Orders of the Day — London Motorway Box

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th March 1973.

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Photo of Mr Graham Tope Mr Graham Tope , Sutton and Cheam 12:00 am, 20th March 1973

I do not want to follow the arguments of previous speakers too closely except to say how delighted I am to agree with the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Moyle) in welcoming the somewhat belated conversion of the Labour Party at County Hall to Liberal policy in opposing these ringways, which they first conceived.

In the past London has suffered many disasters—the Great Fire, plague, the blitz, the depression. We are now facing another potential disaster—a great paralysis. The growth of London has been dependent on public transport, on the growth of the railways, trams, the Underground, the buses. Just 20 years ago our public transport system had a strong foundation. That has now been seriously undermined. The railways are being allowed to become increasingly dilapidated, the quality of service, sadly, is declining, and fares are being allowed to rocket. Bus services have been practically halved in number compared with 10 years ago. Fares are rising, and services are being cut as they become more uneconomic.

More people are being forced to use cars. Further, there is a suppressed demand for private car use. The increased building of roads will release this suppressed demand. It has already been said that the more roads that are built the greater is the traffic congestion. This is a generally accepted fact, and I am surprised to hear that hon. Members opposite have apparently not yet realised that the easier it is made for cars to travel on motorways the more congestion there will be on and off those motorways. It has been calculated, to take an extreme example, that if a city were to become entirely reliant on private transport, five-ninths of its surface area would be necessary for major road use.

That is an extreme example but nevertheless a logical conclusion to the sort of policy which has been adopted by the GLC recently. Our aim must be to discourage traffic in central London and in urban areas. The effect of these motorway proposals will be to do just the opposite. We have heard of the enormous financial and social costs in terms of people being thrown out of their homes. The right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) has quoted the figures, which have not been challenged. Thousands of people will be thrown out of their homes to make way for these motorways which will sever communities.

The Layfield Report recognises that it is unlikely that these families can be rehoused in suitable accommodation at a price or rent which they can afford. This is a major problem facing Londoners. We have spoken many times in this House of London's housing crisis. Why should we add to that crisis and at the same time increase traffic congestion? Dealing with the motorway proposals alone is bad enough, but we are not dealing only with those. We are also dealing with proposals for radial routes, primary and secondary roads. Many of these developments are already taking place.

More often than not they take place under the guise of feeder routes, secondary roads for proposed motorways; nevertheless they are major road improvements and no one is in any doubt that they are preparatory to becoming feeder routes for the motorways should they ever be built. If they are not built we shall be left with extremely costly white elephants. It is no exaggeration to say that in view of these road developments one day Londoners will wake up to find their horizons blotted out by these major motorways swathing through their communities. This technological hooliganism must be stopped before it is too late.

There can be no justification for building more urban motorways in London, particularly Ringway 1. I and my Liberal colleagues will oppose this most strenuously and will support all other attempts to oppose it.