Previous Section Home Page

Column 1251


West London Assessment Study

11.58 pm

Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes) : I am grateful for the opportunity to present a petition signed by almost 10,000 residents of the constituency of Richmond and Barnes and the surrounding area. If I catch your eye on the Adjournment, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will elaborate on the arguments behind the petition, but at this stage I will let the prayer suffice.

The petition states :

Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your honourable House : urges the right hon. Paul Channon MP, the Secretary of State for Transport, to recognise the fear and blight being caused to the communities of Barnes, Mortlake, Palewell, East Sheen and Kew, by the publication of the "Executive Summary of Option Identification Working Paper" of the West London Assessment Study by Sir William Halcrow and Partners, and to bring forward his decision for considering which options should go forward to further study and which are clearly unacceptable on the grounds of environmental damage and inordinate cost both to the community and the taxpayer, and specifically to dismiss any option that creates new roads or would necessitate major road-widening in the parliamentary constituency of Richmond and Barnes.

And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.

To lie upon the Table.

Column 1252

South-West London (Traffic)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Stephen Dorrell.]

11.59 pm

Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes) : In 1984, in the face of rising complaints about traffic densities in London, the then Secretary of State for Transport commissioned the London traffic assessment studies. The main areas giving rise to concern were split into four and the west London traffic assessment study was granted to Sir William Halcrow and Partners. Part of the area covered by that study is south-west London, containing the constituency of Richmond and Barnes which I have the honour to represent.

I would add, however, that although I speak tonight specifically on the issue as it affects my constituents, I have the whole-hearted support of my right hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Sir B. Hayhoe) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) the Minister of State, Department of Health. Many other right hon. and hon. Members from all round London have expressed their agreement with the basic arguments that I shall be putting forward tonight, and tomorrow, as the Minister is well aware, those directly affected by the east London traffic assessment study will be confirming their support in their own debate.

In November 1984, Sir William Halcrow and Partners were asked to undertake their assessment of the main traffic problems as they affected south-west London. Stage 1 was to research and list in careful detail the traffic problems as they affected each community--indeed, almost all roads within those communities. The results of the study were published in admirable detail in November 1986. Very few queried the results at that stage as they were merely setting out conditions that were evident for all to see.

Stage 2 of the study was to determine the most likely and acceptable solutions to those problems, and is split between stage 2A the assessment and publication of various options to be presented to the Department of Transport so that in Stage 2B the Minister can sift out the options that are clearly unacceptable on the grounds of cost or environmental damage.

At the end of June last year, Stage 2A was published with remarkable openness, reversing the practices of generations, whereby reports would lie hidden in some bottom drawer in the Department of Transport, giving rise to rumour and counter-rumour as certain details leaked out during the Departments negotiations with local authorities. It is ironic but true that this laudable example of open government has actually helped to fuel the problems and cause increased blight.

When my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State announced these options in June my constituents felt the reaction almost immediately. One or two found that eagle-eyed estate agents and solicitors were aware of possible new roads through residential areas. The Guardian carried an article two weeks later stating that 5,000 homes could be destroyed if the worst of the options were turned into proposals and acted upon. The Secretary of State stated in the House following that article :

"I aim to promote measures to help the existing traffic to flow more freely. The measures that we are taking are improving trunk roads to take traffic round, rather than through, London ; promoting the use of new technology to

Column 1253

improve traffic management ; encouraging more effective parking controls ; and working with British Rail and London Regional Transport to improve the quality of the rail and Underground systems."

He went on :

"It is absolutely essential to increase investment in public transport. I am determined that we should have a better commuter service into London and a better Underground service."

Indeed, for the Underground, my hon. Friend has been true to his word as investment is running at £365 million a year which is 60 per cent. higher in real terms than when the GLC had control of the Underground. But he also labelled as "sensational" the story in The Guardian published on 11 July, which he said

"merely repeats an answer that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Transport gave to the House on 27 June and information that was placed in the Library over two weeks ago."--[ Official Report, 11 July 1988 ; Vol. 137, c. 3-4.]

I would not normally leap to defend The Guardian but I feel that I must in this instance. The truth behind the dates that I have just mentioned is that my hon. Friend the Minister answered a written question dated 27 June 1988 but it was not published until 30 June and Hansard was available to Back Benchers on Friday 1 July. In his answer, my hon. Friend stated :

"Copies of the consultants' working papers can be purchased from them. I have arranged for copies to be available in the Library."--[ Official Report, 27 June 1988 ; Vol. 136, c. 122 ]

Some of the documents arrived in the Library on 29 June but the remaining documents were not available until 4 July. Allowing the next two or three days for an assessment of the four very large documents, the publication on 11 July seems not unreasonable and hardly, as was claimed, a sensational rehash of old information. Also, the Department of Transport did not send a copy of my hon. Friend's answer to interested Back Benchers until 11 July, received on 12 July. Therefore, the Secretary of State should have expected the reaction, when it came, to an assessment of the maximum damage that could be caused by an enactment of those options.

But my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's statement that the Government believed not in grandiose new roads but in sensitive and sensible traffic management schemes on existing roads and that an even greater concentration and investment in public transport was the main answer to London's traffic problems gave many of my constituents a ray of hope. We felt that my right hon. Friend surely could not take from July 1988 to July 1989 to make a decision on those schemes which were clearly ridiculous, some bordering on the realms of fantasy.

During August last year it became almost impossible for those who needed or wanted to sell their homes to find a market. One constituent, a surgeon, found that he could not move to an area that desperately needed his skills. He came to my advice session last week ; he still cannot sell. A retired couple, unable to afford the expensive upkeep of a large house in London and needing to move to the country in their retirement, were trapped. I heard today of a teacher who has had to move to Salisbury. He now has to pay for two houses on a teacher's salary.

So a group of local residents, totally united and drawn from the widest political and social spectrum, was spontaneously created. The damage to the environment on

Column 1254

Barnes common, the destruction of at least 70 houses and flats, the eradication of a railway line carrying thousands of passengers per day, a new bridge across the Thames and a new road cut through the heart of a community and across the green open spaces of Chiswick, was such an outrageous and very real threat that the Barnes and Mortlake traffic action group had no difficulty in attracting thousands of members.

I suggested to the group that we should seek an immediate meeting with my hon. Friend, the Minister for Roads and Traffic, and he kindly consented and met us at the Department of Transport on 12 September. That meeting was not by any means an unqualified success. The Minister accused BAMTAG of exaggeration in a leaflet that it had put out, and protested that the proposed new road was not a four-lane motorway as had been feared but a two -lane highway and therefore the blight that was being caused, and for which evidence was presented, was being self-generated.

Indeed, while the road technically not a motorway, with a road built above ground level with two traffic lanes, one in each direction, no doubt with hard shoulders equivalent to two more lanes, no entrances or exits along its length and with the possible volume of traffic, it is easy to liken it to a motorway. Whatever its technical description, a new road is a new road and communities are destroyed, the nature of the area is permanently reversed, the houses are blighted and misery is caused to thousands.

The Minister's letter of the 27 September said :

"I have sympathy with those who believe that they are adversely affected : there is no reason for them to feel so. By conducting the Assessment Studies in such an open way we rely on the responsible actions of those who have access to the study documents." Tell that to the estate agents and solicitors. Tell that to those who are trying to sell houses and flats in the area. Tell that to the local council which was given advice by the Department of Transport recently that should it receive any query about the proposals that it should deny that they exist as they are not really "proposals" but "options" by a consultant. Surely options are taken as proposals until denied, and the council must have a moral obligation to let prospective purchasers know of material matters that should be taken into account before buying a house in the option areas.

The time scale between June 88 and what now seems to be slipping to October 89 was perhaps a reasonable time only if in the Minister's and his Department's belief that no blight can be caused by options as they are not Government proposals. That would be great, if it were the truth, but most emphatically it is not. Blight has and is being caused and therefore the timescale which was once considered reasonable must now be seen in a totally different light. The Secretary of State must accelerate his dismissal of those schemes which seem to indicate that they should be rejected according to the criteria set down in the Department of Transport's "Report on Problems" published in November 1986, where it says that the task of stage two B is

"To assess the merits of these options having regard to the Government's general transport policies including those for public transport, and policies for roads and traffic in London, the Department's continuing concern to secure value for money in its spending on road improvement schemes, and the sensitivity of the environment and the social fabric of the areas concerned."

Column 1255

On the same page of the report, the then Minister of State for Transport was quoted as saying :

"These studies are about making London a more pleasant place in which to live and travel. They are not--"

"not" is underlined--

"about reviving the old motorway box or ringway proposals." What adds, therefore, to the anger caused by the blight and threat to the communities is that according to the consultants' figures there seems to be no need for a projected new road from Barnes common across the river at Barnes bridge and through Chiswick.

In a publication entitled "Transport Related Problems"--I referred to it earlier as stage one--it is clearly stated that only 31 per cent. of the traffic passing along the Upper Richmond road, which would be by-passed by the new road, starts and ends outside the immediate area. The publication goes on to say that only 2 per cent. of the traffic using this part of the south circular has its origin and destination in the M25 corridor or beyond. Surely a new road costing, at its lowest estimates, over £500 million would have to satisfy more traffic than that. While I am not in a position in this debate to discuss the merits or demerits of the western environmental improvement route--a proposal that is well advanced and which radically alters the traffic flow between Shepherds Bush and Wandsworth--if that scheme goes ahead, surely this new road is an expensive redundancy.

Following the meeting on 12 September with my hon. Friend, a number of television programmes showed an interest in this matter, and the Minister spoke both on television and radio to ease public fears. As a result of his words, a condition close to panic occurred in many of the areas affected.

A meeting was called in Kew on 22 September because of the possible effect that road widening, which is mentioned in many of the options, would have on the Mortlake road section of the south circular. It would sever the community in two if the 9 m width, which seems to be the planner's ideal, were enforced. Conservation areas, trees, gardens and houses would be threatened. This issue, therefore, affects directly over half of my constituents and shows why the petition, which has been signed by almost 10,000 people with many more to come, covers not only new roads but road widening, which can have as catastrophic a result on the quality of life.

On 4 October, BAMTAG called a public meeting in Barnes. No one in the community had ever seen anything like it. At least 2,500 people turned up, filling the streets in their concern. We had to hold two packed meetings, one after the other. The Minister may feel that these figures are fishermen's tales, but even disinterested observers confirmed the estimate. This reaction has been mirrored recently when a meeting held by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Putney--the scourge of fishermen's tales-- attracted almost 1,500 people. Again, those unable to enter were forced to come back later for an emergency second meeting. In Kew last Friday, where, as I have said, not a new road but road widening is the issue, a hall that was meant to take between 200 and 300 people had over 500 inside, and it is said that the same number were struggling to get in.

Only two weeks ago, I led a delegation to the Minister from four London boroughs, consisting of eight hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Carrington), 14 local councillors, drawn from the three major parties and many senior council

Column 1256

officers, representing almost 3 million voters. My hon. Friend must therefore understand that these schemes are far too expensive to the environment, far too expensive to the taxpayer and, candidly, far too expensive politically. Therefore, the disadvantages far outweigh any marginal benefit there might be to the flow of traffic in the area. As the Minister knows, new roads attract more traffic. The construction of the M25, which has certainly benefited traffic densities on the south circular road, has attracted more traffic than ever expected. The fact that it is so busy for such long periods of the day is, I admit, a justification for its construction, but new roads breed traffic and do not simply alleviate the existing or future level of traffic densities. To build a new road from A to B causes chaos at both A and B and is not the answer for an urban environment.

Where do the answers lie? The Secretary of State was right on 11 July, and the published objective for stage two under the heading "To improve the Environment" is right. It said that an objective of these studies is

"To conserve and improve the quality of the environment" and went on to define environmental factors as including "noise, pollution, visual impact, severence, townscape, ecology". On any of these criteria the new road, or the widening of existing roads along the south circular road must be rejected.

The building of new roads must be the answer of last resort--not first. We all want cars but we must learn to change our habits. Certainly sensitive traffic management schemes in local communities can help traffic flow, but far more fundamental are those policies, many of which I feel my hon. Friend must support. Inconsiderate and illegal parking has become a plague on London's roads. A increase in traffic wardens and further powers being granted to local authorities would improve the prompt treatment of parking offenders. Gradually, the deterrent effect would work.

Another fact agreed by the studies of Sir William Halcrow and partners is that more than 80 per cent. of all cars crossing London's bridges have only one occupant. That cannot be allowed to continue, and it does not need new roads to solve it. We need sensible park-and-ride schemes as so many other countries now have, with licences, or fines, for those who occupy cars containing fewer than three people coming into an area from outside.

Another possible solution is already, with the wholehearted co-operation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, well under way. He has more than trebled the taxation of those who benefit from company cars and his intended progress in this area might help to persuade even more executives to take to public transport. More minibuses, too, have proved extremely popular, as has easier through-ticketing ; but one day, however unpalatable it may appear, road pricing must be seriously considered. There has been a 60 per cent. increase in the demand for the London Underground in the past few years, and at Mortlake station alone in the past two years a 15 per cent. increase in demand for commuter rail services. That must be further encouraged. It is crazy that the possible new road contained in Halcrow options 3 and 4 could have the effect of scrapping the Hounslow loop line, which in itself helps to keep thousands of cars and their commuters off our roads daily.

So what is so special about the area that I am so fiercely defending? Why is it environmentally so important? It is

Column 1257

an area that has been correctly described as a place where the countryside meets the town. Residents and visitors alike marvel at the way the communities, while so close to the centre of London, maintain their almost rural feel. The Minister knows the place well. We prize our green open spaces and broad tree-lined avenues for the quality of life that they bring within the urban sprawl. The villages that form the area may now be almost interlinked by houses, but they are still distinguishable by a deep sense of individual community spirit. When threatened, they react with immediate impetus, borne out of a passionate desire to protect their special nature.

In Richmond, we have learnt to live with the necessary evils of modern society, enduring inordinate and ceaseless aircraft noise, and suffering, as do all parts of the metropolis, the pressures of the motor car. My constituents readily admit that they drive motor cars. Some of them own more than one, and many of them enjoy holidays and business abroad in a world in which demand for travel is ever increasing. But the main argument of tonight's debate is about how long we should continue to build new roads through the middle of harmonious communities merely to accommodate more and more cars ; or should we learn to control our natural instincts and habits and learn that we must control traffic rather than allowing it to control us? We have in the Minister for Roads and Traffic a man who has gained nationwide respect for his dedication to his portfolio. His tireless struggle to persuade the irresponsible driver to resist drink before driving has hit home hard, and the Secretary of State's White Paper, clearly influenced by my hon. Friend the Minister, further tightens up on the behaviour that society now regards as unacceptable when using the road. He is known as a determined individualist, as his humanitarian speeches when on the Back Benches clearly showed. Famous for what some might call a stubborn streak, he is vehement in defence of the underdog and is a noted conservationist.

I should have thought that, with the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend at the helm, the residents of Britain were in the right hands, and that the correct balance between needing to accommodate our society's rapacious demand for travel, by air, train or road, and the need to preserve our ever more important environment would be established. Surely my hon. Friend must understand that the assessment studies have affected the lives of millions of people over a wide area of London and that it is his moral duty, since the impact of the studies was not what he expected, to accelerate his decisions and so relieve the vast majority from their continuing blight at the earliest possible moment.

The threatened new roads and road widening are unnecessary, undesirable, over expensive and damaging, and seemingly contrary to the Government's stated policy. From three further meetings with the Secretary of State, I can draw the conclusion only that he agrees with me. For the Minister to scrap these schemes immediately is probably more than those affected could expect, but they have suffered long enough and he must dispose of the options that are clearly unacceptable without any further delay. He must collect further evidence on the less

Column 1258

ridiculous schemes over an accelerated time scale, and then he would earn the gratitude of countless thousands throughout London. 12.19 am

The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Peter Bottomley) : I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) for the way in which he has introduced this important subject. He made some unnecessarily generous remarks about me. I used to bicycle down Vine road and turn left into Woodman road to meet the person who is now the hon. Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley). I know Barnes station and there are various other areas in his constituency which I know and admire.

There are also many people in my hon. Friend's constituency whom I know and admire. They are well represented, but they will not get any fishermen's tales from me. For example, when the chairman of Richmond's planning committee writes to me suggesting that I have not read Richmond's transport policies and programmes, I want to say publicly, as I have told him privately, that I have.

When I say that the official policy of Richmond council is a NIMBY one, I mean it. If Martin Elengorn wants to have a look, he can find it in paragraph 4.16 where there is rephrased what was elegantly said to be the previous policy, "Orbital roads yes ; in Richmond no ; into orbital roads no, unless they are outside Richmond." That is a different way of saying the same thing. It is inelegant and it is wrong.

The fact is that 67 per cent. of Richmond's population use cars for journeys longer than walking distance. As my hon. Friend said, we are not talking about people who are commuting to work in central London. The Lex gallup poll survey which came into my hands today asks what people use their car for nowadays. The replies showed : shopping for groceries 87 per cent., visiting family and friends, 86 per cent., shopping for consumer goods, 76 per cent. Those are the three highest categories before we come to journeys to work.

My hon. Friend referred to one of the many meetings that he has had, some of which I have attended. He will remember that I met the Barnes and Mortlake traffic action group and I asked how people got to Heathrow airport. They had many different routes. Rat-running is not quite the right phrase because there are not that many bridges over the Thames, but it is difficult to get from my hon. Friend's constituency to Heathrow airport. It is an unsatisfactory journey. When the consultants are considering options for such journeys we should not dismiss the search for ways of solving some of the traffic needs.

I agree that we should not try to cope with all potential road movements in London. Road construction is not the answer to most of London's traffic problems.

Mr. Hanley : I have already taken up a lot of time and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Would he admit that not one person in Richmond would get to Heathrow via a new road across Barnes?

Mr. Bottomley : I am not sure. Starting from the south-east corner of my hon. Friend's constituency one

Column 1259

conceivably could if there was access near Barnes, but that leads me to argue for the option presently being considered.

I hope that my hon. Friend will convey the following points to the thousands who come to his meetings. I wish that I were as popular as he is in his constituency. Incidentally, if he is in favour of public transport, he could try swapping places with me for a week. A railway line is proposed for my constituency. Perhaps he would like to come and explain why railway lines are so good and I could come to his constituency and explain about roads. I might repeat in public the offer that I made in private about his other problem, the future of Richmond theatre. Why does he not sell tickets at £10 a piece to all his road protesters to come and listen to me give an explanation of Government policy? That will help Richmond theatre and perhaps help those who have come to listen. I am not sure whether that will help me, but I make that as a reasonable offer to my hon. Friend. Let me deal briefly with some of the documents that have been circulated which may be one reason why so many have been coming to my hon. Friend's meetings. BAMTAG has said in a leaflet that those who do not want a motorway slicing through Barnes and Mortlake should do what it suggests. All the people must do is listen to what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have said, which is that there are no motorway proposals within London.

Prospect, the newsletter of the Barnes Community Association, makes seven references to a motorway on its front page. However people misinterpret the David Hencke article in The Guardian on 11 July, they cannot possibly go that far unless they are deliberately making a mistake or trying to stir up unnecessary worries. As my hon. Friend said, there are many people whose worries should not be stirred up until they actually know that there is a proposal. My hon. Friend asks whether we can accelerate the work of the consultants and the Department's consideration of the results of stage 2B. We shall do that.

My hon. Friend made reference to The Guardian , but he did not make reference to The Guardian leader of 31 January 1989, which says :

"What the Government should be doing with the burgeoning billions is spending on roads".

The Guardian , of course, speaks with a forked tongue, and when I enter David Hencke for the United Kingdom Press Gazette award of journalist of the year, I shall not use that editorial because it is not signed. I shall use, however, some of his other articles. My hon. Friend has referred to some of the timings of the announcements. The fact is that the David Hencke article, which on the front page referred to

"London road schemes threaten 5,000 homes"--

which is not even believed by Sally Hamwee--was tied in with the Kensington by-election. It was published on the last Monday of that campaign.

My hon. Friend has said that the Department has been more open on the consultants' work on options in London than anywhere else. It would be one of the paradoxes of modern journalism if the behaviour of The Guardian -- which is the source of many of the reports in the locality--was the reason for us not repeating this procedure. I believe in open government. I believe that there is very little information that the Department has which should not be shared with the local highway authorities. I made it

Column 1260

plain that the consultants would be working with the local boroughs, so they could put forward their views at stage 2A.

It was then asked whether we tried to keep it a secret between us and the local authorities, which was impractical and wrong. Perhaps, next year or the year after when we look back, people will say, "Peter Bottomley was wrong and those who believe in secrecy, like The Guardian , were right." I hope that that will not happen. I hope that The Guardian will come to believe that the way we have approached this matter is the right one. The David Hencke article turned what quite clearly are options into what they called proposals.

I would like to come to one point on which my hon. Friend fairly reflected Government opinion, which again concerns The Guardian and The Independent . They said that the Department instructed local boroughs to hide the fact that options were being considered. We have done precisely what local boroughs agreed--they were not forced--and what the GLC used to do and what any other local authority does when it considers options. When options move to the proposal stage, they appear on land searches. If local authorities want to talk about the options which the consultants are considering and tell prospective purchasers or inquirers about them, we are happy.

I want to nail the lie that in any way we have ever asked local authorities to do anything different from that which they were doing themselves. It is the sort of example--there may be another one tomorrow--where people have gone out of their way either to lie or cheat--I do not accuse my hon. Friend of that at all--or to seriously mislead. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the issue, so I could make plain what I have previously made plain in parliamentary answers and to the press too.

There are people who will go to any lengths to suggest that the Department is trying to cover London with concrete. We are trying to obtain studies to see what can be done to improve mobility and the environment in London and to reduce road casualties. There is no doubt that the ownership of cars will increase, there will be massive investment in public transport and there is the need to consider not just local road improvements--perhaps for casualty reduction--but to see whether there are other links which could be built.

We must keep a sense of perspective. At the moment we are spending less than £100 million a year in London, which does not buy very much. There are proposals such as the WEIR proposal, and I have noticed that my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Carrington) has been listening attentively and, no doubt, if there was time, he would have intervened. I hope that he will not intervene on a point of order, because when the last Member for Fulham, Nick Rainsford, intervened on a point of order to say how unpopular the WEIR proposal was, he immediately lost his seat to my hon. Friend.

I hope that my hon. Friend and his constituents will argue for environmental protection and, like my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, for getting information through, options considered and proposals put forward as soon as possible so as to relieve uncertainty. Uncertainty is the worst aspect. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond that motorways should not go through London and that we will continue to do all that we can.

Column 1261

Mr. Hanley : Will my hon. Friend confirm that he will accelerate the time scale of the decision on these options?

Mr. Bottomley : Everything I can, I will do to that end. How successful I will be, we shall have to see, but I will do all for which my hon. Friend asked.

Column 1262

The Motion having been made after Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. Deputy Speaker-- adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order. Adjourned at twenty-nine minutes past Twelve o'clock .

Written Answers Section

  Home Page