Motorway Construction

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th January 1970.

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5.21 a.m.

Photo of Mr Angus Maude Mr Angus Maude , Stratford-on-Avon

I am grateful for this opportunity to discuss some aspects of the Ministry of Transport's motorway policy. I was going to say how grateful I was to the Parliamentary Secretary for being here at this rather discouraging hour, but he seems to have disappeared again—

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath

I will undertake to take a note of what the hon. Gentleman says—

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

Order. I wonder whether the House can help me. The next debate was to have been a debate on the Middle East. Can we assume that that will not now take place?

Photo of Mr George Currie Mr George Currie , North Down

No, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I regret to say that I have some things to say about the Middle East.

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

The hon. Gentleman may not catch my eye. An order has been determined by ballot and if this was upset and the hon. Gentleman was allowed to catch my eye later, that would be unfair to other hon. Members.

Photo of Mr Angus Maude Mr Angus Maude , Stratford-on-Avon

I am grateful to the Minister of State, Ministry of Housing, for undertaking to stand in for the Parliamentary Secretary until he comes back.

If the hon. Gentleman cannot answer my questions now, I should be grateful if he would write to me. I hope that my suggestions will be accepted as a friendly attempt to improve relations between the Ministry and the public. We know the Ministry's policy, from the Green Paper, "Roads for the Future".

I should like some elucidation about some of the ways in which this has been working out and about the order in which the Minister proceeds when making decisions, particularly about new strategy roads. We know that the Ministry does many calculations, particularly about traffic flows and costs, as well as a certain amount of cost-benefit analysis. What is not clear is at what stage this figuring is done and at what stage it is best that the public should be informed.

I am glad to see that the Parliamentary Secretary has returned. I recognise that this has been a difficult order to sort out. I was saying that I should be quite happy if the hon. Gentleman answered in writing any of my questions which he could not answer tonight. I hope that he will accept my suggestions in a friendly spirit, designed to help his Ministry rather than to criticise it.

In respect of the new motorways and strategy roads planned under the Green Paper "Roads for the Future", the Ministry is getting fresh knowledge and experience about the future which the public would like to have. For example, the Ministry calculates in advance what diversion of traffic will occur from older trunk roads when a new motorway or high-grade road is built.

This in itself creates new traffic. For example, the M1 is becoming overloaded, and this is partly responsible for the need for the M40. The same is shown by the M6. When it is possible to get from the Midlands to the Lake District and back in a day, it is obvious that people who would not otherwise have made the journey will do so, particularly on a summer's day. There is nothing wrong with that and it is nice for them, but new traffic is thereby created.

We should be given some of the information which the Ministry is collecting and it should be taken into account in the cost-benefit analysis of new roads. The generation of completely new traffic may, from the economic point of view, be good, but traffic is not a commodity of which we in this country are short; and there are dangers in the generation of a great deal of new traffic, particularly when, as is mentioned in the Green Paper, some of it is larger and faster goods-carrying traffic.

These goods vehicles do not stay for the whole of their journeys on motor- ways. They must get on to them from their original sources and get off them to their ultimate destinations. Container traffic must be "broken down" at certain points. This means that over some older routes new large goods vehicles are being brought on to these roads by motorways when they would not otherwise have been brought on to them. I sometimes feel that the environment in this country, like the economy, is at the mercy of the design and production decisions of the motor industry, and that cannot always be felt to be in the best interests of the country.

The Green Paper sets out the kind of benefits it is possible to quantify when a new motorway or strategy road is planned and the cost-benefit analysis is being made. The benefits are economic and include the prevention of accidents, an easing of traffic on existing roads and so on. But the costs, apart from the unknown quantity of new traffic being generated, should also include an estimate of the disruption, and even visual damage, inflicted on the environment by the creation of a new road.

When we have in South Warwickshire, in my constituency, already three trunk roads going northwards rather like three prongs of a trident, the idea of putting a completely new road in between and inflicting on a particularly good and beautiful piece of agricultural land yet another road is something which causes very considerable disruption to the landscape as well as to farmers and other residents on the route. In addition to the costs of acquisition, the compensation to farmers and so forth, there should be—end I should like to know to what extent this is true—some calculation of the cost of the actual damage or disruption caused to the environment and people in it.

I know it is often said that this is very difficult, if not impossible, to quantify, but I have heard reports that the Roskill Commission is actually doing this in some of its inquiries about the third London Airport and evolving new techniques in the case of the London motorway plan.

I said that I wanted to say a word about the so-called Oxford-Birmingham motorway, the extension of the M.40 which the Minister referred in a Written Answer to me before Christmas not as a motorway but as a new high-grade road. I notice that my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) is here and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Hay), who, unfortunately, could not be here, is also interested in this. I cannot, of course, speak for Oxfordshire, but there are one or two points I wish to make about the Warwickshire section. Without taking any line about the desirability of this motorway, because I think that would be quite premature, I want to make a few suggestions to the Minister based on experience of what has been happening to see if he cannot get a better relationship between his Ministry and people who will be ultimately affected.

There is a certain amount of unhappiness about this. The Green Paper says, quite rightly, that the public and all bodies remotely concerned should be taken into full consultation and participation at the planning stage of new roads. It seems that the first thing which is desirable to satisfy people that justice is not only being done but is being seen to be done is that before we get anywhere near the definition of a route for a new road we should at least be told on what grounds it has been decided to build a new road rather than to upgrade an existing A road.

I know that very often a new road is very much easier and cheaper than upgrading existing trunk or strategy roads, but from Oxford, for example, to Southampton the strategy road in the Green Paper is not in fact a new road but the old A.34 which is being upgraded. So it is clear that the Ministry envisages that in some cases it is adequate to upgrade an existing road rather than to build a new road. I think most people would like to know what kind of considerations go into this and why, in South Warwickshire, when we have three existing trunk roads going roughly north and south, it is necessarily better—taking everything, including the effect on the landscape, into account—to build yet a fourth quite new road with all the dislocation that causes rather than to upgrade one of the existing roads. There is considerable fear in some places that this will not necessarily help some of the places which are most seriously affected by traffic at present and that the result may be actually to postpone the building of bypasses round towns and villages which have been promised them within the next few years.

People would like to know this sort of thing at an early stage. What seems to happen at present is that the Ministerrightly—remains fairly uncommitted, though he says at present that he is awaiting a feasibility study about this new high grade road. At the same time, before anybody has been told why a new high grade road is needed a number of people have been poking about on the road itself and arousing a certain amount of concern among those whose property is being affected.

Photo of Mr Neil Marten Mr Neil Marten , Banbury

This is so in my hon. Friend's constituency, I take it?

Photo of Mr Angus Maude Mr Angus Maude , Stratford-on-Avon

Yes. I leave it to my hon. Friend to speak entirely for his constituency.

The Oxfordshire County Council has already published its feasibility study on landscape grounds, with a recommendation to the Minister to take one particular route. In Warwickshire, this has not happened. The Warwickshire County Council has not published a similar study. So my constituents are left in a considerably worse informed state than the constituents of my hon. Friend. I, as the Member of Parliament, find it impossible to do more than collect a few scattered rumours as to where reconnoitring parties have been seen and what they have said to those affected. The Stratford-on-Avon Rural District Council, which is a delegated planning authority, and through the whole of whose territory the likely line of this route will run, has never been approached or consulted, either by the Midlands road construction unit or by the county council.

From the most elementary point of view of public relations it would be to the long-term advantage of the Ministry and all the other people affected if there were at least a minimum of consultation and information at this sort of stage, because it is not simply as if people were under the impression that the whole thing was in the air. Many of them have been given the impression that the general line of a route has been decided and cut and dried by the experts and that it only awaits the Minister's approval.

There is something to be said for a little earlier release of information, a little earlier consultation, because what tends to happen now is that, although in general most motorists are in favour of having new and better roads, nobody wants them to go through his own land or his own back garden and, instead of everybody starting from the assumption that it would be a good idea to have a new road of this kind, rumours and fears multiply and pressure groups start in certain areas whose main aim is to try to push the road into somebody else's area. So hostility builds up in some areas, while others take life a little easier, though they may well find that thing ends up on their land when the decision is finally made.

Lastly—and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will realise that this is intended not as a criticism, but merely as a suggestion—it has always seemed to me that when, finally, the Minister announces his line of route, at which stage, I think, a statutory body can object under Section 11 of the Act, what tends to happen is that one route only is announced and the costs of that one route are given by the Minister if an inquiry arises. But nobody is ever given the chance to compare the costs and benefits of alternative routes and to decide whether the line which the Minister has chosen is right. It is extremely expensive for objectors to have to commission their own surveys and work out their own costs for use at a public inquiry.

Therefore, if the Minister is sincere, as I am sure he is, in saying, as the Green Paper suggests, that the public and all bodies concerned should be taken into partnership and consultation early on and that only on this basis can the policy work, which I am sure is right, surely there should be more consultation and information at the sort of stage which we have reached with the possible Oxford-Birmingham motorway. Surely it is wrong that a very large rural district council through whose land this road may go should have heard from no one about it and presumably will not hear anything about it until the Minister has decided a line.

If we could have more information, not only about the kind of benefits which motorways bring, but about the costs, apart from the construction costs, which are taken into account by the Minister, together with earlier and fuller consultation, it would be better all round.

Photo of Mr Neil Marten Mr Neil Marten , Banbury

My hon. Friend wonders whether this information could be made available. He does not say to whom it should be made available. Perhaps he would deal with that point.

Photo of Mr Angus Maude Mr Angus Maude , Stratford-on-Avon

Some of it, at any rate in general terms, could be made available to everybody through the Press. I am not suggesting that the Minister, before even the technical decisions are made, should go nap on a particular line. For example, why a new road is needed at a particular place rather than up-grading an existing one is surely a fundamental stage in the argument which everybody would like to know about before the costs of individual routes begin to be discussed. Bodies which are closely concerned with these matters, such as rural district councils and the county branches of the National Farmers' Union —and in my constituency the N.F.U. is simply acting as a clearing house for rumours and odd bits of information which it picks up from its members would like a little more consultation and information at an earlier stage.

Photo of Mr Neil Marten Mr Neil Marten , Banbury

My point is, where does one draw the line? The county and rural district councils must be fully informed. If we start going to outside organisations, where do we draw the line? Should not we get back on the constitutional network, as it were, because everyone locally is entitled to attend rural district council meetings and officially to attend county council meetings. Perhaps that is the sort of place where these matters should be sorted out. Once we start diffusing into other outside organisations and say that they have a right at this stage or that to have every bit of information, we would go on for ever.

Photo of Mr Angus Maude Mr Angus Maude , Stratford-on-Avon

The difficulty in this sort of case, certainly in Warwickshire, is that the rural district council is not given any information by the county council. I doubt whether the county council has all the information. The surveys and so on have been done by the Midland road construction unit, which is the responsibility of the Ministry. The result is that nobody tells the unfortunate R.D.C. anything.

Photo of Mr Neil Marten Mr Neil Marten , Banbury

This may be so. However, I have been to see the Oxfordshire County Council and it struck me that it was very well informed, in so far as there was anything about which to be informed al this stage. It has probably had discussion with the road construction unit and the Ministry about this and has fed many of its ideas and plans to the Ministry.

What has stirred up this problem in my constituency, and it may be a good thing, is that representatives of the Eastern road construction unit went on the land of some of my constituents and went to farmers in the evenings and discussed with them where the road might go through their property. Naturally, my constituents became very anxious about this and took it up with me. In turn, I took it up with the Ministry and I asked a Question about it just before Christmas.

I suspect that the gentlemen from the Eastern road construction unit overstepped the mark and had no authority to say, if ever it was said, that the road would go over their land. As I understand it, certainly after the answer to my Question, a project feasibility study is at present being carried out. At that stage, the Government have certainly not made up their minds and these gentlemen were totally wrong and misled my constituents.

Photo of Mr Angus Maude Mr Angus Maude , Stratford-on-Avon

My constituents were told that, give or take a few hundred yards, the route was fixed.

Photo of Mr Neil Marten Mr Neil Marten , Banbury

I understand that words to that effect were said to my constituents. I hurried to the county council and found that that was not so. The route has not been fixed. The Ministry confirmed that by saying that a project feasibility study was being carried out.

What we want in my constituency is a by-pass at Banbury, Adderbury and Deddington, which presumably would also run north into my hon. Friend's constituency. While I am naturally deeply concerned about what would happen to it after that, I will not waste the time of the House by talking about it now. Nothing less will suit us than a good standard by-pass linking up with the M40, and it therefore makes sense to have this motorway, or high grade road.

My hon. Friend referred to environment. All we are discussing in Oxford- shire is the line the road will take near the beautiful valley of the Cherwell. That difficulty can be overcome with a route which would be acceptable, understandably not to the owners of the land affected, but, generally, a favourable route would not spoil this beautiful part of Oxfordshire. It seems to be sense to have a motorway or high-standard road. The issue we have to decide in Oxfordshire is not whether there should be a road. No one has spoken or written to me about that. People's anxiety is that if there is a road, it should go where it causes least inconvenience and the least undesirable effects. I hope that the Minister will bear that in mind.

5.50 a.m.

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

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude) for the responsible way in which he has approached this subject. If I omit to deal with any of the points during my reply, I shall certainly write to him about them at an early date.

If I may say a word about motorway construction in general, it is fair to say that each proposal must be considered on its merits. In the development of the route strategy, decisions on the standard of construction will take into account such factors as the estimated cost, the relationship of the section to the remainder of the network, the length of road to be constructed, the total volume and proportion of long-distance journeys along the route, and the possibility that construction of a motorway might deprive us of the valuable option to phase the investment over a period of time more in keeping with the relative priority and needs of the route as a whole.

The capital cost is therefore, always a prime consideration. If the route can be satisfactorily improved by making use of lengths of existing road, the savings from such an improvement when set against the cost of constructing a motorway can be very significant.

Briefly, however, we will certainly continue to determine the standard to which a new road will be built by reference to the benefits to be obtained in relation to the cost: in other words, we will continue to choose the development that will give the best value for money in the long term.

The hon. Member has mentioned the Oxford-Birmingham feasibility study and referred specifically to his rural district council, appearing to imply a lack of consultation. The county council is the highway authority, and the highway authority is the body which has to be consulted in the first place.

Photo of Mr Angus Maude Mr Angus Maude , Stratford-on-Avon

The hon. Gentleman will realise that what it does with its villages is a matter of considerable importance to a local authority which has delegated planning powers. This might affect that position very much.

Mr. Brown:

If there is no satisfactory relationship between a county council—the highway authority—and its rural district councils, I find it extremely strange.

Photo of Mr Neil Marten Mr Neil Marten , Banbury

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that in Oxfordshire it works very well.

Mr. Brown:

There we are. These are two separate counties.

The hon. Gentleman said that the Midland R.C.U. is a Ministry organisation and responsible simply to the Ministry. That is not the case. The basic concept of road construction units is that they are a team effort, with the county council and Ministry officials working together as a team. They have been very successful and have worked harmoniously. I know the Midland R.C.U. very well and have been impressed by the way in which people from the Ministry are able to work so successfully with their county council counterparts in the R.C.U.

The feasibility study for the Oxford-Birmingham route was announced in April, 1968. It was to examine the need for a new, high-grade road between Birmingham and Oxford to join the M1 and so provide a fast route to London, thereby relieving part of the M1. The new road was also to provide relief for the trunk roads A34, A41 and A423, each of which is in need of some improvement. The feasibility study is being carried out by the Midland R.C.U. which is now nearing completion of this part of its work. Part I of the report is now being considered; Part II should be available in a month or two.

The next major step is to decide whether or not the proposed road should be included in the preparation pool, with publication of the line coming at the later stage when we decide on a firm programme. The preparation pool decision, which will be publicly announced, should be taken during the first half of this year. The detailed line, if agreed, is likely to be published in the spring of 1971.

The hon. Gentleman made reference to the need for consideration of other lines, and he said that when a route is announced, only the costs of that route are given by the Minister, and that no other routes are costed. I must be careful what I say about this, in view of the decision which the Minister has yet to make on part of the M40 route, but, to speak generally. I can say that all this is intimately concerned with the question of blight.

In reply to the questions about when and where consultations should start and stop, I can think of nothing worse than a situation where every line which the Department might consider for any particular scheme is publicly discussed. If it were, not merely part only of a county, but a whole county, could be living in mortal fear of a motorway going through it and through people's homes. This would be the case even though a choice of alternative routes had not been made. There has to be some regard to confidentiality in the early stages.

We have, from time to time, to reply to hon. Members' letters complaining on behalf of constituents that the Department's people have a cavalier attitude, and have gone on to people's land, and so on. What is true, by and large, is what the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) said happened with one of his constituents; that is, a Departmental officer goes along and discusses possibilities over a cup of tea. It is not true that the Ministry's officers or R.C.U. officers go charging around the country, entering on to people's land without authority, and so forth.

There has to be some regard to confidentiality, otherwise vast areas of the country would be more or less sterilised, and people would be worried almost to death, to say the least. That is the reason why it is just not possible publicly to evaluate every possible alternative route. From my as yet short experience in the Department I can say that even a minor length of road may involve 16, 17 or 18 possible alternative routes. Just consider the effect of discussing publicly every one of the alternatives when many of them would not really be starters anyway. There just does not seem to be any sense at all in doing so.

I can give both the hon. Members an assurance that, if there are points which I have missed and which need a reply, I will write to them. But as my right hon. Friend has yet to reach a decision on that part of the M40 which passes through the Chilterns, following the public inquiry, it would be as well for me to say nothing more now.