The A590 road is the economic lifeline of manufacturing industry in the Furness peninsula and of farming and the tourist industry in North Lonsdale and much of south and west Lakeland. If regional development and regional help are to mean anything to these areas, they must include major and early improvements to this road. The previous Government were firmly committed to this improvement. I welcome the opportunity that this short debate gives for the Under-Secretary to acknowledge, in his turn, the commitment and to give a progress report on behalf of the new Government.
There can be few similar lengths of road in the country where there are so many improvement schemes on the drawing board as the stretch from Levens Bridge to Ulverston. This is a direct reflection of the recognition by past Governments of both parties of the inadequacy of the present road.
To my knowledge there are in the course of preparation or awaiting the commencement of work eight separate projects. I am delighted to see that the Minister has with him a map of this road on a generous scale. I suspect that he, like many people from Scotland, has travelled on this road when taking rest and recreation. Nevertheless, the map will make my remarks more intelligible to him. To help the Minister I shall refer to these projects by starting at Levens Bridge and following the road to Ulverston—that is, moving from the central spine of the A6 out towards Barrow-in-Furness. I drive along this road several times each week, living, as I do, at Haver- thwaite; so if I speak with feeling the Minister will understand why.
The improvements which I understand are on the drawing board or well advanced are these. First, there is the general improvement of the alignment of the road from Sampool to Meathop. There is there a particular hazard and obstacle at the Gilpin Bridge. There is the Lindale diversion, of which I shall say more later. There is the High Newton diversion, improvements at Newby Bridge, the Haverthwaite diversion, the Greenodd diversion, the widening at Arrad Foot, and the Ulverston Stage III diversion. In addition, I very much welcome the start recently authorised of the dualling of a length of the A590 south of Greenodd. I hope that the Minister will be able to give a brief progress report on each of these improvements.
I realise that at a time of national economic stringency it would be unreasonable to ask for a precise timetable embracing all these projects. What I do ask is that administrative delays in planning and statutory procedures should be eliminated and design work should proceed with the maximum speed so that when the economic situation is more favourable to public expenditure or, indeed, demands more public expenditure, as we all have experience of it doing from time to time, any of these projects still unstarted can be put in hand without delay.
I emphasise the need for giving the very highest priority in the road programme to three of these projects. This is because these three are the stretches of road where at present there is a real risk to the lives of members of the local community as well as to the lives of road users.
The first project that I want to talk about in a little more detail is the Lindale diversion. The Minister will have on his files a petition from the women's institute in this village. That petition makes clear the fear that the institute has because of heavy lorries grinding up the extremely steep gradient there, with the risk of missing gears and resultant accidents or running away coming downhill and the frustration at the delay there has been in making a start on this project.
I am aware that a public inquiry is to start next week into objections to the Department's proposals. I realise that the Under-Secretary cannot and would not wish to prejudice in any way this statutory process, or even appear to do so, but I ask him to ask the inspector to report as quickly as possible and to urge the Minister to give his decision with the utmost speed. There are real grounds for making that request. When the Under-Secretary examines the history of this stretch of road he will recognise that they are fair grounds that I am putting forward.
The Lindale diversion was first designed as part of the proposed link road across the Kent Estuary and this was included in the preparation pool as long ago as February 1967. A public inquiry was held at the end of 1970. It required a controversial and technically difficult decision on the part of the Minister, and we had to wait almost two years for it. That was an inquiry into the major multimillion pound proposal for the link road across the Kent Estuary, but the Lindale diversion was designed as an integral part of it to link with it.
When the proposal for a link road was rejected, the result was that the design of the Lindale diversion had to be amended and the statutory processes reopened. It would be abominably unfair if my constituents had now to wait again for any appreciable length of time for a decision on this further consequential and, by many local people, unexpected further inquiry.
Next, I regard Newby Bridge as a highly dangerous stretch of road. The Under-Secretary's divisional road engineer will probably agree with that assessment. At the approaches to a bad bend, buses stop on opposite sides of the road, at a point where there is no speed restriction so that passengers, including many schoolchildren, can change from one bus to another and cross from one side of the road to the other. If any proposal for such a siting of bus halts were to be brought forward now, it would be rejected out of hand by the Department. The sooner something is done here the better for bus passengers and other road users.
I come, lastly, to the need for a diversion at Greenodd. The Minister will know that I also passed to his predecessor a petition signed by the people of this village. I appreciate the technical difficulties of constructing a diversion across what is the upper estuary of the rivers Crake and Leven. I recognise that this is something of a major engineering project, but the need from the village point of view is truly desperate.
I wrote to the Minister's predecessor asking for safety barriers to be erected on the west side of the village street pending the diversion being completed. I quote from the reply, which indicates why the villagers are most concerned about the position. The reply, from the Parliamentary Secretary, in the last administration, says that
Unfortunately the length of footpath fronting the Ship Inn and associated properties is very narrow; the available width varies from a minimum of 3 ft. 6 in. to a maximum of 4 ft. 8 in. As guard-rails have to be set back at least 1 ft. 6 in. from the kerb you will readily appreciate that if a guard-rail were to be erected, pedestrians could not pass each other in opposing directions and mothers with prams would not be able to negotiate the narrowest remaining width.
He is saying that mothers with prams would be less than 18 in. from the carriageway on which these large lorries frequently pass on their way to Barrow and it is no wonder that the mothers complain that the vehicles brush past their sleeves and the slipstreams rock their prams. Their children are in a state of danger.
I do not believe that I have exaggerated the problem in Greenodd. I know that this is a major project and that design work is going ahead now, but I emphasise—and this is highlighted by the letter—that the situation is becoming increasingly intolerable for the people of the village. I hope that the project will be pressed forward with vigour.
I shall not conclude with any sententious remarks. We have here a practical problem of resources, money and skilled design teams. This is, however, the only road which services the Furness peninsula, Barrow-in-Furness, much of West Cumberland and much of the southern Lake District. Priority for these improvements ranks very high as an item of regional policy.
I thank the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. Hall-Davis) for the weight with which he has brought his case to the notice of the House. He is much more aware than I am of the problems of the roads he mentioned—problems which result from the important natural features of the area. Because of the difficulties over the suggestions for a link road, proposals for road building in the area must be treated with great care. I am glad that the hon. Member realises this point. I shall do my best to try to answer the points he raised. I have had the benefit of a map and I know part of the road, but I cannot honestly say that I know the entire road. It is impossible to know every road in the country.
There is a strong local feeling that improved road communications between the M6 and the Furness and Barrow areas are urgent, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for affording me this opportunity of reporting to the House on the current situation. He has emphasised the importance of the A.590 and the need for improvements. Indeed, the A590 is the only eastern-bound trunk road linking the Barrow and Furness areas with the rest of the country. Existing conditions are far from satisfactory. From the A6 at Levens Bridge to Barrow the A590 follows a tortuous route, with unsatisfactory alignment and steep gradients. In some areas the highway width reduces to less than 20 ft. The route is heavily trafficked all the year round with slow-moving heavy commercial vehicles serving the industry of Barrow, the Furness area and south-west Cumbria. In the summer months holiday traffic creates difficult and hazardous conditions, and long delays often result. I can assure the hon. Member that we recognise the importance of the A590 to the region and accept the need for improvements.
The hon. Gentleman will know that this Government, and especially the previous Labour Government, gave a great deal of thought to the whole question of the route about which he is speaking—particularly over the Furness area. He and others directly involved with this region will know that successive Governments have been concerned about road communications in the area.
Since 1965, eight separate improvement schemes to the A590 between Levens Bridge and Barrow have been completed. In February 1970, proposals were published for a new link road across the Kent Estuary and Arnside to serve Barrow and the rest of the Furness area. However, following a public inquiry into the considerable weight of objections received, the then Secretary of State decided in December 1972 that the new road could cause damage to the environment and change the character of the area through which it passes. Accordingly, he decided that the proposals for the new link road should be withdrawn on the basis that the immediate needs of the Furness area would be met by improving the existing A590 trunk road.
Two schemes which could do most to replace the abandoned Barrow (Arnside) link road proposal are for a bypass of Lindale and the improvements between Meathop and Sampool Bridge.
The hon. Gentleman has asked me to deal specifically with the Lindale bypass. Draft proposals for the two-and-a-quarter miles dual carriageway Linday Bypass were published in October 1973. The current position is that a few objections from local landowners remain unresolved and accordingly the Department has arranged for a local public inquiry to be held in Grange-over-Sands, commencing on 7th May 1974. If the published proposals are eventually approved they will do much to relieve conditions locally, where Lindale Hill causes delays and serious frustrations to drivers and dangerous conditions for both the travelling public and pedestrians alike.
I know that many of the villagers are looking forward to the time when their main village street will once again be a peaceful, quiet and safe place. I am hopeful that this can be achieved by early 1977, as the scheme is already included in the firm programme, but I cannot prejudge the outcome of the public inquiry. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Department will consider the points that have been raised about the road being ready to go ahead once the result of the inquiry, if it is favourable, is made public. However, there is sometimes a necessary statutory delay, as there is often the difficulty of resolving the problems of individual landowners and property owners.
Proposals for improvements between Meathop and Sampool Bridge have not progressed as quickly as the Lindale Bypass scheme, as much work had already been done on this in connection with the Barrow (Arnside) link road proposal. However, I am hopeful that an announcement of the Department's intentions about the route improvements will be made later this year so that the public can make their views known before the Secretary of State decides on the form the proposals should take for publication under the statutory procedures.
In addition to those two schemes, proposals for eight other improvements to the A590 are now in hand. These are diversions at High Newton, Greenodd. I may have time to say a word about the railings and barriers that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned, at Arrad Foot and Ulverston; improvements east of Newby Bridge and Haverthwaite, a by-pass at Dalton-in-Furness and widening south of Greenodd Station. In addition, we are giving consideration to the possibilty of an A6/A590 improvement between the Brettargh Holt interchange on the A6 and Causeway End on the A590. That would further improve communications to and from the Furness area via the M6 and the Kendal link which will be opened to traffic before the end of this year.
Advance construction works on a pre-filling contract on the Arrad Foot diversion started early this year, but a period of up to two years will be needed after completion to allow for settlement before any further construction work can be undertaken.
In the meantime, we aim to complete the necessary preparatory work so that the main works can be started as soon as the settlement period has expired. Construction work on the widening south of Greenodd Station commenced on 22nd of this month for completion by July next year. The widening will relieve local congestion by providing a new carriageway for traffic travelling west to Barrow leaving the existing road free for eastbound traffic. I am sure that the hon. Member is much more familiar with this than I am, but I have looked at the map and have some understanding of what is involved.
Preparatory work on the High Newton, Greenodd, Ulverston, East of Newby Bridge and Dalton-in-Furness schemes is well in hand. By the early summer of next year I hope that announcements about the form that the route improvements will take on all these schemes will have been made public. This will, of course, then lead, after consideration of all views expressed, to the statutory publication stages. Although these schemes are small in terms of length and cost when compared to many others throughout the country, we are particularly conscious of the importance of consultations with the general public to safeguard the high environmental qualities of the area. We are aware of the difficult problem of everyone wanting roads, but always over the next fence or the next hill.
Proposals for the improvements at Haverthwaite have progressed beyond the consultation stage and it is our aim to publish a compulsory purchase order later this year.
I know that many others, including the local authorities in the area, are, like the hon. Member, anxious to see progress made on all these schemes. The importance to the area of the A590 improvements in helping to promote economic growth and facilitate the movement of visitors to and from the south Lake District is fully appreciated. There are, of course, other schemes with similar pressing claims for the limited funds available, but I can assure the hon. Member that determined efforts are being made to complete all the proposed schemes with the minimum of delay.
I think that the hon. Member will appreciate, from the detail that I have tried to give in making a progress report and the generally hopeful nature of my reply, that we are aware of the importance of this matter. Because the link road was planned but is not now going ahead it is all the more important that this very busy A590 should be brought up to a higher standard. I hope that, given all the problems faced in a high amenity area such as this, we shall be able to make genuine progress. I assure the hon. Member that there will be no undue delay in my Department.
The Minister has given a full and sympathetic reply to the points that I have raised. I could not expect him to go into detail on everything. Will he write to me on the Greenodd diversion, which I emphasised strongly? This is a matter causing great local concern. It is fairly technical.
There are one or two technical matters, such as the Greenodd diversion and the question of the narrowness of roads and pavement width. These require technical answers and I shall be only too pleased to look at them and write to the hon. Member.