Orders of the Day — Traffic Congestion, Tadcaster and Selby

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st August 1966.

Alert me about debates like this

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

11.59 p.m.

Photo of Mr Michael Alison Mr Michael Alison , Barkston Ash

I am very glad, even at this late hour, to be able to raise on the Adjournment a serious road traffic problem affecting two towns in my constituency. It is a problem which is not only of local significance but has regional and national repercussions.

The two towns, Tadcaster and Selby, both of which are in my constituency, and both of which are well known to many right hon. and hon. Gentlemen, have long histories, established populations and vigorous local lives. In addition, they are both towns which straddle two great trunk road systems. The trunk road running through Selby is the A63 between Hull and Leeds to the West, and the whole of the West Riding conurbation associated with it, as well as the A19 between Doncaster and York. Tadcaster straddles the A64 between Leeds, again to the west, and the West Riding conurbation and York to the east. The road system on either side of these towns spreads out like roots of a great tree, to generate traffic from the whole of the North of England, the whole of the southern part of Yorkshire and the West Riding.

The road arteries narrow down in both these cases, to be channelled through narrow main streets culminating at extremely old, narrow, almost single-carriageway road bridges. Both these bridges have to straddle the water barrier running from the Dales up to the West, the Wharfedale area of the Pennines, right across the Vale of York, becoming first the river Which, which the Tadcaster bridge crosses, and later the Ouse which the Selby toll bridge crosses and running finally into the Humber and the Humber estuary. This is a continuous water artery from the Pennines down to the North Sea, which in this 30 mile section of the West and East Ridings has only these two old narrow bridges with trunk roads across it.

In these two towns straddling these great trunk routes, which are narrowed and funnelled down into old bridges across the water barrier, life is rapidly becoming unbearable. The choking, throttling effect of the funnelling of these streams of traffic' through narrow main roads, across these two ancient bridges, is intolerable both to pedestrians and to the civil and communal life of the towns in question, and to the traffic which has to negotiate and travel through these towns and across these narrow bridges. If the pedestrians are able to travel at all freely in crossing these roads, at most times of the day it is only because the traffic has been brought to a standstill by congestion. If the traffic is able to flow freely, the pedestrians often have to wait—the record time in Tadcaster is I believe 15 minutes—to cross the road.

I think I should enter in slightly more detail into the special circumstances of Selby and Tadcaster, which I know the Parliamentary Secretary, who is beginning to get familiar with the hazards of these two towns, will appreciate. May I point out that in the case of Selby the A63 trunk road, running from west to east through Selby, connects on the West the whole of the West Riding conurbation, principally Leeds and beyond that Liverpool, and the great industrial area in Lancashire, to the great centre of population and industry of Hull. Here we have on the west one of the largest concentrations of industry and population of the whole of the British Isles, running from Liverpool through the West Riding industrial centres to Hull, the third largest port in the British Isles.

One needs to bear these two great centres in mind—on the east, Hull connecting the West Riding conurbation and beyond that Liverpool, and the great industrial concentrations of the West. Believe it or not, these are funnelled and concentrated into the town of Selby to cross the River Ouse on an ancient, wooden, swing toll bridge. It was constructed under a Private Act of Parliament dated 1790.

I should point out, in addition, that it is inevitable that the traffic should be stopped. This is because every vehicle which has to go across this bridge from the huge concentrations of industry and population which I have described to the west, to move to the great port of Hull to the east, has to come to a dead stop in order to pay the toll. Not only that, it has occasionally to come to a stop because the bridge is a swing bridge which sometimes has to be opened to admit river traffic.

I should point out that this narrowing down of the great concentration of traffic through Selby occurs at a bridge which is an old wooden structure with a carriage way which is 18 feet wide. The Parliamentary Secretary will know that under the latest Construction and Use Regulations for commercial vehicles, as amended in October 1965, vehicle widths, including over-hang of the load, can be as much as 9 ft. 6 in. When two vehicles of this width cross at the same time it means that the narrow section at the side for pedestrians is no longer available as the vehicles are bound to cross onto it. This is the main trunk road between the West Riding conurbation and the third largest port in the British Isles. People locally feel that this is an intolerable anachronism and that steps have to be taken to relieve or supersede this trunk road which crosses the River Ouse at Selby toll bridge.

The Parliamentary Secretary knows perfectly well that the bridge has to be superseded. He will know this from the report of the consultants who were appointed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) in 1962 when he was Minister. This report, which is now to hand, states, on page 78, volume one, that a new bridge will be needed by the year 1974, even if the current proposals which the Minister of Transport has for the reorganisation of the Humberside roads had already been put into effect. Whatever happens, the year 1974 has been put into a document as the year by which this bridge has to be superseded and by-passed. My plea to the Parliamentary Secretary is to give urgent consideration to bringing forward this by-pass and new bridge to the north earlier than the final date stated in that report. The East Riding County Council believes that priority should be given to this now as part of the proposals for the new Humberside road network; I support this view.

I believe that a bridge could be put across the Ouse north of Selby for the modest price of £500,000, which does not bulk very large in the £50 million set aside for the Humberside road network for which the Minister published the plans on 21st September, 1965. There is a much publicised and expensive alternative which would cost £5 million. This is a new high-level bridge at Hook which forms part of the proposals for the Humberside road network. This proposal has been brought into doubt by renewed talk from several directions about the Humber bridge itself on the site of the proposed bridge which the Humber Bridge Board has published.

It is interesting that in another place on 30th November, 1965, the Government stated that if oil or gas were found in the North Sea or if a new town were planned for Lincolnshire, the Humber bridge could become urgent and the matter would be dealt with on that basis. It is clear that these provisoes have been fulfilled. Gas has been found in the North Sea. There is no longer an "if". Gas is being rapidly developed. Secondly, the First Secretary has publicly stated that urgent consideration is now being given to a new Humberside town in Lincolnshire.

Both considerations make it apparent that a new Humber bridge, the one that the Minister referred to in the famous Hull by-election, is now a present and actual possibility. If this is true, it is ludicrous for the Minister to continue the old idea of the Hook high level bridge costing £5 million which formed part of her September proposals. It is ludicrous to suppose that there would be two enormous bridges, one costing £5 million and one costing £11 million, both to the south of the A63 and both crossing the Ouse and Humber only 20 miles apart, It is unthinkable.

If the Humber bridge is now to come off, as looks increasingly likely, it is evident that priority should be given for a Selby bridge to cross the Ouse north of Selby as the second logical link in the revised Humberside road network. I hope that the Minister will give urgent consideration to the substitution of a Selby by-pass bridge for the proposed Hook high-level bridge in the light of the developments on Humberside and the new Humber bridge that is proposed.

I turn to Tadcaster. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary was good enough courteously to receive a deputation from the Tadcaster Rural District Council, which I accompanied, in the last Parliament to talk about the problems of Tadcaster. He will be familiar with the fact that here we have two distinct features of a traffic problem arising. The first is that the A64 trunk road linking the West Riding industrial conurbation—Leeds, Wakefield, Bradford and the rest—with the holiday resorts that these great cities customarily use goes through the narrow, almost single lane, old bridge across the Wharfe in Tadcaster. When the holiday season comes and the traffic pours out of Leeds and the rest of the West Riding industrial conurbation to seek the pleasures of York races and, beyond, those of Scarborough, Whitby, Bridlington and the whole Yorkshire National Park area it travels on dual carriageway roads on either side of the single channel through the High Street of Tadcaster and over the old River Wharfe bridge, leading all too often to a line of stationary traffic stretching for five miles from Tadcaster to the crossroads on the A1 where the dual carriageway is.

This traffic is a recurring and growing problem, and with it is associated—this is the point that I want to bring home—a growing volume of industrial traffic generated by two new features. The first is the growing use of the ports of Scarborough and Bridlington for the timber trade, resulting in a huge volume of lorry-borne timber traffic between Scarborough and Bridlington and the North-Eastern ports, coming down through York and Tadcaster on the A64 over the old narrow bridge to the West Riding industrial centres. Added to that, we now have the growth of heavy—perhaps I should say, very heavy—industrial traffic generated by North Sea gas exploration.

What does this amount to? I would like to refer to some cases in point. On 23rd June an enormous drum of some 60 or 65 ft. in length, and about 18 ft. in diameter, on a huge articulated lorry, became stuck in the narrow High Street of Tadcaster. This load was part of an oil rig for gas exploration in the North Sea, and it was stuck there for about three hours, from about 3.15 to six o'clock in the evening. All traffic on the A.64 road was brought to a standstill. Of course, in most cases where there is a road blockage caused by some outsize load—perhaps in every case—the expedient is simply to divert the traffic and filter it through nearby residential roads until it again reaches the main traffic route. When the only road is across a river with a narrow bridge, however, then the only way is to divert the traffic right away from that bridge; and when we experienced this first really big load that meant diverting traffic over a fifteen miles stretch of route. The whole of the road from Tadcaster to York and from Tadcaster to Bramham fifteen miles in length, was closed for more than three hours, due to this single hold-up in Tadcaster.

A few weeks later, on 19th July, an enormous boiler, 70 ft. long and 16 ft. in diameter, took half an hour to negotiate the High Street; and that happened to coincide with the time when York races traffic was returning. This complete blockage resulted from the movement of one heavy industrial vehicle. On 8th July, a great section of an oxygen plant tried to get through and held up all traffic for a considerable time. I have tried to show that this is becoming a recurring feature of life in Tadcaster today. Gas exploration development, together with the growth of the new development areas, along with an increase in heavy industrial traffic between southeastern and north Yorkshire, all help to generate more industrial traffic. As I have said, we are increasingly getting this type of traffic where we used to have holiday traffic, and the situation is becoming intolerable. Traffic, and the life of the town, is being throttled to a standstill.

I urge the Parliamentary Secretary, who has been kind enough to give some thought to this problem before tonight and to admit that a bypass is necessary, to give a firm date for it to be begun. I ask him to put a Tadcaster bypass into a firm programme and to deal with the East and West Riding road problem as a matter of the greatest urgency; for present traffic is causing a complete breakdown in communications, not only in the region with which I am concerned, but in a wide area on either side.

12.19 a.m.

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

This debate must end at 12.29 a.m. and the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) has left me with little time in which to reply. He has also spoken of two improvement schemes, whereas one was introduced as the subject for debate. I must, therefore, intervene now because time is so limited, and I must say that it would be ludicrous if hon. Members in this House started engineering roads. They have not the expertise for the job. We need to gather together the best engineering brains we have and to apply them to the problems accruing from the principles laid down in the Government's road programme.

Let me, in the limited time available to me, come straight away to the main problems. To deal first with the last part of the hon. Member's speech, as he has said Tadcaster presents a serious problem. Tadcaster is situated on the intersection of the A.64 from Leeds to York with the A.162 from Doncaster and the A.659 from Wetherby. As so often happens, and as I have said many times from this Box, improvements in one place in the roads programme often have the effect of causing a temporary deterioration elsewhere.

Last year we completed the flyover junction of the A.1 with the A.64 and this, together with the five miles of dual carriageway between Tadcaster and York, has had the effect of making the A.64 an attractive road for private and commercial traffic were it not for the bottleneck at Tadcaster.

As the hon. Member has said, the traffic difficulties at Tadcaster are no news to me. I remember very well, on 29th July last year, receiving a deputation from the Rural District Council led by the hon. Member. At that meeting, details of the Council's case for the inclusion of the proposed A.64 bypass of Tadcaster and the trunk road were discussed. I assured the members of the deputation that my right hon. Friend the Minister accepted—we do accept—the need for such a bypass to be provided for Tadcaster. The only issue is the priority to be accorded to the scheme.

At that time I pointed out that the Minister was required to take into account the needs of the country as a whole in drawing up the roads programme. I also gave the assurance, however, that the A.64 bypass of Tadcaster would be considered for inclusion in the next extension of the roads programme. It was so considered. As the hon. Member is aware, however, it has not so far been found possible to include it. But in the next roll forward of the programme it will be considered, together with other urgent road schemes throughout the country.

Therefore, I say of Tadcaster that we accept that a bypass is the only real answer to the problem as no further improvement can be made by use of traffic engineering techniques. Already no-waiting restrictions are operative along the trunk road. Every other possibility has been examined. Therefore, we are giving urgent attention to the alignment of the bypass.

It has hitherto been envisaged that the bypass would leave the existing A64 at Toulston Grange, west of the town, passing on the north side and rejoining the existing road east of the town at Tadcaster Bar, where the dual carriageways to York commence, and that it would include a bridge over the river Wharfe and an interchange junction with the A659. At present, the county surveyor is in consultation with the county planning officer on the possible line of a southerly bypass.

There is also a further bypass included on the county development plan to connect the A162 to the A659 so that through north-south traffic can avoid the centre of Tadcaster. This road, however, is closely linked with other proposals for the redevelopment of the centre of Tadcaster and no decision is in the offing. But we are urgently considering this matter and it will be considered in the next roll forward of the roads programme.

In the very short time that remains, I turn to Selby. Selby, we know, also presents a problem, situated as it is at the intersection of three important roads, the A63 from Leeds to Hull, the A19 from York to Doncaster and the A1041 from Snaith. All these routes converge on the toll bridge, which is a single 17-ft. carriageway wooden swing bridge. The river Ouse forms a natural barrier between Hull and the Great North Road, the A1, and the toll bridge is an important crossing place not only for the traffic between Hull and the West Riding conurbation and beyond, but also for the north-south traffic from Sunderland and York. With the increase in traffic over the years the toll bridge is now the main cause of congestion in Selby, but from the very latest advice given to me, to put the matter in perspective, I am informed that this bridge is open on average to shipping only 12 times per week.

Nevertheless, we recognise that the only real solution is to divert traffic from the town by providing an alternative route, and we also recognise, as implied in the speech of the hon. Gentleman, that this is linked with the larger question of the future trunk road needs between Hull and the Great North Road, for which a new proposed network was announced last September by my then right hon. Friend. Included in these proposals at that time last September was a new east-west route from Ferrybridge on the A1 to the A63 east of Howden, about 20 miles west of Hull, to form an extension to the M62 Lancashire-Yorkshire motorway and considerably to improve east-west communications between Hull and the industrial areas of the West Riding and south-east Lancashire.

The proposed road would not of itself provide a bypass for Selby—we recognise that—but the through traffic from Hull to the A1 would undoubtedly find the new route attractive as it includes a high level bridge over the River Ouse at Hook, and the amount of traffic going along the A63 through Selby would thus be considerably reduced. This was one of the principal factors in this decision. An alternative road network has been proposed by various local authorities, including the East Riding County Council. They propose that the east-west route should pass to the north of Selby, providing an east-west bypass of the town, and should join the A1 at Ledsham instead of at Ferrybridge. At the present time a detailed examination is being made of the advantages claimed for this alternative network.

My right hon. Friend, I can assure the hon. Gentleman and the House, will give very careful attention to what he has said tonight and the proposals made by the local authorities in considering these alternatives before she announces her definitive decision. I appreciate that if the original proposals for the Al Humberside network are confirmed the problem of congestion in Selby will not be solved, because local traffic will not directly benefit. My right hon. Friend has, therefore, recently given an undertaking that she would, in that event, investigate separately what improvements might be made at Selby.

In the meantime we are endeavouring to reduce the congestion at Selby by restricting waiting in the main roads. In May this year some "No waiting" orders were made, and further orders are now being considered, but I accept that these measures have only limited value, and, as I have already said, the real solution lies in diverting traffic away from Selby. Therefore, we are fully aware of the problem which exists here. My right hon. Friend has expressed her preparedness to consider alternative proposals made by——

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock on Monday evening and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at twenty-nine minutes past Twelve o'clock.