow the greater part of the City's plan to go ahead. And I am sure that he is being wise to defer for further consideration the proposal made by his predecessor of a road across the Meadow, and I have every confidence that in the climate of public opinion now, as a result of the doctrines of the Buchanan Report, we shall find that there will be no need for a road across the Meadow.

7.32 p.m.


My Lords, may I, at the outset, add my congratulations to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford on his maiden speech? May I also say how much I appreciate both the eloquence and affection for Oxford, and for England, which characterised the notable speech by the noble Lord, Lord Segal, in opening this debate?

I took part in both the previous debates, of February 13, 1957, and June 26, 1961. I suppose that I made two of the angriest speeches that I have ever made on the subject of the proposed Meadow road. The reason for that was not opposition to the whole idea of an inner relief road, but the fact that on planning grounds this proposal was so obviously wrong. It was the duty of two Christ Church friends to answer me in those debates —my noble friend Lord Salisbury, who was my contemporary at Christ Church, in the first debate, and my noble friend Lord Hailsham, in the second. I also had the opportunity of giving evidence on behalf of the University at the recent inquiry, at which the principal witness was Professor Buchanan himself.

In those debates, I sought to demontrate three propositions, each of which I believed to be capable of definite proof. The first was that the proposed Meadow road would do irretrievable injury to a unique amenity and damage one of the glories of Europe. My second proposition was that this road was unnecessary, and my third was that, even if it were constructed, it would not solve the problem for which alone it was going to be made. Every one of those propositions I regarded as demonstrable.

I am not going to say much about the value of the amenity that was to be destroyed. The quiet and unspoilt simplicity of the Meadow, and the superb views of the Cathedral, Corpus, Merton and Magdalen Tower, are an essential part of what makes Oxford one of the glories of Europe. Sometimes people who miss the essential nature of this charm refer to the Meadow in derogatory terms as a stretch of water meadow providing pasture for cows in summer, or as a pleasant pastoral backwater, and so forth. What makes it so supremely valuable, and, I think, unique, is precisely the fact that here, and here alone, we have some ordinary acres of the countryside coming to the very walls of the ancient City and University and enjoying a matchless peace. Not only is the Meadow unique in this country and, I think, in Europe: it has never been more valuable to the ordinary inhabitants of Oxford. When I was at Oxford, one could escape into the country on foot in any direction and enjoy the countryside of Matthew Arnold and "The Scholar-Gipsy". To-day, that is impossible. An unspoiled piece of country within the City is becoming as valuable as any Green Belt beyond the distant outskirts.

There is nothing original, of course, in these views: they were expressed by two of the greatest town planners this country has produced. I enjoyed the advice of both of them, when I was at the Ministry of Town and Country Planning and of one of them up to the present day. They were Sir Patrick Abercrombie and my noble friend Lord Holford. I suppose that in the last half century I have shown visitors from almost all parts of the world round Oxford. Sometimes there was plenty of time and sometimes very little, but there were two things in Oxford to which I always took my visitors—Christ Church Meadow and the superb group of buildings near the Radcliffe Camera. These are supreme and unique.

Nevertheless, as I say, I was never against an inner relief road. I can see what led the present Minister to reject one of the things said by his inspector, in what is generally an admirable report. I am inclined to share the view of the Minister that some inner relief road will be necessary. But that does not mean that it has to be through Christ Church Meadow. In the debates of both 1957 and 1961 I pointed out the simple error in the reasoning about constructing a road through Christ Church Meadow. The error was this: that, in the absence of some restriction of traffic in The High, the road through the Meadow would not give any relief to The High. If, on the other hand, traffic was restricted in The High, then there was no need whatsoever to put the relief road so near to The High as Christ Church Meadow. The obvious course was to take it South of the river and, when it ultimately crossed again, to follow the line of the railway.

It is sometimes suggested that there has been no general agreement among planners, and that everybody was suggesting a different thing. But this is not so. There was substantial agreement between Professor Abercrombie and Lord Holford; and to-day I do not believe there is a planner of repute anywhere in the world who does not recognise that the idea of a road through the Meadow is planning nonsense. It is indeed nonsense from the point of view of the relief of traffic. I said these things, and gave reasons, in the debates of 1957 and 1961. What, then, was my joy in finding my argument on this point set out in a paragraph in the Buchanan Report, brief, devasting and to the point.

I am not certain if this passage is to be found anywhere inHansard,and therefore I venture to read it to the House now. It is paragraph 391 ofTraffic in Towns,and runs as follows: As to relief it seems to us that relief roads are often designated without safeguards to ensure that the general increase of traffic does not soon make conditions as bad as ever on the relieved road. This is a special danger when the relieved road has some innate attraction for traffic. This point is so important that we are tempted to quote the controversial case of the High Street at Oxford as an example. In this case a relief road has been planned on an alignment which it is hoped will be sufficiently 'attractive to traffic to give substantial relief to the High Street. The risk is that the traffic will continue to use the High Street, and that only a measure of congestion in that street will force some traffic on to the relief road. As we have previously suggested, our approach would be to assess the enviromental capacity of the High Street, and then to consider what steps would be needed to reduce traffic to that level and to hold it there permanently. Such steps would almost certainly compel the compulsory direction of traffic, or most of it, on to the relief road. There would then be no particular need to choose an alignment for the relief road which would be competitive in journey-time with the old road; it could be put anywhere suitable. In the conditions that are going to arise in the future, as vehicles multiply in number, we think this kind of strict discipline of vehicular movement is inevitable. That passage, my Lords, gave authoritative support to the argument that I, and others, had ventured to put forward in the two earlier debates. Her Majesty's present Government, and Her Majesty's previous Government, have both expressed agreement with the general principles of the Buchanan Report, of which this is an essential feature. At the recent inquiry, at which Professor Buchanan himself was the principal witness, the point which I have just made was amply proved; and it convinced the inspector.

I should also mention that, while I have hitherto spoken of the Meadow road, and the damage done in passing through the Meadow, that is merely one of the objections. It does equally unjustifiable damage both to St. Ebbe's and to St. Clement's. I wish very much that the Minister had totally rejected the road, because that, I think, would have had the effect, not of postponing for long the development of St. Ebbe's, but of making the Oxford City Council decide what was the development of St. Ebbe's which, in the absence of the road through the Meadow, they would themselves desire. Nevertheless, I shall not make any complaint about the Minister. He, at least, has recognised some great truths, and his conduct compares favourably in this matter with the conduct of several predecessors.

I would express two hopes. The first is that the City Corporation will not develop St. Ebbe's in a less worthy way than if the proposed road through the Meadow and then through St. Ebbe's had been totally rejected; that is to say, that they will realise, as I think they do, how much is now open to further discussion on the basis of the Minister's decision, and will not carry out a development of St. Ebbe's which they would generally regret.

There was much in the stimulating speech of the noble Lord, Lord Segal, which I heard with great pleasure. I did not agree with him entirely—and here I share the view of the right reverend Prelate—in wanting such a great expansion of University buildings and the University of Oxford. I do not believe that this would be in the public interest. But I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Segal, that more University buildings are needed, and I believe that one should examine carefully whether the commercial development proposed is in the public interest. On this, I very much hope that his thoughtful speech will be profoundly studied.

My second great hope—and I should like to feel that it will be shared by Her Majesty's Government—is that the planners of the Oxford City Council and of the University will try to collaborate as friends and allies, and not insist on promoting rival roads merely because the City, at the instructions of the then Minister, had put forward this Meadow road proposal. I am sure that there are good planners employed in the architect's and planning department of the Oxford City Council who were delighted that the Minister has rejected this road, at any rate for the time being. I believe that they long to collaborate in a much better plan, and that much better plan is to make a road on the line which has been recommended by every planner of note who has considered the matter, certainly any planner who has considered it recently. I am not without sympathy for the Oxford Corporation. They have been kept waiting a long time. If they put forward a road that I regard as a planning folly, at least they have the excuse that they were told to do precisely that. I share with my noble friend Lord Molson great pleasure in noting what the present Minister said about how out of date were views that had been expressed before the Buchanan Report had been made. That is most important.

There is only one other matter to which I shall allude before I conclude my speech. In the last debate I pointed out, as did others, that the areas threatened by this road were not only St. Ebbe's but St. Clement's. St. Clement's, perhaps, is not due for quite such an early development, but it is very important. The proposed alignment of the Meadow road was most damaging to the good planning of St. Clement's. This point was made in the expert evidence of Professor Buchanan at the recent Inquiry, but subsequently to that there has been another development, which I expect is known to the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, of which possibly he will be able to tell us a little more, though I do not complain at all if he cannot.

That further development is this. Professor Johnson-Marshall, of Edinburgh University, has been commissioned by Oxford University to undertake a study of St. Clement's. In this, he is being assisted by a committee of representatives of the twelve Oxford colleges with interests in the area. I wonder if the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, can tell us whether, as I believe to be true, he has already found that the proposed Meadow road, if carried out, would be seriously detrimental—through the line that it takes on the other side of Magdalen Bridge—to the planning of St. Clement's. If so, that is, of course, an additional reason against this proposed road, and I am sure that the present Minister and any successor will take that into consideration.

My Lords, I am sorry if I have detained the House too long, but may I say how much I disagree with some of those writers who, in commenting on the long history of the proposals for the Meadow road, seem to think that it is rather a pity that a great blunder was not made earlier. Supposing that the Meadow road is the disaster that every planner of note believes it to be, we can be very grateful that Oxford has not yet been destroyed by it. I conclude by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Segal, for initiating this debate.

7.53 p.m.


My Lords, we are hungry, and I do not propose to make a long speech. I should like to begin by thanking my noble friend most warmly for a very interesting speech, and one that was obviously very deeply felt. The same applies, quite obviously, to a number of other speeches we have heard this evening, I speak only for myself, but I speak with sincerity when I say that I have found it a most interesting debate and a most interesting exchange of views. Most particularly, I should like to express more than the common formal thanks to the right reverend Prelate, who spoke with such sense (if he does not mind my saying so) and with such knowledge of the problem that we have to consider. He tempted me a little. I felt how simple it would have been to throw aside all democratic planning machinery, Ministers, city councils and everyone else, including the University, and to hand the whole thing over to him. I am not quite sure that we might not have got as good a decision that way as any other. He certainly made an extraordinarily interesting speech, and I repeat again that I thought it not only a fine one but a very sensible one.

I am not going beyond this. Let us see for a moment what this debate is really doing to-day. It is providing a channel, and a very proper channel, for the expression of your Lordships' views. But I am sure I can carry every Member of the House with me on one point. We may not think planning procedure by any means perfect. I do not, and my right honourable friend the Minister does not, either. But there it is at present. It is the channel for enabling decisions on a matter of this kind to be made by a more or less democratic process. It is a channel which has been devised by Parliament itself, including this House, and we clearly cannot attempt to anticipate the conclusions that are going to be reached through the normal procedure, without interfering quite unduly with what we ourselves have taken part in creating.

This is not a mere form of words. We have at present reached the stage when a revised plan for the City of Oxford—a quinquennial review it ought to be it is in this case rather longer than five years, but it is nevertheless the quinquennial review—has been submitted to the Minister. He has intimated his approval of the St. Ebbe's proposals, and as regards the traffic routes he has disagreed with the inspector's conclusions. Of course, the conclusions of any inspector, as any inspector would readily acknowledge, are merely submitted for the information and consideration of the responsible Minister. He has disagreed with those conclusions, and lie has invited the Oxford City Council, which is the planning authority, to reconsider the whole matter: that is to say, both the Meadow road and any possible alternative on the other side of the river—and there are several alternatives. He has gone one stage further. He has invited them to consider the matter on the advice of consultants, and he has offered—perhaps rather a unique offer, but I think a very good one—to help financially. I do not know what the amount is, or anything of that sort, but he has offered to help with the arrangements for the consultants and it is intended that both he and the Minister of Transport should help to the best of their ability in that consideration.

The Minister of Transport, of course, has a responsibility over this. She is in effect to pay a considerable part of the costs of the road. All I can say about that is that there is nothing in the Ministry of Transport's road programme at present, looking forward for quite a long time, that equals the total commitment there is likely to be for a relief road. I am also afraid that, much as I should like to, I cannot give an affirmative answer to the request which the right reverend Prelate made that a particular piece of road should be dealt with promptly. But I can assure him that his request will be noted and considered. I can do no more than that.

That is the position. There are different views—views expressed not only with eloquence, but with consideration of a large number of factors; views which in some cases have been expressed before, and in other cases have not. They will fall to be considered; they will have to be considered. But the right point at which to decide this is when the City Council have come to their conclusion, when they come back with the revised plan, when there will have to be an opportunity for objections. Such is the fullness, the somewhat replete fullness, of our planning procedure that those objections may result in the whole thing being heard all over again; and it looks to me as if it well may. My Lords, that being the position and this being the hour, I have no more to say, except to repeat to your Lordships how interested I was to hear everybody's views.


My Lords, I wonder whether I might ask the noble Lord one question. He spoke entirely of the City Council's plans and what the Minister was going to do about them. He said that the Minister would accept some, reject others, and postpone others. A point I tried to make is that it is not really a problem which can be confined to the City Council area. It is a wider problem, and I should like an assurance that he will take that wider view into account when reaching his decisions.


My Lords, with great and sincere respect to the noble Marquess, I am sure that I shall have his support when I say that I uphold the British Constitution, and under the British Constitution as it is at present this matter has to be considered in the form I referred to just now. I quite agree that it raises wider questions, but so do very many of these planning matters. It seems to me that they always involve the reconciliation of the irreconcilable and the comparison of the incomparable, and in the political world as it is at present there are only two ways of doing that. One is, in some form or another, by the Minister of the day—and then you kick him for having done it wrong; and the other is by tossing up. The noble Marquess will remember that the Greeks chose their archons of the year by lot. There was perhaps something to be said for it.

8.2 p.m.


My Lords, at this late hour it would be wrong of me to detain the House for any length of time, except to say that we have had a most useful and valuable discussion, and I feel I must take this opportunity of thanking all the noble Lords who have contributed with their wisdom and experience to the value of this debate. So many points have been brought up on which we are all agreed. I should like to endorse the views expressed that a limit must be set to the size and the growth of the University. It cannot stay at its present figure. A conceivable growth of 20 or 30 per cent. above its present figure is something which I think would meet with universal agreement; and even that extra number could hardly be accommodated in the greater part of St. Ebbe's. But at all costs let us avoid what has happened in so many universities in America—developing Oxford into a sort of university metropolis.

The other point I ought to mention is that although we recognise the authority of the Oxford City Council as the major planning authority concerned, the two adjacent county councils of Berkshire and Oxfordshire should also he considered. Perhaps I may end on this note. I feel much more hopeful now about the whole future of Oxford than I was when this debate began; and hopeful especially that the words which have been spoken in this House to-night will go far beyond the confines of this House and, I feel, will not necessarily be completely answered by the speech we have heard from my noble friend Lord Mitchison. There is far too much at stake in this matter. I hope that the City authorities will meet with a ready collaboration, not only from the dwindling number of University members in their midst but also with a ready collaboration on the part of the whole University authorities, of the adjoining county councils and of the Minister himself.

So I should like again to thank everyone who has taken part in this debate,

House adjourned at five minutes past eight o'clock.

and I hope that they may feel that their contributions have not been in vain. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.