Trunk Roads (Leicestershire)

– in the House of Commons at 9:45 pm on 11th June 1991.

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

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz , Leicester East 10:33 pm, 11th June 1991

I welcome the opportunity to raise the concern, anxiety and anger of my constituents about the road system in Leicester and its effect on my fellow citizens' quality of life. I have arrived in great haste from a packed public meeting at the Judgemeadow community college, Marydene drive, in Leicester. The meeting was called by the county council to consider the public response to the proposals for the eastern district distributor road that will pass through the Colemand and Evington wards of my constituency. Together with the A46-A47 link road, they will directly affect the lives of 16,000 people in Leicester, East.

I am grateful to the local residents of Leicester who have, in the past few years, fashioned impeccable arguments against that road and in favour of a trunk road round Leicester—people such as Arthur Padmore who, two decades ago, as a local councillor, chaired meetings against it. Thanks is also due to Frank Kerr, Sue Chapman, Walter Lindsay, Val Jones, John Thomas and others who have either initiated petitions or convened meetings. Special thanks goes to Councillors Mike Preston, Mary Draycott and Stewart Foster. Tenants, residents, parents, school children, vicars, head teachers and pensioners have all joined in our protest.

Today is the fourth anniversary of my election to the House. I first raised this issue in my maiden speech. Since then, petitions to Parliament, lobbies and other activities have been undertaken. The Minister will recall that I met him about this matter and I met his predecessor. They courteously told me that, in the first instance, the scheme was a matter for the local authority. However, after hearing the arguments, I hope that the Minister will realise that the only way in which to alleviate the hardship and anxiety of the people of Leicester, East is the creation of a trunk road around, but not inside, Leicester. Additional Government funding must be made to help the local authority achieve that.

Leicester has the privilege of holding the title of "Environment City", yet its road system, the traffic congestion and the noise and pollution from that traffic threatens to destroy the environmental nirvana that good people and an energetic city council have sought to create.

I am sorry to say that some county council members and the officers they instruct are crazy about roads. If they see a trafic problem they create a new road. The people who want to put the new road through do not live in the area. They do not shop there, they do not send their children to the local schools and they do not worship there. They are oblivious to the catastrophe that they are going to create.

From its inception the entire route has been opposed. It has been made clear time and time again that the road system will not cope with the proposed traffic flow, that the structure of houses will have to be strengthened and made safe and that the route roads and the roads off them already deserve a reduction in traffic flows, not an increase.

What are the consequences of the scheme? There is no need for the local people to be handed a crystal ball as they know what the future will be like. Their lives will simply not be the same again. By the time the route reaches the junction of Colchester road and Uppingham road, 22,000 vehicles a day will be travelling along it. From the stretch from St. Joseph's church to the junction of Wicklow drive and Westmeath road, the number of vehicles increases from the present level of 12,000 to 22,000 a day. From the junction of Wicklow drive to Colman road the current level of 9,000 vehicles a day increases to 18,000. From Colman road to the junction of Ethel road and Main street the current level of 9,000 vehicles a day rises to an estimated 23,000. From Main street down to Biggin Hill road the number goes up from 3,000 to 18,000. The number of vehicles that will join the A6 from Biggin Hill road will increase to 25,000.

The local authority has failed miserably to get its act together. It has constructed stage 1 of the A46-A47 link road at a cost of £2·1 million. It is now embarrassed because people are pulling their trotters and saying that it is a road that goes nowhere. If the residents of Hungerton boulevard had their way, it would point straight at Glenfield and right into the plush office of the dapper Mr. Tommy Thompson, the director of planning and transportation.

Last Sunday, the residents of Hungerton boulevard and Hotoff road joined me and the residents of Abbotts road and Scruptoff lane in a march along the route which was organised by Mr. Trevor Merby. That quiet and unassuming stretch of road is to become the Brands Hatch of the midlands. The residents of Hungerton boulevard have a loaded gun pointed at them, yet they have not been told dates, places or times of events or even how much of their gardens they will have to give up.

The situation for the residents of Abbotts road is much more dramatic. After being told for years that the route would go behind their gardens and through the land owned by the Leicester clinic, the residents discovered that the county council had decided to put it through their road. In the history of local democracy in Leicester, this will be remembered as a famous breach of faith. The residents and I will not permit a unilateral change to satisfy the egos of those who work in county hall. Abbotts road and the dogleg into Scruptoff lane is already a busy road and it will not be able to handle 20,000 vehicles a day. The residents' response will be an emphatic no. Nor are the Colchester road residents the least bit impressed by the council's assurances that the road will be improved to cope with the traffic. How is one supposed to cope with a permanent headache?

It is said that Colchester road looks like a road purpose-built for an orbital road round Leicester. The residents of Colchester road think differently. They think that it is fine as it is. The Goodwood road versus Spencifield lane debate is a disgraceful attempt to divide my constituency and drive a wedge between residents who have already campaigned on the same side. It is grossly incompetent of the council to wait until now to ask people their views; and the council now proposes—the Minister knows this because I raised it with him at a meeting—either a dual carriageway down Goodwood road, which will mean the demolition of 127 houses, or a single carriageway down that road with the heavy goods vehicles going down Spencifield lane.

I shall deal first with Goodwood road. It is already busy and dangerous. It cannot cope with a doubling of the traffic on it. The noise is so appalling that people cannot sleep at night. For the 127 people whose houses are at risk of demolition, the anxiety must be overwhelming. Theirs is a priority view, no matter what the residents feel elsewhere, since it is they who will have to go through the harrowing experience of losing their homes. Some of them have already stated that they would rather go elsewhere than stay there because the road has become so busy. They should be listened to and their views should be acted upon.

We shall not tolerate any increased traffic along Spencifield lane. I and local people, including local councillors have discussed the large volume of traffic already on Spencifield lane. There are two schools in this very residential area, and we have already brought to the council's attention the traffic difficulties associated with feeder roads such as Downing drive. If either of these routes is chosen the other will suffer because smaller connecting roads will be used as rat runs and residents will be continually harassed.

Finally, Biggin Hill road is also on the route. The residents of this tiny cul-de-sac face the awesome prospect of a road running through their road which will carry 25,000 vehicles. They must wonder what on earth they have done to deserve that.

The cost of the scheme has reached staggering proportions. The cost of the A46-A47 link road is now £4·6 million, excluding any compensation that will have to be paid to residents. The cost of the eastern district distributor road is put at between £12 million and £14 million, depending on which option is chosen.

Alternatives have already been advanced. They would take the traffic and the misery outside the city. The proposals accept the need to ease the worries of people who live on Humberstone drive without the need to allow this traffic to be imposed on other local people. The road would go out of the city boundary at Thurky Grange and over the land at the back of Delaware road and Newhaven road. That route would keep the heavy goods vehicles and ordinary traffic well away from built-up areas, and it would not rejoin the main route until it reached Stoughton road.

This is just one of the proposals. In my view, the highly paid officers at county hall are paid their high salaries to propose alternatives, not to choose the most convenient way out. The Minister can help us out of this problem. He can authorise and support the idea of a trunk road round Leicester. The Government's White Paper suggested the idea of an eastern bypass. He has told me in the past that he has not been approached by the local community for support for the scheme. I have a mandate from tonight's meeting and from the people of Leicester, East to ask him to reconsider the position.

Mr. Ken Arkley, the county engineer, prompted by tonight's public meeting, has informed us that the Department of Transport has not yet commissioned a study. Will the Minister please commission a study into the proposals for an eastern bypass? Any alternative would cost more money. The Minister knows that from the meetings that we have had. Will he please meet a delegation, led by myself, of local councillors and county officers who will make the case for additional funding for an alternative route round Leicester? An extra £3 million or so will provide a long-term solution. Will he confirm that money would be forthcoming if the county made out a strong case?

The route has been dubbed the road to nowhere. In fact, it is the road to ruin. It will ruin the lives of 16,000 people in my constituency. It is high time that the county council stopped treating the eastern part of Leicester and its road transport system as though it were an expensive Lego set to be created and dismantled at will. It is time that they stopped playing politics with people's lives. It is time that they gave local people a firm timetable with firm proposals which will take the traffic out of the city of Leicester and out of residential areas.

Delay and uncertainty are the enemy of progress. If the county council does not put these people first, we shall be in a bare-knuckle fight to make them listen and act on the views of local people, because these are the people whose views should count. We look to the Minister for support in this endeavour.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport 10:46 pm, 11th June 1991

This has been an interesting, albeit short, debate, because we have heard the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) arguing for even more investment in the trunk road system. I see him nodding in agreement with that. I am sure that that point will not be lost on the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who has announced that there would be a moratorium on the Government's trunk road building programe should there ever be a Labour Government. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will wish to report tonight's proceedings to his constituents and to tell them that there is but one political party that is unequivocally committed to continuing to investment in the capital infrastructure of our road system—the Conservative party, which I am proud to represent.

The Government have had a good record on providing resources for trunk roads in and around Leciester, not within the city itself, because within the city the roads are not trunked. In the last financial year, some £62 million was spent by the Department of Transport on constructing trunk road improvement schemes in Leicestershire. That represents almost 50 per cent. of all such expenditure in the east midlands in the same period, and is a measure of the importance that the Department and the Government attach to the road infrastructure in Leicestershire.

Since the subject of the Adjournment debate is trunk roads in Leicester, I do not intend to respond in detail to the points about the local roads in Leicester, for which the Government are not responsible. On the trunk roads in Leicestershire and the programme for the future, the 1989 White Paper "Roads for Prosperity" announced that we would spend some £3·5 billion on improving the capacity of the motorway network, and one of the most important parts of that network is the M1 where it runs through Leicestershire. That is now the subject of a consultants' study to see what is the best system of widening between junctions 19 and 23A.

That scheme will be expensive, but when it is completed, it will play an important part in the regeneration of employment opportunities in Leicestershire. The area east of junction 21 has been identified by Leicestershire county council's structure plan as the motorway's employment area. That emphasises the point often made by the Government—that the provision of a good roads infrastructure is often an essential part of providing employment opportunities.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are many other schemes in the Department's programmes. I will not describe them all, but the Market Harborough bypass is under construction and is going well, and we are working on the £31 million dual-carriageway Quorn-Mountsorrel bypass.

We have already announced that we will include in the trunk road programme a study of the eastern bypass. That will go out to consultants shortly. When the design commission is awarded later this month or next month, it will be possible for the consultants to investigate the points that the hon. Gentleman raised tonight.

The eastern bypass scheme is well down the list in the programme. It is one of the last for which we shall be appointing consultants, and it takes a lower place in the order of priorities than many other schemes. Its estimated cost is about £45 million, so it is very dependent on a continuing commitment to the "Roads for Prosperity" programme that this Government support, but which could be jeopardised were another party to take office.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz , Leicester East

I am glad to hear that the study has gone out to consultants. Can the Minister give a rough timetable for when he envisages that the consultants will begin reporting? Does he accept that one of the problems about spending a lot of money on the link road and distributor road is that it will be wasted if the bypass is subsequently constructed? Will the Minister meet a delegation from Leicestershire county council to hear the arguments for the case that the scheme in question should have a higher place on the Government's agenda? We appreciate that there are many schemes before the Minister, but will he listen to the views of local people, through their elected officials? Will he listen to the argument that, if the scheme had greater priority, that could save money on the link road that is currently being created?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport

If the hon. Gentleman wants to arrange a delegation to discuss a new road scheme, I shall be happy to meet it. I will not prejudge the case, and I will listen to the arguments. However, I understand that the eastern bypass, which would link the A46 and the A6, is not an alternative to doing something about the amount of traffic in the urban area of eastern Leicester. I am informed that anything from 15,000 vehicles a day upwards are using the route of the proposed eastern distributor road and the link road to which the hon. Gentleman referred earlier.

Of that traffic, Leicestershire county council, which is the highways authority, estimates that 85 vehicles in every 100 are locally generated traffic. If that is so—I have no reason to doubt that statistic—the eastern bypass will not resolve that problem. Any urban community must face up to the fact that, if an enormous amount of traffic is generated within that community and wants to move around within the city, it is useful to have proper channels for it. That has been the county council's strategy, although it is a matter for local people to resolve among themselves; it is not for me to intervene.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz , Leicester East

That was the point of tonight's local meeting. It was clear that people believed that, if a survey and study commissioned by the Department of Transport were carried out, the figures could be changed. They were not satisfied that the council's figures—which are several years old—were still accurate.

Will the Minister confirm that it is Government policy to move roads outside cities, rather than causing more congestion by adopting a broad policy of putting more roads inside city areas?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport

Certainly it is the Government's policy to invest in the inter-urban network, which primarily means motorways and trunk roads. That policy has been very successful: it has taken a good deal of traffic off less suitable roads. Within a conurbation, however, traffic often needs to get from one side of the city to another. That is why, under the system whereby we provide a 50 per cent. transport supplementary grant, many local authorities present bids for urban schemes dealing with traffic that has been generated within that urban locality and wishes either to leave the city centre for the motorway network, or to come back in, or to travel from one point to another within the city.

It is in that context that the link road, and, within Leicester, the distributor road that was to go right around the inner ring of Leicester, were conceived many years ago. The road has largely been built, although there are two missing parts. It is not for me to assess whether the strategy was right; but, if we were to build an eastern bypass for Leicester, it would certainly be much further out than the existing line of the distributor road.

I do not think that the amount of traffic that such a bypass would take that would otherwise use a distributor road is significant enough to suggest that this is a viable alternative. The eastern road is needed in its own right, as part of the inter-urban network. I leave it to the people of Leicester, and Leicestershire, to decide among themselves whether they want to proceed with any traffic relief within the Leicester conurbation.

It is always easy for those living in a city to say, "All our problems can be resolved if the road building is carried out outside the city"—or, in the case of the hon. Member for Leicester, East, outside his constituency. That is always an attractive argument, but I do not think that it is necessarily always practical: much of the traffic is generated within a city. That is why, to remove congestion and pollution and improve the quality of life of those who choose to live in cities, we must continue to invest in road infrastructure in the city centres.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz , Leicester East

Does the Minister consider an increase in traffic from 9,000 to 20,000 vehicles a day an improvement in people's quality of life?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport

It depends on which people the hon. Gentleman means. People do not normally travel in motorised transport unless they have chosen freely to do so. Fewer people still own cars in this country than in most other European countries, and I detect no suggestion that the people of Leicester, or anywhere else, have said that they do not want to buy motor vehicles in the future, or to invest in their own personal transport.

I understand that, this very evening, the hon. Gentleman chose to travel by car from his constituency to the House to be in time for the debate. He used the motorway network, although there is a very good train service between Leicester and London. I would guess that he did that to gain the extra flexibility of being able to travel directly by car from the place where his meeting took place on to the M1, proceed to London, and then come straight into the House of Commons car park. I am sure that many people in Leicester, as elsewhere, will be pleased to know that the hon. Gentleman uses road transport and is not in any way prejudiced against the car.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz , Leicester East

I can confirm that I am not prejudiced against the car. I got here by car, as the Minister said. But for local residents who live near roads—whether they be trunk roads or roads inside cities—such an increase in the volume of traffic must be bound to affect the quality of life. Does not the Minister agree with that proposition?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport

If one lives by the side of a road, an enormous increase in the volume of traffic on that road will obviously affect one's quality of life. That is why many people in Leicester have argued in favour of the road scheme to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. Others have argued against it. People's reaction depends on whether they think that there will be benefits or disbenefits affecting them directly. Those are matters for local political resolution, and I should not wish to try to deal with local road controversies, because the Department of Transport has enough difficulty already in trying to deal with the national road schemes.

I can tell the hon. Gentleman, however, that the eastern bypass of Leicester is in the national scheme and we are in the process of appointing consultants on it. I look forward to meeting the hon. Gentleman and others from Leicester to discuss and hear about the suggestions that it might be a solution to all the traffic problems in Leicester.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at one minute past Eleven o'clock.