§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Lord BEAUMONT of WHITLEY rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether completion of the M.25 will not (a) defeat the objective of the Government "to reduce our absolute dependence on transport" and (b) prove a major threat to the Green Belt. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, what I am really doing is asking Her Majesty's Government whether they have really faced up to the problems which are caused by their plans for the London orbital road, particularly as they have been affected by recent developments and by a growing understanding of the problems of the transport programme in this country.608
§ This is a controversial matter, but it is one of the tasks which your Lordships are particularly suited to perform; that is, to try to work out a formula for this problem. I hope that noble Lords will agree to give this Bill a Second Reading so that we can move into the Committee stage and try to sort out a number of the problems and difficulties which have been raised in the debate this evening.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the Bill shall be now read 2a?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 22; Not-Contents, 11.607
|Auckland, L.||Hornsby-Smith, B.||Paget of Northampton, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Kirkhill, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L. [Teller.]|
|Cathcart, E.||Long, V.|
|De La Warr, E.||Lyell, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]|
|Evans of Claughton, L.||Masham of Ilton, B.|
|Gregson, L.||Monson, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Grey, E.||Mottistone, L.||Ritchie-Calder, L.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Norrie, L.||Seear, B.|
|Allen of Fallowfield, L. [Teller.]||Hampton, L.||Robertson of Oakridge, L.|
|Ingleby, V.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Barrington, v.||Morris of Borth-y-Gest, L.||Soper, L.|
|Blease, L. [Teller.]||Norwich, Bp.||White, B.|
§ It seems to me that what happened was that once upon a time—and it is now a very long time ago—someone looked at a map and said, "Wouldn't it be commonsense to build an orbital road round London to let the people who have, at the moment, to go through London, go round it? "Whether or not it was commonsense at the time I am far from clear. It may have been merely one of those things which looked as if they were commonsense. After all, for quite a long time all of us, or a great many of us, lived in the belief that if you built more and better roads you would in fact relieve congestion, whereas we are growing more and more to realise that if you build more and better roads all you do is build up traffic and increase the total amount of traffic, and in a few years' time you will have the same congestion on the old road and you will have congestion on the new road as well. That is the kind of conventional wisdom which has now been exploded.
§ I think that there is still a lot of old-fashioned conventional wisdom about the orbital ring road, and particularly the 609 M.25, that ought by now to have been exploded. It seems to me that now, in terms of modern conditions, it is nonsense to build this road, and if we were starting from scratch with a transport policy, and particularly if we had a coherent national transport policy—which I think it is almost universally acknowledged that we do not; the Secretary of State himself said so a couple of years ago, and I do not think that things have moved on very much since then—I suspect that it would not now be gone ahead with.
§ There are of course still times when the M.25 seems a good thing. In the middle of last summer I went, ironically, from Kent to an ecology meeting in Bath. I was one and a half hours late. By the time I arrived in Bath I was a strong supporter of the M.25. But possibly those things, even for a large number of people, do not outweigh the immense tasks and burdens of building a road like this one.
§ Equally, there is a problem with the 4 per cent. of heavy goods vehicle movements in London which are through movements. But again I would say that a £500 million motorway is possibly taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut, and that a combination of various other measures—including minor road works, the direction of lorries, much more encouragement on to rail—as suggested by the London Amenity and Transport Association might be a better solution.
§ We are told that the orbital road will help access to the ports, but I do not think that there is any proper study of the benefits, and certainly no rigorous and detailed one in this field. It is my case that, even adding that to the other benefits, they do not add up to outweighing the harm that will be done. It is quite clear that you should not build a road unless you have a very good reason for doing so. That is the difference between an under-populated and undeveloped country—as ours was, say, 200 years ago when to build a road was almost axiomatically a good thing—and the kind of country we have now.
§ Roads cost a lot. In this case I mentioned a figure which I think is more or less on the mark: £500 million, give or take a £100 million. They disfigure the countryside, and particularly motorways disfigure the countryside. They encourage 610 traffic—and I think this is the main assault that can be made on them. They actually breed traffic by existing. They produce poisonous petrol fumes, and this road would go through several centres where lead in the petrol may have a serious effect on the children and people in the villages and towns concerned. Let us hope that will be solved by the Government getting rid of lead in petrol quickly, and I have some faith that that will be so, but for the present it is not. They use up valuable oil and encourage more and more transport by road at a time when we should be saving that extremely valuable, and increasingly valuable, commodity.
§ The M.25 will, like every other major road, do all those things, but in addition it will go clean against three wholly praiseworthy items of Government policy. First, it will, to put it mildly, do nothing to stop the dispersal from inner London of businesses and people. When this road was first envisaged that would have been thought to be a good thing, but now that we have an inner city policy which is rightly concerned to build up the centre of cities and to make certain they do not become the impoverished empty places we have seen in America and elsewhere, that particular function of the M.25 can now be seen to be against Government policy and to be a thoroughly bad thing in itself.
§ Secondly, it will endanger the whole Green Belt policy, instigating heavy pressure to develop wherever there are interchanges and access points; indeed a Minister of the Government has already said as much, but I will come to that shortly. In particular it will damage Green Belt facilities of a highly important recreational kind. For example, it goes along the side of Lullington Park and crashes through St. Andrew's Wood which 30,000 to 40,000 visitors visit each summer. Last Tuesday in another place there was a debate on what the M.25 is doing to Epping Forest. Not very much, but one speaker after another said he deplored intensely what was happening but would not vote against the Bill because we must have an M.25, and a little bit of Epping Forest was, although a price, a comparatively small one to pay. I wonder whether, when one considers Epping Forest and St. Andrew's Wood and all the other places, they do not add up to rather more. If they had not just been talking about a 611 little bit of Epping Forest and one particular section of the M.25 but were adding up all the amenities that will be hurt, I wonder what attitude would have been taken and whether various Members of Parliament would not have been tempted to take a rather stronger attitude.
Thirdly, it will generate traffic. I have already said something about the tendency for building roads to do that, but in November 1978 the Parliamentary Under-Secretary in another place said:
Once the M.25 is built, journeys will become possible which would not be undertaken at present and new patterns of industrial, commercial and social activity may be formed ".—[Official Report, Commons, 2/11/78; col. 354.]
Yes, George Washington, they will! The White Paper Transport Policy, Cmnd. 6836, said:
For the future, we should aim to reduce our absolute dependence on transport".
Very sound, but we are enabling journeys to become possible which would not be undertaken at present, as was said by the Minister, and that is increasing our absolute dependence on transport. And in so far as we are forming new patterns of industrial, commercial and social activity, as the Minister also said, we are forming them in and around the Green Belt, and I do not believe that is good.
§ If it is the Government's intention and wish to accelerate and facilitate what will eventually be a large-scale loss of London Green Belt land; if it is their policy to ensure the location of industry and commerce on green field sites and areas of vital recreational importance; if it is their intention further to bleed the inner London area of commercial and economic vitality; if it is their policy to encourage industrial and commercial development remote from rail access and thus to deny to British Rail its appropriate freight share; if it is their policy to increase dependence on private car use; if it is their policy to undermine their own objective—to reduce our absolute dependence on transport—then they can be happy with the building of this orbital road.
§ If not, they should give consideration at once to the abandonment of all further planning and work on the M.25, so that at last we can have a full and proper analysis of the transport and land use 612 requirements of London and the South-East region—not to mention one for the whole country while we are about it—and so that, in order to have that investigation, proposals to further that can be put in hand at the earliest opportunity, before we take this one more irrevocable step of building more motorways which, in the last resort, do nobody any good and do a lot of harm on the way.
§ 8.47 p.m.
My Lords, when it comes to building a road, building an extension to a road or building a roundabout, not one of us in our selfish way wants it on our ground but always on somebody else's, and so I am amazed that an arterial road is ever built. I am therefore grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for allowing us to discuss this important road, the M.25. I am grateful because my road home to Wiltshire is the M.4, and I am obliged to the noble Lord for opening my mind and eyes to the rest of the South-East, the link roads from the M.1 through to the M.4, the M.40 and so on, which I never realised were so vital to manoeuvring our transport in these very sophisticated industrial islands, as they have become. I am therefore grateful to the noble Lord for teaching me so quickly, since last Thursday, what it is all about.
Equally, I wish to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, for her kind help in obtaining for me last week-end maps and information to help me digest some of the problems and to see with my own eyes how big an area we are discussing. I thank her and her Department for that immediate help. I feel sorry tonight for the noble Baroness because she has been in bed for three days with a feverish cold, and if it was like the one I had 10 days ago she has all the sympathy I can give her because I know it is no joke. Perhaps I should apologise to her if I keep her up too long in making my speech.
The M.25 was thought of way back in 1937 by a gentleman named Hore Belisha, who felt in those days that London should have a ring-road because the traffic in 1937 was getting quite impossible. That was a long time ago, yet here we are tonight discussing a major road which has still not been completed. However, some sections of the M.25 have been completed, 613 while others have not, and there is still a long way to go. The construction of the M.25, which is to relieve inner London of its immense traffic problems, involves the important linking-up, for instance, of the M.1 with the M.4, as well as link-ups north to south and east to west of London in order to get traffic out of inner London and on to the outer perimeters. Therefore, I am afraid that I cannot agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, has been saying. He has tonight utterly condemned the M.25. He has not paid the slightest attention to the industrial nation that we are today.
When one bears in mind the problems involving juggernauts and lorries, with traffic piling up, I regard it as no excuse to plead that land is being eaten up. I admit, with sympathy, that the Green Belt suffers, but here I recall an instance when, as an angry young man, I moved from Swindon to Oxford when a small road (which I now cannot name) was to be rebuilt through a wood. I thought that that was totally wrong, and that the landscape would be utterly ruined. I thought that the project would cause more traffic to go to Oxford. Yet when the road was finished I felt very ashamed that I had thought of obstructing the road, because the wood had been replanted and was tidier. Now the road itself looks tidier, and the volume of traffic on it seems to be very small, while previously it had seemed immense. So I do not go along with the noble Lord's view that roads of this type will cause obstruction involving heavy traffic.
When coming off the M.4 at the Chiswick roundabout and meeting up with lorries, I feel selfish because my progress to your Lordships' House along the Embankment is at times almost impossible, as it was this morning. I should like to see the M.25 completed, so that traffic moving south to north or north to south, as the case may be, is catered for by a new link road.
I have the strongest feeling that work has now slowed down for a number of reasons. It appears that in certain sections progress has not been as rapid as it should have been. I should like to see priority given to speedier construction of sections from the Staines area almost to St. Albans. It seems also that progress on the section from Chertsey to Reigate has 614 slowed down or stopped, and the same seems to apply in the area from Godstone to Westerham.
When one looks at the map one sees the very beautiful Epping Forest. Here again, in my selfish way, as a conservationist I want to make sure that Epping Forest is absolutely safeguarded. I should not like one acre of the forest used up. If a road is to go through it, wild life should be protected, or if there is to be a road anywhere near the forest attention should be paid to landscaping. I should like to know from the noble Baroness what protection Epping Forest is to receive. I should be most grateful for an answer on that point. There is also within the forest the famous cricket ground of Bell's Common. It is a great cricket ground which was established in, I believe, 1878, and belongs to the Epping Forest Cricket Club, a very old established club which was granted a licence by the Corporation of London. I want to know how much work is going on in that vicinity, and whether the cricket ground will be protected.
In looking at the progress of the M.25, I wonder whether we are not seeing a slowing down of the construction as a whole. We are certainly witnessing a continuing massive build-up of heavy vehicles, such as juggernauts. We are asked nowadays to save energy. The noble Lord mentioned this point, but in a different way to what I have in mind. My theory would be that the M.25 would save energy for the future. I would regard that as an important consideration that we ought to be looking at at the moment. We are witnessing a slowing-up of the time taken in getting our exports to the docks, due to the massive build-up of traffic. The lorry drivers are tired or even exhausted at the end of their tourneys, to say nothing of the ordinary driver in a car. It would save money and time if there were a proper ring road.
We must also consider road accident figures, and bear in mind that young people are being injured because of the concentration of population in the South-East. I am sure that the public are suffering because of the present taffic situation, and that villages will continue to suffer from the vibration of vehicles. The slow progress could well be due to the 615 actions of certain bodies of people; for instance, obstruction by local bodies in connection with inquiries into particular stretches of the road. Have we not witnessed 42 inquiries into the Reigate-Chertsey section? Those 42 inquiries involved 42 police interventions. In these circumstances one finds that costs go up, difficulties arise and progress slows as a result of the action of small public bodies—perhaps even involving Rent-a-Mob—which are trying to stop parts of the road being built. In fact I am told that even people who do not live in the area attend these meetings.
I think that the slowing down could probably be attributed to certain errors by the Government. Surely it was the Department of Transport which was forced to hold for a second time two separate public inquiries on different sections of the M.25, one relating to the A.12–A.13 section and another to the A.10–M.11, due to procedural oversights. I have no doubt that a year or more has been lost in that way. The noble Baroness might be able to assist me over that.
A further point about which I am getting more suspicious, looking at the facts, is that the Government are not using the full quota of money allocated by Parliament each year; and I am just wondering the reason why that should be when we have many of the sections already programmed or prepared. Why is this money not being spent at this stage? Perhaps the noble Baroness could enlighten me on that, too. Again, I have sympathy for the inhabitants of the villages South-East of London—villages like Eynsford, Westerham and Brasted in Kent, Waltham Abbey, Maple Cross in Herefordshire, Old Windsor and Effingham in Surrey. Those are the examples I was looking for just now, and I give them because they are longing for the M.25. They are all for the M.25, but they cannot get it yet because of the slowness of events.
The noble Baroness's honourable friend Mr. Horam, in a recent speech on the M.25, informed Members of another place:As has been said many times, we hope for the completion date of the entire thing by the middle 1980s".That would be 1985–86. I sincerely hope that this is possible. I should like to see 616 it brought forward; and if that were to be the case many people would be happier. Many of the problems caused by the irritations of driving through Inner London today would be eased for us all, and for industry; and, from the point of view of our architectural heritage, I am certain many buildings would be saved from the vibrations that take place.
I could go on for many hours on the subject of this road, and, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, I can see the importance of it. But I am grateful to him for allowing me the opportunity to speak on it, and I very much look forward to the Government's reply. I hope that we are going to hear that the middle 1980s will be reduced to 1982, or in that area of time.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Lord AUCKLAND
My Lords, with some trepidation I intervene in this debate because I happen to live in a village which is going to be considerably affected by this road—the village of Ashstead in Surrey. I have not, I must admit, studied the plans with any great care, because I have been rather too busy elsewhere; but I have been made pretty aware, by people I know in the village and its surroundings, of the dissatisfaction which they feel—dissatisfaction which I do not necessarily personally share. But there are two very great problems which have to be faced here. I should say that this particular matter is currently the subject of a public inquiry, so I am not empowered, in fairness, to say very much at this stage. The public inquiry itself is of a somewhat animated nature for various reasons into which I will not go now. I would only say that no inspector at a public inquiry has anything but an uneviable job; it is not the easiest of jobs. My noble friend Lord Long made reference to outside bodies, not connected with the village, taking part in these inquiries. They are entitled to do this, but it is sometimes questionable whether their activities are either helpful or, indeed, I would say, permissible. I suggest that the area in which I am concerned is an example of this, although in fairness I should say, as I said earlier, that I have not myself taken part in any of these meetings, and have no intention of doing so.
There is one very serious aspect of this which no doubt the inspector will con- 617 sider but which I feel I should bring to your Lordships' attention tonight, and that is the question of the lead content of petrol, because one of the main sections of this road is going to cause a kind of spaghetti junction, as I understand it, near five or six schools where there are children of quite tender ages. This is causing, I think, quite reasonable concern. Of course, my Lords, when one is building a road or siting a spur road, or anything like that, there is always the problem of causing a disturbance somewhere; and, as I understand it, the alternatives to the present one which have been considered would mean demolishing a substantially larger number of houses—and there is a great need for houses in the Mole Valley area of Surrey, because industry is increasing there—whereas the present plan, with all its handicaps and problems, would mean a rather less blighting of property in that sense. I do not know how far the noble Baroness can go here as it is the subject of an inquiry, and I am not a lawyer, but I hope that her Department can take note of the fact that there are these children who are affected and that one or two quite eminent scientists have shown deep concern at the amount of petroleum lead which could cause damage to the breathing of these children and others and also, of course, the traffic danger particularly if heavy traffic is involved.
Having said that, I think the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, has performed a most useful service in moving this brief debate and I am quite sure that we have not heard the last of this road. But in the last analysis there comes the dilemma as to which road is the more important for the country: the M.24, the M.25, or whatever. And I am bound to say in conclusion that I can think of many parts of the country which may need priority roads more than we need the present, admittedly important, project which is proposed but which, I would think, with the present economic situation of the country—and this is not a Party point because it is going to affect all Governments—may not take place for some time to come; but this does not lessen the concern for those involved.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY of STATE, DEPARTMENT of the ENVIRONMENT (Baroness Stedman)
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for raising this subject this evening. I am glad of the opportunity to explain why the Government are committed to building the M.25 and why it has the highest priority in our road building programme. I am also grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Long, for his concern about my health. I think I am going to live through this debate, but whether my voice will last is another matter.
The M.25 has three main functions. First, it will provide a convenient route round Greater London for through traffic, particularly traffic to and from the East Coast and Channel Ports, and Tilbury Docks. It will link them with the M.1 and A.1, and other roads to the Midlands and the North. Greater London, which is 30 to 35 miles across from east to west, is a major obstacle to this traffic, and the M.25 will provide a quicker and more convenient route and one that is far less prejudicial to the environment of the London suburbs. The new road, being purpose built and without pedestrians and cyclists, will be much safer than the existing roads, so there will be a considerable saving in accidents.
Secondly, the road will act as a general distributor, linking the main routes in and out of London, and enabling drivers to choose the most convenient exit road or to reach places in London without having to cross the centre or to use existing inadequate orbital roads. Finally, the M.25 will bring local relief for congested roads on the outskirts of London. Although only 23 miles have been built out of a total length of 120 miles, a further 16 miles are under construction, and planning is well advanced on a further 45 miles. Only about a quarter of the route remains to be settled. I expect that all except the north-western sector will be finished by the end of 1983—and that will delight the noble Viscount, Lord Long—and that the whole road will be completed in 1985.
The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, has suggested that our intention to complete the M.25 will defeat our objective of reducing our absolute dependence on transport. We will not reduce our dependence on transport by not building new roads. The traffic is already there—using 619 unsuitable and congested roads. If the whole of the M.25 were completed today most sections of it would be carrying about 40,000 vehicles a day. The lack of a proper orbital route has not prevented traffic around London from growing; it simply means that it forces its way through towns and villages on the outskirts of London, and residential and shopping streets in the suburbs, and indeed through central London itself.
Building an orbital motorway will have wide-ranging effects and we do not pretend that we can foresee all of them now. Some people, who are deterred at present from making local journeys on crowded roads, may find that they can move more freely. But that is not increasing their dependence on transport. It is simply a matter of freeing local roads from traffic they were never intended to carry so that they can serve their proper function of catering for the local needs. In turn, that will help to prevent drivers from using residential roads as rat runs. Once there is a proper route for through traffic, it will be easier for the local authorities to introduce traffic management measures to ensure that local roads are not used by traffic which has no business on them. Noble Lords may be aware of the difficulties which have arisen over the regulations made by the Berkshire County Council to keep lorries out of Windsor. It would be wrong for me to comment on their action because it is being challenged in the courts, except to say that measures of that kind will be much easier to introduce in the future when we have an orbital road round London.
It is possible that once the new motorway is built, some people will take advantage of it to make longer trips than they did before. It will become much easier for people living in the west of London to reach the Kent coast, for example. Similarly, foreign tourists who arrive at the Channel ports may be tempted to by-pass London and explore other parts of the country. I do not think that amounts to increasing dependence on transport.
The Government are anxious to encourage the conservation of energy and to avoid generating a great deal of extra traffic. Roads are planned to cater for the traffic which is likely to use them over 620 the next 20 years or so. Even on pessimistic assumptions about the price of oil, traffic is likely to grow by one-third by the end of the century. Traffic will increase whether the M.25 is built or not. If the road is not built, conditions which are already intolerable in many places will become even worse. We simply cannot sit back and do nothing. Many road proposals in London have been dropped on the assumption that the M.25 would be built; for example, Ringway 3, which was dropped after the inquiry into the Greater London Development Plan. If the M.25 does not go ahead, then alternatives will have to be considered which will cause widespread blight and uncertainty.
I do not believe that the construction of an orbital road for London is in any way inconsistent with the objective of reducing our dependence on transport. That objective can be achieved only by influencing where people live and work, and how industry is organised. It requires changes which cannot be made very quickly. I cannot accept that it would be right to withhold the certain benefits which M.25 will bring for existing traffic and for the environment because of fears that it will lead to an increase in traffic—especially when that increase is unlikely to be substantial compared with the growth which is likely to take place anyway.
The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, also referred—and rightly—to the consequences for the Green Belt of building the road. He has stressed the importance of the Green Belt in preventing the sprawl of Greater London, and in providing an area for sport and recreation for London and other towns in the South-East. I should like to emphasise that, as the noble Viscount, Lord Long, said, when the proposal for a Green Belt was mooted and introduced in the 1930s and 1940s, it was always envisaged that there would also be an orbital road around London. However, the problem of development along major roads has been recognised for many years. Way back in 1935, Parliament passed the Restriction of Ribbon Development Act, which was designed to control building along the main routes. This preceded the Town and Country Planning Acts, which introduced for the first time a systematic control of development.
621 In the recent Government Statement in response to the Strategic Plan for the South-East, published in December last year, we described our policies for land and development in the region. In this statement, we particularly stressed the importance of restraint policies in relation to the M.25. Unfortunately, it is not possible to build an orbital road for London without it passing through some Green Belt land. I agree that pressure for development near the intersections with other roads may well become intense; but the strategic planning authorities fully recognise the problems and are concerned about them. We consider it important that they should use their development control powers to resist pressures unless the development is consistent with the county structure plan, which, of course, has to be approved by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. These powers are backed up by my right honourable friend's reserve powers.
The strategic planning authorities fully support the proposals for completing the M.25 as soon as possible. Building the M.25 is not a matter of making environmental sacrifices for the benefit of future traffic; it will bring much needed relief to many areas, such as Romford, Epping and Brentwood. A study of the section of the M.25 between Reigate and Godstone which was opened in 1976 shows that the existing A.25 was relieved of between 17 per cent. and 27 per cent. of its traffic. When the next section from Godstone to Sevenoaks is opened later this year, the centres of Oxted and Westerham will enjoy significant reductions in traffic. Similar benefits will arise on other sections of the road as they are opened. During a recent debate in another place, several honourable Members stressed how much support there was for the road in their constituencies, and urged us to finish it as soon as possible.
The noble Lord, Lord. Beaumont, suggested that perhaps the time had come to call a halt and have a look at the whole picture of our planning and roadbuilding again. The idea of a single inquiry might have been an attractive idea 10 years ago, though there would have been formidable problems in keeping it to manageable proportions; but to hold such an inqiury now is neither practicable nor in the public interest. The planning has gone ahead on 622 the assumption that the road will be built, and to hold it up now would cause widespread blight while the suggested alternatives were being evaluated.
The noble Viscount, Lord Long, very dutifully gave me notice of one question he intended to ask tonight and then he did not ask it; but since he did give me notice originally that he intended to ask it, I shall be kind to him and I shall answer it. It is a question of the Royal Horticultural Society's gardens at Wisley. There had been some problems. The M.25 does not directly affect the RHS, but there are traffic problems on the A.3 which is outside the RHS gardens at Wisley. The gap in the central reservation there opposite the entry has been closed for safety reasons. It has caused considerable inconvenience to people visiting Wisley Gardens; for example, people leaving cannot turn right but have to make a five-mile detour to turn at the next intersection.
My honourable friend Mr. Horam undertook to meet representatives of the RHS on the site and he talked over the problems with them. He undertook to consider two possibilities. The first was that we might re-open the gap and control it with traffic lights; and, secondly, there was the possibility that we could build a flyover from the entrance to the opposite carriageway. My honourable friend has looked at both these possibilities. The first was found to be too dangerous, and we have a prime responsibility for road safety. It is a fast, straight stretch of road and the reservation is not wide enough to shelter vehicles waiting to turn. The second suggestion of the flyover was much too expensive, and it will also take longer than the completion of the interchange with the M.25 only one mile away, which will reduce the length of detour necessary to reach the opposite carriageway.
My honourable friend has written to the director of the RHS gardens to explain the position. There is no question of our failing to honour our undertaking, because none was given. We offered to look at these two possibilities. But we are building a footbridge to the opposite side of the road which will help the visitors to the garden who are using public transport, and we hope that goes some way towards encouraging people to use it—though, 623 incidentally, I was told by one of the vice-presidents of the Society only a couple of weeks ago that, despite all the comments that have been made, their number of visitors had gone up in the last year when the gap had still been closed, so perhaps it is not quite as desperate as we at first thought it was.
Then we were asked about the question of under-spending. Some of the schemes that we had in hand had been delayed by inquiries. The noble Lord, Lord Auckland, referred to inquiries in regard to public participation. We wanted public participation, but we do not always like it when we get it because there seems to be too much of it sometimes, and not always from the quarters we expect. We do have inquiries; we do try to run them on a democratic basis; and they sometimes result in delays in schemes being put into operation. Then many of these schemes, when the tenders have come in, have proved to cost, very fortunately, up to 20 per cent. less than the original estimates—which is something we ought to be rather pleased about in these days of financial stringency. The conditions in the civil engineering contracting business have been very competitive over the past few years, and that has meant that some of our original estimates were higher than the tenders when they came in.
The noble Viscount, Lord Long, also asked about the question of Epping Forest. I am sure that he had read in the report of the debate in another place only a short time ago about the special powers for the City of London. He will know that the Department have leaned over backwards, in so far as preserving the Epping Forest part of the motorway is concerned. We are proposing to put a very long stretch of it into a cut-and-cover tunnel, so that the deer will still be able to go over the top of the motorway and, we hope, will not even realise that is underneath them. We have also given an undertaking that we will reinstate the Bell's Common cricket ground, and that we will build them a new pavilion. Who knows?—the club might do even better with the one they are getting from the Department of Transport then with their present one. So we really are concerned about what happens to the wildlife in those parts of the Green Belt which, unfortunately, we have to touch.
624 I think the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, also referred to the question of lead in petrol. This is a national problem, and it is something of which we are very much aware in the Department. The question of what is the appropriate or safe level is also something which we have constantly under review. All I can say at this time is that any decision which had to be made would be a national one, and would not apply to just the M.25 and that area. But if the M.25, when it is completed in 1985, is used as we expect it to be used, then it will be taking away traffic from Central London and, therefore, the fumes in Central London are likely to be less obnoxious, because of the amount of traffic that will then be able to use the orbital road. But we are aware of the problem, we have it continually under review and I am quite sure that, if the necessity arises, there will be no tardiness on our part in trying to do something about limiting the lead in petrol.
The noble Lord referred to the public inquiries which are being held at the moment. He will appreciate that I am not prepared to comment on what is happening at public inquiries which are still in being. What I can assure him is that I will see that his views are made known to my colleagues in the Department of Transport. But we are aware of the problem as he sees it, in so far as these public inquiries are concerned.
The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, has done us a very good service tonight in highlighting the problems of the M.25. The noble Viscount, Lord Long, reminded us that it was way back in 1937 that we started. With a bit of luck, we shall have the thing finished in 1985. I should have thought that 48 years from talking about the M.25 to completion is not something of which we ought necessarily to be proud, but it is also certainly not something on which we can be accused of hurrying and cutting corners. When it is opened, the new road will help to improve the quality of life for many thousands of people. Like the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, I regret the price that has to be paid in terms of the effect on the countryside in those areas where it touches it. But I believe that it is a price that will be worth paying, for the convenience and the ease of movement which it will bring and the traffic which it will take out of Central London.