A.1 Road Works. (Darrington and Fairburn)

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

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Photo of Mr Stephen Swingler Mr Stephen Swingler , Newcastle-under-Lyme 12:00 am, 5th November 1964

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.