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 Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking 12:00 am, 7th May 1959

The right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) has asked me, and very rightly, to give the Government's policy, looking towards the future, on the very great and acknowledged problem of traffic congestion in our cities. I shall be very happy to do so as quickly as I can.

First I would say one general thing. It is worth considering that if we did not have a problem of acute traffic congestion in our cities we would probably be a great deal more worried than we are today, because traffic congestion is at least a sign of an expanding and lively economy. It is the same in every advancing country in the world. The sign of material development is a traffic problem. Do not let us regard it, therefore, in too tragic a manner. It is a by-product of an advanced, technological way of life. We have to find a proper solution, and not throw up our hands in horror and say how terrible it all is.

It is no use having the best of all possible plans unless we have some performance. This is not a strictly party matter. I remember with great pleasure the collective wisdom of the House of Commons when we discussed the Road Traffic Bill, and it is the collective wisdom of this Committee that I want to take on this matter now. It is true, as the right hon. Gentleman has just said, that we have been very slow to tackle this problem. For example, Mr. Barnes gave his Government very good advice, but they failed to take it. The present Government are at least taking some of the advice that I have tried to give them and I can talk to the Committee about performance as well as about planning.

Performance falls under four heads, with which I shall try to deal quickly. The first is that we must have more roads. The second is we must have better use of existing roads. The third is that we must have better deployment of public transport, and the fourth is we must have better control and co-ordination.

First, about more urban roads. We do not want to get misled into thinking that there is any particular simple solution. For example, there is a mystique about urban motor roads, but although they are very interesting we do not want to got dazzled by them. We must have our own solution about this. We cannot just pick up a road from America or Germany. plant it down over here and say, "That's right". It is not. We are experimenting with roads, not of the complete motor-road standard but with roads of limited access. A good example is the Cromwell Road extension. It may have taken a long time to come, but it is now practically complete, and should be finished, except for the Hammersmith flyover, in August.

It cannot be classified as a motor road because it is not of motor-road standard. It is a limited access road and will be an immense boon to London. The Birmingham Inner Ring Road is not quite a motor road in the terms understood by the expert, but a limited access road. I am inclined to think that that kind of road fits our city traffic problems better than the motor road. I am not saying that we do not need the motor road solution, but do not let us say that if we cannot build an enormous number of urban motor roads we cannot do anything at all. We shall not get anywhere in that way.

Take the London problem. For his sins, the Minister of Transport is the London traffic authority. I never quite know why. In general, in London, we want not so much ring roads but radial roads to handle the enormous surge in the inflow and outflow of traffic every day. We are making some steps in this direction. As I have said, the Cromwell Road extension, with the Chiswick flyover, will, I hope, be opened in August. Beyond that, we plan a motor road. First, it will be a double-decker road to link the Chiswick flyover to the South Wales radial road, which will be a full-scale motor road.

I return to my theme of giving a face lift to some of our existing roads. By that means we can draw a traffic dividend very quickly. An example of a small face lift is the Hanger Lane flyover, which will be finished in 1960 at a cost of El million and will give much better value to the road network in that area.

I hope to announce in a few days' time some plans for a fairly major face lift for some of the Kingston By-pass. That is an exit from London which I think that we ought to be modernising and thus making more valuable.

The Committee will appreciate that I am giving examples. I hope that the L.C.C. will soon be able to reach a decision about the Kingsway tunnel. It has always been astonishing to me that we have the possibility of an underpass from Waterloo Bridge to Kingsway of which we are not making any use. The London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee may be yet another committee, but it is thanks to it that this problem has been picked up again. I hope that before long the L.C.C. will be able to agree that we can use that tunnel as a flyunder from the end of Waterloo Bridge to Kingsway.

Are we looking ahead? I will give the Committee some idea of the sort of plans on which the planning section of my Ministry is now working. I will give but three examples in London, although I could give many more. First, the London to Birmingham motor road needs a link both into the centre of Birmingham and into the centre of London. The link into the centre of Birmingham is going ahead and will marry in with the extra work on the Inner Ring Road.

We are also examining the possibility of a motor road from Marble Arch to Aldenham, which is the end of the present London to Birmingham motor road. It is a cheap motor road by present-day standards. By "cheap" I mean that it will cost only £30 million. That seems an immense sum of money, but it will save 6 million vehicle hours per year. There will then be a link from Marble Arch right through to the centre of Birmingham.

There are always immense difficulties to be overcome on planning and the displacement of people. To give another example to the Committee, one small section of the Cromwell Road extension was held up for a long time on one ground only, namely, the difficulty of finding alternative housing accommodation for people who would be displaced on the Talgarth Road section. Unless we are willing to throw away an immense number of safeguards for the rights of people and property in this island, we shall find it fairly difficult to do these things, but they will not take as long as the right hon. Gentleman indicated that Cromwell Road took.

Another plan is the new outlet to the east which would comprise our present plans for a dock relief road with the Norwich Radial. There are plans for a link to the south-east to link the Medway motor road into London. I could give many more examples.

One has to face a cost of up to £4 million a mile for an urban motorway. It is a good investment, but, as the right hon. Gentleman said, if we are to carry out a very large number of these urban motor road schemes, the House of Commons and the country will certainly have to provide my Ministry with more money for its road schemes. Otherwise, they will not be possible.

I hope that I have shown that we are thinking well ahead on planning. Although I am using London as an example, every large provincial city is doing the same sort of thing.

It is also necessary to go ahead with some current works. I will give the Committee one or two examples in London. The Dartford—Purfleet tunnel will be finished in 1962 at a cost of £11 million. That will be a new link across the Thames. The new scheme at the Elephant and Castle, costing £1½ million, which will be completed in 1962, will help to cure that South London bottle- neck. The Notting Hill Gate scheme and the reconstruction of the tube station and major road widening will be completed in 1960. The Blackwall Tunnel duplication, which I regard as most important, will cost £8 million and should be finished by 1964. The northern approaches are going on now at a cost of £1½ million. I hope that Route 11 will be opened in the next few weeks in the City of London. This is a most interesting scheme, because it combines with the road a parking space for 250 motor cars. I certainly congratulate the City of London on that type of scheme. I shall return to the parking issue in a moment.

Then there is the widening of Cheap-side, the widening of the Strand, the reconstruction of St. Giles Circus, and the Holborn Kingsway new scheme at a cost of £1¼ million. These are all relatively small schemes, but they will all pay an enormous traffic dividend. Then there is the new Park Lane scheme, on which work has now started. Its four-lane underpass was included in the scheme with some doubts in the House of Commons and elsewhere, but I am sure that it is right. Even though it perhaps slightly over-insures against present traffic I am sure that it will be necessary for future traffic. So at least we are proceeding with some current works. There are plenty of schemes elsewhere. Birmingham has several interesting examples of urban motor roads—over the railways, under the railways, and so on. The whole Birmingham Inner Ring Road scheme is very interesting.

To give one other example, there is a very interesting scheme at Newport of a complete motor road treatment for a medium-sized town. I know that it presents Newport with great difficulties in rehousing, and so on, but I hope that Newport will go ahead with this very imaginative scheme designed by Sir Owen Williams. This scheme shows what can be done to give a medium-sized town full motor road treatment.

I hope that I have said at least enough to show that on the constructional front we are trying to do a great deal of work now in planning for the future, when there will be obviously even more traffic problems.