Orders of the Day — Surrey County Council Bill.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 17th February 1931.

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Photo of Mr James Wilson Mr James Wilson , Oldham

I beg to move, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to leave out Part IX. On behalf of myself and those who are acting with me I desire to say that we are glad the Bill has been given a Second Reading without a Division, and from the point of view of its main ideas we hope it will have an equally speedy passage through all its remaining stages. But by universal consent Part IX is not an integral part of the Bill. It deals with a scheme which, I think, it is stretching the English language unduly to call a scheme—with something which would be more correctly described if one referred to it as "an accident." It may interest the House to know the history of this proposal which the Barnes Urban District Council have succeeded in getting incorporated in this Surrey County Council Bill. Early in 1929 the Barnes Council appointed a committee to look into the question of the High Street and into the question of housing. Not until towards the latter part of 1930 did that committee make any report to the council. By a sheer accident the officers of the Barnes Council found that the Surrey County Council were promoting an Omnibus Bill, and in their desire to get their scheme—if scheme it can be called—included in the Bill, measures were hurriedly rushed through without reasonable time for discussion and consideration and without proper steps being taken to acquaint the ratepayers and others interested with the nature of the scheme.

An hon. Member opposite said the Barnes Council were unanimous in support of this scheme. That is not quite so. I grant at once that the Barnes Labour party, who have invited me to express their views in this place, in order that objections which they regard as valid may receive some attention, are not well represented on the Barnes Council, but there is no doubt in my mind that, small as is the Labour party there, they represent substantially the public view of the residents of Barnes and Mortlake on this matter. I have taken steps to satisfy myself as to that, because I will be no party to opposing this merely for the sake of opposition to any Measure to confer necessary powers upon a local authority.

The main purpose of Part IX is to construct a by-pass road through what are now very congested areas. This by-pass road, in its main features, runs counter to every modern authority on town planning and road construction. In the short distance of under half-a-mile this by-pass road will be intercepted and crossed at from four to six points by side streets. Every authority on road construction advises that that is one of the things which ought to be guarded against in the construction of traffic roads. No one who is interested in road-making will say that Professor Raymond Unwin is not an authority of some standing. What does he say in his report on the Regional Planning of Greater London, issued in 1929? In order that traffic may not be delayed unduly, and that danger points may not be created too frequently, cross-roads or side-road junctions should be spaced not nearer than about one-third of a mile in suburban areas, and from half a mile upwards in the outer districts. Even at a third of a mile, cars travelling at 30 miles per hour would pass the junction every 40 seconds. Professor Unwin tells us, therefore, that a small portion of a new road such as it is proposed under Part IX of this Bill to construct behind the existing Mortlake High Street ought not to he intercepted by cross or converging roads.

I am sure that is a point of view which will interest hon. Members in all parts of the House who are anxious to see public development and improved planning proceed along the right lines. I will quote the opinion of another authority which gave guidance and advice to the Barnes Council a short time ago. In a report on the Regional Planning of the Thames Valley in 1925 we are told: Difficult corners at Mortlake and by the White Hart public house require improvement, and the narrow High Street of Mortlake is in urgent need of widening. Effect has already been given to the recommendation as to the White Hart public house. In 1925 they said that the High Street, Mortlake, which is the place here referred to, was in urgent need of widening. Those for whom I act are opposing this scheme because they think it proceeds along wrong lines. Under this Bill the fast traffic will be thrown right up against the playground of the largest school in the district, and naturally the parents of the children are alarmed as to the dangers which may arise as the result of the passing of an ill-considered scheme of this kind. I will try to satisfy the House that there is a vast amount of public opinion in opposition to this scheme. I will quote first the opinion of one or two other authorities. No one will say that Professor Adshead, of the University of London, is a gentleman who could not be regarded as an authority on town planning and development. In a personal letter addressed to me he says: As representing a wide body of opinion on questions of town planning and town improvements, may I say that you have my sympathetic support in opposing the Bill which the Surrey County Council have brought into Parliament, and which will, I understand, be discussed on Tuesday. Taking the Bill as a whole no one could welcome it more than myself, but containing as it does, Clauses providing for the so-called Mortlake High Street Improvement, the Bill should be opposed. I have lived for 10 years in the Mortlake High Street and know all the circumstances of this improvement. It would be wrong from a traffic point of view, wrong from a financial point of view, and spoil every opportunity for a real improvement to the old High Street in perpetuity. That is the opinion of Professor Adshead, and I think he is an authority worthy of consideration. I will give another example of the many letters which have reached me in opposition to this Bill.

The Chairman of the Barnes Mortlake and East Sheen Ratepayers' Association writes: As Chairman of the Barnes and Mortlake Amenities Committee I am writing to thank you for your efforts in opposing that part of the Bill of the Surrey County Council, Section 9 I believe, dealing with the proposed bye-pass road to Mortlake High Street.My Committee are entirely against this scheme from beginning to end; it is really only a means by which the Council propose finding the site for a future housing scheme, to cost possibly £100,000, which we have no use for whatever in this district.The Council have, very underhandedly, in our opinion, included this Section 9 in the Surrey County Council Bill, and have, so far as they possibly could, kept a knowledge of their movements away from the ratepayers in this district. They have never mentioned so far their intention to use this scheme as a basis for a housing scheme, but that is the next step in their procedure. I may say that this Committee has amongst its Members Professor Adshead, Professor of Town Planning at the University of London, and several architects, estate agents, doctors, etc., who are in a position to be able to judge this scheme from the technical and expert standpoint. I could go on, if it were necessary, to quote other communications that have reached me from various sources in opposition to this Bill, but I do not want to take up too much time. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health has made my task much less difficult than it otherwise would have been, because she has given an assurance that before this Bill passes through the Committee stage the portion of the Bill which affects the Ministry of Health will be considered by the Ministry, and that which affects the Ministry of Transport will be considered by that Ministry. Consequently, each Ministry affected will consider the proposals of this Bill. I think t have drawn sufficient attention to these matters for the Ministries concerned to scrutinise carefully the provisions of this Bill before it is allowed to pass through Committee.

9.0 p.m.

As a result of the scheme put forward in this Bill, there will be between 86 and 90 working-class houses demolished, the tenants of which are at present living under the Rent Restrictions Act. Those tenants are apprehensive because, so far as is known at present, no alternative provision has been made to accommodate the people who will be displaced by this scheme, which it is urged should be immediately carried out in order to find work for the unemployed. There are about 400 people who will be involved by this scheme, and it is highly desirable that this House should ensure, in Committee or in another place, that due and adequate provision shall be made for the people who would be displaced by the scheme. This point should be met before we allow the Bill to pass through Committee.

The Barnes District Council have some dubiety about the wisdom of their own scheme. They are anxious to avoid a division of opinion which would affect the passage of the Second Beading of the Bill. That body passed this resolution: That while the council record with great regret the circumstances they, for the purpose of securing the passage through Parliament of the remaining parts of the Surrey County Council Bill in this session, do hereby comply with the requests of the county council, and give them full authority should they so desire, to withdraw Part IX of such Bill which sought power to enable the council to have dealt with a much-needed scheme of improvement and re-housing conditions in the Mortlake High Street area and providing a playground for the children. The council further desire to record their sense of deep appreciation of the courtesy and generosity of the Surrey County Council in endeavouring to obtain sanction to this scheme. Whoever speaks for the Surrey County Council I hope will be able to allay the fears of those who live in that part of Surrey in regard to the construction of the proposed new road. I think it is very important that before the scheme promoted by this Bill is proceeded with, due and adequate provision should be made for the poor people and the workpeople who will be displaced if the new road is constructed.