Tay Road Bridge

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th March 1955.

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Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East 12:00 am, 4th March 1955

A few weeks ago the House welcomed the statement by the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation that a road crossing of the Firth of Forth would be begun within four years. This afternoon I wish to urge upon the Government that an essential accompaniment to a Forth tube or Bridge is a road crossing of the Firth of Tay at Dundee. A most superficial glance at the map of Scotland will prove the point I wish to make. The East Coast of Scotland is deeply indented with two broad Firths at present crossed by cumbersome ferries. On the Tay the first road bridge is more than 30 miles from the mouth and is 22 miles inland from the City of Dundee.

If a Forth crossing is to do more than merely link the south of Fife with the Lothians, useful though that may be, then a road crossing of the Tay at Dundee is also required. The Forth crossing, by its estimated cost, is, quite clearly, a national rather than a local project. Indeed, when the Minister made his statement a few weeks ago he specifically described the Forth Bridge project as a major national project.

If it is to fulfil a national function it ought to be regarded as the first link in a great eastern road joining Aberdeen with Edinburgh and the South. Such a direct motor road necessarily involves the crossing of the Firth of Tay at Dundee. I should like to put the matter in this way. Let us assume that the Forth crossing has finally been established. If one goes across the Forth by road and then has to make a detour to Dundee and the north by Perth, or, alternatively, to risk the hazards of the Tay ferry, and all the hold-ups that that involves, obviously, in the long term, it will be a nonsensical situation.

Twin crossings over both the Forth and Tay would cut down the road journey from Dundee to Edinburgh by 27 miles. It would bring about a saving of more than one-third in the distance and a saving of considerably more than that in time—as the Minister of State, Scottish Office, could tell the Joint Undersecretary. The noble Lord recently made a journey on official business from Edinburgh to Dundee via the Kincardine road bridge. As a consequence he arrived at Dundee a couple of hours late.

Very wisely, and very revealingly, he chose to make the return journey by rail because, of course, the railways for two generations have recognised that it is only a Forth bridge and a Tay bridge taken together that really meet all the transport needs of the East Coast of Scotland. Fife, Angus and the Mearns would have faced disastrous isolation if the railway companies in the last century had been as laggard about bridging the Firths on the East Coast of Scotland as successive Governments have been in the present century.

It is 80 years since the first railway bridge across the Tay was begun, and even in those far-off days the Corporation of Dundee fought vigorously but in vain to have attached to the railway bridge some sort of crossing for other than rail transport. Between the wars the Tay road bridge was accepted repeatedly as a Government commitment. In 1923, Sir William Joynson-Hicks, speaking for the Cabinet, said, at a public meeting: We propose to construct a road bridge across the Tay which has long been demanded but which has been waiting for money. He added that the Government would provide most of the cost, and that as soon as the local authorities had agreed on their share the bridge would be put in hand. The 1924 Government honoured that pledge of the previous Administration. They put up the whole cost of carrying out a survey of the river and making the preliminary borgs and the preparing of detailed designs for a bridge. The 1929 Government continued the commitment. The Lord Privy Seal of that Administration said, in 1931, and I quote from the official minutes of the Dundee Corporation, that the Government were anxious and willing to proceed with the construction of these road bridges … and were wholeheartedly with the local authorities in the project under discussion. Unfortunately, the financial arrangements were torpedoed by the economic crisis of 1931. I think, in retrospect, that we can agree that it was tragically stupid, at a time when one-third of the Dundee workers were on the "dole," to decide that we could not afford to undertake public works of that nature. The present impatient queue of vehicles at the Tay ferries is a monument to that shortsighted folly. But for that, today we should have had the bridge, and all these arguments would have been over.

Today, there is a different situation. In some ways it is a curious one. The economic situation of the country as a whole makes spectacular public works schemes more difficult than in the idle 'thirties. But the economic situation in Dundee makes the need for a bridge over the Tay more urgent than it has ever been. Dundee, once a good example of a depressed one-industry city, is today a "boom town."

Government planning of industry has brought some of the most modern factories in the United Kingdom into the city, and the enterprise of our own native jute industry, which has spent £5 million on re-equipment since the end of the war, has given Dundee the most modern textile industry in the country. While we have mid-20th century machinery in Dundee, unfortunately we are still suffering from 19th century communications. Dundee has no air link with London and no direct road link with Edinburgh.

Dundee suburbs 2· miles away on the south side of the river are isolated from the city by a 50 mile road journey from the hours of 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. when the ferries are closed. The ferries themselves are constantly congested. But the very heavy traffic on the Tay ferries is not in itself any measure of the potential traffic across the road bridge were it finally established. Perhaps I may give a personal example to the House.

I have been motoring around Dundee fairly constantly for over 30 years, and I think I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of occasions on which I have gone by car from Dundee into Fife. The fact is that nobody makes this journey, because of the heavy ferry dues, unless they have to do it on essential business. For a family party of four in a 10 horse-power car, a journey across the ferry means a charge of 7s. 3d. For tens of thousands of motorists north of the Tay, Fife and its fascinating coast is a foreign land.

If the case was made out between the wars for a Tay road bridge, on the traffic that existed then, certainly the case is all that much stronger today, because undoubtedly the traffic today in a prosperous Dundee is very much heavier than it was in the years before the war. I asked the Minister of Transport, some months ago, what the estimated traffic over the Mersey was before the tunnel was constructed and what the traffic is today. The figures were interesting. The estimated traffic before the tunnel was constructed was 1,300,000 vehicles a year. Today, there are 8 million vehicles a year going through the Mersey tunnel. In the light of that evidence, I suggest that the potential increase in traffic over a Tay road bridge is likely to be of a similar order.

I appreciate that it would be unreasonable of me to expect from the Minister the same sort of welcome statement about a Tay crossing as he was able to make so recently about a Forth crossing. Getting that kind of statement from the Government took years of effort in this House and elsewhere. But I would like the Minister to say, if he can, that he accepts the principle that the two crossings go together, that the Tay crossing is necessary as being complementary to a Forth crossing. I should like the Minister to give us a firm assurance that the Tay road crossing has its definite place in the queue of Government priorities. Will he now permit for a Tay crossing the same kind of preliminary work as was begun nearly ten years ago for a Forth crossing?

In 1946, the then Minister of Transport told the House that he would concentrate upon the preparatory work necessary to bring other major schemes, such as the proposed new bridge across the Forth, to the stage at which they can be commenced at short notice in the light of the policy of timed expenditure of public works."—[Official Report, 6th May, 1946; Vol. 422, c. 592.] I beg the Minister to make this kind of statement about a Tay crossing. It would allow the local authorities to begin their preliminary negotiations about this very long-term project. It would allow expert investigations to be launched into the various suggestions which are being put forward about possibly more economical methods of crossing the Firth of Tay.

The Government took the country by surprise with their ingenious suggestion about a tube across the Forth, and similar suggestions have been made about the Tay. I understand that at Rotterdam, in Holland, there is already a tube of this kind. It has been suggested that it might be cheaper to put a tube across the Tay at the narrow crossing between. Broughty Ferry and Tayport. It has also been suggested that there might be a. causeway across the tidal basin just west of Dundee, and there is, of course, the suggestion of a normal traditional bridge such as was designed in 1926.

All I would say about the suggestions is that, whichever one was proved to be most practicable, it is essential that the crossing should be within close reach of Dundee. There is no point in carrying a new road bridge up to the Perth area.

These matters require a lot of investigation, and now, I submit, is the time that we should begin to make our preparations. I am sure that the Minister is well aware that there is strong and widespread local feeling on this issue, as there has been for a very long time. Dundee Corporation is sending a deputation to the Secretary of State for Scotland shortly, and I welcome the presence here this afternoon of the Joint Undersecretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson Stewart). The Corporation will make the same sort of points as I am making now.

In another year's time, the Secretary of State for Scotland will take over direct responsibility for the Scottish roads programme, but I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will not use that fact this afternoon to avoid making a full reply to the case which has been put. This is, after all, not a matter of short-term Departmental decision; it is not something which will be altered within twelve months; it is a question of long-term Government policy, a major national project. Surely the Minister of: Transport and the Secretary of State for Scotland already have an agreed view on the subject of the Tay road bridge.

Whenever there is a slackening of the economic effort or a blessed lessening of the arms burden which we have to bear, we must be ready quickly to inject big public works schemes into our economy, and the preparations for them must be made now. That was the point which the former Minister of Transport made in connection with the Forth crossing in 1946 and I suggest that it is the proper approach to the question of the Tay crossing today.

I plead with the Minister to say that a Tay road crossing is firmly on his list of forthcoming commitments and to give the House an indication of the degree of priority which such a project enjoys.