Orders of the Day — Twickenham (Environmental and Traffic Problems)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:01 am on 11th May 1982.

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Photo of Mr Toby Jessel Mr Toby Jessel , Twickenham 1:01 am, 11th May 1982

I am most grateful for the opportunity to discuss the quality of life in my constituency. I make no apology for doing so at a time of national crisis when, between anxious moments, people can derive spiritual refreshment from seeing what is fine and beautiful.

I congratulate the Department of the Environment on the splendid way that it maintains the two royal parks in my constituency—Bushy Park and Home Park, Hampton Court—and the palace and gardens of Hampton Court. These are magnificent treasured parts of our national heritage. Hampton Court grounds and palace are visited every year by vast numbers of people from home and abroad. I am told that it is the third most visited site in the country, after the Tower of London and Stonehenge.

I live across the road from Hampton Court and confess to having sometimes slightly mixed feelings in the summer when I see crowds of tourists at Hampton Court in the morning and at Westminster in the afternoon. But one has to rise above such feelings, because tourism brings a great deal of employment and trade to the country. Our national heritage is a draw that few other countries can equal.

To many of my constituents in Teddington, the Hamptons, Twickenham, Whitton and beyond, both Bushy Park and Home Park are regarded as local parks that give endless pleasure through the changing scenes round the year. For example, currently in Bushy Park one can see the avenues of chestnut trees that are in full bloom; and the azaleas in the woodland gardens ae a truly marvellous sight. A month ago in Hampton Court gardens one could see the finest daffodils in the world.

I believe that those pleasures are enjoyed by the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Mather), who is on the Government Front Bench tonight and whose constituency adjoins the area. I believe I speak for many thousands of our constituents, and of yours, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as your constituency in Croydon is not far away. The constituency of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment is within seven or nine miles of the area and I thank him and his Department for all the skill and artistry which they have applied to these matters.

However, I do not think that my hon. Friend will like so much what I shall say next. Facing the east side of Hampton Court palace is a double row of 180 tall lime trees, about a quarter of which need replacing. There is a school of thought within the Department of the Environment that wants to cut the lot down in one clean sweep and start again with two new rows. That would look fine for posterity in 50 or 100 years, but not very nice meanwhile.

The alternative policy, which I prefer, is to fill the gaps or to replace the dud or stunted trees with individual saplings. This question was discussed fully and heatedly in 1978. There were eminent experts on both sides, and there were 20 or 30 letters in The Times. I fought against cutting down the lot, as did the distinguished actor, Marius Goring, who lives nearby and is chairman of the Hampton Court Association. I believe that I also have the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Esher.

In the end, the Labour Government accepted our view. Last week, however, when. I called on my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, partly to ask what was happening about the infilling, I sensed that some of his advisers were now speaking on hehalf of those who were fighting a rearguard action to reinstate the plan for a clean sweep.

My hon. Friend is, of course, aware that many people feel very strongly indeed about trees. One of the jobs of hon. Members is to tell officials and experts what the public will not stand. As Sir Winston Churchill once said, "The experts must be kept on tap and not on top". If either my hon. Friend or my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment authorise the destruction of more than 100 sound and beautiful green lime trees at Hampton Court, facing directly on to the palace, which are seen by 1 million people every year, they will unleash a fury and rage of such a size that they will wonder what has hit them. I hope that any such idea will soon be dropped.

My next point concerns Barge Walk by the river Thames at Hampton Wick, where for years there has been a small and ugly car park. I do not believe that our royal parks should be in the business of providing car parks in conservation areas for commuters. This car park is so small that it was not economic to post a man there to run it. Therefore, it could not be occupied for the odd hour or two by short-stay parkers who might be shopping over the bridge in Kingston. It therefore tended to fill up with all-day commuters. Can my hon. Friend please make a statement on the action he is now taking to deal with this blot on the landscape?

I turn to a small open space known as Glenside at the junction of Spencer Road and Popes Avenue near Twickenham Green. Application was made to the Richmond upon Thames borough council to develop that site at high density with 28 three-storey houses. Local people objected individually or through their excellent Strawberry Hill residents association. The Conservative-led borough council was united and refused planning permission, but the applicant appealed, the Ministry's planning inspector recommended reversal of the council's refusal, the appeal was accepted and planning permission was granted, even though this planning application related to a site of purely local interest.

However, the land is subject to a covenant that it should remain open space. The Minister appears to have the power either to override that covenant or to uphold it. Therefore, the future of the site hangs upon that one point. If the covenant is upheld, development cannot proceed even though planning permission has been granted. There is strong and widespread local feeling that the site should remain open, and I ask my hon. Friend to respect that feeling and to honour the covenant.

I turn finally to the effect of heavy traffic OE the environment of my constituency. Over the years, I have supported strongly the construction of the M25 ring motorway around Greater London. We suffer very heavy traffic on the orbital route around London through Uxbridge road, in Hampton Hill, through Hampton village and Hampton Court as well as on the Great Chertsey road, the A316, which leads to the M3 motorway and on main roads between Kingston bridge, Hampton Wick, Teddington and Twickenham, towards London and through Whitton.

The completion of the M25 is urgently needed. To give any effective relief to my constituents, this means the whole length of the south-western quarter from Reigate Hill, where that part of the M25 now ends, to Chertsey. There are four separate contracts—the first from the top of Reigate Hill to the Leatherhead interchange, the second for the Leatherhead interchange, the third from the Leatherhead interchange to Wisley on the A3 Portsmouth road and the fourth from Wisley to Chertsey from where the M25 is already open to the north.

To relieve my constituents in Hampton Hill and in Hampton, it will be no good merely to have one, two or three of those parts open. All four must be open to remove traffic from the part of my constituency that has suffered for so long. No one imagines that all the flow of traffic or even a majority of it will be removed. I believe, however, that a significant part will be removed by direct transfer to the M25 and also the transfer of traffic crossing the Thames at Hampton Court to Walton bridge which will be made possible by the transfer of traffic from Walton bridge to the M25 nearby. I should like to know when each of the four parts of the M25 that I have mentioned will be completed and opened.

Once the M25 is completed around the south-western quarter, I believe that it will take a proportion of the traffic that now passes through my constituency, including a disproportionate number of heavy lorries as a percentage of the total. It will also be a boon to the two-thirds of households in my constituency that possess cars. The motorway will become accessible between Esher and Leatherhead and so bring Kent, Surrey and Sussex 10 minutes' travelling time nearer.

I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to give me some encouraging news.