§ Motion made, and Question proposed. That this House do now adjourn—[Mr. Harper.]
§ 11.58 a.m.
§ Mr. Michael Barnes (Brentford and Chiswick)
I am most grateful to have this opportunity to raise the subject of the effect on the environment of current road proposals for Brentford and Chiswick. Brentford and Chiswick are two distinct communities which have managed to retain their identity and character to a surprising degree amidst the sprawl of West London. They form a very compact area which is only about three miles long from east to west, and of irregular width but, on average, about 1½ miles 1341 from north to south. The effects of the road proposal which I am now going to mention are giving great concern to my constituents, a concern which, I hope to show, is fully justified.
The first and most important road in question is Ringway 2. The G.L.C. has not yet announced the route for this section of Ringway 2, but it is clear from the Greater London Development Plan maps that, somehow, it has got to join up Barnes Bridge with the Chiswick roundabout and it is known to favour a route which would mean Ringway 2 going through the Grove Park area of Chiswick.
The second scheme is the Great Chertsey Road which is due to be brought up to motorway standard as part of the same primary road network as Ringway 2.
The third and fourth schemes are the widening of Chiswick High Road to make it a dual 22 ft. carriageway and the realignment of the A.315 through Brent-ford. Both of these are Hounslow Borough schemes.
The fifth scheme is the Sutton Court Road underpass. This is a Ministry scheme in connection with which a public inquiry was held last month.
The sixth proposal is for there to be a motorway link from Willesden down through Acton to the Chiswick roundabout. The seventh one is for there to be an additional elevated section of the M4 to provide more lanes for that motorway. These two proposals may be beyond the immediate planning horizon, but the fact that plans do exist for them means that they must be considered in this context.
Finally, there is also even a scheme to put some underground car parks under Turnham Green and Chiswick Common despite the fact that both are protected from enclosure and despite the very strong feelings there are among many local residents that these proposals could not possibly be carried out without seriously detracting from the amenities which those open spaces provide.
My main argument is that there is insufficient co-ordination between the Ministry, the Greater London Council and the Hounslow Borough Council on these schemes, and, if they go ahead on the present piecemeal basis, the whole 1342 character of Brentford and Chiswick will virtually be destroyed and the place will become a concrete jungle.
There are a number of specific important points which must be made. By far the most significant of these proposals is Ringway 2. The Greater London Council have not yet had the courage to publish the route for this section of Ringway 2, despite an assurance given in the summer that this would be done by the end of July. Perhaps this is because of the growing very great opposition among my constituents to the route through Grove Park which the G.L.C. is known to favour, opposition which I fully share. If Ringway 2 were to go ahead, in whatever form, by whatever route, it would affect the whole traffic pattern for the area, and, therefore, it is my view that none of these other schemes should go ahead until the question of the Ring way is settled.
There is no case for proceeding with the Sutton Court Road underpass in advance of a decision on Ringway 2. The Ministry says that the purpose of this scheme is to keep traffic flowing freely along the A4, but the delays caused at the Sutton Court Road traffic lights are minimal, and they are a useful way of checking traffic and preventing it from piling up at other congested points on the way into Central London.
The widening of Chiswick High Road is proposed so as to increase its capacity to feed the Chiswick roundabout, which is the junction for the M4, the A4, and the North Circular Road. Apart from the fact that this would transform what is now a very pleasant shopping centre, it makes no sense to go ahead with this proposal before a decision is taken on Ringway 2 and before we know what are the likely traffic flows for the area.
The realignment of the A315 is part of the Hounslow Council's plan for the Brentford riverside area, and the Minister's decision has been awaited for some time. The indications are that it is the difficulties in connection with this road that are delaying the decision. The Council proposes to close Brentford High Street, the present A315, to through traffic, and to build this new road from Kew Bridge, taking it between Brentford High Street and the Great West Road right through to Busch Corner. The Council wants to start construction at the 1343 Kew Bridge end as soon as possible. But supposing, for the sake of argument, that a modified Ringway 2, instead of going through Grove Park, were to come over the river by Kew Bridge and go into an intersection in Brentford Market, where would this leave the new A315? The Hounslow Council seems to be rather cynical about Ringway 2. Perhaps, like many of us, the Council believes that it will never happen. It appears to take the view that it is right to go ahead with the new A315 and, if it has to be altered at a later date to fit in with the larger and more important roads, so be it. This shows a lack of co-ordination, and the realignment of the A315 is another proposal which should await a decision on Ringway 2.
I go further than that on the question of the A315, although the proposal is in a very advanced stage. I am not convinced that this new A315 is needed at all. Either the A4 could be made to do the relief road job or, alternatively, it might be better to keep Brentford High Street open to through traffic, although separating the traffic from the shopping area, which could be linked by walkways to the town quay area.
As for the motorway link coming from Willesden through Acton down to the Chiswick roundabout, and the possible additional elevated section of the M4 to provide more lanes, these are both absolutely appalling prospects. It is no answer to say that they are beyond the present planning horizon and that we therefore have no need to worry about them. If plans exist for these roads, no matter in how tentative a form, the time for those plans to be considered is now. There is insufficient co-ordination on these roads between the Ministry, the Greater London Council and the Hounslow Borough Council. I therefore ask my hon. Friend if he is prepared to set up a special study into the effect of all the roads that I have mentioned on the environment in Brentford and Chiswick? I hope that my hon. Friend will give me a specific answer on this. More and more people in Brentford and Chiswick are coming to the conclusion that the only way in which these plans can be brought together and developed sensibly, so as to preserve the character of Brentford and Chiswick, is for somebody to look at the total effect of all the proposals together, 1344 even though some of the proposals may not be his concern. Some of these proposals are G.L.C. schemes, some are Hounslow Borough Council schemes and some are Ministry schemes, and the difficulty that we are up against in trying to raise this matter with the authorities involved is that it is hard to interest those authorities in schemes which are not their schemes. The Minister is the only person in a position to look at all the schemes together, and I therefore ask him to set up this special study into the effect of all the schemes on the environment of Brentford and Chiswick.
I had hoped to be able to interest the Secretary of State for Local Government and Regional Planning in this matter, but he has said that, in view of the important general responsibilities which the Prime Minister has given to him, he cannot deal with particular Ministry of Transport cases and particular Ministry of Housing cases. But surely environment is not a general concept which can have a separate existence from transport, housing, or planning. To treat environment in this way is to make meaningless the Prime Minister's proposals for setting up this new super-Ministry.
If one has a responsibility to consider environment, sooner or later one must come down from looking at the important general responsibilities to examine the particular problems in particular areas. Brentford and Chiswick may be a small place, but it is a good example of the whole problem of roads versus environment. The scale of what is proposed for Brentford and Chiswick is such that, if it goes ahead, it will change the whole character of the environment of the area.
People in Brentford and Chiswick have been greatly encouraged by the setting up of the new super Ministry, of which they have high hopes. They see the road proposals for their area as an ideal test case for the new Ministry. I conclude by making the important point that I am asking my hon. Friend to meet the anxieties of my constituents by setting up a special study into the effect of all the road proposals which I have mentioned on the environment of Brentford and Chiswick.
§ 12.10 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Albert Murray)
I apologise to my hon. Friend 1345 the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes) for puffing my way into his speech. This was due to London's traffic problems, and I apologise sincerely.
Every road scheme, however big or small, wherever it is, has implications for the environment. The particular difficulties will differ from scheme to scheme and from area to area. But they are always there and cannot be dealt with in isolation from the many other factors which must be taken into account in the planning process.
In complex traffic situations such as in London highway authorities have a difficult problem in weighing what they might consider as desirable in an ideal world against what can be regarded as reasonably practicable in the real world when there are constraints on time and resources. Many compromises have to be made. But the aim must always be to ensure that compromises are made in the light of all the relevant factors. The local borough is best fitted to judge the local implications, and in the case of Brentford and Chiswick the Greater London Council must take an overall view and consider the wider issues.
Each highway authority has a role to play and co-ordination and co-operation between authorities is vital. It is not difficult to point to examples of past mistakes where roads have been built without proper regard to their overall environmental implications or their effect on surrounding communities. It is important that we learn from these mistakes and ensure that they are not repeated.
Although urban motorways and similar major roads are beginning to appear on a significant scale throughout the country, our experience of the special problems of fitting these major new structures into the urban environment is still relatively small. We need to learn as much as we can about these problems so that in future the urban roads can be planned on a basis of firm knowledge about their effects. It is for this reason that my right hon. Friend in July set up the Urban Motorways Committee, which is carrying out a detailed study of the problems of fitting major roads into urban areas, with the aim of determining how they might be better related to their surroundings physically, visually and socially. I am 1346 sure my hon. Friend will agree that it is not only valuable that the Committee has been set up, but also that its aims and objectives are most important. It is undertaking a major task, which will not be completed for some time.
Practical studies are also to be undertaken by the Greater London Council in North-East London to demonstrate the feasibility of their road strategy in relation to the environmental objectives of the Greater London Development Plan. It is hoped that this study will be completed in time for the inquiry into the Plan. All this will help to ensure that future road schemes can be planned on a firmer basis of practical knowledge about the wider social and environmental implications than is at present the case.
A great deal of attention is being paid to co-ordinating road schemes, particularly in London. There is close consultation between my Department and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government on the planning implications of transport proposals. For example, my hon. Friend will be interested to hear that at a recent public inquiry into a London road-widening scheme with special planning and environmental aspects my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government provided an assessor to assist the Ministry of Transport inspector in dealing with evidence on these aspects.
In London the Greater London Development Plan, about which I will say a few words later, will provide the main instrument for co-ordination in the long term, while co-ordination in the shorter term is already being carried out by the Joint Highway Planning Committee of the Transport Co-ordinating Council for London within which Ministry and G.L.C. officials work closely together. In the final analysis my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport can exert a considerable co-ordinating influence on major local authority schemes through his power to give or withhold grants.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is concerned with the general issues of environmental planning in which the planning of new roads forms an important part. He has said that he proposes to consider whether present arrangements provide an adequate framework for 1347 proper environmental planning. This we shall do.
I have been talking in general terms because my hon. Friend made specific criticisms of the existing planning machinery. I should now like to take a closer look at the situation in London itself. The Greater London Development Plan provides an opportunity to look at major road proposals over the whole of Greater London and to consider them both in relation to each other and to other policies and proposals in the Plan. The Greater London Council has submitted this plan to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government in accordance with the requirements of the London Government Act, 1963. He has made it clear that the fullest opportunity will be given for reviewing all the policies and proposals in this important plan, not least the road proposals. He has given full assurance that the economic, social and other aspects will come within the scope of any inquiry into the plan. In short. the plan provides a vital instrument for co-ordination in the long-term of major road proposals and other aspects of transportation policy.
The present planning of roads in London is based on the concept of developing a hierarchy of roads to serve different purposes. At the top of this hierarchy, the Greater London Council is proposing to establish a clearly defined network of primary roads. Many of them will be purpose-built, high-capacity, limited-access motor roads whose function will be to serve the needs of longer distance traffic—in London, this means journeys of over four miles—thereby relieving local roads so that they can better serve the needs of local traffic. The triple Ringway system, which has been proposed by the G.L.C. as the main framework of the future primary road network is planned specially to make orbital journeys easier than at present, thus relieving Central London of through traffic and providing good access to and from the national trunk road and motorway system.
The primary network will be supported by a less well-defined and much larger network of secondary roads. Many of these will be important traffic routes, but 1348 their main function will be to cater for shorter journeys and to act as feeder routes to the primary system.
At the bottom of the proposed hierarchy come the district roads, whose functions will be to serve purely local access and distribution needs. They will not cater for through traffic.
What appears to give most concern to my hon. Friend and his constituents is the possibility of Ringway 2 passing through Chiswick. This is a Greater London Council proposal and, as yet, no plans have been published for any route through Chiswick. The Greater London Development Plan indicates the possibility of such a route by means of two arrows pointing along a south-east/north-west axis across Chiswick to Barnes. In the terminology of the Greater London Development Plan road map, this means that alternative possibilities for a route along that corridor are under consideration but that no preferred alignment has yet been chosen.
Whatever alignment between those two points might be chosen, the understandable fear of people in Chiswick is that any new motorway cutting across the two existing major radial roads in the area, the A4 and the A316, would result in a tight triangle of primary roads which, by their very nature, would radically change the character of the immediate area. Whether such changes would be justified in the interests of the future development of London as a whole is a question which can be properly considered only in the wider context of the proposals and policies in the Greater London Development Plan.
My hon. Friend will appreciate that the Greater London Development Plan will provide an opportunity to consider major roads in Brentford and Chiswick as a whole and that the Urban Motorways Committee is undertaking studies of the environmental problems of major new roads. Knowledge from these studies will be available to the planners of new motorways or future major roads in Brentford and Chiswick.
As I said earlier, I recognise that any road scheme, however big, has implications for the environment. The schemes which I have just mentioned obviously are no exception. However, I hope that 1349 I have been able to convince the House that we are not turning a blind eye to the vital issues for the future of London's environment.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman has exhausted his right to speak, but he can intervene before the Minister sits down.
§ Mr. Barnes
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Before my hon. Friend sits down, will he answer the specific question which I put to him? Will he agree to set up in his Ministry a special study into the effect on the environment in Brentford and 1350 Chiswick of all the road schemes which I mentioned?
§ Mr. Murray
I do not think that I can offer to do that. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is responsible for the environment of the whole country. I do not think that we can set up any special study related to Brentford and Chiswick. But certainly I undertake to ask him that very point, and I promise to give my hon. Friend an answer about it.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at twenty-five minutes past Twelve o'clock.