Road Developments, Bournemouth

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th July 1968.

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3.30 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Eden Mr John Eden , Bournemouth West

I am grateful for this opportunity to discuss the effect on property in Bournemouth of current road developments in the town. At a cost of several millions of pounds and involving the destruction of hundreds of properties, a new main highway is being driven through the heart of the town. At the moment, just above the town centre, many fine houses are being pulled down, giant bulldozers are carving their way through wooded hills and massive viaducts in steel and concrete are reaching out across the valleys.

As the road sweeps on through Bournemouth, its citizens are wondering where this will end and whether desecration on such a scale could not have been avoided. Property owners and tenants ask who will be the next victim. Will it cut back across the Bourne Valley and forge its way through the tranquillity of Talbot Woods? Or what other route will it take to link up Bournemouth with Poole and the rest of Dorset?

All the forecasts, based on sound statistical evidence, indicate an enormous increase in traffic between now and the rest of the century. This will be generated in the Bournemouth conurbation, the population of which is bound to expand as well us coming into the area from outside by means of vastly improved motorways. From a study of the figures it is clear that, if nothing were done, life would grind to a halt in Bournemouth with virtually no movement possible within or in or out of the town.

The borough engineers and others have given careful thought to this problem and to possible solutions. They have been exhaustively explained in the Land Use and Transportation Study published in April last year. It is a comprehensive report. It brought together the results of a major survey of the planning and transportation problems of Bournemouth, Poole, Christchurch and the neighbouring parts of South-West Hampshire and South-East Dorset.

The basic cause for all this research, as far the major physcial upheaval itself, was explained last March by the Parliamentary Secretary in replying to a similar debate. He gave figures for the nation as a whole. He said that there were now 9 million private cars and that in a few years this could be more than doubled, bringing some 20 million privately-owned vehicles on to the roads. Clearly, something dramatic must be done. But I repeat the warning he gave, for it will be echoed like a cry from the heart by many of Bournemouth's residents today. He said: We have to see to it that the hearts of our old cities are not torn out in the interests of the motor car."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1968; Vol. 760, c. 941.] Bournemouth is anything but an old city. It has a short history but already it is one of astonishing development in so many human activities—entertainment, commerce, education and welfare and not least in town planning. In that aspect, it has moved not just with but ahead of the times. Bournemouth's people are justly proud of its progress and there is widspread understanding that it cannot stand still. None the less, this should not blind us to the fact that, for the individual whose home is to be destroyed and the pattern of whose life is to be shattered, these structural changes have the greatest consequences. It is on that, the human aspect of the problem, that I want to concentrate.

I am sure that, in the case of these new roads in Bournemouth, all the procedures have been properly and humanely carried out. I imply no lack of consideration on anyone's part. But I have seen what misery, worry and heartache such a scheme can bring and I ask whether there is not something more that could be done to lessen the burden and ease the blow. I have four suggestions and I ask the hon. Gentleman to give them most careful consideration.

My first point concerns compensation. I have no doubt that the district valuer is as fair as possible in assessing the value of properties to be taken. Also I accept the need to safeguard the interest of other tax and ratepayers. But some additional consideration ought to be made because of the fact that, in order to meet what is considered to be the best interest of the community as a whole, certain individuals are forcibly to be deprived of their homes.

It is not enough to pay market value, however generously assessed. Some payment ought to be made over and above that to compensate in some way for the loss of a home. Further, since most people—particularly those who have lived in the same place for many years— wish to remain in the locality that they know best, full allowance should be made for the possible shortage there, and consequential higher cost, of comparable alternative accommodation. People—old people especially—do not always want to move out of the area that they know. But alternative comparable properties are usually impossible to come by. A major new road taking many new houses— usually in one fell swoop—must lead to an increased demand for the remaining desirable properties available in the district. If the compensation terms are improved in this way the impact of change will be reduced.

Secondly, there seems to be a good case for introducing all the beneficial elements of the compulsory purchase procedure at the time that the notice is served. I believe I am right in saying that if the council agree with the householder to buy the property in advance of the time when compulsory acquisition would have to be made, the council's obligation would end on having paid the purchase price. But if it had had to serve a compulsory purchase order on the householder, in addition to the purchase price the council would have met th legal fees and paid towards the cost of disturbance and removal. There should not be this distinction. All householders whose homes are to be taken should, as far as the council is concerned, be treated on the same basis.

Thirdly, I am particularly concerned about the impact on elderly people. It is terrible when the home of a lifetime has to be flattened for a road, a car park, or any other reason. For a person of 60, 70 or 80 years of age it can never be replaced. No amount of compensation can ever make up for what has gone. Sometimes if just a few more years' grace would be allowed, it might be enough to see them out. Sometimes that few more years' grace might well be possible without in any way harming progress with a particular project.

I know that these are hard decisions for all concerned, and I have been trying to devise a way round them. One possible way out would be for the council to acquire properties in the affected neighbourhood which they could then lease out for short periods in particularly deserving cases. Of course, there are dangers in such a step, but to my mind the benefits would be even greater. The availability of some kind of "buffer-state" in housing would give councils greater flexibility and enable them to meet particular individual needs. Some of this property, bought in the open market, could also then be sold in exchange for houses that the council is to demolish. This would inevitably involve the council in a programme of expenditure in advance of the actual development, but to my mind it is a proper area for council activity, and it would certainly enable it to meet special cases of need.

Where there is a major development of this kind, extending over many years, the council should do its best to give what help and assistance it can to those affected. I would like it to set up a displaced residents advisory service—perhaps a better title could be devised, but that describes my objective. This would be particularly helpful to old people who are worried about the whole thing, and do not know where to turn for help and advice. It is not good enough to let them find for themselves some alternative property or accommodation. A special service of this kind would be invaluable. It would have to be quite impartial, and would act as a clearing house, giving up-to-date information on all available properties in the borough.

It could also help with legal aspects, documentation and so on. Much of this work can be done, and is done, most ably by the Citizens' Advice Bureau and similar bodies, but I am seeking an extension of this work, with people staffed by the public offices in the town hall in cases where there is a major scheme, such as; there is in Bournemouth, and where there is a situation of special need. Since the council is promoting the development, on behalf of the community, it has an obligation to give all possible help to individuals whose interests are affected.

There may be all kinds of difficulties in my suggestions, but we have to try to find still better ways of improving the services that we give to people where community interests affect their personal positions and property. Certainly in a situation such as now exists in Bournemouth, much personal worry and suffering would be avoided if effective, patient and sympathetic advice was on hand. I do not know whether the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will feel able to comment in detail on the points that I have put forward, but I hope that as a result of this short debate he will give careful thought to further ways of helping these citizens when they justly call for it.

3.43 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Skeffington Mr Arthur Skeffington , Hayes and Harlington

May I first of all express my appreciation to the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden), not only for the way in which he has moved this Motion, but for the Motion itself. He has brought quite clearly before the House, Ministers and planners, the fact that one of the consequences of planning, which we must never forget, is the human effects flowing from it, particularly when we deal with the sort of changes that he has indicated are taking place in Bournemouth.

It is sometimes put forward as a criticism of planners that they look ahead to marvellous schemes, on paper, but sometimes forget that the whole purpose of planning is about people. My right hon. Friend, in introducing the Town and Country Planning Bill, which will make a number of significant changes in this respect, said "Planning is about people." We must make sure that plans are not likely to be wrong and to cause a great deal of unnecessary hardship. The hon. Gentleman has performed a great service in raising this matter.

I have a personal interest, and additional pleasure in replying in that in my very early days I lived in Christ-church. Some of the happiest days of my life were spent there, so I know something about this area and surrounding districts, and can appreciate the problems that the hon. Member has mentioned. When I was last in that part of Hampshire—I try to go there whenever I can —I was astonished at the change which had taken place even in the two years since I last went. We are up against profound changes, and the hon. Gentleman's constituency and a number of other constituencies will have suffered uncertainty and anxiety which I hope this debate will allay to some extent.

We are in a period of rapid transition. The hon. Gentleman referred to the number of motor cars. I said the other day that the number is almost frightening. It does not do any good to be frightened about it, but the thought of 20 million motor cars being on the road by 1980 is not one which I exactly welcome. Unless we are very careful in our forward planning, we shall do untold harm not only to the hearts of our cities and countryside, as I said in the speech which has been quoted, but to the lives of people in other communities. Every time we create a one-way street we may bring traffic into quiet side streets which previously were peaceful. We must do this only if we are absolutely sure that it is essential.

I mention those preliminary points because they are very much in our minds. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman realises, we are in constant consultation with the Ministry of Transport on these points and both Departments bear them in mind. There is the utmost coordination. I am not sure whether in the early days the Departments should have got together more than they did. We must provide in the best way possible for technological changes, including changes in transport. It has been said by the British Road Federation—I do not know whether it is right—that there are about 55 cars per mile of road in this country. This poses enormous problems.

In general, there are three ways in which we can broadly attempt to minimise the damage which sometimes changes may bring to groups of people. There must be very long-term planning. There must be the greatest possible amount of information available about those plans so that those most affected know about them at a very early stage. I expect that the hon. Gentleman knows that at the moment I am chairing a committee which is giving particular attention to the problem not only of acquainting people with proposals but of asking them to take part in making plans. This is essential in the sort of technological democracy in which we live.

It is sometimes said that we spent 200 years or more in achieving representative government. What we must achieve now is the active participation of people. It is not good enough to leave it to the hon. Gentleman and myself. People must not only know about plans but take their share in them. That is our attitude. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that in the Planning Bill which is going through another place a number of steps are being taken whereby there will be early notification of plans and the opportunity for participation and by which new statutory obligations will be placed on local authorities. This is a course which I am sure the hon. Gentleman will appreciate and which will be supported by public opinion.

In addition, we have taken action to conserve those things which should be conserved almost at any price because they are part of our heritage—whether they are priceless, irreplaceable old buildings or the equally irreplaceable beauties of the countryside. If they have gone, they are gone for ever. Man cannot live by the motor car or bricks alone. He needs his valuable heritage and environment.

I know that the hon. Gentleman was not making a case against road developments. He referred to anxieties which have worried a number of his constituents. He first raised the general question of compensation. He will know that on 23rd July my right hon. Friend said that there is to be a change in the compensation payable to owner-occupiers whose houses are demolished under a clearance scheme. They will be entitled in future to supplementary payments over and above the site value which hitherto has been regarded as the normal basis of compensation. I mention that as an example of our earnest intention that this matter is being seriously considered.

What we have been able to announce indicates the sort of study which we have been making. We are considering also other proposals. It would be quite unwise for me to go further than this, because we do not want to raise false hopes. It is a matter which we are considering seriously. I am glad that the hon. Baronet has raised it and we will see that the specific points which he has made will go before those in the Ministry who are studying these problems.

The hon. Member made some other interesting suggestions on which I should like to comment. The first is the question of a central place where people can go to get information, and this is right. The hon. Member paid tribute to the Citizens' Advice Bureau, which does a magnificent job. In changes of this scale with which we have been confronted, the voluntary bodies must very often be supported by central action by the community.

The town hall is often in a position to have information, and to have it quickly, which the voluntary body cannot know. The town hall is a place where many of the problems can be dealt with simultaneously, whereas only one or two can be dealt with by the Citizens' Advice Bureau. Some authorities are already active in this direction in the provision of information, not only about schemes, but concerning places where other details can be obtained—lists, for example, of other agencies which may be able to help or of experts of one kind or another— and can often at the one interview give the citizen who is worried, whatever pieces of information are needed, thus helping him to make up his mind. By doing everything that we can in the Ministry, we greatly encourage this. I am sure that this is right.

I hope that when my Committee's recommendations come forward, although they will deal only with the planning side, we shall be able to reinforce some of the suggestions which have been made, and not only include them in our recommendations, but also, possibly, give them some kind of statutory provision under orders which we may be able to issue under the planning legislation.

The hon. Baronet made a number of other points. There is the question of the local authority acquiring property in advance of schemes so that those who are displaced, particularly the elderly, may be able to be accommodated within the area. I know that the hon. Member has raised with the Department the case of a lady—to save embarrassment, I shall not mention her name—who is rather elderly and wants to remain near the church with which she has been associated for a good many years and near her neighbours. If we fail to recognise that sort of human problem, even though we may not always be able to solve it, we shall be failing in our responsibilities.

It is a very good thing if the local authority can, in advance, acquire property which is available in the locality. This depends, of course, upon the circumstances. Sometimes there is no alternative property. Sometimes it is necessary to have an alternative scheme before it is possible to rebuild, or people may have to be removed from the area, which can be distressing.

Local authorities have power to acquire property which is available in order to do this. The way in which they do it is a matter for them. I am, however, glad that the hon. Baronet has put it on record, because that is what we encourage local authorities to do. We are always studying whether we can make specific suggestions to local authorities about this in a way which may be helpful to them in getting advice, for example, from other authorities which have pioneered in this way.

I should like to consider all the remarks which the hon. Member has made. They seem to us to be helpful and constructive. If we can supplement what we have said, we will do so. I assure him that we are looking closely at the whole problem of compensation.