Orders of the Day — Traffic Congestion (Large Cities)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th May 1959.

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Photo of Mr George Strauss Mr George Strauss , Lambeth Vauxhall 12:00 am, 7th May 1959

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I am coming to that point.

Another proposal which has been put forward, one which every Minister of Transport has approached with great enthusiasm and later abandoned in disappointment is the staggering of hours of work. The Labour Government tried that in 1946 and 1947. I went round London addressing various conferences and begging industrialists, shopkeepers and other employers of labour to stagger the hours of their workers, and the present Government have done the same. One gets a polite response, but very little action.

Although we should try to get as much staggering of working hours as possible and continue with propaganda efforts to that end, we must recognise that, for obvious reasons, the results will not be substantial. People do not want to go to work very early in the morning before the rest of the members of their family are up, or before they have been able to enjoy a communal breakfast. They do not want to arrive home long before other members of the family or before the children have come home from school. We must appreciate that there is a limit to what can be done in that direction.

There is the very important problem of parking. I do not think that anyone questions that improper parking causes serious congestion in the centre of London. There is no doubt that the parking meter scheme in Westminster, small as it is, has been a great success, and, if it is repeated elsewhere, is likely to be equally effective. I remember the strong opposition by the Automobile Association and the R.A.C. to the suggestion that the scheme should be introduced. They said that it was wrong in principle and would not work, despite the fact that similar schemes had been proved successful practically all over the world. The Westminster scheme has proved a success. Traffic flows more easily through that area and road accidents have been fewer in number. The question now is: how quickly we can bring parking meter schemes to other areas, or else introduce the alternative blue disc schemes?

I am distressed at the length of time it takes to get a parking meter scheme into operation. There will be a period of about two years between the time when a scheme was initiated for the Marylebone area and its coming into operation. Is it really necessary that such a long period should elapse? Shall we have to wait five or six years before there are effective schemes covering central London? The same problem arises in the provinces. I hope that steps will he taken to expedite these schemes. I shall be interested to hear whether it is still possible for some provincial cities to have disc schemes similar to that operated in Paris, and about which we have had debates in the House. They appear to be an attractive alternative to parking meters and it would be interesting to have an experiment along those lines in some part of the country.

Parking in streets where there is no meter scheme presents a serious problem. We all agree that parking in such streets in the centre of London causes much congestion and that the present oversight of such parking by the police is ineffective. Here, more than in other directions, useful measures could be taken to prevent traffic congestion. Strong action is called for. All over the place one finds, in streets where there should be no parking, or parking only on one side of the road, that the regulations arc ignored every day.

If the answer is that there are not sufficient police to deal with this matter. one asks: what do the Government propose to do about it? Are they satisfied with the present situation, or is it proposed to ask the Home Secretary to appoint mare police, or to employ traffic wardens, or something of that kind? Are the Government prepared to allow this serious parking situation to continue in and around the centre of London?

The permitting of loading and unloading of goods in front of shops during periods when parking is not allowed is another matter which must be dealt with. I hope that the Government will take a stronger line about this than in the past. In many countries loading and unloading of goods in front of shops is prohibited during periods when the streets are full of traffic. That might prove an inconvenience to many shopkeepers, but if it assists the flow of traffic, as I believe it would, I hope that the Government will be firm and impose such a ban. The Minister would have the support of most Londoners in any such action.

I suggest to the Minister that double parking should immediately be made an offence. It is a monstrous thing. Not only does it block up the road, but the car parked on the inside which may have been left only for a short time, is imprisoned by other vehicles and the driver cannot move it. I hope that the Minister will tell us that he proposes to do this.

Then there is the question of the provision of garages for cars. Of course, this is highly desirable, but this is a matter designed not so much for clearing the streets and preventing congestion as providing something highly convenient for motorists. Garages by themselves only attract traffic into the centre of towns and they may attract traffic in streets which are already overcrowded. Any application for the building of a garage in streets which are already congested should be looked at very carefully, and turned down if there is any likelihood that the flow of cars in and out of the garage will cause further serious congestion in the surrounding streets and in what may be an important shopping or business area.

The siting of garages is of importance. I am all in favour of putting garages a little away from the congested streets, as a convenience to motorists, while recognising the fact that they will attract more cars to the area than would otherwise be there. I am, however, doubtful about the value of putting up big garages and parking places right in the centre of congested areas where the streets am already too full.

I see no reason why these garages should be paid for out of public funds. It has been suggested that the building of garages should be subsidised from national funds, or from the rates of local authorities. I cannot see any reason for that. The motorist who wants to bring his car into London, and have the convenience of parking it near the centre, should pay the proper economic rent for that facility.

A way of relieving congestion in or near the centre of our towns which has caused more discussion than anything else is the provision of ordinary new roads, the widening of existing ones, or the building of urban motorways. Plainly, it is not possible to give a general answer and say that this is or is not a desirable solution. In some cities the building of a new road may be the only possible thing to do, but we must recognise that it is expensive and if we say that that is the solution, we must be prepared to see a large amount of money spent in the building of these new roads.

In London, there has been only one really new road for a long time, and that is the Cromwell Road. Speaking of that road reminds me how long it takes to get a new road built. It was when I was chairman of the London County Council Highways Committee, about twenty-five years ago, that the Council promoted a Bill, which was passed in Parliament, for the building of the Cromwell Road extension. It was not a new idea then, it had been seriously considered by experts for many years before. It has lust been completed.

There may be other places where substantial road widening is desirable, such as the Strand. I fully share the doubt whether an inner A-ring road within a radius of one-and-a-half miles of Charing Cross would really be worth while. Not only would the expense be enormous—we are told about £150 million—but I think that such a road would create traffic problems as well as relieve them. I am certain that it would not be possible to build such a road without destroying almost completely the architectural character and general amenities of the area through which it passed. We have to think very carefully before embarking on a scheme of that kind.

On the other hand, there are proposals which appear to me to be far more attractive. I have in mind in particular, the building of a new tube from Victoria to Walthamstow. This is something which has been strongly advocated on traffic grounds by almost every authority for a long time. Again, it will be very expensive. We are told that it will cost about £50 million. But I believe that this would be far cheaper and far better in relieving traffic congestion than a ring road.

We know that the annual cost of such a tube will be heavy and might amount to about £3 million a year. There seems to be justification if the Government are spending substantial sums of money, as they must do, to help relieve road congestion for subsidising a development of this sort which is an alternative way of doing the same thing. This matter is now being considered by the committee over which I think the Joint Parliamentary Secretary presides, or by one of the other committees, possibly the London Traffic Committee. I am, however, doubtful whether the views of that committee will be considered as final or decisive by the Government. Its report will be the opinion of a group of people whose views will be interesting and nothing more.

I hope that a decision about this matter will not be long delayed and that a favourable decision will be taken, because, although I cannot speak with all the expert knowledge which one should have before deciding anything of this sort, it appears, from all the evidence published and the facts that have been before us, that such a development in London would be of the highest importance and do much towards relieving traffic congestion.

As for the proposals of motorways, it is quite impossible to generalise. I think that in many of the provincial cities such developments would be highly desirable and should be proceeded with. If that is so, the local authorities should receive every encouragement from the Government and the Minister should urge them to push ahead and put before him the plans which they think desirable—not with the understanding that the Minister will accept whatever plans are put before him, but as an indication that he is anxious to do what he can and contribute substantial sums of money for that purpose.

There is only one other thing which I want to say on this subject before I sit down and leave it to other hon. Members to make their contributions, and it concerns road safety. About 75 per cent. of the casualties on our roads are in the built-up areas. Although it may be said that the slower the traffic, the fewer the accidents—believe that is true—nevertheless the accident aspect of traffic flowing through our cities is exceedingly important. I want to make a brief comment on it. It concerns the propaganda now being carried on by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, with the help of substantial sums of money from the Treasury.

In my opinion, much of the propaganda displayed on its wayside posters is an absolute waste of money. I cannot think what good anyone thinks it does to have posters saying, "Good driving pays". Everyone believes that he is a good driver, and anodyne and platitudinous statements of that sort are not likely to make anyone drive more carefully.

I have my own view as to the type of propaganda necessary to have any effect on the public and I think that to some extent it must bring the public up with a jerk and shock them about the danger of accidents. [An HON. MEMBER: "The black widow."] That is an example. Posters of the present sort, displayed all over the place outside towns and in the country, are an utter waste of money and, indeed, ridiculous. I wonder what inquiries are made and by whom before it is decided to use slogans of that sort.

There must be many people in the advertising world who would be able to give sound advice as to the kind of poster likely to have effect. Have they been consulted and, if so, who else has been consulted? I imagine that no one has been consulted, or if they have been consulted their advice has not been taken. I hope that we shall have some comment from the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary about the wisdom of spending large sums of public money in carrying out a campaign which is, I think, in the view of everyone in this Committee, incapable of bringing about any results whatsoever.