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 William Spens Mr William Spens , Kensington South 12:00 am, 7th May 1959

I shall not apologise for making what will be a constituency speech, because I happen to represent a constituency through which many roads pass, from east to west and from west to east. Our parking problems are considerable, and so much has been said about the general problem that I will confine my remarks to one or two points.

I start by congratulating my right hon. Friend on the completion of the Cromwell Road. It has made an enormous difference to that part of London, because not only has the road itself been a success, but it has relieved the traffic on all the other roads running parallel with it. We have also had the great advantage of widening schemes both at Kensington High Street and Notting Hill Gate. The result is that the flow east and west of our traffic is infinitely better than it was five years ago. Our problem is not the problem of passing from west to east or from east to west, but everything that is happening off the main roads.

We are fortunate, or unfortunate, in having in that part of London buildings winch attract the greatest crowds from outside. We have Earls Court and Olympia, the Albert Hall and various museums. From time to time there are literally thousands of cars coming in from outside the area whose owners insist on parking reasonably close to where they are going. I represent more hon. Members than any other Member of the House of Commons for instance, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) is one of my distinguished constituents. One has only to see that part of London at the time of the Motor Show, at Earls Court, when there is also a large show on at Olympia, to realise the impossible condition into which the traffic gets. Not only is there not a single place in which to put a car for half a mile on either side of those places, but the traffic going to them blocks for the time being both the traffic east to west and north to south. Therefore, I shall deal primarily with the question of parking.

I heard a word of hope from my right hon. Friend in that he said that there was a possibility of permission being given for garages to be built under Hyde Park. I suggested long ago that the part of Kensington Gardens immediately opposite the Albert Hall, which is shut and never used, should be used as a special parking place for all gatherings at the Albert Hall. This would relieve all the streets in that area of the hundreds of cars that come in whenever there is a big meeting in the Albert Hall.

That suggestion was not approved, but since the road to Knightsbridge runs several feet below the level of the park, there is no reason why large car parks should not be made in that area. This would not only relieve traffic on those occasions, but it might go a long way towards freeing the roads in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield), in Mayfair and St. Marylebone, further east.

Earls Court is a much more difficult problem. There is a tube station alongside Earls Court and there is also one alongside Olympia, but it seems to me, though I may be wrong that no adequate special arrangements are made by London Transport to deal with the huge crowds that go there. Would it not be possible to run more special trains to deal with the crowds? If that were done it might induce people to park further away and come to Earls Court by tube train and return to their cars by the same method.

Olympia Station, in particular, is not used in anything like the way it used to be years ago. The result is that if trains are not run from the station it becomes one of the worst places to clear when there is a big crowd. People have to wait in queues literally hundreds of yards long for buses.

For some reason or another my part of London is used as a parking space by hundreds of people who come into London by day and by people who come in to spend the night in London. If one goes round Kensington at night one finds that practically every side street has cars on both sides of it. The number of complaints I receive in a year from my constituents who, on coming home from the theatre, find that they cannot get near their front doors and have to drive round for half a mile before they can find somewhere to leave their cars, runs into dozens.

Finally, as was mentioned in the Budget debate, this area is also a dumping ground for old cars. Last year, a large number of cars were collected by the police off Camden Hill. We stirred the police to action and they found that there were dozens of cars that had not been used for months and whose licences had expired. The police said that there were so many abandoned cars in London that they had not the space to take them to get rid of them. The parking problem could be relieved if regular measures were taken to examine the streets. If it was found that the licence of a car had expired the car should be removed off the streets, thus enabling those people who want to get to their own front doors to have a better chance of doing so than they have today.

The problem of parking at night will not be solved until garages are built or garage areas are available off the streets. Queen's Gate at night is an unbelievable sight. Right down the middle of the street one sees a double row of cars. Some of these are valuable cars and are left there all night. In addition, there is a single line of cars almost the whole way along near the pavement.

If garages were available, one could tell people to garage their cars. Important as the problem is of getting traffic going in London, the provision of space for garaging is almost as important in many areas of London. It is only when we have the garage space and people can garage their cars off the roads that we will be able to deal with the problem of traffic coming in.

The real problem by day and by night is caused by the thousands of cars that came in carrying only one person and are left parked either for the whole day, or, in some cases, for a week-end in London. I wonder whether the time will not come when we will have to say that from a reasonable distance outside London cars carrying only one person must stop and only cars with a full load will be allowed in. We did this during the bus strike. It was done voluntarily and it made an enormous difference to the flow of traffic. I am not sure that we can go on allowing literally thousands of cars carrying only one person to come into London, because it is these cars that create congestion.

As an old railway director, I agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick) that far too much traffic goes on the road today that ought to go by rail. More persuasion and, if necessary, legislation to that effect would have my support. On the other hand, I do not think that it is the railway vans or lorries that cause congestion in central London. The problem caused by cars with only one occupant must be solved either by providing garage space, or parking space, or by compelling them to come in fully loaded.