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.