Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
I am extremely sorry that I am not able to use language similar to that used by my hon. Friends the Members for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) and Islington, South-West (Mr. A. Evans), but it is clear that what was considered to be detrimental to the interests of the people of Islington has now been transferred to the Finsbury part of the constituency that I represent. Everybody appearing before the Select Committee seemed quite happy that this site has now been discovered, but it was there for three years and nobody seemed to notice it at all. It never appeared in the City of London (Various Powers) Bill or the London County Council (General Powers) Bill. The proposal to acquire it came before the Committee considering the Bill only at the very last minute.
It is an indication that something was wrong somewhere. Giving evidence before the Select Committee, the Minister's representative referred to the site as being "in all respects ideal". I can only say that such a plan is completely absurd, in view of the fact that the site is at one of the busiest road junctions in London. I am still leader of the Finsbury Borough Council, and I can say that over the past eight years we have been endeavouring to get all parties concerned to try to effect some improvement at the junction of Old Street and City Road in order to avoid the traffic congestion that we experience there from about 7.30 a.m. until 6.0 p.m. The situation became so grim that we were able to convince the powers that be that something had to be done about it, and they finally agreed that there would be a roundabout and a general opening-up of the area; that Old Street Station was to go underground; that a very large public house on the other side of the road was to be taken down for the purpose of—
I am now dealing with the Clauses concerned with the question introduced before the Select Committee on Tuesday afternoon in relation to the purchase of the printing works at the corner of Old Street. I am trying to point out that, although everybody appears to be quite happy that they have now discovered a site which would answer their purpose for an annexe to Covent Garden, the site is one that, if adapted for the purpose they have in mind, will cause complete chaos. In addition to the chaotic transport conditions it will create, it will be dangerous for local citizens. At the moment about 150,000 people come into Finsbury daily, and the highest percentage arrive at Old Street Station or use the twelve bus services coming into the borough.
We consider it to be entirely wrong that this proposal should be introduced at the last minute without the interested parties being consulted about it. I wonder whether the people who have made the suggestion have acquainted themselves with the existing conditions prevailing in the area which I represent and have for years represented as a member of the borough council. I have lived and worked in it practically all my life. The traffic congestion is so severe that a very big scheme to improve conditions has recently been approved by the responsible authorities, including the London County Council and the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation.
The site proposed to be acquired for the Covent Garden Market annexe consists of a group of buildings known as St. Luke's Printing Works. Until recently they were occupied by the Bank of England, and before that by the St. Luke's Hospital for Mental Diseases. It was stated before the Select Committee that it is a substantial construction. That is an understatement; it is almost a fortress. It stands fronting Old Street, a few yards to the west of the intersection of Old Street and City Road. From Old Street it extends northwards along Bath Street as far as Baldwin Street. The whole site comprises approximately five acres and included within its confines are twenty-two almshouses, at present held under requisition by the council. They provide very suitable accommodation for twenty-two old people. In addition, eight other houses are attached to the site in question.
To the north of Baldwin Street there is a site occupied by working-class dwellinghouses, and hon. Members can gauge for themselves the high density of development when I tell them that although the site is only about 570 ft. in length and less than 60 ft. wide, it contains 75 dwellings, some of multi-occupation, constructed in two rows. Apart from their having extremely minute backyards, they could be called back-to-back houses. In addition, there is a post office, and on the adjoining site there is the famous Moorfields Eye Hospital.
Can the hon. Member tell me if he is now talking about the new market in Finsbury, which may be set up by the Ministry of Agriculture in two or three years' time?
That will require another Bill. It will be a hybrid Bill, and the argument which the hon. Member is now putting forward will be appropriate at that stage. There is nothing about it in this Bill, which we are asked to read for the Third time. In a debate on Third Reading we are bound by what is in the Bill. The question which the hon. Member is raising would require another Bill.
If I am right in following the hon. Member's argument, and he is now talking about the new market in Finsbury being set up by the Minister of Agriculture in two or three years' time, as an annexe to Covent Garden, I am told that would require another hybrid Bill. It is out of order to discuss the question now.
On a point of order. Although I have not much sympathy with the case which my hon. Friend is arguing, surely the position is that in Clause 12 the Bill gives the London County Council power to acquire sites, and it has been said that it proposes to acquire the site at the junction of Old Street and City Road. When the site has been acquired by the Council I understand that it will be transferred to a statutory authority, to be set up. Therefore, with great respect, although I do not support my hon. Friend's argument it seems to me that he is entitled to put a case against Clause 12.
That was my information before I rose. I will proceed from the place where I left off. To the west of the site, extending from Bath Street almost to Central Street, there is a congested area now in the course of being cleared and redeveloped for the purpose of constructing a new council housing estate, new and improved schools, and extensions of badly needed open space.
I think I should make clear that the London County Council is aware that within almost sixty feet of this new site there is a printing works. There is a large-scale extension that the London County Council proposes to deal with in the not too distant future. There is also a large housing site nearby which is in the process of development. On the other side there are large factories which involve the use of a number of vehicles, quite apart from the normal traffic at what is considered to be one of the busiest junctions in London. Traffic runs from the east and the west and it is a direct route from the docks to the western area.
We foresee difficulties which will be created not only at the Old Street junction but at other busy junctions through which the traffic must pass, including Aldersgate and John Street and the area of the Smithfield Market. I challenge anybody to suggest that there is the slightest possibility of passing through any of the side turnings near Smithfield Market at any time between 8 o'clock in the morning and midday. The same situation inevitably must arise if we are to have this annexe to Covent Garden in an already highly industrialised area where there is a constant flow of traffic.
We have four of the largest marshalling yards in that area, including what was formerly Carter Patterson, and there is also Hanson and Holdsworth, part of the British Road Services and Sutton's in Whitecross Street, all within less than 400 yards of this site. If this plan be proceeded with, all I can say is that the promoters are ignoring completely what is required for the benefit of London and certainly they are ignoring the interests of the people who have to live and work in that area. If the Caledonian Road market site was considered unsuitable for the requirements of Covent Garden it is madness to suggest that this is a better site for the purpose.
No mention of this was made in the Corporation Bill, nor does it appear in the London County Council Bill. I say definitely that it is an afterthought because of the protests made in this House and by the Islington Borough Council. We are now having to make the same protests as were made about the proposed site in the Islington area. The site which is now being proposed leads on to the dock area and we have had to make extensive improvements to relieve the pressure of traffic not more than 300 yards from this site. Despite the fact that we have now reached the Third Reading of this Measure, I ask the London County Council to reconsider the position and to see whether a more suitable site cannot be found. I think that were serious attempts made it would be possible to find a more suitable site which would be better from the point of view of everyone.
I am convinced that this is something which was decided in a hurry. It is a panic measure carried out as the result of the determined efforts which have been made to defeat the Islington proposal. It is the intention of the Finsbury Borough Council and of myself, as the Member of Parliament representing that area, to fight all the way and to see that the people in that area do not suffer from something which will be detrimental not only to that locality but to London as a whole. If we condemn what was done in the past we should not contemplate the sort of development which it is proposed shall take place in this area, because that would be even worse. I have every sympathy with efforts being made to improve the position in Covent Garden but, in trying to solve that problem, it would be wrong to create two more problems.
I do not believe this solution would remove all the difficulties regarding Covent Garden. It will merely remove the difficulties from an area in Holborn to the corner of City Road and Old Street where the conditions are worse.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Cliffe) feels that this is a retrograde step from the point of view of his constituents. The hon. Member said that a representative of my Ministry said in the Select Committee that we found this site in all respects ideal. At a later sitting of the Committee my Ministry's representative corrected the minutes and claimed that he had been wrongly recorded. At the seventh sitting of the Committee on Wednesday, 22nd July, he said:
I cannot imagine that I said that, because no such notion was in my mind or in the Minister's mind. I think what I said was that, 'I cannot say that other interests would find the site in all respects ideal'.
That is rather different. I do not wish to pursue that point, but merely to get it on the record.
The hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury is concerned at what he fears will be the increased danger caused by continual road traffic. I am sure he will appreciate that wherever we seek to site the new annexe to Covent Garden Market we shall be faced with this problem. But it is our intention and desire when tackling the Covent Garden problem to mitigate the dangers of road transport. The present situation in Covent Garden is intolerable but wherever we move in an endeavour to do something effective and useful regarding an annexe for Covent Garden Market we shall meet this problem, as I am sure the hon. Member will appreciate.
I can assure the hon. Member that the fears which he has expressed so well have been considered. There have been meetings between representatives of my Ministry, the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, Home Office representatives and the London County Council. I am grateful for the help received from the London County Council, which has realised, as has the hon. Member, the dangers resulting from road traffic. It is the intention to carry out, or, at any rate, the London County Council propose to suggest some important road improvements, including the possibility of a flyover at the junction to which the hon. Member referred. This is a point which will be watched most carefully and every endeavour made to provide a definite improvement. It is not our wish to replace one bottleneck with another. We believe we can get over the problem of congestion, perhaps in the way I have suggested. We believe that this site will be satisfactory and should be developed in the way which is proposed. So far as we can find it is the best site in the vicinity.
The hon. referred to this proposal as being an after-thought and used the expression "panic measure". It is nothing of the sort, as I sought to assure the hon. Members for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) in a previous debate. It has been our intention all along to regard the Caledonian site as a temporary one. We merely wished to assure ourselves, as it were, of a pied à terre until we could find a permanent site, and we believe this to be that site.
It was well known by the London County Council as far back as 1955–56, when application was made for a change of user of the printing works to use as offices, that a new factory would have to be built, and that was four years ago. Everybody was aware of the situation then, and yet it is less than three months since that site was purchased. I am convinced that the purchasers will demand a greater price than the London County Council or the Ministry, or the City, or anyone else, would have had to pay.
I am sorry if that is the case, but it often happens that the thing which is just under one's nose is the one which one does not see. We have been looking, and I am sorry if we did not see it before. At any rate, having discovered it now, we think it is a suitable site. The point I was making is that this was certainly not an after-thought. We were looking for sites, and I wish the hon. Member had mentioned it earlier, because we might then have gone into it.
We have taken a careful note of all the main points which the hon. Gentle man has made. He is very rightly concerned about the safety of his constituents, and it is very right and proper that he should ventilate their views. We are equally concerned, and do not wish in any way to damage the position of any of his constituents or increase the problems of congestion in that area. We shall take particularly careful note of the words the hon. Member has used, but on the other hand, I ask him not to minimise our difficulties when we are faced with the terrible problem of Covent Garden. Wherever we might suggest an alternative site, it would still be open to the criticisms which he has made. I believe that, in the interests of the people of London as a whole, the site which we are now proposing is the right one.