Previous SectionIndexHome Page

That Ms Diana Organ, Ms Sally Keeble, Audrey Wise,Dr. Howard Stoate, Dr. Lewis Moonie, Mr. Martyn Jones,Mr. Kevin Barron, Dr. Stephen Ladyman, Mr. Owen Paterson, Mr. David Curry, Mr. Robert Walter, Dr. Peter Brand and the Reverend Martin Smyth be members of the Committee;
That the Committee have power
(a) to send for persons, papers and records;
(b) to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House;
(c) to adjourn from place to place within the United Kingdom;
(d) to appoint specialist advisers; and
(e) to communicate to any select committee of either House their evidence and any other documents relating to matters of common interest; and
That the Committee shall report by 31st March 1999.--[Mr. Betts.]

Sir Peter Emery (East Devon): Object.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): The motion cannot be proceeded with if it is opposed.

Sir Peter Emery: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Do you not think that there is something very wrong with appointing a Select Committee when the Government have already announced--I think quite wrongly--that a £90 fee will be imposed across the board on all food outlets, irrespective of size or location?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that the motion is not debatable in any way. That is not a point of order.

4 Feb 1999 : Column 1190

Motorway Bridges

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

7.24 pm

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): I thank Madam Speaker for granting me this Adjournment debate. It is a measure of new Labour that the cry is no longer, "To the barricades!" but, "To the parapets!" However, the issue is an important one. I would describe this as my Bridge of Sighs debate, although the bridges in question and the view from them are not as attractive as their Venetian counterpart.

I, my constituents, and many thousands of people throughout the country sigh with dismay when we see the size of bridge parapets. The debate arises from the bridges recently constructed in my constituency, but it has national implications. The M11 link road is still being built in my constituency, through Leyton, Leytonstone and Wanstead. That is a built-up, well-populated--[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman has started his Adjournment debate and his time is precious. I should be grateful if hon. Members continued their conversations outside the Chamber.

Mr. Cohen: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My constituency is a built-up, well-populated urban area and the M11 link road has given local residents all sorts of unpleasant surprises. They have not been consulted on many aspects of the project, their complaints are often ignored, and the local environment has been devastated with little recompense or remedial measures.

However, the bridge parapets are a considerable shock, being low and dangerous. Where Blake Hall road, Wanstead and Gainsborough road, Leytonstone cross the speeding motorway below, the parapets are only slightly more than 3 ft high--hip level for the average pedestrian. At Cathall bridge, where there are major housing estates, the parapets are only a little higher. I have received many letters from local residents expressing grave concerns. I have not publicised this debate locally, but Hugh Jones of Wanstead wrote to me only this week saying, initially with sarcasm:

Here are the views of Mrs. Jayham, who wrote:

    "I am very concerned at the low level of the railings . . . Could you please investigate and let me know if they conform to Health and Safety standards? I think it is very important to safeguard the safety of pedestrians."

4 Feb 1999 : Column 1191

    Mrs. Helen Bostock writes:

    "For many months now I have been very worried about the safety of this bridge and have been into the Link Office to express my concern--to no avail. Thank you for your efforts--I hope Glenda Jackson will visit the site and see the dangers for herself."

Jeanne Hayes says:

    "I just want to know my children will be safe as they cross the M11 Link Road on their way to Wanstead High School. All it needs is some children to be fooling around or a bully pushing a youngster against the side for an accident to happen."

Louise Buchanan of the Leytonstone 2000 forum says of the low railings:

    "I don't know how they got away with it. Everything has been done on the cheap. If this was Hampstead or Highgate, I'm sure that things would be excellent . . . the bridge is used by a lot of children going to Leytonstone School. I'm not saying that they will throw anything on the road, but the temptation is there. If anything like a carrier bag of rubbish is thrown on to the road when there are cars there, it could cause a pile-up. And if anyone wants to throw themselves off, it would be easy."

Mr. Larry Golding warns:

    "The danger to both children and adults must be obvious to all but the blind and indifferent. In addition projectiles of any sort, by accident or design, will cause a disaster or at least serious injury. I can conceive no logical reason for some form of protection high enough to afford better protection"

not being installed.

The link road project manager replied to earlier complaints saying:

My constituent Douglas L. Staudte commented:

    "The width of the pavement is not in question, although if it was 100 yards wide the parapet would still be low at 3 ft 4 in. I cannot understand the thinking behind it. There is no view to be enjoyed that a higher parapet would obscure. It's a temptation to some idiots to act the fool. It is alarming to look at and a fall would be certain death, if not from the impact then from speeding traffic."

I recount the recent experience of my wife and myself on a bridge with a low parapet when we visited an Essex town. A boy, aged about 10, was wheeling his younger brother in a pushchair over a bridge. The younger boy kept leaving the pushchair, removing his coat and running to the side of the bridge. His older brother kept struggling to bring him back and return him to his coat and the pushchair. My wife and I froze at the end of the bridge as the scene was played out about three times, and I was ready to run on to the bridge if they came close to disaster. Those kids were behaving as kids do; it was the low parapet that made an accident possible.

I have written to the Minister suggesting that she or one her staff visits the Blake Hall road bridge. Plain common sense screams out that those low parapets are not safe.

The replies to the complaints are brief. They repeat that the height complies with the national standard. I have examined that standard, which is contained in section 2.19 of the Highways Agency document BD52/93. The minimum height for a pedestrian parapet is 1,000 mm, which is 3 ft 3.4 in. A footbridge parapet, except over a railway, is a little higher at 1,150 mm. On all bridges over railways, parapets must be 1,250 mm high or, in some circumstances, 1,500 mm. Interestingly, the minimum height for a parapet on a bridleway is 1,800 mm, which is probably just the right height to fall or be thrown from a horse.

4 Feb 1999 : Column 1192

The footbridge standard is low, but why is it higher than the standard for pedestrian parapets in urban areas? The standard is higher for bridges over railways. Are motorists' lives deemed to be less important? In my constituency, London Underground has insisted that the bridges over the Central line be covered by tunnels. That implies a wish to avoid debris coming from bridges. If that is the case for the tube, why not for the motorway? After regurgitating the national standard justification, the Minister at least added the caveat,

First, what is the evidence for that national standard? Apparently, it has been in place since the 1960s. Where did it come from? When was it last reviewed? Has there been any public consultation about it? What recent trends in public safety requirements have been taken into account?

Secondly, I have recent evidence. The Guardian of 30 November 1998 carried the headline, "Brothers die in separate falls from road bridge." The article states:

The article quotes the boys' father as calling for motorway bridges to be made safer. He said:

    "The railings should be higher so it's harder for kids to climb up on them".

So Minister, there is evidence of two recent deaths that were put down to the national standard.

I have more compelling evidence. Paul Watters, head of roads and transport policy for the Automobile Association has written to me about objects thrown from bridge parapets. He writes:

I believe that the lump went right through the windscreen and through the child seat like a stake. Fortunately, a child was not in the seat. Mr. Watters continues:

    "There was a case on the M3 at Odiham Hampshire about 18 months ago when a male was gravely injured after concrete was thrown on to his car. There have also been incidents in the North--a woman suffered eye injuries just before Christmas on a northern motorway. I also recall someone throwing themselves from a bridge and subsequently going through the windscreen of a vehicle on the M3 near Eastleigh last year. Whilst these atrocious acts are isolated, random and rare we want to know the extent of the problem, and what can be done. It would certainly be reassuring to hear that the Highways Agency will agree to providing extra barrier (height) protection at bridges which are considered more at risk than others e. g. close to large housing estates or where there is a lot of late hour pedestrian traffic--this needs to be provided to deter trouble, rather than after it has occurred."

The hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) has communicated to me that some concrete from the underside of the B5385 bridge fell on to the road on the evening of 8 December. I understand from him that there are bridges with a similar problem on the M1 and the M45. I hope that that point will be taken seriously by the Government, and acted on.

4 Feb 1999 : Column 1193

The Minister told me that she would consider any

The AA makes that case, but more generally--not on an individual bridge basis, which would result in relatively few departing from the national standard. That national standard needs to be reviewed and changed. The Minister also wrote to me saying,

    "There have been incidents of people committing suicide by leaping from a bridge but increasing the height of the parapets is no deterrent to such acts . . . increasing the height of parapets is unlikely to deter anyone intent on vandalism."

I hope that she will not repeat that line, which was given to her by officials, as most people would regard it as incredible. Low parapets make activity easy for those with such intent. Higher parapets make it difficult.

Some would argue that cost is a reason, but I suspect that the building of lower parapets was motivated by aesthetics. If so, it shows the stupidity of transport officials in thinking that one policy applies to all bridges. It is just not good enough. If the consideration of aesthetics is to be a factor--I do not object to that--higher ornamental railings and mesh should be used. The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions is living in a "Dixon of Dock Green" dream world on this matter. Public safety must be the paramount priority.

I have raised in the House the issue of corporate neglect. Now I have raised this matter in the House. If nothing is done, any future accident will involve an element of corporate culpability. The corporation in this case will be the DETR. I say to the Minister: "Do not be neglectful. Raise the height. Raise the standard."

Next Section

IndexHome Page