A5 Trunk Road (Tamworth)

Supply – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1 December 1969.

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

9.40 a.m.

Photo of Mr Keith Speed Mr Keith Speed , Meriden

At this very late hour of the morning, I am grateful for an opportunity to raise in Parliament a matter which is causing serious concern and anger among many of my constituents—concern and anger which I fully share. The problem has national as well as local consequences. I refer to the notorious bottleneck on the A5 trunk road in the borough of Tam-worth in my constituency.

The A5—the old Roman Watling Street—has long been a major artery in the country's road system. New motorways have been built, but the A5 still carries a substantial amount of traffic. I believe that this situation will continue for many years, particularly in the West Midlands, because the A5, starting in the West Midlands round about Rugby, skirting important towns like Nuneaton and Tamworth, and running through Brownhills and Cannock and on to Wales, carries very heavy commercial traffic on this section of its route. Undoubtedly the worst constriction on the whole of the A5, and certainly on the whole of the heavily trafficked part, is in the borough of Tamworth.

For much of its length now, due to improvements over the past few years, the A5 is dual carriageway, or at least three-lane carriageway. Where it comes into Tamworth, from a dual carriageway section it suddenly narrows down to a modest road whose dimensions at the bottom of Quarry Hill in the borough of Tamworth are only 19 ft. 11 in. wide with a flanking footpath 4 ft. wide. Its width then varies in the borough from under 20 ft. to a maximum of 24 ft. 8 in. I would guess that the average width throughout this section is about 21 ft. This is for a major trunk road carrying the very heaviest road vehicles day and night.

On the subject of widths, I understand that the borough of Tamworth is currently, in all the minor roads it is building on its housing estates, providing widths of 24 ft. as an absolute standard. These roads normally carry only the private cars of the residents of the estates and vehicles servicing the estates.

In May of this year the Minister of Transport told me, in answer to a Parliamentary Question, that traffic censuses had revealed that in 1961 the vehicle per hour loading on the A5 in the borough of Tamworth was 664. By 1965 this figure had risen to 949 vehicles per hour in a 16-hour day—a remarkable increase. I guess that there has been a further considerable increase since 1965. All too often now the traffic is at a complete standstill, because the road has reached capacity. Therefore, if the road is at capacity and the traffic has come to a standstill, it is difficult to see how the number of vehicles per hour can increase further.

Associated with these problems out not strictly speaking within the borough, or within my constituency, is a busy length of the A5 immediately north of the canal, the notorious Fazeley Roundabout. This is causing concern to the rural district council within whose area the roundabout is situated and also to the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow), within whose constituency it lies. I frequently have to use this A5 to reach various parts of my large constituency. Even as late as 11 o'clock in the morning it has taken me between 35 and 45 minutes to traverse 1½ miles on this section, and in the rush hour the position can get desperate. If a vehicle breaks down, particularly on the 19 ft. 11 ins. section, the position is serious. The Minister will know, from my frequent correspondence with him, about the position of the traffic lights at the cross roads at Two Gates. They need constant repairs because of the inadequacies of the road and the heavy traffic.

Lining the A5 are many important factories, and the workpeople find it very difficult to be punctual. The journey times for two or three miles can vary between seven minutes and up to an hour. The managing director of the Reliant Motor Company, a successful all-British firm, wrote to me on 30th June. He said: This road is, of course, terribly congested at the best of times and presents a real problem for staff, for employees, for transport delivering and collecting from our factory, and for the many visitors that we have each day. The problem becomes many times worse whenever there is the slightest obstruction on the road within three or four miles of the works —queues causing anything up to an hour's delay very quickly form. These remarks have been echoed and re-echoed by many other business people with interests alongside the A5, and by local councils, local government officials and local residents. In addition, the indecision over the A5 and the route of a diversion or by-pass has certainly affected the planning and expansion of the Reliant factory and others lining this road, and has caused real hardship to many of my constituents because of planning blight and problems relating to improvement grants for houses lining the road.

This situation would be bad enough if the borough of Tamworth was static, but it is not. It is expanding very rapidly. It is working in close liaison with Birmingham to accommodate 30,000 additional people over the next decade as part of the Birmingham overspill programme. Indeed, many of these estates along the A5 are now being built and people are moving in. The Ministry of Housing is backing this scheme and one of the Ministers recently visited the town to see for himself what was going on.

This scheme and the whole town are threatened with complete paralysis unless something is done quickly to cope with the problems of the A5. The problem has a long and frustrating history and has occupied many of my predeccessors—Mr. Moss, Mr. Matthews and the late Christopher Rowland. On 24th August, 1966, the Private Secretary at the Ministry of Housing wrote to the late Christopher Rowland about a new by-pass in the following terms: … there is a good chance that an announcement can be made within a month or two so that everyone concerned will know what the proposals are and how they will be affected by them. … These things take time. But it should not be long now. Well, it has been a long time, and although there is now a line for the diversion of the A5 in some of the plans for the new town expansion of Tamworth, my information is that the Ministry will give no decision either on this future line or on the present line of the A5 until traffic flows on to and from the proposed M1-M5 motorway are known—that is, in five or six years. I hope that this is denied, because the town will have ground to a standstill long before then.

The M1-M5 motorway will form part of the eastern by-pass of the town and is scheduled for 1971. There have been rumours that this has been put back, and I hope that these can be denied. But I do not believe that this motorway route from Nottingham to Bromsgrove will materially affect the A5 traffic. There is another motorway under construction, also passing through my constituency. This is the M1-M6 Midlands motorway link due to open in 1971.

The Ministry has argued that this will ease the traffic flow. A letter from the Divisional Road Engineer in June to the Borough Engineer and Surveyor of Tamworth Borough Council said that with the further consideration being given to the proposed road pattern in the expanded borough of Tamworth, It is expected that when the Midland Links motorway is completed in the early 1970s, the A5 trunk road will be relieved of a fair proportion of the traffic which it is at present carrying. There are two answers to that. First, there has been extensive reconstruction of the A5 on both sides of Tamworth. As recently as 13th October, the Minister gave me details of the Wall by-pass to the north of Tamworth, built in 1966–67, the widening at Dorden to Wilnecote, 1967, and extensive dualling on the South Leicestershire section of the A5 to the south of Tamworth. This is one reason why I do not believe that the Midlands motorway link argument is effective. If all this money has been spent in road construction and improving the A5, why has Tamworth been left out?

I believe that there is a second and very cogent reason. This was outlined in a letter from the Ministry of Transport to a gentleman living in Walsall and Brownhills who had been objecting to a compulsory purchase order for A5 improvements in Brownhills. The letter, dated 12th September, 1968, said: The Ministry's engineer said that the Weedon—Atherstone—Brownhills Trunk Road (A5) from Freeth Canal Bridge to the junction with A452 urgently required improvement. There was at present a single carriageway with an average width of 22 ft. which was greatly overloaded. A traffic census in 1965 recorded a flow of 4,781 vehicles in 16 hours, 19·5 per cent, were heavy goods vehicles. This represented a fivefold increase in traffic since 1954, and the flow was now of a magnitude such that the least interruption or obstruction would cause congestion and prolong delays, and there was a serious danger of accidents. Some relief might be expected when a further extension of the M6 Motorway was completed by 1971–72, but experience showed that any such relief was likely to be offset by normal growth within a few years. All these remarks apply to a little further up the A5. The average width at Tamworth is less than 22 feet. The average flow on this section in Brownhills was already exceeded by nearly 3,000 vehicles in the 1965 census in Tamworth. If for these reasons it was vital to improve the A5 at Brownhills, it is that much more vital to improve it at Tamworth where the width is narrower and the vehicle load is heavier. What is sauce for the Brownhills goose is surely sauce for the Tamworth gander.

The question of the transportation survey which is covering Tamworth and other Staffordshire towns and cities has been called in aid as an excuse for delay. Tamworth is near Lichfield, which had had three major trunk road schemes in the last twelve years. Good luck to Lichfield, but its traffic problem does not approach Tamworth's.

The problem is a grim one. It has dragged on for far too long under successive Governments, both Conservative and Labour. I hope that now action can be taken. I want to put several constructive points to the hon. Gentleman. The long term solution is a by-pass or diversion and we want the line settled completely and a date for starting. I hope that an early date will be fixed. I believe that this by-pass or diversion should be a Ministry responsibility, since it will be a trunk road. Again, there has been dispute between the Ministry and the Staffordshire County Council as to whose responsibility it will be.

The short term solution is to carry out some improvements to the existing A5 by widening or realignment. The Ministry has owned 4,552 Sq yards adjacent to the road in the Borough since 1946 and has purchased an additional 5,302 sq. yards since 1960.

The Minister told me on 2nd May that all this land was for road improvements. May I suggest that this land be used for these improvements as soon as possible? I beg the Minister not to underestimate the strong and passionate feelings held by my constituents about this appalling cart track which is masquerading as a trunk road. All of us concerned with Tamworth's growth and expansion want it to succeed. All of us who are aware of Birmingham's housing problems are proud of the part that Tamworth is playing to solve them by serving as an overspill town in this great and imaginative scheme to take more than 30,000 Birmingham people within the next decade.

But all our hopes and plans for the future will be of no avail unless urgent and effective action is taken to get the traffic moving in Tamworth. If the Minister wishes to come and see for himself, we can arrange it, but he should set aside plenty of time, for he will spend most of the day sitting in a traffic jam.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to give us some hope that his Department appreciates our problems and is determined with us to solve them at an early date.

9.56 a.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Bob Brown):

Highway and town development interests many of us, and it is useful that the hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Speed) has ventilated this morning some of the problems which, inevitably arise.

Tamworth is an expanding town designated under the Town Development Act, 1952, to receive overspill from Birmingham. It is well situated with good communications. The overspill scheme is one of the most promising in the West Midlands, and it will make a substantial contribution towards meeting the enormous housing needs of the Birmingham conurbation.

Originally the proposed road network in what might be called "Greater Tamworth" was not acceptable to my right hon. Friend because it was not supported by adequate traffic information. It included two trunk roads; an A5 diversion to be constructed as a spine road to the development area and an eastern by-pass which had been accepted by the Ministry before the expansion was planned.

In May, 1966, Staffordshire County Council arranged for a survey to be made of the Stafford, Cannock, Tamworth, Lichfield and Rugeley area. The objectives of the survey were: First, to determine the points in the existing road network which will become congested, and when this will occur; secondly, to test future road layout and if necessary suggest changes; thirdly, to consider special central area requirements such as parking; fourthly, to determine a programme of construction dates.

The years to be treated were the existing situation, 1981 and the year 2001. The survey was due to be furnished in July, 1968.

But the survey report unfortunately is not yet available. In the meantime, land purchase for expansion has been frustrated until the town map could be approved. My Department has agreed with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the Staffordshire County Council that a tentative primary road network should be shown on the plan which could subsequently be modified if necessary when the results of the survey were known. There was, however, one point of controversy. Staffordshire wished the diversion of the A5 to be shown as a trunk road; the Ministry of Transport could not agree. After Ministerial discussions and correspondence, the town map was approved on 6th November, this year but without showing the A5 diversion as a trunk road.

It may help the hon. Member if I next explain the arguments about this. If the road were trunk, all the responsibility for it, including full financial liability for construction, improvement and maintenance, would rest with my right hon. Friend, the Minister of Transport. If it were a principal road, it would be the responsibility of the local highway authority, though the Minister would pay 75 per cent. of the cost of construction and improvement.

The Staffordshire County Council has pressed for trunk status for the spine road, although this would remove the control and responsibility from its hands to those of the central Government. No doubt it has its financial considerations in mind. I do not blame it for that, but we have to exercise our power to give trunk status with restraint and responsibility. Having in mind the statutory description of trunk roads as 'the national system of routes for through traffic we see two main reasons why we cannot accept the spine road as a trunk road.

I repeat the information the hon. Gentleman has already received from my divisional road engineer. First, the Midland link section of M6 is due to be opened in 1971. The through traffic function of the corresponding section of A5 will therefore have been transferred to the motorway before the new spine road is built. None of A5 in the vicinity of Tamworth will then deserve trunk status, so there would be no justification for building as a trunk road a section on a new alignment.

Second, the main function of the new road, as we see it, will be to serve as a primary distributor for part of the new overspill development. The spine road will be specifically designed to cater predominantly for journeys that have their origin or destruction—or both—in its own locality. Traffic making such journeys cannot be regarded as through traffic. In towns "through traffic" is defined as traffic which has both its origin and its destination outside the urban area.

It is my right hon. Friend's view that either of these reasons alone would be sufficient to justify principal rather than trunk status. Moreover, I should stress that the same policy on trunk status is being applied elsewhere in the country.

I should also emphasise that this decision does not mean that my Department thinks the worse of the proposals for Tamworth. We did not question the proposed existence of the road. And we are co-operating very closely indeed with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government on the whole question of the development of Tamworth.

It will no doubt be more cheering for the Hon. Member to be told that our Midland Road Construction Unit are preparing plans for a new high standard road linking the Ml near Nottingham to the M5 south of Birmingham. This road which it is expected will pass fairly close to the east of Tamworth will provide an effective by-pass for Tamworth. The former by-pass line has therefore been incorporated into the town road network on the new plan, and has been abandoned as a trunk road proposal.

The hon. Member referred to blight. Only one property on the line of A5 has been purchased. This is at Fazeley. It would certainly not enable the Ministry to embark on a continuous widening scheme.

The Town and Country Planning Acts provide a remedy for certain owner-occupiers and mortgagees of property affected by planning blight, who may be unable to sell their property except at a price substantially lower than they might reasonably expect because of the publication of a scheme affecting the property. In specified circumstances the appropriate authority can be required to purchase the property at an unblighted price. One of these circumstances is that the land is indicated in a town map as land on which a highway is proposed to be constructed or land included in a highway as proposed to be improved or altered.

A5 in the Borough of Tamworth is about two miles of straight but undulating single two-lane carriageway. The road is necessarily narrower where it passes through the villages at Two Gates and Wilnecote.

We have been well aware of the conditions on this trunk road for many years. There is no doubt that it is inadequate for the heavy and continuous traffic which it now carries. Apart from its normal trunk road load it serves also for M1 and M6 through traffic and carries an exceptionally large number of lorries.

Our problem, unfortunately, as always, is one of priorities. As the Hon. Member is aware, the size of our road programme is limited by the many other claims on resources. Schemes take several years to reach fruition and we have to work out our programmes and priorities with the greatest possible care, remembering that it is possible to spend only so much money in any given year.

When preparing road programmes, a particular area can rarely be considered in isolation. The motorway link between Ml and M6 is due to be completed in 1971 and when it is open we expect much of the traffic now on the A5 to use it. This being so, we feel that we cannot undertake major reconstruction work on the A5 at Tamworth as things stand. The hon. Member, I know, is reluctant to agree to this proposition but we have to live with the facts of life. Motorways are very expensive and we have to be very careful when we consider whether or not our limited financial resources should be sunk in the improvement of a road, which in less than two years time can be expected to carry far less traffic than it does now. I referred a moment ago to the large numbers of lorries on A5. This is just the kind of traffic which one would expect to transfer to the motorway.

However, this does not mean that we are ignoring the situation which now exists. Dual carriageways were provided in 1967 from Dordon to Quarry Hill but other major reconstructions on this length of the A5 have not been undertaken in the past mainly because it would be very expensive to acquire and demolish surrounding properties.

Nevertheless, quite a number of short term measures have been implemented to improve traffic conditions on the A5. Automatic traffic signals have been set up this year at Mile Oak, some distance West of Fazeley; a pedestrian crossing has been installed just West of Hockley Road, and a footpath has been undertaken between Two Gates and Hockley Road,A No Waiting Order is in force on the road between Wilnecote Station Bridge and Valley Lane, a distance of approximately 475 yards, and a draft Order is under consideration to extend this through the whole length of the villages of Two Gates and Wilnecote. The imposition of a 40 m.p.h. speed limit is also being considered on Quarry Hill, Wilnecote, from the end of the dual carriageways in Warwickshire to the start of the 30 m.p.h. speed limit at Stoneydelph Lane. Additionally, traffic management schemes will be examined and implemented where they show promise of relief to local residents or benefit to the area as a whole.

In brief, it is expected that the Midland Link motorways will remove a large part of the trunk road traffic from the A5 when they come into use sometime in 1971 and, as an additional bonus, that the Spine Road as part of the planned network for the area will take off much of the purely local traffic as well.

When the position becomes clearer as a consequence of the many measures which I have outlined, it will then be possible to judge what other improvements might be needed. We shall naturally keep the situation under careful review, and if further improvements are proved to be necessary, we shall undertake them.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at eight minutes past Ten o'clock a.m.