A.1 Road Works. (Darrington and Fairburn)

Orders of the Day — Queen's Speech – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th November 1964.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Lawson.]

10.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Jeger Mr George Jeger , Goole

I want to draw the attention of the Minister of Transport—.

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

Order. I must ask hon. Members to make less noise, in the interests of the hon. Member who has the Adjournment debate. They may themselves one day need to be heard in like circumstances.

Photo of Mr George Jeger Mr George Jeger , Goole

As I was saying, Mr. Speaker, I want to draw the attention of the Minister of Transport to three cases of road works in my constituency on a stretch of the A.1. The details of these three cases vary with regard to the work, but the complaints which my constituents have raised regarding these works are substantially the same.

The complaints arise from the fact that the A.1 cuts through three villages, dividing them in two. I do not know why it was originally arranged that when the A.1 was to be extended, enlarged, and improved, opportunity was not taken to build by-passes around these villages, or to build flyovers, which are the most modern method of avoiding any difficulty when a village is bisected in this way. Instead, for reasons best known to the previous Minister of Transport, expensive projects of road improvement on the old A.1 were embarked on and there was a complete lack of careful planning or co-ordination. There was a failure to study local conditions in these villages, or to consult local interests.

In addition, a local complaint is that even the local authorities who know their own areas and the needs of their village people best were not consulted by the Ministry of Transport. Further, and probably even more serious, is the complaint that the safety factors were ignored. This is most serious, because schools and schoolchildren are adjacent to each of the roadworks concerned. This is a flagrant example of the policy of pressing on with roadworks regardless of the human factors concerned in the work in the villages.

Let me consider first the most southern of the three villages concerned, working from south to north, the village of Darrington. There has been some correspondence with the Minister of Transport about this village where there is a very busy crossroads, and it has been accepted by the Minister—I am referring to the previous Minister; the present Minister is not to blame in this—that these crossroads are dangerous, so much so that at the request of the local parish council a special survey was instituted by the Minister of Transport who freely admitted that, the crossroads being so dangerous, there ought to be created a deceleration lane in the main Al road for the benefit of traffic turning right into the village. That has been done, and has been very much appreciated by the parish council and by its parishioners.

However, there is another question which this very alert parish council has brought to my notice, and, I believe, to the notice of the Minister. Perhaps I might quote from a letter from the clerk of the council which sets out the complaint far better than I can do. He says: Children have to cross this road daily to attend school, it also has to be crossed to post a letter or to catch a 'bus, and when it is old people who are crossing they quite often have to wait ten or fifteen minutes before they even dare start to cross, and then when they do set off they are in danger because of the speed of the south bound traffic. It should be pointed out that since the deceleration lane has been constructed, which was necessary. … one has now to cross over seven widths of roadway. We think this is too much, and that a footbridge is an urgent necessity. I wholeheartedly agree with that view. I know this road very well. I have tried to cross it. I have stood there and watched the traffic use this crossroad, and I urge my hon. Friend to institute the necessary inquiries for a footbridge to be installed there as soon as possible.

Let us move further north to the village of Ferrybridge. Here road improvements are being made and a new bridge is under construction. Up to now there have been two roads having access from the A.1 into Ferrybridge. One has now been closed because of the work that is going on. All the traffic is therefore concentrated on the one entry and exit road between the A.1 and Ferry-bridge. The Ferrybridge power station is a very large one. It is being extended, and a new one is being built, and there is heavy and continuous traffic using that section of the A.1.

The crossroads from the A.1 into Ferrybridge, and the other way, towards Pontefract, are exceedingly busy. There is a school at one of the corners. One has to wait for a long time for a break in the stream of traffic before one can cross the road. Recently a temporary footbridge was built which eases the situation for foot passengers who want to cross the A.1, but that blessing has brought with it another difficulty. The construction of that footbridge is such that it obstructs the view of drivers coming into the A.1 from the side roads. They cannot see what is coming along the A.1.

There are such serious delays in getting traffic into and off the A.1 that the West Riding Automobile Company, which operates the local bus services, has recently said that it is considering applying for permission to withdraw its bus service there because of the unnecessarily long delays and frustrations on the A.1 going into and out of Ferrybridge. The urgent need at that crossroads is a system of traffic lights. This point has been put to the Minister, and I hope that he will now agree that this should be done immediately, in order to allow vehicles to cross at reasonable intervals.

Moving further north again one comes to the most northerly village in my constituency—the village of Fairburn. I have been in correspondence with the Ministry of Transport since June about the roadwork which is being done on the A.1 which bisects the village of Fairburn. The Minister has been very courteous and has sent me many letters of explanation, but they have not been very satisfactory either to me or to my constituents. One of the main complaints is that on the verges of the road wooden fencing has been erected. It is supposed to ensure safety to the village people from the traffic on the A.1. I do not know whether the Minister knows this, but local people are referring to this as the "Berlin Wall". They regard themselves as residing on one side or other of their Fairburn "Berlin Wall". The fence, which is supposed to have been erected for safety, is not safe, and all the village people said that it would not be safe when they saw it being erected. When I started corresponding with the Ministry in June I expressed my opinion that it was not safe, and would not be safe.

At the end of September a van went through the wooden fencing, knocking down about 20 yards of it. It finished up on the pavement of what is supposed to be the safe service road on the other side of the fence, shortly after children had come out of school. It was lucky indeed that nobody happened to be on the pavement at that moment. When I looked at it last weekend the gap of 20 yards in the fencing was still there. It had not been repaired.

On the other side there is a service road which now serves the other half of the village. My constituents complain about this because they say that although it is a very narrow road it is open to two-way traffic, although there are no cautionary signs. They also complain that the vehicular bridge over the A.1 is now being used by motor cyclists coming not from their own village but from distant parts, and that these motor cyclists use the stretch of road and the bridge for racing. The local police have been asked to install cautionary signs on this bridge as well as on the approach roads, but they say that it is not necessary, because no accidents have yet occurred. What are they waiting for? Are they waiting for a fatal accident to occur, because of the motor cycle races which take place there, before putting up cautionary or warning signs?

During my election campaign I often found myself running round in circles, although I know the roads exceedingly well, when I went to Brotherton and Fairburn. The signs posted round the village lead one to run round so that one is going in the opposite direction to that intended, because the signposting there is deplorable. It matches the general road engineering about which my constituents and I are complaining.

Another complaint concerns public relations. There has been no attempt by the Ministry to meet the local people who have been complaining, and to explain to them what was being done and why, or to utilise local specialised knowledge and experience of local conditions. If I may paraphrase from the letters which I have received, the attitude of the Ministry has been that it hopes that in the course of time the local people will realise that all is for the best. What the Ministry has not said is that it hopes that local people will get used to the conditions or that perhaps they will get tired of complaining. They are not tired of complaining; they have urged their complaints upon me.

The reason for my passing on the complaints to our new Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary is that he at least will realise that we believe that the road system and transport system of our country is not there merely in order to enable traffic to go more speedily from one place to another. It is there for the convenience, comfort and the amenities of the inhabitants of villages through which the roads go. This is a human problem and engineering must take second place. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will acknowledge that humanity is the issue with which we are dealing here.

10.12 p.m.

Photo of Mr Stephen Swingler Mr Stephen Swingler , Newcastle-under-Lyme

I have frequently spoken during Adjournment debates in former Parliaments, but I have never previously spoken from this Dispatch Box. I think that I may say to my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Mr. Jeger) that he will know I have the fullest sympathy with him in using this Parliamentary opportunity. I am grateful to him for giving me notice of the points which he intended to raise. I have considered them as rapidly and thoroughly as I have been able in the time available.

I have also had the advantage of seeing the not inconsiderable amount of correspondence which my right hon. Friend had with my predecessor at the Ministry of Transport. I can appreciate that he has for some time been making strong representations on behalf of the citizens in these areas. The Ministry's engineers have investigated the situation and since he notified his intention of raising this matter on the Adjournment a few days ago, they have taken a further look at some of the problems which he has mentioned tonight.

I wish to say at the outset that all the things said by my hon. Friend will be thoroughly and immediately examined by the Department. We shall take action where that is found to be necessary. My hon. Friend started by criticising the line of these road improvements, and I agree with him. Unfortunately, these matters were decided very many years ago when the human consideration he mentions, the disruption of the life of these villages, was overlooked or neglected. I trust that my right hon. Friend and I and the present Government will put at the forefront of our considerations regarding good planning for transport, and in every other way, the human factor and the quality of living for those people in villages as well as in towns.

I will deal with the matters in the reverse order to that in which they were mentioned by my hon. Friend, and start at the northernmost point with the situation at Fairburn. The position there is that, as part of the modernisation of the Great North Road along this line—a necessarily long overdue and desirable development from the point of view of speedier traffic—a new dual carriageway has been built alongside the old narrow road through the village of Fairburn. This new road is a fast road deliberately designed so that cars can, and, I am told, often do, travel along it at speeds of as much as 70 miles an hour.

I think that everybody would agree that in such a case, where a fast road is cutting through a village, the aim must be to protect pedestrians from the dangers of mixing with the fast traffic. That is why, in the interests of road safety, this plan was carried through. A footbridge was provided to enable pedestrians to cross in safety the two roads that run parallel—the old road and the new road. This footbridge is adjacent to the local school and of course it is specially needed by the schoolchildren, as well as by others.

When this plan was carried through, fences were provided, as my hon. Friend said, on each side of the road, to act as a safety barrier to stop children and others running on to the road, and to encourage everybody who wanted to cross the roads to cross by means of the footbridge. In the case of the northbound carriageway, which has only a narrow verge between it and the old road, as my hon. Friend knows well, a two-foot stone wall, to which he referred, was provided inside the fence to guard against vehicles running off the fast carriageway—as a kind of a guard rail so that vehicles did not career from the fast carriageway on to the old road.

As my hon. Friend has told the House, these fences have aroused a great deal of local criticism. For example, it has been suggested that the fences themselves have a poor appearance and even that their main purpose was to prevent people from seeing the traffic on the new road. It has also been suggested that the fences could easily be climbed by a person mounting the two-foot stone wall that lies alongside it.

In consequence, in spite of the talk about the wall, it has been suggested by some people locally that a high stone wall should be erected in place of the fence as a safety precaution, a deterrent to people and an encouragement to use the footbridge. First of all, I should like to say, reviewing what has happened in the past, that I am sorry if the fences present a poor appearance and I should welcome any suggestions at all from my hon. Friend or others for their improvement. But there is one advantage about having a solid fence and that is that a fence of this kind between one carriageway and another on a narrow verge can act as a kind of anti-dazzle screen, and do something to stop vehicles on the old road dazzling vehicles on the new road.

The main point made by my hon. Friend was about people climbing the fence. I must point out to him that the stone wall to which he refers is along the side of the fast carriageway inside the fence and that to use the wall for the purpose of climbing over the fence a person would have to be on the fast carriageway. We do not want anybody to be on the fast carriageway. The aim of the fences is to ensure that everybody uses the footbridge and not the carriageway.

Of course, if it occurred to people on the fast carriageway that they should immediately get off it, then in that case it would be an advantage for them to be able to get over this obstacle. The main point is that we are advised from experience that fences of this kind are sufficient obstacles to people going on to these carriageways, where obviously grave dangers exist, and that, in spite of the fact that agile people, if obstinately determined to do so, could climb over the fences, they will be sufficient as a safety precaution at the moment.

There is another objection. A high wall in place of the fences would not only possibly be unsightly but would also be far more expensive and would perhaps add another £9,000 to our expenditure. According to the technical advice which we are given the replacement of the fences by such a wall would not be justified. If there is any evidence that the safety precautions are insufficient here—and if there are other proposals made on the basis of local knowledge—we shall urgently consider such alternative proposals and such evidence, because we want to see that the safety precautions at this point are adequate.

My hon. Friend also referred to the road bridge and to certain matters in regard to motor cycles which I will have urgently investigated but about which at present I have no information.

On the basis of our investigations, our view is that this vehicle bridge across the road has been constructed according to modern specifications. The approaches, I am told, are 22 ft. wide. There are proper white central lines, clearly marked, and large direction signs at the junction. It is the intention to provide additional guard fencing between the footway and the carriageway. That is being urgently considered. Here again, although, as my hon. Friend said, the police have told us that no accidents have been reported on this bridge, if my hon. Friend feels, and the local representatives feel, that something further is necessary in the interests of safety in this area, we should very much like to consider any new proposals which can be made.

Photo of Mr George Jeger Mr George Jeger , Goole

Will my hon. Friend say a word about the broken fencing where a van has already gone through?

Photo of Mr Stephen Swingler Mr Stephen Swingler , Newcastle-under-Lyme

I am sorry that I can say nothing about it. I have no information about it. I can only promise my hon. Friend that I will have the matter investigated immediately. It is clearly a part of his criticism about the inadequacy of the fences, and we shall consider it immediately in relation to the other criticisms which I have mentioned.

I come to the situation at Darrington, another village on the Great North Road where dual carriageways have been provided and, unfortunately, disruption has been created for some of the people who inhabit the village. At his suggestion the Department adopted the proposal made by the Darrington Parish Council that a deceleration lane should be cut into the central reservation near the Darrington crossroads. This has been provided for traffic which desires to turn right when approaching Darrington from the north. This action has been taken. Because there is not the bend in the road which occurs in the other direction, and therefore the poorer visibility, we are advised that a deceleration lane is not necessary on the other side. But if traffic conditions change in the area, I will look at this matter. I will keep this situation under observation all the time.

As my hon. Friend said, we have received a renewed request from the parish council for a footbridge at these crossroads. We received it only two weeks ago. I am sorry that I cannot announce a decision tonight, but it may be that the case for this footbridge is now much stronger. It would cost about £20,000 to £30,000 and, as my hon. Friend will appreciate, the new Administration have had only a short time to consider the matter. We are making some observations about pedestrian needs at these crossroads and are entirely sympathetic to the parish council in its approach to the matter. We are considering the evidence the council has provided and if we find that a footbridge is justified and practicable it will be provided as soon as possible.

The first point my hon. Friend raised concerned congestion at Ferrybridge, where more than a mile of new trunk road is now under construction. We regret the congestion which exists there but as my hon. Friend is aware, it is temporary; while the construction is going on. The construction work has necessitated the closing of two local roads and this has thrown additional traffic on to the A1 and another local road, thereby causing congestion where these two roads intersect.

I can inform my hon. Friend that we are going to provide traffic lights at this intersection. They will remain there until the main road is open to traffic, when we will consider whether they are still necessary. If it is clear that the traffic lights are needed they will remain. We hope to have these lights in operation within six weeks and I hope that my hon. Friend will feel that his representations have been to some avail.

I trust that my hon. Friend feels that we are seriously considering all the constructive proposals and representations he, and the local councils have made. I assure him that my right hon. Friend and I will watch this matter carefully and not hesitate to make changes if road safety and the principles of good planning, along with the human considerations he mentioned, call for changes to be made.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-eight minutes past Ten o'clock.