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

I do not disagree with that. I have mentioned the scheme in Birmingham where we hope to build some 2½ miles of road over the railway as the best way of getting through a congested area. When one considers an inner ring road for London, I think that the A Ring Road is certainly right if one is to build a completely new road, although its cost is enormous, not only in money, but in the displacement of people.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield). I think that we must see whether we can do more of this road-over-rail treatment in our cities. It is expensive, but it has the great attraction and advantage that it does not mean the displacement of thousands of people, the severance of one district from another, and all the difficulties of planning which arise when one has to drive a road through a densely built up area.

My Ministry is examining all these possibilities. There are many difficulties, but we had better let them argue for themselves. We must try to go ahead and make more use of this double-decker principle.

I want now to come to the second problem, how to make better use of existing roads. I, too, have read the very interesting articles in the Daily Telegraph. It is a good thing from time to time for somebody from outsde to look at our problems, and I think that the Daily Telegraph was very enterprising to bring Mr. Burton Marsh over. He represents a little known kind of traffic expert to us—the traffic engineer, trained as an engineer or as an architect, but brought up to deal with traffic problems.

His visit is timely, because of a very interesting development which I think has not received as much notice as it deserves. Thanks to the very generous help of a large number of firms and associations, we hope that there will now be a Chair of Traffic Engineering at Birmingham University, if Birmingham accepts the offer, which will start the training in this country of these essential people. They will be essential in order to solve our traffic problems in the future. Twenty thousand pounds a year have now been offered for this Chair. I should like to express the thanks of the whole House of Commons to those who have supported this imaginative concept. I should like to express my personal thanks to my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, because of what he did in all this. He organised it and it was his idea. I am grateful to him. It is a very good job to have done and it will pay a very good dividend in the future.

We also propose to start sending some people from my Ministry and other organisations to Yale and other traffic engineering schools in the United States so that while we are training our own people we can also be learning in America. It can, therefore, be said that we are taking traffic engineering seriously.

I agree that at the moment we have many committees but, as I shall mention before I end, this is because of the absurd fragmentation of responsibility which at present exists. The London Travel Committee has set up a Traffic Sub-Committee which is already doing this job of traffic engineering. It has formed what it calls an attack group," which is staffed by trained engineers from my Ministry. It has the full co-operation of the police, the local authorities and all others concerned. It is trying to study some new ideas on buses, to which I shall return presently, as well as the problem of improving intersections and all the other detailed changes which may make an improvement to traffic if we can carry them out. We have, therefore, not only the chair of engineering, and training in America, for the future but, in addition. something being done now in London—which I hope will be followed in other cities—by this Committee which is trying to get on with the job of traffic engineering.

Of course, that will not be enough, and I want to make plain what is the Government's policy on the question of trying to control parking in London. I agree that the parking meter has more than proved itself in the small pilot scheme which we have tried. As the right hon. Gentleman said, it has reduced accidents and it has increased the traffic speed by no less than 9 per cent. in the area, but, of course, we must start these innovations fairly slowly if we want to carry the public with us. I think we can say quite clearly that this is the right policy, and I therefore hope that we can speed up further schemes which are brought forward. The hearings of the new Westminster scheme will, I hope, start in June. They will be held by the Chairman of the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee, who has promised me that he will conduct the hearings as expeditiously as possible.

Hon. Members will be interested to know that I have signed an Order extending the provisions of the Act on parking meters to ten local authorities outside London. The Order will be laid before the House on Monday, 11th May. It requires an affirmative Resolution of both Houses, and I hope that it will be given this Resolution so that provincial cities which wish to go ahead with parking meters will be able to do so.

I should like to make a few comments about off-street parking, because there is some misunderstanding on this point. I must make it plain that, as was right, the Government have looked at the whole situation again in the light of the decision to extend parking meters. After the most careful thought, I am satisfied that no case has been made for a Government subsidy for off-street parking. I think that it would be a wrong use of my road funds, which are stretched enough already, and that it would lead us in the long run to some very odd conclusions.

I think that the proof is to be found in a piece of great private enterprise. As a major contribution to the solution of London's parking problem, Messrs. Selfridges have erected a garage recently just off Oxford Street which will hold nearly 1,000 motor cars. They are charging, I understand, quite a cheap price for all-day parking. I also understand that that garage has not yet been more than half full. In other words, it has never held more than about 500 motor cars on any one day. Why is this? It is because people can park for nothing outside Selfridges if they are prepared to run the risk of an occasional fine.

Frankly, I do not see that anybody will go ahead and provide a lot more off-street parking unless we show some resolution in pressing on with metering the streets. I hope that I have said enough to show that we will press on with metering the streets. That will bring in its train the growth of off-street parking, produced either by civic enterprise or by private enterprise but not subsidised by the Government. Certainly in the City of London they seem to find no difficulty in facing the parking problem. I have mentioned Route 11 and I could mention other imaginative parking schemes in the City. I am sure that what can be done in the City can also be done elsewhere.